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is an avid fan of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, so much so, that waiting for the next book was not an option! This Sookie Stackhouse Fanfiction fantasy picks up where CH's book 9 left off. Tune in weekly for the next installment of Back from the Dead. Disclaimer: J. Barrington does not own the characters of the Southern Vampire Series AKA Sookie Stackhouse Novels. All rights are reserved for Charlaine Harris.

The Mirage - XLV-XLVI

Being buried alive is a terrifying, primal fear for most of the living. Many have been rumored to be zombified or funeralized, only to wake mortified, very much alive and kickin’ . . . and screaming . . . and desperately trying to claw their way back to their previous existence. As a native of Creole county and Voodoo valley, I cut my teeth on such folklore. So, when I woke up inside of a satin-lined pine, I was no punk B.

Fisticuffs with an animated corpse was a definite confidence booster and how I came to be in the time-out box. I’d tried to explain to his royal haughtiness that it was the shock of the “stim-u-la-ted” fang thang that caused my gift to leap its fool self into his vampire mind and that I hadn’t been able to read his mind before and probably wouldn’t be able to do it again. It was a lie but plausible just the same and he wasn’t buying it.

Time seemed to stand still as I cowered on the floor in front of him. He was thinking, what a shame it was that death, true and final death, was the only way to silence the telepath.

Pumped up on adrenalin and eyes aglow, I landed a solid head butt to the face of my handsome host with the back of my head. The blow made me light-headed for a second and I saw stars but it was worth it. Even a little mouse, when cornered will come out fighting. “Mamma Said Knock You Out” was not just a song in the 90’s it was the Stackhouse creed. His face was bloody from me trying my damnedest to do just that. I knew that I had only stunned him. I took advantage of his stupor and commenced to beating the King’s *ss like he stole something.

I was all over him like white on rice and my strength, agility and prowess surprised and excited him. He didn’t handle me with kid gloves as CJ had. Typical for a vampire, Felipe welcomed the fight. He continually pushed me to the limit and gave as much as he took. He even drew blood a few times.

We fought for a while and he let me believe that I was a match for him. Abruptly, he decided to end the spectacle (actually, I think that I rang his bell one too many times) and one Vulcan Death Grip later, I was laid to rest.

He carried my, seemingly, lifeless body through walls that moved upon our approach, revealing secret corridors and sacred spaces. I fought to keep my eyes open so I could hold on to the images of my surroundings as I floated in and out of consciousness. Our destination was a dimly lit tomb with a high ceiling, at least two stories up. It looked like a museum . . . for King Tut. The walls were covered with priceless artwork and ancient heirlooms. Colorful tapestries draped all the way to the floor. Mock windows (that were actually video screens) were flush to the walls. They managed to capture the majesty of a new day dawning over the horizon.

I was overwhelmed at the sight of the life-sized statues, busts set on pillars, artifacts of sculptures, masks and other miscellany that lent old world charm to the cavernous space. At first glance, the sarcophagus looked like another piece of art. It was sectioned off from the rest of the room with rich red velvet ropes, linked by brass stands. The rectangular platform was as big as an Army tank and had elaborate scenes of peruvian? deities or monarchs with scroll moldings on each of the four sides. Towering statues of what I imagined were Inca-like warriors stood armed and erect all around. We climbed several steps. Lying atop was a perfectly sculpted golden effigy in the likeness of His Imperial Majesty King Felipe de Castro, just like the inscription read. Visions of El Dorado danced in my head. The irony was not lost on me. The king of Lost Wages hails from the mythical land of riches that many a explorer risked life and limb to find.

The funerary monument, worthy of royalty, gave me chills. In his life, not only was he of noble blood, this shrine was intended to deify a beloved ruler. His angelic face was immortalized. A crown banded long hair which made him appear more boyish and youthful. An array of feathers plumed around in an elaborate headdress. The robe he wore was covered by a large shield, bearing a crest in the center. The vampire held on to me as I leaned forward and traced the etchings with my finger.

