The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 29


IT WAS two nights later that I returned to New Orleans. I'd been wandering in the Florida Keys, and through quaint little southern cities, and walking for hours on southern beaches, even wriggling my naked toes in the white sand.

At last I was back, and the cold weather had been blown away by the inevitable winds. The air was almost balmy again- my New Orleans-and the sky was high and bright above the racing clouds.

I went immediately to my dear old lady tenant, and called to Mojo, who was in the back courtyard sleeping, for he found the little apartment too warm. He gave no growl when I stepped into the courtyard. But it was the sound of my voice which triggered recognition. As soon as I said his name he was mine again.

At once he came to me, leaping up to throw his soft heavy paws on my shoulders and lick my face again with his great ham-pink tongue. I nuzzled him and kissed him and buried my face in his sweet shining gray fur, I saw him again as I had that first night in Georgetown-his fierce stamina and his great gentleness.

Had ever a beast looked so frightening yet been so full of calm, sweet affection It seemed a wondrous combination. I knelt down on the old flags, wrestling with him, rolling him over on his back, and burying my head in the big collar of fur on his chest. He gave forth all those little growls and squeaks and high-pitched sounds that dogs give when they love you. And how I loved him in return.

As for my tenant, the dear old woman, who watched all this from the kitchen doorway, she was in tears to have him gone.

At once we struck a bargain. She would be his keeper, and I should come for him through the garden gate whenever I wished. How perfectly divine, for surely it was not fair to him to expect him to sleep in a crypt with me, and I had no need of such a guardian, did I, no matter how graceful the image now and then seemed.

I kissed the old woman tenderly and quickly, lest she sense she was in close proximity to a demon, and then away I went with Mojo, walking the narrow pretty streets of the French Quarter and laughing to myself at how mortals stared at Mojo, and gave him a wide berth and seemed indeed to be terrified of him, when guess who was the one to fear

My next stop was the building on Rue Royale where Claudia and Louis and I had spent those splendid, luminous fifty years of earthly existence together in the early half of the old century-a place partially in ruins, as I have described.

A young man had been told to meet me on the premises, a clever individual with a great reputation for turning dismal houses into palatial mansions, and I led him now up the stairs and into the decayed flat.

I want it all as it was over a hundred years ago, I said to him. But mind you, nothing American, nothing English. Nothing Victorian. It must be entirely French. Then I led him on a merry march through room after room, as he scribbled hastily in his little book, scarce able to see in the darkness, while I told him what wallpaper I should want here, and which shade of enamel on this door, and what sort of bergere he might round up for this corner, and what manner of Indian or Persian carpet he must acquire for this or that floor.

How keen my memory was.

Again and again, I cautioned him to write down every word I spoke. You must find a Greek vase, no, a reproduction will not do, and it must be this high and have upon it dancing figures. Ah, wasn't it the ode by Keats which had inspired that long-ago purchase Where had the urn gone And that fireplace, that is not the original mantel. You must find one of white marble, with scrollwork like so, and arched over the grate. Oh, and these fireplaces, they must be repaired. They must be able to burn coal.

I will live here again as soon as you are finished, I said to him. So you must hurry. And, another caution. Anything you find in these premises-hidden in the old plaster-you must give to me.

What a pleasure it was to stand beneath these high ceilings, and what a joy it would be to see them when the soft crumbling moldings were once more restored. How free and quiet I felt. The past was here, but it wasn't here. No whispering ghosts anymore, if there had ever been.

Slowly I described the chandeliers I wanted; when the proper labels eluded me, I drew pictures in words for him of what had once been there. I would have oil lamps here and there, also, though of course there must be limitless electricity, and we would conceal the various television screens in handsome cabinets, not to mar the effect. And there, a cabinet for my videotapes and laser disks, and again, we should find something suitable-a painted Oriental press would do the trick. Hide the telephones.

And a facsimile machine! I must have one of those little marvels! Find someplace to conceal it as well. Why, you can use that room as an office, only make it gracious and beautiful. Nothing must be visible which is not made of polished brass, fine wool, or lustrous wood, or silk or cotton lace. I want a mural in that bedroom. Here, I shall show you. But look, see the wallpaper That's the very mural. Bring in a photographer and record every inch and then begin your restoration. Work diligently but very fast.

Finally we were finished with the dark damp ulterior. It was time to discuss the courtyard in the back with its broken fountain, and how the old kitchen must be restored. I would have bougainvillea and the Queen's Wreath, how I love the Queen's Wreath, and the giant hibiscus, yes, I had just seen this lovely flower in the Caribbean, and the moonflower, of course. Banana trees, give me those as well. Ah, the old walls are tumbling. Patch them. Shore them up. And on the back porch above, I want ferns, all manner of delicate ferns. The weather's warming again, isn't it They will do well.

Now, upstairs, once more, through the long brown hollow of the house and to the front porch.

I broke open the French doors and went out on the rotted boards. The fine old iron railings were not so badly rusted. The roof would have to be remade of course. But I would soon be sitting out here as I did now and then in the old days, watching the passersby on the other side of the street.

Of course the faithful and zealous readers of my books would spot me here now and then. The readers of Louis's memoir, come to find the flat where we had lived, would surely recognize the house.

No matter. They believed hi it, but that's different from believing it. And what was another young blond-faced man, smiling at them from a high balcony, his arms resting on the rail I should never feed upon those tender, innocent ones- even when they bare their throats at me and say, Lestat, right here! (This has happened, reader, in Jackson Square, and more than once.)

