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AN INTERVIEW WITH VAMPIRE (NOVEL)
"I was looking down through the quiet silver rain into darkness. Then .a light flickered beneath the shifting tree limbs, and the pale beams of the light made the street appear. Wet cobblestones, the iron hook of the carriage-house bell, the vines clinging to the top off the wall. The huge black hulk of a carriage brushed the vines, and then the light grew weak, the street went from yellow to silver and vanished altogether, as if the dark trees had swallowed it up. Or, rather, as if it had all been subtracted from the dark. I felt dizzy. I felt the building move. Armand was seated on the window sill looking down at me. " `Louis, come with me tonight,' he whispered suddenly, with an urgent inflection. " `No,' I said gently. `It's too soon. I can't leave them yet' "I watched him turn away and look at the dark sky. He appeared to sigh, but I didn't hear it. I felt his hand close on mine on the window sill. `Very well . . .' he said. " `A little more time . . ' I said. And he nodded and patted my hand as if to say it was all right. Then he swung his legs over and disappeared. For only a moment I hesitated, mocked by the pounding of my heart. But then I climbed over the sill and commenced to hurry after him, never daring to look down." "It was very near dawn when I put my key into the lock at the hotel. The gas light flared along the walls. And Madeleine, her needle and thread in her hands, had fallen asleep by the grate. Claudia stood still, looking at me from among the ferns at the window, in shadow. She had her hairbrush in her hands. Her hair was gleaming. "I stood there absorbing some shock, as if all the sensual pleasures and confusions of these rooms were passing over me like waves and my body were being permeated with these things, so different from the spell of Armand and the tower room where we'd been. There was something comforting here, and it was disturbing. I was looking for my chair. I was sitting in it with my hands on my temples. And then I felt Claudia near me, and I felt her dips against my forehead. " `You've been with Armand,' she said. `You want to go with him.' "I looked up at her. How soft and beautiful her face was, and, suddenly, so much mine. I felt no compunction in yielding to my urge to touch her cheeks, to lightly touch her eyelids---familiarities, liberties I hadn't taken with her since the night of our quarrel. `I'll see you again; not here, in other places. Always I'll know where you are!' I said. "She put her arms around my neck. She held me tight, and I closed my eyes and buried my face in her hair. I was covering her neck with my kisses. I had hold of her round, firm little arms. I was kissing them, kissing the soft indentation of the flesh in the crooks of her arms, her wrists, her open palms. I felt her forgers stroking my hair, my face. `Whatever you wish,' she vowed. `Whatever you wish.' " `Are you happy? Do you have what you want?' I begged her. " `Yes, Louis.' She held me against her dress, her fingers clasping the back of my neck. `I have all that I want` But do you truly know what you want?' She was lifting my face so I had to look into her eyes. `It's you I fear for, you who might be making the mistake. Why don't you leave Paris with us!' the said suddenly. `We have the world, come with us!' " `No.' I drew back from her. `You want it to as it was with Lestat. It can't be that way again, ever. It won't be.' " `It will be something new and different with Madoleine. I don't ask for that again. It was I who put an end to that,' she said. `But do you truly understand what you are choosing in Armand?' "I tanned away from her. There was something stubborn and mysterious inn her dislike of him, in her failure to understand him. She would say again that he wished her death, which I did not believe. She didn't realize what I realized: he could not want her death, because I didn't want it. But how could I explain this to her without sounding pompous and blind in my love of him. `It's meant to be. It's almost that sort of direction,' I said, as if it were just coming clear to me under the pressure of her doubts. `He alone can give me the strength to be what I am. I can't continue to live divided and consumed with misery. Either I go with him, or I die,' I said. `And it's something else, which is irrational and unexplainable and which satisfies only me. . . " `Which is?' she asked. " `That I love him,' I said. " `No doubt you do,' she mused. `But then, you could love even me.' " `Claudia, Claudia.' I held her close to me, and felt her weight on my knee. She drew up close to my chest. " `T only hope that when you have need of me, you can find me . . .' she whispered. `That I can get back to you . . . I've hurt you so often, I've caused you so much pain.' Her words trailed off. She was resting still against me. I felt her weight, thinking, In a little while, I won't have her anymore. I want now simply to hold her. There has always been such pleasure in that simple thing. Her weight against me, this hand resting against my neck. "It seemed a lamp died somewhere. That from the cool, damp air that much light was suddenly, soundlessly subtracted. I was sitting on the verge of dream. Had I been mortal I would have been content to sleep there. And in that drowsy, comfortable state I had a strange, habitual mortal feeling, that the sun would wake me gently later and I would have that rich, habitual vision of the ferns in the sunshine and the sunshine an the droplets of rain. I indulged that feeling. I half closed my eyes. "Often afterwards I tried to remember those moments. Tried over and over to recall just what it was in those rooms as we rested there, that began to disturb me, should have disturbed me. How, being off my guard, I was somehow insensible to the subtle changes which must have been taking place there. Long after, bruised and robbed and embittered beyond my wildest dreams, I sifted through those moments, those drowsy quiet early-hour moments when the clock ticked almost imperceptibly on the mantelpiece, and the sky grew paler and paler; and all I could remember-despite the desperation with which I lengthened and fixed that time, in which I held out my hands to stop the clock-all I could remember was the soft changing of tight. "On guard, I would never have let it pass. Deluded with larger concerns, I made no note of it. A lamp gone out, a candle extinguished by the shiver of its own hot pool of wax. My eyes half shut, I had the sense then. of impending darkness, of being shut up in darkness. "And then I opened my eyes, not thinking of lamps or candles. And it was too late. I remember standing upright, Claudia's hand slipping on my arm, and the vision of a host of black-dressed men and women moving through the rooms, their garments seeming to garner light from every gilt edge or lacquered surface, seeming to drain all light away. I shouted out against them, shouted for Madeleine, saw her wake with a start, terrified fledgling, clinging to the arm of the couch, then down on her knees as they reached out for her. There was Santiago and Celeste coming towards us, and behind them, Estelle and others whose names I