The queen of the damned, p.42

The Queen Of The Damned, page 42

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


The Queen Of The Damned

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Chapter 39


  In another language, he cried out, his voice gaining volume untii it was a roar. And only the dimmest translation of it came clear to me.

  "The Queen Of The Damned . . . hour of worst menace . . . I shall rise to stop you. . . . " I understood. It had been Mekare's-the woman's-prophecy and curse. And everyone here knew it, understood it. It had to do with that strange, inexplicable dream.

  "Oh, no, my children!" Akasha screamed suddenly. "It is not finished!"

  I could feel her collecting her powers; I could see it, her body tensing, breasts thrust forward, her hands rising as if reflexively, fingers curled.

  The woman was struck by it, shoved backwards, but instantly resisted. And then she too straightened, her eyes widening, and she rushed forward so swiftly I couldn't follow it, her hands out for the Queen.

  I saw her fingers, caked with mud, streaking towards Akasha; I saw Akasha's face as she was caught by her long black hair. I heard her scream. Then I saw her profile, as her head struck the western window and shattered it, the glass crashing down in great ragged shards.

  A violent shock passed through me; I could neither breathe nor move. I was falling to the floor. I couldn't control my limbs. Akasha's headless body was sliding down the fractured glass wall, the shards still falling around it. Blood streamed down the broken glass behind her. And the woman held Akasha's severed head by the hair!

  Akasha's black eyes blinked, widened. Her mouth opened as if to scream again.

  And then the light was going out all around me; it was as if the fire had been extinguished, only it hadn't, and as I rolled over on the carpet, crying, my hand clawing at it involuntarily, I saw the distant flames through a dark rosy haze.

  I tried to lift my weight. I couldn't. I could hear Marius calling to me, Marius silently calling only my name.

  Then I was rising, just a little, and all my weight pressed against my aching arms and hands.

  Akasha's eyes were fixed on me. Her head was lying there almost within my reach, and the body lay on its back, blood gushing from the stump of the neck. Suddenly the right arm quivered; it was lifted, then it flopped back down to the floor. Then it rose again, the hand dangling. It was reaching for the head!

  I could help it! I could use the powers she'd given me to try to move it, to help it reach the head. And as I struggled to see in the dimming light, the body lurched, shivered, and flopped down closer to the head.

  But the twins! They were beside the head and the body. Mekare, staring at the head dully, with those vacant red-rimmed eyes. And Maharet, as if with the last breath in her, kneeling now beside her sister, over the body of the Mother, as the room grew darker and colder, and Akasha's face began to grow pale and ghostly white as if all the light inside were going out.

  I should have been afraid; I should have been in terror; the cold was creeping over me, and I could hear my own choking sobs. But the strangest elation overcame me; I realized suddenly what I was seeing:

  "It's the dream," I said. Far away I could hear my own voice. "The twins and the body of the Mother, do you see it! The image from the dream!"

  Blood spread out from Akasha's head into the weave of the carpet; Maharet was sinking down, her hands out flat, and Mekare too had weakened and bent down over the body, but it was still the same image, and I knew why I'd seen it now, I knew what it meant!

  "The funeral feast!" Marius cried. "The heart and the brain, one of you-take them into yourself. It is the only chance. "

  Yes, that was it. And they knew! No one had to tell them. They knew!

  That was the meaning! And they'd all seen it, and they all knew. Even as my eyes were closing, I realized it; and this lovely feeling deepened, this sense of completeness, of something finished at last. Of something known!

  Then I was floating, floating in the ice cold darkness again as if I were in Akasha's arms, and we were rising into the stars.

  A sharp crackling sound brought me back. Not dead yet, but dying. And where are those I love?

  Fighting for life still, I tried to open my eyes; it seemed impossible. But then I saw them in the thickening gloom-the two of them, their red hair catching the hazy glow of the fire; the one holding the bloody brain in her mud-covered fingers, and the other, the dripping heart. All but dead they were, their own eyes glassy, their limbs moving as if through water. And Akasha stared forward still, her mouth open, the blood gushing from her shattered skull. Mekare lifted the brain to her mouth; Maharet put the heart in her other hand; Mekare took them both into herself.

  Darkness again; no firelight; no point of reference; no sensation except pain; pain all through the thing that I was which had no limbs, no eyes, no mouth to speak. Pain, throbbing, electrical; and no way to move to lessen it, to push it this way, or that way, or tense against it, or fade into it. Just pain.

  Yet I was moving. I was thrashing about on the floor. Through the pain I could feel the carpet suddenly; I could feel my feet digging at il as if I were trying to climb a steep cliff. And then I heard the unmistakable sound of the fire near me; and I felt the wind gusting through the broken window, and I smelled all those soft sweet scents from the forest rushing into the room. A violent shock coursed through me, through every muscle and pore, my arms and legs flailing. Then still.

