The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 7


NEW ORLEANS. I arrived quite early in the evening for I had gone backwards in time against the turning of the world. It was cold and crisp, but not cruelly so, though a bad norther was on its way. The sky was without a cloud and full of small and very distinct stars. I went at once to my little rooftop apartment in the French Quarter, which for all its glamour is not very high at all, being on the top of a four-storey building, erected long before the Civil War, and having a rather intimate view of the river and its beautiful twin bridges, and which catches, when the windows are open, the noises of the happily crowded Cafe du Monde and of the busy shops and streets around Jackson Square.

It was not until tomorrow night that Mr. Raglan James meant to meet me. And impatient as I was for this meeting, I found the schedule comfortable, as I wanted to find Louis right away.

But first I indulged in the mortal comfort of a hot shower, and put on a fresh suit of black velvet, very trim and plain, rather like the clothes I'd worn in Miami, and a pair of new black boots. And ignoring my general weariness-I would have been asleep in the earth by now, had I been still in Europe-I went off, walking like a mortal, through the town.

For reasons of which I wasn't too certain, I took a turn past the old address in the Rue Royale where Claudia and Louis and I had once lived. Actually I did this rather often, never allowing myself to think about it, until I was halfway there.

Our coven had endured for over fifty years in that lovely upstairs apartment. And surely this factor ought to be considered when I'm being condemned, either by myself or by someone else, for my errors. Louis and Claudia had both been made by me, and for me, I admit that. Nevertheless, ours had been a curiously incandescent and satisfying existence before Claudia decided I should pay for my creations with my life.

The rooms themselves had been crammed with every conceivable ornament and luxury which the times could provide. We'd kept a carriage, and a team of horses at the nearby stables, and servants had lived beyond the courtyard in back. But the old brick buildings were now somewhat faded, and neglected, the flat unoccupied of late, except for ghosts, perhaps, who knows, and the shop below was rented to a bookseller who never bothered to dust the volumes in the window, or those on his shelves. Now and then he procured books for me-volumes on the nature of evil by the historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, or the marvelous philosophical works of Mircea Eliade, as well as vintage copies of the novels I loved.

The old man was in there reading, in fact, and I watched him for a few minutes through the glass. How different were the citizens of New Orleans from all the rest of the American world. Profit meant nothing to this old gray-haired being at all.

I stood back and looked up at the cast-iron railings above. I thought of those disturbing dreams-the oil lamp, her voice. Why was she haunting me so much more relentlessly than ever before

When I closed my eyes, I could hear her again, talking to me, but the substance of her words was gone. I found myself thinking back once more on her life and her death.

Gone now without a trace was the little hovel in which I'd first seen her in Louis's arms. A plague house it had been. Only a vampire would have entered. No thief had dared even to steal the gold chain from her dead mother's throat. And how ashamed Louis had been that he had chosen a tiny child as his victim. But I had understood. No trace remained, either, of the old hospital where they'd taken her afterwards. What narrow mud street had I passed through with that warm mortal bundle in my arms, and Louis rushing after me, begging to know what I meant to do.

A gust of cold wind startled me suddenly.

I could hear the dull raucous music from the taverns of the Rue Bourbon only a block away; and people walking before the cathedral-laughter from a woman nearby. A car horn blasting in the dark. The tiny electronic throb of a modern phone.

Inside the bookstore, the old man played the radio, twisting the dial from Dixieland to classical and finally to a mournful voice singing poetry to the music of an English composer . . .

Why had I come to this old building, which stood forlorn and indifferent as a tombstone with all its dates and letters worn away

I wanted no more delay, finally.

I'd been playing with my own mad excitement at what had only just happened in Paris, and I headed uptown to find Louis and lay it all before him.

Again, I chose to walk. I chose to feel the earth, to measure it with my feet.

In our time-at the end of the eighteenth century-the uptown of the city didn't really exist. It was country upriver; there were plantations still, and the roads were narrow and hard to travel, being paved only with dredged shells.

