Chapter no 7

The Queen of the Damned

The dead don’t share.

Though they reach towards us from the grave (I swear

they do) they do

not hand their hearts to you. They hand their heads,

the part that stares.


from “Their Share”

Body of Work (1983)


Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young.




Investigators of the Paranormal We watch



And we are always here. London Amsterdam Rome

ESSE was moaning in her sleep. She was a delicate woman of thirty-five with long curly red hair. She lay deep in a shapeless feather mattress, cradled in a wooden bed which

hung from the ceiling on four rusted chains.

Somewhere in the big rambling house a clock chimed. She must

wake up. Two hours until the Vampire Lestat’s concert. But she could not leave the twins now.

This was new to her, this part unfolding so rapidly, and the dream was maddeningly dim as all the dreams of the twins had been. Yet she knew the twins were in the desert kingdom again. The mob surrounding the twins was dangerous. And the twins, how different they looked, how pale. Maybe it was an illusion, this phosphorescent luster, but they appeared to glow in the semidarkness, and their movements were languid, almost as if they were caught in the rhythm of a dance. Torches were thrust at them as they embraced one another; but look, something was wrong, very wrong. One of them was now blind.

Her eyelids were shut tight, the tender flesh wrinkled and sunken. Yes, they have plucked out her eyes. And the other one, why does she make those terrible sounds? “Be still, don’t fight anymore,” said the blind one, in the ancient language which was always understandable in the dreams. And out of the other twin came a horrid, guttural moaning. She couldn’t speak. They’d cut out her tongue!

I don’t want to see any more, I want to wake up. But the soldiers were pushing their way through the crowd, something dreadful was to happen, and the twins became suddenly very still. The soldiers took hold of them, dragged them apart.

Don’t separate them! Don’t you know what this means to them? Get the torches away. Don’t set them on fire! Don’t burn their red hair.

The blind twin reached out for her sister, screaming her name: “Mekare!” And Mekare, the mute one, who could not answer, roared like a wounded beast.

The crowd was parting, making way for two immense stone coffins, each carried on a great heavy bier. Crude these sarcophagi, yet the lids had the roughened shape of human faces, limbs. What have the twins done to be put in these coffins? I can’t stand it, the biers being set down, the twins dragged towards the coffins, the crude stone lids being lifted. Don’t do it! The blind one is fighting as if she can see it, yet they are overpowering her, lifting her and putting her inside the stone box. In mute terror, Mekare is watching, though she herself is being dragged to the other bier.

Don’t lower the lid, or I will scream for Mekare! For both of them— Jesse sat up, her eyes open. She had screamed.

Alone in this house, with no one to hear her, she’d screamed, and she could feel the echo still. Then nothing but the quiet settling around her, and the faint creaking of the bed as it moved on its chains. The song of the birds outside in the forest, the deep forest; and her own curious awareness that the clock had struck six.

The dream was fading rapidly. Desperately she tried to hold on to it, to see the details that always slipped away—the clothing of these strange people, the weapons the soldiers carried, the faces of the twins! But it was already gone. Only the spell remained and an acute awareness of what had happened—and the certainty that the Vampire Lestat was linked to these dreams.

Sleepily, she checked her watch. No time left. She wanted to be in the auditorium when the Vampire Lestat entered; she wanted to be at the very foot of the stage.

Yet she hesitated, staring at the white roses on the bedside table. Beyond, through the open window, she saw the southern sky full of a faint orange light. She picked up the note that lay beside the flowers and she read it through once more.

My darling,

I have only just received your letter, as I am far from home and it took some time for this to reach me. I understand the fascination which this creature, Lestat, holds for you. They are playing his music even in Rio. I have already read the books which you have enclosed. And I know of your investigation of this creature for the Talamasca. As for your dreams of the twins, this we must talk about together. It is of the utmost importance. For there are others who have had such dreams. But I beg you—no, I order you not to go to this concert. You must remain at the Sonoma compound until I get there. I am leaving Brazil as soon as I can.

Wait for me. I love you.

Your aunt Maharet

“Maharet, I’m sorry,” she whispered. But it was unthinkable that she not go. And if anyone in the world would understand, it was Maharet.

The Talamasca, for whom she’d worked for twelve long years, would never forgive her for disobeying their orders. But Maharet knew the reason; Maharet was the reason. Maharet would forgive.

Dizzy. The nightmare still wouldn’t let go. The random objects of the room were disappearing in the shadows, yet the twilight burned so clear suddenly that even the forested hills were giving back the light. And the roses were phosphorescent, like the white flesh of the twins in the dream.

White roses, she tried to remember something she’d heard about white roses. You send white roses for a funeral. But no, Maharet could not have meant that.

Jesse reached out, took one of the blossoms in both hands, and the petals came loose instantly. Such sweetness. She pressed them to her lips, and a faint yet shining image came back to her from that long ago summer of Maharet in this house in a candle-lighted room, lying on a bed of rose petals, so many white and yellow and pink rose petals, which she had gathered up and pressed to her face and her throat.

Had Jesse really seen such a thing? So many rose petals caught in Maharet’s long red hair. Hair like Jesse’s hair. Hair like the hair of the twins in the dream—thick and wavy and streaked with gold.

It was one of a hundred fragments of memory which she could never afterwards fit into a whole. But it no longer mattered, what she could or could not remember of that dreamy lost summer. The Vampire Lestat waited: there would be a finish if not an answer, not unlike the promise of death itself.

She got up. She put on the worn hacking jacket that was her second skin these days, along with the boy’s shirt, open at the neck, and the jeans she wore. She slipped on her worn leather boots. Ran the brush through her hair.

Now to take leave of the empty house she’d invaded this morning. It hurt her to leave it. But it had hurt her more to come at all.

AT THE first light, she’d arrived at the edge of the clearing, quietly

stunned to discover it unchanged after fifteen years, a rambling structure built into the foot of the mountain, its roofs and pillared porches veiled in blue morning glory vines. High above, half hidden in the grassy slopes, a few tiny secret windows caught the first flash of morning light.

Like a spy she’d felt as she came up the front steps with the old key in her hand. No one had been here in months, it seemed. Dust and leaves wherever she looked.

Yet there were the roses waiting in their crystal vase, and the letter for her pinned to the door, with the new key in the envelope.

For hours, she’d wandered, revisited, explored. Never mind that she was tired, that she’d driven all night. She had to walk the long shaded galleries, to move through the spacious and overwhelming rooms. Never had the place seemed so much like a crude palace with its enormous timbers shouldering the rough-sawn plank ceilings, the rusted smokestack chimneys rising from the round stone hearths.

Even the furnishings were massive—the millstone tables, chairs and couches of unfinished lumber piled with soft down pillows, bookshelves and niches carved into the unpainted adobe walls.

It had the crude medieval grandeur, this place. The bits and pieces of Mayan art, the Etruscan cups and Hittite statues, seemed to belong here, amid the deep casements and stone floors. It was like a fortress. It felt safe.

Only Maharet’s creations were full of brilliant color as if they’d drawn it from the trees and sky outside. Memory hadn’t exaggerated their beauty in the least. Soft and thick the deep hooked wool rugs carrying the free pattern of woodland flower and grass everywhere as if the rug were the earth itself. And the countless quilted pillows with their curious stick figures and odd symbols, and finally the giant hanging quilts—modern tapestries that covered the walls with childlike pictures of fields, streams, mountains and forests, skies full of sun and moon together, of glorious clouds and even falling rain. They had the vibrant power of primitive painting with their myriad tiny bits of fabric sewn so carefully to create the detail of cascading water or falling leaf.

It had killed Jesse to see all this again.

BY NOON, hungry and light-headed from the long sleepless night, she’d gotten the courage to lift the latch from the rear door that led into the secret windowless rooms within the mountain itself. Breathless, she had followed the stone passage. Her heart pounded as she found the library unlocked and switched on the lamps.

Ah, fifteen years ago, simply the happiest summer of her life. All her wonderful adventures afterwards, ghost hunting for the Talamasca, had been nothing to that magical and unforgettable time.

She and Maharet in this library together, with the fire blazing. And the countless volumes of the family history, amazing her and delighting her. The lineage of “the Great Family,” as Maharet always called it—“the thread we cling to in the labyrinth which is life.” How lovingly she had taken down the books for Jesse, unlocked for her the caskets that contained the old parchment scrolls.

Jesse had not fully accepted it that summer, the implications of all she’d seen. There had been a slow confusion, a delicious suspension of ordinary reality, as if the papyruses covered with a writing she could not classify belonged more truly to dream. After all, Jesse had already become a trained archaeologist by that time. She’d done her time on digs in Egypt and at Jericho. Yet she could not decipher those strange glyphs. In the name of God, how old were these things?

For years after, she’d tried to remember other documents she’d seen. Surely she had come into the library one morning and discovered a back room with an open door.

Into a long corridor, she’d gone past other unlighted rooms. She’d found a light switch finally, and seen a great storage place full of clay tablets—clay tablets covered with tiny pictures! Without doubt, she’d held these things in her hands.

Something else had happened; something she had never really wanted to recall. Was there another hallway? She knew for certain that there had been a curving iron stairway which took her down into lower rooms with plain earthen walls. Tiny bulbs were fixed in old porcelain light sockets. She had pulled chains to turn them on.

Surely she had done that. Surely she had opened a heavy redwood door . . .

For years after, it had come back to her in little flashes—a vast, low-ceilinged room with oak chairs, a table and benches that looked as if they were made from stone. And what else? Something that at first seemed utterly familiar. And then—

Later that night, she’d remembered nothing but the stairway. Suddenly it was ten o’clock, and she’d just awakened and Maharet was standing at the foot of her bed. Maharet had come to her and kissed her. Such a lovely warm kiss; it had sent a low throbbing sensation through her. Maharet said they’d found her down by the creek, asleep in the clearing, and at sunset, they’d brought her in.

Down by the creek? For months after, she’d actually “remembered” falling asleep there. In fact, it was a rather rich “recollection” of the peace and stillness of the forest, of the water singing over the rocks. But it had never happened, of that she was now sure.

But on this day, some fifteen years later, she had found no evidence one way or the other of these half-remembered things. Rooms were bolted against her. Even the neat volumes of the family history were in locked glass cases which she dared not disturb.

Yet never had she believed so firmly in what she could recall. Yes, clay tablets covered with nothing but tiny stick figures for persons, trees, animals. She’d seen them, taken them off the shelves and held them under the feeble overhead light. And the stairway, and the room that frightened her, no, terrified her, yes . . . all there.

Nevertheless, it had been paradise here, in those warm summer days and nights, when she had sat by the hour talking to Maharet, when she had danced with Mael and Maharet by the light of the moon. Forget for now the pain afterwards, trying to understand why Maharet had sent her back home to New York never to come here again.

My darling,

The fact is I love you too much. My life will engulf yours if we are not separated. You must have freedom, Jesse, to devise your own plans, ambitions, dreams . . .

It was not to relive the old pain that she had returned, it was to

know again, for a little while, the joy that had gone before.

FIGHTING weariness this afternoon, she’d wandered out of the house finally, and down the long lane through the oaks. So easy to find the old paths through the dense redwoods. And the clearing, ringed in fern and clover on the steep rocky banks of the shallow rushing creek.

Here Maharet had once guided her through total darkness, down into the water and along a path of stones. Mael had joined them. Maharet had poured the wine for Jesse, and they had sung together a song Jesse could never recall afterwards, though now and then she would find herself humming this eerie melody with inexplicable accuracy, then stop, aware of it, unable to find the proper note again.

She might have fallen asleep near the creek in the deep mingled sounds of the forest, so like the false “recollection” of years ago.

So dazzling the bright green of the maples, catching the rare shafts of light. And the redwoods, how monstrous they seemed in the unbroken quiet. Mammoth, indifferent, soaring hundreds of feet before their somber lacy foliage closed on the frayed margin of sky.

And she’d known what the concert tonight, with Lestat’s screaming fans, would demand of her. But she’d been afraid that the dream of the twins would start again.

FINALLY, she’d gone back to the house, and taken the roses and the letter with her. Her old room. Three o’clock. Who wound the clocks of this place that they knew the hour? The dream of the twins was stalking her. And she was simply too tired to fight anymore. The place felt so good to her. No ghosts here of the kind she’d

encountered so many times in her work. Only the peace. She’d lain down on the old hanging bed, on the quilt that she herself had made so carefully with Maharet that summer. And sleep—and the twins—had come together.

Now she had two hours to get to San Francisco, and she must leave this house, maybe in tears, again. She checked her pockets. Passport, papers, money, keys.

She picked up her leather bag, slung it over her shoulder, and hurried through the long passage to the stairs. Dusk was coming

fast, and when darkness did cover the forest, nothing would be visible at all.

There was still a bit of sunlight in the main hall when she reached it. Through the western windows, a few long dusty rays illuminated the giant tapestry quilt on the wall.

Jesse caught her breath as she looked at it. Always her favorite, for its intricacy, its size. At first it seemed a great mass of random tiny prints and patches—then gradually the wooded landscape emerged from the myriad pieces of cloth. One minute you saw it; the next it was gone. That’s how it had happened over and over again that summer when, drunk with wine, she had walked back and forth before it, losing the picture, then recovering it: the mountain, the forest, a tiny village nestled in the green valley below.

