Merrick, p.5

Merrick, page 5

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 4



  THE FLAT WAS DARK, which I hadn't expected, and I did not find Louis in either the front parlor or the back, or in his room.

  As for Lestat, the door of his room was closed, and the harpsichord music, very rapid and very beautiful, seemed to emanate from the very walls, as is so often the case with modern compact disc recordings.

  I lighted all the lamps in the front parlor and settled on the couch, with Aaron's pages in hand. I told myself I had important business.

  It was no good thinking about Merrick and her charms and her spirits, and no good at all dwelling upon the old woman with her unintelligible whispers and her small wrinkled face.

  As for my thoughts on my orisha, Oxal¨¢ they were grim. The long ago years I had spent in Rio were ones of severe dedication. I had believed in Candomble insofar as I, David Talbot, could believe in anything. I had given myself over to the religion insofar as I could be abandoned to anything. And I had become Oxal¨¢'s follower and worshiper. I had been possessed by him many a time with little or no memory of the trance, and I had scrupulously followed his rules.

  But all that had been a detour in my life, an intermezzo. I was, after all, a British scholar, before and after. And once I had entered the Talamasca, the power of Oxal¨¢ or any orisha over me had been broken forever. Nevertheless, I felt confusion and guilt now. I had come to Merrick to discuss magic, imagining that I could control what happened! And the very first night had been chastening, indeed.

  However, I had to get my mind clear. Indeed, I owed it to Aaron, my old friend, to pull myself together at once and look at his papers. Everything else could wait, I told myself.

  However, I couldn't get the old woman out of my head. I longed for Louis to come. I wanted to discuss these matters. It was important that Louis understand things about Merrick, but where Louis might be at this hour, I had no idea.

  The harpsichord music was something of a comfort, as Mozart always is, with his merriment, no matter what the composition, but nevertheless, I felt restless and unsafe in these warm rooms where I was accustomed to spend many hours in comfort alone or with Louis or Louis and Lestat.

  I determined to shrug it off.

  Indeed, it was absolutely the best time to read Aaron's pages.

  I took off my jacket, seated myself at the large writing desk which faced into the room quite conveniently (as none of us liked to work with our back to the room), and opened the envelope and drew out the pages that I meant to read.

  There wasn't very much at all, and a quick perusal indicated that Merrick had given me a complete picture of Aaron's thoughts at the end. Nevertheless, I owed it to Aaron to read these writings, word by word.

  It took me only a few moments to forget everything about me, as I found myself hearing Aaron's familiar voice in English in spite of the fact that all he'd written was in Latin. It was as if he were there, reviewing it all with me, or reading me his report so that I might comment before he sent it on to the Elders.

  Aaron described how he had come to meet me in Florida, where he had found the aged body of his friend David Talbot dead and in need of proper burial, while the soul of David was firmly ensconced in the body of an anonymous young man.

  The young man was AngloIndian in background, six feet four in height, had wavy darkbrown hair, bronze skin, and extremely large sympathetic darkbrown eyes. The young man was in excellent health and physical condition. The young man had very acute hearing and a good sense of balance. The young man seemed devoid of any spirit whatsoever save that of David Talbot.

  Aaron went on to describe our days together in Miami, during which time I had frequently projected my spirit out of the host body, only to recapture the body perfectly with no unseen resistance from any known or unknown realm.

  Finally, after a month or so of such experiments, I'd been convinced that I could remain in the youthful body and I had set about gathering what information I could about the soul which had previously reigned within it.

  Those particulars I will not relate here insofar as they have to do with persons in no way connected with this narrative. It is sufficient to say that Aaron and I were satisfied that the soul which had once governed my new body was gone beyond reprieve. Hospital records pertaining to the last months of that soul's life on earth made it more than clear that "the mind" of the individual had been destroyed by psychological disasters and the bizarre chemistry of certain drugs which the man had ingested, though there had been no damage to the cells of the brain.

  I, David Talbot, in full possession of the body, sensed no damage to the brain.

  Aaron had been very full in his descriptions of things, explaining how clumsy I'd been with my new height for the first few days, and how he had watched this "strange body" gradually "become" his old friend David, as I took to sitting in chairs with my legs crossed, or to folding my arms across my chest, or to hunching over my writing or reading materials in familiar fashion.

  Aaron remarked that the improved vision of the new eyes had been a great blessing to David Talbot, as David had suffered poor vision in his last years. Ah, that was so true, and I hadn't even thought of it. And now of course, I saw as a vampire and could not even remember those key gradations of mortal vision in my brief Faustian youth.

  Aaron then laid down his feelings that the full report on this incident must not be placed in the Files of the Talamasca, which were open to all.

  "It is plain to see from David's transformation," he wrote in so many words, "that body switching is entirely possible when one is dealing with skilled individuals, and what arouses my horror is not David's present occupation of this splendid young body, but the manner in which the body was stolen from its original owner by that one whom we shall call the Body Thief, for sinister purposes of the thief's own. "

  Aaron went on to explain that he would endeavor to put these pages directly into the hands of the Elders of the Talamasca.

  But for tragic reasons, obviously, this had never been done.

  There came a final series of paragraphs comprising about three pages, handwritten a little more formally than what had gone before.

  David's Disappearance was written at the top. Lestat was referred to merely as TVL. And this time, Aaron's phrasing reflected considerably more caution and some sadness.

  He described how I had vanished on the island of Barbados, without leaving any message for anyone, abandoning my suitcases, typewriter, books, and pages, which he, Aaron, had gone to retrieve.

  How dreadful that must have been for Aaron, picking up the trash of my life, with no word of apology from me.

  "Were I not so busy with the matters of the Mayfair Witches," he wrote, "perhaps this disappearance would never have occurred. I might have been more attentive to D. during his time of transition. I might have held him more firmly in my affections and thereby earned more surely his complete trust. As it is, I can only surmise what has become of him, and I fear that he has met with spiritual catastrophe quite against his will.

  "Undoubtedly he will contact me. I know him too well to think otherwise. He will come to me. He will¡ªwhatever his state of mind, and I cannot possibly imagine it¡ªcome to me to give me some solace, if nothing else. "

  It hurt me so deeply to read this that I stopped and put the pages aside. For a moment, I was aware only of my own failing, my own terrible failing, my own cruel failing.

  But there were two more pages, and I had to read them. Finally I picked them up and read Aaron's last notes.

  I wish that I could appeal to the Elders directly for help. I wish that after my many years in the Talamasca I had complete faith in our Order, and complete faith that the authority of the Elders is for the best. However, our Order, insofar as I know, is made up of fallible mortal men and women. And I cannot appeal to anyone without placing in his or her hands knowledge which I do not want to share.

  The Talamasca in recent months has had its internal troubles aple
nty. And until the whole question of the identity of the Elders, and the certainty of communication with them, has been resolved, this report must remain in my hands.

  Meanwhile nothing can shake my faith in D. , or my belief in his basic goodness. Whatever corruption we might have suffered in the Talamasca never tainted David's ethics, or those of many like him, and though I cannot yet confide in them, I do take comfort from the fact that David may appear to them if not to me.

  Indeed, my faith in David is so great that sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, and I think I see him though I soon realize I am wrong. I search crowds for him in the evening. I have gone back to Miami to look for him. I have sent out my call to him telepathically. And I have no doubt that one night very soon, David will respond, if only to say farewell.

  The pain I felt was crushing. Moments passed in which I did nothing but allow myself to feel the immensity of the injustice done to Aaron.

  At last, I forced myself to move my limbs.

  I folded up the pages properly, put them back into the envelope, and sat quiet again for a long time, my elbows on the desk, my head bowed.

  The harpsichord music had stopped some time ago, and much as I'd loved it, it did interfere with my thoughts somewhat, so I treasured the quiet.

  I was as bitterly sad as I have ever been. I was as without hope as I have ever been. The mortality of Aaron seemed as real to me as his life had ever seemed. And indeed both seemed miraculous in the extreme.

  As for the Talamasca, I knew it would heal its wounds by itself. I had no real fear for it, though Aaron had been right to be suspicious of things with the Elders until questions of their identity and authority had been resolved.

