Merrick, p.6

Merrick, page 6

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 5



  INDEED I TOLD HIM everything which I have told you so far.

  I described even my scant memories of my first meeting with the girl Merrick, and my repressed fear when I was quite certain that the ancestors in the daguerreotypes had been passing approval on Aaron and me.

  He was very startled when I laid down this part of the story, but wouldn't have me pause just yet but encouraged me to go on.

  I told him briefly of how the meeting had triggered other, more erotic memories of Merrick, but that Merrick had not refused his request.

  Merrick had seen him, I explained to him, and she knew who he was and what he was long before any intelligence on the vampires had been given to her by the Talamasca. In fact, to the best of my knowledge no information on the vampires had ever been given to Merrick.

  "I remember more than one encounter with her," he said. "I should have told you, but by now you must know my manner. "

  "How do you mean?"

  "I tell only what's necessary," he said with a little sigh. "I want to believe in what I say, but it's hard. Well, in truth I did have an encounter with Merrick. That's true. And yes, she did fling a curse at me. It was more than sufficient for me to turn away from her. However, I wasn't afraid. I'd misunderstood something about her altogether. If I could read minds as you can read them, the misunderstanding would never have occurred. "

  "But you must explain this to me," I said.

  "It was in a back street, rather dangerous," he said. "I thought she wanted to die. She was walking alone in utter darkness, and when she heard my deliberate footfall behind her, she didn't even bother to glance over her shoulder or speed her pace. It was very reckless behavior and unusual for any woman of any sort at all. I thought she was weary of life. "

  "I understand you. "

  "But then, when I drew close to her," he said, "her eyes flashed on me violently, and she sent out a warning that I heard as distinctly as a spoken voice: 'Touch me and I'll shatter you. ' That's about the best translation of it from the French that I can make. She uttered other curses, names, I'm not sure what they meant. I didn't withdraw from her in fear. I simply didn't challenge her. I had been drawn to her in my thirst because I thought she wanted death. "

  "I see," I said. "It checks with what she told me. Other times, I believe she's seen you from afar. "

  He pondered this for a moment. "There was an old woman, a very powerful old woman. "

  "Then you knew of her. "

  "David, when I came to you to ask you to speak with Merrick, I knew something of her, yes. But that was a while ago that the old woman was alive, and the old woman did sometimes see me, most definitely, and the old woman knew what I was. " He paused for a moment, then resumed. "Way back before the turn of the last century, there were Voodooiennes about who always knew us. But we were quite safe because no one believed what they said. "

  "Of course," I responded.

  "But you see, I never much believed in those women. When I encountered Merrick, well, I sensed something immensely powerful and alien to my understanding. Now, please, do go on. Tell me what happened tonight. "

  I recounted how I'd taken Merrick back to the Windsor Court Hotel, and how the spell had then descended upon me with numerous apparitions, the most unwholesome and frightening of which was most definitely that of the dead grandmother, Great Nananne.

  "If you could have seen the two figures speaking to one another in the carriageway, if you could have seen their absorbed and somewhat secretive manner, and the casual fearless way in which they regarded me, it would have given you chills. "

  "No doubt of it," he said. "And you do mean you actually saw them, as though they were truly there. It wasn't simply an idea. "

  "No, my dear fellow, I saw them. They looked real. Of course they didn't look entirely like other people, you must understand. But they were there!"

  I went on to explain my return to the hotel, the altar, Papa Legba, and then my coming home, and, once again, I described the music of the harpsichord and the singing of the caged birds.

  Louis grew visibly sad at this, but again, he did not interrupt.

  "As I told you before," I said, "I recognized the music. It was Mozart's first sonata. And the playing was unrealistic and full of¡ª. "

  "Tell me. "

  "But you must have heard it. It was haunting. I mean a long, long time ago you must have heard such music, when it was first played here, for hauntings only repeat what occurred once upon a time. "

  "It was full of anger," he said softly, as though the very word "anger" made him hush his tone.

  "Yes, that was it, anger. It was Claudia playing, was it not?"

  He didn't respond. He seemed stricken by his memories and considerations. Then finally he spoke.

