Merrick, p.14

Merrick, page 14

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 13



  MERRICK¡¯S CUTS were not deep, though the flood of blood had been quite terrifying. I was able to bandage her up fairly decently, and then take her to the nearest hospital, where she was given the proper treatment for the wounds.

  I don't remember what nonsense we told the attending physician, except that we convinced him that though the wounds had been selfinflicted, Merrick was in her right mind. Then I insisted we return to the Motherhouse, and Merrick, who was at that time in some sort of daze, agreed. I went back for the Scotch, I'm ashamed to say, but then one tends to remember the flavor of a twentyfiveyearold singlemalt Highland Scotch like Macallan.

  Besides, I'm not sure I was in my right mind. I remember drinking in the car, which I never do, and Merrick falling asleep against my shoulder, her right hand clamped to my wrist.

  You can well imagine my state of mind.

  The visible spirit of Honey in the Sunshine had been one of the more ominous ghosts I'd ever beheld. I was used to shadows, interior voices, and even possession; but to see the seemingly solid form of Honey in the Sunshine standing in the doorway was utterly shattering. The voice alone had been terrifying, but the shape, its apparent solidity and duration, the manner in which the light had played upon it, the eyes being so very reflective¡ªall of this was a little more than I could easily bear.

  Then there was the question of my own paralysis during this experience. How had Merrick accomplished this thing? In sum, I was badly shaken but very deeply impressed.

  Of course Merrick was not going to say how she had done any part of it. In fact, Merrick didn't want to speak of it at all. At the mere mention of Honey's name, she began to cry. As a man, I found that maddening and unfair. But there was nothing I could do about it. Merrick would wipe her tears, and at once turned the subject to our jungle venture.

  As for my opinion of the ritual she had used to summon Honey, I had found it simple, its chief component Merrick's own personal power, and the sudden dreadful connection with a spirit who apparently was not at rest.

  Whatever, that night and on the following day, all Merrick wanted to talk about was the jungle trip. She had become a monomaniac of sorts. She'd bought her khaki garments. She'd even ordered mine! We must go to Central America directly. We must have the finest camera equipment and all the support which the Talamasca could provide.

  She wanted to return to the cave because there were other items there, and she wanted to see the land which had been important to her ancient Oncle Vervain. Oncle Vervain would not be haunting her if there were not substantial treasure there which he wanted for her to possess. Oncle Vervain was not going to let her alone.

  For two days afterwards, while imbibing ridiculous quantities of the delicious fullbodied Macallan Scotch, of which she had laid in several bottles, I tried to control Merrick, to prevent the journey from taking place. But it was quite useless. I was getting drunk over and over again, and Merrick was determined. If I did not give Talamasca authority and support, she would take off on her own.

  But the fact was, though I advised against everything, I felt young again on account of these experiences. I felt the curious excitement of one who has seen a ghost firsthand. And I also did not want to go to my grave without ever seeing a tropical jungle again. Even the arguments with Merrick had a wildly stimulating effect. That this beautiful and strong young woman wanted me to go with her, this went to my head.

  "We're going," said Merrick, who was poring over a map in the Talamasca library. "Look, I know the way now. Honey's given me the only keys I required. I remember the landmarks and I know that part of the jungle's still unexplored. I've been through all the recent books on the territory. "

  "But you haven't found Santa Cruz del Flores in your books, have you?" I protested.

  "Never mind. It's there. It's simply too small to be on the maps we purchase here. They'll know it when we reach northern Guatemala. Leave it to me. There simply isn't enough money for every ruin to be studied, and there are a nest of ruins in that part of the jungle, possibly a temple complex or even a city. You said this to me yourself.

  "I remember seeing a spectacular temple. Don't you want to see it with your own eyes?" She was as cross and unpretentious as a child. "David, please do spring into life as Superior General, or whatever, and arrange everything for us both at once. "

  "But why do you think Honey in the Sunshine gave you the answers to your questions so easily?" I asked. "Has that not aroused your suspicion?"

  "David, that's simple," said Merrick. "Honey wanted to say something of value, because Honey wants me to call her again. "

  The obvious truth of that statement shocked me somewhat.

