No one is listening.
Now you may sing the selfsong, as the bird does, not for territory or dominance,
but for self-enlargement.
Let something come from nothing.
. . .
from “Texas Suite”
Body of Work (1983)
NTIL this night, this awful night, he’d had a little joke about himself: He didn’t know who he was, or where he’d come from, but he knew what he liked.
And what he liked was all around him—the flower stands on the corners, the big steel and glass buildings full of milky evening light, the trees, of course, the grass beneath his feet. And the bought things of shining plastic and metal—toys, computers, telephones—it didn’t matter. He liked to figure them out, master them, then crush them into tiny hard multicolored balls which he could then juggle or toss through plate glass windows when nobody was about.
He liked piano music, the motion pictures, and the poems he found in books.
He also liked the automobiles that burnt oil from the earth like lamps. And the great jet planes that flew on the same scientific principles, above the clouds.
He always stopped and listened to the people laughing and talking up there when one of the planes flew overhead.
Driving was an extraordinary pleasure. In a silver Mercedes-Benz, he had sped on smooth empty roads from Rome to Florence to Venice in one night. He also liked television—the entire electric process of it, with its tiny bits of light. How soothing it was to have
the company of television, the intimacy with so many artfully painted faces speaking to you in friendship from the glowing screen.
The rock and roll, he liked that too. He liked all music. He liked the Vampire Lestat singing “Requiem for the Marquise.” He didn’t pay attention to the words much. It was the melancholy, and the dark undertone of drums and cymbals. Made him want to dance.
He liked giant yellow machines that dug into the earth late at night in the big cities with men in uniforms crawling all over them; he liked the double-decker buses of London, and the people—the clever mortals everywhere—he liked them, too, of course.
He liked walking in Damascus during the evening, and seeing in sudden flashes of disconnected memory the city of the ancients. Romans, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians in these streets.
He liked the libraries where he could find photographs of ancient monuments in big smooth good-smelling books. He took his own photographs of the new cities around him and sometimes he could put images on these pictures which came from his thoughts. For example, in his photograph of Rome there were Roman people in tunics and sandals superimposed upon the modern versions in their thick ungraceful clothes.
Oh, yes, much to like all around him always—the violin music of Bartók, little girls in snow white dresses coming out of the church at midnight having sung at the Christmas mass.
He liked the blood of his victims too, of course. That went without saying. It was no part of his little joke. Death was not funny to him. He stalked his prey in silence; he didn’t want to know his victims. All a mortal had to do was speak to him and he was turned away. Not proper, as he saw it, to talk to these sweet, soft-eyed beings and then gobble their blood, break their bones and lick the marrow, squeeze their limbs to a dripping pulp. And that was the way he feasted now, so violently. He felt no great need for blood anymore; but he wanted it. And the desire overpowered him in all its ravening purity, quite apart from thirst. He could have feasted upon three or four mortals a night.
Yet he was sure, absolutely sure, that he had been a human being once. Walking in the sun in the heat of the day, yes, he had once done that, even though he certainly couldn’t do it now. He envisioned himself sitting at a plain wood table and cutting open a
ripe peach with a small copper knife. Beautiful the fruit before him. He knew the taste of it. He knew the taste of bread and beer. He saw the sun shining on the dull yellow sand that stretched for miles and miles outside. “Lie down and rest in the heat of the day,” someone had once said to him. Was this the last day that he had been alive? Rest, yes, because tonight the King and the Queen will call all the court together and something terrible, something. . . .
But he couldn’t really remember.
No, he just knew it, that is, until this night. This night . . .
Not even when he’d heard the Vampire Lestat did he remember. The character merely fascinated him a little—a rock singer calling himself a blood drinker. And he did look unearthly, but then that was television, wasn’t it? Many humans in the dizzying world of rock music appeared unearthly. And there was such human emotion in the Vampire Lestat’s voice.
It wasn’t merely emotion; it was human ambition of a particular sort. The Vampire Lestat wanted to be heroic. When he sang, he said: “Allow me my significance! I am the symbol of evil; and if I am a true symbol, then I do good.”