You must hurry, I told the young man, who was still scribbling, and taking measurements, and murmuring about colors and fabrics to himself, and now and then discovering Mojo beside him, or in front of him, or underfoot, and giving a start. I want it finished before summer. He was in quite a dither when I dismissed him. I remained behind hi the old building with Mojo, alone.

The attic. In the olden times, I'd never gone there. But there was an old staircase hidden off the rear porch, just beyond the back parlour, the very room where Claudia had once sliced through my thin fledgling white skin with her great flashing knife. I went there now and climbed up into the low rooms beneath the sloping roof. Ah, it was high enough for a man of six feet to walk here, and the dormer windows on the very front let in the light from the street.

I should make my lair here, I thought, in a hard plain sarcophagus with a lid no mortal could hope to move. Easy enough to build a small chamber beneath the gable, fitted with thick bronze doors which I should design myself. And when I rise, I shall go down into the house and find it as it was in those wondrous decades, save I shall have everywhere about me the technological marvels I require. The past will not be recovered. The past will be perfectly eclipsed.

Won't it, Claudia? I whispered, standing in the back parlour. Nothing answered me. No sounds of a harpsichord or the canary singing in its cage. But I should have songbirds again, yes, many of them, and the house would be full of the rich rampaging music of Haydn or Mozart.

Oh, my darling, wish you were here!

And my dark soul is happy again, because it does not know how to be anything else for very long, and because the pain is a deep dark sea in which I would drown if I did not sail my little craft steadily over the surface, steadily towards a sun which will never rise.

It was past midnight now; the little city was humming softly around me, with a chorus of mingled voices, and the soft clickety-clack of a distant train, with the low throb of a whistle on the river, and the rumble of traffic on the Rue Esplanade.

I went into the old parlour, and stared at the pale luminous patches of light falling through the panes of the doors. I lay down on the bare wood, and Mojo came to lie down beside me, and there we slept.

I dreamed no dreams of her. So why was I weeping softly when it came time finally to seek the safety of my crypt And where was my Louis, my treacherous and stubborn Louis Paul. Ah, and it would get worse, wouldn't it, when I saw him soon enough

With a start, I realized that Mojo was lapping the blood tears from my cheeks. No. That you must never do! I said, closing my hand over his mouth. Never, never that blood. That evil blood. I was badly shaken. And he was at once obedient, backing off just a little from me in his unhurried and dignified way.

How perfectly demonic his eyes seemed as he gazed at me. What a deception! I kissed him again, on the tenderest part of his long, furry face, just beneath his eyes.

I thought again of Louis, and the pain hit me as if I'd been dealt a hard blow by one of the ancients, right in the chest.

Indeed, my emotions were so bitter, and so beyond my control, that I felt frightened and for a moment thought of nothing and felt nothing but this pain.

In my mind's eye, I saw all the others. I brought up their faces as if I were the Witch of Endor standing over the cauldron invoking the images of the dead.

Maharet and Mekare, the red-haired twins, I beheld together-the oldest of us, who might not have even known of my dilemma, so remote were they in their great age and wisdom, and so deeply wrapped in their own inevitable and timeless concerns; Eric and Mael and Khayman I pictured, who held scant interest for me even if they had knowingly refused to come to my aid. They had never been my companions. What did I care for them Then I saw Gabrielle, my beloved mother, who surely could not have known of my terrible jeopardy, who was no doubt wandering some distant continent, a ragged goddess, communing only with the inanimate, as she had always done. I did not know if she fed any longer on humans; some dim memory came to me of her describing the embrace of some dark woodland beast. Was she mad, my mother, wherever she had gone I did not think so. That she existed still, I was certain. That I could never find her, I had no doubt.

It was Pandora I pictured next. Pandora, the lover of Marius, might have perished long ago. Made by Marius in Roman times, she had been on the verge of despair when last I saw her. Years ago, she had wandered away, without warning, from our last true coven on the Night Island-one of the first to depart.

As for Santino, the Italian, I knew almost nothing of him. I had expected nothing. He was young. Perhaps my cries had never reached him. And why should he listen if they had

Then I envisioned Armand. My old enemy and friend Armand. My old adversary and companion Armand. Armand, the angelic child who had created the Night Island, our last home.

Where was Armand Had Armand deliberately left me to my own devices And why not

Let me turn now to Marius, the great ancient master who had made Armand in love and tenderness so many centuries ago; Marius, for whom I'd searched so many decades; Marius, the true child of two millennia, who had led me down into the depths of our meaningless history, and bid me worship at the shrine of Those Who Must Be Kept.

Those Who Must Be Kept. Dead and gone as was Claudia. For kings and queens among us can perish as surely as tender childlike fledglings.

Yet I go on. I am here. I am strong.

And Marius, like Louis, had known of my suffering! He'd known and he'd refused to help.

The rage in me grew stronger, ever more dangerous. Was Louis somewhere near in these very streets I clenched my fists, struggling against this rage, struggling against its helpless and inevitable expression.

Marius, you turned your back on me. That came as no surprise, really. You were always the teacher, the parent, the high priest. I don't despise you for it. But Louis! My Louis, I could never deny you anything, and you turned me away!

I knew I could not remain here. I did not trust myself to lay eyes on him. Not yet.

An hour before dawn, I took Mojo back to his little garden, kissed him good-bye, and then I walked fast to the outskirts of the old city, and through the Faubourg Marigny, and finally into the swamplands, and then I raised my arms towards the stars, swimming so brilliant beyond the clouds, and I went up, and up, and up until I was lost in the song of the wind and tumbling on the thinnest currents, and the joy I felt in my gifts filled my entire soul.

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