Blackwood farm, p.6

Blackwood Farm, page 6

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

Blackwood Farm
 



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Chapter6

 

  6

  THE UPPER HALL HAD three doors on the right wall, and, due to the staircase rising against the left wall, only two on that side. The first door on the left led into my apartment, which was two rooms deep, and the last door on the left led to the bedroom on the rear of the house.

  Lestat asked if he might see any rooms, and I told him that he could see most of them. Two of the three bedrooms on the right were uninhabited right now --one belonging to my little Uncle Tommy, who was away at boarding school in England, and the other always reserved for his sister Brittany -- and were kind of fancy showpieces, each with its ornate nineteenth-century four-poster bed, ritual baldachin, velvet or taffeta hangings and comfortable though fancy chairs and couches, much like those in Aunt Queen's bedroom downstairs.

  In the third room, which was off limits, there hovered my mother, Patsy, whom I hoped we would not see.

  Each marble mantelpiece -- one snow white and the other of black and gold -- had its distinct detail, and there were gilded mirrors wherever one turned, and those huge proud portraits of ancestors -- William and his wife, pretty Grace; Gravier and his wife, Blessed Alice; and Thomas, my Pops, and Sweetheart, my grandmother, whose real name had been Rose.

  The ceiling lights were gasoliers, with brass arms and cut crystal cups for their bulbs, more ordinary yet more atmospheric than the sumptuous crystal chandeliers of the first floor.

  As to the last bedroom on the left, it too was open and neatened and fine, but it belonged to my tutor, Nash Penfield, who was presently completing some work for his Ph. D. in English at a university on the West Coast. He had always cooperated with the four-poster bed and its ruffles of blue silk, his desk was clean and bare and waiting for him and his walls, very much like mine, were lined with books. His fireplace, like mine, had a pair of damask chairs facing each other, elegant and well worn.

  "The guests were always on the right side of the hallway," I explained, "in the old hotel days, and here in Nash's room, my grandparents slept -- Sweetheart and Pops. Nash and I spent the last year or so reading Dickens to each other. I tread anxiously with him, but so far things have worked out. "

  "But you love this man, don't you?" Lestat asked. He followed me into the bedroom. He politely inspected the shelves of books.

  "Of course I love him. But he may sooner or later know something's very wrong with me. So far I've had very good luck. "

  "These things depend a lot on nerve," said Lestat. "You'd be amazed what mortals will accept if you simply behave as if you're human. But then you know this, don't you?"

  He returned to the bookshelves respectfully, removing nothing, only pointing.

  "Dickens, Dickens and more Dickens," he said, smiling. "And every biography of the man ever written, it seems. "

  "Yes," I said, "and I read him aloud to Nash, novel after novel, some right there by the fireplace. We read them all through, and then I would just dip down into any book -- The Old Curiosity Shop or Little Dorrit or Great Expectations -- and the language, it was delicious, it would dazzle me, it was like you said to Aunt Queen. You said it so very right. It was like dipping into a universe, yes, you had it. " I broke off. I realized I was still giddy from being with Aunt Queen, from the way he had been in attendance on her; and as for Nash, I missed him and wanted him so to come back.

  "He was a superb teacher," ventured Lestat gently.

  "He was my tutor in every subject," I confessed. "If I can be called a learned man, and I don't know that I can, it's on account of three teachers I've had -- a woman named Lynelle and Nash and Aunt Queen. Nash taught me how to really read, and how to see films, and how to see a certain wonder even in science, which I in fact fear and detest. We seduced him away from his college career, with a high salary and a grand tour of Europe, and we're much better off for it. He used to read to Aunt Queen, which she just loved. "

  I went to the window, which looked out on the flagstone terrace behind the house and the distant two-story building that ran some two hundred feet across. A porch ran along the upper story of the building, with broadly positioned colonettes supporting it from the ground floor.

  "Out there's the shed, as we call it," I explained, "and we call our beloved farmhands the Shed Men. They're the handymen and the errand men, the drivers, and the security men, and they hang out back there in their own den.

  "There's Aunt Queen's big car, and my car -- which I don't use anymore. I can hear the Shed Men now. I'm sure you can. There're always two on the property. They'll do anything in this world for Aunt Queen. They'll do anything in this world for me. "

  I continued:

  "Upstairs, you see the doors, those are small bedrooms, small compared to these, I mean, though just as well furnished with the four-poster beds and antique chests and Aunt Queen's adored satin chairs. Guests used to stay out there too in the old days, for less of course than they paid to stay in the big house.

  "And that's where my mother, Patsy, used to stay when I was growing up. Patsy lived out there ever since I could remember. Down below is where she first practiced her music, over to the left side, that was her garage -- Patsy's studio -- but she doesn't practice anymore and she's in the front bedroom now just down the hall. She's rather sick these days. "

  "You don't love her, do you?" Lestat asked.

  "I'm very afraid of killing her," I said.

  "Come again?" he asked.

  "I'm very afraid of killing her," I said. "I despise her, and I want to kill her. I dream about it. I wish I didn't. It's just a bad thought that's come into my head. "

  "Then come, Little Brother, take me to where you want to talk," he said, and I felt the soft squeeze of his fingers on my arm.

  "Why are you so kind to me?" I asked him.

  "You're used to people being paid to do it, aren't you?" he asked. "You've never been too sure about Nash, have you? Whether he would love you half so much if he weren't paid?" His eyes swept the room as though the room were talking to him about Nash.

  "A big salary and benefits can confuse a person," I said. "It doesn't always bring out the best, I don't think. But in Nash's case? I think it did. It's taken him four years to write his dissertation, but it's a fine one, and after he passes his examinations he'll be satisfied. " My voice was quavering. I hated it. "He'll feel that he's independent of us, and that will be good. He'll come back and be Aunt Queen's companion and escort. He'll read to her again. You know she can't really read now. She'll adore it. I can't wait for it to happen for her sake. He'll take her anywhere she wants to go. It's all for her sake. He's a handsome man. "

  "You're facing mighty temptations," Lestat said, his eyes narrowing as he appraised me.

  "Mighty temptations?" I asked. I was shocked and even a little revolted. "You don't think I'd feed off those I love, do you? I mean, I know I made this colossal mistake with Stirling, it was god-awful what I did; Stirling came within a hairsbreadth, but I was caught off guard and I was frightened, frightened that Stirling knew what I was, and knew me, you understand, and that Stirling understood --. " Off guard. Bloody wedding dress, bloody bride. You fool, you're not supposed to kill them when they're innocent, and on this her wedding night. She's the only bride you'll ever have.

  "That wasn't my meaning," Lestat replied. He brought me back to myself, out of my anguish.

  "Come. To your room now, correct, Little Brother? Where we can talk. And you have a two-room apartment against the stairs. "

  A calm came over me along with a quiet happy expectation, as though he had enforced it.

  He led the way and I came quietly behind.

  We went into my sitting room, which was on the front of the house, and we had a good view of my bedroom through the open sliding double doors, and there was my enormous and regal bed, the baldachin padded in red satin, and the matching red chairs, thick and inviting, scattered from bedroom to sitting room, and between the front windows of the sitting room, my computer and desk. The giant tele
vision, to which I was as addicted as anybody, was catercorner, near the inside wall.

  Beneath the gasolier stood the center table with its two chairs facing each other, and this was where I often sat, upright and very comfortable, to read. I wrote here in my diary while I was watching television with one eye. This was where I wanted to be with Lestat. Not in the two chairs by the fireplace, which was dead this time of year.

  I saw at once that my computer had been turned on.

  Lestat sensed that I was alarmed and then he too saw the message floating in green block type on the black monitor:

  NO LESTAT.

  The very sight of it sent a jolt through me, and I went at once to the machine and turned it off.

  "From Goblin," said Lestat, and I nodded, as I stood sentinel waiting for the machine to be switched on again, but it was not.

  A violent series of chills passed over me. I turned around. I was vaguely aware that Lestat stood on the opposite side of the center table and that he was watching me, but I could scarcely pay any attention. The heavy draperies of the front windows were swaying, and the gasolier above me had started to move. There was that faint tinkling music from the glass cups and their baubles. My vision was clouded.

  "Get away from me," I whispered. "I won't see you, I'll shut my eyes, I swear it. " And I did it, screwing my eyes tight as any little child pretending to sleep, but I lost my balance and I had to open my eyes before I fell.

  I saw Goblin standing to my right, opaque, detailed, my duplicate -- and the computer was on and the keyboard was clicking, and a series of nonsense syllables were jabbering across the monitor while a vague rumble came from the small computer speakers.

  I tried to shut my eyes again, but I was too seduced by him, his total double of me, even to my leather coat and black pants, and his crazed expression which surely didn't reflect mine. His eyes were glittering viciously and triumphantly, and his smile was like that of a clown.

  "I'm telling you, go, Goblin," I said, but this only redoubled his power, and then the image began to thin and to expand.

  "Let me hurt him!" Lestat said urgently. "Give me the permission. "

  In confusion, I couldn't answer, even though I heard Lestat plead with me again. I felt the tight grip all around me, as though a boa constrictor had me, or so I imagined, and my vision had left me, melting into the violent chills that I couldn't shake. I felt the tiny pinpricks all over my face and the backs of my hands, and I tried to lift my hands to ward them off but my hands hurt. Every bit of my bare flesh hurt, even to the back of my neck.

  A panic took hold of me, as if I'd been caught in a swarm of bees. Even my eyelids were attacked, and I knew that I'd fallen to the floor, but I couldn't orient myself. I could feel the carpet under my hand and I couldn't get up.

  "Little Brother, let me hurt him," Lestat said again. And I heard my own voice as if it came from someone else.

  "Damn him," I said, "hurt him. "

  But there had come that magnetic sense of union, Goblin and I, indivisible, and I saw the sunny room again in which a child stood in a wooden playpen scattered with toys, a curly headed toddler in little overalls whom I knew to be myself, and beside him his double, the two of us laughing together, without a single care -- look at the red flowers in the linoleum, look at the sunshine, see the spoon flying end over end in an arc through the air -- and fast after this there tumbled other images and random moments: laughter in the schoolroom and all the boys looking at me and pointing and murmuring, and me saying He's right here, I tell you, his hand on my left hand and my writing in crayon in that scrawl of his, love you, Goblin and Tarquin; and the pure electric shocks of pleasure left me without a body, without a soul. I was rolling on the floor, wasn't I?

  "Goblin. " I think I whispered. "The one to whom I belong and to whom I've always belonged. No one can understand, no one can fathom. " Goblin, Goblin, Goblin.

  The pleasure crested with unspeakable sweetness, and subsided into waves of certain bliss.

  He was withdrawing, leaving me cold and hurt and lonely all over, fiercely, catastrophically lonely -- he was deserting me.

  "Hurt him!" I said the words with all my breath, terrified they weren't audible, and then my eyes opened, and above me I saw the great sprawling image of myself, face wavering and grotesque, and suddenly it was made up of pinpoints of fire!

  Lestat had sent the Fire Gift to burn the blood he'd taken, and I heard Goblin's silent wail, his soundless raging scream.

  Oh, no, it was wrong, not my Goblin, how could I have done it, how could I have betrayed him! His scream was like a siren. A rain of tiny ash descended on me, in fact it seemed flung at me, and his scream rose again, piercing my ears.

  The air was full of the smell of the burning, like the smell of human hair burning, and the huge shapeless image hovered, drawing itself together into my solid double for one fateful and frightfully opaque moment, challenging me, cursing me -- Evil devil, Quinn, evil! Bad. Bad! -- and then it was gone, escaping through the door, leaving the gasolier creaking on its chain and the electric lights blinking, and sending a rippling wind through the lace panels on the windows as silence and stillness closed in.

  I was on the floor. The blinking lights were unendurable. Lestat came to me and helped me to my feet, and ran his hands caressingly over my hair.

  "I couldn't do it," he said, "until it was leaving you, because when it was with you the Fire might have burnt you too. "

  "I understand," I said. I was in a fever. "And I never thought to do it, to punish him with it, but think how he learns now. He's quick. He knows already what's obvious to me and to you, no doubt, that if I try to burn him, if either of us does again, he'll fuse with me again and make the fire burn me. "

  "Maybe he'll do that," said Lestat, guiding me to the straight-back chair at the table. "But do you think he wants for you to die?"

  "No, he can't want that," I answered. I was out of breath, as though I'd been running. "He takes his life from me. Whatever he was before I came along, I can't imagine. But it's my focus, my love, that makes him strong now. And goddamn it, I can't stop loving him, feeling I'm betraying him, and he feeds off that!"

  The blinking of the lights had stopped. The lace curtains were still. Chills ran up and down my spine. With a noise of static in the speakers, the computer suddenly went off.

  Stammering, I told Lestat about the image I'd seen, of myself in the playpen, of the old linoleum that must have been in the kitchen, and of Goblin with me, and that it wasn't something I remembered but something I knew to be true.

  "He's shown me those images before when he's attacked me, images of myself as an infant. "

  "And all this over the years?"

  "No, only now after the Dark Gift -- with these attacks, when I fuse with him as I would with a mortal victim. It's the Dark Blood. It's become the currency of memory, the vampiric blood. He wants me to know he has these memories of a time when I saw him and strengthened him with that vision even before I knew how to talk. "

  Lestat had settled in the chair on the other side of the table, and in a split second I developed a positive superstition about him having his back to the hallway door.

  I went to the door and closed it, and then, coming back, I unplugged the computer entirely, and I asked if we could rearrange the chairs. Lestat caught me as I reached out to do this.

  "Be patient, Little Brother," he said. "The creature's pushed you right out of your mind. "

  We sat down again, facing each other, Lestat with his back to the front of the house, and me with my back to my bedroom.

  "He wants to be a Blood Hunter, don't you see?" I said. "I'm terrified of him and what he can do. " I looked up at the gasolier to see if the electric bulbs were blinking. No. I looked at the computer to make sure that its screen was blank. Yes.

  "There's no way that he can become a Blood Hunter," said Lestat calmly. "Stop shaking, Quinn. Look into my eyes. I'm here with you now. I'm here to help you,
Little Brother! And he's gone, and after the burning I don't think he's going to come back, not for a long while. "

  "But can he feel physical pain?" I asked.

  "Of course he can. He can feel blood and pleasure, can't he?"

  "I don't know," I rattled on. "Oh, I hope you're right," I said. I was almost about to cry. "Little Brother," how I loved the words, how I cherished them, and how sweet it was, as sweet as Aunt Queen calling me forever Little Boy.

  "Get a grip, Quinn," Lestat said. "You're sinking on me. " He clasped my hands. I could feel the hardness of his flesh. I had some hint of his strength. But he was gentle, and his skin felt silky and his eyes were totally kind.

  "But the old tale in the Chronicles," I said, "of the first vampires -- of how they were humans until a spirit entered into them. What's to stop it from happening again?"

  "It's never happened since, to my knowledge," said Lestat, "and we're speaking now of thousands of years ago, of a time before ancient Egypt. Many a Blood Hunter, as you call them, has seen spirits, and many a human as well. And how do we really know what happened in the beginning, except that we were told through tradition that it was a powerful spirit who entered its human host by many fatal wounds. You think your Goblin has the power or the cunning for such a perfect fusion?"

  I had to admit that he did not.

  "But who would have thought that he could drink from me?" I asked. "Who would have thought that he would? The night I was made, my Maker said that Goblin would leave me, that spirits had an aversion to Blood Hunters and I'd soon find myself alone. 'No more ghostly companions for you,' he said. He said it meanly. Because he couldn't see them, you see. Oh, what a demon he was!"

  Lestat nodded. His eyes were filled with muted compassion.

  "In the main, that's so," he said. "Ghosts shy away from Blood Drinkers, as though something about us, understandably, horrifies them. I don't know the full explanation of it. But you know it's not always so. There are many vampires who see spirits, though I'm not one of them, except on a very few remarkable occasions, I should openly confess. "

  "You mean you really can't see Goblin," I said.

