Blood CanticleAnne Rice
I WANT to be a saint. I want to save souls by the millions. I want to do good far and wide. I want to fight evil! I want my life-sized statue in every church. I'm talking six feet tall, blond hair, blue eyes-.
Wait a second.
Do you know who I am?
I'm thinking maybe you're a new reader and you've never heard of me.
Well, if that's the case, allow me to introduce myself, which I absolutely crave doing at the beginning of every one of my books.
I'm the Vampire Lestat, the most potent and lovable vampire ever created, a supernatural knockout, two hundred years old but fixed forever in the form of a twenty-year-old male with features and figure you'd die for-and just might. I'm endlessly resourceful, and undeniably charming. Death, disease, time, gravity, they mean nothing to me.
Only two things are my enemy: daylight, because it renders me completely lifeless and vulnerable to the burning rays of the sun, and conscience. In other words, I'm a condemned inhabitant of eternal night and an eternally tormented blood seeker.
Doesn't that make me sound irresistible?
And before I continue with my fantasy let me assure you:
I know damned well how to be a full-fledged, post-Renaissance, post-nineteenth century, post-modern, post-popular writer. I don't deconstruct nothin'. That is, you're going to get a full-dress story here-with a beginning, middle and end. I'm talking plot, characters, suspense, the works.
I'm going to take care of you. So rest easy and read on. You won't be sorry. You think I don't want new readers? My name is thirst, baby. I must have you!
However, since we are taking this little break from my preoccupation with being a saint, let me say a few words to my dedicated following. You new guys follow along. It certainly won't be difficult. Why would I do something that you find difficult? That would be self-defeating, right?
Now, to those of you who worship me. You know, the millions.
You say you want to hear from me. You leave yellow roses at my gate in New Orleans, with handwritten notes: "Lestat, speak to us again. Give us a new book. Lestat, we love the Vampire Chronicles. Lestat, why have we not heard from you? Lestat, please come back. "
But I ask you, my beloved followers (don't all stumble over yourselves now to answer), what the Hell happened when I gave you Memnoch the Devil? Hmmm? That was the last of the Vampire Chronicles
written by me in my own words.
Oh, you bought the book, I'm not complaining about that, my beloved readers. Point of fact, Memnoch has outsold the other Vampire Chronicles completely; how's that for a vulgar detail? But did you embrace it? Did you understand it? Did you read it twice? Did you believe it?
I'd been to the Court of Almighty God and to the howling depths of Perdition, boys and girls, and I trusted you with my confessions, down to the last quiver of confusion and misery, prevailing on you to understand for me why I'd fled this terrifying opportunity toreally become a saint, and what did you do? You complained!
"Where was Lestat, the Vampire?" That's what you wanted to know. Where was Lestat in his snappy black frock coat, flashing his tiny fang teeth as he smiles, striding in English boots through the glossy underworld of everybody's sinister and stylish city packed with writhing human victims, the majority of whom deserve the vampiric kiss? That's what you talked about!
Where was Lestat the insatiable blood thief and soul smasher, Lestat the vengeful, Lestat the sly, Lestat the . . . well, actually . . . Lestat, the Magnificent.
Yeah, I like that: Lestat, the Magnificent. That sounds like a good name to me for this book. And I am, when you get right down to it, magnificent. I mean, somebody has to say it. But let's go back to your song and dance over Memnoch.
We don't want this shattered remnant of a shaman! you said. We want our hero. Where's his classic Harley? Let him kick start it and roar through the French Quarter streets and alleys. Let him sing in the wind to the music pumping through his tiny earphones, purple shades down, blond hair blowing free.
Well, cool, yeah, I like that image. Sure. I still have the motorcycle. And yeah, I adore frock coats, I have them made; you're not going to get any arguments from me on that. And the boots, always. Want to know what I'm wearing now?
I'm not going to tell you!
Well, not until further on.
But think it over, what I'm trying to say.
I give you this metaphysical vision of Creation and Eternity here, the whole history (more or less) of Christianity, and meditations galore on the Cosmos Big Time-and what thanks do I get? "What kind of a novel is this?" you asked. "We didn't tell you to go to Heaven and Hell! We want you to be the fancy fiend!"
Mon Dieu! You make me miserable! You really do, I want you to know that. Much as I love you, much as I need you, much as I can't exist without you, you make me miserable!
Go ahead, throw this book away. Spit on me. Revile me. I dare you. Cast me out of your intellectual orbit. Throw me out of your backpack. Pitch me in the airport trash bin. Leave me on a bench in Central Park!
