Sample text for Pandora : new tales of the vampires / Anne Rice.

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Counter Not twenty minutes has passed since you left me here in the café, since I said No to your request, that I would never write out for you the story of my mortal life, how I became a vampire--how I came upon Marius only years after he had lost his human life.

Now here I am with your notebook open, using one of the sharp pointed eternal ink pens you left me, delighted at the sensuous press of the black ink into the expensive and flawless white paper.

Naturally, David, you would leave me something elegant, an inviting page. This notebook bound in dark varnished leather, is it not, tooled with a design of rich roses, thornless, yet leafy, a design that means only Design in the final analysis but bespeaks an authority. What is written beneath this heavy and handsome book cover will count, sayeth this cover.

The thick pages are ruled in light blue--you are practical, so thoughtful, and you probably know I almost never put pen to paper to write anything at all.

Even the sound of the pen has its allure, the sharp scratch rather like the finest quills in ancient Rome when I would put them to parchment to write my letters to my Father, when I would write in a diary my own laments . . . ah, that sound. The only thing missing here is the smell of ink, but we have the fine plastic pen which will not run out for volumes, making as fine and deep a black mark as I choose to make.

I am thinking about your request in writing. You see you will get something from me. I find myself yielding to it, almost as one of our human victims yields to us, discovering perhaps as the rain continues to fall outside, as the café continues with its noisy chatter, to think that this might not be the agony I presumed--reaching back over the two thousand years--but almost a pleasure, like the act of drinking blood itself.

I reach now for a victim who is not easy for me to overcome: my own past. Perhaps this victim will flee from me with a speed that equals my own. Whatever, I seek now a victim that I have never faced. And there is the thrill of the hunt in it, what the modern world calls investigation.

Why else would I see those times so vividly now? You had no magic potion to give me to loosen my thoughts. There is but one potion for us and it is blood.

You said at one point as we walked towards the café, "You will remember everything."

You, who are so young amongst us yet were so old as a mortal, and such a scholar as a mortal. Perhaps it is natural that you so boldly attempt to collect our stories.

But why seek to explain here such curiosity as yours, such bravery in face of blood-drenched truth?

How could you have kindled in me this longing to go back, two thousand years, almost exactly--to tell of my mortal days on Earth in Rome, and how I joined Marius, and what little chance he had against Fate.

How could origins so deeply buried and so long denied suddenly beckon to me. A door snaps open. A light shines. Come in.

I sit back now in the café.

I write, but I pause and look around me at the people of this Paris café. I see the drab unisex fabrics of this age, the fresh American girl in her olive green military clothes, all of her possessions slung over her shoulder in a backpack; I see the old Frenchman who has come here for decades merely to look at the bare legs and arms of the young, to feed on the gestures as if he were a vampire, to wait for some exotic jewel of a moment when a woman sits back laughing, cigarette in hand, and the cloth of her synthetic blouse becomes tight over her breasts and there the nipples are visible.

Ah, old man. He is gray-haired and wears an expensive coat. He is no menace to anyone. He lives entirely in vision. Tonight he will go back to a modest but elegant apartment which he has maintained since the last Great World War, and he will watch films of the young beauty Brigitte Bardot. He lives in his eyes. He has not touched a woman in ten years.

I don't drift, David. I drop anchor here. For I will not have my story pour forth as from a drunken oracle.

I see these mortals in a more attentive light. They are so fresh, so exotic and yet so luscious to me, these mortals; they look like tropical birds must have looked when I was a child; so full of fluttering, rebellious life, I wanted to clutch them to have it, to make their wings flap in my hands, to capture flight and own it and partake of it. Ah, that terrible moment in childhood when one accidentally crushes the life from a bright-red bird.

Yet they are sinister in their darker vestments, some of these mortals: the inevitable cocaine dealer--and they are everywhere, our finest prey--who waits for his contact in the far corner, his long leather coat styled by a noted Italian designer, his hair shaved close on the side and left bushy on the top to make him look distinctive, which it does, though there is no need when one considers his huge black eyes, and the hardness of what nature intended to be a generous mouth. He makes those quick impatient gestures with his cigarette lighter on the small marble table, the mark of the addicted; he twists, he turns, he cannot be comfortable. He doesn't know that he will never be comfortable in life again. He wants to leave to snort the cocaine for which he burns and yet he must wait for the contact. His shoes are too shiny, and his long thin hands will never grow old.

