Phantom of the Opera

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Alex had known darkness before but never to this magnitude. It assaulted her like a physical presence, bearing down, wrapping around and trapping her with a venerable monster in inescapable tunnels.

Something cracked in the dark like a bone breaking, making her imagination running amok. In the blackness somewhere above, a small green speck winked into existence, shaken into higher intensity by a hand larger than Alex's face. Light may have returned, but it didn't banish the monster. Quite the opposite. It was the giant holding the glow stick between thick fingers, green light casting ghastly shadows over his mask.

Alex didn't move from her press against the wall when the creature reached into his tattered coat and retrieved a scrap of paper, tossing it with casual ease at her feet along with the glowstick. Only her eyes made the jump between creature, to paper, to glowstick and back again, the air heavy with mounting tension until the giant pointed sharply.

Read, the gesture said with an "or else" spiced in for flavor.

Craning her neck, Alex could make out faint scribbles of cramped handwriting. If she squinted hard enough she even identified familiar letters. Specifically, letters that spelled out her name. Using her foot to drag the letter and light source into range, she scooped up both, keeping the giant in her periphery.

"Alex!" the note began. "I'm so sorry, I goofed and didn't tell you when to meet. My fault. Blame the concussion. If you're reading this, you've met Goliath. Don't worry, he's harmless so long as you don't mess with his cats or shine something bright in his face. I sent him to wait for you. He'll send me word when you get here. Sorry again! See you soon!" Lee signed her name at the end with a smiley face that looked like it was winking.

Head falling back against the concrete after reading the letter for the fourth time, Alex let the tension drain from her limbs, unsure how many more heart attacks she could dodge before one actually killed her.

"Lee sent you?" she asked with evident skepticism, still unsure if this was a trap. Maybe Rebecca was coming through with her previous threats. Whatever the case, Goliath didn't answer, staring through his impassive white mask as Alex stood and dusted off her pants.

"Did Lee send you?" she repeated, stretching her words so she was sure he heard. "Are you like her?" She pointed to her head when he didn't answer. "Do you speak in other ways?"

Silence.

"Maybe you sign?"

More silent.

"Level with me here. I'm not exactly a pro at this. Are you mute? Do you even understand what I'm saying? Should I write it dow—" Alex felt the muscle giving her life actually stop when a hand closed over her face, fingers flexing against her scalp just enough to give her an indication of implied threat. Her nose flattened against a rough palm, stunting her sharp intake of air.

"Okay, okay," she squeaked, hands out to show supplication. "I get it. No more questions. Just take me to — Oh no, where are we going!?"

Without removing his hand, Goliath paraded Alex further down the tunnel, forcing her to stutter every so many feet, going off feel alone. The sound of scraping stone and the rumble of something heavy moving on a track gave her the impression a door was being opened, but without the ability to see it was just so much noise.

"I appreciate the, uh...guidance," she said behind his hand, voice slightly muffled. "But it's not really necess — oh okay, we're going into the dark tunnel together. Yay!"

With the door securely shut behind them, Goliath removed his hand and began walking, taking his glowstick with him. Alex hurried to catch up, struggling to stay within the shallow puddle of light. She wasn't afraid of the dark, hadn't been since she was a child, but this dark ensured if she strayed there would be no finding her way Topside again.

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