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They said a child had died in the attic. Her clothes had been discovered in the wall.
I wanted to go up there, and to lie down near the wall, and be alone.
They'd seen her ghost now and then, the child. But none of these vampires could see spirits, really, at least not the way that I could see them. No matter. It wasn't the company of the child I wanted. It was to be in that place.
Nothing more could be gained from lingering near Lestat. I'd come. I'd fulfilled my purpose. I couldn't help him.
The sight of his sharply focused and unchanging eyes unnerved me, and I was quiet inside and full of love for those nearest me my human children, my dark-haired little Benji and my tender willowy Sybelle but I was not strong enough just yet to take them away.
I left the chapel.
I didn't even take note of who was there. The whole convent was now the dwelling place of vampires. It was not an unruly place, or a neglected place, but I didn't notice who remained in the chapel when I left.
Lestat lay as he had all along, on the marble floor of the chapel in front of the huge crucifix, on his side, his hands slack, the left hand just below the right hand, its fingers touching the marble lightly, as if with a purpose, when there was no purpose at all. The fingers of his right hand curled, making a little hollow in the palm where the light fell, and that too seemed to have a meaning, but there was no meaning.
This was simply the preternatural body lying there without will or animation, no more purposeful than the face, its expression almost defiantly intelligent, given that months had passed in which Lestat had not moved.
The high stained-glass windows were dutifully draped for him before sunrise. At night, they shone with all the wondrous candles scattered about the fine statues and relics which filled this once sanctified and holy place. Little mortal children had heard Mass under this high coved roof; a priest had sung out the Latin words from an altar.
It was ours now. It belonged to him Lestat, the man who lay motionless on the marble floor.
Man. Vampire. Immortal. Child of Darkness. Any and all are excellent words for him.
Looking over my shoulder at him, I never felt so much like a child.
That's what I am. I fill out the definition, as if it were encoded in me perfectly, and there had never been any other genetic design.
I was perhaps seventeen years old when Marius made me into a vampire. I had stopped growing by that time. For a year, I'd been five feet six inches. My hands are as delicate as those of a young woman, and I was beardless, as we used to say in that time, the years of the sixteenth century. Not a eunuch, no, not that, most certainly, but a boy.
It was fashionable then for boys to be as beautiful as girls. Only now does it seem something worthwhile, and that's because I love the others my own: Sybelle with her woman's breasts and long girlish limbs, and Benji with his round intense little Arab face.
I stood at the foot of the stairs. No mirrors here, only the high brick walls stripped of their plaster, walls that were old only for America, darkened by the damp even inside the convent, all textures and elements here softened by the simmering summers of New Orleans and her clammy crawling winters, green winters I call them because the trees here are almost never bare.
I was born in a place of eternal winter when one compares it to this place. No wonder in sunny Italy I forgot the beginnings altogether, and fashioned my life out of the present of my years with Marius. "I don't remember." It was a condition of loving so much vice, of being so addicted to Italian wine and sumptuous meals, and even the feel of the warm marble under my bare feet when the rooms of the palazzo were sinfully, wickedly heated by Marius's exorbitant fires.
His mortal friends ... human beings like me at that time ... scolded constantly about these expenditures: firewood, oil, candles. And for Marius only the finest candles of beeswax were acceptable. Every fragrance was significant.
Stop these thoughts. Memories can't hurt you now. You came here for a reason and now you have finished, and you must find those you love, your young mortals, Benji and Sybelle, and you must go on.
Life was no longer a theatrical stage where Banquo's ghost came again and again to seat himself at the grim table.
My soul hurt.
Up the stairs. Lie for a little while in this brick convent where the child's clothes were found. Lie with the child, murdered here in this convent, so say the rumormongers, the vampires who haunt these halls now, who have come to see the great Vampire Lestat in his Endymionlike sleep.
I felt no murder here, only the tender voices of nuns.
I went up the staircase, letting my body find its human weight and human tread.
After five hundred years, I know such tricks. I could frighten all the young ones the hangers-on and the gawkers just as surely as the other ancient ones did it, even the most modest, uttering words to evince their telepathy, or vanishing when they chose to leave, or now and then even making the building tremble with their power an interesting accomplishment even with these walls eighteen inches thick with cypress sills that will never rot.
He must like the fragrances here, I thought. Marius, where is he? Before I had visited Lestat, I had not wanted to talk very much to Marius, and had spoken only a few civil words when I left my treasures in his charge.
After all, I had brought my children into a menagerie of the Undead. Who better to safeguard them than my beloved Marius, so powerful that none here dared question his smallest request.
There is no telepathic link between us naturally Marius made me, I am forever his fledgling but as soon as this occurred to me, I realized without the aid of this telepathic link that I could not feel the presence of Marius in the building. I didn't know what had happened in that brief interval when I knelt down to look at Lestat. I didn't know where Marius was. I couldn't catch the familiar human scents of Benji or Sybelle. A little stab of panic paralyzed me.
I stood on the second story of the building. I leaned against the wall, my eyes settling with determined calm on the deeply varnished heart pine floor. The light made pools of yellow on the boards.
Where were they, Benji and Sybelle? What had I done in bringing them here, two ripe and glorious humans? Benji was a spirited boy of twelve, Sybelle, a womanling of twenty-five. What if Marius, so generous in his own soul, had carelessly let them out of his sight?