I think he will die tonight, this man. I feel a slow gathering desire to kill him myself. He has fed so much poison to so many. Tracking him, wrapping him in my arms, I would not even have to wreathe him with visions. I would let him know that death has come in the form of a woman too white to be human, too smoothed by the centuries to be

anything but a statue come to life. But those for whom he waits plot to kill him. And why should I intervene?

What do I look like to these people? A woman with long wavy clean brown hair that covers me much like a nun's mantle, a face so white it appears cosmetically created, and eyes, abnormally brilliant, even from behind golden glasses.

Ah, we have a lot to be grateful for in the many styles of eyeglasses in this age--for if I were to take these off, I should have to keep my head bowed, not to startle people with the mere play of yellow and brown and gold in my eyes, that have grown ever more jewel-like over the centuries, so that I seem a blind woman set with topaz for her pupils, or rather carefully formed orbs of topaz, sapphire, even aquamarine.

Look, I have filled so many pages, and all I am saying is Yes, I will tell you how it began for me.

Yes, I will tell you the story of my mortal life in ancient Rome, how I came to love Marius and how we came to be together and then to part.

What a transformation in me, this resolution.

How powerful I feel as I hold this pen, and how eager to put us in sharp and clear perspective before I begin fulfilling your request.

This is Paris, in a time of peace. There is rain. High regal gray buildings with their double windows and iron balconies line this boulevard. Loud, tiny, dangerous automobiles race in the streets. Cafés, such as this, are overflowing with international tourists. Ancient churches are crowded here by tenements, palaces turned to museums, in whose rooms I linger for hours gazing at objects from Egypt or Sumer which are even older than me. Roman architecture is everywhere, absolute replicas of Temples of my time now serve as banks. The words of my native Latin suffuse the English language. Ovid, my beloved Ovid, the poet who predicted his poetry would outlast the Roman Empire, has been proved true.

Walk into any bookstore and you find him in neat, small paperbacks, designed to appeal to students.

Roman influence seeds itself, sprouting mighty oaks right through the modern forest of computers, digital disks, microviruses and space satellites.

It is easy here--as always--to find an embraceable evil, a despair worth tender fulfillment.

And with me there must always be some love of the victim, some mercy, some self-delusion that the death I bring does not mar the great shroud of inevitability, woven of trees and earth and stars, and human events, which hovers forever around us ready to close on all that is created, all that we know.

Last night, when you found me, how did it seem to you? I was alone on the bridge over the Seine, walking in the last dangerous darkness before dawn.

You saw me before I knew you were there. My hood was down and I let my eyes in the dim light of the bridge have their little moment of glory. My victim stood at the railing, no more than a child, but bruised and robbed by a hundred men. She wanted to die in the water. I don't know if the Seine is deep enough for one to drown there. So near the Ile St.-Louis. So near Notre Dame. Perhaps it is, if one can resist a last struggle for life.

But I felt this victim's soul like ashes, as though her spirit had been cremated and only the body remained, a worn, disease-ridden shell. I put my arm around her, and when I saw the fear in her small black eyes, when I saw the question coming, I wreathed her with images. The soot that covered my skin was not enough to keep me from looking like the Virgin Mary, and she sank into hymns and devotion, she even saw my veils in the colors she had known in churches of childhood, as she yielded to me, and I--knowing that I needn't drink, but thirsting for her, thirsting for the anguish she could give forth in her final moment, thirsting for the tasty red blood that would fill my mouth and make me feel human for one instant in my very monstrosity--I gave in to her visions, bent her neck, ran my fingers over her sore tender skin, and then it was, when I sank my teeth into her, when I drank from her--it was then that I knew you were there. You watched.

I knew it, and I felt it, and I saw the image of us in your eye, distractingly, as the pleasure nevertheless flushed through me, making me believe I was alive, somehow connected to fields of clover or trees with roots deeper in the earth than the branches they raise to the welkin above.

At first I hated you. You saw me as I feasted. You saw me as I gave in. You knew nothing of my months of starvation, restraint, wandering. You saw only the sudden release of my unclean desire to suck her very soul from her, to make her heart rise in the flesh inside her, to drag from her veins every precious particle of her that still wanted to survive.

And she did want to survive. Wrapped in saints, and dreaming suddenly of the breasts that nursed her, her young body fought, pumping and pumping against me, she so soft, and my own form hard as a statue, my milkless nipples enshrined in marble, no comfort. Let her see her mother, dead, gone and now waiting. Let me glimpse through her dying eyes the light through which she sped towards this certain salvation.

