- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
The Tale of the Body Thief
ALL right, I said stupidly, again amazed at the weak, contained sound of it, low as the voice was. It's begun, now get ahold of yourself. And that idea made me laugh.
The cold wind was the worst part. My teeth were chattering. The stinging pain in my skin was wholly different from the pain I felt as a vampire. Had to repair this door, but I had no idea whatsoever how to do it.
Was there anything left of the door I couldn't tell. It was like trying to see through a cloud of noxious smoke. Slowly I climbed to my feet, at once aware of the increase in height and feeling very top-heavy and unsteady.
Every bit of warmth had fled the room. Indeed, I could hear the whole house rattling with the wind that was pouring in. Slowly and carefully, I stepped out on the porch. Ice. My feet went sliding to the right of me, flinging me back against the doorframe. Panic seized me, but I managed to grab hold of the moist wood with these large trembling fingers, and keep myself from going down the steps. Again I strained to see through the darkness, and couldn't make out anything clearly at all.
Just calm down, I said to myself, aware that my fingers were sweating and growing numb at the same time, and that my feet were becoming painfully numb also. There's no artificial light here, that's all, and you're looking through mortal eyes. Now do something intelligent about all this! And stepping very carefully, and nearly slipping again, I moved back inside.
I could see the dim outline of Mojo seated there, watching me, panting noisily, and there was a tiny splinter of light in one of his dark eyes. I spoke to him gently.
It's me, Mojo Man, okay It's me! And I stroked the soft hair between his ears gently. I reached for the table, and sat down in the chair very awkwardly, astonished again at the sheer thickness of my new flesh, and the sloshiness of it, and I clamped my hand over my mouth.
It really has happened, you fool, I thought. There's no doubt of it. It's a lovely miracle, that's what it is. You are actually free of that preternatural body! You are a human being. You are a human man. Now be done with this panic. Think like the hero you pride yourself on being! There are practical matters at hand. The snow's coming in on you. This mortal body is freezing, for the love of heaven. Now attend to things as you must!
Yet all I did was open my eyes wider, and stare at what seemed to be the snow piling up in little sparkling crystals on the white surface of the table, expecting every moment that this vision would become more distinct, when of course it would not.
That was spilt tea, wasn't it And broken glass. Don't cut yourself on the broken glass, you won't heal! Mojo moved closer to me, big warm furry flank welcome against my trembling leg. But why did the feeling seem so distant, as if I were wrapped in layers of flannel Why could I not smell his wondrous clean woolly smell All right, senses are limited. You should have expected that.
Now, go look in a mirror; see the miracle. Yes, and just close off this entire room.
Come on, boy, I said to the dog, and we went out of the kitchen into the dining room-each step I took feeling awkward and slow and lumbering-and with fumbling, very inexact fingers, I closed the door. The wind banged against it, and seeped around the edges of it, but the door held.
I turned around, off balance for a second, then righting myself. Shouldn't be so hard to get the knack of this, for the love of heaven! I settled back on my feet, and then looked down at them, amazed at how very large they were, and then at my hands, which were quite big too. But not bad-looking, no, not bad-looking. Don't panic! The watch was uncomfortable, but I needed it. All right, keep the watch. But the rings Definitely didn't want them on my fingers. Itching. Wanted to pull them off. Couldn't! They wouldn't come. Lord God.
Now, stop. You're going to go mad because you can't pull these rings off your fingers. That's foolish. Just slow down. There's such a thing as soap, you know. Soap your hands, these big dark freezing-cold hands, ^and off the rings will come.
I crossed my arms and eased my hands around my sides, appalled at the feeling of the slippery human sweat beneath my shirt, nothing like blood sweat, and then I took a slow deep breath, ignoring the heavy ponderous feeling of my chest, the raw feeling of the very act of inhaling and exhaling, and I forced myself to look at the room.
This was not the time to scream in terror. Now, just look at the room.
It was very dim. One floor lamp burned, in a far corner, and another tiny lamp on the mantel, but it was still terribly dim. It seemed I was under water and the water was murky, maybe even clouded with ink.
This is normal. This is mortal. This is how they see. But how grim it all looked, how partial, having nothing of the open spatial qualities of the rooms through which a vampire moved.
How hideously gloomy, the dark gleaming chairs, the table barely visible, the dull gold light creeping up into the corners, the plaster moldings at the tops of the walls vanishing into shadow, impenetrable shadow, and how frightening the empty blackness of the hall.
Anything could have been hiding in these shadows-a rat, anything. There might have been another human being in that hall. I looked down at Mojo and was amazed again at how very indistinct he looked, how mysterious in a wholly different way. That was it, things lost their contours in this sort of dimness. Impossible really to gauge their full texture or size.
Ah, but there was the mirror above the mantel.
I went to it, frustrated by the heaviness of my limbs and by a sudden fear of stumbling, and a need to look more than once at my feet. I moved the little lamp under the mirror, and then I looked at my face.
Ah, yes. I was behind it now, and how amazingly different it looked. Gone were the tightness, and the awful nervous glitter of the eyes. There was a young man staring at me, and he looked more than a little afraid.
I lifted my hand and felt of the mouth and the eyebrows, of the forehead, which was a little higher than mine, and then of the soft hair. The face was very pleasing, infinitely more pleasing than I had realized, being square and without any heavy lines, and very well proportioned, and with dramatic eyes. But I didn't like the look of fear in the eyes. No, not at all. I tried to see a different expression, to claim the features from within and let them express the wonder I felt. But this wasn't easy. And I'm not sure I was feeling any wonder. Hmmm. I couldn't see anything hi this face that was coming from inside.
Slowly I opened my mouth and spoke. I said in French that I was Lestat de Lioncourt in this body, and that everything was fine. The experiment had worked! I was hi the very first hour of it, and the fiend James was gone, and everything had worked! Now something of my own fierceness showed in the eyes; and when I smiled I saw my own mischievous nature at least for a few seconds before the smile faded and I looked blank and amazed.
I turned and looked at the dog, who was right beside me, and gazing up at me, as was his habit, perfectly content.
How do you know I'm in here? I asked. Instead of James?
He cocked his head, and one ear gave a tiny movement.
All right, I said. Enough of all this weakness and craziness, let's go! I started forward towards the dark hallway, and suddenly my right leg went out from under me, and I slid down heavily, left hand skidding along the floor to break my fall, my head slamming against the marble fireplace, and my elbow striking the marble hearth with a sudden violent explosion of pain. With a clatter, the fireplace tools came down upon me, but that was nothing. I'd struck the nerve in the elbow, and the pain was like a fire rushing up my arm.
I turned over on my face, and just held still for a moment waiting for the pain to pass. Only then did I realize my head was throbbing from being slammed against the marble. I reached up, and felt the wetness of blood in my hair. Blood!