What do I care?
No. I don't want you to do all that. Don't do that.
DON'T DO IT!
I want you to read every page I write. I want my prose to envelop you. I'd drink your blood if I could and hook you into every memory inside me, every heartbreak, frame of reference, temporary triumph, petty defeat, mystic moment of surrender. And all right, already, I'll dress for the occasion. Do I ever not dress for the occasion? Does anybody look better in rags than me?
I hate my vocabulary!
Why is it that no matter how much I read, I end up sounding like an international gutter punk?
Of course one good reason for that is my obsession with producing a report to the mortal world that can be read by just about anyone. I want my books in trailer parks and university libraries. You know what I mean? I'm not, for all my cultural and artistic hunger, an elitist. Have you not guessed?
I'm too desperate! A psyche permanently set on overdrive, that's the fate of a thinking vampire. I should be out murdering a bad guy, lapping his blood as if he was a Popsicle. Instead I'm writing a book.
That's why no amount of wealth and power can silence me for very long. Desperation is the source of the fount. What if all this is meaningless? What if high-gloss French furniture with ormolu and inlaid leather really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things? You can shudder with desperation in the rooms of a palace as well as in a crash pad. Not to mention a coffin! But forget the coffin, baby. I'm not what you'd call a coffin vampire anymore. That's nonsense. Not that I didn't like them when I slept in them, however. In a way, there's nothing like it-but what was I saying:
Ah, yeah, we're going to move on, but-.
Please, before we proceed, let me whine about what was done to my mind by my confrontation with Memnoch.
Now, pay attention, all of you, new readers and old:
I was attacked by the divine and sacramental! People talk about the gift of faith, well, I'm telling you it was more like a car crash! It did sheer violence to my psyche. Being a full-fledged vampire is a tough job once you've seen the streets of Heaven and Hell. And you guys should give me some metaphysical space.
Now and then I get these little spells: I DON'T WANT TO BE EVIL ANYMORE!
Don't all respond at once: "We want you to be the bad guy, you promised!"
Gotcha. But you must understand what I suffer. It's only fair.
And I'm so good at being bad, of course, the old slogan. If I haven't put that on a T-shirt, I'm going to. Actually, I really don't want to write anything that can't be put on a T-shirt. Actually, I'd like to write only on T-shirts. Actually, I'd like to
write whole novels on T-shirts. So you guys could say, "I'm wearing chapter eight of Lestat's new book, that's my favorite; oh, I see, you're wearing chapter six-. "
From time to time I do wear-Oh, stop it!
IS THERE NO WAY OUT OF THIS?
You're always whispering in my ear, aren't you?
I'm shuffling along Pirates' Alley, a bum covered with morally imperative dust, and you slip up beside me and say: "Lestat, wake up," and I pivot, slam bang! like Superman dodging into the all-American phone booth, and voil¨¤! There I stand, full-dress apparitional, in velvet once again, and I've got you by the throat. We're in the vestibule of the Cathedral (where did you think I'd drag you? Don't you want to die on consecrated ground?), and you're begging for it all the way; oops! went too far, meant for this to be the Little Drink, don't say I didn't warn you. Come to think of it. Did I warn you?
All right, okay, yeah, forget about it, so what, stop the hand wringing, sure sure, knock it off, cool it, shove it, eh?
I surrender. Of course we're going to revel in pure wickedness here!
And who am I to deny my vocation as a Roman Catholic storyteller par excellence? I mean, the Vampire Chronicles are MY invention, you know, and I am only NOT a monster when I'm addressing you, I mean, that's why I write this, because I need you, I can't breathe without you. I'm helpless without you-.
-And I am back, sigh, shudder, cackle, tap dance, and I'm almost ready to pick up the conventional frame of this book and fix its four sides with the infallible super glue of sure-fire storytelling. It's going to all add up, I swear to you on the ghost of my dead father, there's technically, in my world, no such thing as a digression! All roads lead to me.
But before we cut to Present Time, let me have my little fantasy. I need it. I am not all flash and dash, boys and girls, don't you see? I can't help myself.
Besides, if you can't really bear to read this, then cut to Chapter Two right now. Go on, get!
And for those of you who really love me, who want to understand every nuance of the tale that lies ahead, I hereby invite you to go with me. Please read on:
I want to be a saint. I want to save souls by the millions. I want to do good everywhere. I want to have my life-sized plaster statue in every church in the world. Me, six feet tall with glass blue eyes, in long purple velvet robes, looking down with gently parted hands on the faithful who pray as they touch my foot.
