Nautical Note: There is something disorienting when you are walking out into the waves from shore, the sand solid beneath your feet, and then suddenly you find a drop and your balance is thrown as you slide into the unknown trap of deep water.
The burner phone was ringing. After this conversation, Pam would destroy it and scatter the components – untraceable, just as she had done three times before. Letting the ring tone continue, she had scanned her desk for the daily report on bug sweeps. The report confirmed her office was all clear as of only a few hours ago. The choice of ringtone – the harsh sounds of the Psycho theme – had been purposeful. It was hard to miss and somehow seemed appropriate to the little troll. Certainly Ludwig’s personality fit the bill.
Pam had to purposely relax her grip. Although the need to breathe was long in Pam’s past, she found herself doing it anyway. It had a calming effect.
“Greetings deader. She’s speaking.”
Pam wasn’t sure what she had expected to hear when she answered the phone. No. That was a lie. She expected to hear that Sookie was dead. And it was at this moment that Pam was absolutely sure that she hadn’t been able to see the future any other way. She realized she had been anticipating the call; steeling herself for the conversation she would relay to Maude, Queen of Minnesota. From Maude the message would pass to Stan, King of Texas during one of their standing business discussions. Maude controlled an extensive silica sand mining operation. Stan had natural gas investments that required the sand. It was all very civilized. It also allowed messages to pass between clan areas with little interference or overt listening.
From Stan messages were passed through the thin network of spies to the ears of her maker in Oklahoma. She had prepared the message in her head so many times she could see the words in front of her eyes. “She is in the Summerlands.” And Eric would know.
But this was unexpected.
Pam could hear the doctor shift something on her side of the connection. “She responded to questions. She understood what I was asking. And she asked a question of her own. So no apparent brain injury. She’s out of the woods. You need to move her. “
And Pam found herself at a loss. “I will make arrangements.” She said the words but she really had no idea what arrangements she could make.
As if she could see the puzzled look on Pam’s face, Ludwig called her out. “You better have a plan. I can see about getting her mobile, but you know she can’t stay long. Your kind and others will come sniffing around here before long. I can’t endanger the other patients for her. I don’t care how much I like her.”
“Listen troll. I said I’d make arrangements. I will.” Pam touched her pearls again. Not for the first time she considered what an inconvenient person was Sookie Stackhouse.
Four weeks had passed since she had found Sookie. She had been shocked at the state of the house and even more shocked by Sookie’s condition. The smell had struck her; sour food, unwashed human and soiled linen. Sookie’s skin was sallow and she was so thin Pam could almost see the blood running through her veins. The guards had reported that the shifter had departed. Sightings of Sookie outside the house had been sporadic before Sam left. But after, there were no reports of seeing her outside or even moving around in the house. After a week, Pam had decided to see for herself.
She was surprised to find she could enter. She had assumed Sookie would have rescinded all invitations. The kitchen looked neglected. There was a plate in the dishrack. There were a couple condiments in the refrigerator and an open box of baking soda. But no food. Pam opened cabinet doors to see some cans. But there were no recent cooking smells.
There were signs of hasty packing. Things had been taken from shelves, but nothing had been adjusted to fill in the spaces. There was dust on all the furniture and even a fine coat of dust on the floor in the space behind the front door. Pam walked down the hall toward the bedroom she knew Sookie had started using. But the double bed was bare. The sheets had been removed and sat in a ball in the corner. There was a picture in a frame on the bedside table. It showed Sookie and her Grandmother smiling directly at the camera. They had their arms around each other. Pam saw another picture face down near the piled sheets. Broken glass lay around it. Pam carefully flipped over the frame to see Sookie and Eric. They were sitting together with their hands interlinked. They looked at each other and Eric was laughing – probably at something Sookie had said based on the look on her face.
Then Pam heard it. A soft moan – more like a breath. Pam went to the bedroom across the hall and found her. Sookie was wearing a dirty nightgown, buried under a blanket on a single bed. Her hair that had been the color of wheat and honey was dull and matted. Her eyes were sunken. She was staring blankly and her mouth hung open. Sookie was dying. Pam could smell it.
All Pam could think was that this would kill Eric. Pam couldn’t imagine what was wrong with her, but this was not like the girl who had walked away from their lives such a short time ago. That girl had been subdued, but determined to find a normal life. What had happened?