“I’m sorry, Maharet,” she whispered again softly. She had to go.

Her journey was nearly ended.

But as she looked away, something in the quilted picture caught her eye. She turned back, studied it again. Were there figures there, which she had never seen? Once more it was a swarm of stitched-together fragments. Then slowly the flank of the mountain emerged, then the olive trees, and finally the rooftops of the village, no more than yellow huts scattered on the smooth valley floor. The figures? She could not find them. That is, until she again turned her head away. In the corner of her eye, they were visible for a split second. Two tiny figures holding each other, women with red hair!

Slowly, almost cautiously she turned back to the picture. Her heart was skipping. Yes, there. But was it an illusion?

She crossed the room until she stood directly before the quilt. She reached up and touched it. Yes! Each little rag-doll being had a tiny pair of green buttons for its eyes, a carefully sewn nose and red mouth! And the hair, the hair was red yarn, crimped into jagged waves and delicately sewn over the white shoulders.

She stared at it, half disbelieving. Yet there they were—the twins! And as she stood there, petrified, the room began to darken. The last light had slipped below the horizon. The quilt was fading before her eyes into an unreadable pattern.

In a daze, she heard the clock strike the quarter hour. Call the Talamasca. Call David in London. Tell him part of it, anything—But

that was out of the question and she knew it. And it broke her heart to realize that no matter what did happen to her tonight, the Talamasca would never know the whole story.

She forced herself to leave, to lock the door behind her and walk across the deep porch and down the long path.

She didn’t fully understand her feelings, why she was so shaken and on the verge of tears. It confirmed her suspicions, all she thought she knew. And yet she was frightened. She was actually crying.

Wait for Maharet.

But that she could not do. Maharet would charm her, confuse her, drive her away from the mystery in the name of love. That’s what had happened in that long ago summer. The Vampire Lestat withheld nothing. The Vampire Lestat was the crucial piece in the puzzle. To see him and touch him was to validate everything.

The red Mercedes roadster started instantly. And with a spray of gravel she backed up, turned, and made for the narrow unpaved road. The convertible top was down; she’d be frozen by the time she reached San Francisco, but it didn’t matter. She loved the cold air on her face, she loved to drive fast.

The road plunged at once into the darkness of the woods. Not even the rising moon could penetrate here. She pushed to forty, swinging easily into the sudden turns. Her sadness grew heavier suddenly, but there were no more tears. The Vampire Lestat . . . almost there.

When at last she hit the county road, she was speeding, singing to herself in syllables she could hardly hear above the wind. Full darkness came just as she roared through the pretty little city of Santa Rosa and connected with the broad swift current of Highway 101 south.

The coastal fog was drifting in. It made ghosts of the dark hills to the east and west. Yet the bright flow of tail lamps illuminated the road ahead of her. Her excitement was mounting. One hour to the Golden Gate. The sadness was leaving her. All her life she’d been confident, lucky; and sometimes impatient with the more cautious people she’d known. And despite her sense of fatality on this night, her keen awareness of the dangers she was approaching, she felt her usual luck might be with her. She wasn’t really afraid.

SHE’D been born lucky, as she saw it, found by the side of the road minutes after the car crash that had killed her seven-months-pregnant teenaged mother—a baby spontaneously aborted from the dying womb, and screaming loudly to clear her own tiny lungs when the ambulance arrived.

She had no name for two weeks as she languished in the county hospital, condemned for hours to the sterility and coldness of machines; but the nurses had adored her, nicknaming her “the sparrow,” and cuddling her and singing to her whenever allowed.

Years later they were to write to her, sending along the snapshots they’d taken, telling her little stories, which had greatly amplified her early sense of having been loved.

It was Maharet who at last came for her, identifying her as the sole survivor of the Reeves family of South Carolina and taking her to New York to live with cousins of a different name and background. There she was to grow up in a lavish old two-story apartment on Lexington Avenue with Maria and Matthew Godwin, who gave her not only love but everything she could want. An English nanny had slept in her room till Jesse was twelve years old.

She could not remember when she’d learned that her aunt Maharet had provided for her, that she could go on to any college and any career she might choose. Matthew Godwin was a doctor, Maria was a sometime dancer and teacher; they were frank about their attachment to Jesse, their dependence upon her. She was the daughter they had always wanted, and these had been rich and happy years.

The letters from Maharet started before she was old enough to read. They were wonderful, often full of colorful postcards and odd pieces of currency from the countries where Maharet lived. Jesse had a drawerful of rupees and lire by the time she was seventeen. But more important, she had a friend in Maharet, who answered every line she ever wrote with feeling and care.

It was Maharet who inspired her in her reading, encouraged her music lessons and painting classes, arranged her summer tours of Europe and finally her admission to Columbia, where Jesse studied ancient languages and art.

It was Maharet who arranged her Christmas visits with European cousins—the Scartinos of Italy, a powerful banking family who

lived in a villa outside Siena, and the humbler Borchardts of Paris, who welcomed her to their overcrowded but cheerful home.

The summer that Jesse turned seventeen she went to Vienna to meet the Russian émigré branch of the family, young fervent intellectuals and musicians whom she greatly loved. Then it was off to England to meet the Reeves family, directly connected to the Reeveses of South Carolina, who had left England centuries ago.

When she was eighteen, she’d gone to visit the Petralona cousins in their villa on Santorini, rich and exotic-looking Greeks. They had lived in near feudal splendor, surrounded by peasant servants, and had taken Jesse with them on a spur-of-the-moment voyage aboard their yacht to Istanbul, Alexandria, and Crete.

Jesse had almost fallen in love with young Constantin Petralona. Maharet had let her know the marriage would have everyone’s blessing, but she must make her own decision. Jesse had kissed her lover good-bye and flown back to America, the university, and preparation for her first archaeological dig in Iraq.

But even through the college years, she remained as close to the family as ever. Everyone was so good to her. But then everyone was good to everyone else. Everyone believed in the family. Visits among the various branches were common; frequent intermarriage had made endless entanglements; every family house contained rooms in constant readiness for relatives who might drop in. Family trees seemed to go back forever; people passed on funny stories about famous relatives who had been dead for three or four hundred years. Jesse had felt a great communion with these people, no matter how different they seemed.

In Rome she was charmed by the cousins who drove their sleek Ferraris at breakneck speed, stereos blaring, and went home at night to a charming old palazzo where the plumbing didn’t work and the roof leaked. The Jewish cousins in southern California were a dazzling bunch of musicians, designers, and producers who had one way or the other been connected with the motion pictures and the big studios for fifty years. Their old house off Hollywood Boulevard was home to a score of unemployed actors. Jesse could live in the attic if she wanted to; dinner was served at six to anybody and everybody who walked in.

But who was this woman Maharet, who had always been Jesse’s

distant but ever attentive mentor, who guided her studies with frequent and thoughtful letters, who gave her the personal direction to which she so productively responded and which she secretly craved?

To all the cousins whom Jesse was ever to visit, Maharet was a palpable presence though her visits were so infrequent as to be remarkable. She was the keeper of the records of the Great Family, that is, all the branches under many names throughout the world. It was she who frequently brought members together, even arranging marriages to unite different branches, and the one who could invariably provide help in times of trouble, help that could sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

Before Maharet, there had been her mother, now called Old Maharet, and before that Great-aunt Maharet and so forth and so on as long as anybody could remember. “There will always be a Maharet” was an old family saying, rattled off in Italian as easily as in German or Russian or Yiddish or Greek. That is, a single female descendant in each generation would take the name and the recordkeeping obligations, or so it seemed, anyhow, for no one save Maharet herself really knew those details.

“When will I meet you?” Jesse had written many times over the years. She had collected the stamps off the envelopes from Delhi and Rio and Mexico City, from Bangkok, and Tokyo and Lima and Saigon and Moscow.

All the family were devoted to this woman and fascinated by her, but with Jesse there was another secret and powerful connection.

From her earliest years, Jesse had had “unusual” experiences, unlike those of the people around her.

For example, Jesse could read people’s thoughts in a vague, wordless way. She “knew” when people disliked her or were lying to her. She had a gift for languages because she frequently understood the “gist” even when she did not know the vocabulary.

And she saw ghosts—people and buildings that could not possibly be there.

When she was very little she often saw the dim gray outline of an elegant town house across from her window in Manhattan. She’d known it wasn’t real, and it made her laugh at first, the way it came and went, sometimes transparent, other times as solid as the street

itself, with lights behind its lace-curtained windows. Years passed before she learned that the phantom house had once been the property of architect Stanford White. It had been torn down decades ago.

The human images she saw were not at first so well formed. On the contrary, they were brief flickering apparitions that often compounded the inexplicable discomfort she felt in particular places.

But as she got older these ghosts became more visible, more enduring. Once on a dark rainy afternoon, the translucent figure of an old woman had ambled towards her and finally passed right through her. Hysterical, Jesse had run into a nearby shop, where clerks had called Matthew and Maria. Over and over Jesse tried to describe the woman’s troubled face, her bleary-eyed stare which seemed utterly blind to the real world about her.

Friends often didn’t believe Jesse when she described these things. Yet they were fascinated and begged her to repeat the stories. It left Jesse with an ugly vulnerable feeling. So she tried not to tell people about the ghosts, though by the time she was in her early teens she was seeing these lost souls more and more often.

Even walking in the dense crowds of Fifth Avenue at midday she glimpsed these pale searching creatures. Then one morning in Central Park, when Jesse was sixteen, she saw the obvious apparition of a young man sitting on a bench not far from her. The park was crowded, noisy; yet the figure seemed detached, a part of nothing around it. The sounds around Jesse began to go dim as if the thing were absorbing them. She prayed for it to go away. Instead it turned and fixed its eyes on her. It tried to speak to her.

Jesse ran all the way home. She was in a panic. These things knew her now, she told Matthew and Maria. She was afraid to leave the apartment. Finally Matthew gave her a sedative and told her she would be able to sleep. He left the door of her room open so she wouldn’t be frightened.

As Jesse lay there halfway between dream and waking, a young girl came in. Jesse realized she knew this young girl; of course, she was one of the family, she’d always been here, right by Jesse, they’d talked lots of times, hadn’t they, and no surprise at all that she was so sweet, so loving, and so familiar. She was just a teenager, no

older than Jesse.

She sat on Jesse’s bed and told Jesse not to worry, that these spirits could never hurt her. No ghost had ever hurt anybody. They didn’t have the power. They were poor pitiful weak things. “You write to Aunt Maharet,” the girl said, and then she kissed Jesse and brushed the hair back out of Jesse’s face. The sedative was really working then. Jesse couldn’t even keep her eyes open. There was a question she wanted to ask about the car wreck when she was born, but she couldn’t think of it. “Good-bye, sweetheart,” said the girl and Jesse was asleep before the girl had left the room.

When she woke up it was two o’clock in the morning. The flat was dark. She began her letter to Maharet immediately, recounting every strange incident that she could remember.

It wasn’t until dinnertime that she thought of the young girl with a start. Impossible that such a person had been living here and was familiar and had always been around. How could she have accepted such a thing? Even in her letter she had said, “Of course Miriam was here and Miriam said . . . ” And who was Miriam? A name on Jesse’s birth certificate. Her mother.

Jesse told no one what had happened. Yet a comforting warmth enveloped her. She could feel Miriam here, she was sure of it.

Maharet’s letter came five days later. Maharet believed her. These spirit apparitions were nothing surprising at all. Such things most certainly did exist, and Jesse was not the only person who saw them:

Our family over the generations has contained many a seer of spirits. And as you know these were the sorcerers and witches of ages past. Frequently this power appears in those who are blessed with your physical attributes: your green eyes, pale skin, and red hair. It would seem the genes travel together. Maybe science one day will explain this to us. But for now be assured that your powers are entirely natural.

This does not mean, however, that they are constructive. Though spirits are real, they make almost no difference in the scheme of things! They can be childish, vindictive, and deceitful. By and large you cannot help the entities who

try to communicate with you, and sometimes you are merely gazing at a lifeless ghost—that is, a visual echo of a personality no longer present.

Don’t fear them, but do not let them waste your time. For that they love to do, once they know that you can see them. As for Miriam, you must tell me if you see her again. But as you have done as she asked in writing to me I do not think she will find it necessary to return. In all probability she is quite above the sad antics of those whom you see most often. Write to me about these things whenever they frighten you. But try not to tell others. Those who do not see will never believe you.

This letter proved invaluable to Jesse. For years she carried it with her, in her purse or pocket wherever she went. Not only had Maharet believed her, but Maharet had given her a way to understand and survive this troublesome power. Everything that Maharet said had made sense.

After that Jesse was occasionally frightened again by spirits; and she did share these secrets with her closest friends. But by and large she did as Maharet had instructed her, and the powers ceased to bother her. They seemed to go dormant. She forgot them for long periods.

Maharet’s letters came with ever greater frequency. Maharet was her confidante, her best friend. As Jesse entered college, she had to admit that Maharet was more real to her through the letters than anyone else she had ever known. But she had long come to accept that they might never see each other.

Then one evening during Jesse’s third year at Columbia she had opened the door of her apartment to discover the lights burning, and a fire going under the mantel, and a tall, thin red-haired woman standing at the andirons with the poker.

