part #9 of The Vampire Chronicles Series
"THE LATE AFTERNOON WAS heavenly. To be that in love, to know that frenzy of the heart -- even now, young as I still am, I look back on it as something that was part of the innocence of childhood. That it could come again, I don't even dream of, that I should ever know such consuming happiness is impossible.
"After Mona woke, had her bath and put on her fresh Wal-Mart white pants and shirt we went down to walk around Blackwood Farm, and it seemed our roaming is what kept me sane as I spilled out my soul to Mona. I told her all about Goblin, all about Lynelle, all about my strange life as I perceived it.
"She was an eager listener. Also she was charmed by the house and the long drive lined by the pecan trees. It didn't seem vulgar or overdone to her. She said she saw a symmetry and harmony in everything.
"Yes, it was bigger and more overbearing than a Garden District house, she conceded, but she could see why Manfred Blackwood didn't want to be constrained and so he had found his perfect spot in the country.
" 'Quinn,' she said, 'we live in houses that were built by people's dreams, and we have to accept that. We have to revere the dream and realize that someday the house will go to others after us. These houses are personalities in our lives. They have their roles to play. ¡¯
"She looked at the big columns. She liked the feeling of the place.
" 'Even the house I grew up in,' she said, 'poor as it was, it was a huge Victorian on St. Charles Avenue. It was chock-full of ghosts and people. You know, I didn't grow up rich. I was a poor kind of down-at-the-heel Mayfair when it comes right down to it. My parents were both spineless drunks. They gave their lives to the bottle. And now I'm the technical owner of a private plane and the designated heiress to billions of dollars. It makes me crazy sometimes, the switch, but there I go again talking about dreams, because I always dreamed I'd be the Design¨¦e of the Mayfair Legacy. ¡¯
"She started to look a little bit sad, which alarmed me.
" 'Someday I have to tell you all about our family,' she said. 'But right now I'm with you. Tell me about you. ¡¯
"I thought she was absolutely brilliant. I had never thought much about the kind of woman I'd marry, if any, and now it seemed perfectly right that she be brilliant as well as beautiful. And her beauty, it was natural. She wore no lipstick or eyebrow pencil. She had come out of the shower pure and young. I was totally captivated.
"It was getting dusk. The sky was streaked with amethyst and burning gold. I took her down to the old cemetery. I explained to her how the West Ruby River fed our lonely two hundred acres of Sugar Devil Swamp.
"I told her about Sugar Devil Island and the Hermitage, about the strange inscription on the mausoleum and about the strange trespasser breaking into the house, and that it was his attack which got me taken to Mayfair Medical.
" 'Can we go to the island, Quinn?' she asked. 'Can you show me? I have to see this place for myself. How can I be Ophelia forever if I fear to travel ever-flowing streams?¡¯
" 'Well, not now, my precious immortal Ophelia,' I said. 'It's getting dark and I'm not macho enough to be going into the swamp in the dark. But I can take you there in the day. You saw the security guys all around? We'll take two of them with us. That way if the stranger shows his face we can blast him. ¡¯
"She was very curious. She wanted to know more about the Hermitage and its circular structure. Had there been a stairs up to the cupola?
" 'Yes, there is, and you know I never went up there. It was a circular iron stairs, and I hardly took notice of it, and I'm sure if you go up there you can have a better view over the swamp to Blackwood Manor. ¡¯
" 'I just have to see it,' she said. 'It's too grandly mysterious. And what do you plan to do about the trespasser?¡¯
" 'I'm moving him out!' I said. 'He's already in a rage that I burnt his books. Well, when I get back out there with my men we're throwing out his marble table and his golden chair. He'll find them sunk in the muck where he dumped the bodies. ¡¯
" 'What bodies?' She was amazed.
"I doubled back and told her that part -- of how I'd first seen him in the moonlight, dumping the bodies. She was very intrigued.
" 'But this is a killer, this person,' she said.
