Memnoch the Devil (The Vampire Chronicles #5)

Chapter 7

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6

HOW AND when and what to tell Dora? That was the question. The journey we made to New Orleans early the next night.

There was no sign of Louis at the town house in the Rue Royale, but this was by no means unusual. Louis took to wandering more and more often, and he had been seen once by David in the company of Armand in Paris. The town house was spotless, a dream set out of time, full of my favorite Louis XV furnishings, luscious wallpaper, and the finest carpets to be found.

David, of course, was familiar with the place, though he hadn't seen it in over a year. One of the many picture-perfect bedrooms, drenched in saffron silks and outrageous Turkish tables and screens, still held the coffin in which he had slept during his brief and first Stay here as one of the Undead.

Of course, this coffin was heavily disguised. He had insisted that it be the real thing¡ªas fledglings almost invariably do, unless they are nomads by nature¡ªbut it was cleverly enough concealed within a heavy bronze chest, which Louis had chosen for it afterwards¡ªa great hulking rectangular object as defeating as a square piano, with no perceivable opening in it, though of course, if you knew the right places to touch, the lid rose at once.

I had made my resting place as I had promised myself, when restoring this house in which Claudia and Louis and I had once lived.  Not in my old bedroom, which now housed only the de rigueur heavy four-poster and dressing table, but in the attic, beneath the eave, I had made a cell of metal and marble.

In sum, we had a comfortable base immediately, and I was frankly relieved that Louis was not there to tell me he didn't believe me when I described the things that I'd seen. His rooms were in order; new books had been added. There was a vivid and arresting new painting by Matisse. Otherwise, things were the same.

As soon as we had settled in, checked all security, as immortals always do, with a breezy scan and a deep resistance to having to do anything mortals have to do, we decided that I should go uptown and try to catch a glimpse of Dora alone.

I had seen or heard nothing of the Stalker, though not much time had passed, of course, and I had seen nothing of The Ordinary Man.

We agreed that either might appear at any moment.

Nevertheless, I broke from the company of David, leaving him to explore the city as he wished.

Before leaving the Quarter for uptown, I called upon Mojo, my dog. If you are unacquainted with Mojo from The Tale of the Body Thief, let me tell you only what you need to know¡ªthat he is a giant German shepherd, is kept for me by a gracious mortal woman in a building of which I retain ownership, and that Mojo loves me, which I find irresistible. He is a dog, no more, or less, except that he is immense in size, with an extremely thick coat, and I cannot stay long away from him.

I spent an hour or two with him, wrestling, rolling around with him on the ground in the back garden, and talking to him about everything that happened, then debated as to whether I should take him with me uptown. His dark, long face, wolflike and seemingly evil, was full of the usual gentleness and forbearance. God, why didn't you make us all dogs?

Actually, Mojo created a sense of safety in me. If the Devil came and I had Mojo…. But that was the most absurd idea! I'd fend off Hell on account of a flesh-and-Wood dog. Well, humans have believed stranger things, I suppose.

Just before I'd left David, I'd asked, "What do you think is happening, I mean with this Stalker and this Ordinary Man?" And David had answered without hesitation, "You're imagining both of them, you punish yourself relentlessly; it's the only way you know how to go on having fun."

I should have been insulted. But I wasn't.

Dora was real.

Finally, I decided I had to take leave of Mojo. I was going to spy upon Dora. And had to be fleet of foot. I kissed Mojo and left him.  Later we would walk in our favorite wastelands beneath the River Bridge, amid the grass and the garbage, and be together. That I would have for as long as nature let me have it. For the moment it could wait.

Back to Dora.

Of course Dora didn't know Roger was dead. There was no way that she could know, unless¡ªperhaps¡ªRoger had appeared to her.

But I hadn't gathered from Roger that such was even possible.

Appearing to me had apparently consumed all his energy. Indeed, I thought he had been far too protective of Dora to have haunted her in any practical or deliberate way.

But what did I know about ghosts? Except for a few highly mechanical and indifferent apparitions, I'd never spoken to a ghost until I'd spoken to Roger.

And now I would carry with me forever the indelible impression of his love for Dora, and his peculiar mixture of conscience and supreme self-confidence. In retrospect, even his visit seemed to me to exhibit extraordinary self-assurance. That he could haunt, that was not beyond probability since the world is filled with impressive and credible ghost stories. But that he could detain me in conversation¡ªthat he could make me his confidant¡ªthat had indeed involved an enormous and almost dazzling pride, I walked uptown in human fashion, breathing the river air, and glad to be back with my black-barked oaks, and the sprawling, dimly lighted houses of New Orleans, the intrusions everywhere of grass and vine and flower; home.

