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Southern Flames

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Pandora

Southern Flames

Anne Rice fanfiction about Sarah Harris (original character) who is a weak and orphaned vampire from Civil War era Tennessee, trouble by a disturbing plague on her favorite city. She turns to Lestat for help. COMPLETE. Some parts may not be suitable for children. Detailed warnings are included before those specific parts.

Enjoy!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Common Origins (Part 1)

Chatper 1: Common Origins (Part 2)

Chapter 2: Killing Spree

Chapter 3: Under Cover of Darkness

Chapter 4: Blackest Night

Chapter 5: Amends

Edited by Pandora

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Disclaimer: I make no claims of ownership on any characters, settings, or concepts contained herein. I niether seek nor accept a profit for the creation or display of this work.

________

Chapter 1: Common Origins (Part 1)

My Dear Monsieur,

I feel I must make my purpose known as quickly as possible, lest I risk stoking the fires of your rage at having been thus violated. Please be merciful to Victoria, my dear friend and courier of this letter. She has been my confidante since her birth, as was her mother before her. And her mother before her. The whereabouts of your lair will never escape her lips, I can assure you.

I am your sister in the Blood, and I desperately need your help. It is my prayer that you will find it in your heart to offer me what guidance you can if you knew more about me. I give you my story, my real name? all the little bits of information our kind are so hesitant to share. I trust you, Monsieur. I hope in time you can come to trust me as well.

My name is Sarah. I was made by accident around 1860. I don?t remember exactly when. My husband David was my maker. He perished two days later.

My father was a plantation owner in Tennessee. I was his only child but could not be the heiress of an estate in those days, unless I was married. Luckily I was friends with David before we even knew of our betrothal. Our fathers were like brothers, so it just seemed natural to eventually join the two plantations. David had no brothers and his sisters had all been married off.

I never liked owning slaves. My mother died when I was twelve, but I remember her always being kind to them. My father agreed that it was not the most ?Christian? way to treat someone, but the times left us no other option.

So we treated our slaves well. I can only recall my father ever beating any of them once. His name was Lewis. He?d stolen from the house. He was the only slave ever barred entrance to ?the big house? as they called it.

Daddy felt bad for beating Lewis, but was more hurt and sad than he was angry. Nowhere in God?s Great Cotton Country did slaves have it better than on the Emerson Plantation. We never split up families when we could avoid it; they always had full stomachs and when a woman got pregnant, she was put on light duty and moved to the house. She didn?t have to worry about the baby being sold. Thus, we rarely had to buy new slaves.

My father lived just long enough to see me married. As David?s father was still in good health, we took ownership of the Emerson Plantation right away. Daddy died a month later. The next few weeks were the most traumatic, horrifying, and grief-filled weeks of my life, mortal or otherwise.

David felt much the same way as I did regarding slavery. We had debated offering our slaves the chance to tenant farm the plantation. We may not make as much money as before, but the slaves would be free and no longer an expense for us?which they were, as well as they were cared for. We ran the numbers, as they say now, and decided that the profits would be more than ample to maintain our comfortable way of life.

Daddy?s death sealed the deal. One evening, about a week after the funeral, David went to the slave house to make the proposal. He didn?t come back to the house that night. A trip to the slave quarters the next morning told me he wasn?t there either. None of the slaves claimed any knowledge of his whereabouts. In fact, they all agreed that they hadn?t seen him. I saw no lie in their eyes.

Fearing the worst, I sent Lewis?s son?a very trustworthy boy?into town to fetch the sheriff (with the proper documentation of his errand of course). The town was Memphis, miles away to the west. In the midst of my grief for my father, I suddenly flew into a feminine panic. I felt utterly alone. What would happen to me? Widowed after a month-long marriage. My father had been my life, and I loved David as truly as my mother had loved my father, and now he had left me too.

I wanted to ride to my father-in-law?s plantation and seek comfort there. Perhaps David had gone for his father?s counsel? No, he would have told me before he left. Within minutes I was convinced that David?s departure was not willing.

Gloria?my nanny from birth, and the angel of a woman who helped me run the house?wrapped her arms around me and led me back up the hill away from the slave quarters. She sat with me in the parlor, holding my head to her chest as I sobbed, singing softly to me that I wasn?t to worry my pretty little head, that my love would be back home safe and sound soon enough. She always referred to my ?pretty little head? when something had me unsettled. If ever I could love a woman as much as my mother, it was Gloria. She was a constant presence in my life, the only one left, I realized and wept anew.

It was early afternoon by the time the sheriff arrived from Memphis, sweat flowing from his brow from the heat of the Tennessee summer and the strain of the ride. Gloria hurried off to the kitchen and returned a moment later with a class of cold tea, which he drank gratefully. I think he made some comment about how cold and sweet it was. Gloria always sweetened her tea with cane syrup. I remember as a child that it was my only refuge from the merciless August sun.

?Your slave boy already explained to me that your husband has gone missing,? the sheriff said. ?I brought along two of my deputies and a bloodhound. I?m going to ride out to his daddy?s farm to see if there?s been any word out that way. Do you have any idea where he could have gone??

I stood before him, feeling quite small and pathetic next to the sheriff, who had been an imposing man for as long as I?d known him. I shook my head and dabbed daintily at my tears with my lace handkerchief. ?No sir,? I said, trying to display every ounce of dignity and poise I could muster. I must have failed miserably, because Gloria was back at my side again, rubbing my arms and running her fingers over the long braid of my hair. ?He left the big house last night just after dusk to? leave instructions for the slaves. I figured he was out there talking to them for a while, so I went on to bed. When I woke up this morning, he still hadn?t returned.? I didn?t want to tell the sheriff that we were going to free our slaves. That would have been social suicide. Besides, the slaves didn?t yet know themselves.

The sheriff nodded his understanding and left, vowing to start searching immediately and that he would return as soon as progress had been made. ?In the meantime, Mrs. Harris, I want you to stay in the house. Keep someone with you all the time. Did you want me to send someone up from Memphis to stay with you??

I shook my head. ?No thank you, Sheriff. Gloria and I will be fine together. Besides, the men respected my father. They?ll guard the house.?

The sheriff nodded and left.

I fell back into Gloria?s embrace and cried again. She took me to the kitchen with her because I hadn?t eaten all day. I didn?t eat all day. In a desperate effort to see her mistress take food, she fixed her best peach cobbler?it was everyone?s favorite, especially mine. Yet I wouldn?t touch it. She tried to spoon-feed it to me, but I was too distraught. Nevertheless, when her brothers came in for dinner, smelling the peaches and begging for just a bite, Gloria forbade it: it was for Miss Sarah and Miss Sarah alone.

I don?t think I left the kitchen all day. At one point Lewis?s son, Little Bo, that was his name, came and sat next to me. I don?t think he was more than ten years old at the time. He was a sweet boy and always made me smile just to see the innocent grin on his round, chocolate face.

I think he quoted Scripture, I don?t remember. I don?t think I really heard him. I do remember him saying in my ear, ?God will protect Master David just as he has protected you.? He kissed me on the cheek and went to leave me in silence. At once I grabbed him and brought him to me in a tight embrace. I kissed the top of his head over and over.

I must have startled him, but after a second he returned the hug, patting one small hand on my back reassuringly. I thought to myself how sweet and innocent this child is, and suddenly feared I would never have my own. I cried again at the thought.

Little Bo, bless his heart, felt my tears and said, ?Oh, Miss Sarah, don?t cry! I didn?t mean to make you cry! Please don?t cry! When you cry I want to cry. Please, Miss Sarah, you?re too pretty to cry!?

At last I let him pull away and I smiled at him through my tears. ?Thank you, Little Bo. Have you had your supper yet??

He shook his head.

?Well then,? I said. ?Why don?t you run and get some cream. Gloria made peach cobbler, and I think you should help me eat it.?

Little Bo was all smiles again as only a child can be as he ran off to get the cream. I was suddenly ravenous and we ate the entire cobbler together in silence, enjoying each other?s company.

Little Bo was my constant companion for the next two days until the sheriff came back to the house with the news that they had seen David and caught the two men that had abducted him. David, however, was lost in the confusion, but that I should expect him home soon.

The two men that had taken him, Negroes both that no one laid claim to, were lynched just before dawn that same night. I heard from Little Bo the next morning that the bodies were gone and all that remained were two piles of ash beneath the nooses.

David came home the next night. I had just gone to bed when he appeared through the open window. His shirt was bloody and covered in dirt but when I ran to him I saw no signs of injury.

?What happened to you? Where have you been?? I was frantic. ?I was so worried. The sheriff said they hanged the men that took you but when Little Bo went to see, he said there was nothing but a pile of ash. David, what is going on??

David stared at me. His face was such a mix of emotion that I couldn?t read it. It was like a mingling of fear, hunger, lust, anger, and love. He just stood there, holding me at arm?s length, seemingly out of breath but not breathing heavily as he looked me up and down as if he wasn?t sure I was really standing there.

I stepped away from him and lit the lamps throughout the room, bringing one back to examine him more closely. There was something about the way the light shone off his skin that was unnatural. Something was out of place, but I couldn?t guess it.

When he smiled at me with unmistakable lust and hunger in his eyes, I saw them. I screamed and backed away. ?You aren?t David!? I cried. ?Keep away. What have you done with David??

He crossed the distance between us in the blink of an eye. ?No, my love, it?s me,? he said softly, taking me back into his arms. He took the lamp from my trembling hand and set it on a table. I tried to back away from him again, but his grip was infinitely tighter than I?d ever felt it before. He looked into my eyes and all urgency left me. I understood what he was, but I ceased to fear it.

In some dark corner of my mind I felt his hands roam my body, draw me closer to him. He was filled with raw, masculine fury. Even in my trance I could sense his urge to conquer and posses something fully.

No, not something. Someone. Me. His bride.

In one motion he threw me onto the bed and lunged on top of me; I felt the twin pricks of his teeth in my neck. I think I gasped in surprise or fear, I?m not sure. The apprehension gave way as the pleasure took hold of me. It was beyond intimacy, this kiss. It was the utter communion of our bodies, as only the Undead and Dying can understand.

But I don?t have to tell you that.

I felt my heart slow and feared it would stop altogether. David ripped himself away and realized at once he?d taken too much. I felt death and an empty blackness surround me. Had he left any of my blood for me? Hastily he tore open his wrist with his teeth and thrust it against my lips.

I expected to be repulsed, but as soon as his blood touched my tongue, I felt that same lusting hunger David had just displayed. It was a violent and perverse change of heart. One minute I was disgusted by the blood flowing from David?s veins, the next I drew from them greedily.

When he pushed me away I felt the thirst instinctively. David took my hand, touched my face, drew me to him, tenderly this time.

?Sarah, I am so sorry. I didn?t know what I was doing.? He was crying. ?Oh, my love, I didn?t want this for you, I am so sorry! The emotions are too intense, I didn?t know what I was doing! Dear God, please forgive me!?

The fear gripped me again, part from his words, part from the fact that I could feel the blood rushing through his body under my touch.

?What is it? What have I become?? His red tears horrified me. I found a hand mirror by the bed and studied myself briefly. My skin?milk-white in life?took on the same eerie sheen as David?s. I bit my lip nervously as I had so often done before. I?m not sure whether I noticed the blood or the fangs first. I gasped and dropped the mirror, which shattered on the floor.

I turned David?s head to face me. ?David, you must tell me what happened.?

We turned in unison to the door at the sound of Gloria?s footsteps. I could smell her blood. I wanted it. But I knew, somehow, that it would cost me her life to take it.

David rose, hauling me to my feet with him. ?Come,? he said. ?We need to feed. I?ll tell you everything on the way.?

We leapt from the second story window and landed softly on our feet. David didn?t give me the time to marvel at the miracle of our safe landing. The house was waking up again. Gloria had discovered the empty bedroom and broken glass and shouted for the other

slaves. The dogs were barking, lanterns were lighting, and David and I ran silently into the woods that surrounded our land.

?Where are we going?? I whispered. Even with my vampiric speed I struggled to keep up.

?Memphis,? he said. ?It?s the only place we can feed and not be noticed.?

?Are you mad? There are thousands of people in Memphis. Besides, it?s twenty miles away!?

?Fifteen,? he corrected. ?We?ve already covered five miles. See? There?s the Wolf River.?

I looked ahead and saw the stream, rushing to meet us. I slowed my pace, but David took my arm and together we bounded across, gripping the steep slope of the opposite bank. Understand, the Wolf River was not wide here, no more than ten feet across. This seemed to be the farthest I could propel myself. While the distance was still far greater than I ever could have dreamed of crossing as a mortal woman, I know now that I am weak as far as vampires go.

We clambered up the side, David lifting me under the arms. I stood and immediately doubled back over, my right hand to my belly.

?Oh, David, what?s happening?? I winced.

?You?re dying,? he said, matter-of-factly. ?Don?t worry, it won?t last long. Let?s go, we?re getting close.?

I tried my best to ignore the pain as we ran, although it did help distract me from the distance of our journey.

Meanwhile, David told me what happened to him.

?They had been hiding behind the stables,? David said, speaking of the two men that abducted him. ?Apparently, word has it that slaves all over the state are getting nervous. Masters are getting crueler by the day. The Negroes that took me came north from Louisiana. They were vampires. They traveled here to escape another vampire in New Orleans, who?s very territorial it seems. Anyway, they meant to make vampires of all the slave owners.?

?Why?? I asked, trying to push the thought of pain away. ?If they do that, the plantations will collapse with no one to run them. The entire industry will be destroyed.?

?Well, there?d also be no one to keep the slaves. And therefore no one to beat them. They didn?t expect me to be able to fend for myself. And I got the impression that they were hired.?

?Hired?? The implications were astonishing. ?By one of our slaves?? David shrugged. ?But we?ve always been so good to them.?

?They are still property, Sarah, and they know that?s wrong.?

We came to the edge of town and stopped, peering through the sparse trees. The pain had returned with a vengeance. Suddenly it ceased.

I looked down at my ruined night gown. ?Revolting!? I said. ?I can?t very well go walking around Memphis like this.?

?It?s fine,? David said. ?We?ll get you a dress.?

The next few hours broke my heart. Of course David wasn?t going to buy me a new dress from one of the shops. Back in those days everything but taverns closed at sundown. Besides, he?d been robbed by the rogue vampires from Louisiana. No, my dress came right off the body of David?s first victim. What a stir there would be when the poor girl was discovered dead and almost naked. But we had left no further evidence of our crime and we would be long gone in the morning.

I was reluctant to feed, though I was hungry. While I am not a particularly strong creature, I do compensate for my lack of speed and physical strength with unusually enhanced senses, and of course, a strong Gift of the Mind. And in my hesitation, I was a slow drinker, so I learned how to do what most fledglings cannot?feed without killing every time. I could hear the heart clearly in my victims. At times I imagined that I could smell their impending doom and pulled away. For the first few years, my first victim of the night almost always died, but never in my arms. I could sense the death, but rarely did I have to witness it firsthand. I was grateful for this small mercy.

