Authors: Charlaine Harris,Sarah Smith,Jeaniene Frost,Daniel Stashower,A. Lee Martinez,Jeff Abbott,L. A. Banks,Katie MacAlister,Christopher Golden,Lilith Saintcrow,Chris Grabenstein,Sharan Newman,Toni L. P. Kelner
The editors of
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
Many Bloody Returns
deliver a new collection—including a never-before-published Sookie Stackhouse story.
New York Times
bestselling authors Charlaine Harris, Katie MacAlister, Jeaniene Frost—plus Lilith Saintcrow, Jeff Abbott, and more—send postcards from the edge of the paranormal world to fans who devoured
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
Many Bloody Returns
With an all-new Sookie Stackhouse story and twelve other original tales, editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner bring together a stellar collection of tour guides who offer vacations that are frightening, funny, and touching for the fanged, the furry, the demonic, and the grotesque. Learn why it really can be an endless summer—for immortals.
This book is dedicated to Alan Ball, who has given the supernatural world a huge boost by bringing it to the screen in a gloriously sexy and bloody hour of entertainment.
AFTER we’d done as much damage to birthdays (
Many Bloody Returns
) and to the Christmas holidays (
Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
) as we could, we started brainstorming about our next anthology’s theme. What hadn’t we covered? We’re sort of saving Arbor Day, and so many paranormals don’t celebrate the Fourth of July.
Toni brought up the summer holidays. Since we’re both moms with kids in school (albeit kids of very different ages), the idea made us gleeful. But we decided to broaden it a bit to include all vacations, because we didn’t want to leave out the possibility of a really good vampire skiing story. Unfortunately, as it happened, none was turned in to us by our stellar list of authors.
But we got some great stories, with settings as varied as a hotel in California, a family reunion in Ireland, the headquarters of a mysterious sect in Paris, and other interesting locales ranging from the exotic to the ridiculous . . . and we love them all.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve lined up house sitters, and we’ve packed our sunscreen and paperbacks. We’re officially on vacation. We’ll send you a postcard!
Toni L. P. Kelner
Charlaine Harris, #1
New York Times
bestselling author, has been writing for twenty-seven years. Her body of work includes many novels, a few novellas, and a growing body of short stories in genres such as mystery, science fiction, and romance. Married and the mother of three, Charlaine lives in rural Arkansas with her family, three dogs, and a Canada goose. She pretty much works all the time. The HBO series
is based on Charlaine’s Sookie Stackhouse novels.
* * *
“SO why are we going to Tunica?” I asked Pam. “And what are we supposed to do when we get there?”
“We’re going to see the sights and gamble,” Pam said. The headlights of a passing car glinted on Pam’s pale, straight hair. Pam was paler than her hair and approximately a hundred and sixty years old, give or take a decade. She’d become a vampire when Victoria was still a young queen.
“It’s hard to believe you’d want to go to Mississippi. For that matter, it’s hard to believe you’d want to take me along.”
“Are we not friends, Sookie?”
“Yes,” I said, after a little hesitation. Though it didn’t seem polite to say so, I was closer to being a friend of Pam’s than I was of any other vampire. “Somehow, I got the feeling you really didn’t think enough of humans to want to claim one as a friend.”
“You’re not as intolerable as most,” Pam said lightly.
“Thanks for the glowing testimony.”
“Oh, you’re quite welcome.” She grinned, flashing just a bit of fang.
“I hope this is fun, considering I’m using my two days off to make this little trip.” I sounded a little grumpy, with good reason.
“It’s a vacation! A chance to get out of your rut. Don’t you get tired of Bon Temps? Don’t you get tired of hustling drinks at Sam’s bar?”
Truthfully, no. I love my little Louisiana town. I feel as comfortable as a telepath can be among the people I know so well (better than most of them will ever understand). And I love working for Sam at Merlotte’s. I’m a very good waitress and barmaid. My life brings me enough excitement without me having to leave town to get more.
“Something always goes wrong when I go out of town,” I said, trying not to sound whiny.
“Remember when I went to Dallas? All those people got shot? When I went to Jackson, I got staked.” Which was pretty ironic, since I’m human. “And when I flew up to Rhodes with you-all, the hotel got blown up.”
“And you saved my life,” Pam said, suddenly serious.
“Well,” I said, and then could think of nothing more to add. I started to say,
You would have done the same for me
, but I was by no means sure that was true. Then I started to say,
You would have been okay, anyway
, but that wasn’t true, either. I shrugged, at a loss. Even in the darkness, Pam saw me.
“I won’t forget,” she said.
“So, we’re really just going to see the casinos and gamble? Can we go see a show?” I wanted to change the subject.
“Of course we’ll do all those things. Oh, we do have one tiny errand to perform for Eric.”