"I'm here, young one." The voice was abrupt, soft, welcome.
My Maker stood on the landing just below me, having come up the steps behind me, or more truly, with his powers, having placed himself there, covering the preceding distance with silent and invisible speed.
"Master," I said with a little trace of a smile. "I was afraid for them for a moment." It was an apology. "This place makes me sad."
He nodded. "I have them, Armand," he said. "The city seethes with mortals. There's food enough for all the vagabonds wandering here. No one will hurt them. Even if I weren't here to say so, no one would dare."
It was I who nodded now. I wasn't so sure, really. Vampires are by their very nature perverse and do wicked and terrible things simply for the sport of it. To kill another's mortal pet would be a worthy entertainment for some grim and alien creature, skirting the fringes here, drawn by remarkable events.
"You're a wonder, young one," he said to me smiling. Young one! Who else would call me this but Marius, my Maker, and what is five hundred years to him? "You went into the sun, child," he continued with the same legible concern written on his kind face. "And you lived to tell the tale."
"Into the sun, Master?" I questioned his words. But I myself did not want to reveal any more. I did not want to talk yet, to tell of what had happened, the legend of Veronica's Veil and the Face of Our Lord emblazoned upon it, and the morning when I had given up my soul with such perfect happiness. What a fable it was.
He came up the steps to be near me, but kept a polite distance. He has always been the gentleman, even before there was such a word. In ancient Rome, they must have had a term for such a person, infallibly good mannered, and considerate as a point of honor, and wholly successful at common courtesy to rich and poor alike. This was Marius, and it had always been Marius, insofar as I could know.
He let his snow-white hand rest on the dull satiny banister. He wore a long shapeless cloak of gray velvet, once perfectly extravagant, now downplayed with wear and rain, and his yellow hair was long like Lestat's hair, full of random light and unruly in the damp, and even studded with drops of dew from outside, the same dew clinging to his golden eyebrows and darkening his long curling eyelashes around his large cobalt-blue eyes.
There was something altogether more Nordic and icy about him than there was about Lestat, whose hair tended more to golden, for all its luminous highlights, and whose eyes were forever prismatic, drinking up the colors around him, becoming even a gorgeous violet with the slightest provocation from the worshipful outside world.
In Marius, I saw the sunny skies of the northern wilderness, eyes of steady radiance which rejected any outside color, perfect portals to his own most constant soul.
"Armand," he said. "I want you to come with me."
"Where is that, Master, come where?" I asked. I too wanted to be civil. He had always, even after a struggle of wits, brought such finer instincts out of me.
"To my house, Armand, where they are now, Sybelle and Benji. Oh, don't fear for them for a second. Pandora's with them. They are rather astonishing mortals, brilliant, remarkably different, yet alike. They love you, and they know so much and have come with you rather a long way."
I flushed with blood and color; the warmth was stinging and unpleasant, and then as the blood danced back away from the surface of my face, I felt cooler and strangely enervated that I felt any sensations at all.
It was a shock being here and I wanted it to be over.
"Master, I don't know who I am in this new life," I said gratefully. "Reborn? Confused?" I hesitated, but there was no use stopping it. "Don't ask me to stay here just now. Maybe some time when Lestat is himself again, maybe when enough time has passed . I don't know for certain, only that I can't accept your kind invitation now."
He gave me a brief accepting nod. With his hand he made a little acquiescent gesture. His old gray cloak had slipped off one shoulder. He seemed not to care about it. His thin black wool clothes were neglected, lapels and pockets trimmed in a careless gray dust. That was not right for him.
He had a big shock of white silk at his throat that made his pale face seem more colored and human than it otherwise would. But the silk was torn as if by brambles. In sum, he haunted the world in these clothes, rather than was dressed in them. They were for a stumbler, not my old Master.
I think he knew I was at a loss. I was looking up at the gloom above me. I wanted to reach the attic of this place, the half-concealed clothing of the dead child. I wondered at this story of the dead child. I had the impertinence to let my mind drift, though he was waiting.
He brought me back with his gentle words:
"Sybelle and Benji will be with me when you want them," he said. "You can find us. We aren't far. You'll hear the Appassionata when you want to hear it." He smiled.
"You've given her a piano," I said. I spoke of golden Sybelle. I had shut out the world from my preternatural hearing, and I didn't want just yet to unstop my ears even for the lovely sound of her playing, which I already missed overly much.
As soon as we'd entered the convent, Sybelle had seen a piano and asked in a whisper at my ear if she could play it. It was not in the chapel where Lestat lay, but off in another long empty room. I had told her it wasn't quite proper, that it might disturb Lestat as he lay there, and we couldn't know what he thought, or what he felt, or if he was anguished and trapped in his own dreams.
"Perhaps when you come, you'll stay for a while," Marius said. "You'll like the sound of her playing my piano, and maybe then we'll talk together, and you can rest with us, and we can share the house for as long as you like."
I didn't answer.
"It's palatial in a New World sort of way," he said with a little mockery in his smile. "It's not far at all. I have the most spacious gardens and old oaks, oaks far older than those even out there on the Avenue, and all the windows are doors. You know how I like it that way. It's the Roman style. The house is open to the spring rain, and the spring rain here is like a dream."
