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"WHAT CAN I CONFESS?
I'M ASHLAR. I'M TALTOS.
It's centuries since I've seen one single member of my own species. Oh, there have been others. I've heard of them, chased after them, and in some instances almost found them. Mark, I say almost. But not in centuries have I touched my own flesh and blood, as humans are so fond of saying. Never in all this time...."
When Ashlar learns that another Taltos has been seen, he is suddenly propelled into the haunting world of the Mayfair family, the New Orleans dynasty of witches forever besieged by ghosts, spirits, and their own dizzying powers. For Ashlar knows this powerful clan is intimately linked to the heritage of the Taltos.
In a swirling universe filled with death and life, corruption and innocence, this mesmerizing novel takes us on a wondrous journey back through the centuries to a civilization half human, of wholly mysterious origin, at odds with mortality and immortality, justice and guilt. It is an enchanted, hypnotic world that could come only from the imagination of Anne Rice....
"SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE ... [An]
alluring supernatural romance."
BY ANNE RICE
Interview with the Vampire The Feast of All Saints Cry to Heaven The Vampire Lestat The Queen of the Damned The Mummy
The Witching Hour The Tale of the Body Thief Lasher
Memnoch the Devil Servant of the Bones Violin
The Vampire Armand Vittorio, The Vampire Merrick
Blood and Gold Blackwood Farm Blood Canticle Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt Christ the Lord: Road to Cana Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession Angel Time
Other Books By This Author
DEDICATED WITH LOVE
Stan, Christopher, and Michele Rice,
Margaret and Stanley Rice, Sr.
THE GARDEN OF LOVE
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.
From Songs of Experience,
IT HAD SNOWED all day. As the darkness fell, very close and quickly, he stood at the window looking down on the tiny figures in Central Park. A perfect circle of light fell on the snow beneath each lamp. Skaters moved on the frozen lake, though he could not make them out in detail. And cars pushed sluggishly over the dark roads.
To his right and his left, the skyscrapers of midtown crowded near him. But nothing came between him and the park, except, that is, for a jungle of lower buildings, rooftops with gardens, and great black hulking pieces of equipment, and sometimes even pointed roofs.
He loved this view; it always surprised him when others found it so unusual, when a workman coming to fix an office machine would volunteer that he'd never seen New York like this before. Sad that there was no marble tower for everyone; that there was no series of towers, to which all the people could go, to look out at varying heights.
Make a note: Build a series of towers which have no function except to be parks in the sky for the people. Use all the beautiful marbles which you so love. Maybe he would do that this year. Very likely, he would do it. And the libraries. He wanted to establish more of these, and that would mean some travel. But he would do all this, yes, and soon. After all, the parks were almost completed now, and the little schools had been opened in seven cities. The carousels had been opened in twenty different places.
Granted, the animals were synthetic, but each was a meticulous and indestructible reproduction of a famous European hand-carved masterpiece. People loved the carousels. But it was a time for a spate of new plans. The winter had caught him dreaming....
In the last century, he had put into material form a hundred such ideas. And this year's little triumphs had their comforting charm. He had made an antique carousel within this building, all of the original old horses, lions, and such that had provided molds for his replicas. The museum of classic automobiles now filled one level of the basement. The public flocked to see the Model Ts, the Stutz Bearcats, the MG-TDs with their wire wheels.
And of course there were the doll museums--in large, well-lighted rooms on two floors above the lobby--the company showcase, filled with the dolls he'd collected from all parts of the world. And the private museum, open only now and then, including the dolls which he himself had personally cherished.
Now and then he slipped downstairs to watch the people, to walk through the crowds, never unnoticed, but at least unknown.
A creature seven feet in height can't avoid the eyes of people. That had been true forever. But a rather amusing thing had happened in the last two hundred years. Human beings had gotten taller! And now, miracle of miracles, even at his height, he did not stand out so very much. People gave him a second glance, of course, but they weren't frightened of him anymore.
Indeed, occasionally a human male came into the building who was in fact taller than he was. Of course the staff would alert him. They thought it one of his little quirks that he wanted such people reported to him. They found it amusing. He didn't mind. He liked to see people smile and laugh.
"Mr. Ash, there's a tall one down here. Camera five."
He'd turn to the bank of small glowing screens, and quickly catch sight of the individual. Only human. He usually knew for certain right away. Once in a great while, he wasn't sure of it. And he went down in the silent, speeding elevator, and walked near the person long enough to ascertain from a score of details that this was only a man.
