Merrick, p.23

Merrick, page 23

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 22



  THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, I went in search of Merrick.

  Her home in the derelict neighborhood was dark and uninhabited. Only the caretaker remained on the property. And it was no problem for me to climb up to the second story window over the shed to see that the old fellow was contentedly inside, drinking his beer and watching his monstrous color TV.

  I was dreadfully disconcerted. I felt that Merrick had all but promised to meet me, and where else if not in the old house?

  I had to find her. I searched the city for her tirelessly, using every ounce of telepathic ability which I possessed.

  As for Louis, he was also absent. I returned to the flat in the Rue Royale more than four times during my search for Merrick. And at no time did I find Louis or the simplest evidence that he'd been there.

  At last, very much against my better judgment, but desperate, I approached Oak Haven, the Motherhouse, to see if I could spy Merrick within.

  The discovery took only a matter of minutes. As I stood in the thick oak forest to the far north of the building, I could see her tiny figure in the library.

  Indeed Merrick sat in the very oxblood leather chair which she'd claimed for her own as a child when we first met. Nestled in the cracked old leather, she appeared to be sleeping, but as I drew closer my fine vampiric senses confirmed that she was drunk. I could make out the bottle of Flor de Ca?a rum beside her, and the glass. Both were empty.

  As for the other members, one was busy in the very same room, going over the shelves for some seemingly routine matter, and several others were at home upstairs.

  I couldn't conceivably approach Merrick where she was. And I was keenly aware that Merrick might have planned this. And if she had planned it, it might have been for her own mental safety, a cause of which I highly approved.

  Once released from that tidy little spectacle¡ªMerrick out cold with no regard for what the other members thought of her¡ªI resumed my search for Louis from one end of the town to the next with no luck.

  The hours before dawn found me striding back and forth before the slumbering figure of Lestat in the darkened chapel, explaining to him that Merrick had delivered herself into hiding and that Louis appeared to be gone.

  At last I sat down on the cold marble floor, as I had done the night before.

  "I'd know it, wouldn't I?" I demanded of my sleeping master. "If Louis has put an end to himself, isn't that so? I'd feel it somehow, wouldn't I? If it happened at dawn yesterday, I would have felt it before I ever closed my eyes. "

  Lestat gave no answer and there was no promise in his posture or facial expression that he ever would.

  I felt as if I were speaking fervently to one of the statues of the saints.

  When the second night went in exactly the same fashion, I was thoroughly unnerved.

  Whatever Merrick had done by day, I couldn't imagine, but once again she was drunk in the library, a slouched figure, quite alone now, in one of her splendid silk shirtwaist dresses, this one a vivid red. While I watched from a safe distance, one of the members, an old man whom I once knew and loved dearly, came into the library and covered up Merrick with a white wool blanket that looked quite soft.

  I sped off lest I be detected.

  As for Louis, as I prowled those portions of the city which were always his favorites, I cursed myself that I'd been so respectful of his mind that I'd never learnt to read it, so respectful of his privacy that I'd never learnt to scan for his presence; cursed myself that I'd not bound him to a strong promise to meet me in the flat in the Rue Royale at a certain time.

  At last the third night came.

  Having given up on Merrick to do anything but intoxicate herself thoroughly with rum in her typical fashion, I went directly to the flat in the Rue Royale with the purpose of writing a note for Louis, should it be that he was stopping in when I was not there.

  I was filled with misery. It now seemed entirely possible to me that Louis no longer existed in his earthly form. It seemed entirely reasonable that he had let the morning sun cremate him precisely as he wanted, and that I was writing words in this note that would never be read.

  Nevertheless, I sat down at Lestat's fancy desk in the back parlor, the desk which faces the room, and I wrote hastily.

  "'You must talk with me. You must let me talk with you. It's unfair for you not to do this. I am so anxious on your behalf. Remember, L. , that I did what you asked of me. I cooperated with you completely. Of course I had my motives. I'm willing to admit them candidly. I missed her. My heart was breaking for her. But you must let me know how things go with you. '"

  I had scarcely finished writing the initial "D," when I looked up and saw Louis standing in the hallway door.

  Quite unharmed, his black curly hair combed, he stood looking at me searchingly, and I, pleasantly shocked, sat back and gave a deep sigh.

  "Look at you, and here I've been racing around like a madman," I said. I surveyed his handsome gray velvet suit, and the darkviolet tie he wore with it. In amazement I noted the jeweled rings on his hands.

