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Authors: Whitley Strieber

The Last Vampire

BOOK: The Last Vampire
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The Last Vampire

 

Also by Whitley Strieber

FICTION

The Forbidden Zone

Unholy Fire

Billy

Majestic

Catmagic

The Wild

Nature’s End

Warday

Wolf of Shadows

The Night Church

Black Magic

The Hunger

The Wolfen

SHORT STORIES (PRIVATE PUBLICATION)

Evenings with Demons: Stories from Thirty Years

NONFICTION

Confirmation

The Secret School

Breakthrough

The Communion Letters

Transformation

Communion

The Coming Global Superstorm

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

POCKET BOOKS, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Visit us on the World Wide Web:

http://www.SimonSays.com

Copyright © 2001 by Whitley Strieber

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN-10: 0-7434-1808-5
ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-1808-9

First Pocket Books hardcover printing August 2001

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

To Michael Talbot,
of sacred memory,
author of
The Delicate Dependency
and
The Holographic Universe

 

Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge the help of my editor, Mitchell Ivers; my agent, Sandra Martin; and my wife, Anne Strieber; all of whom have made essential contributions to the creation of this book.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

— The Second Coming,
William Butler Yeats

“I am part of the justice of the earth.”

— Miriam Blaylock,
The Hunger

The Last Vampire
ONE
The Conclave

E
veryone knew the sins of Miriam Blaylock.

Her crime, and it was an unforgivable one, was to enjoy human beings as friends and lovers, rather than to simply exploit them. She could kiss them and find it sweet, have sex with them and afterward sleep like a contented tiger. To her own kind, this was perversion, like a man with a sheep.

The fact that this prejudice was nonsense did not make what she was doing now any easier. She pressed herself back against the seat of the pedicab, instinctively keeping her face hidden, not only from man, but from her own kind. The
samlor
moved swiftly down the wet street, spattering through puddles left by the last storm. From the shadows of the passenger compartment, she watched a concealing fog rising from the moat that surrounded the ancient Thai city of Chiang Mai.

How could she ever do this impossible thing? How could she ever face her own kind?

Some theorized that she must have human blood in her family. The idea that there could be interbreeding was absurd, of course — nothing but an old husband’s tale. She despised the narrowness of her kind, hated what, in recent centuries, their lives had become. They had once been princes, but now they lived behind walls, kept to the shadows, appeared in the human world only to hunt. They had opted out of man’s technological society. They knew human breeding, but human technology was simply too intimidating for them.

Miriam owned a thriving nightclub in New York and had bookkeepers and assistants and bartenders, all humans. She had computers to run her accounts. She could access her stock portfolios using her PalmPilot, and she made money on the markets, plenty of it. She had a cell phone and GPS in her car.
They
didn’t even have cars. Once the buggy no longer bounced along behind the horse, they had simply stopped riding. The same with sails. When ships lost their sails, her kind stopped traveling the world. And airplanes — well, some of them probably weren’t yet aware that they existed.

The other rulers of the world were now just shadows hiding in dens, their numbers slowly declining due to accidents. They called themselves the Keepers, but what did that mean nowadays? Gone was the time when they were the secret masters of humankind, keeping man as man keeps cattle.

Truth be told, the Keepers were in general decline, but they were far too proud to realize it. Conclaves were held every hundred years, and at the last ones Miriam had seen a change — Keepers she had known a thousand years had followed her mother and father into death. Nobody had brought a child, nobody had courted.

Despite their failure, Miriam valued her kind. She valued herself. The Keepers were essential to the justice and meaning of the world. That was why she had come here, why she had tempted the humiliation and even the possible danger involved: she wanted to continue her species. Miriam wanted a baby.

The last of the four eggs that nature gave a Keeper woman would soon leave her body unless she found a man to fertilize it. For all that she had — riches, honor, power, and beauty — her essential meaning was unfulfilled without a baby. She was here for her last-chance child.

She gazed across the gleaming back of the
samlor
driver at the busy night streets of the bustling little city. How the world was changing. She had chosen a
samlor
out of love for the past, which she most certainly shared with the rest of her kind. She remembered Chiang Mai as a small community of wooden houses with
theps
carved on the pediments of their soaring, peaked roofs, and golden temple spires rising above lush stands of trees. Now, the narrow old streets resounded with the shrill clatter of
tuk-tuks,
which were so rapidly replacing the pedal-driven
samlor
. The traffic wasn’t quite yet the hell on earth of Bangkok, but it was certainly going in that direction.

