The next morning I woke up to the usual sound of birds chirping in the trees out back. I sat up in bed and took note of the sunshine. It was a pretty day. Not a cloud in the sky for as far as the eye could see. It was a perfect day for laying out on the lawn.
I got out of bed and went to my dresser for a tiny orange and red bikini. It was unusual to not smell coffee brewed downstairs or hear Gran’s radio on in the kitchen, but some mornings she went straight to iced tea. It was a warm morning so it was possible she chose to skip the hot coffee.
In the bathroom I brushed my teeth and swept my hair up into a knot on top of my head. I went through my usual morning routine before I got the bikini on and headed down to the first floor. Still I didn’t hear the radio and the TV wasn’t on either, not that Gran watched much television. In the evening she watched the news, Wheel of Fortune and maybe a movie on TCM or PBS, but that was usually about it. Every now and then she might check out what was on VTV – the vampire network – to watch Nan Flanagan verbally spar with Steve Newlin.
That pompous little prick needed Jesus.
Ironic, considering the relationship he proclaimed to have with the Heavenly Father.
And Sarah was right; he had bad hair.
I was loathe to admit I agreed with either of them about anything but I could agree with Sarah on that one point.
“Gran?” I called out as I made my way to the kitchen.
The house was so quiet I could have heard a pin drop.
That wasn’t normal.
“Gran?” I called a little louder.
There was no note on the kitchen table or on the fridge. Nothing scribbled down on the pad by the phone to suggest she was visiting someone else in the hospital or had to pick up supplies for the garden club.
I told myself not to get nervous, that she had probably just run into town to go to the post office or the bank. No need to panic. My gut, however, told me something wasn’t right.
Gran wasn’t home the night before when I got back from Fangtasia and that was unusual, considering where she had been going in the evening. Just to be sure, I stuck my head out the back door to look for her car. No such luck. My little beater was back there but Gran’s moderately newer Buick was missing. I ran through the house to Gran’s bedroom.
I knocked on the door and called out again.
“Gran, are you in there?”
I opened the door and found the bed was made and the curtains were open as they should be if Gran was up for the day. I checked the bathroom and just for the hell of it, I looked in the closet. There was nothing strange.
Where in the heck was she?
My next move was to check the yard. It was possible Gran was out back checking on her new garden babies to make sure they had enough water. I knew that the gardener had been impressed with Gran’s knowledge of plants. She was no professional, but she enjoyed taking care of all living things.
Except mosquitoes, the state bird.
“Gran!” I hollered from the mud porch. She wasn’t switching laundry out. Nothing was hanging on the line. I didn’t see the shed open, nor did I find her little cushion for weeding to protect her knees a bit.
“Gran!” I yelled even louder and got no response.
Don’t panic, Sookie. Call Jason and check in with him. Maybe Gran went there to make him some home cooked meals or to make sure he’s doing okay.
I went back to the kitchen and dialed Jason’s cell number on the old rotary phone mounted on the wall. It was no surprise when he didn’t answer me.
“Jason, it’s Sookie. I’m sure I’m worried about nothing but usually Gran lets me know what she’s up to and I haven’t seen her or heard from her since yesterday afternoon, so I’m hoping you’ve talked to her since then. Call me back when you get this okay? Love you.”
I wanted Jason to call me back and tell me I was just being paranoid, that I was worried for nothing. One of my greatest fears was coming down in the morning and finding out Gran had passed on in the night. It was something I didn’t want to even think about, even though I knew I was going to lose her someday. Her death was inevitable and probably coming sooner than I wanted it to. For her age, Gran was in pretty good health. Her doctor had put her on a low sodium diet that Gran tried her best to stick to. She got exercise with all of the chores she did and the regular activities she was a part of.
Gran may have been older from a chronological standpoint, but she had remained young at heart. She was heavily involved with her garden club and The Descendants of the Glorious Dead. It never occurred to Gran to just kick back and wait for the Lord to call her Home.
Minutes ticked by as I paced around the house, anxiously waiting for the phone to ring or for Gran’s car to come up the driveway. Her Buick wasn’t in much shape better than my hatchback, but it barely had 90,000 miles on it. Really it wasn’t bad considering the car was at least eighteen-years-old.
I called Jason a second time an hour later. He didn’t pick up so I left a second, more urgent message. When another hour passed with no word from him or Gran, I decided it was time to go look around. It wasn’t panicking, I told myself. No, I was just being thorough. Panicking would be if Gran said she’d be home at ten and I was organizing a search party at ten-oh-two.
It just wasn’t like her not to leave a note or tell me where she was going, particularly since she hadn’t been home the night before. Gran never just didn’t come home.