Fascinating. Only a human being could think of a paradox like that. And he himself knew this, because he’d been human, of course.
Now he did have a supernatural understanding of things. That was true. Humans couldn’t look at machines and perceive their principles as he could. And the manner in which everything was “familiar” to him—that had to do with his superhuman powers as well. Why, there was nothing that surprised him really. Not quantum physics or theories of evolution or the paintings of Picasso or the process by which children were inoculated with germs to protect them from disease. No, it was as if he’d been aware of things long before he remembered being here. Long before he could say: “I think; therefore I am.”
But disregarding all that, he still had a human perspective. That no one would deny. He could feel human pain with an eerie and frightening perfection. He knew what it meant to love, and to be lonely, ah, yes, he knew that above all things, and he felt it most keenly when he listened to the Vampire Lestat’s songs. That’s why he didn’t pay attention to the words.
And another thing. The more blood he drank the more human-looking he became.
When he’d first appeared in this time—to himself and others—he hadn’t looked human at all. He’d been a filthy skeleton, walking along the highway in Greece towards Athens, his bones enmeshed in tight rubbery veins, the whole sealed beneath a layer of toughened white skin. He’d terrified people. How they had fled from him, gunning the engines of their little cars. But he’d read their minds—seen himself as they saw him—and he understood, and he was so sorry, of course.
In Athens, he’d gotten gloves, a loose wool garment with plastic buttons, and these funny modern shoes that covered up your whole foot. He’d wrapped rags around his face with only holes for his eyes and mouth. He’d covered his filthy black hair with a gray felt hat.
They still stared but they didn’t run screaming. At dusk, he roamed through the thick crowds in Omonia Square and no one paid him any mind. How nice the modern bustle of this old city, which in long ago ages had been just as vital, when students came there from all over the world to study philosophy and art. He could look up at the Acropolis and see the Parthenon as it had been then, perfect, the house of the goddess. Not the ruin it was today.
The Greeks as always were a splendid people, gentle and trusting, though they were darker of hair and skin now on account of their Turkish blood. They didn’t mind his strange clothes. When he talked in his soft, soothing voice, imitating their language perfectly
—except for a few apparently hilarious mistakes—they loved him. And in private, he had noticed that his flesh was slowly filling out. It was hard as a rock to the touch. Yet it was changing. Finally, one night when he unwrapped the ragged covering, he had seen the contours of a human face. So this is what he looked like, was it?
Big black eyes with fine soft wrinkles at the corners and rather smooth lids. His mouth was a nice, smiling mouth. The nose was neat and finely made; he didn’t disdain it. And the eyebrows: he liked these best of all because they were very black and straight, not broken or bushy, and they were drawn high enough above his eyes so that he had an open expression, a look of veiled wonder that others might trust. Yes, it was a very pretty young male face.
After that he’d gone about uncovered, wearing modern shirts and
pants. But he had to keep to the shadows. He was just too smooth and too white.
He said his name was Khayman when they asked him. But he didn’t know where he’d gotten it. And he had been called Benjamin once, later, he knew that, too. There were other names But
when? Khayman. That was the first and secret name, the one he never forgot. He could draw two tiny pictures that meant Khayman, but where these symbols had come from he had no idea.
His strength puzzled him as much as anything else. He could walk through plaster walls, lift an automobile and hurl it into a nearby field. Yet he was curiously brittle and light. He drove a long thin knife right through his own hand. Such a strange sensation! And blood everywhere. Then the wounds closed and he had to open them again to pull the knife out.
As for the lightness, well, there was nothing that he could not climb. It was as though gravity had no control over him once he decided to defy it. And one night after climbing a tall building in the middle of the city, he flew off the top of it, descending gently to the street below.
Lovely, this. He knew he could traverse great distances if only he dared. Why, surely he had once done it, moving into the very clouds. But then . . . maybe not.
He had other powers as well. Each evening as he awakened, he found himself listening to voices from all over the world. He lay in the darkness bathed in sound. He heard people speaking in Greek, English, Romanian, Hindustani. He heard laughter, cries of pain. And if he lay very still, he could hear thoughts from people—a jumbled undercurrent full of wild exaggeration that frightened him. He did not know where these voices came from. Or why one voice drowned out another. Why, it was as if he were God and he were listening to prayers.