didn't know filling the mirrors and crowding together to make walls of shifting, menacing shadow. I was shouting to Claudia to run, having pulled back the door. I was shoving her through it and then was stretched across it, kicking out at Santiago as he came. "That weak defensive position rd held against him in the Latin Quarter was nothing compared to my strength now. I was too flawed perhaps to ever fight with conviction for my own protection. But the instinct to protect Madeleine and Claudia was overpowering. I remember kicking Santiago backwards and then striking out at that powerful, beautiful Celeste, who sought to get by me. Claudia's feet sounded on the distant marble stairway. Celeste was reeling, clawing at me, catching hold of me and scratching my face so the blood ran down over my collar. I could see it blazing in the comer of my eye. I was on Santiago now, turning with him, aware of the awful strength of the arms that held me, the hands that sought to get a hold on my throat. `Fight them, Madeleine,' I was shouting to her. But all I could hear was her sobbing. Then I saw her in the whirl, a fixed, frightened thing, surrounded by other vampires. They were laughing that hollow vampire laughter which is like tinsel or silverbells. Santiago was clutching at his face. My teeth had drawn blood there. I struck at his chest, at his head, the pain searing through my arm, something enclosing my chest like two arms, which I shook off, hearing the crash of broken glass behind me. But something else, someone else had hold of my arm with two arms and was pulling me with tenacious strength. "I don't remember weakening. I don't remember any turning point when anyone's strength overcame my own. I remember simply being outnumbered. Hopelessly, by sheer numbers and persistence, I was stilled, surrounded, and forced out of the rooms. In a press of vampires, I was being forced along the passageway, and then I was falling down the steps, free for a moment before the narrow back doors of the hotel, only to be surrounded again and held tight. I could see Celeste's face very near me and, if I could have, I would have wounded her with my teeth. I was bleeding badly, and one of my wrists was held so tightly that there was no feeling in that hand. Madeleine was next to me sobbing still. And all of us were pressed into a carnage. Over and over I was struck, and still I did not lose consciousness. I remember clinging tenaciously to consciousness, feeling these blows on the back of my head, feeling the back of my head wet with blood that trickled down my neck as I lay on the carriage floor. I was thinking only, I can feel the carnage moving; I am alive; I am conscious. "And as soon as we were dragged into the Theatre des Vampires, I was crying out for Armand. "I was let go, only to stagger on the cellar steps, the horde of them behind me and in front of me, pushing me with menacing hands. At one point I got hold of Celeste, and she screamed and someone struck me from behind. "And then I saw Lestat- the blow that was more crippling than any blow. Lestat, standing there in the center of the ballroom, erect, his gray eyes sharp and focused, his mouth lengthening in a cunning smile. Impeccably dressed he was, as always, and as splendid an his rich black cloak and fine linen. But those scars still scored every inch of his white flesh. And how they distorted the taut, handsome face, the fine, hard threads cutting the delicate skin above his lip, the lids of his eyes, the smooth rise of his forehead. And the eyes, they burned with a silent rage that seemed infused with vanity, an awful relentless vanity that said, `See what I am.' " `This is the one?' said Santiago, thrusting me forward. "But Lestat turned sharply to him and said in a harsh low voice, `I told you I wanted Claudia, the child! She was the one!' And now I saw his head moving involuntarily with his outburst, and his hand reaching out as if for the arm of a chair only to close as he drew himself up again, eyes to me. " `Lestat,' I began, seeing now the few straws left to me. `You are alive! You have your life! Tell them how you treated us. . . " `No,' he shook his head furiously. `You come back to me, Louis,' he said. "For a moment I could not believe my ears. Some saner, more desperate part of me said, Reason with him, even as the sinister laughter erupted from my lips. `Are you mad!' " `I'll give you back your life!' he said, his eyelids quivering with the stress of his words, his chest heaving, that hand going out again and closing impotently in the dark. `You promised me,' he said to Santiago, `I could take him back with me to New Orleans.' And then, as he looked from one to the other of them as they surrounded us, his breath became frantic, and he burst out, 'Claudia, where is she? She's the one who did it to me, I told you!' " `By and by,' said Santiago. And when he reached out for Lestat, Lestat drew back and almost lost his balance. He had found the chair arm he needed and stood holding fast to it, his eyes closed, regaining his control. " `But he helped her, aided her . . ' said Santiago, drawing nearer to him. Lestat looked up. "'No,' he said. 'Louis, you must come back to me. There's something I must tell you . . . about that night in the swamp.' But then he stopped and looked about again, as though he were caged, wounded, desperate. " `Listen to me, Lestat,' I began now. `You let her go, you free her . . . and I will . . . I'll return to you,' I said, the words sounding hollow, metallic. I tried to take a step towards him, to make my eyes hard and unreadable, to feel my power emanating from them like two beams of light. He was looking at me, studying me, struggling all the while against his own fragility. And Celeste had her hand on my wrist. `You must tell them,' I went on, `how you treated us, that we didn't know the laws, that she didn't know of other vampires,' I said. And I was thinking steadily, as that mechanical voice came out of me: Armand must return tonight, Armand must come back. He will stop this, he won't let it go on. "'There was a sound then of something dragging across the floor. I could hear Madeleine's exhausted crying. I looked around and saw her in a chair, and when she saw my eyes on her, her terror seemed to increase. She tried to rise but they stopped her. `Lestat,' I said. `What do you want of me? I'll give it to you. . . "And then I saw the thing that was making the noise. And Lestat had seen it too. It was a coffin with large iron locks on it that was being dragged into the room. I understood at once. `Where is Armand?' I said desperately. " `She did it to me, Louis. She did it to me. You didn't! She has to dies' said Lestat, his voice becoming thin, rasping, as if it were an effort for him to speak. `Get that thing away from here, he's coming home with me,' he said furiously to Santiago. And Santiago only laughed, and Celeste laughed, and the laughter seemed to infect them all. " `You promised me,' said Lestat to them. " `I promised you nothing,' said Santiago. " `They've made a fool of you,' I said to him bitterly as they were opening the coffin. 