"Yes, I know," I whispered. "I think it's falling now, isn't it?" I smiled.
"Well, I'm rather spattered with it, yes," he said almost gaily. "You come when you want to. If not tonight, then tomorrow ..."
"Oh, I'll be there tonight," I said. I didn't want to offend him, not in the slightest, but Benji and Sybelle had seen enough of white-faced monsters with velvet voices. It was time to be off.
I looked at him rather boldly, enjoying it for a moment, overcoming a shyness that had been our curse in this modern world. In Venice of old, he had gloried in his clothes as men did then, always so sharp and splendidly embellished, the glass of fashion, to use the old graceful phrase. When he crossed the Piazza San Marco in the soft purple of evening, all turned to watch him pass. Red had been his badge of pride, red velvet a flowing cape, and magnificently embroidered doublet, and beneath it a tunic of gold silk tissue, so very popular in those times.
He'd had the hair of a young Lorenzo de' Medici, right from the painted wall.
"Master, I love you, but now I must be alone," I said. "You don't need me now, do you, Sir? How can you? You never really did." Instantly I regretted it. The words, not the tone, were impudent. And our minds being so divided by intimate blood, I was afraid he'd misunderstand.
"Cherub, I want you," he said forgivingly. "But I can wait. Seems not long ago I spoke these same words when we were together, and so I say them again."
I couldn't bring myself to tell him it was my season for mortal company, how I longed just to be talking away the night with little Benji, who was such a sage, or listening to my beloved Sybelle play her sonata over and over again. It seemed beside the point to explain any further. And the sadness came over me again, heavily and undeniably, of having come to this forlorn and empty convent where Lestat lay, unable or unwilling to move or speak, none of us knew.
"Nothing will come of my company just now, Master," I said. "But you will grant me some key to finding you, surely, so that when this time passes ..." I let my words die.
"I fear for you!" he whispered suddenly, with great warmth.
"Any more than ever before, Sir?" I asked.
He thought for a moment. Then he said, "Yes. You love two mortal children. They are your moon and stars. Come stay with me if only for a little while. Tell me what you think of our Lestat and what's happened. Tell me perhaps, if I promise to remain very quiet and not to press you, tell me your opinion of all you've so recently seen."
"You touch on it delicately, Sir, I admire you. You mean why did I believe Lestat when he said he had been to Heaven and Hell, you mean what did I see when I looked at the relic he brought back with him, Veronica's Veil."
"If you want to tell me. But more truly, I wish you would come and rest."
I put my hand on top of his, marveling that in spite of all I'd endured, my skin was almost as white as his.
"You will be patient with my children till I come, won't you?" I asked. "They imagine themselves so intrepidly wicked, coming here to be with me, whistling nonchalantly in the crucible of the Undead, so to speak."
"Undead," he said, smiling reprovingly. "Such language, and in my presence. You know I hate it."
He planted a kiss quickly on my cheek. It startled me, and then I realized that he was gone.
"Old tricks!" I said aloud, wondering if he were still near enough to hear me, or whether he had shut up his ears to me as fiercely as I shut mine to the outside world.
I looked off, wanting the quiet, dreaming of bowers suddenly, not in words but in images, the way my old mind would do it, wanting to lie down in garden beds among growing flowers, wanting to press my face to earth and sing softly to myself.
The spring outside, the warmth, the hovering mist that would be rain. All this I wanted. I wanted the swampy forests beyond, but I wanted Sybelle and Benji, too, and to be gone, and to have some will to carry on.
Ah, Armand, you always lack this very thing, the will. Don't let the old story repeat itself now. Arm yourself with all that's happened.
Another was nearby.
It seemed so awful to me suddenly, that some immortal whom I didn't know should intrude here on my random private thoughts, perhaps to make a selfish approximation of what I felt.
It was only David Talbot.
He came from the chapel wing, through the bridge rooms of the convent that connect it to the main building where I stood at the top of the staircase to the second floor.
I saw him come into the hallway. Behind him was the glass of the door that led to the gallery, and beyond that the soft mingled gold and white light of the courtyard below.
"It's quiet now," he said. "And the attic's empty and you know that you can go there, of course."
"Go away," I said. I felt no anger, only the honest wish to have my thoughts unread and my emotions left alone.
With remarkable self-possession he ignored me, then said:
"Yes, I am afraid of you, a little, but then terribly curious too."
"Oh, I see, so that excuses it, that you followed me here?"
"I didn't follow you, Armand," he said. "I live here."
"Ah, I'm sorry then," I admitted. "I hadn't known. I suppose I'm glad of it. You guard him. He's never alone." I meant Lestat of course.
"Everyone's afraid of you," he said calmly. He had taken up a position only a few feet away, casually folding his arms. "You know, it's quite a study, the lore and habits of the vampires."
"Not to me," I said.
"Yes, I realize that," he said. "I was only musing, and I hope you'll forgive me. It was about the child in the attic, the child they said was murdered. It's a tall story, about a very small little person. Maybe if your luck is better than that of everyone else, you'll see the ghost of the child whose clothes were shut up in the wall."