And now and then, quite distinct from the human voices, there came to him immortal voices too. Others like him out there, thinking, feeling, sending a warning? Far away their powerful silvery cries, yet he could easily separate them from the human warp and woof.
But this receptiveness hurt him. It brought back some awful memory of being shut up in a dark place with only these voices to
keep him company for years and years and years. Panic. He would not remember that. Some things one doesn’t want to remember. Like being burned, imprisoned. Like remembering everything and crying, terrible anguished crying.
Yes, bad things had happened to him. He had been here on this earth under other names and at other times. But always with this same gentle and optimistic disposition, loving things. Was his a migrant soul? No, he had always had this body. That’s why it was so light and so strong.
Inevitably he shut off the voices. In fact, he remembered an old admonition: If you do not learn to shut out the voices, they will drive you mad. But with him now, it was simple. He quieted them simply by rising, opening his eyes. Actually, it would have required an effort to listen. They just went on and on and became one irritating noise.
The splendor of the moment awaited him. And it was easy to drown out the thoughts of mortals close at hand. He could sing, for instance, or fix his attention hard upon anything around him. Blessed quiet. In Rome there were distractions everywhere. How he loved the old Roman houses painted ocher and burnt sienna and dark green. How he loved the narrow stone streets. He could drive a car very fast through the broad boulevard full of wreckless mortals, or wander the Via Veneto until he found a woman with whom to fall in love for a little while.
And he did so love the clever people of this time. They were still people, but they knew so much. A ruler was murdered in India, and within the hour all the world could mourn. All manner of disasters, inventions, and medical miracles weighed down upon the mind of the ordinary man. People played with fact and fancy. Waitresses wrote novels at night that would make them famous. Laborers fell in love with naked movie queens in rented cassette films. The rich wore paper jewelry, and the poor bought tiny diamonds. And princesses sallied forth onto the Champs Elysées in carefully faded rags.
Ah, he wished he was human. After all, what was he? What were the others like?—the ones whose voices he shut out. Not the First Brood, he was sure of it. The First Brood could never contact each other purely through the mind. But what the hell was the First
Brood? He couldn’t remember! A little panic seized him. Don’t think of those things. He wrote poems in a notebook—modern and simple, yet he knew that they were in the earliest style he’d ever known.
He moved ceaselessly about Europe and Asia Minor, sometimes walking, sometimes rising into the air and willing himself to a particular place. He charmed those who would have interfered with him and slumbered carelessly in dark hiding places by day. After all, the sun didn’t burn him anymore. But he could not function in the sunlight. His eyes began to close as soon as he saw light in the morning sky. Voices, all those voices, other blood drinkers crying in anguish—then nothing. And he awoke at sunset, eager to read the age-old pattern of the stars.
Finally he grew brave with his flying. On the outskirts of Istanbul he went upwards, shooting like a balloon far over the roofs. He tossed and tumbled, laughing freely, and then willed himself to Vienna, which he reached before dawn. Nobody saw him. He moved too fast for them to see him. And besides he did not try these little experiments before prying eyes.
He had another interesting power too. He could travel without his body. Well, not really travel. He could send out his vision, as it were, to look at things far away. Lying still, he would think, for example, of a distant place that he would like to see, and suddenly he was there before it. Now, there were some mortals who could do that too, either in their dreams or when they were awake, with great and deliberate concentration. Occasionally he passed their sleeping bodies and perceived that their souls were traveling elsewhere. But the souls themselves he could never see. He could not see ghosts or any kind of spirit for that matter
But he knew they were there. They had to be.
And some old awareness came to him, that once as a mortal man, in the temple, he had drunk a strong potion given to him by the priests, and had traveled in the very same way, up out of his body, and into the firmament. The priests had called him back. He had not wanted to come. He was with those among the dead whom he loved. But he had known he must return. That was what was expected of him.
