Merrick, p.24

Merrick, page 24

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 23



  HE HAD DONE a most careful thing.

  He had brought his coffin, a relic of venerable age and luster, to the rear courtyard of the town house in the Rue Royale, a most secluded and highwalled place.

  He had left his last letter on the desk upstairs, a desk which all of us¡ªI, Lestat, and Louis¡ªhad at one time used for important writings of our own. Then he had gone down into the courtyard, and he had removed the lid from the coffin, and he had laid down in it to receive the morning sun.

  He had addressed to me his candid farewell.

  If I am correct I will be cremated by the sunlight. I am not old enough to remain as one severely burned, or young enough to bequeath bloody flesh to those who come to carry off what is left. I shall be ashes as Claudia once was ashes, and you, my beloved David, must scatter those ashes for me.

  That you will oversee my final release is quite beyond doubt, for by the time you come upon what is left of me, you will have seen Merrick and you will know the measure of my treachery and the measure of my love.

  Yes, I plead love in the matter of what I've done in creating Merrick a vampire. I cannot lie to you on this score. But if it matters at all, let me assure you that I imagined I meant only to frighten her, to bring her close to death so as to deter her, to force her to beg to be saved.

  But once begun, the process was brought by me to a speedy conclusion, with the purest ambition and the purest yearning I've ever known. And now¡ªbeing the romantic fool I have always been, being the champion of questionable actions and little endurance, being quite unable as always to live with the price of my will and my desires, I bequeath to you this exquisite fledgling, Merrick, whom I know you will love with an educated heart.

  Whatever your hatred of me, I ask that you give to Merrick the few jewels and relics I possess. I ask that you give over to her also all those paintings which I have collected so haphazardly over the centuries, paintings which have become masterpieces in my eyes and in the eyes of the world. Anything of worth should be hers if only you concur.

  As for my sweet Master, Lestat, when he wakes, tell him that I went into the darkness without hoping for his terrifying angels, that I went into the darkness expecting only the whirlwind, or the nothingness, both of which he has in his own words so often described. Ask him to forgive me that I could not wait to take my leave of him.

  Which brings me now to you, my friend. I do not hope for your forgiveness. Indeed, I do not even ask.

  I don't believe you can bring me back from the ashes to torment me, but if you think you can, and you succeed with it, your will be done. That I have betrayed your trust is beyond doubt. No talk from Merrick of her potent spells can excuse my actions, though in fact, she does indeed claim to have brought me to her with magic I cannot understand.

  What I understand is that I love her, and cannot think of existence without her. Yet existence is no longer something which I can contemplate at all.

  I go now to what I regard as a certainty; the form of death which took my Claudia¡ªrelentless, inescapable, absolute.

  That was the letter, written in his archaic hand on new parchment paper, the letters tall yet deeply impressed. And the body? Had he guessed correctly, and had he become ashes like the child he'd lost to bitter fortune so long ago? Quite simply, no. In the lidless coffin, open to the night air, there lay a burnt black replica of the being I had known as Louis, as seemingly solid as any ancient mummy stripped of its wrappings, flesh closed securely over all visible bone. The clothes were severely scorched yet intact. The coffin was blackened around the gruesome figure. The face and hands¡ªindeed, the entire form¡ªwas untouched by the wind and included the most minute detail.

  And there beside it, on her knees on the cold paving stones, was Merrick, gazing down at the coalblack body, her hands clasped in grief.

  Slowly, ever so slowly, she reached forward, and with her tender first finger touched the back of Louis's burnt hand. At once, she drew back in horror. I saw no impression made in the blackened flesh.

  "It's hard as coal, David," she cried. "How can the wind scatter these remains unless you take them from the coffin and trample them underfoot? You can't do it, David. Tell me you cannot. "

  "No, I can't do it!" I declared. I began to pace frantically. "Oh, what a thankless and miserable legacy," I whispered. "Louis, I would I could bury you as you were. "

  "That could be the most dreadful cruelty," she said imploringly. "David, can he still be living in this form? David, you know the stories of the vampires better than I do. David, can he still be alive in this form?"

  Back and forth I went past her, without answering her, past the lifeless effigy in its charred clothing, and I looked up listlessly, miserably, to the distant stars.

