No one is listening. Now you may sing the selfsong, as the bird does, not for territory or dominance, but for self-enlargement. Let something come from nothing.
STAN RICE – from "
UNTIL THIS NIGHT, THIS AWFUL NIGHT, HE'D HAD A little joke about himself: He didn't know who he was, or where he'd come from, but he knew what he liked. And what he liked was all around him - the flower stands on the corners, the big steel and glass buildings full of milky evening light, the trees, of course, the grass beneath his feet. And the bought things of shining plastic and metal - toys, computers, telephones – it didn't matter. He liked to figure them out, master them, then crush them into tiny hard multicolored balls which he could then juggle or toss through plate glass windows when nobody was about.
He liked piano music, the motion pictures, and the poems he found in books.
He also liked the automobiles that burnt oil from the earth like lamps. And the great jet planes that flew on the same scientific principles, above the clouds.
He always stopped and listened to the people laughing and talking up there when one of the planes flew overhead.
Driving was an extraordinary pleasure. In a silver Mercedes-Benz, he had sped on smooth empty roads from
The rock and roll, he liked that too. He liked all music. He liked the Vampire Lestat singing "Requiem for the Marquise." He didn't pay attention to the words much. It was the melancholy, and the dark undertone of drums and cymbals. Made him want to dance.
He liked giant yellow machines that dug into the earth late at night in the big cities with men in uniforms crawling all over them; he liked the double-decker buses of London, and the people-the clever mortals everywhere-he liked them, too, of course.
He liked walking in
He liked the libraries where he could find photographs of ancient monuments in big smooth good-smelling
books. He took his own photographs of the new cities around him and sometimes he could put images on
these pictures which came from his thoughts. For example, in his photograph of
people in tunics and sandals superimposed upon the modern versions in their thick ungraceful clothes.
Oh, yes, much to like all around him always-the violin music of Bartok, little girls in snow white dresses coming out of the church at midnight having sung at the Christmas mass.
He liked the blood of his victims too, of course. That went without saying. It was no part of his little joke. Death was not funny to him. He stalked his prey in silence; he didn't want to know his victims. All a mortal had to do was speak to him and he was turned away. Not proper, as he saw it, to talk to these sweet, soft-eyed beings and then gobble their blood, break their bones and lick the marrow, squeeze their limbs to a dripping pulp. And that was the way he feasted now, so violently. He felt no great need for blood anymore; but he wanted it. And the desire overpowered him in all its ravening purity, quite apart from thirst. He could have feasted upon three or four mortals a night.
Yet he was sure, absolutely sure, that he had been a human being once. Walking in the sun in the heat of the day, yes, he had once done that, even though he certainly couldn't do it now. He envisioned himself sitting at a plain wood table and cutting open a ripe peach with a small copper knife. Beautiful the fruit before him. He knew the taste of it. He knew the taste of bread and beer. He saw the sun shining on the dull yellow sand that stretched for miles and miles outside. "Lie down and rest in the heat of the day," someone had once said to him. Was this the last day that he had been alive? Rest, yes, because tonight the King and the Queen will call all the court together and something terrible, something. . . .
But he couldn't really remember.
No, he just knew it, that is, until this night. This night . . .
Not even when he'd heard the Vampire Lestat did he remember. The character merely fascinated him a little-a rock singer calling himself a blood drinker. And he did look unearthly, but then that was television, wasn't it? Many humans in the dizzying world of rock music appeared unearthly. And there was such human emotion in the Vampire Lestat's voice.
It wasn't merely emotion; it was human ambition of a particular sort. The Vampire Lestat wanted to be heroic. When he sang, he said: "Allow me my significance! I am the symbol of evil; and if I am a true symbol, then I do good."
Fascinating. Only a human being could think of a paradox like that. And he himself knew this, because he'd been human, of course.