He’d been a human being then, all right. Yes, definitely. He could
remember the way the sweat had felt on his naked chest when he lay in the dusty room and they brought the potion to him. Afraid. But then they all had to go through it.
Maybe it was better to be what he was now, and be able to fly about with body and soul together.
But not knowing, not really remembering, not understanding how he could do such things or why he lived off the blood of humans— all this caused him intense pain.
In Paris, he went to “vampire” movies, puzzling over what seemed true and what was false. Familiar all this, though much of it was silly. The Vampire Lestat had taken his garments from these old black and white films. Most of the “creatures of the night” wore the same costume—the black cloak, the stiff white shirt, the fine black jacket with tails, the black pants.
Nonsense of course, yet it comforted him. After all, these were blood drinkers, beings who spoke gently, liked poetry, and yet killed mortals all the time.
He bought the vampire comics and cut out certain pictures of beautiful gentlemen blood drinkers like the Vampire Lestat. Maybe he himself should try this lovely costume; again, it would be a comfort. It would make him feel that he was part of something, even if the something didn’t really exist.
In London, past midnight in a darkened store, he found his vampire clothes. Coat and pants, and shining patent leather shoes; a shirt as stiff as new papyrus with a white silk tie. And oh, the black velvet cloak, magnificent, with its lining of white satin; it hung down to the very floor.
He did graceful turns before the mirrors. How the Vampire Lestat would have envied him, and to think, he, Khayman, was no human pretending; he was real. He brushed out his thick black hair for the first time. He found perfumes and unguents in glass cases and anointed himself properly for a grand evening. He found rings and cuff links of gold.
Now he was beautiful, as he had once been in other garments long ago. And immediately in the streets of London people adored him! This had been the right thing to do. They followed him as he walked along smiling and bowing, now and then, and winking his eye. Even when he killed it was better. The victim would stare at
him as if seeing a vision, as if understanding. He would bend—as the Vampire Lestat did in the television songs—and drink first, gently, from the throat, before ripping the victim apart.
Of course this was all a joke. There was something frightfully trivial about it. It had nothing to do with being a blood drinker, that was the dark secret, nothing to do with the faint things he only half remembered, now and then, and pushed from his mind. Nevertheless it was fun for the moment to be “somebody” and “something.”
Yes, the moment, the moment was splendid. And the moment was all he ever had. After all, he would forget this time too, wouldn’t he? These nights with their exquisite details would vanish from him; and in some even more complex and demanding future he would be loosed again, remembering only his name.
Home to Athens he went finally.
Through the museum by night he roamed with a stub of candle, inspecting the old tombstones with their carved figures which made him cry. The dead woman seated—always the dead are seated— reaches out for the living baby she has left behind, who is held in her husband’s arm. Names came back to him, as if bats were whispering in his ear. Go to Egypt; you’ll remember. But he would not. Too soon to beg for madness and forgetfulness. Safe in Athens, roaming the old cemetery beneath the Acropolis, from which they’d taken all the stele; never mind the traffic roaring by; the earth here is beautiful. And it still belongs to the dead.
He acquired a wardrobe of vampire garments. He even bought a coffin, but he did not like to get inside. For one thing, it was not shaped like a person, this coffin, and it had no face on it, and no writings to guide the soul of the dead. Not proper. Rather like a box for jewelry, as he saw it. But still, being a vampire, well, he thought he should have it and it was fun. Mortals who came to the flat loved it. He served them bloodred wine in crystal glasses. He recited “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for them or sang songs in strange tongues which they loved. Sometimes he read his poems. What good-hearted mortals. And the coffin gave them something to sit on in a flat that contained nothing else.
But gradually the songs of the American rock singer, the Vampire Lestat, had begun to disturb him. They weren’t fun anymore.
Neither were the silly old films. But the Vampire Lestat really bothered him. What blood drinker would dream of acts of purity and courage? Such a tragic tone to the songs.
