I woke up a sweaty mess the next morning and it had nothing to do with the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. Like I’d told Eric the night before – I had eyes. What I didn’t tell him was he had a world class butt too, so my subconscious took it from there and left me waking up not just hot, but bothered.
And if I thought I had a chance in hell of getting the words out, when he showed up later on that night I would thank his pretty little behind for being pretty enough to distract me from the nightmares I probably would have had instead.
I’d known he sort of looked familiar when he’d first walked up and saved me from Bill’s friends, but I was too rattled. I didn’t put two and two together until my mind was running through the list of people he might be visiting, when the memory of Dawn’s thoughts from a few weeks earlier slammed into my head. She’d been with him, but then she’d been with a lot of fellas. At the moment I knew she was doing her best to attach herself to my boneheaded brother, but hearing Eric say he was on his way to see Bill and not Dawn made me feel better.
Not that I had the right to feel anything about that.
How he managed to put me at ease, I’ll never know, but the fact remained that he’d made me feel safe. I didn’t condone violence as a rule, but you’d be surprised how quickly your views change when it’s your own butt on the line. He’d killed the vampire that seemed to be the ringleader of the three that were about to do God knows what to me, but it was his concerned voice and his willingness to leave the choice up to me – without that pressure in my head that I always felt from Bill – on whether or not I’d let him take me home that got me into his car. I liked that he was willing to answer my questions. I liked being treated like a normal woman – he didn’t know about my crazy curse – and I liked feeling like one since I couldn’t read his mind. I had no doubt the man was a world class flirt, but not being able to hear whatever depraved thoughts he might have been having was refreshing to say the least.
And he had that world class butt to boot.
One glance at the clock told me I didn’t have the time to think about that or anything else any further, so I rolled out of bed and got my own butt in gear to get to work. It wasn’t until I was making my way downstairs that I remembered my car had conked out. Since I could hear Maxine’s voice coming from the kitchen, I figured I could ask her for a ride, but as soon as I walked into the room I could see it parked out back. Gran had already been in her room when I’d gotten home the night before, so she was none the wiser about my eventful evening and I planned on keeping it that way, not wanting her to worry. I tried to act cool, but I was sure my face gave me away when I heard Maxine – who was mid-story – saying, “They think it was a vampire.”
She’d whispered ‘vampire‘ like it was a dirty word, but I couldn’t stop myself from interrupting and asking, “What about vampires?” while fondly recalling my savior from the night before. I’d been scared as all get out of the other three, but I would’ve been just as scared had they been human and acted the same. Thanks to my savior, I knew all vampires weren’t bad and Eric had not just gone the extra mile in taking me home, but he put me at ease enough to be laughing by the time I got there.
Not an easy feat considering I’d still been covered in the blood of the vampire he’d ended to protect me.
Both sets of eyes turned to me, with Gran’s being skeptical over her claims and Maxine’s filled with excitement, as she explained, “Maudette Pickens was found strangled to death. They said she had fang marks on her body and nobody thinks that’s a coincidence now that Bon Temps has its very own vampire.”
Again with the whispering. Did she think Bill would hear her all the way across the cemetery? At 10:00 am?
I’d gone to school with Maudette and while I knew better than to put anything past Bill, it seemed weird that any vampire would strangle someone to death.
Wouldn’t they just drain them instead?
I felt bad for Maudette, but there wasn’t anything I could do to change things and instead of offering my two cents, I just gave Gran a quick peck on the cheek saying, “I don’t want to be late for work, but I’ll be home in time to make dinner.” I gave her a look that said I meant business because she wasn’t the best patient – nor did she have much patience when it came to her recovery – and had been trying to do too much. But the woman was as stubborn as the day was long and I could only hope that I’d be home in time to stop her.
I grabbed my things and walked out to my car – hoping it would start since it made its way to the house somehow – when I found a note tucked under the wiper blade that read:
All fixed compliments of Eric Northman. Feel free to give me a call if you have any more trouble with it. – Tray Dawson
He was SO getting a piece of my mind later on!