Eric and I are—I’m not sure what we are. We’re lovers, and in an unofficial vampire way, we’re married. Not that I had anything to do with that; Eric maneuvered me into it. He had good intentions. I think. Anyway, it’s not a straightforward situation, me and Eric. Pam is gung-ho Eric, because she’s his right hand. “So what do we have to do? And why do I need to come along?”
“A human is involved,” Pam said. “You can let me know if he’s sincere or not.”
“All right,” I said, not caring one little bit that I sounded reluctant. “As long as I get to see all the casinos and a good show that I pick.”
“It’s a promise,” Pam said.
As we went up Highway 61, we started to see casino billboards flashing by in the night. Pam had been driving since darkness had fallen . . . That had been at five thirty, since it was February. Though I remembered February as being the coldest month when I was a child, now it was an eerie sixty degrees. Pam had picked me up in Bon Temps, then we’d gone through Vicksburg to turn north on Highway 61. There were a few casinos in Vicksburg and a few more in Greenville, but we kept driving up the western side of Mississippi. It was flat, flat, flat. Even in the dark, I could tell that.
“Nowhere to hide, here,” I said brightly.
“Even for a vampire,” Pam said. “Unless one found a bayou and crouched down to bury oneself in the mud.”
“With the crawdaddies.” I was full of cheerful thoughts.
“What do people
here?” Pam asked.
“Farm,” I said. “Cotton, soybeans.”
Pam’s upper lip curled. Pam was a city girl. She’d grown up in London. England. See? We couldn’t be more different. City girl, country girl. Experienced and well traveled, inexperienced and stay-at-home. Bisexual, heterosexual. She’s dead, I’m alive.
Then she turned on the CD player in her Nissan Murano, and the Dixie Chicks began singing.
We did have something in common, after all.
We saw the first turnoff to the casinos at two in the morning.
“There’s a second turnoff, and that’s where we’re staying,” Pam said. “At Harrah’s.”
“Okay,” I said, peering at the signs. To find these street lights, this traffic, and all the neon in the distance in the middle of the Mississippi Delta was like finding out Mrs. Butterworth had pierced her navel. “There!” I said. “We turn there.”
Pam put on her blinker (she was an excellent driver) and following the signs, we pulled up in front of the casino/hotel where we had a reservation. It was large and new, as everything in the casino complex seemed to be. Since there wasn’t a whole lot going on at that hour, several jacketed young men made a beeline for the Murano.
Pam said, “What are they doing?” Her fangs popped out.
“Chill. They’re just going to valet-park the car,” I said, proud that I knew something Pam didn’t.
“Oh.” She relaxed. “All right. They take the keys, park the car, and bring it back when I require it?”
“Right.” A high school classmate of mine had had that job at a casino in Shreveport. “You tip ’em,” I prompted, and Pam opened her purse, a Prada. Pam was a purse snob.
She laughed when one of the young men wanted to carry her luggage. We both entered the hotel with our weekend bags slung over our shoulders. Eric had given me my bag as a Christmas gift, and I really, really liked it. My initials were embroidered on it, and it was red with blue and gold flowers. In fact, it coordinated with the coat he’d given me the year before, the coat I didn’t need this unseasonably warm night.
Pam had reserved one of the designated vampire rooms, a no-window space with two sets of doors. Our rooms were on the same floor at the back of the hotel. Of course, I’d gotten one of the much cheaper regular human rooms. I was glad we were here on a weekday, because one glimpse of the weekend rates had almost rendered me speechless. I
didn’t travel much.
Very few people turned to look as we made our way to the elevator. Not only were vampires seen pretty frequently at casinos—after all, they were open all night—but everyone was absorbed in the gambling. The slot machines were in rows across the huge floor, and it was always night in here. Sunlight didn’t have a hope of penetrating. The noise was incredible. The chiming and ringing and humming never came to a stop. I don’t know how the people working there managed to stay sane.
In fact, one of the servers wending her way through the chaos in a slacks-shirt-vest uniform was a vampire. She was a thin strawberry blonde with such large boobs that I suspected she’d had a little augmentation before she was brought over. She was carrying a heavy tray of drinks and managing it with ease. She caught Pam’s eyes and gave her a nod. Pam nodded back, giving her own head exactly the same degree of inclination.
On the third floor, Pam peeled off to find her room, and I followed the numbers to mine. Once I’d tossed my bag on my bed, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Pam knocked, and when I let her in she said, “My room is adequate. I’m going to go down and look around. Are you going to bed?”
“I think I will. What are our plans for tomorrow?”
“Do whatever you like during the day. There’s a shuttle that runs between the casinos, so you can go to whichever one you like. There are shops, and there are restaurants. If you notice a show you’d like to see, book us for the first one after dark. After that, we’ll run our errand.”
