Home > Dracula Night

Dracula Night
Author: Charlaine Harris

I found the invitation in the mailbox at the end of my driveway. I had to lean out of my car window to open it, because I'd paused on my way to work after remembering I hadn't checked my mail in a couple of days. My mail was never interesting. I might get a flyer for Dollar General or Wal-Mart, or one of those ominous mass mailings about pre-need burial plots.

Today, after I'd sighted at my Entergy bill and my cable bill, I had a little treat: a handsome, heavy, buff-colored envelope that clearly contained some kind of invitation. It had been addressed by someone who'd not only taken a calligraphy class but passed the final with flying colors.

I got a little pocketknife out of my glove compartment and slit open the envelope with the care it deserved. I don't get a lot of invitations, and when I do, they're usually more Hallmark that watermark. This was something to be savored. I carefully pulled out the stiff, folded paper and opened it. Something fluttered into my lap: an enclosed sheet of tissue. Without absorbing the revealed words, I ran my finger over the embossing. Wow.

I'd strung out the preliminaries as long as I could. I bent to actually read the italic typeface.

Eric Northman

And the Staff of Fangtasia

Request the honor of your presence

At Fangtasia's annual party

To celebrate the birthday of

The Lord of Darkness

Prince Dracula

On January 13, 10:00 p.m.

Music provided by the Duke of Death

Dress Formal       RSVP

I read it twice. Then I read it again.

I drove to work in such a thoughtful mood that I'm glad there wasn't any other traffic on Hummingbird Road. I took the left to get to Merlotte's, but then I almost sailed right past the parking lot. At the last moment, I braked and turned in to navigate my way to the parking area behind the bar that was reserved for employees.

Sam Merlotte, my boss, was sitting behind his desk when I peeked in to put my purse in the deep drawer in his desk that he let the servers use. He had been running his hands over his hair again, because the tangled red gold halo was even wilder than usual. He looked up from his tax form and smiled at me.

"Sookie," he said, "how are you doing?"

"Good. Tax season, huh?" I made sure my white T-shirt was tucked in evenly so that the MERLOTTE'S embroidered over my left breast would be level. I flicked one of my long blond hairs off my black pants. I always bent over to brush my hair out-so my ponytail would look smooth. "You not taking them to the CPA this year?

"I figure if I start this early I can do them myself."

He said that every year, and he always ended up making an appointment with the CPA, who always had to file for an extension.

"Listen, did you get one of these?" I asked, extending the invitation.

He dropped his pen with some relief and took the sheet from my hand. After scanning the script, he said, "No. They wouldn't invite many shifters, anyway. Maybe the local packmaster, or some supe who'd done them a significant service... like you."

"I'm not supernatural," I said surprised. "I just have a... problem."

"Telepathy is a lot more than a problem," Sam said. "Acne is a problem. Shyness is a problem. Reading other people's minds is a gift."

"Or a curse," I said. I went around the desk to toss my purse in the drawer, and Sam stood up. I'm around five foot sex, and Sam tops me by maybe three inches. He's not a big guy, but he's much stronger than a plain human his size, since Sam's a shapeshifter.

"Are you going to go?" he asked. "Halloween and Dracula's birthday are the only holidays vampires observe, and I understand they can throw quite a party."

"I haven't made up my mind," I said. "When I'm on my break later, I might call Pam." Pam, Eric's second-in-command, was as close to a friend as I had among the vampires.

I reached her at Fangtasia pretty soon after the sun went down. "There really was a Count Dracula? I thought he was made up," I said after telling her I'd gotten the invitation.

"There really was," Pam said. "Vlad Tepes. He was a Wallachian king whose capital city was Targoviste, I think." Pam was quite matter-of-fact about the existence of a creature I'd thought was a joint creation of Bram Stroker and Hollywood. "Vlad III was more ferocious and bloodthirsty than any vampire, and this was when he was a live human. He enjoyed executing people by impaling them on huge wooden stakes. They might last for hours."

I shuddered. Ick.