Such beauty! That had been Jesse’s first overwhelming impression. Skillfully powdered and painted, the face had an Oriental artifice, save for the remarkable intensity of the green eyes and the thick curly red hair pouring down over the shoulders.

“My darling,” the woman said. “It’s Maharet.”

Jesse had rushed into her arms. But Maharet had caught her,

gently holding her apart as if to look at her. Then she’d covered Jesse with kisses, as if she dared not touch her in any other way, her gloved hands barely holding Jesse’s arms. It had been a lovely and delicate moment. Jesse had stroked Maharet’s soft thick red hair. So like her own.

“You are my child,” Maharet had whispered. “You are everything I had hoped you would be. Do you know how happy I am?”

Like ice and fire, Maharet had seemed that night. Immensely strong, yet irrepressibly warm. A thin, yet statuesque creature with a tiny waist and flowing skirts, she had the high-toned mystery of fashion manikins, the eerie glamour of women who have made of themselves sculpture, her long brown wool cape moving with sweeping grace as they left the flat together. Yet how easy with one another they had been.

It had been a long night on the town; they’d gone to galleries, the theater, and then to a late night supper though Maharet had wanted nothing. She was too excited, she said. She did not even remove her gloves. She wanted only to listen to all that Jesse had to tell her. And Jesse had talked unendingly about everything—Columbia, her work in archaeology, her dreams of fieldwork in Mesopotamia.

So different from the intimacy of letters. They had even walked through Central Park in the pitch darkness together, Maharet telling Jesse there was not the slightest reason to be afraid. And it had seemed entirely normal then, hadn’t it? And so beautiful, as if they were following the paths of an enchanted forest, fearing nothing, talking in excited yet hushed voices. How divine to feel so safe! Near dawn, Maharet left Jesse at the apartment with promises to bring her to visit in California very soon. Maharet had a house there, in the Sonoma mountains.

But two years were to pass before the invitation ever came. Jesse had just finished her bachelor’s degree. She was scheduled to work on a dig in Lebanon in July.

“You must come for two weeks,” Maharet had written. The plane ticket was enclosed. Mael, “a dear friend,” would fetch her from the airport.

THOUGH Jesse hadn’t admitted it at the time, there had been strange things happening from the start.

Mael, for instance, a tall overpowering man with long wavy blond hair and deep-set blue eyes. There had been something almost eerie about the way he moved, the timbre of his voice, the precise way he handled the car as they drove north to Sonoma County. He’d worn the rawhide clothes of a rancher it seemed, even to the alligator boots, except for a pair of exquisite black kid gloves and a large pair of gold-rimmed blue-tinted glasses.

And yet he’d been so cheerful, so glad to see her, and she’d liked him immediately. She’d told him the story of her life before they reached Santa Rosa. He had the most lovely laugh. But Jesse had gotten positively dizzy looking at him once or twice. Why?

The compound itself was unbelievable. Who could have built such a place? It was at the end of an impossible unpaved road, to begin with; and its back rooms had been dug out of the mountain, as if by enormous machines. Then there were the roof timbers. Were they primeval redwood? They must have been twelve feet in girth. And the adobe walls, positively ancient. Had there been Europeans in California so long ago that they could have . . . but what did it matter? The place was magnificent, finally. She loved the round iron hearths and animal-skin rugs, and the huge library and the crude observatory with its ancient brass telescope.

She had loved the good-hearted servants who came each morning from Santa Rosa to clean, do laundry, prepare the sumptuous meals. It did not even bother her that she was alone so much. She loved walking in the forest. She went into Santa Rosa for novels and newspapers. She studied the tapestried quilts. There were ancient artifacts here she could not classify; she loved examining these things.

And the compound had every convenience. Aerials high on the mountain brought television broadcasts from far and wide. There was a cellar movie theater complete with projector, screen, and an immense collection of films. On warm afternoons she swam in the pond to the south of the house. As dusk fell bringing the inevitable northern California chill, huge fires blazed in every hearth.

Of course the grandest discovery for her had been the family history, that there were countless leather volumes tracing the lineage of all the branches of the Great Family for centuries back. She was thrilled to discover photograph albums by the hundreds,

and trunks full of painted portraits, some no more than tiny oval miniatures, others large canvases now layered with dust.

At once she devoured the history of the Reeveses of South Carolina, her own people—rich before the Civil War, and ruined after. Their photographs were almost more than she could bear. Here at last were the forebears she truly resembled; she could see her features in their faces. They had her pale skin, even her expression! And two of them had her long curly red hair. To Jesse, an adopted child, this had a very special significance.

It was only towards the end of her stay that Jesse began to realize the implications of the family records, as she opened scrolls covered with ancient Latin, Greek, and finally Egyptian hieroglyphs. Never afterwards was she able to pinpoint the discovery of the clay tablets deep within the cellar room. But the memory of her conversations with Maharet were never clouded. They’d talked for hours about the family chronicles.

Jesse had begged to work with the family history. She would have given up school for this library. She wanted to translate and adapt the old records and feed them into computers. Why not publish the story of the Great Family? For surely such a long lineage was highly unusual, if not absolutely unique. Even the crowned heads of Europe could not trace themselves back before the Dark Ages.

Maharet had been patient with Jesse’s enthusiasm, reminding her that it was time-consuming and unrewarding work. After all, it was only the story of one family’s progress through the centuries; sometimes there were only lists of names in the record, or short descriptions of uneventful lives, tallies of births and deaths, and records of migration.

Good memories, those conversations. And the soft mellow light of the library, the delicious smells of the old leather and parchment, of the candles and the blazing fire. And Maharet by the hearth, the lovely manikin, her pale green eyes covered with large faintly tinted glasses, cautioning Jesse that the work might engulf her, keep her from better things. It was the Great Family that mattered, not the record of it, it was the vitality in each generation, and the knowledge and love of one’s kin. The record merely made this possible.

Jesse’s longing for this work was greater than anything she’d ever known. Surely Maharet would let her stay here! She’d have years in this library, discovering finally the very origins of the family!

Only afterwards did she see it as an astounding mystery, and one among many during that summer. Only afterwards, had so many little things preyed on her mind.

FOR example, Maharet and Mael simply never appeared until after dark, and the explanation—they slept all day—was no explanation at all. And where did they sleep?—that was another question. Their rooms lay empty all day with the doors open, the closets overflowing with exotic and spectacular clothes. At sunset they

would appear almost as if they’d materialized. Jesse would look up. Maharet would be standing by the hearth, her makeup elaborate and flawless, her clothes dramatic, her jeweled earrings and necklace sparkling in the broken light. Mael, dressed as usual in soft brown buckskin jacket and pants, stood silently against the wall.

But when Jesse asked about their strange hours, Maharet’s answers were utterly convincing! They were pale beings, they detested sunlight, and they did stay up so late! True. Why, at four in the morning, they were still arguing with each other about politics or history, and from such a bizarre and grand perspective, calling cities by their ancient names, and sometimes speaking in a rapid, strange tongue that Jesse could not classify, let alone understand. With her psychic gift, she sometimes knew what they were saying; but the strange sounds baffled her.

And something about Mael rankled Maharet, it was obvious. Was he her lover? It did not really seem so.

Then it was the way that Mael and Maharet kept speaking to each other, as if they were reading each other’s minds. All of a sudden, Mael would say, “But I told you not to worry,” when in fact Maharet had not said a word out loud. And sometimes they did it with Jesse too. One time, Jesse was certain, Maharet had called her, asked her to come down to the main dining hall, though Jesse could have sworn she heard the voice only in her head.

Of course Jesse was psychic. But were Mael and Maharet both powerful psychics as well?

Dinner: that was another thing—the way that Jesse’s favorite

dishes appeared. She didn’t have to tell the servants what she liked and didn’t like. They knew! Escargots, baked oysters, fettucini alla carbonara, beef Wellington, any and all her favorites were the nightly fare. And the wine, she had never tasted such delicious vintages. Yet Maharet and Mael ate like birds, or so it seemed. Sometimes they sat out the entire meal with their gloves on.

And the strange visitors, what about them? Santino, for instance, a black-haired Italian, who arrived one evening on foot, with a youthful companion named Eric. Santino had stared at Jesse as if she were an exotic animal, then he’d kissed her hand and given her a gorgeous emerald ring, which had disappeared without explanation several nights later. For two hours Santino had argued with Maharet in that same unusual language, then left in a rage, with the flustered Eric.

Then there were the strange nighttime parties. Hadn’t Jesse awakened twice at three or four in the morning to find the house full of people? There had been people laughing and talking in every room. And all of these people had something in common. They were very pale with remarkable eyes, much like Mael and Maharet. But Jesse had been so sleepy. She couldn’t even remember going back to bed. Only that at one point she had been surrounded by several very beautiful young men who filled a glass of wine for her, and the next thing she knew it was morning. She was in bed. The sun was pouring through the window. The house was empty.

Also, Jesse had heard things at odd hours. The roar of helicopters, small planes. Yet no one said a word about such things.

But Jesse was so happy! These things seemed of no consequence! Maharet’s answers would banish Jesse’s doubts in an instant. Yet how unusual that Jesse would change her mind like that. Jesse was such a confident person. Her own feelings were often known to her at once. She was actually rather stubborn. And yet she always had two attitudes towards various things Maharet told her. On the one hand, “Why, that’s ridiculous,” and on the other, “Of course!”

But Jesse was having too much fun to care. She spent the first few evenings of her visit talking with Maharet and Mael about archaeology. And Maharet was a fund of information though she had some very strange ideas.

For example, she maintained that the discovery of agriculture had

actually come about because tribes who lived very well by hunting wanted to have hallucinogenic plants ever available to them for religious trances. And also they wanted beer. Never mind that there wasn’t a shred of archaeological evidence. Just keep digging. Jesse would find out.

Mael read poetry out loud beautifully; Maharet sometimes played the piano, very slowly, meditatively. Eric reappeared for a couple of nights, joining them enthusiastically in their singing.

He’d brought films with him from Japan and Italy, and they’d had a splendid time watching these. Kwaidan, in particular, had been quite impressive, though frightening. And the Italian Juliet of the Spirits had made Jesse break into tears.

All of these people seemed to find Jesse interesting. In fact, Mael asked her incredibly odd questions. Had she ever in her life smoked a cigarette? What did chocolate taste like? How could she dare to go with young men alone in automobiles or to their apartments? Didn’t she realize they might kill her? She had almost laughed. No, but seriously, that could happen, he insisted. He worked himself into a state over it. Look at the papers. Women of the modern cities were hunted by men like deer in the wood.

Best to get him off that subject, and onto his travels. His descriptions of all the places he’d been were marvelous. He’d lived for years in the jungles of the Amazon. Yet he would not fly in “an aeroplane.” That was too dangerous. What if it exploded? And he didn’t like “cloth garments” because they were too fragile.

Jesse had a very peculiar moment with Mael. They’d been talking together at the dining table. She’d been explaining about the ghosts she sometimes saw, and he had referred to these crossly as the addlebrained dead, or the insane dead, which had made her laugh in spite of herself. But it was true; ghosts did behave as if they were a little addlebrained, that was the horror of it. Do we cease to exist when we die? Or do we linger in a stupid state, appearing to people at odd moments and making nonsensical remarks to mediums? When had a ghost ever said anything interesting?

“But they are merely the earthbound, of course,” Mael had said. “Who knows where we go when we at last let loose of the flesh and all its seductive pleasures?”

Jesse had been quite drunk by this time, and she felt a a terrible

dread coming over her—thoughts of the old ghost mansion of Stanford White, and the spirits roaming the New York crowds. She’d focused sharply upon Mael, who for once was not wearing his gloves or his tinted glasses. Handsome Mael, whose eyes were very blue except for a bit of blackness at the centers.

“Besides,” Mael had said, “there are other spirits who have always been here. They were never flesh and blood; and it makes them so angry.”

What a curious idea. “How do you know this?” Jesse had asked, still staring at Mael. Mael was beautiful. The beauty was the sum of the faults—the hawk nose, the too prominent jaw, the leanness of the face with the wild wavy straw-colored hair around it. Even the eyes were too deep-set, yet all the more visible for it. Yes, beautiful

—to embrace, to kiss, to invite to bed . . . In fact, the attraction she’d always felt to him was suddenly overwhelming.

Then, an odd realization had seized her. This isn’t a human being. This is something pretending to be a human being. It was so clear. But it was also ridiculous! If it wasn’t a human being, what the hell was it? It certainly was no ghost or spirit. That was obvious.

“I guess we don’t know what’s real or unreal,” she had said without meaning to. “You stare at anything long enough and suddenly it looks monstrous.” She had in fact turned away from him to stare at the bowl of flowers in the middle of the table. Old tea roses, falling to pieces amid the baby’s breath and fern and purple zinnias. And they did look absolutely alien, these things, the way that insects always do, and sort of horrible! What were these things, really? Then the bowl broke into pieces and the water went everywhere. And Mael had said quite sincerely, “Oh, forgive me. I didn’t mean to do that.”

Now that had happened, without question. Yet it had made not the slightest impact. Mael had slipped away for a walk in the woods, kissing her forehead before he went, his hand trembling suddenly as he reached to touch her hair and then apparently thought the better of it.

Of course, Jesse had been drinking. In fact, Jesse drank too much the entire time she was there. And no one seemed to notice.