Too soon, I reached the old brick convent building on Napoleon Avenue where Dora was lodged. Napoleon Avenue itself is a rather beautiful street even for New Orleans; it has an extraordinarily wide median where once streetcars used to run. Now there are generous shade trees planted on it, just as there were all around the convent that faced it.

It was the leafy depth of Victorian uptown.

I drew close to the building slowly, eager to imprint its details on my mind. How I'd changed since last I'd spied on Dora.

Second Empire was the style of the convent, due to a mansard roof which covered the central portion of the building and its long wings. Old sjates had, here and there, fallen away from the sloping mansard, which was concave on the central part and quite unusual on account of that fact. The brickwork itself, die rounded arched windows, the four corner towers of the building, the two-storey

plantation-house porch on the front of the central building¡ªwith its white columns and black iron railings¡ªall of this was vaguely New Orleans Italianate, and gracefully proportioned. Old copper gutters clung to the base of the roofs. There were no shutters, but surely there had once been.

The windows were numerous, high, rounded at the tops on the second and third stories, trimmed in faded white.

A great sparse garden covered the front of the building as it looked out over the avenue, and of course I knew of the immense courtyard inside. The entire city block was dominated by this little universe in which nuns and orphans, young girls of all ages, had once dwelt. Great oaks sprawled over the sidewalks. A row of truly ancient crape myrtles lined the side street to the south.

Walking round the building, I surveyed the high stained-glass windows of the two-storey chapel, noted the flickering of a light inside, as though the Blessed Sacrament were present¡ªa fact that I doubted¡ªand then coming to the rear I went over the wall.

The building did have some locked doors, but not very many. It was wrapped in silence, and in the mild but nevertheless real winter of New Orleans, it was chillier within than without.

I entered the lower corridor cautiously, and at once found myself loving the proportions of the place, the loftiness and the breadth of the corridors, the intense smell of the recently bared brick walls, and the good wood scent of the bare yellow pine floors. It was rough, all this, the kind of rough which is fashionable among artists in big cities who live in old warehouses, or call their immense apartments lofts.

But this was no warehouse. This had been a habitation and something of a hallowed one. I could feel it at once. I walked slowly down the long corridor towards the northeast stairs. Above to my right lived Dora in the northeast tower, so to speak, of the building, and her living quarters did not begin until the third floor.

I sensed no one in the building. No scent nor sound of Dora. I heard the rats, the insects, something a little larger than a rat, possibly a raccoon feeding away somewhere up in an attic, and then I felt for die elementals, as David called them¡ªthose things which I prefer to call spirits, or poltergeists.

I stood still, eyes closed. I listened. It seemed the silence gave back dim emanations of personalities, but they were far too weak and too mingled to touch my heart or spark a thought in me. Yes, ghosts here, and here … but I sensed no spiritual turbulence, no unresolved tragedy or hanging injustice. On the contrary, there seemed a spiritual stillness and firmness.

The building was whole and itself.

I think the building liked having been stripped to its nineteenth-century essentials; even the naked beamed ceilings, though never built for exposure, were nevertheless beautiful without plaster, their wood dark and heavy and level because all the carpentry of those years had been done with such care.

The stairway was original. I had walked up a thousand such built in New Orleans. This building had at least five. I knew the gentle curve to each tread, worn down by the feet of children, the silky feel of the banister which had been waxed countless times for a century. I knew die landing which cut directly against an exterior window, ignoring the shape or existence of the window, and simply bisecting the light which came from the street outside.

When I reached the second floor, I realized I was at the doorway of the chapel. It had not seemed such a large space from outside.

It was in fact as large as many a church I'd seen in my years. Some twenty or so pews were in neat rows on either side of its main aisle.  The plastered ceiling was coved and crowned with fancy molding.

Old medallions still held firmly in the plaster from which, no doubt, gasoliers had once hung. The stained-glass windows, though without human figures, were nevertheless very well executed, as the streetlamp showed to good advantage. And the names of the patrons were beautifully lettered on the lower panes of each window. There was no sanctuary light, only a bank of candles before a plaster Regina Maria, that is, a Virgin wearing an ornate crown.

The place must have been much as the Sisters had left it when the building was sold. Even the holy water fount was there, though it had no giant angel to hold it. It was only a simple marble basin on a stand.

I passed beneath a choir loft as I entered, somewhat amazed at the purity and symmetry of the entire design. What was it like, living in a building with your own chapel? Two hundred years ago I had knelt more than once in my father's chapel. But that had been no more than a tiny stone room in our castle, and this vast place, with its old oscillating electric fans for breeze in summer, seemed no less authentic than my father's little chapel had been.

This was more the chapel of royalty, and the entire convent seemed suddenly a palazzo¡ªrather than an institutional building. I imagined myself living here, not as Dora would have approved, but in splendour, with miles of polished floors before me as I made my way each night into this great sanctuary to say my prayers.