'A fool of you! You must reach Armand, Armand 13 the leader here,' I burst out. But he didn't seem to understand. "What happened then was desperate axed clouded and miserable, my kicking at them, struggling to free my arms, raging against them that Armand would stop what they were doing, that they dare not hurt Claudia. Yet they forced me down into the coffin, my frantic efforts serving no purpose against them except to take my mind off the sound of Madeleine's cries, her awful wailing cries, and the fear that at any moment Claudia's cries might be added to them. I remember rising against the crushing lid, holding it at bay for an instant before it was forced shut on me and the locks were being shut with the grinding of metal and keys. Words of long ago came back to me, a strident and smiling Lestat in that faraway, trouble-free place where the three of us had, quarreled together: `A starving child is a frightful sight . . . a starving vampire even worse. They'd hear her screams in Paris.' And my wet and trembling body went limp in the suffocating coffin, and I said, Armand will not let it happen; there isn't a place secure enough for them to place us. "The coffin was lifted, there was the scraping of boots, the swinging from side to side; my arms braced against the sides of the box, my eyes shut perhaps for a moment, I was uncertain. I told myself not to reach out for the sides, not to feel the thin margin of air between my face and the lid; and I felt the coffin swing and tilt as their steps found the stairs. Vainly I tried to make out Madeleine's cries, for it seemed that she was crying for Claudia, calling out to her as if she could help us all. Call for Armand; he must come home this night, I thought desperately. And only the thought of the awful humiliation of hearing my own cry closed in with me, flooding my ears, yet locked in with me, prevented me from calling out. "But another thought had come over me even as 1'd phrased those words: What if he did not come? What if somewhere in that mansion he had a coffin hidden to which he returned . . . B And then it seemed my body broke suddenly, without warning, from the control of my mind, and I flailed at the wood around me, struggling to turn over and pit the strength of my back against the coffin lid. Yet I could not: it was too close; and my head fell back on the boards, and the sweat poured down my back and sides. "Madeleine's cries were gone. All I heard were the boots, and my own breathing. Then, tomorrow night he will come-yes, tomorrow night and they will tell him, and he will find us and release us. The coffin swayed. The smell of water filled my nostrils, its coolness palpable through the close heat of the coffin; and then with the smell of the water was the smell of the deep earth. The coffin was set down roughly, and my limbs ached and I rubbed the backs of my arms with my hands, struggling not to touch the coffin lid, not to sense how close it was, afraid of my own feat rising to panic, to terror. "I thought they would leave me now, but they did not. They were near at hand and bogy, and another odor came to my nostrils which was raw and not known to me. But then, as I lay very still, I realized they were laying bricks and that the odor came from the mortar. Slowly, carefully, I brought my hand up to wipe my face. All right, then, tomorrow night, I reasoned with myself, even as my shoulders seemed to grow large against the coffin walls. All right, then, tomorrow night he will come; and until then this is merely the confines of my own coffin, the price I've paid for all of this, night after night after night. `But the tears were welling in my eyes, and I could see myself flailing again at the wood; and y head was turning from side to side, my mind rushing on to tomorrow and the night after and the night after that. And then, as if to distract myself from this madness, I thought of Claudia-only to feel her arms around me in the dim light of those rooms in the Hotel Saint-Gabriel, only to see the curve of her cheek in the light, the soft, languid flutter of her eyelashes, the silky touch of her lip. My body stiffened, my feet kicked at the boards. The sound of the bricks was gone, and the muffled steps were gone. And I cried out for her, 'Claudia,' until my neck was twisted with pain as I tossed, and my nails had dug into my palms; and slowly, like an icy stream, the paralysis of sleep came over me. I tried to call out to Armand-foolishly, desperately, only dimly aware as my lids grew heavy and my hands lay limp that the sleep was on him too somewhere, that he lay still in his resting place. One last time I struggled. My eyes saw the dark, my hands felt the wood. But I was weak. And then there was nothing." "I awoke to a voice. It was distant but distinct. It said my name twice. For an instant I didn't know where I was. I'd been dreaming, something desperate which was threatening to vanish completely without the slightest clue to what it had been, and something terrible which I was eager, willing to let go. Then I opened my eyes and felt the top of the coffin. I knew where I was at the same instant that, mercifully, I knew it was Armand who was calling me. I answered him, but my voice was locked in with me and it was deafening. In a moment of terror, I thought, He's searching for me, and I can't tell him that I am here. But then I heard him speaking to me, telling me not to be afraid. And I heard a loud noise. And another. And there was a cracking sound, and then the thunderous falling of the bricks. It seemed several of them struck the coffin. And then I heard them lifted off one by one. It sounded as though he were pulling off the locks by the nails. "The hard wood of the top creaked. A pinpoint of light sparkled before my eyes. I drew breath from it, and felt the sweat break out on my face. The lid creaked open and for an instant I was blinded; then I was sitting up, seeing the bright light of a lamp through my fingers. " `Hurry,' he said to me. 'Don't make a sound' " `But where are we going?' I asked. I could see a passage of rough bricks stretching out from the doorway he'd broken down. And all along that passage were doors which were sealed, as this door had been. I had a vision at once of coffins behind those bricks, of vampires starved and decayed there. But Armand was pulling me up, telling me again to make no sound; we were creeping along the passage. He stopped at a wooden door, and then he extinguished the lamp. It was completely black for an instant until the seam of light beneath the door brightened. He opened the door so gently the hinges did not make a sound. I could hear my own breathing now, and I tried to stop it. We were entering that lower passageway which led to his cell. But as I raced along behind him I became aware of one awful truth. He was rescuing me, but me alone. I put out my hand to stop him, but he only pulled me after him. Only when we stood in the alleyway beside the Theatre des Vampires was I able to make him stop. And even then, he was on the verge of going on. He began shaking his head even before I spoke. " `I can't save her!' he said. " `You don't honestly expect me to leave without her! They have her in there!' I was horrified. 