The queen of the damned, p.8

The Queen Of The Damned, page 8

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 5

 

  Never mind. Just come, Armand. Come. It's dark and cold in Chicago. And tomorrow night the Vampire Lestat will sing his songs on a San Francisco stage. And something bad is going to happen. This mortal knows.

  Without slowing his pace, Daniel reached down under the collar of his sagging sweat shirt and felt the heavy gold locket he always wore-the amulet, as Armand called it with his unacknowledged yet irrepressible flair for the dramatic-which held the tiny vial of Armand's blood.

  And if he had never tasted that cup would he be having this dream, this vision, this portent of doom?

  People turned to look at him; he was talking to himself again, wasn't he? And the wind made him sigh loudly. He had the urge for the first time in all these years to break open the locket and the vial, to feel that blood burn his tongue. Armand, come!

  The dream had visited him in its most alarming form this noon.

  He'd been sitting on a bench in the little park near the Water Tower Place. A newspaper had been left there, and when he opened it he saw the advertisement: "Tomorrow Night: The Vampire Lestat Live on Stage in San Francisco. " The cable would broadcast the concert at ten o'clock Chicago time. How nice for those who still lived indoors, could pay their rent, and had electricity. He had wanted to laugh at the whole thing, delight in it, revel in it, Lestat surprising them all. But the chill had passed through him, becoming a deep jarring shock.

  And what if Armand does not know? But the record stores on the Night Island must have The Vampire Lestat in their windows. In the elegant lounges, they must be playing those haunting and hypnotic songs.

  It had even occurred to Daniel at that moment to go on to California on his own. Surely he could work some miracle, get his passport from the hotel, go into any bank with it for identification. Rich, yes so very rich, this poor mortal boy. . . .

  But how could he think of something so deliberate? The sun had been warm on his face and shoulders as he'd lain down on the bench. He'd folded the newspaper to make of it a pillow.

  And there was the dream that had been waiting all the time. . . .

  Midday in the world of the twins: the sun pouring down onto the clearing. Silence, except for the singing of the birds.

  And the twins kneeling quite still together, in the dust. Such pale women, their eyes green, their hair long and wavy and coppery red. Fine clothes they wore, white linen dresses that had come all the way from the markets of Nineveh, bought by the villagers to honor these powerful witches, whom the spirits obey.

  The funeral feast was ready. The mud bricks of the oven had been torn down and carried away, and the body lay steaming hot on the stone slab, the yellow juices running out of it where the crisp skin had broken, a black and naked thing with only a covering of cooked leaves. It horrified Daniel.

  But it horrified no one present, this spectacle, not the twins or the villagers who knelt to watch the feast begin.

  This feast was the right and the duty of the twins. This was their mother, the blackened body on the stone slab. And what was human must remain with the human. A day and night it may take to consume the feast, but all will keep watch until it is done.

  Now a current of excitement passes through the crowd around the clearing. One of the twins lifts the plate on which the brain rests together with the eyes, and the other nods and takes the plate that holds the heart.

  And so the division has been made. The beat of a drum rises, though Daniel cannot see the drummer. Slow, rhythmic, brutal.

  "Let the banquet begin. "

  But the ghastly cry comes, just as Daniel knew it would. Stop the soldiers. But he can't. All this has happened somewhere, of that he is now certain. It is no dream, it is a vision. And he is not there. The soldiers storm the clearing, the villagers scatter, the twins set down the plates and fling themselves over the smoking feast. But this is madness.

  The soldiers tear them loose so effortlessly, and as the slab is lifted, the body falls, breaking into pieces, and the heart and the brain are thrown down into the dust. The twins scream and scream.

  But the villagers are screaming too, the soldiers are cutting them down as they run. The dead and the dying litter the mountain paths. The eyes of the mother have fallen from the plate into the dirt, and they, along with the heart and brain, are trampled underfoot.

  One of the twins, her arms pulled behind her back, cries to the spirits for vengeance. And they come, they do. It is a whirlwind. But not enough.

  If only it were over. But Daniel can't wake up.

  Stillness. The air is full of smoke. Nothing stands where these people have lived for centuries. The mud bricks are scattered, clay pots are broken, all that will burn has burned. Infants with their throats slit lie naked on the ground as the flies come. No one will roast these bodies, no one will consume this flesh. It will pass out of the human race, with all its power and its mystery. The jackals are already approaching. And the soldiers have gone. Where are the twins! He hears the twins crying, but he cannot find them. A great storm is rumbling over the narrow road that twists down through the valley towards the desert. The spirits make the thunder. The spirits make the rain.

  His eyes opened. Chicago, Michigan Avenue at midday. The dream had gone out like a light turned off. He sat there shivering, sweating.

  A radio had been playing near him, Lestat singing in that haunting mournful voice of Those Who Must Be Kept.

