"Of course, I know you wonder what happened to us afterwards. What became of Armand? Where did I go? What did I do? But I tell you nothing really happened. Nothing that wasn't merely inevitable. And my journey through the Louvre that last night I've described to you, that was merely prophetic.
"I never changed after that. I sought for nothing in the one great source of change which is humanity. And even in my love and absorption with the beauty of the world, I sought to learn nothing that could be given back to humanity. I drank of the beauty of the world as a vampire drinks. I was satisfied. I was filled to the brim. But I was dead. And I was changeless. The story ended in Paris, as I've said.
"For a long time I thought that Claudia's death had been the cause of the end of things. That if I had seen Madeleine and Claudia leave Paris safely, things might have been different with me and Armand. I might have loved again and desired again, and sought some semblance of mortal life which would have been rich and varied, though unnatural. But now I have come to see that was false. Even if Claudia had not died, even if I had not despised Armand for letting her die, it would have all turned out the same. Coming slowly to know his evil, or being catapulted into it... was all the same. I wanted none of it finally. And, deserving nothing better, I closed up like a spider in the flame of a match. And even Armand who was my constant companion, and my only companion, existed at a great distance from me, beyond that veil which separated me from all living things, a veil which was a form of shroud.
"But I know you are eager to hear what became of Armand. And the night is almost ended. I want to tell you this because it is very important. The story is incomplete without it.
"We traveled the world after we left Paris, as I've told you; first Egypt, then Greece, then Italy, Asia Minor---wherever I chose to lead us, really, and wherever my pursuit of art led me. Time ceased to exist on any meaningful basis during these years, and I was often absorbed in very simple things---a painting in a museum, a cathedral window, one single beautiful statue---for long periods of time.
"But all during these years I had a vague but persistent desire to return to New Orleans. I never forgot New Orleans. And when we were in tropical places and places of those flowers and trees that grow in Louisiana, I would think of it acutely and I would feel for my home the only glimmer of desire I felt for anything outside my endless pursuit of art. And, from time to time, Armand would ask me to take him there. And I, being aware in a gentlemanly manner that I did little to please him and often went for long periods without really speaking to him or seeking him out, wanted to do this because he asked me. It seemed his asking caused me to forget some vague fear that I might feel pain in New Orleans, that I might experience again the pale shadow of my former unhappiness and longing. But I put it off. Perhaps the fear was stronger than I knew. We came to America and lived in New York for a long time. I continued to put it off. Then, finally, Armand urged me in another way. He told me something he'd concealed from me since the time we were in Paris.
"Lestat had not died in the Theatre des Vampires. I had believed him to be dead, and when I asked Armand about those vampires, he told me they all had perished. But he told me now that this wasn't so. Lestat had left the theater the night I had run away from Armand and sought out the cemetery in Montmartre. Two vampires who had been made with Lestat by the same master had assisted him in booking passage to New Orleans.
"I cannot convey to you the feeling that came over me when I heard this. Of course, Armand told me he had protected me from this knowledge, hoping that I would not undertake a long journey merely for revenge, a journey that would have caused me pain and grief at the time. But I didn't really care. I hadn't thought of Lestat at all the night I'd torched the theater. I'd thought of Santiago and Celeste and the others who had destroyed Claudia. Lestat, in fact, had aroused in me feelings which I hadn't wished to confide in anyone, feelings I'd wished to forget, despite Claudia's death. Hatred had not been one of them.
"But when I heard this now from Armand it was as if the veil that protected me were thin and transparent, and though it still hung between me and the world of feeling, I perceived through it Lestat, and that I wanted to see him again. And with that spurring me on, we returned to New Orleans.
"It was late spring of this year. And as soon as I emerged from the railway station, I knew that I had indeed come home. It was as if the very air were perfumed and peculiar there, and I felt an extraordinary ease walking on those warm, flat pavements, under those familiar oaks, and listening to the ceaseless vibrant living sounds of the night.
"Of course, New Orleans was changed. But far from lamenting those changes, I was grateful for what seemed still the same. I could find in the uptown Garden District, which had been in my time the Faubourg St. Marie, one of the stately old mansions that dated back to those times, so removed from the quiet brick street that, walking out in the moonlight under its magnolia trees, I knew the same sweetness and peace I'd known in the old days; not only in the dark, narrow streets of the Vieux Carre but in the wilderness of Pointe du Lac. There were the honeysuckle and the roses, and the glimpse of Corinthian columns against the stars; and outside the gate were dreamy streets, other mansions... it was a citadel of grace.