It wasn?t until recently that I actually killed intentionally, and I will tell you right now that I enjoyed it. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Our hunger sated, we made the trek back to the plantation house. It was still in an uproar from our disappearance. I immediately found Gloria in the kitchen with Little Bo. She fell to her knees and praised God for my return.

?Miss Sarah, I didn?t know where you?d gone!? She rose and hugged me. ?Oh but where have you been? Didn?t you call for Master David? Then I heard the glass break, and oh! I?s so glad you?re home safe!?

It was nearly sunrise and I could feel that languor that creeps upon us all before dawn that drives us to seek darkness.

?Yes, I am safe, and David is home too. We?re going to go to bed, and we aren?t to be disturbed, no matter how late we sleep. We?ve just recently eaten, so we won?t be wanting breakfast. Alright??

?Yes?m, Miss Sarah. But where did you go?? Gloria made to follow me upstairs.

I spun back on her. ?Never mind. The fact is that we are home safe and I will explain it all later to you.?

I met David in the bedroom. He was pushing my tall dresser in front of the window, then braced my vanity mirror on top of it, blocking out all the natural light.

I locked the door behind me.

?The sunlight can kill us, Sarah,? he said, turning the bed over on its side and creating a lean-to with the mattresses. He tossed the pillows and several thick blankets under the shelter.

He took my hand. ?I think we?ll be safe here for the day. The vampires that made me slept under something similar, although they complained about not being able to find any cellars in Memphis. I think we?d be safer underground.?

We crawled under the structure and laid in each other?s arms, the blankets tight over us, covering us from head to toe.

I cried a little, whimpering softly. ?I?ll never see a sunrise again. Or the cotton under the October sun. Or sweet Little Bo when he comes in for his tea and lunch.?

David held me tighter, stroking the back of my head, kissing my tears from my cheeks.

When I realized that I never would have children of my own, I wept until sleep overcame me.

I woke up just after sunset. David was already awake, pacing the room. I looked down at my stolen dress and a wave of shock and guilt came over me so severe that I knocked over the mattresses in my fit. I jumped up and ripped the dress off, flinging it into a corner of the room. ?Burn it!? I cried. ?We have to burn it! Her spirit will come for it!?

I collapsed in a trembling heap on the floor, sobbing and nearly naked. David wrapped me in my dressing gown and pulled me into his arms.

?No my love, she rests,? he said. ?You are with me and you?re safe. Besides, there are no ghosts on this plantation.?

I instantly snapped out of my fit and looked him in the eyes. ?Just like there are no vampires??

David looked dejected and rose, leaving me on the floor.

I realized I?d hurt him and it softened me. ?I?m sorry, dear. But you must understand that everything we thought about life and death has been changed as dramatically as we have.?

He didn?t speak for a long time, and then he only mumbled something about forgiveness and a happy ending for creatures such as us.

I dressed in my own clothes and together we took the stolen dress with us out the door with a lantern, careful to avoid being seen by the slaves. We were hungry, voracious even. We stopped a short distance into the woods and built a small funeral pyre for the dress and set it ablaze. I was happy that it was gone. It was a beautiful dress of soft blue cotton with yellow silk ribbons, but it was evil nonetheless. I had been superstitious enough in life, and now that I had become my nightmares, I was downright fearful.

No more stealing clothes from our victims. I decided that night that the plantation would have to keep running somehow, in order to continue to bring in money for David and me. We would have to talk to a banker or a lawyer or something. I didn?t know, but David would.

We hunted Memphis again. As before, I tried to spare my victims? lives, and David took one man who was drunk and easy prey. That was how we discovered David could once more taste the Tennessee whiskey that he enjoyed so much. After this murder, however, I determined to teach David how I tried to feed without killing. With enough concentration he was able to listen to the heart. He couldn?t smell his victims? demise like I could, but together we learned to drink slowly and carefully.

The fresh blood warm in our bodies, we sat on the river bank watching the Mississippi flow by us and the endless string of steam and paddle boats travel lazily up and down the river. I told him that we needed to keep the plantation working and I asked him who we could use to manage our money for us. Obviously the fact that we could never do business in the day posed a bit of a challenge to behaving like common decent landowners.

?I have a friend in town, named Roger Jefferson. He?s a lawyer and an accountant. We should see him tomorrow. He can handle our affairs,? David said.

I don?t know how long we sat on the river bank. We fell asleep at some point, as mortals doze on a hot day after a big meal. It was nearly sunrise when we awoke. There was no time to get home.

An intense fear gripped me. ?David, the sun!?

?To the well at the top of the bluff. Come on.?

We raced up the steep hill. At the top of the bluff we found a deep well dug right into the clay. The sun was less than an hour away from cresting the horizon. I felt every cell of my body get hot, and David cried out in pain. A vampire of half your strength, Monsieur, would have had no trouble in calmly finding shelter. But two weak fledglings such as we were, we felt the numbness that sunrise brings as well as the fire early. I suppose it?s a physical warning; nature?s way of teaching orphans like ourselves how to survive.

I wanted to give up and end it all, but David would have none of it. He lifted me, his hands feeling like acid on my skin. With all his might, he dumped me into the well. I landed in the shallow water with a splash.

?Dig out a hole in the clay,? David shouted after me, his voice pained.

?David, jump in! Please!? I looked up and saw him struggling to pull himself over the side. He was hopelessly burnt. ?David, come on! Don?t leave me!? Tears ran down my cheeks.

?Dig, Sarah!? he was halfway over the side, if he could just get one leg over the wall?. He let out another cry as the sun hit him and he burst into flames. ?I love you, Sarah. Live!?

That was the last thing he ever said to me. And I never forgot it. Oh, but how I wanted to then. The last thing I wanted was for David to die in vain. He sacrificed himself for me. That sort of realization changes your entire outlook on life. Or death.

Either way, I abruptly decided that I wanted to continue existing, whatever my condition may be.

I clawed feverishly at the east wall of the well. The clay here was moist and soft. Luckily, the well was very deep and on the western side of the bluff. I had barely enough time and strength to carve out a little cave for myself before the well was filled with dull light. Once there, I burrowed up so the wall itself shielded me from the setting sun. I don?t think I slept but a few hours that day. But when I awoke after sunset, my skin was taunt and a little darker?though not burnt as the sun never did actually touch me?and my tears had dried to a sick deep red on my cheeks.

I climbed slowly back out of the well, digging my fingers into the clay. I was even weaker than the previous nights. If David had waited another second to throw me into the well I would surely have been a cloud of ash drifting over the Mississippi River.

When I finally reached the top of the well, I found that most of David?s remains had already blown away over the river. I fell to my knees next to what remained of David?s ashes. My face twisted into an agonized grimace as tears of pure grief flowed freely, turning the white ask to a deep red paste.

I prayed for his soul. I prayed that his self-sacrifice would outweigh the lives he?d taken. I prayed that my love for him would be enough for David to find mercy and peace in the Hereafter.

I scooped up the ashes with trembling hands and flung them to the breeze, which carried it down the river.

?Good-bye my love,? I whispered. ?I pray your soul and my heart find peace together.?

I watched the breeze for several long minutes, as if I expected to see David appear to me. I hoped he would. But he did not.

And that is when I began to lose my fear of spirits.

A man?s voice caused me to turn around with a start. I would have heard his approach had I not been so absorbed in my anguish.

When I brought my full attention to my surroundings I realized that my dress had been nearly ruined from the heat of my boiling blood and the day spent in the clay. With a quick scan in the Mind Gift of this intruder on my reverie I learned that he meant to do me harm.

I could smell his blood, rich and hot. I could hear his heart pump it through his body. I resolved that it would soon pump that same blood into my mouth.

He was no taller than I?short for a man?and light of build. The smell of whiskey rolling off of him offended my nose.

He dismounted his horse and came to me, as if to inspect me.

?You?re a pretty one. Who?s your master??

My darker skin. He thought I was a slave!

I wiped away the blood tears from my cheeks and smiled sweetly at him. ?He fell down the well, sir. I ?spect that makes you my master now, suh.?

?I suppose it do,? he said, looking me up and down and licking his lips.

David?s spirit must have given me the courage for what I did next.

I gave my ?new master? a bold little wink and closed the distance between us. ?Is there anything I can do for you, master?? I ran my tongue over his throat just once. Somewhere beneath my thirst for blood, I felt him shiver. A soft moan came from behind his closed lips.

I ran a hand down his chest. I didn?t get far before he grabbed my wrist forcefully, burning my skin. Our eyes met and I whispered to him through the Mind Gift; I sent him images more than words. He stood transfixed, watching the images of pillows and bed linen, a warm-moist feeling.

While he remained spellbound I wrapped my arms around him and sank my teeth into his neck. The hot blood filled my mouth, bringing an audible moan from my lips, fixed as they were over the punctures. I swallowed that first draught slowly, feeling it fill my body. The warmth of it quieted the fires along my skin.

I saw years of debauchery in his blood. Countless slaves he?d abused and ravaged, just as he?d planned to do to me.

Still, I did not want to kill him. Leave him weak and scared, yes. May he never raise a hand to a woman again!

That was the message I sent to him. To this day I?m not sure how he received it, but he did. Within a week his plantation was sold and his slaves freed.

But back to the feast.

I listened carefully to the beat of his heart, very difficult to do as all of us that have been injured know.

I drew the blood in slowly, deeply, letting his heart treat my hungry throat as an extension of his body.

When I sensed that I had taken from him all I could and still spare his life I pulled away.

I cannot explain how I knew to do what I did next. Was it instinctive? Possibly. Who knows what humans can accomplish when a pressing enough need arises. Perhaps we are the same way.

However I knew to do it, I bit my tongue and licked at the evidence on his throat. The little punctures closed up.

At some point during my ecstatic feeding my victim lost consciousness and we had laid on the bluff together. I yanked off his jacket and threw it over my shoulders to cover the tatters of my ruined dress.

I arranged his arms behind his head so it appeared that he?d merely fallen asleep watching the river. Yes, a nightmare. That is what it was. A powerful nightmare.

When I looked at my hands, I noticed that my skin had lightened some. That was how I learned to heal through feeding.

I fed for another few hours, priding myself in not taking a life or wasting a drop of the precious blood.

By the time I was ready to head home my skin was just lightly bronzed.

Ironic, isn?t it? The only time my skin was a color other than milk-white, I was dead. Years later, the thought made me laugh.

The nights in August are so short. The sun doesn?t set until after eight most of the time. I always feel a sense of urgency when I hunt in the summer. I don?t know why; it?s not as if my nights will suddenly cease to come.

Back to my second night in the Blood....

It was shortly after midnight when I began my journey home. What should I tell my slaves? I had twenty miles to figure it out.

In the meantime, my tears started again. Such a marvel that I didn?t cry myself dry of blood that night and many thereafter.

I came home to find Little Bo asleep in the parlor. Ever the light sleeper, he awoke as I shut the door behind me.

He sat straight up, rubbing his eyes. ?Miss Sarah! We was worried about you. Where?s Master David??

I shook my head, willing the blood tears not to fall. ?Fetch Gloria for me, please.?

?Yes?m.? He hopped off the sofa and ran to her room.

I mounted the stairs slowly, feeling more dead than ever. Surely I looked like a ghost.

Edited by Pandora

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Chapter 1: Common Origins (Part 2)

WARNING! This post contains three expletives and a couple paragraphs about stopping a rapist. If you might be offended, please skip this post and PM me for a squeaky clean synopsis of what you missed.

____________________________________

I found my room?our room, David?s and mine?to be returned to rights. Stiffly, distractedly, I peeled off the stolen jacket and ruined dress and let them fall in a heap on the floor. I dressed myself slowly, my eyes glassy. I didn?t want Gloria to see my tears.

I tied the sash around my waist as Gloria burst into the room in her nightgown.

?Miss Sarah, thank the lawd you alright! Where is Master David??

?Dead,? I said simply.

?Dead?? She repeated the word in a gasp. ?How? When??

I shook my head, refusing to answer.

?Child, why ain?t you crying??

I turned and grabbed Gloria?s shoulders suddenly. I startled her with my forcefulness. ?You cannot imagine, Gloria. I have cried for David and I will cry again, but not in front of you. If you see my tears I will lose you too.?

Gloria was taken aback. ?Child, why would you say a thing like that? Your tears won?t hurt me.?

I turned my back to her and brought my hands over my head, falling to my knees. How I wanted to weep! I wanted to sob on Gloria?s shoulder until there was no blood in me to cry out, just to see if real tears would fall when the blood tears were spent. I again felt such the monster, so apart from the world, yet forced to suffer its pains with no hope of redemption.

Gloria picked up on it. She must have. She was on her knees next to me, a hesitant yet loving arm around me.

?Is your heart still the same heart?? she asked.

I nodded.

?Is your soul still the same soul??

Again, I nodded.

?So in all the ways that matter to me, are you still my Miss Sarah??

I nodded, after a moment?s hesitation.

I felt her hand under my chin. ?Look at me, child.?

When our eyes met, I saw the recognition, felt her understanding in her Mind.

?Do you still love your Gloria??

I nodded. The tears burnt my eyes. They?d fall any second.

She caressed my face with a work-worn hand. The touch was intimate, loving,

affectionate. It felt so good. So?

Human.

?Then I ain?t afraid of you, don?t you worry your pretty little head about that. Now, child, put your arms around me and cry.?

I did so gratefully. She wasn?t afraid. I learned to be so superstitious from this woman that comforted a grieving vampire without fear.

When I was able to compose myself a little, I went immediately to my wardrobe and selected my finest nightgown for Gloria. I?d ruined hers with my tears. She resisted of course, only finally consenting when I threatened to take offense.

Gloria changed clothes and I went to the door. ?Where you going?? she asked me.

?To the slave house. Gloria, you?re free. If you want to stay with me, God knows I?d love to have you, but you will be paid well.?

?Child, I could never leave you!? she gasped.

I smiled. ?I?m glad to hear it, but now you have the right to do so if you wish.?

As I trudged down the stairs I heard Gloria?s happy tears and a thankful prayer.

Little Bo met me in the parlor and ran ahead of me, waking the slaves.

?Daddy! Miss Sarah needs to talk to us.?

Lamps came on in the small windows of the slave house, and in the blessed dark of early morning, the door opened, gently illuminating the grass with an orange glow. The figure of Lewis appeared in the doorway holding a lantern, with two or three others behind him,

shadows in the light of the small flame.

I entered the slave house soundlessly to them, I know, but my own breathing seemed so loud to me, my broken heart clamorous, competing with the cicadas for attention. The slave house smelled of sweat and blood, of hot summer nights and brutal summer days. The slaves stared at me, either in patience or apprehension. I sensed that most of them knew something was dreadfully wrong with their mistress.

?David is dead,? I said suddenly. My voice felt separate f rom my body. Did I really speak those words?

Gasps circled the small room. The corner where Lewis and his brother sat remained silent.

?You all know he was abducted on his way to this very house four days ago.? I caught the scent of fear f rom Lewis?s dark corner. I let my eyes fall on Lewis. I sent thoughts to him with my Gift of the Mind. I know those vampires were hired. I sent him wave after wave of grief and sorrow and hopelessness and loneliness. At last he couldn?t hold back his guilty tears any longer. He threw his head back and howled in misery.