  Mother and Father.

  Keep your silence,

  Keep your secrets,

  But those of you with tongues,

  sing my song.

  Sons and daughters Children of darkness

  Raise your voices Make a chorus Let heaven hear us

  Come together, Brother and sisters, Come to me.

  He had gotten up, started walking. Go into the Water Tower Place, so like the Night Island with its engulfing shops, endless music and lights, shining glass.

  And now it was almost eight o'clock and he had been walking continuously, running from sleep and from the dream. He was far from any music and light. How long would it go on next time? Would he find out whether they were alive or dead? My beauties, my poor beauties. . . .

  He stopped, turning his back to the wind for a moment, listening to the chimes somewhere, then spotting a dirty clock above a dime store lunch counter; yes, Lestat had risen on the West ICoast. Who is with him? Is Louis there? And the concert, a little jover twenty-four hours. Catastrophe! Armand, please. The wind gusted, pushed him back a few steps on the pave-'ment, left him shivering violently. His hands were frozen. Had he lever been this cold in his life? Doggedly, he crossed Michigan Avenue with the crowd at the stoplight and stood at the plate glass windows of the bookstore, where he could see the book, The Vampire Lestat, on display.

  1 Surely Armand had read it, devouring every word in that eerie, I horrible way he had of reading, of turning page after page without pause, eyes flashing over the words, until the book was finished, and then tossing it aside. How could a creature shimmer with such beauty yet incite such. . . what was it, revulsion? No, he had never been revolted by Armand, he had to admit it. What he I always felt was ravening and hopeless desire. A young girl inside the warmth of the store picked up a copy of Lestat's book, then stared at him through the window. His I breath made steam on the glass in front of him. Don't worry, my darling, I am a rich man. I could buy this whole store full of books [ and make it a present to you. I am lord and master of my own island, I am the Devil's minion and he grants my every wish. Want to come take my arm?

  It had been dark for hours on the Florida coast. The Night Island was already thronged.

  The shops, restaurants, bars had opened their broad, seamless plate glass doors at sunset, on five levels of richly carpeted hallway. The silver escalators had begun their low, churning hum. Daniel closed his eyes and envisioned the walls of glass rising above the harbor terraces. He could almost hear the great roar of the dancing fountains, see the long narrow bed
s of daffodils and tulips blooming eternally out of season, hear the hypnotic music that beat like a heart beneath it all.

  And Armand, he was probably roaming the dimly lighted rooms of the villa, steps away from the tourists and the shoppers, yet utterly cut off by steel doors and white walls-a sprawling palace of floor-length windows and broad balconies, perched over white sand. Solitary, yet near to the endless commotion, its vast living room facing the twinkling lights of the Miami shore.

  Or maybe he had gone through one of the many unmarked doors into the public galleria itself. "To live and breathe among mortals" as he called it in this safe and self-contained universe which he and Daniel had made. How Armand loved the warm breezes of the Gulf, the endless springtime of the Night Island.

  No lights would go out until dawn.

  "Send someone for me, Armand, I need you! You know you want me to come home. "

  Of course it had happened this way over and over again. It did not need strange dreams, or Lestat to reappear, roaring like Lucifer from tape and film.

  Everything would go all right for months as Daniel felt compelled to move from city to city, walking the pavements of New York or Chicago or New Orleans. Then the sudden disintegration. He'd realize he had not moved from his chair in five hours. Or he'd wake suddenly in a stale and unchanged bed, frightened, unable to remember the name of the city where he was, or where he'd been for days before. Then the car would come for him, then the plane would take him home.

  Didn't Armand cause it? Didn't he somehow drive Daniel to these periods of madness? Didn't he by some evil magic dry up every source of pleasure, every fount of sustenance until Daniel welcomed the sight of the familiar chauffeur come to drive him to the airport, the man who was never shocked by Daniel's demeanor, his unshaven face, his soiled clothes?

  When Daniel finally reached the Night Island, Armand would deny it.

  "You came back to me because you wanted to, Daniel," Armand always said calmly, face still and radiant, eyes full of love. I "There is nothing for you now, Daniel, except me. You know that. Madness waits out there. "

  "Same old dance," Daniel invariably answered. And all that luxury, so intoxicating, soft beds, music, the wine glass placed in I his hand. The rooms were always full of flowers, the foods he craved came on silver trays.

  Armand lay sprawled in a huge black velvet wing chair gazing at the television, Ganymede in white pants and white silk shirt, I watching the news, the movies, the tapes he'd made of himself reading poetry, the idiot sitcoms, the dramas, the musicals, the silent films.