Gold is plentiful in my native land. He must have been reading my mind or my bugged-eyes. The heavy shield, that began at his chest and stretched down to mid-thigh, was made of solid gold and shone like the sun. The crest has a landscape of the sun rising from the Andes, seen from the sea, and escorted by laurel branches tied with a golden ribbon, he described with pride as if he had some ownership in the design. On a blue sky background, the sun's yellow rays can be seen behind the dark brown mountains rising above the blue and green ocean, he nearly sang. A banana tree was above the crest. A condor on the left and a vicuña, he called it (which looked a lot like a llama) on the right, acting as supporters. All this was on top of a baroque base, with a scroll under it with the motto Renació el sol del Perú (Peru's sun is reborn) in capital letters. Some flowers, branches and ammunition were on the base.

One would think that he would have needed a formal chant in an archaic dialect, or something but “Open says me,” triggered the heavy platform to move and I jumped a little in surprise. It slid to the side on rollers or with hydraulics with a growling hiss and steam spilled out. I was truly amazed. I wondered how old it was. How old was he? Questions came stumbling out of my mind and my mouth. “Rest,” was his single word answer as he gently placed me inside the tufted tomb and sealed me in. 

I didn’t want to rest but I didn’t want to fight anymore either, so I obeyed. Plus, it was very comfy and roomy and not scary at all. Maybe I was just becoming accustomed to the way of the vampire. It had a soft feather mattress ticked with; you guess it, black and red satin. Modern amenities desirable to the undead, including a beverage dispenser built in the lid, were at my finger tips. There were many buttons on a detailed control panel; some to massage or vibrate underneath the occupant. The massage felt so much like real hands that I lost the nerve to find out what talents the others possessed.

I ran through the typical gambit of emotions, for someone who is encased in a tomb. I thought he was just going to let me suffocate. Time ruled that out and I found that oxygen was plentiful. Either that or I wasn't breathing, which I knew was impossible. Right? I knew he loved me and I him, but I had to die. Right? A stake through the heart would be the traditional way of destroying a vampire. There was nothing traditional 'bout me. Decapitation is quick. He could probably accomplish that with his fangs. They were the longest that I had ever seen on a vampire. A quick swipe would do me once and for all.

I always thought that the king had a flair for the dramatic. A firing squad with bullets of silver before a large audience would be sufficient punishment for any offense to the king. Silver would take too long to kill me though. Maybe a barrage of wooden bullets? That’s like mini stakes and could riddle my heart like Swiss cheese. Ooh, he could light a Molotov cocktail and throw it inside of the coffin. It would explode on impact and incinerate everything inside. Vampires are highly flammable and that would do some real damage and why am I getting excited about my own demise? It was very vampire-y behavior. I checked my pulse. Still -a – tickin’.

I took a few moments to find the Chi and calm myself. My heartbeat, which had been racing, slowed to a crawl. The fabric underneath me was saturated with the familiar fragrance of dark spices and vampire. The aroma used to evoke heart seizing, gut wrenching terror, but not now. I buried my face in the scent, twirling like an alligator that has finally captured its prey. This was his own personal coffin. This was where the vampire king went to ground. Strangely, it gave me solace in my conflicting existence of living with one foot in the grave.

The lid of the coffin was rolled back a short time later. Big brown eyes smiled down at me with warmth. It was pitch black in the room now and I could see the faint glow that surrounded him. I was actually relieved to see my captor and kissed him on the forehead when he came close. It was somewhat Stockholm syndrome-y, I admit. It was also a shameless bribe to remind him that he loved me and therefore should not kill me.