Then I forgot about you. I would not be robbed.

I slowed the drinking, I let her sigh, I let her lungs fill with the cold river air, her mother drawing closer and closer so that death now was as safe for her as the womb. I took every drop from her that she could give.

She hung dead against me, as one I'd rescued, one I would help from the bridge, some weakened, sickened, drunken girl. I slid my hand into her body, breaking the flesh so easily even with these delicate fingers, and I closed my fingers around her heart and brought it to my lips and sucked it, my head tucked down by her face, sucked the heart like fruit, until no blood was left in any fiber or chamber, and then slowly--perhaps for your benefit--I lifted her and let her fall down into the water she had so desired.

Now there would be no struggle as her lungs filled with the river. Now there would be no last desperate thrashing. I fed from the heart one last time, to take even the color of blood out of it, and then sent it after her--crushed grapes--poor child, child of a hundred men.

Then I faced you, let you know that I knew you watched from the quay. I think I tried to frighten you. In rage I let you know how weak you were, that all the blood given to you by Lestat would make you no match should I choose to dismember you, pitch a fatal heat into you and immolate you, or only punish you with penetrating scar--simply for having spied upon me.

Actually I have never done such a thing to a younger one. I feel sorry for them when they see us, the ancient ones, and quake in terror. But I should, by all the knowledge of myself I possess, have retreated so quickly that you could not follow me in the night.

Something in your demeanor charmed me, the manner in which you approached me on the bridge, your young Anglo-Indian brown-skinned body gifted by your true mortal age with such seductive grace. Your very posture seemed to ask of me, without humiliation:

"Pandora, may we speak?"

My mind wandered. Perhaps you knew it. I don't remember whether I shut you out of my thoughts, and I know that your telepathic abilities are not really very strong. My mind wandered suddenly, perhaps of itself, perhaps at your prodding. I thought of all the things I could tell you, which were so different from the tales of Lestat, and those of Marius through Lestat, and I wanted to warn you, warn you of the ancient vampires of the Far East who would kill you if you went into their territory, simply because you were there.

I wanted to make certain you understood what we all had to accept--the Fount of our immortal vampiric hunger did reside in two beings--Mekare and Maharet--so ancient they are now both horrible to look upon, more than beautiful. And if they destroy themselves we will all die with them.

I wanted to tell you of others who have never known us as a tribe or known our history, who survived the terrible fire brought down on her children by our Mother Akasha. I wanted to tell you that there were things walking the Earth that look like us but are not of our breed any more than they are human. And I wanted suddenly to take you under my wing.

It must have been your prodding. You stood there, the English gentleman, wearing your decorum more lightly and naturally than any man I'd ever seen. I marveled at your fine clothes, that you'd indulged yourself in a light black cloak of worsted wool, that you had even given yourself the luxury of a gleaming red silk scarf--so unlike you when you were newly made.

Understand, I was not aware the night that Lestat transformed you into a vampire. I didn't feel that moment.

All the preternatural world shimmered weeks earlier, however, with the knowledge that a mortal had jumped into the body of another mortal; we know these things, as if the stars tell us. One preternatural mind picks up the ripples of this sharp cut in the fabric of the ordinary, then another mind receives the image, and on and on it goes.

David Talbot, the name we all knew from the venerable order of psychic detectives, the Talamasca, had managed to move his entire soul and etheric body--into that of another man. That body itself was in the possession of a body thief whom you forced from it. And once anchored in the young body, you, with all your scruples and values, all your knowledge of seventy-four years, remained an

And so it was David the Reborn, David with the high-gloss India beauty, and raw well-nourished strength of British lineage, that Lestat had made into a vampire, bringing over both body and soul, compounding miracle with the Dark Trick, achieving once more a sin that should stun his contemporaries and his elders.

And this, this was done to you by your best friend!

Welcome to the darkness, David. Welcome to the domain of Shakespeare's "inconstant moon."

Bravely you came up the bridge towards me.

"Forgive me, Pandora," you said so quietly. Flawless British upper-class accent, and the usual beguiling British rhythm that is so seductive it seems to say that "we will all save the world."

You kept a polite distance between us, as if I were a virgin girl of the last century, and you didn't want to alarm me and my tender sensibilities. I smiled.

I indulged myself then. I took your full measure, this fledgling that Lestat--against Marius's injunction--had dared to make. I saw the components of you as a man: an immense human soul, fearless, yet half in love with despair, and a body which Lestat had almost injured himself to render powerful. He had given you more blood than he could easily give in your transformation. He had tried to give you his courage, his cleverness, his cunning; he had tried to transport an armory for you through the blood.

