Merrick, p.25

Merrick, page 25

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 24



  WE BATHED HIM and dressed him, all of us together, in the upstairs rooms.

  His skin had a white sheen to it, due to the near omnipotent blood of Lestat which had so restored him, and it was plain as we helped him with the smallest articles of clothing that he was not the same Louis whom we had so often dared to pity in the strength of our love.

  At last, when he was comfortably covered in a loose black turtleneck shirt and cotton pants, his shoes tied, and his thick black hair combed, he sat down with us in the back parlor¡ªthat gathering place which had been witness to so many agreeable discussions in my brief preternatural life.

  His eyes would now have to be masked with sunglasses, for they'd taken on the iridescence which had always burdened Lestat. But what of the inner being? What had he to say to us as we all looked at him, as we all waited for him to share his thoughts?

  He settled more deeply into the dark velvet chair and looked about himself as if he were a monstrous newborn, dropped whole and entire into life, by myth or legend. And only gradually did his sharp green eyes move to us.

  Lestat had by this time brushed off the cumbersome covering of dust he wore, and taken from his own closet a new coat of darkbrown velvet, and fresh linen, so that he wore his usual thick and faintly discolored old lace. He had shaken out his hair and combed it, and put on new boots.

  In sum, we made a fine picture, the four of us, though Merrick, in her customary shirtwaist of silk, bore some few stains of blood. The dress was red, however, and showed little or nothing to the eye, and about her neck she wore¡ªand had worn all evening, of course¡ªmy gift to her of years ago, the triplestrand necklace of pearls.

  I suppose I found some solace in these details, and so I record them. But that detail which had the most salubrious effect upon me was the calm, wondering expression on Louis's face.

  Let me add that Merrick had been greatly weakened by the blood she'd given to our communal effort, and I could see that shortly she must go out to be the vampire in the most dark and dangerous streets of the city, and it was my vow that I would go at her side.

  I had too well rehearsed in my imagination what it might mean to have her with us for me to claim now some rigid moral shock. As for her beauty, Louis's gentle blood of nights past had greatly enhanced it, and her green eyes were all the more vivid, though she could still pass for human with comparative ease.

  The resurrection of Louis had taken all of her heart's reserve, it seemed, and she settled on the settee beside the comely figure of Lestat, as though she might like nothing better than to fall asleep.

  How well she concealed the thirst she must be feeling, I thought to myself, only to see her raise her head and glance at me. She had read my thoughts.

  "Only a glimmer," she said. "I don't want to know more than that. "

  I made a concerted effort to conceal whatever I was feeling, thinking it best for all of us to follow such a rule, as Louis and Lestat and I had followed it in the past.

  At last it was Lestat who broke the silence.

  "It¡¯s not complete," he said, staring sharply at Louis. "It requires more blood. " His voice was strong now and wonderfully familiar to my ears. He was speaking his usual American English. "It requires," he said, "that you drink from me, Louis, and that I give the blood back. It requires no less than that to give you all the strength that's mine to give and not lose. I want you to take it now without argument, as much for my sake, perhaps, as your own. "

  Just for a moment Lestat's face became haggard again, as if he were the sleepwalker he'd been when last he rose. But within a split second his vitality returned, and he went on to the purpose, addressing me:

  "And you, David, take Merrick with you, and go out now and feed to replenish what you've lost. Teach her, David, what she needs to know, though I think she is well versed in everything already. I think that Louis, in the little time he had last night, has instructed her rather well. "

  I was certain that Louis would rouse himself from his solemn silence and protest against Lestat's domination, but he did nothing of the sort. In fact, I detected in him a visible selfconfidence which he had not possessed in the past.

  "Yes, do it, give me all you can," he said in a low vigorous tone. "And what of Merrick? Will you give your potent blood to her as well?"

  Lestat was even surprised at such an easy victory. He rose to his feet. I took Merrick by the hand and made to go.

  "Yes," Lestat answered, pushing back his blond hair from his face. "I'll give my blood to Merrick if Merrick wants it. Merrick, it's what I want above anything else, I assure you. But it is your choice whether or not you take the Dark Gift from me again. Once you drink from me, you'll be quite as strong as David and Louis. Once you drink from me, we will all be fit companions for each other. And that's precisely my desire. "

  "Yes, I want it," she answered. "But I need to hunt first, do I not?"

  He nodded, and made a small eloquent gesture for us to leave him with Louis alone.

  I took her with me quickly down the iron steps and out and away from the Quarter.

  We walked in silence except for the tantalizing click of her heels on the pavement. At once we came to the blighted and shabby neighborhood where her old house stood.