“Okay. I think I’ll turn in, then.” You notice I didn’t ask about the errand? That was because I wanted to enjoy myself the next day. I’d find out soon enough what Eric wanted us to do. It couldn’t be too bad, right? He was my lover and Pam’s boss. On the other hand, he was frighteningly practical about taking care of himself.
I told myself.
He wouldn’t risk both of us. At the same time.
“Good night, Sookie.” She gave me a cold kiss on the cheek.
“Have a good time,” I said faintly.
She smiled, happy at having startled me. “I plan on it. There are plenty of us here. I’ll go . . . network.”
Pam would always rather hang with her own kind than grub around with “breathers.”
It took me all of ten minutes to unpack and get ready for bed. I crawled in. It was a king, and I felt lost in the middle of it. It would be more fun if Eric were here. I pushed the thought away and turned on the television. I could watch a movie on pay-per-view, I discovered. But if I paid specially for a movie, I’d feel obliged to stay up. Instead, I found an old Western that I followed for maybe half an hour until my eyes wouldn’t stay open anymore.
About ten the next day, I was eating a wonderful breakfast at a buffet that was as long as the Merlotte’s building. I had sausage and biscuits and gravy, and some chopped fruit so I could say I’d eaten something healthy. I also drank three cups of excellent coffee. This was a great way to start the day, and no dishes to do afterward. That was the kind of vacation I could appreciate.
I retreated to my room to brush my teeth, and then I went outside to catch the bus. The sky was overcast, and the temperature was as unnaturally warm as it had been the day before. One of the valet-parking attendants told me where the shuttle bus would pick me up to take me to the other casinos, and I waited for it with a stout couple from Dyersburg, Tennessee, who had cornered the market on chattiness. They’d won some money the night before, their son was going to the University of Memphis, they were Baptists but their pastor liked to visit the boats (all the casinos were theoretically boats, since casinos couldn’t be built on solid land) so that made a little gambling okay. Since I was young and alone, these two decided I was applying for a job at the casinos. They assured me someone as young and perky and pretty as me would have no trouble.
“Now, don’t you go to that bad place north of here!” the woman said, with mock admonishment.
“What place would that be?”
“Henry, close your ears,” she told her husband. Henry good-naturedly pretended to hold his hands over his ears. “There’s what’s called a
up there,” she said in a stage whisper. “Though what someone calling himself a gentleman would be doing there, I don’t know.”
I didn’t say that I was pretty sure real gentlemen had sex urges, too, because I understood what she meant. “So it’s a strip club?”
Mrs. Dyersburg said, “My Lord, I don’t know what all goes on in a place like that. I won’t ever see the inside of one, you can bet. Listen, our oldest son is twenty-four, and he’s single, got a good job. You dating anyone?”
Then, thank God, the bus came. Whatever casino the Dyersburgs chose, I’d pick another one. Luckily, they got off pretty quickly, so I waited to disembark at Bally’s. I went in, to be assaulted by the newly familiar chiming and clicking of slot machines. I saw a sign for a huge buffet. I got a discount coupon immediately from a smiling older woman with elaborate brown hair and lots of gold jewelry. There were three restaurants in Bally’s, and I could eat till I popped at any one of them, according to the material on the coupon. I wondered how much of an appetite I could work up playing a slot machine.
Out of sheer curiosity I walked over to an empty machine, looked at it carefully while I worked out what to do, fed it one of my hard-earned dollars, and pulled the lever. There, I felt it—a distinct frisson of excitement. Then my dollar was lost for good. Was I willing to spend my money on that thrill? No.
I wandered around for a while, looking at the people who were so intent on what they were doing that they never glanced at me, or smiled. The casino employees, on the other hand, were full of good cheer.
Over the course of the day, thanks to the shuttle, I discovered that all the casinos were basically the same. The “décor” changed, the staff uniforms were different colors, the layout might vary a bit, but the noise level and the gambling facilities . . . those were constant.
I had lunch at yet another casino in the middle of the afternoon. Each casino seemed to have two or three places to eat. I decided I couldn’t face another buffet. I made my way to the lower-priced restaurant that offered menus. When I tired of people-watching, I pulled out the paperback I carried in my purse.
At the casino after that, I had to fend off a persistent admirer, a man missing an important front tooth. He wore his hair pulled back in a long, graying ponytail. He was sure we could have some fun together, and I was just as sure we could not. I got back on the shuttle.
I returned to Harrah’s with a feeling of relief. I’d seen lots of new things, including a riverboat and a golf course, but all in all the casinos seemed kind of sad to me. The gamblers weren’t people like you see in James Bond movies, rich people dressed to the nines who could afford losing. Some of the people I’d seen today didn’t look like they could afford to waste even ten dollars. But I had to admit, they’d seemed to be having a good time, and after all, that was the point of a vacation.
It was lovely to shut the door of my room and enjoy the silence. I threw myself down on the bed and closed my eyes. It wouldn’t be long until Pam rose.