I ignored the smile on my face – along with the highhanded vampire who was the reason it was there to begin with – and got in. My smile grew even wider when it started on the first try, so I pretended I didn’t notice that either and drove to work. The parking lot was nearly full and the bar hadn’t even opened yet, but I was sure it was due to Maudette’s death, so I hurried up and ran inside. Sam looked relieved to see me and I quickly got to work getting people seated and putting their orders in, while everyone talked in not so hushed voices about Maudette’s murder. And the din only grew worse when Bud Dearborn and Andy Bellefleur walked in during the lunchtime rush. Everyone was trying to get information from the two of them and I was just as curious, so I dipped into their heads and nearly dropped my tray hearing Jason’s name pop into Andy’s head when Rene asked him about suspects.
There had to be a mistake…not Jason…
He loved women too much – emphasis on both love, in the physical sense of the word, and too much, in the literal sense of the word. Jason wouldn’t harm anyone, much less a woman he’d slept with, but thankfully neither Andy nor Bud said his name out loud. However their silence only added fuel to Rene’s fire, with him shouting to the rapt crowd, “See? It was that vampire! We all know it, they’re just too afraid to say it.” I noticed more than few heads nodding along with his crazy talk and Arlene’s looked like a dashboard bobble head doll doing fifty down my driveway.
Bud managed to calm everyone down and I think things would’ve been fine had someone not turned on the TV. There on the screen were images of a burned down church in Dallas and the caption ‘Vampire Attack’ underneath the visibly shaken reporter’s head. Rene yelled for everyone to quiet down as Arlene turned up the volume and we all listened as he said,
“I want to warn our viewers that what you’re about to see is unsettling and not something for children to witness.”
The camera cut away to a video of the still smoldering church and bodies – a lot of bodies – strewn about the green lawn. Given the size of some of them it was easy to see there were children amongst them and I felt myself stop breathing.
“According to eyewitnesses a group of vampires stormed into the Dallas branch of The Fellowship of the Sun church in the early morning hours, during a lock-in service filled with families. The congregation – men, women, and children – were slaughtered in an unprovoked attack. Only a few of them managed to escape, one of them being the Reverend Steve Newlin who is here to tell us what he saw.”
The camera panned to the man standing beside him. I recognized him from previous news shows where he’d gone on TV to spout his hatred of vampires. And even with everything I’d experienced thanks to Bill, I always thought him to be a paranoid bigot, but with the images of dead children now burned into my memory I didn’t know what to think. His fancy suit was torn and covered in soot and blood. And his normally perfectly coiffed hair was standing straight up as his reddened eyes blazed into the camera’s lens, saying,
“I am here to bear witness to the indisputable fact vampires are our enemy. Look around! See the bodies of our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives, and our children that they’ve slaughtered. They forced their way into our peaceful sanctuary and killed without cause – without remorse. They are incapable of remorse because they are walking manifestations of the devil himself. THEY are an abomination. THEY are pure evil walking this earth and none of us will be safe until all of them are made to face God’s judgment. We must rise up and fight back before our race – the human race – is nothing but a memory.”
He broke down in tears, as did the reporter, and a quick glance at the patrons of Merlotte’s showed they weren’t the only ones. I was distraught too and while I knew not all vampires were boy scouts, I knew some of them were good.
At least one of them was, for sure.
The sadness in the room quickly turned to anger, with Rene standing up on a barstool and spinning up the crowd even more in another hate filled rant. Vampires were our enemy. We shouldn’t trust them and in fact, should kill them on sight. But even more concerning than his hateful tirade was the crowd’s reaction to his words.
They agreed with him – both with their words and their thoughts.
Even Bud and Andy seemed to have fallen in line and while they said nothing to agree with Rene, they said nothing to stop him either. Even their thoughts had moved on from Jason’s possible motives in Maudette’s murder to focus on Bill’s as they were leaving the bar. I was more relieved than I let on when Rene finally left too and Sam had been smart enough to turn the TV off. However the patrons were still angry and fearful with everyone speculating on Maudette’s murder, while trying to tie it into Bill’s presence in our town. But eventually that died down too. It wasn’t until the start of the dinner shift when I realized, in fact, nothing had died down.
My shift was nearing its end and I’d spent the better part of two hours hoping Eric wouldn’t be coming by. Not because I didn’t want to see him, but because I was worried for his safety in a town full of vampire haters. I’d even thought about leaving him a message at his bar, but I’d been too busy to look up the number and make the call. I was just about done filling Dawn in on the tables she’d be taking over from me when Jason’s boss, Catfish Hunter, leapt up out of his booth like it was on fire. Ironically, he yelled, “Never mind my order Sook! I got a fire to get to!” and ran out of the door along with a couple of the other volunteer firemen. My mind was still working on a way to get a hold of Eric, so I didn’t think anything of it until I was driving down Hummingbird Lane a short time later. The sun hadn’t quite set yet, so I could easily see the plumes of smoke billowing up into the sky and my heart nearly beat out of my chest as I raced home.
