The queen of the damned, p.9

The Queen Of The Damned, page 9

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 6

 

  He woke in a hotel room in Prague to find Armand standing over him, crazed, violent. "Talk to me now! I demand it. Wake up. I want you to walk with me, show me things in this city. Why did you come to this particular place?"

  Riding on a train through Switzerland, he looked up suddenly to see Armand directly opposite watching him over the upturned cover of his fur-lined coat. Armand snatched the book out of his hand and insisted that he explain what it was, why he read it, what did the picture on the cover mean?

  In Paris Armand pursued him nightly through the boulevards and the back streets, only now and then questioning him on the places he went, the things he did. In Venice, he'd looked out of his room at the Danieli, to see Armand staring from a window across the way.

  Then weeks passed without a visitation. Daniel vacillated between terror and strange expectation, doubting his very sanity again. But there was Armand waiting for him in the New York airport. And the following night in Boston, Armand was in the dining room of the Copley when Daniel came in. Daniel's dinner was already ordered. Please sit down. Did Daniel know that Interview with the Vampire was in the bookstores?

  "I must confess I enjoy this small measure of notoriety," Armand had said with exquisite politeness and a vicious smile. "What puzzles me is that you do not want notoriety! You did not list yourself as the 'author,' which means that you are either very modest or a coward. Either explanation would be very dull. "

  "I'm not hungry, let's get out of here," Daniel had answered weakly. Yet suddenly dish after dish was being placed on the table; everyone was staring.

  "I didn't know what you wanted," Armand confided, the smile becoming absolutely ecstatic. "So I ordered everything that they had. "

  "You think you can drive me crazy, don't you?" Daniel had snarled. "Well, you can't. Let me tell you. Every time I lay eyes on you, I realize that I didn't invent you, and that I'm sane!" And he had started eating, lustily, furiously-a little fish, a little beef, a little veal, a little sweetbreads, a little cheese, a little everything, put it all together, what did he care, and Armand had been so delighted, laughing and laughing like a schoolboy as he sat watching, with folded arms. It was the first time Daniel had ever heard that soft, silky laughter. So seductive. He got drunk as fast as he could.

  The meetings grew longer and longer. Conversations, sparring matches, and downright fights became the rule. Once Armand had dragged Daniel out of bed in New Orleans and shouted at him: "That telephone, I want you to dial Paris, I want to see if it can really talk to Paris. "

  "Goddamn it, do it yourself," Daniel had roared. "You're five hundred years old and you can't use a telephone? Read the directions. What are you, an immortal idiot? I will do no such thing!"

  How surprised Armand had looked.

  "All right, I'll call Paris for you. But you pay the bill. "

  "But of course," Armand had said innocently. He had drawn dozens of hundred-dollar bills out of his coat, sprinkling them on Daniel's bed.

  More and more they argued philosophy at these meetings. Pulling Daniel out of a theater in Rome, Armand had asked what did Daniel really think that death was? People who were still living knew things like that! Did Daniel know what Armand truly feared?

  As it was past midnight and Daniel was drunk and exhausted and had been sound asleep in the theater before Armand found him, he did not care.

  "I'll tell you what I fear," Armand had said, intense as any young student. "That it's chaos after you die, that it's a dream from which you can't wake. Imagine drifting half in and out of consciousness, trying vainly to remember who you are or what you were. Imagine straining forever for the lost clarity of the living. "

  It had frightened Daniel. Something about it rang true. Weren't there tales of mediums conversing with incoherent yet powerful presences? He didn't know. How in hell could he know? Maybe when you died there was flat out nothing. That terrified Armand, no effort expended to conceal the misery.

  "You don't think it terrifies me?" Daniel had asked, staring at the white-faced figure beside him. "How many years do I have? Can you tell just by looking at me? Tell me. "

  When Armand woke him up in Port-au-Prince, it was war he wanted to talk about. What did men in this century actually think of war? Did Daniel know that Armand had been a boy when this had begun for him? Seventeen years old, and in those times that was young, very young. Seventeen-year-old boys in the twentieth century were virtual monsters; they had beards, hair on their chests, and yet they were children. Not then. Yet children worked as if they were men.