Later in the nineteenth century, after our little coven had been destroyed, and I was wounded and broken, and gone to Paris to search for Claudia and Louis, the uptown with all its small towns was merged with the great city, and many fine wooden houses in the Victorian style were built.

Some of these ornate wooden structures are vast, every bit as grand in their own cluttered fashion as the great antebellum Greek Revival houses of the Garden District, which always put me in mind of temples, or the imposing town houses of the French Quarter itself.

But much of uptown with its small clapboard cottages, as well as big houses, still retains for me the aspect of the country, what with the enormous oaks and magnolias sprouting up everywhere to tower over the little roofs, and so many streets without sidewalks, along which the gutters are no more than ditches, full of wildflowers flourishing in spite of the winter cold.

Even the little commercial streets-a sudden stretch here and there of attached buildings-remind one not of the French Quarter with its stone facades and old-world sophistication, but rather of the quaint main streets of rural American towns.

This is a great place for walking in the evening; you can hear the birds sing as you will never hear them in the Vieux Carre; and the twilight lasts forever over the roofs of the warehouses along the ever-curving river, shining through the great heavy branches of the trees. One can happen upon splendid mansions with rambling galleries and gingerbread decoration, houses with turrets and gables, and widow's walks. There are big wooden porch swings hanging behind freshly painted wooden railings. There are white picket fences. Broad avenues of clean well-clipped lawns.

The little cottages display an endless variation; some are neatly painted in deep brilliant colors according to the current fashion; others, more derelict but no less beautiful, have the lovely gray tone of driftwood, a condition into which a house can fall easily in this tropical place.

Here and there one finds a stretch of street so overgrown one can scarce believe one is still within a city. Wild four-o'clocks and blue plumbago obscure the fences that mark property; the limbs of the oak bend so low they force the passerby to bow his head. Even in its coldest winters, New Orleans is always green.

The frost can't kill the camellias, though it does sometimes bruise them. The wild yellow Carolina jasmine and the purple bougainvillea cover fences and walls.

It is in one such stretch of soft leafy darkness, beyond a great row of huge magnolia trees, that Louis made his secret home.

The old Victorian mansion behind the rusted gates was unoccupied, its yellow paint almost all peeled away. Only now and then did Louis roam through it, a candle in his hand. It was a cottage in back-covered with a great shapeless mountain of tangled pink Queen's Wreath-which was his true dwelling, full of his books and miscellaneous objects he'd collected over the years. Its windows were quite hidden from the street. In fact, it's doubtful anyone knew this house existed. The neighbors could not see it for the high brick walls, the dense old trees, and oleander growing wild around it. And there was no real path through the high grass.

When I came upon him, all the windows and doors were open to the few simple rooms. He was at his desk, reading by the light of a single candle flame.

For a long moment, I spied upon him. I loved to do this. Often I followed him when he went hunting, simply to watch him feed. The modern world doesn't mean, anything to Louis. He walks the streets like a phantom, soundlessly, drawn slowly to those who welcome death, or seem to welcome it. (I'm not sure people really ever welcome death.) And when he feeds, it is painless and delicate and swift. He must take life when he feeds. He does not know how to spare the victim. He was never strong enough for the little drink which carries me through so many nights; or did before I became the ravenous god.

His clothes are old-fashioned always. As so many of us do, he finds garments which resemble the styles of his time in mortal life. Big loose shirts with gathered sleeves and long cuffs please him, and tight-fitting pants. When he wears a coat, which is seldom, it is fitted like the ones I choose-a rider's jacket, very long and full at the hem.

I bring him these garments sometimes as presents, so that he doesn't wear his few acquisitions right to rags. I had been tempted to straighten up his house, hang the pictures, fill the place with finery, sweep him up into heady luxury the way I had in the past.

I think he wanted me-to do this, but he wouldn't admit it. He existed without electricity, or modern heat, wandering in chaos, pretending to be wholly content.

Some of the windows of this house were without glass, and only now and then did he bolt the old-fashioned louvered shutters. He did not seem to care if the rain came in on his possessions because they weren't really possessions. Just junk heaped here and there.