“That was so not the kiss on the head I was hoping for,” he tisked “but, it’s a start.” He let out a carefree chuckle and said “So, tell Felipe, how do you want it?” He was giving me a choice of how I wanted to die. The inhumanity! I wished that I had the nerve to say something brave like Do your worst instead of a gutless gasp that hung in the air. He saw the panic in my eyes and reached for my hand. “Do you really believe that I would destroy such a creature?” Yep! Uh huh. I do, I thought. “You are the mind reader,” he said “so read.” I shook my head violently. I’d made up in my mind that I was never, ever, ever reading another vamp mind again. He touched his cool forehead to mine. With bated breath he whispered “Read, love.” Obediently, the TP slipped inside.

My love’s thoughts were always tainted in a rose colored hue. Even so, most humans would die from the mere thought of what he had envisioned for me. Death, however, was not on his agenda, unless he was going to love me to death. He was asking me how did I want “It!” not “it.” He delighted in showing me just how many ways there were to get “It!” He was also more in love with me than ever and thought that my mind invasion was “So Damn sexy!” Somebody kill me, please! Decapitation was sounding more appealing.

“You are so nasty,” I told him. He had a lot on his mind and a vivid imagination.

“Tell your friends about me,” he quipped with an unmistakable leer. In a quick motion, he launched his body into the coffin with me and slid the top shut. There was a lot of moving and a shakin’ goin’ on.

I woke refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to take on the world. Felipe had said that I would feel like a new person after just one day in his resting place, and I did. And no, I did not have sexual relations with that vampire. That’s the honest to goodness, Bill Clinton truth and I’m stickin’ to it.

Seriously, it was easy getting rid of him once I told him my real name; Sookie Lorena Bobbit Stackhouse. That loving feeling kind of shriveled up and died from there. No fun trying to grow that back. Suddenly, Sookie was all alone and I slept and slept and slept. I didn’t dream. I didn’t toss or turn. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I was dead to the world until dark.

My feet landed on a sea of rose petals the following eve. I was dressed in a red satin night gown. It was backless and had a long elegant train that trailed behind me. My body smelled fresh from the shower clean. I reached for my red satin slippers and red satin robe that were on the steps. One of those buttons inside of his sleep chamber must be a locking mechanism, I thought. I couldn’t have him bathing me and changing my clothing whenever he felt like it, no matter how beautiful and luxurious the items were.

I searched through the maze of statues. Exotic and colorful flowers on stands, in pots with pretty bows and in vases, added to the obstacle course in my adventure to find the lavatory. It was an amenity often over looked by my undead brethren. I followed the trail of rose petals and was delivered to the promised land of indoor plumbing.

A large crystal vase sat on a waist high pillar base. It was filled with red, heart-shaped Flamingo Lilies. The dark green leaves were velvety soft. Next to it was the current issue of Supe Illustrated. A dapper Felipe graced the cover sitting on a dais in a resplendent throne room. Resplendent was a throw back from my Word of the Day Calendar. It meant: having dazzlingly impressive appearance. It was the only word I could think of to capture the beauty and magnificence of regal monarchies long past.

The walls behind him were covered in embroidered red velvet. Red carpeted steps led to a shiny floor below where bronze lions sat at his feet. The single subject of the photo did not detract. He looked good enough to eat. He kept that wolf’s grin guarded but the proud smile from inside him beamed through his eyes. The scene was captivating and his hypnotic stare, alluring.

Standing tent style before the magazine was a shiny silver card. This time I was not fooled by the emblem embossed on the outside. It was calligraphy F, for Felipe. “Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity,” was hand written in very neat penmanship. It was signed “Felipe.” Leave it to him to make dying sound like a pleasurable experience.

The bass ackwards decision to read the ingredients AS I brushed my teeth with Brilliant Bite Toothpaste turned out to be one of the biggest regrets of my rise and shine routine. “Guaranteed to get your fangs whiter with each use” and “Artificial blood taste” the tube read. The melded flavors of blood, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice and vinegar swelled to nice frothy foam inside my mouth. “Ick!” He should have used that fancy card to warn me about that nasty *ss tooth paste.

I was considering pressing sexual assault charges against the shower. Jets came from every direction and had its way with me before I figured out how to get the hell out of there. Vampires are very sensual creatures and get satisfaction wherever they can. I really wanted to try the spray tan feature but I was NOT going back in there.

