A/N: This story is part of my new "fairy tale" series. Be on the look out for multiple chapters!
Turn Your Back to the Forest
I walked into the bar at eleven, ready to start another Monday in May. Outside, the weather was just this side of perfect. The bright blue sky was dotted with big puffy white clouds, and a light breeze cooled the temperature down from a balmy and humid eighty degrees to a delightful seventy-five degrees. I could hear birds chirping happily when I walked from my car to the employee entrance behind Merlotte's Bar.
I wanted to spend my day outside, sitting in my cozy chaise in my brand new bikini. I had picked up one of those Diane Mott Davidson mysteries at the library, and I was all set to dive in. Darn it if Holly had decided not to show up for work on a Monday morning! I wish I had that kind of luxury. Okay, I know, Holly hadn't shown up because her son was coming down with chickenpox, but hell! I almost dropped the book on the damp grass when I hung up the house phone and stomped back inside. Sookie Stackhouse was not amused.
Sam waved to me from behind his desk, and like a lady, I stuck my head in to give him an annoyed snort. That'd teach him.
"Aww Sook," Sam frowned. He was adjusting the schedule to account for Holly's absence.
"It's fine, Sam," I sighed. For a second, I leaned against the door frame to his office. "It's not like I had anything better to do." Except that I did! I was reading, and then I was going to the mall in Shreveport with Amelia.
"I just called that new girl, Clarice? She can come in at three, so I can let you go then. I know today's your day off." He sighed and rubbed the back of his head.
"Oh," I brightened. "That's perfect! I can still get to the mall with Amelia!" Absolutely perfect, in fact. I'd been aching to see Claudine in her (un)natural habitat as a customer service whiz in department store returns. And of course, the sun would still be up awhile when three o'clock rolled around. Maybe I could get some tanning time in too!
I shoved my things in the cubby with my name on it before I grabbed a black apron off the clean laundry pile. I was tying the apron on when the bell over the front door rang. In walked the first customers of the day. I skipped out into the main restaurant and swooped on over to the booth in the farthest corner of the room. Detective Bud Dearborn and Detective Andy Bellefleur slid into the seats, pulled folders and papers out from under their arms, and laid the material out on the table. New case for the Bon Temps Police Department? It certainly looked like it.
"What can I get you boys?" I asked, putting a hand on my hip and smiling gently at them. Neither of these men were my favorite people, particularly after a series of crimes I'd dealt with a few years ago, but you can't be outright mean to people. I let my mood shine through my smile. I didn't have to be fake at all.
"Coffee," Bud grunted. He didn't even look up. Andy nodded, still addressing the papers on the table. Well, okay then. I turned on my heel and walked back to the bar to fetch the coffee pot Sam had put on a little while before. I reached over my head to grab a couple of mugs down from the upper shelf, and poured them two cups of steaming hot mud. I arranged some cream cups, sugar packets, and the coffee on a tray and carried it back. When I set the drinks down, I managed to get a quick look at the files. Neither of the men said anything about the coffee. I frowned, a genuine frown, and went back to rolling silverware.
Sam was sitting on the stool behind the bar with the Bon Temps Gazette unfolded in front of him. I leaned my elbows on the bar top and stretched out my mind to get a feel on Bon Temps' finest. Their thoughts were going a mile a minute, so I had to concentrate for a few minutes before I could get a good read on them. Andy Bellefleur brought the cup of coffee to his lips and took a careful sip. His hand shook just a little when he set the mug back down on the table. I can't believe something like this could happen in Bon Temps! We are a community! Why would we be the site of a body dump? Children, for fucks sakes, they were only children. My skin went cold, like I'd been pushed into a freezer. I hung onto the bar for support and reached back out to Sheriff Dearborn. He was hunched over the table, staring at the writing in a report. Bud Dearborn probably needed reading glasses, but he'd never let on that he was getting "weak" or getting old. Just wait until I get my hands on the sonofabitch that did this. I'll rip that shithead limb from fuckin' limb.