  "God knows, Merrick, you're strengthening this spirit. Certainly it should be encouraged to move towards the Light. "

  "Of course I urge her to go," Merrick answered, "but Honey's not leaving me. I told you that evening, I told you I've been feeling Honey's presence for years. All this time I've been pretending there was no Honey, there was no jungle, I didn't have to go back to these painful memories, I could bury myself in academic studies. You know that.

  "But I've completed the basic academic portion of my life. And now I must go back. Now, stop mentioning Honey; for the love of Heaven, you think I want to think about what I did?" Then back she went to the maps again, sending for another bottle of Macallan for me, and telling me that we would need tent equipment on this trip, and I should be starting the arrangements now.

  At last I pleaded that it was the rainy season in those jungles and we should wait until Christmas when the rains had stopped. She was ready for that objection; the rains were over; she had checked the reports daily. We could go now.

  There was nothing to be done except to proceed with the journey. If I had condemned the plan as Superior General, Merrick would have taken off for Central America alone. As a fullfledged member of the Order, she had drawn a large allowance for several years and she had banked every penny of it. She could go off on her own and she told me as much.

  "Look," she said, "it will break my heart to go against your wishes, but I will if I must. "

  And so it was that we arranged to have four Talamasca field assistants accompany us, both to handle all camp equipment and to carry firearms in case we encountered bandits where we meant to go.

  Now let me explain briefly about these field assistants for anyone reading this story who might be curious on their account. The Talamasca has many such field assistants throughout the world. They are not fullfledged members of the Order, they have no access to the archives and certainly no access to or knowledge of the Talamasca's vaults. They do not take vows as do true members of the Order. They do not need or have psychic ability. They are not committed for any number of years or for life.

  Indeed, they are employees of the Talamasca under its various corporate names, and their prime purpose is to accompany members on archaeological or exploratory expeditions, to assist us in foreign cities and countries, and in general to do what they are asked to do. They are expert in obtaining passports, visas, and the right to carry arms in other countries. Many have a background in law, as well as the armed services of different nations. They are reliable to a remarkable degree.

  Were we to find this cave and its treasure, it was the field assistants who would arrange for the artifacts to be legally and securely transported out of the country with all appropriate permissions obtained and fees paid. Now, whether this latter type of activity would involve anything that wasn't legal, I honestly didn't know. It was the field assistants' department, so to speak.

  These people do have some vague knowledge that the Talamasca is a tightly organized Order of psychic investigators, but in general they like what they do, enjoying enormous salaries, and they never seek to penetrate or fathom the Order at all. Many of them are seasoned soldiers of fortune. Their work for us almost never involves deliberate violence. And they cherish the opportunity
to receive good pay from a relatively benign source.

  At last the day came for us to leave. Aaron was past all patience with both of us, and, having never been a jungle traveler, he was greatly agitated, but he accompanied us agreeably to the plane.

  We flew south, to Guatemala City, where we confirmed the existence and the location of the Maya village of Santa Cruz del Flores to the northeast. Merrick was wonderfully excited.

  A small plane took us to a lovely northern city closer to our destination. And from there we set out with the field assistants in two wellstocked jeeps.

  I loved the warmth, the sound of the soft rain, the lilt of Spanish and the native Amerindian voices; and the sight of so many Amerindians in their beautiful white clothes and with their gentle faces made me feel wonderfully drenched in the cultural riches of a foreign and still unspoiled place.

  Actually there is plenty of trouble in that part of the world, but we were able to stay well away from it. And my eyes were for the pleasant detail.

  No matter. I found myself extraordinarily happy. It was as if I were young again, and the sight of Merrick in her khaki safari jacket and short culottes was as marvelously stimulating as her air of command was soothing to my nerves.

  Merrick drove our jeep rather like a maniac, but as long as the second car in our little caravan kept up with us, I didn't complain. I chose not to think about the gallons of petrol we were carrying, and how it might explode were we to crash into a chicle tree. I merely trusted that any woman who could evoke a ghost could drive a jeep on a dangerous road.

