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The Secret History

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The Vampire Lestat here. I have a story to tell; but this one isn't meant for mortals to read, and not really for other immortals either. Perhaps I will never even commit the words to paper, leaving them in that twilight nowhere that exists within my magical twentieth-century computer with its great unblinking glass eye. It's a story I must tell only for my own sake, my own comfort... a secret history of sixty-five years in New Orleans.

These years have been chronicled already, of course, in the sad little memoir Interview with the Vampire,  spun from the lips of my beloved fledgling Louis de Pointe du Lac. He gave a deeply felt if rather inconsiderate account of how I, cast as the callous villain of his tale, made him a vampire. He told of how we created Claudia, a true child of darkness, when she was not even six years old. He spoke of our contentment for sixty-five years that passed like a languorous dream, and how Claudia put an end to it by attempting to put an end to me.

Yet his story is riddled with mistakes, misunderstandings, and vast omissions. These omissions could only be deliberate, though whether he left things out due to discretion or due to regret, I still don't know and can't bear to ask.

But I can no longer look at that crippled little paperback on my shelf without wishing to tell my own version of that time, most particularly the secret history between us that Louis could not bring himself to relate. Even if the tale remains only here, in the cloistered space between my own eyes and the window of my computer screen, it must be told.

 


 

The first I knew of Louis de Pointe du Lac was a drunken, belligerent voice in a ramshackle tavern on the outskirts of New Orleans.

I was hunting by habit in the worst sort of gambling parlors and houses of ill repute. Tonight no one at the Taverne du Chat Noir was quite bad enough to tempt me. I'd promised myself to follow in the example of Marius, who slew only the evildoer to feed his thirst. Marius had lived for two thousand years, he kept ancient secrets; Marius had cast me out only months ago. I loved the New World but I mourned the chance I'd squandered to know a mind that had lasted for millennia.

Tonight, though, choosing from among the rogue's gallery at the bar seemed pointless. There were a few murderers among the crowd, I could sense the carnage of their thoughts. But how could I pass judgement on them, choosing which was most evil from the lot, the most deserving of death? I had committed all their sins and more, a thousand times over. I felt the purpose that Marius had instilled in me slipping away gradually, night by night.

Go live a lifetime, he'd told me. A lifetime! What could that mean to a creature like me, sleeping by day, killing each night-- a lifetime? What manner of life could I possibly lead? With the blood of the Mother of us all burning in my veins, with the vision of her lingering constantly in my thoughts... Akasha, whose embrace was like a circle of fire.

Marius told me I would make more fledglings in the wilderness of America. "Choose your companions with care," Marius had instructed me, "choose them because you love them." Fine advice, as though my flayed and beaten heart could still love after the past thirty years of terrible betrayal. "Choose them because you like to look at them and you like the sound of their voices," as though I could look at any being without seeing Akasha's marble face, hear any voice without recalling the murmuring cacophony of her thoughts...

"Are you calling me a cheat?" a young man said. The words were slurred, but the tone held a seed of deadly calm.

I stood from my table on the rickety balcony that stretched over the main room and extended over the sagging porch. A little tumult was breaking out below, a table overturned, a man growling threats. I looked down on the scene below.

All things are beautiful to a vampire's sight. When we receive the Dark Gift it's as though the scales fall from our eyes and we see as only God should see, in divine appreciation of every aspect of creation. As God would see, if there were a God.

Yet the decaying tavern, full with men who poisoned themselves with liquor that burst the little veins in their cheeks and noses, and women caked with paint and powder in a parody of femininity, the grimy glory of that low place-- it all flattened as I looked down on him, a dull scene painted hastily on a dusty scrim.

His expression arrested me. At a glance he was not so different from a thousand other young men of this city, clearly of French descent, well-dressed with a rapier hanging at his side like mere ornament. Yet as I looked at him, it was as though I'd never seen these other men, as though I'd never seen Nicolas, or Marius, Armand or Akasha or Gabrielle-- as though I had never seen at all before in my life, mortal or undead.

He was so young, and his face was incandescent with pain; pain faceted and many-parted like a mosaic, and as broken. Grief and loss and guilt had made a home in his handsome features and made him appear almost holy. His green eyes burned; he was mesmerizing, brimming with a despair as dark and fathomless as the midnight shade of his wavy hair.