Only when I barreled up our driveway, I could see it wasn’t our house that was on fire.
It was Bill’s.
Both Gran – with the aid of her walker – and Maxine were standing on the front porch. But I could see Jason and a group of guys standing around watching from the cemetery, so I headed towards them with my eyes scanning Bill’s driveway looking for a red corvette. From the way Eric had been talking the night before, I didn’t think he’d be spending the day there, but my stomach didn’t stop turning until I saw it was nowhere in sight.
“What happened?” I asked as soon as I stopped next to Jason.
“Don’t know,” he replied before turning to face me. I could hear from his thoughts that he knew firsthand Maudette had fang marks and was wondering himself if maybe Bill had something to do with her death. But it only further eased my mind seeing for myself that Jason had nothing to do with her murder.
“Maybe it was faulty wiring,” Rene – who was standing on Jason’s other side with Hoyt – offered. But his thoughts told me otherwise even as he ended with, “God’s way I guess.”
Rene’s way was more like it. He had set the fire.
I felt myself blanch as I swayed on my feet, but Jason caught me around the waist asking, “You feelin’ alright Sook? You don’t look so hot.”
I was still trying to swallow the bile in my throat when Rene piped up with, “She looks like any good girl should. Not like them ones that run around with vampires. You’re lucky your sister ain’t one a them fangbangin’ whores.”
My knees buckled seeing flashes from Rene – strangling his sister – strangling Maudette – straddling their dead bodies and…and…
“Oh my stars! What happened?”
As I came to hearing Gran’s voice, I opened my eyes to see Jason was carrying me up the porch steps and heard him say, “I don’t know. One minute she was standing there and the next she was swayin’ in the breeze and nearly took a header into one a them headstones.”
Jason put me on the couch, with Gran appearing overhead just a moment later, but seeing Rene had tagged along I weakly said, “I’m fine. It was so busy at the bar I didn’t get a chance to take a break, so I haven’t eaten anything today.”
My statement was true, but I knew it had nothing to do with me passing out. I tried to sit up, only to get bullied into laying back down, while Gran sent Jason into the kitchen to get the sandwich Maxine was in there making for me. I tried to eat it as quickly as possible, if only so everyone would see that I was fine so they would leave because I didn’t know what time to expect Eric. I didn’t want any of them – especially Rene – to meet him with everything going on. But none of them left right away and as the night wore on with no Eric in sight, I began to worry for a whole different reason.
He didn’t show up at all that night. Or the next night or the next. Days turned into a week, which turned into two and then three. The fire at Bill’s house had been declared accidental – due to faulty wiring – but I knew damn well thanks to Bud’s thoughts that it was arson. Traces of gasoline had been found everywhere, but Bill hadn’t shown his face again and the general consensus of the town was ‘good riddance’. There was no way for them to know for sure whether or not Bill had actually died in the fire because the roof had given way quickly and his body would have turned to ash. But they officially declared him to be the only suspect in Maudette’s murder and considered the case closed now that he was assumed finally dead. I was the only one who knew who the real killer was, but I had no proof. And since Jason’s life didn’t hang in the balance – and seeing firsthand what Rene was capable of – I was worried about my own family’s safety and didn’t want to stick my neck out. I doubted any good would come of it anyway thanks to Bud’s own falsifying of evidence, so Bill’s possible murderer – Rene – would never be brought to justice.
I’d thought about going out to Fangtasia one night to see Eric, if only to make sure he was okay. But the local news reports showed vampire hate was quickly spreading in the southern states with Reverend Newlin leading the charge. Local governments were trying to pass laws outlawing vampires in their towns and they were getting a lot of support, while militias who’d formed in the wake of the vampire attack in Dallas got nothing more than a slap on the wrist whenever one of them was caught harming or ending a vampire. News vans and protesters set up camp outside of every known vampire establishment, with stores removing True Blood from their shelves – be it due to bigotry or fear of retribution from their intolerant human clientele. So many of the vampires were migrating north where it was safer for them or leaving the country altogether. New Orleans’ most famous and prominent vampire, Sophie-Anne Leclerq, had even gone on TV denouncing what had happened in Dallas. But her efforts only managed to get herself killed when her well known mansion in the French Quarter went up in flames the very next day.