'Armand, you must save her! You have no choice!' " `Why do you say this?' he answered. `I don't have the power, you must understand. They'll rise against me. There is no reason why they should not. Louis, I tell you, I cannot save her. I will only risk losing you. You can't go back.' "I refused to admit this could be true. I had no hope other than Armand. But I can truthfully say that I was beyond being afraid. I knew only that I had to get Claudia back or die in the effort. It was really very simple; not a matter of courage at all. And I knew also, could tell in everything about Armand's passivity, the manner in which he spoke, that he would follow me if I returned, that he would not try to prevent me. "I was right. I was rushing back into the passage and he was just behind me, heading for the stairway to the ballroom. I could hear the ether vampires. I could hear all manner of sounds. The Paris traffic. What sounded very much like a congregation in the vault of the theater above. And then, as I reached the top of the steps, I saw Celeste in the door of the ballroom. She held one of those stage masks in her hand. She was merely looking at me. She did not appear alarmed. In fact, she appeared strangely indifferent. "If she had rushed at me, if she had sounded a general alarm, these things I could have understood. But she did nothing. She stepped backwards into the ballroom; she turned, seeming to enjoy the subtle movement of her skirts, seeming to turn for the love of making her skirts flare out, and she drifted in a widening circle to the center of the room. She put the mask to her face, and said softly behind the painted skull, `Lestat . . . it is your friend Louis come calling. Look sharp, Lestat!' She dropped the mask, and there was a ripple of laughter from somewhere. I saw they were all about the room, shadowy things, seated here and there, standing together. And Lestat, in an armchair, sat with his shoulders hunched and his face turned away from me. It seemed he was working something with his hands, something I couldn't see; and slowly he looked up, his full yellow hair falling into his eyes. There was fear in them. It was undeniable. Now he was looking at Armand. And Armand was moving silently through the room with slow, steady steps, and all of the vampires moved back away from him, watching him. `Bonsoir, Monsieur,' Celeste bowed to him as he passed her, that mask in her hand like a scepter. He did not look at her in particular. He looked down at Lestat. `Are you satisfied?' he asked him. "Lestat's gray eyes seemed to regard Armand with wonder, and his lips straggled to form a word. I could see that his eyes were filling with tears. `Yes . . : he whispered now, his hand struggling with the thing he concealed beneath his black cloak. But then he looked at me, and the tears spilled down his face. `Louis,' he said, his voice deep and rich now with what seemed an unbearable struggle. `Please, you must listen to me. You must come back. . . .' And then, bowing his head, he grimaced with shame. "Santiago was laughing somewhere. Armand was saying softly to Lestat that he must get out, leave Paris; he was outcast. "And Lestat sat there with his eyes closed, his face transfigured with his pain. It seemed the double of Lestat, some wounded, feeling creature I'd never known. `Please,' he said, the voice eloquent and gentle as he implored me. " `I can't talk to you here! I can't make you understand. You'll come with me . . . for only a little while . . . until I am myself again?' " `This is madness! . . .' I said, my hands rising suddenly to my temples. `Where is she! Where is she!' I looked about me, at their still, passive faces, those inscrutable smiles. `Lestat ' I turned him now, grabbing at the black wool of his lapels: "And then I' saw the think in his hands. I knew what it was. And in an instant rd ripped it from him and was staring at it, at the fragile silken thing that it was-Claudia's yellow dress. His hand rose to his lips, his face turned away. And the soft, subdued sops broke from him as he sat back while I stared at him, while I stared at the dress. My fingers moved slowly over the tears in it, the stains of blood; my hands closing, trembling as I crushed it against my chest. "For a long moment it seemed I simply stood there; time had no bearing upon me nor upon those shifting vampires with their light, ethereal laughter filling my ears. I remember thinking that I wanted to put my hands over my ears, but I wouldn't let go of the dress, couldn't stop trying to make it so small that it was hidden within my hands. I remember a row of candles burning, an uneven row coming to light one by one against the painted walls. A door stood open to the rain, and all the candies spluttered and blew on the wind as if the flames were being lifted from the wicks. But they clung to the wicks and were all right. I knew that Claudia was through the doorway. The candles moved. The vampires had hold of them. Santiago had a candle and was bowing to me and gesturing for me to pass through the door. I was barely aware of him. I didn't care about him or the others at all. Something in me said, If you care about them you will go mad. And they don't matter, really. She matters. Where is she? Find her. And their laughter was remote, and it seemed to have a color and a shape but to be part of nothing. "Then I saw something through the open doorway which was something I'd seen before, a long, long time ago. No one knew of this thing I'd seen years before except myself. No. Lestat knew. But it didn't matter. He wouldn't know now or understand. That he and I had seen this thing, standing at the door of that brick kitchen in the Rue Royale, two wet shriveled things that had been alive, mother and daughter in one another's arms, the murdered pair on the kitchen floor. But these two lying under the gentle rain were Madeleine and Claudia, and Madeleine's lovely red hair mingled with the gold of Claudia's hair, which stirred and glistened in the wind that sucked through the open doorway. Only that which was living had been burnt away-not the hair, not the long, empty velvet dress, not the small bloodstained chemise with its eyelets of white lace. And the blackened, burnt, and drawn thing that was Madeleine -still bore the stamp of her living face, and the hand that clutched at the child was whole like a mummy's hand. But the child, the ancient one, my Claudia, was ashes. "A cry rose in me, a wild, consuming cry that came from the bowels of my being, rising up like the wind in that narrow place, the wind that swirled the rains teeming on those ashes, beating at the trace of a tiny hand against the bricks, that golden hair lifting, those loose strands rising, flying upwards. And a blow struck me even as I cried out; and I had hold of something that I believed to be Santiago, and I was pounding, against him, destroying him, twisting that grinning white face around with hands from which he couldn't free himself, hands against which he railed, crying out, his cries mingling with my cries, his boots coming down into those ashes, as I threw him backwards away from them, my own eyes blinded with the rain, with my tears, until he lay back away from me, and I was reaching out for him even as he held out his hand. And the one I was struggling against was Armand. Armand, who