I liked this place. It flamed into my mind. Buy a convent, make it your palace, live within its safety and grandeur in some forgotten spot of a modern city! I felt covetous, or rather, my respect for Dora deepened.

Countless Europeans still lived in such buildings, multi-storeyed, wings facing each other over expensive private courts. Paris had its share of such mansions, surely. But in America, it presented a lovely picture, the idea of living here in such luxury.

But that had not been Dora's dream. Dora wanted to train her women here, her female preachers who would declare the Word of God with the fire of St. Francis or Bonaventure.

Well, if her faith were suddenly swept away by Roger's death, she could live here in splendour.

And what power had I to affect Dora's dream? Whose wishes would be fulfilled if I somehow positioned her so that she accepted her enormous wealth and made herself a princess in this palace? One happy human being saved from the misery which religion can so effortlessly generate?

It wasn't an altogether worthless idea. Just typical of me. To think in terms of Heaven on Earth, freshly painted in pastel hues, floored in fine stone, and centrally heated.

Awful, Lestat.

Who was I to think such things? Why, we could live here like Beauty and the Beast, Dora and I. I laughed out loud. A shiver ran down my back, but I didn't hear the footsteps.

I was suddenly quite alone. I listened. I bristled.

"Don't you dare come near me now," I whispered to the Stalker who was not there, for all I knew. "I'm in a chapel. I am safe! Safe as if I were in the cathedral."

I wondered if the Stalker was laughing at me. Lestat, you imagined it all.

Never mind. Walk up the marble aisle towards the Communion Rail. Yes, there was still a Communion Rail. Look at what is before you, and don't think just now.

Roger's urgent voice was at the ear of my memory. But I loved Dora already, didn't I? I was here. I would do something. I was merely taking my time!

My footsteps echoed throughout the chapel. I let it happen. The Stations of the Cross, small, in deep relief in plaster, were still fixed between the stained-glass windows, making the usual circuit of the church, and the altar was gone from its deep arched niche¡ªand there stood instead a giant Crucified Christ.

Crucifixes always fascinate me. There are numerous ways in which various details can be rendered, and the art of the Crucified Christ alone fills much of the world's museums, and those cathedrals and basilicas that have become museums. But this, even for me, was a rather impressive one. It was huge, old, very realistic in the style of the late nineteenth century, Christ's scant loincloth coiling in the wind, his face hollow-cheeked and profoundly sorrowful.

Surely it was one of Roger's finds. It was too big for the altar niche, for one thing, and of impressive workmanship, whereas the scattered plaster saints who remained on their pedestals¡ªthe predictable and pretty St. Therese of Lisieux in her Carmelite robes, with her cross and her bouquet of roses; St. Joseph with his lily; and even the Maria Regina with her crown at her shrine beside the altar¡ªwere all more or less routine. They were life-size; they were carefully painted; they were not fine works of art.

The Crucified Christ pushed one to some sort of resolution.

Either "I loathe Christianity in all its bloodiness," or some more painful feeling, perhaps for a time in youth when one had imagined one's hands systematically pierced with those particular nails. Lent.

Meditations. The Church. The Priest's voice entoning the words. Our Lord.

I felt both the loathing and the pain. Hovering near in the shadows, watching outside lights flicker and flare in the stained glass, I felt boyhood memories near me, or maybe I tolerated them. Then I thought of Roger's love for his daughter, and the memories were nothing, and the love was everything. I went up the steps that had once led to the altar and tabernacle. I reached up and touched the foot of the crucified figure. Old wood. Shimmer of hymns, faint and secretive. I looked up into the race and saw not a countenance twisted in agony, but wise and still, perhaps in the final seconds before death.

A loud echoing noise sounded somewhere in the building. I stepped back almost too fast, and lost my footing stupidly and found myself facing the church. Someone moved in the building, someone walking at a moderate pace on the lower floor and towards the same stairway up which I'd come to the chapel door.

I moved swiftly to the entrance of the vestibule. I could hear no voice and detect no scent! No scent. My heart sank. "I won't take any more of this!" I whispered. I was already shaking. But some mortal scents don't come that easily; there is the breeze to consider, or rather the draughts, which in this place were considerable.

The figure was mounting the stairs.

I leant back behind the chapel door so I might see it turn at the landing. And if it was Dora I meant to hide at once.

But it wasn't Dora, and it came walking so fast right up the stairs, lightly and briskly towards me, that I realized who it was as he came to a stop in front of me.

The Ordinary Man.

I stood stock-still, staring at him. Not quite my height; not quite my build; regular in every respect as I remembered. Scentless? No, but the scent was not right. It was mingled with blood and sweat and salt and I could hear a faint heartbeat… .

"Don't torment yourself," he said, in a very civil and diplomatic voice. "I'm debating. Should I make my offer now, or before you get mixed up with Dora? I'm not sure what's best."

