Merrick, p.4

Merrick, page 4

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 3



  WE HAD NO SOONER begun our walk than we gave in to rather frequent and fervent embraces. Merrick's old favorite Chanel perfume enchanted me, carrying me back years again; but the blood scent from her living veins was the strongest goad of all.

  My desires were commingled in a torment. By the time we reached the Rue Decateur, scarcely a block and a half from the caf¨¦, I knew we needed a taxi. And once inside of the car, I gave myself up to kissing Merrick all over her face and her throat, luxuriating in the fragrance of the blood inside her and the heat coming from her breasts.

  She herself was rather past the point of return, and pressed me in confidential whispers as to whether or not I could still make love in the manner of an ordinary man. I told her it wouldn't do for me, that she had to remember, drunk or sober, that I was, by nature, a predator and nothing more.

  "Nothing more?" she said, stopping this glorified love play to take another deep drink from her bottle of rum. "And what happened in the jungles of Guatemala? Answer me. You haven't forgotten. The tent, the village, you remember. Don't lie to me, David. I know what's inside you. I want to know what you've become. "

  "Hush, Merrick," I said, but I couldn't restrain myself. I let my teeth touch her flesh with each kiss. "What happened in the jungles of Guatemala," I struggled to say, "was a mortal sin. "

  I covered her mouth, kissing her and devouring her tongue but not letting my evil teeth harm her. I felt her wipe my brow with a soft cloth, possibly her scarf or a handkerchief, but I pushed it away.

  "Don't do that," I told her. I feared that a few beads of blood sweat might have appeared. She went back to kissing me and whispering her words of Come Hither against my skin.

  I was miserable. I wanted her. I knew that even the smallest drink of her blood would prove too risky for me utterly; I'd feel I possessed her after that, and she, in spite of all her seeming innocence on the matter, might well find herself my slave.

  Elder vampires had warned me on just about every aspect of what could happen to me. And Armand and Lestat had both been adamant that the "little drink" must not be conceived of as harmless. I was furious suddenly.

  I reached to the back of her head and ripped the leather barrette out of her thick brown hair, letting the barrette and its crosspin fall carelessly, and I ran my fingers deep against her scalp and kissed her lips again. Her eyes were closed.

  I was immensely relieved when we reached the spacious entrance of the Windsor Court Hotel. She took another drink of her rum before the doorman helped her out of the cab, and in the manner of most experienced drinkers seemed sober on her feet when in fact she was not sober at all.

  Having obtained the suite for her earlier, I took her directly to it, unlocked the door, and set her down on the bed.

  The suite was quite fine, perhaps the finest in town, with its tasteful traditional furnishings and muted lights. And I had ordered bountiful vases of flowers for her.

  It was nothing, however, that a member of the Talamasca wouldn't expect. We were never known for economy with our traveling members. And all my many memories of her encircled me like vapor, and wouldn't let me loose.

  She appeared to notice nothing. She drank the rest of the rum without ceremony and settled back against the pillows, her bright green eyes closing almost at once.

  For a long time I merely looked at her. She appeared to have been tossed on the thick velvet counterpane and its nest of cushions, her white cotton clothes thin and friable, her long slender ankles and leathersandaled feet rather Biblical, her face with its high cheekbones and soft jawline exquisite in sleep.

  I could not be sorry that I had made this friendship. I could not. But I reiterated my vow: David Talbot, you will not harm this creature. Somehow Merrick will be better for all this; somehow knowledge will enhance Merrick; somehow Merrick's soul will triumph no matter how badly Louis and I fail.

  Then, seeing further to the suite¡ªthat the flowers ordered had indeed been properly set out on the coffee table before the parlor sofa, on the desk, on her dressing table; that the bath held abundant cosmetics for her comfort; that a great thick terry cloth robe and slippers were in their proper place in the closet; and that a full bar of small bottles awaited her, along with a fifth of her rum which I had provided¡ªI kissed her, left a set of keys on the night table, and went out.

  A brief stop at the concierge's desk, with the requisite offering, assured she'd be undisturbed for as long as she wished to stay at the hotel and that she might have anything that she liked.

