Merrick (The Vampire Chronicles #7)

Chapter 21




I LEFT HER CURLED UP on Great Nananne's bed in the front room.

I went back into the garden, picked up the broken pieces of the jade perforator, and found the mask broken in half. How brittle was this strong jade. How bad had been my intentions, how evil the result.

These things I brought with me into the house. I could not bring myself to lay my superstitious hands upon the skull of Honey in the Sunshine.

I put the collection of jade remnants on the bedroom altar, amid the glasscovered candles, and then I settled next to her, sitting beside her, and I put my arm around her.

She turned and laid her head on my shoulder. Her skin felt feverish and sweet. I wanted to cover her in kisses, but I couldn't give in to this impulse, anymore than I could give in to the darker impulse to bring through the blood the rhythm of her heart in time with my own.

There was dried blood all over her white silk dress, and on the inside of her right arm.

"I should never have done it, never," she said in a hushed and anxious voice, her breasts yielding softly against me. "It was madness. I knew what would happen. I knew his brain would be fodder for disaster. I knew it. And now he's lost; he's wounded and lost to us both."

I lifted her so that I could look into her eyes. As always their brilliant green color startled me, and enthralled me, but I couldn't concern myself with her charms now.

"But you do believe that it was Claudia?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," she said. Her eyes were still red around the edges from her crying. I saw the tears standing there. "It was Claudia," she declared. "Or that thing which now calls itself Claudia, but the words it spoke? They were lies."

"How can you know that?"

"The same way I know when a human being is lying to me. The same way I know when someone's read another one's mind and is preying upon that other's weakness. The spirit was hostile, once called into our realm. The spirit was confused. The spirit told lies."

"I didn't feel it was lying," I argued.

"Don't you see," she said, "it took Louis's very, very worst fears and morbid thoughts for its matter. His mind was full of the verbal instruments by which he could bring about his own despair. He's found his conviction. And whatever he is¡ªwonder, horror, damnable monster¡ªhe's lost now. Lost to us both."

"Why couldn't it have been speaking pure truth?" I asked.

"No spirit speaks pure truth," she insisted. She wiped at her reddened eyes with the back of her hand. I gave her my linen handkerchief. She pressed it to her eyes. Then she looked up at me again. "Not when it's called, it doesn't. It speaks truth only when it comes on its own."

I took this idea into my thoughts. I had heard it before. Every member of the Talamasca had heard it. Spirits who are called are treacherous. Spirits who come on their own possess some guiding will. But no spirit can in fact be trusted. It was old knowledge. It gave neither comfort nor clarity to me just now.

"Then the picture of eternity," I said, "it was false, that's what you're saying."

"Yes," she said, "that's exactly what I'm saying." She wiped her nose with the handkerchief. She began to shiver. "But he will never accept it." She shook her head. "The lies are too near to what he absolutely believes."

I didn't speak. The words of the spirit were too nearly to what I actually believed as well.

She rested her head on my chest again, her arm about me loosely. I held her, staring before me at the smaller altar between the front windows, staring at the patient faces of the different saints.

A quiet and dangerous mood fell over me, in which I saw rather plainly all the long years of my life. One thing remained constant during this journey, whether I was the young man in the Candomble temples of Brazil, or the vampire prowling the streets of New York in the company of Lestat. That constant thing was that, no matter what I'd said to the contrary, I suspected there was nothing beyond this earthly life.

Of course now and then I gladly "believed" otherwise. I made my case to myself with seeming miracles¡ªspirit winds and vampiric blood flowing. But in the final analysis, I feared there was nothing, nothing perhaps but the "measureless darkness" which this phantom, this vicious and angry phantom, had described.

Yes, I'm saying that I believe we might linger. Of course. Lingering after death for some while is not beyond the realm of science to explain someday¡ªa soul of definable substance detached from the flesh and caught in some energy field that wreaths the planet. It is not beyond imagining, no, not at all. But it doesn't mean immortality. It doesn't mean Paradise or an Inferno. It doesn't mean justice or recognition. It doesn't mean ecstasy or unending pain.

As for the vampires, they were a flashy miracle, but consider how relentlessly materialistic and how very small that miracle is.

Picture the night when one of us is captured and carefully fastened to the table in the laboratory, housed perhaps in a tank of aerospace plastic, safe from the sun, day and night beneath a flickering gush of fluorescent light.

There he would lie, this helpless specimen of the Nosferatu, bleeding into syringes and test tubes, as doctors gave to our longevity, our changelessness, our connection to some binding and ageless spirit¡ªa long Latin scientific name.

