The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 28


IT WAS a vast general hospital to which all emergency cases were taken, and even at this late hour of the night, the ambulances were busy at its entrances, and white-jacketed doctors were hard at work as they received the victims of traffic violence, sudden heart attack, the bloody knife or the common gun.

But David Talbot had been taken quite far away from the glaring lights and the relentless noise, to the silent precincts on a higher floor known simply as Intensive Care.

You wait here, I said to David firmly, directing him into a sterile little parlour with dismal modern furnishings and a scattering of tattered magazines. Don't move from this place.

The broad corridor was absolutely silent. I walked towards the doors at the far end.

It was only a moment later that I returned. David sat staring into space, long legs crossed before him, arms folded once more across his chest.

As if waking from a dream, he finally looked up.

I began to tremble again all over, almost uncontrollably, and the serene quiet of his face only worsened my dread and the awful agonizing remorse.

David Talbot's dead, I whispered, struggling to make the words plain. He died half an hour ago.

He registered no visible response whatever. It was as if I hadn't spoken at all. And all I could think was, I made this decision for you! I did it. I brought the Body Thief into your world, though you warned me against it. And it was I who struck down that other body! And God knows what you will feel when you realize what's happened. You don't really know.

Slowly he climbed to his feet.

Oh, but I do know, he said in a small and reasonable voice. He came towards me and placed his hands on my shoulders, his entire demeanor so much that of his old self that it was as if I were looking at two beings who had been fused into one. It's Faust, my beloved friend, he said. And you weren't Mephistopheles. You were only Lestat, striking out in anger. And now it's done!

He took a slow step backwards, and stared off in that dazed fashion again, his face at once losing its marks of distress. He was immersed in his thoughts, isolated, and cut off from me, as I stood there trembling, trying to regain control, trying to believe it was what he wanted.

And then again, I saw it from his perspective. How could he not want it And I knew something else as well.

I'd lost him forever. He would never, never consent to come with me now. Any remnant of a chance had been blown completely away by this miracle. How could that not be so I felt it penetrate, deeply and silently. I thought of Gretchen again, and the expression on her face. And for one flashing moment I was in the room again with the false David, and he was looking at me with those dark beautiful eyes and saying that he wanted the Dark Gift.

A shimmer of pain passed through me, and then it grew brighter and stronger, as if my body were suffering a ghastly and all-consuming inner fire.

I said nothing. I stared at the ugly fluorescent lights embedded in the tiled ceiling; I stared at the meaningless furniture, with its stains and its torn threads; at a soiled magazine with a grinning child on its cover. I stared at him. Slowly the pain died away into a dull ache. I waited. I could not have spoken a word for any reason, not just then.

After a long time of musing in silence, he appeared to wake from a spell. The quiet feline grace of his movements bewitched me again as it had all along. He said in a murmur that he must see the body. Surely that could be done.

I nodded.

Then he reached into his pocket and drew out a little British passport-the fake he'd obtained on Barbados, no doubt- and he looked at it as if he were trying to fathom a small but very important mystery. Then he held it out to me, though why, I couldn't imagine. I saw the handsome young face with all its quiet attributes of knowledge; why must I see the picture But I looked at it, as he obviously wanted me to do, and I saw there-beneath the new face-the old name.

David Talbot.

He had used his own name on the false document, as if. ..

Yes, he said, as if I knew I would never, never be the old David Talbot again.

The deceased Mr. Talbot had not yet been taken to the morgue, for a dear friend was on his way from New Orleans-a man named Aaron Lightner, coming by chartered plane, who should arrive very soon.

The body lay in a small immaculate room. An old man with full dark gray hair, still, as if sleeping, with his large head on a plain pillow, and his arms at his sides. Already the cheeks were a little sunken, elongating the face, and the nose in the yellow light of the lamp appeared slightly sharper than it really was, and hard as if made not of cartilage but of bone.

They had removed the linen suit from the body, washed it and groomed it and clothed it in a simple cotton gown. The covers were laid over it, the hem of pale blue sheet covering the edge of the white blanket and perfectly smooth across the chest. The eyelids were molded too closely over the eyes, as if the skin were already flattening and even melting. To a vampire's keen senses, it already gave off the fragrance of death.