  I then made up my mind to walk to our flat in the Rue Royale.

  However, before I left the beautifully lighted and somewhat busy lobby of the hotel a faint dizziness surprised me and I was assaulted by the peculiar sensation that everyone in the place was taking notice of me, and that their notice was not kind.

  I stopped immediately, fishing in my pocket as though I were a man about to step aside for a cigarette, and glanced about.

  There was nothing unusual about the lobby or about the crowd. Nevertheless, as I went outside the sensation overcame me again¡ªthat those in the driveway were looking at me, that they had penetrated my mortal disguise, which was by no means easy, and that they knew what I was and what evil things I might be about.

  Again, I checked. Nothing of the sort was happening. Indeed, the bell boys gave me rather cordial smiles when our eyes met.

  On I went towards the Rue Royale.

  Once more, the sensation occurred. In fact, it seemed to me that not only were people everywhere taking notice of me, but that they had come to the doors and windows of the shops and restaurants especially for the purpose; and the dizziness which I seldom, if ever, felt as a vampire increased.

  I was most uncomfortable. I wondered if this was the result of intimacy with a mortal being, because I'd never felt so exposed before. In fact, due to my bronze skin I could move about the mortal world with total impunity. All my supernatural attributes were veiled by the dark complexion, and my eyes, though too bright, were black.

  Nevertheless, it seemed people stared at me surreptitiously all along the route which I took towards home.

  Finally, when I was about three blocks from the flat I shared with Louis and Lestat, I stopped and leant against a black iron lamppost, much as I had seen Lestat do in the old nights when he still moved about. Scanning the passersby I was reassured again.

  But then something startled me so that I began to tremble violently in spite of myself. There stood Merrick in a shop door with her arms folded. She looked quite steadily and reprovingly at me, and then disappeared.

  Of course it wasn't really Merrick at all, but the solidity of the apparition was horrifying.

  A shadow moved behind me. I turned awkwardly. There again went Merrick, clothed in white, casting her long dark glance at me, and the figure appeared to melt into the shadows of a shop door.

  I was dumbfounded. It was witchcraft obviously, but how could it assault the senses of a vampire? And I was not only a vampire, I was David Talbot who had been a Candomble priest in his youth. Now, as a vampire, I have seen ghosts and spirits and I knew the spirits and the tricks they could play, and I knew a great deal about Merrick, but never had I witnessed or experienced a spell just like this.

  In a cab which crossed the Rue Royale, there was Merrick once again, looking up at me from the open window, her hair loosened as I had left it. And when I turned around, quite certain she was behind me, I saw her unmistakable figure on a balcony above.

  The posture of the figure was sinister. I was trembling. I disliked this. I felt a fool.

  I kept my eyes on the figure. In fact nothing could have moved me. The figure faded and was gone. All around me the Quarter suddenly seemed quite desolate, though in fact there were tourists everywhere in great numbers, and I could hear the music from the Rue Bourbon. Never had I seen so many flowerpots spilling their blooms over the iron lace railings. Never had
so many pretty vines climbed the weathered facades and the old stuccoed walls.

  Intrigued and slightly angry, I went into the Rue Ste. Anne to see the caf¨¦ in which we'd met, and as I suspected it was full to overflowing with diners and drinkers, and the wraith of a waiter seemed overwhelmed.

  There sat Merrick in the very middle of it, full white skirt flaring, stiff, as though she'd been cut from cardboard; then of course the apparition melted, as the others had done.

  But the point was the caf¨¦ was now crowded, as it should have been when we'd been there! How had she kept people away during our meeting? And what was she doing now?

  I turned around. The sky above was blue, as the southern sky is so often in the evening, sprinkled with faint stars. There was gay conversation and happy laughter all about. This was the reality of things, a mellow spring night in New Orleans, when the flagstone sidewalks seem soft to the step of your foot, and the sounds sweet to your ears.

  Yet there again came the sensation that everyone nearby was watching me. The couple crossing at the corner made a point of it. And then I saw Merrick quite some distance down the street, and this time the expression on her face was distinctly unpleasant, as though she were enjoying my discomfort.