He was four feet away at the moment.

I slouched arrogantly against the doorframe of the vestibule and folded my arms. The whole flickering chapel was behind me. Did I look frightened? Was I frightened? Was I about to perish of fright?

"Are you going to tell me who you are," I asked, "and what you want, or am I supposed to ask questions and draw this out of you?"

"You know who I am," he said in the same reticent, simple manner.

Something struck me suddenly. What was outstanding were the proportions of his figure and his face. The regularity itself. He was rather a generic man.

He smiled. "Exactly. It's the form I prefer in every age and place, because it doesn't attract very much attention." Again the voice was good-natured. "Going about with black wings and goat's feet, you know¡ªit overwhelms mortals instantly."

"I want you to get the hell out of here before Dora comes!" I said.

I was suddenly sputtering crazy.

He turned, slapped his thigh, and laughed.

"You are a brat, Lestat," he said in his simple, unimposing voice.

"Your cohorts named you properly. You can't give me orders."

"I don't know why not. What if I throw you out?"

"Would you like to try? Shall I take my other form? Shall I let my wings…." I heard the chatter of voices, and my vision was clouding.

"No!" I shouted.

"All right."

The transformation came to a halt. The dust settled. I felt my heart knock against my chest like it wanted to get out.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," he said. "I'll let you handle things with Dora, since you seem obsessed with it. And I won't be able to distract you from it. And then when you've finished with all this, this girl and her dreams and such, we can talk together, you and I."

"About what?"

"Your soul, what else?"

"I'm ready to go to Hell," I said, lying through my teeth. "But I don't believe you're what you claim to be. You're something, something like me for which there aren't scientific explanations, but behind it all, there's a cheap little core of facts that will eventually lay bare everything, even the texture of each black feather of your wings."

He frowned slightly, but he wasn't angry.

"We won't continue at this pace," he said. "I assure you. But for now, I'll let you think about Dora. Dora's on her way home. Her car has just pulled into the courtyard. I'm going, with regular footsteps, the way I came. And I give you one piece of advice, for both of us."

"Which is what?" I demanded.

He turned his back on me and started down the stairway, as quick and spry as he had come up. He didn't turn around till he reached the landing. I had already caught Dora's scent.

"What advice?" I demanded.

"That you leave Dora alone completely. Turn her affairs over to worldly lawyers. Get away from this place. We have more important things to discuss. This is all so distracting."

Then he was gone with a clatter down the lower stairs, and presumably out a side door. I heard it open and close.

And almost immediately following, I heard Dora come through the main rear entrance into the center of the building, the way I had entered, and the way he had entered, and she began her progress down the hall.

She sang to herself as she came, or hummed, I should say. The sweet aroma of womb blood came from her. Her menses. Maddeningly, it amplified the succulent scent of the whole child moving towards me.

I slipped back into the shadows of the vestibule. She wouldn't see me or have any knowledge of me as she went by and on up the next stairway to her third-floor room.

She was skipping steps when she reached the second floor. She had a backpack slung over her shoulders and wore a pretty, loose old-fashioned dress of flowered cotton with long, white lace-trimmed sleeves.

She swung round to go up when she suddenly stopped. She turned in my direction. I froze. She could not possibly see me in this light.

Then she came towards me. She reached out. I saw her white fingers touch something on the wall; it was a light switch. A simple plastic light switch, and suddenly a flood came from the bulb above.

Picture this: the blond male intruder, eyes hidden by the violet sunglasses, now nice and clean, with no more of her father's blood, black wool coat and pants.

I threw up my hands as if to say "I won't hurt you!" I was speechless.

I disappeared.

That is, I moved past her so swiftly she couldn't see it; I brushed her about like the air would brush her. That's all. I made the two flights to an attic, and went through an open door in the dark spaces above the chapel, where only a few windows in the mansard let in a tiny light from the street. One of the windows was broken out. A quick way to make an exit. But I stopped. I sat down very still in the corner. I shrank up into the corner. I drew up my knees, pushed my glasses up on my nose, and looked across the width of the attic towards the door through which I'd come.

I heard no screams. I heard nothing. She had not gone into hysterics; she was not running madly through the building. She had sounded no alarms. Fearless, quiet, having seen a male intruder. I mean, next to a vampire, what in the world is as dangerous to a lone woman as a young human male?

I realized my teeth were chattering. I put my right hand into a fist and pushed it into my left palm. Devil, man, who the hell are you, waiting for me, telling me not to talk to her, what tricks, don't talk to her, I was never going to talk to her, Roger, what the hell am I to do now? I never meant for her to see me like this!

I should never, never have come without David. I needed the anchor of a witness. And the Ordinary Man, would he have dared to come up if David had been here? I loathed him! I was in a whirlpool.  I wasn't going to survive.