But again, I think he wanted me to do something about it. It's amazing how often he came to visit me in my overheated and brilliantly illuminated rooms downtown. There he watched my giant television screen for hours. Sometimes he brought his own films for it on disk or tape. The Company of Wolves, that was one which he watched over and over. Beauty and the Beast, a French film by Jean Cocteau, also pleased him mightily. Then there was The Dead, a film made by John Huston from a story by James Joyce. And please understand this film has nothing to do with our kind whatsoever; it is about a fairly ordinary group of mortals in Ireland in the early part of this century who gather for a convivial supper on Little Christmas night. There were many other films which delighted him. But these visits could never be commanded by me, and they never lasted very long. He often deplored the rank materialism in which I wallowed and turned his back on my velvet cushions and thickly carpeted floor, and lavish marble bath. He drifted off again, to his forlorn and vine-covered shack.

Tonight, he sat there in all his dusty glory, an ink smudge on his white cheek, poring over a large cumbersome biography of Dickens, recently written by an English novelist, turning the pages slowly, for he is no faster at reading than most mortals. Indeed of all of us survivors he is the most nearly human. And he remains so by choice.

Many times I've offered him my more powerful blood. Always, he has refused it. The sun over the Gobi Desert would have burnt him to ashes. His senses are finely tuned and vampiric, but not like those of a Child of the Millennia. He cannot read anyone's thoughts with much success. When he puts a mortal into a trance, it's always a mistake.

And of course I cannot read his thoughts because I made him, and the thoughts of the fledgling and master are always closed to each other, though why, no one of us knows. My suspicion is that we know a great deal of each other's feelings and longings; only the amplification is too loud for any distinct image to come clear. Theory. Someday perhaps they will study us in laboratories. We will beg for live victims through the thick glass walls of our prisons as they ply us with questions, and extract samples of blood from our veins. Ah, but how to do that to Lestat who can burn another to cinders with one decisive thought

Louis didn't hear me in the high grass outside his little house.

I slipped into the room, a great glancing shadow, and was already seated in my favorite red velvet bergere-I'd long ago brought it there for myself-opposite him when he looked up.

Ah, you! he said at once, and slammed the book shut.

His face, quite thin and finely drawn by nature, an exquisitely delicate face for all its obvious strength, was gorgeously flushed. He had hunted early, I'd missed it. I was for one second completely crushed.

Nevertheless it was tantalizing to see him so enlivened by the low throb of human blood. I could smell the blood too, which gave a curious dimension to being near him. His beauty has always maddened me. I think I idealize him in my mind when I'm not with him; but then when I see him again I'm overcome.

Of course it was his beauty which drew me to him, in my first nights here in Louisiana, when it was a savage, lawless colony, and he was a reckless, drunken fool, gambling and picking fights in taverns, and doing what he could to bring about his own death. Well, he got what he thought he wanted, more or less.

For a moment, I couldn't understand the expression of horror on his face as he stared at me, or why he suddenly rose and came towards me and bent down and touched my face. Then I remembered. My sun-darkened skin.

What have you done? he whispered. He knelt down and looked up at me, resting his hand lightly on my shoulder. Lovely intimacy, but I wasn't going to admit it. I remained composed in the chair.

It's nothing, I said, it's finished. I went into a desert place, I wanted to see what would happen . . .

You wanted to see what would happen? He stood up, took a step back, and glared at me. You meant to destroy yourself, didn't you?

Not really, I said. I lay in the light for a full day. The second morning, somehow or other I must have dug down into the sand.

He stared at me for a long moment, as if he would explode with disapproval, and then he retreated to his desk, sat down a bit noisily for such a graceful being, composed his hands over the closed book, and looked wickedly and furiously at me.

Why did you do it?

Louis, I have something more important to tell you, I said. Forget about all this. I made a gesture to include my face. Something very remarkable has happened, and I have to tell you the whole tale. I stood up, because I couldn't contain myself. I began to pace, careful not to trip over all the heaps of disgusting trash lying about, and maddened slightly by the dim candlelight, not because I couldn't see in it, but because it was so weak and partial and I like light.

