6. "The Flames That Consume Us" by stefanie bean

Raoul is dead, and a daughter of the Vikings seeks revenge. Placed 7th out of 24th in the Third Morbidity Contest. Definitely morbid and disgusting.

Stefanie Bean sat back from her keyboard and grinned to herself. Was she not the Dark Mistress of Fanfiction? To be sure, she was. Now all that was left was to wait for the reviews to come pouring in.

A minute went by, and Stefanie passed her mouse cursor over the Refresh button.

She clicked.

The world reloaded.

When Stefanie could see again, she found that her environment had altered considerably. Instead of the pink and black gothic splendor of her bedroom, she was surrounded by lots and lots of true darkness, with cold stone under her bottom. Almost as though she was underground. In a cave. With water dripping somewhere off to her right, as into a vast, icy lake. In Paris, France.

She immediately had her wild suspicions about what must have happened. These things were common in fanfic, though she had never expected it to happen to her. What really clued her in, however, was the thin line of catgut around her neck and the cool, perfect male voice behind and over her head saying, "Explain yourself." Her head was jerked painfully upward and a candle flared to life, illuminating the figure of a dark-haired girl, bound and gagged on a wooden chair.

Stefanie found that she could draw just enough breath to croak in an approximation of speech. "How did Ió"

The Punjab lasso cut her off.

"Begin again," said Erik. "From the top." His English was flawless, of course, but his sarcasm would have transcended any language barrier.

Stefanie looked hard at the young woman on the chair. What was she meant to explain? She would have liked to know a few things, such as why Christine was tied up and gagged. She was supposed to go after the Phantom and lull him into complacency before avenging the murder (the bloody, bloody murder) of Raoul. She was not supposed to end up like this.

"I'll give you a hint, shall I?"

Somehow, the lasso remained taut as Erik stepped into Stefanie's field of vision, approached Christine, and jerked the gag loose. Two points of cat's-eye gold bored their way through Stefanie's eyes and into her brain as Christine spoke.

"Oh, well, I never! Didjoo have to be so gosh-darn rough, eh? It's yust plain roode, dat's waht it is. Yusjoo vait until I tell my fadderóhe'll sic da whole team on joo for sure, joo betcha, and den ve'll see who has da last laugh, yah ve vill, mister grumpy-pants. Joo didn't have enough ketchup as a child, didjoo?"

Erik continued to glare at Stefanie as he replaced the gag. "Well?"

"IóbutóIóIóI didn'tó!" Stefanie stammered.

"Yes, you did," said the Phantom. "And now you are going to pay for what you have done." A lit torch appeared in his hand. "Au revoir, mademoiselle."

He approached her and Stefanie, sensing that this could only be a bad thing, struggled. Unfortunately, that only pulled the Punjab lasso tighter around her neck. In the process, she realized that it was attached to a wooden post behind her. A wooden post that felt slick and, it occurred to her, smelled strongly of kerosene.

The last thing she heard before she blacked out, crescendoing over her screams of agony, was a triumphant, maniacal laugh. Then all was silence.

Well, not quite.

Agent Supernumerary sat bolt-upright in bed, drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. He looked at his wrist chronometer, squinting to read it without his glasses. It was four-thirty in his personal morning. He had just had the craziest nightmare.

Before he rolled over and prepared to go back to sleep, he resolved never to eat lutefisk again.