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The Wolves of Midwinter, Page 2

Anne Rice

  “How do you feel?” he managed. “Are you feeling bad at all, I mean are there any bad side effects?”

  “I was a little sick in the beginning,” she said.

  “And you were alone and no one—?”

  “Thibault’s been here every night,” she said. “Sometimes Sergei. Sometimes Felix.”

  “Those devils,” he whispered.

  “Reuben, don’t,” she said in the most simple and sincere way. “You mustn’t for a moment think that anything bad has happened. You mustn’t.”

  “I know,” he murmured. He felt a throbbing in his face and in his hands. Of all places, his hands. The blood was rushing in his veins. “But were you ever in any kind of danger?”

  “No, none,” she said. “That simply doesn’t happen. They explained all that. Not when the Chrism’s passed and there are no real injuries to the person. Those who die, die when their injuries can’t be overtaken by the Chrism.”

  “I figured as much,” he said. “But we don’t have a rule book to consult when we begin to worry, do we?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “When did you decide?”

  “I decided almost immediately,” she said. “I couldn’t resist it. It was pointless to tell myself I was pondering it, giving it the consideration it deserved.” Her voice grew warmer and so did her expression. This was Laura, his Laura. “I wanted it, and I told Felix and I told Thibault.”

  He studied her, ignoring the impulse to take her to the bed again. Her skin looked moist, youthful, and though she’d never looked old, she’d been powerfully enhanced, there was no doubt of it. He could hardly bear to look at her lips and not kiss them.

  “I went to the cemetery,” she said. “I talked to my father.” She looked off, obviously not finding this easy. “Well, talked as if I could talk to my father,” she said. “They’re all buried there, you know, my sister, my mother, my father. I talked to them. Talked to them about all of it. But I’d made the decision before I ever left Nideck Point. I knew I was going to do it.”

  “All this time, I was figuring you’d refuse, you’d say no.”

  “Why?” she asked gently. “Why would you think such a thing?”

  “I don’t know,” he said. “Because you had lost so much and you might want so much more. Because you’d lost children, and you might want a child again, not a Morphenkind child, whatever that would be, but a child. Or because you believed in life, and thought life itself is worth what we give up for it.”

  “It is worth dying for?” she asked.

  He didn’t answer.

  “You speak like you have regrets,” she said. “But I guess that’s bound to happen.”

  “I don’t have regrets,” he said. “I don’t know what I feel, but I could imagine your saying no. I could imagine your wanting another chance at a family, a husband, a lover, and children.”

  “Reuben, what you have never grasped … what you seem absolutely unable to grasp … is that this means we don’t die.” She said it without drama, but it was cutting to him and he knew it was true. “All my family have died,” she said, her voice low and a little scolding. “All my family! My father, my mother, yes, in due course; but my sister, murdered in a liquor store robbery, and my children gone, dead, taken in the most cruel ways. Oh, I’ve never spoken of these things to you before, really; I shouldn’t now. I hate when people tout their suffering and their losses.” Her face hardened suddenly. Then a faraway look took hold of her as if she’d been drawn back into the worst pain.

  “I know what you’re saying,” he said. “I don’t know about death. Not anything. Until the night Marchent was killed, I only knew one person ever that had died, Celeste’s brother. Oh, my grandparents, yes, they’re dead, but they were so old. And then Marchent. I knew Marchent for less than twenty-four hours, and it was such a shock. I was numb. It wasn’t death, it was catastrophe.”

  “Don’t be in a hurry to know all about it,” she said, a little defeated.

  “Shouldn’t I?” He thought of the people whose lives he’d taken, the bad guys the Man Wolf had ripped right out of life, thoughtlessly. And it came down on him hard that very soon Laura too would have that brute power, to kill as he’d killed, while she herself would be invulnerable.

  There were no words now for him.