was forcing me out of the tiny graveyard into the whirling colors of the ballroom, the cries, the mingling voices, that searing, silver laughter. "And Lestat was calling out, `Louis, wait for me; Louis, I must talk to you!' "I could see Armand's rich, brown eye close to mine, and I felt weak all over and vaguely aware that Madeleine and Claudia were dead, his voice saying softly, perhaps soundlessly, `I could not prevent it, I could not prevent it. . : And they were dead, simply dead. And I was losing consciousness. Santiago was near them somewhere there where they were still, that hair lifted on the wind, swept across those bricks, unraveling locks. But I was losing consciousness. "I could not-gather their bodies up with me, could not take them out. Armand had his arm around my back, his hand under my arm, and he, was all but carrying me through some hollow wooden echoing place, and the smells of the street were rising, the fresh smell of the horses and the leather, and there were the gleaming carriages stopped there. And I could see myself clearly running down the Boulevard des Capucines with a small coffin under my arm and the people making way for me and dozens of people rising around the crowded tables of the open cafe and a man lifting his arm. It seemed I stumbled then, the Louis whom Armand held in his arm, and again I saw his brown eyes looking at me, and felt that drowsiness, that sinking. And yet I walked, I moved, I saw the gleam of my own boots on the pavement. `Is he mad, that he says these things to me?' I was asking of Lestat, my voice shrill and angry, even the sound of it giving me some comfort. I was laughing, laughing loudly. `He's stark-raving mad to speak to me in this manned Did you hear him?' I demanded. And Armand's eye said, Sleep. I wanted to say something about Madeleine and Claudia, that we could not leave them there, and I felt that cry again rising inside of me, that cry that pushed everything else out of its way, my teeth clenched to keep it in, because it was so loud and so full it would destroy me if I let it go. "And then I conceived of everything too clearly. We were walking now, a belligerent, blind sort of walking that men do when they are wildly drunk and filled with hatred for others, while at the same time they feel invincible. I was walking in such a manner through New Orleans the night I'd first encountered Lestat, that drunken walking which is a battering against things, which is miraculously sure-footed and finds its path. I saw a drunken man's hands fumbling miraculously with a match. Flame touched to the pipe, the smoke drawn in. I was standing at a cafe window. The man was drawing on his pipe. He was not at all drunk. Armand stood beside me waiting, and we were in the crowded Boulevard des Capucines. Or was it the Boulevard do Temple? I wasn't sure. I was outraged that their bodies remained there in that vile place. I saw Santiago's foot touching the blackened burned thing that had been my child! I was crying out through clenched teeth, and the man had risen from his table and steam spread out on the glass in front of his face. `Get away from me,' I was saying to Armand. `Damn you into hell, don't come near me. I warn you, don't come near me.' I was walking away from him up the boulevard, and I could see a man and a woman stepping aside for me, the man with his arm out to protect the woman. "Then I was running. People saw me running. I wondered how it appeared to them, what wild, white thing they saw that moved too fast for their eyes. I remember that by the time I stopped, I was weak and sick, and my veins were burning as if I were starved. I thought of killing, and the thought filled me with revulsion. I was sitting on the stone steps beside a church, at one of those small side doors, carved into the stone, which was bolted and locked for the night. The rain had abated. Or so it seemed. And the street was dreary and quiet, though a man passed a long way off with a bright, black umbrella. Armand stood at a distance under the trees. Behind him it seemed there was a great expanse of trees and wet grasses and moist rising as if the ground were warm. "By thinking of only one thing, the sickness in my stomach and head and the tightening in my throat, was I able to return to a state of calm. By the time these things had died away and I was feeling clear again, I was aware of all that had happened, the great distance we'd come from the theater, and that the remains of Madeleine and Claudia were still there. Victims of a holocaust in each other's arms. And I felt resolute and very near to my own destruction. " `I could not prevent it,' Armand said softly to me. And I looked up to see his face unutterably sad. He looked away from me as if he felt it was futile to try to convince me of this, and I could feel his overwhelming sadness, his near defeat. I had the feeling that if I were to vent all my anger on him he would do little to resist me. And I could feel that detachment, that passivity in him as something pervasive which was at the root of what he insisted to me again, `I could not have prevented it.' " `Oh, but you could have prevented it!' I said softly. `You know full well that you could have. You were the leader! You were the only one who knew the limits of your own power. They didn't know. They didn't understand. Your understanding surpassed theirs.' "He looked away still. But I could see the effect of my words on him. I could see the weariness in his face, the dull lusterless sadness of his eyes. " `You held sway over them. They feared you!' I went on. `You could have stopped them if you'd been willing to use that power even beyond your own selfprescribed limits. It was your sense of yourself you would not violate. Your own precious conception of truth! I understand you perfectly. I see in you the reflection of myself!' "His eyes moved gently to engage mine. But he said nothing. The pain of his face was terrible. It was softened and desperate with pain and on the verge of some terrible explicit emotion he would not be able to control. He was in fear of that emotion. I was not. He was feeling my pain with that great spellbinding power of his which surpassed mine. I was not feeling his pain. It did not matter to me. " `I understand you only too well . . .' I said. `That passivity in me has been the core of it all, the real evil. That weakness, that refusal to compromise a fractured and stupid morality, that awful pride! For that, I let myself become the thing I am, when I knew it was wrong. For that, I let Claudia become the vampire she became, when I knew it was wrong. For that, I stood by and let her kill Lestat, when 1 knew that was wrong, the very thing that was her undoing. I lifted not a finger to prevent it. And Madeleine, Madeleine, I let her come to that, when I should never have made her a creature like ourselves. I knew that was wrong! Well, I tell you I am no longer that passive, weak creature that has spun evil from evil till the web is vast and thick while I remain its stultified victim. It's over! I know now what I must do. And I warn you, for whatever mercy you've shown me in digging me out of that grave tonight where I would have died: Do not seek your cell in the