I told him everything-how I'd seen this creature, Raglan James, in Venice and in Hong Kong, and then in Miami, and how he'd sent me the message in London and then followed me to Paris as I supposed he would. Now we were to meet near the square tomorrow night. I explained the short stories and their meaning. I explained the strangeness of the young man himself, that he was not in his body, that I believed he could effect such a switch.

You're out of your mind, Louis said.

Don't be so hasty, I answered.

You quote this idiot's words to me Destroy him. Put an end to him. Find him tonight if you can and do away with him.

Louis, for the love of heaven . . .

Lestat, this creature can find you at will That means he knows where you lie. You've led him here now. He knows where I lie. He's the worst conceivable enemy! Mon Dieu, why do you go looking for adversity Nothing on earth can destroy you now, not even the Children of the Millennia have the combined strength to do it, and not even the sun at midday in the Gobi Desert-so you court the one enemy who has power over you. A mortal man who can walk in the light of day. A man who can achieve complete dominion over you when you yourself are without a spark of consciousness or will. No, destroy him. He's far too dangerous. If I see him, I'll destroy him.

Louis, this man can give me a human body. Have you listened to anything that I've said.

Human body! Lestat, you can't become human by simply taking over a human body! You weren't human when you were alive! You were born a monster, and you know it. How the hell can you delude yourself like this.

I'm going to weep if you don't stop.

Weep. I'd like to see you weep. I've read a great deal about your weeping in the pages of your books but I've never seen you weep with my own eyes.

Ah, that makes you out to be a perfect liar, I said furiously. You described my weeping in your miserable memoir in a scene which we both know did not take place!

Lestat, kill this creature! You're mad if you let him come close enough to you to speak three words.

I was confounded, utterly confounded. I dropped down in the chair again and stared into space. The night seemed to breathe with a soft lovely rhythm outside, the fragrance of the Queen's Wreath just barely touching the moist cool air. A faint incandescence seemed to come from Louis's face, from his hands folded on the desk. He was veiled in stillness, waiting for my response, I presumed, though why, I had no idea.

I never expected this from you, I said, crestfallen. I expected some long philosophical diatribe, like the trash you wrote in your memoir, but this?

He sat there, silent, peering at me steadily, the light sparking for an instant hi his brooding green eyes. He seemed tormented in some deep way, as if my words had caused him pain. Certainly it wasn't my insult to his writing. I insulted his writing all the time. That was a joke. Well, sort of a joke.

I couldn't figure what to say or do. He was working on my nerves. When he spoke his voice was very soft.

You don't really want to be human, he said. You don't believe that, do you?

Yes, I believe it! I answered, humiliated by the feeling in my voice. How could you not believe it? I stood up and commenced my pacing again. I made a circuit of the little house, and wandered out into the jungle garden, pushing the thick springy vines out of my way. I was in such a state of confusion I couldn't speak to him anymore.

I was thinking of my mortal life, vainly trying not to mythologize it, but I could not drive away from me those memories-the last wolf hunt, my dogs dying in the snow. Paris. The boulevard theatre. Unfinished! You don't really want to be htonan. How could he say such a thing

It seemed an age I was out in the garden, but finally, for better or worse, I wandered back inside. I found him still at his desk, looking at me in the most forlorn, almost heartbroken way.

Look, I said, there are only two things which I believe- the first is that no mortal can refuse the Dark Gift once he really knows what it is. And don't speak to me about David Talbot refusing me. David is not an ordinary man. The second thing I believe is that all of us would be human again if we could. Those are my tenets. There's nothing else.

He made a little weary accepting gesture and sat back hi his chair. The wood creaked softly beneath his weight, and he lifted his right hand languidly, wholly unconscious of the seductive quality of this simple gesture, and ran his fingers back through his loose dark hair.