Pam picked up the phone and called Doctor Ludwig. Of course, the doctor had not picked up. Pam left her a message on her answering service, telling her this was an emergency.
The doctor had popped into the house almost immediately and walked to the bed to take a look at Sookie. “How long has this been going on?”
Pam shifted in her pumps. “I’m not sure. At least a week.”
Doctor Ludwig pinched Sookie’s fingers, looking at the way the blood returned to the ends of her digits. She pulled back her eyelids and peered in her ear. Then she licked the palm of her hand. “Well, she’s been working on this a lot longer than that. She’s starving herself. Painfully long way to commit suicide if you ask me. Looks like bonding illness, but we both know she’s not bonded anymore and it’s been too long for that to be a consideration.”
“Can you fix her?”
Dr Ludwig fixed Pam with a skeptical eye. “We also know she can’t be glamoured. Where’s her husband – the shifter. Not the dead one.”
Pam shook her head and huffed. “He’s left her. About a week ago. But he’s been cheating on her for a while now. Not coming home. He certainly didn’t let anyone know she was ill“
“Poor child.” Ludwig shook her head. “Was a wild card anyway. The shifter only married her to prove he could. Any fool could see that. Clearly didn’t think enough of her to get her the help she needed.” The doctor took the picture from Pam’s hand and looked at the image.
“Well, Pam. Are you going to let her finish the job? Might be a kindness. “
Pam looked at the photo in the doctor’s hands as it caught the light, making the smiles on the faces almost glow. “If Eric ever heard that she starved to death in her house he would never forgive me.” Pam looked out the bedroom window, catching sight of one of the guards that still patrolled the woods edge. Karin had fulfilled her obligation years ago and was visiting friends in Europe. While Pam had maintained a guard at Sookie’s house, perimeter of the patrol around the house had widened. Sam had protested having people not under his control watching Sookie and himself. He had managed to cancel the watchers during the day altogether. And Sookie had joined him, telling Pam that so much time had elapsed that there was really no need. But Pam had felt something she couldn’t quite put a finger on – something that didn’t sit well. So the guards had become more discrete, but had remained.
Pam took the photo from the doctor and laid it face down on the bed. “Truth is, I’m not sure I’d forgive myself. Sookie’s a good person. This whole thing was never fair. To either of them.”
Dr Ludwig peered at Pam closely through her thick glasses. “Well then, you should be prepared for a long haul. It won’t be easy. I can have her brought back to my hospital and I can try to force feed her. But if she can’t get this right in her head she’ll be right back here before long.”
Pam kept her gaze above the doctor’s head. She wished that her maker was here. She wished that she was not the one having to make these decisions. If she found a way to keep Sookie alive what would lie ahead? Sookie and Eric would never be together again. Sookie wouldn’t agree to be turned, so Sookie would die before Eric’s marriage contract expired. But how would she ever explain this to Eric? Allowing Sookie to die this way was not an option. “Well don’t just stand there giving me the stink eye. You have something in mind. What is it?”
Doctor Ludwig looked at her hands. “There is a place in Connecticut. It’s in the hills. There is a person there who specializes in these kinds of cases. Supes who have lost their bonded mates. Post-traumatic stress disorder following torture. Complex grief. She has had some success. It’s expensive. And you don’t get a space unless you have someone pretty well placed sponsor you in. Because the ones that are taken in are usually in some danger. The woman who runs the place won’t take someone unless she knows they have safe harbor when she releases them. Under the circumstances, I don’t know who would vouch for Sookie. Sure won’t be that asshole out of Nevada or his prize Oklahoma bitch. Know any kings or queens who would offer her a home for the rest of her life?“
Pam gazed at the doctor without really seeing. There was much to consider. Sookie was a lot of trouble. She really couldn’t think of anyone off the top of her head that would go out on a limb for the telepath. Especially if the King of Nevada was likely to be cutting that limb right off.
Ludwig sighed. “Look, it’s possible that she won’t need a sponsor. Since she is who she is – Rhodes and all – maybe they will make an exception.”
“Do you really think that’s at the heart of this?” Pam looked pointedly at the photo one more time. “After all, Sookie is the one who walked away. She used the cluvier dor for Sam. She let Eric walk into that travesty of a marriage.”