" 'I'm not afraid of him,' I countered. 'And after what happened when he attacked me upstairs, I know that Goblin can and will protect me. ¡¯
"I glanced back at Goblin who was coming behind us at a distance. I nodded at him. My brave companion.
"She looked at the darkening purple sky. The cicadas were singing everywhere. It seemed the Earth was purring. 'Boy, I wish there was time for us to go out there,' she said.
"I laughed. 'Neither of us has the sense to be afraid!' I admitted. She began laughing and then both of us were laughing, unable to stop it. I put my arms around her finally and just held her, happier than I'd ever been in my whole existence.
"We walked on together, but all I could think of was lying down with her on the grass and letting the gathering shadows be the bed curtains.
"I told her again that when we went out to the island tomorrow we'd take the armed guards. I had my thirty-eight. I asked if she knew how to shoot a gun. She said Yes, she'd been taught at a place called Gretna Gun by her cousin Pierce, just so she'd be able to protect herself if she ever had to. She was used to firing a three fifty-seven Magnum.
" 'This Pierce,' I said, 'I don't want to talk about him. The marriage plan is a dreadful miscarriage of fate. I feel like Romeo standing in the way of whatshisname. ¡¯
"She laughed in the most delightful manner. 'Oh, it's so good to be with you,' she said. 'And part of it is simply that you're not one of us. ¡¯
" 'You mean that I'm not a Mayfair?¡¯
"She nodded. The tears were threatening. I put my arms around her and she laid her head on my chest and I could feel her crying.
" 'Mona, don't, please don't. Feel safe with me. ¡¯
" 'Oh, I do,' she said. 'I really do, but you know they're going to find me. ¡¯
" 'Then maybe we can just hide you behind those big columns,' I said. 'We can just bolt the door to my room and see if they can break it down. ¡¯
"She stopped. She was all right for the moment and she wiped her eyes with a paper tissue. She asked me to describe the stranger again, and I did, and she asked if he could have been some sort of ghost or spirit.
"It was the most surprising question. I had never thought of that.
" 'There are all kinds of ghosts, Tarquin,' she said. 'And they differ in the illusions they can create. ¡¯
" 'No, he wasn't a ghost,' I said. 'He was too outraged by the flying glass to be a ghost. And he couldn't see Goblin. ¡¯
"Goblin was still with us, trailing in a desultory fashion and unresponsive when I waved.
"Now, it was the time of day when I usually felt the panic most keenly, but I didn't feel it because I had to be strong for her, and frankly she just created some sustained excitement in me which had banished the panic and all my bad and sad thoughts.
"I told her about the phantoms I saw, here among the tombs. And how they didn't speak, and they seemed a coagulated mass, and we talked about the nature of ghosts in general.
"She said Stirling Oliver of the Talamasca was a kindhearted and profoundly honorable man, British to the core, like all the best of the Talamasca, and full of wonderful ideas about ghosts and spirits.
" 'Now, I don't know if there is such a thing as a true spirit,' she said as we were stepping respectfully among the gravestones and around the long-raised tombs. 'I tend to think that all spirits are the ghosts of something, even if they lived so long ago in the flesh they don't remember it. ¡¯
" 'Goblin's a pure spirit,' I said. 'He's not the ghost of anyone. ' I looked back to see Goblin some distance away, with his hands in the pockets of his jeans, just watching us. I was afraid to say too much about him, about the speed with which he was learning, about his more dangerous aspects.
"But I turned and I waved at him, just a friendly wave, and I told him telepathically that I loved him. He didn't acknowledge me but his face wasn't mean, and all of a sudden I realized that he was again wearing my lucky Versace tie. Why was he doing that? Why was he all dressed up and wearing that tie? Maybe it meant nothing.