  We did not go to her house, however. We pushed on.

  Finally a sweet laugh escaped her lips, and she stopped me long enough for her to deposit a kiss on my cheek. She had things to say but she was cut off.

  A large American automobile came crawling close to us, and we could hear from behind its thick windows the deep bass of the radio, and the nasty words of a hateful song. It seemed like so much of modern music, a din to drive human beings mad.

  The car stopped only a few feet ahead of us, and we continued on. I knew the two mortals in the car meant to hurt us; I sang their requiem. Perhaps I smiled. It is a sinister thing, but I believe I smiled.

  What I did not expect was the quick snap of a gun, and the shining streak of a bullet before my eyes. Merrick's laugh came again, for she too had seen its brilliant arc before us.

  The door of the car opened, and a dark shape moved towards Merrick, and she turned, extending her slender arms in welcome, and caught her victim in midstep. I saw the man freeze as she sank her teeth; I saw him go limp; I saw her arms easily hold his bulk. I smelled the blood, and I was nothing if not the vampire.

  Out of the car came the driver, abandoning his running engine and outraged by the little scheme of rape or robbery gone wrong. Once again the gun gave its loud crack, but the bullet was lost in the blackness.

  I rushed the assailant and caught him as simply as she had caught her prey. My teeth were swift and the taste of the blood magnificent. Never have I drunk so greedily, so urgently. Never have I played it out, swimming for elastic moments in the desperate memories and dreams of this sad individual before I quietly flung his remains away from me and out of sight in the high grass of an abandoned lot.

  Swiftly, Merrick deposited her dying victim in the same overgrown patch of earth.

  "You healed the puncture wounds?" I questioned her. "You did it so as not to leave any trace of how he died?"

  "Of course I did," she answered.

  "Why didn't you kill him?" I asked. "You should have killed him. "

  "Once I drink from Lestat, I can kill them," she answered. "Besides, he can't live. He'll be dead by the time we return to the flat. "

  We turned for home.

  She walked on beside me. I wondered if she knew what I felt. I felt that I had betrayed her and destroyed her. I felt that I had done every conceivable evil to her that I had sworn to avoid. When I looked back on our plan, that she should raise a ghost for me and for Louis, I saw there the seeds of all that had come to pass. I was broken, a man humiliated by his own failure and enduring it with a vampire's cold passivity, which can coexist so dreadfully with human pain.

  I wanted to tell her how sorry I w
as that her full measure of mortal life had not been enjoyed. I wanted to tell her that destiny had marked her for great things, perhaps, and I had broken that destiny with my careless selfishness, with an ego that couldn't be restrained.

  But why spoil these precious moments for her? Why place a shroud over all the splendor she saw around her, her vampire eyes feasting as surely as she herself had feasted, on all that we saw? Why take from her the few virgin nights in which force and menace would seem sacred and righteous? Why try to turn it with grief and pain? They would come soon enough.

  Perhaps she read my thoughts. I certainly didn't try to prevent it. But when she spoke, there was no evidence in her words:

  "All my life," she said in a sweet confidential voice, "I've been afraid of things, as a child and a woman must be. I lied about it naturally. I fancied myself a witch and walked in dark streets to punish myself for my doubts. But I knew what it meant to be afraid.

  "And now, in this darkness, I fear nothing. If you were to leave me here, I would feel nothing. I would walk as I am walking now. As a man, you can't know what I mean by what I say. You can't know a woman's vulnerability. You can't know the sense of power that belongs to me now. "

  "I think I know something of it," I answered in a conciliatory tone. "I was old, you must remember, and when I was old, I knew a fear I'd never experienced when I was young. "

  "Yes, then you do understand perhaps the wariness a woman carries always in her heart. Then you do know the force which is so glorious to me now. "

  I put my arm around her. I gently turned her to kiss me and I felt her cool preternatural skin beneath my lips. Her perfume now seemed something alien to her, not belonging to her deeply, though it was sweet still, and abundantly caught in the long dark tresses which I felt so lovingly with both hands.

  "Know I love you," I said, and I could hear the terrible remorse, the terrible plea for penance in my own voice.

  "Don't you understand, I'm with you now forever?" she asked. "Why should any one of us break away from the others?"

  "It happens. In time, it happens," I answered. "Don't ask me why. "

  Gradually our wanderings led us to Merrick's house.

  She went inside alone, bidding me wait patiently for her, and came out carrying her old familiar canvas purse. My keen senses detected a strange scent from it, something acrid and chemical, something utterly alien to all I knew.