Which meant what? What was going to kill me?

Suddenly I realized that she was coming up the stairs. This time she walked slowly, and very quietly. A mortal couldn't have heard her. She had her electric torch with her. I hadn't noticed it before.  But now she had it, and the beam came through the open attic door and ran along the sloping dark boards of the inner roof.

She stepped into the attic and switched off the torch. She looked around very cautiously, her eyes filling with the white light coming through the round windows. It was possible to see things fairly distinctly here because of those round windows, and because the street-lamps were so close.

Then she found me with her eyes. She looked right at me in the corner.

"Why are you frightened?" she asked. Her voice was soothing.

I realized I was jammed into the corner, legs crossed, knees beneath my chin, arms locked around my legs, looking up at her.

"I… I am sorry…." I said. "I was afraid … that I had frightened you. I was ashamed that I had caused you distress. I felt that I'd been unforgivably clumsy."

She stepped towards me, fearlessly. Her scent filled the attic slowly, like the vapor from a pinch of burning incense.

She looked tall and lithesome in the flowered dress, with the lace at her cuffs. Her short black hair covered her head like a little cap with curls against her cheeks. Her eyes were big and dark, and made me think of Roger.

Her gaze was nothing short of spectacular. She could have unnerved a predator with her gaze, the light striking the bones of her cheeks, her mouth quiet and devoid of all emotion.

"I can leave now if you like," I said tremulously. "I can simply get up very slowly and leave without hurting you. I swear it. You must not be alarmed."

"Why you?" she asked.

"I don't understand your question," I said. Was I crying? Was I just shivering and shaking? "What do you mean, why me?"

She came in closer and looked down at me. I could see her very distinctly.

Perhaps she saw a mop of blond hair and the glint of light in my glasses and that I seemed young.

I saw her curling black eyelashes, her small but firm chin, and the way that her shoulders so abruptly sloped beneath her lace and flowered dress that she seemed hardly to have shoulders at all¡ªa long sketch of a girl, a dream lily woman. Her tiny waist beneath the loose fabric of the waistless dress would be nothing in one's arms.

There was something almost chilling about her presence. She seemed neither cold nor wicked, but just as frightening as if she were!  Was this sanctity? I wondered if I had ever been in the presence of a true saint. I had my definitions for the word, didn't I?

"Why did you come to tell me?" she asked tenderly.

"Tell you what, dearest?" I asked.

"About Roger. That he's dead." She raised her eyebrows very lightly. "That's why you came, wasn't it? I knew it when I saw you. I knew that Roger was dead. But why did you come?"

She came down on her knees in front of me.

I let out a long groan. So she'd read it from my mind! My big secret. My big decision. Talk to her? Reason with her? Spy on her?  Fool her? Counsel her? And my mind had slapped her abruptly with the good news: Hey, honey, Roger's dead!

She came very close to me. Far too close. She shouldn't. In a moment she'd be screaming. She lifted the dead electric torch.

"Don't turn on your flashlight," I said.

"Why don't you want me to? I won't shine it in your face, I promise.

I just want to see you."

"No."

"Look, you don't frighten me, if that's what you're thinking," she said simply, without drama, her thoughts stirring wildly beneath her words, her mind embracing every detail in front of her.

"And why not?"

"Because God wouldn't let something like you hurt me. I know that. You're a devil or an evil spirit. You're a good spirit. I don't know. I can't know. If I make the Sign of the Cross you might vanish. But I don't think so. What I want to know is, why are you so frightened of me? Surely it's not virtue, is it?"

"Wait just a second, back up. You mean you know that I'm not human?"

"Yes. I can see it. I can feel it! I've seen beings like you before. I've seen them in crowds in big cities, just glimpses. I've seen many things. I'm not going to say I feel sorry for you, because that's very stupid, but I'm not afraid of you. You're earthbound, aren't you?"

"Absolutely," I said. "And hoping to stay that way indefinitely.

Look, I didn't mean to shock you with the news. I loved your father."

"You did?"

"Yes. And …and he loved you very much. There are things he wanted me to tell you. But above all, he wanted me to look out for you."

"You don't seem capable of that. You're like a frightened elf. Look at you."

"You're not the one I'm terrified of, Dora!" I said with sudden impatience. "I don't know what's happening! I am earthbound, yes, that's true. And I… and I killed your father. I took his life. I'm the one who did that to him. And he talked to me afterwards. He said, 'Look out for Dora.' He came to me and told me to look out for you. Now there it is. I'm not terrified of you. It's more the situation, never having been in such circumstances, never having faced such questions!"

"I see!" She was stunned. Her whole white face glistened as if she'd broken into a sweat. Her heart was racing. She bowed her head.  Her mind was unreadable. Absolutely unreadable to me. But she was full of sorrow, anyone could see that, and the tears were sliding down her cheeks now. This was unbearable.