  I drew in my breath as the apparition melted away.

  "How could she be doing this, that's the question!" I muttered aloud. "And why is she doing it?"

  I walked fast, heading for the town house, not certain as to whether I would go into it, with this manner of curse all around me, but as I approached our carriageway¡ªa large arched gate fitted into a frame of brickwork¡ªI then saw the most frightening image of all.

  Behind the bars of the gate stood the child Merrick of many years ago, in her same skimpy lavender shift, her head slightly to the side as she nodded to confidences whispered in her ear by an elderly woman whom I knew for a certainty to be her longdead grandmother Great Nananne.

  Great Nananne's thin mouth was smiling faintly and she nodded as she spoke.

  At once the presence of Great Nananne deluged me with memories and remembered sensations. I was terrified, then angry. I was all but disoriented, and had to pull myself up.

  "Don't you vanish, don't you go!" I cried out, darting towards the gate, but the figures melted as if my eyes had lost focus, as if my vision had been flawed.

  I was past all patience. There were lights in our home above, and there came the enchanting sound of harpsichord music, Mozart, if I was not mistaken, no doubt from Lestat's small disc player beside his fourposter bed. This meant he had graced us with a visit this evening, though all he would do would be to lie on his bed and listen to recordings till shortly before dawn.

  I wanted desperately to go up, to be in our home, to let the music soothe my nerves, to see Lestat and see to him, and to find Louis and tell him all that had occurred.

  Nothing would do, however, except that I go back to the hotel at once. I could not enter our flat while under this "spell," and must stop it at the source.

  I hurried to the Rue Decateur, found a cab, and vowed to look at nothing and no one until I had faced Merrick herself I was becoming more and more cross.

  Deep in my thoughts, I found myself mumbling protective charms, calling upon the spirits to protect. me rather than to injure me, but I had little faith in these old formulae. What I did believe in were the powers of Merrick, which I'd long ago witnessed and would never forget.

  Hurrying up the stairs to Merrick's suite, I put my key into the lock of her door.

  As soon as I stepped into the parlor, I saw the flicker of candlelight and smelled another very pleasant smell which I had connected with Merrick in years past. It was the scent of Florida water, redolent of fresh cut oranges¡ªa scent loved by the Voodoo goddess Ezili, and by the Candomble goddess of a similar name.

  As for the candle, I saw it atop a handsome bombe chest just opposite the door.

  It was a votive light, sunk deep and safe inside a water glass, and behind it, looking down upon it, was a fine plaster statue of St. Peter with his golden keys to Heaven, a figure about a foot and a half in height. The complexion of the statue was dark, and it had pale amber glass eyes.

  It was clothed in a soft green tunic etched with gold, and a cloak of purple on which the gold was fancier still. He held not only the proverbial keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, but also, in the right hand, a large book.

  I was shocked all over. The hair came up on the back of my neck.

  Of course I knew it was not only St. Peter, this statue, it was Papa Legba in Voodoo, the god of the crossroads, the god who must unlock the spiritual realms if you are to obtain anything with your magic.

  Before you begin a spell, a prayer, or a sacrifice you honor Papa Legba first. And whoever had made this statue realized these things.

  How else explain the deliberately darkened complexion of the saint who appeared now to be a man of color, or the mysterious book?

  He had his complement in Candomble, whom I had so often saluted. This was the orisha, or god, by the name of Exu. And any Candomble temple would have begun its ceremonies by first saluting him.

  As I stared at the statue and the candle, the very scents of those Brazilian temples with their hardpacked dirt floors came back to me. I heard the drums. I smelled the cooked foods laid out in offerings. Indeed, I let the sensations come.

  There came back other memories, memories of Merrick, as well.

  "Papa Legba," I whispered aloud. I'm certain that I bowed my head ever so slightly and felt a rush of blood to my face. "Exu," I whispered. "Don't be offended by anything that I do here. "

  I uttered a small prayer, more formulaic in the Portuguese that I had long ago learnt, asking that whatever realm he had just opened, he not deny me entrance, as my respect was as strong as that of Merrick.