"I think Mona saw this -- my noticing him. Well, I'm sure she did. But she went on. 'You never know with a spirit,' she said. 'It could be the ghost of something that wasn't human. ¡¯
" 'How on earth is that possible, Mona?' I asked. 'You mean it would be the ghost of an animal?¡¯
" 'I'm saying things exist in this world that look human but aren't human, and there's no real telling how many species of these there are. There are beings walking the Earth fully disguised as humans, deliberately fooling us. So when it comes to a spirit, you never know what you're dealing with. It could be something good and loving, like Goblin. ' She glanced at him. In fact, she smiled at him. 'Or it could be the ghost of something dreadful that secretly despises humankind and wants to hurt it. But the main thing is to understand that all spirits have a kind of organization. ¡¯
" 'How do you mean?¡¯
" 'I mean that even though they're invisible to most people, they have a perceivable form and a nucleus of sorts in which the brain and the heart reside together. ¡¯
" 'But how do you know?' I said. 'And how is that possible?¡¯
" 'Well, first off,' she said, 'it's what Stirling believes and he's been studying ghosts his entire lifetime. That's why he's spending so much time of late with me. I see ghosts constantly. And it's also what Rowan believes, you know, my cousin Dr. Rowan Mayfair. ¡¯
" 'But where is this nucleus? And how is it that a ghost can appear and disappear?¡¯
" 'Science hasn't caught up with it yet,' she said, 'that's what Rowan is always telling me. But we have definite ideas about it. The nucleus and the particles that make up a ghost are simply too small to be seen by us and the force field that organizes them can pass effortlessly through the molecules that we can see. Think of tiny insects and how simple it is for them to pass through hardware cloth. Think of water passing through cotton or silk. That's the way ghosts pass through walls. It's all there to be known someday but right now we don't know it. ¡¯
" 'Yes, I see what you mean, as to how the ghost comes and goes through matter, but how does it appear to us?¡¯
" 'It draws particles of matter to itself magnetically and organizes them into the illusion. The illusion can be so strong that it looks and feels solid. But it's always an illusion, and when the ghost wants to disappear, or has to disappear, the particles are diffused. ¡¯
"I was too entranced to argue with her. She took it very seriously, what she had to say, and all I had really were questions. But I knew that Goblin was listening too, and I would have been more frightened on that account if I hadn't known she knew it also.
" 'Now, some ghosts,' she said, 'those that are really strong, can make themselves so solid that they're visible not just to one or two receptive persons but to everybody. They're there,' she said. 'And God only knows how many of those ghosts are walking around among us. ¡¯
" 'My God, what a concept,' I said.
" 'Just think of it -- something that looks human but it's a ghost, it's come back to have another go at life or something. But most of the time a ghost uses his organizing principles to appear to one receptive individual. ¡¯
" 'But how is it you and I both see Goblin?' I asked.
" 'It must be that we have the same kinds of receptors,' she said. 'I'm sure we do. And some of the ghosts I see? You probably could see them also. ¡¯
" 'That's why we have to get married, Mona,' I said. 'We'll only be lonely for understanding if we marry other people. We'll always remember this moment. ¡¯
"The comment startled her or in some milder way caught her off guard. Then she said a little testily:
" 'Quinn, stop talking about our wedding as if it's something that's going to happen. I told you. I'm going to marry Pierce. I have to marry Pierce. Now maybe we could have an affair afterwards, but I seriously don't think so, I think Pierce would be way devastated. That's the worst thing about marrying Pierce. When I marry him, my erotic adventures will be over. ¡¯
" 'That's a wretched thing to look forward to. I hate this guy Pierce. Maybe I'll kill him. ¡¯
" 'Don't talk like that, he's the sweetest Mayfair on the planet,' she replied, 'and he'll take care of me. Oh, let's not talk about Pierce. Sometimes I know Pierce deserves somebody better than me and there are so many unsullied virginal types in the family! Maybe you're right about Pierce. I mean for Pierce's own sake --. Now let's get back to the question of ghosts. ¡¯