Yet he was terrible to look upon. His suffering was too evident, too naked; it ate at the nerve endings just to see him, to know that there exists an agony so absorbed and so complete.

There was a click as loud in my ears as a whip crack, and I realized that this young man was on the verge of being shot. The overturned table lay at his feet, pasteboard cards scattered all around, and his opponent was aiming a pistol at his chest. The entire assembly held their breath.

"Do it," the young man said, a low voice, coaxing, intimate. Another endless moment and he tore at his shirt, baring his chest to the gun. "Do it!"

His every aspect was expressive, and his every expression said Let it happen quickly; let it happen now.  In the face of this dire hopelessness, the other man quailed. He lowered his gun and turned away. The people went back to their liquor and cards and sport all too quickly, eager to forget such desolation. My young friend slumped in his chair, bereft.

One of the painted ladies of the tavern came to him, draped herself over his shoulders like a cape, and managed to pull him out of the chair and direct him out of doors, rounding a corner into the alley nearby. Only when he passed out of my sight did I rouse myself enough to follow.

I circled around through the back door and approached them veiled in darkness, watching keenly as the whore guided him a little way between buildings and pushed him against the wall. Even this jaded lady of the night seemed somehow moved by him; she paused in her pursuits and simply touched his face with an attitude of wonder. But he was staring blankly past her, the fire in him beginning to fade.

She made a few token caresses, spoke a few obscene words; he pushed money into her hand as though she were a beggar and she would leave now. The woman swiftly set to the task of unbuttoning and untying. My young friend let his head fall back, and the last of his vibrant emotions dropped away. As she tended to him with her lips and hands he looked like a man dying from cold; then, in minutes, like a man distracted by a name he cannot quite remember.

The color in him was maddening. Wine had left him flushed and now the ministrations of the whore affected him as well. He was ripe with blood, an ocean of luscious fluid circulating just under the sweltering skin. When the crisis came over him, he shivered deeply, his brow furrowing, faintly vexed. She refastened and retied his clothes, picked his pocket clumsily and hurried back inside clutching his bankroll to her bosom.

He slid down the wall; I thought he'd passed out from the drink and drew near. But he curled there, huddled in the alley, one arm shielding his face and the other thrown over his head as though to hide himself from the ugly unworthy world. So softly it would take a vampire to hear it, he wept, drawing long shaking breaths and swallowing his sobs.

I opened my mind to hear his, but it was a tormented muddle. A brother named Paul who would never forgive him, I discerned that. Ah, if his tragedy was only guilt over gambling and having some cheap tart, I'd kill him just for wasting my time.

Then he seemed to pull even tighter in on himself and I caught a deeper glimpse into his seething thoughts. His brother Paul had died; Paul had been wholly good, a lamb of God, and his head had broken on a brick staircase. His brother had come to him asking him to do service to God, and he'd laughed. They had argued. Even now, his own family believed he had killed Paul or caused Paul to kill himself. He believed this also, that his refusal to obey Paul's vision had led directly to his brother's death.

A poignant little history, to be sure, but not the true measure of this young man's suffering. I searched further and found him to be the master of a plantation, having taken over as a youth after his father died.

He had been a conventional sort until Paul's death, but his reaction was beyond mere mourning. It was a soul-deep despair that echoed all the realizations of my own darkest moments: the finality of death, the humiliation of mortality, the absence of God or at least God's attention, the meaninglessness and futility of living.

It was as though Paul's faith had been the firmament on which he walked and now it had been torn away and he was endlessly falling towards damnation, yet the very fall itself was Hell. He had found his limits, discovered the banality of himself, and now he recoiled from everything he had been and everything he was. I saw months of tawdry nights like this one, drinking to unconsciousness in dangerous places, putting himself ever in harm's way, seeking to die.

And yet in the midst of this I felt the deepest will to go on, a frantic urge within him that seemed to shout that he must know, he must understand, he must live, for death would bring him none of the answers that he had to, had to have. I felt the thwarted passions and crushing disappointments that had led him to throw himself headlong into self-destruction. I sensed an untouched capacity for love that matched his boundless capacity for pain.

I felt it all, felt it deeply. But I couldn't understand it fully, as though he were hiding some part of it away from even my powers; as though he concealed profound secrets.