"In the Rue Royale, where I took Armand past tourists and antique shops and the bright-lit entrances of fashionable restaurants, I was astonished to discover the town house where Lestat and Claudia and I had made our home, the facade little changed by fresh plaster and whatever repairs had been done within. Its two French windows still opened onto the small balconies over the shop below, and I could see in the soft brilliance of the electric chandeliers an elegant wallpaper that would not have been unfamiliar in those days before the war. I had a strong sense of Lestat there, more of a sense of him than of Claudia, and I felt certain, though he was nowhere near this town house, that I'd find him in New Orleans.
"And I felt something else; it was a sadness that came over me then, after Armand had gone on his way. But this sadness was not painful, nor was it passionate. It was something rich, however, and almost sweet, like the fragrance of the jasmine and the roses that crowded the old courtyard garden which I saw through the iron gates. And this sadness gave a subtle satisfaction and held me a long time in that spot; and it held me to the city; and it didn't really leave me that night when I went away.
"I wonder now what might have come of this sadness, what it might have engendered in me that could have become stronger than itself. But I jump ahead of my story.
"Because shortly after that I saw a vampire in New Orleans, a sleek white-faced young man walking alone on the broad sidewalks of St. Charles Avenue in the early hours before dawn. And I was at once convinced that if Lestat still lived here that vampire might know him and might even lead me to him. Of course, the vampire didn't see me. I had long ago learned to spot my own kind in large cities without their having a chance to see me. Armand, in his brief visits with vampires in London and Rome, had learned that the burning of the Theatre des Vampires was known throughout the world, and that both of us were considered outcasts. Battles over this meant nothing to me, and I have avoided them to this day. But I began to watch for this vampire in New Orleans and to follow him, though often he led me merely to theaters or other pastimes in which I had no interest. But one night, finally, things changed.
"It was a very warm evening, and I could tell as soon as I saw him on St. Charles that he had someplace to go. He was not only walking fast, but he seemed a little distressed. And when he turned off St. Charles finally on a narrow street which became at once shabby and dark, I felt sure he was headed for something that would interest me.
"But then he entered one side of a small wooden duplex and brought death to a woman there. This he did very fast, without a trace of pleasure; and after he was finished, he gathered her child up from the bassinet, wrapped it gently in a blue wool blanket, and came out again into the street.
"Only a block or two after that, he stopped before a vine-covered iron fence that enclosed a large overgrown yard. I could see an old house beyond the trees, dark, the paint peeling, the ornate iron railings of its long upper and lower galleries caked with orange rust. It seemed a doomed house, stranded here among the numerous small wooden houses, its high empty windows looking out on what must have been a dismal clutter of low roofs, a corner grocery, and a small adjacent bar... But the broad, dark grounds protected the house somewhat from these things, and I had to move along the fence quite a few feet before I finally spotted a faint glimmer in one of the lower windows through the thick branches of the trees. The vampire had gone through the gate. I could hear the baby wailing, and then nothing. And I followed, easily mounting the old fence and dropping down into the garden and coming up quietly onto the long front porch.
"It was an amazing sight I saw when I crept up to one of the long, floor-length windows. For despite the heat of this breezeless evening when the gallery, even with its warped and broken boards, might have been the only tolerable place for human or vampire, a fire blazed in the grate of the parlor and all its windows were shut, and the young vampire sat by that fire talking to another vampire who hovered very near it, his slippered feet right up against the hot grate, his trembling fingers pulling over and over at the lapels of his shabby blue robe. And, though a frayed electric cord dangled from a plaster wreath of roses in the ceiling, only an oil lamp added its dim light to the fire, an oil lamp which stood by the wailing child on a nearby table.
"My eyes widened as I studied this stooped and shivering vampire whose rich blond hair hung down in loose waves covering his face. I longed to wipe away the dust on the window glass which would not let me be certain of what I suspected. 'You all leave me!' he whined now in a thin, high-pitched voice.
" 'You can't keep us with you! said the stiff young vampire sharply. He sat with his legs crossed, his arms folded on his narrow chest, his eyes looking around the dusty, empty room disdainfully. 'Oh, hush!' he said to the baby, who let out a sharp cry. 'Stop it, stop it.'
" 'The wood, the wood,' said the blond vampire feebly, and, as he motioned to the other to hand him the fuel by his chair, I saw clearly, unmistakably, the profile of Lestat, that smooth skin now devoid of even the faintest trace of his old scars.