Due to the many months of running and grueling workouts while in New Orleans, my body was a sculpted work of art. I was able to admire my hard work from many angles in the three-way mirror. My wash and wear enchanted hair-do stayed perfectly curled no matter what I did to it. Sadly, my face was pale and almost gaunt. I needed to find a source of nutrition in the worst way.

I dressed in the modest but figure flattering wrap dress that was left hanging in the bathroom and slipped on the black pumps that I found in the closet. I looked nice and neat. The party was underneath my plain ensemble. My undergarments consisted of two very important essentials of vampire foundation garments; scarlet and skimpy.

Felipe could not wait to sell me on the idea of making (what he considered) the perfect oasis for the undead my permanent residence. He insisted on us accompanying him on a grand tour of the main hub in his kingdom.

Touted as the new vamp central, many vampires migrated to Sunset Strip after Hurricane Katrina drove out the inhabitants of New Orleans and destroyed most of the havens. Residents were a key ingredient of the vampire diet and the mass exodus made for slim pickin’s.

 Much like with the pioneers of early America, the west offered cheap, undeveloped land and the freedom to create counties that were laws unto themselves. “Out west, vampires can be vampires,” he told me. One thing I noticed is that the dryness of the desert air made it easy to mask the dry scent of the undead.

Amelia opted to remain in her quarters and let Tray be himself for a day. He had been in T2 cat form since we arrived and probably appreciated stretching his human legs. She was also a little salty at me. She assumed that Felipe and I made a love connection when she found out that I spent the night down below. It did look a bit chary but she should have known me better than that. Dyxie assured her that she silently chaperoned the entire night, curled around my ear.

“No way was I leaving my girl alone with monsieur sexy pants,” the pixie said. Amelia gave us both a sour smile before we left her room.

“Yeah, I believe you Ms. Trois,” Amelia said to Dyxie with a smirk. “First name Menage A.” Dyxie rolled her eyes and mumbled as she flittered to her perch.

“Don’t be judging me, Millie!” She squeaked, most offended. “One Fairies Gone Wild video and everyone’s a critic.”

A group of the scariest guards imaginable flanked the king in a long corridor outside of the bedrooms. All were tall and wide with translucent skin and emitted an aura of eau de don’t f*ck with us. Their dark uniforms covered everything but the steel gray eyes and the skin that surrounded. Their mental signature reminded me of Dr. Blade, cold with a heartbeat that thumped double fast and hard. Their thoughts processed as a single unit.

I got butterflies in my stomach when I caught a glimpse of Felipe in their midst. He was fixing his collar and smoothing his coal black hair. At a barked command, two of the soldiers adjusted smoothly to absorb us into the group.

A dark suit and pristine shirt made up the formal Felipe. He was all business, greeting me with an infinitesimal nod. I think he was waiting on me to bow or something. I was slightly offended by his pretense. I folded my arms and offered a just as cool “Sup,” to the king. Showing me too much attention would put a great big target on the queen’s head, I assumed. Maybe he didn’t want his loyal subjects to know that the all-powerful Vampire King was in love with a lowly human. His thoughts were fully guarded now so I could not even surreptitiously glance.

A pedway began to move underneath us as we took an extensive tour of the NVL Headquarters. “This day,” he said, looking straight ahead “embrace your inner vampire.” This was not a request, but a direct order. “We are not good or bad, we just are.” He finally met my eyes. “Not serene like your sorcerer,” he sneered. “We Are Sovereign!” That proclamation was pretty empowering, I thought, and something I could try but I was not eating anybody.

Felipe’s hideaway is at the base of a 50-story building near sunset strip. That entire level was a heavily secured series of rooms, all dedicated for the personal and professional use of the king. It includes a few board rooms, a theater and several guest bedrooms. Some rooms (like the tomb) were in a secluded area and not revealed in the tour.