He had done well. Your strength was complex and obvious. Our Queen Mother Akasha's blood was mixed with that of Lestat. Marius, my ancient lover, had given him blood as well. Lestat, ah, now what do they say, they say that he may even have drunk the blood of the Christ.

It was this first issue I took up with you, my curiosity overwhelming me, for to scan the world for knowledge is often to rake in such tragedy that I abhor it.

"Tell me the truth of it," I said. "This story Memnoch the Devil. Lestat claimed he went to Heaven and to Hell. He brought back a veil from St. Veronica. The face of Christ was on it! It converted thousands to Christianity, it cured alienation and succored bitterness. It drove other Children of Darkness to throw up their arms to the deadly morning light, as if the sun were in fact the fire of God."

"Yes, it's all happened, as I described it," you said, lowering your head with a polite but unexaggerated modesty. "And you know a few . . . of us perished in this fervor, whilst newspapers and scientists collected our ashes for examination."

I marveled at your calm attitude. A Twentieth- Century sensibility. A mind dominated by an incalculable wealth of information, and quick of tongue with an intellect devoted to swiftness, synthesis, probabilities, and all this against the backdrop of horrid experiences, wars, massacres, the worst perhaps the world has ever seen.

"It all happened," you said. "And I did meet with Mekare and Maharet, the ancient ones, and you needn't fear for me that I don't know how fragile is the root. It was kind of you to think so protectively of me."

I was quietly charmed.

"What did you think of this Holy Veil yourself?" I asked.

"Our Lady of Fatima," you said softly. "The Shroud of Turin, a cripple rising from the Miraculous Waters of Lourdes! What a consolation it must be to accept such a thing so easily."

"And you did not?"

You shook your head. "And neither did Lestat, really. It was the mortal girl, Dora, snatching the Veil from him, who took it out into the world. But it was a most singular and meticulously made thing, I'll tell you that, more worthy of the word 'relic' perhaps than any other I've ever seen."

You sounded dejected suddenly.

"Some immense intent went into its making," you said.

"And the vampire Armand, the delicate boylike Armand, he believed it?" I asked. "Armand looked at it and saw the face of Christ," I said, seeking your confirmation.

"Enough to die for it," you said solemnly. "Enough to open his arms to the morning sun."

You looked away, and you closed your eyes. This was a simple unadorned plea to me not to make you speak of Armand and how he had gone into the morning fire.

I gave a sigh--surprised and gently fascinated to find you so articulate, skeptical, yet so sharply and frankly connected to the others.

You said in a shaken voice, "Armand." And still looking away from me. "What a Requiem. And does he know now if Memnoch was real, if God Incarnate who tempted Lestat was in fact the Son of the God Almighty? Does anyone?"

I was taken with your earnestness, your passion. You were not jaded or cynical. There was an immediacy to your feelings for these happenings, these creatures, these questions you posed.

"They locked up the Veil, you know," you said. "It's in the Vatican. There were two weeks of frenzy on Fifth Avenue in St. Patrick's Cathedral in which people came to look into the eyes of The Lord, and then they had it, gone, taken to their vaults. I doubt there is a nation on the Earth with the power to gain even a glimpse of it now."

"And Lestat," I said. "Where is he now?"

"Paralyzed, silent," you said. "Lestat lies on the floor of a chapel in New Orleans. He doesn't move. He says nothing. His Mother has come to him. You knew her, Gabrielle, he made a vampire of her."

"Yes, I remember her."

"Even she draws no response from him. Whatever he saw, in his journey to Heaven and Hell, he doesn't know the truth of it one way or the other--he tried to tell this to Dora! And eventually, after I'd written down the whole story for him, he passed within a few nights into this state.

"His eyes are fixed and his body pliant. They made a curious Pietà, he and Gabrielle, in this abandoned convent and its chapel. His mind is closed, or worse--it's empty."

I found I liked very much your manner of speaking. In fact, I was taken off guard.

"I left Lestat because he was beyond my help and my reach," you said. "And I must know if there are old ones who want to put an end to me; I must make my pilgrimages and my progresses to know the dangers of this world to which I've been admitted."

"You're so forthright. You have no cunning."

"On the contrary. I conceal my keenest assets from you." You gave me a slow, polite smile. "Your beauty rather confuses me. Are you used to this?"

