Chapter 1 – Alone + Easy Target
I’ve been here for years. Trying to survive, trying to make sense of my situation, and failing miserably. The medication didn’t help; it just dampened the strong part of my mind that can block out the crazy thoughts from the nut jobs I’m living with. I cheek them whenever I can get away with it, it’s not the doctor’s fault, they really are convinced I’m just hearing voices not reading minds. Letting them think that makes my life easier. I walk through the community room to my balcony, of course it was all fenced in so no-one would throw themselves off it, but it was a sanctuary. The only reason I started smoking was so I could come out here on my own, that and I was hoping the poison from the cigarettes would seep into my system and shorten my time locked up in this facility.
I can hear Gran shouting that they shouldn’t do this to their daughter, their little girl. My parents think I’ll be safer where the doctors and psychiatrists can keep a close eye on me. We drive away and their thoughts of guilt make fat tears slide down my cheeks. I watch my Gran and brother Jason through the window as we go, they’re crying too. Jason always felt he had to protect me, stand up for me, and Gran had too, but Mom and Dad had the final say and they didn’t want to make excuses for my behaviour any longer – they wanted a perfect little girl, not a sullen, introverted 16 year old who couldn’t stand to be in the same room as anyone else and screamed ‘shut up’ to no-one in particular even when they weren’t saying anything.
Dr. Fletcher had diagnosed schizophrenia and they took him at his word, booking me a room in casa de Looney, otherwise known as Valmont Mental Hospital. I would stay there until the doctors thought I could be ‘stabilised’ through medication
The drive from Bon Temps to New Orleans was silent, to my parents at least, with few rest stops. I was thankful when we pulled up at the hospital, my suitcase in hand; I was ushered towards my doctor. With one glance back at them, I smiled weakly. If I’d known it would be the last time I saw them I’d have made more of an effort to let them know I didn’t blame them.
I didn’t like remembering how I got here, I tried to convince myself that I’d always been here, that I’d never even had parents. It was impossible when Gran and Jason visited me of course, but when they came and sat with me I felt loved at least, even if I know their lives were easier without me in them. I know Gran wanted me to come home and even Jason did to an extent, but the doctors were concerned about my ‘episodes’. The times when I heard the thoughts of the seriously disturbed and couldn’t handle it, I had curled into a ball on the floor crying.
I was in a better place now; the section I was in was for young women with mild problems. Very minimal security. When I first came here 9 years ago I was in maximum security for my screaming sessions, they had to strap me down a few times and then I was on suicide watch, you would want to top yourself if you heard the every thought of the sick psychopaths in the rooms next to mine. I survived, I realised the meds made me worse and took action. Once I was blocking them out and spent most of my time calm and in control I was moved to where I am now. I’ve got another review in two months and I think I might be allowed a home visit after it to see how I manage a weekend back in Bon Temps.
I have friends here, those girls whose minds are quieter or less complex, the conversation isn’t up to much but we share time and its easy company. Valerie had Body Dysmorphic Disorder and was prone to self-harm and Lindsay had PTSD from a gang rape when she was 12. We were a happy group as you can imagine. Much of our time was spent watching TV, it gave us something to talk about, well it did until the maximum security wing across from our communal area was closed then re-assigned.
A couple of years ago vampires came out of the woodwork, it was a shock but it cleared a whole lot of rooms in the hospital as all the folks who were admitted for delusions about fanged men and women were released. The vampire community noted the disused wing at the hospital and funded it’s regeneration to accommodate members of their community who were injured in attacks by right-wing groups and drainers. Apparently attacks of that description went up 600% after their announcement and their leader in New Orleans didn’t have space for them in her facility. I’d heard a lot about her, Sophie-Ann LeClerc; she was quite the attraction in the Big Easy and was usually in the papers a couple of times a week.
Autumn was coming to a close and the colder, darker nights were making my evening smoke quite entertaining. I was able to watch the vampires coming and going in and out of the building from the balcony, it was scary at times when a severely injured and awake vampire went in, the noises were almost unbearable. The visitors were nicer, checking up on their vampire buddies with their lovely outfits and elegant movements, they all looked so mysterious!
I stubbed out my cigarette and watched two female vampires walking towards the ‘Vamp-itarium’ as I called it. It was Sophie-Ann, I’d seen her picture many times but I was more intrigued by her companion. I hadn’t seen her since well before I’d been shipped out of Bon Temps; last we’d heard she was chasing the dragon. I pressed myself closer to the rail and hooked my fingers through the bars
“Hadley?” I hadn’t shouted but it was louder than I’d spoken for a long time, not loud enough for her to hear surely? It must have been, she looked up at me, confused and startled
“Sookie? Is that you?”