Amel, that ancient spirit said by the eldest of us to organize our bodies and connect them¡ªit would one day be classified as some force quite similar to that which organizes the tiny ant in its vast and intricate colony, or the marvelous bees in their exquisite and impossibly sophisticated hive.

If I died, there might be nothing. If I died, there might be lingering. If I died, I might never even know what became of my soul. The lights around me¡ªthe warmth of which the child phantom had spoken so tauntingly¡ªthe warmth would simply go away.

I bowed my head. I pressed my left fingers hard to my temples, my right arm tightening against Merrick who seemed so precious, so frail.

My mind shot back to the dark spell and the luminous child phantom in the middle of it. It shot back to the moment when her arm was lifted, when Merrick cried out and was thrown back. It shot back to the child's wonderfully realized eyes and lips, and the low musical voice issuing from her. It shot back to the seeming validity of the vision itself.

Of course, it could have been Louis's despair which fueled her fount of misery. It might well have been my own. How much did I, myself, want to believe in Lestat's articulate angels or Armand's glimpse of crystalline celestial splendor? How much did I myself project upon the seeming void my own late and grossly lamented conscience, straining again and again to voice love for the maker of the wind, the tides, the moon, the stars?

I could not end my own earthly existence. I was as fearful as any mortal that I might be resigning forever the only magical experience that I'd been privileged to know. And that Louis might perish seemed a simple horror, rather like seeing an exotic and poisonous flower, fallen from its secretive jungle perch and crushed underfoot.

Did I fear for him? I wasn't certain. I loved him, I wanted him with us now in this room. I did. But I wasn't certain that I had the moral stamina to coax him to remain in this world another twentyfour hours. I wasn't certain of anything at all. I wanted him for my companion, mirror of my emotions, witness of my aesthetic progress, yes, all those things. I wanted him to be quiet and gentle Louis, that I knew. And if he did not choose to go on with us, if he did in fact take his own life by walking into the sunlight, then it would be all the harder for me to continue, even with my fear.

Merrick had begun to shake all over. Her tears were not stopping. I gave in to my desire to kiss her, to breathe in the fragrance of her warm flesh.

"There, there, my darling," I whispered.

The handkerchief clutched in her right hand was small and wet.

I lifted her as I stood up. I pulled down the heavy white chenille spread and laid her on the clean sheets. Never mind her soiled dress. She was cold and frightened. Her hair was tangled beneath her. I lifted her head and brought her hair up and over the linen. I saw her sink into the down pillows, and I kissed her eyelids to bid them to close.

"Rest now, precious darling," I said. "You only did what he asked."

"Don't leave me just now," she said in a raw voice, "except if you think you can find him. If you know where he is, then find him. Otherwise stay here with me, just for this little while."

I went down the hall in search of a bathroom and found it to the very rear of the house, a spacious and somewhat lavish arrangement with a little coal fireplace as well as a great clawfoot tub. There was the usual pile of clean white terry cloth towels one expects amid such luxury. I moistened the end of one of these and brought it back to the front room.

Merrick was on her side, knees curled up, her hands clasped together. I could hear a low whispering coming from her lips.

"Here, let me wipe your face," I said. I did it without any further concessions, and then I wiped the caked blood from her inner arm. The scratches went clear from her palm to the inside of her elbow. But they were very shallow. One began to bleed a little as I cleaned it, but I pressed on it for a moment and the blood ceased to flow.

I found the dry clean end of the towel, and patted Merrick's face with it, and then the wounds, which were now completely clean and healed.

"I can't remain here like this," Merrick said. Her head went from side to side. "I have to get the bones from the rear yard. It was a terrible thing to overturn the altars."

"Be quiet now," I said. "I'll bring them in."

It filled me with revulsion to do this. But I was as good as my word.

I went back to the scene of the crime. The dark rear yard seemed uncommonly still. The dead candles before the saints seemed negligent and evidence of grave sins.

Out of the detritus fallen from the iron tables, I picked up the skull of Honey in the Sunshine. I felt a sudden chill run through my hands, but I put it off to my imagination. I gathered up the rib bone, and I saw again that both of these bore all kinds of deeply incised writing. I refused to read the writing. I brought them back with me into the house and into the front room.

"Put them on the altar," she said. She sat up, pushing the heavy covers off her.

I saw that she had taken off her bloodsoaked dress of white silk, and that it lay in a heap on the floor.

She wore only her silk petticoat, and I could see her large pink nipples through it. There was blood on the petticoat too. Her shoulders were very straight and her breasts high set, and her arms were just rounded enough to be delicious to my sight.

I went to pick up the dress. I wanted to clean her up completely. I wanted her to be all right.

"It's monstrously unfair that you're so frightened," I said.

