Merrick, p.7

Merrick, page 7

 part  #7 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series



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Chapter 6



  WE WENT OUT TOGETHER, walking quite rapidly until we were well away from the lighted blocks of the Rue Bourbon and the Rue Royale.

  New Orleans soon opened up her underbelly to us, and we went deep into a ruined neighborhood, not unlike the neighborhood in which I'd long ago met Merrick's Great Nananne. But if there were any great witches about, I found no hint of them on this night.

  Now, let me say here a few words about New Orleans and what it was to us.

  First and foremost it is not a monstrous city like Los Angeles or New York. And even though it has a sizable underclass of dangerous individuals, it is, nevertheless, a small place.

  It cannot really support the thirst of three vampires. And when great numbers of blood drinkers are drawn to it, the random blood lust creates an unwanted stir.

  Such had recently happened, due to Lestat publishing his memoirs of Memnoch the Devil, during which time many of the very ancient came to New Orleans, as well as rogue vampires¡ªcreatures of powerful appetite and little regard for the species and the subterranean paths which it must follow to survive in the modern world.

  During that time of coming together, I had managed to persuade Armand to dictate his life story to me; and I had circulated, with her permission, the pages which the vampire Pandora had given me sometime before.

  These stories attracted even more of the maverick blood drinkers¡ªthose creatures who, being masterless and giving out lies as to their beginnings, often taunt their mortal prey and seek to bully them in a way that can only lead to trouble for all of us.

  The uneasy convocation did not last long.

  But though Marius, a child of two millennia, and his consort, the lovely Pandora, disapproved of the young blood drinkers, they would not lift a hand against them to put them to death or to flight. It was not in their nature to respond to such a catastrophe, though they were outraged by the conduct of these baseborn fiends.

  As for Lestat's mother, Gabrielle, one of the coldest and most fascinating individuals whom I have ever encountered, it was of absolutely no concern to her at all, as long as no one harmed her son.

  Well, it was quite impossible for anyone to harm her son. He is unharmable, as far as we all know. Or rather, to speak more plainly, let me say that his own adventures have harmed Lestat far more than any vampire might. His trip to Heaven and Hell with Memnoch, be it delusion or supernatural journey, has left him stunned spiritually to such a point that he is not ready to resume his antics and become the Brat Prince whom we once adored.

  However, with vicious and sordid blood drinkers breaking down the very doors of St. Elizabeth's and coming up the iron stairs of our very own town house in the Rue Royale, it was Armand who was able to rouse Lestat and goad him into taking the situation in hand.

  Lestat, having already waked to listen to the piano music of a fledgling vampire, blamed himself for the tawdry invasion. It was he who had created the "Coven of the Articulate," as we had come to be called. And so, he declared to us in a hushed voice, with little or no enthusiasm for the battle, that he would put things right.

  Armand¡ªgiven in the past to leading covens, and to destroying them¡ªassisted Lestat in a massacre of the unwelcome rogue vampires before the social fabric was fatally breached.

  Having the gift of fire, as the others called it¡ªthat is, the means to kindle a blaze telekinetically¡ªLestat destroyed with flames the brash invaders of his own lair, and all those who had violated the privacy of the more retiring Marius and Pandora, Santino, and Louis and myself. Armand dismembered and obliterated those who died at his hand.

  Those few preternatural beings who weren't killed fled the city, and indeed many were overtaken by Armand, who showed no mercy whatsoever to the misbegotten, the heartlessly careless, and the deliberately cruel.

  After that, when it was plain to one and all that Lestat had returned to his semisleep, absorbed utterly in recordings of the finest music provided for him by me and by Louis, the elders¡ªMarius, Pandora, Santino, and Armand, with two younger companions¡ªgradually went their way.

  It was an inevitable thing, that parting, because none of us could really endure the company of so many fellow blood drinkers for very long.

  As it is with God and Satan, humankind is our subject matter. And so it is that, deep within the mortal world and its many complexities, we choose to spend our time.