I nodded but suddenly felt… ashamed? Hadley, my cousin, had been lambasted for her drug habit back home but here she was looking great, a little glowy and pale with some major Goth thing going on but great nonetheless and I was worn and tired, wearing sweats and looking as crazy as the doctors thought I was. It would have been nicer to meet her after I’d gotten better, and had nicer clothes and more sleep. I drew back from the balcony and retreated out of her sight, I didn’t mind Gran and Jason seeing me like this but somehow other people knowing where I was and what was wrong just humiliated me.
Everyone had their own spot in the community room, mines was on a sofa in front of the TV with my knees drawn up to my chest and my arms hugging them. I felt it was the best position to retreat into my own mental hide-away, building my wall to stop other people’s brains from distracting me. I heard a little commotion down the corridor, probably Jodie trying to blow one of the orderlies again in the hope they’ll let her out so she can score. Grant, my favourite orderly (well, he didn’t think of using the bed restraints and raping me, so that made him my favourite) came up and looked down at me, he had a far away expression and his eyes were kind of misty
“Sookie, you’ve got a visitor”
“But, it’s night; we don’t get visits at night. Who is it?”
“A friend, come with me.”
I stood and followed him, the other inmates, sorry patients, watched closely and with a considerable amount of jealousy. I was taken to the private visit room, that was usually where doctors got together with the patient and their family to discuss things, on the sofa inside were Hadley and Sophie-Ann. I turned to ask Grant why he’d let them in when they weren’t on my approved visitor list but he was already out of the room and had closed the door. I sat across from them, they were so beautiful, I didn’t know what else to do so I started to cry.
“Oh Sookie! Why are you in here?”
“The doctor says I’ve got schizophrenia, Mom and Dad took me to him because of the voices.”
“But you hear people, they’re not just random voices, we all know that! How could they put you in here?”
“Doesn’t matter, they’re dead now, they got caught on a bridge during a flash flood on the way home from leaving me here.”
“Oh my god!” Hadley sat next to me and stroked a hand down my hair, it was so peaceful. So quiet. Wait … I couldn’t hear anything, nothing, I disassembled my walls brick by brick and still nothing.
“Sookie? Are you okay?”
“I can’t hear you.”
“ARE YOU OKAY SOOKIE?”
“No, no Hadley. I mean I can’t hear you” I tapped my forehead and looked at Sophie-Ann “I can’t hear you either, there’s just emptiness, a void.”
They both looked at me, then at each other. Sophie-Ann looked … pleased? Triumphant? It was so difficult to tell when you didn’t have their thoughts to back it up. I wasn’t sure whether to be excited about this revelation or be scared of it, I’d never talked about actually hearing thoughts since they brought me here, it was dangerous, if one of the staff overheard they’d lock me up good and tight for the rest of my life. Sophie-Ann leaned forward, making sure she had my full attention
“You seem afraid child. You have nothing to fear from us, I assure you.”
“It’s not you ma’am, I can’t talk about ‘hearing’ people, they’ll keep me here forever if I do and I’m so close to being allowed home for a weekend, I don’t want to ruin it” I started crying again, I didn’t make a habit of crying in front of others, I made sure everyone was always asleep before I let my tears roll.
“You hear everyone else? Humans?”
“Most everyone else, some people are fuzzy, snarly, but others come in a little too loud and clear, it’s amplified when I touch someone. The meds they put me on make it hard to block them out so I’ve only been pretending to take them the last few months, I’m a good patient so they don’t watch me too closely.”
“Perhaps I should speak with this Doctor who diagnosed you, surely he realises that if vampires exist there could be many other beings out there with … quirks … I would very much like to see you use your mind reading ability. It fascinates me.”
“Uh … thanks? But I don’t see why you would want to help me.”
“Other than you being related to my Hadley” she looked at my cousin lovingly “I believe that having a telepath would be most useful, you see we could know who was thinking of attacking my kind before they had the chance to do it!”
“So … I could … help people?”
“Indeed you could Sookie! If we’d known we had humans thinking of attacking us, the building next door would not be as full.”
I was very apprehensive about helping vampires, I’d read an article about people who wanted to work for vampires so they could have sex with them and be bitten, I didn’t want that! I was still a virgin, not much scope for relationships in the nut house, and I liked all of my blood being in my body thank you very much! But I was so alone here, tired of people telling me I was sick in the head when I wasn’t, there was no doubt that this vampire propositioning me knew I was an easy target.