“Mainstreaming vampires have a lot of energy to burn,” Dixie squeaked in my ear. She was answering the obvious question of why would a vampire need so much exercise equipment? I got tired just looking at it. The gymnasium had an Olympic sized pool and a sauna, as well.

The Queen’s chamber was housed on the floor above, along with the infirmary and a few other offices. Several levels were home to the administrative offices and testing labs for TrueBlood. The company employed thousands over the globe and was considered a great place to work.

The Japanese originally intended for their product to be used for human blood transfusions. Little did they know that it would lure the creatures of the night out of their hiding places and be able to sustain them. It also made millions by becoming the top selling synthetic blood on the market. It wasn’t as good as the real thing (according to vampires) but it would do.

Dyxie was very excited to learn of their newest division; TrueBlood Foods. It included a banquet spread of foods, all made from synthetic blood. I recognized the red grapes that I saw Felipe eating the other night. It was balls of coagulated blood encapsulated in gel. A few seconds in the microwave made them a scrumtous treat, or so he said. The common ingredients in all were synthetic blood, gelatin and food coloring. Serum or plasma, extracted from blood, was served in a flute and looked just like champagne.

Molds helped to create the illusion of real foods like fruit, veggies or the ever popular drum stick, which Dyxie says “Tastes like chicken.” All designed to make the blood only diet of vampires more acceptable to humans yet palatable to the undead. Like TrueBlood, its most important use was to help vampires adjust to mainstream society and encourage them to keep their canines to themselves.

Any self respecting southern gal who stumbled across a fully stocked kitchen would have to turn out something good. I had Felipe clear out the test kitchen of its mostly human staff and shoo away the guards while I went to work.

The Bouquet Garni is an aromatic blend of fresh herbs, dried thyme and a bay leaf. My grandmother used to wrap the ingredients in a cheese cloth. Those flavors, along with the holy trinity (chopped onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic) would liven up any stew or soup. I made a roux from the pot liquor that seeped from my concoction and added it to a fresh warm kettle of the synthetic brew.

“The smells remind me of my mother’s kitchen . . .” he said when he joined me a short time later. He was going to say more but pulled up short, not wanting me to see the crack in his facade. I wanted him to elaborate on the child Felipe. It’s what he was thinking of when he spoke and it stirred up some painful memories. Then he shut down like a steel trap.

I didn’t push. I just poured the steamy goodness into a bowl and garnished it with a sprig of parsley for color. I wondered how many of them got to partake in the human experience of sitting in a warm kitchen filled with the relaxing scents of home.

“If I add a ham bone and some veggies, we wouldn’t be too far off of a down home meal,” I chortled. He waited for a long while just looking at the bowl. His mind ventured far back to a time long forgotten. I let him have his privacy while I enjoyed the myriad of emotions that danced across his face and settled on peace.

I finally lifted a spoon full to his mouth. I knew he wanted to taste and just needed a little coaxing. He looked apprehensive but still opened wide. The spoon clinked against his fangs as they jetted out.

I can’t really say how it happened but the next thing I saw was the back of him as he pushed his way out of the swinging door. I was lying on the stainless steel island in the middle of the kitchen. My Sookie special was all over everything and the bowl in pieces.

Surprisingly, my white apron was still spotless. My nerves were a mess. I sat up and took a moment to regain my composure. My dress was wrenched around my waist. A perfect calligraphy F was written on my thigh like the mark of Zorro. He'd used my soup as the ink and it ran down my leg when I stood up. How was he that fast? I guess that comfort foods for vamps would not bode well with the whole cold-blooded killer vibe.

Someday, we'll look back on the unique culinary encounter, laugh nervously and change the subject, but not today. I found the sprig of parsley poking out of my cleavage after I rejoined the group. And after I pried Dyxie away from the TrueBlood chocolate fountain that had her spellbound.