I was lost. I didn't recall any of Marius's admonishments or advice now; this one had obliterated all of it. I had sworn to myself that I would be cautious if I made another fledgling, that I would proceed slowly, first befriending my companion and revealing my true nature only in the fullness of time. Ashes. There was nothing in my mind but how best to bring him to me at once.

He stood unsteadily, head bowed, and stumbled back to the tavern to untie his horse, clambering onto its back more through habit than will. Soon he had urged the beast to full gallop, though he could barely keep the saddle under him. I followed easily; his stallion couldn't outpace me, though it seemed to sense my presence, tossing its head in innocent terror.

I watched from afar as he stabled the animal, heard the overseer, himself in his cups, laughing. The overseer was slinging a too-familiar arm around him, saying, "Ah, Louis, I remember what it was like to be young!"

Louis. I heard him try to gather himself and ask a few half-formed questions about the plantation, but his overseer waved it away; "I take care of all that for you now," he said magnanimously. I didn't have to read his mind to know he was a scoundrel, this other man, that he had been pillaging the place in Louis' absence. "Leave all that to me, enjoy yourself," he said contemptuously, hauling the younger man along with him toward the main house. I despised him.

When he realized Louis was near insensate, the overseer handled him roughly and searched the pockets of his coat. Finding nothing, he scowled and stopped near the main gate, unloading the younger man there like a sack of grain and going back to the stable with sour curses.

Appalling; but for my purposes, ideal. I came nearer to Louis as he fumbled with the gate. He was leaning his weight against it and this made it difficult for him to unlatch it properly. He sighed, swaying drunkenly. The slightest sound, that rush of breath, but it inflamed me.

Within moments I had him in my arms, he pushed at me instinctively but it was far too late, I bent to his neck; his skin scorched my hands, so hot and so lush. He stopped struggling as I opened my mouth against his throat. His entire body became perfectly still, the only movement the ceaseless throbbing of his heart. The deepest thrill shot all through me as I closed my teeth on him and pierced his flesh. The blood roared into my mouth, I was deafened with it.

I heard the same recitative from his mind as before, amplified beyond all comprehension, all reason. I focused on the essence in him that sought to go on and on, listened to that secret voice that silently beseeched me not to let him die, that voice speaking on and on with no words. And all this on a current of ecstasy purer than any pleasure of mortal life, the fiery torrent of human blood.

I only just forced myself to pull away in time. He looked up at me with such awe for just a moment; just that moment, before his eyes lost focus and slipped shut, even as he asked,

"But who are you!"

And then he collapsed, no longer conscious. His breathing was labored but his heart thudded on; his body was slack. I cradled him to me like a child. In repose his face retained that almost unbearable beauty, softened a little by sleep.

Perhaps before the death of this brother of his, Louis had merely been very handsome. But the loss had stamped itself on his pleasing, even features and left him with the mark of character, a quality beyond mortal notions of allure. Ineffable and breathtaking, the delicacy of conscience etched in the little details: a slight hollowness that brought his cheekbones into prominence; a small contour between his brows, a legacy from contorting his face in grief.

I felt the morning approaching. I would need time to return to my resting place, extra time because the wine from his blood had left me a little affected as well. Reluctantly I opened my arms and let him wilt to the ground until he rested against the gate. Leaning down to his ear I whispered, "I'll return for you," and then I made my way to my waiting coffin.

Chapter Text

When I awoke the next night I could hardly believe what I'd done. I lay in my coffin, staring at nothing, profoundly disappointed in myself. If I truly wanted to make this young man a child of darkness, I could hardly have picked a worse way to go about it; like a glutton I'd drunk deeply from him the previous night. He wouldn't live a week after such a severe loss of blood.

I'd promised myself that if I made a fledgling again, I'd explain it all: the heightened senses, the bloodlust, the horrifying routine of hunting mortals night after night, the loneliness, the silence of the mind between maker and child... so many things I wished I'd known in the beginning. I'd been made a vampire against my will; I'd seen my second child, Nicolas, go mad with the dark blood. It had been my strongest determination that any more fledglings I made would know exactly what sort of fiend they were becoming before making that terrible choice.