Ah, beautiful. Louis would be so amused by this, I thought. I climbed up, the pain shifting and moving to the right behind my forehead, as if it were a weight which had slipped to the front of my head, and I steadied myself as I held the mantel shelf.
One of those many fancy little rugs lay snagged on the floor before me. The culprit. I kicked it out of the way, and turned and very slowly and carefully walked into the hall.
But where was I going What did I mean to do The answer came to me all of a sudden. My bladder was full, and the discomfort had grown worse when I'd. fallen. I had to take a piss.
Wasn't there a bathroom down here somewhere I found the hall light switch and turned on the overhead chandelier. For a long moment I stared at all the tiny bulbs-and there must have been twenty of them-realizing that this was quite a bit of light, no matter what I thought of it, but no one had said I couldn't turn on every lamp in the house.
I set out to do this. I went through the living room, the little library, and the back hall. Again and again, the light disappointed me, the sense of murkiness would not leave me, the indistinctness of things left me faintly alarmed and confused.
Finally, I made my way carefully and slowly up the stairs, fearful every moment of losing my balance, or tripping, and annoyed at the faint ache in my legs. Such long legs.
When I looked back down the stairway, I was stunned. You could fall and kill yourself here, I said to myself.
I turned and entered the cramped little bathroom, quickly finding the light. I had to piss, I simply had to, and I had not done this in over two hundred years.
I unzipped these modern pants, and removed my organ, which immediately astonished me by its limpness and size. The size was fine, of course. Who doesn't want these organs to be large And it was circumcised, which was a nice touch. But this limpness, it felt remarkably repulsive to me, and I didn't want to touch the thing. I had to remind myself, this organ happens to be mine. Jolly!
And what about the smell coming from it, and the smell rising from the hair around it Ah, that's yours too, baby! Now make it work.
I closed my eyes, exerted pressure very inexactly and perhaps too forcefully, and a great arc of stinking urine shot out from the thing, missing the toilet bowl altogether and splashing on the white seat.
Revolting. I backed up, correcting the aim, and watched with sickened fascination as the urine filled the bowl, as bubbles formed on the surface, and as the smell grew stronger and stronger and more nauseating until I couldn't bear it anymore. At last the bladder was empty. I shoved this flaccid, disgusting thing back in my pants, zipped them up, and slammed down the toilet lid. I pulled on the handle. Away went the urine, except for all the splatters which had struck the toilet seat and floor.
I tried to take a deep breath but the disgusting smell was all around me. I lifted my hands and realized that it was on my fingers as well. At once, I turned on the water in the lavatory, snatched up the soap, and went to work. I lathered my hands over and over, but could reach no assurance that they were actually clean. The skin was far more porous than my preternatural skin; it felt dirty, I realized; and then I started to pull on the ugly silver rings.
Even amid all these soapsuds, the rings wouldn't come off. I thought back. Yes, the bastard had been wearing them in New Orleans. He probably couldn't get them off either, and now I was stuck with them! Past all patience, but there was nothing to be done until I could find a jeweler who knew how to remove them with some tiny saw or pliers or some other instrument. Just thinking about it made me so anxious that all my muscles were tensing and then releasing with painful spasms. I commanded myself to stop.
I rinsed my hands, over and over, ridiculously, and then I snatched up the towel and dried them, repulsed again by their absorbent texture, and by bits of dirt around the nails. Good God, why didn't this fool properly clean his hands
Then I looked in the mirrored wall at the end of the bathroom and saw reflected in it a truly disgusting sight. A great patch of moisture on the front of my pants. That stupid organ hadn't been dry when I shoved it inside!
Well, in the old days, I'd never worried about that, had I But then I'd been a filthy country lord who bathed in summer, or when he took it in his head to plunge into a mountain spring.
This patch of urine on my pants was out of the question! I went out of the bathroom, passing the patient Mojo with only a little pat on the head, and went into the master bedroom, tore open the closet and found another pair of pants, a better pair, in fact, of gray wool, and at once slipped off my shoes, and made the change.
Now, what should I do Well, go get something to eat, I thought. And then I realized I was hungry! Yes, that was the precise nature of the discomfort I'd been feeling, along with the full bladder, and a general overall heaviness, since this little saga commenced.
Eat. But if you eat, you know what will happen You'll have to go back in that bathroom again, or some bathroom, and relieve yourself of all the digested food. The thought almost made me gag.
In fact, I grew so nauseated even picturing human excrement coming from my body that for a moment I thought I would indeed vomit. I sat still, on the foot of the low modern bed, and tried to get my emotions under control.
I told myself that these were the simplest aspects of being human; I must not allow them to obscure the larger questions. And that, further, I was behaving like a perfect coward, and not the dark hero whom I claimed to be. Now, understand, I don't really believe lama, hero to the world. But I long ago decided that I must live as if I were a hero-that I must pass through all the difficulties which confront me, because they are only my inevitable circles of fire.
All right, this was a small and ignominious circle of fire. And I must stop the cowardice at once. Eat, taste, feel, see-that was the name of this trial! Oh, but what a trial this was going to be.
At last I climbed to my feet, taking a slightly longer stride to accommodate these new legs, and I went back to the closet and found to my amazement that there really weren't very many clothes here. A couple of pairs of wool pants, two fairly light wool jackets, both new, and a stack of perhaps three shirts on a shelf.
Hmmm. What had happened to all the rest I opened the top drawer of the bureau. Empty. Indeed all of the drawers were empty. And so was the little chest by the bed.
What could this mean He'd taken these clothes with him, or sent them on to someplace where he'd gone But why They wouldn't fit his new body, and he claimed to have taken care of all that. I was deeply troubled. Could this mean that he wasn't planning to come back
That was absurd. He wouldn't pass up the sum of twenty million. And I could not spend my precious time as a mortal worrying hour by hour about such a thing!
I proceeded down the perilous staircase, Mojo padding softly beside me. I was controlling the new body fairly effortlessly now, heavy and uncomfortable though it was. I opened the hall closet. An old coat remained on a hanger. A pair of galoshes. Nothing else.
I went to the desk in the living room. He had told me that I might find the driver's license here. Slowly I opened the top drawer. Empty. Everything was empty. Ah, but there were some papers in one of the drawers. Seemed to have something to do with this house, and nowhere did the name Raglan James appear. I struggled to understand what these papers were. But the official lingo baffled me. I wasn't receiving an immediate impression of meaning, as I did when I had looked at things with my vampire eyes.
I recalled what James had said about synapses. Yes, my thinking was slower. Yes, it had been difficult to read each word.
Ah, well, what did it matter There was no driver's license here. And what I needed was money. Ah, yes, money. I'd left the money on the table. Good Lord, it might have blown out into the yard.