  Images were crowding his mind, filling him with an ominous sadness, and a near despair. He pictured her in a country cemetery talking with the dead. He thought of those pictures of her children that he’d glimpsed. He thought of his family, always there, and then he thought of his own power, of that limitless strength he enjoyed as he mounted the rooftops, as the voices summoned him out of humanity and into the single-minded Man Wolf who would kill without regret or compassion.

  “But you haven’t fully changed yet, have you? Not yet?”

  “No, not yet,” she said. “Only the small changes so far,” she said. She looked off without moving her head. “I can hear the forest,” she said with a faint smile. “I can hear the rain in ways I never heard it before. I know things. I knew when you were approaching. I look at the flowers, and I swear I can see them grow, see them blossoming, see them dying.”

  He didn’t speak. It was beautiful what she was saying and yet it was frightening him. Even the soft secretive look on her face frightened him. She was staring off. “There’s a Norse god, isn’t there, Reuben, who can hear the grass grow?”

  “Heimdall,” he said. “The keeper of the gate. He can hear the grass grow and see for a hundred leagues in the day or in the night.”

  She laughed. “Yes. I see the stars themselves through the fog, through the cloud cover; I see the sky no one else can see from this magical forest.”

  He should have said, Just wait, just wait until the full change comes on you, but his voice had died in him.

  “I hear the deer in the forest,” she said. “I can hear them now. I can almost … pick up the scent. It’s faint. I don’t want to imagine things.”

  “They’re there. Two, out there, just beyond the clearing,” he said.

  She was watching him again, watching him in that impassive fashion, and he couldn’t bear to look her in the eyes. He thought about the deer, such tender, exquisite creatures, but if he didn’t stop thinking about them, he would want to kill both of them and devour them. How would she feel when that happened to her, when all she could think of was sinking her fangs into the neck of the deer and tearing out its heart while the heart was still beating?

  He was aware that she was moving, coming around the table towards him. The soft clean scent of her skin caught him by surprise as the forest in his mind receded, dimmed. She settled in the empty chair to his right and then she reached out and put her hand on the side of his face.

  Slowly he looked into her eyes.

  “You’re afraid,” she said.

  He nodded. “I am.”

  “You’re being truthful about it.”

  “Is that a good thing?”

  “I love you so much,” she said. “So much. It’s better that than saying all the correct things, that you realize now we’ll be together in this, that you will never lose me now as you might have, that I’ll soon be invulnerable to the same things that can’t hurt you.”

  “That’s what I should say, what I should think.”

  “Perhaps. But you don’t tell lies, Reuben, except when you have to, and you don’t like secrets, and they cause you pain.”

  “They do. And we are both a secret now, Laura, a very big secret. We are a dangerous secret.”

  “Look at me.”

  “I’m trying to do that.”

  “Just tell me all of it, let it flow.”

  “You know what it’s about,” he said. “When I came here, that first night, when I was wandering out there in the grass, the Man Wolf, and I saw you, you were like some tender, innocent being, something purely human and feminine and marvelously vulnerable, standing there on the porch and you were so …”


  “Yes, but fragile, intensely fragile, and even as I fell in love with you, I was so afraid for you, that you’d open your door like that, to something like me. You didn’t know what I was, not really. You had no idea. You thought I was a simple Man of the Wild, you know you did, something out of the heart of the forest that didn’t belong in the cities of men, remember that? You made a myth of me. I wanted to enfold you, protect you, save you from yourself, save you from myself!—from your recklessness, I mean your inviting me in as you did.”

  She seemed to be weighing something. She started to speak but didn’t.

  “I wanted to just take away all your pain,” he said. “And the more I learned of your pain the more I wanted to annihilate it. But of course I couldn’t do that. I could only compromise you, bring you halfway into this secret with me.”

  “I wanted to come,” she said. “I wanted you. I wanted the secret, didn’t I?”

  “But I was no primal beast of the woods,” he said, “I was no innocent hairy man of myth, I was Reuben Golding, the hunter, the killer, the Man Wolf.”