  "Why all this unusual attention to your person?" I asked. "Talk to me, man. I'm quite ready to go out of my mind. "

  He shook his head, and gestured quickly with his longer slender hand for me to be quiet. He sat down on the couch across the room and stared at me.

  "I've never seen you so fancily dressed," I said. "You're positively dapper. What's happened?"

  "I don't know what's happened," he said almost sharply. "You have to tell me. " He gestured urgently. "Come here, David, take your old chair here, sit close to me. "

  I did as I was asked.

  He wasn't only handsomely turned out, he wore a faint masculine perfume.

  His eyes flashed on me with a nervous energy.

  "I can't think of anything but her, David. I tell you, it's as if I never loved Claudia," he confessed, his voice breaking. "I mean it, it's as if I never knew love or grief before I met Merrick. It's as if I'm Merrick's slave. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, I think of Merrick," he declared. "When I feed, the victim turns to Merrick in my very arms. Hush, don't say anything till I'm finished. I think of Merrick when I lie in my coffin before the coming sunlight. I think of Merrick when I wake up. I must go to Merrick, and as soon as I've fed, I go to where I can see her, David, yes, near the Motherhouse, the place you long ago forbade us ever to trouble. I go there. I was there last night when you came to spy on her. I saw you. The night before, I was there as well. I live for her, and the sight of her through those long windows only inflames me, David. I want her. If she doesn't come out of that place soon, I tell you, whether I mean to or not, I'm going in after her, though what I want of her, except to be with her, I swear to you, I can't say. "

  "Stop it, Louis, let me explain what's happened¡ª. "

  "How the hell can you explain such a thing? Let me pour it out, man," he said. "Let me confess that it all began when I laid eyes on her. You knew it. You saw it. You tried to warn me. But I had no idea that the feelings would become so very intense. I was certain I could control them. Good Lord, how many mortals have I resisted over these two centuries, how many times have I turned my back on some random soul who drew me so painfully that I had to weep?"

  "Stop it, Louis, listen to me. "

  "I won't hurt her, David," he said, "I swear it. I don't want to hurt her. I can't bear the thought of feeding from her as I once did from Claudia, oh, that awful awful mistake, the making of Claudia. I won't hurt her, I swear it, but I must see her, I must be with her, I must hear her voice. David, can you get her out of Oak Haven? Can you make her meet with me? Can you make her stop her love affair with her rum and come to her old house? You must be able to do it. I tell you, I'm losing my mind. "

  He had scarcely paused when I broke in and would not be silenced.

  "She's fixed you, Louis!" I declared. "It's a spell. Now, you must be quiet and listen to me. I know her tricks
. And I know magic. And hers is a magic as old as Egypt, as old as Rome and Greece. She's fixed you, man, made you fall in love with her through witchcraft. Damn, I should have never let her keep that bloodstained dress. No wonder she wouldn't let me touch it. It had your blood on it. Oh, what a fool I was not to see what she was doing. We even talked of such charms together. Oh, she is beyond all patience. I let her keep that bloodstained silk dress, and she's used it to make an ageold charm. "

  "No, that's not possible," he said caustically. "I simply won't accept it. I love her, David. You force me to use the words that will hurt you most of all. I love her, and I want her; I want her company, I want the wisdom and the kindness that I saw in her. It's no spell. "

  "It is, man, believe me," I said. "I know her and I know magic. She used your blood to do it. Don't you see, this woman not only believes in magic, she understands it. Perhaps a million mortal magicians have lived and died during the past millennia, but how many of them were the genuine article? She knows what she's doing! Your blood was in the weave of her own garment. She's cast a spell on you that I don't know how to break!"

  He was silent but not for very long.

  "I don't believe you," he said. "No, it can't be true. I feel this too completely. "

  "Think back, Louis, on what I told you of her, of the visions of her I had after our first contact only a few nights ago. You remember, I told you I saw her everywhere¡ª. "

  "This is not the same. I'm speaking of my heart, David¡ª. "

  "It is the same, man," I insisted. "I saw her everywhere, and after we saw the vision of Claudia, Merrick admitted to me that those visions of her were part of a spell. I told you all this, Louis. I told you about her little altar in the hotel room, the way she'd gotten my handkerchief with my blood on it from the sweat of my brow. Louis, pay attention. "

  "You're vilifying her," he said as gently as he could, "and I won't have it. I don't see her in that manner. I think of her and want her. I want the woman I saw in that room. What will you tell me next? That Merrick wasn't beautiful? That Merrick wasn't filled with innate sweetness? That Merrick wasn't the one mortal in thousands whom I might come to love?"

  "Louis, do you trust yourself in her presence?" I demanded.