But this David would not know, nor catch that scent.

He stood at the bedside looking down at the body, at his own still face with the skin faintly yellow, and the crust of beard looking somehow soiled and unkempt. With an uncertain hand he touched his own gray hair, letting his fingers linger on the curling strands just before the right ear. Then he drew back and stood collected, merely looking, as though he were at a funeral and paying his respects.

It's dead, he murmured. Really and truly dead. He gave a deep sigh and his eyes moved over the ceiling and the walls of the little chamber, over the window with its drawn blinds and then over the dull linoleum tile of the floor. I sense no life in it or near it, he said, with the same subdued voice.

No. There's nothing, I answered. The process of decay has already begun.

I thought he'd be here! he whispered. Like a bit of smoke in this room. I thought surely I'd feel him near me, struggling to get back in.

Perhaps he is here, I said. And he cannot do it. How ghastly even for him.

No, he said. There's no one here. Then he stared at his old body as if he could not tear his eyes away.

Minutes ticked by. I watched the subtle tension in his face, the fine plastic skin infused with the expression of emotion, and then smoothing itself again. Was he resigned now He was as closed to me as he had ever been, and seemed even more deeply lost in this new body, even though his soul shone through with such fine light.

Again, he sighed, and drew back, and we walked together out of the room.

We stood in the dull beige corridor together, beneath the grim and yellowish fluorescent lights. Beyond the glass window, with its thin dark screen, Miami flickered and blazed; a dull roar came from the nearby freeway, its cascade of burning headlamps sliding perilously close before the road swerved and rose again on its long thin concrete legs and shot away.

You realize you've lost Talbot Manor, I said. It belonged to that man there.

Yes, I've thought of that, he answered listlessly. I'm the sort of Englishman who would. And to think it goes to such a dreary little cousin, who will only want to put it on the market at once.

I shall buy it back for you.

The order may do it. They are in my will for most of the estate.

Don't be so sure. Even the Talamasca might not be ready for this! And besides, humans can be perfect beasts when it comes to money. Call my agent in Paris. I'll instruct him to give you absolutely anything that you wish. I'll see to it your fortune is restored to you, to the very last pound, and most definitely the house. You can have anything that is mine to give.

He looked faintly surprised. And then deeply moved.

I couldn't help but wonder, Had I had ever seemed so completely at ease in this tall limber body Surely my movements had been more impulsive and even a little violent. Indeed, the strength had wrung from me a certain carelessness. He seemed on the other hand to have assimilated a knowledge of every sinew and bone.

I saw him in my mind's eye, old David, striding through the narrow cobblestone streets of Amsterdam, sidestepping the whizzing bicycles. He'd had the same poise even then.

Lestat, you are not responsible for me now, he said. You didn't cause this to happen.

How miserable I was suddenly. But there were words, weren't there, which had to be said.

David, I began, trying not to show the soreness. I couldn't have beaten him if it hadn't been for you. I told you in New Orleans I would be your slave for eternity if only you helped me to get my body away from him. And that you did. My voice was quavering. I hated it. But why not say it all now Why prolong the pain Of course I know I've lost you forever, David. I know you'll never take the Dark Gift from me now.

But why say you've lost me, Lestat? he said in a low fervent voice. Why must I die to love you? He pressed his lips together, trying to suppress his sudden surge of feeling. Why that price, especially now when I am alive as never before Lord God, surely you grasp the magnitude of what's taken place! I've been reborn.

He placed his hand on my shoulder, fingers trying to close on the hard alien body which barely felt his touch, or rather felt it in such a wholly different way that he would never know. I love you, my friend, he said in the same ardent whisper. Please, don't leave me now. All this has brought us so close.

No, David. It has not. In these last few days, we were close because we were both mortal men. We saw the same sun and the same twilight, we felt the same pull of the earth beneath our feet. We drank together and broke bread together. We might have made love together, if you had only allowed such a thing. But that's all changed. You have your youth, yes, and all the dizzying wonder that accompanies the miracle. But I still see death when I look at you, David. I see one who walks in the sun with death right at his shoulder. I know now I cannot be your companion, and you cannot be mine. It simply costs me too much pain.