  "But you don't know that Claudia made you hear these sounds," he said. "It might have been Merrick and her spell. "

  "You're right on that score, but you see, we don't know that Merrick caused all the other things, either. The altar, the candle, even my blood upon the handkerchief¡ªthese things don't prove that Merrick sent the spirits after me. We have to think about the ghost of Great Nananne. "

  "You mean this ghost might have interfered with us, entirely on her own?"

  I nodded. "What if this ghost wants to protect Merrick? What if this ghost does not want her granddaughter to conjure the soul of a vampire? How can we know?"

  He seemed on the edge of total despair. He remained poised and somewhat collected, but his face was badly stricken, and then he seemed to pull himself together, and he looked to me to speak, as if no words could express what he felt.

  "Louis, listen to me. I have only a tenuous understanding of what I'm about to say, but it's most important. "

  "Yes, what is it?" He seemed at once animated and humble, sitting upright in the chair, urging me to go on.

  "We're creatures of this earth, you and I. We are vampires. But we're material. Indeed, we are richly entangled with Homo sapiens in that we thrive on the blood of that species alone. Whatever spirit inhabits our bodies, governs our cells, enables us to live¡ªwhatever spirit that does all those things is mindless and might as well be nameless, insofar as we know. You do agree on these points. . . "

  "I do," he said, obviously eager for me to go on.

  "What Merrick does is magic, Louis. It is from another realm. "

  He made no response.

  "It's magic that we're asking her to do for us. Voodoo is magic, so is Candomble. So is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. "

  He was taken aback, but fascinated.

  "God is magic," I continued, "and so are the saints. Angels are magic. And ghosts, if they be truly the apparitions of souls who once lived on earth, are magic as well. "

  He absorbed these words respectfully and remained silent.

  "You understand," I continued, "I don't say that all these magical elements are equal. What I am saying is that what they have in common is that they are divorced from materiality, divorced from the earth, and from the flesh. Of course they interact with matter. They interact with the flesh. But they partake of the realm of pure spirituality where other laws¡ªlaws unlike our physical earthly laws¡ªmight exist. "

  "I see your meaning," he said. "You're warning me that this woman can do things that will baffle us as easily as they might baffle mortal men. "

  "Yes, that is my intent here, partly," I answered. "However, Merrick may do more than simply baffle us, you understand me. We must approach Merrick and what she will do with the utmost respect. "

  "I do understand you," he said. "But if human beings have souls that survive death, souls that can manifest as spirits to the living, then human beings have magical components as well. "

  "Yes, a magical component, and you and I still possess this magical component, along with some additional vampiric component, but when a soul truly leaves its physical body? Then it is in the realm of God. "

  "You be
lieve in God," he murmured, quite amazed.

  "Yes, I think so," I answered. "Indeed, I know so. What's the point of hiding it as if it were an unsophisticated or foolish frame of mind?"

  "Then you do indeed have great respect for Merrick and her magic," he said. "And you believe that Great Nananne, as you call her, might be a very powerful spirit indeed. "

  "Precisely," I said.

  He settled back in the chair, and his eyes moved back and forth a little too rapidly. He was quite excited by all I'd told him, but his general disposition was one of profound sorrow, and nothing made him look happy or glad.

  "Great Nananne might be dangerous, that's what you're saying," he murmured. "Great Nananne might want to protect Merrick from . . . you and me. "

  He looked rather splendid in his sorrow. Again he made me think of the paintings of Andrea del Sarto. There was something lush in his beauty, for all the sharp and clear welldrawn lines of his eyes and mouth.

  "I don't expect my faith to make a particle of difference to you," I said. "But I want to emphasize these feelings, because this Voodoo, this matter of spirits, is indeed a dangerous thing. "

  He was perturbed but hardly frightened, perhaps not even cautious. I wanted to say more. I wanted to tell him of my experiences in Brazil, but it wasn't the time or place.

  "But David, on the matter of ghosts," he said finally, again maintaining a respectful tone, "surely there are all kinds of ghosts. "

  "Yes, I think I know what you mean," I responded.

  "Well, this Great Nananne, if indeed she appeared of her own volition, from where precisely did she come?"