  “I know,” she said. “And I loved you every step of the way to the knowledge of what you are, didn’t I?”

  “Yes.” He sighed. “So what am I afraid of?”

  “That you won’t love the Morphenkind that I become,” she said simply. “So you won’t love me when I’m as powerful as you are.”

  He couldn’t reply.

  He sucked in his breath. “And Felix, and Thibault, do they know how to control when the full change happens?”

  “No. They said it would be soon.” She waited, and when he said nothing, she went on. “You’re scared you won’t love me anymore, that I won’t be that tender, vulnerable pink thing that you found in this house.”

  He hated himself for not answering.

  “You can’t be happy for me, you can’t be happy that I will share this with you, can you?”

  “I’m trying,” he said. “I really am, I’m trying.”

  “From the very first moment you loved me you were miserable that you couldn’t share it with me, you know you were,” she said. “We talked about it, and it was there when we didn’t talk about it—the fact that I could die, and you couldn’t give this gift to me for fear of killing me, the fact that I might never share it with you. We talked of that. We did.”

  “I know that, Laura. You’ve every right to be furious with me. To be disappointed. God knows, I disappoint people.”

  “No, you don’t,” she said. “Don’t say those things. If you’re talking about your mother and that dreadful Celeste, well, good, you disappoint them for being far more sensitive than they can guess, for not buying into their ruthless world with its greedy ambition and nauseating self-sacrifice. So what! Disappoint them.”

  “Hmmm,” he whispered. “I’ve never heard you talk like that before.”

  “Well, I’m not Little Red Riding Hood anymore, now, am I?” She laughed. “Seriously. They don’t know who you are. But I do and your father does, and so does Felix, and you’re not disappointing me. You love me. You love who I was and you’re afraid of losing that person. That’s not disappointing.”

  “I think it should be.”

  “It was all theoretical to you,” she said. “That you might share the gift with me, that I might die if you didn’t. It was theoretical to you that you had it. It all happened too quickly for you.”

  “That’s the truth,” he said.

  “Look, I don’t expect anything of you that you can’t give,” she said. “Only allow me this. Allow me to be part of all of you, even if you and I can’t be lovers anymore. Allow that, that I’ll be part of you and Felix and Thibault and …”

  “Of course, yes. Do you think they would ever allow me to drive you away? Do you think for a minute I’d do that? Laura!”

  “Reuben, there isn’t a man alive who doesn’t feel possessive of the woman he loves, who doesn’t want to control his access to her and her access to him and his world.”

  “Laura, I know all that—.”

  “Reuben, you have to be feeling something about the fact that they gave me the Chrism, whether you wanted them to do it or not, that they made their decision about me and with me essentially without seeing me as part of you. And I made my decision the same way.”

  “As it should be, for the love of—.”

  He stopped.

  “I don’t like what I’m finding out about myself,” he said. “But this is life and death, and it’s your choice. And do you think I could endure it if they’d left it up to me, if they’d treated you as if you were my possession?”

  “No, I don’t,” she said. “But we can’t always reason with our feelings.”

  “Well, I love you,” he said. “And I will accept this. I will. I will love you as much after as I love you now. My feelings might not listen to reason. But I’m giving them a direct order.”

  She laughed. And he did in spite of himself.

  “Now, tell me. Why are you here alone now, when the change might come at any time?”

  “I’m not alone,” she said. “Thibault’s here. He’s been here since before dark. He’s out there, waiting for you to leave. He’ll be with me every night until it’s resolved.”

  “Well, then why don’t you come home now?” he demanded.

  She didn’t answer. She was looking off again as if listening to the sounds of the forest. “Come back with me now. Let’s pack up and get out of here.”

  “You’re being very brave,” she said quietly. “But I want to see this through here. And you know that’s better for both of us.”