"Do you mind if I look at you?" I said. "I mean if you're going to dip your beak into my mind with such abandon? We met some time ago before all this happened Lestat, the Heavenly Journey, this place. I never really took stock of you. I was indifferent, or too polite, I don't know which."
I was surprised to hear such heat in my voice. I was volatile, and it wasn't David Talbot's fault.
"I'm thinking of the conventional knowledge about you," I said. "That you weren't born in this body, that you were an elderly man when Lestat knew you, that this body you inhabit now belonged to a clever soul who could hop from living being to living being, and there set up shop with his own trespassing soul."
He gave me a rather disarming smile.
"So Lestat said," he answered. "So Lestat wrote. It's true, of course. You know it is. You've known since you saw me before."
"Three nights we spent together," I said. "And I never really questioned you. I mean I never really even looked directly into your eyes."
"We were thinking of Lestat then."
"Aren't we now?"
"I don't know," he said.
"David Talbot," I said, measuring him coldly with my eyes, "David Talbot, Superior General of the Order of Psychic Detectives known as the Talamasca, had been catapulted into the body in which he now walks." I didn't know whether I paraphrased or made it up as I went along. "He'd been entrenched or chained inside it, made a prisoner by so many ropey veins, and then tricked into a vampire as a fiery unstanchable blood invaded his lucky anatomy, sealing his soul up in it as it transformed him into an immortal a man of dark bronzed skin and dry, lustrous and thick black hair."
"I think you have it right," he said with indulgent politeness.
"A handsome gent," I went on, "the color of caramel, moving with such catlike ease and gilded glances that he makes me think of all things once delectable, and now a potpourri of scent: cinnamon, clove, mild peppers and other spices golden, brown or red, whose fragrances can spike my brain and plunge me into erotic yearnings that live now, more than ever, to play themselves out. His skin must smell like cashew nuts and thick almond creams. It does."
He laughed. "I get your point."
I had shocked myself. I was wretched for a moment. "I'm not sure I get myself," I said apologetically.
"I think it's plain," he said. "You want me to leave you alone."
I saw the preposterous contradictions in all this at once.
"Look," I whispered quickly. "I'm deranged," I whispered. "My senses cross, like so many threads to make a knot: taste, see, smell, feel. I'm rampant."
I wondered idly and viciously if I could attack him, take him, bring him down under my greater craft and cunning and taste his blood without his consent.
"I'm much too far along the road for that," he said, "and why would you chance such a thing?"
What self-possession. The older man in him did indeed command the sturdier younger flesh, the wise mortal with an iron authority over all things eternal and supernaturally powerful. What a blend of energies! Nice to drink his blood, to take him against his will. There is no such fun on Earth like the raping of an equal.
"I don't know," I said, ashamed. Rape is unmanly. "I don't know why I insult you. You know, I wanted to leave quickly. I mean I wanted to visit the attic, and then be out of here. I wanted to avoid this sort of infatuation. You are a wonder, and you think me a wonder, and it's rich."
I let my eyes pass over him. I'd been blind to him when we met last, that was most true.
He dressed to kill. With the cleverness of olden times, when men could preen like peacocks, he'd chosen golden sepia and umber colors for his clothes. He was smart and clean and fretted all over with careful bits of pure gold, in a wristband timepiece and buttons and a slender pin for his modern tie, that tailored spill of color men wear in this age, as if to let us grab them all the more easily by its noose. Stupid ornament. Even his shirt of polished cotton was tawny and full of something of the sun and the warmed earth. Even his shoes were brown, glossy as beetles' backs.
He came towards me.
"You know what I'm going to ask," he said. "Don't wrestle with these unarticulated thoughts, these new experiences, all this overwhelming understanding. Make a book out of it for me."
I couldn't have predicted that this would be his question. I was surprised, sweetly so, but nevertheless taken off guard.
"Make a book? I? Armand?"
I went towards him, turned sharply and fled up the steps to the attic, skirting the third floor and then entering the fourth.
The air was thick and warm here. It was a place daily baked by the sun. All was dry and sweet, the wood like incense and the floors splintery.
"Little girl, where are you?" I asked.
"Child, you mean," he said.
He had come up behind me, taking a bit of time for courtesy's sake.
He added, "She was never here."
"How do you know?"
"If she were a ghost, I could call her," he said.
I looked over my shoulder. "You have that power? Or is this just what you want to say to me right now? Before you venture further, let me warn you that we almost never have the power to see spirits."
"I'm altogether new," David said. "I'm unlike any others. I've come into the Dark World with different faculties. Dare I say, we, our species, vampires, have evolved?"
"The conventional word is stupid," I said. I moved further into the attic. I spied a small chamber with plaster and peeling roses, big floppy prettily drawn Victorian roses with pale fuzzy green leaves. I went into the chamber. Light came from a high window out of which a child could not have seen. Merciless, I thought.
"Who said that a child died here?" I said. All was clean beneath the soil of years. There was no presence. It seemed perfect and just, no ghost to comfort me. Why should a ghost come from some savory rest for my sake?
So I could cuddle up perhaps to the memory of her, her tender legend. How are children murdered in orphanages where only nuns attend? I never thought of women as so cruel. Dried up, without imagination perhaps, but not aggressive as we are, to kill.
