Charlaine Harris

BUBBA the Vampire and I were raking up clippings from my newly-trimmed bushes about midnight when the long black car pulled up. I’d been enjoying the gentle scent of the cut bushes and the songs of the crickets and frogs celebrating spring. Everything hushed with the arrival of the black limousine. Bubba vanished immediately, because he didn’t recognize the car. Since he changed over to the vampire persuasion, Bubba’s been on the shy side.

I leaned against my rake, trying to look nonchalant. In reality, I was far from relaxed. I live pretty far out in the country, and you have to want to be at my house to find the way. There’s not a sign out at the parish road that points down my driveway reading “Stackhouse home.” My home is not visible from the road, because the driveway meanders through some woods to arrive in the clearing where the core of the house has stood for a hundred and sixty years.

Visitors are not real frequent, and I didn’t remember ever seeing a limousine before. No one got out of the long black car for a couple of minutes. I began to wonder if maybe I should have hidden myself, like Bubba. I had the outside lights on, of course, since I couldn’t see in the dark like Bubba, but the limousine windows were heavily smoked. I was real tempted to whack the shiny bumper with my rake to find out what would happen. Fortunately, the door opened while I was still thinking about it.

A large gentleman emerged from the rear of the limousine. He was six feet tall, and he was made up of circles. The largest circle was his belly. The round head above it was almost bald, but a fringe of black hair circled it right above his ears. His little eyes were round, too, and black as the hair and his suit. His shirt was gleaming white, but his tie was black without a pattern. He looked like the director of a funeral home for the criminally insane.

“Not too many people do their yard work at midnight,” he commented, in a surprisingly melodious voice. The true answer—that I liked to rake when I had someone to talk to, and I had company this night with Bubba, who couldn’t come out in the sunlight—was better left unsaid. I just nodded. You couldn’t argue with his statement.

“Would you be the woman known as Sookie Stackhouse?” asked the large gentleman. He said it as if he often addressed creatures that weren’t men or women, but something else entirely.

“Yes, sir, I am,” I said politely. My grandmother, God rest her soul, had raised me well. But she hadn’t raised a fool; I wasn’t about to invite him in. I wondered why the driver didn’t get out.

“Then I have a legacy for you.”

Legacy meant someone had died. I didn’t have anyone left except for my brother Jason, and he was sitting down at Merlotte’s Bar with his girlfriend Crystal. At least that’s where he’d been when I’d gotten off my barmaid’s job a couple of hours before.

The little night creatures were beginning to make their sounds again, having decided the big night creatures weren’t going to attack.

“A legacy from who?” I said. What makes me different from other people is that I’m telepathic. Vampires, whose minds are simply silent holes in a world made noisy to me by the cacophony of human brains, make restful companions for me, so I’d been enjoying Bubba’s chatter. Now I needed to rev up my gift. This wasn’t a casual drop-in. I opened my mind to my visitor. While the large, circular gentleman was wincing at my ungrammatical question, I was attempting to look inside his head. Instead of a stream of ideas and images (the usual human broadcast), his thoughts came to me in bursts of static. He was a supernatural creature of some sort.

“Whom,” I corrected myself, and he smiled at me. His teeth were very sharp.

“Do you remember your cousin Hadley?”

Nothing could have surprised me more than this question. I leaned the rake against the mimosa tree and shook the plastic garbage bag that we’d already filled. I put the plastic band around the top before I spoke. I could only hope my voice wouldn’t choke when I answered him. “Yes, I do.” Though I sounded hoarse, my words were clear.

Hadley Delahoussaye, my only cousin, had vanished into the underworld of drugs and prostitution years before. I had her high school junior picture in my photo album. That was the last picture she’d had taken, because that year she’d run off to New Orleans to make her living by her wits and her body. My aunt Linda, her mother, had died of cancer during the second year after Hadley’s departure.

“Is Hadley still alive?” I said, hardly able to get the words out.

“Alas, no,” said the big man, absently polishing his black-framed glasses on a clean white handkerchief. His black shoes gleamed like mirrors. “Your cousin Hadley is dead, I’m afraid.” He seemed to relish saying it. He was a man—or whatever—who enjoyed the sound of his own voice.

Underneath the distrust and confusion I was feeling about this whole weird episode, I was aware of a sharp pang of grief. Hadley had been fun as a child, and we’d been together a lot, naturally. Since I’d been a weird kid, Hadley and my brother Jason had been the only children I’d had to play with for the most part. When Hadley hit puberty, the picture changed; but I had some good memories of my cousin.

“What happened to her?” I tried to keep my voice even, but I know it wasn’t.

“She was involved in an Unfortunate Incident,” he said.

That was the euphemism for a vampire killing. When it appeared in newspaper reports, it usually meant that some vampire had been unable to restrain his blood lust and had attacked a human. “A vampire killed her?” I was horrified.

“Ah, not exactly. Your cousin Hadley was the vampire. She got staked.”

This was so much bad and startling news that I couldn’t take it in. I held up a hand to indicate he shouldn’t talk for a minute, while I absorbed what he’d said, bit by bit.

“What is your name, please?” I asked.

“Mr. Cataliades,” he said. I repeated that to myself several times since it was a name I’d never encountered. Emphasis on the tal, I told myself. And a long e.

“Where might you hail from?”

“For many years, my home has been New Orleans.”

New Orleans was at the other end of Louisiana from my little town, Bon Temps. Northern Louisiana is pretty darn different from southern Louisiana in several fundamental ways; it’s the Bible Belt without the pizzazz of New Orleans, it’s the older sister who stayed home and tended the farm while the younger sister went out partying. But it shares other things with the southern part of the state, too; bad roads, corrupt politics, and a lot of people, both black and white, who live right on the poverty line.

“Who drove you?” I asked pointedly, looking at the front of the car.

“Waldo,” called Mr. Cataliades, “the lady wants to see you.”

I was sorry I’d expressed an interest after Waldo got out of the driver’s seat of the limo and I’d had a look at him. Waldo was a vampire, as I’d already established in my own mind by identifying a typical vampire brain signature, which to me is like a photographic negative, one I “see” with my brain. Most vampires are good-looking or extremely talented in some way or another. Naturally, when a vamp brings a human over, the vamp’s likely to pick a human who attracted him or her by beauty or some necessary skill. I didn’t know who the heck had brought over Waldo, but I figured it was somebody crazy. Waldo had long, wispy white hair that was almost the same color as his skin. He was maybe five foot eight, but he looked taller because he was very thin. Waldo’s eyes looked red under the light I’d had mounted on the electric pole. The vampire’s face looked corpse-white with a faint greenish tinge, and his skin was wrinkled. I’d never seen a vampire who hadn’t been taken in the prime of life.

“Waldo,” I said, nodding. I felt lucky to have had such long training in keeping my face agreeable. “Can I get you anything? I think I have some bottled blood. And you, Mr. Cataliades? A beer? Some soda?”

The big man shuddered, and tried to cover it with a graceful half-bow. “Much too hot for coffee or alcohol for me, but perhaps we’ll take refreshments later.” It was maybe sixty-two degrees, but Mr. Cataliades was indeed sweating, I noticed. “May we come in?” he asked.