"Quite," I said. "And weary of it. Come beyond it. Let me just warn, there are old ones, ones no one knows or can explain. It's rumored you've been with Maharet and Mekare, who are now the Eldest and the Fount from which we all spring. Obviously they've drawn back from us, from all the world, into some secret place, and have no taste for authority."

"You're so very correct," you said, "and my audience with them was beautiful but brief. They don't want to rule over anyone, nor will Maharet, as long as the history of the world and her own physical descendants are in it--her own thousands of human descendants from a time so ancient there is no date for it--Maharet will never destroy herself and her sister, thereby destroying all of us."

"Yes," I said, "in that she believes, the Great Family, the generations she has traced for thousands of years. I saw her when we all gathered. She doesn't see us as evil--you, or me, or Lestat--she thinks that we're natural, rather like volcanoes or fires that rage through forests, or bolts of lightning that strike a man dead."

"Precisely," you said. "There is no Queen of the Damned now. I fear only one other immortal, and that's your lover, Marius. Because it was Marius who laid down the strict rule before he left the others that no more blood drinkers could be made. I'm base-born in the mind of Marius. That is, were he an Englishman, those would be his words."

I shook my head. "I can't believe he would harm you. Hasn't he come to Lestat? Did he not come to see the Veil with his own eyes?"

You said No to both questions.

"Heed this advice: whenever you sense his presence, talk to him. Talk to him as you have to me. Begin a conversation which he won't have the confidence to bring to a close."

You smiled again. "That's such a clever way of putting it," you said.

"But I don't think you have to fear him. If he wanted you gone off the Earth, you'd be gone. What we have to fear is the same things humans fear--that there are others of our same species, of varying power and belief, and we are never entirely sure where they are or what they do. That's my advice to you."

"You are so kind to take your time with me," you said.

I could have wept. "On the contrary. You don't know the silence and solitude in which I wander, and pray you never know it, and here you've given me heat without death, you've given me nourishment without blood. I'm glad you've come."

I saw you look up at the sky, the habit of the young ones.

"I know, we have to part now."

You turned to me suddenly. "Meet me tomorrow night," you said imploringly. "Let this exchange continue! I'll come to you in the café where you sit every night musing. I'll find you. Let us talk to each other."

"So you've seen me there."

"Oh, often," you said. "Yes." You looked away again. I saw it was to conceal feeling. Then your dark eyes turned back to me.

"Pandora, we have the world, don't we?" you whispered.

"I don't know, David. But I'll meet you tomorrow night. Why haven't you come to me there? Where it was warm and lighted?"

"It seemed a far more outrageous intrusion, to move in on you in the sanctified privacy of a crowded café. People go to such places to be alone, don't they? This seemed somehow more proper. And I did not mean to be the voyeur. Like many fledglings, I have to feed every night. It was an accident that we saw each other at that moment."

"That is charming, David," I said. "It is a long time since anyone has charmed me. I'll meet you there . . . tomorrow night."

And then a wickedness possessed me. I came towards you and embraced you, knowing that the hardness and coldness of my ancient body would strike the deepest chord of terror in you, newborn as you were, passing so easily for mortal.

But you didn't draw back. And when I kissed your cheek, you kissed mine.

I wonder now, as I sit here in the café, writing . . . trying to give you more with these words perhaps than you ask for . . . what I would have done had you not kissed me, had you shrunk back with the fear that is so common in the young.

David, you are indeed a puzzle.

You see that I have begun to chronicle not my life here, but what has passed these two nights between you and me.

Allow this, David. Allow that I speak of you and me, and then perhaps I can retrieve my lost life.

When you came into the café tonight, I thought nothing much about the notebooks. You had two. They were thick.

The leather of the notebooks smelled good and old, and when you set them down on the table, only then did I detect a glimmer from your disciplined and restrained mind that they had to do with me.

I had chosen this table in the crowded center of the room, as though I wanted to be in the middle of the whirlpool of mortal scent and activity. You seemed pleased, unafraid, utterly at home.

You wore another stunning suit of modern cut with a full cape of worsted wool, very tasteful, yet Old World, and with your golden skin and radiant eyes, you turned the head of every woman in the place and you turned the heads of some of the men.

You smiled. I must have seemed a snail to you beneath my cloak and hood, gold glasses covering well over half my face, and a trace of commercial lipstick on my lips, a soft purple pink that had made me think of bruises. It had seemed very enticing in the mirror at the store, and I liked that my mouth was something I didn't have to hide. My lips are now almost colorless. With this lipstick I could smile.