  "I told you the first time that I couldn't see him," Lestat said patiently. "Not until he had drunk the blood. Then I saw his image defined by the blood. It was the same this time, and I sent the Fire to that blood. Now, what if he had attacked you again? I don't think those minute flames could have ignited you. There wasn't thrust enough. But just in case, I'll use another power if he comes again, a power you have as well, and that's the Mind Gift, as some call it, not to read his mind but to push against him, to drive him away with a telekinetic strength until he's so weary with defending himself that he can't hold steady and has to flee. "

  "But how can I push against what is not material?" I asked.

  "He is material," Lestat corrected me. "He's just made of a material we don't understand. Think clearly. "

  I nodded. "I've tried to push him away," I confessed. "But something happens, something happens in my reason, and he's on me, and the pleasure starts pounding, the guilty pleasure that he and I are together, and the chills are running rampant, as if my soul had chills, and there's a taunting rhythm to it, a thumping rhythm, and I'm his slave. "

  I felt a delicious numbness come over me even as I spoke of it, some last vagrant shiver of the union. I looked at my hands. All the tiny pinprick wounds had healed. I felt my face, and I could see the memories again. I felt a vast secret knowledge of Goblin, an unshakable dependence.

  "He's become my vampire," I said. "He makes a meal of me, he locks into me. I'm. . . yes, I'm his slave. "

  "And a slave who wants to be rid of his master," said Lestat thoughtfully. "Has it been stronger with each attack, this guilty pleasure?" he asked.

  "Yes, yes, it has," I confessed. "You know, there were years, important years, when he was my only friend. It was before Nash Penfield came. It was before my teacher Lynelle came. And even while Lynelle was here, it was me and Goblin together always. I never put up with anyone who didn't tolerate my talking to Goblin. Patsy hated it. Patsy's my mother, remember? It was at times a perfect comedy, but that's the way it was. Patsy would stomp her feet and scream, 'If you don't stop talking to that damned ghost, I'm leaving!' Now, Aunt Queen is perfectly patient, so patient that I could swear there have been times, though Aunt Queen won't admit it, that she saw Goblin herself. "

  "But why won't she admit it?" he asked.

  "They all thought that Goblin was bad for me, don't you see? They all thought that they mustn't encourage it, don't you see? And that was why they didn't want me talking with the Talamasca, because they thought that Stirling and the Talamasca would nurture this damnable ability in me, of seeing ghosts and spirits, and so, if any of them saw Goblin, if my grandparents Sweetheart and Pops ever saw him, they didn't say. "

  Lestat appeared to ponder this for a moment. And once again, I noticed that very slight difference between his eyes. I tried to shut it out of my thoughts, but one eye was ever so much brighter than the other, and definitely tinged with blood.

  He said, "I think it's time I read your letter to me, don't you?"

  "Perhaps so," was all I could say.

  He drew the envelope out of his inside coat pocket and he tore open the end of the envelope neatly, letting the onyx cameo slip out of it into his right hand, and then he smiled.

  He looked rapidly several times from the deeply carved white image to me and back again, and then he rubbed the image very gently with his thumb.

  "I may keep this?" he asked.

  "It's my gift to you, if you want it," I said. "Yes, I meant it for you. It was when I thought we'd never meet face-to-face. But yes, keep it. It was made for Aunt Queen, let me confess it, but after the Dark Blood I didn't want to give it to her. But I don't know why I'm rambling on about such a point. I'm honored you ask to keep it. It's yours. "

  He slipped it into his side coat pocket, and then he opened the letter and read it carefully, or so it seemed to me.

  There was my plea to help me destroy Goblin, and my begging for his patience that I dared to enter New Orleans in search of him, and my report of how I had known and loved the Talamasca, a confession that brought the blood teeming into my face when I thought of Stirling and what I had almost done this very night. There was my admission of how I loved Aunt Queen and how I wanted to take my leave of her, if Lestat chose to punish me by death for disobeying his only rules.

  I realized now that much of the letter's contents had been revealed to him in every other way, and that what he held was only a formal document of what he already knew.

  Very respectfully he refolded the pages and doubled them over and put them back in his pocket as though he wanted to save the letter, though why I didn't know. The envelope had been cast aside.