At once I went back to the kitchen. It was now freezing cold hi the room, and indeed the table and the stove and the hanging copper pots were covered with a thin layer of white frost. The wallet with the money was not on the table. The car keys were not on the table. And the light, of course, had been smashed.
I got down on my knees in the dark and began to feel about on the floor. I found the passport. But no wallet. No keys. Only bits of glass from the exploded light bulb, which stung my hands, and cut through the skin in two places. Tiny specks of blood on my hands. No fragrance. No real taste. I tried to see without feeling. No wallet. I went out on the step again, careful not to slip this time. No wallet. I couldn't see in the deep snow of the yard.
Ah, but it was useless, wasn't it The wallet and the keys were far too heavy to have blown away. He'd taken them! Possibly he'd even come back for them! The petty little monster, and when I realized that he'd been in my body, my splendid powerful preternatural body, when he did this, I was absolutely paralyzed with rage.
All right, you thought this might happen, didn't you It was in his nature. And you're freezing again, you're shivering. Get back into the dining room and close the door.
I did just that, though I had to wait on Mojo, who took his time, as if he were utterly indifferent to the snowy wind. Now the dining room was cold from my having left the door open. Indeed, as I hurried back upstairs, I realized that the temperature of the entire house had been lowered by this little trip to the kitchen. I had to remember to shut doors.
I went into the first of the unused rooms, where I'd hidden the money in the chimney, and as I reached up, I felt not the envelope which I'd lodged there, but a single sheet of paper. I removed it, already in a fury, before I even turned on the light so that I could see the words:
You really are a silly fool to think that a man of my abilities wouldn't find your little stash. One does not have to be a vampire to detect a bit of telltale moisture on the floor and on the wall. Have a pleasant adventure. I shall see you Friday. Take care of yourself! Raglan James.
I was too angry for a moment to move. I was positively fuming. My hands were knotted into fists. You petty little miscreant! I said in this miserable, heavy, opaque, brittle voice.
I went into the bathroom. Of course the second stash of money wasn't behind the mirror. There was only another note.
What is human life without difficulty You must realize I cannot resist such little discoveries. It's like leaving bottles of wine around for an alcoholic. I shall see you Friday. Please walk carefully on the icy sidewalks. Wouldn't want you to break a leg.
Before I could stop myself I slammed my fist into the mirror! Ah, well. There was a blessing for you. Not a great gaping hole in the wall, as it would have been if Lestat le Vampire had done it; just a lot of broken glass. And bad luck, bad luck for seven years!
I turned around, went downstairs, and back into the kitchen, bolting the door behind me this tune, and opened the refrigerator. Nothing inside! Nothing!
Ah, this little devil, what I was going to do to him! How could he think he would get away with this Did he think I was incapable of giving him twenty million dollars and then wringing his neck What in the world was he thinking ...
Was it as hard to figure out as all that He wasn't coming back, was he Of course he wasn't.
I went back into the dining room. There was no silver or china in the glass-doored cabinet. But certainly there had been silver and china last night. I went into the hallway. There were no paintings on the walls. I checked the living room. No Picasso, Jasper Johns, de Kooning, or Warhol. All gone. Even the photographs of the ships were gone.
The Chinese sculptures were gone. The bookshelves were half empty. And the rugs. There were precious few of them left- one in the dining room, which had almost caused me to kill myself! And one at the foot of the steps.
This house had been emptied out of all its true valuables! Why, half the furniture was missing! The little bastard wasn't going to return! It was never part of his plan.
I sat down in the armchair nearest the door. Mojo, who'd been following me faithfully, took the opportunity to stretch out at my feet. I dug my hand into his fur and tugged at it, and smoothed it, and thought what a comfort it was that the dog was there.
Of course James was a fool to pull this. Did he think I couldn't call on the others
Hmmm. Call on the others for help-what a perfectly gruesome idea. It did not take any great feat of imagination to guess what Marius would say to me if I told him what I'd done. In all probability he knew, and was smoldering with disapproval. As for the older ones, I shuddered to think on it at all. My best hope from any standpoint was that the body switch would go unnoticed. I'd realized that from the start.
The salient point here was that James didn't know how angry the others would be with me on account of this experiment. He couldn't know. And James didn't know, either, the limits of the power he now possessed.
Ah, but all this was premature. The theft of my money, the looting of the house-this was James's idea of an evil joke, no more, no less. He couldn't leave the clothes and money here for me. His thieving petty nature wouldn't allow it. He had to cheat a little, that was all. Of course he planned to come back and claim his twenty million. And he was counting on the fact that I wouldn't hurt him because I'd want to try this experiment again, because I would value him as the only being who could successfully pull it off.
Yes, that was his ace in the hole, I figured-that I wouldn't harm the one mortal who could effect the switch when I wanted to do it again.
Do this again! I had to laugh. I did laugh, and what a strange and alien sound it was. I shut my eyes tight, and sat there for a moment, hating the sweat clinging to my ribs, hating the ache in my belly and in my head, hating the heavy padded feeling of my hands and feet. And when I opened my eyes again all I beheld was this bleary world of indistinct edges and pallid colors . . .
Do this again Oooh! Get a grip on yourself, Lestat. You've clenched your teeth so hard that you've hurt yourself! You've cut your tongue! You are making your own mouth bleed! And the blood tastes like water and salt, nothing but water and salt, water and salt! For the love of hell, get a grip on yourself. Stop!
After a quiet few moments, I stood up and went on a systematic search for a phone.
There was none in the entire house.
How foolish I'd been not to plan sufficiently for this entire experience. I'd been so carried away with the larger spiritual issues, I'd made no sensible provisions for myself at all! I should have had a suite at the Willard, and money in the hotel safe! I should have arranged for a car.
The car. What about the car
I went to the hall closet, removed the overcoat, noted a rip in the lining-probably the reason he didn't sell it-put it on, despairing that there were no gloves in the pockets, and went out the back way, after carefully securing the dining room door. I asked Mojo if he wanted to join me or stay there. Naturally he wanted to come along.
The snow in the alley was about a foot deep. I had to slosh my way through it and when I reached the street, I realized it was deeper still.
No red Porsche, of course. Not to the left of the front steps, nor anywhere on this block. Just to be certain, I made my way to the corner and then turned around and came back. My feet were freezing and so were my hands, and the skin of my face positively ached.
All right, I must set out on foot, at least until I located a public phone. The snow was blowing away from me, which was something of a blessing, but then I didn't know where I was going, did I
As for Mojo he appeared to love this sort of weather, plowing ahead steadily, the snow tumbling and glistening in tiny flakes from his long plush gray coat. I should have switched bodies with the dog, I thought. And then the thought of Mojo inside my vampiric body started me to laughing. I went into one of my regular fits. I laughed and laughed and laughed, turning in circles, and then finally stopped because I was truly freezing to death.