  The jungle was breathtaking. Banana and citrus trees all but blocked our way on both sides of the winding uphill drive; here and there were giant mahogany trees soaring to a hundred and fifty feet; and out of the high canopy above came the frightening but unmistakable roar of the howler monkeys and the cry of countless species of exotic bird.

  Our little world was drenched in green, but again and again we found ourselves on a high promontory from which we could view the canopy of the jungle as it spread out on the volcanic slopes below.

  Very soon it became apparent that we had entered a cloud forest, and again and again we experienced that marvelous sensation when the clouds truly enveloped us and the sweet dampness penetrated the coverless windows of the jeep and settled on our skin.

  Merrick knew I was loving it.

  "I promise you," she said, "the last part won't be hard. "

  At last we reached Santa Cruz del Flores, a jungle village, so small and so out of the way that the recent political strife in the country had not touched it at all.

  Merrick announced that it was very much as she remembered it¡ªa small grouping of brightly painted thatchedroof buildings, and a small but remarkably beautiful old stone Spanish church. There were pigs, chickens, and turkeys roaming about everywhere. And I spied some cornfields cut from the jungle, but not very much. The town plaza was beaten dirt.

  When our two jeeps pulled in, the gentle local inhabitants came out to greet us quite sympathetically, enforcing my opinion that the native Maya Indians are some of the most enchanting people in the world. They were for the most part women, dressed in pretty white garments with remarkable embroidery on them. I saw faces about me which reminded me immediately of the ancient countenances of Central America preserved in Maya, and possibly Olmec, art.

  Most of the men of the village had gone off to work on the distant sugarcane plantations, or at the nearest chicle ranch, I was told. I wondered if it were forced labor, and decided it was best not to ask. As for the women, they often walked many miles in a day to offer their skillfully woven baskets and embroidered linens for sale at a big native market. They were thankful for a chance to display their wares at home.

  There was no hotel of any sort whatsoever, indeed no post office, no phone, and no telegraph¡ªbut there were several old women who would eagerly give us lodgings in their houses. Our dollars were welcome. There were lovely local crafts for sale and we purchased freely. There was plenty of food to be had.

  I at once wanted to see the church, and was informed by one of the locals in Spanish that I must not enter by the front door without first asking permission of the deity who governed that entrance. Of course, I could go in by the side, if I wished.

  Not wishing to offend anyone, I took the side entrance and found myself in a simple whitewalled building amid ancient Spanish wooden statues and the usual flickering candles, a very comforting place indeed.

  I think I prayed the way I had in the old days, in Brazil. I prayed to all those benevolent deities unseen to be with us and protect us from any form of harm.

  Merrick joined me a few moments later¡ªmaking the Sign of the Cross and kneeling at the Communion Rail for long moments of prayer. Eventually I went outside to wait.

  There I spied a somewhat wrinkled old man, short of stature, and with shoulderlength black hair. He was dressed simply in a machine-made shirt and pants. I knew at once that he was the local shaman. I gave him a respectful bow, and though his eyes lingered on me with no hint of menace, I went my way.

  I was hot but I was supremely happy. The village was fringed with coconut palms and there were even some pine trees due to the elevation, and for the first time in my life, as I walked about the bordering jungles I saw many exquisite butterflies in the dappled gloom.

  There were moments when I was so purely happy that I could have given way to tears. I was secretly grateful to Merrick for this journey. And I concluded in my heart of hearts that no matter what happened from here on out, the experience had been well worth it for me.

  When it came to our lodging, we chose a compromise.

  Merrick sent the four field assistants to live in the village homes, after they had pitched and stocked a tent for us just behind the most farflung village house. All of this seemed perfectly reasonable to me until I realized we were an unmarried man and woman residing in this tent, and it wasn't very proper at all.

  Never mind. Merrick was powerfully stimulated by our adventure, as was I, and I was eager for her company alone. The Talamasca assistants outfitted the tent with cots, lanterns, camp desks, and chairs; made certain Merrick had ample batteries for her laptop computer; and, after a wonderful supper¡ªtortillas, beans, and delicious wild turkey meat¡ªwe were left alone as night fell, in marvelous privacy, to discuss what we meant to do the following day.