Blood drinker. . . . Sometimes when he awoke, alone on the floor of the hot airless flat with the last light of day fading through the curtained windows, he felt a heavy dream lift from him in which creatures sighed and groaned in pain. Had he been following through a ghastly nightscape the path of two beautiful red-haired women who suffered unspeakable injustice, twin beauties to whom he reached out again and again? After they cut out her tongue, the red-haired woman in the dream snatched the tongue back from the soldiers and ate it. Her courage had astonished them—
Ah, do not look at such things!
His face hurt, as if he had been crying also or miserably anxious. He let himself relax slowly. Behold the lamp. The yellow flowers. Nothing. Just Athens with its miles and miles of undistinguished stucco buildings, and the great broken temple of Athena on the hill, looming over all despite the smoke-filled air. Evening time. The divine rush as thousands in their drab workaday clothes poured down the escalators to the underground trains. Syntagma Square scattered with the lazy drinkers of retsina or ouzo, suffering beneath the early evening heat. And the little kiosks selling magazines and papers from all lands.
He didn’t listen to any more of the Vampire Lestat’s music. He left the American dance halls where they played it. He moved away from the students who carried small tape players clipped to their belts.
Then one night in the heart of the Plaka, with its glaring lights and noisy taverns, he saw other blood drinkers hurrying through the crowds. His heart stopped. Loneliness and fear overcame him. He could not move or speak. Then he tracked them through the steep streets, in and out of one dancing place after another where the electronic music blared. He studied them carefully as they rushed on through the crush of tourists, not aware that he was there.
Two males and a female in scant black silk garments, the woman’s feet strapped painfully into high-heeled shoes. Silver sunglasses covered their eyes; they whispered together and gave out
sudden piercing bursts of laughter; decked with jewels and scent, they flaunted their shining preternatural skin and hair.
But never mind these superficial matters, they were very different from him. They were nothing as hard and white, to begin with. In fact they were made up of so much soft human tissue that they were animated corpses still. Beguilingly pink and weak. And how they needed the blood of their victims. Why, they were suffering agonies of thirst right now. And surely this was their fate nightly. Because the blood had to work endlessly on all the soft human tissue. It worked not merely to animate the tissue, but to convert it slowly into something else.
As for him, he was all made up of that something else. He had no soft human tissue left. Though he lusted for blood, it was not needed for this conversion. Rather he realized suddenly that the blood merely refreshed him, increased his telepathic powers, his ability to fly, or to travel out of his body, or his prodigious strength. Ah, he understood it! For the nameless power that worked in all of them, he was now a nearly perfected host.
Yes, that was it exactly. And they were younger, that’s all. They had merely begun their journey towards true vampiric immortality. Didn’t he remember—? Well, not actually, but he knew it, that they were fledglings, no more than one or two hundred years along the way! That was the dangerous time, when you first went mad from it, or the others got you, shut you up, burned you, that sort of thing. Many did not survive those years. And how long ago it had been for him, of the First Brood. Why, the amount of time was almost inconceivable! He stopped beside the painted wall of a garden, reaching up to rest his hand on a gnarled branch, letting the cool fleecy green leaves touch his face. He felt himself washed in sadness suddenly, sadness more terrible than fear. He heard someone crying, not here but in his head. Who was it? Stop!
Well, he would not hurt them, these tender children! No, he wanted only to know them, to embrace them. After all, we are of the same family, blood drinkers, you and I!
But as he drew nearer, as he sent out his silent yet exuberant greeting, they turned and looked at him with undisguised terror. They fled. Through a dark tangle of hillside lanes they descended, away from the lights of the Plaka, and nothing he could say or do
would make them stop.
He stood rigid and silent, feeling a sharp pain he had not known before. Then a curious and terrible thing happened. He went after them till he had them in sight again. He became angry, really angry. Damn you. Punish you that you hurt me! And lo and behold he felt a sudden sensation in his forehead, a cold spasm just behind the bone. Out of him, a power seemed to leap as if it were an invisible tongue. Instantly it penetrated the hindmost of the fleeing trio, the female, and her body burst into flame.
Stupefied he watched this. Yet he realized what had happened. He had penetrated her with some sharply directed force. It had kindled the powerful combustible blood that he and she had in common, and at once the fire had shot through the circuit of her veins. Invading the marrow of her bones, it had caused her body to explode. In seconds, she was no more.