She longed to be home, in her beautiful house, surrounded by her beloved people, faithful Sarah and sweet young Leonore, just now learning her ways.

Just like the black, miserable dens of the other Keepers, her house was full of beautiful things. But hers were treasures of the heart, not the jade and silver and gold pieces her peers collected with total indifference, selling them later just because they’d become “antiques” among the humans. They didn’t enjoy their priceless jade Buddhas or their Rembrandt drawings or their Egyptian gold. They just used them. She had a gold Buddha a thousand years old, before which she meditated, and twin Rembrandts of herself and her beloved mother. He had captured the sure gleam of their essence, she thought. She gazed often at her mother’s wide, almost innocent eyes, at the subtle humor in her lips.

Over the millennia, Miriam had lost both parents and her husband. Her keepsakes of them were at the center of her life.

Rembrandt had known that there was something unusual about the two women who had commissioned him, a sense of independence and self-possession that human women in those days did not have. He had captured it in the proud, yet easy stance of the figures he had drawn, humming to himself as he made tiny pen strokes and smoked a long clay pipe. He had kissed Miriam’s hand and said, “You are cold . . . so cold.”

Not only did she enjoy human beings, she took pleasure in human things — painting and sculpture, writing and music. She had been an opera buff from the beginning of the genre. She had been at the opening night of a dozen great operas, had been transported by everyone from Adelina Patti to Maria Callas to Kiri Te Kanawa. She remembered the haunting voices of the
castrati
echoing in the palaces of the Old World.

The other Keepers looked upon humans as animals. Miriam thought that they had souls, that you could feel something leaving their bodies just as they died. It happened while you were all curled up around them, while you were comfortably absorbing their life. A sort of electric charge would seem to come out of them. Only after that would their eyes be totally empty.

They
said it was the nervous system shorting out because of the fluid loss. Miriam hoped so. But what if the reality was that men had the souls, not us? If we were the brilliant animals, they the dim angels? That would be an irony, that an animal had created an angel.

When she meditated before her Buddha, she asked these questions: Why do we live so long? Is it because we have been denied a soul? If so, could I trade? And why, O God, if you are there, why are we cold . . . so cold?

The rest of her kind lived to eat. She ate to live. She spent heavily, just as her family always had. She consumed money without thought, like so much candy or caviar. Her club, the Veils, was the most exclusive in New York. In a strong month, and most of its months were very strong, drugs and liquor would bring in a half-million-dollar profit. There was no cover charge, of course. If you were important enough to enter the Veils at all, you certainly weren’t the sort of person who would be expected to pay a cover.

Miriam had been the friend of kings for two thousand years. She had seen their generations rise and fall. She loved them in their pride and momentary lives. She loved their finest things, the jewels and whispering silks, the attention paid to the very rich.

When the wallets of her peers opened, you could practically hear creaking. She had fun; they had their careful customs and their dreary, conservative habits. She wanted meaning from life, they wanted only to keep breathing.

But now, for all their rejecting ways, she needed them. Her plan was to travel to all of the current conclaves, at once charming and, hopefully, seducing a man.

Deep in memory’s mist, she’d had a baby. She still remembered the moment of conception as if it were yesterday. For women of her kind, conception was the most exquisite pleasure they could know. At the moment a man’s semen fertilized one of your eggs, your whole body reacted with an unforgettable explosion of nerve-tingling delight. Even after all this time, part of her being remained focused on that stunning moment.

They always knew the sex of the baby within them, and she and Eumenes named their boy and fell in love with him from that first, joy-filled night. Then had come the pregnancy, a year of gestation . . . and the pain and the loss she’d felt as the silent, blue form of her dead infant was laid on her belly. Soon after, her beloved husband also died. Practically nothing could kill them — they never got sick, they couldn’t. But he had weakened and wasted, and no one knew why. All her love, all her care, was not enough to save her dear Eumenes, not after he stopped eating.