  The statue of course remained motionless, its pale glass eyes staring quite directly into mine, but I had seldom beheld something which seemed so animate in a sly and unexplainable way.

  "I'm going slightly mad," I thought. But then I had come to Merrick to work magic, had I not? And I knew Merrick, didn't I? But then, I had never expected these tricks!

  I beheld in my mind the temple in Brazil once more, where I had trained for months learning the proper leaves for offering, learning the myths of the gods, learning finally, after months and months of struggle, to dance clockwise with the others, saluting each deity with our gestures and dance steps, until a frenzy was reached, until I myself felt the deity enter into me, possess me . . . and then there was the waking after, remembering nothing, being told I had been mightily possessed, the sublime exhaustion.

  Of course . . . What had I thought we were doing here if not inviting those old powers? And Merrick knew my old strengths and weaknesses if anybody did. I could scarcely tear my gaze off the face of the statue of St. Peter. But I finally managed it.

  I backed away as anyone might do when leaving a shrine, and darted silently into the bedroom.

  Again, I breathed in the bright citrus fragrance of the Florida water, and also the scent of rum.

  Where was her favorite perfume, the Chanel No. 22? Had she ceased to wear it? The Florida water was very strong.

  Merrick lay asleep on the bed.

  She looked as if she'd never moved. It struck me now and only now how much her white blouse and skirt resembled the classic dress of the Candomble women. All she needed was a turban for her head to make the image complete.

  The new bottle of rum was open on the table beside her, and about a third of it consumed. Nothing else had changed that I could ascertain. The scent was powerful, which meant she might have sprayed it through her teeth into the air, an offering to the god.

  In sleep she looked perfect, as people often do when they relax utterly; she seemed the girl of herself. And it struck me that were she to be made a vampire, she would have this flawless countenance.

  I was filled with fear and abhorrence. I was filled also¡
for the first time in these many years¡ªwith the full realization that I, and I without the help of anyone else, could grant this magic, the transformation into a vampire, to her, or to any human. For the first time, I understood its monstrous temptation.

  Of course nothing of this sort would befall Merrick. Merrick was my child. Merrick was my . . . daughter.

  "Merrick, wake up!" I said sharply. I touched her shoulder. "You're going to explain these visions to me. Wake up!"

  No response. She appeared to be dead drunk.

  "Merrick, wake up!" I said again, very crossly. And this time I lifted her shoulders with both hands, but her head tumbled back. The scent of the Chanel perfume rose from her. Ali, that was precisely what I so loved.

  I became painfully conscious of her breasts, quite visible in the scoop neck of her cotton blouse. Down into the pillows I let her fall.

  "Why did you do these things?" I demanded of the inert body of the beautiful woman lying on the bed. "What did you mean with all this? Do you think I'm to be frightened away?"

  But it was useless. She wasn't pretending. She was out cold. I could divine no dreams or subterranean thoughts in her. And quickly examining the little hotel wet bar, I saw that she'd drunk a couple of little bottles of gin.

  "Typical Merrick," I said with faint anger.

  It had always been her way to drink to excess at specific times. She'd work very hard at her studies or in the field for months on end, and then announce that she was "going to the Moon," as she called it, at which time she would lay in liquor and drink for several nights and days. Her favorite drinks were those with sweetness and flavor¡ªsugercane rum, apricot brandy, Grand Marnier, ad infinitum.

  She was introspective when drunk, did a lot of singing and writing and dancing about during such periods, and demanded to be left alone. If no one crossed her, she was all right. But an argument could produce hysterics, nausea, disorientation, an attempt to regain sobriety desperately, and finally, guilt. But this rarely happened. Usually, she just drank for a week, unmolested. Then she'd wake one morning, order breakfast with strong coffee, and within a matter of hours return to work, not to repeat her little vacation for perhaps another six to nine months.

  But even on social occasions if she drank, she drank to get drunk. She'd swill her rum or sweet liquor in fancy mixed drinks. She had no desire for drink in moderation. If we had a great dinner at the Motherhouse, and we did have many, she either abstained or continued drinking on her own until she passed out. Wine made her impatient.