  He regarded me for a long time in silence, his face rather open and generous, which seemed a natural expression for it, and then he spoke:

  "You know, I was on the scent of Stirling Oliver when I came upon you. I knew that he was entering my flat -- he's done it more than once -- and I thought it was time that he should have a little scare. I wasn't certain how I meant to arrange that, though I had no intention of revealing myself to him, but then I came upon you about to make the little scare quite final for Mr. Oliver, and it was from your confused mind that I caught the reason you'd come. "

  I nodded, then said hastily, "He doesn't mean any harm, you saw that. I can't tell you how thankful I am that you stopped me. I don't think I could have survived my killing him. I'm sure of it. It would have been the finish for me, and I'm terrified of my own clumsiness, that a death like that --. But you must realize he won't do any harm to us, either of us --. "

  "Oh, yes, now you're out to save him from destruction. Stop worrying. The Talamasca's off limits, I told you. Besides, I gave them what they've wanted for some time, don't you see?"

  "Yes, a sighting of you, a talk with you. "

  "Correct
, and they'll mull that over, and letters will be sent to the Elders, but I know perfectly well they can't harm us. And he and his cohorts won't come out here looking for you. They're too damned honorable. But you must tell me now, in case I've underestimated them, do you lie by day in a safe place?"

  "Very safe," I said quickly. "On Sugar Devil Island, which they could never conceivably find. But surely you're right, Stirling will keep his promise not to come looking for me or seek me out. I believe in him utterly. That's why it's so ghastly that I almost hurt him, I almost took his life. "

  "And would it have been to the finish with him?" he asked. "Have you no self-control once you've begun?"

  I was full of misery.

  "I don't know what self-control I have. On the night of my making I committed a blunder, taking an innocent life --. "

  "Then that was your Maker's blunder," he retorted. "He should have been with you, teaching you. "

  I nodded.

  "Let me dream that I would have broken off with Stirling, but I wasn't just frightened of him, frightened of him knowing about me, I was hungry for his death. I'm not sure how it would have gone. He was fighting me with an elegance of mind. He has that, an elegance of mind. Yes, I think I would have taken his life. It was tangled with my love for him. I would have been damned for it forever, and I would have found some way to put an end to myself right away. I'm damned for almost doing it. I'm damned for everything. I live, I live in a fatal frame of mind. "

  "How so? What do you mean?" he asked, but he wasn't surprised by what I'd said.

  "It's as if I'm forever in the grip of Last Rites or dictating a Last Will and Testament. I died the night my Maker brought me over; I'm like one of the pathetic ghosts of Blackwood Manor who doesn't know he or she is dead. I can't come back to life. "

  He nodded, raising one eyebrow and then relaxing. "Ah, well, you know that argues much better for a long existence rather than recklessness and devil-may-care behavior. "

  "No, I didn't know," I said quickly. "What I know is that I have you here and you helped me with Goblin, and you see what Goblin can do. You see that Goblin has to be. . . has to be destroyed. And maybe me too. "

  "You haven't the smallest idea of what you're saying," he returned quietly. "You don't want to be destroyed. You want to live forever. You just don't want to kill to do it, that's all. "

  Now I knew that I was going to cry.

  I took out my pocket handkerchief and I wiped at my eyes and my nose. I didn't turn away to do this. That would have been too cowardly. But I did look about me without moving my head, and when I looked back at him I thought, what a staggeringly beautiful creature he was.

  His eyes alone would have done the trick, but he'd been gifted with so much more, the thick massive blond hair, the large finely shaped mouth and an expression eloquent of comprehension as well as intelligence, and under the light of the gasolier he was the matinee idol drifting before me, carrying me out of myself into some unmeasured moment in which I relished his appearance as if he couldn't or didn't know.