  "I don't intend taking the others with us," Merrick averred. "We're way beyond the danger of bandits, and, as I told you, it isn't far. I remember one small settlement along the way. It's tiny compared to this one. The people will leave us alone. "

  She was more excited than I'd ever known her to be.

  "Of course we can cover some of the road with the jeep before we start walking, and you'll see Maya ruins around us just as soon as we set out. We're going to drive through those, and walk where the trails gives out. "

  She settled back on her cot, resting on one elbow, and drank her dark Flor de Ca?a rum, which she'd bought in the city before we set out.

  "Wooh! This is good," she told me, and of course this struck predictable terror in me that she meant to go on a bender here in the jungle.

  "Don't worry about it, David," she said. "Fact is, you ought to take a drink of this yourself. "

  I suspected her motives, but nevertheless succumbed. I was really in Heaven, I have to confess.

  What I remember of that evening still produces in me a certain amount of guilt. I did drink far too much of the delicious aromatic rum. At some point, I remember lying back on my bed and looking up into the face of Merrick, who had come to sit beside me. Then Merrick leant down to kiss me and I pulled her very close, responding a little more rashly perhaps than she had expected. But she was not displeased.

  Now, I was a person for whom sexuality had pretty much lost its appeal. When I had been occasionally aroused, during those last twenty years of my mortal life, it was almost always by a young man.

  But the a
ttraction of Merrick seemed somehow to have nothing to do with gender. I found myself overly excited and eager to consummate what had so haphazardly begun. Only as I shifted to let her lie beneath me, where I wanted her to be, did I gain some control over myself, and rise from the cot.

  "David," she whispered. I heard my name echo: David, David. I couldn't move.

  I saw her shadowy form there waiting for me. And for the first time I realized that the lanterns had been put out. A little light came from the nearest house, barely penetrating the fabric of the tent, and of course it was quite sufficient for me to see that she had taken off her clothes.

  "Damn it, I can't do this," I said. But in truth I was afraid that I couldn't finish it. I was afraid that I was too old.

  She rose with that same suddenness which had startled me when she began to summon Honey in her little seance, and she wrapped her naked arms around me and began to kiss me in earnest, her skilled hand going directly to the root of my desire.

  I do believe I hesitated, but that I don't recall. What is vivid still is that we lay together and that, though I failed myself morally, I did not fail her at all. I did not fail the two of us as a man and a woman, and there was afterwards both a drowsiness and a sense of exultation that left no room for shame.

  It seemed, as I drifted off to sleep with my arms around her, that this had been building all of the years during which I'd known her. I belonged to her now, quite completely. I was drenched with the scent of her perfume and her rum, of her skin and her hair. I wanted nothing but to be with her and to sleep beside her, and that the warmth of her would penetrate my inevitable dreams.

  When I awoke in the morning, right at dawn, I was too shocked by everything that had taken place to know quite what to do. She was sleeping soundly, in a marvelously disheveled state, and I, humiliated that I had so dreadfully betrayed my position as Superior General, ripped my eyes off her, bathed, dressed, reached for my journal, and went out and into the little Spanish church so that I could write about my sins.

  Once again I spied the shaman, who was standing to one side of the church building and watching me as though he knew everything that had taken place. His presence made me extremely uncomfortable. I no longer thought him to be innocent or quaint. And of course I despised myself utterly, but I had to admit I was invigorated, as is always the case with this kind of encounter, and, naturally, oh yes, naturally, I felt very young.

  In the quiet and cool of the little church with its sloped roof and its uncritical saints, I wrote for perhaps an hour.

  Then Merrick came in, said her prayers, and came to sit beside me, as if nothing at all had happened, and then whispered to me excitedly that we should go.

  "I've betrayed your trust, young woman," I whispered immediately.

  "Don't be so foolish," she fired back. "You did exactly what I wanted you to do. Do you think I wanted to be humiliated? Of course not!"

  "You're putting the wrong meaning on everything," I argued.

  She reached for the back of my neck, held my head as firmly as she could, and kissed me.

  "Let's go," she said, as if speaking to a child. "We're wasting time. Come on. "
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