Theatre des Vampires again. Do not go near it."' "I didn't wait to hear his answer. Perhaps he never attempted one. I don't know. I left him without looking back. If he followed me I was not conscious of it. I did not seek to know. I did not care. "It was to the cemetery in Montmartre that I retreated. Why that place, I'm not certain, except that it wasn't far from the Boulevard des Capucines, and Montmartre was countryfied then, and dark and peaceful compared to the metropolis. Wandering among the low houses with their kitchen gardens, I killed without the slightest measure of satisfaction, and then sought out the coffin where I was to lie by day in the cemetery. I scraped the remains out of it with my bare hands and lay down to a bed of foulness, of damp, of the stench of death. I cannot say this gave me comfort. Rather, it gave me what I wanted. Closeted in that dark, smelling the earth, away from all humans and all living human forms, I gave myself over to everything that invaded and stifled my senses. And, in so doing, gave myself over to my grief. "But that was short. "When the cold, gray winter sun had set the next night, I was awake, feeling the tingling numbness leave me soon, as it does in winter, feeling the dark, living things that inhabited the coffin scurrying around me, fleeing my resurrection. I emerged slowly under the faint moon, savoring the coldness, the utter smoothness of the marble slab I shifted to escape. And, wandering out of the graves and out of the cemetery, I went over a plan in my mind, a plan on which I was willing to gamble my life with the powerful freedom of a being who truly does not care for that life, who has the extraordinary strength of being willing to die. "In a kitchen garden I saw something, something that had only been vague in my thoughts until I had my hands on it. It was a small scythe, its sharp curved blade still caked with green weeds from the last mowing. And once I'd wiped it clean and run my finger along the sharp blade, it was as if my plan came clear to me and I could move fast to my other errands: the getting of a carriage and a driver who could do my bidding for days-dazzled by the cash I gave him and the promises of more; the removing of my chest from the Hotel Saint-Gabriel to the inside of that carriage; and the procuring of all the other things which I needed. And then there were the long hours of the night, when I could pretend to drink with my driver and talk with him and obtain his expensive cooperation in driving me at dawn from Paris to Fontainebleau. I slept within the carriage, where my delicate health required I not be disturbed under any circumstances -this privacy being so important that I was more than willing ,to add a generous sum to the amount I was already paying him simply for his not touching even the door handle of the carriage until I emerged from it. "And when I was convinced he was in agreement and quite drank enough to be oblivious to almost everything but the gathering up of the reins for the journey for Fountainebleau, we drove slowly, cautiously, into the street of the Theatre des Vampires and waited some distance away for the sky to begin to grow light. "The theater was shut up and locked against the coming day. I crept towards it when the air and the light told me I had at most fifteen minutes to execute my plan. I knew that, closeted far within, the vampires of the theater were in their coffins already. And that even if one late vampire lingered on the verge of going to bed, he would not hear these first preparations. Quickly I put pieces of wood against the bolted doors. Quickly I drove in the nails, which then locked these doors from the outside. A passer-by took some note of what I did but went on, believing me perhaps to be boarding up the establishment with the authority of the owner. I didn't know. I did know, however, that before I was finished I might encounter those ticket-sellers, those ushers, those men who swept up after, and might well remain inside to guard the vampires in their daily sleep. "It was of those men I was thinking as I led the carriage up to Armand's alley and left it there, taking with me two small barrels of kerosene to Armand's door. "The key admitted me easily as rd hoped, and once inside the lower passage, I opened the door of his cell to find he was not there. The coffin was gone. In fact, everything was gone but the furnishings, including the dead boy's enclosed bed. Hastily I opened one barrel and, rolling the other before me towards the stairs, I hurried along, splashing the exposed beams with kerosene and flinging it on the wooden doors of the other cells. The smell of it was strong, stronger and more powerful than any sound I might have made to alert anyone. And, though I stood stark still at the stairs with the barrels and the scythe, listening, I heard nothing, nothing of those guards I presumed to be there, nothing of the vampires themselves. And clutching the handle of the scythe I ventured slowly upwards until I stood in the door of the ballroom. No one was there to see me splash the kerosene on the horsehair chairs or on the draperies' or to see me hesitate just for an instant at that doorway of the small yard where Madeleine and Claudia had been killed. Oh, how I wanted to open that door. It so tempted me that for a minute I almost forgot my plan. I almost dropped the barrels and turned the knob. But I could see the light through the cracks of the old wood of the door. And I knew I had to go on. Madeleine and Claudia were not there. They were dead. And what would I have done had I opened that doorway, had I been confronted again with those remains, that matted, disheveled golden hair? There was no time, no purpose. I was running through dark corridors I hadn't explored before, bathing old wooden doors with the kerosene, certain that the vampires lay closeted within, rushing on cat feet into the theater itself, where a cold, gray light, seeping from the bolted front entrance, sped me on to fling a dark -stain across the great velvet stage curtain, the padded chairs, the draperies of the lobby doors. "And finally the barrel was empty and thrown away, and I was pulling out the crude torch I'd made, putting my match to its kerosene-drenched rags, and setting the chairs alight, the flames licking their thick silk and padding as I ran towards the stage and sent the fire rushing up that dark curtain into a cold, sucking draft. "In seconds the theater blazed as with the light of day, and the whole frame of it seemed to creak and groan as the fire roared up the walls, licking the great proscenium arch, the plaster curlicues of the overhanging boxes. But I had no time to admire it, to savor the smell and the sound of it, the sight of the nooks and crannies coming to light in the fierce illumination that would soon consume them. I was geeing to the lower floor again, thrusting the torch into the horsehair couch of the ballroom, into the curtains, into anything that would burn. "Someone thundered on the boards above-in rooms I'd never seen. And then I heard the unmistakable opening of a door. But it was too late, I told myself, gripping both the scythe and the torch. The building was alight. They would be