  He couldn’t deny it. He couldn’t deny that he was terrified that the transformation might come on right now as they sat there. The mere thought of it was more than he could bear.

  “You’re in safe hands with Thibault,” he said.

  “Of course,” she said.

  “If it was that Frank, I’d kill him with my bare claws.”

  She smiled, but didn’t protest.

  He was being ridiculous, wasn’t he? After all, hadn’t Thibault—whenever he’d received the gift—been invigorated by it? What was the practical difference between the two men? One looked like an elderly scholar and the other like a Don Juan. But they were both full-blooded Morphenkinder, weren’t they? Yet Thibault conveyed the grace of age, and Frank was forever in his prime. And it struck him suddenly with full force that she would look as beautiful as she was now forever; and he himself, he himself, would never grow older, or look older or seem older—never become the wise and venerable man that his father was, never ever age beyond this moment. He might as well have been the youth on Keats’s Grecian urn.

  How could he have failed to realize these things, and what they must mean to her, and should mean to him? How had he not been transformed by that awareness, that secret knowledge? It was theoretical to him, she was right.

  She knew. She’d always known what the full import of it all was. She’d tried to get him to realize it, and when he did let it penetrate now, he felt even more ashamed than ever of fearing the change in her.

  He stood up and walked to the back bedroom. He felt dazed, almost sleepy. The rain was heavy now, pounding the old roof above. He felt an eagerness to get on the road, to be plowing north through the darkness.

  “If Thibault weren’t here, I wouldn’t think of leaving,” he said. He pulled on his clothes, hastily buttoning his shirt, and slipping on his coat.

  Then he turned to her and the tears rose in his eyes.

  “You will come home just as soon as you can,” he said.

  She put her arms around him and he held her as tightly as he dared, rubbing his face in her hair, kissing her over and over again on her soft cheek. “I love you, Laura,” he said. “I love you with all my heart, Laura. I love you with all my soul. I’m young and foolish and I don’t understand all of it, but I love you, and I want you to come home. I don’t know what I have to offer you that the others can’t offer, and they
’re stronger, finer, infinitely more experienced—.”

  “Stop.” She put her fingers against his lips. “You are my love,” she whispered. “My only love.”

  He went out the back door and down the steps in the rain. The forest was an invisible wall of darkness; only the wet grass showed in the lights from the house. And the rain stung him and he hated it.

  “Reuben,” she called out. She stood on the porch as she had that first night. The Old West–style kerosene lantern was there on the bench but it was not lighted, and he could not make out the features of her face.

  “What is it?”

  She came down the steps, into the rain.

  He couldn’t resist taking her in his arms again.

  “Reuben, that night. You have to understand. I didn’t care what happened to me. I didn’t care at all.”

  “I know.”

  “I didn’t care whether I lived or died. Not at all.” The rain was flooding down on her hair, on her upturned face.

  “I know.”

  “I don’t know that you can know,” she said. “Reuben, nothing paranormal, psychic, supernatural has ever happened to me. Nothing. Never have I had a presentiment, or a foreboding dream. Never has the spirit of my father or my sister, or my husband or my children come to me, Reuben. Never has there been a comforting moment when I felt their presence. Never did I have an inkling that they were alive somewhere. Never has there been the slightest breach of the rules of the natural world. That’s where I lived until you came, in the natural world.”

  “I do understand,” he said.

  “You were some kind of miracle, something monstrous yet fabulous, and the radio and the TV and the newspapers had been chattering about you, this Man Wolf thing, this incredible being, this hallucination, this spectacular chimera, I don’t know how to describe it—and there you were—there you were—and you were absolutely real, and I saw you and I touched you. And I didn’t care! I wasn’t going to turn away. I didn’t care.”

  “I understand. I know. I knew it at the time.”

  “Reuben, I want to live now. I want to be alive. I want to be alive with every fiber of my being, don’t you see, and for you and me, this is being alive.”