  When I had left the Order, the question of the identity of the Elders had been hotly debated. And incidents pertaining to secrets had caused corruption and betrayal. Aaron's murder had become part of it. The famous Body Thief who seduced Lestat had been one of our own.

  Who were the Elders? Were they themselves corrupt? I hardly thought so. The Talamasca was ancient, and authoritarian, and it moved slowly on eternal matters, rather on a Vatican clock. But it was all quite closed to me now. Human beings had to go on cleansing and reforming the Talamasca, as they had already begun to do. I could do nothing to help in such an endeavor.

  But to the best of my knowledge, internal difficulties had been solved. How precisely, and by whom, I did not know and really didn't want to know.

  I knew only that those I loved, including Merrick, seemed at peace within the Order, though it did seem to me that Merrick, and those upon whom I'd spied now and then in other places, had a more "realistic" view of the Order and its problems than I had ever had.

  And of course, what I'd done in speaking to Merrick, that had to remain secret between Merrick and me.

  But how was I to have a secret with a witch who'd cast a spell on me with such promptness, effectiveness, and abandon? It made me cross again to think of it. I wish I'd taken the statue of St. Peter with me. That would have served her right.

  But what had been Merrick's purpose in the whole affair¡ªto warn me of her power, to impress upon me the realization that Louis and I, as earthbound creatures, were hardly immune to her, or that our plan was indeed a dangerous plan?

  I felt sleepy suddenly. As I've already mentioned, I'd fed before I ever met with Merrick, and I had no need of blood. But I had a great desire for it, kindled by the physical touch of Merrick, and very much caught up with wordless fantasies of her, and now I felt drowsy from the struggle, drowsy from my grief for Aaron, who had gone to the grave with no words of comfort at all from me.

  I was about to lie down on the couch, when I heard a very pleasant sound which I at once recognized, though I hadn't heard it at close range for years. It was the sound of a canary, singing, and making a little bit of a metallic ruckus in a cage. I heard the motion of the wings, the creak of the little trapeze or swing or whatever you call it, the creak of the cage on its hinge.

  And there came the harpsichord music again, very rapid, indeed far more rapid than any human could possibly desire. It was rippling and mad, and full of magic, this music, as though a preternatural being had set upon the keys.

  I realized at once that Lestat was not in the flat, and had never been, and these sounds¡ªthis music and the gentle commotion of the birds¡ªwere not coming from his closed room.

  Nevertheless, I had to make a check.

  Lestat, being as powerful as he is, can mask his presence almost completely, and I, being his fledgling, can pick up nothing from his mind.

  I rose to my feet, heavily, sleepily, amazed at my exhaustion, and made my way down the passage to his room. I knocked respectfully, waited a decent interval, and then opened his door.

  All was as it should be. There stood the giant plantationstyle fourposter of tropical mahogany with its dusty canopy of rose garlands and the drapery of darkred velvet, the color which Lestat prefers above all else. Dust overlay the bedside table and the nearby desk and the books in the bookshelf. And there was no machine for making music in sight.

  I turned, meaning to go back to the parlor, to write down all of this in my diary, if I could find it, but I felt so heavy and so drowsy and it seemed a better idea to sleep. Then there was the matter of the music and the birds. Something about the birds struck me. What was it? Something Jesse Reeves had written in her report of being haunted decades ago in the ruin of this very house. Little birds.

  "Then it's begun?" I whispered. I felt so weak, so deliciously weak, actually. I wondered if Lestat would mind so very terribly if I were to lie down for a little while on his bed? He might yet come this evening. We never knew, did we? It wasn't very proper to do such a thing. And drowsy as I was, I was moving my right hand rapidly with the music. I knew this sonata by Mozart, it was lovely, it was the first one that the boy genius had ever written, and how excellent it was. No wonder the birds were so happy, it must have been a kindred sound to them, but it was important that this music not speed on so precipitously, no matter how clever the performer, no matter how clever the child.