Now he did have a supernatural understanding of things. That was true. Humans couldn't look at machines and perceive their principles as he could. And the manner in which everything was "familiar" to him - that had to do with his superhuman powers as well. Why, there was nothing that surprised him really. Not quantum physics or theories of evolution or the paintings of Picasso or the process by which children were inoculated with germs to protect them from disease. No, it was as if he'd been aware of things long before he remembered being here. Long before he could say: "I think; therefore I am."
But disregarding all that, he still had a human perspective. That no one would deny. He could feel human pain with an eerie and frightening perfection. He knew what it meant to love, and to be lonely, ah, yes, he knew that above all things, and he felt it most keenly when he listened to the Vampire Lestat's songs. That's why he didn't pay attention to the words.
And another thing. The more blood he drank the more human-looking he became.
When he'd first appeared in this time-to himself and others- he hadn't looked human at all. He'd been a filthy skeleton, walking along the highway in Greece towards Athens, his bones enmeshed in tight rubbery veins, the whole sealed beneath a layer of toughened white skin. He'd terrified people. How they had fled from him, gunning the engines of their little cars. But he'd read their minds-seen himself as they saw him-and he understood, and he was so sorry, of course.
They still stared but they didn't run screaming. At dusk, he roamed through the thick crowds in Omonia Square and no one paid him any mind. How nice the modem bustle of this old city, which in long ago ages had been just as vital, when students came there from all over the world to study philosophy and art. He could look up at the Acropolis and see the Parthenon as it had been then, perfect, the house of the goddess. Not the ruin it was today.
The Greeks as always were a splendid people, gentle and trusting, though they were darker of hair and skin now on account of their Turkish blood. They didn't mind his strange clothes. When he talked in his soft, soothing voice, imitating their language perfectly-except for a few apparently hilarious mistakes-they loved him. And in private, he had noticed that his flesh was slowly filling out. It was hard as a rock to the touch. Yet it was changing. Finally, one night when he unwrapped the ragged covering, he had seen the contours of a human face. So this is what he looked like, was it?
Big black eyes with fine soft wrinkles at the corners and rather smooth lids. His mouth was a nice, smiling mouth. The nose was neat and finely made; he didn't disdain it. And the eyebrows: he liked these best of all because they were very black and straight, not broken or bushy, and they were drawn high enough above his eyes so that he had an open expression, a look of veiled wonder that others might trust. Yes, it was a very pretty young male face.
After that he'd gone about uncovered, wearing modem shirts and pants. But he had to keep to the shadows. He was just too smooth and too white.
He said his name was Khayman when they asked him. But he didn't know where he'd gotten it. And he had been called Benjamin once, later, he knew that, too. There were other names. ... But when? Khayman. That was the first and secret name, the one he never forgot. He could draw two tiny pictures that meant Khayman, but where these symbols had come from he had no idea.
His strength puzzled him as much as anything else. He could walk through plaster walls, lift an automobile
and hurl it into a nearby field. Yet he was curiously brittle and light. He drove a long thin knife right through his own hand. Such a strange sensation! And blood everywhere. Then the wounds closed and he had to open them again to pull the knife out.
As for the lightness, well, there was nothing that he could not climb. It was as though gravity had no control over him once he decided to defy it. And one night after climbing a tall building in the middle of the city, he flew off the top of it, descending gently to the street below.
Lovely, this. He knew he could traverse great distances if only he dared. Why, surely he had once done it, moving into the very clouds. But then . . . maybe not.
He had other powers as well. Each evening as he awakened, he found himself listening to voices from all over the world. He lay in the darkness bathed in sound. He heard people speaking in Greek, English, Romanian, Hindustani. He heard laughter, cries of pain. And if he lay very still, he could hear thoughts from people-a jumbled undercurrent full of wild exaggeration that frightened him. He did not know where these voices came from. Or why one voice drowned out another. Why, it was as if he were God and he were listening to prayers.
And now and then, quite distinct from the human voices, there came to him immortal voices too. Others like him out there, thinking, feeling, sending a warning? Far away their powerful silvery cries, yet he could easily separate them from the human warp and woof.