  Well, she was passed out now. And even if I did succeed in waking her, there might be a pitched battle.

  I went again to look at St. Peter, or Papa Legba, in the makeshift Voodoo shrine. I had to eliminate my fear of this little entity or graven image or whatever I perceived to be there.

  Ah, I was stunned as I considered the statue for a second time. My pocket handkerchief was spread out beneath the statue and the candle, and beside it lay my own oldfashioned fountain pen! I hadn't even seen them before.

  "Merrick!" I swore furiously.

  And hadn't she wiped my forehead in the car? I glared at the handkerchief. Sure enough there were tiny smears of blood¡ªthe sweat from my forehead! And she had it for her spell.

  "Ali, not merely satisfied with an article of my clothing, my handkerchief, but you had to take the fluids from my skin. "

  Marching back into the bedroom, I made another very ungentlemanly attempt to rouse her from her torpor, ready for a brawl, but it was no good. I laid her back down tenderly, brushing her hair with my fingers, and observed, in spite of my anger, how truly pretty she was.

  Her creamy tan skin was beautifully molded over her cheekbones and her eyelashes were so long that they made distinct tiny shadows on her face. Her lips were dark, without rouge. I took off her plain leather sandals and laid them beside the bed, but this was just another excuse to touch her, not something generous.

  Then, backing away from the bed, with a glance through the door to the shrine in the parlor, I looked about for her purse, her large canvas bag.

  It had been flung on a chair and it gaped open, revealing, as I had hoped, a bulging envelope with Aaron's unmistakable writing on the outside.

  Well, she'd stolen my handkerchief and my pen, hadn't she? She'd retrieved my blood, my very blood, which must never fall into the hands of the Talamasca, hadn't she? Oh, it wasn't for the Order, no. She stole it for herself and her charms, but she stole it, didn't she? And I'd been kissing her all the while like a schoolboy.

  So I had every right to inspect this envelope in her purse. Besides, she had asked me if I wanted these papers. So I would take them. It was her intention to give them to me, was it not?

  At once I snatched up the envelope, opened it, confirmed that it was all Aaron's papers concerning me and my adventures, and resolved to take it with me. As for the rest of the contents of Merrick's bag, it contained her own journal, which I had no right to read, and which would most likely be written in impossible French code, a handgun with a pearl handle, a wallet full of money, an expensive cigar labeled Montecristo, and a thin small bottle of the Florida water cologne.

  The cigar gave me pause. Certainly it was not for her. It was for that little Papa Legba, that cigar. She had brought with her the statue, the Florida water, and the cigar. She had come prepared for some sort of conjuring. Ah, it infuriated me, but what right had I to preach against it?

  I went back into the parlor, and, avoiding the eyes of the statue and its seeming expression, snatched up my fountain pen from the makeshift altar. I located the hotel stationery in the middle drawer of a fancy French desk, sat down, and wrote a note:

  All right, my dear, I'm impressed. You've learnt even more tricks

  since last we met. But you must explain the reasons for this spell.

  I've taken the pages written by Aaron. I've retrieved my hand-

  kerchief and fountain pen as well. Stay in the hotel as long as

  you like.


  It was short, but I did not feel particularly effusive after this little misadventure. Also, I had the unpleasant sensation that Papa Legba was glaring at me from the violated shrine. In a fit of pique, I added a postscript.

  "It was Aaron who gave me this pen!" Enough said.

  Now, with considerable apprehension, I went back to the altar.

  I spoke rapidly in Portuguese first, and then in Latin, once again greeting the spirit in the statue, the opener of the spiritual realm. Open my understanding, I prayed, and take no offense at what I do, for I want only knowledge, and mean no disrespect. Be assured of my understanding of your power. Be assured that I am a sincere soul.

  I dug deep into my memory now for sensation as well as fact. I told the spirit in the statue that I was dedicated to the orisha, or god, called Oxal¨¢, lord of creation. I explained that I had been faithful in my own way always to that deity, though I had not done all the little things that others had prescribed to be done. Nevertheless, I loved this god, I loved his stories, and his personality, I loved all I could know of him.