?God forgive me!? Lewis and his brother pushed through the gathering of slaves and fell to their knees at my feet, each taking a hand, each pressing it against their foreheads. ?Miss Sarah, it was us that the sheriff should have hanged, right alongside those monsters that said they?d help us!?

I looked down at the two men, choking on the words that came out next, but I knew they must be said. ?Was my father ever cruel to you??

?No ma?am!? they cried in unison.

?Was I??

?No!?

?And David? When we were married, did he ever once give you cause to believe he would be any different than my father??

?No, Miss Sarah!?

?And do you know why he was coming to speak with you four nights ago?? They shook their heads. I could feel their tears on my fingers. I continued after a pause. ?We had decided to turn the plantation into a tenant farm. We wanted all of you to benefit f rom your hard work.?

I felt that even the two creatures at my feet understood what I was saying. I knelt down and turned Lewis?s chin up, bringing our eyes together.

?We gave you everything we could save one thing?your souls. You are free men. I will not have you beat and I will not turn you away. The fields still need working but I can no longer ask you to do that for anyone but yourselves and your family. That was what David was coming to tell you. Tomorrow I am going to a lawyer who will help me accomplish this.? I stood, leaving Lewis to collapse in a heap on the floor, sobbing and howling like a wounded animal in his guilt.

?Think about what I offer you. If you want to go north, I?ll arrange safe passage for you. If you want to stay here and work the fields for your own benefit, I will be the most pleased landlord in the South.? I could feel that most had already made up their minds to stay. Lewis and his brother could think of nothing but the fires of hell. I knelt next to Lewis again.

?I want you to stay. I want Little Bo to have an education. He is young and will live to see what our world turns into. He needs to be prepared for it. I want him to have everything I would have given a child of my own.? Lewis stared at me in disbelief. I should have killed him or banished him, but instead I was offering him freedom and a future for his only son. His mind was a blur.

I turned to leave and found Little Bo behind me. ?Miss Sarah, you gonna to send me to school?? I nodded and he threw his little arms around my waist. I kissed the top of his head and when I left the slave house, I heard him follow me.

?No, Little Bo. Stay with your daddy tonight.? I kissed him again as before and he went back to his father?s waiting arms.

I sat on the porch for a long time, just listening to the night. I could hear the slaves?no, the free men and women, my friends and soon-to-be tenants. Some of the women cried. Lewis and his brother still sobbed horridly, Little Bo trying to comfort him.

At some point Gloria came and sat beside me. She sat in silence and I listened to her heart beat, her steady breathing. I laid my head on her shoulder and her arm came around to embrace me. I smelled her cooking on her skin and in her hair, braided simply down her back. I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply the scents of my short life, enhanced as they were by the Blood. The red clay out of which grew the soft if sparse grass never smelled so sweet or felt so cool, even f rom the porch steps. The whine of mosquitoes was threatening to drown out the voices in the little house by the field.

At last Gloria spoke. ?You know we a superstitious lot. They know what you are now, even if they don?t know the word for it. They understand that they lovely Miss Sarah will never be the same. But they love you just the same, maybe even more. They know it takes courage to do what you did for them, to take a step away f rom our way of life out here.? She paused and I sat up straight and studied her quiet, contemplative expression. She wanted to tell me about something f rom my distant past, something she?d been instructed not to repeat.

She laid a hand on my cheek and continued: ?When you was just a baby, your father brought all of us together and made a promise to us and asked us to make him a promise too.

?He swore to treat us all like family. He promised us kindness and respect for each and every one of us and our children. I don?t think you know it but we are all related. He bought each of us so that we could be together. All he wanted in return was our patience. He promised that he would free us as soon as it was safe for us to leave the plantation.

?Part of the promise we made him was that we would take care of you and your mother if anything happened to him. Your mother taught me to run the house when he was gone, which ain?t usually the business of a kitchen slave. Your daddy taught my cousin Earnest to manage the plantation. He never really had to do it with Master David here, but he will now. In some way he educated us all, except for Little Bo who was too young for what your daddy could teach.

?And now you?ve kept all of his promises. Not one of them, not even Lewis or his brother, will ever leave you. They children will stay when they are gone, and on and on for as long as you are here.?

A single tear crawled desperately down my cheek; I couldn?t stop it. Gloria reached up and wiped it away as if it were nothing more than a perfectly normal tear. I was feeling human again.

?Now,? she went on. ?You ain?t gonna be sleeping under your bed like that. I?ll tell the men start digging you out a cellar under the house. It?ll be safer.?

I nodded. Though I know he could never have protected me during the day, I felt safe sleeping with David in our bedroom. The truth was that I was dreading this morning. I did not want to sleep there alone.

?Thank you, Gloria. You?ve restored a little of the woman to the monster. Will you also ask Earnest to ride into town tomorrow to set a meeting for me with Roger Jefferson? He?s the lawyer David was going to speak to about helping us with this. I?ll write up his travel papers before I go to sleep. Have him tell Mr. Jefferson that I?ll pay him extra if he?ll meet me at nine o?clock tomorrow night.?

Gloria and I rose together as she replied she?d ask Earnest to do exactly as I directed. I thanked her simply and kissed her goodnight on the cheek.

When I awoke the next evening, I learned that the men had been working all day to dig out a cellar for me. Little Bo met me at the foot of the stairs to show me to my future chambers, chattering excitedly the entire way.

??And this beam here I helped Daddy stand up. And I hauled out that big pile of dirt by the bucket-full!? He criss-crossed the lawn, proudly displaying all his contributions.

?And tomorrow I?m going with Gloria to buy rugs and fabric and pretty things to make you comfortable! Daddy says we?ll be done in a few days!?

I embraced Little Bo and kissed the top of his head, loving the smell of his young skin against my lips.

Lewis emerged f rom the cellar suddenly, drenched in sweat and covered in clay and dirt. He tipped his cap and bowed his head low to me. ?Evening, Miss Sarah.?

I smiled gently at him and took the shovel and pick f rom him, handing them to Little Bo with the instructions to put them away in the shed, which he ran off to do. I took Lewis?s calloused hands in mine and saw they were bleeding in several places. He probably hadn?t stopped working all day.

As I had the night before on the bluff, I bit down on my tongue, setting free a tiny stream of blood into my mouth. I brought Lewis?s palms to my lips one at a time, kissing them slowly, letting my healing blood flow steadily through my barely-parted lips. I stroked his hands a few times with my fingers, spreading my blood into the various cuts that seemed to be in every tiny line on his palms. The skin was restored before our eyes, and I could sense that a little of the physical pain Lewis felt was lessened.

Lewis met my gaze and I saw he had started to weep, softly at first, but when I laid a hand on his cheek he fell to his knees and sobbed at my feet. ?Lawd, Miss Sarah, how could I have ever thought to hurt you? It was the devil come out of me when I talked to those men f rom New Orleans! How can you forgive a murderer!?

Despite my deepest efforts towards the contrary, the blood flowed f rom my eyes. ?Forgiveness is the only gift I have to give. Your freedom should never have been mine to control. I am going tonight to make that right. I have hurt you, dear Lewis.?

I made a tiny puncture in my tongue again and let a small amount pool in my mouth. To Lewis?s utter surprise I bent down and kissed him on the lips, letting a thin rivulet of my blood trickle into his mouth. It was only a tiny amount, not enough to let him swoon for more than a few minutes. Earnest and his brother lifted Lewis?s body and carried him silently to their quarters. No one seemed terribly concerned about Lewis. I sensed that they trusted me fully not to harm any of them, even the one that deserved it. Gloria, who had emerged f rom the house, seemed more amazed that I?d kissed another man with my dear David only gone a mere day.

But it was a chaste kiss, aside f rom the blood in it. It was as one may kiss a brother, nothing more.

As Lewis was being carried off to the little house down the hill, Bo had returned f rom the tool shed. He posed a short question to Earnest about his father, who responded in the positive; he?d be alright. Little Bo came trotting back up the hill to my side.

I remembered my horrid tears and tried quickly to hide my face f rom him. But it was too late. He?d already caught sight of the blood on my cheeks glistening under the moon and in the light of the lanterns.

I wiped at a fresh wave of tears, worried that Little Bo would be frightened and I would lose him forever. I should have known better.

?Miss Sarah, it?s alright. Daddy?s gonna be fine, Earnest said so. Do you like your cellar, Miss Sarah? Me and Gloria are gonna make it pretty for you just as soon as it?s done! What colors you want, Miss Sarah? You want blue, like in the parlor??

I wiped my tears away and smiled down at Little Bo. ?What is your favorite color??

?Green!? He said at once.

?Then my room shall be green, so I will think of you whenever I look at it.?

This made him exceptionally happy. He ran off to begin conspiring with Gloria as to the specifics of the d?cor. I was relieved that Bo had no fear of me. I couldn?t help but smile at the thought of what the future would bring. I would secure a tutor for him with Mr. Jefferson that very evening. Then he would attend the finest university his brilliance and my salary could find. And then?this was the part that made me smile?he would marry a sweet woman and they would be my tenants. There would always be one of Little Bo?s children and grandchildren living under my roof.

And there always has been. Victoria, the young woman that delivered this letter to you, is Bo?s great-great-granddaughter. But again, I am getting ahead of myself.

After assurances f rom Earnest that all arrangements had been made, I set out to Memphis to feed quickly before my appointment with the lawyer.

I met Mr. Jefferson promptly at nine o?clock, as promised, and by half-past ten my affairs were in order and under the care of my lawyer. I?ll spare you the particulars, as I know how familiar you are with them yourself. Suffice it to say that when I left his office I had emancipation papers for all of the slaves, the management of my funds allocated, leasing agreements, a tutor for Little Bo, and plans for a new home for my tenants. I thanked Mr. Jefferson profusely for accommodating my odd request and paid him half over again the fee he asked.

I stepped out into the night, steamy as it was and looked up at the moon. I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. It seemed I could breathe in the very sound the cicadas made?the Song of the Southern Summer Night. I knew that David?s spirit was with me then, nestled in the calm I felt. I closed my eyes and embraced the sensation. Some part of me hoped I would feel David?s arms come around my shoulders to hug me. They didn?t. But the feeling of satisfaction, of hope, of maybe-this-would-work swept me away momentarily.

But I knew I had to get down to business. I needed to feed again. I?d only taken one slow victim that had survived as far as I could tell. I set off to Front Street to find a second. Try as I might, I couldn?t spare her life. My excitement to get back to the plantation and see my plans set into motion made the thirst greater. I remember thinking to myself at this point that I needed to learn some strict control in this area. I couldn?t go around with blood tears streaming down my face, now could I?

When I returned home I found several lanterns still lit near the site of my chamber-to-be. As I drew closer to it I heard the unmistakable scrape of a shovel on the ground. F rom the doorway emerged Lewis with two very large bucketfuls of dirt and clay.

?Lewis, what are you doing out here so late?? I asked. He didn?t answer. Gloria found me, she in the nightgown I had given her.

?He came to as soon as they laid him down on the bed. He jumped up a second later and came a-rushin? out here to keep digging. All he did was mutter over and over that he had to keep on diggin? for you. I don?t know what you did to him when you kissed him, but?.?

I nodded and handed Gloria the papers f rom Mr. Jefferson with instructions to stack them on my dressing table and then get some sleep. As she disappeared into the house I followed Lewis back down into the cellar. He was hunched over, furiously filling one of the buckets he?d just emptied. I took the shovel f rom his hands. ?Lewis?? I whispered.

He looked down, not wanting to meet my gaze.

?Miss Sarah,? he said weakly, uncertainly. ?Can I come back in the house??

I studied him, puzzled by the question. ?Of course, Lewis. Why all of a sudden are you asking me this??

He still didn?t meet my gaze; he just stood there, looking exhausted but determined. ?Even if I?s working on your cellar all night long, it still ain?t gonna be finished before the week is over. Till then I want to sleep on the floor outside your room to guard you. Earnest heard in town today that them Yankees is moving on to Shiloh soon. They could come to Memphis next and march right on through the plantation. I just don?t want nothing to happen to you, Miss Sarah. Them Yankees is evil men.?

At my urgings Lewis ceased his work for the evening, took a meal in the kitchen, and slept outside my door as promised. He did so until my underground chamber was completed. Then he kept watch by day as he worked and I slept behind the heavy, impervious locks. Well, I should say they were impervious at the time. I?ve had the doors and locks replaced several times over the last century.

Over the course of the next year and a half or so, I saw the beginnings of my little dreams start to play out. Little Bo was excelling spectacularly with his studies. My tenants had never been happier; they?d always been incredible workers, but they seemed to actually work harder because it was for themselves.

Two years later, the Yankees did march on Shiloh. In our little isolated plantation twenty miles outside of Memphis, we were mostly safe. When the war finally ended, some of my tenants left the plantation and moved up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. We wrote rather frequently, but eventually my former slaves died, and their children did not keep in touch with me.

Little Bo did go to a university when his tutor pronounced that he could teach him no more. He applied for admission to Fisk University in Nashville to study law and accounting and graduated with honors. The day he got accepted he told me I couldn?t call him ?Little? Bo anymore. Ever the mother-figure, I refused, but promised not to embarrass him.

When he came home for his second summer break, he brought a beautiful young lady with him by the name of Regina. They were married the winter after Bo?s graduation. As I?d hoped, they stayed in my house. They inherited the master suite that I?d long ago given up for my safer chamber.

Bo founded his own cotton gin, and my tenants were his first clients. He made a tremendous amount of money within the first few years. In fact, he could have bought the entire plantation f rom me outright after a good decade of business.

Bo died in 1925, just a few days before his seventy-fifth birthday. The funeral was held in the late evening so that I could attend. The ceremony was pure torture; my Little Bo was the last person alive that knew what I was. I could not cry.

Except for Regina and her youngest daughter Betsy. Regina passed away later that same year. If it weren?t for Betsy, I?m not sure how I would have managed to continue on. I?d lost Gloria years and years earlier and it was like losing my mother all over again. But when Bo and Regina passed away? it was like my own children had died.

Betsy comforted me tremendously in those months that followed. She?d already married and was living on the plantation. She had two children, a boy and a girl. The boy was the eldest and had also graduated f rom Fisk University as was becoming the family custom and moved to California. The girl?named Rose?was just turning sixteen.

As a matter of fact, on her sixteenth birthday, Betsy and I took Rose out to the nearer cotton field just before midnight and explained to her the family secret. It?s become a bit of a tradition to let the youngest daughter in on her sixteenth birthday. Like her mother and grandmother before her, Rose was not afraid of me. In fact, we became closer with the revelation. It gave my mortal daughters the comfort of knowing that there would always be a home for them, and it gave me the connection to the world that I yearned for.

Rose attended business school and took over management of the cotton gin, a duty that stayed with Betsy when her son refused the job. Betsy took her time in marrying, but that was fine with me. We had that much more time to ourselves as the house emptied.