Now and then they went out and danced in the clearing under the moon. It was not an organized dancing. They would move singly, in

circles, gazing up at the sky. Mael would hum or Maharet would sing songs in the unknown language.

What had been her state of mind to do such things for hours? And why had she never questioned, even in her mind, Mael’s strange manner of wearing gloves about the house, or walking in the dark with his sunglasses on?

Then one morning well before dawn, Jesse had gone to bed drunk and had a terrible dream. Mael and Maharet were fighting with each other. Mael kept saying over and over:

“But what if she dies? What if somebody kills her, or a car hits her? What if, what if, what if . . . ” It had become a deafening roar.

Then several nights later the awful and final catastrophe had begun. Mael had been gone for a while, but then he’d returned. She’d been drinking burgundy all evening long, and she was standing on the terrace with him and he had kissed her and she had lost consciousness and yet she knew what was going on. He was holding her, kissing her breasts, yet she was slipping down through a fathomless darkness. Then the girl had come again, the teenaged girl who’d come to her that time in New York when she was so afraid. Only Mael couldn’t see the girl, and of course Jesse knew exactly who she was, Jesse’s mother, Miriam, and that Miriam was afraid. Mael had suddenly released Jesse.

“Where is she!” he’d cried out angrily.

Jesse had opened her eyes. Maharet was there. She struck Mael so hard he flew backwards over the railing of the terrace. And Jesse screamed, pushing aside the teenaged girl accidentally as she ran to look over the edge.

Far down there in the clearing Mael stood, unhurt. Impossible, yet obviously the case. He was on his feet already, and he made Maharet a deep ceremonial bow. He stood in the light falling from the windows of the lower rooms, and he blew a kiss to Maharet. Maharet looked sad, but she smiled. She’d said something under her breath and made a little dismissive gesture to Mael, as if to say she wasn’t angry.

Jesse was in a panic that Maharet would be angry with her, but when she looked into Maharet’s eyes she knew that there was no cause for worry. Then Jesse looked down and saw that the front of her dress was torn. She felt a sharp pain where Mael had been

kissing her, and when she turned to Maharet, she became disoriented, unable to hear her own words.

She was sitting on her bed somehow, propped against the pillows, and she wore a long flannel gown. She was telling Maharet that her mother had come again, she’d seen her on the terrace. But that was only part of what she’d been saying because she and Maharet had been talking for hours about the whole thing. But what whole thing? Maharet told her she would forget.

Oh, God, how she tried to recall after. Bits and pieces had tormented her for years. Maharet’s hair was down, and it was very long and full. They had moved through the dark house together, like ghosts, she and Maharet, Maharet holding her, and now and then stopping to kiss her, and she had hugged Maharet. Maharet’s body felt like stone that could breathe.

They were high up in the mountain in a secret room. Massive computers were there, with their reels and red lights, giving off a low electronic hum. And there, on an immense rectangular screen that stretched dozens of feet up the wall, was an enormous family tree drawn electronically by means of light. This was the Great Family, stretching back through all the millennia. Ah, yes, to one root! The plan was matrilineal, which had always been the way with the ancient peoples—as it had been with the Egyptians, yes, descent through the princesses of the royal house. And as it was, after a fashion, with the Hebrew tribes to this day.

All the details had been plain to Jesse at this moment—ancient names, places, the beginning!—God, had she known even the beginning?—the staggering reality of hundreds of generations charted before her eyes! She had seen the progress of the family through the ancient countries of Asia Minor and Macedonia and Italy and finally up through Europe and then to the New World! And this could have been the chart of any human family!

Never after was she able to reinvoke the details of that electronic map. No, Maharet had told her she would forget it. The miracle was that she remembered anything at all.

But what else had happened? What had been the real thrust of their long talk?

Maharet crying, that she remembered. Maharet weeping with the soft feminine sound of a young girl. Maharet had never appeared so

alluring; her face had been softened, yet luminous, the lines so few and so delicate. But it had been shadowy then, and Jesse could scarcely see anything clearly. She remembered the face burning like a white ember in the darkness, the pale green eyes clouded yet vibrant, and the blond eyelashes glistening as if the tiny hairs had been stroked with gold.

Candles burning in her room. The forest rising high outside the window. Jesse had been begging, protesting. But what in God’s name was the argument about?

You will forget this. You will remember nothing.

She’d known when she opened her eyes in the sunlight that it was over; they had gone. Nothing had come back to her in those first few moments, except that something irrevocable had been said. Then she had found the note on the bedside table:

My darling,

It is no longer good for you to be around us. I fear we have all become too enamored of you and would sweep you off your feet and take you away from those things which you have set out to do.

You will forgive us for leaving so suddenly. I am confident that this is best for you. I have arranged for the car to take you to the airport. Your plane leaves at four o’clock. Your cousins Maria and Matthew will meet you in New York.

Be assured I love you more than words can say. My letter will be waiting for you when you reach home. Some night many years from now we will discuss the family history again. You may become my helper with these records if you still wish it. But for now this must not engulf you. It must not lead you away from life itself.

Yours always,

with unquestioning love, Maharet

JESSE had never seen Maharet again.

Her letters came with the same old regularity, full of affection,

concern, advice. But never again was there to be a visit. Never was Jesse invited back to the house in the Sonoma forest.

In the following months, Jesse had been showered with presents

—a beautiful old town house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village, a new car, a heady increase in income, and the usual plane tickets to visit members of the family all over the world. Eventually, Maharet underwrote a substantial part of Jesse’s archaeological work at Jericho. In fact, as the years passed she gave Jesse anything and everything Jesse could possibly desire.

Nevertheless, Jesse had been damaged by that summer. Once in Damascus she had dreamed of Mael and awakened crying.

SHE was in London, working at the British Museum, when the memories began to come back with full force. She never knew what triggered them. Maybe the effect of Maharet’s admonition—You will forget—had simply worn off. But there might have been another reason. One evening in Trafalgar Square, she’d seen Mael or a man

who looked exactly like him. The man, who stood many feet away, had been staring at her when their eyes met. Yet when she’d waved, he’d turned his back and walked off without the slightest recognition. She’d run after him trying to catch up with him; but he was gone as if he’d never been there.

It had left her hurt and disappointed. Yet three days later she’d received an anonymous gift, a bracelet of hammered silver. It was an ancient Celtic relic, she soon found out, and probably priceless. Could Mael have sent her this precious and lovely thing? She wanted so to believe it.

Holding the bracelet tightly in her hand she felt his presence. She remembered the long ago night when they’d spoken of addlebrained ghosts. She smiled. It was as if he were there, holding her, kissing her. She told Maharet about the gift when she wrote. She wore the bracelet ever after that.

Jesse kept a diary of the memories that came back to her. She wrote down dreams, fragments she saw in flashes. But she did not mention any of this in her letters to Maharet.

She had a love affair while she was in London. It ended badly, and she felt rather alone. It was at that time that the Talamasca contacted her and the course of her life was changed forever.

JESSE had been living in an old house in Chelsea, not far from where Oscar Wilde had once lived. James McNeill Whistler had once shared the neighborhood and so had Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. It was a place that Jesse loved. But unbeknownst to her, the house in which she’d leased her rooms had been haunted for

many years. Jesse saw several strange things within the first few months. They were faint, flickering, apparitions of the kind one frequently sees in such places; echoes, as Maharet had called them, of people who’d been there years before. Jesse ignored them.

However when a reporter stopped her one afternoon, explaining that he was doing a story on the haunted house, she told him rather matter-of-factly about the things she’d seen. Common enough ghosts for London—an old woman carrying a pitcher from the pantry, a man in a frock coat and top hat who would appear for a second or more on the stair.

It made for a rather melodramatic article. Jesse had talked too much, obviously. She was called a “psychic” or “natural medium” who saw these things all the time. One of the Reeves family in Yorkshire called to tease her a little about it. Jesse thought it was funny too. But other than that, she didn’t much care. She was deep into her studies at the British Museum. It just didn’t matter at all.

Then the Talamasca, having read the paper, came to call.

Aaron Lightner, an old-fashioned gentleman with white hair and exquisite manners, asked to take Jesse to lunch. In an old but meticulously maintained Rolls Royce, he and Jesse were driven through London to a small and elegant private club.

Surely it was one of the strangest meetings Jesse had ever had. In fact, it reminded her of the long ago summer, not because it was like it, but because both experiences were so unlike anything else that had ever happened to Jesse.

Lightner was a bit on the glamorous side, as Jesse saw it. His white hair was quite full and neatly groomed, and he wore an impeccably tailored suit of Donegal tweed. He was the only man she’d ever seen with a silver walking stick.

Rapidly and pleasantly he explained to Jesse that he was a “psychic detective;” he worked for a “secret order called the Talamasca,” whose sole purpose was to collect data on “paranormal” experiences and maintain those records for the study

of such phenomena. The Talamasca held out its hand to people with paranormal powers. And to those of extremely strong ability, it now and then offered membership, a career in “psychic investigation,” which was in fact more truly a vocation, as the Talamasca demanded full devotion, loyalty, and obedience to its rules.

Jesse almost laughed. But Lightner was apparently prepared for her skepticism. He had a few “tricks” he always used at such introductory meetings. And to Jesse’s utter amazement, he managed to move several objects on the table without touching them. A simple power, he said, which functioned as a “calling card.”

As Jesse watched the salt shaker dance back and forth of its own volition, she was too amazed to speak. But the real surprise came when Lightner confessed he knew all about her. He knew where she’d come from, where she’d studied. He knew that she’d seen spirits when she was a little girl. It had come to the attention of the order years ago through “routine channels,” and a file had been created for Jesse. She must not be offended.

Please understand the Talamasca proceeded in its investigations with the utmost respect for the individual. The file contained only hearsay reports of things that Jesse had told neighbors, teachers, and school friends. Jesse could see the file any time she wanted. That was always the way it was with the Talamasca. Contact was always eventually attempted with subjects under observation. Information was freely given to the subject, though it was otherwise confidential.

Jesse questioned Lightner rather relentlessly. It soon became clear that he did know a great deal about her, but he knew nothing whatsoever about Maharet or the Great Family.

And it was this combination of knowledge and ignorance that lured Jesse. One mention of Maharet and she would have turned her back on the Talamasca forever, for to the Great Family Jesse was unfailingly loyal. But the Talamasca cared only about Jesse’s abilities. And Jesse, in spite of Maharet’s advice, had always cared about them, too.

Then the history of the Talamasca itself proved powerfully attractive. Was this man telling the truth? A secret order, which traced its existence back to the year 758, an order with records of witches, sorcerers, mediums, and seers of spirits going back to that

remote period? It dazzled her as the records of the Great Family had once dazzled her.

And Lightner graciously withstood another round of relentless questioning. He knew his history and his geography, that was clear enough. He spoke easily and accurately of the persecution of the Cathars, the suppression of the Knights Templar, the execution of Grandier, and a dozen other historical “events.” In fact, Jesse couldn’t stump him. On the contrary, he referred to ancient “magicians” and “sorcerers” of whom she had never heard.

That evening, when they arrived at the Motherhouse outside London, Jesse’s fate was pretty much sealed. She didn’t leave the Motherhouse for a week, and then only to close up her flat in Chelsea and return to the Talamasca.

The Motherhouse was a mammoth stone structure built in the 1500s and acquired by the Talamasca “only” two hundred years ago. Though the sumptuous paneled libraries and parlors had been created in the eighteenth century, along with appropriate plasterwork and friezes, the dining room and many of the bedchambers dated back to the Elizabethan period.

Jesse loved the atmosphere immediately, the dignified furnishings, the stone fireplaces, the gleaming oak floors. Even the quiet civil members of the order appealed to her, as they greeted her cheerfully, then returned to their discussions or the reading of the evening papers, as they sat about the vast, warmly lighted public rooms. The sheer wealth of the place was startling. It lent substance to Lightner’s claims. And the place felt good. Psychically good. People here were what they said they were.

But it was the libraries themselves that finally overwhelmed her, and brought her back to that tragic summer when another library and its ancient treasures had been shut against her. Here were countless volumes chronicling witch trials and hauntings and poltergeist investigations, cases of possession, of psychokinesis, reincarnation, and the like. Then there were museums beneath the building, rooms crammed with mysterious objects connected with paranormal occurrences. There were vaults to which no one was admitted except the senior members of the order. Delicious, the prospect of secrets revealed only over a period of time.

“So much work to be done, always,” Aaron had said casually.

“Why, all these old records, you see, are in Latin, and we can no longer demand that the new members read and write Latin. It’s simply out of the question in this day and age. And these storage rooms, you see, the documentation on most of these objects hasn’t been reevaluated in four centuries—”

Of course Aaron knew that Jesse could read and write not only Latin, but Greek, ancient Egyptian, and ancient Sumerian as well. What he didn’t know was that here Jesse had found a replacement for the treasures of that lost summer. She had found another “Great Family.”

That night a car was sent to get Jesse’s clothing and whatever she might want from the Chelsea flat. Her new room was in the southwest corner of the Motherhouse, a cozy little affair with a coffered ceiling and a Tudor fireplace.

Jesse never wanted to leave this house, and Aaron knew it. On Friday of that week, only three days after her arrival, she was received into the order as a novice. She was given an impressive allowance, a private parlor adjacent to her bedroom, a full-time driver, and a comfortable old car. She left her job at the British Museum as soon as possible.