  Of course, we will all come together at various times in the future. We know well how to reach one another. We are not above writing letters. Or other means of communication. The eldest know telepathically when things have gone terribly wrong with the young ones, and vice versa. But for now, only Louis and Lestat and I hunt the streets of New Orleans, and so it will be for some time.

  That means, strictly speaking, that only Louis and I hunt, for Lestat simply does not feed at all. Having the body of a god, he has subsumed the lust which still plagues the most powerful, and lies in his torpor as the music plays on.

  And so New Orleans, in all her drowsy beauty, is host to only two of the Undead. Nevertheless, we must be very clever. We must cover up the deeds that we do. To feed upon the evildoer, as Marius has always called it, is our vow; however, the blood thirst is a terrible thing.

  But before I return to my tale¡ªof how Louis and I went out on this particular evening, allow me a few more words about Lestat.

  I personally do not think that things are as simple with him as the others tend to believe. Above, I have given you pretty much "the party line," as the expression goes, as to his comalike slumber and his music. But there are very troubling aspects to his presence which I cannot deny or resolve.

  Unable to read his mind, because he made me a vampire and I am therefore his fledgling and far too close to him for such communication, I, nevertheless, perceive certain things about him as he lies by the hour listening to the brilliant and stormy music of Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Chopin, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky, and the other composers he loves.

  I've confessed these "doubts" about his wellbeing to Marius and to Pandora and to Armand. But no one of them could penetrate the veil of preternatural silence which he has drawn about his entire being, body and soul.

  "He's weary," say the others. "He'll be himself soon. " And "He'll come around. "

  I don't doubt these things. Not at all. But to put it plainly, something is more wrong with him than anyone has guessed. There are times when he is not there in his body.

  Now this may mean that he is projecting his soul up and out of his body in order to roam about, in pure spirit form, at will. Certainly Lestat knows how to do this. He learnt it from the most ancient of the vampires; and he proved that he could do it, when with the evil Body Thief he worked a switch.

  But Lestat does not like that power. And no one who has had his body stolen is likely to use it for more than a very short interval in any one night.

  I feel something far more grave is wrong there, that Lestat is not always in control of either body or soul, and we must wait to discover the terms and outcome of a battle which might still be going on.

  As for Lestat's appearance, he lies on the Chapel floor, or on the fourposter bed in the town house, with his eyes open, though they appear to see nothing. And for a while after the great cleansing battle, he did periodically change his clothes, favoring the red velvet jackets of old, and his lacetrimmed shirts of heavy linen, along with slim pants and plain black boots.

  Others have seen this attention to wardrobe as a good sign. I believe Lestat did these things so that we would leave him alone.

  Alas, I have no more to say on the subject in this narrative. At least I don't think so. I can't protect Lestat from what is happening, and no one really has ever succeeded in protecting him or stopping him, no matter what the circumstances of his distress.

  Now, let me return to my record of events.

  Louis and I had made our way deep into a forlorn and dreadful part of
the city where many houses stood abandoned, and those few which still showed evidence of habitation were locked up tight with iron bars upon their windows and doors.

  As always happens with any neighborhood in New Orleans, we came within a few blocks to a market street, and there we found many desolate shops which had long ago been shut up with nails and boards. Only a "pleasure club," as it was called, showed signs of habitation and those inside were drunk and gambling the night away at card games and dice.

  However, as we continued on our journey, I following Louis, as this was Louis's hunt, we soon came to a small dwelling nestled between the old storefronts, the ruins of a simple shotgun house, whose front steps were lost in the high weeds.

  There were mortals inside, I sensed it immediately, and they were of varying dispositions.

  The first mind which made itself known to me was that of an aged woman, keeping watch over a cheap little bassinet with a baby inside of it, a woman who was actively praying that God deliver her from her circumstances, those circumstances pertaining to two young people in a front room of the house who were entirely given over to drink and drugs.