I turned round and round. Wooden lockers lined one wall, and one locker stood open, and there the tumbled shoes were, little brown Oxfords, as they called them, with black strings, and now I beheld, where it had been behind me, the broken and frayed hole from which they'd ripped her clothes. All fallen there, moldy and wrinkled they lay, her clothes.
A stillness settled on me as if the dust of this place were a fine ice, coming down from the high peaks of haughty and monstrously selfish mountains to freeze all living things, this ice, to close up and stop forever all that breathed or felt or dreamed or lived.
He spoke in poetry:
"`Fear no more the heat of the sun,'" he whispered. "Nor the furious winter's rages. Fear no more ...'"
I winced with pleasure. I knew the verses. I loved them.
I genuflected, as if before the Sacrament, and touched her clothes. "And she was little, no more than five, and she didn't die here at all. No one killed her. Nothing so special for her."
"How your words belie your thoughts," he said.
"Not so, I think of two things simultaneously. There's a distinction in being murdered. I was murdered. Oh, not by Marius, as you might think, but by others."
I knew I spoke soft and in an assuming way, because this wasn't meant for pure drama.
"I'm trimmed in memories as if in old furs. I lift my arm and the sleeve of memory covers it. I look around and see other times. But you know what frightens me the most it is that this state, like so many others with me, will prove the verge of nothing but extend itself over centuries."
"What do you really fear? What did you want from Lestat when you came here?"
"David, I came to see him. I came to find out how it was with him, and why he lies there, unmoving. I came ." I wasn't going to say any more.
His glossy nails made his hands look ornamental and special, caressive, comely and lovely with which to be touched. He picked up a small dress, torn, gray, spotted with bits of mean lace. Everything dressed in flesh can yield a dizzying beauty if you concentrate on it long enough, and his beauty leapt out without apology.
"Just clothes." Flowered cotton, a bit of velvet with a puffed sleeve no bigger than an apple for the century of bare arms by day and night. "No violence at all surrounding her," he said as if it were a pity. "Just a poor child, don't you think, and sad by nature as well as circumstance."
"And why were they walled up, tell me that! What sin did these little dresses commit?" I sighed. "Good God, David Talbot, why don't we let the little girl have her romance, her fame? You make me angry. You say you can see ghosts. You find them pleasant? You like to talk with them. I could tell you about a ghost ."
"When will you tell me? Look, don't you see the trick of a book?" He stood up, and dusted off his knee with his right hand. In his left was her gathered dress. Something about the whole configuration bothered me, a tall creature holding a little girl's crumpled dress.
"You know, when you think of it," I said, turning away, so I wouldn't see the dress in his hand, "there's no good reason under God for little girls and little boys. Think of it, the other tender issue of mammals. Among puppies or kitten or colts, does one find gender? It's never an issue. The half-grown fragile thing is sexless. There is no determination. There is nothing as splendid to look at as a little boy or girl. My head is so full of notions. I rather think I'll explode if I don't do something, and you say make a book for you. You think it's possible, you think ..."
"What I think is that when you make a book, you tell the tale as you would like to know it!"
"I see no great wisdom in that."
"Well, then think, for most speech is a mere issue of our feelings, a mere explosion. Listen, note the way that you make these outbursts."
"I don't want to."
"But you do, but they are not the words you want to read. When you write, something different happens. You make a tale, no matter how fragmented or experimental or how disregarding of all conventional and helpful forms. Try this for me. No, no, I have a better idea."
"Come down with me into my rooms. I live here now, I told you. Through my windows you can see the trees. I don't live like our friend Louis, wandering from dusty corner to dusty corner, and then back to his flat in the Rue Royale when he's convinced himself once more and for the thousandth time that no one can harm Lestat. I have warm rooms. I use candles for old light. Come down and let me write it, your story. Talk to me. Pace, and rant if you will, or rail, yes, rail, and let me write it, and even so, the very fact that I write, this in itself will make you make a form out of it. You'll begin to ..."
"To tell me what happened. How you died and how you lived."
"Expect no miracles, perplexing scholar. I didn't die in New York that morning. I almost died."
He had me faintly curious, but I could never do what he wanted. Nevertheless he was honest, amazingly so, as far as I could measure, and therefore sincere.
"Ah, so, I didn't mean literally. I meant that you should tell me what it was like to climb so high into the sun, and suffer so much, and, as you said, to discover in your pain all these memories, these connecting links. Tell me! Tell me."
"Not if you mean to make it coherent," I said crossly. I gauged his reaction. I wasn't bothering him. He wanted to talk more.
"Make it coherent? Armand, I'll simply write down what you say." He made his words simple yet curiously passionate.
I flashed on him a playful look. Me! To do that.
He smiled. He wadded up the little dress and then dropped it carefully so it might fall in the middle of the pile of her old clothes.
"I'll not alter one syllable," he said. "Come be with me, and talk to me, and be my love." Again, he smiled.
Suddenly he came towards me, much in the aggressive manner in which I'd thought earlier to approach him. He slipped his hands under my hair, and felt of my face, and then he gathered up the hair and he put his face down into my curls, and he laughed. He kissed my cheek.