  But let us not get sidetracked. The point was, Armand didn't know what men felt. He never had. Oh, of course he'd known the pleasures of the flesh, that was par for the course. Nobody then thought children were innocent of sensuous pleasures. But of true aggression he knew little. He killed because it was his nature as a vampire; and the blood was irresistible. But why did men find war irresistible? What was the desire to clash violently against the will of another with weapons? What was the physical need to destroy?

  At such times, Daniel did his best to answer: for some men it was the need to affirm one's own existence through the annihilation of another. Surely Armand knew these things.

  "Know? Know? What does that matter if you don't understand," Armand had asked, his accent unusually sharp in his agitation, "if you cannot proceed from one perception to another? Don't you see, this is what I cannot do. "

  When he found Daniel in Frankfurt, it was the nature of history, the impossibility of writing any coherent explanation of events that was not in itself a lie. The impossibility of truth being served by generalities, and the impossibility of learning proceeding without them.

  Now and then these meetings had not been entirely selfish. In a country inn in England Daniel woke to the sound of Armand's voice warning him to leave the building at once. A fire destroyed the inn in less than an hour.

  Another time he had been in jail in New York, picked up for drunkenness and vagrancy when Armand appeared to bail him out, looking all too human as he always did after he had fed, a young lawyer in a tweed coat and flannel pants, escorting Daniel to a room in the Carlyle, where he left him to sleep it off with a suitcase full of new clothes waiting, and a wallet full of money hidden in a pocket.

  Finally, after a year and a half of this madness, Daniel began to question Armand. What had it really been like in those days in Venice? Look at this film, set in the eighteenth century, tell me what is wrong.

  But Armand was remarkably unresponsive. "I cannot tell you those things because I have no experience of them. You see, I have so little ability to synthesize knowledge; I deal in the immediate with a cool intensity. What was it like in Paris? Ask me if it rained on the night of Saturday, June 5, 1793. Perhaps I could tell you I that. "

  ! Yet at other moments, he spoke in rapid bursts of the things around him, of the eerie garish cleanliness of this era, of the horrid acceleration of change.

  "Behold, earthshaking inventions which are useless or obsolete within the same century-the steamboat, the railroads; yet do you know what these meant after six thousand years of galley slaves and men on horseback? And now the dance hall girl buys a chemical to kill the seed of her lovers, and lives to be seventy-five in a room full of gadgets which cool the air and veritably eat the dust. And yet for all the costume movies and the paperback history thrown at you in every drugstore, the public has no accurate memory of anything; every social problem is observed in relation to 'norms' which in fact never existed, people fancy themselves 'deprived' of luxuries and peace and quiet which in fact were never common to any people anywhere at all. " "But the Venice of your time, tell me. . . . " "What? That it was dirty? That it was beautiful? That people went about in rags with rotting teeth and stinking breath and laughed at public executions? You want to know the key difference? There is a horrifying loneliness at work in this time. No, listen to me. We lived six and seven to a room in those days, when I was still among t
he living. The city streets were seas of humanity; and now in these high buildings dim-witted souls hover in luxurious privacy, gazing through the television window at a faraway world of kissing and touching. It is bound to produce some great fund of common knowledge, some new level of human awareness, a curious skepticism, to be so alone. "

  Daniel found himself fascinated, sometimes trying to write down the things Armand told him. Yet Armand continued to frighten him. Daniel was ever on the move.

  He wasn't quite sure how long it had gone on before he stopped running, though the night itself was quite impossible to forget.

  Maybe four years had passed since the game had begun. Daniel had spent a long quiet summer in southern Italy during which he had not seen his demon familiar even once.

  In a cheap hotel only a half block from the ruins of ancient Pompeii, he had spent his hours reading, writing, trying to define what his glimpse of the supernatural had done to him, and how he must learn again to want, to envision, to dream. Immortality on this earth was indeed possible. This he knew without question, but what did it matter if immortality was not Daniel's to have?

  By day he walked the broken streets of the excavated Roman city. And when the moon was full he wandered there, alone, by night as well. It seemed sanity had come back to him. And life might soon come back too. Green leaves smelled fresh when he crushed them in his fingers. He looked up at the stars and did not feel resentful so much as sad.