  In a quiet and efficient manner, Louis led the way back to the overgrown alley to the rear of this crooked little shack, and without a sound he peered through the small window, above a humming air conditioner, at the distraught woman, who wiped the face of the infant, who did not cry.

  Again and again I heard this woman murmur aloud that she didn't know what she would do with those young people in the front room, that they had destroyed her house and home and left her this miserable little infant who would starve to death or die of other neglect if the young mother, drunk and dissolute, was forced to care for the child alone.

  Louis seemed an angel of death come to this window.

  On closer inspection over Louis's shoulder, I gained a better perspective on the old one, and discovered that she was not only caring for the infant, but ironing clothes on a low board which allowed her to sit as she did it, and reach again and again to comfort the baby in its wicker crib.

  The smell of the freshly ironed clothes was somewhat delicious, a burnt smell but a good one, of heat against cotton and linen.

  And I saw now that the room was full of these garments, and conjectured that this woman did this work for hire.

  "God help me," she muttered in a little singsong voice, shaking her head as she ironed, "I wish you would take that girl from me, take her and her friends. God help me, I wish you would deliver me from this Valley, 0 Lord, where I have been for so long. "

  The room itself had comfortable furnishings and touches of domestic care, such as lace doilies on the backs of its chairs and a clean linoleum floor which shone as though it had been recently waxed.

  The woman herself was heavy of build and wore her hair in a knot on the back of her head.

  As Louis passed on to view the back rooms of the house, the old woman was quite unaware of it, and her singsong prayers for deliverance went on.

  The kitchen, also immaculate, revealed the same shining linoleum and all its dishes washed and set out to drain beside the sink.

  The front rooms of the house were another story. Here the young people reigned in positive squalor, one stretched out on a bed without a sheet to cover its dirty mattress, and the other pitiful creature, alone, in the living room, so full of narcotics as to be in a swoon.

  Both these hopeless beings were women, though one could not tell this at first glance. On the contrary, their brutally clipped hair, their emaciated bodies, and their denimclad limbs gave them a desolate sexless appearance. And the piles of clothing strewn everywhere about them gave no clue of a predilection for either feminine or masculine attire.

  I found this spectacle unendurable.

  Of course, Marius had cautioned us in no uncertain terms before he departed New Orleans that if we did not hunt the evildoer almost exclusively, we would very soon go mad. To feed upon the innocent is sublime, but leads inevitably to such a love of human life that the vampire who does it cannot endure for very long.

  I am not sure I agree with Marius on this score, and I do think that other blood drinkers have survived very well by feeding on the innocent. But the idea of hunting the evildoer is one which I personally embraced for my own peace of mind. The intimacy with evil is something which I must bear.

  Louis made his way into the house by means of a side door, one which is quite typical in shotgun houses of this kind which have no hallway but merely a chain of rooms.

  I remained in the fresher air of the weedy garden, glancing at the stars now and then for comfort, and overcome suddenly by the unwelcome reek of vomit and feces which came from the house's small bathroom, another miracle of order and cleanliness except for the recent filth deposited on the floor.

  Indeed, the two young women were in need of immediate intervention, it seemed, were they to be saved from themselves, but Louis had not come to provide such, but as a vampire, so hungry that even I could feel it, and he made his way into the bedroom first, and seated himself beside the wraith of a being on the stripped mattress, and very quickly, ignoring her giggles at the sight of him, embraced her with his right arm, and sank his teeth for the fatal drink.

  On and on, the old woman prayed in the back room.

  I had thought Louis would be finished with the place, but no such luck.

  As soon as the scrawny body of the woman had been allowed to fall to one side and against the mattress, he rose and stood for a moment in the light of the room's few scattered lamps.

  He looked splendid with the light glinting on his black curly hair and flaring in his darkgreen eyes. The blood inside him had colored his face naturally and brilliantly. In the buffcolored velvet coat with its gold buttons, he appeared an apparition among the soiled tints and roughened textures of the place.

  It took my breath away to see him focus his eyes slowly and then walk into the front room.