But all this was terribly funny. Here I was a human being, the priceless event I'd dreamed of since my death, and I hated it to the marrow of these human bones! I felt a hunger pang in my noisy, churning stomach. And then another, which I could only call a hunger cramp.
Paolo's, I have to find Paolo's but how am I going to get any food I need food too, don't I I can't simply go without food. I'll get weak if I don't have food.
When I came to the corner of Wisconsin Avenue, I saw lights and people down the hill. The street had been cleared of snow, and was definitely open to traffic. I could see the people moving busily back and forth under the street lamps, but all this was maddeningly dim, of course.
I hurried on, my feet painfully numb now, which is not a contradiction in terms, as you well know if you have ever walked in snow, and finally I saw the lighted window of a cafe. Martini's. All right. Forget Paolo's. Martini's will have to do. A car had stopped out front; a handsome young couple climbed out of the back and hurried to the door of the place and went inside. I drew up slowly to the door, and saw a fairly pretty young woman at the high wooden desk gathering up a pair of menus for the young couple, whom she then led into the shadows beyond. I glimpsed candles, checkered tablecloths. And I realized suddenly that the awful, nauseating smell that was filling my nostrils was the smell of burnt cheese.
I would not have liked this smell as a vampire, no, not in the least; but it wouldn't have sickened me quite this much. It would have been outside of me. But now it seemed connected to the hunger in me; it seemed to tug on the muscles inside my throat. In fact, the smell seemed suddenly to be inside my guts and to be nauseating me with a pressure, rather than a mere smell.
Curious. Yes, have to note all these things. This is being alive.
The pretty young woman had come back. I saw her pale profile as she looked down at the paper on her little wooden desk, and lifted her pen to make a mark. She had long wavy dark hair, and very pale skin. I wished I could see her better. I struggled to pick up her scent, but I couldn't. I only caught the scent of the burnt cheese.
I opened the door, ignoring the heavy stench that hit me, and moved through it, until I was standing in front of the young woman, and the blessed warmth of the place was wrapping itself around me, smells and all. She was painfully young, with rather small sharp features, and long narrow black eyes. Her mouth was large, exquisitely rouged, and she had a long beautifully shaped neck. The body was twentieth century-all bones beneath her black dress.
Mademoiselle, I said, deliberately thickening my French accent, I am very hungry, and it's very cold outside. Is there anything I can do to earn a plate of food I shall wash the floors if you wish, scrub the pots and pans, do whatever I must.
She stared at me blankly for a moment. Then she stood back, tossed her long wavy hair, and rolled her eyes, and looked at me again coldly, and said: Get out. Her voice sounded tinny and flat. It wasn't, of course, it was merely my mortal hearing. The resonance detected by a vampire could not be detected by me.
May I have a piece of bread? I asked. A single piece of bread. The smells of food, bad as they were, tormented me. I couldn't actually remember what food tasted like. I couldn't remember texture and nourishment together, but something purely human was taking over. I was desperate for food.
I'm going to call the police, she said, her voice quavering slightly, if you don't get out.
I tried to scan her. Nothing. I looked around, squinting in the dark. Tried to scan the other humans. Nothing. Didn't have the power in this body. Oh, but that's not possible. I looked at her again. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of her thoughts. Not even an instinct really as to what sort of human she was.
Ah, very well, I said, giving her the gentlest smile I could manage, with no idea of how it appeared or what its effect might be. I hope you burn in hell for your lack of charity. But God knows, I don't deserve any more than this. I turned and was about to leave when she touched my sleeve.
Look, she said, trembling slightly in her anger and discomfort, you can't come here and expect people to give you food! The blood was pulsing in her white cheeks. I couldn't smell it. But I could smell a sort of musky perfume rising from her, part human, part commercial scent. And suddenly I saw two tiny nipples sticking against the fabric of the dress. How amazing. Again, I tried to read her thoughts. I told myself I must be able to do this, it was an innate power. But it was no good.
I told you I'd work for the food, I said, trying not to look at her breasts. I'd do anything you asked. Look, I'm sorry. I don't want you to burn in hell. What a dreadful thing to say. It's only that I'm down on my luck now. Bad things have happened to me. Look, that's my dog there. How am I to feed him?
That dog! She looked through the glass at Mojo, who sat majestically in the snow. You must be joking, she said. What a shrill voice she had. Utterly without character. So many sounds coming at me had that very quality. Metallic and thin.
No, he is my dog, I said with faint indignation. I love him very much.
She laughed. That dog eats here every night at the back kitchen door!
Ah, well, marvelous. One of us will eat. I'm so happy to hear it, mademoiselle. Maybe I should go to the back kitchen door. Perhaps the dog will leave something for me.
She gave a little chilly and false laugh. She was observing me, quite obviously, looking with interest at my face and my clothes. Whatever did I look like to her I didn't know. The black overcoat was not a cheap garment, but neither was it stylish. The brown hair of this head of mine was full of snow.
She herself had a sort of scrawny, fine-toned sensuality. Very narrow nose, very finely shaped eyes. Very beautiful bones.
All right, she said, sit down up there at the counter. I'll have them bring you something. What do you want?
Anything, I don't care. I thank you for your kindness.
All right, sit down. She opened the door, and shouted to the dog: Go around to the back. She made a quick gesture.
Mojo did nothing but sit there, a patient mountain of fur. I went back out into the freezing wind, and told him to go to the kitchen door. I gestured to the side alley. He looked at me for a long moment and then he rose and moved slowly down the alley and disappeared.
I went back inside, grateful for a second time to be out of the cold, though I realized that my shoes were full of melted snow. I moved into the darkness of the interior of the restaurant, stumbling on a wooden stool that I didn't see, and nearly falling, and then seating myself on the stool. A place had already been set on the wooden counter, with a blue cloth mat and a heavy steel fork and knife. The smell of cheese was stifling. There were other smells-cooked onions, garlic, burnt grease. All revolting.
I was most uncomfortable sitting on this stool. The round hard edge of the wooden seat cut into my legs, and once again, I was bothered that I couldn't see in the dark. The restaurant appeared very deep, indeed to have several more rooms in a long chain. But I couldn't see all the way back there. I could hear frightful noises, like big pots being banged on metal, and they hurt my ears just a little, or more truly I resented them.
The young woman reappeared, smiling prettily as she set down a big glass of red wine. The smell was sour and potentially sickening.
I thanked her. And then I picked up the glass, and took a mouthful of the wine, holding it and then swallowing. At once I began to choke. I couldn't figure what had happened- whether I had swallowed in some wrong way, or it was irritating my throat for some reason, or what. I only knew I was coughing furiously, and I snatched up a cloth napkin from beside the fork and put it over my mouth. Some of the wine was actually caught hi the back of my nose. As for the taste, it was weak and acidic. A terrible frustration rose in me.