  Yet at other times, he burned for Armand as if for an elixir without which he could not go on. The dark energy that had fired him for four years was now missing. He dreamed Armand was near him; he awoke weeping stupidly. Then the morning would come and he would be sad but calm.

  Then Armand had returned.

  It was late, perhaps ten o'clock in the evening, and the sky, as it is so often in southern Italy, was a brilliant dark blue overhead. Daniel had been walking alone down the long road that leads from Pompeii proper to the Villa of the Mysteries, hoping no guards would come to drive him away.

  As soon as he'd reached the ancient house, a stillness had descended. No guards here. No one living. Only the sudden silent appearance of Armand before the entrance. Armand again.

  He'd come silently out of the shadows into the moonlight, a young boy in dirty jeans and worn denim jacket, and he had slipped his arm around Daniel and gently kissed Daniel's face. Such warm skin, full of the fresh blood of the kill. Daniel fancied he could smell it, the perfume of the living clinging to Armand still.

  "You want to come into this house?" Armand had whispered. No locks ever kept Armand from anything. Daniel had been trembling, on the edge of tears. And why was that? So glad to see him, touch him, ah, damn him!

  They had entered the dark, low-ceilinged rooms, the press of Armand's arm against Daniel's back oddly comforting. Ah, yes, this intimacy, because that's what it is, isn't it? You, my secret . . .

  Secret lover.

  Yes.

  Then the realization had come to Daniel as they stood together in the ruined dining room with its famous murals of ritual flagellation barely visible in the dark: He isn't going to kill me after all. He isn't going to do it. Of course he won't make me what he is, but he isn't going to kill me. The dance will not end like that.

  "But how could you not know such a thing," Armand had said, reading his thoughts. "I love you. If I hadn't grown to love you, I would have killed you before now, of course. "

  The moonlight poured through the wooden lattices. The lush figures of the murals came to life against their red backdrop, the color of dried blood.

  Daniel stared hard at the creature before him, this thing that looked human and sounded human but was not. There was a horrid shift in his consciousness; he saw this being like a great insect, a monstrous evil predator who had devoured a million human lives. And yet he loved this thing. He loved its smooth white skin, its great dark brown eyes. He loved it not because it looked like a gentle, thoughtful young man, but because it was ghastly and awful and loathsome, and beautiful all at the same time. He loved it the way people love evil, because it thrills them to the core of their souls. Imagine, killing like that, just taking life any time you want it, just doing it, sinking your teeth into another and taking all that that person can possibly give.

  Look at the garments he wore. Blue cotton shirt, brass-buttoned denim jacket. Where had he gotten them? Off a victim, yes, like taking out his knife and skinning the kill while it was still warm? No wonder they reeked of salt and blood, though none was visible. And the hair trimmed just as if it weren't going to grow out within twenty-four hours to its regular shoulder length. This is evil. This is illusion. This is what I want to be, which is why I cannot stand to look at him.

  Armand's lips had moved in a soft, slightly concealed smile. And then his eyes had misted and closed. He had bent close to Daniel, pressed his lips to Daniel's neck.

  And once again, as he had in a little room on Divisadero Street in San Francisco with the vampire Louis, Daniel felt the sharp teeth pierce the surface of his skin. Sudden pain and throbbing warmth. "Are you killing me finally?" He grew drowsy, on fire, filled with love. "Do it, yes. "

  But Armand had taken only a few droplets. He'd released Daniel and pressed gently on his shoulders, forcing Daniel down to his knees. Daniel had looked up to see the blood flowing from Armand's wrist. Great electric shocks had passed through Daniel at the taste of that blood. It had seemed in a flash that the city of Pompeii was full of a whispering, a crying, some vague and pulsing imprint of long-ago suffering and death. Thousands perishing in smoke and ash. Thousands dying together. Together. Daniel had clung to Armand. But the blood was gone. Only a taste-no more.

  "You are mine, beautiful boy," Armand had said.