" 'If you'd just go out,' said the other angrily, heaving the chunk of wood into the blaze. 'If you'd just hunt something other than these miserable animals...' And he looked about himself in disgust. I saw then, in the shadows, the small furry bodies of several cats, lying helter-skelter in the dust. A most remarkable thing, because a vampire can no more endure to be near his dead victims than any mammal can remain near any place where he has left his waste. 'Do you know that it's summer?' demanded the young one. Lestat merely rubbed his hands. The baby's howling cued off, yet the young vampire added, 'Get on with it, take it so you'll be warm.'
" 'You might have brought me something else!' said Lestat bitterly. And, as he looked at the baby, I saw his eyes squinting against the dull light of the smoky lamp. I felt a shock of recognition at those eyes, even at the expression beneath the shadow of the deep wave of his yellow hair. And yet to hear that whining voice, to see that bent and quivering back! Almost without thinking I rapped hard on the glass. The young vampire was up at once affecting a hard, vicious expression; but I merely motioned for him to turn the latch. And Lestat, clutching his bathrobe to his throat, rose from the chair.
" 'It's Louis! Louis!' he said. 'Let him in' And he gestured frantically, like an invalid, for the young 'nurse' to obey.
"As soon as the window opened I breathed the stench of the room and its sweltering heat. The swarming of the insects on the rotted animals scratched at my senses so that I recoiled despite myself, despite Lestat's desperate pleas for me to come to him. There, in the far corner, was the coffin where he slept, the lacquer peeling from the wood, half covered with piles of yellow newspapers. And bones lay in the corners, picked clean except for bits and tufts of fur. But Lestat had his dry hands on mine now, drawing me towards him and towards the warmth, and I could see the tears welling in his eyes; and only when his mouth was stretched in a strange smile of desperate happiness that was near to pain did I see the faint traces of the old scars. How baffling and awful it was, this smoothfaced, shimmering immortal man bent and rattled and whining like a crone.
" 'Yes, Lestat,' I said softly. 'I've come to see you.' I pushed his hand gently, slowly away and moved towards the baby, who was crying desperately now from fear as well as hunger. As soon as I lifted it up and loosened the covers, it quieted a little, and then I patted it and rocked it. Lestat was whispering to me now in quick, half-articulated words I couldn't understand, the tears streaming down his cheeks, the young vampire at the open window with a look of disgust on his face and one hand on the window latch, as if he meant at any minute to bolt.
" 'So you're Louis,' said the young vampire. This seemed to increase Lestat's inexpressible. excitement, and he wiped frantically at his tears with the hem of his robe.
"A fly lit on the baby's forehead, and involuntarily I gasped as I pressed it between two fingers and dropped it dead to the floor. The child was no longer crying. It was looking up at me with extraordinary blue eyes, dark-blue eyes, its round face glistening from the heat, and a smile played on its lips, a smile that grew brighter like a flame. I had never brought death to anything so young, so innocent, and I was aware of this now as I held the child with an odd feeling of sorrow, stronger even than that feeling which had come over me in the Rue Royale. And, rocking the child gently, I pulled the young vampire's chair to the fire and sat down.
" 'Don't try to speak... it's all right,' I said to Lestat, who dropped down gratefully into his chair and reached out to stroke the lapels of my coat with both hands.
" 'But I'm so glad to see you,' he stammered through his tears. 'I've dreamed of your coming... coming...' he said. And then he grimaced, as if he were feeling a pain he couldn't identify, and again the fine map of scars appeared for an instant. He was looking off, his hand up to his ear, as if he meant to cover it to defend himself from some terrible sound. 'I didn't...' he started; and then he shook his head, his eyes clouding as he opened them wide, strained to focus them. 'I didn't mean to let them do it, Louis... I mean that Santiago... that one, you know, he didn't tell me what they planned to do.'
" 'That's all past, Lestat,' I said.
" 'Yes, yes,' he nodded vigorously. 'Past. She should never... why, Louis, you know...' And he was shaking his head, his voice seeming to gain in strength, to gain a little in resonance with his effort. 'She should have never been one of us, Louis.' And he rapped his sunken chest with his fist as he said 'Us' again softly.
"She. It seemed then that she had never existed That she had been some illogical, fantastical dream that, was too precious and too personal for me ever to confide in anyone. And too long gone. I looked at him. I stared at him. And tried to think, Yes, the three of us together.
" 'Don't fear me, Lestat,' I said, as though talking to myself. 'I bring you no harm.'
" 'You've come back to me, Louis,' he whispered in that thin, high-pitched voice. 'You've come home again to me, Louis, haven't you?' And again he bit his lip and looked at me desperately.