" 'Yes,' I said, 'explain to me how the nucleus of a ghost is formed, assuming there is one. And let Pierce have one of the virgins, I think that's a fine idea. ¡¯
" 'Stirling says the nucleus is the soul, the soul that refused to move on when it was separated from its earthly body. ¡¯
" 'So the soul has matter to it!¡¯
" 'Maybe more what we call electricity,' she said, 'or energy, at any rate. Let's think of it that way, something infinitesimal that is organized energy. It's all through our bodies when we're alive, but it contracts to a nucleus when we die, and that nucleus should go into the Light, as we well know. And instead of going out of our stratosphere, as it should when it disconnects from the body, it stays behind, earthbound, and generates for itself a spirit body, a body of energy imprinted by the shape of its lost human body, and that's how it acquires its characteristics as a ghost. ¡¯
" 'And you think that it can forget that it was ever human?¡¯
" 'Oh, I think so definitely. There must be earthbound spirits which are a thousand years old. There's no ticking clock for them. There's no hunger. There's no thirst. Without us to make them focus and tighten, they simply drift. I'm not even certain what they see or know when they drift, but then along comes a person who can respond to them, and they begin to evolve as a ghost for that person. ¡¯
" 'And you call yourself a witch because you can see these spirits?¡¯
" 'Yes, and because I can talk to them, but I can't just make them do what I want. I haven't experimented with that power. That's too dangerous a power. The whole subject is dangerous, Tarquin. ' She lowered her voice and she made a sly glance with her eyes at Goblin. 'Goblin probably knows, don't you, Goblin?' she asked. 'He probably knows all of this. ¡¯
"I looked back at Goblin. Goblin's face was thoughtful. It had lost some of its meanness, and this relieved me somewhat.
" 'Mona, we have to be together, always,' I said. 'Who else will ever love me the way you can?¡¯
"Goblin drew closer. I put my hand out to stop him.
" 'Be patient with me now, Goblin,' I said. 'It's a different kind of love. ¡¯
" 'I'd never seek to take your place, Goblin,' said Mona.
" 'But truly, Mona,' I addressed her again. 'Who else will ever love me the way you can?¡¯
" 'What are you talking about?' she said. 'You're tall and gorgeous and you have the most honest blue eyes I've ever seen. You know it's really something when a man has both blue eyes and jet black hair, and that's what you've got. You're what girls call adorable. ¡¯
"Of course I loved hearing these compliments -- I was very unsure of myself -- but they only strengthened my hope that nothing could separate us.
" 'Marry me, Mona,' I said. 'I'm serious. You just have to. ¡¯
" 'I'm beginning to like the idea, but behave yourself,' she answered. 'Let's go on about ghosts and spirits. You need to know things. We were talking about earthbound spirits, how they fail to go into the Light. ¡¯
" 'Are you sure of the Light yourself, Mona?' I asked her.
" 'Well, you see, that's the very problem,' she answered. 'When these people die they aren't sure of it, and they may not recognize the Light for what it is. They may not trust it. They cling to the Earth; they
" 'And so we have this theoretical spirit whose nucleus doesn't go into the Light,' I said, 'this soul that drifts --. ¡¯
" 'Yes,' she said, 'and it can start a whole adventure for itself, especially if it finds a receptive person like you or me, somebody who can see it even when its organizing powers are still weak. Then of course we help it focus by noticing it and talking to it, and paying attention to it, and its organization becomes stronger and stronger. ¡¯
" 'But what about a spirit like Goblin? He's not a ghost. He doesn't know where he came from. ¡¯
"She shot me a meaningful glance that said: Be careful. 'Goblin is pure spirit then,' she replied, 'but spirits are probably organized in exactly the same way -- they have the nucleus and then a kind of loose body, a force field of a body, and it's this force field they use, just like a ghost, to gather particles to appear to someone. ¡¯
"We walked on out of the cemetery and towards the landing. The swamp looked dark and treacherous already -- full of deadly things that want to kill. An evening song came from it that meant death. I tried to ignore it. Mona seemed to like it, to like the evening.