The rules and regulations were simple. She would spend two years in full-time training, traveling with other members when and where necessary throughout the world. She could talk about the order to members of her family or friends, of course. But all subjects, files, and related details remained confidential. And she must never seek to publish anything about the Talamasca. In fact, she must never contribute to any “public mention” of the Talamasca. References to specific assignments must always omit names and places, and remain vague.

Her special work would be within the archives, translating and “adapting” old chronicles and records. And in the museums she would work on organizing various artifacts and relics at least one day of each week. But fieldwork—investigations of hauntings and the like—would take precedence over research at any time.

It was a month before she wrote to Maharet of her decision. And in her letter she poured out her soul. She loved these people and their work. Of course the library reminded her of the family archive in Sonoma, and the time when she’d been so happy. Did Maharet


Maharet’s answer astonished her. Maharet knew what the Talamasca was. In fact, Maharet seemed quite thoroughly familiar with the history of the Talamasca. She said without preamble that she admired enormously the efforts of the order during the witchcraft persecutions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to save the innocent from the stake.

Surely they have told you of their “underground railroad” by means of which many accused persons were taken from the villages and hamlets where they might have been burnt and given refuge in Amsterdam, an enlightened city, where the lies and foolishness of the witchcraft era were not long believed.

Jesse hadn’t known anything about this, but she was soon to confirm every detail. However, Maharet had her reservations about the Talamasca:

Much as I admire their compassion for the persecuted of all eras, you must understand that I do not think their investigations amount to much. To clarify: spirits, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, entities that defy description—all these may exist and the Talamasca may spend another millennium studying them, but what difference will this make to the destiny of the human race?

Undoubtedly there have been, in the distant past, individuals who saw visions and spoke to spirits. And perhaps as witches or shamans, these people had some value for their tribes or nations. But complex and fanciful religions have been founded upon such simple and deceptive experiences, giving mythical names to vague entities, and creating an enormous vehicle for compounded superstitious belief. Have not these religions been more evil than good?

Allow me to suggest that, however one interprets history, we are now well past the point where contact with spirits can be of any use. A crude but inexorable justice may be at work in the skepticism of ordinary individuals

regarding ghosts, mediums, and like company. The supernatural, in whatever form it exists, should not interfere in human history.

In sum, I am arguing that, except for comforting a few confused souls here and there, the Talamasca compiles records of things that are not important and should not be important. The Talamasca is an interesting organization. But it cannot accomplish great things.

I love you. I respect your decision. But I hope for your sake that you tire of the Talamasca—and return to the real world—very soon.

Jesse thought carefully before answering. It tortured her that Maharet didn’t approve of what she had done. Yet Jesse knew there was a recrimination in her decision. Maharet had turned her away from the secrets of the family; the Talamasca had taken her in.

When she wrote, she assured Maharet that the members of the order had no illusions about the significance of their work. They had told Jesse it was largely secret; there was no glory, sometimes no real satisfaction. They would agree in full with Maharet’s opinions about the insignificance of mediums, spirits, ghosts.

But did not millions of people think that the dusty finds of archaeologists were of little significance as well? Jesse begged Maharet to understand what this meant to her. And lastly she wrote, much to her own surprise, the following lines:

I will never tell the Talamasca anything about the Great Family. I will never tell them about the house in Sonoma and the mysterious things that happened to me while I was there. They would be too hungry for this sort of mystery. And my loyalty is to you. But some day, I beg you, let me come back to the California house. Let me talk to you about the things that I saw. I’ve remembered things lately. I have had puzzling dreams. But I trust your judgment in these matters. You’ve been so generous to me. I don’t doubt that you love me. Please understand how much I love you.

Maharet’s response was brief.

Jesse, I am an eccentric and willful being; very little has ever been denied me. Now and then I deceive myself as to the effect I have upon others. I should never have brought you to the Sonoma house; it was a selfish thing to do, for which I cannot forgive myself. But you must soothe my conscience for me. Forget the visit ever took place. Do not deny the truth of what you recall; but do not dwell on it either. Live your life as if it had never been so recklessly interrupted. Some day I will answer all your questions, but never again will I try to subvert your destiny. I congratulate you on your new vocation. You have my unconditional love forever.

Elegant presents soon followed. Leather luggage for Jesse’s travels and a lovely mink-lined coat to keep her warm in “the abominable British weather.” It is a country “only a Druid could love,” Maharet wrote.

Jesse loved the coat because the mink was inside and didn’t attract attention. The luggage served her well. And Maharet continued to write twice and three times a week. She remained as solicitous as ever.

But as the years passed, it was Jesse who grew distant—her letters brief and irregular—because her work with the Talamasca was confidential. She simply could not describe what she did.

Jesse still visited members of the Great Family, at Christmas and Easter. Whenever cousins came to London, she met them for sightseeing or lunch. But all such contact was brief and superficial. The Talamasca soon became Jesse’s life.

WORLD was revealed to Jesse in the Talamasca archives as she began her translations from the Latin: records of psychic families and individuals, cases of “obvious” sorcery, “real” maleficia, and finally the repetitive yet horribly fascinating transcripts of actual witchcraft trials which invariably involved the innocent and the

powerless. Night and day she worked, translating directly into the computer, retrieving invaluable historical material from crumbling parchment pages.

But another world, even more seductive, was opening up to her in the field. Within a year of joining the Talamasca, Jesse had seen

poltergeist hauntings frightening enough to send grown men running out of the house and into the street. She had seen a telekinetic child lift an oak table and send it crashing through a window. She had communicated in utter silence with mind readers who received any message she sent to them. She had seen ghosts more palpable than anything she had ever believed could exist. Feats of psychometry, automatic writing, levitation, trance mediumship—all these she witnessed, jotting down her notes afterwards, and forever marveling at her own surprise.

Would she never get used to it? Take it for granted? Even the older members of the Talamasca confessed that they were continually shocked by the things they witnessed.

And without doubt Jesse’s power to “see” was exceptionally strong. With constant use it developed enormously. Two years after entering the Talamasca, Jesse was being sent to haunted houses all over Europe and the United States. For every day or two spent in the peace and quiet of the library, there was a week in some drafty hallway watching the intermittent appearances of a silent specter who had frightened others.

Jesse seldom came to any conclusions about these apparitions. Indeed, she learned what all members of the Talamasca knew: there was no single theory of the occult to embrace all the strange things one saw or heard. The work was tantalizing, but ultimately frustrating. Jesse was unsure of herself when she addressed these “restless entities,” or addlebrained spirits as Mael had once rather accurately described them. Yet Jesse advised them to move on to “higher levels,” to seek peace for themselves and thereby leave mortals at peace also.

It seemed the only possible course to take, though it frightened her that she might be forcing these ghosts out of the only life that remained to them. What if death were the end, and hauntings came about only when tenacious souls would not accept it? Too awful to think of that—of the spirit world as a dim and chaotic afterglow before the ultimate darkness.

Whatever the case, Jesse dispelled any number of hauntings. And she was constantly comforted by the relief of the living. There developed in her a profound sense of the specialness of her life. It was exciting. She wouldn’t have swapped it for anything in the


Well, not for almost anything. After all, she might have left in a minute if Maharet had appeared on her doorstep and asked her to return to the Sonoma compound and take up the records of the Great Family in earnest. And then again perhaps not.

Jesse did have one experience with the Talamasca records, however, which caused her considerable personal confusion regarding the Great Family.

In transcribing the witch documents Jesse eventually discovered that the Talamasca had monitored for centuries certain “witch families” whose fortunes appeared to be influenced by supernatural intervention of a verifiable and predictable sort. The Talamasca was watching a number of such families right now! There was usually a “witch” in each generation of such a family, and this witch could, according to the record, attract and manipulate supernatural forces to ensure the family’s steady accumulation of wealth and other success in human affairs. The power appeared to be hereditary— i.e., based in the physical—but no one knew for sure. Some of these families were now entirely ignorant as to their own history; they did not understand the “witches” who had manifested in the twentieth century. And though the Talamasca attempted regularly to make “contact” with such people, they were often rebuffed, or found the work too “dangerous” to pursue. After all, these witches could work actual maleficia.

Shocked and incredulous, Jesse did nothing after this discovery for several weeks. But she could not get the pattern out of her mind. It was too like the pattern of Maharet and the Great Family.

Then she did the only thing she could do without violating her loyalty to anybody. She carefully reviewed the records of every witch family in the Talamasca files. She checked and double-checked. She went back to the oldest records in existence and went over them minutely.

No mention of anyone named Maharet. No mention of anyone connected to any branch or surname of the Great Family that Jesse had ever heard of. No mention of anything even vaguely suspicious.

Her relief was enormous, but in the end, she was not surprised. Her instincts had told her she was on the wrong track. Maharet was no witch. Not in this sense of the word. There was more to it than


Yet in truth, Jesse never tried to figure it all out. She resisted theories about what had happened as she resisted theories about everything. And it occurred to her, more than once, that she had sought out the Talamasca in order to lose this personal mystery in a wilderness of mysteries. Surrounded by ghosts and poltergeists and possessed children, she thought less and less about Maharet and the Great Family.

BY THE time Jesse became a full member, she was an expert on the rules of the Talamasca, the procedures, the way to record investigations, when and how to help the police in crime cases, how to avoid all contact with the press. She also came to respect that the Talamasca was not a dogmatic organization. It did not require its

members to believe anything, merely to be honest and careful about all the phenomena that they observed.

Patterns, similarities, repetitions—these fascinated the Talamasca. Terms abounded, but there was no rigid vocabulary. The files were merely cross-referenced in dozens of different ways.

Nevertheless members of the Talamasca studied the theoreticians. Jesse read the works of all the great psychic detectives, mediums, and mentalists. She studied anything and everything related to the occult.

And many a time she thought of Maharet’s advice. What Maharet had said was true. Ghosts, apparitions, psychics who could read minds and move objects telekinetically—it was all fascinating to those who witnessed it firsthand. But to the human race at large it meant very little. There was not now, nor would there ever be, any great occult discovery that would alter human history.

But Jesse never tired of her work. She became addicted to the excitement, even the secrecy. She was within the womb of the Talamasca, and though she grew accustomed to the elegance of her surroundings—to antique lace and poster beds and sterling silver, to chauffeured cars and servants—she herself became ever more simple and reserved.

At thirty she was a fragile-looking light-skinned woman with her curly red hair parted in the middle and kept long so that it would fall behind her shoulders and leave her alone. She wore no

cosmetics, perfume, or jewelry, except for the Celtic bracelet. A cashmere blazer was her favorite garment, along with wool pants, or jeans if she was in America. Yet she was an attractive person, drawing a little more attention from men than she thought was best. Love affairs she had, but they were always short. And seldom very important.

What mattered more were her friendships with the other members of the order; she had so many brothers and sisters. And they cared about her as she cared about them. She loved the feeling of the community surrounding her. At any hour of the night, one could go downstairs to a lighted parlor where people were awake— reading, talking, arguing perhaps in a subdued way. One could wander into the kitchen where the night cook was ever ready to prepare an early breakfast or a late dinner, whatever one might desire.

Jesse might have gone on forever with the Talamasca. Like a Catholic religious order, the Talamasca took care of its old and infirm. To die within the order was to know every luxury as well as every medical attention, to spend your last moments the way you wanted, alone in your bed, or with other members near you, comforting you, holding your hand. You could go home to your relatives if that was your choice. But most, over the years, chose to die in the Motherhouse. The funerals were dignified and elaborate. In the Talamasca, death was a part of life. A great gathering of black-dressed men and women witnessed each burial.

Yes, these had become Jesse’s people. And in the natural course of events she would have remained forever.

But when she reached the end of her eighth year, something happened that was to change everything, something that led eventually to her break with the order.

Jesse’s accomplishments up to that point had been impressive. But in the summer of 1081, she was still working under the direction of Aaron Lightner and she had seldom even spoken to the governing council of the Talamasca or the handful of men and women who were really in charge.

So when David Talbot, the head of the entire order, called her up to his office in London, she was surprised. David was an energetic man of sixty-five, heavy of build, with iron-gray hair and a

consistently cheerful manner. He offered Jesse a glass of sherry and talked pleasantly about nothing for fifteen minutes before getting to the point.

Jesse was being offered a very different sort of assignment. He gave her a novel called Interview with the Vampire. He said, “I want you to read this book.”

Jesse was puzzled. “The fact is, I have read it,” she said. “It was a couple of years ago. But what does a novel like this have to do with us?”

Jesse had picked up a paperback copy at the airport and devoured it on a long transcontinental flight. The story, supposedly told by a vampire to a young reporter in present-day San Francisco, had affected Jesse rather like a bad dream. She wasn’t sure she liked it. Matter of fact, she’d thrown it away later, rather than leave it on a bench at the next airport for fear some unsuspecting person might find it.

The main characters of the work—rather glamorous immortals when you got right down to it—had formed an evil little family in antebellum New Orleans where they preyed on the populace for over fifty years. Lestat was the villain of the piece, and the leader. Louis, his anguished subordinate, was the hero, and the one telling the tale. Claudia, their exquisite vampire “daughter,” was a truly tragic figure, her mind maturing year after year while her body remained eternally that of a little girl. Louis’s fruitless quest for redemption had been the theme of the book, obviously, but Claudia’s hatred for the two male vampires who had made her what she was, and her own eventual destruction, had had a much stronger effect upon Jesse.

“The book isn’t fiction,” David explained simply. “Yet the purpose of creating it is unclear. And the act of publishing it, even as a novel, has us rather alarmed.”

“Not fiction?” Jesse asked. “I don’t understand.”

“The author’s name is a pseudonym,” David continued, “and the royalty checks go to a nomadic young man who resists all our attempts at contact. He was a reporter, however, much like the boy interviewer in the novel. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment. Your job is to go to New Orleans and document the events in the story which took place there before the Civil War.”

“Wait a minute. You’re telling me there are vampires? That these characters—Louis and Lestat and the little girl Claudia—are real!”

“Yes, exactly,” David answered. “And don’t forget about Armand, the mentor of the Théâtre des Vampires in Paris. You do remember Armand.”

Jesse had no trouble remembering Armand or the theater. Armand, the oldest immortal in the novel, had had the face and form of an adolescent boy. As for the theater, it had been a gruesome establishment where human beings were killed on stage before an unsuspecting Parisian audience as part of the regular fare.

The entire nightmarish quality of the book was coming back to Jesse. Especially the parts that dealt with Claudia. Claudia had died in the Theater of the Vampires. The coven, under Armand’s command, had destroyed her.

“David, am I understanding you correctly? You’re saying these creatures exist?”

“Absolutely,” David answered. “We’ve been observing this type of being since we came into existence. In a very real way, the Talamasca was formed to observe these creatures, but that’s another story. In all probability, there are no fictional characters in this little novel whatsoever, but that would be your assignment, you see

—to document the existence of the New Orleans coven, as described here—Claudia, Louis, Lestat.”

Jesse laughed. She couldn’t help it. She really laughed. David’s patient expression only made her laugh more. But she wasn’t surprising David, any more than her laughter had surprised Aaron Lightner eight years ago when they first met.

“Excellent attitude,” David said, with a little mischievous smile. “We wouldn’t want you to be too imaginative or trusting. But this field requires great care, Jesse, and strict obedience to the rules. Believe me when I say that this is an area which can be extremely dangerous. You are certainly free to turn down the assignment right now.”

“I’m going to start laughing again,” Jesse said. She had seldom if ever heard the word “dangerous” in the Talamasca. She had seen it in writing only in the witch family files. Now, she could believe in a witch family without much difficulty. Witches were human beings, and spirits could be manipulated, most probably. But vampires?

“Well, let’s approach it this way,” David said. “Before you make up your mind, we’ll examine certain artifacts pertaining to these creatures which we have in the vaults.”

The idea was irresistible. There were scores of rooms beneath the Motherhouse to which Jesse had never been admitted. She wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity.

As she and David went down the stairs together, the atmosphere of the Sonoma compound came back to her unexpectedly and rather vividly. Even the long corridor with its occasional dim electric bulbs reminded her of Maharet’s cellar. She found herself all the more excited.

She followed David silently through one locked storage room after another. She saw books, a skull on a shelf, what seemed old clothing heaped on the floor, furniture, oil paintings, trunks and strongboxes, dust.

“All this paraphernalia,” David said, with a dismissive gesture, “is in one way or another connected to our blood-drinking immortal friends. They tend to be a rather materialistic lot, actually. And they leave behind them all sorts of refuse. It is not unknown for them to leave an entire household, complete with furnishings, clothing, and even coffins—very ornate and interesting coffins—when they tire of a particular location or identity. But there are some specific things which I must show you. It will all be rather conclusive, I should think.”

Conclusive? There was something conclusive in this work? This was certainly an afternoon for surprises.

David led her into a final chamber, a very large room, paneled in tin and immediately illuminated by a bank of overhead lights.

She saw an enormous painting against the far wall. She placed it at once as Renaissance, and probably Venetian. It was done in egg tempera on wood. And it had the marvelous sheen of such paintings, a gloss that no synthetic material can create. She read the Latin title along with the name of the artist, in small Roman-style letters painted in the lower right corner.

“The Temptation of Amadeo” by Marius

She stood back to study it.

A splendid choir of black-winged angels hovered around a single kneeling figure, that of a young auburn-haired boy. The cobalt sky behind them, seen through a series of arches, was splendidly done with masses of gilded clouds. And the marble floor before the figures had a photographic perfection to it. One could feel its coldness, see the veins in the stone.

But the figures were the true glory of the picture. The faces of the angels were exquisitely modeled, their pastel robes and black feathered wings extravagantly detailed. And the boy, the boy was very simply alive! His dark brown eyes veritably glistened as he stared forward out of the painting. His skin appeared moist. He was about to move or speak.

In fact, it was all too realistic to be Renaissance. The figures were particular rather than ideal. The angels wore expressions of faint amusement, almost bitterness. And the fabric of the boy’s tunic and leggings, it was too exactly rendered. She could even see the mends in it, a tiny tear, the dust on his sleeve. There were other such details—dried leaves here and there on the floor, and two paintbrushes lying to one side for no apparent reason.

“Who is this Marius?” she whispered. The name meant nothing. And never had she seen an Italian painting with so many disturbing elements. Black-winged angels . . .

David didn’t answer. He pointed to the boy. “It’s the boy I want you to observe,” he said. “He’s not the real subject of your investigation, merely a very important link.”

Subject? Link. . . . She was too engrossed in the picture. “And look, bones in the corner, human bones covered with dust, as if someone had merely swept them out of the way. But what on earth does it all mean?”

“Yes,” David murmured. “When you see the word ‘temptation,’ usually there are devils surrounding a saint.”

“Exactly,” she answered. “And the craft is exceptional.” The more she stared at the picture, the more disturbed she became. “Where did you get this?”

“The order acquired it centuries ago,” David answered. “Our emissary in Venice retrieved it from a burnt-out villa on the Grand

Canal. These vampires are endlessly associated with fires, by the way. It is the one weapon they can use effectively against one another. There are always fires. In Interview with the Vampire, there were several fires, if you recall. Louis set fire to a town house in New Orleans when he was trying to destroy his maker and mentor, Lestat. And later, Louis burned the Theater of the Vampires in Paris after Claudia’s death.”

Claudia’s death. It sent a shiver through Jesse, startling her slightly.

“But look at this boy carefully,” David said. “It’s the boy we’re discussing now.”

Amadeo. It meant “one who loves God.” He was a handsome creature, all right. Sixteen, maybe seventeen, with a square, strongly proportioned face and a curiously imploring expression.

David had put something in her hand. Reluctantly she took her eyes off the painting. She found herself staring at a tintype, a late-nineteenth-century photograph. After a moment, she whispered: “This is the same boy!”

“Yes. And something of an experiment,” David said. “It was most likely taken just after sunset in impossible lighting conditions which might not have worked with another subject. Notice not much is really visible but his face.”

True, yet she could see the style of the hair was of the period. “You might look at this as well,” David said. And this time he

gave her an old magazine, a nineteenth-century journal, the kind with narrow columns of tiny print and ink illustrations. There was the same boy again alighting from a barouche—a hasty sketch, though the boy was smiling.

“The article’s about him, and about his Theater of the Vampires. Here’s an English journal from 1789. That’s a full eighty years earlier, I believe. But you will find another very thorough description of the establishment and the same young man.”

“The Theater of the Vampires . . . ” She stared up at the auburn-haired boy kneeling in the painting. “Why, this is Armand, the character in the novel!”

“Precisely. He seems to like that name. It may have been Amadeo when he was in Italy, but it became Armand by the eighteenth

century and he’s used Armand ever since.”

“Slow down, please,” Jesse said. “You’re telling me that the Theater of the Vampires has been documented? By our people?”

“Thoroughly. The file’s enormous. Countless memoirs describe the theater. We have the deeds to the property as well. And here we come to another link with our files and this little novel, Interview with the Vampire. The name of the owner of the theater was Lestat de Lioncourt, who purchased it in 1789. And the property in modern Paris is in the hands of a man by the same name even now.”

“This is verified?” Jesse said.

“It’s all in the file,” David said, “photostats of the old records and the recent ones. You can study the signature of Lestat if you like. Lestat does everything in a big way—covers half the page with his magnificent lettering. We have photostats of several examples. We want you to take those photostats to New Orleans with you. There’s a newspaper account of the fire which destroyed the theater exactly as Louis described it. The date is consistent with the facts of the story. You must go over everything, of course. And the novel, do read it again carefully.”

BY THE end of the week, Jesse was on a plane for New Orleans. She was to annotate and document the novel, in every way possible, searching property titles, transfers, old newspapers, journals— anything she could find to support the theory that the characters and events were real.

But Jesse still didn’t believe it. Undoubtedly there was “something here,” but there had to be a catch. And the catch was in all probability a clever historical novelist who had stumbled upon some interesting research and woven it into a fictional story. After all, theater tickets, deeds, programs, and the like do not prove the existence of bloodsucking immortals.

As for the rules Jesse had to follow, she thought they were a scream.

She was not allowed to remain in New Orleans except between the hours of sunrise and four p.m. At four p.m. she had to drive north to the city of Baton Rouge and spend the nights safe within a sixteenth-story room in a modern hotel. If she should have the

slightest feeling that someone was watching her or following her, she was to make for the safety of a large crowd at once. From a well-lighted and populated place, she was to call the Talamasca long distance in London immediately.

Never, under any circumstances, must she attempt a “sighting” of one of these vampire individuals. The parameters of vampiric power were not known to the Talamasca. But one thing was certain: the beings could read minds. Also, they could create mental confusion in human beings. And there was considerable evidence that they were exceptionally strong. Most certainly they could kill.

Also some of them, without doubt, knew of the existence of the Talamasca. Over the centuries, several members of the order had disappeared during this type of investigation.

Jesse was to read the daily papers scrupulously. The Talamasca had reason to believe that there were no vampires in New Orleans at present. Or Jesse would not be going there. But at any time, Lestat, Armand, or Louis might appear. If Jesse came across an article about a suspicious death she was to get out of the city and not return.

Jesse thought all this was hilarious. Even a handful of old items about mysterious deaths did not impress her or frighten her. After all, these people could have been the victims of a satanic cult. And they were all too human.

But Jesse had wanted this assignment.

On the way to the airport, David had asked her why. “If you really can’t accept what I’m telling you, then why do you want to investigate the book?”

She’d taken her time in answering. “There is something obscene about this novel. It makes the lives of these beings seem attractive. You don’t realize it at first; it’s a nightmare and you can’t get out of it. Then all of a sudden you’re comfortable there. You want to remain. Even the tragedy of Claudia isn’t really a deterrent.”


“I want to prove it’s fiction,” Jesse said.

That was good enough for the Talamasca, especially coming from a trained investigator.

But on the long flight to New York, Jesse had realized there was

something she couldn’t tell David. She had only just faced it herself. Interview with the Vampire “reminded” her of that long ago summer with Maharet, though Jesse didn’t know why. Again and again she stopped her reading to think about that summer. And little things were coming back to her. She was even dreaming about it again. Quite beside the point, she told herself. Yet there was some connection, something to do with the atmosphere of the book, the mood, even the attitudes of the characters, and the whole manner in which things seemed one way and were really not that way at all. But Jesse could not figure it out. Her reason, like her memory, was curiously blocked.

JESSE’S first few days in New Orleans were the strangest in her entire psychic career.

The city had a moist Caribbean beauty, and a tenacious colonial flavor that charmed her at once. Yet everywhere Jesse went she “felt” things. The entire place seemed haunted. The awesome antebellum mansions were seductively silent and gloomy. Even the French Quarter streets, crowded with tourists, had a sensuous and sinister atmosphere that kept her forever walking out of her way or stopping for long periods to dream as she sat slumped on a bench in Jackson Square.

She hated to leave the city at four o’clock. The high-rise hotel in Baton Rouge provided a divine degree of American luxury. Jesse liked that well enough. But the soft lazy ambience of New Orleans clung to her. She awoke each morning dimly aware that she’d dreamed of the vampire characters. And of Maharet.

Then, four days into her investigation, she made a series of discoveries that sent her directly to the phone. There most certainly had been a Lestat de Lioncourt on the tax rolls in Louisiana. In fact, in 1862 he had taken possession of a Royal Street town house from his business partner, Louis de Pointe du Lac. Louis de Pointe du Lac had owned seven different pieces of Louisiana property, and one of them had been the plantation described in Interview with the Vampire. Jesse was flabbergasted. She was also delighted.

But there were even more discoveries. Somebody named Lestat de Lioncourt owned houses all over the city right now. And this person’s signature, appearing in records dated 1895 and 1910, was identical to the eighteenth-century signatures.

Oh, this was too marvelous. Jesse was having a wonderful time.

At once she set out to photograph Lestat’s properties. Two were Garden District mansions, clearly uninhabitable and falling to ruin behind rusted gates. But the rest, including the Royal Street town house—the very same deeded to Lestat in 1862—were rented by a local agency which made payment to an attorney in Paris.

This was more than Jesse could bear. She cabled David for money. She must buy out the tenants in Royal Street, for this was surely the house once inhabited by Lestat, Louis, and the child Claudia. They may or may not have been vampires, but they lived there!

David wired the money immediately, along with strict instructions that she mustn’t go near the ruined mansions she’d described. Jesse answered at once that she’d already examined these places. Nobody had been in them for years.

It was the town house that mattered. By week’s end she’d bought out the lease. The tenants left cheerfully with fists full of cash. And early on a Monday morning, Jesse walked into the empty second-floor flat.

Deliciously dilapidated. The old mantels, moldings, doors all there!

Jesse went to work with a screwdriver and chisel in the front rooms. Louis had described a fire in these parlors in which Lestat had been badly burnt. Well, Jesse would find out.

Within an hour she had uncovered the burnt timbers! And the plasterers—bless them—when they had come to cover up the damage, they had stuffed the holes with old newspapers dated 1862. This fitted with Louis’s account perfectly. He’d signed the town house over to Lestat, made plans to leave for Paris, then came the fire during which Louis and Claudia had fled.

Of course Jesse told herself she was still skeptical, but the characters of the book were becoming curiously real. The old black telephone in the hall had been disconnected. She had to go out to call David, which annoyed her. She wanted to tell him everything right now.

But she didn’t go out. On the contrary, she merely sat in the parlor for hours, feeling the warm sun on the rough floorboards

around her, listening to the creaking of the building. A house of this age is never quiet, not in a humid climate. It feels like a living thing. No ghosts here, not that she could see anyway. Yet she didn’t feel alone. On the contrary, there was an embracing warmth. Someone shook her to wake her up suddenly. No, of course not. No one here but her. A clock chiming four . . .

The next day she rented a wallpaper steamer and went to work in the other rooms. She must get down to the original coverings. Patterns could be dated, and besides she was looking for something in particular. But there was a canary singing nearby, possibly in another flat or shop, and the song distracted her. So lovely. Don’t forget the canary. The canary will die if you forget it. Again, she fell asleep.

It was well after dark when she awakened. She could hear the nearby music of a harpsichord. For a long time, she’d listened before opening her eyes. Mozart, very fast. Too fast, but what skill. A great rippling riff of notes, a stunning virtuosity. Finally she forced herself to get up and turn on the overhead lights and plug in the steamer again.

The steamer was heavy; the hot water dripped down her arm. In each room she stripped a section of wall to the original plaster, then she moved on. But the droning noise of the thing bothered her. She seemed to hear voices in it—people laughing, talking to one another, someone speaking French in a low urgent whisper, and a child crying—or was it a woman?

She’d turn the damn thing off. Nothing. Just a trick of the noise itself in the empty echoing flat.

She went back to work with no consciousness of time, or that she had not eaten, or that she was getting drowsy. On and on she moved the heavy thing until quite suddenly in the middle bedroom she found what she’d been seeking—a hand-painted mural on a bare plaster wall.

For a moment, she was too excited to move. Then she went to work in a frenzy. Yes, it was the mural of the “magical forest” that Lestat had commissioned for Claudia. And in rapid sweeps of the dripping steamer she uncovered more and more.

“Unicorns and golden birds and laden fruit trees over sparkling streams.” It was exactly as Louis had described it. Finally she had

laid bare a great portion of the mural running around all four walls. Claudia’s room, this, without question. Her head was spinning. She was weak from not eating. She glanced at her watch. One o’clock.

One o’clock! She’d been here half the night. She should go now, immediately! This was the first time in all these years that she’d broken a rule!

Yet she could not bring herself to move. She was so tired, in spite of her excitement. She was sitting against the marble mantel, and the light from the ceiling bulb was so dreary, and her head hurt, too. Yet she kept staring at the gilded birds, the small, wonderfully wrought flowers and trees. The sky was a deep vermilion, yet there was a full moon in it and no sun, and a great drifting spread of tiny stars. Bits of hammered silver still clinging to the stars.

Gradually she noticed a stone wall painted in the background in one corner. There was a castle behind it. How lovely to walk through the forest towards it, to go through the carefully painted wooden gate. Pass into another realm. She heard a song in her head, something she’d all but forgotten, something Maharet used to sing.

Then quite abruptly she saw that the gate was painted over an actual opening in the wall!

She sat forward. She could see the seams in the plaster. Yes, a square opening, which she had not seen, laboring behind the heavy steamer. She knelt down in front of it and touched it. A wooden door. Immediately she took the screwdriver and tried to pry it open. No luck. She worked on one edge and then the other. But she was only scarring the picture to no avail.

She sat back on her heels and studied it. A painted gate covering a wooden door. And there was a worn spot right where the painted handle was. Yes! She reached out and gave the worn spot a little jab. The door sprang open. It was as simple as that.

She lifted her flashlight. A compartment lined in cedar. And there were things there. A small white leather-bound book! A rosary, it looked like, and a doll, a very old porcelain doll.

For a moment she couldn’t bring herself to touch these objects. It was like desecrating a tomb. And there was a faint scent there as of perfume. She wasn’t dreaming, was she? No, her head hurt too much for this to be a dream. She reached into the compartment,

and removed the doll first.

The body was crude by modern standards, yet the wooden limbs were well jointed and formed. The white dress and lavender sash were decaying, falling into bits and pieces. But the porcelain head was lovely, the large blue paperweight eyes perfect, the wig of flowing blond hair still intact.

“Claudia,” she whispered.

Her voice made her conscious of the silence. No traffic now at this hour. Only the old boards creaking. And the soft soothing flicker of an oil lamp on a nearby table. And then that harpsichord from somewhere, someone playing Chopin now, the Minute Waltz, with the same dazzling skill she’d heard before. She sat still, looking down at the doll in her lap. She wanted to brush its hair, fix its sash.

The climactic events of Interview with the Vampire came back to her—Claudia destroyed in Paris. Claudia caught by the deadly light of the rising sun in a brick-lined airshaft from which she couldn’t escape. Jesse felt a dull shock, and the rapid silent beat of her heart against her throat. Claudia gone, while the others continued. Lestat, Louis, Armand. . . .

Then with a start, she realized she was looking at the other things inside the compartment. She reached for the book.

A diary! The pages were fragile, spotted. But the old-fashioned sepia script was still readable, especially now that the oil lamps were all lighted, and the room had a cozy brightness to it. She could translate the French effortlessly. The first entry was September 21, 1836:

This is my birthday present from Louis. Use as I like, he tells me. But perhaps I should like to copy into it those occasional poems which strike my fancy, and read these to him now and then?

I do not understand entirely what is meant by birthday. Was I born into this world on the 21st of September or was it on that day that I departed all things human to become this?

My gentlemen parents are forever reluctant to illuminate such simple matters. One would think it bad taste to dwell

on such subjects. Louis looks puzzled, then miserable, before he returns to the evening paper. And Lestat, he smiles and plays a little Mozart for me, then answers with a shrug: “It was the day you were born to us.”

Of course, he gave me a doll as usual, the replica of me, which as always wears a duplicate of my newest dress. To France he sends for these dolls, he wants me to know. And what should I do with it? Play with it as if I were really a child?

“Is there a message here, my beloved father?” I asked him this evening. “That I shall be a doll forever myself?” He has given me thirty such dolls over the years if recollection serves me. And recollection never does anything else. Each doll has been exactly like the rest. They would crowd me out of my bedroom if I kept them. But I do not keep them. I burn them, sooner or later. I smash their china faces with the poker. I watch the fire eat their hair. I can’t say that I like doing this. After all, the dolls are beautiful. And they do resemble me. Yet, it becomes the appropriate gesture. The doll expects it. So do I.

And now he has brought me another, and he stands in my doorway staring at me afterwards, as if my question cut him. And the expression on his face is so dark suddenly, I think, this cannot be my Lestat.

I wish that I could hate him. I wish that I could hate them both. But they defeat me not with their strength but with their weakness. They are so loving! And so pleasing to look at. Mon Dieu, how the women go after them!

As he stood there watching me, watching me examine this doll he had given me, I asked him sharply:

“Do you like what you see?”

“You don’t want them anymore, do you?” he whispered. “Would you want them,” I asked, “if you were me?”

The expression on his face grew even darker. Never have I seen him the way he looked. A scorching heat came into his face, and it seemed he blinked to clear his vision. His

perfect vision. He left me and went into the parlor. I went after him. In truth, I couldn’t bear to see him the way he was, yet I pursued him. “Would you like them,” I asked, “if you were me?”

He stared at me as if I frightened him, and he a man of six feet and I a child no more than half that, at best.

“Am I beautiful to you?” I demanded.

He went past me down the hall, out the back door. But I caught up with him. I held tight to his sleeve as he stood at the top of the stairs. “Answer me!” I said to him. “Look at me. What do you see?”

He was in a dreadful state. I thought he’d pull away, laugh, flash his usual brimming colors. But instead he dropped to his knees before me and took hold of both my arms. He kissed me roughly on the mouth. “I love you,” he whispered. “I love you!” As if it were a curse he laid on me, and then he spoke this poetry to me:

Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young.

Webster it is, I am almost certain. One of those plays Lestat so loves. I wonder . . . will Louis be pleased by this little poem? I cannot imagine why not. It is small but very pretty.

Jesse closed the book gently. Her hand was trembling. She lifted the doll and held it against her breast, her body rocking slightly as she sat back against the painted wall.

“Claudia,” she whispered.

Her head throbbed, but it didn’t matter. The light of the oil lamps was so soothing, so different from the harsh electric bulb. She sat still, caressing the doll with her fingers almost in the manner of a blind woman, feeling its soft silken hair, its stiff starched little dress. The clock chimed again, loudly, each somber note echoing through the room. She must not faint here. She must get up somehow. She must take the little book and the doll and the rosary and leave.

The empty windows were like mirrors with the night behind them. Rules broken. Call David, yes, call David now. But the phone was ringing. At this hour, imagine. The phone ringing. And David didn’t have any number for this flat because the phone. . . . She tried to ignore it, but it went on and on ringing. All right, answer it!

She kissed the doll’s forehead. “Be right back, my darling,” she whispered.

Where was the damn phone in this flat anyway? In the niche in the hallway, of course. She had almost reached it when she saw the wire with the frayed end, curled around it. It wasn’t connected. She could see it wasn’t connected. Yet it was ringing, she could hear it, and it was no auditory hallucination, the thing was giving one shrill pulse after another! And the oil lamps! My God, there were no oil lamps in this flat!

All right, you’ve seen things like this before. Don’t panic, for the love of God. Think! What should you do? But she was about to scream. The phone would not stop ringing! If you panic, you will lose control utterly. You must turn off these lamps, stop this phone! But the lamps can’t be real. And the living room at the end of the hall—the furniture’s not real! The flicker of the fire, not real! And the person moving in there, who is it, a man? Don’t look up at him! She reached out and shoved the phone out of the niche so that it fell to the floor. The receiver rolled on its back. Tiny and thin, a woman’s voice came out of it.


In blind terror, she ran back to the bedroom, stumbling over the leg of a chair, falling against the starched drapery of a four-poster bed. Not real. Not there. Get the doll, the book, the rosary! Stuffing them in her canvas bag, she climbed to her feet and ran out of the flat to the back stairway. She almost fell as her feet hit the slippery iron. The garden, the fountain—But you know there’s nothing there but weeds. There was a wrought-iron gate blocking her path. Illusion. Go through it! Run!

It was the proverbial nightmare and she was caught in it, the sounds of horses and carriages thudding in her ears as she ran down the cobblestone pavement. Each clumsy gesture stretched over eternity, her hands struggling to get the car keys, to get the door open, and then the car refusing to start.

By the time she reached the edge of the French Quarter, she was sobbing and her body was drenched with sweat. On she drove through the shabby garish downtown streets towards the freeway. Blocked at the onramp, she turned her head. Back seat empty. OK, they didn’t follow. And the canvas bag was in her lap; she could feel the hard porcelain head of the doll against her breast. She floored it to Baton Rouge.

She was sick by the time she reached the hotel. She could barely walk to the desk. An aspirin, a thermometer. Please help me to the elevator.

When she woke up eight hours later, it was noon. The canvas bag was still in her arms. Her temperature was 104. She called David, but the connection was dreadful. He called her back; it was still no good. Nevertheless she tried to make herself understood. The diary, it was Claudia’s, absolutely, it confirmed everything! And the phone, it wasn’t connected, yet she heard the woman’s voice! The oil lamps, they’d been burning when she ran out of the flat. The flat had been filled with furniture; there’d been fires in the grates. Could they burn down the flat, these lamps and fires? David must do something! And he was answering her, but she could barely hear him. She had the bag, she told him, he must not worry.

It was dark when she opened her eyes. The pain in her head had woken her up. The digital clock on the dresser said ten thirty. Thirst, terrible thirst, and the glass by the bed was empty. Someone else was in the room.

She turned over on her back. Light through the thin white curtains. Yes, there. A child, a little girl. She was sitting in the chair against the wall.

Jesse could just see the outline clearly—the long yellow hair, the puff-sleeved dress, the dangling legs that didn’t touch the floor. She tried to focus. Child . . . not possible. Apparition. No. Something occupying space. Something malevolent. Menace—And the child was looking at her.


She scrambled out of the bed, half falling, the bag in her arms still as she backed up against the wall. The little girl got up. There was the clear sound of her feet on the carpet. The sense of menace seemed to grow stronger. The child moved into the light from the

window as she came towards Jesse, and the light struck her blue eyes, her rounded cheeks, her soft naked little arms.

Jesse screamed. Clutching the bag against her, she rushed blindly in the direction of the door. She clawed at the lock and chain, afraid to look over her shoulder. The screams were coming out of her uncontrollably. Someone was calling from the other side, and finally she had the door open and she was stumbling out into the hallway.

People surrounded her, but they couldn’t stop her from getting away from the room. But then someone was helping her up because apparently she’d fallen again. Someone else had gotten a chair. She cried, trying to be quiet, yet unable to stop it, and she held the bag with the doll and the diary in both hands.

When the ambulance arrived, she refused to let them take the bag away from her. In the hospital they gave her antibiotics, sedatives, enough dope to drive anyone to insanity. She lay curled up like a child in the bed with the bag beside her under the covers. If the nurse so much as touched it, Jesse woke at once.

When Aaron Lightner arrived two days later, she gave it to him. She was still sick when she got on the plane for London. The bag was in his lap, and he was so good to her, calming her, caring for her, as she slept on and off on the long flight home. It was only just before they landed that she realized her bracelet was gone, her beautiful silver bracelet. She’d cried softly with her eyes closed. Mael’s bracelet gone.

THEY pulled her off the assignment.

She knew even before they told her. She was too young for this work, they said, too inexperienced. It had been their mistake, sending her. It was simply too dangerous for her to continue. Of course what she had done was of “immense value.” And the haunting, it had been one of unusual power. The spirit of a dead vampire? Entirely possible. And the ringing phone, well, there were many reports of such things—entities used various means to “communicate” or frighten. Best to rest now, put it out of her mind. Others would continue the investigation.

As for the diary, it included only a few more entries, nothing more significant than what she herself had read. The psychometrics

who had examined the rosary and the doll learned nothing. These things would be stored with utmost care. But Jesse really must remove her mind from all this immediately.

Jesse argued. She begged to go back. She threw a scene of sorts, finally. But it was like talking to the Vatican. Some day, ten years from now, maybe twenty, she could enter this particular field again. No one was ruling out such a possibility, but for the present the answer was no. Jesse was to rest, get better, forget what had taken place.

Forget what had taken place. . . .

She was sick for weeks. She wore white flannel gowns all day long and drank endless cups of hot tea. She sat in the window seat of her room. She looked out on the soft deep greenery of the park, at the heavy old oak trees. She watched the cars come and go, tiny bits of soundless color moving on the distant gravel road. Lovely here, such stillness. They brought her delicious things to eat, to drink. David came and talked softly to her of anything but the vampires. Aaron filled her room with flowers. Others came.

She talked little, or not at all. She could not explain to them how deeply this hurt her, how it reminded her of the long ago summer when she’d been pushed away from other secrets, other mysteries, other documents in vaults. It was the same old story. She’d glimpsed something of inestimable importance, only to have it locked away.

And now she would never understand what she’d seen or experienced. She must remain here in silence with her regrets. Why hadn’t she picked up that phone, spoken into it, listened to the voice on the other end?

And the child, what had the spirit of the child wanted! Was it the diary or the doll! No, Jesse had been meant to find them and remove them! And yet she had turned away from the spirit of the child! She who had addressed so many nameless entities, who had stood bravely in darkened rooms talking to weak flickering things when others fled in panic. She who comforted others with the old assurance: these beings, whatever they are, cannot do us harm!

One more chance, she pleaded. She went over everything that had happened. She must return to that New Orleans flat. David and Aaron were silent. Then David came to her and put his arm around


“Jesse, my darling,” he said. “We love you. But in this area above all others, one simply does not break the rules.”

At night she dreamed of Claudia. Once she woke at four o’clock and went to the window and looked out over the park straining to see past the dim lights from the lower windows. There was a child out there, a tiny figure beneath the trees, in a red cloak and hood, a child looking up at her. She had run down the stairs, only to find herself stranded finally on the empty wet grass with the cold gray morning coming.

IN THE spring they sent her to New Delhi.

She was to document evidence of reincarnation, reports from little children in India that they remembered former lives. There had been much promising work done in this field by a Dr. Ian Stevenson. And Jesse was to undertake an independent study on behalf of the Talamasca which might produce equally fruitful results.

Two elder members of the order met her in Delhi. They made her right at home in the old British mansion where they lived. She grew to love the work; and after the initial shocks and minor discomforts, she grew to love India as well. By the end of the year she was happy

—and useful—again.

And something else happened, a rather small thing, yet it seemed a good omen. In a pocket of her old suitcase—the one Maharet had sent her years ago—she’d found Mael’s silver bracelet.

Yes, happy she had been.

But she did not forget what had happened. There were nights when she would remember so vividly the image of Claudia that she would get up and turn on every light in the room. At other times she thought she saw around her in the city streets strange white-faced beings very like the characters in Interview with the Vampire. She felt she was being watched.

Because she could not tell Maharet about this strange adventure, her letters became even more hurried and superficial. Yet Maharet was as faithful as ever. When members of the family came to Delhi, they visited Jesse. They tried to keep her in the fold. They sent her news of weddings, births, funerals. They begged her to visit during

the holidays. Matthew and Maria wrote from America, begging Jesse to come home soon. They missed her.

JESSE spent four happy years in India. She documented over three hundred individual cases which included startling evidence of reincarnation. She worked with some of the finest psychic investigators she had ever known. And she found her work continuously rewarding, almost comforting. Very unlike the chasing

of haunts which she had done in her early years.

In the fall of her fifth year, she finally yielded to Matthew and Maria. She would come home to the States for a four-week visit. They were overjoyed.

The reunion meant more to Jesse than she had ever thought it would. She loved being back in the old New York apartment. She loved the late night dinners with her adopted parents. They didn’t question her about her work. Left alone during the day, she called old college friends for lunch or took long solitary walks through the bustling urban landscape of all her childhood hopes and dreams and griefs.

Two weeks after her return, Jesse saw The Vampire Lestat in the window of a bookstore. For a moment, she thought she’d made a mistake. Not possible. But there it was. The bookstore clerk told her of the record album by the same name, and the upcoming San Francisco concert. Jesse bought a ticket on the way home at the record store where she purchased the album.

All day Jesse lay alone in her room reading the book. It was as if the nightmare of Interview with the Vampire had returned and, once again, she could not get out of it. Yet she was strangely compelled by every word. Yes, real, all of you. And how the tale twisted and turned as it moved back in time to the Roman coven of Santino, to the island refuge of Marius, and to the Druid grove of Mael. And finally to Those Who Must Be Kept, alive yet hard and white as marble.

Ah, yes, she had touched that stone! She had looked into Mael’s eyes; she had felt the clasp of Santino’s hand. She had seen the painting done by Marius in the vault of the Talamasca!

When she closed her eyes to sleep, she saw Maharet on the balcony of the Sonoma compound. The moon was high above the

tips of the redwoods. And the warm night seemed unaccountably full of promise and danger. Eric and Mael were there. So were others whom she’d never seen except in Lestat’s pages. All of the same tribe; eyes incandescent, shimmering hair, skin a poreless shining substance. On her silver bracelet she had traced a thousand times the old Celtic symbols of gods and goddesses to whom the Druids spoke in woodland groves like that to which Marius had once been taken prisoner. How many links did she require between these esoteric fictions and the unforgettable summer?

One more, without question. The Vampire Lestat himself—in San Francisco, where she would see him and touch him—that would be the final link. She would know then, in that physical moment, the answer to everything.

The clock ticked. Her loyalty to the Talamasca was dying in the warm quiet. She could tell them not a word of it. And such a tragedy it was, when they would have cared so much and so selflessly; they would have doubted none of it.

The lost afternoon. She was there again. Going down into Maharet’s cellar by the spiral stairway. Could she not push back the door? Look. See what you saw then. Something not so horrible at first glance—merely those she knew and loved, asleep in the dark, asleep. But Mael lies on the cold floor as if dead and Maharet sits against the wall, upright like a statue. Her eyes are open!

She awoke with a start, her face flushed, the room cold and dim around her. “Miriam,” she said aloud. Gradually the panic subsided. She had drawn closer, so afraid. She had touched Maharet. Cold, petrified. And Mael dead! The rest was darkness.

New York. She lay on the bed with the book in her hand. And Miriam didn’t come to her. Slowly, she climbed to her feet and walked across the bedroom to the window.

There, opposite in the dirty afternoon gloom, stood the high narrow phantom town house of Stanford White. She stared until the bulky image gradually faded.

From the album cover propped on the dresser the Vampire Lestat smiled at her.

She closed her eyes. She envisioned the tragic pair of Those Who Must Be Kept. Indestructible King and Queen on their Egyptian throne, to whom the Vampire Lestat sang his hymns out of the

radios and the jukeboxes and from the little tapes people carried with them. She saw Maharet’s white face glowing in the shadows. Alabaster. The stone that is always full of light.

Dusk falling, suddenly as it does in the late fall, the dull afternoon fading into the sharp brightness of evening. Traffic roared through the crowded street, echoing up the sides of the buildings. Did ever traffic sound so loud as in the streets of New York? She leaned her forehead against the glass. Stanford White’s house was visible in the corner of her eye. There were figures moving inside it.

JESSE left New York the next afternoon, in Mart’s old roadster. She paid him for the car in spite of his arguments. She knew she’d never bring it back. Then she embraced her parents and, as casually as she could, she told them all the simple heartfelt things she’d always wanted them to know.

That morning, she had sent an express letter to Maharet, along with the two “vampire” novels. She explained that she had left the Talamasca, she was going to the Vampire Lestat’s concert out west, and she wanted to stop at the Sonoma compound. She had to see Lestat, it was of crucial importance. Would her old key fit the lock of the Sonoma house? Would Maharet allow her to stop there?

It was the first night in Pittsburgh that she dreamed of the twins. She saw the two women kneeling before the altar. She saw the cooked body ready to be devoured. She saw one twin lift the plate with the heart; the other the plate with the brain. Then the soldiers, the sacrilege.

By the time she reached Salt Lake City she had dreamed of the twins three times. She had seen them raped in a hazy and terrifying scene. She had seen a baby born to one of the sisters. She had seen the baby hidden when the twins were again hunted down and taken prisoner. Had they been killed? She could not tell. The red hair. If only she could see their faces, their eyes! The red hair tormented her.

Only when she called David from a roadside pay phone did she learn that others had had these dreams—psychics and mediums the world over. Again and again the connection had been made to the Vampire Lestat. David told Jesse to come home immediately.

Jesse tried to explain gently. She was going to the concert to see

Lestat for herself. She had to. There was more to tell, but it was too late now. David must try to forgive her.

“You will not do this, Jessica,” David said. “What is happening is no simple matter for records and archives. You must come back, Jessica. The truth is, you are needed here. You are needed desperately. It’s unthinkable that you should attempt this ‘sighting’ on your own. Jesse, listen to what I’m telling you.”

“I can’t come back, David. I’ve always loved you. Loved you all. But tell me. It’s the last question I’ll ever ask you. How can you not come yourself?”

“Jesse, you’re not listening to me.”

“David, the truth. Tell me the truth. Have you ever really believed in them? Or has it always been a question of artifacts and files and paintings in vaults, things you can see and touch! You know what I’m saying, David. Think of the Catholic priest, when he speaks the words of consecration at Mass. Does he really believe Christ is on the altar? Or is it just a matter of chalices and sacramental wine and the choir singing?”

Oh, what a liar she had been to keep so much from him yet press him so hard. But his answer had not disappointed her.

“Jesse, you’ve got it wrong. I know what these creatures are. I’ve always known. There’s never been the slightest doubt with me. And on account of that, no power on earth could induce me to attend this concert. It is you who can’t accept the truth. You’ll have to see it to believe it! Jesse, the danger’s real. Lestat is exactly what he professes to be, and there will be others there, even more dangerous, others who may spot you for what you are and try to hurt you. Realize this and do as I tell you. Come home now.”

What a raw and painful moment. He was striving to reach her, and she was only telling him farewell. He had said other things, that he would tell her “the whole story,” that he would open the files to her, that she was needed on this very matter by them all.

But her mind had been drifting. She couldn’t tell him her “whole story,” that was the sorrow. She’d been drowsy again, the dream threatening as she hung up the phone. She’d seen the plates, the body on the altar. Their mother. Yes, their mother. Time to sleep. The dream wants in. And then go on.

HIGHWAY 101. Seven thirty-five p.m. Twenty-five minutes until the concert.

She had just come through the mountain pass on the Waldo Grade and there was the old miracle—the great crowded skyline of San Francisco tumbling over the hills, far beyond the black glaze of the water. The towers of the Golden Gate loomed ahead of her, the ice cold wind off the Bay freezing her naked hands as she gripped the steering wheel.

Would the Vampire Lestat be on time? It made her laugh to think of an immortal creature having to be on time. Well, she would be on time; the journey was almost ended.

All grief was gone now, for David and Aaron and those she’d loved. There was no grief either for the Great Family. Only the gratitude for all of it. Yet maybe David was right. Perhaps she had not accepted the cold frightening truth of the matter, but had merely slipped into the realm of memories and ghosts, of pale creatures who were the proper stuff of dreams and madness.

She was walking towards the phantom town house of Stanford White, and it didn’t matter now who lived there. She would be welcome. They had been trying to tell her that ever since she could remember.

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