destroyed. I ran for the stairs, a distant cry rising over the crackling and roaring of the flames, my torch scraping the kerosene-soaked rafters above me, the flames enveloping the old wood, curling against the damp ceiling. It was Santiago's cry, I was sure of it; and then, as I hit the lower floor, I saw him above, behind me, coming down the stairs, the smoke filling the stairwell around him, his eyes watering, his throat thickened with his choking, his hand out towards me as he stammered, `You . . .you . . . damn you!' And I froze, narrowing my eyes against the smoke, feeling the water rising in them, burning in them, but never letting go of his image for an instant, the vampire using all his power now to fly at me with such speed that he would become invisible. And as the dark thing that was his clothes rushed down, I swung the scythe and saw it strike his neck and felt the weight of his neck and saw him fall sideways, both hands reaching for the appalling wound. The air was full of cries, of screams, and a white face loomed above Santiago, a mask of terror. Some other vampire ran through the passage ahead of me towards that secret alleyway door. But I stood there poised, staring at Santiago, seeing him rise despite the wound. And I swung the scythe again, catching him easily. And there was no wound. Just two hands groping for a head that was no longer there. "And the head, blood coursing from the torn neck, the eyes staring wild under the flaming rafters, the dark silky hair matted and wet with blood, fell at my feet. I struck it hard with my boot, I sent it flying along the passage. And I ran after it; the torch and the scythe thrown aside as my arms went up to protect me from the blaze of white light that flooded the stairs to the alley. "The rain descended in shimmering needles into my eyes, eyes that squinted to see the dark outline of the carriage flicker against the sky. The slumped driver straightened at my hoarse command, his clumsy hand going instinctively for the whip, and the carriage lurched as I pulled open the door, the horses driving forward fast as I grappled with the lid of the chest, my body thrown roughly to one side, my burnt hands slipping down into the cold protecting silk, the lid coming down into concealing darkness. "The pace of the horses increased driving away from the corner of the burning building. Yet I could still smell the smoke; it choked me; it burnt my eyes and my lungs, even as my hands were burnt and my forehead was burnt from the first diffused light of the sun. "But we were driving on, away from the smoke and the cries. We were leaving Paris. I had done it. The Theatre des Vampires was burning to the ground, "And as I felt my head fall back, I saw Claudia and Madeleine again in one another's arms in that grin yard, and I said to them softly, bending down to the soft heads of hair that glistened in the candlelight, `I couldn't take you away. I couldn't take you. But they will lie ruined and dead all around you. If the fire doesn't consume them, it will be the sun. If they are not burnt out, then it will be the people who will come to fight the fire who will find them and expose them to the light of day. But I promise you, they will all die as you have died, everyone who was closeted there this dawn will die. And they are the only deaths I have caused in my long life which are both exquisite and good.' " Two nights later I returned. I had to see that rain-flooded cellar where every brick was scorched, crumbling, where a few skeletal rafters jabbed at the sky like stakes. Those monstrous murals that once enclosed the ballroom were blasted fragments in the rubble, a painted face here, a patch of angel's wing there, the only identifiable things that remained. "With the evening newspapers, I pushed my way to the back of a crowded little theater cafe across the street; and there, under the cover of the dim gas lamps and thick cigarsmoke, I read the accounts of the holocaust. Few bodies were found in the burnt-out theater, but clothing and costumes had been scattered everywhere, as though the famous vampire mummers had in fact vacated the theater in haste long before the fire. In other words, only the younger vampire had left their bones; the ancient ones had suffered total obliteration. No mention of an eye-witness or a surviving victim. How could there have been? "Yet something bothered me considerably. I did not fear any vampires who had escaped. I had no desire to hunt them out if they had. That most of the crew had died I was certain. But why had there been no human guards? I was certain Santiago had mentioned guards, and I'd supposed them to be the ushers and doormen who staffed the theater before the performance. And I had even been prepared to encounter them with my scythe. But they had not been there. It was strange. And my mind was not entirely comfortable with the strangeness. "But, finally, when I put the papers aside and sat thinking these things over, the strangeness of it didn't matter. What mattered was that I was more utterly alone in the world than I had ever been in all my life. That Claudia was gone beyond reprieve. And I had less reason to live than I'd ever had, and less desire. "And yet my sorrow. did not overwhelm me, did not actually visit me, did not make of me the wracked and desperate creature I might have expected to become. Perhaps it was not possible to sustain the torment I'd experienced when I saw Claudia's burnt remains. Perhaps it was not possible to know that and exist over any period of time. I wondered vaguely, as the hours passed, as the smoke of the cafe grew thicker and the faded curtain of the little lamplit stage rose and fell, and robust women sang there, the light glittering on their paste jewels, their rich, soft voices often plaintive, exquisitely sad-I wondered vaguely what it would be to feel this loss, this outrage, and be justified in it, be deserving of sympathy, of solace. I would not have told my woe to a living creature. My own tears meant nothing to me. "Where to go then, if not to die? It was strange how the answer came to me. Strange how I wandered out of the cafe then, circling the ruined theater, wandering finally towards the broad Avenue Napoleon and following it towards the palace of the Louvre. It was as if that place called to me, and yet I had never been inside its walls. I'd passed its long facade a thousand times, wishing that I could live as a mortal man for one day to move through those many rooms and see those many magnificent paintings. I was bent on it now, possessed only of some vague notion that in works of art I could find some solace while bringing nothing of death to what was inanimate and yet magnificently possessed of the spirit of life itself. "Somewhere along the Avenue Napoleon, I heard the step behind me which I knew to be Armand's. He was signaling, letting me know that he was near. Yet I did nothing other than slow my pace and let him fall into step with me, and for a long while we walked, saying nothing. I dared not look at him. Of course, I'd been thinking of him all the while, and how if we were men and Claudia had been my love I might have fallen helpless in his arms finally, the need to share some common grief