Ye gods! He had done this! In grief and terror, he stood staring down at her empty clothes, unburnt, yet blackened and stained with grease. Only a little of her hair was left on the stones, and this burnt away to wisps of smoke as he watched.
Maybe there was some mistake. But no, he knew he’d done it.
He’d felt himself doing it. And she had been so afraid!
In shocked silence, he made his way home. He knew he’d never used this power before, or even been aware of it. Had it come to him only now, after centuries of the blood working, drying out his cells, making them thin and white and strong like the chambers of a wasps’ nest?
Alone in his flat, with the candles and incense burning to comfort him, he pierced himself again with his knife and watched the blood gush. Thick and hot it was, pooling on the table before him, glittering in the light of the lamp as if it was alive. And it was!
In the mirror, he studied the darkening radiance which had returned to him after so many weeks of dedicated hunting and drinking. A faint yellow tinge to his cheeks, a trace of pink to his lips. But never mind, he was as the abandoned skin of the snake lying on the rock—dead and light and crisp save for the constant pumping of this blood. This vile blood. And his brain, ah, his brain, what did it look like now? Translucent as a thing made of crystal with the blood surging through its tiny compartments? And therein
the power lived, did it not, with its invisible tongue?
Going out again, he tried this newfound force upon animals, upon the cats, for which he had an unreasonable loathing—evil things, those creatures—and upon rats, which all men disdain. Not the same. He killed these creatures with the invisible tongue flick of energy, but they didn’t catch fire. Rather the brains and hearts suffered some sort of fatal rupture, but the natural blood in them, it was not combustible. And so they did not burn.
This fascinated him in a cold, harrowing fashion. “What a subject I am for study,” he whispered, eyes shining suddenly with unwelcome tears. Capes, white ties, vampire movies, what was this to him! Who in hell was he? The fool of the gods, roaming the road from moment to moment through eternity? When he saw a great lurid poster of the Vampire Lestat mocking him in a video store window, he turned and with the tongue flick of energy shattered the glass.
Ah, lovely, lovely. Give me the forests, the stars. He went to Delphi that night, ascending soundlessly above the darkened land. Down into the moist grass he went to walk where the oracle had once sat, in this the ruin of the god’s house.
But he would not leave Athens. He must find the two blood drinkers, and tell them he was sorry, that he would never, never use this power against them. They must talk to him! They must be with him—! Yes.
The next night upon awakening, he listened for them. And an hour later, he heard them as they rose from their graves. A house in the Plaka was their lair, with one of those noisy, smoky taverns open to the street. In its cellars they slept by day, he realized, and came up by dark to watch the mortals of the tavern sing and dance. Lamia, the old Greek word for vampire, was the name of this establishment in which the electric guitars played the primitive Greek music, and the young mortal men danced with one another, hips churning with all the seductiveness of women, as the retsina flowed. On the walls hung pictures from the vampire movies—Bela Lugosi as Dracula, the pale Gloria Holden as his daughter—and posters of the blond and blue-eyed Vampire Lestat.
So they too had a sense of humor, he thought gently. But the vampire pair, stunned with grief and fear, sat together, staring at
the open door as he peered in. How helpless they looked!
They did not move when they saw him standing on the threshold with his back to the white glare of the street. What did they think when they saw his long cloak? A monster come alive from their own posters to bring them destruction when so little else on earth could?
I come in peace. I only wish to speak with you. Nothing shall anger me. I come in . . . love.
The pair appeared transfixed. Then suddenly one of them rose from the table, and both gave a spontaneous and horrid cry. Fire blinded him as it blinded the mortals who pushed past him in their sudden stampede to the street. The blood drinkers were in flames, dying, caught in a hideous dance with twisted arms and legs. The house itself was burning, rafters smoking, glass bottles exploding, orange sparks shooting up to the lowering sky.
Had he done this! Was he death to the others, whether he willed such a thing or not?
Blood tears flowed down his white face onto his stiff shirt front. He lifted his arm to shield his face with his cloak. It was a gesture of respect for the horror happening before him—the blood drinkers dying within.