No one knew I’d had any involvement with vampires, with the exception of having waited on Bill that very first night, and I’d never made any remarks one way or the other about what I thought of them. So no one bothered to censor themselves in front of me – assuming I fell in line with the rest of the haters – even though their thoughts would’ve given them away anyway. Rene had disappeared a few days after Bill’s house had burned down and when he returned he’d bragged about being trained by the Fellowship to be one of their soldiers. He even opened up his own ‘church’ and Arlene – along with most of Merlotte’s regulars – were his devoted parishioners. They all made my stomach turn, but I kept my mouth shut and was just grateful that Gran and Jason hadn’t been persuaded to join. Sam was wary of the hatemongers too and even Dawn had redoubled her efforts on my brother, seeming to have given up going to the clubs in Shreveport. So it was just like any other day when I showed up at the bar for my shift when the world all but stopped.
“Did ya hear about that vampire bar in Shreveport going up in flames last night?”
Rene was sitting up at the bar and directing his comments to those around him, but my feet wouldn’t move from the spot I was now glued to.
“It was the last of them that I know about, so with that lot out of the way we should be good to go.”
I had no way of knowing if there was more than one vampire bar in Shreveport, but my heart stopped seeing the images in Rene’s mind. Him and a bunch of his cronies, none of whom I recognized, had gone to Fangtasia the night before. They’d been doing recon on it for weeks and one of them set fire to the front of the building just as they’d closed up for the night, while the rest waited out back with silver nets. The protestors and news vans had already left by then, so there was no one there to see them as they’d caught three of them when they tried to escape the flames out the backdoor. The first vampire to come out looked like he’d been a Native American when he was still human and the second, well she reminded me of an Alice in Wonderland only with fangs. And she’d been pissed. But it was seeing the last one who made me gasp out loud before I clutched my chest in horror.
The only reason I’d been able to stay on my feet was because I forced myself to lock my knees, so I could get as much information from Rene’s mind as I could. The three of them were loaded into the back of three waiting vans, so I had no idea of what happened to the first two. But I was grateful – it was the only thing I could be grateful for – that Rene’s van held Eric.
“You alright Sook?”
Rene’s voice broke through my terror and I realized they were all staring at me. My hand was still clutching my chest and I could feel the tears at the corners of my eyes. But reading from Rene’s thoughts he was no longer thinking about Eric and was instead bewildered by my reaction, I swallowed hard and forced out the only thing I could think of to say. “So we’re safe then?”
My gut churned inside seeing the smile form on his lips, but I forced one of my own when his thoughts rang clear as day in my head.
“I knew she was a good girl. Poor thing was probably just too scared to say anything before.”
“Yes Sookie, you’re safe now. We ain’t gonna let the likes of them keep walkin’ ‘round these parts no more.”
“Oh, okay then,” I said, while trying to hide my disgust.
I’d had a lot of practice thanks to my curse and I needed it when Rene’s next words were, “You should come to our sermon next week. They normally start around eight on Friday nights, but the kids have a school play that night, so we’re having it a couple of hours earlier than normal. I know Arlene would be real happy to see you there and Coby and Lisa would be tickled to have ya.”
His thoughts were then filled with the things he needed to get done. He was excited because Reverend Newlin was coming to speak to the congregation in two weeks and the only reason I even considered it was because I knew it was my best chance at getting any information from his mind on what happened to Eric. Over the following days leading up to the sermon I listened in to every customer that walked through Merlotte’s doors, hoping I’d hear or see something that had to do with Eric. But I only ever caught that one glimpse of him from Rene on that first day and he hadn’t come back into the bar while I was there. I went home every night in pain, not just from keeping my shields down trying to listen in to everyone, but because I was truly distraught over Eric’s wellbeing. Gran of course noticed, but I tried to pass it off as just having a long day and I went to bed early every night, just as soon as I made sure she was settled in.
By the time Friday rolled around I couldn’t wait to get to the church (which was really just the banquet room of the firehouse), but I was surprised to see so many of the town’s faces when I got there. Not everyone was a regular at Merlotte’s and I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly like my brother, so I’d had no idea so many of my fellow residents were vampire haters. And seeing both Andy and Bud there only made it worse.