"Oh, God, I might as well be in Hell," I muttered. "I shouldn't have killed him. I … I did it for the simplest reasons. He was just… he crossed my path. It was a hideous mistake. But he came to me afterwards. Dora, we spent hours talking together, his ghost and me. He told me all about you and the relics and Wynken."

"Wynken?" She looked at me.

"Yes, Wynken de Wilde, you know, the twelve books. Look, Dora, if I touch your hand just to try to comfort you, perhaps it will work. But I don't want you to scream."

"Why did you kill my father?" she asked. It meant more than that.  She was asking, Why did someone who talks the way you do, do such a thing?

"I wanted his blood. I feed on the blood of others. That's how I stay youthful and alive. Believe in angels? Then believe in vampires.  Believe in me. There are worse things on earth."

She was appropriately stunned.

"Nosferatu," I said gently. "Verdilak. Vampire. Lamia.

Earthbound." I shrugged, shook my head. I felt utterly helpless. "There are other species of things. But Roger, Roger came with his soul as a ghost to talk to me afterwards, about you."

She started to shake and to cry. But this wasn't madness. Her eyes went small with tears and her face crumpled with sadness.

"Dora, I won't hurt you for anything under God, I swear it. I won't hurt you…."

"My father's really dead, isn't he?" she asked, and suddenly she broke down completely, her face in her hands, her little shoulders trembling with sobs. "My God, God help me!" she whispered.  "Roger," she cried. "Roger!"

And she did make the Sign of the Cross, and she sat there, sobbing and unafraid.

I waited. Her tears and sorrow fed upon themselves. She was becoming more and more miserable. She leant forward and collapsed on the boards. Again, she had no fear of me. It was as if I weren't there.

Very slowly I slipped out of the corner. It was possible to stand up easily in this attic, once you were out of the corner. I moved around her, and then very gently reached to take her by the shoulders.

She gave no resistance; she was sobbing, and her head rolled as if she were drunk with sorrow; her hands moved but only to rise and grasp for things that weren't there. "God, God, God," she cried.  "God … Roger!"

I picked her up. She was as light as I had suspected, but nothing like that could matter anyway to one as strong as me. I took her out of the attic. She fell against my chest.

"I knew it, I knew when he kissed me," she said through her sobbing, "I knew I would never lay eyes on him again. I knew it…." This was hardly intelligible. She was so crushably small, I had to be most careful, and when her head fell back, her face was blanched and so helpless as to make a devil weep.

I went down to the door of her room. She lay against me, still like a rag doll tossed into my arms, that without resistance. There was warmth coming from her room. I pushed open the door.

Having once been a classroom perhaps, or even a dormitory, the room was very large, set in the very corner of the building, with lofty windows on two sides and full of the brighter light from the street.

The passing traffic illuminated it.

I saw her bed against the far wall, an old iron bed, rather plain, perhaps once a convent bed, narrow like that, with the high rectangular frame intact for the mosquito netting, though none hung from it now. White paint flaked from the thin iron rods. I saw her bookcases everywhere, stacks of books, books open with markers, propped on makeshift lecterns, and her own relics, hundreds of them perhaps, pictures, and statues, and maybe things Roger had given her before she knew the truth. Words were written in cursive on the wooden frames of doors and windows in black ink.

I took her to the bed and laid her down on it. She sank gratefully, it seemed, into the mattress and the pillow. Things here were clean in the modern way, fresh, and so repeatedly and thoroughly laundered that they looked almost new.

I handed her my silk handkerchief. She took it, then looked at it and said, "But it's too good."

"No, use it, please. It's nothing. I have hundreds."

She regarded me in silence, then began to wipe her face. Her heart was beating more slowly, but the scent of her had been made even stronger by her emotions.

Her menses. It was being neatly collected by a pad of white cotton between her legs. I let myself think of it now because the menses was heavy and the smell was overpoweringly delicious to me. It began to torture me, the thought of licking this blood. This isn't pure blood, you understand, but blood is its vehicle and I felt the normal temptation that vampires do in such circumstances, to lick the blood from her nethermouth between her legs, a way of feeding on her that wouldn't harm her.

Except under the circumstances it was a perfectly outrageous and impossible thought.

There was a long silent interval.

I merely sat there on a wooden straight-backed chair. I knew she was beside me, sitting up, legs crossed, and that she'd found a box of tissue which provided a world of comfort to her, and she was blowing her nose and wiping her eyes. My silk handkerchief was still clutched in her hand.

She was extremely excited by my presence but still unafraid, and far too sunk in sorrow to enjoy this confirmation of thousands of beliefs, a pulsing nonhuman with her, that looked and talked as if it were human. She couldn't let herself embrace this right now. But she couldn't quite get over it. Her fearlessness was true courage. She wasn't stupid. She was someplace so far beyond fear that cowards could never even grasp it.

