The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 18


IT WAS two by the watch on my wrist. The rain had slackened beyond the broken shutters which covered both doors and windows, and I sat huddled in the red velvet chair, enjoying the little blaze from the brick fireplace, yet badly chilled again, and suffering the same old racking cough. But the moment was at hand, surely, when such a thing would no longer be of concern.

I had poured out the whole tale.

In a frenzy of mortal candor, I had described each and every dreadful and bewildering experience, from my conversations with Raglan James to the very last sad farewell to Gretchen. I had told even of my dreams, of Claudia and me in the long-ago little hospital, of our conversation hi the fantasy parlour of the eighteenth-century hotel suite, and of the sad terrible loneliness I'd felt hi loving Gretchen, for I knew that she believed at heart that I was mad, and only for that reason had she loved me. She had seen me as some sort of beatific idiot, and no more.

It was finished and done. I had no idea where to find the Body Thief. But I must find him. And this search could only begin when I was once again a vampire, when this tall powerful body was pumped with preternatural blood.

Weak as I would be with only the power Louis could give me, I would nevertheless be some twenty times stronger than I was now, and capable perhaps of summoning help from the others, for who knew what manner of fledgling I would become. Once the body was transformed, surely I'd have some telepathic voice. I could beg Marius for his help; or call out to Armand, or even Gabrielle-as yes, my beloved Gabrielle-for she would no longer be my fledgling, and she could hear me, v which hi the ordinary scheme of things-if such a word can be used-she could not.

He sat at his desk, as he had the entire time, oblivious to the draughts, of course, and the rain splattering on the slats of the shutters, and listening without a word as I'd spoken, watching with a pained and amazed expression as I'd climbed to my feet and paced in my excitement, as I had rambled on and on.

Judge me not for my stupidity, I implored him. I told him again of my ordeal in the Gobi, of my strange conversations with David, and David's vision in the Paris cafe. I was hi a state of desperation when I did this. You know why I did it. I don't have to tell you. But now, it must be undone.

I was now coughing almost continuously, and blowing my nose frantically with those miserable little paper handkerchiefs.

You cannot imagine how absolutely revolting it is to be hi this body, I said. Now, please, do it quickly, do it with your greatest skill. It's been a hundred years since you did it last. Thank God for that. The power is not dissipated. I'm ready now. There need be no preparations. When I regain my form, I'll fling him into this one and burn him to a cinder.

He made no reply.

I stood up, pacing again, this time to keep warm and because a terrible apprehension was taking hold of me. After all, I was about to die, was I not, and be born again, as it had happened over two hundred years ago. Ah, but there would be no pain.

No, no pain . . . only those awful discomforts which were nothing compared to the chest pain I felt now, or the chill knotted hi my fingers, or hi my feet.

Louis, for the love of God, be quick, I said. I stopped and looked at him. What is it What's the matter with you.

In a very low and uncertain voice he answered:

I cannot do this.


I stared at him, trying to fathom what he meant, what possible doubt he could have, what possible difficulty we must now dispose of. And I realized what a dreadful change had come over his narrow face-that all its smoothness had been lost, and that indeed it was a perfect mask of sorrow. Once again, I realized that I was seeing him as human beings saw him. A faint red shimmer veiled his green eyes. Indeed, his entire form, so seemingly solid and powerful, was trembling.

I cannot do it, Lestat, he said again, and all his soul seemed to come out in the words. I can't help you!

What in the name of God are you saying to me! I demanded. I made you. You exist tonight because of me! You love me, you spoke those very words to me. Of course you will help me.

I rushed towards him, slamming my hands down on the desk and looking into his face.

Louis, answer me! What do you mean, you can't do it!

Oh, I don't blame you for what you've done. I don't. But can't you see what's happened Lestat, you have done it. You have been reborn a mortal man.

Louis, this is no time to sentimentalize the transformation. Don't throw my own words back at me! I was wrong.

No. You weren't wrong.

What are you trying to tell me! Louis, we are wasting time. I have to go after that monster! He has my body.

Lestat, the others will deal with him. Perhaps they already have.

Already have! What do you mean, already have!