I wore these gloves of mine, black lace, with their sheared-off tips so that my fingers can feel, and I had sooted my nails so they would not sparkle like crystal in the café. And I reached out my hand to you and you kissed it.

There was your same boldness and decorum. And then the warmest smile from you, a smile in which I think your former physiology must have dominated because you looked far too wise for one so young and strong of build. I marveled at the perfect picture you had made of yourself.

"You don't know what a joy it is to me," you said, "that you've come, that you've let me join you here at this table."

"You have made me want this," I said, raising my hands, and seeing that your eyes were dazzled by my crystalline fingernails, in spite of the soot.

I reached towards you, expecting you to pull back, but you entrusted to my cold white fingers your warm dark hand.

"You find in me a living being?" I asked you.

"Oh, yes, most definitely, most radiantly and perfectly a living being."

We ordered our coffee, as mortals expect us to do, deriving more pleasure from the heat and aroma than they could ever imagine, even stirring our little cups with our spoons. I had before me a red dessert. The dessert is still here of course. I ordered it simply because it was red--strawberries covered in syrup--with a strong sweet smell that bees would like.

I smiled at your blandishments. I liked them.

Playfully, I mocked them. I let my hood slip down and I shook out my hair so that its fullness and dark brown color could shimmer in the light.

Of course it's no signal to mortals, as is Marius's blond hair or that of Lestat. But I love my own hair, I love the veil of it when it is down over my shoulders, and I loved what I saw in your eyes.

"Somewhere deep inside me there is a woman," I said.

To write it now--in this notebook as I sit here alone--it gives architecture to a trivial moment, and seems so dire a confession.

David, the more I write, the more the concept of narrative excites me, the more I believe in the weight of a coherence which is possible on the page though not in life.

But again, I didn't know I meant to pick up this pen of yours at all. We were talking:

"Pandora, if anyone does not know you're a woman, then he is a fool," you said.

"How angry Marius would be with me for being pleased by that," I said. "Oh, no. Rather he would seize it as a strong point in favor of his position. I left him, left him without a word, the last time we were together--that was before Lestat went on his little escapade of running around in a human body, and long before he encountered Memnoch the Devil--I left Marius, and suddenly I wish I could reach him! I wish I could talk with him as you and I are talking now."

You looked so troubled for me, and with reason. On some level, you must have known that I had not evinced this much enthusiasm over anything in many a dreary year.

"Would you write your story for me, Pandora?" you asked suddenly.

I was totally surprised.

"Write it in these notebooks?" you pressed. "Write about the time when you were alive, the time when you and Marius came together, write what you will of Marius. But it's your story that I most want."

I was stunned.

"Why in the world would you want this of me?"

You didn't answer.

"David, surely you've not returned to that order of human beings, the Talamasca, they know too much--"

You put up your hand.

"No, and I will neve

"She allowed you to see her archives, the books she's saved over the course of time?"

"Yes, it was remarkable, you know ... a storehouse of tablets, scrolls, parchments--books and poems from cultures of which the world knows nothing, I think. Books lost from time. Of course she forbade me to reveal anything I found or speak in detail of our meeting. She said it was too rash tampering with things, and she confirmed your fear that I might go to the Talamasca--my old mortal psychic friends. I have not. I will not. But it is a very easy vow to keep."

"Why so?"

"Pandora, when I saw all those old writings--I knew I was no longer human. I knew that the history lying there to be collected was no longer mine! I am not one of these!" Your eyes swept the room. "Of course you must have heard this a thousand times from fledgling vampires! But you see, I had a fervent faith that philosophy and reason would make a bridge for me by which I could go and come in both worlds. Well, there is no bridge. It's gone."

Your sadness shimmered about you, flashing in your young eyes and in the softness of your new flesh.

"So you know that," I said. I didn't plan the words. But out they came. "You know." I gave a soft bitter laugh.

"Indeed I do. I knew when I held documents from your time, so many from your time, Imperial Rome, and other crumbling bits of inscribed rock I couldn't even hope to place. I knew. I didn't care about them, Pandora! I care about what we are, what we are now."

"How remarkable," I said. "You don't know how much I admire you, or how attractive is your disposition to me."

"I am happy to hear this," you said. Then you leaned forward towards me: "I don't say we do not carry our human souls with us, our history; of course we do.