Other dreams: small play buildings for children, made exquisitely out of space-age plastics with rich and intricate detail. He saw small cathedrals, castles, palaces--perfect replicas of the larger architectural treasures--produced with lightning speed, and "cost effective," as the board would put it. There would be numerous sizes, from dwellings for dolls to houses which children could enter themselves. And carousel horses for sale, made of wood resin, which almost anyone could afford. Hundreds could be given to schools, hospitals, other such institutions. Then there was the ongoing obsession--truly beautiful dolls for poor children, dolls that would not break, and could be cleaned with ease--but that he had been working on, more or less, since the new century dawned.
For the last five years he had produced cheaper and cheaper dolls, dolls superior to those before them, dolls of new chemical materials, dolls that were durable and lovable; yet still they cost too much for poor children. This year he would try something entirely different.... He had plans on the drawing board, a couple of promising prototypes. Perhaps ...
He felt a consoling warmth steal through him as he thought of these many projects, for they would take him hundreds of years. Long ago, in ancient times as they called them, he had dreamed of monuments. Great circles of stone for all to see, a dance of giants in the high grass of the plain. Even modest towers had obsessed him for decades, and once the lettering of beautiful books had taken all his joy for centuries.
But in these playthings of the modern world, these dolls, these tiny images of people, not children really, for dolls never really did look like children, he had found a strange and challenging obsession.
Monuments were for those who traveled to see them. The dolls and toys he refined and manufactured reached every country on the globe. Indeed, machines had made all sorts of new and beautiful objects available for people of all nations--the rich, the impoverished, those in need of comfort, or sustenance and shelter, those kept in sanitariums and asylums which they could never leave.
His company had been his redemption; even his wildest and most daring ideas had been put into successful production. Indeed, he did not understand why other toy companies made so few innovations, why cookie-cutter dolls with vapid faces lined the shelves of emporiums, why the ease of manufacture had not produced a wilderness of originality and invention.
Unlike his joyless colleagues, with each of his triumphs he had taken greater risks.
It didn't make him happy to drive others out of the market. No, competition was still something he could only grasp intellectually. His secret belief was that the number of potential buyers in today's world was unlimited. There was room for anyone marketing anything of worth. And within these walls, within this soaring and dangerous tower of steel and glass, he enjoyed his triumphs in a state of pure bliss which he could share with no one else.
No one else. Only the dolls could share it. The dolls who stood on the glass shelves against the walls of colored marble, the dolls who stood on pedestals in the corners, the dolls who clustered together on his broad wooden desk. His Bru, his princess, his French beauty, a century old; she was his most enduring witness. Not a day passed that he didn't go down to the second floor of the building and visit the Bru--a bisque darling of impeccable standards, three feet tall, her mohair curls intact, her painted face a masterpiece, her torso and wooden legs as perfect now as they were when the French company had manufactured her for the Paris market over one hundred years ago.
That had been her allure, that she was a thing for hundreds of children to enjoy; a pinnacle had been reached in her, of craft and mass production. Even her factory clothes of silk represented that special achievement. Not for one, but for many.
There had been years when, wandering the world, he had carried her with him, taking her out of the suitcase at times just to look into her glass eyes, just to tell her his thoughts, his feelings, his dreams. In the night, in squalid lonely rooms, he had seen the light glint in her ever-watchful eyes. And now she was housed in glass, and thousands saw her yearly, and all the other antique Bru dolls now clustered around her. Sometimes he wanted to sneak her upstairs, put her on a bedroom shelf. Who would care? Who would dare say anything? Wealth surrounds one with a blessed silence, he thought. People think before they speak. They feel they have to. He could talk to the doll again if he wanted to. In the museum, he was silent when they met, the glass of the case separating them. Patiently she waited to be reclaimed, the humble inspiration for his empire.
Of course this company of his, this enterprise of his, as it was so often called by papers and magazines, was predicated on the development of an industrial and mechanical matrix which had existed now for only three hundred years. What if war were to destroy it? But dolls and toys gave him such sweet happiness that he imagined he would never hereafter be without them. Even if war reduced the world to rubble, he would make little figures of wood or clay and paint them himself.
Sometimes he saw himself this way, alone in the ruins. He saw New York as it might have appeared in a science-fiction movie, dead and silent and filled with overturned columns and broken pediments and shattered glass. He saw himself sitting on a broken stone stairway, making a doll from sticks and tying it together with bits of cloth which he took quietly and respectfully from a dead woman's silk dress.
But who would have imagined that such things would have caught his fancy? That wandering a century ago through a wintry street in Paris, he would turn and gaze into a shop window, into the glass eyes of his Bru, and fall passionately in love?