  The pain was gone.

  I lay there gasping, staring at the brilliant reflection of the fire in the glass ceiling, and feeling the air fill my lungs, and I realized I was crying again, broken heartedly, like a child.

  The twins knelt with their backs to us; and they had their arms around each other, and their heads were together, their hair mingling, as they caressed each other, gently, tenderly, as if talking through touch alone.

  I couldn't muffle my sobs. I turned over and drew my arm up under my face and just wept.

  Marius was near me. And so was Gabrielle. 1 wanted to take Gabrielle into my arms. I wanted to say all the things 1 knew I should say-that it was over and we had survived it, and it was finished-but I couldn't.

  Then slowly I turned my head and looked at Akasha's face again, her face still intact, though all the dense, shining whiteness was gone, and she was as pale, as translucent as glass! Even her eyes, her beautiful ink black eyes were becoming transparent, as if there were no pigment in them; it had all been the blood.

  Her hair lay soft and silken beneath her cheek, and the dried blood was lustrous and ruby red.

  I couldn't stop crying. I didn't want to. I started to say her name and it caught in my throat. It was as if I shouldn't do it. 1 never should have. I never should have gone up those marble steps and kissed her face in the shrine.

  They were all coming to life again, the others. Armand was holding Daniel and Louis, who were both groggy and unable yet to stand; and Khayman had come forward with Jesse beside him, and the others were all right too. Pandora, trembling, her mouth twisted with her crying, stood far apart, hugging herself as if she were cold.

  And the twins turned around and stood up now, Maharet's arm around Mekare. And Mekare stared forward, expressionless, uncomprehending, the living statue; and Maharet said:

  "Behold. The The Queen Of The Damned. "



  Some things lighten nightfall and make a Rembrandt of a grief. But mostly the swiftness of time is a joke; on us. The flame-moth is unable to laugh. What luck. The myths are dead.


  "Poem on Crawling into Bed: Bitterness" Body of Work (1983)


  A vampire's city-beautiful. Melting hot, teeming, and embracingly hot, marketplace, playground.

  Where the desperate and the greedy are locked in subversive commerce, and the sky belongs to everyone, and the beach goes on forever; and the lights outshine the heavens, and the sea is as warm as blood.

  Miami. The happy hunting ground of the devil.

  That's why we are here, in Armand's large, graceful white vil
la on the Night Island, surrounded by every conceivable luxury, and the wide open southern night.

  Out there, across the water, Miami beckons; victims just waiting: the pimps, the thieves, the dope kings, and the killers. The nameless ones; so many who are almost as bad as I am, but not quite.

  Armand had gone over at sunset with Marius; and they were back now, Armand playing chess with Santino in the drawing room, Marius reading as he did constantly, in the leather chair by the window over the beach.

  Gabrielle had not appeared yet this evening; since Jesse left, she was frequently alone.

  Khayman sat in the downstairs study talking with Daniel now, Daniel who liked to let the hunger build, Daniel who wanted to know all about what it had been like in ancient Miletus, and Athens, and Troy. Oh, don't forget Troy. I myself was vaguely intrigued by the idea of Troy.

  I liked Daniel. Daniel who might go with me later if I asked him; if I could bring myself to leave this island, which I have done only once since I arrived. Daniel who still laughed at the path the moon made over the water, or the warm spray in his face. For Daniel, all of it-her death even-had been spectacle. But he cannot be blamed for that.

  Pandora almost never moved from the television screen. Marius had brought her the stylish modern garments she wore; satin shirt, boots to the knee, cleaving velvet skirt. He'd put the bracelets on her arms, and the rings on her fingers, and each evening he brushed her long brown hair. Sometimes he presented her with little gifts of perfume. If he did not open them for her, they lay on the table untouched. She stared the way Armand did at the endless progression of video movies, only now and then breaking off to go to the piano in the music room and play softly for a little while.

  I liked her playing; rather like the Art of the Fugue, her seamless variations. But she worried me; the others didn't. The others had all recovered from what had happened, more quickly than I had ever imagined they could. She'd been damaged in some crucial way before it all began.

  Yet she liked it here; I knew she did. How could she not like it? Even though she never listened to a word that Marius said.

  We all liked it. Even Gabrielle.

  White rooms filled with gorgeous Persian carpets and endlessly intriguing paintings-Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Giotto, Geri-cault. One could spend a century merely looking at the paintings; Armand was constantly changing them, shifting their positions, bringing up some new treasure from the cellar, slipping in little sketches here and there.