An entire floor was dedicated to research of Supernatural beings. That gave me the willies. I didn’t want anyone poking and prodding on me. “We have the most advanced practices in the entire world,” he said in response to my paranoia. The how is what concerned me. I stayed quiet and smiled my awkward nervous smile.

Clinical services to the public included medically assisted transitions for humans with a terminal illness who wanted to become a vampire. Vampire blood used as a healing agent or in treatments such as male enhancement or the new Botox was very popular. I wondered how they prevented the benefactor from having influence over the recipient.

The first floor above ground was NVL Public Relations. He was anxious and nervous to show me the face that the league wanted humans to see. It was big business. A vast show room welcomed all who wanted to play nice with the fanged ones.

“We have a strict main streaming policy.” He handed me a t-shirt from his personal clothing line. It bore their campaign slogan “Don’t Obey Your Thirst!” Infomercials played on screens that went from floor to ceiling. The images were so big and lifelike that it looked like the spokesperson could just walk off the screen. One of them did. It was an interactive hologram that responded to voice commands and answered a series of frequently asked questions. I recognized the translucent image as the King’s lieutenant, Sandy.

When the NVL public service announcement began to play, Felipe grabbed my hand with a firm grip. He had been hands off and completely professional since the tour began, as if he were interacting with a client or potential investor. I was distracted by the projection and the crowd of people that swarmed it, so I didn’t notice Eric Northman fill the screen. My hearing clung to the familiar word that was like a caress. “Lover . . . s . . . and livers of life, lend me your ears.” My vision blurred only a little and I felt faint. I stepped behind Felipe and my trembling hand held on to the back of his shirt. I wasn’t afraid, just startled and I wished that he had warned me with more than a tightening of his grip. The humans responded as if answering a cattle call. The crowd swelled until it was standing room only.

“Do you want to go?” he asked me. He had turned to face me, his arms providing a circle of protection from the swelling horde. We didn’t move and I didn’t answer. Like everyone else, my ears wanted to hear what E.F. Hutton had to say.

Eric spoke eloquently about all the advantages of living undead among humans. He spoke of the many advances that science had made to treat the debilitating ailment that silences the heart, renders its victims defenseless to sunlight, severely anemic and sensitive to silver and garlic, known as the virus of Vampirism. He assured all that the harmonious co-existence of human and vampire loomed on the horizon. I wish I could see how beautiful he was. My vision was now cloudy with tears.

“I don’t know what it is,” Felipe said. “People just want to listen to whatever he says.”

I knew exactly what it was. Eric was very easy on the eyes. He was charismatic but most of all, even after more than 1,000 years, most people thought that he was human. His skin was very pale from the lack of sunlight and became rosy after feeding. His body maintained the coolness of a corpse at all times. His eyes were glassy and clear. All were warning signs of vampirism yet people didn’t flee from him. He lacked the ominous aura of the undead and a certain, um,  . . . je ne sais quoi that others of his kind lacked.

“It’s what they call the IT Factor,” Felipe said almost reverently. In Spades, I noted with a nod. “He is one of the best assets for the future of our kind.” I listened to Eric pitch the NVL agenda of equality for all and realized, this was what Eric wanted. This was his dream come to fruition. This is what he’d envisioned those many months ago in my living room. I was overwhelmed with happiness for him and wished that I could tell him how I felt. I wished, I wished that I could tell him how proud he made me. I wished, I . . . I . . .

Felipe swooped up my legs and cradled me before I hit the ground. “Eric!” I sounded somewhat hysterical, quiet but crazed. No one had noticed that there was a real vampire standing in their midst. The inhuman hiss that escaped Felipe’s throat, coupled with the giant leap, which took us from inside of the crowd to outside of the crowd in an instant, announced the supernatural presence loud and clear.

The previously uncontrollable sea of people instantaneosly calmed, silenced, and parted. You would have thought Dracula himself had just appeared. There were gawks and gasps. Some feared being up close and personal with the creature that they’d only heard about. It was like going on a nature hike in the woods and stumbling across a bear . . . that just so happened to be one sexy beast.

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