I shut my eyes, and leaned my head against my left hand, the hand itself closed around the napkin in a fist.
Here, try it again, she said. I opened my eyes and saw her filling the glass once more from a large carafe.
All right, I said, thank you. I was thirsty, powerfully thirsty. In fact, the mere taste of the wine had greatly increased this thirst. But this time, I reasoned, I wouldn't swallow so hard. I lifted the glass, took a small mouthful, tried to savor it, though there seemed almost nothing there to savor, and then I swallowed, slowly, and it went down the correct way. Thin, so thin, so totally different from a luscious filling swallow of blood. I must get the hang of this. I drank the rest of the contents of the glass. Then I lifted the carafe and filled it again, and drank that down too.
For a moment, I felt only frustration. Then gradually I began to feel a little sick. Food will come, I thought. Ah, there is food-a canister of bread sticks, or so they appear to be.
I lifted one, smelled it carefully, ascertaining that it was bread, and then I nibbled at it very fast until it was gone. It was like sand to the last tiny bit. Just like the sand of the Gobi Desert which had gotten into my mouth. Sand.
How do mortals eat this? I asked.
More slowly, said the pretty woman and she let out a little laugh. You're not mortal Which planet are you from?
Venus, I answered, smiling at her again. The planet of love.
She was studying me unreservedly, and a little flush came back to her sharp white little cheeks. Well, stick around until I get off, why don't you You can walk me home.
I shall definitely do that, I said. And then the realization of what this could mean settled over me, with the most curious effect. I could bed this woman, perhaps. Ah, yes, that was definitely a possibility as far as she was concerned. My eyes drifted down to the two tiny nipples, protruding so enticingly through the black silk of the dress. Yes, bed her, I thought, and how smooth was the flesh of her neck.
The organ was stirring between my legs. Well, something is working, I mused. But how curiously local was this feeling, this hardening and swelling, and the odd way that it consumed all my thoughts. The need for blood was never local. I stared blankly before me. I did not look down when a plate of Italian spaghetti and meat sauce was set down at my place. The hot fragrance went up my nostrils-moldering cheese, burnt meat, and fat.
Go down, I was saying to the organ. This is not the time yet for that.
Finally I lowered my gaze to the plate. The hunger ground in me as if someone had my intestines in both hands and was wringing them out. Did I remember such a feeling God knows I had been hungry enough in my mortal life. Hunger was like life itself. But the memory seemed so distant, so unimportant. Slowly I picked up the fork, which I had never used in those times, for we had none-only spoons and knives in our crude world-and I shoved the tines under the mess of wet spaghetti and lifted a heap of it to my mouth.
I knew it was too hot before it touched my tongue, but I didn't stop quickly enough. I was badly burnt and let the fork drop. Now, this is plain stupidity, I thought, and it was perhaps my fifteenth act of plain stupidity. What must I do to approach things with more intelligence, and patience and calm
I sat back on the uncomfortable stool, as well as one can do such a thing without tumbling to the floor, and I tried to think.
I was trying to run this new body, which was full of uncommon weakness and sensation-painfully cold feet, for instance, wet feet in a draught running along the floor-and I was making understandable but stupid mistakes. Should have taken the galoshes. Should have found a phone before coming in here and called my agent in Paris. Not reasoning, behaving stubbornly as if I were a vampire when I was not.
Nothing of the temperature of this steaming food would have burnt me in my vampire skin, obviously. But I wasn't in my vampire skin. That's why I should have taken the galoshes. Think!
But how far was this experience from what I had expected. Oh, ye gods. Here I was talking about thinking when I'd thought I would be enjoying! Ah, I'd thought I would be immersed in sensations, immersed in memories, immersed in discoveries; arid now all I could do was think how to hold back!
The truth was, I'd envisioned pleasure, a variety of pleasures-eating, drinking, a woman in my bed, then a man. But none of what I'd experienced was even vaguely pleasurable so far.
Well, I was to blame for this shameful situation, and I could make it change. I wiped my mouth now with my napkin, a coarse bit of artificial fiber, no more absorbent than a bit of oilcloth might have been, and then I picked up the wineglass and emptied it once more. A wave of sickness passed over me. My throat tightened and then I even felt dizzy. Good God, three glasses and I was getting drunk
Once again, I Lifted the fork. The sticky goo was cooler now, and I shoveled a heap of it into my mouth. Again, I almost choked! My throat locked convulsively, as if to prevent this mass of slop from smothering me. I had to stop, breathe slowly through my nostrils, tell myself this wasn't poison, I wasn't a vampire, and then chew the mess carefully so as not to bite my tongue.
But I'd bit my tongue earlier, and now that patch of sore skin began to hurt. The hurt filled my mouth, and was far more perceptible than the food. Nevertheless I continued to chew the spaghetti, and began to reflect on its tastelessness, its sourness, its saltiness, and its general awful consistency and then I swallowed it, feeling a painful tightening again, and then a hard knot lower in my chest.
Now, if Louis were going through this-if you were your old smug vampire self, sitting opposite, watching him, you would condemn him for everything that he was doing and thinking, you would abhor him for his timidity, and his wasting of this experience, for his failure to perceive.
Again, I lifted the fork. I chewed another mouthful, swallowed it. Well, there was a sort of taste. It simply wasn't the pungent delicious taste of blood. It was much tamer, and grainier, and stickier. Okay, another mouthful. You can get to like this. And besides, maybe this just isn't very good food. Another mouthful.
Hey, slow down, said the pretty woman. She was leaning against me but I couldn't feel her juicy softness through the coat. I turned and looked up into her eyes again, marveling at her long curving black lashes, and how sweet her mouth looked as she smiled. You're bolting your food.
I know. Very hungry, I said. Listen to me, I know this sounds dreadfully ungrateful. But do you have something that is not a great coagulated mass such as this You know, something tougher-meat, perhaps?
She laughed. You are the strangest man, she said. Really where are you from?
France, the countryside, I said.
All right, I'll bring you something else.
As soon as she'd gone, I drank another glass of the wine. I was definitely getting dizzy, but I also felt a warmth that was sort of nice. I also felt like laughing suddenly, and I knew that I was partially intoxicated, at least.
I decided to study the other humans in the room. It was so weird not being able to pick up their scents, so weird not being able to hear their thoughts. I couldn't even really hear their voices, only a lot of racket and noise. And it was so weird to be both cold and hot here, my head swimming hi the overheated air, and my feet freezing in the draught that ran along the floor.
The young woman set a plate of meat before me-veal, she called it. I picked up some small sliver, which seemed to amaze her-I should have used the knife and fork-and bit into it and found it to be rather tasteless like the spaghetti; but it was better. Cleaner, it seemed. I chewed it fairly lustily.