Don't you think they know what's happened? He was deeply distressed but also angry. How the human lines of expression appeared and disappeared in his supple flesh as he spoke. How could such a thing have taken place without their knowing? he said, as if he were pleading with me to understand. You spoke of this Raglan James as a sorcerer. But no sorcerer can veil himself entirely from creatures as powerful as Maharet or her sister, as powerful as Khayman and Marius, or even Armand. And what a clumsy sorcerer-to murder your mortal agent in such a bloody and cruel way. He shook his head, his hands suddenly pressed to his lips. Lestat, they know! They must know. And it could well be that your body has already been destroyed.

They wouldn't do that.

Why wouldn't they You surrendered an engine of destruction to this demon-

But he didn't know how to use it! It was only for thirty-six hours of mortal time! Louis, whatever the case, you must give in the blood. Lecture me afterwards. Work the Dark Trick and I'll find the answers to all these questions. We're wasting precious minutes, hours.

No, Lestat. We are not. That's my entire point! The question of this Body Thief and the body he stole from you isn't what must concern us here. It's what's happening to you-your soul-hi this body now.

All right. Have it your way. Now make this body a vampire now.

I can't. Or more truly, I will not.

I rushed at him. I couldn't prevent myself. And in an instant I had both hands on the lapels of his miserable dusty black coat. I pulled at the cloth, ready to tear him up and out of the chair, but he remained absolutely unmovable, looking at me quietly, his face still stricken and sad. In impotent fury, I let go of him, and stood there, trying to still the confusion in my heart.

You can't mean what you're saying! I pleaded, slamming my fists again on the desk hi front of him. How can you deny : me this?

Will you let me be one who loves you now? he asked, his voice once again infused with emotion, his face still deeply and tragically sad. I wouldn't do it no matter how great your misery, no matter how strongly you pleaded, no matter what awful litany of events you set down before me. I wouldn't do it because I will not make another one of us for any reason under God. But you have brought me no great misery! You are not faced by any awful litany of disasters! He shook his head, overcome as if he couldn't continue, and then: You have triumphed in this as only you could.

' No, no, you're not understanding ...

Oh, yes, I am. Do I need to push you hi front of a mirror?

He rose slowly from behind the desk and faced me eye-to-eye. Must I sit you down and make you examine the lessons of the tale I've heard from your own lips Lestat, you have fulfilled our dream! Don't you see it. You have done it. You have been reborn a mortal man. A strong and beautiful mortal man!

No, I said. I backed away from him, shaking my head, my hands up to implore him. You're mad. You don't know what you're saying. I loathe this body! I loathe being human. Louis, if you have an ounce of compassion hi you throw aside these delusions and listen to my words!

I've heard you. I've heard it all. Why can't you hear it Lestat, you've won. You're free from the nightmare. You're alive again.

I'm miserable! I cried at him. Miserable! Dear God, what must I do to convince you?

There is nothing. It is I who must convince you. What have you lived in this body Three Four days You speak of discomforts as if they were deathly afflictions; you talk of physical limits as if they were malicious and punitive restraints.

And yet through all your endless complaining, you yourself have told me that I must refuse you! You yourself have implored me to turn you away! Lestat, why did you tell me the story of David Talbot and his obsessions with God and the Devil Why tell me all the things that the nun Gretchen said to you Why describe the little hospital you saw in your fever dream Oh, I know it wasn't Claudia who came to you. I don't say God put this woman Gretchen in your path. But you love this woman. By your own admission, you love her. She's waiting for you to return. She can be your guide through the pains and annoyances of this mortal life-

No, Louis, you've misunderstood everything. I don't want her to guide me. I don't want this mortal life!

Lestat, can't you see the chance you've been given Can't you see the path laid out for you and the light ahead?

I'm going to go mad if you don't stop saying these things...

Lestat, what can any of us do to redeem ourselves And who has been more obsessed with this very question than you?

No, no! I threw my arms up and crossed them, back and forth, repeatedly, as if trying to head off this dump truck of mad philosophy which was driving right down upon me. No! I tell you, this is false. This is the worst of all lies.