“Would it be like … a job? Would I get paid for helping out?”
“Of course!” Sophie-Ann laughed “In fact I have more respect for you since you’ve asked about that! You really would deserve to be in here if you agreed to help vampires without asking for something in return!” They stood and Hadley opened the door “What is your Doctor’s name?”
“Dr. Fletcher diagnosed me but it’s Dr. Jacobs that prescribes my meds and does my therapy sessions.”
“Very well, you will be hearing from them soon to have your ability tested, and hopefully you will be undiagnosed and able to leave this … place.” She said ‘place’ like you would usually say ‘dogshit’, then they turned and left without a goodbye. I bypassed going back to the communal area and went to my room to sleep and digest what had just happened.
I woke up when I heard the hum, click of the locks being disengaged, between the hours of 8am and 9.55pm we were free to roam around our corner of the facility but everyone had to be back in their room by 10pm to be locked in. I didn’t have a roommate, out of the eight rooms on our floor, only 3 were shared. I got up, grabbed my clothes, toiletry bag and towel and shuffled along to the shower room. Once I was clean and dressed, I decided to see what offerings were available for breakfast.
The usual rubber-egg omelette, cold toast, too-crispy bacon and gelatinous oatmeal – yum!
After breakfast it was med time, Rosemary (thinks we’re all trailer trash whores) had the clipboard to tick off everyone’s names, Tyler (usually had rape fantasies about the bed restraints) brought round the tray with the little cups of colourful forgetfulness and Carl (fantasised about throwing his Mother-In-Law into the vamp-itarium) had the paper cups and water jug. I silently waited for my turn but it never came
“Uh … Rosemary? Did you miss me out?”
“No” her answer was clipped and cold “You’re off the meds until your review tonight at 8pm, Dr. Jacobs left a note for me.”
“Oh. Okay then.”
I wondered how my vampire visitors could have gotten Dr. Jacobs to see me so soon; it was usually about a two week wait to see him for an unscheduled review. Although if Sophie-Ann is the leader of the New Orleans vampires, she must have a heck of a lot of clout, maybe my Doctors have been convinced to review me, the same way Grant was convinced to let them visit me last night. Either way, I shouldn’t question and I shouldn’t complain, if all goes well I’ll be out of here, have a paper trail that says I’m perfectly sane and a job into the bargain!
My day passes much like any other on the face of things, but inside I’m in knots. What if it all goes wrong? What if they don’t believe I’m a telepath and think I’m a bigger Looney than before? I check the time and note that Valerie and Lindsay are already in front of the TV for ‘Days of Our Lives’, it sucked but we could stretch out 45 minutes of chat about each episode when it was done. Soon it was supper time, I went outside for my evening smoke afterwards and watched the vampires come and go. As I was stepping back through the door Dr. Fletcher was coming down the corridor looking right at me
“Miss. Stackhouse, could you come with me please” I nodded, he had a typical doctor voice, smooth as honey, the kind of voice that soothes, I wondered if they taught that in Med school. I followed him out of our enclosed world, down several corridors which all looked exactly the same, until we entered a conference room. I wasn’t surprised to see Dr. Jacobs or Sophie-Ann and Hadley, but I was surprised that Gran and Jason were there, along with a rotund man who tall as well as wide. I was hugged by my human family, the two vampires nodded and tall and wide shook my hand, introducing himself as Mr. Cataliades (emphasis on the tal and e parts) Sophie-Ann’s lawyer.
We played games for a little while, the doctors would think of a word, number or colour and write it down and I had to confirm what they had thought of (I scored 30 out of 30), they tried 20 question with me too (I got all 15 answers on the first question) but it was when I described a photograph of Dr. Fletchers Mother down to the details on the dress and the chips in the fence paint that they were really convinced. Both doctors asked me why I’d hidden it from them for almost 10 years, Gran, Jason and me all gave them an ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look.
Sophie-Ann was convinced and very excited, demanding Mr. Cataliades dig the employment contracts out of his briefcase right away, I’d have said she was almost giddy. Gran helped me look over the paperwork, it all seemed quite fair. I would be reading any human staff and visitors at the vampire headquarters; I would accompany Sophie-Ann to functions and would travel with Sophie-Ann on any out of state business to ensure any humans in her immediate vicinity meant no harm to her or her retinue. I would also be expected to visit other areas of the state of Louisiana to read human staff of more prominent vampire businesses. In exchange I would receive a very substantial salary, with a clothing allowance for functions and business wear and my own suite in the vampire compound. I would also have a driver at my disposal all hours and more importantly I could refuse to be a blood donor for the vampires at the compound without reprisal.