I turned around and grabbed Sam's paper. He blinked at me, but he didn't protest. After a moment, he looked over my shoulder at the two policemen deep in thought. Then he turned the pages so I could see the front, the most important news story in Bon Temps. There was a picture above the headline. It revealed four patrolmen (including Kevin and Kenya) stomping across the dewy morning grass on Sunday. They had two dogs with them, so I gathered that the two officers I didn't recognize were from the canine unit in Shreveport. A large wooded area was situated in front of them. I scanned down to the headline.
Children murdered in Bon Temps Woods
The pretty May day seemed to cloud over. I had to look out over my shoulder to make sure there weren't big black clouds covering up the blue sky outside. Nope, it was only in my head. The day was still intact even if I wasn't. I looked at the article while Sam took care of a couple that had just walked in. I hadn't even noticed them.
Two as yet unidentified teens were discovered in the woods near the pond Sunday afternoon. The bodies were discovered by two Bon Temps High School students swimming out at the pond. The pond often attracts young people looking to escape the summer heat. The victims were found decapitated and holding hands. The Bon Temps Police Department delivered specimens of DNA to the state forensics lab on Monday morning. They hope to have results back by the end of this month, if not sooner. Sheriff Bud Dearborn issued a statement to the Gazette on Monday. "Bon Temps is a safe and happy community. We have no reason to believe that these victims were from our fine city. However, we intend to get to the root of this crime, to keep Bon Temps safe, and to restore the sense of security to our citizens. The culprit of these gruesome crimes will be brought to justice."
Sam tapped me on the shoulder, and I jumped up. He rubbed my shoulder a little, then took the paper from me and folded it up under the counter. I looked over at the new customers, and saw that Danielle had brought in her little girl.
"Hey Danielle," I smiled. This time, though, I had plastered on that fake grin. I felt a queasiness in my gut that I couldn't push back down. I wanted to vomit up my breakfast. Those poor kids.
"Hey Sookie," she sighed. She looked over at her daughter drawing on her placemat with crayons. "Did you read the paper this morning?"
"Yeah, I just saw it," I whispered so as not to alert the police.
"It's horrible! I kept my girl out of school today. I don't know why really. I just couldn't stand to be away from her."
"Yeah, I get what you mean. I don't even want to…" I frowned. I stopped talking and we just nodded at one another. Danielle ordered a grilled cheese for her daughter and a chicken basket for herself. I went back to the kitchen to give the order to the cook. Then I got a glass of milk and a Coke for the table.
Working in an eatery in a small town is pretty much akin to any kind of social networking website, like the ones that Amelia uses. She always telling me about them, but I have no use for stuff like that. I get all my news the same way Gran did. I wait for the calls to come in. Of course, I didn't have to use the phone. I could just open up my mind and the thoughts flooded my head. Owing to this unique fact, I listened to the news of the murders for four solid hours until Clarice came in to relieve me at three o'clock. There was a silent uproar in Bon Temps, with people wondering why the bodies of two children had been left here, why a stranger would pick our town for such a crime, and what sort of monster that person could be. Some people drifted instantly to vampires, because people like to blame what they can't understand. I only shrugged when people asked me what I thought.
I grabbed my things and headed out of the bar, but I didn't want to go to the mall anymore. I didn't really want to go home and listen to Amelia think about the murders. Instead, I wanted to see the site for myself. I don't know what compelled me to drive out to the watering hole out hear Tara Thornton's childhood home. It took a long while to get there in the car, and then I had to park on the side of the road and hoof it into the woods. I stomped into the clearing around the pond at five o'clock, and saw the police tape up all around the site. I crouched on the ground. The site of the "dump," as Andy Bellefleur had called it in his head, had been picked apart by police teams. The bodies had been moved, of course, and there were footprints around in the dirt. Something about the murder had pulled me out here. It had all just seemed so wrong, so grisly, so disturbing. Who would decapitate teenagers and leave them out in the woods? Why had they been holding hands when they died? Was that even possible?