"Lestat, cure my cancer, find my glasses, help my son get off drugs, make my husband love me. "
In Mexico City, the young men come to the seminary doors clutching small statues of me in their hands, while mothers weep before me in the Cathedral: "Lestat, save my little one. Lestat, take away the pain. Lestat, I can walk! Look, the statue is moving, I see tears!"
Drug dealers lay down their guns before me in Bogot¨¢, Colombia. Murderers fall to their knees whispering my name.
In Moscow the patriarch bows before my image with a crippled boy in his arms, and the boy is visibly healed. Thousands return to the Church in France due to my intercession, people whispering as they stand before me, "Lestat, I've made up with my thieving sister. Lestat, I renounced my evil mistress. Lestat, I have exposed the crooked bank, this is the first time I've been to Mass in years. Lestat, I am going into the convent and nothing can stop me. "
In Naples, as Mt. Vesuvius erupts, my statue is carried in procession to halt the lava before it destroys the seashore towns. In Kansas City, thousands of students file past my image pledging to have safe sex or none at all. I am invoked at Mass for special intercession throughout Europe and America.
In New York, a gang of scientists announces to the whole world that, thanks to my specific intercession they have managed to make an odorless, tasteless, harmless drug which creates the total high of crack,
cocaine and heroin combined, and which is dirt cheap, totally available and completely legal! The drug trade is forever destroyed!
Senators and congressmen sob and embrace when they hear the news. My statue is immediately put into the National Cathedral.
Hymns are written to me everywhere. I am the subject of pious poetry. Copies of my saintly biography (a dozen pages) are vividly illustrated and printed by the billions. People crowd into St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to leave their handwritten petitions in a basket before my image.
Little duplicates of me stand on dressing tables, countertops, desks, computer stations worldwide. "You haven't heard of him? Pray to him, your husband will be a lamb afterwards, your mother will stop nagging you, your children will come to visit every Sunday; then send your money in thanksgiving to the church. "
Where are my remains? I don't have any. My entire body has become relics, scattered all over the world, bits and pieces of dried flesh and bone and hair put into little gold cases called reliquaries, some fragments fitted into the hollowed-out backs of crosses, some in lockets that can be worn on chains around the neck. I can feel all these relics. I can slumber in the awareness of their influence. "Lestat, help me to stop smoking. Lestat, is my gay son going to Hell? (Absolutely not. ) Lestat, I am dying. Lestat, nothing's going to bring my father back. Lestat, this pain will never end. Lestat, is there really a God?" (Yes!)
I answer everyone. Peace, the certainty of the sublime, the irresistible joy of faith, the cessation of all pain, the profound abolition of the meaninglessness.
I am relevant. I am vastly and wondrously known. I am unavoidable! I have pierced the current of history! I am written about in the pages of the New York Times.
And meantime, I'm in Heaven with God. I am with the Lord in the Light, the Creator, the Divine Source of All Things. The solution to all mysteries is available to me. Why not? I know the answers to positively every question.
God says, You should appear to people. It's the proper work of a great saint. People down there expect this of you.
And so I leave the Light and drift slowly towards the green planet. There is a slight, prudent, loss of Full Understanding as I slip into the earthly atmosphere. No saint can carry the Fullness of Knowledge into the World because the World couldn't grasp it.
I adorn myself with my old human personality, you might say, but I am still a great saint, and I am totally geared for an apparition. And where do I go? Where do you think?
Vatican City is dead quiet, the smallest kingdom on Earth.
I am in the Pope's bedroom. It's like a monk's cell: just a narrow bed, one straight-back chair. So simple.
John Paul II, eighty-two years of age, is suffering, the pain in his bones too much for true sleep, the Parkinson's tremor too strong, the arthritis too widespread, the ravages of old age so mercilessly upon him.
Slowly he opens his eyes. In English he salutes me.
"Saint Lestat," he says. "Why have you come to me? Why not Padre Pio?"
Not a great response.
But! He means no slight. It's a perfectly understandable question. The Pope loves Padre Pio. He has canonized hundreds of saints. Probably he loved them all. But how he loved Padre Pio. As for me, I don't know if he loved me when he canonized me, because I haven't yet written the part of the story in which I get canonized. And as I write this, Padre Pio was canonized last week.
(I watched the whole thing on TV. Vampires love TV. )
Back to the moment.