"I remember once a long time ago, Armand told me that he asked Lestat, 'How will I ever understand the human race?' Lestat said, 'Read or see all the plays of Shakespeare and you will know all you ever need to know about the human race.' Armand did it. He devoured the poems, he sat through the plays, he watched the brilliant new films with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh and Leonardo DiCaprio. And when Armand and I last spoke together, this is what he said of his education:

"'Lestat was right. He gave me not books but a passage into understanding. This man Shakespeare writes,'--and I quote both Armand and Shakespeare now as Armand spoke it, as I will to you--as if it came from my heart:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle.

Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

"'This man writes this,' said Armand to me, 'and we all know that it is absolutely the truth and every revelation has sooner or later fallen before it, and yet we want to love the way he has said it, we want to hear it again! We want to remember it! We want to never forget a single word.'"

We were both silent for a moment. You looked down, you rested your chin on your knuckles. I knew the whole weight of Armand's going into the sun was on you, and I had so loved your recitation of the words, and the words themselves.

Finally, I said, "And this gives me pleasure. Think of it, pleasure. That you recite these words to me now."

You smiled.

"I want to know now what we can learn," you said. "I want to know what we can see! So I come to you, a Child of the Millennia, a vampire who drank from the Queen Akasha herself, one who has survived two thousand years. And I ask you, Pandora, please will you write for me, write your story, write what you will."

For a long moment I gave you no answer.

Then I said sharply that I could not. But something had stirred in me. I saw and heard arguments and tirades of centuries ago, I saw the poet's lifted light shine on eras I had known intimately out of love. Other eras I had never known, wandering, ignorant, a wraith.

Yes, there was a tale to be written. There was. But at the moment I could not admit it.

You were in misery, having thought of Armand, having remembered his walking into the morning sun. You mourned for Armand.

"Was there any bond between you?" you asked. "Forgive me my boldness, but I mean was there any bond between you and Armand when you met, because Marius had given you both the Dark Gift? I know no jealousy exists, that I can feel. I wouldn't bring up the very name Armand if I detected a hurt in you, but all else is an absence, a silence. Was there no bond?"

"The bond is only grief. He went into the sun. And grief is absolutely the easiest and safest of bonds."

You laughed under your breath.

"What can I do to make you consider my request? Have pity on me, Gracious Lady, entrust to me your song."

I smiled indulgently, but it was impossible, I thought.

"It's far too dissonant, my dear," I said. "It's far too--"

I shut my eyes.

I had wanted to say that my song was far too painful to sing.

Suddenly your eyes moved upwards. Your expression changed. It was almost as if you were deliberately trying to appear to enter a trance. Slowly you turned your head. You pointed, with your hand close to the table, then let your hand go lax.

"What is it, David?" I said. "What are you seeing?"

"Spirits, Pandora, ghosts."

You shuddered as if to clear your head.

"But that's unheard of," I said. Yet I knew that he was telling the truth. "The Dark Gift takes away that power. Even the ancient witches, Maharet and Mekare, told us this, that once Akasha's blood entered them, and they became vampires, they never heard or saw the spirits again. You've recently been with them. Did you tell them of this power?"

He nodded. Obviously some loyalty bound him not to say that they did not have it. But I knew they did not. I saw it in his mind, and I had known it myself when I had encountered the ancient twins, the twins who had struck down the Queen of the Damned.

"I can see spirits, Pandora," you said with the most troubled expression. "I can see them anywhere if I try, and in some very specific places when they choose. Lestat saw the ghost of Roger, his victim in Memnoch the Devil."

"But that was an exception, a surge of love in the man's soul that somehow defied death, or delayed the soul's termination--something we can't understand."

"I see spirits, but I haven't come to burden you with this or frighten you."

"You must tell me more about this," I said. "What did you see right now?"

"A weak spirit. It couldn't harm anyone. It's one of those sad sad humans who does not know he's dead. They are an atmosphere around the planet. The 'earthbound' is the name for them. But Pandora, I have more than that in myself to explore."

You continued:

"Apparently each century yields a new kind of vampire, or let us say that our course of growth was not set in the beginning any more than the course of human beings. Some night perhaps I will tell you everything I see--these spirits who were never clear to me when I was mortal--I'll tell you about something Armand confided to me, about the colors he saw when he took life, how the soul left body in waves of radiating color!"

"I've never heard of such a thing!"

"I too see this," you said.

I could see it hurt you almost too much to speak of Armand.

"But whatever possessed Armand to believe in the Veil?" I asked, suddenly amazed at my own passion. "Why did he go into the sun? How could such a thing kill Lestat's reason and will? Veronica. Did they know the very name means Vera Ikon, that there was never any such person, that she could not be found by one drawn back to ancient Jerusalem on the day Christ carried his cross; she was a concoction of Priests. Didn't they know?"