  "Come in, Daniel, sit down. I never expected you back so soon. "

  "You son of a bitch," Daniel would say. "You wanted me here, you summoned me. I couldn't eat, sleep, nothing, just wander and think of you. You did it. "

  Armand would smile, sometimes even laugh. Armand had a ' rich, beautiful laugh, always eloquent of gratitude as well as humor. He looked and sounded mortal when he laughed. "Calm yourself, Daniel. Your heart's racing. It frightens me. " Small crease to the smooth forehead, the voice for a moment deepened by compassion. "Tell me what you want, Daniel, and I'll get it for you. Why do you keep running away?"

  "Lies, you bastard. Say that you wanted me. You'll torment me forever, won't you, and then you'll watch me die, and you'll find I that interesting, won't you? It was true what Louis said. You watch them die, your mortal slaves, they mean nothing to you. You'll watch the colors change in my face as I die. "

  "That's Louis's language," Armand said patiently. "Please don't quote that book to me. I'd rather die than see you die, Daniel. "

  "Then give it to me! Damn you! Immortality that close, as close as your arms. "

  "No, Daniel, because I'd rather die than do that, too. "

  But even if Armand did not cause this madness that brought Daniel home, surely he always knew where Daniel was. He could hear Daniel's call. The blood connected them, it had to-the precious tiny drinks of burning preternatural blood. Never enough to do more than awaken dreams in Daniel, and the thirst for eternity, to make the flowers in the wallpaper sing and dance. Whatever, Armand could always find him, of that he had no doubt.

  In the early years, even before the blood exchange, Armand had pursued Daniel with the cunning of a harpy. There had been no place on earth that Daniel could hide.

  Horrifying yet tantalizing, their beginning in New Orleans, twelve years ago when Daniel had entered a crumbling old house in the Garden District and known at once that it was the vampire Lestat's lair.

  Ten days before he'd left San Francisco after his night-long interview with the vampire Louis, suffering from the final confirmation of the frightening tale he had been told. In a sudden embrace, Louis had demonstrated his supernatural power to drain Daniel almost to the point of death. The puncture wounds had disappeared, but the memory had left Daniel near to madness. Feverish, sometimes delirious, he had traveled no more than a few hundred miles a day. In cheap roadside motels, where he forced himself to take nourishment, he had duplicated the tapes of the interview one by one, sending the copies off to a New York publisher, so that a book was in the making before he ever stood before Lestat's gate.

  But that had been secondary, the publication, an event connected with the values of a dimming and distant world.

  He had to find the vampire Lestat. He had to unearth the immortal who had made Louis, the one who still survived somewhere in this damp, decadent, and beautiful old city, waiting perhaps for Daniel to awaken him, to bring him out into the century that had terrified him and driven him underground.

  It was what Louis wanted, surely. Why else had he given this mortal emissary so many clues as to where Lestat could be found? Yet some of the details were misleading. Was this ambivalence on Louis's part? It did not matter, finally. In the public records, Daniel had found the title to the property, and the street number, under the unmistakable name: Lestat de Lioncourt.

  The iron gate had not even been locked, and once he'd hacked his way through the overgrown garden, he had managed easily to break the rusted lock on the front door.

  Only a small pocket flash helped him as he entered. But the moon had been high, shining its full white light here and there 1 through the oak branches. He had seen clearly the rows and rows of books stacked to the ceiling, making up the very walls of every room. No human could or would have done such a mad and methodical thing. And then in the upstairs bedroom, he had knelt I down in the thick dust that covered the rotting carpet and found the gold pocket watch on which was written the name Lestat. Ah, that chilling moment, that moment when the pendulum swung away from ever increasing dementia to a new passion-he would track to the ends of the earth these pale and deadly beings whose existence he had only glimpsed.

  What had he wanted in those early weeks? Did he hope to possess the splendid secrets of life itself? Surely he would gain from this knowledge no purpose for an existence already fraught with disappointment. No, he wanted to be swept away from everything he had once loved. He longed for Louis's violent and sensuous world. Evil. He was no longer afraid.

  Maybe he was like the lost explorer who, pushing through the jungle, suddenly sees the wall of the fabled temple before him, its carvings overhung with spiderwebs and vines; no matter that he may not live to tell his story; he has beheld the truth with his own eyes.

  But if only he could open the door a little further, see the full magnificence. If they would only let him in Maybe he just wanted to live forever. Could anyone fault him for that?

  He had felt good and safe standing alone in the ruin of Lestat's old house, with the wild roses crawling at the broken window and the four-poster bed a skeleton, its hangings rotting away.

  Near them, near to their precious darkness, their lovely devouring gloom. How he had loved the hopelessness of it all, the moldering chairs with their bits of carving, shreds of velvet, and the slithering things eating the last of the carpet away.

  But the relic; ah, the relic was everything, the g
leaming gold watch that bore an immortal's name!

  After a while, he had opened the armoire; the black frock coats fell to pieces when he touched them. Withered and curling boots lay on the cedar boards.