The frigid stillness of the papal quarters, so austere, despite the palatial dimensions. Candles glow in the Pope's private chapel. The Pope groans in pain.
I lay my healing hands upon him, and I banish his suffering. A quiet penetrates his limbs. He looks at me with one eye, the other squinched closed as is often his manner, and between us there is suddenly an understanding, or rather I come to perceive something about him which the entire world ought to know:
His deep selflessness, his profound spirituality, come not only from his complete love of Christ but from his life lived under Communism. People forget. Communism, for all its hideous abus
es and cruelties, is in essence a vaunting spiritual code. And before that great puritanical government shrouded John Paul's young years, the violent paradoxes and horrifying absurdities of the Second World War surrounded him, tutoring him in self-sacrifice and courage. The man has never, ever, in his life lived in anything but a Spiritual World. Deprivation and self-denial are intertwined in his history like the double helix.
It is no wonder that he cannot yield his deep-rooted suspicions of the tumultuous voices of the prosperous capitalist countries. He simply cannot grasp the pure charity that can arise from abundance, the sublime immensity of vision possible from the vantage point of secure excess, the selflessness and sweeping sacrificial ambition that can be born when all needs are luxuriantly met.
Can I broach this subject with him in this quiet moment? Or should I only assure him that he must not worry about the "greed" of the Western World?
Softly I talk to him. I begin to elucidate these points. (Yeah, I know, he's the Pope, and I'm a vampire writing this story; but in this story I'm a great Saint. I cannot be intimidated within the risks of my own work!)
I remind him that the sublime principles of Greek philosophy arose in affluence, and slowly, acceptingly, he nods. He is quite the educated philosopher. A lot of people don't know that about him, either. But I must impress upon him something infinitely more profound.
I see it so beautifully. I see everything.
Our biggest mistake worldwide is our insistence on perceiving every new development as a culmination or a climax. The great "at last" or "inth degree. " A constitutional fatalism continuously adjusts itself to the ever-changing present. A pervasive alarmism greets every advance. For two thousand years we have been getting "out of hand. "
This derives of course from our susceptibility to viewing the "now" as the End Time, an Apocalyptic obsession that has endured since Christ ascended into Heaven. We must stop this! We must perceive that we are at the dawn of a sublime age! Enemies will no longer be conquered. They will be devoured, and transformed.
But here's the point I really want to make: Modernism and Materialism-elements that the Church has feared for so long-are in their philosophical and practical infancy! Their sacramental nature is only just being revealed!
Never mind the infantile blunders! The electronic revolution has transmuted the industrial world beyond all predictive thinking of the twentieth century. We're still having birth pangs. Get into it! Work with it. Play it out.
Daily life for millions in the developed countries is not only comfortable but a compilation of wonders that borders on the miraculous. And so new spiritual desires arise which are infinitely more courageous than the missionary goals of the past.
We must bear witness that political atheism has failed totally. Think about it. In the trash, the whole system. Except for the island of Cuba, maybe. But what does Castro prove? And even the most secular power brokers in America exude high virtue as a matter of course. That's why we have corporate scandals! That's why people get so upset! No morals, no scandals. In fact, we may have to re-examine all the areas of society which we have so blithely labeled as "secular. " Who is really without profound and unshakable altruistic beliefs?
Judeo-Christianity is the religion of the secular West, no matter how many millions claim to disregard it. Its profound tenets have been internalized by the most remote and intellectual agnostics. Its expectations inform Wall Street as well as the common courtesies exchanged on a crowded beach in California or a meeting between the heads of Russia and the United States.
Techno-saints will soon rise-if they have not already-to melt the poverty of millions with torrents of well- distributed goods and services. Communications will annihilate hatred and divisiveness as Internet caf¨¦s continue to spring up like flowers throughout the slums of Asia and the Orient. Cable television will bring countless new programs to the vast Arab world. Even North Korea will be penetrated.
Minorities in Europe and America will be thoroughly and fruitfully assimilated through computer literacy. As already described, medical science will find cheap harmless substitutes for cocaine and heroin, thereby eliminating the evil drug trade altogether. All violence will soon give way to a refinement of debate and exchange of knowledge. Effective acts of terrorism will continue to be obscene precisely because of their rarity, until they stop altogether.