  "We can't expect to know that, Louis, about any ghost. "

  "Well surely some ghosts are manifestations of earthbound spirits, don't students of the occult maintain this truth?"

  "They do. "

  "If these ghosts are the spirits of the dead who are earthbound, how can we say they are purely magical? Aren't they still within the atmosphere? Aren't they struggling to reach the living? Aren't they divorced from God? How else can one interpret Claudia's haunting of Jesse? If it was Claudia, then Claudia has not gone on into a purely spiritual realm. Claudia is not a partaker of the laws beyond us. Claudia is not at peace. "

  "Ah, I see," I answered. "So that is why you want to attempt the ritual. " I felt foolish for not having seen it all along. "You believe that Claudia's suffering. "

  "I think it's entirely possible," he said, "if Claudia did appear to Jesse as Jesse seemed to think. " He looked miserable. "And frankly, I hope that we can't rouse Claudia's spirit. I hope that Merrick's power doesn't work. I hope that if Claudia had an immortal soul, that soul has gone to God. I hope for things in which I can't believe. "

  "So this is why the story of Claudia's ghost has so tormented you. You don't want to speak to her. You want to know that she's at peace. "

  "Yes, I want to do this thing because she may be a restless and tormented spirit. I can't know from the stories of others. I myself have never been haunted, David. As I've told you, I have never heard this harpsichord music, nor the singing of caged birds here. I have never witnessed anything to indicate that Claudia exists anywhere in any form any longer at all. I want to try to reach Claudia so that I will know. "

  This confession had cost him dearly, and he sat back again and looked away, perhaps into some private corner of his soul.

  Finally, his eyes still fixed on some invisible spot in the shadows, he spoke:

  "If only I had seen her, I could make some assessment, no matter how poor that assessment might be. I tell myself no vagrant spirit could ever fool me into believing it was Claudia, but I've never seen a vagrant spirit, either. I have never seen anything like it. I have only Jesse's story of what happened, which Jesse herself sought to soften on account of my feelings, and of course Lestat's ramblings, that he was sure Claudia came to him, that past experiences quite literally engulfed him when he was suffering his adventures with the Body Thief. "

  "Yes, I've heard him talk of it. "

  "But with Lestat, one never knows . . . " he said. "Lestat may have been characterizing his conscience in those stories. I don't know. What I do know is that I want desperately for Merrick Mayfair to try to raise Claudia's spirit, and I'm prepared for whatever might come. "

  "You think you're prepared," I said hastily, perhaps unfairly.

  "Oh, I know. The spell tonight has shaken you. "

  "You can't imagine," I said.

  "Very well, I admit it. I can't imagine. But tell me this. You speak of a realm beyond the earth and that Merrick is magical when she reaches for it. But why does it involve blood? Surely her spells will involve blood. " He went on, a little angrily. "Voodoo almost always involves blood," he averred. "You speak of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as magical, and I understand you, because if the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Holy Sacrifice of the Crucifixion, it is magical, but why does it involve blood? We are earthly beings, yes, but a small component of us is magical, and why does that component demand blood?"

  He became quite heated as he finished, his eyes fixing on me severely almost, though I knew his emotions had little to do with me.

  "What I'm saying is, we might compare rituals the world over in all religions and all systems of magic, forever, but they always involve blood. Why? Of course I know that human beings can not live without blood; I know that 'the blood is the life,' saith Dracula; I know that humankind speaks in cries and whispers of blooddrenched altars, of bloodshed and blood kin, and blood will have blood, and those of the finest blood. But why? What is the quintessential connection that binds all such wisdom or superstition? And above all, why does God want blood?"

  I was taken aback. Surely I wasn't going to hazard a hasty answer. And I didn't have one, besides. His question went too deep. Blood was essential to Candomble. It was essential to real Voodoo as well.

  He went on:

  "I don't speak of your God in particular," he said kindly, "but the God of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has demanded blood, and indeed the Crucifixion has come down to us as one of the most renowned blood sacrifices of all time. But what of all the other gods, the gods of old Rome for whom blood had to be shed in the arena as well as on the altar, or the gods of the Aztecs who were still demanding bloody murder as the price of running the universe when the Spanish arrived on their shores?"