"Your hair's like something spun from amber, as if the amber would melt and could be drawn from candle flames in long fine airy threads and let to dry that way to make all these shining tresses. You're sweet, boylike and pretty as a girl. I wish I had one glimpse of you in antique velvet the way you were for him, for Marius. I wish I could see for one moment how it was when you dressed in stockings and wore a belted doublet sewn with rubies. Look at you, the frosty child. My love doesn't even touch you."
This wasn't true.
His lips were hot, and I could feel the fangs under them, feel the urgency suddenly in his fingers pressing against my scalp. It sent the shivers through me, and my body tensed and then shuddered, and it was sweet beyond prediction. I resented this lonely intimacy, resented it enough to transform it, or rid myself of it utterly. I'd rather die or be away, in the dark, simple and lonely with common tears.
From the look in his eyes, I thought he could love without giving anything. Not a connoisseur, just a blood drinker.
"You make me hungry," I whispered. "Not for you but for one who is doomed and yet alive. I want to hunt. Stop it. Why do you touch me? Why be so gentle?"
"Everyone wants you," he said.
"Oh, I know. Everyone would ravage a guilty cunning child! Everyone would have a laughing boy who knows his way around the block. Kids make better food than women, and girls are all too much like women, but young boys? They're not like men, are they?"
"Don't mock me. I meant I wanted only to touch you, to feel how soft you are, how eternally young."
"Oh, that's me, eternally young," I said. "You speak nonsense words for one so pretty yourself. I'm going out. I have to feed. And when I've finished with that, when I'm full and hot, then I'll come and I'll talk to you and tell you anything you want." I stepped back just a little from him, feeling the quivers through me as his fingers released my hair. I looked at the empty white window, peering too high for the trees.
"They could see nothing green here, and it's spring outside, southern spring. I can smell it through the walls. I want to look just for a moment on flowers. To kill, to drink blood and to have flowers."
"Not good enough. Want to make the book," he said. "Want to make it now and want you to come with me. I won't hang around forever."
"Oh, nonsense, of course you will. You think I'm a doll, don't you? You think I'm cute and made of poured wax, and you'll stay as long as I stay."
"You're a bit mean, Armand. You look like an angel, and talk like a common thug."
"Such arrogance! I thought you wanted me."
"Only on certain terms."
"You lie, David Talbot," I said.
I headed past him for the stairs. Cicadas sang in the night as they often do, to no clock, in New Orleans.
Through the nine-pane windows of the stairwell, I glimpsed the flowering trees of spring, a bit of vine curling on a porch top.
He followed. Down and down we went, walking like regular men, down to the first floor, and out the sparkling glass doors and into the broad lighted space of Napoleon Avenue with its damp, sweet park of green down the middle, a park thick with carefully planted flowers and old gnarled and humble, bending trees.
The whole picture moved with the subtle river winds, and wet mist swirled but would not fall into rain itself, and tiny green leaves drifted down like wilting ashes to the ground. Soft soft southern spring. Even the sky seemed pregnant with the season, lowering yet blushing with reflected light, giving birth to the mist from all its pores.
Strident perfume rose from the gardens right and left, from purple Four O'Clocks, as mortals call them here, a rampant flower like unto weed, but infinitely sweet, and the wild irises stabbing upwards like blades out of the black mud, throaty petals monstrously big, battering themselves on old walls and concrete steps, and then as always there were roses, roses of old women and roses of the young, roses too whole for the tropical night, roses coated with poison.
There had been streetcars here once on this center strip of grass. I knew it, that the tracks had run along this wide deep green space where I walked ahead of him, slumward, riverward, deathward, bloodward. He came after me. I could close my eyes as I walked, never losing a step, and see the streetcars.
"Come on, follow me," I said, describing what he did, not inviting him.
Blocks and blocks within seconds. He kept up. Very strong. The blood of an entire Royal Vampire court was inside him, no doubt of it. Count on Lestat to make the most lethal of monsters, that is, after his initial seductive blunders Nicolas, Louis, Claudia not a single one of the three able to take care of themselves alone, and two perished, and one lingering and perhaps the weakest vampire yet walking in the great world.
I looked back. His tight, polished brown face startled me. He looked lacquered all over, waxed, buffed, and once again I thought of spicy things, of the meat of candied nuts, and delicious aromas, of chocolates sweet with sugar and dark rich butterscotch, and it seemed a good thing suddenly to maybe grab ahold of him.
But this was no substitute for one rotten, cheap, ripe and odoriferous mortal. And guess what? I pointed. "Over there."
He looked as I directed him. He saw the sagging line of old buildings. Mortals everywhere lurked, slept, sat, dined, wandered, amid tiny narrow stairs, behind peeling walls and under cracked ceilings.
I had found one, most perfect in his wickedness, a great flurry of hateful embers, of malice and greed and contempt smoldering as he waited for me.
We'd come to Magazine Street and passed it, but we were not at the river, only almost, and this was a street I had no recollection of, or knowledge of, in my wanderings of this city their city, Louis's and Lestat's just a narrow street with these houses the color of driftwood under the moon and windows hung with makeshift coverings, and inside there was this one slouching, arrogant, vicious mortal fixed to a television set and guzzling malt from a brown bottle, ignoring the roaches and the pulsing heat that pressed in from the open window, this ugly, sweating, filthy and irresistible thing, this flesh and blood for me.