Once she did marry though, Rose had three children, all girls. The youngest you have met. Victoria was born in 1967 against all odds when Rose was forty-two. The doctor thought for sure that Rose would die in childbirth, but Bo?s bloodline was incredibly strong. It would take more than a late pregnancy to bring Rose down.

The very next year, when Victoria was barely eleven months old, all hell broke loose.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis that year. Rose?s husband was stabbed to death in the riot that followed. I was feeding in a nearly-deserted alley?even now I still have to feed every night?and heard his last breath. I sped home immediately, crossing the distance in record time.

I burst into the house, calling for Rose to bring Victoria into my chamber with me until the riot passed (her other two children were away at a private boarding school, thank God). I stuffed food and water into a sack for my girls and brought along a bucket that would have to suffice as a toilet until night fell again.

It was the first and only time a mortal ever witnessed my daytime slumber. Rose was apparently disturbed a bit by the experience, but never once did a fear of me ignite in her heart.

Leaving Rose with one of my tenants and a rifle, I headed to Memphis to feed and see if the situation had improved. This continued for several days until total order was finally restored. I pray nightly that I will never see such disaster befall my precious city.

Let me say here that I love my Memphis as much as you love your New Orleans. Memphis has always been the place people come for their second chance at life. It?s always been such a beautifully safe haven, except for that one night. I loved to hear Elvis Presley?s intoxicating voice rolling f rom the bars and restaurants?it still does, almost thirty years later. I fell in love with music in the 1930s and consequently rock and roll in the 1950s. The new and unusual and questionable innovations in music has always captivated me. I always attend the evening concerts during the Memphis in May festival, but I never feed there. It?s as if music for me has the same effect as making the sign of the cross for your Louis: I respect it and I cherish it.

Rose and Victoria were excellent teachers for me. Rose taught me to drive (though I had given her children each a new automobile for their sixteenth birthdays. Later on, Victoria taught me to use computers? to some degree. Her children snicker at my slow, deliberate manner of typing. Like you, I have yet to master the art of e-mail or the Internet, really. I do well enough if Victoria?s children can help me along as I go. I do find it rather funny, that for all our innate abilities to learn quickly, computer technology seems so difficult to master.

But no matter. I much prefer hand-writing letters anyway. Which is not to say I write many letters to anyone other than my lawyers and accountants. The letter I sent to you by way of Victoria is actually the first letter I have written in over forty years.

Let us jump to present day. I realize that your home has been repaired sense the Hurricane all but wiped the fabled New Orleans off the map, as has most of the damage wrought on the city. However damage of a new kind has been wrought on my sad Memphis.

For the past two years, Victoria and I have both been thoroughly shocked and horrified by the amount of violent crime in the city proper. Now understand that my land is in fact separated f rom the city in what the locals now call simply ?the county,? however my only feeding grounds are in the city. As I have said, I am not a strong vampire. It would only take the strength of perhaps two or three men to capture me. Therefore I do not hunt long in the dark and seedy areas of town as you are wont to do, though I do seek the evildoer, in case of the accidental kill. Time has merely enhanced my senses and my speed, but it seems the blood has abandoned my physical strength altogether.

I killed on purpose for the first time six weeks ago. I was downtown, stalking a pair of young women, one intoxicated, the other apparently having just finished her shift at a nearby diner. I preceded them into an alley, but slinked into the shadows when I heard a male voice f rom the street. I knew instantly that the women were trapped in the alley: one exhausted, the other too drunk to defend herself.

The man knew this too. The drunk one slurred out an insult?it was racial and crude, I dare not repeat it?and was rewarded with the man?s fist planted squarely on the side of her head, knocking her unconscious and sending her sprawling.

The other girl pulled a cell phone out of her pocket and began dialing. The man snatched it f rom her and shattered it against a wall very near to wear I stood. Before she could scream, he?d clamped a hand over her mouth and shoved her bodily against the side of a dumpster. He said to her, with no mistake to the pure cruelty in his voice, ?If you shut up and take it like the filthy b**** you are, I?ll leave you alone. And if you scream, I?ll kill you.?

His accent struck me hard. It wasn?t Memphian, it was f rom further south, but still very urban. I understood where he was f rom before I was able to articulate it. The steadiness of his harsh words told me as much as his Mind that this man was no stranger to violence and abuse.

I knew what was coming next, but I was afraid to intervene. I hate to admit that I was so cowardly, but I was. I was afraid of my own lack of physical strength. I am still a woman, as much as you hate to contemplate such things.

The poor girl sobbed in terror but didn?t scream, he telling her the whole time to ?shut up.? He tore her shirt open, then her skirt, ruining both the garments and her dignity in an instant. He threw her hard onto the ground and mounted her, one of his hands over her mouth again, the other fishing his organ f rom his overly-loose pants.

I couldn?t stand it any longer. I was going to feed on this b****** and he was going to pay for this with his life. I picked up an empty beer bottle f rom the ground, emerged silently f rom my hiding place, and hurled the bottle at the assailant. It was right on the mark, breaking on his temple. He uttered a curse and looked right at me.

?You?re next, b****!? he growled at me.

I closed the distance between us and, using all my strength, I tossed the man off the poor girl, cracking his head on the wall of the building behind us. I could smell the spilt blood, but his wound wasn?t fatal. Good. A weak skull wouldn?t rob me of vengeance.

I was wearing a long leather trench coat; I removed it and gave it to the girl to wear against the cold and the prying, unkind eyes of passersby. ?Are you hurt?? I asked her. Her attacker?my victim?struggled at the edge of my vision.

She nodded. ?Not bad.? Carefully climbing to her feet, she pulled on the coat and began to button it. Her gaze darted between me and the man, who was laboring to get to his feet.

He let out another vicious string of curses and insults and lunged for me. Rage gave me the strength I needed to catch him by the throat and shove him against the same wall he struck before. I reached around into his back pocket, found his wallet and dug out his driver?s license and cash?a few hundred dollars?and handed it to the girl. ?Go to the hospital. Give the ID to the police. Keep the cash for all I care. He won?t be around much longer to use it.? She stuffed the wad into a pocket in the trench coat and ran off, shouting for someone to call the cops. She?d get the help she needed, but I was about to be in the middle of a murder scene.

It felt grand.

I turned my attention back to the thug on whom I was struggling to maintain my grip. I?d caught a glimpse of his ID: it was f rom the state of Louisiana. My voice was ice-cold. ?You fled Katrina, didn?t you?? He swore at me again, but I found the affirmative answer in his Mind easily enough. ?You?re New Orleans scum, aren?t you? You and how many thousands like you came up the river to my beautiful Memphis. We opened our arms to you and how do you repay us? By holding our boys up at gun-point, raping our women, and murdering our children!?

I locked his eyes on mine and sent him a string of images to entrance him in fear. ?You?ve raped and murdered dozens of women that look just like me, haven?t you? Take a closer look at the b**** that?s sending you on to hell.? I fabricated memories of violent feeding frenzies with me as the grim reaper, each more horrific than the last. He seemed paralyzed, trembling as terror and revulsion him struck him harder than it ever had in his disgusting life.

I showed him my fangs. ?If you know what?s good for your kind, you?ll come back to haunt every ruffian you?ve ever known and warn them that Memphis has a new Gaurdian Angel? and she?s pissed.?

I bit down on to his neck, tearing the skin more than I needed to. I wanted this evil man to suffer. I drew his blood in long, fast draughts, watching the gruesome montage of visions that followed it. As is typical of a thoroughly successful hunt, my prey fell into a swoon and collapsed while I was still latched onto his throat. I lowered him to the ground and knelt over him. I didn?t shroud him in pleasant images, I showered him with delusions of fire and brimstone so there would be no question as to precisely where his soul was going.

I pulled away an instant before his heart burst. I licked close the ferocious gashes on his throat and with all my might, I deposited him unceremoniously into the dumpster. I didn?t get the feeling anyone would report him missing before the trash was collected. I was right. As I exited the alley like nothing had happened, a garbage truck rolled in behind me. All the police would find would be his near-empty wallet which I had dropped into the mud and the unconscious, drunken woman.

Never before have I tasted blood so evil. In hindsight, I do realize that the taste was sweeter than that of the innocents f rom which I carefully sipped. Perhaps that was due mostly to my knowledge that I had rid the world of one more villain. Whatever the reason, I discovered a truth that I had been unaware of for nearly one hundred and fifty years: I only needed to feed once a night when I killed. And the rapists and murderers that came up the river f rom New Orleans provided me with a good meal every single night with little or no cost to my conscience.

Now, Monsiuer, I know you are wondering what precisely this has to do with you. No, I am not so presumptuous as to accuse you of not cleansing your city better. Far f rom it.

Like Bo?s children and grandchildren after him, I am in dire need of a tutor, though one of a much more specialized and?dare I say??sinister nature.

Three weeks ago, I was nearly overtaken and captured by a small group of gangsters. I had enjoyed a week of successful kills and I committed the sin of pride. There were only four of them, I figured. How difficult could it be?

Were it not for my preternatural speed, I never would have escaped as unharmed as I did. The scars left by their deep knife thrusts have only just healed. Same for the twelve gunshot wounds in my stomach and arms. The sight of me on my arrival home?clothes and hair literally soaked in blood?sent poor Victoria into a panic.

It took quite a while to remind her of what I was and that I would be fine. ?But I need you to help me get out the bullets before my body seals them inside.? I thought surely that she would faint and I would be on my own. But the spirit of my brave Gloria must have come to her at that very moment; Vicki took two deep breaths, shouted orders for her children?who were stirring upstairs?to remain locked in their rooms, and followed me down into my underground chamber with a knife and a pair of narrow pliers.

Bless her sweet heart, she worked for two hours before the last bullet finally emerged, so deep they were in my flesh, despite my body?s attempts to push them straight out. Once the wounds were clear, my blood worked faster to heal me. But I had lost so much blood, I needed to feed again. Vicki helped me to change clothes and the bed linens?I never have made myself sleep in a coffin?and we burnt the fabrics that were soaked in blood. I kissed Victoria on the cheek and promised her a Medal of Honor for her courage before making my way back to the city to feed quickly on easy prey before the sun began to creep back into the sky.

My wounds have mostly healed, though the worst of them still cause me pain regularly. I find myself moving slower, I?m more hesitant. ?Gun-shy,? I believe is the term that best applies to me, in some sense of the word.

I first learned of your existence in 1985 when you emerged as the daring and rebellious rock star. I still own your album on cassette tape. I devoured each of your Chronicles after that. I have learned a great deal of our kind in that way. Like you, I never had a teacher.

Here is my proposition: the evil filth of New Orleans you have such a taste for have not yet returned home. I offer you safe and luxurious lodging on my plantation (now entirely commercial, I might add, but security has never been tighter) and all the bayou trash you can drink. I only wish to watch and learn f rom you. Please give Victoria your reply. She will be waiting patiently at your favorite caf? in the French Quarter and will see it safely to me. Should you refuse my request, I will certainly harbor you no ill will.

I do not ask for Blood, merely tutelage and guidance. Help me to discover the extent of my powers. There may not have been any call for my near-defeat.

Your Humble Servant,

Mrs. Sarah Harris

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Chapter 2: Killing Spree

_______________________

When my cell phone rang, I knew it was Vicki with bad news. Taking a deep breath, I flipped the device open and brought it to my ear. ?Hello, Vicki? Did you deliver the letter??

?Yes ma?am, I did.?

The voice on the other end of the line sounded shaken. ?And? Did you meet with him??

?He caught up to me half way to the caf?. He was not pleased.?

I knew he wouldn?t be. But he couldn?t have been angry enough to hurt Vicki. ?Had he read the letter yet??

?No, but I think he got the gist of it from my mind. He said he would give me five hours to leave New Orleans or he?d kill me. He said if I ever came back he?d kill me.? There was a pause. ?He was serious, wasn?t he??

This is Lestat de Lioncourt we were talking about. He?s been known to play mind games but never in the matter of his privacy. ?Yes, he was serious. Are you on your way to the airport??

?I?m almost there. I have no idea when the next flight to Memphis leaves. I was too scared to do anything but call you first.? She wanted to cry, I could hear it in her voice.

I turned around to face the young teenage girl behind me. She seemed eager to help but I could feel the concern pouring from her. ?Jessica, get on the computer and find your mom the very next flight from New Orleans to Memphis.? I brought the phone back to my mouth as Vicki?s daughter darted off to the other room. ?Jessica?s looking for you. It?ll be okay. If you see him again, just keep thoughts of all your many good deeds in the front of your mind. He won?t hurt you because you?re innocent. You only did as I asked you in going to his house, Vicki. His anger will be with me?

An instant later, Jessica?s voice came from the office. ?Miss Sarah, I found it.?

I glided into the room and handed Jessica a credit card with one of my assumed names on it. ?Vicki, can you be checked in within twenty minutes??

*** *** *** *** ***

Memphis International Airport was all but deserted at this late hour. When Victoria came down the escalator I couldn?t help but rush to take her in my arms. She sighed and relaxed against me. How on Earth I ever managed to make her feel safe, I?ll never know. I all but choked on my tears to keep them back when Vicki began to cry. ?Victoria, I am so sorry I asked this of you. I should never have put you in harm?s way like this.?

She pulled away at once and wiped viciously at her eyes with the heel of her right hand. ?No, it had to be done, and you know he would have killed you on sight. It?s my job besides. My mother and grandmother would have done the same thing for you in a heartbeat.?

I embraced her again and kissed her on the cheek. ?Let?s go. Your children are waiting in the car for us.? I took Vicki?s satchel from her and slung it over my shoulder, leaving the warm airport for the bitter wet and cold Memphis February night. Once within sight of my car?a cherry red 1967 Pontiac GTO, a gift from Rose?Jessica and her brother Christopher climbed out of the backseat and dashed to the arms of their mother. As awful as I felt for sending Vicki on such a foolish venture, it warmed my heart to see the almost tangible love between them. I couldn?t help but smile despite my heartache at never having a family of my own.

Jessica and Vicki both were a spitting image of Rose with their warm caramel skin and slightly angular cheekbones that gave their rounded faces a graceful sophistication. Jessica?s younger brother Christopher reminded me in almost every way of Little Bo at his tender age of eleven. I?m not sure if it was his soft chocolate complexion or the fact that he was the first person to come running to you at the first sign of sadness in your eyes, but one or both brought me to call him by Bo?s name on more than one occasion.

Vicki?s children had not yet been granted the knowledge of the true nature of my existence though there is no doubt that they know something is strange about me. As has become the tradition in my household, only Jessica will be given the secret, unless she refuses to take her mother?s place as my connection to the world. I doubted very much that she would turn down the adventure. In her time of technology and daily miracles my being a vampire should do little to faze or frighten her. She was a bright child of thirteen, brilliant in her studies and positively a master at the computer technology that so easily outsmarts me.

Now automobiles, that I can handle. One of the few everyday devices which can actually travel faster than I can, especially this GTO. Rose and I would watch them race through the city streets back in the 1960s and 1970s. She would always try to convince me to buy into one of the races but I always refused. In 1986 she found my beloved cherry red monster and had it restored. I was a fan of the Vampire Lestat, the rock star, in those days and I loved to play his cassette in the new stereo Rose had installed before she presented the car to me. A part of me still is a fan of Lestat?s rock and roll days, in a nostalgic sort of way. I?ve since had the car restored and updated several times.