“This looks great but I’d like to know if I’d be able to go home and visit my family at any point?”
“Well” the lawyer looked like he didn’t want to tell me this “You won’t have time the first 3 to 4 weeks, not only will you have the human staff to read but we would like you to use your free time to train your mind. To learn to focus and build stronger shields.”
Sophie-Ann walked around the table and put her cold hand on top of mine.
“Sookie, we know that your fellow townspeople have a low opinion of you” Gran, Hadley and Jason all nodded “we wouldn’t want to send you back there unprepared, we want you at your strongest so you don’t have to deal with any small town thoughts they might have about you. If you go home too early, you may break down. It’s for the best.” She smiled at me, then the lawyer cleared his throat
“As soon as you’re mentally prepared you can go home anytime you like, if you have 2 or 3 days without plans you could stay with your Grandmother or Brother in Bon Temps. But we would like your main residence to be in New Orleans.”
I thought about it, they had a very good point. Of course they would want me to train my brain and be strong and not put myself in situations where my delicate psyche could be overwhelmed. What good is a Telepath if her mind is frazzled?
“Okay, where do I sign?” Smiles all round, even Gran and Jason. The doctors told me they’d get my release paper work organised and I could leave the next day. I made a point of asking if Lindsay could get my room, she was sharing with Kyra who had promiscuity and appropriation problems, she didn’t need to hear how much sex Kyra had had with all that she’d been through.
After breakfast the next day, Dr. Jacobs came round to look over my discharge papers and told me that a car would be coming to take me to my new home around lunchtime, so that gave me a few hours to pack up my meagre wardrobe and few knick knacks I had in my room. I said goodbye to everyone, spending longer with Valerie and Lindsay, Linds was very happy to be getting her own room away from Kyra. Despite what passed as friendships in Valmont, I was happier than a pig in shit to be getting out of there and away from those crazy girls.
Dr. Jacobs waited at the reception desk with me until my driver came in and took my bags, loading them in a trunk of a town car; he then held open the door for me to slide in the back seat. It was a short journey to the vampire compound and the driver was one of those fuzzy, snarly brained people, we didn’t talk, I was too nervous. We came to a large gated driveway in the French Quarter and were waved through by some very large guards. The car stopped and the driver got out and opened my door for me, I could get used to this! I walked up a few steps and before I could knock the large front door was swung wide. The lady who opened the door was wearing an old fashioned black and white maid’s outfit with a badge that told me her name was Miriam and a brain that wasn’t giving anything away
“Welcome to the residence of Sophie-Ann LeClerq, we’ve been expecting you Miss. Stackhouse.”
“Umm … thank you but please call me Sookie”
“I don’t think so” geez what crawled up her ass and died? “Follow me and I’ll show you to your room, a guide has been assigned to you, he will come to your room after sundown to inform you of protocols and behaviours within the compound.”
“Uh … okay. Let me get my bags.” I turned but a young man already had them in his hands, his name is Paul
“Already taken care of Miss. Stackhouse!” Hmph! He seems eager, loud broadcaster too, his mind is like Swiss cheese, his thoughts are so random and disjointed, I don’t know how he can even function! It’s like big sections of his mind have been removed or scored out with a heavy pen.
I’m led up the most opulent staircase I’ve ever walked on to a corridor lined with French doors along both sides. The forth door on the right is unlocked and Miriam holds out the key for me to take. I pluck it out of her bony fingers and thank her for her time, of which she wastes no more of on little old me. Paul places my bags on the bed and smiles as I thank him for his time also, I like that he’s gracious, manners are important to me.
Closing the door behind them, I start to unpack the arrangement of sweats, jeans, t-shirts and underwear that I own. There’s no way my current clothes are going to cut it in this place, I wondered if they’d give me an advance on my salary to buy some new clothes, my guide would tell me I guess. I also wondered who my guide would be; Miriam said he would come after sunset so it’s more than likely that it’s a male vampire. I place my shampoo and shower gel in my private bathroom and then I realise … I have a private bathroom!!! I don’t have to have a communal shower anymore and I can go out and buy a razor so I can shave too, in the hospital we had to de-fuzz under the watchful glare of a female orderly! I get a burst of excitement and jump onto the bed, bouncing up and down with glee. It’s good to be a telepath!