so strong, so consuming. The dam threatened to break now; and yet it did not break. I was numbed and I walked as one numbed. " `You know what I've done,' I said finally. We had turned off the avenue and I could see ahead of me the long row of double columns on the facade of the Royal Museum. `You removed your coffin as I warned you. ' " `Yes,' he answered. There was a sudden, unmistakable comfort in the sound of his voice. It weakened me. But I was simply too remote from pain, too tired. " `And yet you are here with me now. Do you mean to avenge them?' " `No,' he said. " `They were your fellows, you were their leader,' I said. `Yet you didn't warn them I was out for them, as I warned you?' " `No,' he said. " `But surely you despise me for it. Surely you respect some rule, some allegiance to your own kind.' " `No,' he said softly. "It was amazing to me how logical his response was, even though I couldn't explain it or understand it. "And something came clear to me out of the remote regions of my own relentless considerations. `There were guards; there were those ushers who slept in the theater. Why weren't they there when I entered? Why weren't they there to protect the sleeping vampires?' " `Because they were in my employ and I discharged them. I sent them away,' Armand said. "I stopped. He showed no concern at my facing him, and as soon as our eyes met I wished the world were not one black empty ruin of ashes and death. I wished it were fresh and beautiful, and that we were both living and had love to give each other. `You did this, knowing what I planned to do? " `Yes,' he said. " `But you were their leader! They trusted you. They believed in you. They lived with you!' I said. `I don't understand you . . . why . . .?' " `Think of any answer you like,' he said calmly and sensitively, as if he didn't wish to bruise me with any accusation or disdain, but wanted me merely to consider this literally. `I can think of many. Think of the one you need and believe it. It's as likely as any other. I shall give you the real reason for what I did, which is the least true: I was leaving Paris. The theater belonged to me. So I discharged them.' " `But with what you knew . . .' " `I told you, it was the actual reason and it was the least true,' he said patiently. " `Would you destroy me as easily as you let them be destroyed?' I demanded. " `Why should I?' he asked. " `My God,' I whispered. " `You're much changed,' he said. `But in a way, you are much the same.' "I walked on for a while and then, before the entrance to the Louvre, I stopped. At first it seemed to me that its many windows were dark and silver with the moonlight and the thin rain. But then I thought I saw a faint light moving within, as though a guard walked among the treasures. I envied him completely. And I fixed my thoughts an him obdurately, that guard, calculating how a vampire might get to him, how take his life and his lantern and his keys. The plan was confusion. I was incapable of plans. I had made only one real plan in my life, and it was finished. "And then finally I surrendered. I turned to Armand again and let my eyes penetrate his eyes, and let him draw close to me as if he meant to make me his victim, and I bowed my head and felt his firm arm around my shoulder. And, remembering suddenly and keenly Claudia's words, what were very nearly her last . words -that admission that she knew that I could love Armand because I had been able to love even her-those words struck me as rich and ironical, more filled with meaning than she could have guessed. " `Yes,' I said softly to him, `that is the crowning evil, that we can even go so far as to love each other, you and I. And who else would show us a particle of love, a particle of compassion or mercy? Who else, knowing us as we know each other, could do anything but destroy us? Yet we can love each other.' "And for a long moment, he stood there looking at me, drawing nearer, his head gradually inclining to one side, his lips parted as if he meant to speak. But then he only smiled and shook his head gently to confess he didn't understand. "But I wasn't thinking of him anymore. I had one of those rare moments when it seemed I thought of nothing. My mind had no shape. I saw that the rain had stopped. I saw that the air was clear and cold. That the street was luminous. And I wanted to enter the Louvre. I formed words to tell Armand this, to ask him if he might help me do what was necessary to have the Louvre till dawn. "He thought it a very simple request. He said only he wondered why I had waited so long." "We left Paris very soon after that. I told Armand that I wanted to return to the Mediterranean-not to Greece, as I had so long dreamed. I wanted to go to Egypt. I wanted to see the desert there and, more importantly, I wanted to see the pyramids and the graves of the kings. I wanted to make contact with those grave-thieves who know snore of the graves than do scholars, and I wanted to go down into the graves yet unopened and see the kings as they were buried, see those furnishings and works of art stored with them, and the paintings on their walls. Armand was more than willing. And we took leave of Paris early one evening by carriage without the slightest hint of ceremony. "I had done one thing which I should note. I had gone back to my rooms in the hotel Saint-Gabriel. It was my purpose to take up some things of Claudia and Madeleine and put them into coffins and have graves prepared for them in the cemetery of Montmartre. I did not do this. I stayed a short while in the rooms, where all was neat and put right by the staff, so that it seemed Madeleine and Claudia might return at any time. Madeleine's embroidery ring lay with her bundles of thread on a chair-side table. I looked at that and at everything else, and my task seemed meaningless. So I left. "But something had occurred to me there; or, rather, something I had already been aware of merely became clearer. I had gone to the Louvre that night to lay down my soul, to find some transcendent pleasure that would obliterate pain and make me utterly forget ever! myself. I'd been upheld in this. As I stood on the sidewalk before the doors of the hotel waiting for the carriage that would take me to meet Armand, I saw the people who walked there-the restless boulevard crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, the hawkers of papers, the carriers of luggage, the drivers of carriages-all these in a new light. Before, all art had held for me the promise of a deeper understanding of the human heart. Now the human heart meant nothing. I did not denigrate it. I simply forgot it. The magnificent paintings of the Louvre were not for me intimately connected with the hands that had painted them. They were cut loose and dead like children turned to stone. Like Claudia, severed from her mother, preserved for decades in pearl and hammered gold. Like Madeleine's dolls. And of course, like Claudia and Madeleine and myself, they could all be reduced to ashes." PART IV "And that is the end of the story, really. "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; arid 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 o
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