The car that Vicki?s children climbed back into on this night was one of the safest, yet most powerful, vehicles ever to grace Memphis?s streets. I tended to make this quite evident on the highway. The children nicknamed me Speed Demon because I drive so fast, which often leads to a scolding from Vicki. Honestly though, I never feel the full extent of the speed, hence the state-of-the-art radar detector (perfectly legal in Tennessee) and jammer (absolutely contraband) mounted to the dash.

I drove carefully home this time. I was too shaken by the knowledge that my self-righteousness had nearly cost dear Vicki her life. It was a loss I couldn?t even contemplate. I was sure that I would have gone into the sun that very morning. But she was safe now, that much was clear. Lestat had made his decision on the matter of my request quite evident, and the answer was a definite and resounding, ?No.?

The next night I was furious. I thought I would be hurt if Lestat turned down my request for help. By eleven the following evening I was positively mad. I tore through the house after tiring of the confines of my underground chamber. Memphis was going to go up in smoke and he was going to do nothing about it! He who claimed to love mortals so much; he who preached the gospel of hunting the evildoer; he who routinely cleansed New Orleans of the scum of both the mortal and immortal realms; he who brought senseless killing to a halt by dealing justice as the judge, jury, and executioner. He would not help me to do the same!

The more I thought on it, the more I decided that I really could handle this task on my own. I must be stronger than I realized, surely.

That night I fed well on a common thug. The next night, I took two. My every waking moment was filled with a horrific rage that continued for at least a week. I kept my distance from my mortal companions for fear of losing my composure around them, a sight I knew the children could not bear to see and one Vicki certainly didn?t deserve. I prowled the streets often, each kill becoming more swift than the last. According to the evening news there was a positive pandemic afflicting only those with long histories of violent crime. Was it a morbid miracle, the anchorman asked? Could this be the bloody answer to our prayers? Or has someone taken justice into their own hands? Oh my word if only they knew the truth!

Twelve nights after Victoria?s hasty return I had broken my vow to Lestat that I would neither hold a grudge nor blame him for the blight of my city. I had decided once and for all that he had not done a thorough enough job keeping New Orleans clean and that I could never forgive him for it. In fact, if he so much as set a pretty little foot inside Memphis I was going to kill him or die trying.

On the thirteenth night I set out into the city in the GTO. Most of the time I traveled on foot, but I needed to hear the roar of the engine and feel the bass of the stereo pounding in my chest. I?m not afraid to admit it: I look like some young punk at first glance, driving a car with far more power than was remotely necessary, rock and roll blaring at an obscene volume, and radar detector wailing alerts every few miles. That girl?s going to wrap herself around a tree someday, that?s what I hear from the thoughts of the careful citizens puttering along in their minivans and little sedans that get fifty miles to the gallon. Not so! Sorry dear, I?ll fly past you again someday, quite unchanged from the moment you first saw the red blur disappear into the night.

It was a Friday night and the streets downtown were packed with the usual scum: barflies, tourists, and of course your obligatory rapists and carjackers. I parked my car right on the side of the street, ignoring the parking meter and locking the doors. Within a few minutes I had identified my appetizer, a young man that fit both categories all on his own. I smelled murder on his thoughts on top of it all. Could this boy have been more than twenty-four? I followed him for a block or two, sticking to the shadows and keeping my footsteps silent. When he stopped to greet a group of similarly dressed young thugs I knew instantly why someone so young could have brought the world so much terror. They were part of a gang. Not some local band of convenience store pillagers, no, these guys were big time.

I made myself all but disappear in the shadows as I listened to the men. Within another few minutes more had joined the bunch. If the Memphis police found them loitering they?d probably try to break them up, which would not be a wise move. I counted a dozen or so, all displaying the same gang signs with their hands.

Any other night I would have turned and left in favor of easier prey. But then, rage doesn?t tend to bring clarity to one?s mind, does it? I checked my appearance in the dingy window of an abandoned store: leather boots with an exquisite heel, blue jeans, a ridiculously low-cut brown T-shirt, and a rich brown coat that dusted the pavement. Perfect. I ought to command their attention quiet easily.

Taking a deep breath I plunged right into their midst. Conversation instantly ground to a halt.

?Hey baby, where ya goin??? The speaker was of average height and rather slight of build. When I probed his mind I could not even count the crimes I found.

I smiled as the group closed around me, but not nervously as a mortal woman in my situation would have. There was wrath in my expression, whether or not they read it there. ?I know who you are,? I said so softly those on the edges of the gathering had to strain to hear me. ?And I know what you?ve done.?

Laughter erupted, starting with the first one that spoke to me and rippling out as if I?d dropped a stone in a lake. ?Is that so?? It was the same man that spoke again. ?And what are you gonna do about it??

My smiled broadened. ?Kill you. All of you.?

More laughter.

?Yeah? Go ahead and try it.? He spread his arms in invitation. I sidled up to him, clearly giving him the wrong idea, and bent to his throat. He merely gasped as I sunk my teeth through the flesh and drained him quickly. I licked my lips as his body fell to the cement.

?Who?s next?? I whispered but they were too stunned to move. Had this little thing actually killed him? One looked as if he would stoop to check the vein in his throat, only to find that I had torn it loose and it protruded from the skin several inches.

?You,? I said, pointing to one of the taller young men. ?You are from New Orleans.? I hadn?t heard him speak of it, but I read memories of the hurricane from his mind. ?You are next.?

He drew a gun from his useless belt as I approached and angled it at me. His thumb moved quickly to cock the weapon before he raised it fully, but I was next to him before he could squeeze the trigger, adjusting his aim to send the bullet ripping through the chest of the largest one in the bunch. I broke the wrist of my next victim easily enough, sending the gun to the pavement with a clang, and tore my fangs through his throat, not so much drinking his blood as making a lovely mess.

The gunshots rang out then. Dozens of them. Bullets tore through my body, the pain hot and blinding. I let out a beastly cry and tried to bring the still-gasping body of my second victim between me and my assailants, but to no avail. I was utterly surrounded. Blood poured from every wound, painting the pavement red. At some point my knees gave way and I fell, gasping, wanting to howl and cry in my agony but nothing came. My vision blurred, the dangerous blackness of unconsciousness threatening to leave me helpless, nothing but a specimen in a laboratory. Between the fingers of the abyss that clouded my vision I saw that my hands, crimson from the pool of my own blood I knelt in, were shriveling, giving me the appearance of a ghastly wraith.

Somewhere under the fog I noticed that the gunshots had stopped and been replaced by another sound very similar to the weapons but in a slower rhythm. As suddenly as the gunshots were silenced, the minds of the shooters were silent as well. I raised my eyes and located my car. I vaguely remember trying to crawl towards it, if I could just get to my cell phone and call Vicki, she could send help. I collapsed finally with one hand in the street and my head slumped against the edge of the curb. I was barely able to notice the icy arms that lifted me easily before my world went entirely black.

*** *** *** *** ***

It was something running down my throat that awoke me, a hot and thick liquid. I?d tasted its weaker brother before. Oddly enough I wasn?t as surprised to see the source of the blood as I was that I was lying on my own bed. I blinked, trying to clear my vision, but I didn?t dare raise my head. Behind the black-clad, blond-haired vampire standing over me I saw my dear Victoria, utter fear twisting her tear-stained face.

I looked back to Lestat who met my gaze with a mix of disapproval and the kind of vague concern one may have for a perfect stranger on the news. ?Little Sister, you are the most foolish creature I have ever met, for more reason than one.? Funny how after all these years in America he still sounded so decidedly French.

?Thank you for not hurting Victoria,? I said, my voice a hoarse whisper. ?Why didn?t you leave me to die??

?I haven?t saved you yet, Mrs. Harris.?

I slipped into the blackness again, rising intermittently to that dreamlike state of almost wakefulness so enjoyed by the dying. Victoria seemed less afraid suddenly, or rather, more at ease with Lestat as the two of them dug the dozens of bullets from my flesh. Occasionally a bone would be scraped with whatever tools they used for the task and I would dissolve back to unconsciousness amid a sea of white agony. The smell of spilt blood was overpowering. The thirst in me boiled to the point that I was on the verge of becoming a savage beast. In a brief moment of clarity I ordered Vicki out of the room. I could clearly smell her mortal blood in her veins even over the mass of my own coagulating beneath me. Victoria had never been in danger of me of any kind, but the desperate thirst in me held no regard for the vessel.

I tossed weakly on the bed, moaning for blood like some demon infant until Lestat laid his strong hands on my shoulders, pushing me back down and urging me to be still. Had I been a mortal woman the forcefulness of his grip would have been agonizing but in my current state of rage I found it oddly calming. I looked up at him and vaguely noticed that he brought his left wrist to his mouth then pressed it to my lips; only then did I realize that he had cut through the vein and was bidding me to drink, which I did. Much to my dismay the wound was healed within moments and I let out a whimper.

?You?re not some fangless fledging, bite me,? he said a little impatiently.

I didn?t need to be told twice. At once I sunk my teeth through his flesh, his hot healing blood flooding into my mouth, rushing to mend the seemingly infinite gunshot wounds throughout my body. I shuddered in what amounted to ecstasy, barely aware of the nearly disguised moan from Lestat. I drew his blood in by the mouthful, renewing the incisions as they closed. Each draught of his blood sent electricity through my veins, filling out my sunken frame, stopping only when Lestat pulled his wrist away. The pain in me was replaced by a mere annoying ache, and I felt my thirst satisfied for the time being, though I sensed it would build again quickly.

I fell back into the blood-soaked pillows, Lestat?s forehead dropping to my shoulder. We stayed in that posture for several beats of his thunderous heart, as if we were mortals that needed to catch their breath. I found my voice at last. ?Thank you, Lestat.? I couldn?t help but notice that my senses were even more greatly enhanced. It was like being made all over again.

?I needed you strong enough to help me. In my haste to flee the scene of the crime so to speak, I left behind a rather large piece of evidence.?

Lestat stood and helped me to my feet. I led him out of the door as I responded. ?You didn?t drain all of those thugs, did you??

?Of course not, I didn?t even take one in that manner.?

At this point we had emerged from my cellar chamber. I stopped and looked around. ?Wait, where?s my car??

*** *** *** *** ***

When Lestat set me down on the pavement in a dark alley not far from the scene of the fight that night, I steadied myself against the filthy brick wall to my right, my left hand resting on my stomach as if the gesture might settle it. ?I?d read that the Cloud Gift can be disturbing but I had no idea it could be nauseating as well.?

Lestat merely chuckled and crept to the street corner and peered around the building. After a series of calming breaths I came up behind him and looked around his shoulder, shrinking back as the flashing blue lights of police cars lined the street on both sides. These few city blocks seemed in utter mayhem with the cadre of policemen, several of whom were pushing back a throng of reporters, urging them to return to their vans as the crime scene was not secure. Lestat put a hand on my arm as if to tell me that I was safe with him.

I steeled myself for another look, just in time to see two shining black cars pull up with sirens blaring and out step three men wearing uniforms that marked them as agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, one speaking into a cell phone. I pinpointed him with my hearing to listen to his discussion and his thoughts. He was speaking to the governor, describing the scene to him.

??An unknown number of perpetrators. No sir, Memphis PD doesn?t have any suspects in custody. Fourteen bodies total, sir, it will take analysis of dental records to identify them. Well, sir, the bodies have all been burnt. Yes sir, burnt. What?? He moved the phone away from his mouth and put a hand over the microphone. ?An officer with the Gang Unit has just told me that this area has been in a territory dispute between three major gangs, and that this could be the results of a turf war. No sir, I?ve never seen gangs burn the bodies of their victims like this. Holy s***!? The TBI agent ducked beside his car as the sound of close gunshots filled the air. He barked orders to the startled police officers to call back-up before speaking into the phone again. ?Sir, the scene just got hot again. I recommend that you declare a state of emergency and deploy the National Guard. There?s no way MPD can handle this on their own.?

I pressed my back to the brick wall just out of sight of the distracted police and sunk to the wet, dirty pavement, burying my face in my hands as blood tears poured through my fingers. ?My God, what have I done??

Lestat had stepped away from the street as well but I sensed that he still remained vigilant. ?We?ll discuss the length of your guilt later. But right now your car is being impounded for evidence.?

I wanted to voice a question but I felt the approaching dawn. My state of borrowed strength was beginning to diminish and while Lestat could probably have been fine for another thirty minutes or more, I was in pain and becoming dangerously drowsy.

Once again, I felt Lestat?s icy hands lift me and we took to the air, setting down mere moments later outside my own home. I dashed immediately for the door to my cellar, Lestat behind me as I shut and locked the door securely. Meanwhile he had removed the ruined mattress and pillows from the bed, turning them over on the floor. I gestured to a cabinet to his left, able only to think the word ?cushion? in my stupor. From the indicated drawer Lestat removed a foam mattress pad and tossed it over the box spring and we laid down on it together, he allowing me to grip his hand, though he made no other comforting gestures. Mere heartbeats later I was in my deathlike sleep.

In retrospect I find it strange that we call ours the sleep of the dead. We should only be so lucky. I dreamed that day of terrors long-past. I saw David again, my husband, bursting into flame above the well on the bluff, shouting for me to live. When I awoke I rolled over and began to sob again, not for my city this time, but in the first pain of grief in over a century. Can even we never learn to let go of our agony?

The door?which I had not realized was unbolted?swung open and Lestat stepped in. ?Come on, Little Sister. The past is over and we have a job to do.?

I changed into a fresh outfit, my ensemble from the previous night having been torn nearly to shreds by the slew of bullets, the effects of which still caused me a dull ache. I dressed this evening not for seduction and distraction, but to avoid notice?black pants with legs so wide they felt almost like the floor-length dresses of old, a plain black sweater, and the longest black leather coat I owned, sliding my spare car key into my pocket. What a pair Lestat and I made, he in his signature black frock coat with the cameo buttons and leather pants, and me in my draped black layers. Between his violet sunglasses and my iridescently white skin, I doubted we would be approached by anyone.

Lestat gave me a quick once-over and a slight nod of approval. I could have blushed had I not caught sight of Victoria and Jessica on the back porch, watching us. Jessica leaned and whispered into her mother?s ear, ?Who is that man with Miss Sarah?? Vicki was hard-pressed not to laugh at her daughter?s manner. She assumed I couldn?t hear her, and Vicki knew that her voice came through to me as clear as a bell.

?Just an old friend, sweetheart,? I called up to her.

Jessica?s eyes widened, her eyebrows arched, and her jaw dropped. ?How did you? you hear better than Momma!?

Victoria and I did laugh then. ?We have some errands to run, Vicki. Don?t wait up, as usual.?

?Sure thing, boss,? she answered with a nod.