  But Lestat, you are here. He had taken the tape recorder out, set it down, put in the first tape, and let the voice of Louis rise softly in the shadowy room. Hour by hour, the tapes played. Then just before dawn he had seen a figure in the hallway, and known that he was meant to see it. And he had seen the moon strike the boyish face, the auburn hair. The earth tilted, the darkness came down. The last word he uttered had been the name Armand.

  He should have died then. Had a whim kept him alive?

  He'd awakened in a dark, damp cellar. Water oozed from the walls. Groping in the blackness, he'd discovered a bricked-up window, a locked door plated with steel.

  And what was his comfort, that he had found yet another god of the secret pantheon-Armand, the oldest of the immortals whom Louis had described, Armand, the coven master of the nineteenth-century Theater of the Vampires in Paris, who had confided his terrible secret to Louis: of our origins nothing is known.

  For three days and nights, perhaps, Daniel had lain in this prison. Impossible to tell. He had been near to dying certainly, the stench of his own urine sickening him, the insects driving him mad. Yet his was a religious fervor. He had come ever nearer to the dark pulsing truths that Louis had revealed. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he dreamed of Louis, Louis talking to him in that dirty little room in San Francisco, there have always been things such as we are, always, Louis embracing him, his green eyes darkening suddenly as he let Daniel see the fang teeth.

  The fourth night, Daniel had awakened and known at once that someone or something was in the room. The door lay open to a passage. Water was flowing somewhere fast as if in a deep underground sewer. Slowly his eyes grew accustomed to the dirty greenish light from the doorway and then he saw the pale white-skinned figure standing against the wall.

  So immaculate the black suit, the starched white shirt-like the imitation of a twentieth-century man. And the auburn hair clipped short and the fingernails gleaming dully even in this semi-darkness. Like a corpse for the coffin-that sterile, that well prepared.

  The voice had been gentle with a trace of an accent. Not European; something sharper yet softer at the same time. Arabic or Greek perhaps, that kind of music. The words were slow and without anger.

  "Get out. Take your tapes with you. They are there beside you. I know of your book. No one will believe it. Now you will go and take these things. "

  Then you won't kill me. And you won't make me one of you either. Desperate, stupid thoughts, but he couldn't stop them. He had seen the power! No lies, no cunning here. And he'd felt himself crying, so weakened by fear and hunger, reduced to a child.

  "Make you one of us?" The accent thickened, giving a fine lilt to the words. "Why would I do that?" Eyes narrowing. "I would not do that to those whom I find to be despicable, whom I would see burning in hell as a matter of course. So why should I do it to an innocent fool-like you?"

  I want it. I want to live forever. Daniel had sat up, climbed to his feet slowly, struggling to see Armand more clearly. A dim bulb burned somewhere far down the hall. I want to be with Lquis and with you.

  Laughter, low, gentle. But contemptuous. "I see why he chose you for his confidant. You are naive and beautiful. But the beauty could be the only reason, you know. "

  Silence.

  "Your eyes are an unusual color, almost violet. And you are strangely defiant and beseeching in the same breath. "

  Make me immortal. Give it to me!

  Laughter again. Almost sad. Then silence, the water rushing fast in that distant someplace. The room had become visible, a filthy basement hole. And the figure more nearly mortal. There was even a faint pink tinge to the smooth skin.

  "It was all true, what he told you. But no one will ever believe it. And you will go mad in time from this knowledge. That's what always happens. But you're not mad yet. "

  No. This is real, it's all happening. You're Armand and we're talking together. And I'm not mad.

  "Yes. And I find it rather interesting . . . interesting that you know my name and that you're alive. I have never told my name to anyone who is alive. " Armand hesitated. "I don't want to kill you. Not just now. "

  Daniel had felt the first touch of fear. If you looked closely enough at these beings you could see what they were. It had been the same with Louis. No, they weren't living. They were ghastly imitations of the living. And this one, the gleaming manikin of a young boy!

  "I am going to let you leave here," Armand had said. So politely, softly. "I want to follow you, watch you, see where you go. As long as I find you interesting, I won't kill you. And of course, I may lose interest altogether and not bother to kill you.

  That's always possible. You have hope in that. And maybe with luck I'll lose track of you. I have my limitations, of course. You have the world to roam, and you can move by day. Go now. Start running. I want to see what you do, I want to know what you are. "

  Go now, start running!

  He'd been on the morning plane to Lisbon, clutching Lestat's gold watch in his hand. Yet two nights later in Madrid, he'd turned to find Armand seated on a city bus beside him no more than inches away. A week later in Vienna he'd looked out the window of a cafe to see Armand watching him from the street. In Berlin, Armand slipped into a taxi beside him, and sat there staring at him, until finally Daniel had leapt out in the thick of the traffic and run away.

  Within months, however, these shattering silent confrontations had given way to more vigorous assaults.
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