And I'd sabotaged it all last night in a moment of wild abandon. But there was no use berating myself about it. He was dying slowly even now at that plantation of his. I'd have to move quickly. Rising from my coffin I was greeted by the obnoxious sound of my father's whimpering in the next room.

"What is it?" I demanded impatiently, and he complained that he was cold. We were staying in a shoddy, lamentable little house. To my dismay, the enormous amounts of money at my disposal hadn't been enough to get me an appropriate place to live.

The better real estate agents wanted to know the source of my income. This was not long after the Revolution in France and all manner of escaped aristocrats were washing up on America's golden shores... former lords and ladies with expensive tastes and a few rescued treasures to sell, but no way to pay more than a few months' rent.

Of course the agents were correct in believing that I too was an exiled aristocrat. My father had been a Marquis in Auvergne, and he had fled penniless to the New World like so many others. And they were quite right to be suspicious of my immense wealth, which came largely from a store of plundered treasure I'd inherited from the vampire who made me.

I had enough money to pay their prices for a hundred years, but in the situation of the time, the landlords of New Orleans were not inclined to believe in letters and certificates from French banks which verified my holdings. There was little way for them to ascertain the authenticity of these things, and even if the letters were real, they had no proof that the money described in these months-old papers still existed now.

The Revolution had changed everything. Even the money I had shifted to English and American banks could not convince them to rent me rooms; the chief thing to them was, I had no trade, I owned no land, I could not account for where my money came from, or where it would come from in the future. If I produced the full amount to buy the place outright in cash, they only looked away, muttering about ruining their reputations by trafficking with swindlers and decadent ousted aristocrats.

I had to put the old man somewhere. He was miserable in the lovely hotel where I lodged us at first. I was pleased with the place and relieved that the hoteliers simply took my money and asked no questions.

But my father was bedridden and it made him fearful that maids and busboys could enter to bring his food and clean the room. And he was obsessed with how much the hotel was costing us, though I told him over and over that I had more than enough money to keep us in this splendid fashion for years to come, not that he'd last that long.

Finally in spite as much as anything I'd found the crumbling little house and moved us there. But the same problems that prevented me from finding appropriate lodgings plagued me in securing servants. I was unknown, I had no reputation and no connections; employees were as wary as the landlords. I finally managed to hire an elderly maid who knew the work and a very young one strong enough to do it, and between the two of them they were almost adequate.

Still, my father found new complaints for me every night when I rose. The entire situation was intolerable. I often wished I had the heart to simply kill my father, but I couldn't do it. He would die all too soon; the journey to the New World had nearly finished him. And he was all I had left of my living family. As for my undead family, my mother Gabrielle had left me in Egypt, and by now could be anywhere in deepest Africa, lost to me.

"You stay out all hours and leave me with those women who creep about the house, Lord knows how they must be robbing us while you're gone," my father harangued. "You mustn't go to those places anymore. You think I don't know anything because I'm blind, but I can smell the wine on you. If I had my sight I'd put the fear of God back in you—"

"No doubt," I muttered under my breath. I wondered what I'd do if the old man were healthy, if he'd tried to thrash me for my disobedience the way he'd done so many times when I was younger. Maybe then I'd be able to muster up the will to murder him.

But these were no thoughts to entertain at a time like this; I needed to prepare for my visit to Louis tonight. I had to be calm, persuasive. And look my best, of course.

I chose a soft black suit with a white shirt and cravat, then stood quibbling with myself: dress first or kill first? You never know when the kill will turn a bit messy and then of course the drops of blood ruin the entire effect. Vanity won out and I dressed carefully, fussing over the little details, aligning the stockings and smoothing every possible wrinkle out of the waistcoat.

I was actually beginning to feel an odd nervousness, though I told myself very firmly that I wouldn't give Louis the blood tonight. I'd give him at least a day to think it over, once I'd told him.

I should take tonight to consider it carefully myself, in fact. Should I really make him a vampire? Bestow immortality on him because I liked his beautiful face, his sorrowful mien? I hadn't even exchanged words with him yet. Reading his mind I'd sensed such wonders within him, but who knew what the Dark Gift would make of him?