  "And you, my timeless one," he said in a soft sure voice with no hint of accusation in it, "I see you here in your exquisite setting of mirrors and gold, of human love and obvious patrimony, and robbed of it all in essence by some careless demon who's left you orphaned and uneasily, no, torturously, ensconced among the mortals you still so desperately need. "

  "No," I said. "I fled my Maker. But now I seek you out, and so I have you, even if just for this night, but I do love you, love you as surely as I love Aunt Queen, and Nash, and Goblin, yes, as much as I have loved Goblin, I love you. Forgive me. I can't keep it back. "

  "There is no forgiving," said Lestat. "Your head teems with images, and I catch them blinkering and crowding your brain as they seek a narrative, and so you must tell me, you must tell me all of your life, even what you think is not important, tell me all. Let it pour from you, and then we'll judge what's to be done with Goblin together. "

  "And me?" I asked. I was exuberant. I was crazed. "We'll judge what's to be done with me?"

  "Don't let me scare you so much, Little Brother," he said in the kindest tone. "The worst thing I'd do to you is leave you -- vanish on you as if we'd never met. And I don't think of that now. I think rather of knowing you, that I'm fond of you and have begun to treasure you, and your conscience shines rather bright for me. But tell me, haven't I failed you already? Surely you don't see me now as the hero you once imagined. "

  "How so?" I asked, amazed. "You're here, you're with me. You saved Stirling. You stopped a disaster. "

  "I wasn't able to destroy your beastly phantom," he said with an amiable shrug. "I can't even see him, and you've counted on me. And I threw the Fire at him with all I had. "

  "Oh, but we've only just started," I responded. "You'll help me with him, won't you? We'll figure it out together. "

  "Yes, that's precisely what we'll do," he responded. "The thing is strong enough to menace others, no doubt of it. If it can fight you as it did, it can attack others -- that much I can tell, and that it responds to gravity, which for our purposes is a good sign. "

  "How so gravity?" I asked.

  "It sucked the very air when it left you," he answered. "It's material. I told you. It has some chemistry in the physical world. All ghosts are material in probability. But there are those who know more of this than me. I only once saw a human ghost, talked to a human ghost, spent an hour with a ghost, and it terrified me quite out of my mind. "

  "Yes," I replied, "it was Roger, wasn't it, who came to you in the Chronicle called Memnoch the Devil. I read how you talked with him and how he persuaded you to care for his mortal daughter, Dora. I read every word. I believed it; I believed that you saw Roger and that you went to Heaven and Hell. "

  "And well you should," he rejoined. "I never lied in those pages, though it was another that took the dictation of it. I have been with Memnoch the Devil, though what he really was -- devil or playful spirit -- I still don't know. " He paused. "It's more than plain to me," he said, "that you've noticed the difference between my eyes. "

  "I'm sorry, I couldn't help it," I said quickly. "It isn't a disfigurement. "

  He made a gesture of dismissal along with a kind smile.

  "This right eye was torn from me," he said, "just as I described it, by those spirits who would have prevented me from fleeing Memnoch's Hell. And then it was returned to me, here on Earth, and sometimes I believe that this eye can see strange things. "

  "What strange things?"

  "Angels," he said, musing, "or those who call themselves angels, or would have me conclude that they're angels; and they have come to me in the long years since I fled Memnoch. They've come to me as I lay like one in a coma on the chapel floor of St. Elizabeth's, the building in New Orleans which was bequeathed to me by Roger's daughter. It seems my stolen eye, my restored eye, my bloodshot eye, has established some link with these beings, and I could tell you a tale of them, but now is not the time. "

  "They harmed you, didn't they?" I asked, sensing it in his manner.

  He nodded.

  "They left my body there for my friends to watch over," he explained, and for the first time since I'd seen him, he looked troubled, indecisive, even faintly confused.

  "But my spirit they took with them," he went on. "And in a realm as palpable as this very room they set me down to do their bidding, always threatening to snatch back this right eye, to take it forever if I didn't do what they bid me to do. "

  He hesitated, shaking his head.

  "I think it was the eye," he said, "the eye which gave them the claim on me, the ability to reach down to me, in this realm, and take me -- it was the eye, stolen in another dominion and then returned on Earth to its rightful socket. You might say that as they looked down from their lofty Heaven, if Heaven it is, they could see, through the mists of Earth, this bright and shining eye. "

  He sighed as if he were suddenly miserable. He looked at me searchingly.

/>   "This wounded eye, this tarnished eye," he continued, "gave them their compass to find me, their opening, as it were, between the dominions, and down they came to enlist my spirit against my will. "

  "Where did they take you? What did they do?"

  "Oh, if I only knew that they were Heavenly beings," he declared in a low passionate voice. "If I only knew that Memnoch the Devil and those who came after him had shown me truths! It would all be a different matter and I could somehow save my soul!"

  "But you don't know. They never convinced you," I pushed.

  "How can I accept a world full of injustice, along with their august designs?"

  He shook his head again and looked off and then down, as though searching for some spot for his focus, and then back to me as he went on.

  "I can't entirely accept what I learned from Memnoch and those who came afterwards. I've never told anyone of my last spiritual adventure, though the others, the Blood Drinkers who love me -- you know, my lusty troop of beloveds, I call them that now, the Troop of Beloveds -- they know that something happened, they sense it only too well. I don't even know which of my bodies was the true one -- the body that lay on the floor of the chapel of St. Elizabeth's, or the body that roamed with the so-called angels. I was an unwilling trafficker in knowledge and illusions. The story of my last adventure, my secret unknown adventure, the adventure I haven't confided to anyone, weighs on my soul as if to make my spiritual breath die out. "

  "Can you tell me now of this adventure?" I asked.

  It took a great sense of power in him, I thought, to look so readily abject, to show me such affliction.

  "No," he said. "I haven't the strength for the telling of that story yet, that's the plain truth. "

  He shrugged and shook his head and then continued:

  "I need more than strength. I need courage for that confession, and right now my heart's warm from being with you. You have a story to tell, yes, or we have a story to live together. Right now my greedy heart is fastened to you. "

  I was overcome. I cried like a silent baby. I blew my nose and tried to remain calm. Blood on the handkerchief. Body of Blood. Mind of Blood. Flash of his eyes on me. Violet.

  "I should take my good fortune," I said, "and not question it, but I can't resist. What's kept you from destroying me, from punishing me for coming into your flat, for doing what I did to Stirling? I have to know. "

  "Why do you have to know?" he asked, laughing softly. "Why is it so very important to know?"

  I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. I wiped at my eyes again.

  "Is it vanity in me to press the question?" I asked.

  "Probably," he said, grinning. "But shouldn't I understand? I, the most vain of creatures?" He chuckled. "Didn't you see me preening for your aunt downstairs?"

  I nodded.

  "All right," he said. "Here comes the litany of reasons I didn't kill you. I like you. I like that you have a woman's lineaments and a man's body, a boy's curious eyes and a man's large easy gestures, a child's frank words and a man's voice, a blundering manner and an honest grace. "

  He smiled at me quite deliberately, and winked his right eye, and then went on.

  "I like that you loved Stirling," he said. "I like that you honor your glorious Aunt Queen so candidly. " He smiled mischievously. "Maybe I even like it that you went down on your knees and kissed her feet, though that gesture came rather late in the game of my deciding. I like that you love so many around you. I like it that you're more generous than I am. I like that you hate the Dark Blood, and that your Maker wronged you. Now -- isn't that pretty? Isn't that enough?"

  I was quietly delirious with gratitude.

  "Don't think it so very unselfish of me to be here," he went on, eyes widening, voice gaining a little heat. "It's not. I need you or I wouldn't be here. I need your need of me. I need to help you, positively need it. Come, Little Brother, carry me deep into your world. "

  "My world," I whispered.

  "Yes, Little Brother," he said. "Let's proceed together. Tell me the history you inherited and the life you've lived. Tell me about this beastly and beguiling Goblin and how he has gained his strength. I want to hear everything. "

  "I'm in love with you," I responded.

  He laughed the most beguiling and gentle laugh.

  "Of course you are," he replied. "I understand perfectly because I'm in love with myself. The fact that I'm not transfixed in front of the nearest mirror takes a great deal of self-control. "

  It was my turn to laugh.

  "But your love for me," he went on, "is the reason why you'll tell me all about yourself and Blackwood Farm. Start with the family history and then go into your own. "

  I sighed. I pondered. I took the plunge.
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