"No, leave the dress," she answered, reaching out for my wrist. "Let it go, and sit here, beside me. Take my hand and talk to me. The spirit's a liar, I swear it. You must believe what I say."

Once again, I sat down on the bed. I wanted to be close to her. I leant over and kissed her bowed head. I wished I couldn't see so much of her breasts, and I wondered if the younger vampires knew¡ªthose brought over early in their manhood¡ªhow such carnal details still distracted me. Of course the blood lust rose with this distraction. It was not an easy thing to love her so terribly and not taste of her soul through her blood.

"Why do I have to believe you?" I asked gently.

She dug her fingers into her hair and swept it back behind her shoulders.

"Because you must," she said urgently yet quietly. "You must see that I knew what I was doing, you must believe that I can tell a truthtelling spirit from one who lies. That was something, yes, that being which pretended to be Claudia¡ªsomething very powerful that it could lift the pick and sink it into Louis's flesh. I'll wager anything that it was a spirit who hated him due to his very nature, that he can be dead and still walk the earth. It was something deeply offended by his very existence. But it was taking its verses from his own thoughts."

"How can you be so sure?" I asked. I shrugged my shoulders. "God knows, 1 wish you were right. But you yourself called on Honey; is not Honey lost in the same realm that this spirit of Claudia described? Doesn't Honey's presence prove there's nothing better for either one of them? You saw the shape of Honey out there before the altar¡ª."

She nodded.

"¡ªand you went on to call Claudia from the same realm."

"Honey wants to be called," she declared, looking up at me, her fingers driven into her hair, tugging it cruelly back, away from her tormented face. "Honey's always there. Honey's waiting for me. That's how I knew for certain that I could call on Honey. But what about Cold Sandra? What about Great Nananne? What about Aaron Lightner? When I opened the door none of those spirits came through. They've long since gone on into the Light, David. If they hadn't they would have long ago let me know. I would have felt them the way I feel Honey. I would have hints of them, as Jesse Reeves had of Claudia when she heard the music in the Rue Royale."

I was puzzled by this last statement. Very puzzled. I shook my head in an emphatic no.

"Merrick, you're holding back from me," I said, deciding I must address it directly. "You have called Great Nananne. You think I don't remember what happened only a few nights ago, the night we met in the caf¨¦ in the Rue St. Anne?"

"Yes? What about that night?" she asked. "What are you trying to say?

"Maybe you don't know what happened," I said. "Is that possible? You called down a spell and didn't know how strong it was yourself?"

"David, talk straight to me," she responded. Her eyes were clearing and she had stopped trembling. Of this I was glad.

"That night," I said, "after we met and spoke together, you put a spell on me, Merrick. On my way back to the Rue Royale, I kept seeing you everywhere; to the right of me, and to the left of me, Merrick. And then I saw Great Nananne."

"Great Nananne?" she asked in a subdued voice, but one which couldn't conceal her disbelief. "What do you mean, you saw Great Nananne?"

"When I reached the carriageway of my town house," I said, "I saw two spirits behind the iron bars¡ªone in the image of you, a girl of ten, the way you were when I first met you, and the other, Great Nananne in her nightgown, as she was on the only day I was ever to know her, the day of her death. These two spirits stood in the carriageway and spoke together, intimately, t¨ºte a t¨ºte, their eyes fixed on me. And when I approached them, they disappeared."

For a moment, she said nothing. Her eyes were narrow and her lips slightly parted, as if she was pondering this with extreme concentration.

"Great Nananne," she said again.

"Just as I've told you, Merrick," I said. "Am I to understand now that you yourself didn't call her? You know what happened next, don't you? I went back to the Windsor Court, to the suite where I'd left you. I found you dead drunk on the bed."

"Don't use such a charming expression for it," she whispered crossly. "You came back, yes, and you wrote me a note."

"But after I wrote that note, Merrick, I saw Great Nananne there in the hotel, standing in the door of your bedroom. She was challenging me, Merrick. She was challenging me by her very presence and posture. It was a dense and undeniable apparition. It endured for moments¡ªchilling moments, Merrick. Am I to understand this wasn't part of your spell?"

Merrick sat silent for a long moment, her hands still splayed in her hair. She lifted her knees and drew them close to her breasts. Her sharp gaze never left me.

"Great Nananne," she whispered. "You're telling me the truth. Of course you are. And you thought that I called my godmother? You thought I could call her and make her appear like that?"

"Merrick, I saw the statue of St. Peter. I saw my own handkerchief beneath it with the drops of blood on it. I saw the candle you'd lighted. I saw the offerings. You had cast a spell."