  The remaining woman gave a whooping cry of dazed merriment when she saw him, and for a long moment he stood merely regarding her as she slumped in an overstuffed chair, with her legs wide apart and her naked arms, covered in sores, dangling at her sides.

  It seemed he was quite undecided as to what to do. But then I saw his seemingly thoughtful face grow blank with hunger. I watched him approach, losing all the grace of a contemplative human, appearing to be driven only by hunger, and lift up this ghastly young creature, and close his lips against her neck. No glimpse of teeth, no moment of cruelty. Merely the final kiss.

  There followed the swoon, which I could more fully appreciate while peering through the front window. It lasted only a few moments; then the woman was dead. He laid her down again on her soiled chair, positioning her limbs with some care. I watched as he used his blood to seal up the puncture wounds in her throat. No doubt he had done the same for the victim in the other room.

  I felt a wave of sorrow come over me. Life seemed simply unendurable. I had the feeling I would never know safety or happiness again. I had no right to either. But for what it was worth, Louis was feeling what the blood could give a monster, and he had chosen his victims well.

  He stepped out of the front door of the house, which was unlatched and unattended in any way, and came round to meet me in the side yard. The transformation of his face was now complete. He appeared the handsomest of men, his eyes utterly unclouded and almost fierce, and his cheeks beautifully flushed.

  It would all seem routine to the authorities, the deaths of these two unfortunates, that they had died by the drugs they were ingesting. As for the old woman in the back room, she continued with her prayers, though she was making them now into a song for the baby, who had begun to utter small cries.

  "Leave her something for the funerals," I said in a hushed voice to Louis. This seemed to confuse him.

  I quickly went around to the front door, slipped inside, and left a substantial offering of money on the top of a broken table which was lit
tered with overflowing ashtrays and glasses half filled with stale wine. I put some more money atop an old bureau as well.

  Louis and I made our way home. The night was warm and damp, yet felt clean and lovely, and the smell of ligustrum filled my lungs.

  We were soon walking back towards the lighted streets we loved.

  His step was brisk and his manner entirely human. He stopped to pick the flowers that grew over the fences or out of the little gardens. He sang to himself something soft and unobtrusive. Now and then he looked up at the stars.

  All of this was pleasant to me, though I wondered how in the name of Heaven I would have the courage to feed upon the evildoer only, or to answer a prayer as Louis had just done. I saw the fallacy in all of it. Another wave of desolation passed over me, and I felt a terrible need to explain my various points of view, but this did not seem the time.

  It struck me very heavily that I had lived to an old age as a mortal man, and so had ties with the human race that many another blood drinker simply did not possess. Louis had been twentyfour when he had struck his bargain with Lestat for the Dark Blood. How much can a man learn in that time, and how much can he later forget?

  I might have continued to think in this vein and indeed to start some conversation with Louis, however I was once again bothered by something outside of myself, and that is that a black cat, a very huge black cat, shot out of the shrubbery ahead of us and stopped in our path.

  I stopped in my tracks. So did Louis, only because I had.

  A passing car then sent its beams into the eyes of the cat, and for a moment they were purely golden; then the animal, truly one of the largest domestic cats I've ever beheld, and a most unwholesome specimen, shot away into the shadows as swiftly as it had come.

  "Surely you don't take that as a bad omen," said Louis, smiling at me, almost teasing me. "David, you're not superstitious, as mortals would say. "

  I loved the bit of levity in his voice. I loved seeing him so full of the warm blood that he might have been human. But I couldn't respond to the words.

  I didn't like the cat at all. I was furious at Merrick. I could have blamed the rain on Merrick had it started to pour. I felt challenged by Merrick. I was working myself up to a little fit of pique. I didn't say a word.

  "When will you let me meet Merrick?" he asked.

  "First her story," I said, "or that part of it which I know. Tomorrow, feed early, and when I come to the flat I'll tell you the things you need to know. "

  "And then we speak of a meeting?"

  "Then you can make up your mind. "
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