  Behind me, I heard her crying softly, giving full vent to emotions which now raged inside her with a new vigor, passions that would sweep over her so totally no human could gauge what she felt.

  "David," she called out to me. I could hear her weeping.

  Slowly I turned to look down on her as she knelt beside him, appealing to me as if I were one of her saints.

  "David, if you cut your wrist, if you let the blood flow down onto him, what will happen, will he come back?"

  "That's just it, my darling, I don't know. I know only he's done as he wished and he's told me what he would have me do. "

  "But you can't let him go so easily," she protested. "David, please. . . " Helplessly, her voice died away.

  A faint stirring of the air caught the banana trees. I turned and looked at the body in terror. All the garden around us whispered and sighed against the brick walls. But the body remained intact, immobile, safe in its burnt sanctuary.

  But another breeze would come, something stronger. Maybe even the rain would come, as it did so often on these warm spring nights, and it would wash away the face, with its closed eyes, which was so visible still.

  I couldn't find words to stop her crying. I couldn't find words to confess my heart. Was he gone, or was he lingering? And what would he have me do now¡ªnot last night when in the safety of the morning twilight he'd written his brave letter, but now, now, if he were locked in the form in the burnt wooden box.

  What had been his thoughts when the sun had risen, when he'd felt the fatal weakness and then the inevitable fire? He hadn't the strength of the great ones to climb from his coffin and bury himself deep under fresh earth. Had he regretted his actions? Did he feel intolerable pain? Could I not learn something merely from studying his still burnt face or his hands?

  I came back to the side of the coffin. I saw that his head was laid there as properly as that of any body to be formally interred. I saw that his hands were clasped loosely over his chest, as an undertaker might have placed them. He had not reached to shield his eyes. He had not tried to turn his back on death.

  But what did these aspects of the matter really mean?

  Perhaps he hadn't had the strength to do those things in the final moments. He had been numb with the coming of the light until it filled his eyes and made him shut them. Did I dare to touch the fragile blackened flesh? Did I dare to see if the eyes were still there?

  I was lost in these hideous thoughts, lost and wanting only some other sound except that of Merrick's soft tears.

  I went to the iron steps, which came down in a curve from the upstairs balcony. And I sat down on the step which provided for me the most comfortable rest. I put my face in my hands.

  "Scatter the remains," I whispered. "If only the others were here. "

  At once, as if in answer to my pathetic prayer, I heard the creak of the carriageway gate. I heard the low shriek of its old hinges as it was thrown open, and then the click as it was closed once more, iron upon iron.

  No scent of a mortal signaled an intruder. In fact, I knew the step that was approaching. I had heard it so many times in my life both mortal and preternatural. Yet I didn't dare to believ
e in such a rescue from my misery, until the unheralded figure appeared in the courtyard, his velvet coat dusty, his yellow hair tangled, his violet eyes looking at once to the grim and appalling visage of Louis:

  It was Lestat.

  With an awkward step, as though his body, so long unused, revolted against him, he made his way closer to Merrick, who turned her tearstained face to him as if she too were seeing a Savior come in answer to her directionless prayers.

  She sat back, a low sigh escaping her lips.

  "So it's come to this, has it?" Lestat asked. His voice was hoarse, as it had been when he was waked by Sybelle's music, the very last time he'd abandoned his endless sleep.

  He turned and looked to me, his smooth face devoid of warmth or expression, the thin light from the distant street illuminating his fierce eyes as he looked away and back to the body in the coffin on the stones. I think his eyes quivered. I think his whole body shivered ever so slightly as though the simplest movements were exhausting him, as if he longed to rub the backs of his own arms and beat a hasty retreat.

  But he was not about to abandon us.

  "Come here, David," he said, appealing to me kindly in the same hoarse whisper. "Come, and listen. I can't hear him. I made him. Listen, and tell me if he's there. "

  I obeyed him. I stood beside him.

  "He's like coal, Lestat," I answered quickly. "I haven't dared to touch him. Should we do it?"

  Slowly, languidly, Lestat turned to look down again at the painful sight.

