The Vampire Lestat

Page 65


Two years passed before I was strong enough to board a ship for Louisiana. And I was still badly crippled, still scarred. But I had to leave Europe, where no whisper had come to me of my lost Gabrielle or of the great and powerful Marius, who had surely rendered his judgment upon me.

I had to go home. And home was New Orleans, where the warmth was, where the flowers never stopped blooming, where I still owned, through my never ending supply of "coin of the realm," a dozen empty old mansions with rotting white columns and sagging porches round which I could roam.

And I spent the last years of the 1800s in complete seclusion in the old Garden District a block from the Lafayette Cemetery, in the finest of my houses, slumbering beneath towering oaks.

I read by candle or oil lamp all the books I could procure. I might as well have been Gabrielle trapped in her castle bedroom, save there was no furniture here. And the stacks of books reached to the ceiling in one room after another as I went on to the next. Now and then I mustered enough stamina to break into a library or an old bookstore for new volumes, but less and less I went out. I wrote off for periodicals. I hoarded candles and bottles and tin cans of oil.

I do not remember when it became the twentieth century, only that everything was uglier and darker, and the beauty I'd known in the old eighteenth-century days seemed more than ever some kind of fanciful idea. The bourgeois ran the world now upon dreary principles and with a distrust of the sensuality and the excess that the ancient regime had so loved.

But my vision and thoughts were getting ever more clouded. I no longer hunted humans. And a vampire cannot thrive without human blood, human death. I survived by luring the garden animals of the old neighborhood, the pampered dogs and cats. And when they couldn't be got easily, well, then there was always the vermin that I could call to me like the Pied Piper, fat long-tailed gray rats.

One night I forced myself to make the long trek through the quiet streets to a shabby little theater called the Happy Hour near the waterfront slums. I wanted to see the new silent moving pictures. I was wrapped in a greatcoat with a muffler hiding my gaunt face. I wore gloves to hide my skeletal hands. The sight of the daytime sky even in this imperfect film terrified me. But it seemed the dreary tones of black and white were perfect for a colorless age.

I did not think about other immortals. Yet now and then a vampire would appear-some orphaned fledgling who had stumbled on my lair, or a wanderer come in search of the legendary Lestat, begging for secrets, power. Horrid, these intrusions.

Even the timbre of the supernatural voice shattered my nerves, drove me into the farthest corner. Yet no matter how great the pain, I scanned each new mind for knowledge of my Gabrielle. I never discovered any. Nothing to do after that but ignore the poor human victims the fiend would bring in the vain hope of restoring me.

But these encounters were over soon enough. Frightened, aggrieved, shouting curses, the intruder would depart, leaving me in blessed silence.

I'd slip a little deeper away from things, just lying there in the dark.

I wasn't even reading much anymore. And when I did read, I read the Black Mask magazine. I read the stories of the ugly nihilistic men of the twentieth century -- the gray-clad crooks and the bank robbers and the detectives -- and I tried to remember things. But I was so weak. I was so tired.

And then early one evening, Armand came.

I thought at first it was a delusion. He was standing so still in the ruined parlor, looking younger than ever with his short auburn cap of twentieth-century hair and narrow little, suit of dark cloth.

It had to be an illusion, this figure coming into the parlor and looking down at me as I lay on my back on the floor by the broken French window reading Sam Spade by the light of the moon. Except for one thing. If I were going to conjure up an imaginary visitor, it certainly wouldn't have been Armand.

I glanced at him and some vague shame passed over me, that I was so ugly, that I was no more than a skeleton with bulging eyes lying there. Then I went back to reading about the Maltese Falcon, my lips moving to speak Sam Spade's lines.

When I looked up again, Armand was still there. It might have been the same night, or the next night, for all I knew.

He was talking about Louis. He had been for some time.

And I realized it was a lie he'd told me in Paris about Louis. Louis had been with Armand all these years. And Louis had been looking for me. Louis had been downtown in the old city looking for me near the town house where we had lived for so long. Louis had come finally to this very place and seen me through the windows.

