“Son of a bitch!”
The loud and unmistakable clatter – telling me the raccoons were currently throwing a rave in my trashcans outside – startled me enough that I fell off of the couch, with a thud and a phrase I hadn’t been raised to say out loud.
Not that there was anyone there to witness my epic flail that had landed me ass down next to the coffee table. But that I was used to.
Having no one around, that is.
Still, I pulled myself to my feet and retrieved the shotgun from the hall closet, so the rude little rabies carriers would know by the sound of the blast in the air it was time to beat feet.
Some of us had to sleep, you know.
I would never intentionally kill anything – rave throwing raccoons or not – but I’d learned a long time ago that good intentions meant nothing.
After all, the road to Hell was paved with them.
But it was why I only grabbed a single shell from the box of ammunition, my only intent to scare the critters away. And before my mind could wander down that long and winding road to Hell, I shook every other thought from my head and headed outside.
I kept the trashcans down by the shed, away from the house, on the off-chance they and every other critter might go looking for a way into my kitchen if they didn’t find anything appetizing in their outdoor café.
But the moon was full, so I didn’t bother taking a flashlight with me and walked barefoot across the old gravel driveway, used to the feel of the worn rocks beneath my feet. It probably could’ve used a freshening up and while I had more than enough money to take care of it, I didn’t want to chance having anyone come out to the house to do the work.
It just wasn’t worth it.
Not the money, but the company.
So I made a mental note see if the 24-hour Wal-Mart in Monroe carried bags of gravel I could handle on my own. And if they did, I would just do the work myself one section at a time.
I came to a stop about ten feet from the shed, ready to announce it was last call to my uninvited forest friends, when another sound coming from behind me, startled me yet again. Turning around, just as my ears registered the faint clicking sound, I saw the stranger staring back at me from his spot on my front lawn.
Dark hair and eyes, his sideburns reminded me of another era. But it was the slight glow emanating from his skin that held my attention.
At least, all the way up until I saw the tips of his fangs protruding from his lips.
He was a vampire.
They’d only made their existence known a couple of years earlier and I was admittedly fascinated by them. But I never thought I’d be hosting one on my front lawn.
“Hello?” I called out, mindful of the shotgun still in my grasp.
I knew from my research – done purely out of curiosity, mind you – that sunlight and silver could harm them.
I could only hope buckshot would hurt them just as much, if the one in front of me meant me any harm.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he softly replied in return and held up a single hand as if to keep me calm. His eyes seemed to pinpoint my own in the moonlight and his accent told me I hadn’t been too far off in my guess about the sideburns belonging in another era.
Gran probably would have loved to pick his brain.
But she was long gone now, dead and buried in the cemetery next door – as was the rest of my family – and my only interest in the man in front of me had to do with why he was lurking around my yard in the middle of the night.
Taking a few steps in my direction, he looked to be moving at an exaggeratedly slow pace – as if to not frighten me – while his eyes continued to bore into my skull.
All of it only made me even more suspicious of his intentions.
My feet took an involuntary step back, but his own stopped on a dime when I chambered my only round, with nary a good intention in sight.
Then raising it up to put him in my sights, I pointed the barrel in his direction and warned, “Then you shouldn’t go wandering into other people’s yards in the dead of night.”
I’d killed others for less.
Without even trying.
So I was feeling pretty confident – if not a little cocky – that I was safe enough for now. But there was a reason for the saying, ‘Pride goeth before the fall.’
And working as a fact checker made my mind automatically rewrite the proverb, using the correct text.
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
But they both meant the same exact thing and I was reminded of it when I was suddenly surrounded by three more strangers, while the shotgun was ripped from my hands.
Pride gone? Check.
Fangs on display? Check.
The fact the odds were long on all of us walking away tonight?
Check. Check. Check.
“She smells so good,” the female purred, running her nose along the underside of my forearm, like I was a freshly baked cookie.
And I wasn’t amused in the slightest my named happened to rhyme with the tasty treat.
Hopefully I’d be able to snort about it later – as in I’d actually have a later in which to snort in.
But her head was ripped away soon thereafter, thanks to the greasy haired guy’s grip on her own hair, as he hissed, “I get to taste her first. You ripped into the last one like a rabid dog and there was hardly anything left for the rest of us when she bled out.”
So not good.
Not. Good. At. All.
My mind was working on overdrive, trying to come up with a way to get myself out of their grasp and into my house, where they couldn’t enter without an invitation.
One they would be receiving shortly after Hell had frozen over.
But then again, it didn’t seem their intentions would be good enough to lead them there.
If only I could teleport.
The one I’d mentally dubbed Curly – thanks to his bald head – leaned down and licked my shoulder, adding, “She tastes as sweet as she smells.”
Stupid Bath and Body Works.
Perhaps I’d missed the label, warning it was vampire chum.
I blamed the fine print.
“We shouldn’t do this if we want to stay here for any length of time,” Mutton Chops hissed, seemingly appearing out of thin air in front of us. “If she goes missing, then the authorities won’t have to look far, with a nest of vampires living next door.”
At old Jesse Compton’s place?
I wasn’t about to ask any questions, hoping the squabbling they were now doing – speaking faster than I could understand – would end up in my favor.
But by the look on Mutton Chops’ face, I didn’t have my hopes up.
“Enough!” Squiggy yelled and nearly jerked my arm out of its socket, growling like a dog guarding his bone.
I would never be accused of being bony otherwise.
But unable to hear my mental Biggest Loser errant thoughts – for more reasons than just having to do with my weight – he went on to say, “That shack you once called a home isn’t fit for rats.” Then skimming his nose along my jawline, he inhaled deeply and I could feel his cold thin lips turn into a smile as he said, “Once we’re done with her, we can see if there’s anything of worth inside before we drop her body in a swamp on the way back to Monroe.”
Well I didn’t like their idea one bit, but there was no way I could fight off one vampire, much less four of them. And it wasn’t like I’d had any reason to keep any of that True Blood on hand for the unexpected vampire visitor.
I didn’t get unexpected visitors.
Living, dead, or otherwise.
Unless you counted the teenagers or drunk rednecks that sometimes showed up on a dare, to see if they would live to tell the tale.
I was the Bon Temps version of saying ‘Bloody Mary’ into a mirror three times.
But I was no urban legend.
Their fears were based on fact.
You only had to go as far as the cemetery next door for confirmation.
But my curse wasn’t something I had any control over. The deaths that piled up around my feet were never intentional on my part. In fact, I had only been able to come up with one common denominator between them all.
I seemed to kill anyone I loved.
My childhood best friend Tara.
Even my cat Tina.
No one was safe from me.
But I certainly didn’t love any of the vampires now salivating around me, so I tried to make peace with the fact I likely wouldn’t see another sunrise. Silently apologizing for the countless time to those whose lives were cut short thanks to me, I closed my eyes, certain I wouldn’t be joining them in the afterlife.
Hell was my fate, not theirs.
The vampires must have reached some sort of silent accord because without any verbal cue, they all seemed to choose their spot and bit into me at the same time. My scream was muffled by Squiggy’s hand over my mouth, while their teeth tore into my flesh. But that same scream was cut off in the next moment when my mouth was suddenly filled with blood.
Choking on it, some of the blood managed to seep down my throat and I fell to the ground in shock, coughing and spitting out as much as I could.
And then became even more shocked when I looked around and saw there wasn’t anyone left to hold me up.
I’d heard the loud pop, like a thousand water balloons detonating all around me, and felt the resulting spray pelt my skin. But I’d assumed it was my own blood dripping down my skin.
My own flesh being ripped into that had made the horrific sound.
But looking all around me now, the vampires weren’t there anymore. The only signs I could see they’d existed at all were the four big puddles of blood, now oozing in and around the piles of clothes they had been wearing.
Both the vampire goo and the blood I could still taste in my mouth.
But when I tried to wipe away the blood on my skin to check the bite marks I knew would be there, I was surprised to see them slowly but surely vanishing from my flesh.
To put it mildly.
Gingerly, I stretched out my arms and legs, oddly not feeling any real amount of soreness, before pushing myself to my feet. For half a second, I thought about calling Bud Dearborn and telling him what had happened, but then I thought better of it.
I’d been the target of enough suspicious deaths. The last thing I wanted was to be questioned about four more.
For a moment I wished I had a Fairy Godmother who could show up and deal with the mess for me. But knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I got to work gathering their clothes and shoes from my driveway.
And retrieved my shotgun, tucking it under my arm, just to be on the safe side.
Piling their stuff in the spot of the yard I used to burn leaves every fall, I doused their clothes and shoes in lighter fluid and set it all on fire. After watching for a moment, making sure it wasn’t throwing off any sparks that would result in me needing to call the fire department, I let them burn while I walked over and pulled the hose out to rinse away the rest of their existence from my driveway, before dragging it over towards the fire.
Stripping my clothes off – thankful I lived in the middle of nowhere – I added them to the burning pile before turning the hose on myself, still marveling over my unmarked skin. I had no way to know if my miraculous recovery was from their blood – I knew from my research that ingesting vampire blood was a way to get high – or if it had something more to do with my own curse.
Was death not even an option for me?
While I’d been depressed in the past, I’d never been suicidal. However the thought I would never be rid of my curse was, well…depressing.
Like anyone else, I believed my time on earth was limited. But the thought I could somehow be additionally cursed with something like immortality was truly frightening.
Who would want to spend an eternity all alone?
I involuntarily shuddered at the thought before quickly pushing it from my mind completely.
I was pretty well-versed at setting things aside to think on for another day.
Satisfied the fire would keep burning until there was nothing left of my most recent misfortunes but ashes, I put the hose away and went inside to wash the remaining evidence from my body.
And to throw out my little collection of Bath and Body Works.
It was nearly a week later when I got up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. My sleep had been fitful at best ever since the attack. Every time I closed my eyes I seemed to be thrust back into that night. The feel of their fangs ripping into my flesh were made anew each time sleep found me and I would wake up with a start, with my hands automatically searching out the wounds that only existed in my dreams.
It was probably last in the long list of things that made me a bad Christian, but I hadn’t felt any guilt over causing their deaths. It was a first for me, but I didn’t think my lack of remorse was so awful, considering they had attacked me first.
For once, my curse had worked in my favor.
But it was as I was heading back to my room – what had once been my Gran’s bedroom – when I heard the slightest of noises on the front porch. I’d given up on chasing away any raccoons – cleaning up after a ransacked trashcan was a hell of a lot easier than cleaning up vampire goo – so my steps only faltered for a second as I passed by the front door.
But they stopped altogether when a loud knock rapped against it.
My eyes darted over to see I had indeed locked up earlier, before then moving over to the hall closet where my not-so-handy-the-last-time-I-had-an-unexpected-visitor shotgun was stored.
I was halfway in between the two.
“Who is it?” I called out, trying to keep my next steps silent, as I moved across the hallway.
Knowing which creaky floorboards to avoid, I hadn’t made any sound, but my hand stilled on the closet doorknob, hearing an unrecognizable voice respond, “This is the sheriff. Open the door.”
If that was Bud Dearborn then I was Beyoncé.
Not caring anymore about how much noise I made, I pulled the closet door open with gusto and grabbed the shotgun. I may have even made more noise than necessary in loading the shells and when I was done, I moved to stand just on the other side of the front door and took a peek outside.
Definitely not Bud Dearborn.
Impossibly tall. Infinitely blond. Incessantly handsome.
Had he been the true sheriff and I had been a normal girl, I probably would have been dialing 911 every night just for fun.
But since he wasn’t the true sheriff and I wasn’t a normal girl, I took a step back and pointed the barrel of the gun so that it would hit him dead center – pardon the pun – and warned, “I know the sheriff, better than I ought to, and you’re not him. So I suggest you, and whoever else tagged along with you in your quest to question the Queen of the Damned, get the hell off of my property before you learn just how deadly I can be.”
He didn’t look like any drunken redneck I’d ever seen before, but who the hell knew.
It wasn’t like I went out socializing.
The irritation in his tone was just as noticeable as the growl rumbling through his chest when he hissed, “I am the vampire sheriff of this area and I suggest you put your shotgun away because it will only piss me off even more. Now open the door, Miss Stackhouse, or else this door will be all that remains standing when I tear your house down around you.”
Well I’ll be damned…
I sure could use that Fairy Godmother right about now.