No, couldn’t have done it, couldn’t. He let the mortals push him and shove him out of the way. Sirens hurt his ears. He blinked as he tried to see, despite the flashing lights.
And then in a moment of violent understanding he knew that he had not done it. Because he saw the being who had! There covered in a cloak of gray wool, and half hidden in a dark alleyway, stood the one, silently watching him.
And as their eyes met, she softly whispered his name: “Khayman, my Khayman!”
His mind went blank. Wiped clean. It was as though a white light descended on him, burning out all detail. He felt nothing for one serene moment. He heard no noise of the raging fire, nothing of those who still jostled him as they went past.
He merely stared at this thing, this beautiful and delicate being, exquisite as ever she had been. An unsupportable horror overcame him. He remembered everything—everything he had ever seen or
been or known.
The centuries opened before him. The millennia stretched out, going back and back to the very beginning. First Brood. He knew it all. He was shuddering, crying. He heard himself say with all the rancor of an accusation:
Suddenly, in a great withering flash he felt the full force of her undisguised power. The heat struck him in the chest, and he felt himself staggering backwards.
Ye gods, you will kill me, too! But she could not hear his thoughts! He was knocked against the whitewashed wall. A fierce pain collected in his head.
Yet he continued to see, to feel, to think! And his heart beat steadily as before. He was not burning!
And then with sudden calculation, he gathered his strength and fought this unseen energy with a violent thrust of his own.
“Ah, it is malice again, my sovereign,” he cried out in the ancient language. How human the sound of his voice!
But it was finished. The alleyway was empty. She was gone.
Or more truly she had taken flight, rising straight upwards, just as he himself had often done, and so fast that the eye could not see. Yes, he felt her receding presence. He looked up and, without effort, found her—a tiny pen stroke moving towards the west above the bits and pieces of pale cloud.
Raw sounds shocked him—sirens, voices, the crackle of the burning house as its last timbers collapsed. The little narrow street was jam-crowded; the bawling music of the other taverns had not stopped. He drew back, away from the place, weeping, with one backward glance for the domain of the dead blood drinkers. Ah, how many thousands of years he could not count, and yet it was still the same war.
FOR hours he wandered the dark back streets.
Athens grew quiet. People slept behind wooden walls. The pavements shone in the mist that came as thick as rain. Like a giant snail shell was his history, curling and immense above him, pressing him down to the earth with its impossible weight.
Up a hill he moved finally, and into the cool luxurious tavern of a great modern steel and glass hotel. Black and white this place, just as he was, with its checkered dance floor, black tables, black leather banquettes.
Unnoticed he sank down on a bench in the flickering dimness, and he let his tears flow. Like a fool he cried, with his forehead pressed to his arm.
Madness did not come to him; neither did forgetfulness. He was wandering the centuries, revisiting the places he had known with tender thoughtless intimacy. He cried for all those he had known and loved.
But what hurt him above all things was the great suffocating sense of the beginning, the true beginning, even before that long ago day when he had lain down in his house by the Nile in the noon stillness, knowing he must go to the palace that night.
The true beginning had been a year before when the King had said to him, “But for my beloved Queen, I would take my pleasure of these two women. I would show that they are not witches to be feared. You will do this in my stead.”
It was as real as this moment; the uneasy court gathered there watching; black-eyed men and women in their fine linen skirts and elaborate black wigs, some hovering behind the carved pillars, others proudly close to the throne. And the red-haired twins standing before him, his beautiful prisoners whom he had come to love in their captivity. I cannot do this. But he had done it. As the court waited, as the King and the Queen waited, he had put on the King’s necklace with its gold medallion, to act for the King. And he had gone down the steps from the dais, as the twins stared at him, and he had defiled them one after the other.
Surely this pain couldn’t last.
Into the womb of the earth he would have crawled, if he had had the strength for it. Blessed ignorance, how he wanted it. Go to Delphi, wander in the high sweet-smelling green grass. Pick the tiny wild flowers. Ah, would they open for him, as for the light of the sun, if he held them beneath the lamp?
But then he did not want to forget at all. Something had changed; something had made this moment like no other. She had risen from her long slumber! He had seen her in an Athens street with his own
eyes! Past and present had become one.
As his tears dried, he sat back, listening, thinking.
Dancers writhed on the lighted checkerboard before him. Women smiled at him. Was he a beautiful porcelain Pierrot to them, with his white face and red-stained cheeks? He raised his eyes to the video screen pulsing and glittering above the room. His thoughts grew strong like his physical powers.
This was now, the month of October, in the late twentieth century after the birth of Christ. And only a handful of nights ago, he had seen the twins in his dreams! No. There was no retreat. For him the true agony was just beginning, but that did not matter. He was more alive than he had ever been.
He wiped his face slowly with a small linen handkerchief. He washed his fingers in the glass of wine before him, as if to consecrate them. And he looked up again to the high video screen where the Vampire Lestat sang his tragic song.
Blue-eyed demon, yellow hair flung wild about him, with the powerful arms and chest of a young man. Jagged yet graceful his movements, lips seductive, voice full of carefully modulated pain.
And all this time you have been telling me, haven’t you? Calling me!
Calling her name!
The video image seemed to stare at him, respond to him, sing to him, when of course it could not see him at all. Those Who Must Be Kept! My King and my Queen. Yet he listened with his full attention to each syllable carefully articulated above the din of horns and throbbing drums.
And only when the sound and the image faded did he rise and leave the tavern to walk blindly through the cool marble corridors of the hotel and into the darkness outside.
Voices called out to him, voices of blood drinkers the world over, signaling. Voices that had always been there. They spoke of calamity, of converging to prevent some horrid disaster. The Mother Walks. They spoke of the dreams of the twins which they did not understand. And he had been deaf and blind to all this!
“How much you do not understand, Lestat,” he whispered.
He climbed to a dim promontory finally and gazed at the High City of temples far beyond—broken white marble gleaming beneath
the feeble stars.
“Damn you, my sovereign!” he whispered. “Damn you into hell for what you did, to all of us!” And to think that in this world of steel and gasoline, of roaring electronic symphonies and silent gleaming computer circuitry, we wander still.
But another curse came back to him, far stronger than his own. It had come a year after the awful moment when he had raped the two women—a curse screamed within the courtyard of the palace, under a night sky as distant and uncaring as this.
“Let the spirits witness: for theirs is the knowledge of the future— both what it would be, and what I will: You are the Queen of the Damned, that’s what you are! Evil is your only destiny. But at your greatest hour, it is I who will defeat you. Look well on my face. It is I who will bring you down.”
How many times during the early centuries had he remembered those words? In how many places across desert and mountains and through fertile river valleys had he searched for the two red-haired sisters? Among the Bedouins who had once sheltered them, among the hunters who wore skins still and the people of Jericho, the oldest city in the world. They were already legend.
And then blessed madness had descended; he had lost all knowledge, rancor, and pain. He was Khayman, filled with love for all he saw around him, a being who understood the word joy.
Could it be that the hour had come? That the twins had somehow endured just as he had? And for this great purpose his memory had been restored?
Ah, what a lustrous and overwhelming thought, that the First Brood would come together, that the First Brood would finally know victory.
But with a bitter smile, he thought of the Vampire Lestat’s human hunger for heroism. Yes, my brother, forgive me for my scorn. I want it too, the goodness, the glory. But there is likely no destiny, and no redemption. Only what I see before me as I stand above this soiled and ancient landscape—just birth and death, and horrors await us all.
He took one last look at the sleeping city, the ugly and careworn modern place where he had been so content, wandering over countless old graves.
And then he went upwards, rising within seconds above the clouds. Now would come the greatest test of this magnificent gift, and how he loved the sudden sense of purpose, illusory though it might be. He moved west, towards the Vampire Lestat, and towards the voices that begged for understanding of the dreams of the twins. He moved west as she had moved before him.
His cloak flared like sleek wings, and the delicious cold air bruised him and made him laugh suddenly as if for one moment he were the happy simpleton again.