  A bad feeling crept over me. How could a blood drinker be faithful to the lord of creation? Was not every act of blood drinking a sin against Oxal¨¢? I pondered this. But I didn't retreat. My emotions belonged to Oxal¨¢, just as they had many many decades ago in Rio de Janeiro. Oxal¨¢ was mine, and I was his.

  "Protect us in what we mean to do," I whispered.

  Then, before I could lose heart, I snuffed out the candle, lifted the statue, and, retrieving the handkerchief, set the statue back with care. I said, "Goodbye Papa Legba" to the statue and prepared to leave the suite.

  I found myself quite motionless, my back to the altar, facing the door to the corridor outside. I couldn't move. Or rather it seemed I shouldn't move.

  Very slowly, my mind became rather empty. Focused upon my physical senses, if anything, I turned and looked towards the bedroom doorway through which I'd only ju
st come.

  It was the old woman, of course, the wizened little Great Nananne, with her fingers on the doorjamb, staring at me, and her thin lipless mouth working as if she were whispering to herself or to someone unseen, her head tilted just a little to one side.

  I sucked in my breath and stared at her. She showed no signs of weakening, this wee apparition, this tiny old woman who regarded me rather directly in spite of moving lips. She was clothed in a faintly flowered nightgown of flannel that was stained all over with coffee, perhaps, or longfaded blood. Indeed, I became intensely conscious that her image was becoming all the more solid and detailed.

  Her feet were bare and her toenails the color of yellowed bone. Her gray hair was now quite visible and distinct, as if a light were being brightened upon her, and I saw the veins moving up the sides of her head, and the veins on the back of the one hand which dangled at her side. Only very old people looked as she looked. And of course this woman looked exactly as she had when I'd seen her ghost in the carriageway earlier this evening, and exactly as she had on the day of her death. Indeed, I remembered the nightgown. I remembered the stains upon it. I remembered that on her dying body it had been stained but fresh and clean.

  I broke into a true sweat as I stared at her, and I could not move a muscle, except to speak.

  "You think I'll harm her?" I whispered.

  The figure did not change. The little mouth continued to work, but I could hear only a faint dry rustling noise, as from an old woman telling her rosary in church.

  "You think I mean to do something wrong?" I said.

  The figure was gone. It was gone past tense. I was talking to no one.

  I turned on my heel and glared at the statue of the saint. It seemed to be material and nothing more. I seriously considered smashing it, but my mind was full of confusion as to my intentions and their implications, when quite suddenly there came a deafening knock on the hallway door.

  Well, it seemed to be deafening. I suspect it was ordinary. I was violently startled. Regardless I opened the door and said crossly:

  "What in hell do you want?"

  To my astonishment and his astonishment also, I was addressing one of the ordinary and innocent attendants who worked in the hotel.

  "Nothing, Sir, excuse me," he said in his slow southern manner, "just this for the lady. " He lifted a small plain white envelope and I took it out of his hand.

  "Oh, wait, please," I said, as I fumbled to retrieve a tendollar bill from my pocket. I had put several in my suit just for this purpose and gave one over to him, with which he seemed pleased.

  I shut the door. The envelope contained the twopiece leather hair barrette which I had taken off Merrick so carelessly in the cab. There was an oval of leather, and then a long pin covered with leather with which she gathered and fixed her hair in place.

  I was trembling all over. This was too dreadful.

  How in the hell had this come to be here? It seemed quite impossible that the cabby had retrieved it. But then how was I to know? At the time, I'd been aware that I ought to pick it up and pocket it, but I'd fancied myself to be under duress.

  I went to the altar, laid the barrette in front of Papa Legba, avoiding his eyes as I did so, and I went straight out of the suite, down the stairs and out of the lobby, and out of the hotel.

  This time, I vowed to observe nothing, to look for nothing, and I went directly to our home.

  If there were spirits along the way, I did not see them, keeping my eyes on the ground, moving as swiftly as I could safely move without causing a stir among mortals, and going directly through the carriageway, back to the courtyard, and then up the iron steps into the flat.
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