" 'No, Lestat.' I shook my head. He was frantic for a moment, and again he commenced one gesture and then another and finally sat there with his hands over his face in a paroxysm of distress. The other vampire, who was studying me coldly, asked:
" 'Are you... have you come back to him?'
" 'No, of course not,' I answered. And he smirked, as if this was as he expected, that everything fell to him again, and he walked out onto the porch. I could hear him there very near, waiting.
" 'I only wanted to see you, Lestat,' I said. But Lestat didn't seem to hear me. Something else had distracted him. And he was gazing off, his eyes wide, his hands hovering near his ears. Then I heard it also. It was a siren. And as it grew louder, his eyes shut tight against it and his fingers covered his ears. And it grew louder and louder, coming up the street from downtown. 'Lestat!' I said to him, over the baby's cries, which rose now in the same terrible fear of the siren. But his agony obliterated me. His lips were drawn back from his teeth in a terrible grimace of pain. 'Lestat, it's only a siren!' I said to him stupidly. And then he came forward out of the chair and took hold of me and held tight to me, and, despite myself, I took his hand. He bent down, pressing his head against my chest and holding my hand so tight that he caused me pain. The room was filled with the flashing red light of the siren, and then it was going away.
" 'Louis, I can't bear it, I can't bear it,' he growled through his tears. 'Help me, Louis, stay with me.'
" 'But why are you afraid?' I asked. 'Don't you know what these things are?' And as I looked down at him, as I saw his yellow hair pressed against my coat, I had a vision of him from long ago, that tall, stately gentleman in the swirling black cape, with his head thrown back, his rich, flawless voice singing the lilting air of the opera from which we'd only just come, his walking stick tapping the cobblestones in time with the music, his large, sparkling eye catching the young woman who stood by, enrapt, so that a smile spread over his face as the song died on his lips; and for one moment, that one moment when his eye met hers, all evil seemed obliterated in that flush of pleasure, that passion for merely being alive.
"Was this the price of that involvement? A sensibility shocked by change, shriveling from fear? I thought quietly of all the things I might say to him, how I might remind him that he was immortal, that nothing condemned him to this retreat save himself, and that he was surrounded with the unmistakable signs of inevitable death. But I did not say these things, and I knew that I would not.
"It seemed the silence of the room rushed back around us, like a dark sea that the siren had driven away. The flies swarmed on the festering body of a rat, and the child looked quietly up at me as though my eyes were bright baubles, and its dimpled hand closed on the finger that I poised above its tiny petal mouth.
"Lestat had risen, straightened, but only to bend over and slink into the chair. 'You won't stay with me,' he sighed. But then he looked away and seemed suddenly absorbed.
" 'I wanted to talk to you so much,' he said. 'That night I came home in the Rue Royale I only wanted to talk to you!' He shuddered violently, eyes closed, his throat seeming to contract. It was as if the blows I'd struck him then were falling now. He stared blindly ahead, his tongue moistening his lip, his voice low, almost natural. 'I went to Paris after you...'
" 'What was it you wanted to tell me?' I asked. 'What was it you wanted to talk about?'
"I could well remember his mad insistence in the Theatre des Vampires. I hadn't thought of it in years. No, I had never thought of it. And I was aware that I spoke of it now with great reluctance.
"But he only smiled at me, and insipid, near apologetic smile. And shook his head. I watched his eyes fill with a soft, bleary despair.
"I felt a profound, undeniable relief.
" 'But you will stay!' he insisted.
" 'No,' I answered.
" 'And neither will I!' said that young vampire from the darkness outside. And he stood for a second in the open window looking at us. Lestat looked up at him and then sheepishly away, and his lower lip seemed to thicken and tremble. 'Close it, close it,' he said, waving his finger at the window. Then a sob burst from him and, covering his mouth with his hand, he put his head down and cried.
"The young vampire was gone. I heard his steps moving fast on the walk, heard the heavy chink of the iron gate. And I was alone with Lestat, and he was crying. It seemed a long time before he stopped, and during all that time I merely watched him. I was thinking of all the things that had passed between us. I was remembering things which I supposed I had completely forgotten. And I was conscious then of that same overwhelming sadness which I'd felt when I saw the place in the Rue Royale where we had lived. Only, it didn't seem to me to be a sadness for Lestat, for that smart, gay vampire who used to live there then. It seemed a sadness for something else, something beyond Lestat that only included him and was part of the great awful sadness of all the things I'd ever lost or loved or known. It seemed then I was in a different place, a different time. And this different place and time was very real, and it was a room where the insects had hummed as they were humming here and the air had been close and thick with death and with the spring perfume. And I was on the verge of knowing that place and knowing with it a terrible pain, a pain so terrible that my mind veered away from it, said, No, don't take me back to that place---and suddenly it was receding, and I was with Lestat here now. Astonished, I saw my own tear fall onto the face of the child. I saw it glisten on the child's cheek, and I saw the cheek become very plump with the child's smile. It must have been seeing the light in the tears.