The memory pierced me suddenly of the night I had given him the blood, of how he had argued with me at the last moment that I must not do it, and then he'd given in. I had explained it all to him beforehand-while he was still the drunken feverish young planter in the sickbed with the rosary wound around the bedpost. But how can such a thing be explained! And he'd been so convinced that he wanted to come with me, so certain that mortal life held nothing for him-so bitter and burnt out and so young!

What had he known then Had he ever read a poem by Milton, or listened to a sonata by Mozart Would the name Marcus Aurelius have meant anything to him In all probability, he would have thought it a fancy name for a black slave. Ah, those savage and swaggering plantation lords with their rapiers and their pearl-handled pistols! They did appreciate excess; I shall, in retrospect, give them that.

But he was far from those days now, wasn't he The author of Interview with the Vampire, of all preposterous titles! I tried to quiet myself. I loved him too much not to be patient, not to wait until he spoke again. I'd fashioned him of human flesh and blood to be my preternatural tormentor, had I not

It can't be undone that easily, he said now, rousing me from memory, dragging me back into this dusty room. His voice was deliberately gentle, almost conciliatory or imploring. It can't be that simple. You can't change bodies with a mortal man. To be candid, I don't even think it's possible, but even if it were-

I didn't answer. I wanted to say, But what if it can be done! What if I can know again what it means to be alive.

And then what about your body, he said, pleading with me, holding his anger and outrage in check so skillfully. Surely you can't place all your powers at the disposal of this creature, this sorcerer or whatever he is. The others have told me that they cannot even calculate the limits of your power. Ah, no. It's an appalling idea. Tell me, how does he know how to find you! That's the most significant part.

That's the least significant part, I replied. But clearly, if this man can switch bodies, then he can leave his body. He can navigate as a spirit for long enough to track me and find me. I must be very visible to him when he's in this state, given what I am. This is no miracle in itself, you understand.

I know, he said. Or so I read and so I hear. I think you've found a truly dangerous being. This is worse than what we are.

How so worse?

It implies another desperate attempt at immortality, switching bodies! Do you think this mortal, whoever he is, plans to grow old in this or any other body, and allow himself to die!

I had to confess I followed his meaning. Then I told him about the man's voice, the sharp British accent, the cultured sound of it, and how it didn't seem the voice of a young man.

He shuddered. He probably comes from the Talamasca, he said. That's probably where he found out about you.

All he had to do was buy a paperback novel to find out about me.

Ah, but not to believe, Lestat, not to believe it was true.

I told him that I had spoken to David. David would know if this man was from his own order, but as for myself I didn't believe it. Those scholars would never have done such a thing. And there was something sinister about this mortal. The members of the Talamasca were almost tiresome in their whole-someness. Besides, it didn't matter. I would talk to this man and discover everything for myself.

He grew reflective again and very sad. It almost hurt me to look at him. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, but that would only have made him furious.

I love you, he said softly.

I was amazed.

You're always looking for a way to triumph, he continued. You never give in. But there is no way to triumph. This is purgatory we're in, you and I. All we can be is thankful that it isn't actually hell.

No, I don't believe it, I said. Look, it doesn't matter what you say or what David said. I'm going to talk to Raglan James. I want to know what this is about! Nothing's going to prevent that.

Ah, so David Talbot has also warned you against him.

Don't choose your allies among my friends!

Lestat, if this human comes near me, if I believe that I am in danger from him, I will destroy him. Understand.

Of course, I do. He wouldn't approach you. He's picked me, and with reason.

He's picked you because you are careless and flamboyant and vain. Oh, I don't say this to hurt you. Truly I don't. You long to be seen and approached and understood and to get into mischief, to stir everything up and see if it won't boil over and if God won't come down and grab you by the hair. Well, there is no God. You might as well be God.

You and David ... the same song, the same admonitions, though he claims to have seen God and you don't believe He exists.

David has seen God? he asked respectfully.

Not really, I murmured with a scornful gesture. But you both scold in the same way. Marius scolds in the same way.

Well, of course, you pick the voices that scold you. You always have, in the same manner in which you pick those who will turn on you and stick the knife right into your heart.