  Jesse had loved it here too, though she was gone now, to join Maharet in Rangoon.

  She had come here into my study and told me her side of it very directly, asking me to change the names she'd used and to leave out the Talamasca altogether, which of course I wouldn't do. I'd sat silently, scanning her mind as she talked, for all the little things she was leaving out. Then I'd poured it into the computer, while she sat watching, thinking, staring at the dark gray velvet curtains, and the Venetian clock; and the cool colors of the Morandi on the wall.

  I think she knew I wouldn't do what she told me to do. She also knew it wouldn't matter. People weren't likely to believe in the Talamasca any more than they would ever believe in us. That is, unless David Talbot or Aaron Lightner came to call on them the way that Aaron had called on Jesse.

  As for the Great Family, well, it wasn't likely that any of them would think it more than a fiction, with a touch here and there of truth; that is, if they ever happened to pick up the book.

  That's what everybody had thought of Interview with the Vampire and my autobiography, and they would think it about The The Queen Of The Damned too.

  And that's how it should be. Even I agree with that now. Maharet was right. No room for us; no room for God or the Devil; it should be metaphor-the supernatural-whether it's High Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, or Faust selling his soul in an opera, or a rock star pretending to be the Vampire Lestat.

  Nobody knew where Maharet had taken Mekare. Even Eric probably didn't know now either, though he'd left with them, promising to meet Jesse in Rangoon.

  Before she left the Sonoma compound, Maharet had startled me with a little whisper: "Get it straight when you tell it-the Legend of the Twins. "

  That was permission, wasn't it? Or cosmic indifference, I'm not sure which. I'd said nothing about the book to anyone; I'd only brooded on it in those long painful hours when I couldn't really think, except in terms of chapters: an ordering; a road map through the mystery; a chronicle of seduction and pain.

  Maharet had looked worldly yet mysterious that last evening, coming to find me in the forest, garmented in black and wearing her fashionable paint, as she called it-the skillful cosmetic mask that made her into an alluring mortal woman who could move with only admiring glances through the real world. What a tiny waist she had, and such long hands, even more graceful, it seemed, for the tight black kid gloves she wore. So carefully she had stepped through the ferns and past the tender saplings, when she might have pushed the trees themselves out of her path.

  She'd been to San Francisco with Jessica and Gabrielle; they had walked past houses with cheerful lights; on clean narrow pavements; where people lived, she'd said. How crisp her speech had been, how effortlessly contemporary; not like the timeless woman I had first encountered in the mountaintop room.

  And why was I alone again, she'd asked, sitting by myself near the little creek that ran through the thick of the redwoods? Why would I not talk to the others, even a little? Did I know how protective and fearful they were?

  They are still asking me those questions now.

  Even Gabrielle, who in the main never bothers with questions, never says much of anything. They want to know when I'm going to recover, when I'm going to talk about what happened, when I'm going to stop writing all through the night.

  Maharet had said that we would see her again very soon. In the spring perhaps we should come to her house in Burma. Or maybe she'd surprise us one evening. But the point was, we were never to be isolated from one another; we had ways to find each other, no matter where we might roam.

  Yes, on that vital point at least everyone had agreed. Even Gabrielle, the loner, the wanderer, had agreed.

  Nobody wanted to be lost in time again.

  And Mekare? Would we see her again? Would she ever sit with us around a table? Speak to us with a language of gestures and signs?

  I had laid eyes upon her only once after that terrible night. And it had been entirely unexpected, as I came through the forest, back to the compound, in the soft purple light just before dawn.

  There had been a mist crawling over the earth, thinning above the ferns and the few scattered winter wild flowers, and then paling utterly into phosphorescence as it rose among the giant trees.

  And the twins had come through the mist together, walking down into the creek bed to make their way along the stones, arms locked around each other, Mekare in a long wool gown as beautiful as her sister's, her hair brushed and shining as it hung down around her shoulders and over her breasts.

  It seemed Maharet had been speaking softly in Mekare's ear. And it was Mekare who stopped to look at me, her green eyes wide and her face for one moment unaccountably frightening in its blankness, as I'd felt my grief like a scorching wind on my heart.

  I'd stood entranced looking at her, at both of them, the pain in me suffocating, as if my lungs were being dried up.

  I don't know what my thoughts were; only that the pain seemed unbearable. And that Maharet had made some little tender motion to me of greeting, and that I should go my way. Morning coming. The forest was waking all around us. Our precious moments slipping by. My pain had been finally loosened, like a moan coming out of me, and I'd let it go as I'd turned away.

  I'd glanced back once to see the two figures moving eastward, down the rippling silver creek bed, swallowed as it were by the roaring music of the water that followed its relentless path through the scattered rocks.