I put my hand to my face and wiped at the tears that were in fact there and looked at them in amazement.
" 'But Louis...' Lestat was saying softly. 'How can you be as you are, how can you stand it?' He was looking up at me, his mouth in that same grimace, his face wet with tears. 'Tell me, Louis, help me to understand! How can you understand it all, how can you endure?' And I could see by the desperation in his eyes and the deeper tone which his voice had taken that he, too; was pushing himself towards something that for him was very painful, towards a place where he hadn't ventured in a long time. But then, even as I looked at him, his eyes appeared to become misty, confused. And he pulled the robe up tight, and shaking his head, he looked at the fire. A shudder passed through him and he moaned.
" 'I have to go now, Lestat,' I said to him. I felt weary, weary of him and weary of this sadness. And I longed again for the stillness outside, that perfect quiet to which I'd become so completely accustomed. But I realized, as I rose to my feet, that I was taking the little baby with me.
"Lestat looked up at me now with his large, agonized eyes and his smooth, ageless face. 'But you'll come back... you'll come to visit me... Louis?' he said.
"I turned away from him, hearing him calling after me, and quietly left the house. When I reached the street, I looked back and I could see him hovering at the window as if he were afraid to go out. I realized he had not gone out for a long, long time, and it occurred to me then that perhaps he would never go out again.
"I returned to the small house from which the vampire had taken the child, and left it there in its crib."
"Not very long after that I told Armand I'd seen Lestat. Perhaps it was a month, I'm not certain. Time meant little to me then, as it means little to me now. But it meant a great deal to Armand. He was amazed that I hadn't mentioned this before.
"We were walking that night uptown where the city gives way to the Audubon Park and the levee is a deserted, grassy slope that descends to a muddy beach heaped here and there with driftwood, going out to the lapping waves of the river. On the far bank were the very dim lights of industries and river-front companies, pinpoints of green or red that flickered in the distance like stars. And the moon showed the broad, strong current moving fast between the two shores; and even the summer heat was gone here, with the cool breeze coming off the water and gently lifting the moss that hung from the twisted oak where we sat. I was picking at the grass, and tasting it, though the taste was bitter and unnatural. The gesture seemed natural. I was feeling almost that I might never leave New Orleans. But then, what are such thoughts when you can live forever? Never leave New Orleans again?' Again seemed a human word.
" 'But didn't you feel any desire for revenge?' Armand asked. He lay on the grass beside me, his weight on his elbow, his eyes fixed on me.
" 'Why?' I asked calmly. I was wishing, as I often wished, that he was not there, that I was alone. Alone with this powerful and cool river under the dim moon. 'He's met with his own perfect revenge. He's dying, dying of rigidity, of fear. His mind cannot accept this time. Nothing as serene and graceful as that vampire death you once described to me in Paris. I think he is dying as clumsily and grotesquely as humans often die in this century... of old age.'
" 'But you... what did you feel?' he insisted softly. And I was struck by the personal quality of that question, and how long it had been since either of us had spoken to the other in that way. I had a strong sense of him then, the separate being that he was, the calm and collected creature with the straight auburn hair and the large, sometimes melancholy eyes, eyes that seemed often to be seeing nothing but their own thoughts. Tonight they were lit with a dull fire that was unusual.
" 'Nothing,' I answered.
" 'Nothing one way or the other?'
"I answered no. I remembered palpably that sorrow. It was as if the sorrow hadn't left me suddenly, but had been near me all this time, hovering, saying, 'Come.' But I wouldn't tell this to Armand, wouldn't reveal this. And I had the strangest sensation of feeling his need for me to tell him this... this, or something... a need strangely akin to the need for living blood.
" 'But did he tell you anything, anything that made you feel the old hatred...' he murmured. And it was at this point that I became keenly aware of how distressed he was.
" 'What is it, Armand? Why do you ask this?' I said.
"But he lay back on the steep levee then, and for a long time he appeared to be looking at the stars. The stars brought back to me something far too specific, the ship that had carried Claudia and me to Europe, and those nights at sea when it seemed the stars came down to touch the waves.
" 'I thought perhaps he would tell you something about Paris...' Armand said.