  I made my way out of the room as if I were moving through water, and went in search of my own room where I had my own bed, quite comfortable, and then it seemed imperative that I seek my coffin, my hiding place, because I could not remain conscious until dawn.

  "Ah, yes, it's vital that I go," I said aloud, but I couldn't hear my words on account of the thunder of the tripping music, and I realized, with great distress, that I had entered the back parlor of the flat, the one which looked out upon the courtyard, and I had settled there on the couch.

  Louis was with me. Louis was helping me to a seat on the couch, as a matter of fact. Louis was asking me what was wrong.

  I looked up, and it seemed to me that he was a vision of male perfection, dressed in a snow white silk shirt and a finely cut black velvet jacket, his curly black hair very properly and beautifully combed back over his ears and curling above his collar in the most lively and fetching style. I loved looking at him, rather as I loved looking at Merrick.

  It struck me how different were his green eyes from hers. His eyes were darker. There was no distinct circle of blackness around the irises and, indeed, the pupils did not stand out so clearly. Nevertheless, they were beautiful eyes.

  The flat went absolutely quiet.

  For a moment I could say or do nothing.

  Then I looked at him as he seated himself in a rosecolored velvet chair near to me, and his eyes were filled with the light from the nearby electric lamp. Whereas Merrick had something of a mild challenge in even her most casual expression, his eyes were patient, restful, like the eyes in a painting, fixed and reliable.

  "Did you hear it?" I asked.

  "What, precisely?" he asked.

  "Oh, my God, it's started," I said softly. "You remember. Think back, man. You remember, what Jesse Reeves told you. Think. "

  Then it came out of me in a bit of a gush¡ªthe har
psichord music and the sound of the birds. Decades ago it had come upon Jesse, on the night she'd found Claudia's diary in a secret place in a broken wall. It had come upon her with a vision of oil lamps and moving figures. And in terror she had fled the flat, taking with her a doll, a rosary, and the diary, and never coming back.

  The ghost of Claudia had pursued her to a darkened hotel room. And from there Jesse had been taken ill, sedated, hospitalized, and finally taken home to England, never to return to this place, insofar as I knew.

  Jesse Reeves had become a vampire due to her destiny, not through the mistakes or failings of the Talamasca. And Jesse Reeves herself had told Louis this tale.

  It was all quite familiar to both of us, but I had no recollection of Jesse ever identifying the piece of music which she'd heard in the shadows.

  It was up to Louis to state now in a soft voice that, yes, his beloved Claudia had loved the early sonatas of Mozart, that she had loved them because he composed them while he'd still been a child.

  Suddenly an uncontrollable emotion seized Louis and he stood up and turned his back to me, looking out, apparently, through the lace curtains, to whatever sky lay beyond the rooftops and the tall banana trees that grew against the courtyard walls.

  I watched him in polite silence. I could feel my energy returning. I could feel the usual preternatural strength upon which I'd always counted since the first night that I'd been filled with the blood.

  "Oh, I know it must be tantalizing," I said, finally. "It's so easy to conclude that we're coming close. "

  "No," he said, turning to me politely. "Don't you see, David? You heard the music. I haven't heard it. Jesse heard the music. I've never heard it. Never. And I've been years waiting to hear it, asking to hear it, wanting to hear it, but I never do. "

  His French accent was sharp and precise, as always happened when he was emotional, and I loved the richness it gave to his speech. I think we are wise, we English speakers, to savor accents. They teach us things about our own tongue.

  I rather loved him, loved his lean graceful movements, and the way in which he responded wholeheartedly to things, or not at all. He had been gracious to me since the first moment we met, sharing this, his house, with me, and his loyalty to Lestat was without a doubt.

  "If it's any consolation to you," I hastened to add, "I've seen Merrick Mayfair. I've put the request to her, and I don't think she means to turn us down. "

  His surprise amazed me. I forget how completely human he is, being the very weakest of us, and that he cannot read minds at all. I had assumed also that he'd been watching me of late, keeping his distance, but spying as only a vampire or an angel can, to see when this meeting would take place.

  He came back around and sat down again.