  "Maybe we're asking the wrong question," I said finally. "Maybe blood does not matter to the gods. Maybe blood matters to us. Maybe we've made it the vehicle of Divine transmission. Maybe that's something which the world can move beyond. "

  "Hmmm, it's not a mere anachronism," he said. "It's a genuine mystery. Why should the natives of ancient South America have but one word in their language for both flowers and blood?"

  He rose from the chair again, looking altogether restless, and went to the window once more and looked out through the lace.

  "I have my dreams," he said in a whisper. "I dream she will come, and she will tell me that she is at peace and she will show me the courage to do what I must do. "

  These words saddened and disturbed me.

  "The Everlasting has not fixed his canon against my selfslaughter," he said, paraphrasing Shakespeare, "because all I need do to accomplish it is not seek shelter at the rising of the sun. I dream she may warn me of hellfires and of the need for repentance. But then, this is a little miracle play, isn't it? If she comes, she may be groping in darkness. She may be lost among the wandering dead souls whom Lestat saw when he traveled out of this world. "

  "Absolutely anything is possible," I answered.

  A long interval occurred during which I went quietly up to him and laid my hand on his shoulder, to let him know in my way that I respected his pain. He didn't acknowledge this tiny intimacy. I made my way back to the sofa and I waited. I had no intention of leaving him with such thoughts in his mind.

  At last he turned around.

  "Wait here," he said quietly, and then he went o
ut of the room and down the passage. I heard him open a door. Within a brief moment he was back again with what appeared to be a small antique photograph in his hand.

  I was immensely excited. Could it be what I thought?

  I recognized the small black gutter perche case into which it was fitted, so like the ones that framed the daguerreotypes belonging to Merrick. It appeared intricate and well preserved.

  He opened the case and looked at the image, and then he spoke:

  "You mentioned those family photographs of our dearly beloved witch," he said reverently. "You asked if they were not vehicles for guardian souls. "

  "Yes, I did. As I told you, I could have sworn those little pictures were looking at Aaron and at me. "

  "And you mentioned that you could not imagine what it had meant to us to see daguerreotypes¡ªor whatever they might be called¡ªfor the first time so many years ago. "

  I was filled with a sort of amazement as I listened to him. He had been there. He had been alive and a witness. He had moved from the world of painted portraits to that of photographic images. He had drifted through those decades and was alive now in our time.

  "Think of mirrors," he said, "to which everyone is accustomed. Think of the reflection suddenly frozen forever. That is how it was. Except the color was gone from it, utterly gone, and there lay the horror, if there was one; but you see, no one thought it was so remarkable, not while it was happening, and then it was so common. We didn't really appreciate such a miracle. It went popular too very fast. And of course when it first started, when they first set up their studios, it was not for us. "

  "For us?"

  "David, it had to be done in daylight, don't you see? The first photographs belonged to mortals alone. "

  "Of course, I didn't even think of it. "

  "She hated it," he said. He looked again at the image. "And one night, unbeknownst to me, she broke the lock of one of the new studios¡ªand there were many of them¡ªand she stole all the pictures she could find. She broke them, smashed them in a fury. She said it was ghastly that we couldn't have our pictures made. 'Yes, we see ourselves in mirrors, and old tales would have it not,' she screamed at me. 'But what about this mirror? Is this not some threat of judgment?' I told her absolutely it was not.

  "I remember Lestat laughed at her. He said she was greedy and foolish and ought to be happy with what she had. She was past all tolerance of him, and didn't even answer him. That's when he had the miniature painted of her for his locket, the locket you found for him in a Talamasca vault. "

  "I see," I answered. "Lestat never told me such a story. "

  "Lestat forgets many things," he said thoughtfully and without judgment. "He had other portraits of her painted after that. There was a large one here, very beautiful. We took it with us to Europe. We took trunks of our belongings, but that time I don't want to remember. I don't want to remember how she tried to hurt Lestat. "

  I was silent out of respect.