Merely the thought of speaking to him gave me chills. It had been so long since I'd revealed my nature to a mortal, something I felt a continual longing to do. I went to the mirror and brushed out my hair, knowing even as my hands shook and my mind raced... no matter what, I'd make him. Just to see what would happen, just to see if that exquisite quality of character would survive the change.

I left the house and went back to the Taverne du Chat Noir, searching for that same light-fingered whore I'd observed with Louis the night before. It would have been fun to toy with her a little, to pretend to be a customer. She'd hardly be able to believe her luck, two rich gorgeous men, two nights in a row like that.

But I didn't have the patience for it. I spotted her and waited a few minutes as she negotiated a price for her services with a florid barrel-chested gambler; this man had her up against the wall for a bit of in and out, and within moments he'd finished and left her. She swore a bit, for there'd been no opportunity to rob him, and "Merde!" was her last word on this earth.

I ransacked her mind during the blood swoon, searching for the memory of those few minutes she'd spent with him and drinking it down as my own with her blood. I sucked her right down to the last heartbeat. Oh, it was too lovely, even as little as she had of him. How was I ever going to resist killing his entire family so that I could have their lifetime of recollections of him? I'd simply have to entrance them and read their minds so thoroughly that the blood couldn't possibly offer me anything more.

I found the plantation again, traveling the same road I'd followed him down the night before. Eager as I was to rendezvous with him, I found myself lingering near the stable. Sure enough, that same loathsome overseer was within, though tonight he was sober. As I watched he tied and packed a bundle of bank notes and bonds into a saddlebag on the back of an old dappled mare. Leading her out the door, he slapped her flank and sent her trotting down the road.

I had to smile; America was ever more the lawless Savage Garden of my imagination. In the dead of night the overseer sent stolen certificates like these via the horse to an accomplice who waited somewhere on the road I'd just traveled. Then the accomplice would unburden the beast and send it back with a crack of a whip. With petty villains like this around, it'd be a wonder if my young friend had any silver left in his house.

I'd kill this man, I decided then, in front of Louis, to show him exactly how it was done, the manner of it. But first...

With all my inhuman speed I approached him and sent him sprawling, landing in a crouch on his chest. "Bonsoir," I said, spreading my lips wide to show my fangs, and enjoyed his terrified look as he gasped for enough air to scream. I seized his neck first and held him, staring commandingly until he fell into a daze. "Tell me about your master," I said.

"My master?"

"The master of this plantation."

"Monsieur de Pointe du Lac?" the man said vaguely. "He killed his little brother and now he's drinking himself to death and bucking to get the pox to boot, from the stink of him when he gets back from the city. They called the doctors for him today, said he must've had a stroke."

I gritted my teeth. Doctors? Surely I hadn't left him so weak as all that. "How long have you worked here?"

"Six years, but I never had much of a hand around here until Monsieur Paul died. That Louis, he ran this place tight like a sailing ship, couldn't get a thing past him. He squeezed a profit out of this land every single year, even the bad years, I'll give him that."

Interesting. "How long has he run the place?"

"His papa died the year before I came on."

"How did he run the place as well as you say? Why can't you get anything past him?"

"Kept an iron grip on everything. Did all the accounts himself. He called in missionaries to convert all his slaves, and gave them Sundays off, so they took to him. A lot of plantation work is just keeping those lazy darkies working, you know, and I take the whip to them myself, but not Monsieur Louis, oh no," his tone was mocking even in the trance; "he says it's cowardly. We had a bull of a man who wouldn't keep up with the pace, and I go for the lash and he stops me, and gets down off his horse! And what does he do in those fine clothes of his, but he starts doing this slave's work for him. Then he steps away and says 'Can you keep up now that you see how it's done?' and that bastard roared just like a beast and he hit him. Though I might have hit him myself, come to that.

"But Monsieur Louis wouldn't let me do a thing— he fought him, and he beat the holy hell out of him with his hands. I thought his mama would have a heart attack when he came back, both eyes black. But he must've done something right because he never did have as much trouble as I have with those animals. Half the time they don't do what I say even if I beat them bloody."

I didn't like to think of the slaves whose backs broke to make the plantation prosperous. But at the same time, the picture painted by this little story appealed to me; that broken young man had once been a bit of a despot who used his own fists to keep order among his subjects.