Fools might have thought her fatalistic. But it wasn't that. It was the ability to think ahead, and thereby banish panic utterly. Some mortals must know this right before they die. When the game's up, and everyone has said farewell. She looked at everything from that fatal, tragic, unerring perspective.

I stared at the floor. No, don't fall in love with her.

The yellow pine boards had been sanded, lacquered, and waxed.  The color of amber. Very beautiful. The whole palazzo might have this look one day. Beauty and the Beast. And as Beasts go, I mean, really, I'm quite a stunner.

I hated myself for having such a good time in a miserable moment like this, thinking of dancing with her through the corridors. I thought of Roger, and that brought me back quick enough, and the Ordinary Man, ah, that monster waiting for me!

I looked at her desk, two telephones, the computer, more books in stacks, and somewhere in the corner a little television, merely for study, apparently, the screen no bigger than four or five inches across though it was connected to a long coiling and winding black cable, which I knew connected it to the wide world.

There was lots of other blinking electronic equipment. It was no nun's cell. The words scrawled on the white framework of the doors and windows were actually in phrases, such as "Mystery opposes Theology." And "Commotion Strange." And, of all things, "Darkling, I listen."

Yes, I thought, mystery does oppose theology, that was something Roger was trying to say, that she had not caught on as she should because the mystical and the theological were mixed in her, and it wasn't working with the proper fire or magic. He had kept saying she was a theologian. And he thought of his relics as mysterious, of course. And they were.

Again a dim boyhood memory returned to me, of seeing the crucifix in our church at home in the Auvergne and being awestruck by the sight of the painted blood running from the nails. I must have been very small. I was bedding village girls in the back of that church by the time I was fifteen¡ªsomething of a prodigy for the times, but then the lord's son was supposed to be a perfect billygoat in our village.  Everyone expected it. And my brothers, such a conservative bunch, they had more or less disappointed the local mythology by always behaving themselves. It's a wonder that the crops hadn't suffered from their paltry virtue. I smiled. I had certainly made up for it. But when I had looked at the crucifix I must have been six or seven at most. And I had said, What a horrible way to die! I had blurted it out, and my mother had laughed and laughed. My father had been so humiliated!

The traffic on Napoleon Avenue made small, predictable, and slightly comforting noises.

Well, comforting to me.

I heard Dora sigh. And then I felt her hand on my arm, tight and delicate for only an instant, but fingers pressing through the armour of my clothing, wanting the texture beneath.

I felt her fingers graze my face.

For some reason, mortals do that when they want to be sure of us, they fold their fingers inward and they run their knuckles against our faces. Is that a way of touching someone without seeming to be touched oneself? I suppose the palm of the hand, the soft pad of the fingers, is too intimate.

I didn't move. I let her do it as if she were a blind woman and it was a courtesy. I felt her fingers move to my hair. I knew there was plenty enough light to make it fiery and pretty the way I counted upon it to be, shameless vain preening, selfish, confused, and temporarily disoriented being that I was.

She made the Sign of the Cross again. But she had never been actually afraid. She was just confirming something, I suppose.  Though precisely what is really open to question, if you think of it.

Silently she prayed.

"I can do that too," I said. I did it. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." I repeated the entire performance, doing it in Latin.

She regarded me with a still, amazed face, and then she let slip a tiny, gentle laugh.

I smiled. This bed and chair¡ªwhere we sat so close to each other¡ªwere in the corner. There was a window over her shoulder, and one behind me. Windows, windows, it was a palazzo of windows.

The dark wood of the ceiling must have been fifteen feet above us. I adored the scale of it. It was European, to say the least, and felt normal. It had not been sacrificed to modern dimensions.

"You know," I said, "the first time I walked into Notre Dame, after I'd been made into this, a vampire, that is, and it wasn't my idea, by the way, I was completely human and younger than you are now, the whole thing was forced, completely, I don't remember specifically if I prayed when it was happening, but I fought, that I vividly remember and have preserved in writing. But… as I was saying, the first time I walked into Notre Dame, I thought, well, why doesn't God strike me dead?"

"You must have your place in the scheme of things."

"You think? You really believe that?"

"Yes. I never expected to come upon something like you face to face, but it never seemed impossible or even improbable. I've been waiting all these years for a sign, for some confirmation. I would have lived out my life without it, but there was always the feeling… that it was going to come, the sign."

Her voice was small and typically feminine, that is, the pitch was without mistake feminine, but she spoke with terrific self-confidence now, and so her words seemed to have authority, rather like those of a man.