  "You must tell me about the whole thing," he said. His face flushed for an instant. It lost the preternatural whiteness and he seemed a young man of twentyfour¡ªwith sharply defined and beautiful features, and gaunt wellmodeled cheeks. He might have been made by God to be painted by Andrea del Sarto, so deliberately perfect did he seem.

  "David, please let me know everything," he pressed, due to my silence.

  "Oh, yes, I mean to. But let me have a few moments more. Something is going on, you see, and I don't know if it's her general wickedness. "

  "Wickedness?" he asked in utter innocence.

  "I don't mean it so seriously. You see, she's such a strong woman and so strange in her ways. Let me tell you everything, yes. "

  But before I began I took stock of him once more, and made myself note that no one among us, that is, no one of the vampires or immortal blood drinkers whom I had encountered, was anything like him.

  In the years since I'd been with him, we'd witnessed wonders together. We had seen the very ancient of the species and been thoroughly humbled by these visitations, which had made a weary mockery of Louis's long nineteenthcentury quest for answers which did not exist.

  During our recent convocations, many of the old ones had offered Louis the power of their ancient blood. Indeed, the very ancient Maharet, who was now perceived to be the twin of the absolute Mother of us all, had pressed Louis in the extreme to drink from her veins. I had watched this with considerable apprehension. Maharet seemed offended by one so weak.

  Louis had refused her offer. Louis had turned her away. I shall never forget the conversation.

  "I don't treasure my weaknesses," he'd explained to her. "Your blood conveys power, I don't question that. Only a fool would. But I know from what I've learnt from all of you that the ability to die is key. If I drink your blood I'll become too strong for a simple act of suicide just as you are now. And I cannot allow that. Let me remain the human one among you. Let me acquire my strength slowly, as you once did, from time and from human blood. I wouldn't become what Lestat has become through his drinking from the ancients. I would not be that strong and that distant from an easy demise. "

  I had been amazed at Maharet's obvious displeasure. Nothing about Maharet is simple precisely because everything is. By that I mean that she is so ancient as to be divorced utterly from the common expression of tender emotions, except perhaps by deliberate merciful design.

  She had lost all interest in Louis when he'd refused her, and to the best of my knowledge she never looked at him, or mentioned him, ever again. Of course she didn't harm him, and she had plenty of opportunity. But he was no longer a living being for her, no longer one of us, for her. Or so I had divined.

  But then who was I to judge such a creature as Maharet? That I had seen her, that I'd heard her voice, that I'd visited with her for a time in her own sanctuary¡ªall that was reason for thanks.

  I myself had felt a great respect for Louis's disinclination to drink the absolute elixir of the dark gods. Louis had been made a vampire by Lestat when Lestat had been very young, indeed. And Louis was considerably stronger than humans, well able to spellbind them, and could outmaneuver the most clever mortal opponent with ease. Though he was still bound by the laws of gravity to a far greater extent than I was, he could move about the world very rapidly, attaining a brand of invisibility which he very much enjoyed. He was no mind reader, and no spy.

  However, Louis would very likely die if exposed to sunlight, though he was well past the point where sunlight would reduce him to pure ash, as it had done Claudia only seventy years or so after her birth. Louis still had to have blood every night. Louis could very probably seek oblivion in the flames of a pyre.

  I shuddered now, as I reminded myself of this creature's deliberate limitations, and of the wisdom he seemed to possess.

  My own blood was quite remarkably strong because it came from Lestat who had drunk not only from the elder Marius, but from the Queen of the Damned, the progenital vampire herself. I didn't know precisely what I might have to do to terminate my existence, but I knew it would not be an easy thing. As for Lestat, when I thought of his adventures and his powers, it seemed impossible by any means for him to exit this world.

  These thoughts so disturbed me that I reached out and clasped Louis's hand.

  "This woman is very powerful," I said, as I made to begin. "She's been playing a few tricks on me this evening, and I'm not sure why or how. "

  "It has you exhausted," he said considerately. "Are you sure you don't want to rest?"

  "No, I need to talk to you," I said. And so I began by describing our meeting in the cafe and all that had passed between us, including my memories of the child Merrick from years ago.
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