  "His skin feels firm, I tell you," Merrick said quickly. She rose to her feet and backed away from the coffin, inviting Lestat to take her place. "Test it yourself, Lestat," she said. "Come, touch him. " Her voice was full of suppressed pain.

  "And you?" Lestat asked reaching out for her, clasping her shoulder with his right hand. "What do you hear, ch¨¦rie?" he asked in his raw whisper.

  She shook her head. "Silence," she said, her lips trembling, the blood tears having left their streaks on her pale cheeks. "But then he brought me over. I charmed him, I seduced him. He had no chance against my plan. And now this, this for my interference, this, and I can hear the mortals whispering in the houses near to us, but I hear nothing from him. "

  "Merrick," he pressed. "Listen as you've always been able to listen. Be the witch now, still, if you can't be the vampire. Yes, I know, he made you. But a witch you were before that. " He looked from one to the other of us, some little visible emotion quickening in him. "Tell me if he wants to come back. "

  The tears came to her eyes again. Grieving, miserable, she looked down at the seeming corpse.

  "He could be crying for life," she said, "but I can't hear it. The witch in me hears nothing but silence. And the human being in me knows only remorse. Lestat, give your blood to him. Bring him back. "

  Lestat turned from her to me.

  She reached out for his arm, and forced him to look again at her.

  "Work your magic," she said in a low heated and insistent tone. "Work your magic and believe in it as I worked mine. "

  He nodded, covering her hand gently as if to soothe her, most certainly to soothe her.

  "Speak to me, David," he said in his roughened voice. "What does he want, David? Did he do this thing because he made Merrick, and he thought for that he should pay with his life?"

  How could I answer? How could I be faithful now to all my companion had confided over so many nights?

  "I hear nothing," I said. "But then it is an old habit, not spying on his thoughts, not ravaging his soul. It is an old habit letting him do what he wishes, only now and then offering him the strong blood, never challenging his weaknesses. I hear nothing. I hear nothing, but what does it mean that I hear nothing? I walk in the cemeteries of this city at night and I hear nothing. I walk among mortals and sometimes I hear nothing. I walk alone and I hear nothing, as if I myself had no inner voice. "

  I looked down at his blackened face again. I could see the perfect image of his mouth there. And now I realized that even the hairs of his head remained intact.

  "I hear nothing," I said, "and yet I see spirits. Many a time I have seen spirits. Many a time they've come to me. Is there a spirit lurking there in those remains? I don't know. "

  Lestat appeared to stagger, as if from a constitutional weakness, then he forced himself to remain upright. I felt ashamed when I saw the gray dust coating the velvet of his long sleeves. I felt ashamed when I saw the knots and dirt in his thick flowing hair. But these things didn't matter to him.

  Nothing mattered to him but the figure in the coffin, and, as Merrick wept, he reached out almost absently and put his right arm around her, gathering her against his powerful body, and saying in a hoarse whisper,

  "There, there, ch¨¦rie. He did what he wanted. "

  "But it's gone wrong!" she answered. The words spilled out of her. "He's too old for one day's fire to end it. And he may be locked inside these charred remains in fear of what's to come. He might, like a dying man, hear us in his fatal trance and be unable to respond. " She moaned plaintively as she continued: "He may be crying for us to help him, and we stand here and we argue and we pray. "

  "And if I spill my blood down into this coffin now," Lestat asked her, "what do you think will come back? Do you think it will be our Louis that will rise in these burnt rags? What if it's not, ch¨¦rie, what if it's some wounded revenant that we must destroy?"

  "Choose life, Lestat," she said. She turned to him, pulled loose of him, and appealed to him. "Choose life, no matter in what form. Choose life and bring him back. If he would die, it can be finished afterwards. "

  "My blood's too strong now, ch¨¦rie," said Lestat. He cleared his throat and wiped at the dust on his own eyelids. He ran his hand into his hair and pulled it roughly out of his face. "My blood will make a monster of what's there. "

  "Do it! " she said. "And if he wants to die, if he asks again, then I will be his servant in his extremity, I promise you. " How seductive were her eyes, her voice. "I'll make a brew that he can swallow, of poisons in the blood of animals, the blood of wild things. I'll feed him such a potion that he'll sleep as the sun rises. " Her voice became more impassioned. "He'll sleep, and should he live again to sunset, I'll be his guardian through the night until the sun rises again. "

  For a long time, Lestat's brilliant violet eyes were fastened to her, as though he were considering her will, her plan, her very commitment, and then slowly he turned his eyes to me.