I crouched, still and quiet, for several minutes. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something felt wrong. There was a sensation in my skin, a buzzing in my ear, or maybe it was a numbness in my gut. I don't know. But it was enough to a sensation to give me pause. I reached into my pocket for my cellular phone and stared at it. There was no signal way out here. So, I marched back through the woods to the car.
Leaning the phone against my ear, I waited for the end of the line to pick up. It rang and rang, but there was no answering machine. I didn't expect one. I was calling Merlotte's Bar. Finally, there was a click and a voice.
"Merlotte's, this is Sam," he said wearily.
"Sam, it's Sookie," I said. I paused so he could take that information in. Then I continued before he could ask questions. "Look, I'm at the site of the murders. Could you uh…come down here? I know this doesn't make a lotta sense, but I need your nose."
"Sookie, it's crazy down here. Why are you even out there?"
"I can't explain it." I shrugged. I couldn't. "I just had this feeling. Look, I'm still getting it now and I need to know if I'm just going crazy or if its real. Can you come now?" I wanted to sound urgent. I wasn't going to stick around until after dark, no matter how sketchy I felt.
"Fine. I'm leaving now." Good ol' Sam.
I got back into the car to wait for Sam, but the sensation…the whatever it was feeling…kept tugging at me. I didn't want to get out and trudge back into the woods, even though the sun wouldn't set for another couple of hours. There was definitely a safety issue, a Sookie gets lost in the woods near a crime scene issue. I wasn't going to risk it. I didn't want to risk it.
But here I was, getting out of the car. And here I was, walking back out into the woods. I stomped through the underbrush in my black sneakers and white socks. A branch of ivy caught on my shoelace and I hung back for a moment to untangle it. Was that just a coincidence? It had to be. The forest wasn't going to hold me back from an investigation, no matter how unnatural it seemed. Somewhere on the road, I could hear a car engine. I hoped Sam was out there. I heard barking. Yep, that was Sam.
"I'm back here!" I yelled, figuring he would understand that it was me, even if he no longer spoke English. I could hear movement in the foliage, a running animal that I prayed was Sam Merlotte, bartender and dog. A brown and white collie pulled up alongside my knees and I reached down to pet him. We shambled the rest of the way together.
There was something different this time, and I could really feel it. I knelt down at the edge of the police tape and closed my eyes. Sam snuck under the barrier and went to sniff around the actual crime scene. There was something, a presence, a feeling, and it lingered around the site like a fog. Sam whimpered, and I opened my eyes to see him sitting in front of me, his head down and his ears plastered against his skull.
"You feel it too," I said. Sam nudged my leg and I stood up. He wanted to get out of there. I wanted to stay. Reluctantly, I followed him out of the woods. But I kept looking over my shoulder.
Back on the roadside, Sam changed back into a man. I handed him his pants and he changed behind his car. I turned my eyes away by keeping them focused on the trees that I still wanted to walk back into. I needed to know more. When Sam was dressed, he walked over to me. His hand touched my hand.
"You felt it," I said to him without looking away from the trees.
"I felt it. I can't explain it, but I felt it."
"Maybe the killer wasn't human," I said thoughtfully.
"Maybe not. Look, whatever it was Sook, you have to stay out of there. It could come back."
"What if I can help though, Sam?" I mean, really, I had a gift didn't I? "What if I can get a sense of what happened out there?"
"How?" Sam asked me. I shook my head. No idea. "Just stay out, Sook. Let the police handle it, okay? We don't need you getting' hurt."
"Maybe," I said. I shut my eyes and fought the instinct to return to the woods for a third time. I knew if I just stood out there long enough, if I let that fog in, I could feel something more than a lingering presence. Maybe I could feel…or see… what had happened.
Sam waited until I was in my car, had started the engine, and pulled off onto the road before he got into his car. It was a huge effort on my part not to double back when he turned off the back road to Merlotte's. I drove home in a daze.