He bowed his head, silently and valiantly struggling to maintain an inner control. Don't leave me yet, he whispered. Who else in all the world can understand?

I wanted suddenly to plead with him. Think, David, immortality in this beautiful young form. I wanted to tell him of all the places we might go, immortals together, and the wonders we might see. I wanted to describe to him that dark temple I'd discovered in the very depths of the rain forest, and tell him of what it had been like to roam the jungle, fearless, and with a vision that could penetrate the darkest corners .. . Oh, all this threatened to break loose from me in a rush of words, and I made no effort to veil my thoughts or my feelings. Oh, yes, you are young again, and now you can be young for all time. It is the finest vehicle for your travel into darkness that anyone could have fashioned; it is as if the dark spirits had done all this to prepare you! Wisdom and beauty are both yours. Our gods have worked the charm. Come, come with me now.

But I didn't speak. I didn't plead. As I stood silent in the corridor, I let myself breathe the blood scent rising from him, the scent that rises from all mortals, and which is different with each in its own way. How it tormented me to mark this new vitality, this sharper heat, and the sounder, slower heartbeat which I could hear as if the body itself were speaking to me in a manner in which it could not speak to him.

In that cafe in New Orleans, I had caught the same sharp scent of life from this physical being, but it had not been the same. No, not at all the same.

It was a simple thing to shut this off. I did it. I shrank back into the brittle lonely quiet of an ordinary man. I avoided his eyes. I didn't want to hear any more apologetic and imperfect words.

I'll see you soon, I said. I know you will need me. You'll need your only witness when the horror and mystery of all this is too much. I'll come. But give me time. And remember. Call my man in Paris. Don't rely upon the Talamasca. Surely you don't mean to give them this life too?

As I turned to go, I heard the distant muffled sound of the elevator doors. His friend had come-a smallish white-haired man, dressed as David had so often dressed, in a proper old-fashioned suit, complete with vest. How concerned he looked as he came towards us with quick sprightly steps, and then I saw his eyes close on me, and he slowed his pace.

I hurried away, ignoring the annoying realization that the man knew me, knew what I was and who I was. So much the better, I thought, for he will surely believe David when David begins his strange tale.

The night was waiting for me as always. And my thirst could wait no longer. I stood for a moment, head thrown back, eyes closed, and mouth open, feeling the thirst, and wanting to roar like a hungry beast. Yes, blood again when there is nothing else. When the world seems in all its beauty to be empty and heartless and I myself am utterly lost. Give me my old friend, death, and the blood that rushes with it. The Vampire Lestat is here, and he thirsts, and tonight of all nights, he will not be denied.

But I knew as I sought the dingy back streets, in search of the cruel victims I so loved, that I had lost my beautiful southern city of Miami. At least for a little while.

I kept seeing again in my mind's eye that smart little room in the Park Central, with its windows open to the sea, and the false David telling me he wanted the Dark Gift from me! And Gretchen. Would I ever think of those moments that I didn't remember Gretchen, and pouring out my story of Gretchen to the man I believed to be David before we climbed those steps to that chamber, as my heart had knocked inside me, and I had thought: At last! At last!

Bitter, and angry, and empty, I never wanted to see the pretty hotels of South Beach again.



The Dolls

by W. B. Yeats

A doll in the doll-maker's house

Looks at the cradle and bawls:

That is an insult to us.

But the oldest of all the dolls,

Who had seen, being kept for show,

Generations of his sort,

Out-screams the whole shelf: Although

There's not a man can report

Evil of this place,

The man and the woman bring

Hither, to our disgrace,

A noisy and filthy thing.

Hearing him groan and stretch

The doll-maker's wife is aware

Her husband has heard the wretch,

And crouched by the arm of his chair,

She murmurs into his ear,

Head upon shoulder leant:

My dear, my dear, O dear,

It was an accident.

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