Thank you, you've been kind to me, I said. You are really lovely, and I regret my harsh words earlier, I really do.
She seemed fascinated, and of course I was playacting somewhat. I was pretending to be gentle, which I am not.
She left me so that she might take the payment from a couple who were leaving, and I returned to my meal-my first meal of sand and glue and bits of leather full of salt. I laughed to myself. More wine, I thought, it's like drinking nothing, but it's having an effect.
After she'd cleared the plate, she gave me another carafe. And I sat there, in my wet shoes and socks, cold and uncomfortable on the wooden stool, straining to see in the dark, and getting drunker and drunker as an hour passed, and then she was ready to go home.
I was no more comfortable at that point than I'd been when this all began. And as soon as I stood up off the stool, I realized I could hardly walk. There was no sensation in my legs at all. I had to look down to be certain they were there.
The pretty woman thought it very funny. I wasn't so sure. She helped me along the snowy sidewalk, calling to Mojo, whom she addressed simply as Dog, with great respectful emphasis, and assured me that she lived only a few steps up the street. The only good aspect of all this was that the cold did bother me less.
I was really off balance. My limbs were now totally leaden. Even the most brightly illuminated objects were out of focus. My head was aching. I thought sure I was going to fall. Indeed the fear of falling was becoming a panic.
But mercifully we reached her door, and she led me up a narrow carpeted flight of steps-a climb which left me so exhausted that my heart was pounding and my face was veiled with sweat. I could see almost nothing! It was madness. I heard her putting her key in the door.
A new dreadful stench assaulted my nostrils. The grim little apartment appeared to be a warren of pasteboard and plywood, with undistinguished printed posters covering the walls. But what could account for this smell I realized suddenly that it came from the cats she kept in this place, which were allowed to relieve themselves in a box of earth. I saw the box of earth, full of cat excrement, sitting on the floor of a small open bathroom, and I really thought it was all over, I was going to die! I stood still, straining to keep myself from vomiting. There was a grinding pain in my stomach again, not hunger this time, and my belt felt painfully tight.
The pain grew sharper. I realized I had to perform a similar duty to that already performed by the cats. Indeed, I had to do it now or disgrace myself. And I had to go into that very same chamber. My heart came up in my throat.
What's wrong? she said. Are you sick?
May I use this room? I asked, gesturing to the open door.
Of course, she said. Go ahead.
Ten minutes, perhaps more, passed before I emerged. I was so powerfully disgusted by the simple process of elimination- by the smell of it, and the feel of doing it, and the sight of it- that I couldn't speak. But it was finished, done. Only the drunkenness remained now, the graceless experience of reaching for the light switch and missing it, of trying to turn the knob and having my hand-this big dark hand-miss.
I found the bedroom, very warm, and crowded with mediocre modern furniture of cheap laminate and no particular de-
The young woman was now entirely naked and sitting on the side of the bed. I tried to see her clearly in spite of the distortions created by the nearby lamp. But her face was a mass of ugly shadows, and her skin looked sallow. The stale smell of the bed surrounded her.
All I could conclude about her was that she was foolishly thin, as women tend to be in these times, and all the bones of her ribs showed through the milky skin, and that her breasts were almost freakishly small with tiny delicate pink nipples, and her hips weren't there. She was like a wraith. And yet she sat there smiling, as if this was normal, with all her pretty wavy hair hanging down her back, and hiding the small shadow of her pubis beneath one limp hand.
Well, it was perfectly obvious which marvelous human experience was meant to come now. But I could feel nothing for her. Nothing. I smiled, and I began to take off my clothes. I peeled off the overcoat, and was immediately cold. Why wasn't she cold I then took off the sweater and was immediately horrified by the smell of my own sweat. Lord God, was it really like this before And this body of mine had looked so clean.
She didn't seem to notice. I was grateful for that. I then removed my shirt and my shoes and my socks and my pants. My feet were still cold. Indeed, I was cold and naked, very naked. I didn't know whether or not I liked this at all. I suddenly saw myself in the mirror over her dressing table, and I realized that this organ was of course utterly drunk and asleep.
Again, she didn't seem surprised.
Come here, she said. Sit down.
I obeyed. I was shivering all over. Then I began to cough. The first cough was a spasm, catching me completely by surprise. Then a whole series of coughs followed, uncontrollably, and the last was so violent that it made a circle of pain around my ribs.
I'm sorry, I said to her.
I love your French accent, she whispered. She stroked my hair, and let her nails lightly scratch my cheek.
Now, this was a pleasant sensation. I bent my head and kissed her throat. Yes, this was nice also. It was nothing as exciting as closing on a victim, but it was nice. I tried to remember what it had been like two hundred years ago when I was the terror of the village girls. Seems some farmer was always at the castle gates, cursing me and swinging his fist at me and telling me that if his daughter was with child by me, I'd have to do something about it! It had all seemed such wonderful fun at the time. And the girls, oh the lovely girls.
What is it? she asked.
Nothing, I said. I kissed her throat again. I could smell sweat on her body too. I didn't like it. But why These smells were nothing as sharp, any of them, as they were to me in my other body. But they connected with something hi this body- that was the ugly part. I felt no protection against these smells; they seemed not artifacts but something which could invade me and contaminate me. For instance; the sweat from her neck was now on my lips. I knew it was, I could taste it and I wanted to be away from her.
Ah, but this is madness. She was a human being, and I was a human being. Thank God this would be over Friday. But what right had I to thank God!
Her little nipples brushed against my chest, very hot and nubby and the flesh behind them was squashy and tender. I slipped my arm around her small back.
You're hot, I think you have a fever, she said in my ear. She kissed my neck the way I'd been kissing hers.
No, I'm all right, I said. But I didn't have the slightest idea of whether or not this was true. This was hard work!
Suddenly her hand touched my organ, startling me, and then bringing about an immediate excitement. I felt the organ lengthen and grow hard. The sensation was entirely concentrated, and yet it galvanized me. When I looked at her breasts now, and down at the small fur triangle between her legs, my organ grew even more hard. Yes, I remember this all right; my eyes are connected to it, and nothing else matters now, hmmm, all right. Just get her down on the bed.
Whoa! she whispered. Now that's a piece of equipment!
Is it? I looked down. The monstrous thing had doubled in size. It did seem grossly out of proportion to everything else. Yes, I suppose it is. Should have known James would have checked it out.
No, doesn't matter, I mumbled. I turned her face towards me and kissed her wet little mouth this time, feeling her teeth through her thin lips. She opened her mouth for my tongue. This was good, even if her mouth was bad tasting. Didn't matter. But then my mind raced ahead to blood. Drink her blood.
Where was the pounding intensity of drawing near the victim, of the moment right before my teeth pierced the skin and the blood spilled all over my tongue
No, it's not going to be that easy, or that consuming. It's going to be between the legs and more like a shiver, but this is -some shiver, I'll say that.
