THE VAMPIRE LESTAT
YEARS AGO, I heard him. He'd been babbling.
It was after Queen Akasha had been destroyed and the mute red-haired twin, Mekare, had become "the Queen of the Damned." I'd witnessed all that-the brutal death of Akasha in the moment when we all thought we would die, too, along with her.
It was after I'd switched bodies with a mortal man and come back into my own powerful vampiric body-having rejected the old dream of being human again.
It was after I'd been to Heaven and Hell with a spirit called Memnoch, and come back to Earth a wounded explorer with no appetite anymore for knowledge, truth, beauty.
Defeated, I'd lain for years on the floor of a chapel in New Orleans in an old convent building, oblivious to the ever-shifting crowd of immortals around me-hearing them, wanting to respond, yet somehow never managing to meet a glance, answer a question, acknowledge a kiss or a whisper of affection.
And that's when I first heard the Voice. Masculine, insistent, inside my brain.
Babbling, like I said. And I thought, Well, perhaps we blood drinkers can go mad like mortals, you know, and this is some artifact of my warped mind. Or maybe he is some massively crippled ancient one, slumbering somewhere nearby, and somehow I, telepathically, get to share in his misery.
There are physical limits to telepathy in our world. Of course. But then voices, pleas, messages, thoughts, can be relayed through other minds, and conceivably, this poor slob could be mumbling to himself on the other side of the planet.
As I said, he had babbled, mixing languages, ancient and modern, sometimes stringing a whole sentence out in Latin or Greek, and then lapsing into repetitions of modern voices … phrases from films and even songs.
Over and over he begged for help, rather like the tiny human-headed fly at the end of the B-movie masterpiece, Help me, help me, as if he too were caught in a spiderweb and a giant spider were closing in on him. Okay, okay, what can I do, I'd ask, and he was quick to respond. Near at hand? Or just the best relay system in the Undead world?
"Hear me, come to me." And he'd say that over and over again, night after night, until it was noise.
I have always been able to tune him out. No problem. Either you learn to tune out telepathic voices when you are a vampire or you go straight out of your mind. I can tune out the cries of the living just as easily. Have to. No other way to survive. Even the very ancient ones can tune out the voices. I've been in the Blood for over two hundred years. They've been in the Blood for six millennia.
Sometimes he simply went away.
Around the early years of the twenty-first century he began to speak in English.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you like it," he said in that crisp masculine tone of his. Laughter. His laughter. "Everybody likes English. You must come to me when I call you," he said. Then he was babbling again, in a mélange of languages, all about blindness, suffocation, paralysis, helplessness. And it devolved into "Help me" again with snatches of poetry in Latin and Greek and French and English.
This is interesting for maybe three-quarters of an hour. After that, it's repetitious and a nuisance.
Of course I did not even bother to say no.
At one point, he cried out "Beauty!" and babbled on incessantly, always getting back to "Beauty!" and always with an exclamation point I could feel like the jab of a finger against my temple.
"Okay, 'beauty,' so what?" I asked. He moaned, wept, went into dizzying incoherent reverie. I tuned him out for a year, I think. But I could feel him rumbling under the surface, and then two years after that-it might have been-he started addressing me by name.
"Lestat, you, Brat Prince!"
"Oh, get off it."
"No, you, Brat Prince, my prince, boy oh boy, Lestat.…" Then he ran those words through ten modern languages and six or seven ancient ones. I was impressed.
"So tell me who you are, or else," I said glumly. I had to confess when I was extremely lonely, I was happy to have him around.
And that was not a good year for me. I was wandering aimlessly. I was sick of things. I was furious with myself that the "beauty" of life wasn't sustaining me, wasn't making my loneliness bearable. I was wandering at night in jungles and in forests with my hands up to touch the leaves of the low branches, crying to myself, doing a lot of babbling of my own. I wandered through Central America visiting Maya ruins, and went deep down into Egypt to walk in the desert wastes and see the ancient drawings on the rocks on the way to the ports of the Red Sea.
Young maverick vampires kept invading the cities where I roamed-Cairo, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Honolulu, San Francisco-and I grew weary of disciplining them, punishing them for slaughtering the innocent in their misbegotten hunger. They'd get caught, thrown into human jails where they'd burn up when dawn came. Occasionally they'd fall into the hands of actual forensic scientists. Bloody nuisance.
Nothing ever came of it. But more on that later.
The mavericks multiplying everywhere were causing trouble for one another, and their gang fights and brawls have made life ugly for the rest of us. And they think nothing of trying to burn with fire or decapitate any other blood drinker who gets in their way.
It is chaos.
But who am I to police these preternatural nincompoops?
When have I ever been on the side of law and order? I'm supposed to be the rebellious one, l'enfant terrible. So I let them drive me away out of the cities, and even from New Orleans, I let them drive me away. My beloved Louis de Pointe du Lac left soon after, and from that time on lived in New York with Armand.
Armand keeps the island of Manhattan safe for them-Louis, Armand, and two young blood drinkers, Benjamin and Sybelle, and whoever else joins them in their palatial digs on the Upper East Side.
No surprises there. Armand has always been skilled at destroying those who offend him. He was after all for hundreds of years the coven master of the old Children of Satan in Paris, and he'd burn to ashes any blood drinker who didn't obey the vicious old rules of those miserable religious fanatics. He's autocratic, ruthless. Well, he can have that mission.
But let me add here that Armand isn't the moral cipher I once thought he was. So much of what I thought about us, our minds, our souls, our moral evolution or devolution, was just wrong in the books I wrote. Armand's not without compassion, not without a heart. In many respects, he's just coming into himself after five hundred years. And what do I really know about being immortal? I've been in the Blood since when, 1780? That's not very long. Not very long at all. </