"His own people regarded him with fear, of course. But the local vamps admired Vlad so much they actually brought him over when he was dying, thus ushering in the new era of the vampire. After monks buried him on an island called Snagov, he rose on the third night to become the first modern vampire. Up until then, the vampires were like... well, disgusting. Completely secret. Ragged, filthy, living in holes in cemeteries, like animals. But Vlad Dracul had been a ruler, and he wasn't going to dress in rags and live in a hole for any reason." Pam sounded proud.

I tried to imagine Eric wearing rags and living in a hole, but it was almost impossible. "So Stoker didn't just dream the whole thing up based on folktales?"

"Just parts of it. Obviously, he didn't know a lot about what Dracula, as he called him, really could or couldn't do, but he was so excited at meeting the prince that he made up a lot of details he though would give the story zing. It was just like Anne Rice meeting Louis: an early Interview with the Vampire. Dracula really wasn't too happy afterward that Stoker caught him at a weak moment, but he did enjoy the name recognition."

"But he won't actually be there, right? I mean vampires'll be celebrating this all over the world."

Pam said, very cautiously, "Some believe he shows up somewhere every year, makes a surprise appearance. That chance is remote, his appearance at our party would be like winning the lottery. Though some believe it could happen."

I heard Eric's voice in the background saying, "Pam, who are you talking to?"

"Okay," Pam said, the word sounding very American with her slight British accent. "Got to go, Sookie. See you there."

As I hung up on the office phone, Sam said, "Sookie, if you go to the party, please keep alert and on the watch. Sometimes vamps get carried away with the excitement on Dracula Night."

"Thanks, Sam," I said. "I'll sure be careful." No matter how many vamps you claimed as friends, you had to be alert. A few years ago the Japanese had invented a synthetic blood that satisfies the vampires' nutritional requirements, which has enabled the undead to come out of the shadows and take their place at the American table. British vampires had it pretty good, too, and most of the Western European vamps had fared pretty well after the Great Revelation (the day they'd announced their existence, through carefully chosen representatives). However, many South American vamps regretted stepping forward, and the bloodsuckers in the Muslim countries  -  well, there were mighty few left. Vampires in the inhospitable parts of the world were making efforts to immigrate to countries that tolerated them, with the result that our Congress was considering various bills to limit undead citizens from claiming political asylum. In consequence, we were experiencing an influx of vampires with all kinds of accents as they tried to enter America under the wire. Most of them came in through Louisiana, since it was notably friendly to the Cold Ones, as Fangbanger Xtreme called them.

It was more fun thinking about vampires than hearing the thoughts of my fellow citizens. Naturally, as I went from table to table, I was doing my job with a big smile, because I like good tips, bit I wasn't able to put my heart into it tonight. It had been a warm day for January, way into the fifties, and people's thoughts had turned to spring.

I try not to listen in, but I'm like a radio that picks up a lot of signals. Some days, I can control my reception a lot better than other days. Today I kept picking up snippets. Hoyt Fortenberry, my brother's best friend, was thinking about his mom's plan for Hoyt to put in about ten new rosebushes in her already extensive garden. Gloomy but obedient, he was trying to figure out how much time the task would take. Arlene, my longtime friend and another waitress, was wondering if she could get her latest boyfriend to pop the question, but that was pretty much a perennial thought for Arlene. Like the roses, it bloomed every season.

As I mopped up spills and hustled to get chicken strip baskets on the tables (the supper crowd was heavy that night), my own thoughts were centered on how to get a formal gown to wear to the party. Though I did have one ancient prom dress, handmade by my aunt Linda, it was hopelessly outdated. I'm twenty-six, but I didn't have any bridesmaid dresses that might serve. None of my few friends had gotten married except Arlene, who'd been wed so many times that she never even thought of bridesmaids. The few nice clothes I'd bought for vampire events always seemed to get ruined... some in very unpleasant ways.