" 'Quinn, if only you could talk to Stirling,' she said. 'I think he would have so much to tell you. You know, it's so easy with Stirling. For centuries the Talamasca has given shelter to people who see ghosts. They welcome people like you and me, and not for selfish reasons. When I was in England I went to their Motherhouse there, and I even visited the Motherhouse in Rome. ¡¯
" 'Sounds religious, rather like the Trappist monks or the Carmelites. ¡¯
" 'Well, they are sort of that way,' she answered, 'but they aren't religious. They're good without being religious. Sometimes it's hard for Fr. Kevin to accept but he's getting used to it. You know how it is with us Catholics. Anything supernatural that isn't from God just has to be evil. And here you have the Talamasca studying the supernatural. But even Fr. Kevin is coming to like Stirling. Nobody could fail to be disarmed by Stirling. ¡¯
" 'Tell me about Fr. Kevin,' I said. 'What's his story?¡¯
" 'He's a good priest,' she said. 'I ought to know. I tried hard to get him into bed, as I told you, but couldn't do it. He was born here in a big house on Magazine Street, the last of eight children. His eldest sister is a whole nother generation. We call them the Stainless Mayfairs because they are all very good and never get into any trouble. When he went into the priesthood they sent him up North, and now he's come back, principally because the family needs its own priest and also because he can teach here. He's quite the theologian when he wants to be. ¡¯
" 'Mona, why do you try to go to bed with so many people?' I asked. I knew that I sounded naive and childlike, but I had to ask her.
" 'Why do you do the same thing, Tarquin?¡¯
" 'But I don't, not really. Aside from you, I've been to bed with one of the women on the property and that's all. ¡¯
" 'I know,' she said smiling. 'It's the gorgeous blond-haired quadroon, Jasmine. ¡¯
" 'How did you know?¡¯
" 'We witches have a little bit of telepathic power,' she said with the same generous smile. 'I picked up on it, you might say. Didn't you feel that that was a road you had to travel?¡¯
" 'Yeah, I guess I did. But compared to you, I'm kind of retarded. I'm almost nineteen and I've slept with one spirit, one ghost and two real women, you being the one with whom I am in love. ¡¯
" 'I can guess about the spirit,' she said, 'but tell me about the ghost. ¡¯
" 'I can't, not now. We're too near her grave. ' I pointed to the little headstone in the cemetery. 'But let me say her name's Rebecca and she's beautiful, and she met her end in a cruel, unjust way and I lost my virginity with her. She has great charm when she comes. . .
" '. . . And speaking of charm,' I said, 'I have a tutor who is like that and he's coming right towards us. ¡¯
"It was Nash come down from the house to invite us to supper. He looked elegant and handsome in his sharply cut blue denim three-piece suit and a white shirt open at the collar.
"Now, I have to achieve that style, I thought, and he comes by it so daringly and so naturally.
"At once I introduced him to Mona and told him I was going to marry her. He was faintly amazed but accepted it totally seriously.
" 'Congratulations, Quinn, and my dear' -- he took her hand -- 'it's a pleasure. ¡¯
"I felt his mellow voice could level mountains. And his face was truly enhanced by its lines and its folds. It gave him the look of wisdom.
" 'Of course, we're still going to Europe, Nash,' I said. 'We're all going. We're stealing Mona. ¡¯
" 'Well, that makes things doubly exciting,' said Nash with just a twinge of a smile and a touch of gentle irony. He gave his arm to Mona graciously to help her up to the high ground, and I felt ashamed that I hadn't thought to do it.
"As for supper, we were all to join Aunt Queen on the other side of the house where the table was set on the flagstone patio using the newly refurbished wicker.
" 'Rebecca's wicker,' I explained to Mona. 'Rebecca and I -- it was in a dream -- we had coffee together and we were sitting in these wicker chairs. You'll see. ¡¯
"And I'll see too, I thought. I'll see if it matches the furnishings of my dream exactly, because I might have imagined it earlier when I'd wandered out there, so mystified and confused.
"As we walked on, past the front of the house, as I looked up at the reddened and darkening sky, I felt the panic again.
"But I drove it away. Time for something convivial and I was ready for it.
"Quickly I searched for Goblin. Come with us, be with us. I tried to smile at him, but I think he knew my multitude of fears. He could read my face if not my mind. "