  "Yes, I trust myself," he answered righteously. "You think I would harm her?"

  "I think you have learnt the meaning of the word 'desire. '"

  "The desire is to be in her company, David. It's to be close to her. It's to talk with her about what I saw. It's . . . " His voice trailed off. He shut his eyes tight for a moment. "It's unbearable, this need of her, this longing for her. And she hides in that huge house in the country, and I can't be near to her without hurting the Talamasca, without rupturing the delicate privacy on which our very existence depends. "

  "Thank God you have that much sense," I said forcefully. "I tell you it is a spell, and if you trust yourself with her, then as soon as she leaves that house, we'll go together and ask her! We'll demand the truth from her. Demand from her whether or not this is nothing but a spell. "

  "Nothing," he repeated the word contemptuously, "nothing, you say, nothing but a spell?" He peered into my eyes accusingly. Never had I seen him so hostile. In fact, never had I seen him hostile at all. "You don't want me to love her, do you? It's just as simple as all that. "

  "No, it isn't, truly it isn't. But say for instance that you're right, that there is no spell, and only your heart's speaking to you; do I want this love of her to increase in you? No, definitely not. We made a vow, you and I, that this woman wouldn't be hurt by us, that we wouldn't destroy her fragile mortal world with our desires! Keep to that vow if you love her so damned much, Louis. That's what loving her means, you realize. It means leaving her completely alone. "

  "I can't do it," he whispered. He shook his head. "She deserves to know what my heart is telling me. She deserves that truth. Nothing will ever come of it, nothing can, but she ought to know it. She ought to know that I'm devoted to her, that she's supplanted a grief in me which could have destroyed me, which may destroy me still. "

  "This is intolerable," I said. I was so angry with Merrick. "I propose we approach Oak Haven. But you must allow me to direct what we do there. If I can, I'll draw close to the window, and I'll try to wake her. It's possible, in the small hours, that she'll be alone on the main floor. I might possibly be able to go inside. Nights ago I would have considered such an act unconscionable. But remember, you must leave such a gesture to me. "

  He nodded. "I want to be near her. But I must feed first. I can't be thirsting when I see her. That would be foolish. Come with me to hunt. And then, after midnight, well after midnight, we'll approach. "

  It didn't take us long to find our victims.

  It was the hour of two a. m. when we drew close to Oak Haven, and, as I'd hoped, the house was darkened throughout. No one remained awake. It took me only a few moments to survey the library.

  Merrick wasn't there. Her rum and her glass weren't there, either. And when I went along the upper galleries, as quietly as I could, I did not find her in her room.

  I came back to Louis in the thick of the oaks, as he waited.

  "She's not at Oak Haven. I feel we've miscalculated. She must be at her home in New Orleans. She's probably there waiting, waiting for her little spell to do its work. "

  "You can't go on despising her for all this," Louis said angrily. "David, for the love of Heaven, allow me to go to her alone. "

  "Not a chance of it," I answered.

  We proceeded towards the city.

  "You can't approach her with this contempt for her," said Louis. "Let me talk to her. You can't prevent it. You have no right. "

  "I will be there when you talk to her," I said coldly. And I meant to keep my word.

  When we reached the old house in New Orleans, I knew immediately that Merrick was at home.

  Bidding Louis to wait, I went around the property, as I had several nights ago, made certain the caretaker had been sent off, and indeed, he had been, and then I returned to Louis, and I said we could approach the door.

  As for Merrick, I knew she was in the front bedroom. The parlor didn't mean much to her. It was Great Nananne's room that she loved.

  "I want to go alone," said Louis. "You can wait here, if you wish. "

  He was on the porch before I'd moved, but I quickly caught up with him. He opened the unlocked front door, its leaded glass glinting in the light.

  Once inside he went into the large front bedroom. I was just behind him.

  I saw Merrick, as lovely as ever in a dress of red silk, rise from her rocking chair and fly into his arms.

  Every particle of my being was on alert for danger, and my heart was breaking in two. The room was dreamy and sweet with its vigilant candles.

  And they loved each other, this pair of beings, Louis and Merrick, there was no denying it. I watched silently as Louis kissed Merrick repeatedly, as he ran his long white fingers through her hair. I watched as he kissed her long throat.

  He drew back and he let out a long sigh.

  "A spell, is it?" he asked her, but the question was really meant for me. "That I can think of nothing but you, no matter where I go, or what I do? That in each victim I take, I find you? Oh, yes, think on it, Merrick, think on what I do to survive, don't please live in dreams. Think of the awful price of this power. Think of the Purgatory in which I live. "

  "Am I with you in that Purgatory?" asked Merrick. "Do I give you some consolation in the very midst of the fire? My days and nights without you have been Purgatory. I understand your suffering. I did before we ever looked into each other's eyes. "

  "Tell him the truth, Merrick," I said. I stood apart from them, near the door. "Speak true words, Merrick. He'll know if you're lying. Is this a spell you've put over him? Don't lie to me, either, Merrick. "

  She broke away from him for the moment. She looked at me.

  "What did I give you with my spell, David?" she said. "Wha
t was it but random visions? Did you feel desire?" She looked again at Louis. "What do you want from me, Louis? To hear that my soul is your slave as surely as your soul is mine? If that's a spell, we've fixed each other with it, Louis. David knows I speak the truth. "

  Try as I might, I could find no lie in her. What I found were secrets, and I couldn't crack them open. Her thoughts were too well guarded.

  "You play a game," I said. "What is it you want?"

  "No, David, you mustn't speak to her in that manner," said Louis, "I won't tolerate it. Go now and let me talk to her. She's safer with me than Claudia ever was or any mortal I've ever touched. Go now, David. Let me alone with her. Or I swear, man, it will be a battle between you and me. "

  "David, please," said Merrick. "Let me have these few hours with him; then the rest will be as you wish. I want him here with me. I want to talk to him. I want to tell him that the spirit was a liar. I need to do that slowly, I need an atmosphere of intimacy and trust. "

  She came towards me, the red silk rustling as she walked. I caught her perfume. She put her arms around me and I felt the warmth of her naked breasts beneath the thin cloth.

  "Go now, David, please," she said, her voice full of gentle emotion, her face compassionate as she looked into my eyes.

  Never in all my years of knowing her, wanting her, missing her¡ªhad anything hurt so much as this simple request.

  "Go. " I repeated the word in a small voice. "Leave you both together? Go?"

  I looked into her eyes for a long moment. How she seemed to suffer, how she seemed to implore me. And then I turned to Louis, who watched with an innocent anxious expression, as if his fate was in my hands.

  "Harm her and I swear to you," I said, "your wish for death will be granted. " My voice was low and too full of malice. "I tell you I'm strong enough to destroy you in precisely the way you fear. "

  I saw the terrible dismay in his expression.

  "It will be by fire," I said, "and it will be slowly, if you harm her. " I paused. Then: "I give you my word. "

  I saw him swallow hard and then he nodded. It seemed there was much he wanted to say to me, and his eyes were sad and eloquent of a deeper pain. At last he murmured in answer:

  "Trust me, my brother. You needn't make such terrible threats to one you cherish, and I needn't hear them, not when both of us love this mortal woman so very much. "

  I turned to her. Her eyes were on Louis. She was as distant from me in these moments as she had ever been. I kissed her tenderly. She scarcely looked at me, returning my kisses as if she must remind herself to do it, as smitten with Louis as he was with her.

  "Goodbye for now, my precious," I whispered, and I went out of the house.

  For one moment, I considered remaining, concealed in the shrubbery, spying upon both of them as they talked to each other inside the front room. It seemed the wise thing to do, to remain nearby, for her protection; and it seemed the very thing she would hate.

  She would know I was there more surely than Louis could ever know it¡ªknow as she had known that night when I came to her window at Oak Haven, know with a witch's sensibility that was stronger than his vampiric powers, know and condemn me utterly for what I tried to do.

  When I thought of the possibility of her coming out to accuse me, when I thought of the humiliation I might risk with such a choice, I left the house behind me and walked fast, and alone, uptown.

  Once again, in the desolate chapel of St. Elizabeth's Orphanage, Lestat was my confidant.

  And once again, I was certain that no spirit occupied his body. To my woes he gave no ear.

  I only prayed that Merrick would be safe, that Louis would not risk my rage, and that some night Lestat's soul would return to his body, because I needed him. I needed him desperately. I felt alone with all my years and all my lessons, with all my experiences and all my pain.

  The sky was growing dangerously light when I left Lestat and made my way to the secret place, below an abandoned building where I kept the iron coffin in which I lie.

  This is no unusual configuration among our kind¡ªthe sad old building, my title to it, or the cellar room cut off from the world above by iron doors no mortal could independently seek to lift.

  I had lain down in the frigid darkness, the cover of the casket in its place, when I was suddenly overcome with the strangest panic. It was as if someone were speaking to me, demanding that I listen, seeking to tell me that I had made a dreadful error, and that I would pay for it with my conscience; that I had done a foolish and vain thing.