"And now you come, and you bring the news that you've killed my father. And you say that he spoke to you. No, I'm not one for simply dismissing such things out of hand. There's an allure to what you say, there is an ornate quality. Do you know, when I was a young girl, the very first reason I believed in the Holy Bible was because it had an ornate quality! I have perceived other patterns in life. I'll tell you a secret. One time I wished my mother dead, and do you know on that very day, within the very hour, she disappeared out of my life forever?

I could tell you other things. What you must understand is I want to learn from you. You walked into Notre Dame Cathedral and God didn't strike you dead."

"I'll tell you something that I found amusing," I said. "This was two hundred years ago. Paris before the Revolution. There were vampires living in Paris then, in Les Innocents, the big cemetery, it's long gone, but they lived there in the catacombs beneath the tombs, and they were afraid to go into Notre Dame. When they saw me do it, they, too, thought God would strike me dead."

She was looking at me rather placidly.

"I destroyed their faith for them," I said. "Their belief in God and the Devil. And they were vampires. They were earthbound creatures like me, half demon, half human, stupid, blundering, and they believed that God would strike them dead."

"And before you, they had really had a faith?"

"Yes, an entire religion, they really did," I said. "They thought themselves servants of the Devil. They thought it was a distinction.

They lived as vampires, but their existence was miserable and deliberately penitential. I was, you might say, a prince. I came swaggering through Paris in a red cloak lined with wolf fur. But that was my human life, the cloak. Does that impress you, that vampires would be believers? I changed it all for them. I don't think they've ever forgiven me, that is, those few who survive. There are not, by the way, very many of us."

"Stop a minute," she said. "I want to listen to you, but I must ask you something first."

"Yes?"

"My father, how did it happen, was it quick and…."

"Absolutely painless, I assure you," I said, turning to her, looking at her. "He told me himself. No pain."

She was owl-like with such a white face and big dark eyes, and she was actually slightly scary herself. I mean, she might have scared another mortal in this place, the way she looked, the strength of it.

"It was in a swoon that your father died," I said. "Ecstatic perhaps, and filled with various images, and then a loss of consciousness.

His spirit had left his body before the heart ceased to beat. Any physical pain I inflicted he never felt; once the blood is being sucked, once I've … no, he didn't suffer."

I turned and looked at her more directly. She'd curled her legs under her, revealing white knees beneath her hem.

"I talked with Roger for two hours afterwards," I said. "Two hours. He came back for one reason, to make certain I'd look out for you. That his enemies didn't get you, and the government didn't get you, and all these people he's connected with, or was. And that, and that his death didn't… hurt you more than it had to."

"Why would God do this?" she whispered.

"What has God got to do with it? Listen, darling, I don't know anything about God. I told you. I walked into Notre Dame and nothing happened, and nothing ever has…."

Now, that was a lie, wasn't it? What about Him? Coming here in the guise of the Ordinary Man, letting that door slam, arrogant bastard, how dare he?

"How can this be God's plan?" she asked.

"You're perfectly serious, aren't you? Look, I could tell you many stories. I mean, the one about the Paris vampires believing in the Devil is just the beginning! Look, there …there. …" I broke off.

"What is it?"

That sound. Those slow, measured steps! No sooner had I thought of him, insultingly and angrily, than the steps had begun.

"I… was going to say. …" I struggled to ignore him.

I could hear them approaching. They were faint, but it was the unmistakable walk of the winged being, letting me know, one heavy footfall after another, as though echoing through a giant chamber in which I existed quite apart from my existence in this room.

"Dora, I've got to leave you."

"What is it?"

The footsteps were coming closer and closer. "You dare come to me while I'm with her!" I shouted. I was on my feet.

"What is it?" she cried. She was up on her knees on the bed. I backed across the room. I reached the door. The footsteps were growing fainter.

"Damn you to hell!" I whispered.

"Tell me what it is," she said. "Will you come back? Are you leaving me now forever?"

"No, absolutely not. I'm here to help you. Listen, Dora, if you need me, call to me." I put my finger to my temple. "Call and call and call! Like prayer, you understand. It won't be idolatry, Dora, I'm no evil god. Do it. I have to go."

"What is your name?"

The footsteps came on, distant but loud, without location in the immense building, only pursuing me.

"Lestat." I pronounced my name carefully for her¡ªLe-'stat¡ªprimary stress on the second syllable, sounding the final "t" distinctly.

"Listen. Nobody knows about your father. They won't for a while. I did everything he asked of me. I have his relics."

"Wynken's books?"

"All of it, everything he held sacred … A fortune for you, and all he possessed that he wanted you to have. I've got to go."

Were the steps fading? I wasn't certain. But I couldn't take the risk of remaining.

"I'll come again as soon as I can. You believe in God? Hang on to it, Dora, because you just might be right about God, absolutely right!"

I was out of there like particles of light, up the stairways, through the broken attic window, and up above the rooftop, moving fast enough that I could hear no footfall, and the city below had become a beguiling swirl of lights.

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