There was more to him than a man in mourning, a disappointed parishioner. He'd headed up this household when the situation called for it, much as I'd become a hunter to feed the family back in Auvergne. I felt a kinship with him already. Oh, but this would be a grand affair, I was sure of it.

I clambered off the overseer and glared at him. "Forget me. You never saw me. I don't exist."

He picked himself up, dusted himself off, shook his head once and went out to the stable door to wait for the mare to come back.

I checked to make certain this little interlude hadn't mussed my clothes, and proceeded to the sprawling main house. Peering in past innumerable drapes and lace curtains, I found his bedroom, conveniently enough with only a set of large French doors standing unlocked between us. I opened them silently and entered the room.

Chapter Text

With all the power and grace at my command, I glided into the bedroom. The shock of seeing Louis again was so great I could hardly maintain my composure— an awful reeling vertigo almost brought me to my knees.

He was dying. From my long experience as a bringer of death, I could easily see that it would only be a matter of two or three days before he perished. He was feverish, two bright spots burning high on his wan cheeks, yet there was hardly enough of him left to generate any heat. His brow was sticky with sweat, his hair clinging to his skin like a mass of black threads. Those finely drawn features were ever more starkly pronounced, the slight hollowness of the night before now devouring him. The silver rings were sliding right off his fingers as though he'd withered overnight.

The sight of him so ill and wasted produced a profound sympathy in me; I felt I was the one dying bloodless and cold.

Surely I'd not left him in this state! But I was faltering in my purpose, mooning over his mortal frailty. He'd be rid of his mortality soon enough.

Gathering all my persuasive powers, I stepped near his bed, saw the gleam of his eyes through the gauzy mosquito netting that canopied the bed. A woman dozed in a chair near the lamp; his sister. I turned down the little flame and took up the shawl that spilled from her hands. I gently draped it over her head and fastened onto her dreaming mind, nudging her into a deeper sleep.

"Who are you," he rasped, struggling to sit up. "What you doing in my house..."

"I've come to answer your prayers."

Turning to Louis, I fought to recall the many things I'd imagined saying at this juncture. It all fled my mind completely. Yet I felt almost as though I needed no words. As I stole nearer, a look of epiphany transformed his face, even though his expression hardly changed at all.

I saw him take in my unnatural appearance, the too-bright play of light in my eyes, the sheen of my white skin and golden hair. And I could tell he was moved by my beauty, which after all is considerable. I am something of a marvel to behold, handsome in the most ideal and predictable way, with my full yellow locks and clear blue eyes, bold features, generous mouth and lithe broad-shouldered frame. I sensed that I reminded him slightly of Paul, made him imagine Paul assumed into heaven and made divine; and then I overwhelmed his memories of his fallen brother; and then, overshadowed his memories of everything.

I was having the same annihilating effect on him that he'd had on me. And there was really no need to tell him what I was. Somehow, he already knew.

Still, I found quiet words, simple words, to frame it for him plainly. "Louis, I come to you tonight to offer you a choice. I know that for months, you've lived like a man who wants to die. But I don't believe that's truly what you desire. Life has no meaning for you anymore. The wine has no taste, the food sickens you. The company of others repels and disgusts you. There seems no reason for any of it, does there? You don't want to go on this way, but you can't conceive of ending your existence, taking that final step.

"But what if I could give it all back to you? Pluck out the pain and give you a new life? One you could never imagine. And it would be for all time... and sickness and death could never touch you again. That is my life, Louis. I am immortal; I am ageless. I am a vampire."

How solemn and still, that beautiful face. And how he moved me, his deep green eyes locked on me, giving his attention over to me completely.

"I can't truly describe my life to you as you are now. I can tell you that my sight and my senses are immeasurably more powerful than yours, that merely looking on the moon is a feast for the eyes that can nourish the soul for the entire night. I can tell you of the strength I possess now, stronger than any five human men; I can tell of supernatural powers and abilities. I can tell you all of it, but you won't truly understand it. Only if you choose this life will you be able to comprehend these things.

"Make no mistake; someone has to die each night so that I may live, the way your slaves must toil in order that you may prosper. I fall into a deathlike sleep when the sun is in the sky, and can rise again only when night falls. And I cannot reveal myself to any other being, unless I intend to bring them into this never-ending life. That's the choice I bring to you, Louis."