Merely thinking of the blood had heightened the passion, and I shoved her roughly down on the bed. I wanted to finish, nothing else mattered but finishing.
Wait a minute, she said.
Wait for what? I mounted her, and kissed her again, pushing my tongue deeper into her. No blood. Ah, so pale. No blood. My organ slid between her hot thighs, and I almost spurted then. But it wasn't enough.
I said wait! she screamed, her cheeks coloring. You can't do it without a condom.
What the hell are you saying? I murmured. I knew the meaning of these words, yet they didn't make much sense. I pushed my hand down, felt the hairy opening, and then the juicy wet crack, which seemed deliciously small.
She screamed at me to get off of her, and she shoved at me with the heels of her hands. She looked very flushed and beautiful to me suddenly in her heat and rage, and when she nudged me with her knee, I slammed down against her, then drew up only long enough to ram the organ into her, and feel that sweet hot tight envelope of flesh close around me, making me gasp.
Don't! Stop it! I said stop it! she screamed.
But I couldn't wait. What the hell made her think this was the time to discuss such a thing, I wondered, in some vague crazed fashion. Then, in a moment of blinding spasmodic excitement I came. Semen came roaring out of the organ!
One moment it was eternal; the next it was finished, as if it had never begun. I lay exhausted on top of her, drenched with sweat, of course, and faintly annoyed by the stickiness of the whole event, and her panic-stricken screams.
At last I fell over onto my back. My head was aching, and all the evil smells of the room thickened-a soiled smell from the bed itself, with its sagging, lumpy mattress; the nauseating smell of the cats.
She leapt out of the bed. She appeared to have gone mad. She was crying and shivering, and she snatched up a blanket from the chair and covered herself with it and began screaming at me to get out, get out, get out.
Whatever is the matter with you? I asked.
She let loose with a volley of modern curses. You bum, you miserable stupid bum, you idiot, you jerk! That sort of thing. I could have given her a disease, she said. Indeed she rattled off the names of several; I could have gotten her pregnant. I was a creep, a prick, a putz! I was to clear out of here at once. How dare I do this to her Get out before she called the police.
A wave of sleepiness passed over me. I tried to focus upon her, in spite of the darkness. Then came a sudden nausea sharper than I'd ever felt. I struggled to keep it under control, and only by a severe act of will managed not to vomit then and there.
Finally, I sat up and then climbed to my feet. I looked down at her as she stood there, crying, and screaming at me, and I saw suddenly that she was wretched, that I had really hurt her, and indeed there was an ugly bruise on her face.
Very slowly it came clear to me what had happened. She had wanted me to use some form of prophylactic, and I'd virtually forced her. No pleasure in it for her, only fear. I saw her again at the moment of my climax, fighting me, and I realized it was utterly inconceivable to her that I could have enjoyed the struggle, enjoyed her rage and her protests, enjoyed conquering her. But in a paltry and common way, I think I had.
The whole thing seemed overwhelmingly dismal. It filled me with despair. The pleasure itself had been nothing! I can't bear this, I thought, not a moment longer. If I could have reached James, I would have offered him another fortune, just to return at once. Reached James ... I'd forgotten altogether about finding a phone.
Listen to me, ma chere, I said. I'm so sorry. Things simply went wrong. I know. I'm sorry.
She moved to slap me but I caught her wrist easily and brought her hand down, hurting her a little.
Get out, she said again. Get out or I'll call the police.
I understand what you're saying to me. It's been forever since I did it. I was clumsy. I was bad.
You're worse than bad! she said in a deep raw voice.
And this time she did slap me. I wasn't quick enough. I was astonished by the force of the slap, how it stung. I felt of my face where she'd hit me. What an annoying little pain. It was an insulting pain.
Go! she screamed again.
I put on my clothes, but it was like lifting sacks of bricks to do it. A dull shame had come over me, a feeling of such awkwardness and discomfort in the slightest gesture I made or smallest word I spoke that I wanted simply to sink into the earth.
Finally, I had everything buttoned and zipped properly, and I had the miserable wet socks on my feet again, and the thin shoes, and I was ready to go.
She sat on the bed crying, her shoulders very thin, with the tender bones in her back poking at her pale flesh, and her hair dripping down in thick wavy clumps over the blanket she held to her breast. How fragile she looked-how sadly unbeautiful and repulsive.
I tried to see her as if I were really Lestat. But I couldn't do it. She appeared a common thing, utterly worthless, not even interesting. I was vaguely horrified. Had it been that way in my boyhood village I tried to remember those girls, those girls dead and gone for centuries, but I couldn't see then- faces. What I remembered was happiness, mischief, a great exuberance that had made me forget for intermittent periods the deprivation and hopelessness of my life.
What did that mean in this moment How could this whole experience have been so unpleasant, so seemingly pointless Had I been myself I would have found her fascinating as an bisect is fascinating; even her little rooms would have appeared quaint to me, hi their worst, most uninspiring details! Ah, the affection I always felt for all sad little mortal habitats. But why was that so!
And she, the poor being, she would have been beautiful to me simply because she was alive! I could not have been sullied by her had I fed on her for an hour. As it was, I felt filthy for having been with her, and filthy for being cruel to her. I understood her fear of disease! I, too, felt contaminated! But where lay the perspective of truth
I am so sorry, I said again. You must believe me. It wasn't what I wanted. I don't know what I wanted.
You're crazy, she whispered bitterly without looking up.
Some night I'll come to you, soon, and I'll bring you a present, something beautiful that you really want. I'll give it to you and perhaps you'll forgive me.
She didn't answer.
Tell me, what is it you really want Money doesn't matter. What is it you want that you cannot have?
She looked up, rather sullenly, her face blotched and red and swollen, and then she wiped at her nose with the back of her hand.
You know what I wanted, she said in a harsh, disagreeable voice, which was almost sexless it was so low.
No, I don't. Tell me what.
Her face was so disfigured and her voice so strange that she frightened me. I was still woozy from the wine I'd drunk earlier, yet my mind was unaffected by the intoxication. It seemed a lovely situation. This body drunk, but not me.
Who are you? she asked. She looked very hard now, hard and bitter. You're somebody, aren't you... you're not just... But her voice trailed off.
You wouldn't believe me if I told you.
She turned her head even more sharply to the side, studying me as if it was all going to come to her suddenly. She'd have it figured out. I couldn't imagine what was going on in her mind. I knew only that I felt sorry for her, and I did not like her. I didn't like this dirty messy room with its low plaster ceiling, and the nasty bed, and the ugly tan carpet and the dim light and the cat box reeking in the other room.
I'll remember you, I said miserably yet tenderly. I'll surprise you. I'll come back and I'll bring something wonderful for you, something you could never get for yourself. A gift as if from another world. But right now, I have to leave you.