He turned away from me, and again I rushed at him, unable to stop myself, and would have grabbed him by the shoulders and shaken him, but with a gesture too quick for my eye, he hurled me backwards against the chair.

Stunned, one ankle painfully twisted, I fell down on the cushions, and then made my right hand into a fist and drove it into the palm of my left. Oh, no, not sermons, not now. I was almost weeping. Not platitudes and pious recommendations. Go back to her, he said. You're mad!

Imagine it, he went on, as if I hadn't spoken, his back turned to me, his eyes fixed perhaps on the distant window, his Voice almost inaudible, his dark form outlined against the running silver of the rain. All the years of inhuman craving, of sinister and remorseless feeding. And you are reborn. And there-in that little jungle hospital you could conceivably save a human life for every one you've ever taken. Oh, what guardian angels look over you. Why are they so merciful And you come to me and you beg me to bring you back into this horror, yet with every word you affirm the splendour of all you've suffered and seen.

I bare my soul to you and you use it against me! Oh, I do not, Lestat. I seek to make you look into it. You are begging me to drive you back to Gretchen. Am I perhaps the only guardian angel Am I the only one who can confirm this fate? You miserable bastard son of a bitch! If you don't give me the blood . . .

'He turned around, his face like that of a ghost, eyes wide and hideously unnatural in their beauty. I will not do it. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever. Go back to her, Lestat. Live this mortal life.

How dare you make this choice for me! I was on my feet again, and finished with whining and begging.

Don't come at me again, he said patiently. If you do, I shall hurt you. And that I don't wish to do.

Ah, you've killed me! That's what you've done. You think I believe all your lies! You've condemned me to this rotting, Stinking, aching body, that's what you've done! You think I don't know the depth of hatred in you, the true face of retribution when I see it! For the love of God, speak the truth.

It isn't the truth. I love you. But you are blind with impatience now, and overwrought with simple aches and pains. It is you who will never forgive me if I rob you of this destiny. Only it will take time for you to see the true meaning of what I've done.

No, no, please. I came towards him, only this time not in anger. I approached slowly, until I could lay my hands on his shoulders and smell the faint fragrance of dust and the grave that clung to his clothes. Lord God, what was our skin that it drew the light to itself so exquisitely And our eyes. Ah, to look into his eyes.

Louis, I said. I want you to take me. Please, do as I ask you. Leave the interpretations of all my tales to me. Take me, Louis, look at me. I snatched up his cold, lifeless hand and laid it on my face. Feel the blood in me, feel the heat. You want me, Louis, you know you do. You want me, you want me in your power the way I had you in my power so long, long ago. I'll be your fledgling, your child, Louis. Please, do this. Don't make me beg you on my knees.

I could sense the change in him, the sudden predator}' glaze that covered his eyes. But what was stronger than his thirst His will.

No, Lestat, he whispered. I can't do it. Even if I'm wrong and you are right, and all your metaphors are meaningless, I can't do it.

I took him in my arms, oh, so cold, so unyielding, this monster which I had made out of human flesh. I pressed my lips against his cheek, shuddering as I did so, my fingers sliding around his neck.

He didn't move away from me. He couldn't bring himself to do it. I felt the slow silent heave of his chest against mine.

Do it to me, please, beautiful one, I whispered in his ear. Take this heat into your veins, and give me back all the power that I once gave to you. I pressed my lips to his cold, colorless mouth. Give me the future, Louis. Give me eternity. Take me off this cross.

In the corner of my eye, I saw his hand rise. Then I felt the satin fingers against my cheek. I felt him stroke my neck. I can't do it, Lestat.

You can, you know you can, I whispered, kissing his ear as I spoke to him, choking back the tears, my left arm slipping around his waist. Oh, don't leave me hi this misery, don't do it.

Don't beg me anymore, he said sorrowfully. It's useless. I'm going now. You won't see me again.

Louis! I held fast to him. You can't refuse me.

Ah, but I can and I have.

I could feel him stiffening, trying to withdraw without bruising me. I held him ever more tightly, refusing to back away.