The house was so alive with vermin and tiny despicable things that it seemed no more than a shell surrounding him, crackling and friable and the same color in all its shadows as a forest. No antiseptic modern standards here. Even the furniture rotted in the trashy clutter and damp. Mildew covered the grinding white refrigerator.
Only the reeky personal bed and rags gave off the clue to reigning domesticity.
It was a proper nest in which to find this fowl, this ugly bird, thick rich pluckable, devourable sack of bones and blood and shabby plumage.
I pushed the door to one side, the human stench rising like a swirl of gnats, and thereby put it off its hinges, but not with much sound.
I walked on newspapers strewn on painted wood. Orange peels turned to brownish leather. Roaches running. He didn't even look up. His swollen drunken face was blue and eerie, black eyebrows thick and unkempt, and yet he looked quite possibly a bit angelic, due to the light from the tube.
He flicked the magic plastic twanger in his hand to make the channels change, and the light flared and flickered soundlessly, and then he let the song rise, a band playing, a travesty, people clapping.
Trashy noises, trashy images, like the trash all around him. All right, I want you. No one else does.
He looked up at me, a boy invader, David too far off for him to see, waiting.
I pushed the television set to the side. It teetered, then fell onto the floor, its parts breaking, like so many jars of energy were inside, and now splinters of glass.
A momentary fury overcame him, charging his face with sluggish recognition.
He rose up, arms out, and came at me.
Before I sank my teeth, I noticed that he had long tangled black hair. Dirty but rich. He wore it back by means of a knotted bit of rag at the base of his neck and then straggling down his checkered shirt in a thick tail.
Meantime, he had enough syrupy and beer-besotted blood in him for two vampires, delicious, ugly, and a raging fighting heart, and so much bulk it was like riding a bull to be on him.
In the midst of the feed, all odors rise to sweetness, even the most rancid. I thought I would quietly die of joy, as always.
I sucked hard enough to fill my mouth, letting the blood roll over my tongue, and then to fill my stomach, if I have one, but above all just to stanch this greedy dirty thirst, but not hard enough to slow him down.
He swooned and fought, and did the stupid thing of tearing at my fingers, and then the most dangerous and clumsy thing of trying to find my eyes. I shut them tight and let him press with his greasy thumbs. It did him no good. I am an impregnable little boy. You can not blind the blind. I was too full of blood to care. Besides it felt good. Those weak things that would scratch you do only stroke you.
His life went by as if everyone he ever loved were riding a roller coaster under snazzy stars. Worse than a Van Gogh painting. You never know the palette of the one you kill until the mind disgorges its finest colors.
Soon enough he sank down. I went with him. I had my left arm all the way around him now, and I lay childlike against his big muscular belly, and I drew the blood out now in the blindest gushes, pressing everything he thought and saw and felt down into only color, just give me color, pure orange, and just for a second, as he died as the death passed me by, like a big rolling ball of black strength which turns out to be nothing actually, nothing but smoke or something even less than that as this death came into me and went out again like the wind, I thought, Do I by crushing everything that he is deprive him of a final knowing?
Nonsense, Armand. You know what the spirits know, what the angels know. The bastard is going home! To Heaven. To Heaven that would not have you, and might never.
In death, he looked most excellent.
I sat beside him. I wiped my mouth, not that there was a drop to wipe. Vampires slobber blood only in motion pictures. Even the most mundane immortal is far too skilled to spill a drop. I wiped my mouth because his sweat was on my lips and on my face, and I wanted it to go away.
I admired him, however, that he was big and wondrously hard for all his seeming roundness. I admired the black hair clinging to his wet chest where the shirt had been so inevitably torn away.
His black hair was something to behold. I ripped the knotted cloth that tied it. It was as full and thick as a woman's hair.
Making sure he was dead, I wrapped its length around my left hand and purposed to pull the whole mass from his scalp.
David gasped. "Must you do this?" he asked me.
"No," I said. Even then a few thousand strands had ripped loose from the scalp, each with only its tiny blooded root winking in the air like a tiny firefly. I held the mop for a moment and then let it slip out of my fingers and fall down behind his turned head.
Those unanchored hairs fell sloppily over his coarse cheek. His eyes were wet and wakeful-seeming, dying jelly.
David turned and went out into the little street. Cars roared and clattered by. A ship on the river sang with a steam calliope.
I came up behind him. I wiped the dust off me. One blow and I could have set the whole house to falling down, just caving in on the putrid filth within, dying softly amid other houses so no one indoors here would even know, all this moist wood merely caving.
I could not get the taste and smell of this sweat gone.
"Why did you so object to my pulling out his hair?" I asked. "I only wanted to have it, and he's dead and beyond caring and no one else will miss his black hair."
He turned with a sly smile and took my measure.
"You frighten me, the way you look," I said. "Have I so carelessly revealed myself to be a monster? You know, my blessed mortal Sybelle, when she is not playing the Sonata by Beethoven called the Appassionata, watches me feed all the time. Do you want me to tell my story now?"
I glanced back at the dead man on his side, his shoulder sagging. On the windowsill beyond and above him stood a blue glass bottle and in it was an orange flower. Isn't that the damnedest thing?
"Yes, I do want your story," David said. "Come, let's go back together. I only asked you not to take his hair for one reason."