I was both shocked and ashamed.
I sat in a chair in the back and opened my mind up to the thoughts of those around me, but it wasn’t until Rene took to the front of the room and began his sermon that I saw Eric in his mind. Rene was blathering on about Steve Newlin coming to the following week’s service, but all I could see was Eric’s bloodied body held down to a table by silver chains that were burning into his skin. He’d been tortured, bled, and starved, with no sign of the powerful vampire who’d saved me. Instead there was only a hardly recognizable broken imitation left in his place.
I forced myself to not breakdown and retreat from the horror I was seeing and instead I strained with all of my might to root through his mind, searching for any clues as to where Eric could be. Thankfully, the more Rene talked about Steve Newlin, the more he thought about Eric.
He’d been in cahoots with other Fellowship soldiers that night, with each ‘leader’ taking off with their own vampire. Rene planned on handing over Eric to Newlin during a sunrise service the following week where he’d be left out to burn in the sun at dawn.
Over my dead body.
Rene had hidden Eric in secret in a hunting cabin he kept on the edge of town. Not even Arlene knew he’d managed to capture a vampire and he’d been going out there every night to torture him – just for fun – and was angry he wouldn’t be able to go out there that night because of the kids’ school play. But my mind was made up in an instant.
I would be going out there instead.
As soon as the service was over Rene and Arlene packed up the kids so they could head to the school. But I lingered around in the parking lot before slowly heading that way myself, just in time to see them park their car and head inside. I drove as fast as I could to the edge of town and parked inside of the tree line to hide my car from passing motorists and all but ran through the woods towards where I knew Rene’s hunting cabin was. I’d only grabbed the tire iron out of my car because I’d seen in Rene’s thoughts that the door was padlocked from the outside, but pulling it free from the decayed wood was easy enough. Much easier than what awaited my eyes when I got the door open.
Eric was lying there on the table, his skin ashy and even paler than before, with open wounds on his bare chest, arms, and legs. I couldn’t even find any amusement or lust seeing the tiny red underwear he was wearing because it too was crusted with dried blood, as were the thick silver chains that held him prisoner. But a small mangled cry escaped my throat when my eyes strayed to his hands.
All of his fingers were gone.
“Eric?” I called out a little louder than a whisper, but he didn’t stir at all. I repeated it louder as I forced my legs to carry me into the room, with my hands wringing in front of me. I’d gone there with no plan other than to save Eric, but the chains were padlocked. He wasn’t waking up and I wasn’t strong enough to carry him. He obviously needed to feed but there wasn’t a Tru Blood to be found for miles.
Once I was standing next to him my hand automatically reached out to touch his chest. His skin was colder than I thought it should be and I wished I’d grabbed the blanket I kept in the back of my car, but it wouldn’t have done any good anyway since vampires had no body heat. My eyes swept through the room and landed on a side table that nearly made me gag when I saw a pair of bolt cutters with dried blood on them.
Blood from his fingers being cut off one by one.
Suddenly feeling more anger than pity, I snatched them from the table and began cutting the chain away from Eric’s lifeless form hoping it would help him to come around once it was no longer touching his skin. My tears dripped down onto his chest, leaving new red trails on his skin as they mixed with his blood, while I murmured my apologies as I removed the chains because his flesh came away with them. But I was even more worried because he had yet to stir. The silver holding Eric down was so much heavier than what had been used on Bill, but I supposed that had to do with their age if Rene had somehow known how old Eric was.
When the last chain had been removed I did my best to wake Eric by shaking him and calling out his name. But not knowing if Rene might decide to pay him a visit when the school play was over made me fearful enough to take drastic measures. I ran back to the table where I’d noticed a silver blade that had been lying next to the bolt cutters, but something else caught my eye that made me even more sickened.
I scooped them up, shoving them into my pocket, and grabbed the knife. Cleaning the dried blood off as best as I could, I sliced a two inch long gash down the length of my wrist. The adrenaline coursing through me negated any pain I might have felt and I placed the open wound over Eric’s parted lips. Running my fingers through his hair with my other hand, I pleaded with him to drink and nearly cried out with joy when his lips slowly started to move. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he took his first swallow, but my joy turned into fear a second later.
It all happened so fast.
His growl vibrated against my bloodied wrist.
His arms wrapped around my body like steel bands crushing me to him.
And when his eyes opened, it was clear he had no idea of who I was.