He meant Claudia, but he couldn't bear to speak her name. I knew I could hurt him if I said it, like flinging a curse in his face. I wanted to say, You had a hand in it! You were there when I made her, and there when she lifted the knife!

I don't want to hear any more! I said. You'll sing the song of limitations all your long dreary years on this earth, won't you Well, I am not God. And I am not the Devil from hell, though I sometimes pretend to be. I am not the crafty cunning lago. I don't plot ghastly scenarios of evil. And I can't quash my curiosity or my spirit. Yes, I want to know if this man can really do it. I want to know what will happen. And I won't give up.

And you'll sing the song of victory eternally though there is none to be had.

Ah, but there is. There must be.

No. The more we learn, the more we know there are no victories. Can't we fall back on nature, do what we must to endure and nothing more?

That is the most paltry definition of nature I have ever heard. Take a hard look at it-not in poetry but in the world outside. What do you see in nature What made the spiders that creep beneath the damp floorboards, what made the moths with then- multicolored wings that look hike great evil flowers in the dark The shark in the sea, why does it exist? I came towards him, planted my hands on his desk and looked into his face. I was so sure you would understand this. And by the way, I wasn't born a monster! I was a born a mortal child, the same as you. Stronger than you! More will to live than you! That was cruel of you to say.

I know. It was wrong. Sometimes you frighten me so badly I hurl sticks and stones at you. It's foolish. I'm glad to see you, though I dread admitting it. I shiver at the thought that you might have really brought an end to yourself in the desert! I can't bear the thought of existence now without you! You infuriate me! Why don't you laugh at me You've done it before.

I drew myself up and turned my back on him. I was looking out at the grass blowing gently in the river wind, and the tendrils of the Queen's Wreath reaching down to veil the open door.

I'm not laughing, I said. But I'm going to pursue this, no sense in lying about that to you. Lord God, don't you see If I'm in a mortal body for five minutes only, what I might learn?

All right, he said despairingly. I hope you discover the man's seduced you with a pack of lies, that all he wants is the Dark Blood, and that you send him straight to hell. Once more, let me warn you, if I see him, if he threatens me, I shall kill him. I haven't your strength. I depend upon my anonymity, that my little memoir, as you always call it, was so very far removed from the world of this century that no one took it as fact.

I won't let him harm you, Louis, I said. I turned and threw an evil glance at him. I would never ever have let anyone harm you.

And with this I left.

Of course, this was an accusation, and he felt the keen edge of it, I'd seen that to my satisfaction, before I turned again and went out.

The night Claudia rose up against me, he had stood there, the helpless witness, abhorring but not thinking to interfere, even as I called his name.

He had taken what he thought to be my lifeless body and dumped it in the swamp. Ah, naive little fledglings, to think you could so easily get rid of me.

But why think of it now He had loved me then whether or not he knew it; of my love for him and for that wretched angry child, I had never the slightest doubt.

He had grieved for me, I'll give him that much. But then he is so good at grieving! He wears woe as others wear velvet; sorrow flatters him like the light of candles; tears become him like jewels.

Well, none of that trash works with me.

I went back to my rooftop quarters, lighted all my fine electric lamps, and lay about wallowing in rank materialism for a couple of hours, watching an endless parade of video images on the giant screen, and then slept for a little while on my soft couch before going out to hunt. I was weary, off my clock from wandering. I was thirsty too.

It was quiet beyond the lights of the Quarter, and the eternally illuminated skyscrapers of downtown. New Orleans sinks very fast into dimness, either in the pastoral streets I've already described or amid the more forlorn brick buildings and houses of the central town.

It was through these deserted commercial areas, with their shut-up factories and warehouses and bleak little shotgun cottages, that I wandered to a wondrous place near the river, which perhaps held no significance for any other being than myself.

It was an empty field close to the wharves, stretching beneath the giant pylons of the freeways which led to the high twin river bridges which I have always called, since the first moment I beheld them, the Dixie Gates.

I must confess these bridges have been given some other, less charming name by the official world. But I pay very little attention to the official world. To me these bridges will always be the Dixie Gates, and I never wait too long after returning home before I go to walk near them and admire them, with all their thousands of tiny twinkling lights.