Usually, I shopped at my friend Tara's store, but she wasn't open after six. So after I got off work, I drove to Monroe to Pecanland Mall. At Dillard's, I got lucky. To tell the truth, I was so pleased with the dress I might have gotten it even if it hadn't been on sale, but it had been marked down to twenty-five dollars from a hundred and fifty, surely a shopping triumph. It was rose pink, with a sequin top and a chiffon bottom, and it was strapless and simple. I'd wear my hair down, and my gran's pearl earrings, and some silver heels that were also on major sale.

That important item taken care of, I wrote a polite acceptance note and popped it in the mail. I was good to go.

Three nights later, I was knocking on the back door of Fangtasia, my garment bag held high.

"You're looking a bit informal," Pam said as she let me in.

"Didn't want to wrinkle the dress." I came in, making sure the bag didn't trail, and hightailed it for the bathroom.

There wasn't a lock on the bathroom door. Pam stood outside so I wouldn't be interrupted, and Eric's second-in-command smiled when I came out, a bundle of my more mundane clothes rolled under my arm.

"You look good, Sookie," Pam said. Pam herself had elected to wear a tuxedo made out of silver lame. She was a sight. My hair has some curl to it, but Pam's is a paler blond and very straight. We both have blue eyes, but hers are a lighter shade and rounder, and she doesn't blink much. "Eric will be very pleased."

I flushed. Eric and I have a History. But since he had amnesia when we created that history, he doesn't remember it. Pam does. "Like I care what he thinks," I said.

Pam smiled at me sideways. "Right," she said. "You are totally indifferent. So is he."

I tried to look like I was accepting her words on their surface level and not seeing through to the sarcasm. To my surprise, Pam gave me a light kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for coming," she said. "You may perk him up. He's been very hard to work for these past few days."

"Why? I asked, though I wasn't real sure I wanted to know.

"Have you ever seen It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?"

I stopped in my tracks. "Sure," I said. "Have you?"

"Oh, yes," Pam said calmly. "Many times." She gave me a minute to absorb that. "Eric is like that on Dracula Night. He thinks, every year, that this time Dracula will pick his party to attend. Eric fusses and plans; he frets and stews. He sent the invitations back to the printer twice so they were late going out. Now that the night is actually here, he's worked himself into a state."

"So this is a case of hero worship gone crazy?"

"You have such a way with words," Pam said admiringly. We were outside Eric's office, and we could both hear him bellowing inside.

"He's not happy with the new bartender. He thinks there are not enough bottles of blood the count is said to prefer, according to an interview in American Vampire."

I tried to imagine Vlad Tepes, impaler of so many of his own countrymen, chatting with a reporter. I sure wouldn't want to be the one holding the pad and pencil. "What brand would that be?" I scrambled to catch up with the conversation.

"The Prince of Darkness is said to prefer Royalty."

"Ew." Why was I not surprised?

Royalty was a very, very rare bottled blood. I'd thought the brand was only a rumor until now. Royalty consisted of part synthetic blood and part real blood  -  the blood of, you guessed it, people of title. Before you go thinking of enterprising vamps ambushing that cute Prince William, let me reassure you. There were plenty of minor royals in Europe who were glad to give blood for an astronomical sum.

"After a month's worth of phone calls, we managed to get two bottles." Pam was looking quite grim. "They cost more than we could afford. I've never known my maker to be other than business-wise, but this year Eric seems to be going overboard. Royalty doesn't keep forever, you know, with the real blood in it... and now he's worried that two bottles might not be enough. There is so much legend attached to Dracula, who can say what is true? He has heard that Dracula will only drink Royalty or... the real thing."

"Real blood? But that's illegal, unless you've got a willing donor."

Any vampire who took a human's blood  -  against the human's will  -  was liable to execution by stake or sunlight, according to the vamp's choice. The execution was usually carried out by another vamp, kept on retainer by the state. I personally thought any vampire who took an unwilling person's blood deserved the execution, because there were enough fangbangers around who were more than willing to donate.

"And no vampire is allowed to kill Dracula, or even strike him," Pam said, chiming right in on my thoughts. "Not that we'd want to strike our prince, of course," she added hastily.

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