  The following morning when he awoke in bed at the Excelsior in Rome, Daniel knew that he would not run away from Armand ever again. Less than an hour after sunset, Armand came to him. They would go to London now, the car was waiting to take them to the plane. But there was time enough, wasn't there, for another embrace, another small exchange of blood. "Here from my throat," Armand had whispered, cradling Daniel's head in his hand. A fine soundless throbbing. The light of the lamps expanded, brightened, obliterated the room.

  Lovers. Yes, it had become an ecstatic and engulfing affair.

  "You are my teacher," Armand told him. "You will tell me everything about this century. I am learning secrets already that have eluded me since the beginning. You'll sleep when the sun rises, if you wish, but the nights are mine. "

  Into the very midst of life they plunged. At pretense Armand was a genius, and killing early on any given evening, he passed for human everywhere that they went. His skin was burning hot in those early hours, his face full of passionate curiosity, his embraces feverish and quick.

  It would have taken another immortal to keep up with him. Daniel nodded off at symphonies and operas or during the hundreds upon hundreds of films that Armand dragged him to see. Then there were the endless parties, the cluttered noisy gatherings from Chelsea to Mayfair where Armand argued politics and philosophy with students, or women of fashion, or anyone who would give him the slightest chance. His eyes grew moist with excitement, his voice lost its soft preternatural resonance and took on the hard human accent of the other young men in the room.

  Clothes of all kinds fascinated him, not for their beauty but for what he thought they meant. He wore jeans and sweatshirts like Daniel; he wore cable-knit sweaters and workmen's brogans, leather windbreakers, and mirrored sunglasses pushed up on his head. He wore tailored suits, and dinner jackets, and white tie and tails when the fancy suited him; his hair was cut short one night so he looked like any young man down from Cambridge, and left curly and long, an angel's mane, the next.

  It seemed that he and Daniel were always walking up four unlighted flights of stairs to visit some painter, sculptor, or photographer, or to see some special never-released yet revolutionary film. They spent hours in the cold-water
flats of dark-eyed young women who played rock music and made herbal tea which Armand never drank.

  Men and women fell in love with Armand, of course, "so innocent, so passionate, so brilliant!" You don't say. In fact, Armand's power to seduce was almost beyond his control. And it was Daniel who must bed these unfortunates, if Armand could possibly arrange it, while he watched from a chair nearby, a dark-eyed Cupid with a tender approving smile. Hot, nerve-searing, this witnessed passion, Daniel working the other body with ever greater abandon, aroused by the dual purpose of every intimate gesture. Yet he lay empty afterwards, staring at Armand, resentful, cold.

  In New York they went tearing to museum openings, cafes, bars, adopted a young dancer, paying all his bills through school. They sat on the stoops in SoHo and Greenwich Village whiling the hours away with anybody who would stop to join them. They went to night classes in literature, philosophy, art history, and politics. They studied biology, bought microscopes, collected specimens. They studied books on astronomy and mounted giant telescopes on the roofs of the buildings in which they lived for a few days or a month at most. They went to boxing matches, rock concerts, Broadway shows.

  Technological inventions began to obsess Armand, one after the other. First it was kitchen blenders, in which he made frightful concoctions mostly based on the colors of the ingredients; then microwave ovens, in which he cooked roaches and rats. Garbage disposers enchanted him; he fed them paper towels and whole packages of cigarettes. Then it was telephones. He called long distance all over the planet, speaking for hours with "mortals" in Australia or India. Finally television caught him up utterly, so that the flat was full of blaring speakers and flickering screens.

  Anything with blue skies enthralled him. Then he must watch news programs, prime time series, documentaries, and finally every film, regardless of merit, ever taped.

  At last particular movies struck his fancy. Over and over he watched Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, fascinated by Rutger Hauer, the powerfully built actor who, as the leader of the rebel androids, confronts his human maker, kisses him, and then crushes his skull. It would bring a slow and almost impish laugh from Armand, the bones cracking, the look in Hauer's ice-cold blue eye.

  "That's your friend, Lestat, there," Armand whispered once to Daniel. "Lestat would have the . . . how do you say? . . . guts? . . . to do that!"