Understand they are not fine aesthetic creations such as the Brooklyn Bridge, which incited the devotion of the poet Hart Crane. They do not have the solemn grandeur of San Francisco's Golden Gate.

But they are bridges, nevertheless, and all bridges are beautiful and thought-provoking; and when they are fully illuminated as these bridges are, their many ribs and girders take on a grand mystique.

Let me add here that the same great miracle of light occurs in the black southern nighttime countryside with the vast oil refineries and electric power stations, which rise in startling splendour from the flat invisible land. And these have the added glories of smoking chimneys and ever-burning gas flames. The Eiffel Tower is now no mere scaffold of iron but a sculpture of dazzling electric light.

But we are speaking of New Orleans, and I wandered now to this riverfront wasteland, bounded on one side by dark drab cottages, and on the other by the deserted warehouses, and at the northern end by the marvelous junkyards of derelict machinery and chain-link fences overgrown with the inevitable copious and beautiful flowering vines.

Ah, fields of thought and fields of despair. I loved to walk here, on the soft barren earth, amid the clumps of high weeds, and scattered bits of broken glass, to listen to the low pulse of the river, though I could not see it, to gaze at the distant rosy glow of downtown.

It seemed the essence of the modern world, this awful horrid forgotten place, this great gap amid picturesque old buildings, where only now and then did a car creep by, on the deserted and supposedly dangerous streets..

And let me not fail to mention that this area, in spite of the dark paths which led up to it, was itself never really dark. A deep steady flood of illumination poured down from the lamps of the freeways, and came forth from the few street lights, creating an even and seemingly sourceless modern gloom.

Makes you want to rush there, doesn't it Aren't you just dying to go prowl around there in the dirt

Seriously, it is divinely sad to stand there, a tiny figure in the cosmos, shivering at the muffled noises of the city, of awesome machines groaning in faraway industrial compounds, or occasional trucks rumbling by overhead.

From there it was a stone's throw to a boarded-up tenement, where in the garbage-strewn rooms I found a pair of killers, their feverish brains dulled by narcotics, upon whom I fed slowly and quietly, leaving them both unconscious but alive.

Then I went back* to the lonely empty field, roaming with my hands in my pockets, kicking the tin cans I found, and circling for a long time beneath the freeways proper, then leaping up and walking out on the northern arm of the nearer Dixie Gate itself.

How deep and dark my river. The air was always cool above it; and in spite of the dismal haze hanging over all, I could still see a wealth of cruel and tiny stars.

For a long time I lingered, pondering everything Louis had said to me, everything David had said to me, and still wild with excitement to meet the strange Raglan James the following night.

At last I became bored even with the great river. I scanned the city for the crazy mortal spy, and couldn't find him. I scanned uptown and could not find him. But still I was unsure.

As the night wore away, I made my way back to Louis's house-which was dark and deserted now-and I wandered the narrow little streets, more or less stilt searching for the mortal spy, and standing guard. Surely Louis was safe in his secret sanctuary, safe within the coffin to which he retreated well before every dawn.

Then I walked back down to the field again, singing to myself, and thought how the Dixie Gates with all their lights reminded me of the pretty steamboats of the nineteenth century, which had looked like great wedding cakes decked with candles, gliding by. Is that a mixed metaphor I don't care. I heard the music of the steamboats in my head.

I tried to conceive of the next century, and what forms it would bring down upon us, and how it would shuffle ugliness and beauty with new violence, as each century must. I studied the pylons of the freeways, graceful soaring arches of steel and concrete, smooth as sculpture, simple and monstrous, gently bending blades of colorless grass.

And here came the train finally, rattling along the distant track before the warehouses, with its tedious string of dingy boxcars, disruptive and hideous and striking deep alarms with its shrieking whistle, within my all too human soul.

The night snapped back with utter emptiness after the last boom and clatter had died away. No visible cars moved on the bridges, and a heavy mist traveled silently over the breadth of the river, obscuring the fading stars.