" 'What should he say about Paris? That he didn't want Claudia to die?' I asked. Claudia again; the name sounded strange. Claudia spreading out that game of solitaire on the table that shifted with the shifting of the sea, the lantern creaking on its hook, the black porthole full of the stars. She had her head bent, her fingers poised above her ear as if about to loosen strands of her hair. And I had the most disconcerting sensation: that in my memory she would look up from that game of solitaire, and the sockets of her eyes would be empty.
" 'You could have told me anything you wanted about Paris, Armand,' I said. 'Long before now. It wouldn't have mattered.'
" 'Even that it was I who...?'
"I turned to him as he lay there looking at the sky. And I saw the extraordinary pain in his face, in his eyes. It seemed his eyes were huge, too huge, and the white face that framed them too gaunt.
'That it was you who killed her? Who forced her out into that yard and locked her there?' I asked. I smiled. 'Don't tell me you have been feeling pain for it all these years, not you.'
"And then he closed his eyes and turned his face away, his hand resting on his chest as if I'd struck him an awful, sudden blow.
" 'You can't convince me you care about this,' I said to him coldly. And I looked out towards the water, and again that feeling came over me... that I wished to be alone. In a little while I knew I would get up and go off by myself. That is, if he didn't leave me first. Because I would have liked to remain there actually. It was a quiet, secluded place.
" 'You care about nothing...' he was saying. And then he sat up slowly and turned to me so again I could see that dark fire in his eyes. 'I thought you would at least care about that. I thought you would feel the old passion, the old anger if you were to see him again. I thought something would quicken and come alive in you if you saw him... if you returned to this place.'
" 'That I would come back to life?' I said softly. And I felt the cold metallic hardness of my words as I spoke, the modulation, the control. It was as if I were cold all over, made of metal, and he were fragile suddenly; fragile, as he had been, actually, for a long time.
" 'Yes!' he cried out. 'Yes, back to life!' And then he seemed puzzled, positively confused. And a strange thing occurred. He bowed his head at that moment as if he were defeated. And something in the way that he felt that defeat, something in the way his smooth white face reflected it only for an instant, reminded me of someone else I'd seen defeated in just that way. And it was amazing to me that it took me such a long moment to see Claudia's face in that attitude; Claudia, as she stood by the bed in the room at the Hotel Saint-Gabriel pleading with me to transform Madeleine into one of us. That same helpless look, that defeat which seemed to be so heartfelt that everything beyond it was forgotten. And then he, like Claudia, seemed to rally, to pull on some reserve of strength. But he said softly to the air, 'I am dying!'
"And I, watching him, hearing him, the only creature under God who heard him, knowing completely that it was true, said nothing.
"A long sigh escaped his lips. His head was' bowed. His right hand lay limp beside him in the grass. 'Hatred... that is passion,' he said 'Revenge, that is passion...'
" 'Not from me...' I murmured softly. 'Not now.'
"And then his eyes fixed on me and his face seemed very calm. 'I used to believe you would get over it, that when the pain of all of it left you, you would grow warm again and filled with love, and filled with that wild and insatiable curiosity with which you first came to me, that inveterate conscience, and that hunger for knowledge that brought you all the way to Paris to my cell. I thought it was a part of you that couldn't die. And I thought that when the pain was gone you would forgive me for what part I played in her death. She never loved you, you know. Not in the way that I loved you, and the way that you loved us both. I knew this! I understood it! And I believed I would gather you to me and hold you. And time would open to us, and we would be the teachers of one another. All the things that gave you happiness would give me happiness; and I would be the protector of your pain. My power would be your power. My strength the same. But you're dead inside to me, you're cold and beyond my reach! It is as if I'm not here, beside you. And, not being here with you, I have the dreadful feeling that I don't exist at all. And you are as cold and distant from me as those strange modern paintings of lines and hard forms that I cannot love or comprehend, as alien as those hard mechanical sculptures of this age which have no human form. I shudder when I'm near you. I look into your eyes and my reflection isn't there...'
" 'What you asked was impossible!' I said quickly. 'Don't you see? What I asked was impossible, too, from the start.'
"He protested, the negation barely forming on his lips, his hand rising as if to thrust it away.