"Yes, my darling," she said quickly, her right hand clutching mine to quiet me. "I fixed you, yes, I put a little fixing spell on you to make you want me, to make you quite unable to think of anything else but me, to make you come back if by the slightest chance you had decided never to come to me again. Just a fixing spell, David, you know what I'm saying. I wanted to see if I could do it now that you were a vampire. And you see what happened? You didn't feel love or obsession, David, you saw images of me instead. Your strength came to the fore, David, that's all that happened. And you wrote your sharp little note to me, and when I read it, I think I might have even laughed."

She broke off, deeply troubled, her eyes large as she stared in front her, perhaps into her own thoughts.

"And Great Nananne? " I pressed. "You didn't call her?"

"I can't call my godmother," she said, her tone serious, her eyes narrow as she looked at me again. "I pray to my godmother, David, don't you realize that, as I pray to Cold Sandra, as I pray to Oncle Vervain. They're no longer near us, any of them, my ancestors. I pray to them in Heaven as I would to the angels and the saints."

"I'm telling you I saw her spirit."

"And I'm telling you I've never seen it," she whispered. "I'm telling you I'd give anything I possess if only I could."

She looked at my hand, the one which she held in her own, and then she pressed it warmly and she let it go. Her hands went up to her temples again and her fingers found their way again into her hair.

"Great Nananne's in the Light," she said, as though she were arguing with me, and perhaps she was. But her gaze was lost to me. "Great Nananne's in the Light, David," she said again. "I tell you I know she is." She looked up into the airy semidarkness, and then her eyes drifted to the altar and the candles in their long flickering rows.

"I don't believe she came," she whispered. "I don't believe they're all in some 'insubstantial realm!' No, I tell you, I don't believe it," she said. She put her hands on her knees. "I don't believe anything so absolutely awful¡ªthat all the souls of the 'faithful departed' are lost in darkness. No, I can't believe such a thing."

"Very well, then," I said, wanting for the moment only to comfort her, and remembering too keenly the spirits at the gate once more, old woman and young girl. "Great Nananne came of her own accord. It's as you indicated earlier¡ªyou said that spirits only tell the truth if they come of their own accord. Great Nananne didn't want me near you, Merrick. Great Nananne has told me that. And maybe she'll come again if I don't somewhat repair the damage I've done to you, and leave you alone."

She appeared to be thinking this over.

A long interval ensued during which I watched her intently, and she gave me no clue of her feelings or her intentions, and then finally, she took my hand again. She drew it up to her lips and she kissed it. It was painfully sweet.

"David, my beloved David," she said, but her eyes were secretive. "Leave me now."

"No, I won't even think of it, until I have to do it."

"No, I want you to go," she said. "I'll be quite all right on my own."

"Call the caretaker," I said. "I want him here before I leave the property at dawn."

She reached over to the night table and produced one of those small modern cellular phones that is no bigger than a man's wallet. She punched in a series of numbers. I heard the appropriate voice on the other end, "Yes, Ma'am, coming directly."

I was satisfied.

I stood up. I took several steps towards the center of the room, and then the most desolate feeling descended upon me.

I turned around and looked at her as she sat there, her knees up close to her breasts, her head resting on her knees, her arms locked around her legs.

"Am I fixed now with a spell, Merrick?" I asked her, my voice even more gentle than I meant for it to be. "I don't want to leave you, my precious darling," I said. "I can't bear the thought of it, but I know that we have to part from one another, you and I. One more meeting, perhaps two. No more than two."

She looked up, startled, and her face was touched with fear.

"Bring him back to me, David," she said imploringly. "In the name of God, you have to do that. I must see Louis and talk to him again." She waited a moment, during which time I didn't answer her. "As for you and me, don't talk as if we can simply say goodbye to one another. David, I can't bear that just now. You must assure me¡ª."

"It won't be abrupt," I said, cutting her off, "and it won't be without your knowledge. But we can't go on, Merrick. If we try to go on, you'll lose faith in yourself and everything that matters to you. Believe me, I know."

"But it never happened to you, dearest," she said, with strong confidence, as though she'd thought through this very matter. "You were happy and independent when the Vampire Lestat brought you over. You told me so. Don't you give me credit for that much, David? Each of us is different."

"Know that I love you, Merrick," I said softly.

"Don't try to say farewell, David. Come here and kiss me and come back to me tomorrow night."

I went to the bed, and I took her in my arms. I kissed her on both cheeks. And then in a sinful, wretchedly strongwilled manner, I kissed her unresisting breasts, kissed both her nipples, and I drew back, full of her scent and furious with myself.

"For now, darling," I said.

And I went out and home to the Rue Royale.


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