But this receptiveness hurt him. It brought back some awful memory of being shut up in a dark place with only these voices to keep him company for years and years and years. Panic. He would not remember that.
Some things one doesn't want to remember. Like being burned, imprisoned. Like remembering everything and crying, terrible anguished crying. Yes, bad things had happened to him. He had been here on this earth under other names and at other times. But always with this same gentle and optimistic disposition, loving things. Was his a migrant soul? No, he had always had this body. That's why it was so light and so strong.
Inevitably he shut off the voices. In fact, he remembered an old admonition: If you do not learn to shut out the voices, they will drive you mad. But with him now, it was simple. He quieted them simply by rising, opening his eyes. Actually, it would have required an effort to listen. They just went on and on and became one irritating noise.
The splendor of the moment awaited him. And it was easy to drown out the thoughts of mortals close at hand. He could sing, for instance, or fix his attention hard upon anything around him. Blessed quiet. In Rome there were distractions everywhere. How he loved the old Roman houses painted ocher and burnt sienna and dark green. How he loved the narrow stone streets. He could drive a car very fast through the broad boulevard full of wreckless mortals, or wander the Via Veneto until he found a woman with whom to fall in love for a little while.
And he did so love the clever people of this time. They were still people, but they knew so much. A ruler was murdered in
Ah, he wished he was human. After all, what was he? What were the others like?-the ones whose voices he shut out. Not the First Brood, he was sure of it. The First Brood could never contact each other purely through the mind. But what the hell was the First Brood? He couldn't remember! A little panic seized him. Don't think of those things. He wrote poems in a notebook-modern and simple, yet he knew that they were in the earliest style he'd ever known.
He moved ceaselessly about Europe and Asia Minor, sometimes walking, sometimes rising into the air and
willing himself to a particular place. He charmed those who would have interfered with him and slumbered
carelessly in dark hiding places by day. After all, the sun didn't burn him anymore. But he could not function in the sunlight. His eyes began to close as soon as he saw light in the morning sky. Voices, all those voices, other blood drinkers crying in anguish-then nothing. And he awoke at sunset, eager to read the age-old pattern of the stars.
Finally he grew brave with his flying. On the outskirts of
He had another interesting power too. He could travel without his body. Well, not really travel. He could send out his vision, as it were, to look at things far away. Lying still, he would think, for example, of a distant place that he would like to see, and suddenly he was there before it. Now, there were some mortals who could do that too, either in their dreams or when they were awake, with great and deliberate concentration.
Occasionally he passed their sleeping bodies and perceived that their souls were traveling elsewhere. But the souls themselves he could never see. He could not see ghosts or any kind of spirit for that matter. . . . But he knew they were there. They had to be.
And some old awareness came to him, that once as a mortal man, in the temple, he had drunk a strong potion given to him by the priests, and had traveled in the very same way, up out of his body, and into the firmament. The priests had called him back. He had not wanted to come. He was with those among the dead whom he loved. But he had known he must return. That was what was expected of him.
He'd been a human being then, all right. Yes, definitely. He could remember the way the sweat had felt on his naked chest when he lay in the dusty room and they brought the potion to him. Afraid. But then they all had to go through it.
Maybe it was better to be what he was now, and be able to fly about with body and soul together. But not knowing, not really remembering, not understanding how he could do such things or why he lived off the blood of humans-all this caused him intense pain.
Nonsense of course, yet it comforted him. After all, these were blood drinkers, beings who spoke gently, liked poetry, and yet killed mortals all the time.
He bought the vampire comics and cut out certain pictures of beautiful gentlemen blood drinkers like the Vampire Lestat. Maybe he himself should try this lovely costume; again, it would be a comfort. It would make him feel that he was part of something, even if the something didn't really exist.
He did graceful turns before the mirrors. How the Vampire Lestat would have envied him, and to think, he, Khayman, was no human pretending; he was real. He brushed out his thick black hair for the first time. He found perfumes and unguents in glass cases and anointed himself properly for a grand evening. He found rings and cuff links of gold.