We strode calmly to the side of the house and then on to the patch of trees that was once a forest separating my plantation from the world. While I knew that Jessica wouldn?t pay much attention to the strangeness of this, Lestat and I had reached a silent agreement that they should not see us fly. Once safely under the cover of the ancient trees?naked of leaves though they were?he held me close to him and we rose. I closed my eyes, though I was becoming more accustomed to the odd sensation, which made me sad. I had a sense of humanity the previous night when Lestat first set me down in that alley, the feeling that even though I am immortal, I can still react in a very human way to something unnatural. Now that feeling was fading, and I was reminded again of what a monster I was.

When our feet touched ground again, we were near the police impound. ?Did you have a plan?? I whispered roughly against the fading murmur of the night.

?Not really,? he responded, honest but calm. ?I thought we could just stroll on in, get your car, and drive it out.?

?You know, we don?t really have to do this. The car is registered to a fake ID. Besides, I can afford to replace it??

?It?s not the car I?m worried about, Little Sister,? he said, giving me a sideways glance, concern weighing heavily on his eyes. ?It?s what is on it.?

His response gave me pause. My heart began to race, thundering more loudly than his now. ?Lestat? What?s on the car??

He looked away again, as if sizing up the challenge before us. ?Your blood.?

?How did my blood get on the car? I lost consciousness a block away from it. I never even made it to the street.? I sifted carefully through my memories of last night. Had I missed something?

?You did miss something, but it?s not in your mind. After I dispatched your assailants I carried you to the car?I read your thoughts, that?s how I knew it was yours. Besides, who but a vampire would have a car like that in that part of town? I unlocked the door telepathically but, only after I had you in the passenger seat did I realize that you had lost your keys and I don?t know how to hotwire a car. There was no way to get the car back last night and get you underground before sunrise.?

I saw the memory from his mind, or rather he allowed me to see for myself that he was telling the truth. I raised an eyebrow at the blond man before me. ?You mean to tell me that the infamous Vampire Lestat doesn?t know how to hotwire a car??

He narrowed his eyes at me. I?d overstepped my bounds. ?I may be the infamous Vampire Lestat, but I am not a car thief.?

I bowed my head in both respect and apology. ?You?re right. I?m sorry.?

I relaxed as his expression softened. ?I forgive you, Little Sister. Come; let?s get your car back.?

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Pandora

Chapter 3: Under Cover of Darkness

___________________________________

If I didn?t know any better, I?d say that Lestat had broken into a modern police stronghold before. I wish I could take some credit for our entry, but it was Lestat alone that found and disabled the security cameras in our path, though it was my urgings to enter undetected that brought his attention to the devices. While he maintained that we were to move so swiftly that such an action was useless, he admitted that we would be better off safe than sorry later. He was on the verge of laughter at the thought of the security guards? reactions to the sudden drooping of the mounted cameras as he telepathically broke the brackets.

In my opinion, he was having entirely too much fun in this serious situation. He knew as well as I did?possibly better?what the consequences would be if my vampiric blood were analyzed by the police. If the mortal authorities didn?t capture us, Marius and Maharet surely would, and we would both meet with a rather unhappy end.

Fueled by our desperation to continue existing, we came upon my beloved vehicle in no time, following the lingering scent of my now-dried blood. I could have kissed the sloping curve of the hood, so great was my relief when it came into my view. I rushed to it, yanked off the stickers that identified it as part of a homicide investigation and slid my key into the drivers? side door. Lestat?s hand came down over mine as I turned my wrist and the lock popped out of place behind the window. I looked up at him, confused.

?Give me the keys, Little Sister,? he said.

?Lestat, I am eternally grateful for your help, but I think it would be wiser if the one of us that has been driving this particular vehicle for the past twenty years sit behind the wheel.? I brought to mind thoughts of respect and gratitude, hoping that he?d pick up on my submissiveness to his superiority but understand my point.

?It?s not the driving,? he said, indicating the interior of the car. ?It?s the condition of the passenger seat.?

I stooped down to peer through the window and nearly fainted. The aforementioned chair was utterly and hopelessly caked in blood. I groaned. ?Oh my lord. That?s going to take some work.? I understood his complaint then, but an alternate solution occurred to me suddenly. I went around to the trunk of the car, keyed it open and removed a large bath sheet. I folded it over once, and spread it across the ruined seat. ?Will that do??

Lestat hastily came around to get in. ?Only because there isn?t time to argue. We?ve been discovered.?

?Perfect!? I growled, leaping over the hood of the car and situating myself behind the steering wheel. The engine roared to life with little complaint and we sped off through the close confines of the impound towards the gate.

I?d forgotten that I hadn?t turned the stereo down before I stalked that kid the previous night, but I was used to the CD loading and immediately blasting passengers out of their seats with heavy metal on full volume. I can only admit this privately, but Lestat?s reaction was rather amusing. The notorious rule-breaker, our own former rock star, was startled and annoyed when my favorite band du jour assaulted our sensitive ears. He made a move towards the volume controls and I thought nothing of batting his hand away, which made him laugh. Now he was having fun.

We were approaching the gate and I was very much opposed to ramming it with my beloved GTO. Yes, I?ve seen the action movies, and yes, I?ve noticed what happens to a car?s front-end when it is sent through a solid structure. I risked a sideways glance at Lestat and shouted, ?The gates!? over the music. He merely nodded and when I looked back through the windshield, the various padlocks exploded in a shower of parts and the steel barricade was wrenched from its hinges, parting just in time for us to speed through.

We hit the street, narrowly avoiding a collision with four police cars as I spun the car into the west-bound lane. ?We have to lose them,? Lestat yelled at me above the cacophony.

I nodded and zipped down a narrow side street. I wanted to get out of the city proper where there would be less risk to innocent mortals. I tossed a glance to the right momentarily at the bridge reaching across the Mississippi. I?d never before considered fleeing to Arkansas to escape a disastrous situation. For that matter, I?d never been in a situation nearly as serious as this. But I knew that there would be nowhere to hide on the other side of that bridge.

Within a few minutes we were on the interstate heading northeast, out of the city. Once outside the city limits, the Memphis Police Department would need to enlist the aid of the Shelby County Sheriff to continue pursuit, and I knew well enough how difficult that was going to be unless?

I didn?t slow from my speed of 110 miles per hour as I slapped the tuner switch on the stereo. The disc jockey?s voice came clearly through the speakers. ?Just to remind you, folks, the governor has declared a state of emergency in Shelby County today, which means there will be police road blocks all along the major roads and at every highway exit?.?

I switched off the stereo. ?This is going to be difficult.?

Regardless of the trouble we?d had entering the freeway, I knew we?d be better off exiting as soon as possible and using my preternatural instincts and reflexes to weave through the narrow streets where the police officers would be more reluctant to speed as severely as we were on the highway. As I?d dreaded, there was indeed a roadblock at the bottom of the exit ramp. It seemed Lestat was saying something, but I was already in the gravel, spraying the squad cars with pebbles and dust as I sped around them. As we passed the startled men, I caught the thoughts from two on the opposite side of the street?they meant to shoot out my tires. I swerved wildly and they changed their minds after only two shots each.

It must have been nearly an hour that continued through the city in this fashion before we finally reached the county. I had grossly miscalculated the amount of cooperation between the two police forces. The Sheriff was already waiting for us to cross city lines. The city cops broke off pursuit and only a lone County squad car followed us at a distance. ?Sarah!? Lestat yelled at me just as I was pulling the emergency brake and spinning the car around to avoid a spike strip in our path. I checked the dashboard instruments? we were nearly out of gas. There was no way this car was getting us to safety. And now the Sheriff was ordering us to switch off the engine and get out of the vehicle.

I looked to Lestat helplessly, who seemed less concerned than I thought was decent and proper. ?We should do as they say.?

He nodded. ?For now,? he said, reaching across the cabin to lay his hand over mine which still gripped the wheel. ?Not to worry, Little Sister. The Brat Prince always finds a way out.?

I shook my head and opened the door slowly, being sure to keep my hands in plain view as I stood. I saw out of the corner of my eye that Lestat was doing the same.

?Down on the ground!? the policeman nearest us hollered, his gun angled steadily at us. It wasn?t the gun I was worried about. ?On the ground and put your hands behind your head!?

I did as instructed, lowering myself slowly to the pavement. A warm, meaty hand brought my right wrist to the small of my back and with a click I felt the cold steel of handcuffs closing around first the right wrist, then the left. My eyes were on Lestat on the other side of the car; I didn?t pay attention as the officer recited the Miranda Rights and hauled us both to our feet.

We were loaded in the back of an unmarked SUV, a different officer riding with us with pistol in hand. I whispered to Lestat in a voice so low it would be silent to mortal ears. ?They are going to record our fingerprints and when they find out we?re using assumed names, they?ll probably take a blood sample and then what will they find in the microscope? What?s going to happen to us in the morning??

I was nearly frantic with panic. I feared nonexistence and I was positively terror-stricken of the laboratories that surely awaited us. The imposing SUV seemed suddenly very small then, and I would have done anything to escape it.

Anything, that is, except what Lestat was about to do.

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Pandora

Chapter 4: Blackest Night

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I again met Lestat?s gaze and could only shake my head firmly at the look of malice in his eyes. It was the subtle twitch of his brow, the tiniest glimmer of bloodlust behind his eyelashes. In a practical sense, I knew he?d need to feed soon for no other reason than the amount of his blood he?d given me, but these men were not the sustenance we should seek.

The officer watching us began to get nervous; a violent sweat broke out across his face, his heart thundered in his chest, the hand holding the gun trembled ever so slightly. I shook my head again at Lestat. ?No. Don?t do it. Lestat!?

The driver slammed on the breaks after the two back doors ripped from their hinges, sending glass and sparks bouncing off the asphalt. Lestat easily broke apart his handcuffs and kicked me from the slowing vehicle. I rolled across the street, bits of rock and broken concrete jabbing me, occasionally finding a sore spot that marked my mostly-healed gunshot wounds. I gritted my teeth and focused all my energy to the task, but my restraints would not break open. With some effort, however, I was able to psychically pick the locks, and the handcuffs fell open with a metallic snap.

I leapt to my feet in time to see Lestat hauling the driver from the SUV by the collar of his shirt, his radio smashed and useless on the ground. Instantly I smelled the death of the other Sheriff, taken quickly as a meal by Lestat. He was dragging the frightened and struggling police officer into the trees, away from the street. ?Come, Little Sister,? he called to me. ?You need your strength and I have your breakfast.?

I ran first to the destroyed car to see the dead officer, his throat torn carelessly and his gun loosely balanced on two fingers, resting on the floorboard. I leaned inside, bit my tongue and licked at the hideous wound with my blood until it closed.

This was all wrong! These men thought they were doing the right thing in capturing us. What right did Lestat have to take their lives? I wanted to tell him these things, scream at him, but I didn?t dare. I didn?t need to.

?Survival, Mrs. Harris,? Lestat said simply, too nonchalantly for my taste, having read my insubordinate thoughts easily. ?This one knows what we are now and cannot be allowed to escape. We have to either get your car somewhere safe and secret, or destroy it. But first you must feed.? He nodded to the man wriggling pathetically in the grass.

I shook my head. ?No, Lestat. Not him.? He gave me a firm, angry look. I imagined Louis had seen that same expression a time or two as a fledgling. ?No! He?s a Sheriff. His mission is the same as mine, to protect people, and I won?t take his life. I?d rather risk Maharet?s anger at my carelessness than kill a compatriot in the war against the plague on my city.?

I thought for sure Lestat would set me ablaze with his Fire Gift that very instant. Instead he struck me hard across the cheek. I staggered backward, but resumed my firm posture when I collected myself. ?I won?t do it, Lestat.?

?Fine!? he screamed at me and broke the policeman?s neck and hurled the body at me. With a shriek I tried to get out of the way, but Lestat was too fast for me and I was knocked to the ground, momentarily pinned beneath the dead man. I moved to shove it off of me when Lestat?s boot came down on the corpse?s back, effectively trapping me. He rested his elbow on the raised knee and bent closer to me, speaking softly but with enough anger to revive my old mortal fear of the Devil. ?Remember that it is not only to you she would direct her rage. I have been her prisoner before, Mrs. Harris, and I refuse to lie again in those chains.?

I?d all but forgotten about the dead flesh and bone on top of me, empty eyes staring at me from an unnatural angle. I swallowed hard, willing my heart to keep pounding, begging my lungs not to give up under the pressure of Lestat?s strong leg.

?You would do well to remember your position,? he continued, his tone softening only minutely. ?You have no right to sacrifice me along with yourself. If you are seeking some form of self-martyring redemption that is your business. But kindly leave me out of Maharet?s wrath. Have I made myself perfectly clear??

I nodded slowly. ?Absolutely crystal,? I answered, my voice trembling and decidedly unsteady.

Lestat waited a moment, reading me for honesty?a useless endeavor as I?d never meant anything more truly in my life?before nodding and removing his boot from the heap. I was hesitant to move, but one glance at the dead eyes gave me a new reason to let out a small cry as if I?d only just realized I?d been lying under this murdered hero the entire time. I hurriedly shoved the body off of me and rolled away from it, stumbling as I tried to stand. I leaned back on my hands and scurried right into Lestat?s shins. I wished at once that I hadn?t. I didn?t want to annoy him further with my overwhelming weaknesses and cowardly mortal tendencies. The infuriatingly feeble Sarah Harris was displayed in all her embarrassing glory. I shivered and drew up my knees, hugging my legs to me and burying my face to hide the unchecked tears now pouring from my eyes.

I heard a defeated sigh come from above me and Lestat knelt beside me and swept away the strand of my long dark hair that blocked his view of my face. The tender gesture silenced me immediately and I stared at him, confused by the sudden change. There was no anger in his voice when he spoke next. ?I am sorry, Little Sister. It seems a bit of the old monster in me is returning in a ridiculous gesture of selfish self-preservation.? He stood again and offered me his hand, which I took reluctantly and allowed him to pull me to my feet. ?I said I would help you and I shall.? It seemed I stopped blinking as I stared in awe at the transformation before me, tears drying in red stains on my cheeks. My mouth fell open ever so slightly when Lestat actually smiled. ?Now let?s get your car home safely.?

I wiped the dried blood from my face and Lestat wrapped an arm around me in preparation for taking to the air. I couldn?t take my eyes off his. In my mortal days before the power of the Mind Gift I would have assumed the new attitude to be a blatant lie, but my vampiric powers proved me wrong. I seemed a child still to Lestat, not a doll as Claudia was?I carefully shrouded this thought?but despite my years I had only a vulnerable fledgling?s strength and skill, and because of that Lestat took some semblance of pity on me. He related to my struggle as an orphan.

And he cared.

Underneath the callousness and rightful arrogance, he actually cared about me.

Before I could stop myself, I kissed Lestat?s cheek, just a soft peck, only enough to convey my gratitude. I avoided his gaze and held fast to him as we began to rise into the air. We traveled only a short distance before Lestat set us down again near an artificially-lit truck stop. I squinted against the fluorescent lights and followed Lestat inside, careful to keep my hair around my face to disguise the sheen of my skin. Lestat had lost his sunglasses when we were apprehended by the police and I noticed he was careful to avoid making eye contact with the lone clerk behind the counter. We nearly laughed outright at our mission: purchase a gas can, fill it up with premium unleaded gasoline, and then fly back to my GTO to drive it home. I selected a five-gallon can and Lestat handed me a thin wad of bills to pay for it and the fuel while he waited outside.