I was weeping again. I was thinking of Louis, and of his warnings. But what could I do I knew nothing of resignation, I never would. If that miserable Raglan James did not come tomorrow night, I'd search the world for him. I didn't want to talk to David anymore, didn't want to hear his warnings, couldn't listen. I knew I would follow this through.

I kept staring at the Dixie Gates. I couldn't get the beauty of the twinkling lights out of my head. I wanted to see a church with candles-lots of small flickering candles like the candles I'd seen in Notre Dame. Fumes rising from their wicks like prayers.

An hour till sunrise. Enough time. I headed slowly downtown.

The St. Louis Cathedral had been locked all night, but these locks were nothing to me.

I stood in the very front of the church, in the dark foyer, staring at the bank of candles burning beneath the statue of the Virgin. The faithful made their offerings in the brass coin box before lighting these candles. Vigil lights, they called them.

Often I'd sat in the square in the early evening, listening to these people come and go. I liked the smell of the wax; I liked the small shadowy church which seemed to have changed not one whit in over a century. I sucked in my breath and then I reached into my pockets, drew out a couple of crumpled dollars, and put them through the brass slot.

I lifted the long wax wick, dipped it into an old flame, and carried the fire to a fresh candle, watched the little tongue grow orange and bright.

What a miracle, I thought. One tiny flame could make so many other flames; one tiny flame could set afire a whole world. Why, I had, with this simple gesture, actually increased the sum total of light in the universe, had I not

Such a miracle, and for this there will never be an explanation, and there are no Devil and God speaking together in a Paris cafe. Yet David's crazed theories soothed me when I thought of them in reverie. Increase and multiply, said the Lord, the great Lord, Yahweh-from the flesh of the two a multitude of children, like a great fire from only two little flames. . .

There was a noise suddenly, sharp, distinct, ringing through the church like a deliberate footfall. I froze, quite astonished that I hadn't known someone was there. Then I remembered Notre Dame, and the sound of the child's steps on the stone floor. A sudden fear swept over me. She was there, wasn't she If I looked around the corner, I would see her this time, maybe with her bonnet on, and her curls straggling from the wind, and her hands wrapped in woolen mittens, and she'd be looking up at me with those immense eyes. Golden hair and beautiful eyes.

There came a sound again. I hated this fear!

Very slowly I turned, and I saw Louis's unmistakable form emerging from the shadows. Only Louis. The light of the candles slowly revealed his placid and slightly gaunt face.

He had on a dusty sad coat, and his worn shirt was open at the collar, and he looked faintly cold. He approached me slowly and clasped my shoulder with a firm hand.

Something dreadful's going to happen to you again, he said, the light of the candles playing exquisitely in his dark green eyes. You're going to see to it. I know.

I'll win out, I said with a little uneasy laugh, a tiny giddy happiness at seeing him. Then a shrug. Don't you know that by now I always do.

But I was amazed that he'd found me here, that he had come so close to dawn. And I was trembling still from all my mad imaginings, that she had come, come as she had in my dreams, and I had wanted to know why.

I was worried for him suddenly; he seemed so fragile with his pallid skin and long delicate hands. And yet I could feel the cool strength emanating from him as I always had, the strength of the thoughtful one who does nothing on impulse, the one who sees from all angles, who chooses his words with care. The one who never plays with the coming sun.

He drifted back away from me, abruptly, and he slipped silently out the door. I went after him, failing to lock the door behind me, which was unforgivable, I suppose, for the peace of churches should never be disturbed, and I watched him walk through the cold black morning, along the sidewalk near the Pontalba Apartments, across from the square.

He was hurrying in his subtle graceful way, with long easy strides. The light was coming, gray and lethal, giving a dull gleam to the shop windows beneath the overhanging roof. I could stand it for another half hour, perhaps. He could not.

I realized I didn't know where his coffin was hidden, and how far he had to go to reach it. I had not the slightest idea.

Before he reached the corner nearest the river, he turned around. He gave a little wave to me, and in that gesture there was more affection than in anything he had said.

I went back to close up the church.

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