  It was too late for me to respond to this lively mixture of emotion. The morning crept over me, stealing all warmth and life from me. And the last thought I remember was that I had left the two of them alone out of vanity, because they had excluded me. I had behaved like a schoolboy out of vanity, and I would pay as the result.

  Inevitably the sunset followed on the sunrise, and, after some unmeasured sleep, I woke to the new evening, my eyes open, my hands reaching at once for the lid of the coffin and then withdrawing and falling to my sides.

  Something kept me from opening the coffin just yet. Even though I hated its stifling atmosphere, I remained in this, the only true blackness ever bequeathed to my powerful vampire eyes.

  I remained, because last night's panic had come back to me¡ªthat keen awareness that I'd been a proud fool to leave Merrick and Louis alone. It seemed some turbulence in the very air surrounded me, indeed, penetrated the iron of the coffin so that I might breathe it into my lungs.

  Something has gone horridly wrong, yet it was inevitable, I thought dismally, and I lay motionless, as if fixed by one of Merrick's ruthless spells. But it was not a spell of her doing. It was grief and regretterrible, harrowing regret.

  I had lost her to Louis. Of course I'd find her unharmed, for nothing on earth could make Louis give her the Dark Blood, I reasoned, nothing, not even Merrick's own pleas. And as for her, she would never request it, never be fool enough to relinquish her brilliant and unique soul. No, it was grief because they loved each other, those two, and I'd brought them together, and now they would have whatever might have belonged to Merrick and me.

  Well, I could not mourn for it. It was done, and I must go and find them now, I reasoned. I must go and find them together, and see the manner in which they looked at each other, and I must wring more promises from them, which was nothing more than a means of interposing myself between them, and then I must accept that Louis had become the brilliant star for Merrick, and by that light I shone no more.

  Only after a long while did I open the coffin, the lid creaking loudly, and step out of it, and begin my assent, up through the steps of the damp old cellar, towards the dreary rooms above.

  At last I came to a stop in a great unused brickwalled room which had once many years ago served as a department store. Nothing remained now of its former glory except a few very dirty display cases and broken shelves, and a thick layer of soil on its old uneven wooden floor.

  I stood in the spring heat and in the soft dust, breathing in the scent of the mold and the red bricks around me, and peering towards the unwashed show windows, beyond which the street, now much neglected, gave forth its few persistent and sorrowful lights.

  Why was I standing here?

  Why had I not gone directly out to meet Louis and Merrick? Why had I not gone to feed, if it was blood I wanted, and indeed, I did thirst, I knew that much. Why did I stand alone in the shadows, waiting, as if for my grief to be redoubled, as if for my loneliness to be sharpened, so that I would hunt with the finetuned senses of a beast?

  Then, gradually, the awareness stole over me, separating me totally from the melancholy surroundings, so I tingled in every portion of my being as my eyes saw what my mind wanted desperately to deny.

  Merrick stood before me in the very red silk of last night's brief meeting, and all her physiognomy was changed by the Dark Gift.

  Her creamy skin was almost luminous with vampi
ric powers; her green eyes had taken on the iridescence so common to Lestat, Armand, Marius, yes, yes, and yes again, yes, all of the rest. Her long brown hair had its unholy luster, and her beautiful lips their inevitable, eternal, and perfect unnatural sheen.

  "David," she cried out, even her distinctive voice colored by the blood inside her, and she flew into my arms.

  "Oh, dear God in Heaven, how could I have let it happen!" I was unable to touch her, my hands hovering above her shoulders, and suddenly I gave in to the embrace with all my heart. "God forgive me. God forgive me!" I cried out even as I held her tight enough to harm her, held her close to me as if no one could ever pry her loose. I didn't care if mortals heard me. I didn't care if all the world knew.

  "No, David, wait," she begged as I went to speak again. "You don't understand what's happened. He's done it, David, he's gone into the sun. He did it at dawn, after he'd taken me and hidden me away, and showed me everything he could, and promised me that he would meet me tonight. He's done it, David. He's gone, and there's nothing left of him now that isn't burnt black. "

  The terrible tears flooding down her cheeks were glittering with unwholesome blood.

  "David, can't you do anything to rescue him? Can't you do anything to bring him back? It's all my fault that it happened. David, I knew what I was doing, I led him into it, I worked him so skillfully. I did use his blood and I used the silk of my dress. I used every power natural and unnatural. I'll confess to more when there's time for it. I'll pour it all out to you. It's my fault that he's gone, I swear it, but can't you bring him back?"
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