Doctor Ludwig looked at the vampire. “Deader, you and I both know that those two were meant to be together. Neither one of them will ever be right without the other.” She took her bag. “Now don’t insult my intelligence anymore. Either end her now or call my office and tell them to arrange transport to my hospital. We will need to treat her first. If she survives, I will make inquiries about having her admitted to Sanctum.” The doctor returned to the bedroom. She placed her hand briefly on Sookie’s forehead.
“She has always been worth ten of any creature. I can’t understand how you could have been so careless about her future.” Ludwig grabbed her bag and turned, meeting Pam’s eyes. Her expression was all business. “Expect my bill.” And she was gone.
The ambulance crew had arrived quickly. Pam thought how like a mummy Sookie looked; all bones and skin stretched over collar bones and hips.
The first report Pam had received from the hospital had not been promising. They had almost lost her in the first few days. Although they had been cautious, starting her with glucose water and milk, Sookie had developed an irregular heartbeat. Refeeding syndrome, they’d called it. Sookie had hovered in and out of consciousness for 24 hours. Then, miraculously, she had recovered.
The second report showed some improvement. Sookie was slowly being introduced to solid foods. There had been some concern that she would reject eating once she was more aware of her surroundings. But instead, Sookie had become complaisant – but without any sentience. She would respond to sounds or light by turning her head or blinking her eyes. She allowed herself to be fed. She could sit up for clothing or cleaning. But it was as though her mind was gone. She didn’t respond to people. She didn’t speak. Her eyes would open and she would stare at the ceiling or towards a window. When the room was dark, she would eventually close her eyes and sleep. But there was no other indication that she was aware. Other than the screaming when she slept at night.
The improvement had been enough for Ludwig to send feelers to the facility in Connecticut. But Sookie had been turned down. The correspondence stated that although the telepath’s actions at Rhodes had been extraordinary, they had occurred some time in the past. Most recently she had shown a clear preference for her human life and no consideration for supernatural options. Even were one of the coveted beds to be set aside for her, there was no reason to believe that Ms Stackhouse would appreciate the hours and resources that would be spent. It was also likely that without formal protection upon release, she could only look forward to becoming a tempting target for any passing procurer. It was likely, based on her history that Ms Stackhouse would either resist or offer no defense. In either event, her death was deemed almost inevitable. Under the circumstances she was not considered a candidate at this time.
In her third report to Pam, Ludwig concluded that Sookie had recovered enough strength to survive transport. Dr Ludwig warned that Sookie still suffered from an irregular heartbeat. Most days her pulse was difficult to detect from anywhere but her groin. Most concerning, she had still not demonstrated that she was not irreparably damaged. Of course, there had been brain scans. But Sookie’s scans were markedly different from anyone else. Without Barry, there was no comparable baseline, so Ludwig could not say for certain whether Sookie’s condition would ever improve. Pam had convinced Ludwig to let Sookie stay at her facility for one more week.
And now, Pam would need to find a solution. Where to place Sookie? As she found herself reflecting on the most current events, Pam found herself becoming angry. Angry with Sookie. Angry with Eric. Angry with the politics and circumstances that had led to this place.
She decided that she needed to see the telepath.
Pam arrived at the warehouse that hid Dr. Ludwig’s hospital on the day Sookie was to be taken to the gardens outside for the first time. She found herself facing Sookie being wheeled down the hallway. Pam reflected sourly that her timing was, as always, perfect.
Sookie looked different. Of course, she had to look different from the last time Pam had seen her. For one thing Sookie was clean. Her cheekbones were still sharp in her face. Although she was wrapped in blankets and a thick robe, Pam could see how painfully thin her wrists looked; like bird bones held together with thin, pale skin.
But it was her eyes that were most arresting. Those blue eyes that had laughed and flirted and sparked with anger were now vacant. They stared at her; through her from sunken sockets. The area below each eye almost looked bruised, so dark were the shadows beneath them.
Dr Ludwig bustled over. She stood beside Pam, not making eye contact. “Come to take a look at your handiwork? Got someone who’s looking for a report?”
Pam was shocked. “No. No one is asking after her. She is finally being left alone, just like she always wanted.”
Dr. Ludwig’s eyes examined Pam even more sharply, and then just as suddenly softened. “Well I guess it’s a good thing you’re wrong as usual. She isn’t really alone, is she Ms. Ravenscroft? Good thing you decided to check up on her.”
Pam was surprised. But even more surprised to see the red drops on her blouse. Pam Ravenscroft never cried. But that day was different.