" 'I wanted love and goodness in this which is living death,' I said. 'It was impossible from the beginning, because you cannot have love and goodness when you do what you know to be evil, what you know to be wrong. You can only have the desperate confusion and longing and the chasing of phantom goodness in its human form. I knew the real answer to my quest before I ever reached Paris. I knew it when I first took a human life to feed my craving. It was my death. And yet I would not accept it, could not accept it, because like all creatures I don't wish to die! And so I sought for other vampires, for God, for the devil, for a hundred things under a hundred names. And it was all the same, all evil. And all wrong. Because no one could in any guise convince me of what I myself knew to be true, that I was damned in my own mind and soul. And when I came to Paris I thought you were powerful and beautiful and without regret, and I wanted that desperately. But you were a destroyer just as I was a destroyer, more ruthless and cunning even than I. You showed me the only thing that I could really hope to become, what depth of evil, what degree of coldness I would have to attain to end my pain. And I accepted that. And so that passion, that love you saw in me, was extinguished. And you see now simply a mirror of yourself.'
"A very long time passed before he spoke. He'd risen to his feet, and he stood with his back to me looking down the river, head bowed as before, his hands at his sides. I was looking at the river also. I was thinking quietly, There is nothing more I can say, nothing more I can do.
" 'Louis,' he said now, lifting his head, his voice very thick and unlike itself.
" 'Yes, Armand,' I said.
" 'Is there anything else you want of me, anything else you require?'
" 'No,' I said. 'What do you mean?'
"He didn't answer this. He began to slowly walk away. I think at first I thought he only meant to walk a few paces, perhaps to wander by himself along the muddy beach below. And by the time I realized that he was leaving me, he was a mere speck down there against the occasional flickering in the water under the moon. I never saw him again.
"Of course, it was several nights later before I realized he was gone. His coffin remained. But he did not return to it. And it was several months before I had that coffin taken to the St. Louis cemetery and put into the crypt beside my own. The grave, long neglected because my family was gone, received the only thing he'd left behind. But then I began to be uncomfortable with that. I thought of it on waking, and again at dawn right before I closed my eyes. And I went downtown one night and took the coffin out, and broke it into pieces and left it in the narrow aisle of the cemetery in the tall grass.
"That vampire who was Lestat's latest child accosted me one evening not long after. He begged me to tell him all I knew of the world, to become his companion and his teacher. I remember telling him that what I chiefly knew was that I'd destroy him if I ever saw him again. 'You see, someone must die every night that I walk, until I've the courage to end it,' I told him. 'And you're an admirable choice for that victim, a killer as evil as myself.'
"And I left New Orleans the next night because the sorrow wasn't leaving me. And I didn't want to think of that old house where Lestat was dying. Or that sharp, modem vampire who'd fled me. Or of Armand.
"I wanted to be where there was nothing familiar to me. And nothing mattered.
"And that's the end of it. There's nothing else."
The boy sat mute, staring at the vampire. And the vampire sat collected, his hands folded on the table, his narrow, red-rimmed eyes fixed on the turning tapes. His face was so gaunt now that the veins of his temples showed as if carved out of stone. And he sat so still that only his green eyes evinced life, and that life was a dull fascination with the turning of the tapes.
Then the boy drew back and ran the fingers of his right hand loosely through his hair. "No," he said with a short intake of breath. Then he said it again louder, "No!"
The vampire didn't appear to hear him. His eyes moved away from the tapes towards the window, towards the dark, gray sky.
"It didn't have to end like that!" said the boy, leaning forward.
The vampire, who continued to look at the sky, uttered a short, dry laugh.
"All the things you felt in Paris!" said the boy, his voice increasing in volume. "The love of Claudia, the feeling, even the feeling for Lestat! It didn't have to end, not in this, not in despair! Because that's what it is, isn't it? Despair!"
"Stop," said the vampire abruptly, lifting his right hand. His eyes shifted almost mechanically to the boy's face. "I tell you and I have told you, that it could not have ended any other way."
"I don't accept it," said the boy, and he folded his arms across his chest, shaking his head emphatically. "I can't!" And the emotion seemed to build in him, so that without meaning to, he scraped his chair back on the bare boards and rose to pace the floor. But then, when he turned and looked at the vampire's face again, the words he was about to speak died in his throat. The vampire was merely staring at him, and his face had that long drawn expression of both outrage and bitter amusement.
"Don't you see how you made it sound? It was an adventure like I'll never know in my whole life! You talk about passion, you talk about longing! You talk about things that millions of us won't ever taste or come to understand. And then you tell me it ends like that. I tell you..." And he stood over the vampire now, his hands outstretched before him. "If you were to give me that power! The power to see and feel and live forever!"
The vampire's eyes slowly began to widen, his lips parting. "What!" he demanded softly. "What!"
"Give it to me!" said the boy, his right hand tightening in a fist, the fist pounding his chest. "Make me a vampire now!" he said as the vampire stared aghast.