Of course, his breed had always been known for its capacity to play, to cherish, to enjoy. Perhaps it was not at all surprising. Though studying a breed, when you were one of the only surviving specimens of it, was a tricky situation, especially for one who could not love medical philosophy or terminology, whose memory was good but far from preternatural, whose sense of the past was often deliberately relinquished to a "childlike" immersion in the present, and a general fear of thinking in terms of millennia or eons or whatever people wanted to call the great spans of time which he himself had witnessed, lived through, struggled to endure, and finally cheerfully forgotten in this great enterprise suited to his few and special talents.
Nevertheless, he did study his own breed, making and recording meticulous notes on himself. And he was not good at predicting the future, or so he felt.
A low hum came to his ears. He knew it was the coils beneath the marble floor, gently heating the room around him. He fancied he could feel the heat, coming up through his shoes. It was never chilly or smotheringly hot in his tower. The coils took care of him. If only such comfort could belong to the entire world outside. If only all could know abundant food, warmth. His company sent millions in aid to those who lived in deserts and jungles across the seas, but he was never really sure who received what, who benefited.
In the first days of motion pictures, and later television, he had thought war would end. Hunger would end. People could not bear to see it on the screen before them. How foolish a thought. There seemed to be more war and more hunger now than ever. On every continent, tribe fought tribe. Millions starved. So much to be done. Why make such careful choices? Why not do everything?
The snow had begun again, with flakes so tiny he could barely see them. They appeared to melt when they hit the dark streets below. But those streets were some sixty floors down. He couldn't be certain. Half-melted snow was piled in the gutters and on the nearby roofs. In a little while, things would be freshly white again, perhaps, and in this sealed and warm room, one could imagine the entire city dead and ruined, as if by pestilence which did not crumble buildings but killed the warm-blooded beings which lived within them, like termites in wooden walls.
The sky was black. That was the one thing he did not like about snow. You lost the sky when you had it. And he did so love the skies over New York City, the full panoramic skies which the people in the streets never really saw.
"Towers, build them towers," he said. "Make a big museum high up in the sky with terraces around it. Bring them up in glass elevators, heavenward to see ..."
Towers for pleasure among all these towers that men had built for commerce and gain.
A thought took him suddenly, an old thought, really, that often came to him and prodded him to meditate and perhaps even to surmise. The first writings in all the world had been commercial lists of goods bought and sold. This was what was in the cuneiform tablets found at Jericho, inventories.... The same had been true at Mycenea.
No one had thought it important then to write down his or her ideas or thoughts. Buildings had been wholly different. The grandest were houses of worship--temples or great mud-brick ziggurats, faced in limestone, which men had climbed to sacrifice to the gods. The circle of sarsens on the Salisbury Plain.
Now, seven thousand years later, the greatest buildings were commercial buildings. They were inscribed with the names of banks or great corporations, or immense private companies such as his own. From his window he could see these names burning in bright, coarse block letters, through the snowy sky, through the dark that wasn't really dark.
As for temples and places of worship, they were relics or almost nought. Somewhere down there he could pick out the steeples of St. Patrick's if he tried. But it was a shrine now to the past more than a vibrant center of communal religious spirit, and it looked quaint, reaching to the skies amid the tall, indifferent glass buildings around it. It was majestic only from the streets.
The scribes of Jericho would have understood this shift, he thought. On the other hand, perhaps they would not. He barely understood it himself, yet the implications seemed mammoth and more wonderful than human beings knew. This commerce, this endless multiplicity of beautiful and useful things, could save the world, ultimately, if only ... Planned obsolesence, mass destruction of last year's goods, the rush to antiquate or render irrelevent others' designs, it was the result of a tragic lack of vision. Only the most limited implications of the marketplace theory were to blame for it. The real revolution came not in the cycle of make and destroy, but in a great inventive and endless expansion. Old dichotomies had to fall. In his darling Bru, and her factory-assembled parts, in the pocket calculators carried by millions on the streets, in the light beautiful stroke of rolling-ball pens, in five-dollar Bibles, and in toys, beautiful toys sold on drugstore shelves for pennies--there lay salvation.
It seemed he could get his mind around it, he could penetrate it, make tight, easily explainable theories, if only--
"Mr. Ash." It was a soft voice that interrupted him. Nothing more was required. He'd trained them all. Don't make a sound with the door. Speak quietly. I'll hear you.
And this voice came from Remmick, who was gentle by nature, an Englishman (with a little Celtic blood, though Remmick didn't know it), a manservant who had been indispensable in this last decade, though the time would soon come when, for security's sake, Remmick must be sent away.