Merrick, p.17

Merrick, page 17

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 16



  IT WAS AN HOUR before dawn when I finished the story.

  Louis had listened all of this time in silence, never bringing a question, never making a distraction, but merely absorbing my words.

  Out of respect for me, he remained silent, but I could see a flood of emotion in his face. His darkgreen eyes made me think of Merrick's, and for one moment I felt such a desire for her, such a horror of what I'd done, that I couldn't speak.

  Finally Louis explained the very perceptions and sensations that were overwhelming me as I thought about all I'd said.

  "I never realized how much you loved this woman," he said. "I never realized how very different you are from me. "

  "I love her, yes, and perhaps I myself didn't realize how much until I told you the history. I made myself see it. I made myself remember. I made myself experience my union with her again. But when you speak of you and me being different, you must tell me what you mean. "

  "You're wise," he said, "Wise in ways that only an elderly human being can be. You experienced old age in a way that none of the rest of us has ever known. Not even the great mother, Maharet, knew infirmity before she was made a vampire centuries ago. Certainly, Lestat has never grasped it, in spite of all his injuries. And I? I've been too young for too long. "

  "Don't condemn yourself for it. Do you think human beings are meant to know the bitterness and loneliness I knew in my last mortal years? I don't think so. Like all creatures, we're made to live until our prime. All the rest is spiritual and physical disaster. Of that I'm convinced. "

  "I can't agree with you," he said modestly. "What tribe on earth has not had elders? How much of our art and our knowledge comes from those who've lived into old age? You sound like Lestat when you say such things, speaking of his Savage Garden. The world has never seemed a hopelessly savage place to me. "

  I smiled.

  "You believe so many things," I said. "One has only to press you to discover them, yet you deny the value of everything you've learned, in your constant melancholy. You do, you know. "

  He nodded. "I can't make sense of things, David," he said.

  "Maybe we're not meant to, any of us, whether we're old or very young. "

  "Possibly so," he said. "But what's very important now is that we both make a solemn vow. We will not injure this vital and unique woman. Her strength won't blind us. We will feed her curiosity and be just to her, and protective of her, but we will not bring her any harm. "

  I nodded. I knew his meaning quite plainly. Oh, how I knew it.

  "Would that I could say," he whispered, "that we would withdraw our request. Would that I could endure without Merrick's magic. Would that I could leave this world without ever seeing Claudia's ghost. "

  "Don't talk of ending it, please, I can't listen to it," I hastened to say.

  "Oh, but I must talk of it. It's all I think about. "

  "Then think of those words I spoke to the spirit in the cave. Life belongs to those who are alive. You are alive. "

  "At such a price," he said.

  "Louis, we are both of us desperate to live," I said. "We look to Merrick's magic for consolation. We dream of looking through the mask ourselves, don't we? We want to see something that does make it all come together, is that not so?"

  "I don't know that I'm so deliberate, David," he responded. His face was dark with worry, heavy with fine lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth, lines that vanished whenever his face was still. "I don't know what I want," he confessed. "Oh, but to see spirits as Merrick has seen them, as you've seen them. Oh, if only I could hear the ghostly harpsichord that others hear in this place. Oh, if I could talk to a spirit with the strength of Honey in the Sunshine, what that would mean to me. "

  "Louis, what can make you want to continue?" I asked. "What could make you see that we are privileged witnesses of what the world has to offer on all sides?"

  He laughed, a short polite but contemptuous laugh.

  "A clear conscience, David," he replied. "What else?"

  "Then take the blood I have to give," I said to him. "Take the blood Lestat has offered you more than once. Take the blood that you've refused so many times, and be strong enough to live by the 'little drink' and push death out of your way. "

  I was a bit surprised at the vehemence with which I recommended this, because before this conversation¡ªbefore this long night of storytelling¡ªI had thought his decision to refuse the powerful blood to be very wise.

  As I've stated in this narrative, he was weak enough that the sun might easily destroy him, and in that lay an immense consolation which Lestat and I did not share.

  Now, he studied me with a look of interest. I saw no condemnation in his eyes.

  I rose and walked slowly about the room. Once again, I looked at the bright and confident painting by Monet. All my life seemed close to me suddenly; all my determination was to live.

  "No, I can't die by my own will," I murmured, "not even if it's as simple as going into the sunlight. That I cannot do. I want to know what happens! I want to know when and if Lestat wakes from his dreamy sleep. I want to know what will become of Merrick! I want to know what will become of Armand. That I can live forever? Oh, how I cherish it! I cannot pretend to be the mortal who once refused Lestat. I cannot reach back and claim that being's unimaginative heart. "

  I turned and it seemed the room was pulsing violently around me, all its color coalescing, as though Monet's spirit had infected the very fabric of the solid matter and the air. All the objects of the room seemed arbitrary and symbolic. And beyond lay the savage night¡ªLestat's Savage Garden¡ªand random unanswerable stars.

  As for Louis, he was captivated as only he can become, yielding as men almost never yield, no matter in what shape or form the male spirit may be clothed.

  "You're all so very strong," he said in a low, reverent, and sad voice. "All so very strong. "

  "But we'll make that vow, old friend," I said, "with regard to Merrick. There will come a time when Merrick will want this magic and reproach us with our selfishness, that we have begged for hers while refusing her our own. "

  Louis seemed almost on the edge of tears.

  "Don't underestimate her, David," he said in a raw voice. "Perhaps she's quite as invincible as you were, in her own way. Perhaps she has shocks in store for us, of which we're unaware. "

  "Have I lead you to believe so?" I asked. "With all I've said?"

  "You've given me her picture in deep and enduring detail," he answered. "Don't you think she knows my misery? Don't you think she will feel it when we meet?" He hesitated, then continued, "She won't want to share our existence. Why should she when she can make herself appear to others, when she can look through a jade mask and see her sister's ghost. From all you've said, I've drawn the conclusion that she won't be at all eager to give up forever the sight of the Egyptian sand in the noonday sun. "

  I smiled. I couldn't stop myself. I thought he was completely wrong.

  "I don't know, old friend," I said, straining for courtesy. "I simply don't know. I know only I'm committed to our wretched purpose. And all that I've deliberately recalled has not taught me to be wary or kind. "

  He rose from his chair slowly, silently, and walked to the door of the room. I realized it was time for him to go now and find his coffin, and that shortly I should do the same thing.

  I followed him, and we went out of the town house together, down the back iron steps and through the wet garden and to the front gate.

  I did see the black cat for one instant on the top of the rear wall, but I made no mention of it, determined that cats were simply common in New Orleans and I was being just a bit of a fool.

  At last it came time for us to part.

  "I'll spend the next few evenings with Lestat," Louis said quietly. "I want to read to him. He doesn't respond but he doesn't stop me. You'll know where to find me when Merrick returns. "

  "Does he n
ever say anything to you?" I asked, regarding Lestat.

  "Sometimes he speaks, just a little. He'll ask for Mozart perhaps, or that I read him some old poetry. But in the main, he's as you see him yourself, unchanged. " He paused, then looked directly at the sky. "I want to be alone with him for a few nights, I suppose, before Merrick comes back. "

  His tone had a finality to it, and a sadness that touched me to the quick. He was saying farewell to Lestat, that's what he was doing, and I knew that Lestat's slumber was so deep and so troubled, that even such a dreadful message from Louis might not rouse him at all.

  I watched Louis walk away as the sky grew ever more lighter. I could hear the morning birds singing. I thought of Merrick, and I wanted her. I wanted her purely as a man might want her. And as a vampire I wanted to drain her soul and have her eternally there for my visits, always safe. I was alone with her again for one precious instant in the tent in Santa Cruz del Flores, and I felt that mercurial pleasure connect my orgasmic body and brain.

  It was a curse to bring too many mortal memories into vampiric existence. To have been old did mean sublime experience and knowledge. And the curse had richness to it, and a splendor I could not deny.

  And it occurred to me, if Louis does end his life, if he does bring his supernatural journey to a conclusion, how will I ever answer for it to Lestat or Armand, or myself?

  IT WAS A WEEK before I received a handwritten letter from Merrick. She was back in Louisiana.

  Beloved David,

  Come to my old house tomorrow evening as soon as you can. The caretaker will be safely off the property. And I will be alone in the front room.

  It's my desire to meet Louis and hear from his own lips what he wants for me to do.

  As to those items which once belonged to Claudia, I have the rosary, the diary, and the doll.

  All the rest can be arranged.

  I could scarce contain my exhilaration. Waiting till tomorrow would be a torment. I went at once to St. Elizabeth's, the building where Lestat spent his lonely hours sleeping on the old chapel floor.

  Louis was there, seated on the marble beside Lestat, reading in a hushed voice from an old book of English poetry when I came in.

  I read the letter to Louis.

  There was no change whatsoever in Lestat's demeanor.

  "I know where the house is," said Louis. He was extremely excited, though I think he struggled to conceal it. "I'll be there. I suppose I should have asked your permission. But I went to find it last night. "

  "Perfect," I responded. "I'll meet you there tomorrow evening. But listen, you must¡ª. "

  "Go on, say it," he coaxed me gently.

  "You must remember, she's a powerful woman. We've vowed to protect her, but don't for a moment think of her as weak. "

  "And so we go back and forth about her," he said patiently. "I understand you. I know your meaning. When I vowed to take this path, I braced myself for disaster. And tomorrow night, I shall brace myself as completely as I can. "

  Lestat showed not the slightest sign of having heard our discourse. He lay as before, his red velvet coat creased and dusty, his yellow hair a tangled mass.

  I knelt down and laid a reverent kiss on Lestat's cheek. He continued to gaze into the gloom before him. Once again, I had the distinct impression that his soul was not in his body, not in the way that we believed it to be. I wanted so to tell him of our enterprise, but then again, I wasn't sure that I wanted him to know.

  It struck me quite completely that if he knew what we meant to do he would stop us. How far from us his thoughts must have been.

  As I left, I heard Louis continue to read in a low, melodious, and faintly passionate voice.
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