I set the red plastic vessel on the counter and smiled as gently as I could to the awestruck cashier. ?Good evening.?

?H-hi,? he said, eyeing me up and down. I was still the black-clad goth in clothing loose enough to hide a veritable arsenal of weapons. The clerk saw this and noted that we kept our faces away f rom the view of the few security cameras bolted to the ceiling. No wonder he was so nervous. He was expecting me to angle a gun at him any second. With unsure fingers he keyed my purchase into the register.

?Can I also get five gallons of premium, please? Car trouble.?

He nodded and pressed a few buttons on a separate machine. ?Sure, it?s on pump number one. That will be?. $27.34 please.? He was utterly dumbfounded when I handed him forty dollars.

?Keep the change for yourself, darlin?,? I said with the sweetest southern twang I could muster, taking the newly purchased gas can outside to the indicated pump. Lestat raised an eyebrow at me when I set the can on the ground and burst into a fit of laughter.

?Is everything alright?? he asked.

I nodded, composed myself with some difficulty, unscrewed the cap and vent and began filling the tank. ?Yes, it?s fine. You just really frightened that poor guy is all.? Lestat shrugged. ?He honestly thought you were some sort of harbinger of death. Seriously, look in the window. He?s pulled out his Bible and he?s praying to ward off the two evil spirits at pump number one!?

Lestat looked through the window as much with his Mind as with his eyes, saw I spoke the truth, and joined me in a new fit of laughter. He waved to the terrified clerk as I replaced the nozzle on the gas pump, closed the gas can tightly and stood back up. Lestat winked at me and shrugged. ?Why don?t we put the nail in the coffin of his sanity?? he said, opening his arms to me. We again embraced each other and rose into the air, circling the building a few times before taking off towards the abandoned car. Through the window I could see that the poor man had fainted behind the counter and Lestat and I laughed anew.

We were back at the car within a few moments. I?d nearly grown accustomed to the Cloud Gift and had no problem maintaining my poise now when Lestat set me down. The area was full of police cars again, and yet again my car was being loaded onto a tow truck. Lestat seemed almost gleeful at the prospect of a battle. I laid a hand on his arm, bringing his attention back to me. ?No bloodshed. Please??

?Very well,? he said with a slow nod. The police had their guns drawn and angled at us as soon as we came within their sight.

?Stay where you are!? one officer shouted at as. ?Stop right there and put your hands behind your head!?

Lestat and I raised our hands, slowing our pace as if we planned to cooperate. ?Take care of the tow-truck driver,? he whispered to me.

I nodded. ?Please don?t kill anyone.?

?I shall do my best,? he said.

We quickened our steps again, Lestat turning to the left to intercept the police officers, me to the right. I opened the cab door of the tow truck and laid my hand on the driver?s arm. He let go of the wench controls and turned to look at me. ?You?re not supposed to be out here, little lady,? he said, local accent deliciously thick with honesty. ?Now you should go tell one of them cops over there if you?re lost, I can?t help you right now.? He tried to return his attention to the task at hand but I held his gaze. ?Are you deaf, little lady? Ain?t you got the sense to know a crime scene when you see one??

?That is my car,? I said soft enough that he would have to replay it in his mind to discern the meaning of the words. ?I want it back.?

The driver?s eyes widened in horror. He?d seen the inside of the car, seen the blood-caked leather. I entered his Mind and surrounded him with comforting images. He became disoriented and stumbled out of the truck, leaning heavily on me to maintain his balance. How absurd it must have looked, this broad-shouldered, hulking beast of a man being supported almost entirely by the petite creature that I am. All of a sudden I caught the scent of his blood and a deep thirst flared in me. This man?s only sin was the occasional indulgence in an odd game of high stakes poker, not nearly enough to give me a guilt-free kill. But I needed something nevertheless. I lowered the man to the ground, redoubling my blanket of images. I kneeled next to him and bent to sink my teeth into his neck and drank slowly, savoring every drop until I could take no more and leave this innocent man healthy.

I pushed him into a dreamy sleep, licking at the tiny punctures on his throat until they healed. I licked my lips and stood, feeling my heart pump the new blood through my veins and in a moment it was gone. My thirst wasn?t sated, but I felt better as I climbed into the cab of the truck. Assessing the wench controls, I quickly found the correct series of switches that lowered my car back to the asphalt. I leapt f rom the truck, collected the gas can and darted to the back of my cherished GTO. I unscrewed the gas cap with sure fingers and tilted the red vessel to empty the contents into the nearly-empty tank. I replaced the gas cap and struggled with the chains holding my car prisoner until they came free. ?Lestat!? I called. ?Let?s go!?

I looked up and saw him staring down the last remaining police officer, entrancing him, I figured. The man stared straight ahead, eyes glassed over, gun falling f rom his hand. Lestat strode calmly back to me. I looked around and saw nearly a dozen green-clad, uniformed bodies lying in the street and I stared at Lestat slack-jawed. ?Lestat, you said you wouldn?t??

?I didn?t.? I raised an eyebrow at him. ?They are alive and breathing, every last one of them, merely unconscious.? I looked f rom Lestat to the bodies and back again. ?You said yourself you can smell death. What do you sense??

At last I nodded. ?Okay.?

We got into the car and I fired up the engine, breathing a sigh of relief as if I expected her not to start. I backed away f rom the tow truck and headed away f rom the police cars deeper into the county towards home. We weren?t but a few miles away when Lestat noticed we were being followed. I sped up and instantly my mirrors reflected blue lights into my eyes. The car behind us was an unmarked state officer. I floored the gas pedal and we easily accelerated to over a hundred miles per hour, but there was nowhere to hide. I wouldn?t risk bringing Vicki?s family into this, or the rest of my staff. That would be wrong.

Finally I made the decision I didn?t want to make. ?I think we need to just destroy the evidence.?

Lestat nodded. ?I agree. We can?t win if we continue to play by their rules.?

I felt the tears burning behind my eyes. Rose, I thought, I am so sorry. It had been the proudest moment of Rose?s life when she presented me with this car. We spent the last years of her life racing around in it, seemingly defying death, talking my way out of countless tickets with the aid of my Mind. When I thought of the happiest times of my life in the last half century, they almost certainly involved this car.

And now I was going to incinerate it.

Rose, please forgive me!

I blinked my eyes slowly, dislodging a hanging droplet of blood f rom my lower eyelid before it obscured my vision. I looked briefly to Lestat, and I know the pain was evident in my expression. ?Do you think you can do it without blowing up the engine??

Lestat considered the task for a moment. ?Perhaps. It?s not that precise.?

I put some more distance between us and the police car, my very soul aching. I took a deep breath, bracing myself and when I noticed Lestat was gripping the handle of the door, I switched off my headlights and veered off sharply to the left, sending us tumbling into the grass and low bushes. I did not use my brakes for fear that the sheriff would see the bright lights like a beacon in the oppressive country night. At last we rolled to a stop, jarred but unhurt and I switched off the engine. The squad car shot off into the night, completely ignorant as to our whereabouts. At last we opened the doors and I remembered my cell phone stashed in the console, with a dead battery of course f rom nearly three nights of neglect. I pocketed the currently useless device and my keys and stood back with Lestat further in the brush.

Lestat took my hand in a graciously comforting gesture. I wanted to close my eyes against the tears but when my long-dried blood combusted, igniting the flammable interior I couldn?t turn away. Despite the bright orange flames now licking at the open doors, this was the blackest night of my existence.

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Pandora

Chapter 5: Amernds

WARNING! This post contains some sexual undertones. If you might be offended, please feel free to skip this post and PM me for the squeaky clean version of what you missed.

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In my mind?s eye I saw my husband bursting into flames more than a century ago. And Rose, my sweet Rose. The first truly modern woman to share my secret. My closest friend. Little Bo had all but been my son, and Gloria my mother. Rose was my sister. Foolish as it sounds, some nights I would imagine that her spirit chased the GTO as I sped down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic. I talked to the car as if she were in it to hear. Never since David?s death had I done that, whispering aloud under the thunder of the stereo and roar of the engine. More than once after her death I referred to the car as ?my red Rose.? And now she burned.

The tears rolled down my cheeks, blurring my vision, but still I could not take my eyes from the inferno. Out of the corner of my vision?and the back of my mind?I could tell Lestat was focusing intently on the flames as well. The flames began to die as I?d hoped they would without igniting the bit of gasoline still in the fuel lines. I sank to the ground as the fire smoldered out and finally buried my face in my hands, blood tears flowing through my fingers.

Lestat dropped to a knee at my side and laid a tentative hand on my shoulder, unsure it seemed of how to react to my sobs this time. I have never claimed to be anything but emotional but up until this point with Lestat my tears had always been quiet, silent even, with the odd murmur of anguish. Now I wept and howled like a sorely wronged child.

?It?s all my fault! How could I have been so careless, so thoughtless! So ignorant!? I screamed. ?I?ve plunged into ruin the very thing I sought to save, and for what? The destruction of our world and theirs! They are all right, all the Elders are right: we should never get involved!? I turned and laid down in the dirt and dormant grass, burying my face against my arm, legs still together and quite ladylike out of habit, a strange contrast to my emotional outbursts. ?I wanted to make it right!?

I could feel Lestat?s apprehension, but I could sense his understanding beneath it. He stroked my hair, smoothing it down my back with his silk-over-marble hand. I let myself breath finally, quieting, lulled suddenly by the very beat of his heart so near my ear. It was a sound that had never gone away really, his heartbeat, but I?d tuned it out in my focus on other, more pressing matters.

I stretched my legs out and drew my other arm under my head as a makeshift pillow. The blood pouring from my eyes left little sticky rivulets in the cold dirt. I couldn?t meet Lestat?s gaze, though I sensed he was watching my expression. I stared at his knees instead. ?I am indeed a fool. And a lamentable weakling. Weak of body and of mind,? I whispered. ?I should have known it would happen this way.?

I must look so pitiful.

?No you don?t,? Lestat said to me, reading my thoughts. ?Heartbroken, yes, but not pitiful.? His voice was so low, his French accent caressing each word. I couldn?t help but look him in the eye now. What was that look? What was going on in that brain?

Lestat continued. ?It seems to me, Sarah, that your problem is not so much your weakness. You love easily and passionately. You have spent the last century and a half in a lover?s embrace with your city. And when the pestilence of crime threatened to plunge it into darkness, you sought to protect it. Is that so wrong??

I couldn?t answer, the words caught in my throat. I stared transfixed by the intimacy of his voice and tenderness of his manner. What the hell had changed?

He read my mind again: ?Nothing has changed but my understanding of you. We are the same, you and I. Alone. In love with a certain virtue. But you have learned from your mistakes much more quickly than I did. And you managed to do it all without the strength of a god.?

?But what do I do? I can?t undo the damage I have done.?

?It will all sort itself out. Leave the car here. There is not a single drop of preternatural blood on it. Rose would have understood and agreed with me, yes??

I nodded. ?That is true.?

Lestat smiled slowly. ?Then let?s see to it that your mortal family is safe and sound and rest a bit before the sun rises.? He extended his hand in a very gentlemanly way and I took it?mortals just don?t help each other like they should, it?s true. Chivalry is? undead? Lestat helped me to stand and I wiped the blood from my cheeks with my palm. He ran his fingers through my hair, the loosely tangled bits of dry grass falling easily away. When he opened his arms to me before we took flight, I kissed him once, a chaste kiss on his impossibly soft lips, and retreated to his arms, laying my head on his chest. Lestat folded his arms around me and lifted us into the air. I looked down quickly at my car below us, the fire nearly extinguished and said a silent farewell.

Yes, Rose would have understood.

It seemed an effortless gesture, Lestat?s ability to carry us through the clouds, requiring no concentration, no exertion. We merely floated under the stars. The path we took through the sky seemed direct enough, but slower. What cause had we to rush now? My car had been registered to a fake address and name; there was no way it could be traced back to the plantation or Victoria.

We hovered above the property for a moment before Lestat set us down. Nothing was out of place, no strange cars near the house, no police. Only a few lights shone through the windows. My feet touched solid earth again and Lestat released his grip on me. I could hear him follow me up the white porch steps to the front door, which I opened with the spare key under the mat. I turned immediately to the alarm panel to my left and keyed in my code, disabling the system so as not to wake my mortal family.

We climbed the shallow stairs to the second level and I peered first into Christopher?s room, saw that he was sleeping soundly and brought the door to behind me with a soft click. Next was Jessica?s room down the hall. She too was safe and breathing slowly in her sleep, hugging her pillow with her right arm.

Victoria was the only one that wasn?t asleep. I tapped quietly on the door before pushing it open. She sat in the chair by her window, her lamp still on by the bed. She?d been crying. ?Vicki, what?s wrong?? I asked, eyes narrowing in concern.

?Nightmare is all,? she said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. ?I dozed off in the chair watching for you to come home and I dreamt about my mother. She said you weren?t coming back. And then I saw fire everywhere. I thought the house was burning when I woke up. I yelled for the kids to get outside, but Jessica thought enough to check the alarm panel in my room and saw there were no smoke detectors going off. She?s a smart girl, Miss Sarah. But I couldn?t go back to sleep because I kept hearing my mother?s voice in my head telling me you weren?t coming home.?

I rushed to Vicki?s side and dropped to my knees, hugging her. ?No no, Vicki, I?m here. You?re safe and the kids are safe and I?m safe.?

With a sniffle and a deep breath Victoria began bringing back her composure and nodded, pulling away from me. ?I know. And thank God.? She looked up at Lestat who stood at the door in silence. ?And thank you, sir.?

Lestat gave her a little smile and bowed his head. ?But of course, Madame. What good is a heroine if she?s filled with more bullets than blood and lying in a gutter?? He winked at me and his smile broadened.

Victoria and I stood at that, she laughing and fanning herself briefly with her hand as if the furnace was too much for her. ?Well. I think I?m about ready to call it a night.?

I nodded. ?Sure. Sleep well, Vicki,? I said with a little peck on her cheek and followed Lestat out of the room, closing the door behind me. At the top of the stairs Lestat stepped out of the way and allowed me to take the lead to the front door. I armed and enabled the security system again, locking the door from the outside.

?Now what do I do?? I asked of Lestat as much as I mused to myself. ?The last few nights have taught me that I can?t expect humans to play their game be our rules. So what? Do I play by theirs? Work as an anonymous informant? Or just keep preying on the lone crooks as I had been??

?Both,? was all he said as I opened the door to my chamber and turned on the little light. Victoria had cleaned everything, replaced the mattresses and the linens. It was a comfortable room again, not a blood-filled torture chamber.

I turned back to Lestat who still hovered in the doorway. ?Thank you for all you?ve done, Lestat. I?d probably be dead or worse if it wasn?t for you. I think I can handle it now on my own if you want to go back home to New Orleans.?

