Ranjiith asks: Why do we say something is as dead as a doornail? I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Door nails were long used to strengthen the door. The person building or installing the door would hammer the nail all the way through the boards.
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As I drove to the remote crossroads community of Hotshot, my brother watched the sunset in silence. Jason was dressed in old clothes, and he had a plastic Wal-Mart bag containing a few things he might need - toothbrush, clean underwear. He hunched inside his bulky camo jacket, looking straight ahead. His face was tense with the need to control his fear and his excitement. But Jason just nodded instead of snapping at me. It was still afternoon, but at the end of January the dark comes early.
Tonight would be the first full moon of the New Year. When I stopped the car, Jason turned to look at me, and even in the dim light I saw the change in his eyes. They were yellowish. The shape of them had changed. Tiny Hotshot was silent and still in the waning light.
A cold wind was blowing across the bare fields, and the pines and oaks were shivering in the gusts of frigid air. Only one man was visible. He was standing outside one of the little houses, the one that was freshly painted. I rolled it down. Behind him, Jason stood with his back to me. The air around my brother had a peculiar quality; it seemed to be vibrating. Calvin, a werepanther, had been born what he was; it was his nature. I made myself say, "Thank you. His truck is at my place.
Have a good night. So I did. Jason knocked on my door at seven the next morning. His face was bruised, and his hands were covered with scratches. He just stared at me when I asked him how he was, and walked past me through the living room and down the hall.
He closed the door to the hall bathroom with a decisive click. I heard the water running after a second, and I heaved a weary sigh all to myself. He sat down at the old kitchen table with an air of pleasure: a man doing a familiar and pleasant thing. But after a second of staring down at the plate, he leaped to his feet and ran back into the bathroom, kicking the door shut behind him. I listened to him throw up, over and over. After a moment, I went back to the kitchen to dump the food into the trash can, ashamed of the waste but utterly unable to force myself to eat.
When Jason returned, he said only, "Coffee? I poured the coffee into a mug. He nodded, cradling his coffee mug in his hands. He held his face over the steam rising from the hot, strong blackness. He met my eyes. His own were once again their ordinary blue. You feel the magic inside you, and you feel your bones moving around and adapting, and your vision changes. You can chase. I would just as soon not know that part, anyway. He was going to be okay.
If he married a regular human woman, their kids would be normal. At least, they would after puberty; that would give them, and their auntie Sook, some preparation time.
But I had to work tonight. As soon as Jason left in his flashy pickup truck, I crawled back into bed, jeans and all, and in about five minutes I was fast asleep. The relief acted as a kind of sedative. The sun outside was bright and clear, and the temperature was fifty-two, said my indoor-outdoor thermometer.
The temperature would drop after the sun went down, and Jason would shift. The woods around Hotshot, which lay in a remote corner of Renard Parish, would be dangerous again tonight. I wondered if the shifters would kill a human being if they came upon one in the woods. I wondered how much of their human consciousness they retained in their animal form. If they mated in panther form, would they have a kitten or a baby?
What happened when a pregnant werepanther saw the full moon? I wondered if Jason knew the answer to all these questions yet, if Calvin had given him some kind of briefing. The full moon symbol on my calendar no longer seemed to be a period marking the end of something, but just another way of counting time.
As I pulled on my waitress outfit black pants and a white boat-neck T-shirt and black Reeboks , I felt almost g iddy with cheer. For once, I left my hair down instead of pulling it back and up into a ponytail. I put in some bright red dot earrings and matched my lipstick to the color.
A little eye makeup and some blush, and I was good to go. Though it was barely dark, there might be some early risers around. The Japanese had just been trying to make a few bucks hawking the blood substitute to ambulance companies and hospital emergency rooms.
Instead, the way we looked at the world had changed forever. Speaking of vampires if only to myself , I wondered if Bill Compton was home. Vampire Bill had been my first love, and he lived right across the cemetery from me. Our houses lay on a parish road outside the little town of Bon Temps and south of the bar where I worked.
Lately, Bill had been traveling a lot. He preferred TrueBlood, the most expensive Japanese synthetic. Sometimes I missed Bill an awful lot. I gave myself a mental shake. Snapping out of a slump, that was what today was all about. No more worry! No more fear!
Free and twenty-six! House paid for! Money in the bank! These were all good, positive things. The parking lot was full when I got to the bar. Not that the kitchen produced anything but the most basic stuff: hamburgers, chicken strips, fries and onion rings, salads in the summer and chili in the winter. She showed up on time, did her job well, and never gave the rest of the staff any trouble. Really, that was all you could ask for.
I walked into a wall of noise and cigarette smoke that made it seem like I was passing into another universe. I put a smile on my face and stepped behind the bar to give Sam a pat on the arm. After he expertly filled a glass with beer and slid it to a patron, he put another glass under the tap and began the process all over again.
But we had to be roundabout in our speech; vampires had gone public, but shape-shifters and Weres were still cloaked in secrecy. The underground world of supernatural beings was waiting to see how vampires fared before they followed the vampire example by going public. Sam is in his thirties - at least, I think he is - and he has reddish gold hair that halos his head. Most often, Sam turns into a very cute collie with a gorgeous coat.
Sometimes he comes over to my place and I let him sleep on the rug in the living room. Sam was happy because I was happy. He had that faraway look in his eyes, the look that said he was mentally running through the woods, tracking possums.
Sam was getting antsy. The door to the kitchen was just outside the bar area at the west end, and I stuck my head in the door to say hi to Sweetie. Sweetie was bony and brunette and fortyish, and she wore a lot of makeup for someone who was going to be out of sight in the kitchen all evening. The teenager who assisted her and bussed tables was terrified of Sweetie, and he took care to dodge her as she moved from griddle to fryer.
This teenage boy got the plates ready, made the salads, and went to the window to tell the barmaids which order was up. Out on the floor, Holly Cleary and her best friend, Danielle, were working hard. Danielle worked the smoking section to the west, Holly usually worked the middle area in front of the bar, and I worked the east when three of us were on duty.
She gave me a quick smile and turned back to the griddle. The cowed teenager, whose name I had yet to catch, gave me a ducked-head nod and went back to loading the dishwasher.
Dead as a Doornail
Then Sam is shot in the leg and is therefore unable to run the bar. He asks Sookie to go to Fangtasia to ask Eric to lend him a bartender while he is out. Eric sends their new bartender, Charles Twining. Calvin Norris is also shot and seriously wounded, and Sookie learns that other shifters and were-animals are being shot throughout Louisiana. Calvin suspects Jason, based on the theory that Jason is angry at weres for turning him into a werepanther. Known for dispensing their own kind of justice, the real shooter needs to be found before the werepanthers turn on Jason.
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