  The old image of the dream had fad
ed just a little. And when I think of them now, I think not of the funeral feasts but of that moment, the two sylphs in the forest, only nights before Maharet left the Sonoma compound taking Mekare away.

  I was glad when they were gone because it meant that we would be going. And I did not care if I ever saw the Sonoma compound again. My sojourn there had been agony, though the first few nights after the catastrophe had been the worst.

  How quickly the bruised silence of the others had given way to endless analysis, as they strained to interpret what they'd seen and felt. How had the thing been transferred exactly? Had it abandoned the tissues of the brain as they disintegrated, racing through Mekare's bloodstream until it found the like organ in her? Had the heart mattered at all?

  Molecular; nucleonic; solitons; protoplasm; glittering modern words! Come now, we are vampires! We thrive on the blood of the living; we kill; and we love it. Whether we need to do it or not.

  I couldn't bear to listen to them; I couldn't bear their silent yet obsessive curiosity: What was it like with her? What did you do in those few nights? I couldn't get away from them either; I certainly hadn't the will to leave altogether; I trembled when I was with them; trembled when I was apart.

  The forest wasn't deep enough for me; I'd roamed for miles through the mammoth redwoods, and then through scrub oaks and open fields and into dank impassable woods again. No getting away from their voices: Louis confessing how he had lost consciousness during those awful moments; Daniel saying that he had heard our voices, yet seen nothing; Jesse, in Khayman's arms, had witnessed it all.

  How often they had pondered the irony-that Mekare had brought down her enemy with a human gesture; that, knowing nothing of invisible powers, she had struck out as any human might, but with inhuman speed and strength.

  Had any of her survived in Mekare? That was what I kept wondering. Forget the "poetry of science" as Maharet had called it. That was what I wanted to know. Or had her soul been released at last when the brain was torn loose?

  Sometimes in the dark, in the honeycombed cellar with its tin-plated walls and its countless impersonal chambers, I'd wake, certain that she was right there beside me, no more than an inch from my face; I'd feel her hair again; her arm around me; I'd see the black glimmer of her eye. I'd grope in the darkness; nothing but the damp brick walls.

  Then I'd lie there and think of poor little Baby Jenks, as she had shown her to me, spiraling upwards; I'd see the varicolored lights enveloping Baby Jenks as she looked down on the earth for the last time. How could Baby Jenks, the poor biker child, have invented such a vision? Maybe we do go home, finally.

  How can we know?

  And so we remain immortal; we remain frightened; we remain anchored to what we can control. It all starts again; the wheel turns; we are the vampires; because there are no others; the new coven is formed.

  Like a gypsy caravan we left the Sonoma compound, a parade of shining black cars streaking through the American night at lethal speed on immaculate roads. It was on that long ride that they told me everything-spontaneously and sometimes unwittingly as they conversed with one another. Like a mosaic it came together, all that had gone before. Even when I dozed against the blue velvet upholstery, I heard them, saw what they had seen.

  Down to the swamplands of south Florida; down to the great decadent city of Miami, parody of both heaven and hell.

  Immediately I locked myself in this little suite of tastefully appointed rooms; couches, carpet, the pale pastel paintings of Piero della Francesca; computer on the table; the music of Vivaldi pouring from tiny speakers hidden in the papered walls. Private stairway to the cellar, where in the steel-lined crypt the coffin waited: black lacquer; brass handles; a match and the stub of a candle; lining stitched with white lace.

  Blood lust; how it hurt; but you don't need it; yet you can't resist it; and it's going to be like this forever; you never get rid of it; you want it even more than before.

  When I wasn't writing, I lay on the gray brocade divan, watching the palm fronds move in the breeze from the terrace, listening to their voices below.

  Louis begging Jesse politely to describe one more time the apparition of Claudia. And Jesse's voice, solicitous, confidential: "But Louis, it wasn't real. "

  Gabrielle missed Jesse now that she was gone; Jesse and Ga-brielle had walked on the beach for hours. It seemed not a word passed between them; but then, how couid I be sure?

  Gabrielle was doing more and more little things to make me happy: wearing her hair brushed free because she knew I loved it; coming up to my room before she vanished with the morning. Now and then she'd look at me, probing, anxious.

  "You want to leave here, don't you?" I'd ask fearfully; or something like it.

  "No," she said. "I like it here. It suits me. " When she got restless now she went to the islands, which weren't so very far away. She rather liked the islands. But that wasn't what she wanted to talk about. There was always something else on her mind. Once she had almost voiced it. "But tell me . . . " And then she'd stopped.

  "Did I love her?" I asked. "Is that what you want to know? Yes, I loved her. "

  And I still couldn't say her name.

  Mael came and went.
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