  After Blade Runner it was the idiotic and hilarious Time Bandits, a British comedy in which five dwarfs steal a "Map of Creation" so they can travel through the holes in Time. Into one century after another they tumble, thieving and brawling, along with a little boy companion, until they all wind up in the devil's lair.

  Then one scene in particular became Armand's favorite: the dwarfs on a broken-down stage in Castelleone singing "Me and My Shadow" for Napoleon really sent Armand out of his mind. He lost all supernatural composure and became utterly human, laughing till the tears rose in his eyes.

  Daniel had to admit there was a horrible charm to it, the "Me and My Shadow" number, with the dwarfs stumbling, fighting with each other, finally lousing up the whole proceedings, and the dazed eighteenth-century musicians in the pit not knowing what to make of the twentieth-century song. Napoleon was stupefied, then delighted! A stroke of comic genius, the entire scene. But how many times could a mortal watch it? For Armand there seemed no end.

  Yet within six months he had dropped the movies for video cameras and must make his own films. All over New York he dragged Daniel, as he interviewed people on the nighttime streets. Armand had reels of himself reciting poetry in Italian or Latin, or merely staring with his arms folded, a gleaming white presence slipping in and out of focus in eternally dim bronze light.

  Then somewhere, somehow, in a place unbeknownst to Daniel, Armand made a long tape of himself lying in the coffin during his daytime deathlike sleep. Daniel found this impossible to look at. Armand sat before the slow-moving film for hours, watching his own hair, cut at sunrise, slowly growing against the satin as he lay motionless with closed eyes.

  Next it was computers. He was filling disk after disk with his secret writings. He rented additional apartments in Manhattan to house his word processors and video game machines.

  Finally he turned to planes.

  Daniel had always been a compulsive traveler, he had fled Armand to cities worldwide, and certainly he and Armand had taken planes together. Nothing new in that. But now it was a concentrated exploration; they must spend the entire night in the air. Flying to Boston, then Washington, then to Chicago, then back to New York City, was not unusual. Armand observed everything, passengers, stewardesses; he spoke with the pilots; he lay back in the deep first-class seats listening to the engines roar. Double-decker jets particularly enchanted him. He must try longer, more daring adventures: all the way to Port-au-Prince or San Francisco, or Rome, or Madrid or Lisbon, it didn't matter, as long as Armand was safely landed by dawn.

  Armand virtually disappeared at dawn. Daniel was never to know where Armand actually slept. But then Daniel was dead on his feet by daybreak anyway. Daniel didn't see high noon for five years.

  Often Armand had been in the room some time before Daniel awakened. The coffee would be perking, the music going- Vivaldi or honky-tonk piano, as Armand loved both equally- and Armand would be pacing, ready for Daniel to get up.

  "Come, lover, we're going to the ballet tonight. I want to see Baryshnikov. And after that, down to the Village. You remember that jazz band I loved last summer, well, they've come back. Come on, I'm hungry, my beloved. We must go. "

  And if Daniel was sluggish, Armand would push him into the shower, soap him all over, rinse him off, drag him out, dry him thoroughly, then shave his face as lovingly as an old-fashioned barber, and finally dress him after carefully selecting from Daniel's wardrobe of dirty and neglected clothes.

  Daniel loved the feel of the hard gleaming white hands moving over his naked flesh, rather like satin gloves. And the brown eyes that seemed to draw Daniel out of himself; ah, the delicious disorientation, the certainty that he was being carried downwards, out of all things physical, and finally the hands closing on his throat gently, and the teeth breaking through the skin.

  He closed his eyes, his body heating slowly, only to burn truly when Armand's blood touched his lips. He heard the distant sighs again, the crying, was it of lost souls? It seemed a great luminous continuity was there, as if all his dreams were suddenly connected and vitally important, yet it was all slipping away. . . .

  Once he'd reached out, held Armand with all his strength, and tried to gash the skin of his throat. Armand had been so patient, making the tear for him, and letting him close his mouth on it for the longest time-yes, this-then guiding him gently away.