I tried to imagine it. Louis alive. Louis here, so close, and I had not even known it.

I think I laughed a little. I couldn't keep it clear in my mind that Louis wasn't burnt up. But it was really wonderful that Louis still lived. It was wonderful that there existed still that handsome face, the poignant expression, that tender and faintly imploring voice. My beautiful Louis surviving, instead of dead and gone with Claudia and Nicki.

But then maybe he was dead. Why should I believe Armand? I went back to reading by the moonlight, wishing the garden out there hadn't gotten so high. A good thing for Armand to do, I told him, would be to go out there and pull down some of those vines, since Armand was so strong. The morning-glory vines and the wisteria were dripping off the upstairs porches and they blocked out the moonlight and then there were the old black oaks that had been here when there was nothing but swamp.

I don't think I actually suggested this to Armand.

And I only vaguely remember Armand letting me know that Louis was leaving him and he, Armand, did not want to go on. Hollow he sounded. Dry. Yet he gathered the moonlight to him as he stood there. And his voice still had its old resonance, its pure undertone of pain.

Poor Armand. And you told me Louis was dead. Go dig a room for yourself under the Lafayette Cemetery. It's just up the street.

No words spoken. No audible laughter, just the secret enjoyment of laughter in me. I remember one clear image of him stranded in the middle of the dirty empty room, looking at the walls of books on all sides. The rain had bled down from leaks in the roof and melded the books together like papier-mach�� bricks. And I noticed it distinctly when I saw him standing there against the backdrop of it. And I knew all the rooms in the house were walled in books like this. I hadn't thought about it until that moment, when he started to look at it. I hadn't been in the other rooms in years.

It seems he came back several times after that.

I didn't see him, but I would hear him moving through the garden outside, looking for me with his mind, like a beam of light.

Louis had gone away to the west.

One time, when I was lying in the rubble under the foundations, Armand came to the grating and peered in at me, and I did see him, and he hissed at me and called me ratcatcher.

You've gone mad -- you, the one who knew everything, the one who scoffed at us! You're mad and you feed on the rats. You know, in France in the old days what they called your kind, you country lords, they called you harecatchers, because you hunted the hare so you wouldn't starve. And now what are you in this house, a ragged haunt, a ratcatcher. You're mad as the ancient ones who cease to talk sense arid jabber at the wind! And yet you hunt the rats as you were born to do.

Again I laughed. I laughed and laughed. I remembered the wolves and I laughed.

"You always make me laugh," I told him. "I would have laughed at you under that cemetery in Paris, except it didn't seem the kind thing to do. And even when you cursed me and blamed me for all the stories about us, that was funny too. If you hadn't been about to throw me off the tower I would have laughed. You always make me laugh."

Delicious it was, the hatred between us, or so I thought. Such unfamiliar excitement, to have him there to ridicule and despise.

Yet suddenly the scene about me began to change. I wasn't lying in the rubble. I was walking through my house. And I wore not the filthy rags that had covered me for years, but a fine black tailcoat and a satin-lined cape. And the house, why, the house was beautiful, and all the books were in their proper place upon shelves. The parquet floor glistened in the light of the chandelier and there was music coming from everywhere, the sound of a Vienna waltz, the rich harmony of violins. With each step I felt powerful again, and light, marvelously light. I could have easily taken the stairs two by two. I could have flown out and up through the darkness, the cloak like black wings.

And then I was moving up in the darkness, and Armand and I stood together on the high roof. Radiant he was, in the same old-fashioned evening clothes, and we were looking over the jungle of dark singing treetops at the distant silver curve of the river and the low heavens where the stars burned through the pearl gray clouds.

I was weeping at the sheer sight of it, at the feel of the damp wind against my face. And Armand stood beside me, with his arm around me. And he was talking of forgiveness and sadness, of wisdom and things learned through pain. "I love you, my dark brother," he whispered.