You won't find me again here. But you know where to find her. She's waiting for you. Don't you see your own victory Mortal again, and so very, very young. Mortal again, and so : very, very beautiful. Mortal again, with all your knowledge and hi with the same indomitable will.

Firmly and easily he removed my arms and pushed me back, ^closing his hands over mine as he held me away from him.

Good-bye, Lestat, he said. Perhaps the others will come to you. In time, when they feel you've paid enough.

I gave one last cry, trying to free my hands, trying to fix upon him, for I knew full well what he meant to do. In a dark flash of movement, he was gone, and I was lying on the floor.

The candle had fallen over on the desk and had gone out. Only the light of the dying fire filled the little room. And the shutters of the door stood open, and the rain was falling, thin and quiet, yet steady. And I knew I was completely alone. I had fallen to one side, my hands out before me to break the fall. And as I rose now, I cried out to him, praying that somehow he could hear me, no matter how far away he'd gone. Louis, help me. I don't want to be alive. I don't want to be mortal! Louis, don't leave me here! I can't bear it! I don't want sit! I don't want to save my soul!

How long I repeated these themes I don't know. Finally, I was too exhausted to continue; and the sounds of this mortal world and all its desperation were hurtful to my own ears.

I sat on the floor, one leg crooked beneath me, my elbow resting on my knee, my fingers in my hair. Mojo had come forward, fearfully, and lay now beside me, and I leaned down ad pressed my forehead into his fur.

The little fire was almost gone out. The rain hissed and sighed and redoubled its strength, but falling straight from the heavens without a breath of hateful wind.

Finally I looked up at this dark, dismal little place, at its Bumble of books and old statues, at the dust and filth everywhere, and at the glowing embers heaped hi the little hearth. How weary I was; how seared from my own anger; how close to despair.

Had I ever in all my misery been this completely without hope

My eyes moved sluggishly to the doorway, and to the steady downpour, and the menacing darkness which lay beyond. Yes, go out in it, you and Mojo, who will of course love it as he loved the snow. You have to go out in it. You have to get out of this abysmal little house, and find some comfortable shelter where you can rest.

My rooftop apartment, surely there was some way I could break into it. Surely . . . some way. And then the sun was coming hi a few hours, wasn't it Ah, this my lovely city, beneath the warm light of the sun.

For God's sake, don't start weeping again. You need to rest and to think.

But first, before you go, why don't you burn down his house! Let the big Victorian alone. He doesn't love it. But burn his little shack!

I could feel myself breaking into an irresistible and malicious smile, even as the tears still hovered in my eyes.

Yes, burn it down! He deserves it. And of course he's taken his writings with him, yes, indeed he has, but all his books will go up in smoke! And that's exactly what he deserves.

At once I gathered up the paintings-a gorgeous Monet, a couple of small Picassos, and a ruby-red egg tempera panel of the medieval period, all deteriorating badly, of course-and I rushed out and into the old empty Victorian mansion, and stashed these hi a darkened corner which seemed both safe and dry.

Then I went back into the little house, snatched up his candle, and thrust it into the remains of the fire. At once the soft ashes exploded with tiny orange sparks; and the sparks fastened themselves upon the wick.

Oh, you deserve this, you treacherous ungrateful bastard! I seethed as I put the flame to the books piled against the wall, carefully ruffling their pages to get them going. And then to an old coat thrown over a wooden chair, which went up like straw, and then to the red velvet cushions of the chair that had been mine. Ah, yes, burn it, all of it.

I kicked a pile of moldering magazines beneath his desk and ignited them. I touched the flame to one book after another, and tossed these like flaming coals into all parts of the little house.

Mojo edged away from these little bonfires, and finally went out into the rain, where he stood at a distance, gazing at me through the open door.

Ah, but things were moving too slowly. And Louis has a drawer full of candles; how could I have forgotten them-curse this mortal brain!-and now I drew them out, some twenty of them, and started setting the wax to burning fiercely, never mind the wick, and flinging them into the red velvet chair to make a great heat. I hurled them at the heaps of debris that remained, and I flung burning books at the wet shutters, and ignited the old fragments of curtain which here and there hung forgotten and neglected from old rods. I kicked out holes in the rotted plaster and threw the burning candles in upon the old lathing, and then I leant down and set afire the worn threadbare rugs, wrinkling them to let the air move underneath.