  "But the photographs, the daguerreotypes, that's what she wanted, the real image of herself on glass. She was furious, as I told you. But then years later, when we reached Paris, in those lovely nights before we ever happened upon the Th¨¦atre des Vampires and the monsters who would destroy her, she found that the magic pictures could be taken at night, with artificial light!"

  He seemed to be reliving the experience painfully, I remained quiet.

  "You can't imagine her excitement. She had seen an exhibit by the famous photographer Nadar of pictures from the Paris catacombs. Pictures of cartloads of human bones. Nadar was quite the man, as I'm sure you know. She was thrilled by the pictures. She went to his studio, by special appointment, in the evening, and there this picture was made. "

  He came towards me.

  "It's a dim picture. It took an age for all the mirrors and the artificial lamps to do their work. And Claudia stood still for so long, well, only a vampire child might have worked such a trick. But she was very pleased with it. She kept it on her dressing table in the Hotel SaintGabriel, the last place that we ever called our home. We had such lovely rooms there. It was near to the Opera. I don't think she ever unpacked the painted portraits. It was this that mattered to her. I'd actually thought she would come to be happy in Paris. Maybe she would have been . . . But there wasn't time. This little picture, she felt it was only the beginning, and planned to return to Nadar with an even lovelier dress. "

  He looked at me.

  I stood up to receive the picture, and he placed it in my hands most carefully, as though it were about to shatter of its own accord.

  I was dumbfounded. How small and innocent she seemed, this irretrievable child of fair locks and chubby cheeks, of darkened Cupid's bow lips and white lace. Her eyes veritably blazed from the shadowy glass as I looked at her. And there came back that very suspicion of years ago, that I'd suffered so strongly with Merrick's pictures, that the image was gazing at me.

  I must have made some small sound. I don't know. I shut the little case. I even worked the tiny gold clasp into the lock.

  "Wasn't she beautiful?" he asked. "Tell me. It's past a matter of opinion, isn't it? She was beautiful. One cannot deny that simple fact. "

  I looked at him, and I wanted to say that she was, indeed she was, she was lovely, but no sound would come out of my mouth.

  "We have this," he said, "for Merrick's magic. Not her blood, nor an article of clothing, nor a lock of hair. But we have this. After her death, I went back to the hotel rooms where we'd been happy and I retrieved it, and all the rest I left. "

  He opened his coat and slipped the picture into his breast pocket. He looked a little shocked, his eyes purposefully blank, and then he gave a little shake of the head.

  "Don't you think it will be powerful for the magic?" he asked.

  "Yes," I said. There were so many comforting words tumbling through my mind, but all seemed poor and stiff.

  We stood looking at one another, and I was surprised at the feeling in his expression. He seemed altogether human and passionate. I could scarce believe the despair with which he endured.

  "I don't really want to see her, David," he said. "You must believe me on that score. I don't want to raise her ghost, and frankly, I don't think we can. "

  "I believe you, Louis," I said.

  "But if she does come, and she is in torment. . . "

  "Then Merrick will know how to guide her," I said quickly. "I'll know how to guide her. All mediums in the Talamasca know how to guide such spirits. All mediums know to urge such spirits to seek the light. "

  He nodded. "I was counting on it," he said. "But you see, I don't think Claudia would ever be lost, only wanting to remain. And then, it might take a powerful witch like Merrick to do the convincing that beyond this pale there lies an end to pain. "

  "Precisely," I said.

  "Well, I've troubled you enough for one evening," he said. "I have to go out now. I know that Lestat is uptown in the old orphanage. He's listening to his music there. I want to make certain that no intruders have come in. "

  I knew this was fanciful. Lestat, regardless of his frame of mind, could defend himself against almost anything, but I tried to accept the words as a gentleman should.

  "I'm thirsting," he added, glancing at me, with just the trace of a smile. "You're right on that account. I'm not really going to see to Lestat. I've already been to St. Elizabeth's. Lestat is alone with his music as he chooses to be. I'm thirsting very much. I'm going to feed. And I have to go about it alone. "

  "No," I said softly. "Let me go with you. After Merrick's spell, I don't want you to go alone. "

  This was most decidedly not Louis's way of doing things; however, he agreed.
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