He considered this for the longest time. I was content to look at him; even ill unto death he was beyond handsome, as though nothing could destroy that beauty, as though it was immutable even without the dark blood. And I wanted him to take this time. I wanted to give him the choice I never had.

I wanted him to look at me the way he looked at me now, with fascination, with total understanding of what I was. At last he asked: "If I say no?"

"Then I'll give you the end you've been chasing since the death of your brother," I told him. "A painless death. Oblivion. Is that really what you wish?"

"I don't know." Louis's voice was honest, thoughtful. How I resisted the urge to take him throughout all this little talk, I'll never know. I'd never wanted anything as much. And there was a strange scent in the room of crusted blood, infuriating to me; I had left only small punctures on him, so where could this be coming from? It gnawed at me.

"You must understand that I'm the one who brought you to this threshold," I told him. "I drank from you last night. Your body is failing now. In two days, three, it will be over no matter what."

He closed his eyes. "I heard them whispering as much. And then the priest said my brother was possessed by the devil. You know of my brother? He saw visions..." To my quiet 'Yes, I know,' he continued, "I was so angry that I got up and I seized him. A man of God! I beat his head against the kitchen wall. They said I nearly killed him, that it must be some madness in my blood..." Louis fumbled with the sleeve of his nightshirt and pushed it back. His arm had been cut deeply near the inner curve of his elbow.

"They bled you? Ah, the fools," I covered my face, not sure what I despised more, the stupidity of it or the waste of his blood. How I wanted to put my mouth on that red line, deepen it, feel his essence trickle into my mouth. But I fought it off, thinking, just a little longer. A matter of hours. "We have no time to lose, my friend," I told him. "You must have one more day to consider it. But only one more day. Tomorrow night I'll come to you, and you must make a decision then."

"But I can tell you now," he said. "Everything you've said is true. I want this. I'll do it."

I took his hand in mine. "You must think it over," I repeated. "And this morning, you should watch the sunrise. Enjoy the sun for one more day, a day that will last you throughout the infinite nights to come."

And with a smile I began to detail more practical matters. "When I make you a vampire, you'll stay just the same as you are at that moment. So spend some time at grooming tomorrow and ready yourself; get a good close shave, trim your nails, that sort of thing. Once you've made the change, you'll never eat or drink again; so if there's some repast you enjoy, you might wish to have it one last time. And for myself, I have arrangements to make. My father is still living. He's very ill. I want him to be in some safe place before we do this. If I can bring him here, that would ease things for the time being."

Louis murmured an agreement, and I felt lighter to be rid of that concern. "Then tomorrow night I'll come again," I said, "and if you still feel the same, your new life will begin."

The trip back to the city was a blur and yet the miles never seemed so long. The boundary of day loomed before me like an insurmountable wall. Back at the house, I packed up a few of my father's most essential items in silence, ignoring his frantic questions and then his weak, contemptible tears.

Even as I closed the lid of my coffin I felt the mad urge to rush back to Louis and work the dark magic on him. Give him a day to consider it, to change his mind— what had I been thinking? He'd said yes! I should have made him on the spot! What if they tried some other ridiculous cure that tortured him further? What if they bled him again and he died before I could reach him? What if...

Sleep scattered my thoughts, and then it was night again. As swiftly as possible I hired a carriage and loaded my father and his things into it as though he were freight, heedless to his protests. He complained so much that I was sorely tempted to throw him into my damn coffin, which was difficult to fit in with everything else— but how would that look to my new acquaintance?

I nearly drove the horses to froth, urging them back to Pointe du Lac. The night was perfect: a three-quarter moon, the slightest breeze. The dome of the black sky was skidded with tiny rippled clouds, like torn cotton in the moonlight. I rode past the wide fields of indigo and up to the gate.

Louis was waiting there for me, still ailing, but holding himself erect, shoulders thrown back as though he were in rude good health. I felt such a crushing wave of tenderness for him that I could barely thank him as he allowed us entrance. He guided us into the well-appointed rooms of the plantation house and directed the one maid still awake to care for my father.

He took my arm and we walked together outside into the courtyard. Then he released me; I felt his slightest touch on my sleeve as though it were a fervent caress.

Serious and calm, Louis faced me and asked, "How do we begin?"