What happened then was swift and confused, but it ended abruptly with the vampire on his feet holding the boy by the shoulders, the boy's moist face contorted with fear, the vampire glaring at him in rage. "This is what you want?" he whispered, his pale lips manifesting only the barest trace of movement. "This... after all I've told you... is what you ask for?"
A small cry escaped the boy's lips, and he began to tremble all over, the sweat breaking out on his forehead and on the skin above his upper lip. His hand reached gingerly for the vampire's arm. "You don't know what human life is like!." he said, on the edge of breaking into tears. "You've forgotten. You don't even understand the meaning of your own story, what it means to a human being like me." And then a choked sob interrupted his words, and his fingers clung to the vampire's arm.
"God," the vampire uttered and, turning away from him, almost pushed the boy off-balance against the wall. He stood with his back to the boy, staring at the gray window.
"I beg you... give it all one more chance. One more chance in me!" said the boy.
The vampire turned to him, his face as twisted with anger as before. And then, gradually, it began to become smooth. The lids came down slowly over his eyes and his lips lengthened in a smile. He looked again at the boy. "I've failed," he sighed, smiling still. "I have completely failed..."
"No..." the boy protested.
"Don't say any more," said the vampire emphatically. "I have but one chance left. Do you see the reels? They still turn. I have but one way to show you the meaning of what I've said." And then he reached out for the boy so fast that the boy found himself grasping for something, pushing against something that was not there, so his hand was outstretched still when the vampire had him pressed to his chest, the boy's neck bent beneath his lips. "Do you see?" whispered the vampire, and the long, silky lips drew up over his teeth and two long fangs came down into the boy's flesh. The boy stuttered, a low guttural sound coming out of his throat, his hand struggling to close on something, his eyes widening only to become dull and gray as the vampire drank. And the vampire meantime looked as tranquil as someone in sleep. His narrow chest heaved so subtly with his sigh that he seemed to be rising slowly from the floor and then settling again with that same somnambulistic grace. There was a whine coming from the boy, and when the vampire let him go he held him out with both hands and looked at the damp white face, the limp hands, the eyes half closed.
The boy was moaning, his lower lip loose and trembling as if in nausea. He moaned again louder, and his head fell back and his eyes rolled up into his head. The vampire set him down gently in the chair. The boy was straggling to speak, and the tears which sprang now to his eyes seemed to come as much from that effort to speak as from anything else. His head fell forward, heavily, drunkenly, and his hand rested on the table. The vampire stood looking down at him, and his white skin became a soft luminous pink. It was as if a pink light were shining on him and his entire being seemed to give back that light. The flesh of his lips was dark, almost rose in color, and the veins of his temples and his hands were mere traces on his skin, and his face was youthful and smooth.
"Will I... die?" the boy whispered as he looked up slowly, his mouth wet and slack. "Will I die?" he groaned, his lip trembling.
"I don't know," the vampire said, and he smiled.
The boy seemed on the verge of saying something more, but the hand that rested on the table slid forward on the boards, and his head lay down beside it as he lost consciousness.
When next he opened his eyes, the boy saw the sun. It filled the dirty, undressed window and was hot on the side of his face and his hand. For a moment, he lay there, his face against the table and then with a great effort, he straightened, took a long deep breath and closing his eyes, pressed his hand to that place where the vampire had drawn blood. When his other hand accidentally touched a band of metal on the top of the tape recorder, he let out a sudden cry because the metal was hot.
Then he rose, moving clumsily, almost falling, until he rested both his hands on the white wash basin. Quickly he turned on the tap, splashed his face with cold water, and wiped it with a soiled towel that hung there on a nail. He was breathing regularly now and he stood still, looking into the mirror without any support. Then he looked at his watch. It was as if the watch shocked him, brought him more to life than the sun or the water. And he made a quick search of the room, of the hallway, and, finding nothing and no one, he settled again into the chair. Then, drawing a small white pad out of his pocket, and a pen, he set these on the table and touched the button of the recorder. The tape spun fast backwards until he shut it off. When he heard the vampire's voice, he leaned forward, listening very carefully, then hit the button again for another place, and, hearing that, still another. But then at last his face brightened, as the reels turned and the voice spoke in an even modulated tone: "It was a very warm evening, and I could tell as soon as I saw him on St. Charles that he had someplace to go..."
And quickly the boy noted:
"Lestat... off St. Charles Avenue. Old house crumbling... shabby neighborhood. Look for rusted railings."
And then, stuffing the notebook quickly in his pocket, he gathered the tapes into his brief case, along with the small recorder, and hurried down the long hallway and down the stairs to the street, where in front of the corner bar his car was parked.