All sorts of possibilities raced through my head. None of them were good.
I cast my mental nets out as far as I could. I knew from experience that I couldn’t detect Bill during daylight hours. My best guess was that vampires didn’t have enough brainwaves to be able to read their thoughts but there was enough there for me to sense the black hole in their heads. Or a third possibility was that my power just wasn’t strong enough, but that was just fine with me. I wasn’t interested in being a superhero.
What did interest me was finding Gran, so I ran up to my room for a cover-up dress. The old ninnies in town would get their jaws waggin’ if I ran around town in a glorified – yet skimpier – bra and panties. Folks already thought I was nuttier than a jar of chunky peanut butter. No need to add fuel to the fire.
I got in my hatchback to go look for Gran but had to stop when I took note of the very pretty red Jeep parked in front of the house. Conveniently, it had been left in a blind spot. I hadn’t noticed until I almost hit it that it was even there. I put the car in park and got out to examine the Jeep. There was a slightly orange tint to the paint, making me think of a fireball.
There was nothing conspicuous about the SUV, other than how shiny and new it was. The keys for it were sitting on the driver’s seat and the doors were unlocked. A note on Fangtasia stationery was also waiting for me.
“I’ll kill him,” I hissed under my breath.
It going to have to wait, though. At the moment I needed to go look for Gran.
Of course as I drove along I started to craft my cuss out. I understood his gratitude to me for helping him get Godric back. While I was positive I was most likely oversimplifying their relationship, I understood that Eric essentially felt like he owed Godric everything. It may have been a weak parallel, but I felt that way about Gran. I didn’t know where I’d be without her.
So yeah, I understood his gratefulness. It was enough. A simple ‘Thanks, Sook,’ would have done it, but I supposed it was easier to throw gifts at me than use his words like a big boy.
I drove east on the route Gran would have taken to get to Clarice and I stopped when I came across the road crew working on patching up Lambert Road. I spotted Hoyt and Lafayette but I didn’t see Jase anywhere. I got out of the car and marched over to Hoyt. If anyone would know where Tweedledum was, it would be Tweedledee.
“Hoyt, have you seen Jason?” I asked as I approached, getting a few whistles as I walked by some of the other guys. They wouldn’t dare do that with Jason in earshot, so that confirmed he was MIA from the site.
She’s loonier than a tune but the crazy ones are the best in bed…
She’s got a hole I wouldn’t mind fillin’…
“Sorry, Sook, I haven’t heard from him since Saturday night,” Hoyt answered. Unlike his coworkers, he wasn’t thinking nasty thoughts about the likelihood of getting me alone in the bushes for ten minutes. Pigs.
Of course not. That would be too easy.
“Alright, thanks, Hoyt,” I said with a little smile.
“If I see him, I’ll be sure to tell him to give you a holler,” he promised.
“Thanks, I’d appreciate it. You haven’t seen Gran come by your house in the last twenty-four hours, have ya?” I asked since there was no harm. It was possible Gran had stopped to visit with Maxine, the town gossip.
“Not that I know of. Want me to give Mama a call?”
“No,” I said quickly. If Maxine got wind of Gran being MIA she’d have every branch of law enforcement she could get in contact with coming out to investigate what might be nothing.
Maxine was the type to panic and cause a whole bunch of hoopla.
I wanted to avoid that if at all possible.
At least until I knew there was something to panic about.
Hope everything’s okay. Something doesn’t seem right… It ain’t like Jason to just take off. Wonder why she can’t find Mrs. Stackhouse. Huh. That’s just weird.
It was. It was very weird.
“I’m sure Gran’ll be back from Walmart anytime,” I said with what I hoped was a reassuring smile. Hoyt smiled back at me.
“I’m sure you’re right,” he agreed. “Heck, Jason could have just overslept his alarm or maybe he’s hungover somewhere.”
Thing was, it wasn’t like my brother to blow off work.
If Jason had one thing, it was a fairly decent work ethic. He wasn’t the kind of guy to blow off work because of a hangover or because he was having a little too much fun with his flavor of the week. My brother definitely wasn’t the most responsible person on the planet but he knew when it was time to reel it in and get things done.
Plus, as a supervisor, he had a fairly cushy gig. He got government worker benefits, including a pension, a pretty good insurance plan and he made a few dollars more an hour than the rest of the crew. Never mind the paid time off and whatnot.
Bottom line? Jason wasn’t going to jeopardize that for a bunch of no call/no show nonsense. My next move, if I didn’t hear from my brother by the next morning, was going to be calling his boss, Catfish Hennessy. I decided that I was going to swing by Jason’s house just to be sure before I went home.
I got back in the car and continued on my route bound for Clarice. I kept my eyes open for tire marks or any indication that a car went off the road. Heaven forbid Gran had a heart attack or stroke and ended up driving into a ditch someplace.
But that wouldn’t happen because I would have gotten a call from the hospital in Clarice if she had. Bud Dearborn would have been waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me there had been an accident.
Still, I drove on to the hospital just to be safe. I circled the visitor’s lot in search of Gran’s Buick. My heart leapt into my throat when I found a champagne colored one like she had, but it sank again when I saw the license plates didn’t match. Not even a little bit. I sighed in defeat and turned into the next available spot I saw. Since I was there I figured I might as well go on inside and see if they had an Adele Stackhouse admitted just in case.
The admissions desk in the main lobby was staffed by two people that were probably right around Gran’s age and most likely volunteering just so they would have something to do to keep busy during the day. I approached the desk with a friendly smile and ignored the look I got from the older lady when she took note of what I was wearing. Of course she had no idea I could hear what was going on in her head.
In my day we had a name for girls like this. What happened to having a little decency and respect or keeping things for the imagination? She’s never gonna land herself a man if she keeps dressin’ like a tramp…
Little did she know I had essentially no interest in a husband, but I wasn’t about to verbally throwdown with some old lady over what I was – or wasn’t – wearing.
“Can I help you?” she asked with what I assumed was a fake smile since it definitely didn’t reach her eyes.
“I was hopin’ you could tell me if you have a patient registered here. Her name’s Adele Stackhouse,” I told Mrs. Snooty.
“Are you family?”
Mrs. Snooty looked at her registry and typed something – presumably Gran’s name – into her computer. Her watery old eyes looked down a list and she shook her head.
“No, no Adele Stackhouse is listed,” she said. “Could it be another name?”
Because I didn’t know my grandmother’s name?
“You could try Adele Hale, I guess. Hale is her maiden name.”
Mrs. Snooty checked her papers again and then went back to her computer.
“No Hale either,” she told me.
“Thank you,” I said with a polite nod.
I’d be ashamed of that one if she was my granddaughter, but then my granddaughter wouldn’t dress like that.
I rolled my eyes as I walked away. It was a good thing I had stopped letting other people’s opinions of me get too deep under my skin.
I walked out to the car, got back behind the wheel and headed for home. Just to be on the safe side, I checked along the route home to make sure that there was nothing odd on the other side of the road since I had been concentrating on the other side of the street on the way in. I racked my brain trying to figure out where in the heck Gran might have gone off to.
Maybe church? I couldn’t go in there dressed in a bikini and cover-up, though.
I could do a sweep of the parking lot. If Gran’s car wasn’t there, chances were excellent that she wasn’t. I stopped by my brother’s house since it was on the way to the church Gran attended. Jason’s truck was gone and the garage door was down. His curtains were closed, too. That wasn’t normal.
I parked in front of the house and got out of the car. Something about the energy of the place just felt wrong to me. I got a creeping sense of dread but I didn’t know why.
I let my mental feelers out to see if I could find anything but no such luck. Jason definitely wasn’t home and no one was in the house. At least no one living.
Years ago Jason had told me where he put the hide-a-key just in case I ever needed it. I went around to the back of the house and found the key taped under the lip of one of the deck steps, right where it belonged. I got the key free and walked up to the back door. The key fit in the lock no problem and the tumblers turned so I could push the door open.
“Jason?” I called out, reluctantly filling my lungs with the air from inside the house. The last thing I wanted was to catch a whiff of something… putrid.
Thankfully the house only smelled of sweat and beer.
“Jason?” I called again when I got no reply.
His house was surprisingly clean. Well, at least it was clean for being his house. It smelled a bit musty but that was probably because the windows were closed. The air conditioning seemed to be turned off as well. I went to the fridge to open it and found it mostly empty. Now that wasn’t entirely strange, except that there were no leftovers and I didn’t see a single bottle or can of beer in it. Jason always had beer in the fridge.
“Jason Mitchell Stackhouse!” I hollered like Gran used to when he was about to catch a whoopin’ from her when we were kids.
I didn’t get an answer to that either and I knew that still struck fear in his heart, despite the fact that he was a grown man and far beyond the years of getting whooped on by an elderly woman. I continued on through the house from one room to the next with no sign of my brother anywhere. Much like with Gran, I didn’t see any notes letting me know where he’d gone off to.
“Well what the twirly fuck?” I muttered, just as my missing brother would.
As if I didn’t have a small enough family, what I had left was disappearing.
Jason was gone.
Gran wasn’t at the house either.
Something was very, very wrong.
Two people didn’t just vanish, but that was what seemed to have happened. Now how in the hell was I going to get them back?