I think I had taken the two notebooks in hand, for I looked down and I saw that I did indeed hold them. In fact, I clutched both of them to my breast and examined one of the pens.

"Reason," I whispered. "Oh, precious reason! And consciousness within a void." I shook my head, smiling kindly at you. "And vampires who speak now with spirits! Humans who can travel from body to body."

I went on with a wholly unfamiliar energy.

"A lively fashionable modern cult of angels, devotion thriving everywhere. And people rising from operating tables to speak of life after death, a tunnel, an embracing love! Oh, you have been created perhaps in an auspicious time! I don't know what to make of it."

You were obviously quite impressed by these words, or rather the way that my perspective had been drawn from me. So was I.

"I've only started," you said, "and will keep company alike with brilliant Children of the Millennia and street-corner fortune tellers who deal out the cards of the Tarot. I'm eager to gaze into crystal balls and darkened mirrors. I'll search now among those whom others dismiss as mad, or among us--among those like you, who have looked on something that they do not believe they should share! That's it, isn't it? But I ask you to share it. I'm finished with the ordinary human soul. I am finished with science and psychology, with microscopes and perhaps even with the telescopes aimed at the stars."

I was quite enthralled. How strongly you meant it. I could feel my face so warm with feeling for you as I looked at you. I think my mouth was slack with wonder.

"I am a miracle unto myself," you said. "I am immortal, and I want to learn about us! You have a tale to tell, you are ancient, and deeply broken. I feel love for you and cherish that it is what it is and nothing more."

"What a strange thing to say!"

"Love." You shrugged your shoulders. You looked up and then back at me for emphasis. "And it rained and it rained for millions of years, and the volcanoes boiled and the oceans cooled, and then there was love?" You shrugged to make a mock of the absurdity.

I couldn't help but laugh at your little gest. Too perfect, I thought. But I was suddenly so torn.

"This is very unexpected," I said. "Because if I do have a story, a very small story--"


"Well, my story--if I have one--is very much to the point. It's linked to the very points you've made."

Suddenly something came over me. I laughed again softly.

"I understand you!" I said. "Oh, not that you can see spirits, for that is a great subject unto itself.

"But I see now the source of your strength. You have lived an entire human life. Unlike Marius, unlike me, you weren't taken in your prime. You were taken near the moment of your natural death, and you will not settle for the adventures and faults of the earthbound! You are determined to forge ahead with the courage of one who has died of old age and then finds himself risen from the grave. You've kicked aside the funeral wreaths. You are ready for Mount Olympus, aren't you?"

"Or for Osiris in the depths of the darkness," you said. "Or for the shades in Hades. Certainly I am ready for the spirits, for the vampires, for those who see the future and claim to know past lives, for you who have a stunning intellect encased beautifully, to endure for so many years, an intellect which has perhaps all but destroyed your heart."

I gasped.

"Forgive me. That was not proper of me," you said.

"No, explain your meaning."

"You always take the hearts from the victims, isn't it so? You want the heart."

"Perhaps. Don't expect wisdom from me as it might come from Marius, or the ancient twins."

"You draw me to you," you said.


"Because you do have a story inside you; it lies articulate and waiting to be written--behind your silence and your suffering."

"You are too romantic, friend," I said.

You waited patiently. I think you could feel the tumult in me, the shivering of my soul in the face of so much new emotion.

"It's such a small story," I said. I saw images, memories, moments, the stuff that can incite souls to action and creation. I saw the very faintest possibility of faith.

I think you already knew the answer.

You knew what I would do when I did not.

You smiled discreetly, but you were eager and waiting.

I looked at you and thought of trying to write it, write it all out . . .

"You want me to leave now, don't you?" you said. You rose, collected your rain-spattered coat and bent over gracefully to kiss my hand.

My hands were clutching the notebooks.

"No," I said, "I can't do it."

You made no immediate judgment.

"Come back in two nights," I said. "I promise you I will have your two notebooks for you, even if they are completely empty or only contain a better explanation of why I can't retrieve my lost life. I won't disappoint you. But expect nothing, except that I will come and I will put these books in your hands."

"Two nights," you said, "and we meet here again."

In silence I watched you leave the café.

And now you see it has begun, David.

And now you see, David, I have made our meeting the introduction to the story you asked me to tell.

From the Paperback edition.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Vampires Fiction