As for sexuality, the revolution in this regard is so vast that we of this time cannot begin to comprehend its full ramifications. Short skirts, bobs, car dates, women in the work place, gays in love-we are dizzy with mere beginnings. Our scientific understanding and control of procreation gives us a power undreamt of in former centuries and the immediate impact is but a shadow of things to come. We must respect the immense mysteries of the sperm and the egg, the mysteries of the chemistry of gender and gender choice and attraction. All God's children will thrive from our growing knowledge, but to repeat this is only the beginning. We must have the courage to embrace the beauty of science in the name of the Lord.
The Pope listens. He smiles.
The image of God Incarnate, become Man out of fascination with His own Creation, will triumph in the Third Millennium as the supreme emblem of Divine Sacrifice and Unfathomable Love.
It takes thousands of years to understand the Crucified Christ, I say. Why, for example, did He come down to live thirty-three years? Why not twenty? Why not twenty-five? You could ponder this stuff forever. Why did Christ have to start as a baby? Who wants to be a baby? Was being a baby part of our salvation? And why choose that particular time in history? And such a place!
Dirt, grit, sand, rocks everywhere-I've never seen so many rocks as in the Holy Land-bare feet, sandals, camels; imagine those times. No wonder they used to stone people! Did it have anything to do with the sheer simplicity of the clothes and hair, Christ coming in that era? I think it did. Page through a book on world costume-you know, a really good encyclopedia taking you from ancient Sumer to Ralph Lauren, and you can't find any simpler clothes and hair than in Galilee First Century.
I am serious, I tell the Holy Father. Christ considered this, He had to. How could He not? Surely He knew that images of Him would proliferate exponentially.
Furthermore, I think Christ chose Crucifixion because henceforth in every depiction He would be seen extending His arms in a loving embrace. Once you see the Crucifix in that manner, everything changes. You see Him reaching out to all the World. He knew the image had to be durable. He knew it had to be abstractable. He knew it had to be reproducible. It is no accident that we can take the image of this ghastly death and wear it around our necks on a chain. God thinks of all these things, doesn't He?
The Pope is still smiling. "If you weren't a saint, I'd laugh at you," he says. "Exactly when are you expecting these Techno-saints, by the way?"
I'm happy. He looks like the old Wojtyla-the Pope who still went skiing until he was seventy-three. My visit has been worth it.
And after all, we can't all be Padre Pio or Mother Teresa. I'm Saint Lestat.
"I'll say hello for you to Padre Pio," I whisper.
But the Pope is dozing. He has chuckled and drifted off. So much for my mystical import. I've put him to sleep. But what did I expect, especially of the Pope? He works so hard. He suffers. He thinks. He has already traveled to Asia and Eastern Europe this year, and he will soon be going to Toronto and Guatemala and Mexico. I don't know how he can do these things.
I place my hand on his forehead.
Then I leave.
I go down the stairs to the Sistine Chapel. It is empty and dark, of course. It is chilly too. But never fear, my saintly eyes are as good as my vampire eyes, and I can see the swarming magnificence.
Alone-cut off from all the world and all things-I stand there. I want to lie on the floor face down in the manner of a priest at his ordination. I want to be a priest. I want to consecrate the host! I want this so badly that I ache for it. I DON'T WANT TO DO EVIL
But the fact is, my fantasy of Saint Lestat is dissolving. I know it for what it is and I can't sustain it.
I know that I am no saint and never was or will be. No banner of me ever unfurled in St. Peter's Square in the sunlight. No crowd of hundreds of thousands ever cheered for my canonization. No string of cardinals ever attended the ceremony because it never took place. And I have no odorless, tasteless, harmless formula that exactly mimics crack, cocaine and heroin combined, so I can't save the world.
I'm not even standing in the Sistine Chapel. I am far away from it, in a place of warmth, though just as lonely.
I am a vampire. For over two hundred years I've loved it. I am filled with the blood of others to my very eyeballs. I am polluted with it. I am as cursed as the Hemorrhissa before she touched the hem of Christ's garment in Capharnaum! I live by blood. I am ritually impure.
And there's only one kind of miracle I can work. We call it the Dark Trick and I'm about to do it.
And do you think all this guilt is about to stop me?Nada, never,mais non, forget about it, get out of here, not in a pig's eye, pa-lease, gimme a break, no way.
I told you I'd come back, didn't I?
I'm irrepressible, unforgivable, unstoppable, shameless, thoughtless, hopeless, heartless, running rampant, the wild child, undaunted, unrepentant, unsaved.
And baby, there is a story to tell.
I hear Hell's Bells calling me. It's time to boogie!
SO SLAM CUT TO: