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Dead until dark, p.18
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       Dead Until Dark, p.18

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
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  I hadn’t ever polished Gran’s silver. We opened the buffet to find that, yes, it certainly needed it. So into the kitchen we carried it, and we found the silver polish, and we polished away. The radio was on, but I gradually realized that Sam was turning it off every time the news began.

  We cleaned all day. It rained all day. Sam only spoke to me to direct me to the next task.

  I worked very hard. So did he.

  By the time the light was growing dim, I had the cleanest house in Renard Parish.

  Sam said, “I’m going now, Sookie. I think you want to be alone.”

  “Yes,” I said. “I want to thank you some time, but I can’t thank you now. You saved me today.”

  I felt his lips on my forehead and then a minute later I heard the door slam. I sat at the table while the darkness began to fill the kitchen. When I almost could not see, I went outside. I took my big flashlight.

  It didn’t matter that it was still raining. I had on a sleeveless denim dress and a pair of sandals, what I’d pulled on that morning after Jason had called me.

  I stood in the pouring warm rain, my hair plastered to my skull and my dress clinging wetly to my skin. I turned left to the woods and began to make my way through them, slowly and carefully at first. As Sam’s calming influence began to evaporate, I began to run, tearing my cheeks on branches, scratching my legs on thorny vines. I came out of the woods and began to dash through the cemetery, the beam of the flashlight bobbing before me. I had thought I was going to the house on the other side, the Compton house: but then I knew Bill must be here, somewhere in this six acres of bones and stones. I stood in the center of the oldest part of the graveyard, surrounded by monuments and modest tombstones, in the company of the dead.

  I screamed, “Bill Compton! Come out now!”

  I turned in circles, looking around in the near-blackness, knowing even if I couldn’t see him, Bill would be able to see me, if he could see anything—if he wasn’t one of those blackened, flaking atrocities I’d seen in the front yard of the house outside Monroe.

  No sound. No movement except the falling of the gentle drenching rain.

  “Bill! Bill! Come out!”

  I felt, rather than heard, movement to my right. I turned the beam of the flashlight in that direction. The ground was buckling. As I watched, a white hand shot up from the red soil. The dirt began to heave and crumble. A figure climbed out of the ground.

  “Bill?”

  It moved toward me. Covered with red streaks, his hair full of dirt, Bill took a hesitant step in my direction.

  I couldn’t even go to him.

  “Sookie,” he said, very close to me, “why are you here?” For once, he sounded disoriented and uncertain.

  I had to tell him, but I couldn’t open my mouth.

  “Sweetheart?”

  I went down like a stone. I was abruptly on my knees in the sodden grass.

  “What happened while I slept?” He was kneeling by me, bare and streaming with rain.

  “You don’t have clothes on,” I murmured.

  “They’d just get dirty,” he said sensibly. “When I’m going to sleep in the soil, I take them off.”

  “Oh. Sure.”

  “Now you have to tell me.”

  “You have to not hate me.”

  “What have you done?”

  “Oh my God, it wasn’t me! But I could have warned you more, I could have grabbed you and made you listen. I tried to call you, Bill!”

  “What has happened?”

  I put one hand on either side of his face, touching his skin, realizing how much I would have lost, how much I might yet lose.

  “They’re dead, Bill, the vampires from Monroe. And someone else with them.”

  “Harlen,” he said tonelessly. “Harlen stayed over last night, he and Diane really hit if off.” He waited for me to finish, his eyes fixed on mine.

  “They were burned.”

  “On purpose.”

  “Yes.”

  He squatted beside me in the rain, in the dark, his face not visible to me. The flashlight was gripped in my hand, and all my strength had ebbed away. I could feel his anger.

  I could feel his cruelty.

  I could feel his hunger.

  He had never been more completely vampire. There wasn’t anything human in him.

  He turned his face to the sky and howled.

  I thought he might kill someone, the rage rolling off him was so great. And the nearest person was me.

  As I comprehended my own danger, Bill gripped my upper arms. He pulled me to him, slowly. There was no point in struggling, in fact I sensed that would only excite Bill more. Bill held me about an inch from him, I could almost smell his skin, and I could feel the turmoil in him, I could taste his rage.

  Directing that energy in another way might save me. I leaned that inch, put my mouth on his chest. I licked the rain off, rubbed my cheek against his nipple, pressed myself against him.

  The next moment his teeth grazed my shoulder, and his body, hard and rigid and ready, shoved me so forcefully I was suddenly on my back in the mud. He slid directly into me as if he were trying to reach through me to the soil. I shrieked, and he growled in response, as though we were truly mud people, primitives from caves. My hands, gripping the flesh of his back, felt the rain pelting down and the blood under my nails, and his relentless movement. I thought I would be plowed into this mud, into my grave. His fangs sank into my neck.

  Suddenly I came. Bill howled as he reached his own completion, and he collapsed on me, his fangs pulling out and his tongue cleaning the puncture marks.

  I had thought he might kill me without even meaning to.

  My muscles would not obey me, even if I had known what I wanted to do. Bill scooped me up. He took me to his house, pushing open the door and carrying me straight through into the large bathroom. Laying me gently on the carpet, where I spread mud and rainwater and a little streak of blood, Bill turned on the warm water in the spa, and when it was full he put me in and then got in himself. We sat on the seats, our legs trailing out in the warm frothing water that became discolored quickly.

  Bill’s eyes were staring miles away.

  “All dead?” he said, his voice nearly inaudible.

  “All dead, and a human girl, too,” I said quietly.

  “What have you been doing all day?”

  “Cleaning. Sam made me clean my house.”

  “Sam,” Bill said thoughtfully. “Tell me, Sookie. Can you read Sam’s mind?”

  “No,” I confessed, suddenly exhausted. I submerged my head, and when I came up, Bill had gotten the shampoo bottle. He soaped my hair and rinsed it, combed it as he had the first time we’d made love.

  “Bill, I’m sorry about your friends,” I said, so exhausted I could hardly get the words out. “And I am so glad you are alive.” I slid my arms around his neck and lay my head on his shoulder. It was hard as a rock. I remember Bill drying me off with a big white towel, and I remember thinking how soft the pillow was, and I remember him sliding into bed beside me and putting his arm around me. Then I fell into sleep.

  In the small hours of the morning, I woke halfway to hear someone moving around the room. I must have been dreaming, and it must have been bad, because I woke with my heart racing. “Bill?” I asked, and I could hear the fear in my voice.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked, and I felt the bed indent as he sat on the edge.

  “Are you all right?”

  “Yes, I was just out walking.”

  “No one’s out there?”

  “No, sweetheart.” I could hear the sound of cloth moving over skin, and then he was under the sheets with me.

  “Oh, Bill, that could have been you in one of those coffins,” I said, the agony still fresh in my mind.

  “Sookie, did you ever think that could have been you in the body bag? What if they come here, to burn this house, at dawn?”

  “You have to come to my house! They won’t burn my house. You ca
n be safe with me,” I said earnestly.

  “Sookie, listen: because of me you could die.”

  “What would I lose?” I asked, hearing the passion in my voice. “I’ve had the best time since I met you, the best time of my life!”

  “If I die, go to Sam.”

  “Passing me along already?”

  “Never,” he said, and his smooth voice was cold. “Never.” I felt his hands grip my shoulders; he was on one elbow beside me. He scooted a little closer, and I could feel the cool length of his body.

  “Listen, Bill,” I said. “I’m not educated, but I’m not stupid. I’m not real experienced or worldly, either, but I don’t think I’m naive.” I hoped he wasn’t smiling in the dark. “I can make them accept you. I can.”

  “If anyone can, you will,” he said. “I want to enter you again.”

  “You mean—? Oh, yeah. I see what you mean.” He’d taken my hand and guided it down to him. “I’d like that, too.” And I sure would, if I could survive it after the pounding I’d taken in the graveyard. Bill had been so angry that now I felt battered. But I could also feel that liquidy warm feeling running through me, that restless excitement to which Bill had addicted me. “Honey,” I said, caressing him up and down his length, “honey.” I kissed him, felt his tongue in my mouth. I touched his fangs with my own tongue. “Can you do it without biting?” I whispered.

  “Yes. It’s just like a grand finale when I taste your blood.”

  “Would it be almost as good without?”

  “It can never be as good without, but I don’t want to weaken you.”

  “If you wouldn’t mind,” I said tentatively. “It took me a few days to feel up to par.”

  “I’ve been selfish . . . you’re just so good.”

  “If I’m strong, it’ll be even better,” I suggested.

  “Show me how strong you are,” he said teasingly.

  “Lie on your back. I’m not real sure how this works, but I know other people do it.” I straddled him, heard his breathing quicken. I was glad the room was dark and outside the rain was still pouring. A flash of lightening showed me his eyes, glowing. I carefully maneuvered into what I hoped was the correct position, and guided him inside me. I had great faith in instinct, and sure enough it didn’t play me false.

  Chapter 8

  TOGETHER AGAIN, MY doubts at least temporarily drenched by the fear I’d felt when I’d thought I might have lost him, Bill and I settled into an uneasy routine.

  If I worked nights, I would go over to Bill’s house when I finished, and usually I spent the rest of the night there. If I worked days, Bill would come to my house after sunset, and we would watch TV, or go to the movies, or play Scrabble. I had to have every third night off, or Bill had to refrain from biting those nights; otherwise I began to feel weak and draggy. And there was the danger, if Bill fed on me too much . . . I kept chugging vitamins and iron until Bill complained about the flavor. Then I cut back on the iron.

  When I slept at night, Bill would go do other stuff. Sometimes he read, sometimes he wandered the night; sometimes he’d go out and do my yard work under the illumination of the security lights.

  If he ever took blood from anyone else, he kept it secret, and he did it far from Bon Temps, which was what I had asked.

  I say this routine was uneasy because it seemed to me that we were waiting. The burning of the Monroe nest had enraged Bill and (I think) frightened him. To be so powerful when awake and so helpless when asleep had to be galling.

  Both of us were wondering if public feeling against vampires would abate now that the worst troublemakers in the area were dead.

  Though Bill didn’t say anything directly, I knew from the course our conversation took from time to time that he was worried about my safety with the murderer of Dawn, Maudette, and my grandmother still at large.

  If the men of Bon Temps and the surrounding towns thought burning out the Monroe vampires would set their minds at ease about the murders, they were wrong. Autopsy reports from the three victims finally proved they had their full complement of blood when they were killed. Furthermore, the bite marks on Maudette and Dawn had not only looked old, they were proved to be old. The cause of their deaths was strangulation. Maudette and Dawn had had sex before they’d died. And afterward.

  Arlene and Charlsie and I were cautious about things like going out into the parking lot by ourselves, making sure our homes were still locked tight before we entered them, trying to notice what cars were around us as we drove. But it’s hard to keep careful that way, a real strain on the nerves, and I am sure we all lapsed back into our sloppy ways. Maybe it was more excusable for Arlene and Charlsie, since they lived with other people, unlike the first two victims; Arlene with her kids (and Rene Lenier, off and on), and Charlsie with her husband, Ralph.

  I was the only one who lived alone.

  Jason came into the bar almost every night, and he made a point of talking to me every time. I realized he was trying to heal whatever breach lay between us, and I responded as much as I could. But Jason was drinking more, too, and his bed had as many occupants as a public toilet, though he seemed to have real feelings for Liz Barrett. We worked cautiously together on settling the business of Gran’s estate and Uncle Bartlett’s, though he had more to do with that than I. Uncle Bartlett had left Jason everything but my legacy.

  Jason told me one night when he’d had an extra beer that he’d been back to the police station twice more, and it was driving him crazy. He’d talked to Sid Matt Lancaster, finally, and Sid Matt had advised Jason not to go to the police station any more unless Sid Matt went with him.

  “How come they keep hauling you in?” I asked Jason. “There must be something you haven’t told me. Andy Bellefleur hasn’t kept after anybody else, and I know Dawn and Maudette both weren’t too picky about who came home with them.”

  Jason looked mortified. I’d never seen my beautiful older brother look as embarrassed.

  “Movies,” he mumbled.

  I bent closer to be sure I’d heard him right. “Movies?” I said, incredulously.

  “Shhh,” he hissed, looking guilty as hell. “We made movies.”

  I guess I was just as embarrassed as Jason. Sisters and brothers don’t need to know everything about each other. “And you gave them a copy,” I said tentatively, trying to figure out just how dumb Jason had been.

  He looked off in another direction, his hazy blue eyes romantically shiny with tears.

  “Moron,” I said. “Even allowing for the fact that you couldn’t know how this was gonna come to public light, what’s gonna happen when you decide to get married? What if one of your ex-flames mails a copy of your little tango to your bride-to-be?”

  “Thanks for kicking me when I’m down, Sis.”

  I took a deep breath. “Okay, okay. You’ve quit making these little videos, right?”

  He nodded emphatically. I didn’t believe him.

  “And you told Sid Matt all about it, right?”

  He nodded less firmly.

  “And you think that’s why Andy is on your case so much?”

  “Yeah,” Jason said morosely.

  “So, if they test your semen and it isn’t a match for what was inside Maudette and Dawn, you’re clear.” By now, I was as shifty-faced as my brother. We had never talked about semen samples before.

  “That’s what Sid Matt says. I just don’t trust that stuff.”

  My brother didn’t trust the most reliable scientific evidence that could be presented in a court. “You think Andy’s going to fake the results?”

  “No, Andy’s okay. He’s just doing his job. I just don’t know about that DNA stuff.”

  “Moron,” I said, and turned away to get another pitcher of beer for four guys from Ruston, college students on a big night out in the boonies. I could only hope Sid Matt Lancaster was good at persuasion.

  I spoke to Jason once more before he left Merlotte’s. “Can you help me?” he asked, turning up to me a fac
e I hardly recognized. I was standing by his table, and his date for the night had gone to the ladies’ room.

  My brother had never asked me for help before.

  “How?”

  “Can’t you just read the minds of the men who come in here and find out if one of them did it?”

  “That’s not as easy as it sounds, Jason,” I said slowly, thinking as I went along. “For one thing, the man would have to be thinking of his crime while he sat here, at the exact moment I listened in. For another thing, I can’t always read clear thoughts. Some people, it’s just like listening to a radio, I can hear every little thing. Other people, I just get a mass of feelings, not spelled out; it’s like hearing someone talk in their sleep, see? You can hear they’re talking, you can tell if they’re upset or happy, but you can’t hear the exact words. And then other times, I can hear a thought, but I can’t trace it to its source if the room is crowded.”

  Jason was staring at me. It was the first time we had talked openly about my disability.

  “How do you stop from going crazy?” he asked, shaking his head in amazement.

  I was about to try to explain putting up my guard, but Liz Barrett returned to the table, newly lipsticked and fluffed. I watched Jason resume his woman-hunting persona like shrugging on a heavy coat, and I regretted not getting to talk to him more when he was by himself.

  That night, as the staff got ready to leave, Arlene asked me if I could baby-sit for her the next evening. It would be an off-day for both of us, and she wanted to go to Shreveport with Rene to see a movie and go out to eat.

  “Sure!” I said. “I haven’t kept the kids in a while.”

  Suddenly Arlene’s face froze. She half-turned to me, opened her mouth, thought the better of speaking, then thought again. “Will . . . ah . . . will Bill be there?”

  “Yes, we’d planned on watching a movie. I was going to stop by the video rental place, tomorrow morning. But I’ll get something for the kids to watch instead.” Abruptly, I caught her meaning. “Whoa. You mean you don’t want to leave the kids with me if Bill’s gonna be there?” I could feel my eyes narrow to slits and my voice drop down to its angry register.

 
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