"Yes?" I asked. I looked at him. Rather genuine curiosity. "What was the reason then? I was only going to pull out all his hair and throw it away."
"Like pulling off the wings of a fly," he offered seemingly without judgment.
"A dead fly," I said. I deliberately smiled. "Come now, why the fuss?"
"I wanted to see if you'd listen to me," he said. "That's all. Because if you did then it might be all right between us. And you stopped. And it is." He turned around and took my arm.
"I don't like you!" I said.
"Oh, yes, you do, Armand," he answered. "Let me write it. Pace and rail and rant. You're very high and mighty right now because you have those two splendid little mortals hanging on your every gesture, and they're like acolytes to a god. But you want to tell me the story, you know you do. Come on!"
I couldn't stop myself from laughing. "Have these tactics worked for you in the past?"
Now it was his turn to laugh and he did, good-naturedly. "No, I suppose not," he said. "But let me put it to you this way, write it for them."
"For Benji and Sybelle." He shrugged. "No?"
I didn't answer.
Write the story for Benji and Sybelle. My mind raced forwards, to some cheerful and wholesome room, where we three would be gathered years hence I, Armand, unchanged, boy teacher and Benji and Sybelle in their mortal prime, Benji grown into a sleek tall gentleman with an Arab's ink-eyed allure and his favorite cheroot in his hand, a man of great expectation and opportunity, and my Sybelle, a curvaceous and full regal-bodied woman by then, and an even greater concert pianist than she could be now, her golden hair framing a woman's oval face and fuller womanish lips and eyes full of entsagang and secret radiance.
Could I dictate the story in this room and give them the book? This book dictated to David Talbot? Could I, as I set them free from my alchemical world, give them this book? Go forth my children, with all the wealth and guidance I could bestow, and now this book I wrote so long ago for you with David.
Yes, said my soul. Yet I turned, and ripped the black scalp of hair from my victim and stomped on it with a Rumpelstiltskin foot.
David didn't flinch. Englishmen are so polite.
"Very well," I said. "I'll tell you my story."
His rooms were on the second floor, not far from where I'd paused at the top of the staircase. What a change from the barren and unheated hallways! He'd made a library for himself and with tables and chairs. A brass bed was there, dry and clean.
"These are her rooms," he said. "Don't you remember?"
"Dora," I said. I breathed her scent suddenly. Why, it was all around me. But all her personal things were gone.
These were his books, they had to be. They were new spiritual explorers Dannion Brinkley, Hilarion, Melvin Morse, Brian Weiss, Matthew Fox, the Urantia book. Add to this old texts Cassiodorus, St. Teresa of Avila, Gregory of Tours, the Veda, Talmud, Torah, Kama Sutra all in original tongues. He had a few obscure novels, plays, poetry.
"Yes." He sat down at the table. "I don't need the light. Do you want it?"
"I don't know what to tell you."
"Ah," he said. He took out his mechanical pen. He opened a notebook with startlingly white paper scored with fine green lines. "You will know what to tell me." He looked up at me.
I stood hugging myself, as it were, letting my head fall as if it could drop right off me and I would die. My hair fell long about me.
I thought of Sybelle and Benjamin, my quiet girl and exuberant boy.
"Did you like them, David, my children?" I asked.
"Yes, the first moment I saw them, when you brought them in. Everyone did. Everyone looked lovingly and respectfully at them. Such poise, such charm. I think we all dream of such confidants, faithful mortal companions of compelling grace, who aren't screaming mad. They love you, yet they are neither terrified nor entranced."
I didn't move. I didn't speak. I shut my eyes. I heard in my heart the swift, bold march of the Appassionata, those rumbling, incandescent waves of music, full of throbbing and brittle metal, Appassionata. Only it was in my head. No golden long-limbed Sybelle.
"Light the candles that you have," I said timidly. "Will you do that for me? It would be sweet to have many candles, and look, Dora's lace is hanging still on the windows, fresh and clean. I am a lover of lace, that is Brussels point de gaze, or very like it, yes, I'm rather mad for it."
"Of course, I'll light the candles," he said.
I had my back to him. I heard the sharp delicious crack of a small wooden match. I smelt it burn, and then came the liquid fragrance of the nodding wick, the curling wick, and the light rose upwards, finding the cypress boards of the stripped wooden ceiling above us. Another crack, another series of tiny sweet soft crackling sounds, and the light swelled and came down over me and fell just short of brightness along the shadowy wall.
"Why did you do it, Armand?" he said. "Oh, the Veil has Christ on it, in some form, no doubt of it, it did seem to be the Holy Veil of Veronica, and God knows, thousands of others believed it, yes, but why in your case, why? It was blazingly beautiful, yes, I grant you that, Christ with His thorns and His blood, and His eyes gazing right at us, both of us, but why did you believe it so completely, Armand, after so long? Why did you go to Him? That's what you tried to do, didn't you?"
I shook my head. I made my words soft and pleading.
"Back up, scholar," I said, turning around slowly. "Mind your page. This is for you, and for Sybelle. Oh, it's for my little Benji too. But in a way, it's my symphony for Sybelle. The story begins a long time ago. Maybe I've never truly realized how long ago, until this very moment. You listen and write. Let me be the one to cry and to rant and to rail."