  "And you, beloved one? What would you have me do?" he asked. His face had now a livelier aspect to it, for all his sorrow.

  "I can't tell you," I said, shaking my head. "You've come and it's your decision, yours by right, because you are the eldest and I'm thankful that you're here. " Then I found myself prey to the most awful and grim considerations, and I looked down at the dark figure again, and up once more to Lestat.

  "If I had tried and failed," I said, "I would want to come back. "

  What was it that made me give voice to such a sentiment? Was it fear? I couldn't say. But it was true, and I knew it, as if my lips had sought to instruct my heart.

  "Yes, if I had seen the sun rise," I said, "and I had lived past it, I might well have lost my courage, and courage he very much required. "

  Lestat seemed to be considering these things. How could he not? Once, he himself had gone into the sunlight in a distant desert place, and, having been burnt again and again, without release, he came back. His skin was still golden from this hurtful and terrible disaster. He would carry that imprint of the sun's power for many years to come.

  Straightaway, he stepped in front of Merrick, and as both of us watched, he knelt down beside the coffin, and he moved very close to the figure, and then he drew back. With his fingers, quite as delicately as she had done it, he touched the blackened hands, and he left no mark. Slowly, lightly, he touched the forehead, and once more, he left no mark.

  He drew back, kneeling up, and, lifting his right hand to h
is mouth, he gashed his wrist with his own teeth before either Merrick or I knew what he meant to do.

  At once a thick stream of blood poured down onto the perfectly molded face of the figure in the coffin, and as the vein sought to heal itself, again Lestat gashed it and let the blood flow.

  "Help me, Merrick. Help me, David!" he called out. "What I've begun I'll pay for, but do not let it fail. I need you now. "

  At once, I went to join him, pushing back my awkward cotton cuff and tearing the flesh of my wrist with my eye teeth. Merrick knelt at the very foot of the coffin, and from her tender fledgling wrist the blood had begun to flow.

  A pungent smoke rose from the remains in front of us. The blood appeared to seep into every pore of the figure. It drenched the burnt clothing. And, tearing aside this fabric, Lestat gave yet another gush of blood to his frantic work.

  The smoke was a thick layer above the bloody remains before us. I couldn't see through it. But I could hear a faint murmuring, a terrible agonized groan. On and on I let the blood flow, my preternatural skin seeking to heal and halt the operation, and my teeth coming to my rescue again and again.

  Suddenly a cry came from Merrick. I saw before me in the haze the figure of Louis sitting up from the coffin, his face a mass of tiny lines and wrinkles. I saw Lestat reach out for him and take hold of his head and press it to his throat.

  "Drink now, Louis," he commanded.

  "Don't stop, David," said Merrick. "The blood, he needs it, every part of his body is drinking it. "

  I obeyed, only then realizing that I was growing weaker and weaker, that I could not remain steady, and that she herself was tumbling forward yet still determined to go on.

  I saw below me a naked foot, and then the outline of a man's leg, and then, quite visible in the semidarkness, the hard muscles of a man's chest.

  "Harder, yes, take it from me," came Lestat's low insistent command. He spoke in French now. "Harder, more of it, take it, take all that I have to give. "

  My vision was hopeless. It seemed the entire courtyard was full of a pungent vapor, and the two forms¡ªLouis and Lestat¡ªshimmered for a moment before I felt myself lie down on the cool soothing stones, before I felt Merrick's soft body snuggled beside me, before I smelled the sweet lovely perfume of Merrick's hair. My head rolled on the stones as I tried to raise my hands, but could not.

  I closed my eyes. I saw nothing, and then when I opened them, Louis stood there, naked and restored and gazing down at me, his figure covered in a thin film of blood, as though he were a newborn, and I saw the green of his eyes, and the white of his teeth.

  I heard Lestat's sore voice again. "More, Louis," he said. "More, take it. "

  "But David and Merrick¡ª," said Louis.

  And Lestat answered, "David and Merrick will be all right. "
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