  Daniel was past all decision. Daniel lived only in two alternating states: misery and ecstasy, united by love. He never knew when he'd be given the blood. He never knew if things looked different because of it-the carnations staring at him from their vases, skyscrapers hideously visible like plants sprung up from steel seeds overnight-or because he was just going out of his mind.

  Then had come the night when Armand said he was ready to enter this century in earnest, he understood enough about it now. He wanted "incalculable" wealth. He wanted a vast dwelling full of all those things he'd come to value. And yachts, planes, cars- millions of dollars. He wanted to buy Daniel everything that Daniel might ever desire.

  "What do you mean, millions!" Daniel had scoffed. "You throw your clothes away after you wear them, you rent apartments and forget where they are. Do you know what a zip code is, or a tax bracket? I'm the one who buys all the goddamned airline tickets. Millions. How are we going to get millions! Steal another Maserati and be done with it, for God's sakes!"

  "Daniel, you are a gift to me from Louis," Armand had said tenderly. "What would I do without you? You misunderstand everything. " His eyes were large, childlike. "I want to be in the vital center of things the way I was years ago in Paris in the Theater of the
Vampires. Surely you remember. I want to be a canker in the very eye of the world. "

  Daniel had been dazzled by the speed with which things happened.

  It had begun with a treasure find in the waters off Jamaica, Armand chartering a boat to show Daniel where salvage operations must begin. Within days a sunken Spanish galleon loaded with bullion and jewels had been discovered. Next it was an archaeological find of priceless Olmec figurines. Two more sunken ships were pinpointed in rapid succession. A cheap piece of South American property yielded a long forgotten emerald mine.

  They purchased a mansion in Florida, yachts, speedboats, a small but exquisitely appointed jet plane. And now they must be outfitted like princes for all occasions. Armand himself supervised the measurements for Daniel's custom-made shirts, suits, shoes. He chose the fabrics for an endless parade of sports coats, pants, robes, silk foulards. Of course Daniel must have for colder climes mink-lined raincoats, and dinner jackets for Monte Carlo, and jeweled cuff links, and even a long black suede cloak, which Daniel with his "twentieth-century height" could carry off quite well.

  At sunset when Daniel awoke, his clothes had already been laid out for him. Heaven help him if he were to change a single item, from the linen handkerchief to the black silk socks. Supper awaited in the immense dining room with its windows open to the pool. Armand was already at his desk in the adjoining study. There was work to do: maps to consult, more wealth to be acquired.

  "But how do you do it!" Daniel had demanded, as he watched Armand making notes, writing directions for new acquisitions.

  "If you can read the minds of men, you can have anything that you want," Armand had said patiently. Ah, that soft reasonable voice, that open and almost trusting boyish face, the auburn hair always slipping into the eye a bit carelessly, the body so suggestive of human serenity, of physical ease.

  "Give me what I want," Daniel had demanded.

  "I'm giving you everything you could ever ask for. "

  "Yes, but not what I have asked for, not what I want!"

  "Be alive, Daniel. " A low whisper, like a kiss. "Let me tell you from my heart that life is better than death. "

  "I don't want to be alive, Armand, I want to live forever, and then I will tell you whether life is better than death. "

  The fact was, the riches were maddening him, making him feel his mortality more keenly than ever before. Sailing the warm Gulf Stream with Armand under a clear night sky, sprinkled with countless stars, he was desperate to possess all of this forever. With hatred and love he watched Armand effortlessly steering the vessel. Would Armand really let him die?

  The game of acquisition continued.

  Picassos, Degas, Van Goghs, these were but a few of the stolen paintings Armand recovered without explanation and handed over to Daniel for resales or rewards. Of course the recent owners would not dare to come forward, if in fact they had survived Armand's silent nocturnal visit to the sanctums where these stolen treasures had been displayed. Sometimes no clear title to the work in question existed. At auction, they brought millions. But even this was not enough.

  Pearls, rubies, emeralds, diamond tiaras, these he brought to Daniel. "Never mind, they were stolen, no one will claim them. " And from the savage narcotics traders off the Miami coast, Armand stole anything and everything, guns, suitcases full of money, even their boats.

  Daniel stared at the piles and piles of green bills, as the secretaries counted them and wrapped them for coded accounts in European banks.
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