Within minutes the place was full of raging blazes, but the red chair and the desk were the greatest of all. I ran out into the rain, and I saw the fire flickering through the dark broken slats.

A damp ugly smoke rose as the fire licked at the wet shutters, as it curled up and out of the windows into the wet mass of the Queen's Wreath! Oh, cursed rain! But then as the blaze of the desk and chair grew ever brighter, the entire little building exploded with orange flames! Shutters were blown into the darkness; a great hole burst in the roof.

Yes, yes, burn! I shouted, the rain pelting my face, my eyelids. I was practically jumping up and down with joy. Mojo backed towards the darkened mansion, lowering his head. Burn, burn, I declared. Louis, I wish I could burn you! I'd do it! Oh, if only I knew where you He by day! But even in my glee I realized I was weeping. I was wiping at my mouth with the back of my hand, and crying. How could you leave me like this! How could you do it! I curse you. And dissolving into tears, I went down on my knees again against the rainy earth.

I sank back on my heels, hands folded in front of me, beaten and miserable and staring at the great fire. Lights were snap-ping on in distant houses. I could hear the thin scream of a siren coming. I knew I should go.

Yet still I knelt there, and I felt almost stuporous when Mojo suddenly roused me with one of his deep, most menacing growls. I realized he had come to stand beside me, and was pressing his wet fur to my very face, and that he was peering off towards the burning house.

I moved to catch hold of his collar and was about to retreat when I made out the source of his alarm. It was no helpful mortal. But rather an unearthly and dim white figure standing still as an apparition near the burning building, luridly illuminated by the blaze.

Even with these weak mortal eyes, I saw it was Marius! And I saw the expression of wrath stamped on his face. Never have I seen such a perfect reflection of fury, and there was not the slightest doubt that it was what he meant for me to see.

My lips parted but my voice had died in my throat. All I could do was stretch out my arms to him, to send from my heart a silent plea for mercy and for help.

Again the dog gave his fierce warning and seemed about to spring.

And as I watched helplessly, and trembling uncontrollably, the figure turned its back slowly, and giving me one last angry, disdainful look, disappeared.

It was then that I sprang to life, crying his name. Marius! I rose to my feet, calling louder and louder. Marius, don't leave me here. Help me! I reached up into the skies. Marius, I roared.

But it was useless and I knew it.

The rain soaked through my coat. It soaked into my shoes. My hair was slick and wet with it, and it didn't matter now whether or not I'd been crying, because the rain had washed away the teats.

You think I'm defeated, I whispered. What need was there to shout for him You think you've passed your judgment, and that's the end of it. Oh, you think it is as simple as that. Well you are wrong. I shall never have vengeance for this moment. But you will see me again. You will see me again.

I bowed my head.

The night was full of mortal voices, the sounds of running feet. A great noisy engine had come to a halt on the distant corner. I had to force these miserable mortal limbs to move.

I motioned for Mojo to follow, and off we crept past the ruins of the little house, still burning merrily, and over a low garden wall and through an overgrown alley and away.

Only later did I think how close we had probably come to capture-the mortal arsonist and his menacing dog.

But how could such a thing matter Louis had cast me out, and so had Marius-Marius, who might find my preternatural body before I did, and destroy it on the spot. Marius, who might already have destroyed it so that I was left forever within this mortal frame.

Oh, if ever I'd known such misery in my mortal youth, I didn't remember it. And if I had, it would have been little consolation to me now. As for my fear, it was unspeakable! Reason couldn't compass it. Round and round I went with my hopes and feeble plans.

I have to find the Body Thief, I have to find him and you must give me time, Marius, if you will not help me, you must grant me that much.

Over and over I said it like the Hail Mary of a rosary as I trudged on through the bitter rain.

Once or twice I even shouted my prayers in the darkness, standing beneath a high dripping oak tree, and trying to see the approaching light coming down through the wet sky.

Who in all the world would help me

David was my only hope, though what he could do to help me, I couldn't even imagine. David! And what if he, too, turned his back on me.

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