  It did not really matter to me, this scent, and so as we walked on together, I forgot about it, or grew accustomed to it, or stopped noticing it at all. I had no taste for lesser mysteries. My misery and my happiness were too immense.

  When we returned to the flat, we found Louis once more dramatically changed.

  Sitting quietly again in the rear parlor with Lestat beside him, he was now so bleached and sculpted by the increased blood that he seemed, like his maker, a thing of marble rather than flesh and bone. He would have to crush ashes between his palms and spread them over his skin if he wanted to walk in places of light.

  His eyes had an even greater luster than I'd observed before.

  But what of his soul? What had he to say to us? Was he the same being in his heart?

  I took a chair, as did Merrick, dropping her canvas bag near her feet. And I think we both agreed to wait until Louis would speak.

  A long interval found us still together, still waiting, Lestat's eyes returning again and again to Merrick out of an understandable fascination, and then Louis finally began to talk:

  "My heartfelt thanks go to all of you that you brought me back. " It was the old cadence, the old sincerity. Maybe there was something of the old timidity as well. "All my long life among the Undead, I searched for something which I had come to believe I would never possess. Over a century ago, I went to the Old World in search of this. And after a decade, found myself in Paris, searching for this thing. "

  He continued, his tone rich with the old feeling.

  "What I searched for was a place, a place somewhere in which I would be a part of something greater than myself. It was to be other than a perfect outcast. It was to be with those who would enclose me in a group to which I truly belonged. But nowhere did I find this, until now. "

  He looked at me pointedly and then to Merrick, and I saw the love come up warmly into his face.

  "I'm as strong as you are now, David. And soon Merrick will be the same. " He turned his steady eyes on Lestat. "I'm almost as strong as you are now, my blessed Maker. For better or for worse I feel that I am one of you all. "

  There came from his glistening white face a long drawnout sigh then, which was all too characteristic of him and had always been.

  "Thoughts," he said, "I hear them. Music from faraway, I hear it. Those who come and go in the streets outside, I hear them. I catch their scent and it's sweet and welcoming. I look out at the night and I see far. "

  A great wondering relief came over me. I did my best to express it by my gestures and the warmth of the expression on my face.

  I felt Merrick shared it. Her love for Louis was palpable. It was infinitely more aggressive and demanding than the love she felt for me.

  Lestat, somewhat weakened perhaps from all he'd endured, and his long fast of the past months, merely nodded at these words.

  He looked to Merrick as if he had a task before him, and I was eager myself for that task to be done. It would be difficult for me to see Lestat take Merrick in his arms. Perhaps it would be private, as the blood exchange had been with Louis. I was ready enough to be sent away again to walk, with only the comfort of my thoughts, in the night.

  But I sensed that our small company was by no means ready to disband.

  Merrick sat forward in her chair. She made it quite evident that she meant to address all of us.

  "I have something which must be said," she began, her eyes hesitating respectfully on me for a long moment before she looked at the other two. "There is much guilt here on the part of Louis and David that I'm now one of you. And perhaps there are questions in your mind, Lestat, as well.

  "Hear me out, then, for all your sakes, and decide what your feelings should be when you know the key parts of the tale. I am here because I chose to be here a long time ago.

  "It has been years since David Talbot, our revered Superior General, disappeared out of the warm protective arms of the Talamasca, and I was by no means mollified by lies about how he had come to the end of his mortal life.

  "As David knows, I learnt the secrets of the body switch that had removed David from the elderly body in which I'd always loved him with all my heart. But I didn't need a secret narrative written by my friend Aaron Lightner to tell me what had become of David's soul.

  "I learnt the truth when I flew to London, after the death of that elderly body, that body which we called David Talbot, to pay my respects, alone with the body in the coffin before it was forever sealed. I knew when I touched the body that David had not suffered death in it, and at that unique moment my ambitions began.

  "Only a short time later, I found Aaron Lightner's papers, which made it clear that David had indeed been the happy victim of a Faustian Switch, and that something unforgivable in Aaron's mind had taken David, within the young body, out of our world.

  "Of course I knew it was the vampires. I didn't need popular fictions masking facts to figure how Lestat had had his way with David at last.

  "But by the time I read those curious pages, with all their euphemism and initials, I had already made a potent and ageold spell. I had made it to bring David Talbot, whatever he was¡ªyoung man, vampire, even ghost¡ªback to me, back to the warmth of my affection, back to his old sense of responsibility for me, back to the love we'd once shared. "

  She stopped speaking, and reached down and drew up a small clothwrapped parcel from her bag. There came the acrid smell again, which I could not classify, and then she opened the cloth to reveal what appeared to be a yellowish and somewhat molded human hand.

  It was n
ot that old blackened hand I had more than once seen on her altar. It was something altogether more recently alive, and I realized what my nostrils had failed to tell me. Before it had been severed, it had been embalmed. It was the fluid that caused the faint noxious odor. But the fluid had long since dried up and left the hand as it was, fleshly, shrunken, and curled.

  "Do you recognize it, David?" she asked me gravely.

  I was chilled as I stared at her.

  "I took it from your body, David," she said. "I took it because I wouldn't let you go. "

  Lestat gave a small laugh that was tender and full of easy pleasure. I think that Louis was too stunned to speak.

  As for me, I could say nothing. I only stared at the hand.

  In the palm was engraved a whole series of small words. I knew the tongue to be Coptic, which I could not read.

  "It's an old spell, David; it binds you to come to me, it binds the spirits who listen to me to drive you towards me. It binds them to fill your dreams and your waking hours with thoughts of me. As the spell builds in power it presses out all other considerations, and finally there is one obsession, that you come to me, and nothing else will do. "

  Now it was Louis's turn for a small smile of recognition.

  Lestat sat back, merely regarding the remarkable object with a raised eyebrow and a rueful smile.

  I shook my head.

  "I don't accept it!" I whispered.

  "You had no chance against it, David," she insisted. "You're blameless, blameless, as Louis was blameless for what ultimately happened to me. "

  "No, Merrick," said Louis gently. "I've known too much genuine love in my years to doubt what I feel for you. "

  "What does it say, this scribble!" I demanded angrily.

  "What it says," she answered, "is a particle of what I have recited countless times as I called my spirits, the very spirits I called for you and Louis the other night. What it says is:

  "'I command you to drench his soul, his mind, his heart with a heat for me, to inflict upon his nights and days a relentless and torturous longing for me; to invade his dreams with the images of me; to let there be nothing that he eats or drinks that will solace him as he thinks of me, until he returns to me, until he stands in my presence, until I can use every power at my command on him as we speak together. Do not for a moment let him be quiet; do not for a moment let him turn away. '"

  "It wasn't like that," I insisted.

  She went on, her voice lower, kinder:

  "'May he be a slave to me, may he be the faithful servant of my designs, may he have no power to refuse what I have confided to you, my great and faithful spirits. May he fulfill that destiny which I choose of my own accord. '"

  She let the silence fill the room again. I heard nothing for the moment, except a low secretive laughter from Lestat.

  But it was not mocking, this laughter. It was simply eloquent of astonishment, and then Lestat spoke:

  "And so you are absolved, gentlemen," he said. "Why don't you accept it, accept it as an absolutely priceless gift which Merrick has the right to give?"

  "Nothing can ever absolve me," said Louis.

  "Let it be your choice, then, both of you," answered Merrick, "if you wish to believe you are responsible. And this, this remnant of your corpse I'll return to the earth. But let me say, before I put a seal on the subject for both of your hearts, that the future was foretold. "

  "By whom? How?" I demanded.

  "An old man," she said, addressing me most particularly, "who used to sit in the dining room of my house listening to Sunday Mass on the radio, an old man with a gold pocket watch which I coveted, a watch which he told me, simply, was not ticking for me. "

  I winced. "Oncle Vervain," I whispered.

  "Those were his only words on the matter," she said with soft humility. "But he sent me to the jungles of Central America to find the mask I would use to raise Claudia. He had sent me earlier, with my mother and my sister, to find the perforator with which I would slash Louis's wrist to get the blood from him, not only for my raising of a spirit, but for the spell with which I brought Louis to me. "

  The others said nothing. But Louis and Lestat understood her. And it was the pattern, the intricate pattern which won me over to accept her utterly, rather than keep her at a remove, the evidence of my awful guilt.

  It was now close to morning. We had only a couple of hours left. Lestat wanted to use this time to give Merrick his power.

  But before we disbanded, Lestat turned to Louis and asked a question which mattered to us all.

  "When the sun rose," he said, "when you saw it, when it burnt you before you were unconscious, what did you see?"

  Louis stared at Lestat for some few minutes, his face blank, as it always becomes when he is in a state of high emotion, and then his features softened, his brows knitted, and there came the dreaded tears to his eyes.

  "Nothing," he said. He bowed his head, but then he looked up helplessly. "Nothing. I saw nothing and I felt that there was nothing. I felt it¡ªempty, colorless, timeless. Nothing. That I had ever lived in any shape seemed unreal. " His eyes were shut tight, and he brought up his hand to hide his face from us. He was weeping. "Nothing," he said. "Nothing at all. "
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