He shook his head. ?Not yet. Perhaps in a few more nights, but not yet.?

?Why not? I mean you?re certainly welcome to stay as long as you?d like, but aren?t you sick of this place yet? Most people from other parts of the world can?t stand it here.? Was it even possible for him to look disheveled? Lestat stood at the top of the few steps watching me, arms folded?not crossed?loosely over his chest. He was waiting for something. What?

He waved off my comment and turned to shut and bolt the heavy door behind him. ?It suits me well enough for now. It really just is up the river, not so different from New Orleans, actually, in that the modern world is exquisitely blended with the slower, simpler days of the old deep south.? He came down the steps slowly, footsteps soundless against the wood which didn?t even creak under his weight.

There was something predatory?imagine that?in his gait and in his steady eyes as he approached me. I sensed no malice from him, however. I was positively baffled. And nervous. I thought of David that first night long ago after he?d broken in through our bedroom window?Vicki slept in that room now. The look in his eyes was similar, wild and precariously balanced. I pivoted my body a bit as if I meant to turn away, shoulders nearly perpendicular to his as I glanced warily at the locked door behind him. ?I could show you around tomorrow night, if you?d like. You haven?t seen Beale Street yet.?

No comment.

?If you like Bourbon Street back home, you?ll like Beale too.?

Nothing. He inched closer and his heartbeat threatened to drown me, making me painfully aware of how unsatisfying my Little Drink from the tow truck driver had been.

Finally he spoke again: ?Yes, I think that would be wonderful. But you are thirsting.?

?I?ll be alright until tomorrow,? I said. Lestat reached up and brushed a strand of my long hair away from my face. His fingers were like ice even against my equally lifeless skin and it made me shiver.

?Nonsense,? he said, both hands on my shoulders, turning me to face him without using any force, I merely obeyed to his touch. ?Tomorrow you will be careless and starving. The years have done little to strengthen you.? Working in unison, a perfect mirror image of each other, Lestat?s hands traced my clavicle to the collar of my jacket, then doubled back, sliding under the heavy leather and pushing it back off my shoulders to fall to the floor. With my hair out of the way and the leather coat with its protective collar puddled on the floor, my neck was thoroughly exposed. The way Lestat?s eyes moved up and down my alabaster throat made me feel vulnerable, more naked fully clothed than I had ever felt in my mortal wedding chamber decades ago.

I shivered again, ?Lestat??

He silenced me with a hand on my throat, fingers barely brushing my flesh, his other hand dropping to the small of my back. ?Sarah, I will give you the best tool to better take care of yourself. You should not merely survive, ma Cherie, you should thrive.?

?But you don?t have to,? I responded hastily, ?you?ve done more than enough alre??

?No,? he said, cutting me off. The fingers ceased to tickle my neck and settled over my lips. ?You will feel the pain of isolation and loneliness and seek me out again and when that happens it would be best that we were more closely equaled. Little Sister, I don?t want the inevitable impatience and hatred to mar our bond. We despise being alone but never we do well in pairs. Especially me, I?ll admit it.?

Was I still breathing? ?I have my mortals,? I said in a soft whisper, my voice failing me miserably. And why shouldn?t it? Lestat?s index finger was tracing the pout of my lower lip.

He?d drawn me closer to him now, caressing my throat and hips which only served to evoke the thirst in me twofold, and when he whispered his reply, his lips weren?t but two inches from mine. ?Also nonsense. You want this.?

What was the use of lying to myself any longer? David had been gone for one hundred and forty some-odd years and here I still lived out my indefinite existence as if I were the Civil War widow in eternal mourning. Time to move on and Lestat was offering me the only true change in my situation, the catalyst I needed to be reborn as Sarah Harris, without so much emotional baggage.

It wasn?t as if I needed any further rationalization. I knew beyond a doubt that I wasn?t merely thirsting, I was lusting? for Lestat?s powerful blood. He seemed happy enough to oblige. My lips were covered by his suddenly, parted by his tongue which I felt was punctured and bleeding. I brought my arms up and laced my fingers behind his back and gladly accepted his offer, swallowing the blood that trickled into my mouth, hot as lava and twice as thick. My desire multiplied as my heart distributed the gift throughout my limbs, exciting every muscle in my body. I flattened my palms against Lestat?s back and drew from the kiss as if I meant to wring every drop from him through his tongue. He retreated and I followed but as soon as we switched places, Lestat bit down on my tongue, taking the blood back.

No, no secrets could I hide from him now even if I?d wanted. But I already told him everything he was seeing, he knew my whole life. I?d only withheld one aspect of my most recent days and that was my conflicting feelings towards him. On the one hand I was deeply attracted to him?who wouldn?t be?because of his power and self-assuredness, his charm and his exotic appearance. But on the other, more rational side of the dispute, I was conscious of the horrors he?d wrought upon my world and the greater public at large. Did he bother with remorse anymore? Surely he did, he had to. He had been human at one point, of course. It wasn?t just about self-preservation for him most of the time. He did have a moral center, it just took some prodding to get to it.

He felt these thoughts in my blood, I know he did. Belatedly I tried to veil my mind, but it was too late. He wasn?t angry as most of me had expected him to be. He was? flattered?

Lestat?s arms tightened around me, one sweeping down under my knees to scoop me up from the floor and I locked my hands behind his neck. He carried me the short distance to the bed and laid me down on top of the blankets and climbed on top of me. He kissed me again and there was a fresh stream of blood in the kiss. Just as the trickle was slowing Lestat pulled away suddenly, leaving a smeared droplet of blood on my lip which I licked off viciously just before Lestat?s icy hand turned my head to the side and back into the pillows so that he could get to my jugular. I felt his fangs pierce my flesh and his lips close over the wound. My chest heaved against him as my heart labored to keep up with his ravenous draws from my veins.

I sank back into the sea of pillows and blankets as first my extremities grew colder, then my limbs, until I literally felt Lestat take the next-to-last swallow. The shiver passed through me and I entangled my fingers in his hair, tugging a little. I knew what the next move would be, but the flair with which Lestat initiated it startled and thrilled me.

He fell to the mattress next to me and, taking hold of my shoulders, lifted and rolled me to lay on top of him now, one hand guiding my head down to his throat. ?Drink,? he whispered into my ear, ?and do not stop until I tell you.? I obeyed, ye Lord, did I ever obey such a command with more abandon?

Never.

I closed my mouth over Lestat?s throat, neatly breaking the skin. His invincible heart pumped mouthful after mouthful down my throat as if the circuit had never been interrupted. I moaned at the first swallow, that pleasured sound that inevitably accompanies a trembling wave up and down the spine. I drank greedily by the second and third swallow, slowly still as is my custom, savoring each and every last drop of this rich nectar. I could feel my heart growing stronger, the beats firmer. My body seemed to densify? was my hair even growing fuller? I slowed my suckling, expecting to be told to desist at any moment; I did not stop, I obeyed Lestat?s command. His arms were around me?one around my waist the other behind my head?holding me in place. I heard a series of soft moans come from behind his closed lips as well; the pleasure was gripping him too.

He sat up abruptly, leaving me straddling his lap. With the fingers Lestat had behind my head, he grasped my hair and yanked my head back and away from his throat. The end result was a bit of a mess: blood dripping from my lips and smearing on his neck even as the punctures closed immediately. He licked the drops from my lips and chin and leaned me back. Every cell in my body felt warm and strong with Lestat?s blood fueling them yet still engulfing my bloodlust in flames rather than extinguishing it.

I leaned back limply in Lestat?s arms, my back arched over the support of his right hand. With his left he lifted my shirt. I learned at that exact moment that the shy and modest plantation princess was dead and gone; I didn?t even flinch when Lestat bent to sink his teeth into the lower curve of my breast. I let my head fall back to touch the bed, sighing unsteadily. It was a divine sensation but over too quickly as Lestat lifted me again and switched to the thicker flow of blood from my throat. I wrapped my arms around him and leaned my temple against his shoulder, moaning gently into his ear. I felt his body shudder and it excited me further. I nipped at his ear lobe, his jaw, under his chin, merely teased his throat with my tongue and stretched the collar of his shirt until the top button snapped so I could nibble at his shoulder. He was draining me again and the thrill was delicious. It was delicious to be at his mercy thus, to surrender totally to a trust that I wasn?t entirely certain was justified.

The quiver took me again as blackness crept to the edges of my vision, just as the world tried to get fuzzy. Only then did Lestat release my throat. I didn?t wait for his instruction this time, I nuzzled against his throat again and bit down. In the ensuing rush I understood that Lestat?s body had acted as a kind of refinery, transforming my weaker blood so all that was left in the union was strong and powerful and equal. I drank deeply from Lestat once more until I sensed the balance was even again. I went to pull away, thinking the ritual was done, but Lestat?s hand behind my head stopped me, pushed me back to the wound from which I drew. I gasped as Lestat?s fangs pierced my throat again. Now we drank from each other, the flow of blood between us unceasing. It was even more intimate than taking turns as we had been. I moaned loudly then, my heart beating fast, breath ragged at the sheer eroticism of the embrace. It wasn?t merely sharing blood, it was like the pitch before sexual climax, the final break and revelation of new aspects to my old world was as akin to orgasm as a vampire could ever hope to know.

Lestat put the stop to it, pulling us apart and himself falling to the bed into the pillows with me on top of him. I laid with my head on his chest, his heartbeat thundering in my ears in time with my own. But the constant hum of his thoughts were gone. I opened my eyes and saw that the whole of my world at been expanded, as if someone drew back the curtains on a dusty room. I?d thought before that I was seeing color, but only with my new strength did I see the indescribable spectrum of an ancient one?s eyes. I could hear Victoria and her children breathing in the house. It was overwhelming, like being made a vampire all over again but with an even more exponential level of transformation.

?Do you see the world as it should be, Little Sister?? Lestat?s voice echoed in his chest.

I nodded without raising my head. ?I?ll never have to kill again. I?m not the slightest bit hungry. I can see and hear and smell everything. I can very keenly feel the presence of the mortals in my house, but you are not here. Why can?t I sense you anymore??

He stroked my hair. ?We?ve shared too much blood, Little Sister, as if I were your maker. But you are strong enough now to find me easily in the minds of strangers. And in a matter of nights you will no longer have use of me.?

I knew the sun would be creeping above the horizon in about an hour or so. In my previous state I would have been fast asleep by now, immobilized and vulnerable. Now I felt like I could fly around the world and make it back home before I felt the burning of the sun?s light, but I didn?t dare move. I couldn?t have made myself so much as stir. Lestat?s arms were tight around me, strong but no longer impossible for me and the drumming of our heartbeat mingled with the rustling of the grass outside and the breathing of my mortal family in the house, which creaked now and then, sang to me. Lestat?s eyes were closed as he held me to him and I sighed contentedly.

?Tomorrow night you?ll show me how to use these gifts??

?If that is what you wish to call it, and yes, though you would learn on your own easily enough.? He patted the back of my head gently. ?But for now let?s enjoy the languor of the fading night and sleep like mortals until the sun comes up.?

* * *

True to his word, Lestat stayed with me for two more nights. By the time he left me for New Orleans I no longer had need of any mode of transportation other than the Cloud Gift?though I still missed my Red Rose?and I?d learned to create fire with my Mind. I had an entire arsenal of ways to defend myself now, rather than the one or two little tricks that rarely proved effective against more than one adversary. Now, though, I?d learned my lesson and vowed to never take on an entire gang ever again.

Though since that first awful night Lestat had stolen me away from the scene of the crime, Memphis became safer, tamer. The thugs stopped raping, murdering, carjacking, and robbing for fear of turning up dead in the filthy gutters themselves. It wasn?t long before the National Guard slowly left the city to the local police officers, who seemed prouder and emboldened that they had carried us all through the most frightening events of our history since the riots after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

I rarely fed anymore and the freedom was incredible. I merely walked the streets at night, watching passersby from the bars and restaurants along Beale Street, listening to the open-air concerts, the roar of the baseball games from the Pavilion outside Autozone Park. I would go to the Music Festival on the River come May and I would dance in the rain, unoffended by the mud and the cold. In the fall I planned to take a perch atop the FedEx Forum Arena to listen to the chattering crowds filing into the streets after a basketball game. I would leave the dark allies I?d haunted for over a century until the time came that I needed the privacy in order to send some mugger to Hell. Without the burden of thirst I would stand guard for my city and my mortals, for they were all my family now, if only they could know it.

One night in April, when the rain threatened to drown us all and the February ice had melted but the chill seemed it would never leave Victoria called my cell phone while I was exiting my favorite bar, a place known affectionately to its patrons as Pat-O?s.

?Vicki, what are you doing up? Is everything all right?? I asked into the receiver.

?I was asleep, Sarah, but a very loud noise outside the house woke me up. I think you should come home a little early and have a look at this.? She was hiding something. That concerned me.

?I?ll be right there.? I hung up, left the little bar for the secrecy of an empty alley, and took to the Clouds. I was home within minutes, setting down in the back yard as was my custom. Vicki was on the back porch waiting.

?Out front,? she said and followed me there.

At the front of the long drive sat my GTO, beautifully restored, repainted, repaired. I gasped in shock. She was perfect! I carefully inspected every detail, popping the hood to peer inside. The engine had been rebuilt. I ran my fingers along the upgraded supports, the piece of steel that literally kept the car from tearing itself apart. I let the hood fall back into place, tears of joy poised to fall. I was speechless. ?Incredible,? was the only word I could utter. I opened the driver?s side door and saw that the leather was all new, with the classic GTO logos embossed on them. I slid into the seat, noting that the keys were in the ignition. The stereo was unlike anything I?d ever seen before, an alarm had been installed, and oh! A brand new radar detector/jammer mounted to the dash! I caressed the curve of the steering wheel lovingly, breathing deeply. It even smelled new again! There was an envelope taped to the steering column with my name on the front in a sweeping, elegant hand. I removed the envelope and turned it over in my hand, breaking the seal with my index finger. The letter inside was short and written in the same impeccable penmanship.

Little Sister,

You told me that Gloria once asked you if you were the same Sarah with the same heart and soul and you said yes. Yes, this is your Rose, and yes her heart is the same. She?s had a fresh coat of paint and the engine has been strengthened by the mysteries of mechanics, as your heart has been strengthened by the Blood. She is the proper vehicle for you now. You?ll find a switch under the console that changes the license plate, just in case the Speed Demon decides to go joy-riding some evening. You and your mortals are always welcome in my house.

Eternally Yours,

Lestat de Lioncourt

I turned the key and revved the engine. My lips curled into a smile at the gentle roar. Ah yes, she was perfect indeed.

But the sun was rising. I turned off the engine and removed the key from the ignition, pocketing it. I emerged from the car and took Vicki?s hand. ?I can?t stand it any longer, I have to break tradition. Tomorrow night, I want to take Jessica for a drive. And I want to tell her everything.?

Victoria nodded. ?She?s a smart girl. She can handle it.?

?She?s brilliant and I love her. Won?t it be nice to have some to help you keep an eye on me??

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