He had grown as narrow and cold as a mummy, but his eyes had continued to glow . . . as if death had some special meaning, as if hunger had become for him a state of transcendence. She had begged him to eat, had tempted him, had tried, at the last, to force her own blood into his veins.

Was it grief that had killed him, or some greater despair? Like her, he respected the mind of man. Like her, he was unsure about whether or not humankind had ascended to a point that made it evil to prey on them.

Was it evil to be a Keeper? Was taking conscious prey murder? She thought that her husband had starved himself over these questions . . . and over the blue, hopeless baby he had so gently deposited upon her breast.

The dead may die to the world, but they do not die in the heart. Miriam’s side of their love affair had continued on for whole cycles of years. But eventually his memory faded like the encaustic of his face that she’d had painted by Eratosthenes, that hurried little genius, in Alexandria.

Old Alexandria . . . redolent with the scents of myrrh and cardamom, whispering by night, singing by day. She remembered Cleopatra’s hollow palace, and the Academia with its great library. She read all 123 of Sophocles’ plays there, and she saw thirty of them performed. How many had survived? Seven, she thought, only seven.

Over all the intervening years, she had not been able to find a man of her own kind to replace Eumenes. Part of the reason was that conclaves only happened once in a hundred years, and
they
did not court except during conclave. For somebody who lived for the moment, that kind of planning just did not work.

Now she was at the end of her choices. Either she would find someone or she would never, ever give another Keeper to the world.

Keeper children learned in school that humans were bred to appear similar to us on the surface so that Keepers could go among them more freely. In the beginning, they did not look at all similar and were not at all smart. They were little apes with lots of hair and huge teeth. We Keepers have always been as we are, beautiful beyond compare.

Miriam had drifted into the habit of taking human lovers because she was lonely and they were satisfying and the emotional commitment was not great. You found a cute male or a sweet, sensual female — the sex mattered not to Miriam, both had their charms — and you seduced, softly, gently, with the caressing eye and the slow hand. Then you put them to sleep with hypnosis and opened their veins and filled them full of your blood, and magic happened: They stayed young for years and years. You told them you’d made them immortal, and they followed you like foolish little puppies. Like the dear creature who now kept her home and business in New York, who warmed her bed and hunted with her . . . the dear creature, so lovely and brilliant and torn by her silly human conflicts. She had almost lost Sarah a few years ago, but had brought her back. The girl should be grateful and compliant, but that was not always the case. Sarah made mistakes. Sarah lived much too dangerously. She was haunted by what she had endured, and Miriam could not blame her. Indeed, she could hardly imagine what it would be like to lie in a coffin like that, slowly deteriorating but unable to die.

Sarah knew that one day the torment would certainly come again. She strove to save herself, using all of her considerable knowledge of medicine to attempt to defeat the process of aging that must slowly consume her, despite the fact that Miriam’s blood now flowed in her veins.

To live, Sarah had to prey on man. She was even more tormented by this than Miriam’s other lovers had been. Her Hippocratic oath haunted her, poor creature.

Miriam stopped herself. Best not go down that path again. She was always troubled by the tormented lives and horrible deaths of her lovers. The delicious little things were her guilt, her pain.

But not now, not on this nervous, excited night, the opening night of the Asian conclave. At least a proper lover would never die as the human ones did, pleading for deliverance even as their flesh became dust. But she would have to submit to him, obey him, live in his cold cell . . . at least, for a time.

Her body was her life — its rich senses, its wild desires, the way it felt when strong hands or sweet hands traveled her shivery skin.

There would be none of that in her future, not when she was part of one of
their
households, as she would be expected to be, at least for the duration of her pregnancy. Long, silent days, careful, creeping nights — that would be her life behind the walls of their world.

But that was how it had to be. She could almost feel that little body in her belly, could imagine hugging it after it came out, while it was still flushed and coal-hot. Only a newborn or a freshly fed Keeper was ever that warm.

The
samlor
glided along Moon Muang Road, heading for the Tapae Gate and the temple district beyond, moving through the murky, soaked night. How did the Asians stand this wretched climate? And yet, the heat was also nice. She enjoyed sweaty beds and long, druggy nights doing every decadent thing she could imagine.

BOOK: The Last Vampire
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