Yes, she said, you'd better go.
I turned to do exactly that. I thought of the cold outside, of Mojo waiting in the hallway, and of the town house with its back door shattered off the hinges, and no money and no phone.
Ah, the phone.
She had a phone. I'd spied it on the dresser.
As I turned and went towards it, she screamed at me, and hurled something at me. I think that it was a shoe. It struck my shoulder, but caused no pain. I picked up the receiver and punched the zero twice for long distance, and called my New York agent collect.
On and on it rang. No one there. Not even his machine. Most strange, and damned inconvenient.
I could see her in the mirror, staring at me in, stiff and silent outrage, the blanket pulled around her like a sleek modern dress. How pathetic was all of this, down to the last jot.
I called Paris. Again it rang and rang, but finally there came the familiar voice-my agent roused from sleep. Quickly in French I told him I was in Georgetown, that I needed twenty thousand dollars, no, best send thirty, and I must have it now.
He explained that it was just sunrise in Paris. He would have to wait until the banks opened, but he would wire the money as soon as he could. It might be noon in Georgetown before it reached me. I memorized the name of the agency where I was to collect it, and I implored him to be prompt and see that he did not fail. This was an emergency, I was penniless. I had obligations. He gave me assurance that all would be handled at once. I put down the phone.
She was staring at me. I don't think she had understood the phone call. She could not speak French.
I'll remember you, I said. Please, forgive me. I'll go now. I've caused trouble enough.
She didn't answer. I stared at her, trying for the last time to fathom it, why she seemed so coarse and uninteresting. What had been my vantage point before that all life seemed so beautiful to me, all creatures but variations on the same magnificent theme Even James had had a horrid glittering beauty like a great palmetto bug or a fly.
Good-bye, ma chere, I said, I'm very sorry-truly I am.
I found Mojo sitting patiently outside the apartment, and I hurried past him, snapping my fingers for him to come, which
he did. And down the steps we went and out in the cold night.
In spite of the wind gusting into the kitchen, and creeping around the dining room door, the other rooms of the town house were still quite warm. A stream of heated air came from the little brass grilles in the floors. How kind of James not to have turned off the heat, I thought. But then he plans to leave this place immediately when he has the twenty million. The bill will never be paid.
I went upstairs and through the master bedroom into the master bath. A pleasant room of new white tile and clean mirrors and a deep shower stall with doors of shining glass. I tried the water. Hot and strong. Quite deliriously hot. I peeled off all the damp and smelly clothes, laying the socks on the furnace grille and neatly folding the sweater for it was the only one I had, and then I stood in the hot shower for a long time.
With my head back against the tile, I might have actually fallen asleep standing up. But then I began to weep, and then just as spontaneously, to cough. I felt an intense burning in my chest, and the same burning deep inside my nose.
Finally I got out, toweled off, and looked again at this body in the mirror. I could not see a scar or a flaw anywhere in it. The arms were powerful but smoothly muscled, as was the chest. The legs were well formed. The face was truly beautiful, the dark skin quite nearly perfect, though there was nothing of the boy left in the structure of it, as there was in my own face. It was very much the face of a man-rectangular, a little hard, but pretty, very pretty, perhaps on account of the large eyes. It was also slightly rough. Beard coming in. Have to shave. Nuisance.
But really, this ought to be splendid, I said aloud. You've the body of a twenty-six-year-old male in perfect condition. But it's been a nightmare. You've made one stupid error after another. Why can't you meet this challenge Where is your will and your strength?
I felt chilled all over. Mojo had gone to sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed. I shall do that, sleep, I thought. Sleep like a mortal, and when I wake, the light of day will be coming into this room. Even if the sky is gray, it will be wondrous. It will be day. You will see the world of day as you've longed to see it all these years. Forget all this abysmal struggle and trivia and fear.
But a dreadful suspicion was coming over me. Hadn't my mortal life been nothing but abysmal struggle and trivia and fear Wasn't that the way it was for most mortals Wasn't that the message of a score of modern writers and poets-that we wasted our lives in foolish preoccupation Wasn't this all a miserable cliche
I was bitterly shaken. I tried to argue with myself once more, the way I'd been doing all along. But what was the use
It felt terrible to be in this sluggish human body! It felt terrible not to have my preternatural powers. And the world, look at it, it was dingy and shabby, frayed at the edges and full of accidents. Why, I couldn't even see most of it. What world
Ah, but tomorrow! Oh, Lord, another miserable cliche! I started laughing and another fit of coughing caught me. This time the pain was in my throat and quite considerable, and my eyes were watering. Best to sleep, best to rest, better to prepare for my one precious day.
I snapped off the lamp, and pulled back the covers of the bed. It was clean, I was thankful for that. I laid my head on the down pillow, brought up my knees close to my chest, drew the covers up to my chin, and went to sleep. I was vaguely sensible that if the house burned, I would die. If gas fumes came up out of the furnace grilles, I would die. Indeed, someone might come in the open back door to kill me. Indeed, all kinds of disasters were possible. But Mojo was there, wasn't he And I was tired, so tired!
Hours later, I woke.
I was coughing violently and bitterly cold. I needed a handkerchief, found a box of paper tissue that would do well enough, and blew my nose perhaps a hundred times. Then, able to breathe again, I fell back into a strange feverish exhaustion, and the deceptive feeling that I was floating as I lay firmly on the bed.
Just a mortal cold, I thought. The result of letting myself become so miserably chilled. It will mar things, but it is also an experience, an experience I must explore.
The next time I woke up, the dog was standing beside the bed, and he was licking my face. I put out my hand, felt his furry nose, and laughed at him, then coughed again, throat burning, and realized I'd been coughing for some time.
The light was awfully bright. Wonderfully bright. Thank God, a bright lamp in this murky world at last. I sat up. For a moment, I was too dazed to rationally acknowledge what I saw.
The sky in the tops of the windows was perfectly blue, vibrantly blue, and the sunlight was pouring in on the polished floor, and all the world appeared glorious in the brightness- the bare tree branches with their white trimming of snow, and the snow-covered roof opposite, and the room itself, full of whiteness and lustrous color, light glancing off the mirror, and the crystal glass on the dresser, off the brass knob of the bathroom door.
Mon Dieu, look at it, Mojo, I whispered, throwing back the covers and rushing to the window and shoving it all the way up. The cold air hit me, but what did it matter Look at the deep color of the sky, look at the high white clouds traveling to the west, look at the rich and beautiful green of the tall pine tree in the neighboring yard.
Suddenly I was weeping uncontrollably, and coughing painfully once more.
This is the miracle, I whispered. Mojo nudged me, giving a little high-pitched moan. The mortal aches and pains didn't matter. This was the biblical promise which had gone unfulfilled for two hundred years.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold