Singularity by Openhome
Summary: Photobucket

She woke with no memory and had no maker. All she knew was thirst, and all she brought was death. Yet, she had a choice. This is the complete story of Alice from her entry into the asylum to meeting Jasper.


Categories: Pre-Twilight Characters: Alice Cullen
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 34 Completed: Yes Word count: 160338 Read: 68134 Published: 23 Oct 2010 Updated: 06 May 2011
Story Notes:
Singularity is defined as: the quality of being one of a kind; strangeness by virtue of being remarkable or unusual; of a single type.

This story originated from a discussion I had with my daughters and their friends about why and how Alice became the person we see in the Twilight series. Did she just go and hide for 28 years to wait for her inevitable meeting with Jasper? Did she mope around like a love sick teenager - I wasted an embarrassing amount of time doing that as a teen - or was she strong enough to do far more with her life?

We just couldn't see Alice waiting for anything. She wouldn't be Alice if all she did was sit around and wistfully think of Jasper and the future. The crux of this story is the conflict that every person faces as they wait for love, namely, who do I want to be when I finally find the right one. This is the story of how Alice became who she is. It is especially about the struggles she endured and the choices she made to become the wonderful and talented woman-child we all know and love. I hope you find her story enlightening, enjoyable, and sometimes surprising.

"He who gains a victory over other men is strong, but he who gains a victory over himself is all powerful" - Lao Tzu

"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger" - Friedrich Nietzche

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Thank you to Molly Alice and remylebeauishot who have taken their time to make this story good enough to publish. You two are the world's best betas.

1. Chapter 1: Alone by Openhome

2. Chapter 2 The Devil's Own by Openhome

3. Chapter 3:Feral by Openhome

4. Chapter 4: Choice by Openhome

5. Chapter 5 Vampire? by Openhome

6. Chapter 6: A Good Little Vampire by Openhome

7. Chapter 7: Big City, Little Vampire by Openhome

8. Chapter 8: Family, Sort Of by Openhome

9. Chapter 9: The Covens of New York by Openhome

10. Chapter 10: First Burn by Openhome

11. Chapter 11: Enemy Mine by Openhome

12. Chapter 12: Petit Sophisticate by Openhome

13. Chapter 13: Crash by Openhome

14. Chapter 14: Shell by Openhome

15. Chapter 15: Myself by Openhome

16. Chapter 16:Thinking Outside the Blimp by Openhome

17. Chapter 17: Of Silk and Iron by Openhome

18. Chapter 18: Of Sun and Snow by Openhome

19. Chapter 19: Registered Wolf by Openhome

20. Chapter 20: This is Education by Openhome

21. Chapter 21: Co-Ed by Openhome

22. Chapter 22: A Vampire's Friend by Openhome

23. Chapter 23: The Cost of War by Openhome

24. Chapter 24: Responsibility by Openhome

25. Chapter 25: The Human Touch by Openhome

26. Chapter 26: A Fragile Piece of Paper by Openhome

27. Chapter 27: Not Quite Vampire Enough by Openhome

28. Chapter 28: Of Wieners and Dogs by Openhome

29. Chapter 29: Victory by Openhome

30. Chapter 30: A Life Well Chosen by Openhome

31. Chapter 31: Just Right by Openhome

32. Chapter 32: Patience by Openhome

33. Chapter 33: Little Girl Found by Openhome

34. Chapter 34: Jasper by Openhome

Chapter 1: Alone by Openhome

 

 From somewhere very far away, someone was calling my name.  I could hear the frantic girl yelling at me, "Alice!  Alice!  You have to snap out of it!"  Her voice mingled with the retreating vision that had swallowed me.  I tried to pull out of the vision, but I couldn't completely leave the swirling sights and sounds that had rendered me helpless again.  Slowly, the vision of the family in the wagon, the screams, and the swirling river faded from view and I became aware of where I was.

The voice was my sister's, and I was lying on my stomach against the dirt road.  I knew this because of the mixed taste of blood and dirt in my mouth.  Other frantic voices were now discernible in the area around us.

"Is she okay?" asked a woman whose voice was shrill with fear.

  "Does she need a doctor?  What is wrong with her?"  This was a man's voice that sounded either angry or panicked, I couldn't yet tell which.  

I rolled over and sat up.  At least there was no pain this time.  I looked up at the family in the wagon and was immediately shocked to see that they looked like they might have been from my vision.  I stared at them in speechless recognition.

"Honey, are you hurt?" the woman asked me.  I couldn't answer her; I just stared at their familiar faces.

"My sister has fits sometimes, like epilepsy or something," said Cynthia.  I was grateful for Cynthia's quick and skillful lying.  "She'll be okay, Ma'am.  Don't worry, Sir; I'll get her home to our Momma."  Suddenly she and the man were helping me to my feet.  My knees burned with fresh scrapes, and my dress was ripped where I had torn right through the material.  Momma would be furious.

Too quickly, the family loaded back up into their old wagon and headed to the river district by the port.  I wanted to warn them and make them stop, but what could a thirteen-year-old do?  They would never listen to me, and I wasn't sure what I saw in these visions -- not ever.  It was like trying to make out a color in the deep fog.  There was never enough to know for sure what was happening, only enough to send me into a trance, terrify my mother, and infuriate my father.

"Alice?"  Cynthia asked hesitantly.  "Alice, we need to get you home."  Her eyes were still filled with the fear of my near accident -- the accident I didn't even remember.

Her voice completely brought me back to the present.  I could feel the moist heat of the day pressing on my wet skin.  Most of my arms and legs were now encrusted with the dirt from the road which stuck to the sticky sweat that was always a part of the summer days here.  Thankfully, my long hair was in two pig tails, so it wasn't tangled and plastered to my skin as well.  My knees, hands, and lower lip were bleeding.  

"Sorry, Cynthia.  I'm so sorry.  This shouldn't have happened, I'm so sorry," I said. Now that I'd found my voice, the words poured out amid my hitched breaths. I was close to tears.  How would I get past Momma looking like this?

"Don't worry about it Alice," she mumbled.  It wasn't fair to her and I knew it.  No ten-year-old should have to be so responsible for her older sister.  I shouldn't have asked her to come, but after what I woke to, I was so glad she was here.

"How bad was it?" I asked in a whisper.  I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

"You just stopped.  Stopped right in the road with the wagon coming!  I nearly didn't push you in time," she almost shouted in her frustration.  She looked at me from under her heavy, dark bangs and sighed, "What was it this time?"

"The family," I said.  Hopefully, they were fine.  Hopefully, I was wrong again.  I didn't say any more, and she didn't ask any more about it as we walked slowly to the back of our small home.  I tried to remember what we were doing before the vision.  Granny.  We had gone to her grave in the nearby cemetery.  It should have been such an easy trip on this hot August morning;  I just needed to see her grave again and put flowers on it.  We raced back home, laughing at the simple joy of running.  Then the vision had hit me, and she must have pushed me out of the way from the wagon as I stood in what Momma called a stupor.

The memory of the trip brought back the dull feeling of loss that had weighed on my heart that morning.  I missed Granny so very much.  I was her namesake and her twin, or so the family said.  We looked so much alike, it was almost spooky.  Not many in the family guessed what else we shared, and that truth was truly frightening -- like a nightmare.  

She had died in one of the asylums near here.  Her visions had driven her mad before I was born, but it wasn't until two years ago that she was so bad that she had to be "put away" for her own good.  The memories of my time with Granny were both comforting and terrifying.  She was the only person I could truly confide in, but her madness, my future madness, scared me to death.  I was now, at age thirteen, nearly as bad as she was by age forty.  

"What are you thinking about?" Cynthia asked.  Her eyes were wide and worried.

"Don't worry, Cynthia, I'm not going into another spell, at least I don't think so."  

How I wished I could tell.  I could be normal if I could predict when these things were going to hit.  I could make friends and attend parties, and be with other girls without scaring them to death.  I wanted to dance ballet again and feel my body spin and fly.  As it was, I didn't think I could even be in school this year either.  I wanted a normal life back so badly that it was a constant, painful ache.   

The pain spilled out into heated words. "I hate my life!  I wish I were never even born!" I screamed at Cynthia, the world, and God all at once.

"Don't say that!  Don't you ever say that Mary Alice!" Cynthia yelled back.  I had scared her.  Again.

"I do though, Cynthia, I honestly do.  You're the only one who accepts me.  Momma looks at me all strange now, too.  Ever since the doctor said I had mental issues, she looks at me like I'm not hers anymore."  I should have stopped there, but the words flowed from me in an unstoppable rush.  My tears were heavy and my breath came in ragged gasps as I spoke the terrifying truth of my life.  "Daddy hates me, he truly does, and don't you say otherwise.  He may have stopped hitting me, but he still hates me.  I have no one left, Cynthia.  I can't go outside the house at all.  Just look at me!  We were only gone for twenty minutes and just look at me!  I can't go to school.  I can't go to ballet class.  None of my friends will even talk to me.  I so want a friend to talk to, to dress up and do each others hair with and tell secrets to.  I want to be happy again.  I want to be like I was before...before...before this started to get messed up."  I hit my head with my hand hard enough for it to hurt.

"Mary Alice Brandon!  What happened to you?"  My mother's angry voice stopped me cold.  She had been hanging the clothes out to dry in the thick heat, and she looked over my appearance with reproach.  I knew what I must look like, and I would pay for it.

"She just fell down on the road, Momma.  She didn't do nothin' wrong."

Momma didn't believe Cynthia's lie; she had seen this too many times in the last four years.  At first, she had been terrified because it was her mother that lay in the cemetery.  She had prayed and cried that the curse that took her mother's mind wouldn't fall on me.  As the years passed, however, she was forced to accept that I was just like Granny, but worse, so much worse.  Now, Momma was distant from me.  The one person who could comfort me in her arms, the one I needed so much now it nearly tore me in two, just stood there angry, with her arms crossed and eyes hateful.  I was alone.

"Alice, you get to your room and clean up.  Take a cake of soap and clean yourself and that dress, and then wait for us in your room. Don't do anythin' else, just stay there.  You are done, done, do you hear me!  No more outings."

"But Momma, please.  I am so tired of the house.  Please, just let me sit on the porch today.  It is so bright outside, and I want to stay out." 

"You go up and get cleaned up.  Your Daddy and I need to talk," she said, her voice listless and dull.  She seemed tired and beaten and looked a hundred years old. The guilt for what I was doing to her and my family hit me hard as I ran into the house.

 

XOXOXOX

 

I was sitting and drawing again on my bed when I heard Daddy come home.  At first, I drew what I saw in my visions, but that had made Momma and Daddy so upset that now all I drew was the life I missed.  My room was filled with pictures of friends in colorful dresses, parties that I no longer went to, and places I could no longer go see.  It made me feel better to have something to remember what my life was like before the visions had come.  

I heard the heavy thud of my father on the stairs.  I knew what would happen without needing a vision to tell me. Daddy's steps were far too slow and I knew he was angry before he came to my door and flung it open.  Daddy hated Granny and her odd fits.  No one hated things that weren't normal more than my Daddy, and so now he hated me.  It wasn't always this way, and the memories of hugging him and getting his scratchy kisses after he came home from work always made me happy.  He hadn't so much as touched me except to beat me with a switch for nearly two years now.  I would have gladly taken a switch to the apathetic loathing that had replaced his worried fury.  

He glared at me as he entered, grabbed my drawing, ripped the paper in two, and threw it to the ground.  

"What was it this time?  Cynthia wouldn't tell me," he growled out between clenched teeth.

"Just a family in a wagon, that's all," I lied.

"Well, that nearly got you killed, didn't it.  Your sister could have been hurt bad this time.  Why did you leave the house at all?"

"I just wanted to see the grave again and put flowers on it, because I miss her," I said, my voice a whisper.  It was best not to say Granny's actual name.

"Don't you see what's happening here, Alice?  It's like with her, only worse.  You nearly died two blocks from the house.  We can't go anywhere now.  We can't leave you alone.  God knows, we can't let people see you.  What would they think?  Your Momma is always crying, your sister is always worried, and I can't live like this."  He put his hands over his face and rubbed his temples.  He, too, looked old and very tired.

"I'm sorry Daddy.  I want to be good, I really do.  I'll try harder," I whispered, but we both knew there wasn't anything I could do about the fits.  

"I know honey, but trying harder won't stop these things.  I saw that with your Granny," he said, talking to himself now. He looked out the window, his mind far away.  "You used to be such a joy to everyone around you. You were so perfect. You never walked anywhere, you danced.  Everywhere you went, you simply bubbled with joy.  Even your braids always seemed to dance with you when you walked."  He smiled, but then he turned to me and his eyes were terribly hard and full of the loathing that I had come to expect.  "You have to leave now.  I can't watch you go through this like I watched your Granny.  I just can't."

Without another word, he went to the wall where I kept all my pictures and began ripping them down.  This hurt more than words ever could.

"No, Daddy, don't please.  They aren't about visions, just friends and clothes and such.  Please Daddy no!"

"I don't want anything left.  Nothing of what you are.  You are leaving now, and I don't want anything left of you."

I felt the slap of his words hit my heart harder than any switch had ever hit me. "What...but...where...why...," the words choked off into sobs as I saw in his face where I was going.  It was the worst vision of all.  The darkness of the vision filled my head as I began to shake.  Darkness, chains, screaming and doors -- lots of doors -- this was my most feared and most vivid vision, and now it was coming true.

Momma showed up with eyes swollen and red from crying.

"Alice, honey, it's for the best.  Granny was happy there.  They can help you.  Honey don't cry, we will come get you when you're well," she said between  hitched breaths.  

No, they wouldn't.  I could see that in my father's face.  He had spoken the truth when he said that he didn't want me or even any memory of me around. I knew that I would never be able to return home. 

I was sobbing so hard now that I couldn't move or see.  I just grabbed my stomach and began to rock back and forth, trying to give myself the comfort that they would never offer.  

Momma and Daddy quickly packed my few clothes, and Momma grabbed my teddy bear.  I saw them finish and turn to me.  My stomach twisted in panic, and all I could think of was Cynthia.  I ran to her room and tried to find her.  Empty.  I ran down the stairs and dashed through each room of the house.   Where is she?  Cynthia, I need you!  Where are you?  The words burned my head as I screamed them repeatedly to myself.  

Daddy's strong hand caught my thin arm.  "We sent her to Aunt Jenny's house for the night.  She doesn't need to be here for this."  Suddenly his eyes were less hateful, and almost, but not quite, kind.  "I'm sorry Alice.  I'm so very sorry, but you can't be here anymore.  You could have died today, and she could have been hurt, too.  She needs her own life.  This is tearing us all up, and it has to stop.  This is the best thing to do for you and us."  

He hadn't touched me in so long that his hand seemed strange against my skin.  I tried to hug him.  I tried to move close and grab hold of his waist like I had so many times before my mind went mad, but he pushed me away with his strong hands and led me to the carriage.  My mother was already there, looking tiny and beaten in the seat. She had always been small like me, but now she was almost invisible, hunched over and shaking with her tears.  Daddy set me in my regular spot in the back of the carriage, and I lay there lost in the pain of their betrayal.  They didn't want me.  The terrible vision that haunted me so often would come true because they didn't want me anymore. And it was all my fault.

"I love you, please, I love you so much.  Please don't take me there, please, please, please.  I'll be good now.  I promise.  Please," I pleaded through my tears.  My mother's body shook harder, but neither one moved or said another word.  I just kept saying it, until my dry throat hurt and I could no longer make any sounds.  I didn't move for the whole hour and a half trip to the large gated building at the edge of town.  I was so numb that I didn't even notice that the carriage had stopped and Daddy was talking to the man at the gate.  I didn't look at anyone or anything when strange, strong hands lifted me from the seat and brought me into a dimly lit room.  

"...yes, I agree with your doctor, but..."  

"Probably schizophrenia, but it may not be as bad as that..."

"Yes, we can do that, but we feel it is best for the family to visit as often as they can..."

"...went through this...can't be stopped...kill us all..."

"...of course.  We will do all that we can ....beg you to reconsider....but she still needs you..."

"...don't want her at all...tearing our family apart...just look at her mother..."

"She is so young; it's such a pity..."

The voices came and went and I couldn't even tell which belonged to my parents and which belonged to the white coats that surrounded me.  It wasn't until I was led to a small room with one electrical light hanging in the ceiling and a small, dark window in the wall that I realized my parents were gone.  They hadn't even tried to say goodbye.

 

XOXOXOXOX

It was worse now.  The visions came so often in this cold place.  They were no more certain than they had ever been, but they came more frequently now that I was watched, though I tried even harder to hide them.  The people here didn't keep me locked up like I thought they would.  I was at least given a little freedom and was allowed to go to the cafeteria, walk around the common room, and sit outside, but that was all.  No matter where I went, they watched me constantly.  Most of them held looks of pity on their faces.  I hated them.  I hated their watching eyes. They just looked at me, refusing to talk to me much at all, and I felt like an animal in a zoo.

"Would you like to play a game, Mary Alice?" asked a kind nurse I had not seen before.  I nearly jumped right out of the chair.  I had been here three weeks, and this was the first person to ask me to do something with her.  I was in the common room just sitting and looking out the window since there wasn't anything else to do.

"Alice...just Alice," I corrected her when I got over the shock.  

"Well, Alice, I'm Nancy, and I love to play games.  Would you like to play one with me?"

"Yes," I said and nearly smiled back.  I hadn't smiled in a very long time, and it felt very strange on my face, almost like the muscles had forgotten how to do it.  The common room suddenly felt much lighter.

"What games do you like?" she asked, still very friendly.

"Dominoes.  I like Chicken Foot.  Do you know it?"

"Of course, sweetie."

As we played, she talked about her life.  I was so grateful that she didn't ask me any questions.  

I was a freak, and a crazy freak at that.  I was one of the youngest ones here, and everyone looked at me like I had the plague.  I didn't want to prove how much of a freak I really was by talking about the visions.

We played several rounds, and I found myself enjoying the game with this nurse.  She was an older woman, pretty but not beautiful.  Her hair was only starting to gray, but the laugh lines by her eyes were deep.  To my young eyes, she looked old, but maybe that was just because I was young.  Her stories made my giggle and I felt like a huge weight had lifted from my chest.  I felt like I could somehow live.

"You look better, Alice," she said when our game finished.

"Thank you ma'am, I feel better," I sighed, and it wasn't even a lie.  I usually lied in this place, because the truth would get me locked up in the lower levels where the screams came from. I knew without seeing them that the lower levels were the nightmare visions.

"I will be back to tomorrow, and I hope we can play again.  I don't usually have this much fun on my shift.  You have a lovely spirit to you, but you somehow seem too old for thirteen."

"I feel older, a lot older.  I had fun.  Thank you so much," I said as I tried to let the emotion in my voice tell her how thankful I was.

The next day was just as fun.  We played poker, and I won.  By the end of the game I felt more normal than I had in almost a year.

We played games like that for almost two weeks.  It didn't help the visions stay away, but it comforted me to have someone treat me like a normal young girl rather than a patient. 

The end of the second week, though, was strange.  I could feel something in my mind warning me, but just like the visions, it was foggy and unclear.  I hoped that Nancy's company would cheer me up because I didn't want to have a fit in her presence.  I didn't want her to see me like that.

"Hi honey, ready for our game?" she cheerfully asked me.

She'd taught me Canasta, the endless game, she called it, and we played for nearly two hours.  She still didn't ask me about my family or visions like the other white coat adults here.  I was so grateful to her for that.

Just before dinner time, the vision hit me.  I tensed up as the horror of it caught me off guard.  It was of Nancy and some men.  She was walking, but I couldn't see where, and they were ready to jump on her.  They had on uniforms, and were very big.  They were going to hurt her.  Then I saw her blood flowing down the street with the rain.  When I came back to myself, Nancy was holding me in her arms and calling for help.

"Don't go Nancy!  Don't go!" I yelled at her as I grabbed her white dress and pulled her to me.

"Let go Alice, honey it's all right.  Just let go."

"No! They're going to kill you!  They are going to kill you!  Don't go!"  My voice was reaching the pitch of hysteria, and I knew it, but I couldn't stop screaming.  Suddenly, my hands pulled too hard, and the buttons on the front of her white dress gave way.  Her dress pulled apart, and I grabbed her by the hair, still screaming at her.

Dozens of hands were on me all at once.  They pulled me off of her and held me down.  I was kicking and thrashing against them.  She had to understand.  She couldn't be killed.  I needed to save her.

Something sharp pushed into my arm and cold, painful pressure began to spread up my arm and directly into my head and eyes.  The room tilted and twisted, and I blacked out. 

When I opened my eyes, the people were gone, but the sun was out.  The sun was directly above me, but there was also a room that was weaving about me in a sickening way.  I thought maybe I was on a boat in the room.  My stomach twisted painfully and I retched at the motion of the boat. I blinked several times, and the swaying stopped.  The sun shrank into an electric light bulb directly over me.  I tried to rub my eyes to help me focus, but my hands would only move a few inches.  I went all cold inside as I looked down to see that my wrists and ankles had leather bands wrapped around them.  They had chained me.

"No!" I screamed.  "Don't do this to me!  I didn't do anything!  Help me!  Momma, help me!"  Terror froze those three words into me.  "Momma, help me!"  I screamed it over and over until my lungs and throat burned and my voice was gone.

After a while, I simply lay there and cried silent tears of rage and shame.  My mother would never come again.  I had done this to myself, or at least my madness had done it.  I was insane, that I was sure of, and I grieved for the life I would never have.

The door opened, and I saw that the hall had no windows.  With a shock I realized I was probably below ground, I was one of the screamers now.  The man who came in had on a white coat and did not even look at me as he raised the silver thing and sank it into my arm.  At first, I thought it was a knife and wondered if he would kill me, but I was too tired and scared to yell, besides my voice was gone.  Then the cold pressure spread again.  "Such a pity," I heard him say as the darkness took me.  The darkness never left. 

 

 

Chapter 2 The Devil's Own by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Molly Alice and Remilebeauishot made this chapter much better than it was. They are wonderful beta's who deserve all the thanks I can bestow on them.

This chapter is different from any others. It is told by Alice's maker in third person. He must tell the story because she can no longer tell it herself. Warning: her life gets worse before it gets better.

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its plots and characters. I own the original stuff.

 

 Robert Giles moved quickly enough that he was no more than a shadow flitting down the long, dimly lit hallways.  It wasn't time for him to start work yet.  This would only take a few minutes, and he had a full hour before anyone would expect him to begin his shift at the asylum.  He drifted from room to room, listening to the babble, wails, and guttural sounds that emanated from behind the heavy locked doors.  He had to listen because it was hard to find the right scent here.  Unwashed bodies and the strong smells of raw human waste clouded the more subtle smells that indicated illness and impending death.

He had learned to find the weak and dying during the plagues of Europe and had resumed his pattern during the influenza outbreak in 1918.  No one noticed when he took the not yet dead away from the wards of the living.   This style of eating had become an easy habit, but the unwatched dying were now hard to find.  Here in an asylum, however, no one saw or cared.  Ironically, the families of his victims now were often relieved by his actions, and he loved the idea of himself as the giver of final mercy.  It fit well with the god complex he had acquired with his rebirth.  

He stopped at an ominously silent door.  Silence was a sign of weakness in a place like this.  Silence meant that there was not enough energy left to release the torture that these minds endured every minute of the day.  Silence meant that his services as the undertaker here would soon be needed.  Silence meant that he could bring final rest to troubled minds; he could bring his own type of mercy.  In six months, no one had even noticed when Robert took the bodies out to be returned to their relatives, if there were any relatives who would claim them.  More often than not, he simply buried his unwanted victims himself.  They paid and even thanked him to do it.  Yes, he was a blessing in this dark place.  He chuckled to himself as he unlocked the door to the man's room.  

The emaciated man lay on his cot breathing quick, shallow breaths.  This one was restrained with chains for his violent outbreaks.  Robert smelled the pneumonia on the man's breath, and knew it was the chains that had led to this; the chains and the drugs had kept him from moving enough to empty his lungs.

In twelve centuries it had never been so easy.  He had been a Viking before he became immortal, Asvald the son of Advund.  He had killed hundreds of times as a human and a hundred thousand times as a vampire.   Here, he killed for a living in the presence of others with no worry of discovery.  He worked at night. He wore tinted glasses for an "eye disorder."  He was supposed to deal with the dead.  No one wanted to be near him, but they appreciated his work ethic and his willingness to rid them of the unwanted bodies.  It was perfect and so very ironic at the same time.  He almost laughed to himself as he leaned over the thin man.  The man's eyes opened briefly and then closed.  It was so easy, he sighed as he sank his teeth into the man's neck.  This one didn't have a family, so there was no reason to even hide the wound.

Robert still had thirty minutes left after taking the now shrouded body to the morgue.  He would report the death and bury the body during the first hour of work.  He again took to the halls.  Normally, he ate no more than twice a week at the asylum, and then he only took one life a night.  He didn't want to raise any alarm here.  He had five or six more years left at this hospital before anyone would begin to get suspicious, and he didn't want to ruin those years by being a glutton.  However, the dying man was small and thin, and his blood had tasted badly from the drugs and the coming death.   Against his better judgment, Robert was moving through the lower halls again in his swift hunt.  The place was massive, and there were so many doors to choose from.

He finally chose a door that held a female with a small human voice that often cried out for her mother when it wasn't having a conversation with the ghosts locked in her head.  The room was silent.  It was strange, this one was very young.  He unlocked the door and peered inside.  Young ones didn't often die without the telltale cough.  The young woman was supposed to be in her late teens or early twenties, but it looked to him that a mere child of twelve or so years sat looking at him with blurred eyes.  She must be on drugs, he thought, but I can't smell any.  She shifted, and her eyes focused on him.  Strange, she seemed to recognize him.  Her scent was incredibly strong and pleasant and made his mouth run with venom.  Ah, after so many drugged humans, her blood would be so sweet in his mouth.  He lunged at her, but something in her face made him stop just inches from her body.  He had no doubt that her blood would be his, but he paused for a moment as he tried to find the reason for his unease.  

Had he been younger, or thirstier, he would have crushed her instantly.  As it was, his throat was aching and his body tense as he looked into her oddly unfocused gaze.  Something about the face and those eyes held him at bay for those few moments until he decided not to take her life, yet.  Besides, her blood would taste best when he was truly thirsty.  No need to waste it tonight with the blood of another still on his breath.  He moved closer, his thirst nearly forgotten in her odd expression that was making him truly curious.

"I knew you wouldn't," she smiled to herself, but her voice was so very weak that even he barely heard it.  "I'm glad you changed your mind," she continued and then slumped over on her bed as if the words had suddenly exhausted her.  He moved closer still, closer than he had ever been to a non-victim.  He moved the dark mass of short hair that now covered her face, and held her head up.  Her hair was growing out of the institution's short crop that was meant for its worst patients.  Soon they would cut it again.  His eyes, perfectly suited to the utter darkness of her cell, noticed that a multitude of burn marks left by electroshock therapy covered her head.  He felt a strange rage at this.  Why had this slight girl earned such radical treatment?  How could she possibly be such a threat to society that she would need to be shocked into a stupor for the rest of her life? 

She moved slightly and placed her face against his cold hands, and sighed as if his hands brought relief to her somehow.  He crouched there watching the frail creature as she drifted between a conscious stupor and fitful sleep.  She seemed to find no way to rest from the workings of her mind.  As he watched her, he realized that she was far too thin, sallow, and utterly unhealthy looking.  Had her pale skin ever seen the sun?  She was as pale as he.  Her veins stood out blue against her skin, and the black circles under her eyes seemed almost as dark as coal smudges.  Her thin skin seemed to stretch over her cheekbones and shoulders as if her skin was too tight for even her tiny body.

As soon as he was able, he lay her back down on the bed to which her leg was chained.  He ran too quickly down the hall to the empty kitchen and grabbed bread and broth and brought them back to her.  He tried to waken the child, but she seamed to only be able to half open her eyes.  He placed the food at her mouth, and to his relief, watched as she began to slowly eat.  He only had minutes now.  He brought the cup of cold broth up to her lips and with some difficulty was able to get her to drink some of it.

"Thank you," she mumbled as he stepped out of the door.  

As he left, he checked the twisted paper on the door that told him what he needed to know.  Mary Alice Brandon, age 19.  He would find out what had happened to this childlike woman.

It wasn't until almost dawn that he had time to check the records for Mary, or Alice, as her family called her.  Her records were thick and full of relentless hopelessness.  Her family had brought her here at the suggestion of her doctor.  She was at best delusional but most probably severely schizophrenic, and this was the diagnosis from several of the psychologists who had tried to help her.  They had tried to help her stop seeing and hearing the things that haunted her every waking and sleeping minute.  It wasn't the normal odd object or voices that plagued her mind; she saw visions that were so real that she was transported into them.  Even before the drugs and electricity began to destroy what mind she had left, she was totally unable to function in society.  As a child, she would tell her parents that people were going to die or that the weather was going to change.  As she grew older, it became clear that the constant visions were a hazard to her health and safety.  The "fits" as her parents called them could occur any time and anywhere and leave her totally unable to function.  She couldn't even leave the house.  He thought it odd that no one paid any attention to the many entries proving that this wasn't madness but a gift.  Even her uneducated and superstitious family admitted that what she saw often came true.  They had wanted the doctors to not just fix her mind, but also remove the visions that were destroying it.  They did not want her back.

He decided to find out more from one of the night staff.  He went to find the tall, young doctor with the greasy, black hair that rarely left the main office all night.  

"Doctor Keller, may I talk with you?"  He was amused when the good doctor jumped.  He had never spoken to this young man and knew him only as the one that looked more like a vampire than himself.  Dr. Keller looked at him in shock, and Robert smiled smugly back.  Dr. Keller was expecting a grave digger, but the man before him looked more like a blond angel, and the good doctor was astounded at this.  So predictable, these pitiful and weak humans, he thought.

"Oh...Sorry...Is it Bill?" he asked.

"No, sir, it's Robert, Robert Giles.  I work in on the building and grounds and run the morgue."  Doctor Keller flinched as he mentioned the morgue.  It was the normal reaction.

"I was checking on the sick, and I found Mary Alice Brandon sick in her cell, or at least I think she might be sick.  Can you tell me much about her?"  

"I don't know much more than is in her file.  Hers is a very sad case.  She has one of the worst cases of schizophrenia I've ever seen.   Such a pity, too.  She is so lovely.  Such a waste, really." The greasy haired doctor sighed and smiled slightly.  He obviously had some type of knowledge of the girl he said he knew nothing about.  Disgusting.  He didn't care about the mental health of this patient, just how lovely she was.

"Yes, but what is going to happen to her?"

"Well, we'll do all that we can for her, of course," he said brusquely.  "I don't think there is any hope of her ever leaving here, though.  She hasn't seen the outside of this place in six years.  Unfortunately, our only options so far include the tranquilizers and shock therapy.  Her mind is nearly gone now, though, so it really doesn't matter much what we do to her."  The doctor said it in such a way that Robert knew exactly what this man might do to her, if he hadn't already.  Robert didn't like this human who seemed so eager to find lovely girls in the dark halls of this place.  He decided that this one would need to die.  This mere human had offended him, and the penalty for offending such a powerful being had always been death in Robert's mind.

Robert was beginning to form a plan by the time he had replaced her file and left the offices to return to his macabre duties. What they had done to Alice made him growl in fury.  She hadn't seen the sun in six years, and hadn't been without constant drugs in just as long.  She was subjected to electroshock three years ago and now it was a fairly constant treatment.  God only knew what happened when the good doctor's heads were turned.  She had been tortured by these well-meaning but totally imbecilic doctors.  

 

Robert went into her cell every night after that to try to unravel the mystery of her mind and to feed her.  He had to take extra precautions before coming to see her because her incredibly sweet smelling blood was a constant temptation.  He ate more than three times in seven days.  If he hadn't, he knew absolutely that he wouldn't be able to resist her blood.

His mind had raced with the possibilities of what her gift could mean to him.  Could she be helpful to him as a vampire?  He had seen firsthand what venom could do for a broken body, but what about a broken mind?  If he could manage somehow to change her without killing her, would she be as mad as she was in this asylum? Would she be what he wanted when the venom was done?  More importantly, could he leave her here unchanged?  Could he leave her at all?  Her face was his constant companion now, and he craved being near her, even insane and chained in this place, he craved her company.  

She was getting over the shock treatment, but that meant that the tranquilizers would soon be administered.  Now that he had seen her without medications, he could understand the staff's willingness to drug her.  She was constantly in and out of this place as she saw things that had not occurred yet.  She reacted to each vision in a visceral way, and her screams and shouts could be heard far into the hallway.  Her emotions were absolutely entwined in her trances, and she could no more disentangle herself from the visions than she could disappear from the building.  The visions had made her truly mad and unable to differentiate between the reality of the cell and the reality she saw in her head.  Was that because of madness or because of this place and what the doctors had done to her?

Each night she came out from her stupor to try to look at him, her eyes would search his face as if trying to see something.  It was always dark in her cell, even when he brought a lantern.  It took her two full weeks before she could talk, and for the first few nights, she kept saying the same thing.

"Is that you Jasper?" she would ask.

"No, I'm Robert.  Do you remember me?"

"No, I don't think I do.  I'm looking for Jasper, but I can't find him.  It's very important, but I don't know why," she would say breathlessly.

"I don't know a Jasper, I'm sorry."

"That's too bad; I really do need to find him.  It's so important..." and her voice trailed off.  Often, it was only a few moments until the next vision had her in its unbreakable grip.

By the fourth night, she was lucid enough to expect him.  He arrived well fed from an obese alcoholic who was dying of cirrhosis of the liver.  This night, though, Alice looked at him with frightened eyes.

"Why are you afraid, Alice?" he asked in as gentle a tone as possible.

"Why did you do that?  Why did you kill her? What were you doing?"  She was terrified, and her weak voice trembled. 

"I didn't realize you saw that," he said in voice that only slightly betrayed his shock.  "I eat differently than you do.  It scares you, but it's necessary.  I promise, I will never do that to you."  He was lying, but it didn't matter.  "I brought you something."  He held out two halves of an apple.

Alice looked at it with astonished eyes.  She was obviously confused, and asked, "What is that?  Is it food?"

"Yes, it's an apple?  Do you remember apples?"  She shook her head and held out a small hand.  She took the apple and twisted it around in her hand.  "It's beautiful.  Look at the color," she muttered as it turned in front of her eyes.  He wondered again how much damage had been done to this sweet, tortured soul.

He watched her intently as she took a very small bite and seemed to delight in the sharp crunch it made in her mouth.  Her eyes were suddenly bright and alert.  She ate it slowly, never stopping, and savoring every nibble.  She even smiled a little, and this made her young face glow.  While he watched her, he made up his mind to help her somehow.  

"Alice, what do you remember of your life outside the asylum?" he asked slowly.

She seemed confused by the question, but then brightened.  "I remember a person called Momma.  She smelled good, and I think I liked to be with her.  There were lots of people.  There was so much blue and the rooms were big.  There were trees, I think, and things weren't so dark."  She paused and scrunched up her face.  "That's all."

"Do you remember your name?"

"I'm Alice." 

"Alice what?"

"Alice what, what?  I don't understand," she cocked her head to the side.

"Most people have more than one name.  They have two or three, and they know how old they are, and where they came from," he answered quietly as the amount of damage slowly became clear to him.

"What is your name?  How old are you? And where did you come from?"  She fired back at him.  He smiled at her spirit.  At least she retained a little of her former self.  Why not tell her the truth?  No one on earth would believe her anyway.

"My original name was Asvald the son of Advund.  I go by Robert Giles now.  I was born twelve hundred years ago in Scandinavia as the son of a Viking clan leader.  I was made into what I am now in medieval Scotland.  That is where two vampires attacked us as we traded goods with the Scots.  The townspeople frightened the vampires away with fire.  I was the only one to survive, but I was changed into a vampire myself.  That is why I drink the blood of the people here.  It is my way of survival, and it is a gift I can give them.  You see, I can give them peace."

"Oh."  That was all she said.  She wasn't shocked or afraid.  "Could you give me peace, too?" she asked.  He looked into her eyes and saw only innocence and desire.  She wanted to be free of this life.

She deserved more than this, and he could save her, but he needed information first.   

 

***

 

He had made sure she was well fed, and that no other shock therapy was planned before he took off to find an old acquaintance in Texas.  Carlos was one of the very few survivors from the Volturi's attack on the southern covens.  He knew all about gifts, and which ones were worthy of saving.  They had met during one of the yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans.  Robert had gone to feed, and Carlos had gone to find recruits for the wars that would eventually bring the Volturi.  They had always had a good relationship, and Robert had hidden Carlos after the Volturi's attacks, so Carlos owed him.

In two days, he had found Carlos at a villa on the Gulf Coast.  They reminisced about old times and went to survey Carlos's newly acquired area.   Robert told him of his rare find, and he listened with rapt interest.  

"You say her mind is almost gone and that the visions are totally uncontrolled?" he asked.

"Yes, she has no control whatsoever.  She can't even remember her life outside of the asylum any more.  I want to harvest her talent, but I don't want to create an insane newborn.  They are hard enough to control as it is."

Carlos nodded his head in agreement.  "This is a unique situation.  I have never found a human so gifted.  Perhaps we should start checking our asylums out more thoroughly.  I can't tell you what she will turn out to be since the core of her mind is either gone or has been radically changed.  She may well bring her madness into the new life.  A mad newborn would be impossible to control and might bring down the Volturi on you.  It is a real problem, my friend."

"Do you think it is worth the risk?"

"No.  Not for you.  Perhaps here, with several others who can keep her controlled or destroy her if necessary, but by yourself, there is no safe way to try it," he said dismissively.  Robert knew that Carlos may well try to keep Alice for his own.  A gifted vampire was always a welcome addition to the violent southern covens, but the debt he owed Robert was great, and Carlos was not the kind of man who liked to owe anyone anything.

"I will keep your offer in mind.  I certainly don't want to start any trouble that can't be controlled."

"Do you have any idea of how to do it, Robert?  It is far harder to stop yourself than you think.  Perhaps you should practice on some of the peasants here first," Carlos suggested.

"Thank you, I would like to see how it is done and practice some, if you don't mind."  Carlos was obviously trying to pay off the unwanted debt, and that suited Robert just fine.

Robert stayed at the villa a full two days learning how to create a newborn.  Unfortunately, after six tries, and six deaths, not much progress had been made.  Carlos was very helpful in giving him tips on how not to kill Alice, but Robert was still not sure he could do it.  If he couldn't stop with these unappetizing peasants, how could he ever manage it with Alice? Her blood was so very sweet smelling.  Even now, the memory brought venom to his mouth.  Perhaps he would bring her here.  It would be wonderful to see her in the sun.  He had a lot to think about as he ran north to the asylum in the dark of night.

 

***

 

"I missed you," Alice said thickly through the haze of the drugs.  Her speech was slow and labored.  "Did you see Jasper...when you went there...to the South?  Was he there?"  

"No, I didn't see him, but I will continue to look for him."  He wondered again who this Jasper was. 

"Thanks," she breathed and sank back into her sleep.

He had to get her out of here and soon.  He couldn't stand to see her like this, so he decided to take her out into the night's rain.  He easily broke her ankle restraint and picked up her small body.  She was so very little.  He took her to the closest door and ran out into the rain.  The wind and rain seemed to waken her, and she looked up at the dark sky.  The rain on her unwashed hair and face made her scent even stronger, and his face was so close to her neck, that it nearly ruined him.  He had to put her on the ground and walk away for a few cleansing breaths.  She sat on the grass, cross legged and looking straight up at the sky reaching for the rain and tasting it on her lips.  He let her sit in the warm rain until the sun was nearly up.  The clouds were clearing and he could NOT be out in the sunlight.  She looked mesmerized by the growing light, and her face was lost in childlike wonder.  As far as she was concerned, this was her first sunrise.  He reluctantly took her back and reattached the ankle chain.

The next night, he fed again before coming to work.  He had decided upon the young greasy haired doctor's fate while in Texas, and his days were now ended.  Something about the young man had bothered him, and the things that bothered him needed to be dealt with, so he took the doctor's life without so much as a thought.  

He took Alice out again and ran with her through the woods that surrounded the asylum.  She giggled as the wind rushed past her face.  He tried to let her walk a bit in an open field, but she only went a few steps until she fell in a heap.  She reached out and touched the tufts of grass and began to laugh.  It sounded like a small child delighted in a toy.  The sound made his heart sing.  He decided then and there to take her to Carlos to have her changed.  He couldn't risk killing her, and he could not let her stay human.  He let her sit there for as long as he dared, then he picked her up and carried her back to the asylum.  She laughed all the way to the fence surrounding the asylum, and her laughter caused his heart to lighten.  She reminded him so much of a child that he began to spin her in the night.  She laughed joyfully and he found himself laughing alongside her.  It was in that moment that he smelled the predator hiding somewhere in the dark woods.  Instantly, Alice was on the ground at his feet, and he went into a defensive crouch, growling loudly.  

"Do you always play with your food so much?" the voice from the darkness to his left asked.  It was an easy voice, very smooth and sure of itself.  "She smells so very good.  I followed her scent for a mile or more before I found you.  I can hardly wait to taste her, will you share?"  With that, the younger vampire sauntered nonchalantly out of the woods.

"She is mine," Robert growled.  He didn't like the brashness of this one.  He was too confident, and this made him worry.  

"Don't be greedy, old one.  I just want a taste.  I enjoy a hunt, but this one won't be much of a challenge for me.  Just let me have a taste to see if she tastes as good as she smells."

"No.  I will not share her.  I'm not going to eat her, I'm going to change her.  I have chosen this young one for my mate, and you will not touch her."  The shouts echoed off of the walls of the asylum.  The smooth talking vampire merely smiled like he had won some small prize.  Without warning, the younger one lunged at the older vampire, and the thunderous crash sounded like canon fire.  Again and again the younger vampire lunged at the girl, but Robert had fought too many times before.  The young one couldn't get past him, and he roared in frustrated defeat.  Robert eyed him warily as he circled them.  Suddenly, the younger vampire relaxed and righted himself.

"Relax, old one.  Don't be upset.  I'll leave you to it then," and with that, the younger vampire dashed into the woods.  It wasn't until then that Robert heard the shouts from the approaching humans.  He grabbed Alice, leapt over the fence, and had her in her bed within a minute.

Alice was quietly sobbing, but her sobs were quickly turning into screams.  She had seen too much, and Robert knew he was out of time to help her.  The night was nearly over and a sunny day was about to begin.  He knew without question that the young vampire would never give up his hunt for her.  He wanted her blood, but more than that, he wanted Robert to lose.  The only way to protect Alice was to change her himself.  Robert ran from the building with the first rays of the sun but stayed close to the asylum to watch for the young hunter who wanted the girl so badly.

That night, Alice was nearly comatose.  He had found her in her cell with several new, deep electrical burns on her head.  She had been too upset by the fight, and the doctors in their twisted mercy decided that this would be better than her constant screams.  

He ripped off the ankle restraint, nestled her in his arms, and ran from the building so fast that he would have been a blur had any sane eye been watching.  He ran for several hours in an evasive pattern, until he knew he was out of time, and then he dropped her on the ground when he was in a forest and several miles away from any humans.  He had caught the scent of the other vampire several times during his run, and he knew he could not outrun him.

He had killed four of the patients so that he was full of blood because Carlos seemed to think this was a key point, and he hoped that would help.  He looked down at the girl who was now in a fetal position on the ground.  

She managed to open her eyes and look at him.  She was terrified.  Even through all that the doctors had done, the terror hadn't left her.  

"Don't, please," she whispered.  "You said you wouldn't."  Had she seen this?  Was this the terror of her screams?  

It doesn't matter, he told himself, we are both out of time.  The hunter would be there soon.  He tilted her head back and sank his teeth into her neck.  The taste of her sweet blood almost undid him.  In two short seconds, he took several long drinks.  He realized that her heart was becoming weak, and he knew that he was killing her.  He knew in that fraction of a moment that he was not strong enough to stop himself, that he would be the cause of her death, but the taste of her blood made her death worth the loss.  It was only the sound and scent of the hunter that caused him to stop.  He looked up, her blood dripping from his lips, but her heart still weakly beating.  The other one stood a few yards away with black fury in his eyes.  

"It's ironic," Robert said as he turned to face the hunter, "that you were the one to save her."  He laughed grimly.  "I truly didn't have the strength to stop."  He could barely hear her heart fluttering, but he knew that within a few minutes, her heart would strengthen and the change would be irreversible.  All he needed to do was keep the other one away until the change was too far advanced to stop.  The hunter would leave when he couldn't kill his victim anymore. 

Robert knew this was a fight for his life, but he didn't care.  His mind was filled with a fury that matched the young hunter's, and he would enjoy this fight.  There was no doubt to him that this young one would be the one that died on this night.  The brash, confident, and conceited vampire who had nearly ruined his plans would burn by Robert's own hand.

The furious fight lasted nearly forty minutes.  Both vampires were skilled fighters, and each desired the other's death so fiercely that their minds held no other thoughts. Had any human been around, it would have seemed that the bowels of hell had split open and let loose two of its worst demons.  Repeatedly, they lunged at each other, and the air was torn by the thunder of their clashes and the intensity of their growls.  By the end, their fight left a permanent scar on the land.  Each vampire had in turn nearly killed the other, but when the fire was lit over the pieces of body, it was the younger one who lit it.  The hunter was more skilled at such a fight, and Robert could not fight and protect at the same time.  The effort took too much, and the young vampire was able, at last, to get onto Robert's back and slice off his head with razor sharp teeth.

The younger vampire ran over to where Alice lay still on the ground.  He had hoped that Robert had gone too far, and that the girl was dead.  She hadn't moved since Robert stopped feeding, so he was surprised when he heard a strong heartbeat and smelled the change that the venom had begun in her body.  The younger vampire screamed in fury and threw the girl's body several dozen feet into a clump of trees.  He then ran over to her and grabbed her to shake her.  She didn't respond, though her eyes were open.  

What is wrong with her?  She should be screaming and writhing in pain.  How can she not feel the burning?  What kind of freak is she? He wondered.  

He watched her for several hours as Robert's body burned.  She simply looked at the trees with unseeing eyes.  It was as if no one was in the body to feel the pain at all.  Finally, when his fury ebbed and the fire had grown cold, he again grabbed the girl and forced her to look at him.  "I'm James!" he yelled over and over, "I'm James, and you will remember me!  Do you understand?  You will remember me!"  Then he picked her up and strode off into the woods.  He lay her nearly a mile from where the fight took place and hid to watch in silence as the newborn awakened on her own.

 

Chapter 3:Feral by Openhome
Author's Notes:

Huge thanks to Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot. My betas kept me on track as Alice takes her first steps as a newborn.

Stephenie Meyer owns all Twilight characters and plot. I own original characters who like to play with hers.

Warning: this chapter is bloody. Edward describes Alice as almost feral, and this is how I pictured her first days as a newborn. It gets better, but not quite yet.

 

 

I had no idea of what I was seeing.  My eyes opened to a strange color that I didn't think I had seen before.  It was so bright and wonderful that I just looked at it for a long time.  I realized that there was a light in the middle of this magnificent blue -- blue that was what it was -- and the light was beyond beautiful.  It was full of colors that I had never known could exist.  The colors mesmerized me as I watched them change.  Somewhere deep inside of me, I knew that this was the sky and the light was the sun, and I was seeing them with my eyes, but somehow they looked all wrong.  I gloried in the light and the color.  I looked until I felt a strange sensation around my mouth.  I touched the area around my mouth and found that my face was smiling.  

Then I noticed that leaves on the trees above me were blocking part of the sky.  I could see each leaf as a separate thing -- each one had a unique pattern in its veins and its own hue of green.  There were spiders and webs and beetles on the leaves and branches.  I followed their wanderings down to the trunk.  Then I saw the forest. 

I sat up to better see around me, but I moved all wrong.  It was too fast, and took too little effort.  I looked at my hands, and gasped as I saw that they reflected the colors I had seen in the sun, but in a million different pieces.  I touched the glittering surface of my skin.  It was so smooth and hard, and yet it gave under my touch as I watched the light play on it.  I glittered like the dew on the spiders webs in the tree.  In my mind, something warned me that this was wrong.  I thought I remembered that my skin didn't look like this, but the ghost of a memory didn't tell me what it had looked like before.  I tried to pull the memory of myself out from my very quick mind, but there was no memory there, only flitting parts of knowledge, but no memory about how I got the knowledge.  I knew the names of some things, but I couldn't remember ever seeing them before.  

How did I know that the disk was the sun and the green things were leaves, if I hadn't seen them before?  What had happened to me?  What had I been?  What had I become?  I knew somehow that I was different from what I had been, but I couldn't remember what that was.  I was so very confused.

I thought back to the moment I had awoken.  My quick mind knew I had only been awake sixty-nine and a half seconds, but already I was beginning to see the world around me more clearly.   I stopped looking to try to remember what had happened before I woke up.  Then, without warning, my vast mind was filled with a single image of a man's face.  The image took over all my senses and wrapped my being around it.  The face was slightly out of focus, but I could see his blond hair and sad eyes clearly.  Whoever this was, he was more important than anything that existed in this place that I had woken up to.  I needed this man more than I needed anything else, I knew it with all my being.  This knowledge left me with an aching hole in my heart, a rip that could only be mended by him.  My whole chest hurt, and I knew I would be scarred until I found him to mend me.  

Before I was ready, the face faded.  I sat motionless, reeling in the emotion of seeing him and hoping that the image would return to give me more information.  Who was he?  Was this a memory of some kind?  

No, and yes.  If he wasn't a memory, what was he?  The face was familiar, but this was no memory.  It felt wholly different from a thing of the past.  I searched my mind again, but I found no other things that I could recognize as memories.  There was knowledge, but no memory.  

Fear began to take hold of me.  I knew nothing.  I had no idea of who or what I was.  The entire world around me was totally and utterly alien.  

I swallowed against a strange feeling in my throat and tried to gather the small pieces of knowledge that I possessed so that I might make sense of what was happening to me.  It came to me then: I was Alice.  But Alice who?   Somehow I knew that people were supposed to have more than just one name.  

As I sat, one last piece of knowledge entered my mind.  I was going to die.  I didn't understand how, but I had known that I was going to die, and it had terrified me.  

So, was I dead?  Was this death, or was that knowledge wrong somehow?  Perhaps I had always been like this.  I desperately searched my alert mind for anything that would tell me what was happening and who the man was, but it seemed that nothing else remained.  I knew my name and the names of some of the things around me, I knew the face of the man to whom my life was tied, and I think I knew that this was somehow very wrong.  

That was all.

I stood to see if I could find any clue as to where I was and noticed the strange feeling in my throat was a growing pain, a burning.  The burning grew until it consumed my thoughts and became its own unstoppable force.  

I had to quench the thirst, but I had no idea how.  I needed a drink, but of what?  From somewhere deep inside me, I knew that I needed to smell the air.  As I did, I noticed then that the air held a thousand scents.  The bark of the trees and the blades of grass had their own smells.  I could smell the nectar stuck to the legs of a bee above my head.  I knew now that I needed to go and find the delicious scent that I could almost, but not quite taste, and that would lead me to where I could stop the thirst.  I quickly looked around, and finding nothing, ran headlong into the forest around me, driven by the need to find the scent that I had never smelled before.

I was surprised at how easy it was.  I could not remember walking or running.  I didn't know how from memory, but the ability seemed to simply flow from my body.  I was strong -- I could feel it, and it was so exhilarating to run like this.  I knew that it was so much faster than it should have been.  The trees flashed past me so quickly that they blurred in my peripheral sight.

Suddenly, images again filled my head.  Yes, if I continued to run like this, I would find the scent I needed by strange metal tracks.  I could almost smell the scent in the vision, and I could "see" that the metal tracks by a small river were ahead of me, I was sure of it.  I ran as fast as I could, easily leaping over a few creeks and the small river.  I continued following the river until I ran into the scent.  It hit me like a wall.  It was there in the breeze and my entire being reacted to it.  I lunged forward into a crouch as I was drawn to the ever stronger scent.  My throat was screaming in agony now, and my muscles were tensely poised for the attack.  Then I saw  three sleeping men who were waiting by the tracks.  Only they weren't men, they were my prey, and I was their hunter, and I would take them as my drink.  None of them awoke as I sank my teeth into their necks and deeply drank the delicious, pulsing, quenching liquid. 

It occurred to me as I drank in the last of the blood from the dying man in my arms that this was somehow wrong, very wrong.  I looked at the men; they were dead.  I stood back from the fresh corpses, and the realization that I was responsible for their death hit me like a huge stone.  Without even thinking, I had ended these three lives.  

While I stood wrapped in the horror of what I had done, I knew as instinctively as I had hunted that I had to hide the evidence.  

I lifted each man and tossed the bodies in the river as easily as if they were made of feathers.  Even with the bodies hidden from sight, however, my guilt overwhelmed me.  I began to tremble as I replayed what I had done.  Suddenly, I needed to escape, to run.  I raced away, trying to run from the scene burned in my mind.  The same question played itself over and over in my head as I ran: What kind of monster am I?

I was nearing rolling hills and thick woods by the time I slowed to a walk.  I didn't know why I had slowed until it was too late.  The wind had shifted slightly and, like before, the scent overwhelmed me.  My body lunged itself into a crouch, my mind snapped to numb alertness, my mouth filled with liquid that made my throat burn like fire. 

A small part of me screamed in protest, trying to make it stop, but I didn't know how to stop it.  None of this seemed stoppable.  

I didn't understand this all encompassing drive that was absolutely in control of every part of my being.  I fought the red haze that now filled my eyesight, fought the tense muscles, fought the scent, but it didn't help.  I was urged forward by an invisible, unstoppable hand until I found the old man and woman sitting in the evening light outside of their cabin.  The woman was awake, but the man was asleep in the chair.  The woman never saw me strike her, but the old man woke as I crushed his wife's neck and drained her life in only a few seconds.  His eyes only had begun to register the horror of what he had seen when I ripped his life from him as well.

As the last of the hot blood soothed my throat, a vision of this couple laughing and cooking filled my mind.  Before I could even understand it, it swirled and changed to two bodies lying, dew covered under the stars.  I understood immediately.  They should have been alive and happy, but now they would never laugh again.  

I looked up and fully realized what I had again done. I had killed this innocent couple. The scene was almost beyond my new mind's ability to process.  

How had I done this?  

They didn't deserve to die this way.  They had lived a long life together, and they should have died peacefully in each other's arms or in the presence of their loved ones.  I had executed them for food, and I couldn't even stop myself from murdering them.  

I lay by the bodies and sobbed, but no tears came -- I couldn't even repent for this sin with tears.

I lay there throughout the night as the corpses grew cold and stiff and were covered with the night's dew.  Just as I had seen, the starlight twinkled off the dew.  

I was empty.  My body hadn't lost any strength, but my mind was hollow and felt tired.  I desperately tried again to find any memory or any shred of knowledge that could help me understand what and who I was.  Then, suddenly, I wasn't lying by the couple, I was in a car with a family.

The vision that interrupted my self-reproach was so strong that I leapt up.  I saw the family's terrified expressions as they climbed out of their car and were attacked by me.   A man and a woman and several children would be here by midmorning.  I could feel the raging red haze growing in me at the thought of new blood.  

I was frozen, I did NOT want to kill this family, but I knew that if I stayed they would die by my teeth and hands.  I had to leave.  

I looked around the grisly scene and realized that it would be best if they found this couple lying in their bed in a burning home.  I knew that that would be an acceptable death, a normal one, or at least more so than the scene at my feet.  

It took only seconds to place them side by side on their bed and find the strong smelling lamps.  After throwing the liquid over the bodies, I looked around the room for a match, and screamed.

Standing across the room from me, a true monster stared back at me from a mirror.  She was covered in blood, looked sickeningly white, and had horrifying, scarlet red eyes.  I stepped closer, my gaze locked on the terror of myself.  The creature was beautiful -- utterly so.  She was small, had short black hair, and her blood smeared face was absolutely perfect.  I thought I saw something in that face that I remembered, but I couldn't be sure.  It was the eyes, though, that held me mesmerized.  The color was shocking, but I knew that that color was wrong.  My eyes weren't like that.  Once, even though I couldn't remember when, my eyes had been different.  I had indeed been changed.

The vision of the family returned, stronger now, and the red fury grew that much more difficult to ignore.  If I stayed any longer, I was going to kill another family, so I continued my desperate hunt for matches.  As my hand reached for the match book, the vision changed.  The family was still going to arrive and step out of the car, they would still be terrified by what they saw, but I would no longer be here to kill them.  I had refused to let them die, and now their lives would not end. I looked at the creature in the mirror one last time, struck a match, and began the inferno that would protect the living and burn the dead. 

 

xXOXOXOXOXOXx

 

I ran all day, trying to avoid any contact with people.  Within the first six hours of my known life, I had killed five human beings.  At this pace, I could have emptied a city within a month.  The thought seemed funny, in a sick sort of way, and I giggled. The sound shocked me.  It was lovely to my ears and sounded like bells or chimes.  

I was near a river, so I followed it until it flowed between two steep banks of red clay.  Here I stopped and began talking to myself.  My voice was the most beautiful thing I had ever, as far as I remembered, heard.  

If anyone sees me, I thought, they will think I'm a lunatic.  I began laughing out loud. Oh, yes, talking to myself is ever so much better than killing people for food and seeing things.  

Hearing my own laughter made me feel less alone and less like a monster.  Feeling less like a monster was important because the thirst had, by now, returned as a constant burn.

I noticed that the two red clay walls surrounding the river created a rather odd echo.

"Hello, heelllooo.  Hello Alice, how are you feeling today.  A little bit like a lunatic, and how are you?  Bored, really bored.  Okay, you should do something fun.  Like what?  I don't know, maybe we should try singing," I said it out loud, trying to be a little less alone.  I tried to remember a song, but nothing came.  

"Fine, then, I'll just hum."  So I began to make up a melody that seemed familiar.  Suddenly the melody became a song that I had loved once, a children's song about a silly lamb and a girl named Mary.  I sang it over and over getting louder each time until the vision hit.

Men were coming soon, and the knowledge delighted the unstoppable beast that now took over my mind.  I was in its grip, and there was nothing I could do.  Even as I grieved over my actions, I began the hunt for the blood I needed so badly.   

They were walking together, with their guns slung over their backs.  I tried to take them both down with a single leap, but these were skilled hunters, and I could only down one.  I drained him quickly as his companion shot me twice with the shot gun and then began to run.  The shots only nudged me a little.  The second man only made it fifteen yards before my teeth ripped out his neck.  I realized that these looked to be young men, possibly teenagers, and most likely brothers. I shook with my tearless sobs as I buried them.

I could see a misty vision of people calling their names here in the woods.  They had a family, parents, sisters or brothers that would wonder where they were and come looking.  How many people would grieve over these two slain boys?  

How could I stop this?  How could I stop being a ravenous beast intent on killing every human within my reach?  As my hands easily tore through the hard, red clay, my always alert mind began to wonder about the visions that kept me fed.  Did everyone have these or was I alone in this, too?  None of the people I had killed seemed to know that I was coming, so perhaps they were a part of what I was.  

Could the visions help me stop killing so many innocent people?  Twice now, they had warned me of others just as they told me of prey.  Did they come randomly, or did I need to be thinking about something?  Could it be both?  Could I control them in some way?  Could I use these visions to keep from hurting people?  With some practice, could I become less of a monster?

 

xxX|||Xxx

 

My questions were quickly answered, and the answer was no.

It happened while I was running through the woods trying to put distance between me and the families that would be searching the woods.  Not only did I not want to hear their plaintive and useless cries, I didn't want to be any where near them.  I had already taken two members of their family, and they shouldn't lose anyone else to my thirst today.  

I didn't want to take anyone else ever again to quench the unyielding thirst that drove me.  

Unfortunately, without warning, I ran across a farmer's field with the farmer still in it.  No vision drove me this time.  Just a whiff of his strong, sweaty scent caused me to attack him with no conscience thought needed.  He saw me just as I lunged, and I saw the beautiful sparkles of my skin reflect in his fear filled eyes.  Within two seconds of smelling the man, I was draining him as he weakly struggled in my arms.

Then the vision hit.  Too close, much too close, his wife was calling for him.  I could see myself lunge for her as I heard the last, weak thump of his heart.  This time, I fought the urge with every fiber of my being.  I did not want or need this woman's blood.  I had taken her husband, that was enough.

I scooped up the body and began fighting my way to the edge of the trees.  I lurched and jerked with the almost painful refusal to feed.  Even though I was totally full of blood, my stomach full to the point of bursting, the vision of her caused my throat to burn and my arms and legs to ache from the exertion of not following my instincts.  

I carried the body for several hundred feet through the woods, looking for a place to throw it.  I came to another opening in the trees to find a small stream surrounded by cows.  They bolted when I came out of the trees, running full speed across the field, and I quickly dumped the man's body in the muddied stream.  Then I turned and tried to run further from the woman who was following my deep footprints.  I was certain that I could avoid the woman if I just ran away, but my feet wouldn't run.  I forced them, step by wretched step, to carry me away from the farmer's wife, but my mind told me what I did not want to know.  She was following me, just a few hundred feet away, and my own body refused to budge another step.

I stood, frozen between desire and self-loathing, as the woman came closer.  I could hear her frightened cries and her tentative steps as she came through the woods.  I tried, truly tried to turn.  I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate only on running, tried to force my treacherous feet to move away, tried to save her.  I saw, in my mind where she was in the woods, and my head turned of its own accord in that direction.  I forced it back, forced my body to turn, but it was only listening to the desire for what I didn't need.  

With a final force of will, I successfully turned away and braced myself.  

Then she called out to me.  

It was just a timid "Ma'am?"   So quiet and scared.  

I didn't want to turn.  I didn't want to show her my eyes and my skin and my blood soaked clothing.  

It didn't matter what I wanted because all that I could do was turn and face her.  

Her face was frozen in a grotesque mask of terror.  

Her cry only lasted about a second as I sped across the field faster than her eyes could see and hit her body with so much force that her bones shattered from the impact.  I tore into her neck, forcing the hot pulses down my parched throat and into my bloated stomach.  It was painful to drink, but I couldn't stop.

Her body landed next to her husband's in the stream.

 

Chapter 4: Choice by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thanks to Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot for all their hard work with this chapter. They helped make Alice much more Alice-ish.

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its plot and characters. I own the original stuff and some seriously sore fingers.

 

Chapter 4: Choices

 

I tried to hide deep in the woods.  I wanted to run away from the humans that I fed on and away from the monster of myself.  I hated what I was, who I was, and whatever had set me in the path of these humans.  

How could I do these awful things?  

It wasn't right.  I wasn't right.  I could see them in my mind and kill them easily, but they couldn't defend themselves from me at all. 

Apart from my fleeting pieces of random knowledge that gave me my name, I had no knowledge of this world and my part in it. I knew names of the things that I saw, and I also somehow knew that others did not have the strange double vision that guided me.  I didn't know if any of my knowledge was correct. I truly didn't know anything except that I would kill any human that crossed my path.  

I hated myself.

I came to a rock cliff, and hit it with all my might.

I wanted to hurt myself.  I wanted to feel the physical counterpart of the emotional pain that was ripping me apart.   I wanted to destroy what I was, but the rock just crumbled beneath me.  

Again and again, I hit the rocks and trees around me, but they could not stand against the fury of my hands.  I scarred the earth, but it didn't hurt me at all.  

I could only destroy.  I could not even redeem myself through painful penance.  There was an evil thing I knew of, a devil, and he lived in his tormented prison called hell.  I knew of this like I knew of trees. I also knew that I was now a thing sent out from the devil's hell, unstoppable and damned.  

 

xXoxXOXxoXx

 

The woods ended abruptly at a long black stretch of road.  People would travel on this road, and I gave in to the joyous beast who was not thirsty, but never satisfied.  I walked slowly, waiting for the inevitable because there was nothing else for me to do.  I gave up trying.

I became aware that the day was turning unnaturally dark.  My eyes noted that the sky was black and green with building clouds.  Rain.  This meant that there would be rain.  I stopped in my path and welcomed it.

It came suddenly and fiercely, a torrent of rain driven by a whipping wind.  I stood with my face to it, palms out, hoping to wash the guilty blood from my body.  I could smell the blood as it became wet and then washed down my legs and was lost in the black road.  I smelled strangely clean, though I didn't feel that way.  

Suddenly, without warning, the entire dark expanse lit with a rending bolt that exploded a tree not but a few yards from where I stood.  The sound from the bolt and the explosion rippled through my body with a force that I had never experienced.  It was unbelievably painful to my ears.  I jumped, terrified by the sound and the belief that something was using this lightening to kill me.  I screamed, but I couldn't hear my voice over the roar of the next bolt that ripped the sky into a thousand pieces.  I began to race along the road, trying to escape from the vengeful creator of the storm.   

As I ran through the storm, I saw a large brick building in the distance.  I didn't pause to worry about where the humans were, I just wanted out of the thundering rain.  Just before entering, the rain turned to cold, white rocks.  The sender of the storm was now trying to hit me with ice.

"Stop it!" I screamed at the air.  "Stop!"

I ran through a large window on the bottom floor of the dark building.  I found myself standing, surrounded by shattered glass in the middle of a brightly decorated room with tiny chairs and tables.  The room reeked so heavily of humans that my mind clouded over and I again crouched to hunt even as my other senses told me that the building was empty.

I walked silently through the halls of the building, listening and smelling for any sign of others, but the only sounds and smells came from the storm outside.  Each room was full of chairs or desks, and had strange pictures on the walls.  Many of the pictures were simply made of oddly curving lines that swirled around on the paper.  Suddenly, my mind knew that these were letters and words, but the knowledge didn't help me understand the lines.

By the time I had searched all three floors of the building, my mouth was dripping with fluid and I was nearly mad with the desire for blood.  The only thing that kept me from hunting was another growing desire, a strange one.  The squiggling and swirling lines held my attention as my mind tried to recognize them.  It was so hard, but I new that the triangle one was an "a" because my name began with it.

I walked over to a large black wall, and picked up a piece of white rock, and turned it to dust.  

Chalk.

I tried again to pick up the small powdery stuff, but again it turned to dust in my fingers.  

Turning around, I saw a long, tube and a piece of paper on a desk.  

Pencil.  

I picked it up and tried to write on the paper, but the pencil splintered into a thousand pieces as it gouged out a deep track in the desk.

"Oh," I cried in protest, "stop it!  Stop breaking!"  I threw the desk at the wall.

Very gently, I lifted another pencil, and, using the lightest touch, began to draw a perfect "A" on another piece of paper.  Then, my hand went on to form other letters.  A-L-I-C-E.

It was my name.  Suddenly, I was anchored to this place.  I had once written my name, and I still knew how. 

I looked up.  The lines on the wall began to form themselves into words.  "Our Class,"  and "Class List," popped out from the wall.  Then I saw names that I somehow knew:  Jane, Eric, Mary, George, and Kate.  Others were there, but I didn't recognize them.

I ran down to the first floor where there were more pictures, smaller chairs, and larger words.  Along the top of the room, the entire wall was lined with letters.  I began to say them in order, at least the ones that I knew.  As I did so, a tune played in my head, and suddenly, I was singing the very letters on the wall.   

By the window was a long bookcase with several well worn books on it.  I ran over and shredded the first book I tried to open.

I sighed heavily and carefully took another fragile book off the shelf and carefully turned each thin page.  The pictures clearly showed what the words said.  It took me until daylight, but I was able to read each of the books in the first classroom, and had moved on to the second floor.  Most of these books did not contain pictures at all, but I could make out most of the words.  One book told of farm life, and another of a great war.  It was difficult to understand what the books were telling me, because I didn't comprehend many of the words, but it was invigorating to read even if I didn't understand.  It was a wonderful link to a world I had lost.  

I was also now living in a world that I would destroy. I knew what would happen here, the terrible things I would do, but I could not escape it. I didn't know how.  Not today, or tomorrow, but soon, children would be coming.  Perhaps over a hundred children would come to this place, and I was going to slaughter them.  I wanted to leave, to stop, to not kill, but I didn't have a choice.  This place was thick with their scent, and my throat was burning uncontrollably.  The only thing that kept me from finding food was the knowledge that it was coming here to me.

By midmorning, I was anxious for the children and walking through the rooms on the third floor.  These rooms were for the oldest children in this building which I knew now was a school.  On one wall, there were large, dark letters stating "Our Favorite Quotes," and thirty-two small pieces of paper were pinned to the wall below them.  These children must have been very brilliant because they had come up with many wonderful sayings.

One of the girls, Emily Dickinson, wrote, "Behavior is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels, or believes."

A boy, Ben Franklin, wrote, "A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle."

I laughed.  They were delicious bundles, but very small indeed.  One was never enough.

Anony Mous wrote that, "A guilty conscience needs no accuser." 

Two of the thirty-two caught my eye and seared my heart.

"We know what we are, but we know not what we may be," by William Shakespeare, and, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us," by Ralph Waldo Emerson held my complete attention.

William was wrong, I didn't know who or what I was.  Perhaps, though, I didn't yet know what I could be, either.  I wondered about that, about what I could be, what choices I really had, and I marveled at what Ralph said.  All I knew of my past was fear and death, but what was within me?  I had let a family live, but killed all the others I had seen.  Could I become something better?

Could I leave this place?

Suddenly, my vision of death swirled and collided with another vision, this one contained happy children and smiling teachers.  As I vacillated between trying to leave and yearning to stay, I went from happy children to white corpses and weeping mothers and back again.  I could see the mothers and fathers wailing over their children's bodies, and then see the children playing ball in a field.  

I would not do this.

I did not know who or what I was, but it didn't matter.

I did not know why I needed to kill or if how to stop myself, but it didn't matter.

What mattered was that I would not be a murderous, ravenous beast.  It mattered that I was strong enough to be something more than death.

The beast screamed in protest, and my whole body burned with desire, but I kept the two visions set in my head as I walked out of the building.  I would give these children their lives, I was more than what I had been.  It took every bit of strength, and an eternity of will power, but I finally emerged from the building as the sun set.  The vision of death subsided, and I ran away from what I had been. 

I was Alice, and I could choose.  

What lay within me was strong enough to keep children alive, but I would still need to eat, and soon.  I ran until I came upon a group of three men staggering down a lane.  I did not want to kill them, but I had to eat, and they were better than children.  As I crouched to hunt, no vision of family or grief came.  These men were alone.  I leapt on them from behind so that they would not taste fear too strongly.

 

X~X~X~O~X~X~X

 

The next four months were an experiment.  I stayed away from any place that lit up the night sky because the light meant people -- lots of them.  I tried to see what the future might hold.  I tried to use the visions to hunt when I needed and keep as many alive as I could.  

It worked well for hunting, but keeping people alive was difficult because, once I caught their scent, it was almost impossible to stop myself.  However, I gradually became better at choosing prey who were far from anyone else.  

I also desperately tried to see more about the blond man with the sad eyes.  I needed to see the unnamed man who held my very life in his being, but images of him never came.  

I even tried to see the past, but with no success.  My lack of memory was like a large open mouthed pit that followed me wherever I went.  

I was now better at using the strange images to get what I wanted and stay away from what I didn't want.  I found that if I needed something, I could often get a vision that helped me meet the need.  The only need I seemed to have, though, was thirst.  I was never cold or hot or tired or in pain -- unless I was thirsty.  

The only other thing my vision had helped with was to find lines of drying laundry -- the simple cotton shirt and pants I was wearing when I awoke were just bloody rags by the end of the first week of my life.  It took me nearly seventeen tries before I could successfully dress myself without ripping the thin material to shreds, but finally I managed to wear an ugly, badly fitting shirt and pair of overalls. I was much smaller than most of the drying clothing that hung outside.  

In all my travels, I saw no one like myself. I met nothing but my prey; not even the animals I shared these woods with would come near me. Each day, I grew more and more lonely. I would spend hours humming or singing to myself, just to hear a voice. I longed for someone to respond to me. 

I longed for answers.  What I needed was to know who and what I was.  What I needed was a misty sad man whose face I couldn't even see any longer.  What I needed was someone who could claim me as their own so that I would no longer be lost and alone.

My visions could not help me with this.  

 

End Notes:
Thanks to all of you who took the time to review! I truly love hearing from each of you.
Chapter 5 Vampire? by Openhome
Author's Notes:
As always, thanks to those who beta, Remilebeauishot and Molly Alice, and to those who review. Yes you! You make us all better.

All Twilight characters and plot belong to Stephenie Meyer. I own the original stuff. There really isn't much of that.

 

Chapter 5:  Vampire?

 

Throughout the summer, fall and early winter, I wandered and hunted in the area around the Ozarks, and the deep forests of Arkansas and northern Mississippi.  I hunted only when I needed to and let my visions warn me if humans were too near.  Each time I took a life, or more than one, I felt a little less like myself and more like the beast inside me.  Each death killed off a part of me.  I didn't want to hurt these people, but there was no way to stop it.  Many times, I could see them living their lives or their families grieving their loss in my visions.  It hurt to hunt someone who had a life I could see.

Only two other visions seemed to be important to me.  They were frustratingly foggy and unclear, and even though they made no sense to me, I knew they were important.  The first, of course, was of the tall, blond man who was walking through a door.  I had only seen that much, that when at last we would meet, he would walk through a door.  He was important, more important than anything else, and I didn't even know his name yet.  I couldn't even see his face clearly.  I really wanted to see his face.  It was enough to drive me insane, or at least more insane than I already was.  

The second vision was even stranger, if that were possible.  I could see men running in the woods.  They were running more like the wolves I had seen in the woods than the men I had seen.  The two were chasing something large, like a deer or moose or perhaps a bear and they were faster than the animals they chased.  Again, I couldn't see their faces, just their backs and hair.  One was blond and the other had an unusual color of light reddish brown.  It seemed to me that they were hunting animals, but without the guns that the hunters I fed on always used.

I also realized, as I watched my prey and the few humans I left alone, that none of them mentioned images or visions, and that they never paused as I did to see things in their heads.   So, I was either something unique or truly a lunatic.  Perhaps I was both.

By the end of December, I had to start going closer to towns and villages.  The hunters, hikers, hobos, and wanderers that I fed upon were becoming rare in the forests as winter set in.  I had gone down near a small town in northern Arkansas that sat nestled in between several hills.  I was on a ridge downwind from the town, so that I would not hurt anyone unwittingly, and I watched and waited to choose an outlying person to quench my now painful thirst.  

As I was watching the people go home in the twilight, I saw a figure moving on the street that forced me into a standing, alert crouch.  She was short and had black hair like me, but that wasn't the only resemblance.  I knew even from this distance, she was like me.  She walked too gracefully, her skin was too white, and every nerve in my body screamed that she was dangerous like me.  My body and instincts told me to either run or fight.  There was no third option, but I was rooted in this spot.  I needed to stay and watch.  

My mind was filled with the singular knowledge that I was no longer totally and utterly alone.  The only other people I had ever met were my prey.  Even those I didn't kill were so endangered by me that I couldn't even think about being near them.  Yet here was another who was like me, and she was in the midst of humans.  I had to see how this other of my kind could walk down a street in a town and not leap for the nearest throat.  

As I watched her, she walked down the main street, and entered a shop.  I couldn't believe it, and I began descending the ridge quickly to see if that was right -- that she had gone into a store with people.

Sure enough, after what seemed like an eternity, she walked out carrying several bags of what looked like clothes.  I felt an odd twinge of jealousy that seemed very out of place, and resumed watching her.  She went to a park that was by the school yard, set her bags between two trees, and quickly turned to run back through the alleys of the houses, to the other side of the town.  She now moved so fast that no human could see her, but I could easily follow her movements. 

Without thinking, I leapt down and began to run after her. I could not let her disappear.  I had to catch her. I had to finally know what I was.

I ran through the woods around the town, making a wide arc to the other side.  I tried to stay away from the human homes so that their scent wouldn't draw me in.  Finally, I saw her from a distance coming out of a factory that abutted the river that ran through town.  She quickly threw two bodies into the river, and then she dashed back the way she came.  I started to yell to her, but thought better of it, and retraced my path to the park.  I had run faster than her, so I waited by her bags -- fighting the run or kill instinct that screamed within me.

She emerged from the trees in a crouch, and she snarled a low and menacing growl.  My body reacted to this in the same fashion, and I found myself crouched with the same snarl coming from my chest.  

I was utterly shocked, and I stood up and gave a startled yelp.  I quickly covered my mouth with my hands and looked at her with wide eyes.  She was now standing with the most quizzical look I had ever seen.  It was so funny that I nearly giggled, but I was too on edge to allow that. I coughed it back and tried to smile.

"What are you doing?" asked the other in a lovely voice.  The voice and the look on her face were so opposite of each other that I nearly laughed again.

"I don't know," I honestly answered as a traitorous giggle escaped.  I jumped a little at my own voice.  Neither my answer nor my reaction did anything to help her face look any less confused.

"What don't you know?"  

"I don't know why I did that.  The growl thing just came out."  

She just stood there, still as a stone, and so did I.  Finally, she shook her head as if to clear it, and announced, "My mate and I are hunting here, so you'll need to go somewhere else.  There's a small town just down river; you can go hunt there."  She took two steps towards me, and I took three back.

"I'm not going to lunge at you; I just need my new clothes.  The little shop there in town has a remarkably good selection," she said as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

"How did you do that?" I asked.

"Do what?" she said with an exasperated tone.

"Shop for clothes and not kill anyone.  I can't even go within a thousand feet of them without their smell forcing me to kill and eat one of them," I babbled quickly.  Please don't go. Please, please, please don't go.  

"I hold my breath when I'm thirsty like tonight.  When I've eaten, it's fairly easy to just shop, buy, and leave," she told me brusquely.

"You held your breath the whole time?" I asked incredulous.

"Why not?  I didn't want to smell any scents, and we don't really need to breathe, do we?"

"We don't?"

She just looked at me, and then her eyes narrowed.  "How old are you?" she asked suspiciously.

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I don't remember how old I am.  I don't remember anything before I woke up from being asleep."

She backed away a few feet and began smelling the air deeply.  "You are definitely one of us, but you are the strangest vampire I have ever come across."

"I'm a vampire?"  I yelled it.  

I should have been terrified.  My ghost of a memory told me from somewhere that vampires were very bad things, but the relief that washed over me was so intense that I didn't even care.  I'm a vampire -- whatever a vampire is.

"Do not yell that again.  Are you insane?"

Yes, I think so. "No."

"Who made you?  How long ago did you...um...wake up?" she demanded.

"No one was around when I woke up.  I have been alone since then, and I don't remember anything at all about my life before waking up except my name.  I'm Alice, that's all I know."  I was looking at the ground, and my voice sounded utterly dejected.  "I woke up two-hundred and ninety days ago."  My annoyingly perfect mind gave me the total without me needing to think about it.

She was looking at me with the same puzzled look on her perfect face, but now it also held a look of concern and maybe pity.

"Let me see if I have this right.  You are a newborn vampire, two-hundred and ninety days old, you don't remember anything at all except your first name, and your creator left you all alone."

"I was created?"

She put her hand on her forehead and took a few, deep breaths before answering.  How odd.

"All of us are created by another vampire," she spoke slowly, like I was a young child.  I guess I was to her, since she called me a newborn.  "It is very hard to create another, and only very strong and very old vampires can do it.  Usually, it is only done for an important reason, although I have heard that it can happen on accident.  I was created by my mate, but he nearly killed me in the process.  So some are created out of love, others because of loneliness, and others because they are talented or gifted and bring the talent to the creator and his coven."

"Coven?" I asked.  I wasn't completely following her, but that word lost me entirely.

"Two or more vampires make a coven.  My mate, Charles, and I are a coven.  This brings me back to you. Who made you and why?"  She was asking herself.

At that moment, another scent caught me, but it wasn't human.  Again, my body and mind told me to fight or run.  I found myself in a crouch again and could hear the rumble of a growl forming in my chest.

"It's my mate, Charles," she said holding out her hand to assure me.  Just then an unbelievably handsome man walked out of the trees.  She held her hand out for him to stop.  He eyed me warily but stopped immediately.

"Charles, this is Alice, a newborn.  A very confused newborn."  Charles took a quick step back, and came around to stand in front of the woman.  I realized he was protecting her. That simple move touched me deeply. I longed for such a protector.

I stood and tried to appear friendly by smiling, but it didn't work like I wanted because he moved backwards towards his mate and began to spread his arms.

"I won't hurt you.  Please, please don't go.  I just need some answers as to who and what I am.  You said I'm a vampire.  Is that why I can't stop killing people?"

Charles looked meaningfully at the woman.  "I see what you mean," he said.

He turned back to me and began talking in the same slow, child friendly way his mate had.  "Yes, we thirst for human blood.  Your thirst is especially bad at this time because you are new and haven't learned to control it yet.  It will get better with time, but you will always need human blood.  Now, we need to leave this place.  Two humans are dead and this conversation shouldn't take place here anyway.  Come with us."  With that, he darted into the trees with the woman and me following close behind.  

We stopped at a meadow deep in the thick woods, and he asked me to tell him everything I could remember.  I told them everything, from the first time I had seen the sun to the last woman I took as my meal. Everything except my visions.  They already thought I was strange, and I didn't want to add insane to that.  Both of them looked incredulous by the time I had finished.

"This is a first," Charles said as he broke the silence.  "You are doing very, very well for being so young.  I can't believe the one who made you just left you there -- that simply doesn't happen.  You have excellent self-control, but we can teach you a few things that will help you as you make your life."

"Can't I come with you?"  My voice was pitched way too high as panic filled my mind.  The idea of being alone again terrified me.  

"No.  I'm sorry, but we are a couple, and are not looking to make a larger coven.  Besides, we aren't ready for a newborn now.  Newborns take a lot of work," he ended grinning at the woman whose name was Makenna.  She elbowed him back.

"I'm fairly new myself," she explained.

I couldn't hide my disappointment at their denial, but I couldn't blame them, either.  I was hardly able to go to town and have a girly shopping trip yet.

"Okay, Alice, lets begin with what happened to you and we will go from there.  You were indeed once human, but one of us bit you, and you became one of us.  You have no idea of how lucky you are to not remember the burning."  

Makenna nodded vigorously in agreement. 

"It is very strange that you have no memory of being human."  Charles was continuing, "Because every other vampire I have met remembers at least their names and what they were before being changed."

"How much do you remember?" I asked, wishing more than ever that the black pit of my memory would release just a few pieces of information.

"I know that I was a simple cobbler, that I loved music and reading, and that my family was very important to me.  Our memories of our human lives are very dim.  Only those things that defined us or are of incredible importance remain, and even those can be lost over the years.  It is the core of who we are that we carry on to this new life.  My personality is almost totally the same.  As a vampire, I can still be essentially the same Charles I was because my basic characteristics are still intact.  Your basic personality is still there, but you must discover who you are from scratch." 

"What if the person I am is evil or a lunatic, or something," I looked down, not wanting them to read the fear of the "lunatic" part in my eyes.

"You are so very advanced for an abandoned newborn that I have no doubt that the person inside of you is absolutely wonderful," Makenna assured me.  I looked at her face and realized that she truly believed it.  

"You already know to hide all evidence, and that is the most important thing of all.  I cannot stress this enough, do you understand?" Charles was in teaching mode. "Humans can never know about our existence.  The only way you can be around them is if you learn to fit in and can control your thirst enough.  If anyone finds out what you are, their life is forfeit.  You must destroy all evidence, living or not, so that no trace of you remains."

"Why can't humans know about us?"

"We are fairly easy to pick out of a crowd if you know what to look for," he said wryly.  "While we are not vulnerable to them in any way, if enough humans found out about us, it would make eating almost impossible. Also, there is the possibility that humans could pose a threat if they came at us in a united front.  They are so much easier to hunt if they don't know about us.  Besides," he added darkly, "there are rules and rule keepers.  You never want to get the rule keepers, the Volturi, mad at you."

"Volturi," I mimicked, "they sound really evil."

"They aren't evil; they have just lived long enough to know that secrecy is our key to supremacy.  They protect us all by making sure no one ruins it for us.  They have kept us secret and safe for two thousand years.  Don't cross them, they have taken down entire armies of our kind."

My mouth dropped open and I stared in awe at what he said.  A whole army of our kind, and the Volturi had beaten them.  No, I did not want to cross the Volturi.

"By the way, you do realize that you are now immortal, and you will not age or die, don't you?"

I blinked several times as I tried to get my mind around the word "immortal."  It took me a few seconds to remember how to talk.  "No," I whispered, "I didn't know....It makes sense...sort of...since I'm so strong...and I can't get hurt...or shot...and don't need to sleep...but immortal..." 

They both laughed a knowing laugh, but their eyes were kind.

He began to talk in a very quiet voice.  "You know that it is hard to kill us, almost impossible even, but we can be hurt or killed by another vampire. In fact, our bite is the only thing that leaves a mark on our skin.  We can be torn apart by others of our kind.  If you are torn, you can heal if the parts are put together.  However, we are all flammable, even more than kerosene, and we will burn --"

"We're flammable?" I screeched. That would have been good to know.

"Yes, we can burn, so be careful how you dispose of bodies, and avoid burning buildings at all costs.  The only way to ensure that a vampire is truly dead is to rip them apart and burn the parts."

I must have looked slightly sickened, because he explained, "You shouldn't need to kill another one of us, but sometimes we get a little territorial, especially those who live in the southern part of this nation -- I suggest you don't go there.  You are a predator now, Alice, and as predators, we sometimes fight each other for feeding territory.  You know that you have an incredible array of natural weapons: strength, speed, exceptional vision and hearing, impervious skin, venom --"

"Venom?  Like a snake?  What on earth do we need venom for?"  The burning liquid that I had assumed was just plain spit was poison.

"If our prey gets away, the venom will stop them in their tracks. It is a useless thing, really.  I mean, humans simply don't get away from us, but, if one did, the venom would hold them incapacitated.  After about fifteen minutes, though, the venom begins to change a human to a vampire.  Once the venom reaches the full bloodstream, it is nearly impossible to kill the human, and a newborn vampire will be born in about three days.  Usually, however, venom is used against another vampire because it is painful."

"That's what happened to me," I whispered.

"That's what happened to us all," said Makenna.  

"Truly, Alice, you should not need to worry about fighting another vampire or angering the Volturi.  All you need to do is stay away from the southern covens, and be meticulously careful in your relations with humans," soothed Charles.

"You shouldn't go much further south of here, or you will be in the area of the fighting covens.  Besides, it's so much easier living in the North," interjected Makenna.  "There isn't as much sunlight here and in spots further north, and we can often go about during the day.  You must never let a human see your skin during the daytime."  I nodded.  I knew just what my skin did in daylight.  "And," she added, "don't let them see your red eyes.  Get some smoked spectacles, or only go near humans when it is dark or you are hungry enough that your eyes are black.  They don't react well to scarlet eyes."

"My eyes change color?"  I hadn't been around a mirror to notice.

"Oh, yes, dear.  You poor thing," she added, shaking her head.  "Your eyes are always red now because you are a newborn, but after the first six months or so, you can go longer without needing to drink.  It takes about two weeks to become totally black, but most of us never go that long.  It is usually safe for us to go out after about eight days.  Humans can be very unobservant, and we scare them enough as it is that they never look close enough to notice the change in eye color.  Just don't go near one after feeding."  I noticed her eyes were totally scarlet now, and it was quite scary to look at.

"But I will need to hold my breath when I go near them, right?"

"Yes, but don't try that for a while.  It is a very bad idea to push yourself because then you end up killing entire families," Charles said as I winced at his words.  "I'm sorry, but that is simply the truth.  None of us likes what we are, but we can't change it either."  His tone was morose and final, and I did not doubt that his conscience bothered him as much as mine did me.  Suddenly, I remembered the second strange vision.

"Have you ever tried hunting dear or elk?" I asked, a little too excitedly.  The look on their faces was so shocked and disgusted that I laughed out loud.

"Ew," groaned Makenna, and she crinkled her nose.  "Have you smelled those things?  They stink!"

"I don't think we can survive long without human blood.  I have heard of vampires trying to do so, but I believe that they eventually become weak or go mad.  You can try it, the chase could be fun, but I don't think you will like it."  He smiled at the thought.  "We should practice your human face and speech.  Then we can teach you how to walk and sit like a human.  It's harder than it seems."

"Sitting is hard?" I asked. 

"It is when you have to wiggle," answered Makenna. "Being human is all about the wiggle."

She grinned as me and shook her behind, and my giggle erupted. It felt so good.

We spent six whole days teaching me to be a better vampire and a passable human.  They took me to a mine, where I fed on some miners who were drinking moonshine in the woods, and showed me some really good hunting tactics.  They also gave me helpful hints on living -- like taking a victim's money because they obviously couldn't use it anymore, and choosing victims that were my size so that I could take the clothes.  They showed me how to walk clumsily, sit and fidget, and use a rough, ugly voice.  Makenna gave me a small mirror, for which I was truly grateful, so that I could practice my "human" face.  They were right; acting human was fairly difficult to do.

I was crushed when they left me by a small village somewhere in southern Tennessee.  I tried not to show them, but as they walked away, my chest felt as if it was going to crush in on itself. I was alone again, and there was something terribly frightening in that. 

I promised that I would learn to live with humans, so I focused on that over the next week. My first step was to practice being near a human or two and not killing them.  All I had to do was just hold my breath, squirm a lot, and try not to kill someone.  Easy.  

By the following Sunday, I had my wiggle down pat, and I began to look for someone to walk by.  It was evening, and my eyes and skin would be hidden in the dark. I came near another small town by a small river, there were so many of them here, and looked for a possible human to walk by.

A family was enjoying some fishing by a stream.  Absolutely not.  

A church was emptying after evening services.  How ironic would that be?  

A man was repairing his carriage while his wife watched.  Yes. 

The house was on the road, but the man and his wife were back about 30 feet.  I took a breath, tried not to look like I was holding my breath, and came out of the woods about 100 yards from the home.  Everyone stopped to look at me as I staggered down the dirt road.  I was barefoot and wearing a threadbare cotton dress, and it was chilly, but they were staring because in the dim light I was beautiful to their eyes.  I tried to saunter, but I think I mostly looked like I needed an outhouse.  As I walked and wiggled at the same time, I kept my eyes focused on the sign at the end of the road, and I was so elated when I reached it without killing anyone that I began to dance, really dance, about.   The people in town just stared at me as if I was insane, but I didn't care.  They were alive, and I had hope that I could one day become like Makenna and Charles.

 

End Notes:
Thank you all for your kind words!
Chapter 6: A Good Little Vampire by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thanks so much to Remylebeauishot and Molly Alice for making it right!
Thanks to all of you for reading and reviewing, and I promise to get better at replying!

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its characters. I own the original stuff and enough plot bunnies to overrun the world.

 

It took several weeks of practice, and one very bad accident, but I was getting the hang of being near enough to humans that, if I had wanted to, I could have talked to them.  I hadn't dared that yet, because I would need to breathe if I tried to talk.  I hoped to go shopping some time soon.  Ever since I had seen Makenna with that shopping bag, the need to buy new clothes was very hard to resist.  First, though, I wanted to try to chase and hunt a deer.  The vision of the fair haired deer hunters was more constant than ever and maybe it meant that I could try it.

It was deep winter now, and I went far into the forests of Tennessee to try my hand at deer hunting.  It couldn't be too hard if fat, drunk humans could do it.  I had stolen a pair of denim pants and a heavy shirt from my last victim.  They looked horrid on me, and I had to tie them on with an old rope, but they would be better than a dress.  I promised myself that someday I would have clothes of my own that fit properly.  As it was, I had to roll everything up or tie it on to fit me.

I went into the woods and let my senses take me.  I knew what deer smelled like --Makenna was right, they didn't smell good -- and I was sure that I could find some here.  With a dusting of snow on the ground, I quickly found their path and set off to find them. It took longer than I thought, but I eventually did get close enough to catch a strong scent.  

 It was worse than bad.  

I almost turned back, but instead I took a deep breath and followed the stench.  It only took a few minutes to find the herd. They bolted as I came into view, which was just fine by me.  I began the chase.  The run was invigorating, and this style of hunting was much more fun than eating humans.  The deer were fast, and dodged me quickly, but I was persistent and just as fast, and I loved the run.  Finally, one of the younger bucks turned and was within striking distance.  Without breaking stride, I leapt at his throat.  The animal crashed to the ground with me on top, drinking its hot blood.  I drank the animal dry.  

Not too bad, I lied to myself, but there was no denying the truth.  No, it's horrid and now I stink like a deer.  

If I hadn't seen the two others doing this, I would have given up after my first kill.  The blood was hot enough, but it tasted similar to the dust I often breathed in as I ran. This was going to take a while to get used to. The only compensation was that I was full.  More importantly, no human had died.  

I made a shelter for myself in a small cave, and I stayed in the woods until late spring.  I didn't even try to go near humans.  I ate the blood of animals -- bears, deer, wolves -- until I was sure I could survive on them.  The carnivores tasted far better than the herbivores, but they were much harder to find.

During that time, the vision of the important blond man was also beginning to change and become more focused.  I still couldn't see his face clearly, but I could make out his pale skin and reddish black eyes.  He was a vampire, I was sure of it.  His eyes were somehow haunted and so very sad, and I desperately wanted to make him happy.  More than needing to eat or live, I knew I needed to be in that room of people when he walked through the door.  

When the warm spring air had finally brought out the first flowers of the year, I went back to where I had hidden my few possessions: my dress, mirror, brush and cash.  I went to a stream and bathed, changed into my dress, and began to brush my short hair in the mirror.  Then I froze.  My fiendish red eyes were a beautiful honey brown.  I couldn't believe it.  I still had razor sharp teeth, deadly venom, and my skin still reflected the sun like a million drops of water, but my eyes looked oh so very human.  I shrieked for joy and began to jump around laughing.  Now it was time to buy a dress.

 

xxXooXOXooXxx

 

It took me four days to pick a town that looked big enough to have a dress shop in it.  I hunted until I was ready to burst, so that I wasn't thirsty, and walked with slow deliberation and no respiration through the town several times, readying myself for the store.  People were still looking at me with either curious or frightened eyes, but no one screamed.  

My whole body reacted to being in a town.  My muscles were so tight they nearly made it impossible to walk.  My mouth was so full of venom that if I had smiled, I think it would have dribbled out.  My throat was so dry that I wasn't sure I could talk, and it burned so very badly.  

I wouldn't give in, though.   I wanted to prove to myself that there was more than a beast within me.  I wanted to be like the humans around me.  I wanted that dress and a pair of matching shoes so badly that it hurt just as much as my throat.  

With one final bracing of my will power, I opened the door to the dress shop and walked in.  The woman in back greeted me kindly, but her eyes got big and she stayed at the back of the store when she got a good look at me.  She was a slim, black woman, and her two children were behind the counter staring with equally round eyes.  

I nodded to the owner and went over to the shoes.  These would be the easiest, because I already knew my size thanks to Makenna.  She had taken my shoe size and all my measurements for me because she said I was too small to find something pre-made.  The woman simply watched as I looked at the samples of shoes.  

"What size would you like to see those in?" she asked, nervously, from a distance of about ten feet.  Her voice broke at the end.  Charles and Makenna were right, we scared them.  Good.

"Five please, and I would like to put them on myself.  I have a bunion."  Half my breath was gone.  The woman looked relieved and came back, putting three boxes on the floor and scooting away.  Two of the shoes fit nicely, so I did some quick mental math.

The dresses were also just samples.  She would either order the right size from a catalogue or make it herself.  I wondered if I could learn to make clothes like these.  The idea intrigued me, but for now, I would shop here for some.  I picked out a dress, and two skirts with two shirts, a jacket, and two hats.  I would barely have enough money to get them, but what else did I need to spend money on?

"I'll take these.  Here are my measurements.  When can I pick them up?"  Only a very little air left.

The woman looked so relieved not to have to come close to me with her tape measure that she nearly laughed as she took the paper, went to the cash register, and told me to come back next Thursday.  I gave her the name Alice Charles, paid her for the shoes and the down payment on the dresses, and made my retreat with no air to spare.  On my way past the counter the children looked up at me.

"You are the whitest white woman I have ever seen," said the girl.

"You sure are pretty," said her younger brother.

I couldn't help but give them a big smile to thank them for the compliment and to celebrate my shopping victory, but it was too wide -- much too wide.  They both screamed and ran off.  Ah, well.

Even scared children couldn't stop me from being happy.  I was nearly bouncing as I skipped down the street, overjoyed at my accomplishment.

I knew then that I could do this.  I would find out who I was, what made up the "core" of me.  I would learn to be Alice the vampire, and still be a good person.  I would get a job, learn to make clothes, be with people, and dance, truly dance.  I would make the very best of this nightmare life that I had woken to.  To the center of my being, I knew it.  

 

xoXOXox

 

I picked up the dresses the next week, still not breathing, but much less tense.  I couldn't believe how wonderful they felt in my arms as I carried them out of the little shop.  These were the only things on the earth that were truly mine, made to fit only me.  They were like my anchor to a world that had been wholly unknown to me and far out of my reach.  Now, I had something of my very own.  Mine alone.  Granted, I had bought them with money from my victims, but I wasn't willing to split moral hairs.

The clothing worked miracles on the humans around me.  I was no longer an oddity, I was attractive to them.  In fact, I was better dressed than most of them, and could have easily lured any male of my choosing to his death, something I tried very hard not to think about.

My very first real problem, besides constantly wanting to kill off most of humanity, was finding a job.  Since I was no longer dining on the human population, I had no income.  I was just past my second birthday and still far too dangerous to constantly be around people, but I really needed money.  I tried to think of jobs that would let me be around humans but not near them.   When people looked at me from a distance, they were awed by me but not frightened.  The fright came when I was closer than a dozen feet, I had found out, so I tried to maintain my distance when I went into towns and yet still find a job.  It was very complicated.

The second problem was that I was very, very lonely.  I couldn't be near the humans that surrounded me, but I couldn't bear to be far from them either.  A part of me hoped to cross the paths of other vampires like Makenna and Charles, but I never saw any.  So, I mostly just walked through towns, still barely breathing like Makenna and Charles had instructed, and window shopped.  

By the time I was two and a half, I was in control of myself well enough that I could walk through the larger city of Nashville so long as I didn't linger too long at any one spot.  Since I had started drinking animals, I had only killed six more humans, and these were all accidents.  Two of them were men who were far too drunk for their own good and ignored their fear and came much to close.  They apparently thought I was much too lovely to pass up.  The other four were too near when I was trying to hunt.  It took practice to choose the right area to hunt, and I made the mistake of not going far enough into the woods three times.  Other than that, the animal thing was working well.

I stayed near the Smoky Mountains and their vicinity.  I could find work as a fruit picker and harvester, but only on cloudy days.  That worked well, especially since I usually had an entire section of the orchard to myself, but cloudy days during harvest were rare.

Then I tried my hand at farm work, but farm animals don't like vampires.  Actually, farm animals absolutely hate vampires.  I walked into the barn and immediately panicked all the livestock so badly that they nearly destroyed the barn as they fled.  The sheep dropped dead on the spot.  The poor farmer spent several days trying to retrieve his traumatized cows and pigs.  On the plus side, his fields were well fertilized next year.

So, I searched.  I searched for others of my kind.  I searched for a job that wouldn't create panic in man or beast.  I searched my visions for any glimpse of the nameless man I loved.

By early spring of 1923, I was walking through Nashville again on a rainy day and I saw a sign on a small, dirty shop.  It was like a gift from the gods.

WANTED: SEAMSTRESS

PIECEWORK ONLY - WORK AT HOME

APPLY WITHIN 

I was wearing my skirt and blouse, so I knew I was decent enough to apply for a job.  I stood there a few minutes and tried to see if a helpful vision would pop into my head, but the fickle things weren't very cooperative, so I took a very deep breath, and walked in the door.  

The old man and woman inside looked up curiously at me as I walked in. 

"Hi, my name is Alice Charles, and I would like to apply for the job," I said with as much confidence as I could muster.  Then I gave them a small smile that carefully showed no teeth.  They both just sat at their sewing machines and stared at me through thick spectacles.

"Is the job still available?" I pressed.  "It would be perfect for me." It was the "work at home part" that was perfect, except, of course, for the fact that I had no home.

The old man spoke first.  "This is mostly handwork that needs to be done."  Then his wife finished his thought with, "Can you do handwork?"  I noticed a clip to their nasal speech that told me they weren't originally from Nashville.  

No.  "Yes, but I will need you to show me exactly what you want done."  I was now almost completely out of breath.  I hoped my strong, fast fingers, and quick mind would make up for my utter lack of sewing experience.

"Come over here and watch me, then do what I do," said the woman brusquely in the same clipped accent.  She was very businesslike.  

"We are doing beadwork for a wedding gown," began her husband.

"...and I need to see if you can do it before we even think about hiring you," finished his wife.  

Did all human married couples talk like that?

I grabbed a chair, sat as far away as I could in the little shop, and watched the woman intently as she beaded the cuff of a long, white sleeve that was not yet attached to the gown.  Then, she handed it to me, looking wary.  I began to do with my hands what I had memorized her doing.  It was fairly easy, but I didn't want to go too fast because that might give me away. I completed the pattern she had shown me in twenty minutes.

"Where did you learn to sew?" asked the woman after I had completed a pattern.

Here.  "Home," I smiled.  I had only enough breath left for a few words.

"Well, you are very good at it," said the woman approvingly.  

"You're hired," said her husband.  

Then she continued, "You will take this dress, and finish it by Thursday.  Bring it back to us fully beaded in the pattern on this paper,"-- 

-- and he finished, "and then, we will pay you.  When you come back, we will give you more work.  Do you understand?"

I nodded.  I was rather befuddled by their odd way of speaking, and I had very little breath left.  "Yes, thank you."  

I took the silk dress, thread, needles, and beads, and ran to the only empty building I could find, which was the local church.  I sat in the bell tower and sewed the rest of the day.  I was done by Wednesday morning, but I didn't take the dress back because I was afraid it might appear too un-human.   I sat in the bell tower, admiring the wonderful material and the sparkling beads that I had attached to it.   I loved the feel of the silk and the look of the beads as they were sewn into a floral pattern.

When I returned with the piecework Thursday morning, both of the owners eyes shone with approval.  I nearly burst with pride as they ran their hands over my workmanship and exclaimed that it was the best they had ever seen.  They quickly filled my basket with several other orders that needed some type of handwork done, and sent me off.  I twirled my way down the road as I headed towards the old church with the empty attic and spacious bell tower.  Not only did I have a little money in my pocket for which no one had died, I had a job.  

 

ooXXooXXoo

 

"Can you use an electric sewing machine?" asked Myrtle, the female half of Dewer's Clothiers, on Tuesday the next week.  Hank and Myrtle had owned the little tailor shop that did special order clothing for the last 32 years.   

"Umm...I'm not as familiar with it," I responded.  It wasn't a total lie.  Well, yes it was.

"We've got a pedal machine in the back.  I'll show you how to use it," Hank said as he rose to clear off the buried sewing machine.   

"For the next few days, we will have plenty of work for you" -- Myrtle

"We have an order for six dozen school smocks for the Catholic school," -- Hank

"So we will keep you busy all day in the shop, if you have time." -- Myrtle 

I have loads of time.  I have forever, I thought.  "I may need to go outside a bit because I don't like small places, much, but I would love to stay and work," I said.  I would need to go out and refill my lungs.  The lack of breathing wasn't bothering me nearly as much as the lack of smelling things.  I was so dependent on the scents around me that it was hard to go so long without them, but there was no way I could let myself smell the human scent in the small shop.  Even without their scent, the mere fact that I was near a human made my throat flame in pain.  Killing my first employers would probably be a bad omen. 

"I'll show you how to thread it, and then just use the pedal, got it?"  Hank began rattling off the directions like I should know what he was talking about.  I came as close as I dared, and watched as he threaded the machine in a ridiculously complicated pattern.  

"OK, just sit here and get a feel for it," he said as he threw a few scraps to me, obviously wanting me to get used to the machine.  

"It may take me just a bit," I said as I tried to smile confidently.  He sighed.  I don't think I was fooling him.  "Ummmm...I need a little reminder of how to...um..." This is not going well.

Just then, a vision hit me.  In this vision, I saw the back of myself at the sewing machine, sewing frantically.  I watched my feet and hands work the machine with expertise.  When the vision ended, I put my foot on the pedal, pressed down on the presser foot, and started sewing.  Thank you, annoying and imperfect visions, I said to myself.  This was what a vision should be, not foggy and dim, but full of helpful information.  

"Does my presence bother you?" I asked after going out for a break.  I was so nervous asking them, but I was truly curious why they didn't seem so afraid of me.  "I sometimes make people nervous."  Mostly because they don't like to be eaten. 

Hank and Myrtle just looked at me for a second, blinked in unison behind their thick spectacle lenses, and then they both shrugged.  They had been married and in business for so long that they often reacted the same way at the same time.  It was as comical to watch them as it was to listen to them.

"I don't know...there is something about you...but I can't tell.  We are from New York, the Bronx, and nothing short of the angel of death scares us," stated Myrtle rather matter-of-factly.  I nervously laughed.  

"Well...I'm not exactly the angel of death," I sniggered, not exactly. "So, you're from New York.  Is that why you talk the way you do?"

"Yep.  We hail from a tough neighborhood in a very tough city."-- Hank

"and it takes a lot to scare a New Yorker," finished Myrtle smugly.

"Why did you leave?" I loved asking them questions because it was so much fun to hear their tag-team answers.  I would need to step out and breathe soon, though.

"Competition was too much," said Myrtle.  "New York is the fashion capital of the country, and there were so many dress shops, that we decided to try our luck in another city, and so we came here"

"Why here?"  I was now out of breath again.

"This is where the gas and the money ran out," laughed Hank.

"You should visit New York sometime," -- Myrtle

"It's so alive with people, and the fashions are so far beyond anything you could possibly see here" -- Hank  

"That we think anyone who loves clothes should visit the city at least once," finished Myrtle.

That night, I went to the church with an armload full of smocks to hand hem.  The idea of a big city scared me to death, but it also held me entranced.  A place where people weren't afraid was good, but a place without animals was very bad.  However, it was the idea of a fashion capital that really attracted me.  As I sewed, the organist came to practice, and I sat in the attic of the church lost in the lovely music below.

 

Chapter 7: Big City, Little Vampire by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Many thanks to my wonderful Betas, Remylebeauishot and Molly Alice!

It all belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I own tiny pieces that aren't worth mentioning.

 

 

The work went on for almost two years.  I learned to arrive at the small shop before dawn and hid in the back until after dark.  I took off to hunt when I needed, and went to see parts of Nashville and the surrounding area whenever I wanted.  I even caught some late night variety shows, and danced at a few honky-tonks.  So long as I kept up the detailed work I was doing for Myrtle and Hank, I didn't lack for any jobs.  The money they paid me was a pittance, I knew that, but without any other expenses, the little bit of pay was adding up.  I had no other real expenses, and now I didn't even need to pay for clothing. Myrtle loved helping me sew outfits that fit me perfectly. I was able to live quite comfortably in the old church so long as I wasn't there for services unless I'd eaten first. No one ever came to the attic area of the church, so I could easily stay there, listening to the music, reading books that I either found or bought, and decorating the large space with the few things that I owned.

However, I wouldn't leave the odd couple for anything. They never showed fear or attraction for me. They simply valued my work and my presence, and in doing so, filled a void that I didn't even know I had. Working with them in the little shop and creating works of beauty gave me a sense of belonging, a feeling of home.

When I was away from the shop, I used the time to try to understand my visions.  Of course, the most important vision was frustratingly obscure, but I knew now that the tall, blond vampire with sad eyes would be my mate.  I hadn't seen it, but I knew it like I knew my name.  I also now knew, and this made my silent heart ache in pain, that the reason the vision was so obscure was that it took place in the far future.  The closer a vision was in time, the clearer it became, and so this hazy one was very far off.

Then, on August 24, of 1925, Hank died.  

I came into the store as usual on Monday to see what needed to be done, and found the two of them preparing to let me cut out some bridesmaids' dresses.  I had taken over the cutting since both of their eyes were bad.  I had decided that one of the reasons they didn't fear me as much is that they were both nearly blind.  

Halfway through the cutting, my sharp ears heard a dull thud in the front room followed by a heart wrenching scream, "NO!" 

I ran in to see Hank face down on the floor with Myrtle desperately trying to roll him over.  I ran in and easily flipped his body over hoping he was just having a spell of some sort, but it was clear to my hunter's eyes that there was no pulse.  He didn't even have time to erase the shocked look on his face. He was dead before he hit the floor.

Suddenly, my chest felt as if my silent heart had been removed and the hole filled with lead.  I couldn't think quickly because the words he's gone kept echoing in my mind pushing any other thoughts out of the way.  I numbly went to the corner pharmacy and asked them to phone the undertaker, and went back to watch Myrtle sob over Hank's body.

It only took about 10 minutes for the undertaker to arrive after I phoned.  He was a kind man and apologized to Myrtle several times as he quickly took Hank's body away.  Myrtle and I simply stood together in the now empty store, holding hands.  I couldn't believe how much this man's death left me in sudden misery.  They had been my family, and now he was gone, and she was an empty shell sobbing beside me.  She was so distraught, that she didn't even notice my stone hand as she held it. 

I took Myrtle upstairs to their home and waited for her friends from the Synagogue to come. I watched as she simply walked around the small apartment looking lost with silent tears falling from her cheeks like rain. I would have stayed with her forever, but I was forced to leave quickly when their friends began to arrive because they were definitely afraid of me. I kept watch from a nearby roof.  Hank was Jewish, so he was promptly buried the next day.  I watched from the trees. The sun shone that day, and I could not go near to say goodbye.

Rather than return to the silent church, I thought it best to just go back to the open shop and finish what needed to be done.  I stayed in the shop all the rest of the day and through the night, working and finishing projects.  I was glad to have the time to grieve for the man who had accepted me as human, but I wished for someone with whom I could share that grief. I felt as if I carried some great weight, and I needed a friend who could help me carry it.  

The pain was especially poignant for me because I had caused so many deaths in my short life, and the reality of what I had done cut into me like a hot blade.

Is this what it felt like for all the families of my victims?  Is this pain what I have given to others? I wondered. Guilt swept over me.  I had to make things right for Myrtle, and in some way atone for all the others that I had killed.  

She came back down on Thursday.

"Hi, Myrtle.  I stayed and finished your work.  I hope it's okay," I was almost stammering as I tried to say something to her.  I was at a total loss.  

Myrtle just looked at me through her incredibly thick spectacles.  Finally, she said, "Thank you," in a soft monotone.  She had no expression on her face at all, it was like her body was there, but she wasn't in it.

"What do you want me to do now?"  I nearly begged.  I was desperate to help her somehow.  I wanted to make up for Hank's death in some way.

"There isn't anything to do?" she looked confused.

"No, Myrtle, I finished all the orders.  They have all been picked up, and the money is in the till.  Do you have more orders?"

"No, there won't be any more orders...Not any more...I am selling the shop to Horowitz Tailoring...I'm going home."

"You are home," I whispered, feeling as if the small comfort I found here was already slipping from my fingers.

"I'm going to New York.  My sister wants me to come and be with her family.  I've sold everything.  I just came to get a few items, and then I will go to New York City." Her voice never faltered, but it never changed either.

She still seemed confused, like a lost child.  I needed to go get more air, but I didn't feel that I could leave her yet.  So, I took a deep, searing breath and held on to the beast with all my will power.  In two years, I hadn't taken a breath around her, and the air in the shop nearly drove my mind mad with the thick scent.  I held onto my thin control as tightly as I could and said through clenched teeth, "I'll help.  What do you need?" 

She wandered the shop and picked up some odd items: his spectacles, their thimbles, a pincushion, an afghan Hank used on cold days, and several other small items.  We put them in a bag, and I walked her upstairs to their small home.

"Myrtle, what else can I do?  I want to help you.  You and Hank are the only family I've ever really had, and I just want to say thank you somehow." My perfect voice sounded thick. 

"Family?"  She looked at me and her eyes suddenly seemed a little clearer.  "Don't you have anyone here in Nashville?"

"No.  I don't have anyone anywhere," I said flatly.  It was strange how hollow I felt stating this simple fact.  I had no one but her, and the thought made me feel suddenly very cold inside. For the first time in my four years, I knew that immortal meant loss and loneliness rather than endless life.  

"Come with me," she said, finally looking directly at me. Her voice became shrill.  "You are the only family I have left, so you come to New York with me.  Please, say you'll come with me," she pleaded.  I had never been asked to stay with anyone, and the feeling was warm and pleasant.  

Going with her to her family was probably not safe, but sending Myrtle to New York alone seemed almost cruel. Besides, I needed to stay with Myrtle and somehow make up for the guilt of what I had done. She would need help, and I could see the big city.

"Okay, Myrtle," I said, my heart lightening for the first time in days. "I'll come with you. New York might just be my kind of place." 

 

xxXXooOooXXxx

 

It took five days for her to get ready to go in spite of the fact that she had indeed sold everything. Of course, it took me just as long to sort through all the items that I'd crammed into every conceivable spot in that attic. When did I get all this stuff and where did I put it?  I wondered as I shoved the last of the items in the dangerously overstuffed trunks.

We each took two trunks, her rattling with their emptiness, and mine threatening to burst the locks. We took the train from Nashville to Grand Central Station in New York City.  The train ride was the most difficult thing I had ever done.  Luckily, it was summer and the windows could be down, because the passenger car was old and thick with the scent of a thousand humans.  We got a sleeper room so that she could sleep and I could ride without anyone screaming at my skin.  It was much more difficult than I could have imagined being so close to so many humans. I kept my head out the window at night, letting the wind twist my hair and clear my head like some kind of farm dog.  

Of course, I had to do it. Not since I was a newborn did I want human blood so badly.

That night, the two most frustrating visions, the ones that I knew my life was totally wrapped up in, both hit me stronger and clearer than they ever had.

The two hunters were now three because a woman had joined them.  I could see the three of them hunting in some forest during the winter, or maybe it was just far to the North.   They were laughing together in snowy woods.  When the vision ended, I felt suddenly alone.  If I had known where and when they were, I would have leapt off the train and found them.  I knew that this was the family I wanted and needed. 

The second vision hit when the sun was beginning to rise.  It was him, and my silent heart reacted to this vision ferociously.  He wasn't walking in a door, but rather standing amid a horrific scene.  There was a fire burning behind him, and he was picking up what looked like chunks of crystal and tossing them into the flames.  My instincts told me that this was death and destruction, and I shrunk away from the vision, but could not leave it.  I was fixated by his face, which I could just now make out.  It was terrifying.  His neck and face were marred by what looked like thousands of crescent shaped bite marks He looked frightening and deadly, every bit the monster.  But it was his eyes that truly held me because they were the eyes of a trapped, broken and lifeless man.  He didn't want to do this, I could see it, but he had no choice, and the sadness in his eyes forced a sob from me as I came back to the present.  My other half was in pain, and I ached to comfort him.  I wanted more than before to jump from this train and find him, but I had no idea, again, of when or where he was.

The only thing that I knew for certain as the sun rose and I shut the curtain, was that I was headed in the right direction.  It wasn't a coincidence that both visions had gotten stronger when I headed east.  I was going the right way.

 

OooXooO

 

Myrtle's sister, Edwina Schlitz, lived in a well-kept part of the Bronx in what they called a brownstone.  It was her son's house, but he had given it to his mother after he and his family had moved into a larger one in Manhattan. Her son had an enormous amount of money because he was an investor.  

Edwina was only slightly less blind than Myrtle, and welcomed me with all the suspicion of a native New Yorker.  She spent hours asking me dozens of questions, trying to trick me into telling her what my real motive was in helping Myrtle.  Finally, she relented and allowed me to stay in the empty servant's quarters in the attic which suited me just fine.

Myrtle got me a job as a night seamstress at one of the larger dress shops in the Bronx.  I loved my job.  I was at the center of the fashion world, and I was learning more than just sewing and clothing design; I was becoming quite fluent in Spanish by listening to the Puerto Rican women who worked at night on the machines.  

New York proved to be a very easy place to live.  I was able to hunt once a week, taking the night train to the edge of town and running a hundred miles to find large game.  I loved the night life that New York offered. I loved the fact that I could find humans awake and active at almost any hour of the day or night, and I loved the fact that New Yorkers truly didn't seem to care that I was the closest thing to the angel of death they would ever see.  It was a vampire paradise.

Edwina was a shrewd know-it-all that truly seemed to know it all.  She often talked with me about banking and investments, and how to grow money.  Her husband had been a banker and her son worked on Wall Street, and she had more knowledge about money than anyone I knew.

"It will grow itself, if you do it right.  All you need to do is keep one step ahead of the market, and keep your eyes open.  This is the roaring twenties!  Let the stock market make you rich," she told me as I got their nightly cup of tea with a little bourbon in it.  A good "sleeping tea" they called it.  After two months, she was finally beginning to accept me as Myrtle's friend.  I took care of them in the daytime, and worked at night.  Neither one even noticed that I never slept or ate.

"You let me handle your first investments, and then I will show you what to do.  I'm even better at money than my son," she stated victoriously.

"I'll give you fifteen hundred, and if that does well, I will give you the rest, but, you have to promise me that you will teach me everything you know," I countered. I saw a brief image of me smiling over the paper, and hoped that I was looking at the financial section. I was very nervous about losing the money I had worked so hard for.  Jobs didn't come easily for vampires.

"By the end of two months, you'll gladly hand me the rest," Edwina snorted.

Within a month, that vision was fulfilled. Edwina was good to her word, and practically a psychic herself when it came to money.  Within two months, my money had doubled, and I had given her every spare cent I had.  The spirit of the times was foot-loose-and-fancy-free, and I loved every minute of it.  Edwina was a very good teacher, and by Christmas of 1925, I was able to buy the sisters some lovely hats and handbags from a very trendy shop on the West side.

 

xXxXooOooXxXx

 

"You should work for my son," announced Edwina in January of 1926.  We were looking over the investment section of the Times and discussing our next moves.  "You are really getting the hang of the business, you know, and a girl like you would go very far."  At least that is what she said.  What she meant was.  My son knows several men, and you are young and pretty and need to find a husband

"Oh, yes, Edwina.  What a perfect idea!" exclaimed Myrtle, who seemed to have made it her life's goal to see me married.

With my perfect ears, I could hear them plotting each night to get me a man. It was very sweet of them, and, if it wasn't an utterly morbid idea, it would have been hilarious.  As it was, my life with them was like a comedy that you might see in a dinner theater.  Two widowed sisters trying to set up their cute caretaker vampire.  The plot had potential.

"I really like my job, Edwina, and I don't like to work during the day.  Besides, not much goes on in the stock market at night."

"Oh, but that is where you are wrong.  The night time is when all the good deals are made.  The powerful and rich players work at night to reap the profit during the daytime.  You'll see, honey, you would be a big help to my son."

"Think of all the rich men you could meet!" Myrtle chimed in, exuberantly.  She wasn't exactly subtle. "Edwina, why don't you call Herbert after our gentleman caller's appointment," she added with a coy smile. I shuddered.

That afternoon, I met the latest man that the two plotters had invited over.  

The poor man was Freddie, the grocer for the produce market we shopped at.  He was pleasant enough, and reacted the same way as the other four men the sisters had forced to come over; at first, he was delighted with me.  

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Schlitz and Mrs. Dewer," he politely greeted them.  Then he turned to me and held out his hand, "Hi there Alice, it's a pleasure to see you again."  

Well, this won't take very long.

His smile broke wide across his boyish face, until I let him shake my hand.  I found that touching my cold, stone-like hand was a great way to make a potential suitor think twice.  He shook it, and the smile instantly dropped from his face.  

"Oh, well, um, so what have you been doing to keep yourself busy?" he asked me as we sat down and the sisters served tea.  Self-preservation had set in, and he sat across the room facing me.

"Nothing much more than work, work and more work during the week."  Oh, and seeing visions and drinking the blood of animals on the weekend.  "How about you, Freddie?" 

"Not much, just work, and then I go fishing on my off days.  Do you like to fish?"

Ick, I thought as my nose turned up just a bit. I had tried it, and fish blood was awful, especially since it was cold.

"Not much.  I don't like cold blooded animals, but I do like to hunt, though, and shop." It was the absolute truth.  The truth was all I really needed to send him packing. "Really, they are two sides of the same coin, don't you think?"

"What do you hunt?" he asked.

"Anything with warm blood pumping through its heart," I answered demurely, flashing a little tooth in a sly smile.

"Oh...um, have you caught anything recently?" he asked as his ears grew red.

"Why, yes, just last weekend, I caught two elk and a black bear near the Canadian border," I said to his widening eyes.  It wouldn't be long now.

"Wow!  So...what do you do with all those animals?" he asked, looking around for the usual trophies.

"Why I eat them of course, silly," I said with a demure giggle. He just looked at me, blankly.

Then, since the two sisters weren't watching, I smiled a huge smile at him.  He nearly broke the door down on the way out, leaving the sisters befuddled again and wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't seem to catch a man.  

He only lasted twelve minutes, but my best time stood at six and a half minutes. He was a  young college student -- I was rather proud of that one.  The sisters were totally clueless that the real problem to me catching a man was that I had already caught so many.

Two evenings later, I met Edwina's married son.  Herbert was short, fat and balding, but he carried an air of importance about him.  He looked me over several times, apparently shifting between fear and appreciation, asked several questions about the market, and then asked me to help hostess a meeting the next night.  I was to wear something "a little more like a party dress than a working suit," and show up at his office building at 8 p.m.  

The sisters were euphoric with the news. It mean they got to help me dress up, and that I was going to be surrounded by rich, eligible men.

That Thursday evening, I wore and evening gown for the first time in my life.  It was a deep red dress with matching ruby lipstick and had a matching red plume that I placed in my tight curls.  I looked absolutely stunning.  It was so much fun to dress up nicely and do my hair that I was in high spirits.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I wasn't afraid of anything either.  I could be getting myself into a bad situation, but I could also be going to my first professional meeting and party, and that idea had me giddy with excitement. By now, human scent was not nearly as potent as it had been, and I was quite good at finding clean air.  Besides, if the meeting went badly, I would just kill anyone who threatened me.  No problem.

I arrived fifteen minutes early, and was greeted by a woman in a short dress that was too tight for her sagging body.  I could tell that she was once very attractive, but now she wore far too much makeup on her wrinkled face and looked tired from the dark circles around her baggy eyes.  Those eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets when I walked in.

"Hi, I'm Alice Charles, and Herbert Schlitz sent me here to hostess the meeting."

"I'll just bet he did!"  She exclaimed as she gave me a thorough once over.  She was obviously one of those New Yorkers who didn't even fear the angel of death.  I smiled sweetly and cocked my head to the side, this usually worked to help humans relax a bit, but it didn't work on this one.  "What are you, like thirteen or something?" she demanded.

"I'm twenty," I seethed.

She raised a painted, ebony eyebrow.  "Do you have any ID to prove that?  I am not getting into trouble for you, honey."

"You can ask Herbert, his aunt knows me," I snapped back.  She was spoiling my fun, and I decided that I didn't like her.  Besides, I did not look thirteen in this outfit.

She looked me over again and shrugged. "You greet the guests and take their hats and coats.  Then, take drinks to them as they order from the bar.  When the meeting starts, take this pad and paper and sit by Herbert to take notes.  You got that?"  She barked out the orders like I was her child.

"Yes, I think I can handle that," I purred and smiled widely.  She just frowned and walked away.  This one wouldn't give the angel of death a second glance. I walked over and positioned myself in a part of the entryway that was in shadow and waited.  I didn't want to scare anyone on my first day.  

I certainly didn't scare any of the men that came through the elevator doors to the meeting, but I did seem to irritate many of the women.  The ladies were all brilliantly dressed in rich fabrics that barely covered their bodies, and each one looked me over in envy as they handed me their coats.  I was careful to only breathe by an open window truncheon so that I wouldn't get too overpowered in this small room.  I served drinks without breathing at all, and then, with a simple clearing of someone's throat, the meeting began.  I quickly grabbed the pad and pen, and began writing everything that was said by the impeccably dressed men around the table.  I began to realize that these men were industry insiders and brokers, and that they were sharing information with each other to manipulate the market for their own benefit.  This was very illegal, and the prospect of being drawn into this clandestine world both frightened and excited me.  In my mind, I began working out the next move I would make with my own money in response to what they were discussing.  At the end, I went to hand back the coats to the very friendly men and very irate women, and then I went to go see Herbert.

"So, Greta says you don't have an ID.  Are you twenty or not?" he asked outright.  

I look twenty, I seethed"Yes, I'm twenty.  My birthday is March 18th.  I don't have an ID because I didn't need one in Nashville."  I knew that New Yorkers accepted about anything as normal, so long as it originated from a smaller town.  I could have probably told him that I was a vampire, and that everyone was a vampire in my home town, and he would have just shrugged it off.

"Well, you'll need one here.  I'm going to send you to a lawyer who will get you everything you need.  Do you have a birth certificate, or were you born at home?" 

"Home."  It could be true. 

He sighed.  "Of course.  Then I'll pay for the certificate, you pay for anything else, deal?"

"Sure, that would be great.  Does this mean you want me back?" I asked.

"Oh, I absolutely want you back, only get a nicer dress.  If you're with me, you need to be top notch with the clothes.  We meet twice a week, more if needed, so keep your nights free.  Hey, you even did well on the notes," he said as he smiled approvingly and handed me $100.  "This is just the start of the money for you if you stay with me.  The sky's the limit, sugar, and you can go as far as you want."

I knew what he was saying, my looks could take me far in this illegal world of his, and I wasn't sure that this was a good idea at all, but I was intrigued with the possibilities.  With my visions, which were becoming stronger every day, and the information from these meetings, I could become wealthy enough to live however I wanted.  This was going to be a good collaboration. 

 

Chapter 8: Family, Sort Of by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thanks for continuing to read this story.

Stephenie Meyer started it all. She owns it, I just fit it all together.

 

 

I went to meet the lawyer on Tuesday because it was a snowy day, and the only precaution I had to take was to place my hands on the radiator in the waiting room to warm them.  Mr. Washburn was very much like Herbert Schlitz in appearance.  He wasn't much to look at, but, according to Herbert, he knew what he was doing.   He looked at me in shock as I walked in and then a crooked smile spread across his wide face.  It was creepy.

"You must be Alice Charles.  Herbert didn't do you justice with his description.  You're the cutest little vamp I've seen in a while.  I'm going to need to talk to that SOB, he's been holding out on me," he drawled as he looked me over.

Vamp?  How did he know?  I felt myself grow rigid.  We were supposed to kill any human that knew of us, and if I killed him I would never get my fake identity.

Then I saw how he watched me, and I realized what he meant.  Vamp was a word used for a loose woman, a prostitute.  I couldn't decide whether to laugh in relief or rip out his throat in disgust, but the desire for legitimate papers overrode the desire to rid the earth of him.  Besides, this man was disgusting, and I didn't any part of him in me.  

"Can we get down to business?" I demanded in my brusquest voice.  "I am rather busy and need to get this taken care of."  

Besides not wanting to be in his presence any longer than necessary, I had a rather busy day ahead of me.  I had shopping planned.  My boss had ordered me to shop.  What a wonderful job. 

"I have your birth certificate planned out.  Alice Charles, born in 1905 in Nashville, Tennessee.  What else do you need?"

"I would like a few more birth certificates, and, umm...what else do you recommend?"

"That depends on what you are planning to do."

"I think that I would like to travel, but under more than one name," I began, pondering my future.  I wasn't sure myself what I needed, but if the job I had became dangerous or if -- God forbid -- I slipped again, I would like to be able to become someone else quickly.

"Would you like to go to school during your travels, or get a job?  School transcripts cost extra, but they come in handy."  He was now very businesslike, and he had obviously done this type of work for a while.

"Yes, transcripts would be handy.  I have five hundred with me, and can bring in more if necessary.  How much will each identity cost me?"  

"For a birth certificate and high school transcript, three hundred.  College transcripts are an extra one hundred fifty," he said as he wrote out a list of what I wanted.

"Let's say, two extra sets of identities with birth certificates, high school transcripts, and one college transcript.  Each set from a different state.  Make them so that I am at least twenty, please.  When will they be ready?"  Three identities should be enough for any situation.  My mind was considering the word college.

"One week.  I need to know if you have any names you want to use, and what you want your college degree in."  He was writing furiously now and was all business.

"I don't care about the names or the states.  Please make my degree in something normal for a woman."  How was I to know what degrees were offered?

I handed Mr. Washburn my five hundred dollars, and stood to leave.  This man was very good at his job, no wonder he was used by so many businessmen.  He would have been a good source of information if I hadn't been so put off by his disgusting mannerisms.  

Maybe I should let him flirt with me a bit, and then I could see his response to my brand of disgusting mannerisms.  It could be rather entertaining.

"Just a second, honey.  I just want to know, what is a doll like you doing getting messed up with guys like these?  You could have anything you wanted, sugar.  These guys may not be worth it."

"I'm a big girl, and can take care of myself," I smiled back.  The full force of my teeth had the right effect, and he nearly stopped breathing.  

As I walked through the snow towards the high end shops, I thought over his warning.  He was right; it may not be worth it.

 

xxXXoXXxx

 

Over the next two months, I started to work on a theory that I had about my visions.  I was now a regular at the meetings, and Herbert was very happy with my work, so I felt it was a good time to use my visions to see the future of the stock market.  It seemed that I could see things fairly clearly in the future once the decision was set, and the stock market -- so changeable and hard to see before -- was now being set.   At the last March meeting, I decided I would try to see which decisions would work well by comparing the vision to what actually happened in the market.  

The meeting began the same way, with the irritating Greta, ogling men, and irate women.  The women were particularly irritated because I now had an especially lovely dress.  The tight fitting salmon shift was perfect on me, and I knew it.   

As I sat by Herbert, I tried to guide my visions when decisions were made.  These I quickly made a note of on the side of the pad of paper, so that I could see what worked and what didn't the next day.  It was very difficult trying to write and have a vision at the same time, but I was fairly adept at it by the end of the meeting.

I smiled dazzlingly as I handed all the coats back and waited for Herbert to pay me.  I loved to watch the men stagger down the hall when I did that.   Herbert came over and bluntly asked, "So what are all the marks about on the sheet of paper?  Are you playing your own game, or what?"

"No, it's no game," I answered quickly, and then gave him a mostly true reason for the extra notes.  "I just jotted down what I thought might work and might not work.  See, no harm done.  I just don't think some of their ideas have much merit, and I want to see if I'm right."

I expected him to be angry, but he just laughed.  "Okay, doll, if you think you're that good, we need to find some bigger fish to swim with.  Tell you what, I'll keep track too, and if you are eighty percent right, I'll give you three hundred dollars."  He laughed again.

"Deal!" I said.  "And if I am as good as I think I am, I want a permanent raise."

"Okay, sugar, whatever you say," he said, as if I was a child.  He walked out shaking his head, but I walked out exuberant because I knew that the visions had been crystal clear and true.

Herbert rushed into the house the next evening.  He looked red in the face and a bit unhealthy, like he had just run a marathon in his suit.

"Baby doll, I am going to make you a millionaire!  You beat the market on every call.  Every call!  We definitely are going after bigger fish, and you and I are going to be partners." With that, he threw three hundred dollars on the table beaming from ear to ear.

"I just call them as I see them, boss," I smiled back.  "I can't always tell what will and won't work, so don't get too excited, but it works out nicely sometimes."

"Well, whatever you're doing, keep it up.  Hey, Mom, betcha can't even guess what little Alice did last night..."  And he ran into the parlor to share the good news.

I was thrilled that my helpfully annoying visions had worked well.  This opened up a whole new way to work and live in the world.  I could focus on the mundane and still search out the future of some things.  

"Alice!" Edwina called from the front parlor, "Alice, you come here and tell me yourself how you did that."

"Oh, Edwina," cooed Myrtle, "isn't it just wonderful!  Think of the man she could get now."

xxXXooXXxx

 By the next Monday, I had a whole new wardrobe picked out, was in charge of Edwina's stocks, and was headed downtown to the Plaza Hotel for a meeting with Herbert's "big fish."  These were the bosses of the men at the other meetings, and Herbert was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof as we rode in his car.  I liked his car, and was already making plans to buy one of my own as he held the door for me to climb in.

"Don't stare at any of the bosses or their women," he had started barking out instructions just as soon as we were moving.  "You look great, so that is good.  Really, you look as good as the others do.  Yeah, so that will help.  Just keep your head down and act like you are my partner and not a hostess, got that?  Make sure you write down everything, okay?  Don't let them see the marks on the paper this time, though.  I swear, some of them have x-ray vision."  He was sweating.  This was going to be interesting.

"Why are you so worried, Herbert?  We've done this a dozen times, so what's the big deal with this one?"

"These guys play for keeps.  They don't just run the stock market, they run the city.  It's my turn to report to them, and this is a great time to let you see what they do.  If you can get an idea of what will work or not, we can both be richer than the Queen of England, and that's a fact."  He suddenly stopped his banter, and turned to look me over.  "You still only look like sixteen or something."

I had to bite back more than just an answer.  How could I look sixteen in this outfit?  It was a pink, low cut-top and a black skirt with tassels sewn into the hem.  Both the shirt and skirt tightly fit my figure.  I looked great.  He obviously had poor taste and fairly poor manners to suit.

The hostesses here seemed to truly fear me, which was strange, so I tried not to look at them and they conveniently tried to ignore me.  It worked out well for all of us.  

"All right, Alice, they will be here soon, so let's get set up.  Remember, just notes -- no marks.  We don't want to cross these people."

"We aren't crossing them, Herbert. I am just stating my opinion with their ideas."

"They might not like your opinions.  Just stay low key," he hissed.

As I grabbed the pad and pen, a vision hit that tensed every part of my body.  It was quick, but I reacted to it at once.  Four vampires would walk through the doors within the next minute, and I had no idea of what to do.  I tried to hold back the growls that were ripping at my throat as they tried to escape.  Herbert turned to me with a curious look, and I pretended that it was a cough and grimaced.  Then, I turned to watch the door, wondering if I should run or stay and protect Herbert.  I think I would rather run.

They entered the room like a troop of fashion models, walking perfectly and in the most exquisite clothing I had ever seen.  Their eyes were black, and they snapped on me as soon as they entered the room.  I was tensed to fight or run, but they just smiled quizzically in unison.  They looked me over from head to foot, and then each one focused on my eyes; my honey brown eyes.

"Well, who do we have here?" the leading vampire asked Herbert.  He was relaxed and his voice held no alarm or concern at all.

"Hello Mr. Simpson.  This is Alice Charles, just up from Nashville.  She helped my aunt out when my uncle died, so I have given her a job here in the big city," his voice betrayed only a little of the fear he was now feeling.

"She helped your aunt?" asked the tall, striking, dark haired female that held his elbow.  She had a slight French accent.  "That is so very kind of you, my dear.  How do you like the city?"

"I enjoy New York quite a bit," I replied as pleasantly as I could.  I forced my voice to remain calm and serene, not an easy task when a rather large portion of my mind was in panic mode.

"Have you seen much of it?" asked the other, very red headed female.  "I would love to give you a tour in my car.  I know of some very interesting sights," she smiled at me as if she was cheerfully discussing a getaway with a good friend.  "In fact, I insist that we show you some tonight."  This time her voice held just the slightest hint of a threat.

"I have seen quite a bit already, but perhaps you could give me some sightseeing tips after the meeting," again my voice did not betray my panic, much.  I remained calm as I tried to think of a way out of this building, but I knew that with four vampires in the room wanting to either get to know me or tear me to pieces, whichever, I had no chance of escape.

"Yes, after the meeting would be lovely," said the first female with a smile so beautiful that it could have stopped a train.  

It was almost impossible to focus on what I had come to do.  It nearly took all my concentration just to write down the notes, but I still got a few good visions that told me which plans would work.  Hopefully, that would be enough for Herbert.  I didn't really know if I would be seeing him after this night.

All too soon, the meeting was over, and I handed the notes to Herbert.  I merely touched the few plans that I had seen would work well and nodded at him, and he winked back.  

Like that's not noticeable, I thought as I rolled my eyes.

"Please tell the girls that I will be out late tonight," was all I could muster in the way of a goodbye.

"Yeah, no problem, and good luck...It's kind of the Simpsons to take such an interest in you," he smiled and turned to walk out, not the least bit aware of the near death experience he had had. 

 

xxXXooXXxx

 

"Well, you are an unexpected surprise," began the lead vampire, Paul Simpson, as we all ducked into their large car.  The French woman beside him was introduced as his wife, Annette.  The silent, large male was Gregorio Bonacchi, and the redheaded female was his wife, Marianne. Like so many in New York, none of them had been born in this nation.

"What is wrong with your eyes?" asked Gregorio in a thick, Italian accent.

"I drink animals rather than humans," I said in a hushed voice.  I didn't want to make them think of me as a threat in any way.

"You what?" Marianne gasped as a shocked look of disgust crossed her face and was mirrored by the others.  "You poor thing.  Are you allergic to humans?"

"No, I just don't want to kill them, so I eat wild animals instead.  Sometimes I get a cow or horse, but they taste awful. I go outside the city every weekend and eat there." I was babbling.

"It's a big city, and we can spare a few of the humans for you.  Please feel free to eat as necessary so long as you don't overindulge."  Apparently, Paul thought I was refusing to eat humans because I was afraid of eating on their territory.

"No, I really don't eat humans at all.  I haven't tasted human blood in three years," I explained quickly.  

I'm not a threat, I'm not a threat, I chanted.  

"So, you really eat animals by choice.  Do you like them better?  Doesn't that make you weak?  Don't you go crazy with thirst when you are around humans?"  Annette had gotten over her disgusted look and was burning with curiosity.

"I don't think I'm any weaker, but I still thirst for human blood. Sometimes it's quite overwhelming," it felt good to admit it, "but, if I'm very careful about my breathing, I can handle most situations."  The last part was almost a boast.  Their incredulous expressions made me aware that my simple meal choice astounded them.  

"Well, then...when did you get to the city?" asked Marianne in a somewhat friendly voice.  Perhaps they weren't going to shred me just yet.

"Last August.  The man I worked for died of a heart attack, and I brought his widow home to New York to live with her sister.  I had worked for the couple for two years after I stopped hunting humans.  I needed a job since I wasn't taking any money from victims.  Now, I live in an attic rooms and take care of the sisters during the day."

"You care for humans?" Gregorio gasped.

"Yes, they are very kind to me and let me live there for free.  They are like my family."  Somehow, in this room filled with my own kind, the whole vampire living with widowed sisters thing was sounding more and more ridiculous. 

"Oh.  Well.  You are full of surprises, aren't you, Alice?" Paul asked.  

You have no idea

"Why don't you come with us, we are hunting at the docks tonight, and then you can tell us all about your rather unusual life on the way?  We can let you know about the covens in New York.  We have a few rules here, and I don't want you to get hurt."  Again, the threat was barely there under the surface, but Paul made it clear that there really wasn't a choice for me.  

"That's very kind of you," I smiled politely at him.  "I haven't been around other vampires in four years, and I would love to get to know you."  I think I meant it, too.

The car was a Rolls Royce, and the nicest thing I had ever been in.  It flew through the streets under the control of Gregorio, who was finally looking happy and relaxed behind the wheel.  He was a huge, barrel-chested vampire with pasty olive skin and wavy black hair.  His face reminded me of the ancient Roman statues I had seen because he had the same angular jaw and dominant, perfect nose.  I waited inside the car while they drank their fill in the shantytown by the steel mills.  I felt rather guilty about the situation, but there was nothing I could do except to not hunt for myself.  As I sat there, I tried to see my future, or more precisely, if I had a future.  Right before the others returned, I saw myself clearly sneaking in the attic window just as dawn was breaking.  

Handy.  I didn't even know that the window could be opened.  

They returned without so much as a drop spilled on their perfect clothing. More impressively, they didn't even have a smudge from the thick layer of smoke and grease that turned everything in sight into a coal gray.  It had been so long since I had seen a real vampire that I nearly cried out at their now shockingly scarlet red eyes. 

"So, you don't know your creator, you were helped out by a couple of nomads, and you work with humans in odd jobs," Paul was restating the brief history of my life that I had told them about.  Again, I didn't mention the visions.

"Yes, it's a sad and lonely tale, but a true one," I tried to sound morose.  It really was rather lonely.

"I think you have done quite well for yourself with so little guidance," said Annette.  "You say you have worked in the fashion world?  What a wonderful choice!"  I could tell by her clothing and her enthusiasm, that we were a lot alike when it came to clothing.  She was truly an exquisite woman, and the most beautiful vampire I could imagine.  She had long, graceful limbs and a way of moving that defied gravity itself.  Her pale face was surrounded by a mane of waist long chestnut hair.

"It was just an accident, really, but a very advantageous one.  I can make my own clothes, design almost anything, and I even speak Spanish."  They all laughed at that.  Everyone knew that the sweat shops of New York were filled with recent immigrants from Puerto Rico and Cuba.

"So how did you go from fashion to finance?" asked Paul.  His reddish brown hair surrounded a strong jaw and wide forehead.  His face seemed to radiate strength.  

"Another accident.  As I told you, Myrtle's nephew is a financier, and his mother is honestly better at it than him.  She got me hooked, and then helped me get a job with him.  I enjoy the financial world almost as much as fashion."  Almost.   

"Well, if you are any good at all at stocks, I am sure you will find a welcome place among us in New York.  Most of the vampires here are heavily invested in the stock market," said Paul.  

"Perhaps she is gifted in money," suggested Gregorio.   

"Gifted in money?  What does that mean?"  I really didn't have that much money.  Yet.

"Many vampires have gifts," explained Annette, "some can sense lies, some can fight, and some can make you see things that aren't there.  Perhaps you have a gift or talent for money."

"Better keep it quiet if she does.  The Volturi would love that one," Gregorio laughed mirthlessly.

"The Volturi would want my gift?" I asked as my voice rose an octave.  The thought of the most powerful rule keepers on earth being interested in me for my gift made me panic.

"Are you kidding, who wouldn't want it in their coven," Marianne chimed in.  With deep red hair and only a little taller than me, she looked like a fairy child.

"Gifted vampires are fought over in less civilized areas," said Paul, "here you can use your gift freely, but if you chose to help us, well, you would have the city wrapped around your finger.  Regardless, you will want to keep it to yourself.  There are far worse covens than the Volturi, believe me.  You don't need to advertise any gift you have." 

We arrived at their spacious home on Long Island which wasn't so much a home as a castle that was done in a French chateau style, obviously chosen by Annette.

"It's lovely," I breathed.

"Thank you.  I wanted something to remind me of home.  Do you know that I was a ballerina during the first part of Louis the XVI's reign?  I used to dance in such places as this."  She waved her hand towards the house.  "I was changed during the coven wars that led to the misery before the French Revolution," explained Annette.

"Coven wars led to the French Revolution?"  

"Oh, but of course.  The death and mistrust was supposed to be caused by poor conditions and hunger, but the real cause was the war among the covens of Paris.  The Volturi were the only thing powerful enough to stop the carnage, but the people were in a rebellious mood by the time the Volturi intervened.  You would not believe how many human events, especially bad ones, are somehow related to vampire issues."  She smiled as she took my coat and led me to the huge sitting room.  I gave the lit fireplace a wide berth, just in case.

"You said there were some rules to being a vampire in New York.  Why don't you tell me about those first, please, because I really don't want to break any."  I still felt very outnumbered.

They sat, each by their mates, on the settees and froze as still as statues.  I noticed that the two pairs sat so close to each other it looked at though they were both carved of one stone, and connected at the center.  A sharp longing hit me as I watched the mates interact.  It was as if they were crafted by some master artist just for each other.

"The first rule apparently doesn't apply to you," laughed Paul.  He shook his head again and stared at me still disbelieving my choice.  "Don't overeat in New York, and don't call attention to yourself.  That's all, but it is hard for some newcomers to follow.  This city is so full of the homeless and transient workers that it is easy to overdo things a bit.  We have had to stop many a glutinous vampire."  They all laughed at some secret joke.

"The second is simply to help the covens of New York if you choose to stay.   You see, we work together closely so that we don't cause any issues.  We plan when to eat, when and where we go out, and how involved we are in the market, industry, and crime."

"How many covens are there?" I asked.  I was very curious how many of us there were since they had to plan everything so carefully.

"Seven."

"Seven?"

"Yes, but there are individuals as well, and that makes a total of twenty-two of us with you here.  So, you can imagine how careful we have to be to stay undetected.  We are very careful of newcomers, because they can cause so much damage so quickly.

"This is where you come in, Alice.  The New York community is not an easy thing to keep together, and each coven and individual must do their part to work things out.   You must come when there is a problem to deal with.  If another coven or individual tries to make trouble or to enter the city without permission, we all fight to protect what is ours."

"How often does that happen?" I asked in wonder.  Twenty-two vampires in the city, the idea boggled my mind.

"Once every few years or so," Gregorio answered.  "We usually need to deal only with individuals, but occasionally, twice a decade or so, we must fight a coven intent on moving in and taking over."  He must have seen the shock on my face because he added with a smile, "Don't worry, that isn't dangerous, just fun.  When we all work together, it's like a sporting event.  Ivan from Manhattan and I have a running tally going on who has destroyed the most intruders."

"Oh, um, that does sound like fun." 

"The covens are spread out over the whole metropolitan area of New York, but you're the only one living with humans.  That has to be so very odd for you.  How do you do it?" asked Marianne.

I smiled despite myself. My life was causing this coven no end of consternation.

"It isn't as hard as you might think.  I am so used to their scent that I only rarely have trouble.  My main issue with them is that they are trying to get me married off," I explained.

As if on cue, the four vampires roared with laughter.  "I would pay good money to see that," Gregorio snickered.

"They are really very sweet.  Myrtle is the only person I have spent any time with at all," I said, and my voice must have shown my affection for them.

"Ah, but what will you do when these two are gone?  Are they not old now?" Annette asked kindly.  "You need to remember, their lives pass so quickly, and we stay always the same.  Perhaps you should think of your next move before the time comes."

"I know they don't have long," I answered quietly.  This was one area that my quick mind had already reluctantly considered.  Myrtle was looking increasingly frail since Hank's death, and I knew that she only had a few years left, if that.  "I am getting a few identities ready for when she dies.  I was thinking of traveling around a bit and maybe seeing the United States."  I was planning to travel south to find the missing part of my life.  The thought of the southern covens, though, still worried me.

"Who do you use for identity?" asked Paul.  "We have people all over the states, and abroad, that can help us maintain a legal identity, so we try to use only them."

I must have unknowingly broken a rule by going to an unauthorized crook. 

"His name is Washburn, and Herbert sent me to him.  He doesn't realize anything, though." I added quickly, "All he noticed was my body and my face, not the deadly parts.  He looked at me like a piece of meat."  That still had me fuming.

"Would you like me to return the favor?" laughed Gregorio.

Marianna was quickly writing a list of names down on a piece of paper. "Memorize these, and then get rid of the sheet.  These firms are indispensable to a vampire because they are our key to living undetected. There are nine here in the U.S. and Canada.  There are three in England, one in Switzerland, and three in France and Italy.  We don't have any in the orient because it simply isn't necessary, and Russia is a mess right now, so we don't need any there.  Most of the vampires are leaving Russia anyway."

There seemed to have been a worldwide network of vampire law firms.  I stared at the names in awe.  Was there some kind of crooked lawyer training for this?

"Do they know who and what we are?" I asked as I looked at the list.

"Oh, heaven's no," said Marianne.  "They are just unscrupulous lawyers or government officials who don't ask questions for the right amount of money.  Remember, we don't work with the law, but above it.  Most of the Mafia around the world is run by vampire covens, so the illegal stuff is easy for us to work through.  That's why Gregorio is here in the U.S.," she smiled lovingly at the large vampire, "he helps us coordinate between the European and American crime organizations."

"Oh.  I didn't know we ran the Mafia.  I guess you can't get a regular job with glowing red eyes, can you?"  

I hadn't realized just how illegally the vampires existed, and it seemed we were involved in almost every aspect of the darker side of human society.  Not only did we eat them, we made money off of them.  It was both rather humorous and utterly morbid.  

"You know, this would all be easier if someone wrote an instruction manual," I grumbled.  "Who knew there would be so many rules to being evil incarnate?"

Everyone laughed.  "She has a brilliant idea," giggled Marianne.  "We should make a Welcome to the World of the Damned Handbook.  I'll get started right away."

"I can see we've given you a lot to think about, Alice."  Paul's words were soft, but he had taken on a tone of authority.  I realized that he was probably the leader of all the covens in the city.  "You are very welcome here, just follow the rules and help us out, and you will find New York a very accommodating city to live in."

Help us out.  The words triggered a thought.  "By the way, I think your manipulation of the commodities market will work better if you lead with corn.  Don't look to the manufacture of street cars as a long term investment because I think that automobiles and airplanes will do better," I said as I ticked of the list in my head.  There, I had helped if they would take my advice.

"Interesting," said Paul.  "Thank you, we will consider it.  Now, let us show you how to move about New York vampire style."

 

End Notes:
I hope you enjoyed her little meeting. The coven will be important to her life for the next decade or so. You will see why.
Chapter 9: The Covens of New York by Openhome
Author's Notes:
As always, Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot held my hand and corrected my mistakes. Thank you dear ladies.

The story line and Twilight characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. The original plot, characters, and a nice big pan of fudge belong to me. No, I won't share it.
;-)

 

Traveling vampire style was incredibly fun.  Once we made it back to the city, they took me underground into the ancient and mostly unused sewers, an excellent hunting ground that was always available to any vampire in need -- if one could stand the smell of human waste and the aftertaste of an alcoholic's blood.  Then, they showed me their normal mode of night travel, what they called roof-running.  We ran so fast that we almost flew over the tops of buildings, running and jumping freely, sure that no one would see us on a cold spring night.  It was exhilarating to finally use all my strength.  I was laughing at the sheer joy of the freedom when we came to my street.

"Thank you for everything," I said with feeling.  I was so happy to have friends like me, even if we weren't quite friends and they weren't quite like me.

"You are the strangest thing I have met in all my years, Alice," said Paul, "but I am very glad we met you.  I have a good feeling about you."  With that, they were all gone.

I quickly scaled up the side of the brownstone and found the window that I had seen.  Yep, open and moveable, though I would need to get some oil.  When I entered my room, I didn't feel the sense of home that I had felt earlier that day.  It was familiar and warm, and all mine, but I could suddenly sense the temporary nature of it. 

Edwina and Myrtle, my friends, would be dead within a few short years.  I would only be able to be around Herbert for maybe five years total before my agelessness would become apparent.  This home was utterly temporary. Once again, my unchanging nature had become a burden rather than a blessing.  The idea of having to move constantly made me ache for a permanent family, a coven of my own.  Paul's coven was full, I could sense that, and I knew I could never be with those who lived on human blood.  The memory of the three laughing vampires who hunted animals in the forest filled my head.  They were supposed to be my coven, my family.  How would I ever find them if the visions didn't cooperate?

As with each time I thought of the family, my mind moved on to the tall vampire who held my life in his unnamed hands.  I held my chest as I thought about him. His memory made me ache in emptiness.  I knew that I could never be a part of anything until he was a part of me, and I had no idea when or where that would happen.  How could I be so entirely drawn to a man whose face I could barely see and whose name I didn't even know yet?

I sat on my bed, with my knees to my chest, trying to fill the void that now seemed to take over my dead heart.  It was ridiculous for me to feel like this!  I had just met four very nice vampires -- well, as nice as vampires can be -- and here I was acting like a child and feeling totally alone in the huge and crowded city.  I sighed in frustration and willed myself out of the self-created slump I had sunk into as I waited for morning.  Finally, I heard the sisters in the house below, and went to go join them.

"Did you meet anyone?" Myrtle demanded. She was nearly trembling with excitement.  She meant had I met a man.  I could see her frailty very clearly today after being around my own indestructible kind most of the night.

"I met four financiers.  They showed me the city and talked about their take on the market," I told them.  Myrtle's face fell, but Edwina's lit up.

"What did you learn?" Edwina was now as excited as Myrtle had been.  The market was her game of choice, and she was now raptly interested in what I had learned.

"They play the commodities market, and they are very good at it.  The risk is much greater, but the reward is more than triple what we are getting now.  I think we should enter it," I said, grateful for the turn of the conversation and the task at hand.  I would need to go to Wall Street today, and then take in some shops.  I would do anything not to think of the ache still present in my heart.  Diversion was a constant necessity for me.

"Let's make a day of it!"  Edwina crowed in delight. She always wanted to get out of the house, and Wall Street was her favorite place on earth.  It was such a pity for her that women didn't enter the business world, because she would have excelled as a broker.

The day was cloudy and cold, so the sisters didn't stay out too long.  We visited several of their favorite shops until late in the afternoon, as they forced me to try on outfit after outfit.  They were exhausted by the time we arrived home, and after a quick meal of soup, they retired to the sitting room to listen to the wireless before bed.  I was eager to get out of the house and run over the top of the city again.  I needed to get out and be a vampire, and I wanted to get a better grasp on the layout of the city.  My plans changed as I entered my room and found a note written in Paul's perfect script:

Alice, we will meet to fix the stock market every Monday.  You were right about the corn commodities, so we look forward to your suggestions about our next decisions.  Bring Herbert; he is a good cover.  Friday night we will gather the covens at the Plaza Hotel in the grand ball room.  Be there by 7 p.m. and dress for an evening of dance.  Paul

A vampire dance?  Who in the world plays music for vampires?  Do we dine afterwards? I let out a macabre laugh.  I was very excited.  A formal dance would require a formal dress, and that meant more shopping, or using my own talents as a seamstress.  Yes, I would make it myself so that it fit perfectly. And so that I could show Annett what I could do. 

That night, I went back to the dress shop, using the roofs again, and began working at full pace.  I already had several flappers, so now I needed something truly formal, modern and elegant.  I sifted through the shop's idea book and settled on a straight-line dress with an uneven multi-tiered skirt of toile.  I would raise the neckline, which plunged to the waist, but the rest was perfect.  I chose a lovely lilac color because it offset my eyes and hair.  Two nights later, my stunning creation was done.

I was forced to take the frustratingly slow subway to the dance because it was raining now that spring was here.   I could run on the roofs with no damage done, but the dress would suffer a horrid fate if I got it wet, and I simply couldn't let that happen. 

The grand ball room at the Plaza was incredibly beautiful and full of rich fabrics, deep woods and crystal chandeliers.  A small jazz band was playing quietly in a distant corner.  They were older men who seemed to have every song memorized so that they didn't even have any music scores in front of them as they played.  Then, as a song ended, one of them looked up. His eyes were white with cataracts. I realized then that most of them were blind or nearly so. Each man had a cane by his chair.  No wonder they could play for a room full of vampires.

The sheer beauty and perfection of the vampires gathered here was breathtaking.  This could have been a dance on Mount Olympus with gods and goddesses.  The few dancers moved with such grace and elegance that they seemed to float over the floor and never touch it. The others stood like perfect statues. 

Suddenly, the whole pantheon stiffened and turned towards me.  I froze as my instincts told me to ready for a fight, but then a familiar voice called to me.  Annette, in the most beautiful burgundy ball gown I have ever seen, twirled her way over so perfectly that, next to her, a prima ballerina would look like a hippo.

"My dear, don't be afraid.  Come in, come in," she purred.  "Everyone, this is the lovely Alice.  You see, her eyes are not so strange after all." 

My eyes?  Great.  They think my eyes are strange

Indeed, every scarlet eye in the room was looking me full in the face and many of them had begun to wander closer to get a better look.  I felt like a circus freak on display.  I smiled as broadly as I could, and said a little too loudly, "Hello everyone.  It's a pleasure to finally meet you all."

The words acted like a floodgate, and suddenly the gods and goddesses descended upon me, smiling and introducing themselves so quickly that even my lightening fast mind had trouble keeping up.  Mai-Li and her mate Chi-Yang were from Chinatown; Brittany and Michael, who both looked all of fifteen, were from Long Island; Ingrid, Gerta, and Stephan from Queens; Paolo and Maria from Brooklyn; Hugh and Katherine, from Manhattan; and Ivan, Vasily, and Lena also from Manhattan.  These were the covens, nineteen vampires in all.  Then there was George, a nomad who had been living here for five years, Antoinette who was a permanent resident, and me.  Twenty-two.  I couldn't believe it, I had never been so close to so many of my own kind, and, as frightened as I was, I was happier than I had ever been.  The holes in my life were still there, but they were diminished somewhat by the company around me.

All at once, a swanky jazz piece started to play, and the whole room erupted into dancing.  I was asked by several of the males to dance, and I did a fairly good job of keeping up with them.  I learned the dance very quickly, so my mistakes were easy to hide, but I would need to ask Annette to help me with the dance moves after this.  I did not want to be known as the clumsy vampire. 

The party spirit lasted until early in the morning, and I just took it all in astounded wonder.  Then, the music ended, the musicians left, and the whole group formed a statuesque circle to discuss the matters of the covens.

Paul was indeed the leader over them all. He never forced his will on anyone, but when he made a final comment, no one ever argued. There was a dizzying array of topics to discuss.  First was a reminder of the summer rules for hunting, then a quarrel had to be settled about boundary rights in the city proper, and then there was an endless discussion of how to handle issues with the organized crime in the city.  The mob was getting violent again, and Gregorio was assigned a few assassinations for which he was nearly gleeful.   

Then, it was time for Paul to introduce me.

"As you know, we have a new addition to our community.  Alice is from the South, and does not remember her past or creator, and yet she has made a tremendous life for herself without instruction or guidance.  As you can see from her eyes, she has an unusual, and unappetizing habit -- she huts animals rather than humans -- and so her addition will not alter our eating patterns at all."  The entire assembly chuckled and nodded at the last statement.  "Alice, please tell us about yourself."

"Well, umm...," I wasn't prepared for this. "As far as I know, I am six and a half years old because I don't know when or where I was born.  I remember waking up in the South and have been a semi-nomad ever since.  At the age of three, I took a job from an old couple as a seamstress and am quite skilled at it - I even made this dress."  The ladies all murmured their approval at this, and I immediately felt much better about the night.  "After the death of her husband, I moved to New York with Myrtle and have taken up the stock market as an avocation."  Now the men were also impressed.  "I am so very glad to meet you all," a hearty round of applause greeted my final statement.

  "Since you are not interested in our herd lands," said Chi-Yang, "you are most welcome here."  Everyone nodded in agreement.

"Vell," began the massive and heavily accented Ivan, "since da subject of da herd has come up, ve may have a problem vit a hungry vanderer, a newborn, or a small coven."  Every one of the still statues seemed to stiffen with this news.

"What have you heard?" asked Paul.

"Da news is from da shanty towns by da vaterfront.  Da immigrants dare are getting restless and fearful because several have come up missing dis past veek.  Unless one of us is getting greedy, dare is only one cause of such disappearances -- someone new is moving in."

There was a low intake of air, and someone hissed.

"Has anyone noticed anything unusual in their own area?" asked a businesslike Paul.

"Chinatown is also growing restless over some unusual disappearances, but these may be different.  Our young men often leave during the summer to find work, and six or seven families have not heard back from their sons.  We will look into the issue with more scrutiny and let you know what we find," answered Chi-yang.

"Who is willing to look into the dock disappearances?" asked Paul.

Marianne spoke up.  "Perhaps I and Alice should go.  You speak Spanish now, right Alice?"  I nodded.  "Her eyes don't give her away to the superstitious ones like ours do.  I can take her and let her ask the questions."  There was a murmur of approval from everyone around.

"Good.  Then we are done, again, thank you everyone," and with that, my very first vampire ball was done.

xxXXooXXxx

Marianne and I decided to go to the docks at twilight the next day, when the workers were returning home and we were less conspicuous.  It took a while to find the Spanish speaking section amid all the babble present in the makeshift city.

"We should have brought Ivan," she was saying, "several of these families are speaking some type of Eastern European dialect."

"Somehow I don't think that would help," I said as I watched the terror grow on each of the people's faces as we passed.  It was almost like they knew what we were, and they were running and hiding from us.  Bringing in a huge vampire like Ivan would have caused them to bolt in a panic.  "Why are they so much more afraid of us than other people are?"

I looked at Marianne's dark eyes and noted that the red surrounding the iris was almost invisible in the dim light.  How could the humans tell in the dark?

"Well, for starters, Eastern Europeans have a vast array of vampire myths that aren't really myths.  It is a rather uncivilized area, and those make for good hunting grounds.  Eastern Europe is where the Dracula character originated, so it is a part of their culture to look for us.  You will find that the less civilized a people are, the more willing they are to accept myths to explain things, and that allows them to see us for what we are.  Don't you remember anything from school?"

"I don't remember anything at all."

"Oh, yeah.  Remind me to get you a library card tonight.  You would enjoy reading about us in some of their books, it's absolutely hilarious -- especially the bats."

"Bats?"

"Yes, but wait to read it, I don't want to spoil it for you."

Just then, an old woman, a veritable living gargoyle, stood before us.  Her wrinkled and weathered face was both terrified and determined. 

"Uh-oh, Gypsy.  Just smile and keep walking," hissed Marianne.

The ancient woman watched us circle around her and began following us holding up a bunch of garlic and a handmade wooden crucifix.  She was intoning some strange guttural language as she tried to catch up to us.

"What is she doing?" I asked Marianne incredulously.  I could not imagine what she thought she was going to do to us with those two items.

"Well, its one of those pesky myth things.  Gypsies have a great deal of experience with us, none of it good, so they recognize us quickly.  She is trying to curse us with garlic and a cross."

"She thinks vegetables can get rid of us?"

"Yes, garlic is supposed to be poison, and religious icons are supposed to burn us.  I told you, the myths are very odd." 

"I used to live in a church." No wonder Marianne didn't seem to care that some humans knew about us.  They had somehow come to the conclusion that ridiculous things could harm us in some way.  It was absurd.

"Shh, she is saying something about a monster coming for them again.  Let me listen, my Italian is good, but my Gypsy is bad," and she turned to listen to the woman's rant.  As I turned to look at the woman, the humor of the whole situation suddenly struck me, and I laughed.  It wasn't very loud, just sort of a snicker, but that undid the woman.  Apparently, being laughed at by a vampire was far scarier than being attacked by one. She shrieked and hobbled away as fast as she could.

"Sorry," I giggled through my hand as I covered my mouth, "it's just so funny."

Marianne looked more amused than annoyed, and simply said, "I can't wait to get you those books.  You won't believe what humans have come up with.  Though, I have to admit, too much garlic can leave a bitter aftertaste," she added as an afterthought.

By the time we found the Spanish speaking section, it was nearly dark.  We went from fire to fire stealthily looking for a likely place for me to try to talk to the humans here.

We were undercover vampires: sleuths of the night. 

I was obviously reading way too many cheap novels, but, again, the irony of the situation made me giggle.  A small family to our right, jerked away from us.

"You're not helping things," growled Marianne.

Finally, we found a fire with several Spanish speaking families around it, and I was able to enter the group with a friendly greeting.  Their Spanish was somewhat different from the Puerto Rican I was used to, but I was able to understand them. The group's fear saturated the air as they huddled close to the fire, but they found nothing in my appearance to alarm them. 

I knew my fabricated story would sound perfectly legitimate to this group. I quickly told them that I had hired a woman to help at my house and that she had disappeared, and then asked if they knew her. They immediately responded, telling me that they did not know her, but offering to take me around to the other fires. With the topic broached, all I had to do to get the information we needed was  to ask if they knew of anyone else that was missing. It was like opening a dam.

"Several of our young people have disappeared.  At first, it was the ones who went to work, and we weren't too afraid," said the oldest man in the group, "but now, three people have been taken from their homes in the last two nights.  The other groups have lost about the same number," and he waved his hand to the surrounding shanties.  "Your woman has probably also  been taken, but we don't know by whom.  All we have found is a little blood.  A ghost or demon Chupacabra is hunting us, and we have no idea of how to stop it.  Many of us are leaving this evil city.  You need to be careful when you leave, or it will take you too."  Several of the mothers pulled their young children closer with his words. 

These people were terrified, and my kind was the reason.  In fact, Marianne might have fed from these very people a few nights ago.  I felt a fresh wave of guilt for being what I was.

"Gracias," was all I could manage to say as we left.

Marianne and I took a circuitous route around the camps as we left.  The smell of humans and their waste was so strong here that it was almost, but not quite impossible to make out the scent of vampires.  We found three slight but distinct vampire scents that Marianne couldn't recognize.

We left the shanty town and Marianne took me to the library at which she was a patron.  She went into the building from the roof as the library was closed by now and quickly found what she was looking for. Soon, I had about ten old and worn books in my arms. 

"These are well used," I mentioned as we ran through the dark streets -- I wasn't going to do any roof jumping trying to juggle the books.

"They are our favorite books," she said. "We all get such a kick out of them.  I will go over the mythical creatures with you so that you will know what is and isn't real."

"There are real mythical creatures out there?" I asked, and then I realized I was one.  "Well, I suppose it makes sense, but really, how many mythical beings can this planet hold and the humans be oblivious to?"

"Not all humans are oblivious, just the more advanced ones.  They don't even see their own lives clearly enough to know what they love, so they stay oblivious to what they fear, meaning us.  Haven't you noticed how they waste the precious life they have been given?  If only they knew what a wonderful thing life is, they would make so many different choices."  Her voice held a cynical note.  I glanced over and she indeed had a frown on her perfect face.

"Is it hard for you, remembering your life from before?  I know I'm lucky not to remember the burning, but I always think I've missed something by not knowing my past."

"I think that it is a mixed blessing.  I am glad for the few memories that are left, but I miss my life, I miss tasting food and the dream of having a husband to grow old with and children to watch grow.  I miss my family," she ended in a whisper.  Her face was suddenly clouded with the memories from another life.

"You don't need to tell me about your life before.  I didn't mean to pry," I said quickly.  Her obvious pain made me sorry I had asked.

"It's good to talk about it," she said with a sad smile. "My life now is good with Gregorio and the coven, but this isn't a life I would have chosen.  I was born in Ireland in 1822, and my family came to New York in 1835 when my da' couldn't find work back home."  Her voice took on the soft Irish lilt that I had heard her slip into a few times before.  "We were all working in the city doing whatever we could to make money and survive, but it was a hard life.  My family was close, though, and very strong, and we were happy.  I don't really remember much of my early life, but by 1840 I was engaged to marry an Irish metalworker named Peter.  On June 24th, I started a new job at a train depot as a telegraph apprentice, and I never made it home.  You see, there was a coven war between Paul's coven and an invading Italian one, and I had inadvertently wandered into one of their fights.  I was inside the depot office when a huge fire broke out.  The fire had been set to force out some of the vampires hiding in the depot, and I was in their way as they fled.  One of them took me and ran with me to the tracks where he began to feed.  Paul and Michael showed up, and the vampire stopped feeding to fight them.  By the time Paul and Michael had killed him and the others, I was changing.  They came back to clean up what they thought was a dead body, and brought me back to the city as a new vampire."

"I'm really glad you have such a close coven," I said.  I had never really realized the loss she must feel over the life that was taken from her.  My infuriating, black pit memory may hold back more pain than I had ever dreamed of.

"I watched my family after the bloodlust of the first year was done, but before I knew it, they had died.  I met Gregorio in 1870 when he came from Italy as a liaison to help control the Mafia  in the large cities.  We were in love the first time we set eyes on each other, and we haven't ever left each other for more than a few days since then," she was smiling now, and her love for him softened her features and lit up her eyes.

"Why is the love mates feel for each other so strong in our kind?" I asked.  I held the books closer to my chest to stop the ache.  I was feeling the missing part of my heart so very strongly now after her story, and I had to know a little of what it was like to love as a vampire.

"We don't change after we are reborn," she answered.  "Only rarely can a vampire change who he is, and one instance is when he finds his mate.  When I saw Gregorio, my whole being changed and was molded to fit him, and I can never be away from him without being only half of what I am.  The love I have for him has only grown stronger over time. 

"Of course, you seem to be able to change yourself much more than the rest of us, so perhaps it will be different for you.  Maybe since you didn't know who you were, you get to make it up as you go.  I can't even imagine that kind of freedom," she said as she shook her head and looked at my eyes again.

"What were Paul and Gregorio before?"

"Paul was an English officer in the War of 1812.  He was ordered to secure the area west of New Orleans, and took a small contingency of troops towards Texas in an attempt to do so.  I don't know all the details, but the Southern covens are vicious and he was changed by one of them because of his gift."

"His gift?" I asked, but then I mentally kicked myself. Of course he was gifted in some way.  It would take a gift to organize so many covens and keep such a tenuous peace.  Why hadn't I realized it earlier?

"He is a natural leader.  He makes good decisions, and people simply want to follow him.  Like most gifts, it was magnified after he was changed, and now he leads anyone he chooses to.  It is because of Paul that New York hasn't seen an internal coven war in almost one hundred years.  Couldn't you feel it at the ball?  Everyone simply looks to him for leadership."

"I sensed that he was in charge, and I never even questioned why.  I guess I've sensed that all along," I admitted, marveling at the subtlety of Paul's gift.  Part of my mind began to wonder how many of my recent decisions had been influenced by him.

"What about Gregorio?" 

"Gregorio was changed in Milan in 1791," she continued.  "He was chosen because he is a very good fighter, and the Mafia was getting out of hand.  He has worked controlling organized crime ever since."

We arrived at their home and went inside to wait for Paul's return.  I went over to one of the overstuffed settees and began leafing through the books.  I chose Mythical Creatures of Europe first because it had some truly wonderful pictures in it.

"So, which ones are real?" I asked, curiosity nipping at my mind.

"Go through the list and I will tell you," answered Marianne, who was sitting cross-legged on a chair and looked like an excited school girl.

"Ogre?"

"Nope.  Ogres and Trolls were usually one of us.  We like to have some fun between feedings, you know, dress up and jump out to scare a few peasants.  Besides, pretending to be an ugly monster had its advantages in Medieval Europe."

"Banshee?"

"Us again -- but only us girls.  A Banshee is a lovely woman with an ear splitting wail that brings on death.  Sound familiar?  Valkyries are also female vampires; we get around a lot."

"Gnomes and Leprechauns?"

"Not real, at least I don't think they are.  We in the vampire world haven't found them yet."

"Mummies?"

"Yes, they are real, but they don't come back to life.  The idea of a dead thing that comes back to life probably originated with a bored vampire who was working as an archaeologist.  I personally know of one Egyptologist in England who plays all kinds of jokes on the people he works with.  There are many bored vampires, and you would not believe the trouble they cause."

"Zombies?"  This wasn't in the book, but I had read a few stories of them.

"Oh, us, of course!" Marianne laughed, "We always go as zombies on Halloween!  I love doing that.  All we need is some soot and torn clothes, and we can scare humans all across the city.  It is so much fun, Alice.  You simply must join us next time." 

I laughed at the idea of the dead playing the dead. However, I would definitely be joining them.

"Incubus and Succubus?"

Marianne just looked at me with an incredulous look and then rolled her eyes and said, "Think about it."

It only took a second. "No.  I can't believe it.  Us?  But we can't do that, can we?  I mean, how would a human survive that?"  The idea was both revolting and disgustingly intriguing at the same time.

"Human women don't survive, isn't that part in there?  I don't even think it's possible.  I mean, how would it not kill a human?  However, I do know of several vampires, both male and female, who like to add romance to their meals.  It's like a Speakeasy; they get entertainment with their drink."

I just looked at the grotesque pictures and tried to think about what she said.  Finally, I simply mumbled, "That's just sick."  Marianne nodded vigorously in agreement. 

"Dragon?"

"Yes, but they don't exist now."

My mouth dropped open in surprise.  "Dragons existed?  You're joking."

"So, the mythical creature is refusing to believe in mythical creatures?"

"No, it's not that, I just thought that it was far too strange to be real."

"We aren't the only predators out there.  There are some creatures that protect humans, and some just hunt us --"

"Hunt us?  Dragons hunted us?"

"Yes, will you please let me finish.  There were several types of protectors and hunters.  We hunt humans, so it isn't too hard to believe that something hunted us.  Why do you think dragons breathed fire?  Now, we don't know if they actually ate us or just killed us for fun because no one ever survived to tell, but the very earliest vampires in Europe worked together to kill them off about eighteen hundred years ago.  A few lasted through medieval times, but they either died or went into hiding.  Gregorio worked for the Volturi, and he knows a lot more than I do about such things.  The Volturi believe that some humans can even change forms and become strong enough to kill us.  The Griffin is one such changeling that is based on reality.  The Volturi swear they killed off the last Griffin in the early twelfth century."

"The Volturi killed off the killers?"  Perhaps they weren't so bad after all.

"Oh, yes, the Volturi work very hard to protect us and our way of life.  Gregorio was hoping to be chosen as a guard or warrior for the coven, but he wasn't strong enough," she said sadly.

The idea of someone bigger and deadlier than Gregorio was hard to comprehend.

"By the way, werewolves are real too," she said grinning at my shocked face.  "They are our worst enemies, but they are nearly all dead by now.  The Volturi have made it their goal to eradicate the menace, and Gregorio says there are only one or two left, but they can make more."

"Werewolves.  Terrific.  How do the humans in our world even survive?"

"Haven't you noticed how fast they breed?  One human couple can make ten or more offspring.  It is a good thing they breed so fast, otherwise we would all have to start hunting deer," stated Marianne with a scrunched up nose.  For her, eating humans to extinction was preferable to a deer. 

I decided to read the book in silence, but was interrupted by a quick vision of Brittany knocking on the door followed by the knock itself.  Marianne went to the door and I stood to greet her.

Brittany was barely more than an adolescent when she was changed, and the aura of childhood still clung to her features.  She was a quiet and calm vampire whose demeanor went well with Annette's exuberant personality.  We were fast becoming friends.

"I came by to see Paul," she said in the way of a greeting. 

Marianne instantly tensed and asked, "What's wrong?"

"Michael and I were supposed to take Ingrid to the fights tonight, but she wasn't home.  You know how much she loves boxing, and she was looking forward to this fight, but her room hasn't been lived in for at least two days.  I couldn't even find the dress she was wearing at the ball anywhere.  Gerta and Stephan don't know where she is, either, and so now I'm too worried to watch the fight.  It's not like her to run off like this."

"I can't believe that someone would be willing to attack one of us openly, but you're right, Gerta likes her life and loves her coven too much to wander off.  This changes things," said Marianne.

"Tonight, we found three distinct scents that neither of us knew," I explained.  "Someone new is definitely hunting in New York."

"Not another one!" Brittany sighed heavily and sank into a settee.  "I know that Gregorio loves coven wars, but I just can't stand them.  What if someone did burn Gerta?  What if we have to fight again?  I just hate fighting.  I always think I might loose Michael," she added miserably.

"So long as we stick together, we should be fine," comforted Marianne, and she sat down by Brittany to put an arm on her shoulder.

Brittany looked at me and gave me a small, mirthless smile.  "My creator was destroyed by another coven just two years after I was made.  I tried to stop them, but I was young and didn't know how to fight.  Wars always bring back those feelings of loss."

"I'm sorry," I stammered.  I couldn't know how she felt.  My creator left me in the woods.

"It was during the War of the Roses. Such a pretty name for such a horrid war.  The covens were so brutal in their fighting."  She shook her head at the memory.

"We caused the War of the Roses?"

"Of course," they answered in unison. 

"I was Brittania then," she smiled and cocked her head.  "I was changed by the coven's leader, an ancient vampire, who said I reminded him of his daughter.  He killed my family to get to me."

I just sat there.  What could I say to this child who had been born of such sorrow?

"I'm alright now," she said apologetically.  "My life is good, and Michael is the most wonderful mate anyone could ask for.  I just have lost so much that don't like wars."  She saw the books on the floor, and let out a giggle.  "Are you reading these?"

"Yes," I said happily, glad for the distraction, "with the help of Marianne.  They are definitely, um, interesting."

"Did you get to the bats?"

"Not yet," laughed Marianne.  "But I did take her through the incubus and succubus."

"Oh, I just love those!  Lets show her all the ways to keep evil away!  She'll die laughing."

oo||oOo||oo

 

"Your story is similar to what Ivan and Chi-Yang have found as well," said Paul as we sat in the sitting room after we had told him of our night.   "Someone is killing humans all over the city, and they seem to have specifically targeted the Mafia, so it must be a well organized coven indeed."

 "There was a mob hit on Seventeenth, and it was definitely a vampire murder.  Those men were killed either to start a war or to send a message to us.  Whoever did it didn't even bother to clean up very well, and he left his scent all over the scene," Gregorio added as he came in the room.

He went right to where Marianne sat and molded himself to her.  I had never noticed just how large and impressive he was until now.  With the certainty that a coven was moving into the area, I could truly appreciate his formidable presence.

"No one else has seen Ingrid, but Stephan and Gerta are out searching now," added Brittany.  We had called all the other covens to report her absence.

"OK, then," sighed Paul, "let's begin training again, and get prepared.  We will need to join the search for Ingrid or her ashes tomorrow night."  Brittany gasped as he said it.

"I'm sorry Brittany.  I don't like it either, but it looks like another vampire war in New York City is inevitable."

I felt a sense of dread sweep through me.  They would fight to protect what was theirs, and I would be with them.  I tried to see a battle, but too many decisions lay between now and then.  All I could see for the future was a whirl of unfocussed visions.  They all contained fire.

Paul must have noticed my fear, because he tried to reassure me.  "Don't worry, Alice.  This is nothing new for us, we've been doing it for almost one hundred years."

Marianne smiled at me. "I know it is frightening, but when we work together, we are the most powerful coven on earth. New York will not fall. Why don't you come to mass with us at midnight?  It will help ease your fears."

"You go to mass?"  I gasped.  "Isn't that against the rules?"

"There are no vampire rules about mass.  It's only the pope and his priests who have an issue with the living dead.  We go every Saturday at midnight," said Annette as she descended the stairs holding out a black scarf to Marianne and me.  Brittany had already pulled one out of her handbag. "We were all Catholic, and damned or not, we still do what we can to appease heaven."

"Or at least avoid hell," added Gregorio.  "All we need to do is squeeze one foot into purgatory, and then the rest is just a matter of time."  He smiled widely.

"Thank you," I said as I accepted the traditional veil, and wondered how a vampire, especially one his size, might somehow squeeze himself into purgatory.  

 

End Notes:
Thank you for reading and reviewing my story! I love hearing your comments, and I would like to thank those of you who have pointed out mistakes or ways to make it better. I always appreciate it!
Chapter 10: First Burn by Openhome

 

Chapter 10: First Burn



The ashes of Ingrid were found by Stephan at her favorite hunting grounds. Her murderers had hung her torn ball gown in the trees above her pyre to taunt us. The idea that someone had done such a thing, and then taunted us with it, was infuriating, and all of the vampires of New York wanted revenge, even me.

We prepared for war for two months. I was torn by my double life, acting as if all were normal during the day while I took care of the sisters and worked on stocks. Then at night, I became a vampire and searched the city for intruders or practiced fighting with the others. I was on guard every second of those two months.

My only solace was found in the many library books that cluttered my floor. History, science, philosophy, fictional works, and style magazines littered my room as I read and processed all the information that had been missing due to my memory. My mind absorbed it all like a thirsty sponge. Even with the threat of war, I roared with laughter as I read about vampires and other mythical beasts in my room as the sun rose. Marianne was right; they thought we could be destroyed by sticks and vegetables. Bats indeed!

The extra activity and impending threat caused my visions to go into overdrive. With practice, I found that I could shift between the world of the present and the world of the possible future with more ease than I had ever thought possible, especially when I was fighting. While we fought, I could make my visions show me the next move of my opponent just before the strike occurred. At first, the double images were difficult to understand and gave me a piercing headache. They were so distracting that I lost several matches before I was finally able to use the rapid series of visions that overlaid what was really occurring at the moment. Eventually, I learned to block, deflect, and attack effectively. Even a snapshot of what was coming was often enough to fight any opponent. It was wonderfully fun to fight, especially since Gregorio found my speed and ability particularly annoying.

“How do you do that?” growled Gregorio after I had avoided his lunge, ducked between his legs, and hopped on his back in a tenth of a second.

“You’re just too big to catch me,” I laughed and jumped from his back, avoiding the swipe he took at me. “If you think I fight well, you should see me dance.”

Marianne, Lena, and Annette were all giggling behind us. Gregorio was showing the ladies how to use our smaller size to our benefit, and my prowess was giving the girls no end of amusement.

“You know, it’s a pity you didn’t stay in the South, your skills would be truly appreciated down there,” snickered Paul.

“Well, I could go back if you don’t want me here...” I replied.

“No, no, you are an amazingly good addition to our little group,” Paul quickly amended. “I would be willing to keep you even if you couldn’t fight; your gift for money is enough to make me build you a house on Long Island.”

He had been trying to join me to one of the city’s covens since we had first met. Because of his gift, he was very persuasive, but I just could not commit myself to a coven, not when he was out there somewhere.

“Oooo, a house is a great idea! Where shall we put it?” I teased.

“Next to ours, of course. I would love to have your hunches around on a daily basis. We might even be able to put up with your annoying habits so long as you keep guessing right on the market.”

“What did you ever do without me?” I laughed back.

“He did badly, for the most part, at least in money,” teased George. “You know, for someone so tiny, you sure do cause a lot of trouble. I’ve never met a vampire like you before, its almost scary how well you fight. It’s such a waste that you don’t eat human, you’d be unstoppable.”

“I’m unstoppable without the human diet, thank you very much.” I had beaten him twice. We had been over my diet several times in the past two months because they wanted me to be strong for the fight, and they refused to believe I could be as strong as them without the benefit of human blood. I heard a loud “Harrumph” from Chi-Yang’s direction. Chi-Yang was absolutely sure that I was just going to rot away or drop dead without a proper diet, and it was really starting to bother him that I could fight so well.

“Have we found anything else out about the murders?” asked Michael, who I found out was just fifteen when he was changed. He was now about four hundred years old, and very serious. The look of serious concern was totally out of place on his boyish face.

His question stopped all the jovial banter and brought us back to the very real threat we faced. One of our own and many humans had died from these unknown murderers, and all of us were on edge already. In fact, our joking was the only way to keep sane when we all wanted revenge so badly. If we didn’t laugh, we ended up fighting each other for real.

“The local police may call in the feds if they can’t figure out who’s behind everything. They still think it is all mob related because of the mob hits that keep occurring. I am absolutely sure that if we don’t find an answer to this soon, we will have an all out mob war on our hands as well,” answered an equally concerned Paul. The fact that we hadn’t come any closer to finding any of the newcomers was very frustrating for him, and us all. We had been running searches constantly across the city and by now had all caught the scents of the others, but they seemed to vanish into thin air whenever we got close.

“Ve are sure dis is a southern coven, den?” asked Ivan. “It could be the Volturi you know.” After living through Russian Czars and the Russian Revolution, he didn’t trust any form of authority.

“The Volturi don’t want New York, and we are close allies with them in organized crime control. Perhaps we should ask for their help, though,” replied Gregorio. He hated it when anyone questioned the Volturi.

My visions weren’t helping much either. I could see hazy images of intruders, but I couldn’t get a good enough vision to help us. I thought that, perhaps, it was because I just didn’t know what to look for.

“I don’t want to bring in the Volturi if we can help it,” said Paul.

“I don’t trust them to stay out after they intervene,” added Mai-Li. Neither she nor her mate trusted the Volturi either, and the tension was palpable between them and Gregorio.

“Let’s finish the searches tonight, and then we’ll see what we can do to force their hand,” said Paul. He didn’t like being in a weaker position and forcing a fight, but it seemed that the others would not face us openly.

We went roof-running to the outskirts of the city again, and began to work our way back into the city heading towards Times Square in groups of three or four. No one went anywhere at night alone. I was with Brittany and Michael, and twice our group got a good scent, but lost it at a sewer opening. The sewers did a good job of hiding any scent left behind. It was almost as if they knew where we were and what we were doing.

I stopped short. What if they do know?

“What is it Alice?” asked Brittany. She and Michael came over and sniffed the air thinking I had found a scent.

“I think we’ve gone about this all wrong,” I began, understanding dawning on me. “We keep thinking they are just trying to provoke us and pick a fight, but what if they don’t need to?”

“What do you mean?” asked the ever serious Michael, the concerned look deepening on his face.

“What if they already know what we are doing? What if they don’t need to pick a fight because they can avoid us any time they want because they know where we are going to be?”

“An inside job?” whispered Brittany.

“Yes, or maybe a vampire with a gift. They would only need a little information to be able to totally avoid us.” I was torn, as always, about letting them know the full extent of my gift, but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell them the whole truth. I still didn’t feel like I was a truly part of this community. “If I can tell what will work with money, maybe someone can tell where we are going to be. I don’t think any of us would work with another coven to take over, do you?”

“It’s happened before,” stated Michael. “Over the last hundred years, we have been betrayed and attacked in every way possible, so your ideas have merit. It would explain why they haven’t stuck at us directly, and how they are avoiding us. There are at least seven or eight individuals, and probably several more -- you don’t take on New York unless you are prepared for a big fight -- so that would explain how they are staying hidden. Let’s finish here, and then we’ll get back to Long Island and talk with the others.”

oo||oXo||oo

She came up with it?” growled Chi-Yang. He really didn’t like me.

“It does explain why we can’t catch these others,” soothed Annette, “and perhaps it isn’t a vampire that has turned against us, but maybe one of the humans we use.”

Paul was standing looking at the ceiling and trying to concentrate. I could tell that he had already come up with the possibility of a traitor by his expression when Brittany and I told him of my epiphany. He was less than pleased to hear my thoughts.

“Well, we can’t go about suspecting each other, we need to be united to fight this other coven, and suspicion is all it takes to break up the tightest alliance,” he said, looking pointedly at Chi-Yang.

“We already knew it might be an inside job. We have been betrayed that way before. They came after Alice arrived, perhaps they are connected to our newcomer,” Chi-Yang spat back.

“Michael would have told us,” replied Brittany in a cold tone. She and I had become close over the last two months.

I looked at her curiously as she spoke, and then turned to Michael. “What would you have told them?”

“That you were lying to us,” he said flatly. “You don’t always speak the whole truth, but there is no detectable deception in your words,” he smiled slightly as if in apology. “I can detect a lie. It’s why I was changed.”

“I don’t always know the whole truth,” I replied. That, at least, was truer than I wanted it to be.

“We should all meet back here Friday night,” began Paul. He seemed to think his next statement through. “And we will bring up the two options. It is clear that we either have a snitch or a very dangerous vampire to deal with, and either way, it’s going to up the ante in a fight. No one says anything about this outside of this room,” he looked at the three others and then shot me a piercing glare. I hadn’t noticed how much his leadership had formed the way I felt around him. I had always felt secure in his presence, but now his glare pierced me through and made me feel utterly wretched. “We don’t need the others to start suspecting each other until Michael and I can sort this through. Don’t worry Chi-Yang, we will not leave any stone unturned,” he responded to the low guttural growl that was coming from Chi-Yang’s chest. He was glaring in my direction.

I was now one of the key suspects in these murders, and an icy chill spread down my spine. For the first time in New York, I knew I was truly in danger.



I had spent the next two days going about my activities more like a machine than a living being. Every instinct told me to leave the city, but I just couldn’t. I wanted to protect my friends, but more than that, I could not leave Paul. Belatedly, I now realized how formidable Paul’s gift truly was. I hadn’t even thought of trouble since he became my friend; I simply trusted him to make the right choice. Now that he wasn’t sure of me, I couldn’t seem to be sure of myself. I couldn’t trust myself to make a decision, even though I knew it was right.

My uncertainty even affected my visions. There was a hint of something in the future, not a vision, but an increasing sense of loss. Without an accompanying vision, it was infuriatingly frustrating to try to nail down why the feeling was growing. Was it the fight? Chi-Yang’s obvious hatred of me? Paul’s distrust? Was someone I knew going to die? My thoughts kept returning to the two sisters living down below.

For their part, Edwina and Myrtle were content and happy. Over the last three months, our wealth had grown exponentially, and Edwina was overjoyed. Also, several of my new friends had come to visit me, mostly out of curiosity, and had met the two sisters. The men had outnumbered the women, and Myrtle couldn’t be happier. I wondered if I should stage a wedding just for her, she would love that.

My thoughts, though, kept returning to the single one who I could never truly see but must never lose. I understood the visions of him better now, thanks to the fight training and lessons on vampire tactics. He was a soldier who fought other vampires, but that wasn’t all. He would turn on his compatriots at times and kill them en masse. He seemed to mostly fight with newborns and then, kill the ones that survived. The very thought made me sick.

When Paul had told us about the murderous tactics of the southern covens, my visions of my future mate came into sharp detail. He hated it, he hated killing the new ones, the ones he had fought with, but he did it anyway. Why? The question haunted my mind. Why did he do it, why did he fight and kill and destroy? The vampire I loved was as monstrous and murderous as the invading coven.

Monster -- how I hated the word that described who I saw. How could this precious one be a monster?

I didn’t want to think about it, so I turned my attention to the latest Harper’s Bazaar and flipped through the pages angrily.

Too soon, it was time to go and meet Paul. I decided to get to Long Island earlier than necessary to meet whatever fate was in store for me. I was sure that if Paul still believed in me, I would remain safe, but I could no longer be sure of Paul’s feelings towards me. I could not run away, though. Perhaps the strongest evidence of Paul’s gift was the fact that I couldn’t even consider leaving, even with the coven’s distrust. Not only that, but I felt a strong sense of protectiveness for these covens. Like Charles had said so long ago, we are rather territorial.

“Hey ladies,” I called as happily as I could as I went downstairs, “I am going out for the evening. Please don’t stay up for me; I don’t know how late I’ll be out.” Or if I’ll return.

Myrtle’s huge glasses turned to me and she smiled. “More friends? You have such a busy social life, Alice. It’s almost scandalous.”

“Indeed it is,” agreed Edwina, “Are you any closer to settling down with one of the gentlemen callers? Myrtle and I are very worried about your reputation.”

Great, now they were beginning to wonder about my morals. It didn’t matter that I could kill a stadium full of people just for fun, no, staying out late as a single woman was morally wrong.

“Don’t worry about me,” I laughed, “I can take care of myself.” And any army that needs help. “Besides, I am going out with Paul and Annette.” The sisters loved them.

“Oh, then have a good time dear,” cooed Myrtle as she turned her attention back to the wireless. Just then, I realized that they were listening to a baseball game, and the vision took me.

He was in a field at night, the full moon shimmered off his skin, and for the first time, he looked almost happy. There were a few others around him, but all I could focus on was his scarred face and now, finally, life lit eyes. He was twirling a piece of wood. “Come on, Peter, you have to do better than that,” he yelled at a running blur.

His voice.

It was a deep and resonant bass. It was beautiful, he was beautiful.

“Out,” someone yelled in my vision, and I could just make out something about a small, white ball. “Okay, Jasper Whitlock, you do better,” said a blond vampire, and he punched Jasper hard as he passed.

Jasper Whitlock. His name is Jasper.

Jasper stepped up to the plate, twirled the bat one more time, and then hit an invisible ball with a thunderous crack that sounded like it split the wood of the bat. The vision faded.

Suddenly, I didn’t care about coven wars, psychic vampires, or whether I would die. I didn’t care about anything except what I had just seen.

Jasper. And I heard his voice. I heard him!

I rushed out onto the roofs of New York and looked up at the almost full moon. The vision would take place in a few days. It was almost, not quite, but almost like he was close enough for me to touch, and the longing would have ripped me apart if it wasn’t for the joy that now raged through my entire being. I hated the fact that I didn’t have a clue as to where he was, but I rejoiced in his happiness. I rejoiced in seeing him act like a normal, happy vampire. I rejoiced in his name as I chanted it across the rooftops. I don’t think my feet actually touched the roofs as I ran to meet my fate.

I didn’t go directly to Long Island, but rather ran for an hour, just for the joy of the run. I stopped at Paul’s door thirty minutes before the meeting was to begin. Part of my mind was screaming at me to run away and try to find Jasper on my own, and part of it was sure that Paul would do the right thing. I struggled with both parts as I stood there and tried desperately to get a vision of me leaving out the same door, but the infuriatingly erratic things wouldn’t cooperate. Maybe it was because I was flat out angry that my anxiety over the meeting was overshadowing my joy over the vision. It just wasn’t fair. I was finally happy about something, and I had to come here.

“Alice!” Annette called to me happily from the door as it opened. She seemed totally at ease, which I wistfully took as a good sign. “Come in.”

“I’m sorry if I’m a little early, but I had nothing better to do, so I thought I’d drop by.”

“The others will be here in half an hour, why don’t you go call Michael and Brittany and have them come over early. I know they would love to spend a few minutes with you.”

I wondered why they wanted to be here, and if it was a good sign, as I dialed the operator. The phone rang several times with no answer, so I began to put the hand piece down when a vision swept over me. It was Michael and Brittany, and they were being torn apart and burned by three assailants. I could see the dark hair and chalky-olive skin of the attackers.

“No!” I yelled. In an instant, I was surrounded by four alert vampires.

“What is it?” demanded Paul.

“I s-heard screaming,” I lied, “I think they’re being attacked.”

Without so much as a word, the four vampires were out of the back door and running through the woods with me following. Less than a minute later, we were at the back door of Brittany’s home. The smell of smoke twisted around me in a coil of panic.

Paul and Gregorio burst through the back door with we three girls behind them. There was a sharp cracking noise and a high pitched shriek coming from the front room, and we rushed in to find a wall of fire and a pile of what used to be Michael and Brittany on the floor behind the flames. Two dark haired vampires were across the pile from us tearing apart the last of Michael’s granite body. A third man was lighting every piece of furniture in the room on fire using a long candle. They weren’t even burning the bodies first, they were going to let the fire take them slowly.

“NO!” I screamed with all my strength, and tried to run through the flames to the tortured face of Brittany. Her head was turned towards me, and I could see that she was still alive. Her face contorted in a mask of pain, and she was trying to scream. Her eyes were wide with terror. Someone grabbed me and held me in place so that I could not enter the flames.

The one with the candle threw it on the glittering pieces of my friend, and she burst into flames.

“We can do nothing now! We must leave, and avenge them later!” Annette was pulling me back with the help of Marianne. Rage and grief turned her voice to a rasping growl.

Revenge.

Suddenly, my mind could see the three vampires running to the front of the house. I needed to kill them. Every part of my being was focused on the need to rip apart and burn the murderers.

Everything around me became a red haze, and it made for a good contrast as I sought my prey. I darted out the back, the way we came, rounded the corners and came to the front. The others were running with me, five enraged vampires who would stop at nothing less than the destruction of our enemies. The murderers were running as fast as they could towards the city.

No one could have even seen us or our prey as we ran. We were running like I had never run before, on a hunt unlike anything I had ever experienced. I forced my visions to tell me where they were going, willing the visions to let me have my prey now as they did every weekend. My visions showed me with sharp clarity that the three were going to head straight into the water and then go to the sewer outlet by the shanty towns.

“They will head into the water and try to get to the sewers,” I roared to the others.

“Are you sure?” asked Paul.

Yes, they will try to make it into the sewers by the shanty towns near the docks. I know it.”

Paul smiled, “Then we will beat them there. Alice, you’re with us, Marianne and Annette, you keep chasing them and drive them into the water.” With that, he headed to a small ditch that led directly to a thin finger of water. We swam to another sewer outlet across the river and Paul led us through the complicated system. All the while, my vision never faltered; we had them trapped. We waited until the three men entered the long tube in front of us and we could see Annette and Marianne coming closer in the water, then we struck.

Each one of us took one, and I didn’t care if they were bigger or that my life was at stake. I was the predator and they were my prey, and I would avenge my friends. The red fury took over my entire mind, and it filled with the visions that I needed to fight. I cornered the tallest but thinnest of the three, and we began swerving and lunging in a deadly game of cat and mouse. I could hear the growling and screams of the other two fights.

My own growls ripped through me, and made me stronger. The tunnel was trembling with the horrific noises coming from the warring vampires. I tried repeatedly to catch him off balance and hit him from the side, but he was a fast and accomplished fighter. Finally, I saw my chance and fake lunged right, caught his hand as it came up and used it to fling myself onto his back trying to get my teeth up to his neck. His arm grabbed at me, but I held on with my legs, and ripped his right arm off. He screamed in agony, wrenched his whole body around and slammed me into the brick wall of the sewer. The brick gave way and showered us both with an avalanche of stone and cement, but it didn’t matter. I jumped off his back and again got just close enough for him to strike at me. I moved to my right, grabbed his other hand, and lunged under his legs. He was totally unprepared for my unusual attack, and he crashed to the ground with a howl. I twisted the other arm around with a nearly perfect pirouette, and ripped it off. Then, I leapt onto his body, grabbed his head, raked my teeth deeply across his neck, and yanked with all my strength. With a loud crack, his head came off.

I continued ripping his body apart in my rage until Gregorio’s hand stopped me.

“We don’t need to chop them up quite so finely. Large chunks burn just as well,” he laughed.

I wanted to chop him up finely,” I answered through gritted teeth.

I looked around, Paul and the others were smiling at me. Annette and Marianne each held a head in one hand and a few body parts in the other, and Paul was gathering up all the rest into a pile. I couldn’t imagine what they were doing with the heads, until I saw the lit matches in their hands.

“Alice grab the head and a few pieces of that one and bring them here,” Annette instructed.

I grabbed what I could and brought the wriggling parts over to the girls.

“What are we doing?” I asked. Now that the fight was over, the scene was giving me a sick feeling.

“We are going to find out who and what they are,” answered Gregorio with the most evil look on his face that I had ever seen. The gentle giant that I had come to know was replaced by a murderous vampire, and it frightened me.

“Alice, you don’t need to do this with us, but please stay and watch,” said Paul as he took the churning rock from me. “This is the worst part of protecting ourselves, but we must do it.”

I watched in horrified fascination as they put the heads on the ground right side up. I didn’t want to see this, but I couldn’t look away, either. Whether it was Paul’s command or my morbid curiosity, I had to stay and watch. Each face was animated and grotesque as it twisted in pain. Then they put the few body parts in front of each head.

“I need to know who you are and what you are doing. We will quickly burn any one of you who tells us what we need; the rest will feel the flame on each piece slowly. We can take you home and burn you for weeks if we need to. I will ask questions, you blink once for yes and twice for no,” Gregorio commanded.

With that, Gregorio began to burn a piece of one of the men. The head on the right grimaced and tried to cry out. Strange rasping noises came from his torn throat.

“Are you here with a coven?” No one blinked, so Annette and Paul grabbed more matches and set a small piece of the other two on fire. The heads began to contort and spasm and each in turn rolled over. When the small parts were done burning, Marianne picked up the heads and Paul asked the question again. This time the middle head blinked once.

“Good. Are you from Mexico?” One blink again.

“How many are left? Blink the number.” No one blinked, though they seemed to try to see each other. The macabre pattern of burning and contorting continued several times until the one on the right began blinking. Eighteen.

“Are you working with someone from this city? Is there a snitch?” The one on the right blinked twice.

“What about a gifted vampire?” The faces just tried to look at each other again, and so more of them burned. We had been at this for almost forty minutes now, and for the first time in my known life, I felt truly sick.

“Gift?” warned Paul as he lit another match. The one on the right blinked once.

“Can he see the future?” One blink.

“I will let you burn and end this if you tell me where your compatriots are hiding,” stated Paul, and he began to name the boroughs of New York and the areas of New Jersey that were nearby. It took twenty minutes, and three more body parts, but we found out that they were in the old, abandoned iron works on the border of Newark and New York.

As the bodies were burned a strong incense filled the air. I was so numb from all that I had done and seen that I didn’t even feel Annette’s hand on my shoulder. “I know it is sickening to watch that, but, believe me, they would have done it to any one of us. Just remember what they did to Michael and Brittany.”

I would never forget what they did. I would never forget her face, and I would never underestimate the utter ferocity and cruelty of my species again. 

 

Chapter 11: Enemy Mine by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thank you again, Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot!

Stephenie Meyers owns Twilight and all its characters. The original characters are mine. I really want to make dolls out of some of them!

 

Chapter 11:  Enemy Mine

 

I went hunting all day Saturday, filling myself as full as I could for the fight.  The others were doing the same.  The loss of Michael and Brittany enraged all of us, and all the covens were eager for the fight.  Michael had been a part of New York since 1772, and the city would never be the same again.  Stephan and Gerta, who had now lost three friends, were nearly mad with grief and rage.  The coven war was now a vendetta.

When I returned, a note was waiting for me again.

We need to plan and I need your help.  Your insight is absolutely essential for this fight.  Come over as soon as you get back, Paul

I didn't even check on the sisters before I left.

"How do we beat the seer?" Paul demanded as I entered. His direct question was his only greeting.  He had lost his brother, and I could sense the bloodlust emanating from every crystal of his body.  He stood over me, tense and shaking. 

"I'm honestly not sure," I said, but quickly added, "it has something to do with exactly how certain a decision is.  When I sense the market, the only good hunches I get are from the meetings we have.  I may have some good guesses, but it takes a specific decision to firm things up.  If the seer is like me, he will see any planned attack we try and will counter it." The words tumbled out, and once they were said, I waited for the backlash. For the first time, I admitted to being a seer.

"Interesting, a total surprise attack.  So much so that we can't even know when.  How exactly do you propose we do that?" he spat in frustration.

I breathed a sigh of relief that the confession went unnoticed.

"I think -- and this may not work -- but I believe I can maybe get an idea of when the psychic goes hunting.  With him gone, we can pick off the others easily, and then just wait for him to come back."

"That would be perfect," Paul smiled at me.  "We should gather together at a central location so that we can launch the attack instantly.  You know, this is the worst threat we have faced in several decades, but with you on our side, I feel very good about this battle.  You are quite a wonderful little vampire, you know that?"  He put his hand under my chin and smiled at me.  His gift made us all want to please him, but it seemed overwhelmingly important to me now that a war was immanent.  His obvious pleasure with me eased some of my pain, and I relaxed in the warmth of Paul's praise. 

To be ready for a fight and for protection, we stayed together at the Plaza.  The entire fourth floor was filled with vampires, and the staff was nearly mad with fear, but that didn't matter to any of us.  We spent the time in our various pursuits, and they waited for me to announce the right time.  I stayed in my room, mostly, and tried to see when the psychic would leave to hunt.  I had glimpsed him once or twice, he seemed very young, but the visions were unnervingly hard to see.  Perhaps it was because he was trying to see us as hard as I was trying to see him.  After the first day, my head throbbed from the effort.

"Alice, you need a break!" announced Annette as she burst into my room. After two days of painful seclusion, I nearly broke the ceiling in my surprise.  "Didn't you want me to teach you to dance? Well its time you got out and did it," and with that, I was yanked from my seat and dragged to the ball room.  During the day, the ballroom was always dark and empty, which was perfect for us since we didn't need light.

Even with a war imminent, I was rather excited about being with Annette and finally learning to dance.  I fought well enough, so dancing should be a cinch.

It didn't go as well as I thought it would.

"You are so little, you look like a field mouse when you do that," Annette laughed at me as I tried to leap like she did.

"I was hoping for gazelle or swan."

"No, it was definitely a mouse.  Sorry," she giggled, "but it is just so cute.  Don't get discouraged, you have a good deal of raw talent.  Did you study ballet?"

"I have no idea.  I could have been a practicing witch for all I know," I grimaced.  My memory was a sore spot.

"I don't think so.  You would be swallowed up by the hat, and you would never let yourself wear all black," Annette teased.

We continued to stretch, pirouette, and kick, as Annette tried to force my perfectly rock like body to bend in ways it had never done.

"I'm glad you're patient," I commented after yet another attempt a gazelle -- I had made it from mouse to frog but no further.

"You are better than Marianne was at this stage.  Why don't we try some modern dances that don't require quite so much training?" she suggested to my immense relief.  We went through an assortment of complicated dances from all over the world.

"This is fun!" I happily laughed as she showed me the Charleston.  "I can't wait to until the next ball."  I was very good at dancing the more modern dances, and I would be able to cut a rug with the best of them.

"Now all we need is a man to accompany you," said Annette.

"Oh, no, not you too," I whined.  I'm taken, very taken.

"It isn't good for you to be so alone.  You don't need an actual mate to have fun, just a male.  Any one will do...Well, it would be best for you to find a vampire to dance with.  Humans break so easily," she mused.  "You know, I think you should travel to Europe with us.  Paul and Gregorio will need to visit the Volturi in the next few years, and you should come, too.  You would love Europe and all that it has to offer.  You could meet some of the others and get a good look at what civilized vampires live like.  Besides, you have only met the men here, and there is a world just full of possible lovers.  You have been very sheltered, you know," she chided me.

"I really don't want to meet the Volturi, and I don't think I want to leave the United States right now."  

Not until I am a complete person.  Not until I'm with Jasper.   

"Well, think about it.  You would be so very popular in Europe, Alice.  You have no idea what a rare joy you truly are.  I can't think of any available male that wouldn't love to get to know you," she said with a smile.

"Thank you," I stammered, unsure if I should be pleased with the compliment.

I decided it was time to divert this conversationThere was something I wanted to try to do, so I broached the subject with Annette.  

"Do you think we could have a victory dance after this is all over?" I asked.  "I really loved the ball we had in April, and I think we all need a way to celebrate our win.  I know I really need a diversion." 

"Yes, I think that would be perfect, but let me help.  You can't steal all the fun you know."  She was usually in charge of the vampire social life in New York.

"If you don't mind, I would like to try to do it myself, you know, see what I can do.  I would love to get your opinion, but let this be my gift to all of you," I pushed, trying to convince her.  She remained unconvinced.

"It is harder than you think, getting things worked out with the humans and all.  You will need some help, but if you want to try it on your own, I suppose you could."  By her tone, I could tell she thought I was biting off more than I could chew.

"You take the Christmas ball, and I'll take this one.  Please, Annette, I just want to give something back to everyone."

She eyed me warily, obviously this was her area of expertise, and sharing wasn't in her plans, but finally, she shrugged.

"I guess it's really not a competition, is it?" she said.

Wanna bet? I thought with a friendly smile.

oo||xXx||oo

 

Two nights later, the vision came.  A small vampire was accompanied by three others as they walked out into the darkness.  I recognized the silhouette as the one my mind had identified as the seer.  I should have been panicked, maybe even growling, but a strange calm washed over me instead.  The path was set, now all we had to do was finish this.

I walked down the hall quietly stating the most final sounding words I had ever said, "Everyone, it's time."

We ran in utter silence. 

Paul had wanted to plan this attack in detail, but we decided instead to let everyone know only their part.  We hoped to keep the psychic in the dark by keeping almost everyone completely ignorant .  The small group guarding the psychic was just leaving as we surrounded the old factory.

I could see Paul from my position on the roof as he looked to me to give him the signal.  I looked ahead to the fight, and my vision showed that at least the faces of the vampires we would attack looked surprise.  Had we succeeded in thwarting the psychic?  I could only hope that my imperfect visions and young mind had not led us to our deaths. 

I nodded to Paul, and we soundlessly rushed into the building.  My visions had led me to believe that the upper areas and catwalks of the building would house only three vampires, and this held true.  They watched the three sides of the building that faced away from the nearby wharf, and the three best fighters, George, Gregorio and Paul took the guards with the help of their mates.  Chi-Yang and Mai-Li took the fourth guard who was at the wharf.  I and the remaining ten ran past the broken guards and jumped down directly into the main area of the smelter.

As my feet hit the ground, venom filled my mouth, and my vision turned crimson.  I ran for the first target I saw, a woman a few inches taller than myself.  She was a brilliant fighter, but I was faster, and with my vision was able to block her attacks -- barely.  We moved like cobras, weaving this way and that and striking whenever we saw an opportunity.  I would have taken her when one of her lunges threw her off balance, if one of my frustrating visions hadn't cut in. 

The psychic was returning with the three others.  It broke as she grabbed me, spun me around, and wrapped her arms around my neck.  I grabbed her arms with both my hands and tried to wrench the constricting stone away from me, but I couldn't budge her arms at all.  I could feel my neck painfully strain as she tried to pull my head off, and then suddenly, her grip pulled me back and broke free of my neck.  I whirled to see Gregorio pull her head back by the hair and double her torso backwards.  He bent over and seemed to be kissing her stomach until she split in half down the middle.  He began to laugh as he dismembered her body.  Marianne was already building a fire and throwing the body parts of others in it, so he tossed me a leg and part of an arm to throw in.

"The seer is coming back," I yelled at him.  While I was fighting, I hadn't realized how horrifically loud the battle was.  Growls, roars, screams, yells, and death shrieks filled the building and were accompanied by the sound of cracking rock, breaking steal and splintering wood. 

"This building won't last long," I yelled to anyone who could hear.

"You aren't very perceptive if you just figured dat out," Ivan shouted back, as he darted into a corner to face two others.  I followed him, and soon we were playing cat and mouse together with the two intruders in an odd dance of death.

The two vampires tried to weave their way past us to an exit, but we had them cornered.  They then tried to feint back and forth to get us to lunge for them, but we stayed just two arms lengths away from each other to block any exit.  The one nearest me lunged to the left and came just a little to close to Ivan, and the huge Russian simply reached over and shoved him with enough force to split a boulder. 

"Enjoy!" crowed Ivan as the dark haired vampire landed at my feet.  I already was.  I jumped on his head as it hit the ground, bit deeply, and simply twisted it 180 degrees and yanked.  Dismembering the rest took only a few seconds, and I was disappointed to see that Ivan was already doing the same to his opponent.  I really wanted to return the favor.

Thick, sweet smelling smoke engulfed the cavernous building.  Ivan and I ran our parts over to the raging fire to see that several others were doing the same.  From above, Paul called out, "Numbers!" and each of us rattled off how many we had thrown in the fire.  I was very annoyed when Mai-Li proudly call out, "Four."

"That's eleven," called Paul, "keep searching for the other three.  Not you Alice!  I need to know where the psychic and his bodyguards are."  With that, he landed beside me and began to lead me to a door.  Behind us, a couple of voices cried out in victory, and the sound of breaking rock and a shrill cry told me that we were down to two missing invaders.

"Where and when?" Paul demanded.

"I don't know," I admitted after a brief moment.  "I think they are still by the water, but I can't get a good hunch on where they are exactly.  I think they decided not to come back."

"Are you sure?"

"I think the psychic has figured out that we have attacked, but they haven't decided what to do next."  It was a little more than a hunch; I could see them by the water just yards from the shanty town by the docks.

There was another sharp shriek and the sound of tumbling rock.  We both turned to see another body being tossed into the now out of control fire.

"We need to get out," cried Gregorio over the roaring flames.  He turned and yelled in a thunderous voice, "Out!  Everyone out!  NOW!"

From every conceivable opening, the lithe shapes of my companions emerged from the building.  Seventeen!  Even in the smoke, I could clearly make out all of us.  The relief was exquisite.

"We have one missing invader," said a clearly relieved Annette, "but all the others are burning in the inferno, may they rot in hell."

"There are still the four at the docks," stated Paul, "we need to split up to find the last one and take care of the four."

"My coven and Gerta's can find the missing one," volunteered Paolo.

"Take George and Antoinette as well," ordered Paul, "once you have his scent, send them back to us.  We will be by the shantytown."  With that, our community again went silently into the hunt.

We decided to encircle the group with the psychic from every angle so that they couldn't escape.  Ivan's coven took to the water to block that way, and the rest of us descended on the group from whichever way we could.  There would be no advantage of surprise here, I realized with a shudder.  We all ran and jumped as quickly as we could to give us the advantage of a rapid attack, but they were already in defensive positions by the time were a quarter of a mile away.

"They're going for the river," I yelled as the vision hit.  A moment later, the figures dashed to the water.  Chi-Yang had taken the water front route and caught the lead vampire in a deafening tackle and both went sprawling.  The second one reached the water and disappeared only to be flung up and out of the waves by a rising Vasily.  A burst of growls erupted from everywhere at once, and the small group of murderous intruders crouched for their defense. 

The dance of death began again as we all circled, feinted, and lunged at our prey.  It was grossly unfair in numbers, but I couldn't feel bad for them.  They had killed recklessly and nearly plunged the whole city into a mob war.  They had murdered my friends in their own home.  This was my city, my friends, my home, and I would defend it.  I let my predator's instincts take over as I went after the young boy psychic.

He was strangely immobile in the center of our circle.  He probably wasn't more than twelve or thirteen when he had been changed, but I had no idea of his true age.  It would have bothered me to single this child out if I hadn't seen two other children die side by side in their home.  There was no pity left in me for this one.

"Can't you see what's next?" I taunted him.  He briefly glanced at me with sheer hatred in his eyes.

"I can see what I need," he replied in a barely audible whisper, and then turned on his heel, shoved one of his bodyguards into Lena, leapt over them, and broke into a run to the water's edge.  I, Vasily, Chi-Yang and Mai-Li followed while the howls behind me told me that the fight with the others had begun.

We followed him into the water and began to chase his wake as best we could.  He was an exceptionally fast swimmer, and I realized that this wasn't a race we could win with speed, so I stopped swimming and let my mind lead me.

The others stopped behind me with curious looks on their faces.  I tried to see where the young looking vampire would head, and the foul smell of the Hudson River came over me.  That's it!  Not firm yet, but I clearly saw him swimming among the trees.  He would try to lose us in the filth of the Hudson and then exit somewhere in the woods.

"He's heading to the river, we can catch him when he tries to leave it," I called back to the others who were still behind me.  We all left the bay, and took to the roofs to make it to the river's edge before he did.  It seemed like it took forever to run past the buildings and factories that scarred the area, but finally we were running among thin trees and sparse houses towards the forest.  I could see in my mind that he would indeed exit in the trees, but the vision was very unclear.  He wasn't sure what he was looking for, either.  Suddenly, my vision became much clearer, like a fog had lifted.  Bridge, there was a bridge that he knew of, and he would come out at dawn, just half an hour or so from now.   I raced again trying to find the right bridge before he could reach it, and trying to stay far enough from the river itself that he couldn't catch my scent.  I knew this would only work if he couldn't see us here, if he wasn't paying close attention, and if his vision into the future was slightly weaker than mine.

I slowed and began to smell the woods as if I was after a scent, the others followed my lead.  So long as they didn't know what he was doing, we had a chance of surprising him.  We slowly edged towards the bridge that I could just now see through the thick trees.  I motioned for two to cross the river and Chi-Yang and Mai-Li instantly leapt to the other side and continued their sweep.  When we were just ten short yards away, a figure jumped out of the water on the far side of the bank and headed towards the bridge.

Mai-Li and Chi-Yang were on him within a second, but he had seen them coming.  He whirled on Mai-Li, dodged her lunge, grabbed her from behind, and wrenched her head off.  My mind was too far absorbed in the pursuit and fight to register much of the shock. 

No fire, there is no fireShe has a chance. 

I was over the bridge before her head had rolled more than two feet. 

Growls and roars now filled the dawn air.  Chi-Yang was torn between helping his mate and revenging her injury, but for now, he focused on the psychic and blocked one path of escape.  Vasily was on my flank, and I realized that they were letting me lead this attack.

No matter which way the young psychic attacked, I was ready to block or dodge, but he was doing the same to all of my efforts.  If the fights before were a dance of death, this was a waltz, complex and choreographed.  He had more experience than I, but I could sense that my visions were stronger and more accurate.  Regardless, neither one of us could get more than a few minor strikes on the other so long as it was just he and I.

"You know I could make you rich," he began to purr to me.  "You have an unparalleled talent, and you could be the ruler of your own city."

"If humans mattered to me, it might be tempting, but I don't need them to survive," I countered, not nearly as smoothly.  His face showed the shock of my statement.  Here was a truth I hadn't realized, their need for human blood left the others more vulnerable and weaker than I.  Interesting.

"We could be unstoppable as a team," he continued.

"I'm already am unstoppable."

"Do you have all you want?" the purr turned desperate.

"Yes," I lied.

"Ahhh, I could help you find him," he said with confident smoothness.  He had found the chink in my armor.  It stopped me for just a moment as the idea of finding Jasper broke into my mind like a crashing wave.  I knew it was true.  Together we were strong enough.

In that splintered second, he lunged for me.  I was just barely too late.  He landed on my chest and wrapped his arms and legs around me so that I couldn't get my hands out to stop him.  I was now carrying him.  He bit down deeply on my lower neck.

I shrieked in agony as his venom entered the wound.  My neck, shoulder, and head were on fire.  I brought my legs up, and we crashed to the ground with me under him.  I raised my hands as his grip slipped for a split second.  I grabbed at his face, and my fingers sought out his eyes.  I drove my fingers into the depth of his eye sockets, and this forced his head back just a bit.  I was just small enough to twist in his grip and fit further under him so that I was now facing his body.  I stretched just enough to sink my own teeth into his neck.  I didn't try to rid him of his head, but rather I tore a chunks out of his throat and spat them away. 

His wild eyes now turned on me as he prepared to bite me again, but strong hands pulled his head back.  The neck cracked where I had torn it, and the young boys face bent back and snapped off of his body.  Vasily stood over me grinning in victory as he tossed the head aside and grabbed a writhing leg and snapped it across his knee.  I reached over, and began to rip apart his arms.  I could hear Chi-Yang uttering what sounded like curse words in Chinese as he also ripped and gathered body parts to take to a small fire that he had begun at the base of the bridge.

It was over, my first war was done. 

I felt along my neck where it meets the shoulder, the deep bite was healing rapidly, but it burned terribly.  I kept feeling my shoulder, expecting my skin to be hot or flames to be shooting from the bite, but all I felt was cool stone under my fingers.  I was truly glad for my black pit memory if this was even a little similar to what we felt during our change.  No wonder the others thought I was lucky.  

I went over to look at Mai-Li's body and found her leaning against a tree holding her neck and head in place.  He beautiful face was contorted in pain, and her eyes were wild in the agony as she looked at me.

"She vill be better soon," Vasily comforted me as he stood by my side, "Chi-Yang has gone to get a human so that she can heal."

"Why a human?" but I already knew the answer.

"When we are injured, their blood helps speed the recovery.  Do you want one for your neck?  That bite was deep."

"No, thank you," I quickly answered.  No one else should die today.  We had killed eighteen people today. Well, sort of people.  We didn't know their names or their life stories, we had to simply kill and burn them before they could do the same to us, and now they were nothing more than ash. 

"I just need to be alone for a few minutes," I said to Vasily.  He started to protest, but I said, "Just until the human is disposed of, I can't take any more death right now."  My voice was unusually rough.  I placed my hand gently on Mai-Li's shoulder, smiled at her, and walked into the woods until I could no longer see them.  My vampire self, the part that ran on instinct and senses, was too strong, and I knew I would not be able to resist if a human came close.  Not now.           I could see who would die for Mai-Li, and the vision made my self-control even weaker.  The old man was a sturdy farmer who, from the looks of him, was busy milking when he was attacked by Chi-Yang.  At least the man was unconscious when he died.  I stayed locked in the crook of a tree, trying not to smell the blood, and I didn't come out until I heard them calling for me.  

The journey back to the city was silent and slow.  My injury burned with fire, and Mai-Li had to be carried by Chi-Yang so that her healing neck would not rip again.  We walked in the shadow of the trees to keep Mai-Li from further harm and not draw attention to ourselves.  It was night again by the time we were found by Paul and Gregorio.  The whole New York community was behind them in cars.  They had followed our scents. 

Chi-Yang, Mai-Li, and I went with Paul, while Vasily joined his coven in their car.  I didn't say anything on the way back; Chi-Yang filled them in completely.

oo||xXx||oo

"Your help was invaluable, I just want you to know that," said Chi-Yang and he picked up Mai-Li and carried her gently into their home.

"Thank you, it is kind of you to say," I replied.  At least I had been able to prove to them that I was not an enemy.

"He's right," agreed Gregorio, "this would have been nearly impossible without you.  Your hunches are quite a gift for our covens." 

Our covens.  Not my covens, I thought.  I had fought with and for these vampires, but I felt totally alone again.  They were no longer in peril, and I didn't need to protect them.

"I'm really glad I could help," I said sincerely, "I just wish it had been enough to save Michael and Brittany."

"Their loss affects us all," sighed Paul, "but we cannot dwell on it.  Death is our life."

"I know," I admitted miserably. "I just wish that life could be our life," I countered.

Maybe it was because I wasn't used to killing humans any more, or maybe I was too far removed from the monster I had released these last few days, but I did not want death to be my life.  Life should be my life, but I knew that Paul was more right than I wanted to admit.  The whole earth was so frail, so easy for us to destroy, so very mortal.

Gregorio touched my arm as he walked to my own home at twilight.  "Alice, we are what we are.  Find your own path, but always remember what you are.  You are meant to kill.  Your whole being is created for it.  Your choice makes you unique, and lets you live among the living, but you will forever be one of the dead.  Living death.  It is our gift and curse."  He smiled ruefully.  It was the smile of an old warrior tired from the constant fight, but unable to leave it, ever.  He was right.

I went home to my frail house and dying friends, and thought of the man and the coven that were just beyond my mind's reach.  

 

Chapter 12: Petit Sophisticate by Openhome
Author's Notes:
A huge thanks to my super-Beta's, Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot!

It belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I just want to give it a back story.

Chapter 12: Petite Sophisticate

 

For the next three years, my life balanced on the thin line between two worlds -- the world of the undead and indestructible, and the world of my two very mortal human friends.  I made everyone fabulously rich, including myself, so that I had no needs that I could not meet.  At the end of every July, I hosted a vampire ball to celebrate our victory from 1926, or at least that was my excuse.  I would have thrown a ball every month just for the fun of it.  Everyone loved the celebration dance so much that first year, that it had become a fixture on the vampire social calendar.  Vampires from all over the United States would descend on New York in July and Christmas for the two annual balls.  Annette and I, good friends on every other point, had a not so friendly competition going between us as she was in charge of the Christmas Ball.

I took correspondence courses that taught me how to make hats, broaches, crocheted jewelry, and knit cardigans.  I bought more clothing than could be worn in a year -- well, almost, I did find a way to wear it all at least once -- and had fun redoing Annette’s, Lena’s, Gerta’s and Marianne’s wardrobes in my spare time.

And I waited. 

I waited to have the visions become clear enough to guide me.  I knew all of their faces, and names, Jasper, Esme and Carlisle, and the traitorous Edward.  I waited to find out where to go to heal my heart and find my family, and I waited to see what else this strange life had in store for me.

I had even gone with Paul and Annette down the whole East Coast and across the Gulf to New Orleans in November of 1926, hoping that traveling south would clear my visions up, but they became much less solid south of the Carolinas, and only cleared when we headed back north. 

The trip was fun.  Atlantic City was fabulous, and I loved the gambling.  I was a natural at Roulette for obvious reasons.   The beaches of Florida and the Keys were wonderful, and my skin was warm for the first time in my known life.  I loved the night life and music of New Orleans.  We danced and sang and enjoyed it all.  Paul and Annette got to see old friends and dine on Cajun.  I tried alligator.  While the fight was fun, the blood was horrid.  I decided to never eat cold blood again if I could help it.  It would have been a perfect vacation if the visions hadn’t become so hazy.

Then, on May 13th, 1929, Myrtle Dewar passed away.

“What should I do?” I had asked my undying friends when it had become clear in both my visions and her labored breathing that her death was close.

“You have two choices when it comes to humans,” Annette had answered, “let them die once, or give them eternal death.  What would she want?”  She was always practical about such things. 

One choice forced me to lose Myrtle once, and the other forced her to lose her life forever.  When Annette put it that way, it was clear what I had to do.  So, I simply let it happen, and as I watched her sleep, she died.

Her death caused me more pain than I would have dreamed possible.  This mortal woman’s passing made me feel more alone and hollow than I had felt since I awoke nine years ago.  I now understood Annette’s warning on the first night we had met, being close to humans carried with it a great cost, and I was finding it difficult to pay.

Myrtle left her estate divided between me, Herbert, and Edwina.  The gesture made me miss her even more and was very sweet, though I didn’t need the money.  I simply gave my share to Herbert.

According to vampire inheritance rules, I and Paul’s coven split the estate of Michael and Brittany evenly.  The avengers of a destroyed coven took the estate of that coven, and my one-fifth share was two and a half million dollars.  With this and the money I made on the stock market, I would be able to live for several hundred years without needing to work.

~X~

“Alice?”  Marianne’s voice drew me out of my memories. She sounded worried.

“Hmmm?” I responded as I covered over the layout for the July celebration that was just three weeks away. My stupid, fickle visions should have warned me of her coming. 

“Are you sure you are able to do this by yourself?  You seem so out of sorts since Myrtle’s passing, and we are a little worried that you are trying to do too much too soon.”

I looked into her concerned eyes and saw just how much my behavior must be off.  I would need to do better.  “I’m sorry if I haven’t been myself.  It’s just harder than I thought it would be to say goodbye.”

“It’s worse than when you found out the young man was lost, isn’t it?” she asked referring to my darkest time between the coven war and Myrtle’s death.

“Yes, it’s much worse.  I didn’t know him all that well, but I had been with Myrtle for six years.”

“What was his name?  You never told us,” she pressed.  It was still a mystery to them why I cared so much for the boy.  I had told them he was a friend of Myrtle’s that I was fond of, and he had been lost in a city.  It was like everything else I told them, part lie and part truth.  There was still no way I could tell them the whole truth.  

“Edward.  They still hope he can be found, but I don’t know if it’s possible now.”

Two years ago.  I couldn’t believe so much time had passed since I found out the reddish blond vampire’s name.  He had left the coven that I claimed as my own to find his own path, a very bloody path.  The vision was one of the clearest I had ever had, and it broke my heart.  I could see the beautiful blond Carlisle and his lovely mate standing under a porch with agonized expressions as they called after him.  The door and windows on the home had been broken. Edward just walked down the street without so much as a backward glance.  The next time I saw Edward, he was hunting in a city with crimson eyes.  I felt the loss as if it were truly my own.

“I know I’ve been very distracted lately, but it isn’t just Myrtle’s death, something is off in the market, and something is coming to the whole world that is horrid beyond description, and I am trying to understand what is wrong,” I confessed.  I really was out of sorts with all the bad visions.

“It’s not your job to protect us from the whole world.  It isn’t even your responsibility to secure wealth for everyone you know.  We did very well for ourselves before you came, so don’t take on our wealth and happiness as your personal responsibility.”

“I feel like it is, though,” I grumbled, my face betrayed my annoyance at that fact.

 “Alice, you can’t change the world!  So what if there is another financial panic?  The ones in the 1880s were bad, but we all got through them just fine.  Besides, I know that, for our coven, we just are very glad you have chosen to stay here in New York.  If you never make another penny for us, we would still want you to be here,” she assured me.

It was true, and I knew it.  They would love for me to join a coven and stay forever, and part of me wished that I could want that too.  Paul had made it abundantly clear, and he was very hard to resist.  If it wasn’t for my absolute certainty that the four, now three, people in my visions were supposed to be a part of me, I would have given in and stayed.

“Thanks, Marianne. You have no idea how much you all mean to me, too.  You have helped me through so much in the last four years, and I feel like you are my very best friends.”  They had even come to Myrtle’s funeral just to support me.  It was probably the only funeral the Hebrew cemetery had ever had with more dead people than living in attendance.

Marianne put her soft, stone hand over mine and looked at me with the eyes of friendship.

“I know how you feel, really I do,” she said, “when my family passed, it was like I was hollow and lost, but it was really the right thing to bury them.  It sounds so strange now because it hurt so badly that they were gone and I was still the same, but it was somehow so very right that they lived, loved, and died.  It was the ending that we can never have, it was a good ending, and I truly believe that they are happy and together, and that is so very right.”

“I like to think of Myrtle and Hank being together again, just like they were in the dress shop.”  I smiled at the memory.  “You’re right.  I think that Myrtle did well for herself.”

“I’m usually right,” she laughed, “and I am also going to behead you if you don’t let me help with the arrangements this year.  So what’s on tap for the evening?”

“Oh, no.  There is no way that I will ruin the surprise for you or anyone else.  Besides, I need to talk to humans tomorrow, and you just ate,” I said as I pointed to her bright-red eyes.  Tomorrow would be cloudy only in the morning, so I needed to use the time wisely.  July was always a difficult time for vampires.  Most days were very long and very sunny.

“Oh, for the love of Pete,” she muttered, clearly frustrated.  They always tried to get me to tell them what I was doing new for the ball, and this July was like any other. She kept sliding her eyes over to where my plans were covered. 

“It can’t be anymore grandiose than the magician and trapeze artists last year.  It isn’t fair you know,” she whined, “we can’t get near humans without them panicking, and all you have to do is flash your honey eyes and you get anything you want.”

“I’m not telling, so stop trying to look at my plans.”  

“It still can’t be any more elaborate, I’d be willing to bet on it,” she grumbled.

I’ll take that bet,” I laughed.

 

oo||xXx||oo

The flame swallower did a wonderful job of wowing my flammable audience, and the Chinese acrobats astounded everyone, including the resident Chinese coven.  Everyone had a great time on the roof of the financial building that Herbert’s company owned.  The jazz musicians played a swanky little tune while I introduced the night’s last performance, fireworks -- which is why we were on a roof.  The whole group oohed and ahed at the right moments, and everyone applauded when they were finished.  Then, we danced until it was almost dawn. Once again, I had outdone myself. And Annette.

“Okay, Marianne,” I gloated, “confess. What did you think?”

“You did it, I can’t believe it, but you did it.”

“I can’t vait to see Annette try to one-up you at de Christmas ball,” snickered Ivan, “I think she is going to have a hard time finding anything short of a volcanic eruption that could outdo tonight.”

“Maybe she will do just that,” laughed Marianne, “I think a volcano would be right up her alley about now. A volcano complete with a virgin vampire sacrifice would make her feel much better.”

Gregorio was grinning behind her. “Alice is probably the only one here that could pass for a virgin sacrifice.”  He was evil.

Indeed Annette didn’t look all that relaxed this evening, though she enjoyed the fireworks and performances as much as anyone.  She just looked worried, a little sick, and very preoccupied with her plans for December.  I smiled and waved a little to rub the evening in a bit. She returned my smile with a grimace.  She looked murderous.

What’s a little competition without a little teasing?

“You have a wide, vicious streak in you, Alice,” scolded Paul.  “Do you know how much I am going to have to put up with today?  I am going to end up spending all my time on her new ideas just so she can throw a better party,” he growled.  He did look irritated with me.

“It’s just a distraction for the resident vampires, albeit a really well planned and beautifully executed one,” I laughed and twirled around in delight.

Paul just sighed deeply, threw a glance at his irate wife, and said, “Oh, this is so much more than a distraction, believe me.” 

Well, it’s my distraction, and I really need it now, I thought as I said goodbye to them. 

Thirty-eight vampires had attended tonight, and I felt overjoyed at the crowd.  Everyone was leaving before dawn, and I needed to quickly join them because today would be very sunny.  I was pleased with myself as I made my way to Edwina’s house. 

As I entered the window, however, the loneliness hit me again.  I growled at myself in reproach.  How could I be the star of the show, surrounded by adoring vampires, and still be lonely?  It was simply immature.

Frustration joined loneliness as I hung up my ball gown, put on a lovely silk and chiffon day dress. I simply had to keep all my raging emotions under control. I sat down and tried to calm myself until I heard Edwina downstairs. 

I slowly went down to see her, hoping that no visions would strike me today.  The unlooked for visions, the ones that just hit without warning, were becoming stronger and harder to deal with.  It wasn’t just the intensity of the vision that was difficult, but also the intensity of my emotions that were becoming tangled up in them.  It was as if I couldn’t have an important vision without having an equally intense emotional reaction.  I was beginning to lose control, and it scared me to death.

The vision that hit during Edwina’s breakfast shouldn’t have caused me much difficulty.  There was no bloodshed, no terror, and no movement.  I simply saw a for sale sign outside of Edwina’s home during a light, early winter snow fall.  There was nothing scary at all.  Except for the fact that between now and the first snow, I was going to lose my teacher, friend, and the last of my family.

“Honey, are you all right?” I heard her ask.

I realized I was shaking, sobbing tearlessly.  “I just miss her so much,” I lied looking at Edwina for signs of death.  She had lost weight, a lot of weight, over the last few weeks.  How could I not have noticed?

“I understand, really I do, but honey, you have got to let it go.  You are almost twenty-six, and you need to get on with your life.  You have been so kind and generous, that we owe you more than we can every repay.  So, go on.  Stop crying for the dead and start living again.  What would Myrtle think?”

“She would think I need to find a man,” I laughed.

“Yes, and she would be right,” Edwina laughed, too.  “Why don’t you try to go out and meet someone who is as wonderful as you?  You deserve a good man.”

“Do you want to know a secret?” I whispered to her as conspiratorially as I could.  She nodded like an eager child.  “I have found a good man, but he lives far away and I can’t go to him now.”  It felt ridiculously good to tell someone.

“Why on earth can’t you go to him?  Is it because of us?  You had better not be staying away for my sake, or I will kick you straight to Kingdom Come.”

“No, no.  He’s away as a soldier, an officer, and his name is Jasper Whitlock,” his name even tasted good to say out loud, “and he and I will get together soon.  So don’t worry about getting me a man, because I have one.”  That simple statement seemed to warm my cold chest and brought me more pleasure than any of last night’s events.

Suddenly, Edwina truly looked like a school girl as she clapped her hands and demanded, “You tell me all about him, and I mean everything.  Don’t spare any details!”

I think I will spare a few, I thought as I gave Edwina the best gift I could offer, my future with Jasper.

 

 

 

Chapter 13: Crash by Openhome

 

Chapter 13:  Crash

 

The market was going to spiral down to a cascading crash.  That is what my visions were trying to tell me.  The realization hit me while I was locked in the house on a very sunny and hot early August day, and I couldn't do a thing about what I could see coming. 

I had been seeing problems for almost four months, but I thought my visions were wrong because the numbers I saw were so unbelievably bad.  However, this vision was absolute, the only thing off was the timing.  Everyone who played with stocks knew that speculation was driving the market to extremes, and most of us were deeply involved in that speculation, but the numbers that I saw staggered me.  How would any investor survive that fall?

"What is the best way to ride out a panic?" I asked Edwina when I could. 

"Do you think a panic is coming?" her frail voice held a tinge of hysteria in it.

"I don't know, maybe.  The market has gone so high that it may tumble a bit soon," I lied.  I shouldn't worry her now that the end was so near.

"Oh, it's easy to ride out a panic, especially if it's a short one.  Cash out all your current stock.  Choose several solid companies to invest ten to fifteen percent of your current stock in after the market falls.   You can keep the rest of the money as cash or transfer some to bonds.  Keep the cash in a safe, safety deposit box, or solid bank, and send some overseas.  When it's over, you haven't lost a dime, and the reinvested stock will rise over time.  If you choose the companies well, and if you buy it when it's at its lowest point, it's a sure bet," she said, sounding very confident.

"Are you sure about all that?  It sounds too easy."  When had she ever been wrong, though?

"Honey, riding a panic, and even profiting from one, is all a matter of good decisions and great timing, and you have both.  I know you will take care of me and Herbert the best you can."

"You are so easy to please!" I teased.  Her confidence left me shaken because I knew this time my decisions would need to last for ten or fifteen years.  Whatever was coming after the market fell would alter the world as we knew it.  Maybe it was a blessing that Edwina would not live to see it.

I went to Paul's coven when I had a strategy formulated.  They and the other vampires of New York relied on me heavily, and I needed to persuade them to exit the market quickly.  None of them would like it.

"Are you absolutely sure about this, Alice?  I know you have been dead-on in the past, but this...this...it's a major decision," Paul said when I told his coven about my "hunches" and the plans I had made.  It had taken a week to formulate a solid scenario that might keep all our wealth intact and perhaps even allow it to grow, but it was hard to sell it to the vampires who were so heavily involved in the market.

"All of it! Are you sure?" Marianne said yet again.

"Yes, dump all of it.  We can reinvest in about fifteen months in several companies that should grow over the next decade, but if we don't pull out now, there may not be enough time to protect the money we have," I explained again.

"It does make sense, if the market is going to be as bad as she says," pointed out the always practical Annette.

"It will be, believe me, you haven't seen anything like this before."  They went with my other advice like it was a sure bet.  Why wouldn't they believe me now?

"All right, then, I guess we will follow your lead.  We were planning to go to Europe, so we'll go before October and then we can personally put the money in a Swiss bank," Paul decided.  "We should spread the warning, so call or write to anyone and everyone you know.  The vampire's are out of the market."

I was so relieved that I hugged him.  Then the realization hit that my friends, the only people I really knew in the world, were going to be a continent away.  Marianne saw the disappointment and hurt plainly on my face.  I really did need to work on not showing my emotions.

"Please reconsider and come with us, Alice.  You can be back to the United States in a fortnight, even less if you can stand a dirigible.  You have no idea how wonderful Europe is.  Besides, we will miss you so much," she begged.

"I will miss you more than you can ever know, but I really need to stay here for now.  I'm planning to do my own traveling," I told her.  

Besides, I can't leave without finding Jasper first.

Paul tried again to get me to somehow join them.  "Alice, you are as much a part of us as we are of you.  Please reconsider.  We need you now, more than ever, and I want so much to show you the beauty of Europe.  Please say you'll come."  His voice was like velvet, and my will very nearly crumbled under the pressure of his suggestion.  He had tried this before, but this time it was far more difficult to resist.  Even though I knew it was his gift, and that he was manipulating me, I couldn't help but feel that I wanted to go with them, and that I was a horrid person for saying no.

"I know you will be just fine, Paul, and I do want to keep your friendship, but I really can't go right now," I said with forced words.  It took everything I had to say that statement strongly enough to get him to stop.  Even when he nodded, I could feel his influence weaving through my head.  I wouldn't be able to last long if he was going to come at me like that, so I left immediately, before he could change my mind.

Herbert was incredibly sad when I told him that I was quitting, but he refused to take any of my advice.  I hoped Edwina's money would be enough for him, because I knew he would lose everything within the next two months.

The rest of my friends took at least some measure of my advice. I hoped that I had done enough to warn them, both of the financial crisis and of the coming conflict.  Whatever the world was hurtling towards, it was massive, bloody, and earth shattering.  I feared for Paul and his coven and Greta and hers because all of them were taking time to tour Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and the conflict or whatever was happening, seemed to be focused in that area.

I wished I could go, but I knew that so long as Jasper's face continued to clear in my mind, I could never leave this nation. Besides, I was now ready to stay on these shores and see the rest of the nation. Traveling around my give me some idea, or some new vision, of how to find Jasper.

On September 23, I said goodbye to the two covens as they took a passenger ship to London.  It was a long journey for a vampire to make, but there were many humans on the ship, some of them stowaways who would not be missed.  Paul's coven gave me a few parting gifts as they left.

"We want you to have these," said Annette as they stood by the gangplank, and she handed me a ring of keys.  "These are to our home here, and the one in Quebec, and a cabin we have north of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  Use them whenever you want."

"You can store anything you need in the attic of the Long Island house," said Paul, "just keep an eye on things as you pass through."

"Are you sure?  This is very kind of you," I said sincerely.  It would be comforting to have a home to come back to after traveling.  Their home here was the second most comforting place I knew.

"We want you to use them," urged Marianne, "you are a member of our extended family, and we want to you feel that you belong in all of our homes."

"Besides, if you finally find a man, bedrooms come in handy," grinned Gregorio.

I grimaced and growled quietly at him.  He had teased me about needing a man for the last three years, and was far less than subtle. 

My reaction only egged him on.

"But, only use the iron beds that are connected to the floor the first few times," he continued, "we get a little carried away, and things tend to break easily.  Marianne and I left a trail of destruction over three states the first few months of our marriage.  Iron withstands vampires, and if it is connected to the floor, it might not bump into a wall and break it down, like Marianne and I did.  After a few months, you can move on to wood, but only thick oak."  His smile spread from ear to ear.  Passengers all around us were beginning to back away.

"Get on that boat," was all I could think of hissing back.  Then, with a few hugs and plenty of waving, I watched my friends sail away.   

The next day, I took most of my clothes, those that would not travel well and could not fit in two trunks, to the Salvation Army to give away.  I knew people would need them soon.  I had already cashed out all my stock, transferred some to a Swiss bank, bought bonds with some, and put the rest in the large safe hidden in Annette's home.  All except what I would need to buy a car, a fast one, and travel around the nation.  So long as I was stuck here, I might as well see the place in style.

Then, I said the hardest goodbye I had yet to say. 

Edwina was wasting away, and had been placed in a hospital to spend her few remaining days.  She barely opened her eyes when I came in to see her in the evening.

"Hello, Edwina, dear.  How are you?" I asked quietly.  Part of me wished she wouldn't wake up, but part of me needed to have a good ending.  As Marianne had said, I needed to do it right.

"Alice?" she whispered, more breath than voice.  "Oh, honey, it's so good to see you." 

"It's really good to see you, too.  How are they treating you here?" I asked.  The place made me feel strangely uneasy and afraid.  I felt like I had been here before, though I had never been in a hospital.

"The nurses are real sweet, but the food is awful, and the wireless doesn't get good reception, though I can't seem to stay awake long enough to listen."

"I could tell you what is happening, if you want."

"No, that's not necessary," and she drifted off to sleep for a while.  Her breath smelled stale, quick and uneven.  Her skin was nearly translucent and the circles under her eyes were dark purple.  She looked like Myrtle had the night she died.  As I looked at her face, suddenly it was night, and a nurse was there taking her pulse.  She silently closed Edwina's eyes, stopped the clock by her bed at ten twenty-three, and covered her with a sheet.  Then, just as quickly, I was back in the room, and it was seven thirty-five.  I writhed with the knowledge that my remaining friend would leave me tonight.

"Alice, why do you look so sad?"  Her voice was still weak, but it startled me all the same.

"I just miss you and Myrtle.  The house isn't the same without you two plotting to make me a rich bride."  I made her smile.

"I miss Myrtle and Hank, Opal, Katherine, and all the others so much.  It's been so long since I've seen them, you know. I think it will be good to see them again," she smiled as she whispered the words.

"Are you all right with this?  With...dying?" It was morbid, and improper, but I had to know.

"I suppose I am.  It's all a part of this life, being born and dying and all that happens in between.  Besides, I have lived a long time, it's been a good life, and I am glad I lived it.  But like every good story, a good life needs a good ending, and this is as good as any, I suppose... I'll say hello to Myrtle and Hank for you... Anyone else you want me to look up?  I'm hoping there is a switchboard... you know how much I love the telephone," she teased as her weak smile got a little bigger.

"A switchboard in heaven?  There's a thought.  I don't know anyone else besides a boy named Michael and a girl named Brittany, but I really don't know if they will be there or not," I answered sadly.  No, I didn't know many who would be in heaven -- unless I was the one who had put them there.

Guilt.  Sadness.  Eternity to feel them.  I felt the cold grip of immortality crush me.

"Don't you dare go on being sad for very long, Alice," she scolded me now, "be sad for a while, give me the gift of grief, and then you go on and really live.  You have such a gift for making life worth living and celebrating, so use it wherever you can.  No one can throw a party or give a gift like you do.  Make Jasper happy, and take away his soldier's pain, and be careful not to scare him like you did all the others!"

I had to laugh out loud.  I probably would scare Jasper without even trying.

I took her hand in mine and noticed they were the same temperature.  She was trying to sleep again, the talking had exhausted her.  I had done it right, though.  I had said goodbye, and she was ready to go, and it was so very right.

I sat there for about an hour, and then Edwina's children, Herbert and Lizzy, came in.  I made my escape after a short greeting, and wandered to the subway.  I would go hunt for a while.  I needed to be away from everyone, mortal and immortal, so that I could grieve in my own way.

 

xX||oOo||Xx

 

I hunted in Canada, because the bears and wolves were in full force there.  I had been traveling the deep green woods for eleven days, enjoying my time alone and the taste of large carnivores.  I didn't even need to think about the sun in the thick, wet forest.  I was also trying to see my family and Jasper.  Visions never come while I feed, so I waited until I was full and happy, and began to relax in the woods as I waited for one.

Finally, laying on a large outcropping of stone under a full moon, I saw Jasper again.  This vision would happen soon because it was frighteningly clear.  I could tell that it was another of the burning visions by the smoke.  Jasper was standing by a large pile of broken and burning bodies with a look of utter self-reproach on his face.  The pain on his face was so intense that it hurt me. 

The vision shifted, and Jasper was in a large space, perhaps a room in a building.  "Peter," he called as he went to a door, "where is the next one?" He forced a natural looking smile on his face as he said it.  The blond vampire I had seen play baseball came walking out accompanied by a young man.  

The vision shifted, and I heard the sound of stone snap.  I shuddered because I knew this sound all too well.  Then I saw Jasper turn away from the already smoking debris of the young man.  The pattern repeated twice, and I could feel myself becoming increasingly sickened and desperate for it to end.  I could almost feel Jasper's own grief filled blackness as it enveloped his face after every killing.

Then, Peter walked out of the building with a lovely young female, a very blond girl who seemed to be molded to Peter in a familiar way.  NO.  I knew the way they moved and the look on his face.  She was his mate. 

NO, NO, NO!  My trapped mind screamed.

"Run, Charlotte!"  Peter suddenly yelled, and then he crouched into a protective stance to stop Jasper from following her retreating figure.  Jasper stood frozen in place.

Peter and he shared a long, tense moment, and then Peter nodded at him, and ran after the girl. 

Let him go, my mind screamed, and Jasper did.  Jasper stayed rooted to the ground, his fists clenched, his jaw set, and his eyes grieving.  Even in a muddied vision, I knew the look of grief well.

The vision shifted again.  Now Jasper was standing facing a short, dark haired female.  She was beautiful, even in a vision, and she looked like the vampires we had killed four years ago.  She was angry, furious.  Jasper tried to talk to her, but she kept yelling and gesturing.  I could feel myself growl as the need to protect him took over my mind.

Suddenly, he crossed the short space between them, grabbed her, and began kissing her passionately.  My mind, even as it was forced to watch this, burned in agony.

It didn't end, I needed it to end, but it wouldn't end. 

He kept kissing her, and now she was kissing him back, their hands rapidly moving over each other's bodies in the most intimate way possible.  He kept saying her name, Maria, over and over.  Now, they were tearing at each other's clothes, and I could see them dropping to the floor as one in the dark.

I didn't realize when the vision ended, because I was screaming.

The sun was up, and I was blindly running, still screaming between my sobs. 

I didn't measure time, and didn't know how long I had run when I finally stopped on the shore of a massive lake.  One of the Great Lakes?  I didn't know or care. 

Jasper had a mate. 

He wasn't my other, he wouldn't come for me. 

I was lost.  Utterly lost. 

None of my life had mattered.  None of the lying, treacherous, painful visions mattered.  None. 

What was I supposed to be without him?  I wasn't whole; I would never be whole without him.  Waves of pain and desolate despair ripped through me like fire.  Was this what it was like to burn?  Perhaps flames would be preferable.

If I had brought matches, I might have a chance at stopping the pain, but I didn't have any.  Besides, some tiny, infinitesimally small part of me wanted to live, and it was fighting hard for my life.  I stood like a statue, utterly still as waves of pain crashed through me, until I could think.

Three days later, the pain had ebbed enough for me to try to make a plan.

I needed my friends.  My friends who had left.  They would know what to do, if I could tell them.  I knew their address in London, an old house owned by Paul's friend.  I would go to them.  I no longer needed to be here, I couldn't be here.  I would hide in Europe, never think about him again, and rebuild what I could of my shattered self.  I ran back to New York, the pieces of me rattling around in my head. I was no longer a coherent person at all.

It took only a few minutes to grab my trunks and my money, lock the door, and make it to the docks.  It took only a little longer to get a state room on a ship.  The market had fallen, I numbly noted, and there would be few passengers now.

I could feel the ship move under me as I sat, curled in a ball on the richly decorated bed in my cabin.  I was trying to rebuild myself from the parts that were left, but it didn't work well.  The good Alice, the happy one, was dead, burned in the flames of loss, and I couldn't seem to put her back together. 

I went back and forth between hatred and pain, sobbing and growling for hours on end.  It wasn't fair!  Why did I see him?  Why love him, if I couldn't have him?

Pain.

Anger.  Why did he even exist?

Pain.  Death would be better.

Anger.  This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen.

Pain.  Nothing mattered anymore.

Anger.  How could he do this to me?

Pain.

Pain. Pain. Pain.

xX||oOo||Xx

I never left my cabin until the ship docked in London.  When I emerged, I was a new Alice, a true vampire, and I didn't care about being anything else.  All I desired was to never have a vision again.

It had been fifteen days since I had eaten last.  If I had cared, I would have run through the city to try to find an animal somewhere. But I didn't care.  Not any more.  Never again.

I walked through the confusing streets of a run down area of London, making my way to where the map said Paul's coven would be.  My relentless visions would not leave me be, and this one hit me full force.  Ahead, by the river bend, there would be a group of adults, and their blood called to me from my early past.  I didn't fight, I couldn't even consider fighting, I had no fight left in me.  There, like my first kill, I let my instincts lead me as I took the lives of four Gypsies and dumped the bodies into the cold water.  There was no horror, now, just the incredible pleasure of their warm blood as I finally gave in to the thirst.  It didn't matter that they had lives, I couldn't care less.  The guilt that I half expected to fill my heart never even raised its head.

By the time I reached the address of where my friends were, I was able to create a mask so perfect even they would never see through it.  My smile was perfect, and my story flawless.

"Alice!  Gregorio it's Alice!"  Marianne was yelling and hugging me.  "Oh, Alice, you're one of us, again!" she said with joy as she noted my crimson eyes.  Her voice warmed as my odd habit no longer separated us.  "Welcome back, welcome home."  She was smiling triumphantly, and my mask mimicked hers. 

"It's good to be back," my mask answered.

I was home, with my family. 

It was the wrong home. 

It was the wrong family. 

I was the wrong Alice. 

The eyes that looked at me in the hall mirror were the eyes of the beast. 

I didn't care.

 

Chapter 14: Shell by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Be warned, this is a hard chapter for Alice, and it reads very differently from others. She will be back to her perky self, but not in this chapter.

 

Chapter 14:  Shell

 

 

 

       My mask became my shell.  My shell became me.  I moved like the happy Alice, I acted like the happy Alice, I laughed, talked, danced, and shopped like the happy Alice.  No one knew or even guessed that the happy Alice had burned to ash.

       I wanted to tell them, to share the pain of losing Jasper, but I couldn't.  I couldn't bear the pain.  I couldn't speak the words.  I couldn't yet share the full measure of my useless gift. 

       When I was with the others, especially Paul, it was easy to just trust in their strength and mimic their joy.  Paul was happy with my choice.  His gift pressed the belief that I had done the right thing into my shell and made it even stronger.  It didn't matter to me that it was Paul's happiness and pleasure, his gift let me pretend it was mine.

       As the days turned to weeks, I ceased to exist except in times of weakness.  The shell grew hard and strong and fit itself over me so completely that no one knew or guessed that I was suffocating inside its crushing protection.

x||X||x

       "There is such a difference between London and Paris," the shell noted pleasantly as we cruised down the Seine. 

       "It is like night and day for me," replied Annette.  "Every building and street sign has a beauty all it's own in Paris.  Truly, the city of lights," she sighed. 

       London, Lisbon, Madrid, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon, Paris.  The shell ran through the list, and the clear memories.  We spent one to three months in each, and I now spoke Portuguese, Spanish, and French.  We had visited museums, castles, and old friends of the coven.  Each city held a magic that the shell could see but never really touch.  It was a rather pathetic waste.

       "Do you want to practice again tonight, Alice?  You could be a prima ballerina, if you chose to, you know," Annette said as she pulled me back from the memories of other places.   She smiled proudly.  She was right, the shell was almost as good as she was.  We both enjoyed dancing in the studios of Paris, but even more, we loved dancing in the night clubs.  Like New York, Paris never slept.  Annette and Marianne made sure that the shell met every available vampire in Europe and danced with them all.  It was the hardest thing the shell had to do, make pleasant and uninterested conversation with potential suitors. 

       "Yes, I would love that," the shell smiled back, "do we really need to leave so soon?"  Parisians were quite delicious. Marianne said it was the butter and wine that made them taste so good.

       "There is so much of Europe left to see.  Besides, we cannot stay here forever, the population is already stressed."  There were five current covens in Paris, and they constantly fought.  New York's peace was a tribute to Paul's leadership.

       "Are you sure about Berlin?"  Hitler made the shell nervous.  Those visions were becoming clearer. 

       "Don't worry.  What can they do to us?" Marianne scolded.  She was right, of course.  They were all sure the shell's fear of Hitler was unfounded.  He was very vampiric in his drive, and most of the others saw him as a good, strong leader.

       "Two more weeks is all the shopping we can stand," reminded the very bored Gregorio, "I swear I will burst into spontaneous flame if I see another fashion show."  He hated shopping more than anything else, and so he also hated Paris more than anywhere else.

x||X||x

       Brussels, Helsinki, Berlin.  We only stayed three weeks in Berlin, because even they couldn't stand it for long.  The city was incredibly oppressive, so we moved on quickly.  Zurich, Milan, Tuscany, Bologna, Rome. 

       The shell held firm.  It now spoke German, Swedish, and Italian. 

       "You should go with us, Alice.  They will want to meet you, and, they really aren't so bad."  Marianne lied, almost pleading with the shell to accompany them.  If they weren't so bad, why was she so nervous?

       We were in Rome, and it was time to go to see the Volturi.  They had all tried to get me to go to the city of Volterra itself, but the shell held firm to the belief that it should not see the Volturi yet.  Besides, my friends had insisted on going to see the Pope's Easter Mass first, which wasn't exactly a good sign.  If nothing bad was going to happen in the small city of Volterra, then why did they absolutely insist on having a mass with the pope beforehand?

       "I just don't want to meet the rule keepers yet.  I've broken so many of the rules that they may not like me, and that is often deadly -- or so you've told me," the shell reminded them.

       Gregorio was a regular encyclopedia when it came to the Volturi, and the shell had heard all their exploits of the past thousand years. 

       The shell wasn't afraid that they wouldn't like it, but rather that they would like it too much.  According to Paul and Gregorio, the Volturi made a habit of collecting vampires with gifts, and my gift, the real one, would be very desirable to them.  Paul, who seemed to understand that I knew about much more than money, supported its decision to stay away from them.  Apparently, he didn't want to lose what he thought was me. 

       Most importantly, the cold, white figures with their flowing cloaks that the shell saw in the visions scared me to my core.  They were macabre, far worse even than the monsters that humans created.

       "Are you sure you want to stay here by yourself?" Marianne fretted. 

       "I am perfectly capable of shopping by myself," my shell responded with exaggerated annoyance.

       "It's the shopping that worries me," laughed Marianne. "You only have a few million left, so don't go overboard."

       The shell cringed because it was in the habit of going overboard with the distractions that kept it whole.  The shell had very much enjoyed the distractions of Europe, and if it weren't for the pain that the shattered parts of me constantly felt, the memories of this trip would have been marvelous.  As always, I writhed in that pain as the shell kept smiling.

       "Is this the first time we've left you alone?" wondered Paul.  "Yes, I think it is.  I really didn't notice before this how much you seem to be around.  Maybe we should officially adopt you," he ventured.  Over the last eighteen months, Paul had pushed the shell to join the coven, but my shell and I both still shied away from the option.

But, what else is left for me? Wouldn't it be better, easier, that way?  The shell quickly silenced the agonized plea. 

If ever the shell did join this coven, it would do so without the constant push from Paul.  His gifted leadership kept me whole, but also kept me from finally committing to them.  The shell and I would not be forced.

"I am getting a little old to adopt," it replied dryly.  "I'm already twelve."

"But you're as cute and annoying as any child I've ever seen," grinned Gregorio as they headed out. 

The shell went with them as far as the hills around Volterra, and then it spent the night seeing the countryside.  It was used to doing things at night, but when daylight came, my shell would be trapped in whatever place it could find.  Italy was annoyingly sunny.

Alone.  Two days.

By dawn, the shell found a shaded place to hide.  The place was an old chapel on a rocky hill.  The subterranean catacombs underneath were perfect.  It really didn't matter where the shell chose to hide because it had already seen all the spectacles, churches, museums, shops, and artifacts that it wanted to. 

Alone. 

It wasn't good.  And the shell couldn't go out until evening.

Nights were like this, too, as two sets of lovers went to do what vampire couples do best -- and continuously -- all night long.  The shell had seen Europe at night now for eighteen months.  It had wandered the Roman streets and countryside for the last four months alone.  It had been through all the smaller cities and swum many nights in the Mediterranean.  It had even eaten there.  Sailors.  They were large and filling, but tasted too much like fish, and we hate seafood.  The shell had climbed Apennines and the Alps, seen every cathedral in Europe, and even explored the underground of Europe's ancient cities during the long nights.  It did anything it could to divert its mind from what the others were so obviously doing.

Today, though, the shell could think of nothing to do.

Alone.  Visions might come. 

Pain might crack the shell. 

Or worse, hope.

What was left of me remembered back to the first time the shell had nearly cracked, when hope nearly did my shell in.  It was night, so the shell was wandering around Berlin, feeling oddly uneasy.  The city had that effect on people these days.

The shell stopped the memory that the pieces of me wanted to see again.  The memories brought lingering hope.  Lingering hope brought pain.  The shell stopped pain. 

However, my broken heart won the battle, and the memory came flooding in against my shell's will.

Carlisle and Esme were dancing to a classic piece in their large parlor when the soft knock on the door stopped them.  They went to see who it was, playfully rumpling each other's hair and clothes to look a bit disheveled, like a human couple.  When they opened the door, Edward stood there, his eyes locked on his feet.  When he looked up, his eyes were dark with hunger.  Their joy at seeing the black-eyed Edward standing there was almost unfathomable.

"Edward! Oh, Edward," they had cried, and pulled him into the embrace of their encircling stone arms.

"I'm so sorry!" he sobbed.  He couldn't even look at them.  "I was wrong, so wrong.  Please forgive me, Carlisle and Esme, please."

I, not the shell, wanted to stay angry at him for the agony he had caused them, but Edward was utterly pitiful in his despair, brokenness and shame, and even I couldn't stay mad.  They, of course, accepted him back without hesitation, and their joy and family was complete again.

It wasn't his redemption, or their love that hurt the most.  It was the fact that he had hope.  My eyes and life now mirrored what he had looked like, but for me there was no home to return to, no family, and no hope.

The hope hurt.  Again.

The knowledge that somewhere my family was waiting for me stabbed me.    I couldn't go to them, not now that I would never be whole.  The painful memory nearly made the shell double over.  It was the only time that I had nearly turned back; the only time I had felt a true emotion.  The shell was thicker now, and it kept me from feeling much of anything but the endless, numbing pain.

Now, here alone in this dead place, all I could do was hope that the shell could hold myself together for two days until my friends returned.  The shell sat on the stone under the church, curled up its knees, and listened to music that my memory dredged up.  Music could sometimes fill my mind when other distractions couldn't. 

My shell tried to see Volterra again, and the meeting that would take place there tonight.  It would rather see the ghostlike figures than risk more memories.  This time the vision came.

Paul and Gregorio presented the three ghosts with gifts while their wives stood nearby.  The room was done in the Tuscan style with gilded carvings and intricate murals covering the walls.  Rich fabric hung everywhere, and in the center of it all stood three thrones, also gilded.  It rivaled any palace or cathedral Europe boasted. 

This was a vision out of hell, though, not heaven.  While Paul's coven wore the elegant clothing of modern Paris, the figures on and around the thrones wore the same cloaks that painters often gave the devil.  Paul would talk to the vampires, and nothing could be hidden.  Annette had said that the Volturi knew everything that had happened in your life.  The shell couldn't imagine the horror of having these ghostly pale vampires with clouded eyes knowing everything.  That is why it could never go, because it knew it would never be allowed to leave.  The shell and I were a freak among even vampires, a creature apart and utterly alone.  The thought dredged up even more despair.

The shell forced the emotions back down, and played music in my mind until the coven came back.

When they returned the next evening, the shell was still singing the pain away.  The shell greeted them warmly, and chatted with them as we took a ship to Istanbul.  The shell loved the scenery of the Aegean Sea and the wonder of Istanbul.  The coven was relaxed and happy, and in response, my happy shell reveled in the trip.  It never missed a beat.

 

xX||oOo||Xx

Istanbul, Damascus, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Cairo.

I learned to speak Turkish, and Arabic, and a little Hebrew. 

We were not going to stay long in Cairo, because the sun was unrelenting here. We stayed indoors, visiting Paul's friend, Amun, and his invisible wife Kebi.  They were very hospitable and wonderful hosts, but Kebi seemed put off by the ladies of Paul's coven.  She rarely came out of her sitting room or kitchen to talk with us.  We had all tried to be openly friendly, but she didn't respond.  In fact, she seemed to have no personality of her own.  Perhaps, though, she saved it all for her mate.

By the second evening, Paul, Gregorio and Amun had begun sharing their various adventures with each other in a mild competition.  Each one was trying to best the other with their stories.  Soon, the topic of the most recent coven war came up, and so did my once unusual eyes. 

"She just showed up in New York with these yellow eyes.  No creator, no coven, and no humans in her diet.  It was truly the strangest thing I had ever seen," laughed Paul as he remembered.  "She drank the blood of animals, can you imagine?  She is one of the very best fighters we have ever seen, and she very nearly wasted it."  He was shaking his head at the incredulous memory.

My shell was trying not to listen.  That memory was amusing to him but intolerable for me.  Pain rippled through me.

The shell became aware of Amun's next story, one that would continue the one- upmanship that seemed to be normal for Paul and Amun's relationship.

"So, you know Carlisle, then?" said a whispered voice next to me.  Kebi had silently come over and her smiling face was only a foot from mine. 

Both the shell and I froze.  "What did you say?"  It was rude to state it so bluntly, but the shock at hearing that name took away the need for any niceties.  Neither the shell nor the pieces underneath could endure talking about him.

"Carlisle Cullen, the doctor, did he teach you to hunt only animals?" She quietly asked with curious eyes.

"Yes," I blurted out before the shell could stop and think.  It was true; the vision of him had taught me the now lost secret of remaining a good vampire.

"Is he well?  He is the very best and most compassionate of our kind," she smiled at some memory, "and I often think of him."

"You know him?"

"Yes, when he lived in Volterra for so many years, Amun and I became well acquainted with him.  How is he doing?" Her soft voice was utterly sincere.

"He's doing very well."  My shell and I looked around.  None of the men were looking my way, and the girls were on the roof enjoying the night's breeze.

"He has a mate and a son, now, and I think he is very happy," the shell stammered.  She smiled wider and sighed contentedly.

"I am so glad to hear of it.  He was alone for far too long, you know.  Why did you stop eating only animals, did it become too much?  My Amun thinks that it is unhealthy and weakens both the mind and body," she said leaning even closer to me.

"It became too difficult," my shell replied numbly. 

Doctor? 

"Did you say he was a doctor?  How can that be?" I couldn't even imagine a vampire being able to touch so many human bodies, especially ones that might be bleeding.

"He has never tasted human blood, so he is nearly immune after almost three hundred years," she stated with wide eyes.  The story still was as unbelievable to her as it was to me.

"Three hundred years?  That's incredible!  He never ate a human in three hundred years?"  She nodded, eyes wide.   "Do you know where he is now?" I asked quickly.  The shell cracked just a bit, and the pieces of myself broke through to ask the question. 

"Somewhere in your country, in the North, I think.  He works for five years or so, and then moves on.  He works at hospitals, if he hasn't changed his ways."  Suddenly, Amun called her name sharply, and she was gone to his side in an instant.  He did not like her talking with us because we were far too independent for him.  Normally, the shell would have been angry with him, but after the conversation, it couldn't tell what it felt.  The shell wanted nothing of this conversation, but I wanted to know much more.  The shell won.

The topic of our very outgoing personalities was a constant source of both amusement and annoyance for Amun.  Mostly annoyance.  We went when and where the sun let us without asking permission.  We butted into their conversations and had strong opinions on almost any topic.  He didn't like how we acted, spoke, thought, or dressed, and he didn't want us anywhere near his wife.  According to Amun, we did everything wrong. 

In fact, we made a habit of it for Kebi's sake.    

Even simple things like ballet and music outraged him.  He looked like he was having a heart attack (not an easy thing to do when you don't have a working heart) when Annette and I showed him some ballet moves.  Marianne wanted to do the Charleston or, even better, the Tango with Gregorio for him.  Amun would have self-combusted. 

Our poor behavior was being discussed again on the last day of our visit.  We ladies had just returned from our final outing.  We had learned to wear the suffocating, head to toe robes that the local women wore.  The robes allowed us to go out whenever we wanted because no one could see our skin underneath all those layers.

"Yes, Amun," sighed an exasperated Gregorio, "all the women in the United States, and most of the rest of the world for that matter, do act like them."

"It really doesn't bother us at all.  They are our mates, for God's sake.  They won't do anything to harm us and I would love to see what happens to anyone who tries to harm them.  You should see them fight, especially little Alice.  She is nearly unstoppable."  The shell proudly smiled at Paul's assessment of my abilities.

"She is small and very fast.  It is like trying to fight a combination of a striking snake and a ferret, only faster," added Gregorio.  My shell and I both were rather annoyed at his little comparison.

"Are you talking about us again?" asked a happy Marianne as she skipped into the room.  She loved taunting Amun more than anyone.

"You go out like you own the city.  You could expose us all, or be hurt.  I won't be responsible for that," scolded Amun.

"We just wanted one last shopping trip and another chance to get some pictures," said Annette.  "It was harmless, and we are very careful."

"You are neither harmless nor careful.  You are full of harmful ideas and are the most careless women I have ever met.  You are just so different from what is normal and right, I cannot get used to it."

"You only know one type of normal, Amun," said Gregorio.  "There are other forms of normal behavior out there.  They aren't any different from any other vampires."

"We aren't any different from what we have always been," added a vexed Marianne dryly.  "This is how we always behave, and we aren't going to change just because we are here."

"Have you been to Paris or Brussels?" my shell asked Amun innocently, "You should go, it would answer a lot of your questions.  You might even find out the reason we behave the way we do."  I would have loved to see Amun in either of those two cities.

Paul shot me a warning glare, but he had a grin on his face.  Yes, Amun in Paris would be something to see.

"I do not want to change either, so perhaps it is best that I stay here," Amun answered brusquely.

"Actually, we can change.  Or at least Alice can.  We have seen it," stated Annette, "so perhaps there is hope for you."

"Yes," agreed Marianne, "Maybe we should stay longer so Alice can get to know Kebi and you a little better.  I'm sure with enough time, even you would end up changing a few of your ways."  She grinned and winked at me, but then her face became perplexed.  She looked like she wanted to ask me a question, but thought the better of it and continued grinning at Amun.

"That's enough, you three.  Poor Amun doesn't need to try to stand up to all three of you at once."  Paul kept the light tone, but the warning was there.  He didn't want to make an enemy of his old friend. 

It was our last night, anyway, so we let it drop. 

We decided to travel at night on foot across the coast of northern Africa.  It was strangely beautiful in a rugged way, or would have been if we hadn't seen so many soldiers here.  We were quiet the whole way because everyone finally realized that my visions of war were coming true.  We would need to make a decision about where to go and quickly, although Gregorio was all for staying.  Wars were a virtual smorgasbord for vampires.

We spent the day at Tripoli, and that is where Marianne ambushed me.

We were in a mud brick excuse of a hotel, and I had gone out to sit under the porch on the roof and enjoy the heat of the day, my skin was very warm here in the desert.  Marianne joined me on the roof with a determined and somewhat hostile look in her eye.  She just stood there rigidly, her arms across her chest and glared at me.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"What is what?" the shell laughingly replied.

"Alice, stop it.  Tell me what's wrong, tell me what happened to you."  She was serious, and very fervent.  My shell held while I panicked.  I could not hide from the pain if she wanted me to share it.

"I don't know what you are talking about.  Nothing has happened to me."

"That's what I mean, nothing has happened to you.  It's like you are a caricature of yourself.  I noticed it a few months ago, but I thought it was just the traveling and new places, but I realize now that you're different somehow.  Before you came to Europe, you could adapt, be someone new -- you could alter yourself and change.  You are the same person who showed up in London."  Her tone was accusing.

"We don't change, remember?  We are frozen.  This is the frozen me."

"No, it's not you at all.  You laugh, shop, dance, and talk, but you aren't you.  Just tell me one thing, why do you drink human blood now?  If our friendship has meant anything at all, tell me the truth."

The shell could have ignored anything but that.  Our friendship.  It was the one remaining good thing, the one remaining truth.  Everything in my life was a lie except their friendship.  I could never truly be close to anyone, but even as distant as I had been from the coven, they had remained my truest friends.

The shell splintered, and my shattered self poured out.

"I saw my mate."  I spat.  I said the words with the same tone a dying person might tell of his illness, only with more hate.

"Excuse me?"

"I said I saw my mate.  His name is Jasper, and I fit him like you fit Gregorio."  It was the only way to explain it.

"Well...that's wonderful...but..." she had never been at such a loss for words, and the look on her face reminded me of the look Makenna had given me on the day I learned that I was a vampire.  Marianne was utterly lost and confused.

"WHY are you here?" she blurted out.  "If you know where he is, you need to go to him.  I don't understand, Alice, this is supposed to be wonderful, isn't it?" 

"No."

"Why not?"

Pain.  I brought my knees to my chest to try to settle my wounded self.

"Alice?"

Pain.  I couldn't answer yet because the words rebelled in my mouth.

"Alice, are you all right?" She was becoming hysterical.  If I didn't answer, she would call for help.

"He...has...found...another...mate...and --" I was shaking too hard to finish.

Her hands grasped my heaving shoulders, and suddenly, I was wrapped in her stone arms as she tried to calm me.  After what seemed like an eternity, she let go of my body and held my face firmly to look at me.  I tried looking elsewhere, but her face was only an inch from mine, so I simply looked into her understanding eyes.

"Oh, Alice, I am so sorry."  It was little more than a whisper.  I could tell she didn't understand how I had seen a mate and left him, but she was willing to accept my pain as it was. 

Suddenly, it was too much, and the shell disintegrated.  There was no more control, and no more protection.  I couldn't take any more.  My pain, mirrored in her eyes, twisted and constricted around me and began to crush what little was left of my self. 

I felt my body growl and heave against her, and Marianne backed away.  It was totally instinct and pain, and I felt nothing but the need to get away and protect myself.  I leapt from the roof, and began to run along the shore of the Mediterranean.  I saw and heard nothing as the run, the need for escape, consumed me.  I didn't even stop for the sun, though it would have been difficult for any human to see me.  Finally, I turned into the desert where few humans would venture.

By the next nightfall, I was nearing a human town, an ancient city of stone.  The smell of so many bodies triggered the burning in my throat even though I truly wasn't thirsty.  Running only on instinct, I went onto the roofs to look for a likely victim, someone old or alone and unwanted; this had become my habit.        

Instead, I came across a young couple sitting in an enclosed patio.  They were barely more than adolescents.  They were whispering, and nervous, obviously not supposed to be together but too much in love to stay away.  The unwanted vision that accompanied them told me that they were soon to be wed.  I hated them with a fury that seemed to burn me.  Their love and happiness was so evident, and it made a mockery of my pain.  Even as the happy wedding played through my head, I pounced on them.  I covered his mouth as I drank her, and then a few seconds later, ended his struggles, neither had time to cry out.  As I drank of their blood, my fury ebbed, the vision shifted, and the wedding became a funeral procession of broken mothers and fathers weeping uncontrollably as their children were buried in the dry desert sand. 

What have I done?

There was just enough left of the good Alice that the horror of my actions crashed down on me.

This was no accident or survival need; this was murder.  I had killed two innocent children in a jealous rage.  I had eaten them because of an undeserved hatred.  I was now the monster, the beast that I loathed and feared.

 

Chapter 15: Myself by Openhome
Author's Notes:
My beta readers rock my world. Thanks Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot!

Twilight and its characters are owned by Stephenie Meyer. I'm just making sure it fits within actual events.

 

Chapter 15:  Myself

 

I was walking.  This much I knew because, I could feel my legs automatically moving beneath me, but I had no idea of what I was doing. 

I'm confused

I knew mind should know something, but knowledge was beyond my reach.. 

I need to walk.  

The remnants of the shell were still trying to protect something.

I don't know where I am

I kept walking. 

What is happening? 

I simply walked.  Nothing else was required.  I didn't notice the yellowing sky. 

Just walk

I didn't notice the colors and shadows. 

Walk.  Then the light hit my skin, and for just an instant, the walls around me reflected diamonds.  Suddenly, strong hands grabbed me and pulled me into a shop.  I was whirled around, and forced to look into the concerned eyes of my friends. 

They followed my scentThey think I'm insane. I think I'm insane.

"Get her into a room," ordered Paul.  His voice was too rough.

"Come on, Alice, let's get you settled in," Annette purred in my ear.  I was lifted up and carried for some distance before the hands placed me on a bed.  I saw only the ceiling.

I tried to remain numb even as my mind struggled with understanding what was happening. Despite my efforts, I began to realize what was going on around me.  I knew I was in a hotel of some type, and I had nearly shown this city, Marrakech, what I was.  I remembered in a wave of shame that it was Gregorio who also risked exposure to save me.

I could hear them in the other room, and my sharp mind made me listen to the words that I didn't want to hear.

"We could try to find a doctor," I heard Annette say.  "Surely there is one of our kind who has studied psychology.  Perhaps we can get her help."

"Maybe we could go to the Volturi," offered Gregorio. 

"They would burn her for sure for showing her skin," snapped Paul.

"All this is over a man?" asked Gregorio.  "Why didn't she just introduce herself?  She could let him make his own choice.  Why run?"

"I think she assumed that the woman he was with was his mate," said Marianne.

"If she is drawn to him like a mate, shouldn't he be drawn to her?  I've never heard of it being any other way.  The way she is acting, it is almost like she has lost a mate to the fire rather than just seeing him with another.  She acts like Emilio did when he lost Elena, do you remember?  But this man isn't dead. Ohh!" Annette nearly growled in frustration.  "I should have forced her to find a lover.  With a little experience, she would have reacted to this much better."  Annette was always practical. 

I could feel myself fully returning.  I didn't want to return without the shell.  The pain stabbed at me unhindered. 

"I think it is more than just being attracted to one who is with another.  It seemed that she had known him before, and he still went with the other woman," Marianne ventured.  "I think, perhaps, he has chosen another."

I was drowning in the pain now.  Hearing Marianne state it so clearly caused waves of hot anguish to crash into my shredded self.

"Well, he can unchoose," Annette was angry now, and she spat out the words full of hate.  "Where is this man who would choose another over Alice?  I would like to meet him and show him exactly what I think of him."

"Perhaps we should focus on meeting the other woman.  It would be simple enough to remove her from the picture."  Gregorio always chose the direct route to solving a problem.  I was not so far gone that I couldn't feel grateful for his idea.  The idea of Gregorio meeting Maria gave me some measure of twisted pleasure.

"Annette," Paul sighed, "maybe you should simply tell her your story.  If she doesn't understand about our ways, she won't be able to deal with these issues.  I don't want to take her anywhere while she is like this, and we can't stay here for very long.  She's done far too much damage."

"I will go tomorrow, after she has rested.  Perhaps by then, she will be able to truly hear me," she said.

 

xX||O||Xx

         I lay motionless on my bed in the heat of the Moroccan day and watched the pattern the flies made as they flew about the ceiling.  My mind had indeed fully recovered, and I was trying to distract it with anything, anything at all.  I had been the good Alice for over nine years.  I had once done what I had set out to do; I was both a vampire and a good person

         Was.  It didn't matter now.  The Gypsies were dead, the sailors and soldiers were dead, the unwanted and unknown people were dead, and the young couple was dead.  Their families were now mourning, and I was the cause.  Four years of death and lies.  Four years of pain and grief.  If there was a way to end my life, I would have taken that path rather than lay here hollow, hopeless and guilty of the greatest sin.  Instead, I would be forced to live like this forever. 

         Live.  It was the cruelest joke of the universe.  I had endless death not endless life.    Indestructible.  Except for my soul -- my very being was slowly eroding and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  The destruction would go on forever as endless pain.   How could anyone want this immortality when an end, a rest, would ease all the misery and bring relief? 

         I heard footsteps down the long hall.  Annette.  The knock on my door was almost too soft for even my ears to hear.  I wondered why Annette, or any of the others, would want to be around me at all.  I had nearly destroyed them in the sun.

         "Alice, I'm coming in, don't run." 

         She entered the room looking almost timid, in a stunning kind of way.  "Marianne told us what was bothering you.  I think we need to talk because I don't think you understand something."  She was nervous, but her dark eyes were determined.

         I returned to staring at the ceiling.  "It doesn't matter.  Nothing matters."

         "Yes, I think it matters very much.  Marianne said you saw the one you think is supposed to be your mate, and she is sure by your description that he will be.  We cannot find but one mate, and this Jasper of yours, he will be your mate, but not yet."

         I rolled over on to my stomach and grabbed the sheets and held on.  I couldn't even look at her because his name burned through me as surely as a fire would. 

         "Yet? Don't you mean ever?  They were intimate, truly intimate, with each other.  I saw them love each other, I saw him holding her, and I saw the desire in her eyes.  It tore my heart in half!"  I was screaming now.  "Life has no meaning.  NONE.  What reason do I have to exist?  All I want is death, and it is the one thing I can't have.  Please, I just want it to stop hurting, I just want it to end." 

         "Let me tell you my story," she gently and quietly breathed in my ear.  "Don't move, and don't look at me, but please just listen.

         "I was born in 1763 near Lourdes, France.  I was the daughter of a minor land owner, and I was educated and beautiful.  Most importantly, I could dance the ballet like no one else in the province.  My life was a wonderful dream.  I danced for the king and the court, and I had my fair share of suitors.  I was looking for a special man, though, one who was a deep thinker and a great leader, a man who understood greater matters than just the day to day troubles of business or state.  So, I was twenty-two and unmarried, which was unheard of at the time.  My parents were worried, but I had a wonderful career and was quite wealthy because of my talent.  Then, a tall and unbelievably handsome angel came to me after a performance at a duke's chateau.  His name was Gerard, and he was obviously very rich and more knowledgeable than any man I had ever met."

         She stopped, and I couldn't help but look at her.  Her voice, still quiet, was bitter and sharp as she ended, and the look on her face held an ancient pain.  She looked at me, smiled a sad smile, and continued.  "He asked for my hand in marriage after just four days, and I joyfully went to the church with him for a small ceremony.  I had written my parents about my soon to be husband -- thank God for that, at least they believed me happy -- because after the ceremony, he took me, his bride, to the catacombs below the church, and changed me.  It was fitting, I suppose, to die among the dead.  I loved him, even after the burning, I loved him, but I was angry, too.  This was not the life I wanted.  I did not care about eternity or beauty because I had already been given such a wonderful life to live.  It took me a long time to get over the anger, but he was good and kind, and I fell in love with him totally."

         "But what about Paul?  You and Paul are made for each other, like you are two parts of one life," I said almost angrily.   How could this story be a part of the Annette I knew?

         "Ah, but I didn't belong to Gerard, you see?  And, I discovered later that he would never belong to me.  I don't think he was able to love anyone but himself, but I didn't find it out for over sixty years.

         "We lived in cities all over Europe, and then he took me to see the world.  I became a great dancer no matter where we were.  It was our cover, you see.  I traveled to every civilized nation and a few uncivilized ones in that sixty-five years, but I was slowly growing empty, and sorrow was my constant companion.  I was missing a whole part of myself, but I didn't know why."

         She paused, and when she continued, her voice was bitterly cold.  "Gerard was also growing distant from me.  We ended up in New Orleans in 1848, and I was again a dancer and Gerard a musician.  It was a wonderful place, an easy place for a vampire to live and eat, but Gerard was now so distant and cold towards me that I was miserable.  What I didn't know was that he had found a new face to grace his arm.  That was his habit, to find a lovely human, change her, keep her until he was bored, and then kill her.  I would have been his next victim if another French vampire who knew him hadn't seen us together and warned me.  I ran from him and headed north, ending up in New York City with Gerard following close behind me.  I stumbled upon Marianne on accident when I caught her scent coming out of church, and she brought me to Paul.  Paul, Michael and I destroyed Gerard together before he could harm me.  I didn't know it then, but I was already hopelessly in love with Paul.  From the second I laid eyes on him, my life was complete, but I was in too much pain to understand it.  It took me nearly three years before I could truly trust anyone again, and the whole time, Paul just watched and waited for me.  Then one night, I was dancing on the pier and Paul was watching me.  He just stood there with this intense look on his face, like he was in pain.  When I asked him what was wrong, he just said that he was waiting for me.  I didn't understand at first, but then I truly looked into his eyes, and my pain simply vanished, just like that.  I cannot even begin to describe what it was like to change like that after thinking that I was in love.  It was so totally different, not even like an emotion.  It was more like the entire universe shifted somehow and I was suddenly whole and happy." 

         "So, we can feel like we are in love, and yet it may not be our true mate?  You think I am not really in love with Jasper?"  I asked incredulous.  The thought didn't even make sense; I had to love Jasper because that was simply the way the world was.  I was meant to love Jasper and had been destined to do so from the very foundation of the earth.

         "No.  I have seen your face, and I saw your pain.  He doesn't know he needs you yet.  Go.  Find him and show him who you are.  Perhaps his story is like mine, and he only believes he loves this woman.  I believe you are meant to love this Jasper, and nothing will stop that love." She lay her hand on my back for a moment, and then the silence returned.

         I didn't even know when she left.  I lay thinking about Paul and Annette and how they danced, and I saw for the first time why they were so much a part of each other.  I saw in their love clearly what she meant about being changed to fit each other. 

         Could it possibly be true? If Jasper wasn't in love, then there was hope.  I crushed those first shoots of hope quickly and relentlessly, but I couldn't stop it.  No matter how I tried, the hope kept breaking through and growing stronger.

         Slowly, I dredged up the vision that seared my soul.  I gasped in pain as I saw how he held Maria and how she reacted, and then I realized with a sudden jolt that Jasper and she didn't fit.  Could that be right?  I forced myself to truly see what was happening.  The crisp memory played in my head like a picture show: the horrid screams and cracking noises, the smoke, the dread on the faces of Jasper and Peter.  I saw Peter pull Charlotte over, and I saw the aching sadness in Jasper's red eyes, I saw his torn expression as Peter ran with Charlotte. 

         I grabbed my knees and sucked in my breath to prepare for the pain.  I saw Maria come angrily at Jasper and demand that he go after the fleeing couple.  I saw him defend them and refuse to go after them.  Then I saw it.  He was rigid as he grabbed Maria, almost angry.  She allowed the kiss, allowed his hands to roam over her body, allowed him to take her to the ground, but she didn't want it.  His actions were meant as a distraction only, and she knew it.  There was no love, no way that the actions were anything like what I had seen among the mates in New York.  They weren't made for each other; they hadn't been crafted by the master sculptor to fit together seamlessly.  Suddenly, I was no longer hopeless, lost and in pain -- I was flying, soaring above my loss on long forbidden wings of hope.

         I knew I could not endure losing the man I had no claim to again, but I couldn't ignore the facts that my mind had missed.  If there was even the smallest chance that Jasper and I could somehow, someday be together, I had to take it.  I again had a purpose, a reason to truly live that was my own, and I intended to fulfill it.  I couldn't live without trying.

         I began searching, using my visions to help me prepare for my return trip.  I saw good hunting grounds, saw the mounting armies and threats, and then looked to the fastest routes back.  Germany held the fastest route to America using it's zeppelins, but I would need to be very careful now if I intended to fly.  I would also need to warn the others of the watchful eyes that now guarded every port.  By the evening, I had my plans made.

That night, after a bath and new clothes, I joined my friends for the last time.  I braced myself for Paul's gift.  I knew it would take all I had to leave them.  I would tell them the truth, or as much as I dared, tell them how to survive the war, and leave.  I had no other choice.

         "Alice!  At last, the resurrection of the dead!  Literally."  Gregorio's greeting made me laugh, a real and true laugh.  It felt so wonderful to be here without the horrid shell suffocating me.

         "Glad to give you a religious experience," I replied.  Then I turned to the others and said with as much sincerity as my healing self could generate, "Thank you all so much.  I am truly ashamed at how close I came to endangering each of you, and I hope you can forgive me for it."

         "There is nothing to forgive, Alice.  I don't think I could do as well as you if I thought I had somehow lost Annette," comforted Paul.  His dark eyes held no anger or suspicion now.

         "Where is Jasper now, Alice?" asked Annette, "You said you saw him, when was that?  In Cairo?"

         "No."  I paused.  Tell them the truth.

         No, not all of it.  "I saw him back in the States, and that is why I came to London, to get away from the memory of him."  I now felt so ashamed.  What had I done for the last four years? 

         I ran away. I ran and lived a total lie for four years.  The thought seared me.

         "Wait.  You saw this four years ago and you just went to pieces three days ago?"  Annette sounded annoyed.  She crossed her long arms and flicked her long hair in a manner that told me she was angry.  She had a right to be angry.

         "I held myself together for as long as I could, but it finally overpowered me.  The reality that I had truly lost Jasper was something that I just couldn't share with you because it hurt too much."

         "Why now?" Marianne now sounded angry. "What happened the night in Tripoli that forced you over the edge?"

         "You forced me over the edge," I said, and Marianne instantly looked ashamed. "I am so very glad you did it, Marianne.  I kept it hidden from you because I was in so much pain.  Being with all of you helped ease the agony," I said. I was relieved to finally share it, to finally let them know the truth.  I looked at Annette, "Besides, I would have never understood what I saw without your help."

         Annette smiled brilliantly, and Marianne gave me a little hug. 

         "You're leaving us, aren't you?" Marianne knew already, but asked anyway.

         "Yes, but not until I make sure you are safe from the coming war, and not until I eat some animals.  I want to go back as a honey eyed human and not a red eyed vampire.  Besides, it's high time I tell you the truth," I stated guiltily. "You deserve to understand."  How much to tell them, though?  I couldn't tell them everything, even though I wanted desperately to, because I was sure it would frighten them. 

"Paul has known, and I think you have all guessed, that my gift is far more intricate than simply making money.  I can sometimes see some of what the future holds, and I need to tell you about it."

They sat still as stone and waited for me to continue.  Their eyes were guarded as I spoke, and their faces showed no emotion.  It was the vampire way of remaining distant, and it hurt to see it in their passive faces, but I deserved far worse than that for my deception and failings.  I had hidden my secret for eight years, and they had a right to distrust me. 

I told them only the basics of what I could do, but it was more than I had ever told anyone.  I told them of the war and the destruction that I saw it bring.  I told them of the few safe places that would be left, and made it very clear than they needed to choose one quickly.  The beginning of the conflict was only a year or two away.

Silence filled the room when I finished.  Did they hate me?  They were justified if they did.  I had been a most untrustworthy friend.  Still, I felt very free, suddenly, in sharing the truth.  How I wanted to truly confide totally in someone, to share my gift and its horrible burden!

"So, you do see the future, just as we guessed in the coven war?  And now you see a war that cannot be avoided?  Is that correct?"  Paul sounded distant and calculating, once again angry.

I nodded, unable to speak at first.  The wave of guilt that washed over me was partly mine and partly his.  His gift could make you want to do as he wished, and I wondered again how much of my decision to travel with them had been mine and how much had been his. 

I regained my composure and then I told them why I had kept the secret.  "I know that this gift is very powerful, but it is also very fallible.  You told me once to keep my gift secret, and it was excellent advice.  I'm sorry that I didn't tell you about it earlier, but I was afraid you would see me as a freak.  I can never tell you exactly what will happen, and that's the absolute truth," I added when Gregorio looked like he was going to say something.  "I only know that there will be a very great war, and few places will be left for you to go to remain untouched."

"England and France will bear the brunt of it?" asked Annette.  Her face was unreadable, but I did detect a protective look.  Even after so many years, France was her home.

"Yes, and Germany and Poland, and Russia.  The whole of Europe will be touched by the conflict.  Even Switzerland will be no refuge.  Asia will fare no better, if the visions are correct."

"So, our options are some remote island, South America, or return to the U.S.," mused Gregorio. 

"That is what I see, but I could still be wrong.  The visions are far from perfect."

"You were right not to go to Volterra," said Marianne flatly.  She understood at last.

"If you follow my instructions, I think you will all be fine."  I tried to comfort both them and me.  I was leaving them when they needed me most.  This was the worst part of it all, that, when I could finally help them, I had to leave.  "You could come back to the States with me, or go to your home in Canada.  It will be hard there, but you will be safe."  I wanted them to come, to be safe, but they did not seem to fear this war. 

"If there will be killing, I would rather be near it," stated Gregorio matter-of-factly.  He was used to feeding off of a battlefield.

"You don't understand the weapons that they will use.  There will be massive bombs that create huge fires and destruction.  Even we could not withstand a direct explosion."  He had to understand that this war would be different.  The world would be different.

"I have to go back.  I have to find Jasper and try to make this right.  I'm going to travel around until I find him.  I haven't seen much of my own country, and it's time I got to know it."  I wanted to find the good doctor as well, but there was no need to bring yet another vision into this conversation.

"I don't want to go back to restrictions and war," stated Annette, "The War to End All Wars was very difficult for us.  Perhaps it would be best, though, to return and wait it out." 

"I don't want to go back yet either," agreed Paul.  "I intended to travel a lot longer, and I don't want to change those plans.  I think we should finish our travels by looking for a good place to stay for a while.  Maybe someplace that the war won't touch would be best, as Alice says, but I want to keep our options open.  It's such a good time to eat."  He, too, enjoyed the bounty of humanity's most violent times.

"When will you leave?" Marianne asked me.  I could hear her concern and read it in the lines between her eyes.  Even after all I had done to them she was worried about me.

"Tomorrow night.  I need to hunt my kind of food for a while to be able to make the trip back to the states.  You need to know that the borders are getting tighter in Europe, and you will find traveling there may become restrictive for you," I warned them.

"Well, then, it's time to say goodbye properly.  No more talk of war, let's remember friendship and enjoy the time instead," said Annette as she squared her shoulders.  She would do it right, I realized, she always knew how to make any occasion a celebration of some kind.  It was her gift, and the one that I most admired in her.

They decided to accompany me until we reached the savanna area where the large predators lived, and then they would continue south to visit Victoria Falls, and South Africa.  We ran again, and sent the luggage on ahead to our eventual destinations.

The trip south was light hearted and fun.  Paul did not use his gift to keep me around, for which I was grateful.  I think that he realized I would be no good to him until I found my mate.  We danced and laughed, and enjoyed the short time with each other.  It was strange how quickly seven years had passed.  These goodbyes were even worse than the first in one way, but so much better than any of the others I had been forced to say.  I was a new person, raised like a phoenix from the ash, and I now absolutely knew what I had to do.  I had protected the others as best I could, and told them the truth.  We parted honestly this time.

 

Chapter 16:Thinking Outside the Blimp by Openhome

 

Chapter 16:  Thinking Outside the Blimp

 

Lion is good.  I would have stayed for more, but I was afraid of harming the prides too much with my excessive eating. 

For six weeks, I had eaten off of the wildlife in the savanna, and it was quite educational.  Never eat zebra.  Elephants contain way too much blood, even for a vampire.  Cheetahs are more fun than anything else in the world to hunt.  Ibex and Musk Ox stink, but taste fairly good.  Hyenas will do in a pinch, but they smell of death. 

Lion is the best, and worth coming back for.

I looked out over the vast savannah and began to wonder if I would bring Jasper back here. It was such a beautiful place, and I was hoping a vision would show me such a future, but none came.  Stupid, annoying things. 

I sighed, and began the run back towards Europe.  I had sent my trunks to Paris from Tripoli and would fly out from Berlin in a dirigible.  My honey brown eyes would never tip off a human, and Germany had cloudy weather now that it was fall.

I wasn't healed, not yet anyway, but I was better.  The pain had been replaced by crippling fear at returning to the States only to find that Jasper wouldn't be mine, but fear could be faced.  If there was a chance that Jasper would be mine, I could face anything.  So long as I focused on the chance, or even the hope of that chance, I could keep the fear at bay. 

At bay, however, meant that fear and longing were now my constant, nagging companions, and I knew already that I would need to distract myself any way I could to withstand the future.  So long as the future held hope, I would focus on the hope.  I could withstand anything for hope.

I felt foolish for not talking to the others sooner, but I knew that part of it was Paul's influence on me.  However, even though I had unnecessarily been away for four years, I couldn't be mad at Paul.  This was my own failing and weakness.  I had kept my true self hidden so deeply and for so long that I couldn't blame anyone but me. I would need to be stronger in the future.  As I ran across the arid desert, I let my mind look to the future to see what it might hold, but the blue sky and blinding sun on white sands were all that filled my vision.

I swam across the Mediterranean Sea one last time and enjoyed its warmth, and I knew I would miss the sensation.  I entered France at Mount Ste. Michael, and ran to the city of Paris in two days. 

As much as I wanted to begin the trip home, I could not resist a few days of shopping in Paris before I left for Berlin.  It could be years before I met Jasper, and this shopping trip would tide me over for a little while.  Besides, I needed the morale boost that only Paris's high fashion could give.

After just ten more days, I was seated as a passenger on a dirigible headed for New York.  The Graf Zeppelin was as richly decorated as the stately ocean liner I had taken to England.  It had a regular Trans-atlantic route from Berlin to New York, and it was the best way for a recuperating vampire to travel.  I sat in the small main cabin, and truly enjoyed my first flight.  The feeling of flying was incredible and the scenery from the air was simply breathtaking.  The zeppelin's main cabin was also very well ventilated, so it was the easiest place for me to be. 

It was six hours into the flight when the vision struck me.  It was the kind that stopped me cold, the kind that my emotions were so tied up in that it was impossible to separate myself. 

The slightly out of focus image was of four people running through a hazy woods.  Three of them were familiar to me, but the fourth, a girl with long blond hair, was new to the group.  They didn't look like they were hunting, but rather running somewhere.  

Is she Edward's new mate?  That would be wonderful for him.

The new female was running behind Edward, but she was just a little faster than him and was gaining on him. 

"Take that you mind reading parasite!" she screeched as she ran past, suddenly shoving him into the trunk of a tree.  His legs and arms flew out in front on either side of the trunk, as his body smashed into the spruce and toppled it.  

"Rosalie," gasped Carlisle, "I know you are angry with him, but really, there is no need for violence."

"Yes, there is every need for violence," she shot back.  "That was my favorite outfit!"

What did Edward do to her?

A growl sounded from deep within the tree, and Edward emerged from the perfect relief of himself that had been pressed into the remaining trunk.  They were both off and running in an instant.  As they both leapt over something dark, Edward twisted in the air and shoved her as hard as he could.  The dark mass looked like green water. 

She went completely under.  Edward roared in laughter.  When she emerged, the woman looked furious.  Even in my rather out of focus vision, she looked more than furious, baleful or abhorrent more aptly described her glare at Edward. 

No, not mates

She roared at him, and her red eyes looked like they could shoot sparks of fire out of them. 

Newborn perhaps?

"You stupid, uppity, snooty toad!" She screamed at him.

Definitely not mates.

"Oh, for the love of all that's holy, Rosalie, it was a joke.  Don't get in a snit.  Besides you shoved me first, remember?" He paused. "Shame on you, you shouldn't use that kind of language.  Those names aren't very ladylike, you know," he snapped.

What was he talking about?  She didn't call him anything improper.

"Do you have any idea of how long it will take to clean up my outfit and my hair?  You are such a pigheaded, immature boy."

"And you are such a vain and self-centered girl that you can't even laugh at a joke when you see it.  You only need to find a stream or something, and then you can clean up quickly, and your hair and face will be perfect again.....I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings," he added abruptly, as if he had been told to. 

Suddenly, the vision was very clear.  I saw him look over at Carlisle with an acidic look and roll his eyes.  That part, at least was set in time.

"Apology not accepted."

"You are so shallow, Rosalie.  It was a joke...  Fine!  I will leave!" and he began to run off. 

Rosalie jumped out of the slimy mud, and chased him through the woods.

"I thought you said another child would bring even more joy to the family," mumbled Esme.  Carlisle looked at her sheepishly, and they both took off calling after their children.   

I laughed out loud right there in the cabin.  Suddenly, every pair of human eyes was on me.   Whoops!  I stifled the laugh and began to look at the magazines that I had brought from Paris.  I pretended to giggle at the magazine while I replayed the scene in my head.  It was very amusing, and the best part was that they were both right.  She was vane, and he was being a pig.

Mind reading parasite.  

I repeated the words to myself.  Mind reader.  Interesting.  If he could read minds, then I was not the only freak among the dead.  I would need to pay better attention in the future. 

I walked back to my small cabin to find some privacy.  I only remained in the main cabin with the others because the air there was cleaner.   I was craving human blood since I was again eating animals, and I didn't want to kill anyone important, like the pilot, on this trip.  I dared not even breathe in the small, heavily scented cabin.   

As I walked, I wondered at the vision.  Perhaps we were destined to be friends, the faulty psychic amnesiac and the pig-headed, immature mind reader.  What a team we could make.

Once I was sitting on the small bed, it only took a few minutes for a vision to form itself.  This time, the vision was almost clear, like it would happen in the next few months, and I ripped the coverlet of the bed when my hands convulsed as Jasper's face came into my mind.  I had tried not to see his face for so long that, when it did come, my entire being reacted.  The beauty of his face, so strangely scarred with bite marks, would have taken my breath away had I been breathing.

I had forgotten how lovely he was.  The hair, the strong, scarred face, the pained eyes, they were all the same. 

Then I saw where he was.  He was crouching on his haunches behind what looked like a damaged wall, and I could hear a familiar, but distant, woman's voice calling his name.  He didn't respond.  He stayed still, his eyes shut, with a look of loneliness mingled with disgust etched into his face. 

Is he hiding from her? 

I looked harder, willing it to be the truth.  Perhaps it was yet another battle.  No, he was tense and alert, but definitely not in a fight.  The woman's voice sounded annoyed, not angry or fearful.  I could just barely make out her figure in the distance.  It had to be Maria. I recognized her small body.  She was looking for him, calling to him, and he was hiding. 

He's hiding!

When I came back to myself, I was in the cabin, dancing up and down and shouting for joy.  I had destroyed the back panel of the cabin and broken a hole through its ceiling when I jumped.  I had just enough sense to flee the room.

Two crew members were coming rapidly through the hall undoubtedly trying to find the source of the destructive sounds.  I nearly ran into them.  They were looking at me with the most terrified expressions possible, but I didn't care at all.  I was just so happy.

"Ma'am?  Is there something wrong?" one of them asked in a heavy Bavarian accent.  He grabbed at my arm and then his hand recoiled as it touched the stone-like skin. 

I whirled on him, and kissed him full on the lips.  I didn't bother to catch him as he fainted.

"No!  Everything is wonderful!  Just wonderful!" I answered to his slumped body.  The other man was already bolting for the other end of the hall in a full panic.  I couldn't care less. 

All the pain and fear dissolved into this one important fact that held the entire universe in place for me.  He did not want Maria. 

In fact, he hated being with her, and he was hiding from her.

He was hiding from her.

I had hope.

 

x||X||x

         I couldn't return to the cabin after what I had done, but I did hear the stories that the crew was spreading about the mysterious woman and her destroyed cabin.  These started fairly accurately, but were becoming wilder and wilder with each passing day.  By the time I jumped off of the ship at last, they were sure a Valkyrie or gremlin was on board and that the ship was cursed.  I could see why so many of my kind created so much havoc over the years.  If I hadn't needed to get to New York, scaring the passengers and crew would have been more fun than anything else I have ever done. 

         I hid in the balloon ballast of the zeppelin for the remainder of the trip, taking a few hesitant trips to the outside of the ship to see the world.  I didn't stay out long.  The ocean was breathtaking, but boring after a while and the salted wind messed up my hair terribly.  I did get to see New York from the outer layer, and got a beautiful picture of the Statue of Liberty. That was definitely worth the trip to the outside layer of the zeppelin.

         Finally, after waiting until the early hours of the morning to gather my trunks, I headed to Annette's home.  As soon as I walked in the house, the vision of Jasper coming through the glass door hit me again, stronger now and a little more clear.  This time, I noticed rain in the window, and that I was sitting on a stool at the bar of a diner.  I could hear the people talking in the background this time.  A few mentioned their wounds and their time on the front.  I heard the tinkle of a little bell, and, like before, Jasper opened the door and just walked in.  Then, just as suddenly as the vision hit, I was back in the entry of the house. 

         I let out a loud whoop.  This confirmed my hopes.  I was on the right path again; he was going to find me.  Sometime during or after the war I would be in a diner and he would find me.  Why I was in a diner, I could not imagine, but I would be there on a rainy day sometime in the future.  My laughter echoed around the walls of the empty house, filling the rooms with my joy. 

x||xXx||x

 

         It took me a few days to truly see New York again.  I was so happy that I just didn't notice at all at first.  I wouldn't have noticed, except that I wanted a car and needed new identification. 

         The entire city was different from what I had remembered.  What had once been a bustling and busy place full of color and life was dirty, dingy and slow.  Shops that I had loved in the 1920s were shut tight, and the few people out shopping only bought a handful of things.  Everyone walked.  There were no bright colors or new clothing on the women and men that I saw.  Everything was muted and looked old.  My visions had focused on the loss of money, and I had been unprepared for the loss to humanity in this depression.

         My first stop was to find Ivan and his coven.  They were still in the spacious brownstone in Manhattan, so I knew that they had taken at least some of my advice.  I needed to know if anything had changed in my absence.  Besides, Ivan was the leading vampire now, and I needed to make a courtesy call to let them know I was here.  Vampire etiquette demanded it. 

         "Alice!" exclaimed Vasily when he saw me standing at the door.  "It is so good to see you again.  Did you travel much?  What have you been doing?"  I suddenly remembered that none of the vampires in New York knew anything about my past four years.

         "I went to Europe with Paul's coven for a while."

         "Oh.  We had no idea.  That must have been wonderful for you.  I am glad you went, though. You are far too much of a homebody.  Are the others back, then?"

         "No, just me.  They may stay overseas a little longer.  How is the business doing?"  Ivan had taken over running the mob for Paul.

         "Hard times have hit us all, and the mob is suffering just as badly as everyone else.  Many of the families have had to take up petty crime because there is no one left to extort.  It is such a pity to see them stoop to such things," he said, as if he were truly sorry for the troubles of the murderous mob families.   The members of the mob served the vampires well, and Gregorio often seemed to think of them as pets, albeit really violent pets.  Vasily had obviously also grown very fond of them.

         "I'm, um, sorry to hear that," I lied.  "How did it go here after the market crash?  Did you lose much?"

         "No.  After fighting with you I would never ignore your advice.  We pulled out just in time, as did many of the others.  George and Paolo's coven lost almost everything, though.  George has left, and Paolo and Maria have returned to Brazil.  It hasn't been the same in New York with so many vampires gone.  The squatters have taken over the city with so few of us to feed on them.   Even with a bigger herd, we are all fighting more than ever since Paul left.  His leadership kept the peace and made New York a wonderful place for vampires.  We all miss the night-life, and Lena and I truly miss the balls.  They were the stuff of legend."  He sighed and smiled at the memory.  It made me glad to know that I had left such a positive mark on the city.

         "Where are Lena and Ivan?  I was hoping to see them as well."  It would be pleasant to remember old times.

         "They are in Chicago taking care of some issues with racketeering and the booze runs.  They will be back in a few days.  I'll tell them you stopped by. Now, tell me all about Europe." He sat down on a lounge chair and leaned forward with his hands on his chin. I had to hold back a giggle, because he looked like a mammoth version of a child.

         We spent the next few hours talking about my travels, mob business and laughing about old times, and then I left to get a new identity when the sun began to turn the clouds pink.  The crooked attorneys at Lowe and Associates were thrilled to see me when I identified myself as a friend of Paul's.  Fake identifications made the firm a great deal of money, and they loved any friend of Paul and Gregorio.  They had to for self-preservation's sake.  Within an hour, I had two new identities ordered and a couple of driving permits in my hands. 

         The next day, with the permits and a wad of cash stowed in my purse, I went to go get my car.  I wanted a 1934 Ford Phaeton or Cabriolet, or at least that is what I kept telling myself.  What I really wanted was one of the Italian sporty models I had seen racing through the Italian countryside, but I knew from Gregorio that getting a foreign car fixed in this country was difficult at best.  If I wanted to see America, I would need a car that could go anywhere and be repaired anywhere.

         The car lot was almost totally deserted when I arrived which caused me to panic a little.  I would need to shop and be home by noon to avoid the sun.  Autumn in New York was usually a good time for shopping, but the sun would be out later today.

         "Hello, Miss, can I help you?" asked a breathless salesman.  He seemed absolutely overjoyed that I was there.  When he got a full look at me, the usual trepidation kicked in, but he apparently needed to sell a car because he swallowed hard and forced a smile back on his face.

         "Hello there.  I want to buy either a Phaeton or Cabriolet, whichever you have available," I answered quickly.  I just wanted to buy the car and leave.

         "We don't have any Phaetons right now, but we do have two Cabriolet's available, one in black and one in a rather audacious cherry red," he answered with a slightly cracking voice.

         "You have cherry red?  That would be a wonderful color," I purred.  Red looked very good on me.

         "Really?  Most of our customers don't want the car because of the color.  It's over here.  I can test drive it for you, or is your husband here?" the question took me back a bit, but I realized he wasn't used to young women driving. 

         "I would like to take you driving, if you don't mind."  I smiled as his face turned whiter than mine.

         He looked scared to death, and not by my teeth, as we got into the lovely red car.  I pulled the top down and cruised carefully through the streets.  I had only driven a few times in Europe, but I figured if I could drive in Rome and Paris, I could drive anywhere.

         We were out for about half an hour, but that was all the time I needed.   I loved the car.  It had been a special order from last year's model that the owner was never able to pick up.  It was luxurious inside and sassy outside.  It was all me.

         The salesman nearly fainted when I handed him the $700 in cash and drove away.  I don't usually get visions of humans, unless I want to eat them, but I could see this man happily going home to his family with full bags of groceries.  He was greeted with a hero's welcome, and I was glad to help.

         The next week was spent getting my new identifications (Alice Meriwether and Brittany Michaels -- for nostalgia's sake) and seeing old friends.  Mai-Li and Chi-Yang were overjoyed to see me, and I spent two whole days with them.  I spent nearly that long with Ivan's coven when they returned.  Both Edwina and Herbert's homes were deserted.  No one could afford them in times like these.

         Then, in November of 1934, I hit the road to see my nation.  Since it was nearing winter, I decided to make my first journey a return to the warmth of Florida.  I had seen this area before, but mostly during the night.  When you travel with vampires, you can't just go anywhere.

I made it to a small town in South Carolina before I had to stop.  There was a major storm hitting the coast, and many of the dirt roads were simply impassable.  It didn't matter to me because I was in no hurry to get anywhere.  Mostly, I just wanted to see places and watch the people.  Not much had changed here here in the rural south. They were as they had always been, devastatingly poor yet so very full of life.  The people in the country had strength in the face of this depression that put the New Yorkers to shame.  Perhaps, though, it was that the excesses of the 1920's hadn't reached this far south.

Since the roads were impassable, I went into a clean but rather run down motel somewhere south of Charleston.  A small family owned the place.  They were utterly surprised by my arrival, and looked at me with welcome astonishment as I came in, which was unusual.  Astonishment I was used to, but the welcome part rarely lasted more than a few minutes.

"Can I help you, ma'am?" drawled the mother as she quickly went to stand behind the counter with a broad smile on her face.  Her dress and the clothes of her two teenage boys were faded and patched.

"Yes, I'm stranded by this rain, and I need a room for a few nights.  What do you have available?"  One of the boys snickered.

"Well, we don't get many folks who travel anymore, so we are empty right now.  How much did you want to spend on a room?  Twin beds are $3 and a queen bed is $6," she answered quickly.  I would have my choice.

"Queen, please."

"How many nights?"  She tried unsuccessfully to hide her pleased smile.

         I looked ahead to see how long the storm would last, but a different vision came.  I dimly saw this mother and her sons buying shoes. 

         "Three, please.  The name is Brittany Michaels," I replied, handing her the money.  I didn't know exactly how long I would stay, but that seemed about right.  As I filled out the register, I glanced at the boys who were sitting at their table.  Their bare feet were black with dirt and heavily calloused.

         The woman grinned from ear to ear, handed me a key and walked me to the room.  She was nearly giddy with joy and practically skipped ahead of me.  I usually didn't have that effect on human females.

         Was it really that bad?  Did my simple purchase of three nights stay in her rooms really provide the family with this necessity?  The fact that I could do so much good by simply spending my excess money had me reeling with the possibilities.  Shopping was after all, my greatest talent.  I could do immense good by simply indulging myself. 

         Life is wonderful! I sighed as I stretched out on the bed.

x||X||x

 

"Ma'am?" the word came with a soft knock on my door.

"Yes?" I answered but didn't move.  I was lying across the bed reading a Louis L'Amour book, and there was yet another gunfight raging.  I loved those.

"Do you need anything for the night?  We noticed you didn't go out for dinner."

I sighed in exasperation. Of course they had noticed, I was the new thing in a small town and they would have been watching.  In New York, I could have probably attacked and bled dry someone in Times Square and no one would have given it a second thought.  Here, I don't go to dinner and everyone sees it.

"Thank you, but I had a rather large lunch." And I'm going out for dinner tonight.

"Well, if there is anything else you need, just let us know," she said, sounding disappointed.

I threw on my robe and tried to look tired.  I needed to make sure I looked the part of the weary traveler rather than the annoyed vampire.

"Well, there is one thing," I said as I opened the door a bit for her to see me, "I would like to go out to see the countryside if the rain lets up."  It wouldn't for two more days.  "Can you tell me where the best places are for hiking?"

She looked almost frightened as she answered and I wondered what I could have done to scare her while wearing a bathrobe.

"The wolves are out right now, don't go into the forest," she stammered.

"There are wolves?" I asked excitedly.  I loved wolf. 

That was the wrong reaction.  Her face went from mild fright to blank shock.

"I love to take pictures of wildlife and scenery," I explained.  It was the honest truth; I had learned photography in Europe.

"Well, they aren't really wolves, but wolf-dog hybrids.  When the market fell, people couldn't feed their dogs anymore, so they just let them go.  That's why they are so dangerous; they don't fear humans.  They have attacked several people in the last few months," she said, obviously trying to dissuade me from trying to find them.

         "Well, maybe pictures aren't worth it, then," I said. 

         She smiled, obviously pleased that she had stopped me and said, "If you need anything, anything at all, just ring."  I nodded and she went back down the hall.  It was very awkward having a human ask me that question.  She really wouldn't have liked the answer.

         I quickly got on the sturdy pants and shirt that I wore to hunt and went out in the rain to help with the canine overpopulation issue.  It was wonderful.  Not only could I help this little family, I could single-handedly keep this town a little safer and eat well at the same time.  It isn't often a vampire comes to the rescue.  

 

 

Chapter 17: Of Silk and Iron by Openhome

 

Chapter 17:  Silk and Iron

 

       "What exactly does it do?" I shook the bamboo tube, which was brightly painted in garish colors of what might have been an ocean scene. A low, sick moan came from the hollow tube.

       "It does that," said the boy in front of me. The small roadside stand was made of fish boxes, which reeked here in the humid Louisiana bayou. Behind the crudely painted sign, two dirty urchins stood looking at me expectantly.

       "It's a cow," said the little girl as she swiped her slimy looking nose.

       "Yes, I know that, but why is this piece of wood sounding like a cow?"

       They shrugged in unison. "S'posed t' be fun," drawled the boy.

       I turned the obnoxious thing again, and the whiny moo sounded loud. the little girl giggled. I looked at her flour sack dress and bare feet. I kicked myself mentally and smiled at the filthy children.

       "I'll take three," I said. The boy whooped and handed me two more of the contraptions. I gave him the few dollars and climbed back into my car that was now filled with all manner of unrecognizable treasures that I'd bought. I tossed the tubes next to the gourds painted like fish on one side and famous presidents on the other.

       Such had been my life for the last few weeks. I traveled along the coast stopping whenever I could to buy whatever trinkets people had for sale.  It was my own way of helping humanity through these trying times, and it was one I was good at.  The trinkets were an odd assortment of items, but fun to collect: sea shells with scenes painted on them, clocks in every conceivable shape and size, postcards, little figurines with an array of items stuck in their navels, and several items that defied description.  I would leave them at scenic spots hoping for others to find them and take them.  It was fun to see the faces of the vendors as I bought their items, and even more fun to see who would find them in my misty visions.

       My turn around point was supposed to be New Orleans again, but I tried to head a little further south, towards Corpus Christie, Texas.   I had no idea of where Jasper was, and Texas and Mexico were so large that it would be nearly impossible for me to find him.  Still, I had to try.  Each mile past New Orleans made my stomach quiver with excitement and frustration.  Knowing that Jasper was somewhere close was almost more than I could handle, and I felt like I was trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack.  The man of my dreams, literally, was out here somewhere in the millions of acres of arid land, and I was trying to find him from a single Texas road. 

       I only made it a few hundred miles past Beaumont before I was forced to turn back.  When I went hunting in the ugly underbrush of southeast Texas, I could smell the faint scents of several other vampires.  I was surprised that so many of my kind had been here so recently, because this area was desolate and rather unprotected.  I looked out with my mind and saw a large group of bright, red-eyed newborns tramping through the bush.  They were coming fast and would find me soon if I stayed here.

       I paused for a moment, desperately searching for a way to head further west, but there was no way to escape them. Once they found my scent, they would be on me, and my vision showed me that I would be torn to pieces quickly in a confrontation with them.  Heading east was my only hope. With the clear memories of Jasper's battles and our own coven war in my head, I reluctantly headed back to New York.  The disappointment was so strong I could almost taste it in the dust that permeated everything around me.

       As my car headed east, I saw a group of dusty farmers returning from their fields. I didn't think much about it until they were just out of sight. Then, too late, I saw why the newborns would not follow me east. None of those men made it home that night.

||o||

       Just as before, once I headed back, the visions of Jasper began to flood my mind.  I had to stop several times so that I wouldn't crash my beautiful car.  Mostly they were dim and unreadable, but the vision of Jasper walking through the door was just slightly clearer.  Now I could see the red checkered curtains and bright yellow walls of the diner almost clearly.  That was enough to make the whole trip worthwhile because now I knew what to look for in the unknown cafe in the unknown city.  The haystack was still formidable, but it was a bit smaller than before.

       When I got to Atlantic City, I decided to stop and renew my fortune.  The trip had cost me a little over five hundred dollars, and I knew that I could make that up in just a few hours at the casinos there.  I would have to be careful because the vampires of Atlantic City didn't like their own kind to get too greedy, but if I went to several casinos, and made sure to loose some money at each, there would be no problem.  Although it was clearly cheating, I almost always went to the Roulette and Black Jack tables.  They are a sure bet for a psychic.  

       By dawn, I had won over nine hundred dollars, and carefully lost at least two hundred to keep the casino owners happy.  To hide from the sun, I had booked a hotel room.  After a warm bath, I spent my time laying on the bed counting my winnings and wondering if the small shops here had any good clothing.  It had been a while since I had gone on a good, soul-cleansing shopping spree.  The boardwalk looked like a good place to find some unique items once the sun set.  I could really stand new shoes and a few new blouses, and I would do the shop owners so much good by buying their clothes. 

       At least that is what I told myself.

        As I lay on my belly reading the romantic ending of a Zane Grey book, a vision hit me that was so clear and intense it seemed to swallow me.  It was the same one from the Graf Zeppelin.  Jasper was again alone, hiding behind the wall with Maria still calling him in the distance.  But this time, it was much clearer.  Much, much clearer.

       I could hear Maria's voice clearly calling in the distance.  I could see him with his knees pulled up to his chest.  He laid his head on his knees, looking defeated.  My heart ached for his plight as much as for his presence.

       "Are you finally done with all this, Jasper?" said a kind voice that I recognized as Peter.

       Jasper leapt up, growling low and positioned himself for a fight.

       "I don't want to fight you, old friend," Peter laughed mirthlessly.  "This time, I want to save you like you saved me so many times.  We came back to return the favor."

       "We?"

       "Charlotte is with me, but not here.  I couldn't risk it.  So, are you ready to leave this life for something better?" Peter pressed.  Peter was also tense and ready to defend himself, but he had a small smile on his face.

       "How?  Kill Maria?  That's the only way to make this better," said Jasper in a lifeless voice. 

       He is willing to kill her!

       "No, not at all, though she more than deserves it.  She didn't tell us the truth.  She never even gave us a choice."  Peter's voice was cold as ice.  "You need to know that there is peace in the northern states.  No fighting, no killing, no armies.  Vampires live in peace and leave each other alone," Peter explained.

        "What are you talking about?  Fighting is what we are made for, what we need to do to control the herd lands," Jasper whispered back, but his tone held an unfamiliar ring -- hope.

       "It is all a lie, Jasper, every bit of it.  Come with us and let us show you.  I haven't fought another of our kind in the five years that we have been gone.  We eat and wander freely and live in peace.  We can even go out in the daytime when it's cloudy.  The humans have no idea about us, and we can go anywhere we want, so long as we keep moving.  I've met a few others of our kind who live peacefully and have never fought in a war.  Please, Jasper, believe me.  Come with us and see." Peter was pleading now.

       Jasper's face was torn, but it quickly relaxed as he made his decision.  He even smiled just slightly in return.  He nodded to Peter, and they both slid away without so much as looking back.  The vision shifted to see the three of them running across a wide plain under an immense field of stars.

       He's gone.  He left her without even saying goodbye!  He is finally free!

       My unnecessary breath was coming very fast, and I could barely think straight.  Jasper was going to run to the North, and be free of his terrible soldier's life.  Waves of pure joy and excitement washed through me, and I lost myself in emotions that I hadn't felt in five long years.

       He's heading north!

       It only took me a matter of seconds to run to my car and begin a rapid drive north.  I didn't care about the sun, or exposure, or anything but getting home.  He was heading north, and I was going to meet him. 

       I wanted to be in New York by nightfall, but the roads had different ideas.

x||xXx||x

       "Ah!" I yelled at my car, "You drive slower than I can walk!"  It was true, and I hated that.  It had been a pleasure to drive these roads just two months ago, but the return trip was becoming tedious.  Winter had struck New York hard, and now my slow car had to crawl through the snow covered roadways to avoid an accident.  Even though I knew there was no need to rush, I had to get back home.  I needed to park the car and take off on foot across the wintry mess that is North America in January, but first, I had to get this thing back to the house.  If it hadn't been daytime, I would have tried carrying it.  It was infuriating. 

       Even in my joyous rush I knew it was useless, because I still saw no other way to meet Jasper except in that diner, but that didn't stop me from trying.  When at last I parked the car in the carriage house, it was all I could do to dump my trunks into the hallway and begin unloading some of the items into a large knapsack.  Keys, map, money, hunting clothes, presentable clothes, hairbrush and the lovely smelling shampoo and bubble bath.  That was all I needed, but I threw a versatile brocade dress and matching shoes in just in case.  I didn't want to be caught unprepared.

       I checked the house and the mail, only because I had promised, and left within twenty minutes of arriving at Long Island.  I had no idea of where to head, but it didn't matter, from now on, no matter what I did, it would be with one goal in mind, to be where Jasper was.

       I simply headed out directly west of New York City running at a comfortable pace.  My plan was to visit and memorize every large city between here and the West Coast, and get to know the layout of the northern states.      

I took a slightly southern route because it was a hard winter and because Jasper would be coming up from the South.  I couldn't help but hope that our paths might somehow cross, and that he might unknowingly step on ground that I had touched.  It was childishly stupid I knew, but I loved that idea.  Now I was even hallowing the very ground that he walked on.  How very preposterous, but also how very wondrous. 

 

x||xXx||x 

 

By May, I was back on the East Coast, leisurely bathing in the large tub in Paul's cabin near Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  It had been a marathon adventure, and one that gave me some very helpful knowledge about my homeland.  It had also been very frustrating.  I knew that I couldn't possibly find Jasper, but against that certain knowledge an unrealistic and unstoppable hope kept rearing up.  Each step was a step closer to him, and I kept expecting to see him around every corner or hill.  By the time I got to this cabin, my nerves were shot and my disappointment threatened to overwhelm me.  I needed a break.

So, here I was in late spring in a luxurious cabin in the mountains.  The hunting here was superb, and this place was breathtakingly beautiful.  Though the cabin was rugged, it was filled with fine furniture, and the fireplace that dominated the main floor had never once been used.  It was definitely a vampire home. 

Bathing here was a challenge because the wood fire water heater was rather dangerous for me to use, but the steaming water filled with bubbles was worth it.  Two weeks of hunting in the mountains around Mt. Washington and the White Mountains had left me needing a bath and fresh clothes.  The rose scented bubbles and handful of shampoo were like a balm to my soul. I was now clean.  And very full.  I had eaten so well that I was nearly sloshing. 

I used the large mirror in Marianne's room to change back into a dress.   As I brushed the short black mass that was my hair, I thought back to all the northern states I had visited.  None were particularly memorable, and the only place I stayed very long at all was Las Vegas.  The small town with its few casinos was a godsend.  I didn't see any helpful visions as I ran, except for the vision that told me to stay a few days in Vegas -- very handy that. 

       As I combed, I looked around the spacious room.  The three bedrooms upstairs were luxuriously decorated with fine furniture.  They also boasted massive iron beds.  As I stepped away from the mirror, I had a closer look at the ornate and very heavy beds.  Just as Gregorio had said, they were indeed bolted to the floor.  I was wondering how much of Gregorio's advice had been teasing and how much of it was truth when a very strange vision hit.  It was of a large man fighting a bear, and losing.  What on earth did that hazy vision have to do with the need for iron beds? 

       Sometimes, I hated my visions.

 

 

o|oOo|o  

       After a leisurely stay in the cabin and then a visit to the house in Quebec and some lovely little shops there, I headed back to New York to check on my neglected finances and make sure things there were in order.  On the outskirts of the city, I was again immersed in the vision of the yellow diner.  It was a good thing that I was on foot, because I reacted to the vision like someone had hit me.

       The vision was no clearer than a few months ago, but with an addition: I could just make out and hear the man behind the bar ask me what I wanted.  The vision was was still muffled and hazy, but the large human, whose face was too unfocussed to see, said, "...regular teday?"  I am sure that was what he said, but it was odd, because I don't eat human food.  At all.  Ever.  Marianne had tried it and told me what it was like to rid her body of it, and I didn't ever want to have to do that.

       I knew now that the more I headed in the right direction, the more information I was given.  So, the garishly yellow diner was somewhere on the East Coast, and south of New Hampshire.  It didn't make my haystack much smaller, but it was worth the trip in and of itself.

       I stayed in New York for less than a month.  While I was there, I began to reinvest my money into the stocks that I knew would do well in a war.  Edwina had been right, they were cheap as dirt right now, and I bought almost a million dollars worth of stocks in aerospace companies, steel manufacturers, and defense companies.  That would set me up to do very well once the inevitable war began. 

       Then, I spent a solid week shopping for a new summer wardrobe.  The week was rainy and I took advantage of the sunless days to freely shop to my heart's content. 

       It was an emotionally exhausting experience. 

       For starters, the styles were awful, and the fabrics cheap.  Then, for the first time, I had to consider what Jasper might like to see me in.  It was very strange to shop with him in mind mostly because I didn't know him well enough to know what he liked.  In fact, I didn't know him at all.  I hated that.

       The frustration began with the first shop I tried; a little European style boutique.  The small but nicely decorated shop was vacant except for one, lone woman.  She nearly jumped out of her skin when the little bell jingled announcing my entrance.  That did not bode well.

       Her eyes got wider as I walked in, and she began to back up even as she stammered out a greeting.

       "Hello miss.  C-c-can I help you?"

       I smiled slightly and stayed put while I sighed inwardly.  I wanted clothes, not blood.  Well, mostly.

       "Yes, I need a new wardrobe for the summer, and I would like to look at your finer items."

       "Finer items?" she repeated in confusion, and then her eyes got wide with excitement.  "Oh!  You want to look at the more expensive things we sell?  They are back here," she said as she quickly led me to an unused portion of the back.  Her fear all but vanished with the thought of a good sale.

       "We don't get many requests for these items any more, but we have several to show you."  Her smile was genuine and wide.

       The items were slightly dusty, sparse and rather frumpy.

       "Of course, we can have them fitted to you any way you want," she began again, obviously disturbed by my lack of appreciation.  Suddenly I realized that I was probably the only paying customer she might get today.  No wonder she was so concerned.  "And, um, we can have the same styles made just to your specifications.  Anything at all."

       I had to bite back my sarcastic reply.  I could also make them to my specifications.

       "I usually do my own tailoring, thank you.  Perhaps a few of these blouses in silk rather than cotton would be preferable," I mused trying to find something that I could buy from this poor girl.  I could tell that she, just like all the others, needed a sale.

       As I handled the fragile fabric, I pictured myself as a brightly colored super hero from a comic strip:  Alice the Super Shopper. 

       It was preferable to the caped evil vampire cartoon I often pictured for myself.  My imagination was rather active.

       "Silk is very expensive, and we would require a down payment before we could have them made," she ventured timidly.  I could tell that it was quite nerve wracking for her to be standing so close to me, which was another reason I knew she needed the sale.

       I pulled out a lovely fitted blouse with a crisp, wide collar.  Not exactly right, but close enough.

       "I would like two of these in silk, and perhaps that flared skirt done in a heavy broadcloth.  I would like the blouses taupe and the skirt in a bright green."  The young woman gasped and gave out a small squeak of joy.

        I began to survey the other items.  Everything was drab, rather shapeless, and done in fabrics that I could destroy quickly.  Vampires must be rather choosy with their fabrics.  Before I learned to sew, it had taken me nearly a week and over a hundred pairs of stolen silk stockings to be able to put them on without shredding them.

       The young sales clerk fairly bounced to the counter to take my order.  I handed her my measurements, paid in full, and even took a quaint little handbag.  The girl was nearly delirious with joy when I left.  

       Super Shopper has struck again, saving the metropolis of New York from financial ruin! I giggled at myself.

       The next shops were not much better, but I managed to buy at least one thing from each boutique.  Most of the items that I bought off the rack would never work for me, so I handed them to women and girls that I met on the street.  It was wonderful, but frustrating.  I missed the fashion extravaganzas of the twenties terribly.  I missed Paris even more.

       By the end of the week, I had my new wardrobe, done to my specifications, and I was again heading out of New York.  My wardrobe was a constant area of concern for me.  It was much more sparse than I wanted due to the utter lack of creativity and good quality designing that gripped the fashion world right now.  It wouldn't have been so bad if I wasn't so much closer to finding Jasper.  I wanted, no needed, to be well dressed and presentable.  I know that the whole world was in a depression, but, really, would it have killed a few of the designers to import good fabric?

       Traveling by car again during the summer was surprisingly pleasant.  I drove mostly at night across the northern states that I had already visited with the rag-top down and the wind wrecking my hair.  It was wonderful. 

       Except for the plains states (which looked just as they did in the winter, only browner), the trip was breathtaking and quite delicious.  I made sure to be in the Yellowstone Basin by mid summer and treated myself to grizzly and mountain lion. 

       Just as before, I bought trinkets and souvenirs, and saw all the sights from mundane to unbelievable.  I met dozens of humans and stayed in their hotels, motels, teepees, and lodges.  I left the souvenirs at roadside rest stops, and delighted in the knowledge that someone might find them and enjoy them.  It was a fun and very informative trip.

       By late fall, I returned from my quick trip and again stopped at the cabin in Mt. Washington.  I immediately walked through the spacious main floor and went directly in to the bedrooms again, just to check, or so I told myself, and tested the sturdiness of the beds.  When I shook them, they were rock solid. 

       Suddenly, I was back in the woods watching the large man lose his fight with the bear again, only this time the vision was perfectly clear.  He would lose that match very soon, maybe even today.  The vision didn't stop like it did before, and I saw the bear play with the man's body until it was a bloody pulp and then saunter away. 

       Then I saw Rosalie step through the woods. 

Her face was unreadable as she watched the scene.  I expected her to go in for the kill, just as any vampire would when faced with that much blood.  Instead, she walked over to him with an incredibly tender expression on her lovely face, picked him up, and ran off.  The vision ended, and I returned to the room still staring at the bed.  I couldn't help but marvel at her self-control.  She was barely more than a newborn, yet she tenderly lifted the dying and bloody man without so much as taking a lick.  How those two fit in with iron beds I couldn't even imagine, but I would be looking hard to see what the connection was.

 

xX||oOo||Xx

 

       The pattern of constant travel continued through the year.  Travel, shop, return, shop, work on stocks, shop, and travel again.  This time, though, I also created picture albums of my trips.  They were totally unnecessary, of course, because my memory was absolutely perfect, but it felt good to make them.  I had lost all the first part of my life, and I wanted solid evidence of the second part.

       The third time I checked on the cabin was in January of 1937, and I went deliberately to the bedrooms to see if I could get another vision of the strange bear man.  I had tried for nearly eighteen months to see the young man again, but I could only catch glimpses of Carlisle's family hunting animals and the "bear man," as I called him, taking more than a few humans on the side.  All I knew was that Rosalie had somehow changed him and he was now a cheating, "good" newborn vampire.  I wanted to see what else the family was doing, and for some reason, the cabin seemed the best place for those visions.

       When I pushed on the immovable beds, all my questions, and several others that I didn't want to ask, were answered.  I was suddenly in a richly decorated bedroom watching a bed writhe back and forth.  Only it wasn't the bed itself writhing in ecstasy, but rather the two vampires on it. 

       Rosalie and the bear man were mates.  It was embarrassingly, glaringly obvious that they were mates, and I instantly, desperately wanted to escape this vision.  The young couple was totally engrossed in their energetic and forceful lovemaking, and I was being forced to watch like some sick peeping tom.  I willed the vision to end, but all it did was shift to different views which didn't really help much.  I could feel my body shrinking away in shame as I watched their bodies entwine.  Suddenly, the floor gave way underneath their bed, and the whole thing dropped with the two of them on it.  It landed in a dirt basement.  It wasn't until pieces from the floor above fell on them that they broke apart and realized what had just happened.

       "Oh, Emmett, look what we did again.  Esme is going to kill us," cried Rosalie in horror.  Emmett just shrugged, and pulled her back down on top of him, and they continued where they left off.

       Mercifully, I was back in the cabin and staring at the iron bed. 

         I stiffly turned and walked quickly out.  Gregorio hadn't been lying about the need for reinforced steel for newlywed vampires.  I decided that the next time I checked on the cabin I wouldn't go anywhere near those beds, unless, of course, Jasper was with me.

 

Chapter 18: Of Sun and Snow by Openhome

 

Chapter 18:  Of Sun and Snow

 

       I had decided to push my luck a bit because the visions of Jasper were not getting any clearer while I stayed in the North, so I thought a trip in the wrong direction might force things.  Besides, I really wanted to see Hollywood and visit Las Vegas again.  Nothing is more fun than Vegas for a psychic.  I left New York in November of 1938 and headed to the desert Southwest.

       My first stop was Las Vegas.  I could truly let loose of my gift there, and I got paid for it.   The place was becoming my second home.  Although it wasn't a grand or as lucrative as Atlantic City, the small town was booming even in the Depression, and there were enough casinos that I could maneuver my way around them all.  Besides, vampires didn't yet run them, so I didn't have to be as careful with my winning streaks here.  As an added benefit, no one was awake in this desert city until nighttime so I didn't miss anything while I hid from the sun.

       It was a great mystery to me, more profound than even Stonehenge, why anyone would build an entertainment vacation spot in Nevada.  What insanity had led someone to point at the barren desert and say to himself that it was the perfect place to put Las Vegas? I loved the city, but it was not where I would have chosen to put it.     

       Despite the barren ugliness, I ended up enjoying the desolation of the large desert region in America's southwest.  I couldn't drive throughout the night here because gas stations were far apart and closed at night.   Buying gas cans was always an option, of course, but having a gallon of explosive gasoline in my car wasn't exactly reassuring.  I was also very concerned that I would be unable to travel much at all here because of the constant presence of the sun, but I didn't need to worry.  As it was, I drove much of the desert roads with the top down on the car because there was no reason to hide the glittering surface of my body.  It was so isolated in the deserts of Nevada and Utah that I could have driven naked and not a soul would have seen.

       Next I went to see the mountains and deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.  I spent two weeks there, climbing in and out of the Grand Canyon and exploring Carlsbad Caverns.  The high desert was beautiful and desolate, so I could see it during the day.  The only drawback to this region was that the food was terrible.  Coyotes and goats don't taste good at all, and there was no way I was trying snake.

       After a tour of the deserts, I headed to Southern California.

       I remember the first time I saw Los Angeles.  It was just before sunset when my car finally wheezed to the top of the last barren hill and looked over the Los Angeles basin towards the sea.  The scene was truly breathtaking.  The city was like an oasis in the midst of two deserts, one without water, and the other nothing but water, and could have passed for heaven on earth to me.

       This time, I had chosen to stay in a swanky resort hotel just outside of Hollywood that was done in the style of a California mission.  My Vegas winnings were more than enough to cover the cost, and I felt the need to pamper myself a little.  The only drawback here was that I had to drive around in a long sleeved blouse and gloves until it was sunset.  There were just too many people around for me to risk showing any of my skin.  The sun was definitely an issue here.

       "Hello ma'am, may I help you?" asked the desk clerk, an older woman with perfectly coifed hair.

       "Yes, my name is Brittany Michaels, and I would like a suite, please," I responded trying to sound chic.  My short hair was an unruly mess, and I'm sure I didn't look chic at all.

       "Are you by yourself?  Our suites are rather large and quite pricey, you may want smaller accommodations," she sniffed at me.  I wondered how much she would like me to sniff right back.

       "Yes, I am by myself, and I don't care about the price.  If you cannot help me," I pulled out a roll of my hard won earnings, "then please go find someone who can."

       "Yes, ma'am," she stammered with wide eyes.  She looked hard at my face and windblown hair, and seemed to come to some conclusion.  "I'm very sorry for the misunderstanding Miss, uh, Michaels."  She rang a small bell twice, and not less than four men appeared to take my car and my luggage.

       I smiled sweetly and began to fill out the guest book as the men hurried off to take care of my belongings.  I could get used to being treated like this.  The woman looked rather flustered now, and nervously took the register and my money.  When she finally looked at me, though, it was with curiosity rather than fear.

       "So, what studio are you with, ma'am?" she asked quite a bit more abashed.

       "Excuse me?"

       "Well, um, you don't need to tell me, of course, but it is helpful to us to know where you will be headed.  If they call us, we need to know where you are."

       I nearly laughed out loud when I finally understood.  She thought I was an actress.   Everyone here was somehow tied to the movie industry, so she simply assumed that with my looks and money that I must be here to make a film.  The idea was preposterous, but laden with potential.  If the humans believed that I worked with a studio, then my odd hours and demands wouldn't seem odd at all.  This could be rather fun.  When in Rome...

       "Universal," I whispered to her, "but please keep my name and whereabouts a secret."  She nodded vigorously and winked.  "I will need to know how to get there tomorrow," I whispered conspiratorially as I held down a giggle. These people were going to help me see Hollywood up close and personal.

       "We will have a map waiting for you Miss Michaels.  Do you need a driver?"

       "No, I like driving myself.  It gives me a little edge over the fellas, if you know what I mean," I winked back.  "Those boys will do anything to get a gal in a compromising position, so having my own car gives me a little more control.  Besides, so few of the other girls can drive, you know."

        "That's it honey," she agreed, "you just keep those studio boys in their places.  So, is Brittany Michaels your real name?"

       "Heavens no," I said, telling her a smidgeon of truth, "We all go by stage names you know."  I winked at her again, and her painted cheeks grew a shade redder.

       Just then, my trunks arrived and I was grandly escorted to my large suite.  I simply loved the irony of being a pampered vampire. 

       The hotel gave me a fresh bouquet of flowers every day and made sure I knew how to get anywhere I wanted to go.  I swam in the pacific and wandered the streets of Tinsel Town at night, loving everything about the place.  I snuck into Universal one night and spent the next three days wandering the sets in every lavish dress I could steal from the wardrobe areas.  Hollywood was made for people like me, and I enjoyed every minute I spent at the studio.  Everyone thought I was a lost actress, like so many others on the sets, and no one even looked twice at me.   In fact, there was a rather unnerving similarity between myself and several starlets that graced the sets.  They were also young, thin, beautiful, and deathly pale.  I made me wonder about all those movie actresses I had seen.  Surely none of my kind had made it into the film industry, had they? 

       If Southern California were any less sunny and slightly less crowded, I would have moved there permanently.  The sun was a real issue, though, and after three weeks, I was tired of only seeing the city at night.  Another more surprising problem had risen that I did not expect at all.  It seemed that no matter where I walked, I could catch a scent of one vampire or another.  It was especially strong when I went to the movie studios and then again when I took in a Shirley Temple movie at Grauman's Chinese Theater.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, vampires were almost as attracted to money and power as they were to blood.  Although I never saw a single one of my kind, the pale and stone-like visages of Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow would forever make me wonder as to their true nature. 

 

oO||xXx||Oo

 

       I smiled at the memories of the warm sun as I looked out the window again at the cold gray of a snowy evening in Detroit.  Detroit was ugly and smelled more than any other city I had been to save Pittsburgh.  Nothing but the need for a car would have made me come here.  My beautiful, cherry-red Cabriolet was looking shabby and driving badly after the thousands of miles I had put on it.  My Las Vegas winnings would buy me what I wanted: a bright gold Ford Deluxe convertible.  Detroit could make it any way I wanted.

       I looked at the ceiling again and sighed.  There was nothing to do in this white walled room but think and smell the thick, acrid scent of tobacco smoke.  I hated tobacco smoke of any kind.  If I didn't need a car so badly, one that was just the right color and style, I would never sit in a room like this.  I looked out the window and sighed again.  The snow covered buildings visible outside the window only added to the monotony of the place.

       "Miss Michaels?"  The young receptionist was worried about me. "Are you sure I can't get you anything at all?  I know this is taking a while, and I can tell you are a little bored."

       A little bored?

       "Perhaps a paper or magazine would help," I smiled back.

       She brought me the local paper from here in Detroit, and it showed what I already knew had happened.  Germany was still pushing across Eastern Europe, and Britain and France were now at war with it.  How long would it take for the U.S. to enter the war?  One year?  Two perhaps?  It was all I could do to stay focused and keep the visions at bay as I stared at the headlines and pictures.  There wasn't much but war in the paper in December of 1939, and I knew that the bloodletting had only just begun.  Once again, I wished for relief from my unrelenting gift.

       I didn't want to have any more visions of death, so I let my memory slip back again to my trip to L.A.  The memories were sunny and full of color, and gave me great relief from this cold, gray place. 

       I probably would have been in a better mood, but I had grown frighteningly fond of my Cabriolet.  Its dents and scratches were mementoes of my adventures.  I felt utterly stupid, of course, but it made me sad to part with it.  I felt like I was leaving a friend.  No, that wasn't quite it.  I felt like I was betraying a friend, but there was no good way to get it to New York, or I would have brought it home with me rather than leave it here. 

       Vampires shouldn't get attached to breakable things, yet here I was feeling like a traitor to a car.  Stupid.

       I sighed again, and crumpled up the paper as I crossed my arms in frustration at myself.  The receptionist took it personally and backed up a few feet.

       "Miss Michaels?  Miss Michaels, ah, there you are," smiled the white collared sales man as he walked into the room.  

       "Is it ready?" I smiled back.  The feeling of betrayal was changing into excitement.  I was a new mother about to meet my first baby.  He smiled broadly and led me to a large garage showroom, which held a lone, golden car.

       It was love at first sight. 

       My car.  I had ordered it just for me.  Leather and walnut interior with a deep gold exterior.  All Mine. 

       I would miss my trusty Cabriolet more than I had ever dreamed, but this new car would make it over mountains and through valleys much better than the worn out car that had carried me through so many miles.

"Thank you so much," I said as he handed me the keys and we walked out onto the floor.  I ran my hand across the lines of the body gently, as if I was caressing a newborn baby.  I had to laugh because until I met Jasper, this would be the closest I got to caressing anything, except maybe a lovely silk dress.

The road out of Detroit and back to New York was just as monotonous as the building had been; white with gray in the country and gray with white in the cities.  To break up the bleak monotony, I thought again back over what I had learned in the sunny southwest.  First, the sun is overrated.  I loved the warmth but hated the need to hide.  Second, vampires were much more commonplace in the South than I had imagined.  Third, I needed to do something more with my time than just chase after Jasper.

Find the family?  No.  Not yet, but perhaps soon.  I had only glimpsed them in the few visions I had of them.  I didn't try to see them much after the incident with Rosalie and Emmett, which had been almost enough to stop me from trying to see them ever again.  If I tried to see the good doctor or his wife, I had at least a fifty-fifty chance of looking in at an inopportune time because they were also married.  Edward was the best bet, but he seemed to be in school or working at various jobs almost constantly.  I had seen him and Emmett wrestling several times.  Once, I had seen them hunt bear together, and had to laugh at Emmett's glee in killing one - like it was some kind of trophy killing.  I had taken down lions and elephants and a dozen bears myself, how much of a challenge could a bear be for giant Emmett?

The other option was to try to enter the fashion world again, but the timing was horrid since the country was locked between a depression and a war. 

So, something different this time. 

I wondered if I was ready to try college.  Ever since I had heard the word so many years ago, the thought had intrigued me. 

Could I go to school and get a diploma?  Carlisle had obviously gone to school, and I thought I had seen even Rosalie wear what could only be a hideous school uniform, so it was a possibility at least.  I could go to school and be with other young people and learn.  I could feel the excitement building as I made my way across Ohio.  Yes!  It was high time that I got myself educated.

I was planning to drive straight to New York, and slow down once I had reached the border with Pennsylvania.  I didn't need to go into a full vision of Jasper on the snow and ice that covered the roads, which of course was the whole reason for the long trip, but the vision didn't wait for New York.  As I crossed the hills that separated Ohio from Pennsylvania, I was suddenly seeing Jasper standing in the snow.  I had just enough lucidity to slam on the brake and clutch and keep my feet down.  I didn't even have a clue where my car was on the road as the vision swallowed me.  Jasper seemed to be tensed, as if ready for a battle, in a field of snow.  No, on a mountain of it.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are...coward!"

A huge ball of white slammed into him and pushed him back into the snow.

"Pretty pathetic for an epic last battle, Jasper," laughed a woman's voice, and a blond head peered from around a large drift.  She ducked just in time to avoid the return volley sent by Jasper.  I could hear his short, bass laugh in return.  I thrilled at the sound of it.  I had never before heard his laugh.

From somewhere very far overhead a series of snowballs showered the area where Jasper stood.  He ran for cover and returned the volleys from a monumental supply of snowballs, shooting them as fast as a machine gun.  Laughter erupted from higher up on the mountain and from the drift, which sheltered the woman.

Suddenly, a large, white, blob caught the woman from behind, and she shrieked.

"Care to switch sides, Charlotte?  That traitor isn't worth it," yelled Jasper between shots.  Instantly, she was with him, launching balls at her treacherous mate.

The scene shifted to the top of the mountain and I could see a figure running across a ridge and back several times.  The snow separated at his trail and a thunderous avalanche rushed towards Jasper and Charlotte, burying them completely.

"I won, I won, admit it!" crowed Peter as he ran over the tumbled mess of snow.  As if on cue, Jasper and Charlotte jumped up out of the snow bank, grabbed Peter and fell with him back into a gaping hole.  I could hear the playful yells and laughs as snow spewed out of the hole like a geyser as they fought.

The scene shifted.  They were on the mountain again, but now they were giving each other hugs and a few punches, then they separated.  Jasper walked down the mountain and Charlotte and Peter walked up the slope.

They are separating, I thought sadly. 

The idea of Jasper being alone cut me deeply because he should not be alone.  I had seen his pain for too long, and I couldn't stand the thought of him being lonely.  Perhaps though, he was a little closer to finding me.

I eased my car out of the snowy bank and back onto the road to head home.

 

xX||oOo||Xx

 

 

       The cook had a greasy apron with the word "Marty" stitched into it, and he greeted me as I walked in the door.  I could see the red-checkered curtains and the yellow walls as I looked around.  I could feel myself become engulfed in joy at finding the right place. 

       "Hey dere, sweetie.  What can I get fer yins teday?" he said happily in a thick, Pennsylvanian accent. 

       Then, my car ran through the carriage house door and I slammed on my brakes.

       Pennsylvania!

       I had no idea where in Pennsylvania to look, but the accent was unmistakable to my ears.  Marty had at least come from somewhere in that state, but was he there now?

My mind was so full of possibilities that it took me a few seconds to realize that I had nearly killed my new baby. 

Horrified, I nearly wrenched off my door to see what damage that vision had caused.  I picked up the remaining sticks of what once were the house's wooden doors and set them aside.  The shiny front bumper and beautiful golden hood were dented and scratched, as was the roof, but that was all.  Thankfully, the old wooden doors fared far worse than my new steel car.  Still, I felt a deep sense of guilt at the damage I had caused.  It was so young and beautiful, and it didn't deserve to be shoved into a door.

I stayed by my cars side for a few moments, rubbing it's damaged hood as if it would make it better.  There was nothing I could do for it now, and I would have to wait until morning to take my baby into the body shop to get it repaired.  I hated the idea of facing Vinny with this brand new car and its damage.  I wouldn't even need to tell the old man what had happened; he would know by looking. 

I sighed heavily and began unloading the car, dreading tomorrow.  I had taken the old Cabriolet in to the shop several times to have it repaired, so he was used to my long road trips and erratic driving habits.  He also enjoyed teasing and berating me at every opportunity.  I hated having to face him, but he was the best in New York, and he already knew that I crashed my cars a lot.  He just thought I was a little too careless. 

I spent the night trying to figure out how to repair the damaged wooden doors, but all I did was splinter them even more.  They would need to be replaced, and I had no idea of how to do that.  I don't know which made me madder, damaging both my car and the carriage house or not being able to devote my time to my newest vision.  I wanted to re-play the vision over and over, but I was far too upset to get it to reappear.  I wallowed in frustrated guilty self-pity until morning. 

I drove slowly through the streets to get to the Little Italy Body Shop that Gregorio had recommended so long ago.  I walked slowly into the greasy office, with my head low.  This was not going to be pretty.

"Heya Alice!  What are you doing here, doll?  Need that red bomb worked on again?  I want to hear the whole story this time," laughed the rotund mechanic.  He was almost invisible behind the pile of papers and car parts covering his desk.

"It's not the red bomb this time, it's my new car," I mumbled.  Vinny could make me feel guiltier than anyone. 

"New car?" he asked, and his small eyes widened until they were very round.  "What new car?"

I just pointed to the street with my eyes fixed on the floor.

I could hear Vinny's heavy steps head out the door followed by the lighter steps of the younger mechanics.  I heard a whistle, and then another.  I cringed. Of course all the boys would want a look.  Then the low laughter began. 

"How long have you had that beauty?" asked one of the younger men.  They didn't get to work on new cars much, and I knew they would be itching to get a look under the hood.  It was the most powerful engine Ford produced.

"Three days," I answered morosely to a round of chuckles.

"Three?" asked Vinny, "That has to be a record even for you.  So, looks like some kind of large door hit it.  Is that right?"

"Yes."  Of course he was right.

"Garage door?"

"Yes."

"Whose garage door?"

"A friend's."  I sighed heavily.  "Gregorio's."  I still didn't look up, but the chuckling was getting rather loud.

How did that fat, old mechanic make me, a strong, young vampire, feel so miserably low?  I was a predator of unmatched skill who could have killed every man in here within ten seconds, but right now I felt like a young child who had been caught being naughty.  I hated that feeling.

"Is he still a friend?"

"They are out of town and don't know what I did," I explained in a low grumble.  He laughed outright.

"Hey, Luke, does your brother still do carpentry?" he called as soon as he caught his breath.

"Yup.  He don't got work now that it is winter.  Want me to fetch him?"  The young man's voice was also breathless from laughter.

The question was aimed at me, so I had to look up to see who Luke was and give him my answer.  Twelve merry eyes met my gaze.  Every face had a smug smirk on it.  It was worse than I had thought.  Luke must be the one with the broad smile.

"Can he meet me back in Long Island today?" I asked.  Of course I would need a carpenter.  I had no idea of how to repair all the splintered wood.

"He ain't doing nothin' else, so I guess he could get there.  Give me the address."

I obliged as quickly as I could and slipped out to sulk back home.

"Alice?" Vinny called me back.  "Three days at least, I got to figure out how to match that color.  Leave it to you to have the only gold car in existence.  I'll call."  He smiled broadly again.  I had given him a job, a good laugh, and a wonderful story to spread to all his mechanic buddies, and was very grateful for all three.  I hated being me.

~||~

"So...exactly how did you not see the doors?" asked Luke's brother, Joe, when he saw the carriage house.  The two-story building was rather large and hard to miss.

"Um...I just wasn't looking where I was going," I answered back.  There was no good way to answer that question.  How many times had I wrecked my Cabriolet in the last six years?  My mind answered twelve before I could try to forget I had asked.  I cringed again.  Vinny was right, I was a menace on the road.

"Well, I got to see what the lumber will cost, and then it will take about a week or two depending on weather.  I'll call with the estimate, and then we can set up a time to get started," said Joe.  He had done this before, which helped ease my fears a bit.  I didn't want there to be any evidence of my accident when Paul got back. 

I couldn't believe that I had wrecked Paul's house.  Even worse, I was stuck here for at least two weeks while the damage was repaired.  To make amends for the doors, I spent the time cleaning every inch of the home.  The house was dusty, but the cleaning went quickly.  The only part I had to be careful of was the bedrooms.  Without trying to look, I noticed that all of their beds were bolted down, but these were made of wood. I tried very hard not to think about that as I cleaned.

I also decided that it was time to get ready to move on.  I got new identities, but I was eighteen this time so that I could stay for a while in whatever place I chose and perhaps attend college.  I knew it would have to be somewhere in Pennsylvania now, I had originally planned to attend college in New York, but now everything had changed.  I could attend classes during the day and visit every diner in the entire state at night.  I didn't even need to go inside. I just had to find those curtains and bright walls.

I shopped for clothing that young college students might wear and got rid of all of my unnecessary personal possessions that wouldn't fit in my trunk.  It wasn't as hard as before to rid myself of unwanted items, I guess I was becoming used to wandering, though I still didn't like it.  Then I went hunting up north, and waited for my car to be repaired.

After a week and a half, the doors on the carriage house were almost done, and Vinny called to tell me that my car was better than new.  I ran to the shop early, before they even opened, so that I could be reunited with my pride and joy.  I was by the door when I heard Vinny's happy whistling as he waddled around the corner and broke into a huge smile.

"Little impatient are we, Alice?" he gloated.  He knew me way better than he should.  In fact, he knew me better than anyone else in New York at the moment.  He alone, knew just how much havoc my visions inflicted on my life, though he simply chalked my accidents up to the fact that I was a woman.  It rankled me that he truly believed that women shouldn't drive, and it irritated me to no measure that I was proving him right.

"Just a bit.  It took you a little longer than I expected," I dug right back.  He prided himself on his ability to do good work fast.

"I think you will find that it was worth the wait.  We added a little something under the hood for you," he said with a wink. 

I went cold inside, or at least colder.  "What did you do to my brand new car?" I growled at him.  I was suddenly much more like a vampire than I had been earlier.

"Relax," he said as he opened the door to the office, "we fixed it for one.  I had to special order the paint all the way from Detroit.  The rest we did just for fun.  Now don't get mad," he began in an apologetic tone as I panicked inside, "but I know a few ways to make a car run a bit better than the assembly line.  I gave you a little boost.  It's probably an unforgivable sin for me to give a driver like you more power behind the wheel, but I couldn't resist.  I'll do penance later.  Gregorio loved what I did with the Rolls, so I did a little messing with your engine as well."  He was smiling from ear to ear and about to burst with pride.

My panic turned to outright curiosity.  I knew the Rolls could easily top a hundred, but I never knew how.  If my car was even close to that, well, my trips would be a lot more thrilling.  I found myself smiling at the idea.

"See?  You thought I was going to mess that new baby of yours up, and here I go and make it better just for you," he chided as he showed me my car.

"How did you do it?" I gasped in delight.  It looked like it did when it was brought to me in Detroit.  "It's perfect, absolutely perfect."

"Magic," he laughed with twinkling eyes.  "Now, Alice, I want you to promise me that you'll leave the city before you open her up.  I don't want to be responsible for anyone's death.  You could do a lot of damage and destruction with your new baby, and there are too many innocent lives at risk in the city.  Just go somewhere where there aren't any people, and put her in top gear.  Then come back and tell me what you think."   He was so sure of himself that even the grease on his face looked smug.

"All right Vinny, but I'm warning you, I like to drive faster than anything you have ever seen," I said as I gave him the money for the rebirth of my car.  It was worth every penny.

Vinny was a magician.  The wind felt like it was trying to pull my hair out by the roots, if that were possible.  I was screaming down a deserted highway somewhere in northern New York State.  I could go at least a hundred miles per hour which was a full fifty more than I had pushed the car to before.  Vinny had added another speed to the shift, and I could fly down the roads with it in fourth gear.  It was invigorating; I loved whipping the car around corners and gunning it down the long stretches.  I returned to the city only long enough to gather my few things, and thank the beaming bay of magical mechanics that had given my car new wings. 

Then I was off to Pittsburgh and the promise of a new adventure.

 

 

Chapter 19: Registered Wolf by Openhome
Author's Notes:
It all belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I just play here.

Chapter 19:  Registered Wolf

I kept the rag top down and admired the stars as I drove to Pittsburgh, but I had to close it for rain just before I reached the city.  Rain was what I wanted, of course but I always hated pulling down the top.  However, I needed this weather because walking onto campus would be much easier if I didn't glitter. 

The first site of the city that I hoped to call my own was a disappointment. It was gray and black and dismal in the rain. Such a pity. The Allegheny and Ohio Rivers could have been beautiful had it not been for the industry and pollution here.

Pittsburgh was not the type of place I would have considered living, but it was a good place to start.  I enjoyed the curvy roads and lovely countryside of Pennsylvania, but not the filthy city. However, I needed a place to stay while I searched the state, and Pittsburgh had both shopping and was close to good hunting grounds.  After finding a small motel, I went hunting to fill myself.  I didn't want to be around so many humans while I was thirsty.  During my travels, I had gotten badly out of practice at being around people for long periods of time. 

Full to the point of sloshing and in a new set of clothes that I hoped made me look the part of a newly graduated high school student, I headed to the University of Pittsburgh campus to see about becoming a college student.  I was unusually nervous and very excited.  I had never been in a classroom as far as I knew, and I had absolutely no idea of what to expect.

The campus boasted an eclectic group of buildings with many different styles.  Over all of them was the monstrous Cathedral of Learning, a thoroughly modern 42 story building that clashed with many of the older structures.  However, it would cast long shadows and that would help on sunny days. If Pennsylvania was where I would meet Jasper, then this was where I would stay.  Until my visions cooperated, I would need to roam this state constantly. 

I was in Pennsylvania to find my mate, but I was attending college for the novelty of it, and also so that I didn't go slowly insane in my search. Boredom and unmet desire were becoming my two worst enemies.

"Hello there, Miss.  How can I help you?" asked the cheery young woman behind the desk at the Dean of Admissions office. Her happy greeting nearly made me jump.

I smiled my small smile, no teeth showing, and said as politely as I could, "I'm Alice. I made an appointment to speak with someone about becoming a student here."

Here, I would be Alice Stoker. 

I had recently read Dracula, one of the funniest stories ever written, and wanted to honor the author, Bram Stoker.  It was kind of my own little dark joke and a gentle warning to all who would listen.

"Please fill out the ledger, and have a seat, and I will get someone to talk with you," she bubbled back.  She was very pleasant and very good at her job.  Still, she backed up a bit as I came closer to her to sign the ledger book and take my seat. 

How am I ever going to sit with a class of students if I can't even get close to a receptionist?

My feeling of unease grew substantially as I sat in the hard chair waiting for assistance.  Every person that passed me fairly jumped to the other side of the room when they came close to me.  When I finally heard my name called by a deep, masculine voice, I was just about ready to bolt out the door.

The man who called me looked like he had been pulled through a pasta machine until he was as long and thin as a noodle.  The only part of him that had any depth at all was his nose, which was the largest nose I had ever seen on any human face.  Stuck to the face of such a two dimensional man, it made him look like a bird of prey.  The effect did not calm me.

He pulled me into an office that was richly paneled in almost black wood and filled with filing cabinets and books.  I sat in a chair that was much too large for me as he looked over the bogus birth certificate and transcript I had brought.  He looked even more like some type of vulture as he circled his huge nose at whatever piece of information he was reading. 

My feet couldn't even reach the floor unless I sat on the edge of the huge chair. It made me feel like a small child, and made it difficult to keep my composure during the long silence as he slowly looked through the papers.

No, not a child, a slow rabbit, easily caught by a large raptor.

"Well, Miss Stoker, is it?  Everything seems to be in order, why did you choose our school to apply at?" he asked as he folded his long hands and looked at me intently.

Oh, the usual reasons.  I had a vision showing me where to meet my vampire mate and this is as good a place as any to start looking.  I choked back my nervous giggle.

"I wanted to get out of New York City, but not be too far away from home.  You know, spread my wings a bit but not be too far from the nest," I said as I realized with a cringe that I had chosen a bird allegory.  I bet he got a lot of those.

"Do you have any idea what you would like to study?" he droned.  He seemed to be following a script, and not too interested in my answers, which was a very good thing.

"I am interested in art and design," I said quickly.

"Those areas have very few jobs available right now.  Perhaps you might seek out secretarial courses, or teaching.  You did very well in science, so you might also think about nursing.  Those are much more employable skills."

"I know that artists are having a hard time right now, but I love art and design and can't imagine myself in any other profession," I said truthfully.  My mind ran over the possibility of myself as a teacher or, worse yet, a nurse, and I shuddered at the unescapable outcome of that. Human blood and I were not a good combination.  Perhaps reading Dracula before coming here hadn't been such a good idea.

"Ahh, I see, a restless mind and a free spirit, is that right?" he asked.

You have no idea

"Yes, sir, that's about it."

"Do you think you will have a problem being away from home the first time?"

I nearly laughed.  "No, sir, that won't be a problem at all."

"Well, you will need to stay in the dormitories, so that will help with loneliness, of course.  Do you know anyone here already?"

Dormitory? 

I had no idea that I would have to stay in a dormitory.  Visions from Bram Stoker's book filled my mind.  No, this was worse than Bram Stoker, this was more like one of the bad pulp fiction novels that I liked so much.  Vampire let loose in a dormitory full of innocent girls; yep it was the making of a very good book or even a movie. 

It was also my reality.  If I had to live in a building full of girls, I was going to kill someone.  No, I was going to kill a lot of someones.

"I have an aunt here that I was going to live with," I said as I tried to quickly get out of living in the horror movie plot that was forming in my mind. "Is there any way that I could still stay with her?"

"If your parents wish it that way, we can allow freshmen to live with relatives, but you must provide us with a note from them, and we need your aunt's address.  She will also need to give us some type of written notice that she is going to house you.  You can send it in with your completed application," he droned as he ticked off the necessary documents.

I relaxed.  This might just work out after all.  If this vulture-like man could sit across from me and calmly discuss my attendance at his school, then perhaps I could indeed get a degree in anything that I chose, except medicine and teaching. 

How did Carlisle do it?

"Well, Miss Stoker, it looks like you would be an excellent student for us here.  Just fill out the application thoroughly and send in the letters showing that you will be living with an adult relative, and we will be glad to see you next fall," he said smiling at last.  It was almost comical to see the thin mouth grin under the huge nose, but I was too grateful to him to even consider laughing.

I quickly shook his hand and his smile vanished.

"Sorry about my cold hands.  You know what they say, ‘Cold hands, warm heart.'  Thanks so much for your time," I stammered as I rushed out the door.

What idiot had come up with that saying anyway?

 

x||xXx||x

 

I had the application and essay filled out by evening.  I would get Mai-Li to write the other two notes; she was very good at that kind of thing.  I spent the entire night looking through the windows in every café, diner, and bar that I could find in the city.  There were a ridiculous number of them here, but several had closed during the depression.  None of them had the yellow walls that I needed.

I knew it was a long shot.  The vision was too unsure, too hazy to happen soon, and my silent heart ached as I admitted it to myself.  It would be a while before I found Jasper, and my loneliness in this new place was thick and tangible to me, like I could cut it out of the air.  How could it hurt so much to be by myself?

I was glad, though, that I would be going to school, because I knew that I was going to need all the distraction I could get.  He was just so close, and yet still a world away.  If I didn't have something to keep me busy, I was sure I would slip into madness.  I was melancholy as I made my way back to the motel at dawn. 

It would be sunny until about noon, and then I would go out again and perhaps try to find a house to rent or buy.  That should be easy to do.  In the middle of a Depression, there were as many empty homes here as there were in New York.

I spent the sunny morning trying again to get a vision of Jasper, but all I could see were hazy images of him hiding from the sun or walking in the dark, nothing substantial or helpful.  It was good to see his face, though.  I needed to see him like an alcoholic needs his booze.  I didn't like the analogy, but it was accurate enough.  I knew it wasn't healthy for me to need a hazy man in an imperfect vision so much, but I could not help it.   My entire body ached for him.  By the time the sun hid behind the thick clouds of a coming storm, I was ready to get out of the room and do just about anything else.

I walked the streets looking for two things now, a home for rent and a bright yellow diner.  I covered half the city and found the home, but not the diner.

I found was a small two-bedroom home. It was built around the turn of the century and in bad need of paint.  It looked like the perfect house for an old spinster aunt to live in with its large porch and tall, thin windows.  The owner was thrilled to have a prospective tenant and agreed to meet me that evening to see it.

"Hello, hello," he smiled broadly as I approached.  "I am so glad to meet yins."  I loved that word, yins.  It was the earmark of a good Pennsylvanian.

"Hello, I am Alice Stoker," I said as I extended a gloved hand to shake his.  It had snowed just a little, and my hands were like ice.

"Well, you are rather young, aren't you?" he asked point blank.  He obviously didn't want to rent to someone too young to pay.

"I am twenty-two," I replied, "and I am going to school here.  My parents are quite wealthy and want me to have my own place.  I have cash with me that will cover the deposit and first month's rent if I like the place."

"Oh, I see," he said much more at ease.  "Well, shall I show you the place?  It is a little run down, but it is well built and close to the university for you.  A little paint and some elbow grease, and this place will be as good as new."  He rattled on as he shoved open the door to let me in to the musty old house.

It did seem to be well built, but not in good repair.  Several of the doors stuck, the plaster was cracked, and the home's fixtures were nearly antique.  I couldn't care less about the kitchen or toilets, but I decided that I would need to repair the tub at least.  The whole house needed new paint, and new carpets.  As I wandered, I began to feel excited about the possibility of decorating my own place for once.  This was the first time I had ever lived on my own, and I was more than ready to let my creative side loose on the small house.  I was in danger of overdoing it before I had even completed the short tour. 

The location was perfect, just half a mile from the school and situated on a on a deeply shaded street.  It was a corner house and so had no yard to speak of.  What little dirt there was was covered in pine needles from the surrounding trees.  The trees along the road were so thick that I wouldn't have a problem walking or driving down the road in the bright daylight.  The whole thing was exactly what I wanted, and I signed the lease on the spot.

I left that night to return to New York and prepared to leave my semi-home of fifteen years.  I would return, of course, to check on the house and my remaining friends, but I didn't regret leaving.  It was time I experienced new places and new friends.  I wondered what vampires lived in Pittsburgh, if any.  One way or another, I would find out.

 

x||xXx||x

 

"I can't believe you are leaving us too," sighed a very sad Lena.  She, Ivan and Vasily were standing with the other remaining vampires in Annette's home preparing to leave before a bright dawn.  I had thrown a party for myself, a goodbye party.  We had danced, taken in a Broadway show, and played an elaborate scavenger hunt set up by me which lasted for two days straight.  Celebrating life was my best gift, or so I was told, so I tried to say this goodbye right.  I used Paul's home, but I knew the coven wouldn't mind.  Had Annette been here, she would have thrown the party herself.

"And I can't believe how much we will miss you," agreed Mai-Li.  "It has been hard having all of you gone so much, and now you are leaving forever.  You have no idea how much more exciting New York is with you here, Alice.  We are losing our family," she added morosely.

She was pushing the definition of family a bit, but I could see how this might feel like that to her.  Without me, New York would be down to only 9 vampires, and none of them knew how to throw a decent party.  In fact, even with only nine of them, they weren't getting along very well without Paul.  The glory days of the New York covens seemed to be over until Paul returned.

"No matter where you go, you will always have a home with us here," said Chi-Yang with such emotion that it made the growing, lonely ache that much worse.

"I will be back now and then to check on everything," I said, trying to reassure them. "I just can't stay too far away from the fashion capital of North America, now can I?"  I really couldn't.

"We were so hoping you would decide to stay with us after all your travels, but you can never seem to stay put very long," said Hugh.  He wasn't much of an adventurer.  "It would be easier for you to settle down if you would stop dealing so much with humans.  They are more trouble than they are worth.  Now, tell me again one last time; why are you going to school?"

I laughed.  None of the others could even comprehend why I would go to school.  The idea of being surrounded by so many humans for no other reason than to learn worthless information was totally unbelievable to them.  The fact that I was paying to do it seemed sheer madness.  You would think they would have gotten used to me doing things the wrong way for a vampire.

"You should have more respect for your food.  Take a look at my eyes.  Does it look like I find humans troublesome?" I countered. 

"I do respect my food, I just don't play with it," countered Hugh with a dark laugh.

"I play with it, but it doesn't survive long," said Ivan with an evil grin. "Enjoy your time with the humans, Alice, but come back home when you are done. Living with humans is harder than you think." With that, he gave me a huge hug and headed out the door. The others did the same, and within minutes, I was alone in the empty house again. 

I loaded my car one last time while the sun shone on the world outside.  This city held nothing for me but wonderful shops and Wall Street, but still, I would miss it.  I had spent every cloudy day since returning shopping for clothes or working on stocks, and I had spent every night hunting for the diner or hunting for animals.  I knew that there was no place in New York or New Jersey that had yellow walls and checkered curtains and a cook named Marty, but I had to be sure.  Five diners had the curtains, and I nearly burst through each one's windows to see their walls.  Seven had yellow walls, but none the right, audacious color of yellow that screamed out from my vision.  I would return to check, of course, but I was sure that the diner that Jasper would walk into was not anywhere in New York.

The old house looked almost brand new as I drove up.  The painters I had hired had done a lovely job of painting it in the traditional off white and green trim that I had chosen.  I would have chosen something a little less traditional, but I was supposed to be living here with my aging Aunt Dorothy.   Hot pink or aqua-blue might give something away.

Mai-Li had done a brilliant job with the two letters that gave me permission to live off campus.  She made it seem like I was a godsend to my old, crippled, spinster Aunt.  As my "mother," she fairly gushed over my kind heart and sense of responsibility that let me choose to care for an old woman instead of living the carefree and wild life of a dormitory resident.  By the time she was done, I was sure the college would have let me apply for sainthood.

The interior of the house was no longer musty or dirty.  I had come back twice since renting it and spent almost all my time scrubbing every inch of the house with borax and bleach so that it was spotless.  The plumber had already been to the house and I didn't need a new tub after all.  The layers of grime had come off to reveal a lovely claw foot tub in remarkable shape.  It was very long, and I could lay in it fully stretched out.  I love bubble baths.

My kitchen was the same bright yellow color of the cafe in my visions with bright red curtains.  I had chosen them hoping for a measure of good luck.  My living room was spruce green with floral print curtains and Queen Anne furniture that I found at an antique store.  My bedroom was a lovely baby blue, and the other was a soft burnt orange.  My bathroom was deep pink, of course.  What other color was there for bathrooms? 

I had the three summer months to spend getting ready for school and getting used to my new city.  I didn't know of any resident vampires in Pittsburgh, but the city was very large, so I knew there should be a few of us around here.  Still, I never came across a scent as I roamed the streets at night looking into windows.  It was strange to think of myself as the only vampire in the whole city.  Had anyone from New York known how desolate Pittsburgh was, they would have moved here instantly.

It was perfect for me, though.  No one here had any dealings with vampires, and my appearance and eyes didn't frighten many of them.  I even got to know some of my elderly neighbors.  It amazed and pleased me how easily I fit in to this human community.  I enjoyed being around humans much too much for my own good.

Or theirs.

 

x||xXx||x

 

August arrived far too soon, and was far too sunny.  The day of registration, I had to break in to the building before dawn and would not be able to leave until twilight.  It wasn't a big deal, really, but my nerves were already shot, and I didn't need to be trapped in the building all day if something bad happened.  I already felt badly about disconnecting the heater vent to get in.

I settled onto a bench in the art deco lobby and began reading a book containing a collection of Jane Austen's works.  It was very different from the westerns and pulp fiction horror novels that I usually enjoyed.  Actually, it was comparatively boring and very syrupy in its plot.  However, it did explain some aspects of Paul's coven that I hadn't quite understood.  The coven members were all locked into a pattern of speech and behavior of the previous centuries.  The quirky mannerisms in Austen's books fit Paul's coven so perfectly that they could have walked right out of the pages, and it helped me realize just how out of touch with modern society they truly were.  I wondered if I would be as out of place after a few hundred years.  The thought of being so thoroughly old fashioned sent shivers down my spine.

Thinking of the coven also made me lonelier, so I tried again to see them.  For months, they had remained in the tropics, somewhere in the South Pacific I think, but the last vision I had about them showed me that they were now on a wide, snowy plain.  The vision that came today showed them running through a labyrinth of smoky brick buildings at night, and my heart sank in its dead hole.  I still had no idea of where they were, but it seemed like they had indeed chosen to feed off of the battle fields.  I knew from talking with others, that vampires swarmed battlefields and grew gluttonous on the wounded, but the idea of my friends doing so both sickened and worried me.  Vampires on battlefields were unbelievably violent and territorial as they fed.

I sighed and tried to improve my mood because I did not need to be around humans feeling like this.

The first person to arrive was a large woman with gray-streaked, bright red hair pulled up in a tight bun.  Her light green eyes appraised me as I sat on the bench looking terrified.

"Hello there," she called in a very friendly way.  "Yins got here early, didn't ya?  Registration is still over an hour away, so why don't you go get breakfast at the student union and then come on over.  There's no reason to wait here all alone."

I smiled in return and looked out at the sun bathed courtyard.  There was every reason for me to wait here alone.

"I'm fine, thank you," I said, "I'm trying to make my way through this book, so a little alone time is perfect."

"Oh?  What are you reading?"

I held up the book. "It is a compilation of Jane Austen's works."

"I love Jane Austen!"  

Of course you do. I kept my smile in place while I cringed inside.

"Which is your favorite book?  I really like Pride and Prejudice, but my favorite is Emma," she bubbled with enthusiasm.

Was everyone in Pennsylvania a talker?  I thought back over the conversations I had with sales people and neighbors, and realized that, indeed, they all were.

"I am still reading Emma, so I haven't gotten a true measure of the book yet, but I really like her as a character.  I don't usually read romantic novels, though, I prefer mysteries and westerns."

"Have you read much Agatha Christy?" she asked as she rummaged through a large box and placed stacks of paper along the tables by the wall.

"Yes, I love her work!"  At least this woman had good taste in books.

"Have you read her latest, Ten Little Indians, it is scary enough to curl your toenails," she laughed.

"Not yet, but my toenails could use a good curling, so I may need to get it," I laughed in return.  The last horror book I had read was Dracula and it had made me roar in laughter.  Agatha Christy could do much better than Bram Stoker when it came to fright.  I made a mental note to stop in at the small bookstore near the campus on the next cloudy day.

I was beginning to enjoy this woman's company, though the sheer irony of a vampire discussing horror books was hard to ignore.  It was probably the only such conversation in the history of vampire / human relations, and I was loving it.  I was so used to the relatively unfriendly people of New York, that this easy conversation was almost a novelty for me.

"Can I help you with anything?" I asked out of courtesy.  I really didn't want to get too close to this kind woman.

"Well, there are some boxes in the closet at the end of the hall down there, but they're heavy.  Do you think you can handle them?"

"It's really no problem," I said as I headed toward the closet.  No problem at all.

I easily took each box with "registration" written on them in grease pen, and brought them over to her.  Several other people began arriving as I set out the boxes.

"Who is your little helper, Helen?" asked a tall young man.  He looked to be a student.  In fact, several of the newcomers seemed to be no older than twenty.

"Is this your little girl?" asked another young woman.

"Heaven's no," replied Helen.  "My daughter is off and married.  This is a new freshman who got up extra early to register today.  She has exquisite taste in books, and she offered to help me.  What's your name, honey?" she asked me.

"Alice Stoker," I replied irritably.  I was not happy with how this conversation was going.  I knew I had dressed the part of an eighteen year old, but I was certainly not dressed like a little girl at all.  It was the curse of my life that I looked more like an adolescent than an adult.  I had a feeling that I would be bemoaning my youth for the rest of eternity.

"That's sweet," smiled an older man.  He looked very collegiate with a white goatee and small spectacles.  I smiled back and went over to resume my reading.  I was fairly certain that they would not keep up the friendly banter much longer if I stayed too close.  I was interrupted by Helen handing me a small ticket. 

"This is for you for when the line opens," she said.  "We go by number, and you're number one since you came early and helped out.  When it's time, I'll call your number, and then you step up to the first station."

"That is very kind of you," I stammered.  Really, these people were almost too nice to me.  What was wrong with them?

I didn't have long to wait.  I only read about eighty or so pages when they called my number.  The hall was now full of students, all of them freshmen who needed to register.  I crammed my book into my knapsack, gathered the necessary documents, and went to Station One.  Helen winked at me, handed me a few pages to fill out, and went on to the next student.  It only took me a few moments to fill out the papers and head to Station Two.  Hardly anyone even looked up as I went along the hall signing papers and paying for things.  Within forty minutes, I was done.  I was a college student just like the hundreds of others behind me. 

Well, not just like them.  I was more like the wolf among the sheep, but at least I was a registered wolf.

 

Chapter 20: This is Education by Openhome

 

Chapter 20:  This is Education?

 

I sat at the back of the classroom with a large lungful of air, refusing to breathe.  I was so nervous that I crushed some of the wood on the small desk as I sat down, so I made sure to hold my hands together and try to look nonchalant.  Vampires and nonchalant don't go well together, and I'm fairly sure that I only looked sick. Or angry.

I was full enough to be sick.  I had eaten so much Sunday that it was almost painful to run back to the house.  I didn't want to make any mistakes at all, though, and a very full, non-breathing vampire was the safest kind. 

I watched all the other freshmen enter the large classroom and find their seats.  Luckily, they looked just as nervous and sick as I did.  Several of them were almost green and had eyes so bloodshot that they called out to me like personal invitations.  I wasn't sure if they were recuperating from hangovers or just ridiculously tired.  I had spent the last few nights roaming the campus to get a feel for the place, and most of the students that I saw were engaged in one form of social activity or another.  Most of these activities involved drinking, and they all lasted until the early morning hours.  Freshman English was offered at eight a.m., and I could tell that only about half of the class was prepared to be awake today.

Those that were awake, were overly aware of my presence.  I had grown used to being around adults or vampires.  These humans were rather immature, and were either looking at me with unabashed envy or overt lust.  The envy was from the girls, and I was used to it.  The lust, however, was so uncontrolled that the young men near me were nearly drooling.  I could smell the hormones raging in them, and I wondered how much learning they were going to be able to do with their sexual drives so obviously out of control.

I looked at each of their puppy-dog half-smiles and bared my teeth.  Nothing.  They just continued to stare.  I tried it again, and three of them smiled at me.  I was trying to create a feeling of terror in them to save their lives, and they enjoyed it.  How on earth could human males be so incredibly thick? 

I looked around at the nearby boys, seven of them, and let out a guttural growl, hoping to alert them to the danger.  Two looked away, but the others just continued to stare.  One tall boy even made a growling cat noise back at me and winked.  I gasped at his reaction despite myself. 

One of the other young ones said a low, "Yeah," and punched the cat boy's arm.  Cat boy nodded at the idiot next to him and then sent me another smile.  I heard a masculine chuckle and feminine huff from the other side of me.  The boys were now casting knowing smiles at each other while the girls were shooting venomous glances my way.  The girls were so irate at me that they looked more like murderous vampires than I did.  I suddenly felt like I was trapped in a sinking ship that was flooding with hormones and filled with brainless teenagers with death wishes. 

I had never felt so nervous and self-conscience.  Trying to go to college was going to be hard enough without the unwanted attention of my classmates.  I focused my gaze straight ahead and tried to ignore the bloodshot eyes, idiotic preening, and envious glares of my classmates while the vampire within me begged me to take advantage of just one of them.  I could get any one of over-sexed young men to do anything I wanted, and the vampire knew this very well.  It was also hinting that a few of the hateful young women could easily be removed and would make my college experience much more pleasant.

Was every school like this?  Did all students run through the gamut of hormones and hate?  How on earth did they learn anything in an environment like this?

This was a bad idea.

Just as I was about to bolt for the door, the professor strode in, and promptly began barking out our names.  I answered with the normal "present," using the same frightened tone as all the others, and then began writing notes down verbatim as he spoke about sentence structure.  He rarely looked up at the back of the class as he droned on.  In fact, he barely looked up at all.  I noted that about ten students were asleep at the half hour, and that number rose to nearly twenty by the time class was over.  Cat boy was one of those that fell asleep, and I took advantage of that fact on the way out.  For some reason, just as I passed his chair, a leg gave way and he woke with a jolt as he crashed to the floor.

Algebra, biology, and Spanish finished out my day, and all went just as badly.  The young men in each class looked at me with the same longing in their eyes and the young women with the same hate.  The worst was biology.  In that class, a very large male with formidable muscles kept flexing his biceps at me and smiling.  I would have laughed out loud at his ridiculous gesture except that his veins were also popping out with his muscles.  The idiot was showing off his easily accessed blood thinking that it would make me attracted to him, which admittedly it did, but with the wrong type of lust.  To save us both, I ended up snapping my teeth at him when no one but him was looking.  The metallic snap ended his show rather quickly, though it did draw a little too much attention.

I tried a new tactic in Spanish, and didn't respond in any way to the antics of the men but rather acted as if they were invisible.  They soon began looking at other, more receptive, girls which made me and the other females much happier.  However, at the end of the class, my tactic backfired.  Two young men actually touched me as we tried to leave.  The first one lightly grabbed my elbow, and I think I dislocated his finger when I pulled my arm away.  The second one came up behind me and lay his hand on my shoulder.  I just laid my hand over his and pressed down until I heard his grunt of pain.  Then I turned and smiled.  He quickly ran for the door, and I didn't see him any more.  I was relieved when my school day ended and I could return to the sane safety of my little house.  Happily, the only classes I had on Tuesday were Fundamentals of Drawing, and U.S. History.    

If these were normal college classes, I had no worries about being discovered as a vampire here at all.  What I did need to worry about was being caught in the middle of sexually driven mating game that these young people constantly played.  I had mistakenly assumed that college was for education, but that wasn't what was going on here.  Every class crackled with tension as sexually charged students spent their day in constant attempts to impress members of the opposite sex.  How they passed any of their classes was beyond me.  While it was fun to watch, it was something I could not be a part of.  At least not with a human.

Tuesday began cloudy and rainy, a good omen.  I walked slowly to the ten o'clock art class looking forward to the day.  Art was my first love, and it was what made me want to come to the university in the first place. 

The art building smelled strongly of chemicals.  The work of past students filled the halls as I walked into a large room with massive tables and tall stools.  This class would be full as well, but the mood in here was far different from that in the academic classes.  Everyone was talking and laughing together and obviously very relaxed in the casual atmosphere.  As usual, I chose a table at the back that had only two others at it.  Both of the occupants were young women who smiled at me just a little, and then nervously looked away.  In the bright light of the art studio, I was obviously very disconcerting to them.  I looked around and saw that the young men who usually stared at me were also looking elsewhere.  Good. I wouldn't need to worry about any undue interest in this classroom.

The relaxed mood tensed a bit as the female professor wandered in, and then instantly turned jovial again, but for a very different reason. 

The teacher was the strangest looking person we had ever seen.  She was a gray haired woman who wore her hair extremely long and pulled back in a messy pony tail.  Old pieces of vegetation that might have once been flowers hung limply from the loosely tied strands.  She was very thin, but wore baggy pants tightly tied around her waist with a blue belt.  She also wore a bright orange man's work shirt that was twice her size, and the largest pair of glasses I had ever seen.  Her thin, angular face was absolutely hidden behind the hideous glasses.  She looked up briefly, and began to read our names off.  I was sure she couldn't actually see us in the class because her glasses were so thick.  I very nearly laughed out loud. 

Just as soon as the roll was called, she pointed to a still life set up at the front of the class and told us to get paper and charcoal and sketch it.  We rose and retrieved our supplies and began sketching hurriedly.  Everyone in class kept glancing at the odd professor as she wandered around the room aiding students.  She walked like a crane with its wings outstretched, one foot in front of the other and both arms up and waving around.  By the smirks on their faces, I could tell that the other students found her as comical as I did.

The teacher had a habit of leaning over a student and placing her hand on theirs to help them draw.  I tensed as she approached our table.  There was no way I could allow her to lean over me to assist me in that manner, but I needn't have worried.  She approached me just as she had the others, but froze a few inches from my hand and just stared at me for a moment with her hugely magnified eyes blinking madly.  She pulled her hand away, smiled awkwardly, and looked at my paper.

"A little more shading, and pay attention to where the shadow falls," she said quickly and then went on to the next student.  I looked at my paper and realized that she was right, it was too flat and needed more shadow.  At the end of class, she strode around the room looking at our drawings and holding each up for the class to see and critique.  When she came to me, she yanked the drawing up, said, "Good rendering, but far too stiff.  You need to loosen up and let the art overtake the technique," and walked on. 

I had no idea of what she meant.  I would have been frustrated, but everyone else seemed to be just as perplexed as I was as she rattled off words like perspective, back shadow, negative space, and prominence.  She ended with a flourish of her hand, announced, "That was an excellent first attempt, we will continue next time with a discussion of good use of positive space," and wafted out the door.  The whole room was silent for just a moment before the first giggle.  By the time we had cleaned up, we were laughing out loud at the oddest class any of us had ever had.

I walked out and intended to go directly to my next class, although it wouldn't start for an hour and a half.  I had brought the new Agatha Christie book and wanted to read it today.  I was interested in history, but only slightly, so I was sure reading during class would help with some of the tedium of note taking.  I had already read all the assigned texts.  Twice.

On my way, a slight scent warned me of something that seemed very odd on this campus.  It was a vampire, I was sure of it.  The scent was faint, but absolutely there, and I tensed as always in the presence of one of my kind.  Was a hunter here?  Surely I was the only vampire currently attending this school.  None of the others who knew of my plans even had the slightest desire to educate themselves.  I wandered over the entire campus trying to pick up on the scent and look for a vampire in my visions, but the only thing that I could see when I looked for the vampire, was me sitting in what must be my history class.  How could that be?  I knew that I wasn't smelling myself

Stupid, erratic visions.

I wandered into the lecture hall and sat in the last row with just a minute to spare.  This was an auditorium rather than a classroom which suited me well since I would be spending most of class trying to see who had left that scent.  I didn't wait long for my answer.  The class quickly filled with human bodies as I looked to my visions to try to see the vampire.  Suddenly, my vision became absolutely sure.  In a double reality, with one image superimposed over the other, I saw my history professor, Dr. Martin walk through the door just seconds before he came in.  He was perfectly erect, dignified, and absolutely a vampire.  My entire being again responded by tensing into fight form.  I tried to mute the growls that automatically emanated from my chest, but several other students looked at me strangely.  Even from this vantage, I could see him quickly do the same.  He tensed and backed up to the chalkboard looking around quickly until he spotted me.  His eyes were obscured by his darkly smoked spectacles, the kind many vampires wore, and he looked at me with the same incredulous look every one of my kind wore when they saw my amber eyes.  We stared at each other until it became obvious even to the students around us that something was wrong.  Finally, I nodded and he relaxed some.

"I'm sorry for the delay, class," he said loudly, "but I just recognized a student I know.  I am Dr. Hendricks.  Dr. Martin will be absent for part of this semester due to an illness, and I have been hired to replace him until he returns."  He had a pronounced British accent. 

The class was an hour and a half long, but it seemed like an eternity.  I wrote notes just as I did in my other classes but kept my mind focused on the future.  I could see us talking in an office, and I could dimly see him hunt in the next few days.  There was nothing other than that to see.  Perhaps, I would again be able to befriend one of my own kind.  The thought brought me a welcome measure of comfort.

Without a word, I joined Professor Hendricks by the chalkboard after class, and we walked silently to his office.

"You are a surprise," he said quietly as we entered and he shut the door.  "What is wrong with your eyes?  Are you blind?  You kept staring ahead like you couldn't see."  He removed his glasses to reveal barely scarlet eyes.  He would indeed need to hunt soon, just as the vision indicated.

"My eyes are just fine," I laughed.  This was the normal response from every vampire I met.  "I only hunt animals because I don't want to kill humans.  It is a good replacement and I am as strong as I have always been," I said, leaping ahead to answer the obvious questions that always arose over my eye color.

He was silent for a while as he just looked at me and thought about my life choice.  I let him mull it over.  It took a while for many vampires to accept my explanation.

"Interesting.  Disgusting, but interesting.  Why are you here?" he asked bluntly. 

"Why are you here?" I shot back. 

"I just moved here from England.  My home in London was bombed in the Blitzkrieg, and I wanted to get away from the war for a while."

"It won't be long before the war is here, too," I said.

"Yes, I know, but German airplanes can't get here as easily, can they?" he replied.  "The new bombs they use cause massive fires.  I almost got caught in the flames in my own home, and I decided to wait out the war here.  This job came open as a fluke, so I took it."

"So you decided to teach history?"

"Well, I've lived through most of it, so why not?  I needed money for a home -- I don't like to wander much anymore -- and this job provides a nice little salary," he answered smugly.  I looked him over and realized that he had been changed later in life.  The hair at his temples was quite gray and gave him a remarkable look of dignity that fit the mold of a professor well.

"What happened to Dr. Martin?" I asked a little suspiciously.  It wouldn't be hard for a vampire to dispose of a history professor if needed.

"Don't worry about him.  Nothing more happened to him than a very bad appendix surgery.  The surgical site became infected, so he will be out for the whole semester.  That should give me time to find a new job elsewhere," he explained.

"You work with humans regularly?" I asked.  Now it was my turn to be shocked.  He was the first vampire I had met who worked with people on a regular basis. 

"I only work with them when I must, though I am rather good at being a professor. Normally, I just live off of my stolen wealth.  With the war and the move here, though, I needed a little more money than usual, so I took this position when it opened.  I have taught at Oxford on several occasions," he said proudly.  Then he turned his curious black-red eyes on me.  "So why are you here, Alice?"

"I want to study art and design," I said with a shrug.  "I haven't had any schooling, so I thought it would be a good idea to try it.  It is quite fun, so far."

"Being around humans doesn't bother you?"

"Well, not enough to stop me from attending school.  I don't usually breathe in class, and I make sure I hunt often enough that I am not hungry.  I am only twenty-one years old, though, and I do have to be very careful so that I don't slip."

"Only twenty-one and you can last an entire day around them?  I'm impressed," he chuckled.  "After each class, come here with me and I will tell you the real causes behind American history, and world events for that matter.  It's such a pity I can't tell the other students what really happened, but I am sure you will enjoy the true causes behind the ebb and flow of human events," he said still smiling at me.

"I wonder what the students would think, having a dead man for a teacher," I mused as I stood to leave.

"They wouldn't know the difference," he laughed, "most history teachers are already dead as it is."

 

Chapter 21: Co-Ed by Openhome

 

Chapter 21:  Co-ed

 

 

My first few weeks of school didn't exactly turn out as I had planned.  I was quickly at the top of my class academically, but I wasn't prepared to handle the extremely close proximity of so many humans.  I thought it would get better with time, but I had to brace myself for each class every day.  Most of the time, I didn't even try to breathe unless I was forced to.  Unless I was called on, I didn't talk at all in my classes.

The issue with the males on campus didn't change as much as I would have liked either.  After the first males who had tried to capture my attention moved on to more "fertile" grounds, a whole second set of males took their place.  The second set was much different from the first.  These young men were shy, usually wore glasses, had malformed bodies or unformed muscles, and all had bad acne.  They didn't overtly try to get my attention like the first group had.  Their admiration came in the form of sighs, long stares, and pathetic notes or small items left on my desk.  It was truly annoying because I could not dissuade these poor, delusional misfits.  None of us could.  The other women at the school called them "Flat Tires" and seemed as annoyed by this group of half-formed men as I was.

My professors were no better.  They were either too upset by my appearance to even look at me, or they couldn't stop looking at me.  It seemed to unnerve them that I took studious notes and watched them closely as they taught.  By the end of many classes, my teacher's voices were mere squeaks, and their hands were trembling so hard that they constantly dropped their chalk.   After the first few weeks, I finally learned not to look at them and not to look like I was interested in what they were saying.  None of the other students were interested either, so I fit in better if I didn't look up.  

I went to my very first sporting event at a cloudy football game.  I learned very quickly that vampires should not sit on bleachers with others during competitive matches.  I thought that I would not be noticed amongst the huge crowd at Pitt's first football game of the year.  We were all wearing thick woolen coats and hats, but I still scared them.  Within minutes of sitting, I found that I had ample room to move as several as the students and alumni near me pressed together.  It would have annoyed me, but there was far too much potential for fun.

I dutifully sang along with the national anthem, and then, as the audience's attention was directed at the prancing Cougar on our field, I began subtly and quickly touching couples around me.  My moves were so fast that no one saw as I smacked two young women squarely on their hind ends.  One girl turned to her befuddled beau and smiled, but the other slapped the started man hard on the face.  It took everything I had to hold back the laugh.   Then, I made sure to flick another young man's arm off of his date's shoulder so that it landed on her hip.  Her icy glare made me giggle.

By the beginning of the game, five couples were vehemently arguing and two were passionately kissing.  So far, sporting events were turning out to be fun.

Then the game started.  Vampires are very competitive, and I was all for the Blue and Gold as the team rushed onto the field.  However, having a competitive and exited vampire sitting next to them was too much for the already flustered students near me.  Two women were crying, and a couple rushed for the exit by the end of the first quarter.  I think perhaps it was because I was yelling and growling so loudly.  The growling really upset them.

Then my visions hit.  If it wasn't already bad enough to be acting like a vampire amid humans, now I was yelling and cheering at the wrong times as my visions showed me what would happen a little too early.  I caught myself yelling at the referee three times before the bad call.  By the third quarter, my entire section of the stands was leaning away from me and fearfully watching me rather than the game. 

I left before the game ended --  right after my vision showed me the winning touch down.  I loved the thrill of the game and the intense emotions that the competition brought out.  I continued attending games for the remainder of the season, but I watched from a safer distance. 

At the end of football season, I attended my very first freshman dance.  It was held just prior to the Thanksgiving break in November.  While I wore a very toned down pink suit with a plunging neckline and fur collar, I was still somewhat overdressed for the occasion.  Most of the girls wore simple gray skirts and dark, high necked sweaters.  It was very juvenile of them, but of course most of them were still quite young. 

I expected to merely watch the dance, but the Flat Tires had other ideas.  They stood together, watching the dancing like a group of nervous penguins with large Adam's apples.  Then, one would break from the cluster, and dive through the dance floor to find his perspective partner.  It only took one such young man ten minutes to get up his courage to come ask me.  I could see his eyes focussed on me, like a mouse who is trying work up the courage to take on a cat.  If he only knew how close to reality that was.  With a sudden, deep breath, he plunged through the crowd, not looking up once, and soon stood before me.  I could hear his heartbeat racing in his chest.  I was shocked but pleased at this young man's moxie, but I had no idea of what to do next.  Neither did he because all he could do was stand there and look at the ground as his Adam's apple flitted up and down in his throat.

I expected him to bolt, but I underestimated his courage -- or his mating drive -- and he didn't budge.  Finally, I tried to speak to him.

"Larry, right?" I said quietly.

He jumped and stared at me.

"Um, yeah, dat's me.  Yer Alice?" he asked nodding his head rapidly.  I felt very sorry for this young man, and wondered if he had some kind of deep seeded death wish.

"Yes, I'm Alice.  Did you want something?"

"Yeah." 

I waited.

"Did you want me to dance with you?" I asked slowly, enunciating every syllable.  I could smell the sweat and hormones rolling off of him.  Boy, did he pick the wrong female if he was hoping to mate.

"Yeah."

"Do you know how?"  It seemed like a stupid question, but I had no idea if he could actually move on a dance floor.  I was already worried that I would break him in half.  If he couldn't dance, I would mangle the boy.

He nodded and held out his hands stiffly.  I took a very deep breath to calm myself and instantly regretted it.  The air was thick with the smell of humans and hormones.  I tried to smile through the rush of venom and took his sweaty hands as we lurched towards the dance floor.  He was so nervous or inexperienced that he didn't even notice the cold marble of my bare hands.

I tried to let him lead, truly I did, but the boy kept tripping over my rock hard feet.  He was so intent on watching me that he didn't even notice.  Finally, I led him through the last part of a simple waltz, and then tried to take my leave.  But his hands were locked tight onto mine.

I looked up to see his eyes wide, and his face twisted into a lopsided smile.  He looked to be in a state of euphoria.  Then I noticed that his eyes weren't looking at my face but rather were locked onto my low-dipping blouse.  This one definitely wanted to die.

"Larry?" I asked in a whisper.  He barely moved.  "Larry!" I hissed loud enough to startle a couple near me.  The hiss carried such a threat that his eyes instantly locked onto mine, and he began to shake.

I held his fingers tightly as I spoke.  "It is considered poor manners and very ungentlemanly to stare at a woman's cleavage.  We take offense to it."  I could feel his fingers straining under my pressure.  When I finally released him, he fell back and tripped over his own feet as he tried to scramble away. 

I cringed as I thought of the scene I had just made and what the room of onlookers would think, but as I looked around, all I saw were nods and smiles from the girls and some worrisome looks from the young men.  I walked back through the dancers and nodded to my classmates.  I even heard a few female voices quietly say, "good girl" and "you show ‘em."  In this situation at least, it didn't matter if you were predator or prey, all ladies like to be treated well.

Three other young men danced briefly with me, but more out of desperation than anything else.  Only one-quarter of the students here were female, and "pickens was slim," as they say.

I did not try to attend the Christmas Ball.

By the second semester, no one even noticed me.  I was just another student.  Blending in so well to the student body was, perhaps, my greatest achievement.  On sunny days, I would arrive on campus before dawn and simply plot my way between buildings using the trees as cover.  No one talked to me unless they had to, and no one bothered me.  I was just like any other co-ed, except that I was one of the only ladies without a beau.  And I couldn't be happier about that.  Besides the fact that I would never, ever consider dating a human, the whole idea of courtship was very confusing to me.  From what I could tell, it was confusing to them, too.

The initial rush to find a companion finally slowed around Halloween, and then the real excitement began.  Some of the couples seemed to be a good fit for each other, and their relationships progressed as the weeks passed.  Many of the couples simply stopped being together, and each slid quietly on to other options.  However, some of the pairings exploded in a destructive mess that not only involved the couple, but all of their friends.  And dorms.  And sometimes a few sororities.  Those violent break-ups caused Greek Row to become a war zone.  Just before Spring Break, I saw a female sorority pelt a group of taunting males with what looked to be cheese balls embedded with bobby pins.  Hell hath no fury...

Some of the worst break-ups, the most fun to watch, involved a third party.  These were full of intrigue and suspense as the entire campus waited to see how long it would take for the innocent member to realize the other's infidelity.  There were even many informal bets placed on when the couple would come unglued.  We all knew they would, but the timing and drama were always different.  Being caught in the midst of young couples so enthralled in the games of mating, I could easily see how wars were fought over love.  Compared to this place, Shakespeare's characters had it easy. 

Besides the never ending drama of love, I was able to distract myself by going to as many basketball games as possible.  Basketball is played in a gym with pull down bleachers, which was perfect for me.  Those flimsy metal bleachers allowed full access to the underside of the humans who sat on them and gave me hours of fun.  I could pinch, pull, tickle, and swat hundreds of people at a game.  By the end of the school year, the campus was convinced that a ghost inhabited the field house. 

My other source of enjoyment was Dr. Paul Hendricks.  Dr. Hendricks was quite a character himself, and I was sure that the Volturi had been forced to step in on a few of his adventures.  He was behind several of the great mysteries of history, and he was quite proud of that fact. 

He had spent nearly 150 years in Bermuda enjoying the weather.  Bermuda Triangle -- him. 

He had been on the excavation of King Tut's tomb. Curse of the mummy -- him. 

He had been sent by Sir Francis Drake to head off the Spanish Armada when they threatened Britain.  Let's just say that it wasn't just a storm that destroyed the ships. 

He came to the New World with the very first settlers.  The disappearance of the settlers at Roanoke -- him.  He just got a little too hungry exploring the new world. 

The list was endless.  When I chided him for his naughtiness, all he said was, "When you reach your seven-hundredth birthday, then we can talk morals.  Really, Alice, boredom is a horrid thing."  Given my love for sports, I probably had no right to judge. 

It is probably a good thing that humans don't know their history very well, or some of them might get a little suspicious.  The evidence is there, but of course the idea that indestructible, stone vampires were major factors in the mishaps of human history is a difficult thing to grasp.  Besides, if they ever got wise to us, we would have to kill them.

From my first session with Dr. Hendricks to my last, the interplay between humans and vampires never ceased to amaze me.  According to his research, the basic human need to build cities came from the desire for protection, and we were one of the things they needed protection from. 

"Many of the great advances of the human race occurred because they needed to protect themselves from us or desired to serve us," he said as he began our first session.  "For example, Egypt's City of the Dead wasn't just meant for Pharaohs.  What better place for a vampire to live than underground in an entire city carved from warm stone?

"The Greeks developed many unique ways to throw fire at their opponents because they had found that fire killed us.  The Chinese invented gunpowder for the very same reason. 

"In fact, many of the greatest battles in history have also been helped along by either patriotic vampires or warring covens.  Humans love to picture the grand battles and epic wars of the past as evidence of brilliant civilizations, but it just isn't so," Dr. Hendricks chuckled.  "The great battles of the ancient world were controlled by us or fought against us. 

"I knew an ancient vampire who fought with Rome in the Punic Wars.  Believe me, the Punic Wars had nothing to do with trade competition.  They were fought because the coven leaders of Rome and Carthage hated each other.  Do you think Hannibal actually walked those elephants across the Alps?  And the utter destruction of Carthage wasn't committed by the Roman army, either."

His face lit up as he continued telling me of our vampiric history.

"The Mongolian Empire was created and held together by a strong coven that taught the army how to utterly raze a city.  Did you notice that no one survived their attacks," he nodded jovially.  "Oh, yes, those buggers knew how to wage war."  He laughed out loud.  "And they though a wall could stop us."

"Maybe it would be easier for you to tell me what we haven't been involved in," I ventured as I tried to take in how much death and destruction we had caused.

He just looked at me for a moment.  "Well, I don't think we have had much to do with religion, unless you count disguising ourselves as gods or saints or demons.  We don't really delve much into the realm of faith for obvious reasons.  Oh, and culinary creations are always an utterly human thing.  I'm pretty sure Aro had something to do with the Renaissance, but most of it was from human endeavors."

"Great.  So cookies and cakes are human, and most of the Renaissance.  But things like plagues and pestilence and war we do."  The sarcasm dripped from my words.

"Ah, yes, the Four Horsemen.  That would be us.  However, we don't usually cause natural disasters, though we do enjoy benefitting from them.  And many of the plagues weren't caused by us, but they did make for good eating."  He patted his stomach and smiled.

Over the course of the year, he told me when and where vampires had intervened in human history.  He taught me a great deal about the complicated workings of the vampire world, and I finally began to appreciate the Volturi as he spoke of all the trouble we caused each other and humanity.  Even though he didn't defend them like Gregorio did, I could understand how great the need was for rule keepers with so many of my kind roaming around trying to attain power. 

  Being near him also helped me realize just how poorly vampires thought of humans.  Dr. Hendricks never saw them as strong or resourceful or unique, even though he spent time around them.  Just like all the other vampires I had met, humans were nothing more than pets or food to him.  I wondered how much was conceit and how much was reality.  The humans that I knew were mostly courageous, resilient and resourceful.  They deserved better than to be treated quite literally like chattel.  The topic of humans came up at one of our last sessions.

"Why do so many of our kind dislike humans?" I asked Dr. Hendricks pointedly one afternoon in Spring.

"We all like humans quite a bit.  They are so tasty," he said.  "You're the only one I know that doesn't like them."

"Very funny."

"It was, wasn't it?  Alice, they are our food.  They die, we don't.  We have better senses, better minds, and better bodies by far.  They are so much weaker than we are, which is a good thing, or they would be much harder to catch.  Is it so hard to understand why we see ourselves as a more advanced species?"

"But we were human once, and we are still so much like them.  Don't you ever feel sorry for them, or happy to meet them, or feel anything more than a hunter's interest in them?"

"No."

"Never?"

"No.  Alice, this path of thinking will cause you undue heartache.  There is an ancient saying that goes, ‘The only friends of a vampire are the dead and dying.'  That statement is quite a bit older than the pyramids, and the absolute truth.  Humans may be fascinating, and strong in their own way, but they are nothing more than food to us.  Being too close to one causes nothing but pain, believe me." 

"But I know of vampires who live near humans and even help them.  There is a vampire named Carlisle who is a medical doctor.  Like me, he eats animals instead of people."

"Ah, I've heard of him.  I believe he--"

"You've heard of him," I gasped as I mentally kicked myself for not bringing Carlisle up earlier.

"Oh, yes.  A freak like that becomes a bit of a celebrity in our world."

"Do you know where he is?"  I knew the answer before I asked, but I had to ask.

"No.  I only know that he is here in North America and has been here for over a hundred years.  He is a Brit like me," he sighed sadly.  "Many Englishmen don't go through the change well, and an unfortunate number of us end up as, shall we say, odd?  At first when I heard of him, I thought he was only pretending to be a doctor.  That would be a brilliant cover if you could pull it off, don't you think?  I didn't believe the rumors, of course, but then I met you."

"I'm an oddity?" I smiled.

"A small and perky little freak," he laughed.  "And you are very, very odd."

 

 

 

Chapter 22: A Vampire's Friend by Openhome

 

 

Chapter 22:  A Vampire’s Friend

 

 

I sang along to the songs on my car’s radio as I made my way through the dark countryside towards Long Island.  I was returning to New York for part of the summer break after a surprisingly successful first year at school. My musical companions were Bing Crosby, Glen Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, and a dozen others whose songs I knew. I was careful to keep my mind busy with the songs and memories of my school year as I drove. It was always best to keep busy while driving as it kept my pesky visions at bay.  I really didn’t want to wreck my car again.

Dr. Hendricks was a good source of information, but now he was in San Francisco at Berkley.  He had been a tremendous help to me as I adjusted to living among humans at college, and I was sad that he was gone.  However, the human population would do much better without him there.  He simply had no concern for humans other than their ability to feed him.

“The only friends of a vampire are the dead and dying.” 

His warning and contempt for humans echoed through my head as I drove up to the house.  Did all of my kind avoid human company?  I thought back on my human friends and human prey and realized how much pain I had been through in just a few years.  My immortality didn’t mix well with their mortal lives. 

Yes, the dead and the dying would be the best friends a vampire could have.

I thought about the dead and dying as I drove, very carefully, into the garage of Annette’s house and unloaded my few traveling items.  Paul’s coven was definitely hunting on the battle fields of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  I was constantly worried about them, but so far, the battles that raged near them were fought with guns and cannons, and not the fiery bombs that I had seen so often.  My friends, the dead, would be hunting the dying until this war ended or until the last human was drained, whichever came first. 

I needed to care for their homes, which is why I drove up to New York City.  Besides, I needed to shop.  Pittsburgh was a large city, but it could not compare with New York, and I had spent woefully little time shopping there.

Unfortunately, the fashion world wasn’t worth my time.

I went to as many shops and shows as I could, but there was nothing for me. The tall, thin models all wore suits with sharp lines and heavy shoulder pads that looked militaristic and utilitarian and very unfeminine in my opinion. They looked like they were wearing inverted triangles or misshapen skyscrapers in those outfits.  My slight frame couldn’t possibly look good in large shoulder pads.  I would apparently need to design my own clothes for the coming few years. 

By the time the curtain went down on the last fashion show of the summer, I was irate. I sighed loudly, but accidentally growled instead, scaring several people near me. I hoped some of them were designers. They deserved to be frightened. 

“Alice? Alice Charles, is that you?” asked a voice behind me.  I froze for a split second.  The old woman had used a name I hadn’t been called in more than fifteen years, and I hadn’t changed one bit in those fifteen years.  I turned slowly as I composed myself and prepared an outright lie.

The face I saw was only barely familiar to me.  It was a shop owner I had known well when I first lived with Myrtle and Edwina in 1925.  She looked at me with wonder as she appraised me.  I held my breath and waited for the inevitable.

“Honey, you need to share your beauty secret, you haven’t changed at all since I saw you last,” she said with a conspiratorial smile.

“I think you have the wrong person,” I said quickly as I tried to decide what to do.  I should have bolted for the door.  However, she had several hangers of the cutest silk blouses I had ever seen dangling from her hand.  With silk on its way out, I couldn’t bear to leave without a few.

“I don’t have the wrong person,” she insisted. “I never forget a customer, especially one as pretty and talented as you.  I haven’t seen you since the shop closed in 1930.  Don’t you remember me? Ruth Gernsbeck.  What are you doing with yourself now?  Did you ever get married?”

Ah, yes.  I remembered well how she would conspire with Myrtle to get me a man while we shopped at her boutique.  There was no way I could lie my way out of being Alice Charles here.  I had better just play along and hope I could convince her with some form of a half truth.  With blouses like that on the line, it was definitely worth the try. 

“Yes I did,” I began, and she squealed in delight. What was it with older women and their need to get a young girl married?  “I married a college professor named Bram Stoker.”  I smiled despite myself at my own little joke.  “I live in Pittsburgh now, but I like to come up and shop here.”

“There’s no place like New York for a good shopping trip, is there?” she laughed.

“Apparently not.  Why are you here in this little show?  You had quite a popular line in the Twenties,” I said to change the subject and direct it back to clothing.

“I don’t shop here, Alice, I work here,” she said a little chagrined.  “I couldn’t keep my little boutique open during the Thirties, but I still needed an income, so I got this job.  I design some of the clothing here, but mostly I’m just a sales clerk.”  She looked a little ashamed at the confession.

“Why did you stop?” I wondered out loud. I loved her work.

“I am getting a little too old to design and sew anymore,” she said, “and I can’t seem to get the hang of the newer fashions.  The new clothing is so angular and fitted, and ugly. It is hard to get enough fabric to make anything that flows like it did back in the Twenties.  Even when I do design something, they won’t show it.”  She shrugged, and held up the blouses for me to see.  They hadn’t been in the show.

I understood her frustration.  Fabric was expensive and scarce with war raging on all sides of us.  The new looks mimicked military fashions both out of respect and necessity; the tighter the fit, the less material was used. 

“Would you like to see some of my ideas for old time’s sake?”

“I would love to,” I said excitedly.  “I would also like to see any other items you have here.  I adore these blouses.”  She smiled so widely I thought her thick layer of make-up might crack. 

I was honestly happy to see her again. Besides, I really did want to see what she had created on paper.  It had been a long time since I was a part of the fashion industry, and I missed it.

We went to the cluttered backstage area and she dug through several portfolios on the floor until she came up with a battered looking one.  It was full of design ideas from the turn of the century on.  I recognized a few that I had purchased from her in her heyday.

When we got to the more modern section, I was astounded with the complexity of her designs.  I could see why they wouldn’t work in this time, though, because they were too complex and used far too much material.  No one would be able to afford them.

“What do you think?” she asked shyly.

“You still have such a lovely style,” I began truthfully, “But I can see why they aren’t quite appropriate for today’s woman.  You and I like the flowing style of the twenties, but I don’t think many people could afford such extravagance now.  What if we worked on a design together?” I asked as I my hands itched to get themselves around a pencil and begin sketching.  The art classes with my odd professor had honed my drawing and design skills -- much to my surprise.

Ruth just clapped her hands in surprise, and ran to get a tattered box full of chalk.  I stayed and worked all day,  modifying Ruth’s designs.  Mostly, she just watched me from a distance as I worked.  She didn’t want to be too close to me, and that suited me quite well.  She was truly talented, and it was so much fun to design clothing again that I became lost in my ideas. 

Ruth was positively glowing with delight when I left for the evening. Not only had I designed or redesigned several of the fashions, I also bought the four blouses and a twill skirt.  I gave her my addresses in Long Island and Pittsburgh and she promised to tell me if she ever used my designs.

I was thrilled to be able to finally buy some descent clothing.  Silk was already scarce, and I knew that the war would soon cause shortages of almost every item imaginable.  Why silk stockings would be affected by the war was beyond my comprehension, but I had definitely seen them missing from store shelves.  I decided to stock up on the items that I had seen would be missing, so after my day with Ruth, I spent my time buying undergarments and stockings.  There would be little else for me to buy this year.

 Who would have thought that a war would demolish the supply of ladies' unmentionables?

 

xX||X||Xx

 

I spent the last weeks of my summer in the Rocky Mountains, and roamed finally about freely.  While I was there, I tried to keep my visions focused on the war as often as I could so that I could check up on Paul’s coven.  My visions went into overdrive by late August because the inevitable war was getting closer.  It was all very complicated, and I was barely able to understand what was happening because the visions were misty and so quick that they were barely decipherable.  

By the time I returned to school, I was filled with a deep sense of dread.  The war was upon us, it was just a matter of time.  I was so worried about my friends and what was coming that I could hardly concentrate in class.  As the weeks passed, it only got worse, and by November I could barely function due to the visions that constantly played through my head.  Things were becoming terrifyingly clear. 

On December first, I knew exactly how we would enter the war.

I saw the Japanese Zeros attacking the waiting war ships before the attack was even launched.  I knew it would happen days before the actual event, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I spent each night pacing in frustration. It was unbearable to know and yet be unable to stop the inevitable.  Even if I tried, no one would have believed me. 

At least that is what I kept telling myself as I listened to the reports on the radio. We were allies with Japan, but on December seventh, that was lost.  We were going to war.  I didn’t need any more visions to know that.  It was inescapable now.

I didn’t need to go school Monday morning because classes would be cancelled due to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war that would soon be announced on the radio.  I spent the day reading over the paper to confirm what I already knew, what I had known for years now.  I couldn’t help but feel concern for the humans that I knew and went to school with.  What would happen to them?

I looked over at the drafting table covered with my drawings.  I had even adjusted the patterns and materials to make the clothing more acceptable to war time standards.  I had hoarded nylons and silk clothes because I knew that they would be impossible to get.  I knew so much of what would happen.  Why did I feel so lost?

All of my current vampire friends would be nearly giddy with joy at the prospect of more bodies added to the already raging war, and several were leaving for the battlefields already.  Yet, here I sat, full of sorrow and fear for the humans that I tried to avoid.

O||oOo||O

“I know we are all shocked by the traitorous and cowardly attack on our base at Pearl Harbor, and I know that many of you will be postponing your education to help our nation in this great time of need.  I am proud of each of you no matter which path you choose to take, and I want you to know that no matter what you do, so long as you are putting your nation first, you may be sure it is the right path,”  Dr. Morris, our chemistry professor, said as he ended his short but fervent speech to our small chemistry class.  He wasn’t used to making such long speeches, and his face was red with enthusiasm and effort.  We stood and applauded him.

The class was already reduced in size by more than half.  One day after declaring war, many of the men and some of the ladies were already gone.  The few humans left on campus all had the same look of fear, and loss on their faces.  They were almost as pale as I was, and the once bustling campus was now quiet as a tomb.

“So what are you going to do?” I heard one young man ask another as we left the chemistry class.

“I don’t know,” he answered with a frustrated sigh.

“I didn’t want us to get into this war,” began the first one, “but now that they attacked us, I guess there is no going back.  My mother doesn’t want me to go, but I would rather sign up than get drafted.”

“At least you can go,” said the other is an angry voice.  “My bum leg keeps me from signing up at all.  I’ve tried twice.”  He hit his left leg with his fist.  I had seen him for two years now, and the short man walked with a slight limp.

“Don’t feel bad.  They need us here too, you know.  You were going to be a scientist, right?  They’ll need plenty of those during this war.  I heard Hitler has a whole slew of scientists working on ways to kill off as many people he can.”

“And I heard that the emperor of the Japs lets his men commit suicide.  Maybe we can get a squad of suicide bombers up and going, and then I can go fight with them since no one else seems to want me,” lashed out the limping one.  His tone was bitter and mocking. 

I felt an odd sense of brotherhood with this limping man.  I wanted to fight as well, but there was no way for me to help.  I knew I shouldn’t be this involved in the humans around me, but I still wanted to fight for my country even if I wasn’t a member of its people anymore.  It was ridiculous, of course, to even consider going somewhere with so much blood, but the feeling was there nonetheless. 

“So what are you going to do?” asked a very soft voice from somewhere above me.  I turned and saw a young woman that I had sat near for the first three months of school but had never talked to.  She was nearly six feet tall, thin, and had a lovely schoolgirl’s face surrounded by short chestnut hair.  The girlish face clashed with the height from which it looked down at me.

“I am not going to do anything but stay at school,” I answered honestly.  I couldn’t seem to keep a little bitterness out of my voice.  “There isn’t much I can do.  What about you?”

“I am going to wait for my best friend to come back,” she said with a look of sad determination.

“Your best friend went to war?  Is she a nurse or in the WACs?” I asked.  It was a rarity for a woman to join the service unless she was a nurse.

Her mouth turned up into a bitter smile.  “My best friend is a man I’ve known since first grade.  We married when I was eighteen.  He left last summer to join the army, and I came home to live with my parents and go to college.  I needed something to keep my mind off of the fact that he isn’t here anymore.”  Her tone had turned apologetic and her face reddened.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could manage.  Most students only spoke with me in short conversations, and most of those were forced by some school project.  Even my lab group rarely looked at me.  That was normal, but this girl, Emily I think, wanted to talk to me.  It was very strange.  Stranger still was my reaction because I wanted to talk with her and this was not a good idea for either of us.

“You’re Emily, right?” I asked just to be polite.

“Yes,” she smiled a little more authentically.  “You’re Alice, aren’t you?  I’ve seen you in class for a while and I wanted to talk to you, but it took me a while to get my courage up.  Pretty silly, isn’t it?”

Self preservation is never silly, I thought. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Emily,” I said guardedly.  Did I really want to become involved in another fragile human life?

“You’re missing someone, too, aren’t you?  Someone you love is gone.  I can see it in your face when you leave class.  It is like you brace yourself to face another day, and I do the same thing,” she said rather quickly.  Her face was bright red now, but mine would have been deep crimson if there was any way that was possible.  This tall, schoolgirl-woman had read my deepest secret plainly on my face.

I took me a second to formulate my lie, and then I simply told her as much of the truth as I could.

“I have a...boyfriend...,” I began and then paused at the total absurdity of the word, “who is away at war.  I am waiting for him to come back, too.”

She smiled widely at my words and pulled her shoulders up in a shy shrug.  “I thought so.  I can read people really well, and I could tell that you are lonely too.  I figured you were missing someone.  What’s his name, and what service is he in?”

I watched her closely.  She slumped, a usual stance for tall girls, and she only made eye contact when she needed to.  She did seem very shy and awkward, and her eyes darted from one object to another.  Now I realized that those eyes focused on every detail they saw as they roamed the room.

I knew that talking to Emily and building any type of relationship with her was wrong, but I was so very lonely that I did the wrong thing.

“His name is Jasper Whitlock, and he is in the infantry,” I said.  Again, it was the closest thing to the truth that I could manage. 

Murderous ex-captain of a vampire army might not go over well.

“My husband is Tom, Thomas Bradley McKensey.  He joined the Army right out of school, and he shipped off in August.  I came back to Pittsburgh so that I could go to school and live at home, you know, to save on expenses.  It’s good to be at school and keep my mind off of the war, but it is sure hard to be here alone.  I miss him so much,” she said with a final sigh.  She was now over her shyness, and her words flowed out easily.  I could tell that she was a talker, just like so many of the people here.  That was a very good thing, because when the people around me talked a lot, they didn’t pay much attention to me. 

She turned her oddly childlike face to me and waited for a response.  I had no idea of what to say to her.  Anything I said might pull her into my world, and she could not survive that. 

I told myself that I could not allow myself to make friends with another human.  I could not allow myself to lose her later on.  Even if I saw in her face the same longings that I felt in my lonely heart, neither of us could afford to be close friends with the other.

I should not be her friend, and yet I kept talking to her.

“Jasper has been away for longer than that,” I began, “but I only started school here last year.  I live with my aunt and study art and design.  It helps pass the time.”  I began walking slowly to the door.  I knew that I should leave now, before anything else was said.

“I live just a few blocks further from school than you do.  Maybe we could walk together sometime,” she said as she walked beside me, or at least with me.  She had unconsciously kept several feet between us.  That, at least, was a good sign.

“Perhaps we could,” I mused out loud.  She had noticed where my house was which meant that she had been watching me.  How could such a childlike person be so observant?  I would need to be careful around her.  

“That would be great,” she bubbled, assuming my answer was an affirmation, “I’ll see you later, Alice.”  She threw me a wide grin and headed off to her next science class.  I had heard her talking about nursing courses during chemistry class, so most of her classes would be in this building.  That was also a good thing, because the art building was half way across campus.  When it came to higher education, the arts and sciences very rarely met.

My next class was World History, and we were studying about the fall of Rome.  I was enjoying the rather comical human version of the great civilization’s fall.  No one knew that the real cause was the great Volturi War, when the ruling clan from Transylvania was ousted and all but destroyed as the Volturi assumed power.   They even attributed one of the great Transylvanian vampire leaders, Attila the Hun, to the human race.  It was hilarious.

As I sat in my World History class laughing quietly at the human version of the migration of the Vandals, I thought about Emily and our combined plight.  I only now noticed that several faces held the look of lonely loss that she had noted in my face.  I was no longer alone in my pain of a missing partner, and the thought gave me a melancholy feeling of kinship with these women.  For this brief moment in history, I now had more in common with my intended prey than my own kind.

The vision that ended my musings was so clear that I gasped.  I knew it would occur tonight by the clarity.  My cold chest constricted and my body tightened as Jasper’s face engulfed me.  He was standing in the dark rain, looking down at something on the ground, and I think he would have been crying if he could have.  His face held the broken sorrow that I had seen so many times before, when he had fought and killed our kind. 

Even as immersed in the vision as I was, I could still feel the panicked growl rising in my throat. 

What had happened?  What had made him return to killing?  Was he in danger? 

I fought my emotions and tried to return to the vision again.  The thing on the ground was a woman’s body, a human body with a torn neck.  I could just make out another body behind Jasper, larger and in sturdy clothing.  A husband and wife?  Was his sadness for these humans?  

“I’m sorry,” I heard him clearly whisper, and his voice broke.  Then he picked up the bodies, placed them in a car with a dented hood that was a few feet behind him, and pushed it over the ledge of the road.  There must have been quite a drop because it took a long time for the sound of the crash to reach me.  I barely noticed.  All I could see, all I could focus on, was the form of the man I loved crumpled to the ground by the tire marks. 

When my mind returned to the classroom, I didn’t even look around to see if anyone had noticed me, I simply gathered my books and fled.

 

o~O~o

 

I paced back and forth so long and so furiously that the floor of my old house was creaking in protest.  Humans were so fortunate not to have to deal with so many mixed and opposing emotions whirling through their heads all at once.  This mess would have driven a human to insanity within minutes.

Furor, elation, longing, frustration, and unrequited love wove their way around each other in my stupid, enormous, vampire mind.

Furor and frustration were the strongest.  He was so clear and so close that I felt that I could have touched him.  Tonight, this very night, somewhere in America, Jasper would feed on at least two occupants of a car.  I knew it was unchangeable and would happen because the vision was so precise.  The decisions had already been made that set the couple in the path of the vampire, but I had no idea of where it would happen.  For all I knew he was on a ridge above the Allegheny River just a few blocks away from my home, and I still had no way to find him.  I slammed my foot into the floor and split two of the old floorboards. 

A tiny part of my mind noted that I would have to get a rug to hide that.

Elation and longing tempered my more negative emotions.  This was the first vivid vision I had seen of Jasper in months.  All the others were dim pictures of Jasper hiding or walking, nothing so tangible and intense.  Seeing him clearly brought a feeling of ecstasy that I could not even begin to describe.  It was intense, pure pleasure. 

Elation also at seeing his obvious heartbreak at having to kill humans.  Hadn’t I wept over the humans that I had killed?  Before I chose this hard life with its constant, burning thirst, I had spent most of my time grieving for the lives I was forced by my nature to take.  None of the other vampires I knew gave them so much as a second thought.  Killing humans was simply a given.  But I saw Jasper grieve.  I saw him saddened by what he was forced to do.  This made him more like me than any other vampire I had yet met, and the idea that the monstrous man I once saw was being replaced by a man who could grieve for his prey made me happier than I had been in years.

It also made me long for his company in new and increasingly painful ways. 

I could never be a human, but I lived among them.  I could never live among vampires for long because I was no longer truly one of them, either.  I had waited for twenty-two years to find the man whose face I saw minutes after my “birth,” and I was tired of the waiting.  School, clothing, and mock friendships only helped keep the painful ache at bay, but it really never left, not even for a minute.

It was the unrequited love that made the whole thing almost beyond bearing.  I had known and loved Jasper for so long that I felt like I knew him intimately.  Yet, if he were to see me face to face, he would have no feelings for me whatsoever.  He wouldn’t know who I was.  How could I stand much more of this?  No human I had ever known could have taken on so much endless pain.  I don’t think many of the vampires I knew could have endured it, either.  I ached for him with every crystal of my body, and he didn’t know or care that I existed.  It was the universe’s ultimate joke.

I fell back on my floor with a resounding thud and covered my face with my hands.  I was trying to focus on making sense of all the emotions running through my head.  My head, though, had other plans.  When I hit the floor, the second strong vision of the day hit.

I was in the diner again, and Marty was asking what he could get for me.  A small bump from behind stunned me and I turned, much too fast, to see what had shoved me.  At first all I saw was a very large plaid hat.  Then the hat tilted to reveal a young black boy’s face.  He was staring at me with huge and terrified eyes.

“I...I’m sorry, Miss,” he stammered as he backed away.

“It’s all right,” I heard myself say.  “Don’t worry about it.”

The boy’s large brown eyes stared at me, then he swallowed hard and held up a newspaper in a trembling hand.  “You want the paper, Miss?” he asked with shaking words.

“Yes, I would love one,” I said as I dropped a coin into his small hand. 

“So, what do yins want miss?  Ya never did tell me,” Marty said as the vision faded. 

I was frozen on the floor taking in all the information that I could.  I couldn’t read the name of the newspaper, much less the date, but if it got clearer, I would know when and where to find him.  Had the vision of the two humans somehow caused Jasper to make a decision that set him a little more firmly on the path to the unknown diner?  The two visions seemed linked in some way, but I couldn’t be sure of anything except that Jasper was just a little closer to meeting me.

 

 

 

Chapter 23: The Cost of War by Openhome

Chapter 23:  The Cost of War

 

 

 

 

For the remainder of the winter, Emily and I slowly got to know each other as we walked home or talked at school.  Or at least I got to know her.  She talked while I listened because I could rarely get a word in edgewise.  It was as if she had bottled up all her words throughout the day and let them spill out when she was around me.  It was fascinating to see the world through her young, human eyes.  Strangely, she seemed to fill some vacant spot in my life that I didn’t even know I had, like a younger sister of sorts.

She had married straight out of high school.  She had known Tommy since first grade, and during elementary school they hated each other.  She had fallen in love with him as a freshman in high school even though he was her exact opposite in every way.  He was two inches shorter than she was, and quite staunchly built.  He was outgoing and compulsive, while she was shy and loved consistency.  I heard all of their childhood and adolescent exploits on our many walks home, and I was amazed that he hadn’t killed himself during his raucous childhood.  He had given himself seven concussions and broken various other bones eleven times.

We weren’t exactly friends in the normal sense of the word, but Emily and I made good companions.  Although she was painfully shy around most humans, she was utterly relaxed around me.  She seemed to be made of a strange mixture of contradictions, and I enjoyed her company as much for the companionship as for the sheer irony of her life.  She was incredibly intelligent, but could not remember where she put things like keys or assignments to save her soul.  She was astoundingly shy, but made friends with me, a vampire, as if I was just another girl next door.  She hated taking chances but had married a man who seemed to have no fear of death or dismemberment.

Her stories did more to connect me to the humans around me, and the unknown human deep inside me, than anything else.  I was even a little sad when spring brought sunshine and our walks became less frequent.  I knew I would not see her at all during summer break because she would be working and I would be doing my regular traveling.  Well, almost regular.  I was going to go see Cuba and the Caribbean.  Ivan and his coven were taking a little vacation, and they had asked me to go along

The last day of school was mercifully cloudy, so I was able to take my finals easily and say a quick goodbye to Emily before I had to head up north to take care of loose ends.  Then, it was time to load a small knapsack and meet up with the three Russians.  We took my car as far as Florida, stealing what gas we needed, and then swam the warm waters of the gulf to find the islands we wanted.  The tropical islands were the most beautiful things I had ever seen.  The water was crystal clear, and we swam among the coral reefs and through sunken ships day after adventurous day. 

I discovered the joy of chasing sharks and scaring barracudas.  The four of us had tremendous fun frightening the fishermen of the region.  We spent hours singing and screaming over the ocean at night or rocking the small fishing boats that littered the sea.  After just a few days, the fishing boats refused to come into the waters we haunted, and I wondered how many new stories of ghosts or mermaids we caused in our fun.  Drunk fishermen are well known for their stories.

The only issue we had was on the island of Haiti.  There had to be more vampires on Haiti than anywhere else on earth besides Volterra.  With so many vampires living close together, they had become very violent and territorial.  Truly, territorial is an understatement on an island like Haiti, where the human population is limited.  The vampires we met were almost paranoid with the need to protect their sparse human herds.  Twice on the island we were challenged by a smaller coven group, and even though we warned them, they left us no choice but to destroy them.   The island covens were absolutely no challenge for the Russian brothers -- in fact the two were upset with how easily we dealt with them.  Ivan and Vasily only enjoyed a fight if they nearly lost it.  Typical males.  Not only did they like to fight, they preferred the odds to be against them.  They were almost suicidal on that point, preferring the underdog position every time. 

The smaller islands and Puerto Rico and Cuba were much more hospitable.  We even joined a vampire fiesta on Cuba hosted by old friends of Lena’s.  The only downside to the party was that the mammoth piñata was filled with three humans.  I tried not to be rude as I quickly exited the party before the piñata game began.

All in all, my summer was relaxing and wonderful, just as a summer should be.  I slipped twice, quite by accident, when I tried to hunt on a smaller island.  There were just so many humans around, and so little large game.  I felt horrible about their loss, but it truly was a mistake.  Even so, I nearly gorged myself on bear and mountain lion in the Smokey Mountains before returning to the dull routine of school.  Ivan’s coven still thought I was crazy for going back, but if they knew just how crazy I really was, they wouldn’t have invited me in the first place.

 

x||xXx||x

 

Emily almost hugged me when school restarted.  Almost.

“Oh, Alice, I missed you so much.  I have so much to tell you about what Tommy is up to, and what my brothers are doing, and about dad’s work...” and off she went. 

I didn’t even have to lie about where I spent my summer, I just nodded and smiled and enjoyed the odd human that could see so much in a face and so little in a person.  She longed for her husband, her best friend since childhood, and I longed for a vampire I had never met.  It seemed so strange that our lives were so similar when it came to the pain of loss.  Even though our worlds were totally separate, we were kindred spirits.

And so it went.  I would walk with Emily home part of the week, and we would study together in the library on Tuesday nights.  She was a nursing major, and I was now an upperclassman in art and design, with a decent B average.  That was Dr. Hendrick’s idea.  He wisely warned me against becoming the valedictorian.

Emily’s family was even somewhat at ease with my presence, only the dog remained a hostile enemy.  I really didn’t like that little dog.  He was nothing more than a demonic mop of fur with a perverse hatred of hosiery and skirts.  Lions and cheetahs had fled from my presence, but this little hellion made no issues of biting my legs and ankles every time I came over.  It took everything I had not to kick that dog into the next county.  

The short walks home with Emily were important to my life.  She would talk about her childhood and her dreams, and I would listen and wonder what my own life might have been like.  I enjoyed her ramblings until we got near her house and the annoying little demon-dog would set up such a ruckus that we had to stop talking. 

“I just don’t know what has gotten into him,” she would say as she tried to grab the writhing mass of fur and haul him into the back yard still growling and whining at the same time.

“Don’t worry,” I would say every time, and then give the mutt a glare and a low growl that sent him shivering into her arms.  “Dogs don’t usually like me.”

I had to admit, for being as small as a squirrel, the dog showed tremendous daring.

While my life went on as usual -- visions, homework, visions, hunting, visions, shopping -- I felt myself being pulled apart.  The human side craved the normal pattern of student life.  Football games, baseball and basketball games, dances, and studying all drew me into humanity.  The student body wasn’t exactly friendly towards me, but they didn’t cower when I attended games or dances any more.  Well, they did cower, but only when I yelled.  I am very competitive.    The students even began to boast about the ghost in the basketball court, which made scaring people much less fun.  I enjoyed college life so much that I even found myself wanting to join a sorority. 

The vampire side, though, wanted to get out and run, throw extravagant parties, shop in the finest stores, and dress up and go out for a night on Broadway where I could turn heads.  The vampire thought joining a sorority was a very good idea. 

I spent most of my junior year trying to find a balance between existing as both predator and prey.  To do so, I tried to see Carlisle’s coven as often as I could.  They were usually very dim visions, but each one helped a bit.  Edward and Rosalie were both in schools of some type, and it made me feel much better seeing them in classes like me.  Edward had been in school before and always looked bored and disdainful, but I couldn’t really tell if Rosalie liked it or not.  Her beautiful face was filled with bored contempt, but that was her normal look.  Only she could make icy contempt look good. 

Carlisle was working in a hospital, so I tried not to see him.  I didn’t need to see all that blood even in a vision when I would be surrounded by beating hearts the next day. 

Esme was constantly painting or hammering something.  She was happy but looked downright silly with the large carpenter’s belt and tools hanging off of her.  She desperately needed a new wardrobe.

I mostly saw Edward and Emmett wrestling or running.  Emmett kept trying out sports that were not intended for vampires.  He destroyed a set of golf clubs and a good portion of what looked like a country club.  Then he went on to destroy several tennis rackets, shred a net, and mangle dozens of innocent tennis balls.  The court looked like the surface of the moon by the time he was done.  At least the hockey rink was an outdoor lake so he couldn’t do too much damage, though he toppled several trees and reduced the hockey sticks to splinters.  He even completely obliterated an indoor basketball court.  Destroying things seemed to come easily to him.  Edward just watched it all with a look of amusement that was tainted somewhat by his constant condescending tone and rather snooty gaze.  He really needed to know that he wasn’t the only gifted vampire on earth.  I hoped someday to surprise him and bring him down a peg or two.  That would be fun.

While I succeeded and enjoyed almost every area of my life, it had been a long and hard winter for Emily.  Tommy was on a mission, and he couldn’t write as often or as much.  Many of the letters he sent were heavily censored.  Emily was beside herself with worry, but she kept a brave face as the months passed.  For me they passed quickly, but for her they dragged painfully by.

By April, Tommy’s letters had taken on a less censored and more optimistic tone.  As we walked home on April 22, the day was warm and breezy under the low hanging clouds, and the changing season had helped put her in a better mood.  She was close to being happy today, and her short bob swung in the breeze as we walked.  We talked about classes, her parent’s Victory garden, her brothers’ latest catastrophes, and anything else that had nothing to do with the war.

“I think that Professor Brighton doesn’t like me,” she stated with a frown.

“Everyone likes you,” I retorted.  It was the truth, everyone did like her.  It was rather annoying that someone so quiet and unassuming was so popular.   The only one who didn’t know it was Emily.

“He keeps choosing my work to review,” she complained.  “I don’t know why he can’t pick on someone else for a change.  I know I don’t always do the best in class, but I really do try.  He just keeps saying that my work has several common errors in it and he uses it to help correct everyone else’s.  What kind of teacher keeps picking on the slow student?”

“Maybe he just wants you to improve,” I offered.  She really was a bright student, and I was sure her straight A average was not in jeopardy at all.

“Maybe I could get better if he tried to help me rather than just point out what I did wrong,” she snapped with a pout.

Just then, we rounded the corner to her street, and we both froze.  A large, black car was sitting outside of her house.  The car belonged to her minister, and there was only one reason for it to be here. 

The vision came with stabbing clarity.  I could see her pastor inside, talking with her parents.  Her mother was sobbing, and one of her father’s hands held a small sheet of paper while the other covered his pale face. 

Neither of us moved, and I couldn’t say anything for several moments.  I knew what we were heading into, and I couldn’t bring myself to take her to her worst fear.  I felt her hands grab my arm, but I still couldn’t move.  I needed time, I needed to be ready to help this frail girl through this.

“Alice?” she whispered in a shaking voice.  She knew what that car meant for her.  Her hands on my arm were shaking.  She wouldn’t be able to face this alone.

I took a deep breath and began to walk slowly to her home, dragging her behind me.  I did not want to go inside that house, and each step became much harder than the one before it.  It felt strange to be so strong and yet have weights pulling my legs back.  Beside me I could sense Emily’s terror growing exponentially.  By the time we reached the front door, she was shaking too hard to walk.  I held her up and supported her into the entry.

Was it really just two minutes ago that she was worried about a picky professor?

Everyone looked at us as we walked in.  For a few eternal seconds, no one moved or said anything.  Then, suddenly, her mother was at her side holding her like a small child and saying, “Emily, my poor Emily,” over and over as Emily began sobbing.

Once again, I was in a home marred by grief.  It wasn’t my grief, but it felt like my own sorrow as I watched the scene unfold before me.

Her white haired minister walked over and began to rub her back.  Emily just shuddered harder and buried herself into her mother.  Her father came over to help hold his daughter.  He looked like he was trying to somehow shield her from the inevitable pain.

“How…how…did…it…?” Emily tried to get the words out, but her broken breathing and shuddering sobs wouldn’t let her.

 Her father opened the wrinkled telegram.  I could just make out the beginning words, “We regret to inform…”

“Italy, he was in Italy trying to break through enemy defenses.  He was killed by gunfire,” he said thickly in a voice made of gravel. 

Emily’s sobs began coming at a faster and more shallow rate. She began to cry in a high, pitiful wail.  I realized that she was going into hysterics and would need to calm down quickly or she might faint.

The minister must have also realized this, and her took her from her mother’s arms and led her to the sofa to lie down.  She curled into a ball and continued to wail while her mother held her hands or ran her fingers through Emily’s short hair.

 “What do we do now?” asked her mother in a broken voice.  “What about his parents?”

“They have already been notified,” whispered the minister.  I wondered how many times this old man had helped families go through this in the last two years. 

Emily’s father nodded slowly as he returned to his daughter’s side. 

A small voice from the back of the house cracked out, “Dad, what’s going on?” 

The boys were back from school, and their father quickly left to comfort his two sons.

I was all but forgotten in the hall, and I stayed that way until the evening.  Emily was exhausted, I could tell from her weak voice, but she continued to cry on the sofa.  I knew she would need food and water of some kind and soon, so I went to get a glass from the kitchen.  Someone had already brought a casserole that was untouched on the counter.  The neighborhood had heard the news by now.  I grabbed a plate and put a portion on it to take to Emily’s mother, balanced two full glasses in the other hand, and walked over to the sofa. When I touched her mother’s shoulder, she started. 

“Oh, Alice, thank you so much for staying,” she said with bewildered eyes.

“There is a casserole in the kitchen,” I said, “I brought you some.  You should eat something.”

“Have the boys eaten?” she asked quickly as she stood on unsure legs.

“I don’t know,” I replied as I handed her the plate.  “Eat this and I will find them.”

The boys were in their room listening to the radio but not hearing anything at all.  Neither of them had so much as eaten a bite, so they gratefully followed me to the kitchen where I scooped up huge portions and handed it to them.  They ate in silence at the table.  I watched them and stayed nearby in case they needed anything, though both boys were old enough to fend for themselves.

“Is she going to be okay?” asked the younger one after finishing off his last mouthful.

“Not tonight,” I answered as honestly as I could.  “It will take a very long time, but she will be just fine.  Let her have her time to grieve, though, and be nice to her.”

She would be fine in time.  Not the same as this afternoon, never the same, but she was strong and had a loving family, and she would be fine someday.  I envied her humanity and the forgetful memory that offered such wonderful protection.  How many times had I wished to be able to forget just for a while what all I had lost and what I hadn’t yet found?

“Alice,” called Emily’s mother, “could you just sit with her for a while so that I can clean up and get the boys some dinner?”

“I fed them, but they could use some good conversation about now,” I told her as I went back into the living room.  The glass was empty, and I was glad her mother was able to get Emily to drink something.  I sat by Emily’s head and rubbed her back. I didn’t even worry about touching her skin with my cold, stone hands.

Her father came in and watched me warily for a few minutes.  He was a good and protective father, I knew his instincts would warn him that this scene was somehow very wrong, but he just watched and didn’t interfere.

“Can you get her to bed?” he finally asked in a tired voice.

“I think so.  You need to go eat. There is a casserole in the kitchen.”

“What about you, Alice?  Have you eaten?”

“I ate with the boys,” I lied.  He nodded and walked slowly to the kitchen still watching me.  I helped Emily up and walked her to her room, almost carrying her.  She didn’t respond in any way, she just walked stiffly to her bed and collapsed.  Hadn’t I walked like that in the hot Moroccan city?  I flinched at the memory of that pain and the knowledge that Emily was now feeling it so deeply.  I sat on the bed with her and continued to rub her back.

Emily’s mother came into the room sometime before midnight.  She didn’t even look like she minded that I was comforting Emily, she just looked tired and lost, like a little girl who didn’t know where to be or what to do.  I couldn’t imagine this mother’s pain at seeing her daughter go through this.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Peterson, I’ll stay with her tonight, and I’ll come every night until she is better.  I don’t mind staying during the night at all,” I said to the unasked questions in her eyes.

She looked back and forth from me to Emily with her swollen, red eyes and nodded.  She was exhausted, and near collapse.  She muttered a quiet “Thank you,” and slumped off to bed.  I hoped she would find sleep tonight, but I doubted that anything would be restful for this family for quite a while.

I sat with Emily just as I had with Myrtle so long ago.  It was just as painful now as it had been then.  The memories of loss flooded back.  I had been there when three other friends had died.  I wondered if any other vampire was so masochistic as to allow themselves to go through this.  It was utterly stupid.  Immortality and mortality cannot mix.  Dr. Hendrick was right; I shouldn’t try so hard to be human.

Emily finally cried herself to sleep around five, and I covered her with several blankets before I left for the day.  It would be cold and unbearably sunny, and I could not stay.  As I walked out, I saw that someone had already placed the black drape over the starred banner that hung over the door.  I hated this war with a passion that overwhelmed me.

As I walked down the roads that led to my small house, I could see other stars on other doors shining out like beacons.  Each one represented a life, love, hope, a future, and immeasurable loss. 

It took nearly a week, and a bottle of tranquilizers, but Emily did begin to come back to life a bit.  The happy schoolgirl was gone now, and I doubted that she would ever return.  I would miss her.

Emily dropped out of school for the remainder of the year, but promised me that she would go back to finish her degree.  I would hold her to it, since I would be completing my senior year in the fall. 

To ensure her return, I anonymously donated enough money to pay for her remaining college expenses and possibly those of her brothers.  The school would notify her of her new financial status.  It was all I could really do for her.

Chapter 24: Responsibility by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thank you to Stephenie Meyer who owns Twilight and all its characters. I appreciate you letting me play with a few.

Chapter 24:  Responsibility


 


 


 


 


The summer of 1943 was bloody and bleak for everyone.  War raged on in Europe and Asia, shortages continued at home, and I was left friendless.  The college campus and city of Pittsburgh were depressing places to be.  In fact, everywhere I traveled was depressing.  At night, every street and house was dark as the city went to black-out conditions to avoid bombing attacks that would never come.  Starred banners hung in almost every window or door, signifying a home with a soldier gone to war.  Some had already been covered with the thin, black material of death.  Every face wore the same grim and determined look.  These people had withstood the Great War, the Depression, and now this.  How much could a human generation take?  I marveled at the strength of the humans I knew.


To make matters worse, I completed searching every city, town, village, and hamlet in and around the state of Pennsylvania, and I hadn’t found the diner with bright yellow walls and red checkered curtains.  My constant search was for nothing, and I was angry and frustrated.  What was the point of the visions if they didn’t help me find one stupid diner? 


By the end of the school year, I desperately needed a break, so I decided to return to my favorite hunting grounds where I could sulk the whole summer away if I wanted.  The Rocky Mountains extended from New Mexico to Canada, and I hunted and ran the length of them by the middle of June.  I needed to run.  I needed to be a vampire for a little while.


I enjoyed the rugged, mountain wilderness of Canada.  I spent my time running through the valleys and gorges or hunting grizzly to get my mind off of Jasper.  I was thinking of making my way further north to find a few polar bear.  They were supposed to be huge.  And mean. Very mean.  A polar bear could be rather fun. 


My musings were interrupted by the acutely pungent smell of my desired prey, so I crouched and gave myself to my instincts and enjoyed the brief relief from frustration that hunting brought.


The bear I found was very large, surprisingly fast and put up a good fight.  I was faster, of course, so when he tired, I ended the battle and drank deeply of the blood, thankful for the fun of the hunt.  Deer and elk are fine, but they don’t taste like much of anything, and they stink.  Not that the bear smelled much better, but the blood was exquisite (for an animal), and the fight was fun. 


I looked down at myself and let out a frustrated sigh.  I would need new hunting clothes after this trip as mine were so shredded from bear fights that they were barely presentable.  I ran my fingers through my tangled hair, pulling out pine needles as I did, and decided that a good long soak would be in order as well.  Of course, the pine sap would need turpentine to get out, but water would work for now. There wasn’t much use in cleaning up thoroughly if I was going to find a polar bear.   


I lay back on the mound of fur that was the dead bear and watched the sun shimmer off my skin and reflect on the aspens and pine trees.   This was the normal way for me, alone, unencumbered, free, and maddeningly lonely.  I wrapped the arms of the bear around myself and giggled at my self-made bear hug.  I could stay here for months if I wanted to, and avoid all the human conflicts and issues.  I could avoid the constant temptation of human bodies.  College was very restrictive and being a vampire there was even more so.  I was tired of the constant burn in my throat. 


I sighed heavily to the trees around me.  As tedious as college was, I wanted to finish my degree too badly to stop now that I was almost done. 


I missed Africa at times like this.  A good cheetah chase would put me in a much better mood.


 My musings were abruptly interrupted by the scent of another vampire.  No, two vampires.  The scent was oddly familiar, and I leapt up on the bear’s carcass and began to scan the thick forest for them.  It took only a few seconds for the pair to come into view below me.  As I watched, the male and female stepped over a large outcropping and froze, staring at me.  The male raised his hands, palms forward, in a universal symbol of nonaggression.  I nodded back, and raised my bear filled hands in return.  They looked at each other with strange expressions before slowly advancing.  I had seen these expressions before.  Exactly these expressions.


Makenna and Charles stood looking up at me with the same incredulous look on their faces that they had worn on the first day they met me, the first day I knew I was a vampire.


Suddenly, I realized what they were seeing.  Here I stood a dirty and disheveled, golden eyed vampire standing on top of a dead bear using its paws like morbid hand puppets.  I smiled sheepishly at them as they edged forward, dropped the bear with a thud, jumped down and waited for them on the ground. 


“Hello there!” I called pleasantly as they both stared at my amber eyes.  Then they looked to the bear, and back to me.  Their familiar, quizzical expression was quite humorous.  I waited for them to say something.  It took a while.    


“Well…this is a pleasant surprise,” said Charles slowly.  I smiled at them hoping to ease a little of the shock of seeing me here.  They hesitantly held out their hands for me to shake.


“I am so very glad to see you two again.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the help you gave me so long ago.  So, what brings you to the mountains of Canada?” I hoped to make friendly conversation.  It might have worked if I wasn’t next to a dead bear.


“We are traveling to Vancouver to find a new feeding ground,” answered Makenna slowly.  “We’ve been feeding in the rural areas of the East Coast, but the remaining covens in the cities are becoming very territorial and are extending their lands far beyond the cities.  We were nearly killed by a coven that claimed all of Maryland, and after such a close call, we decided to find an unclaimed city to hunt in.”


“I’m so sorry to hear about that.”  I was rather shocked at their news.  “I thought most of our kind had left because of the war.  I came from New York City, and almost all of us there have gone to Europe or Asia to feed.  Why would a coven care about two nomads when there are so few vampires left?”  I wondered.


Only Ivan’s coven was left in the city, and he would have gone to Europe had it not been for the Mafia.  Ivan and his brother had become very fond of the violent humans and didn’t want to leave them to fend for themselves.  


“With only one or two vampires in a city, they can easily monopolize on the population, and many of them are enjoying their new found bonanza far too much to share,” stated Charles bitterly.


 “I don’t mean to be rude, but why are your eyes that color?” asked Makenna.  I knew it wouldn’t be long before they would ask, so I told them my standard line.


“I don’t feed on humans any longer because I didn’t want to kill any more of them.  I eat animals instead, mostly dear and elk, but carnivores taste better, so I come out west whenever I can to feed.”  I waited for them to respond, but they both just looked at me.


“Is that why the bear is here?” choked out Charles at last.  He was having a hard time accepting my explanation.


“Yes, they are very tasty this time of year.”


Makenna came closer and sniffed.  “It doesn’t smell tasty,” she said flatly.  Then she looked at my torn clothes.  “It is a rather messy way to eat, isn’t it?”


“Only when I want to have some fun,” I smiled.


“Ah,” said Charles.  Then he cleared his perfectly clear throat.  “Well, we were wondering if you know whether Vancouver is taken by a coven.” He had obviously heard enough and wanted to leave.


“I’m sorry, but I have no idea.  I currently go to college in Pennsylvania and just came here for a vacation and a few good meals.  There is no coven in Pittsburgh, and most of the covens in New York have gone, so I would guess that there may not be one in Vancouver either.”


“That would be convenient,” mused Charles.  He wasn’t a fighter, and he didn’t want any more conflicts.


“Did you say you were going to college?” gasped Makenna after a moment.  It must have taken a while for the information to sink in.


“Yes, I am getting a degree in art and design in Pittsburgh,” I answered proudly.  None of the other vampires who knew of my plans even had the slightest desire to educate themselves.  In fact, they all seemed quite jealous that I could be so near humans for so long without any problems.  At least, I liked to believe they were jealous.  More likely, they thought I was a lunatic and were just being polite.


“But…why?” stammered Charles.  He looked like he chose the lunatic theory.  I smiled despite myself.


“I like art, and I love to design clothes.  Besides, it is a good way to spend some time,” I quipped. 


“Doesn’t it bother you to be in a room full of humans?” asked Makenna with a slightly high pitch to her voice. 


“Not if I am very careful.  They still make me thirsty, but I can ignore it for a few class periods.  When I am too thirsty I either don’t breathe or don’t go.”


“Can’t they tell what you are?”


“No, my eyes don’t give me away at all, and I don’t go out in the sun.”


“But how can you stand the constant thirst?”


“Why don’t I go with you to Vancouver, and I’ll tell you on the way?” I asked.  That would definitely be more fun than brooding by a dead bear, and I could still catch a few more predators before classes resumed in September.


“Alice, you are still the strangest vampire I’ve ever met,” said Makenna, with her hands on her hips.  Then she smiled.  “Tell me everything that has happened since we left you in Tennessee.  I have a feeling it is a very good story.”  


So I talked while we ran to the beautiful coastal city of Vancouver, and they reacted to my unusual and often hilarious life’s story with appropriate shock and bouts of laughter.  They loved my descriptions of the humans in my life, especially the teachers, though they had a hard time believing that humans could be so complex and interesting.  It was almost, but not quite, like a family reunion, and their company warmed my stone heart just enough to make me want to keep going with my odd and unusual life.


 


o||oOo||o


 


I enjoyed seeing Vancouver with Charles and Makenna, and enjoyed shopping there even more, but I left as soon as they began to feed on the outlying population.  I didn’t want to be around to see what futures were disappearing.  From there, I went to Las Vegas for some fun and to watch the Fourth of July celebration.  Fireworks only work at night, so spending the Fourth with humans was something I made a habit of doing long ago.  I always make a point of attending any party that I can, even the flammable ones.


There are plenty of polar bears in Canada in July, and they are even better to eat than grizzly bears.  The population was largest around the coast of Northeastern Canada, so that’s where I spent mid-July.  After a week of hunting above the Arctic Circle, I took to the sea to have a little fun.  There was a pod of killer whales in the bay, and I wanted to see them up close.  They didn’t like me in their waters at all.  After one quick pass, the entire pod scattered, and the chase was on.  They were almost as fun to chase as a cheetah.  I never caught any, I don’t like fish, even the mammalian kind, but the swim was invigorating.  A few of the males even fought back, and I thoroughly enjoyed being the prey for a change.  I think they had fun, too.


I emerged wet and happy after chasing the whales for several hours and began running along the stone outcroppings by Baffin Bay to dry my wet clothing.  I wasn’t cold, of course, but wet clothes are rather cumbersome and would have drawn attention to myself if anyone happened by.  Perhaps a shopping trip in Quebec would come in handy before I returned to school.  New York was my primary shopping ground, but several of the shops in the French Quarter were truly unique.  I needed to check on the house there anyway, so I might as well spend some of my Las Vegas winnings on something cute.  There wasn’t much else for me to do with it. 


Before I left, I watched the sun set and then rise again one last time.  Here north of the Arctic Circle, there was only daylight with a short twilight as the sun dipped just below the horizon.  It was fascinating to watch.  As the dawn arrived, just a few hours after twilight, my mind was suddenly caught up in the dark of night somewhere on a battlefield.  I could hear the dying screams of humans nearby.  I could also hear the growls of hunting vampires.  The vision of the hunt was so strong that my throat clenched shut from it.  The human voices were screaming German words that I could just barely make out.  Suddenly, the entire blackness to my right roared into flame and an ear splitting explosion blasted the air.


“They are getting closer!” yelled Gregorio.


Gregorio!


I could just make out a clearly frightened Marianne as she dropped the body of a young woman.


“Let’s finish and leave.  Those bombs are coming closer, and we cannot allow ourselves to get caught by them,” Paul calmly stated from behind me.


As if to prove him right, a blinding flash rent the night behind him, and the deafening sound and shock wave from the firebomb ripped through the wooden building they stood in.  I could see them clearly silhouetted against the light.  They must have found a group of humans hiding in some type of building, because the floor seemed to be littered with bodies.


“What will we do if they catch us?”  This was Annette’s frightened voice.  The bombardment continued, and fire seemed to rage from every angle.


“Too late,” hissed Marianne from the front. 


Suddenly, the growls of several vampires could be heard over the chaos of war.  I could see hazy, hooded forms jump into windows and slither through doors. 


Seven other vampires were advancing on my friends somewhere in Germany, and I was helpless to do anything but watch.  I could feel growls ripping from my own chest as I stood by the arctic waters, unable to move.


The vision ended, but I willed it back, and for once, my fickle gift worked.  The vision replayed in my mind, slightly clearer this time.  This time I could tell that the invading vampires wore some type of strange cloak.


The coven went into the familiar fight mode that I knew so well, but even they would have a hard time beating these odds.  I watched as the others began their attack first on Marianne, the closest to them.  Gregorio leapt to her side, but even in this twisting vision, I could tell that it was already too late.  Two of the others had her before Gregorio could reach her.


Paul roared in rage as Annette went down behind him as an eighth vampire dropped from the ceiling.  Her high shriek sounded like a discordant alarm over the sound of the fight.


Then, I saw Gregorio’s headless body fall.


I heard the distant scream of the coming bomb before any of the fighting vampires did.  I knew what it meant, but I was as frozen as if I had turned into the cold stone under my feet.  They were too engaged in the fight, too engrossed in protecting their territory or their mates to hear the coming fire.  It erupted around them all in a ferocious blast that turned the building into an inferno in an instant.


And I stood listening to the waves hitting the rocks below me. 


I heard a scream rip through the arctic calm, but it took me part of a second to realize that the scream of warning and pain came from my own throat.


I crumpled onto the volcanic rock, digging my hands into it to grasp a hold of anything.  I gripped at the earth until it was black sand against my palms, and fought to bring back the vision.  It came, clearer this time, if that were possible.  It played out just as it had before.  Again, and again I brought up the vision, searching for another outcome, and willing with all my being that this was not yet set in time.  Then, the fourth vision went black.  No fade. No end.  Just black. 


I searched and bent my mind into that future with all my might, but the vision would not come again. 


I tried again, looking for them in another future, willing them to have a future of any kind, but my friends did not appear in my mind again.


I stayed on the rocks for four more days trying to see any vision of my friends.  Any at all.


I looked far and wide, but there was no future left for them.


When the sun dipped below the horizon on the fifth day, I stood and made my way back to Quebec.  Paul’s coven was no more.


 


x||xXx||x


 


I returned to New York in three days unsure of what else to do.  I stood in the large sitting room in the house in Long Island letting the waves of grief wash over me as I drew in lungfuls of my friend’s lingering scent.


This time, I knew what to expect, which brought at least a little relief: numbness, fury, helplessness, and pain.  Each came in their turn, just as before.  Only this time, it was far worse because they were the closest thing to a family I had ever had.  This time, the family wasn’t human, and should have lived forever.  This time, I might have been able to stop it. 


This time, it came with an immense load of guilt.


The memories of my warnings ran through my head again.  As they repeated, my doubt and guilt grew.  Did I do all that I could?  Was there something else that I should have done?  Should I have stayed with them just a few more years?  Perhaps, if I hadn’t come back to the states when I had, they would still be alive.  I felt like my whole useless hunt for Jasper had drug me away from where I needed to be most.  Even as I felt these waves of guilt, my calmer mind knew that they were not the truth.  Paul’s coven had chosen this path on their own, just as I had chosen mine. I knew the truth, but it made no difference to how I felt.


I was lost and alone.  What path should I choose now?


My eyes flicked to the table overflowing with mail that I hadn’t opened.  Somewhere in the pile, there were notices of various kinds sent by the school to my “parents,” whom the school assumed lived at this address.  Among them was a notice of my senior exhibit scheduled for May and notifications about various graduation items.  At the moment, I couldn’t care less.


I wasn’t sure I would be healed enough to return to school and my human classmates.  Emily had already begun to heal by the end of school, and I knew that she planned to return to her job by June.  Everyone talked quietly about her ability to “go on,” and that, “time will heal all wounds.”  For her it was true, but for me it was a mockery of my eternal existence that had barely begun.  Did all vampires have so many issues in their first quarter-century of life?  It seemed to me that I was dealing with more than was my fair share. 


I took a deep breath, taking in the slight, lingering scent one last time, and left the house to find Ivan’s coven.  They knew a little of what I was capable of, so perhaps they would believe my news.  Or perhaps they would simply think of me as a lunatic.  Either way, it didn’t matter because I simply had to share my sorrow with someone. 


Ivan’s coven was not home, though, and they hadn’t been home for a few days by the smell of it.  I was left to wander the dark streets of New York mindlessly, or as mindlessly as my mind would allow. 


I found myself near the church that I had attended with Paul’s coven before the coven war in 1926, and went inside for lack of a better place to be.  Dawn was coming soon, and I might as well stay here during the sunny summer day.  I had become used to lingering in churches in the last twenty-three years.


The church was lit only by candles at this early hour, and the effect would have frightened a human, but my eyes saw the flickering shadows as lovely.  I wandered to the table that held the candles where people offered prayers to whomever they prayed.  I had seen Annette and Marianne light them for their families and then pray before the flames several times.  I wasn’t sure it would help, in fact I was fairly sure it wouldn’t, but I placed coins in the small wooden box and lit four candles anyway.  As I watched the small flickering lights, my memories of the coven flooded over me.  I was so lost in the past that I didn’t notice the rising sun until it glinted through the stained glass windows and hit my arms.  Multicolored sparkles hit the walls around me pulling me from my reverie and forcing me to move to a more secluded location.


“My child, you are here early,” said a kind, old voice behind me.  I whirled to see an old priest, one that the coven had listened to long ago.


“I’m sorry,” I stammered quickly.   I pulled deeper into the shadow to avoid any of the sun’s rays that were now pouring into the church. 


“I didn’t mean to startle you, my child.  You look so alone; can I help you in any way?  I would like to help you if I could,” he said comfortingly.  My face must have been a mirror of my mood.


“I came to pray and light a few candles for some friends I lost in the war.  I didn’t mean to bother you.” 


“Ah,” he said slowly.  “Many people have found themselves in your position recently.  Far too many people.  Are you a member of my flock here?”


“No, but they were.  It was fifteen years ago.  They were traveling around the world when the war broke out, and I just found out that they’ve been killed.”  It felt good to share this truth with someone, and I supposed that their priest was a safe person to confide in.


“What were their names?”


“Paul and Annette Simpson and Gregorio and Marianne Bonacci.  I lit the candles in their honor.  I hope that is permitted,” I added.  I just realized that the priest might not think a vampire was best one to light candles for someone.  The dead lighting candles for the dead.  It was ironic to say the least.


“It is always permitted to grieve and pray,” he said softly.  “I knew them, I think.  They always came to midnight mass, and they were very generous and faithful Catholics.  I am deeply sorry for their loss.  Do you know if they were given the last rights or a funeral mass?”


“I don’t think they have received either.  They were killed in a bombing raid.  Can you do those things for them?  I would be glad to pay for it.”  This would have been what they wanted.  I could at least do this for them.


“Of course, child, I will do all that I can for them.  We can arrange that later, but now I want to talk about you.  You seem to have taken this loss very hard.”


“They were like family to me,” I explained slowly.  How could I explain it correctly?  “They took me in when I had no family, and I would do anything for them.  I would have given my life for them if I could have.”


“Oh, that is indeed a very great love.  Yet I believe you also feel guilt over their deaths,” he said and nodded to himself.  “Yes, most people feel a sense of guilt when a friend dies.  It’s quite normal, but it is the worst possible lie.”


“The worst lie?”


“The lie that says that you could have prevented their deaths or changed how things ended,” he said calmly.


My head whirled at his words as guilt constricted my chest.  How did he know?


“I could have stopped it from happening, if they had listened to me,” I growled. 


“I see.”  He sighed and sat down next to me.  No one but Emily had ever done that.  “When you believe that lie, you make yourself responsible for the outcome of the world.  You lie to yourself, and put yourself in the place of God.”


“No, I don’t,” I said flatly.  “I just know that I could have helped if I had done something different.”


“Perhaps, and perhaps not.  A word of warning or advice can do wonders, but it can’t change everything.  Could you have stopped the bombs from falling, or transported your friends out of harm’s way?  No?  Just like the rest of us, you are not above the workings of the universe, but in them.” 


What are you talking about?”  I did not need this old man telling me cryptic sayings right now.  I knew just how much I was in the workings of the universe.  No matter what I did to try to stop it, I knew more about the workings of the universe than anyone.  Somehow, though, his cryptic words made sense to me.


“Did you make time and place the earth in it?”


“No, or course not.”


“Then why do you take on the responsibility of trying to control it?”


“You don’t understand.  I know things.  I know that I could have saved them.” Didn’t I?


“We each are given a time to live in and die in.  Like small ships on the vast ocean, we try to maneuver around in a path that we choose, but the captain of one ship cannot control another.  He cannot even control the wind or the waves or the currents.  The ship’s captain must work with the elements to sail, and sometimes the elements change his course.  You see, the ship’s captain is really never in total control, he only thinks he is.  We all want to change the world and the way it fails us, but we can’t.  Really, it is a waste of time to try.  Tell me, did you do your best to warn your friends?”


“Yes, I thought I did, but it wasn’t enough.  No matter what I do, it isn’t enough.”  I spat out the words with enough anger to cause most men to run in fear, but the priest just smiled at me.


“I wanted to change the world, too.  When I was younger, I believed that I could make it a much better place, and I have, I suppose, but not in the way I had imagined as a youth.  I did what I could.”  The old man laughed at some memory.  “You don’t control the currents of history.  You should just let them flow where they may and not try to force them to comply with your desires.  All things will happen in their time, whether you try to alter them or not.”


He paused and I looked at him. He was thinking of some other place. I watched him and marveled that this human spoke to my deepest fears and constant battles. He looked up at me, and smiled his knowing smile. He knew me. How very strange.


“The only thing you have control of is what you do.  Rest assured that the universe will turn out as it should whether you try to interfere or not.  I’m fairly certain that God hasn’t asked you to be in charge of things,” he said lightly.  “You can change only the few things that are directly in your control.  Let the rest go.  I know it isn’t fair, but all we can ever do is the best that we can with what we are given.” 


He reached over and lightly touched my shoulder as I stiffened under his hand.  “Stop taking on the guilt for what others have done.  Believe me, you will do enough to feel guilty about on your own, you don’t need to add any one else's sin to it.”


I laughed nervously.  He was dead on in his assessment, more than he even guessed.


“Stay here and pray for your friends until you feel better.  Come find me when you are ready, and we will set up the mass.  God go with you, my child,” he said with a wrinkled smile.  I could hear him shuffle off to perform his morning duties, but my mind was already elsewhere.


Perhaps it wasn’t my duty to protect those that refused protection.  Maybe I didn’t need to use my gifts to make the world bend to my desires.  Maybe it wasn’t even up to me to find a small diner with checkered curtains and yellow walls.  Maybe, just maybe, it was up to me to be the best that I could be with what I was given.   I had been trying for so long to change what was already set in time rather than live my own life.  I was not responsible for what I could not change, I was responsible for me.  With all that I had to contend with, that really was enough for one eternally damned life, anyway.


I sat in the church watching the sunlight and lighting candles until twilight.  I didn’t know if it was a prayer or a wish, because I didn’t know if God heard the prayers of creatures like me, but I still asked that the four vampires could somehow find a way to squeeze a foot out of hell and into purgatory.  It was only a matter of time after that.

Chapter 25: The Human Touch by Openhome
Author's Notes:
I'm just playing with them. Stephenie Meyer owns them.

Chapter 25:  The Human Touch

 

It took every second of the six weeks, but I returned to school more healed than I had thought possible.  The words from the old priest had slowly released my grief and eased my guilt.  I still felt the loss and crippling loneliness, but I was at least able to accept it.

I was also beginning to accept myself.  I had been trying to use my visions to control my life, but that wasn’t their purpose.  They were just a look forward.  The visions showed a possible future and could quickly change, but I didn’t need to be the one to force the events I saw into or out of existence.  The future would unfold on its own accord, and the only things I could change were the ones that were under my direct control.  I no longer felt the strong compulsion to force the future to bend to my wishes.  What would happen, would happen.  I didn’t need to find the small diner, or force my path to cross Jasper’s.  That was set, and it simply would happen.  Sometime.

I hated “sometime.”

“Sometime” wasn’t now. 

Now I was sitting in the small family restaurant that Emily worked in to try a cherry Coke from the soda fountain.  I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t like the concoction, but my most recent vision had shown me what my “regular” was: one double shot cherry Coke with a cherry on top.  Emily was making it for me now.

This time, when I had walked into the restaurant at the end of August to say hello, Emily did hug me.  It was very sweet, but all the patrons of the diner suddenly became silent as they watched her grab me and hold me tight.  They knew it was somehow wrong to embrace me, but Emily was blissfully unaware.  In fact, she jumped a little joyous jump when I told her what I wanted – I had never eaten at her little restaurant even though she often asked me to stop by – and she was now ecstatically making me the largest drink I had ever seen.

“I just know you will love it, Alice!”  She was bubbling with excitement as she put the huge glass on the table.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about my visions at all.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to sit here among humans and do this to myself.  I steeled myself and smiled up at her, grabbed the straw and took a mighty gulp. 

Vampires have incredible suction.

I drained half of the glass in one fell slurp.  It was, of course, a bit too much, and Emily’s eyes just about bulged out of their sockets.

“Sorry,” I gasped as the bubbles burst their way down my throat.  “I was very thirsty today.”  I somehow managed to smile as the tangy, bubbly, and sickeningly sweet mess washed into my unprepared stomach.  Carbonated beverages bubble even harder when they hit something cold, like vampire stomachs.  That was going to feel very uncomfortable until I could get it back out.

I tried not to think about what it would feel like coming back up or how long such a thing would take.

I smiled at Emily and tried it again, thinking that perhaps the taste might grow on me, but the same horrid, cherry flavored bubbling remained.

Nope. 

I did not like my “regular” drink from the vision.  What on earth had happened between now and then to persuade me to order such a thing?

Trying not to show my disgust and discomfort at having bubbles bursting in my belly, I smiled at Emily and asked how her summer had been.  It was like breaching a dam.

“My summer has been nothing short of both awful and incredible.  Did you know someone paid for my schooling?  If I am careful, there could be enough left over to help my brothers.  Everyone has been so kind to me since, well, you know... and I got extra work here to take up my time.  I can’t wait to start school again, though.  I’m hoping it will help take my mind off of the war...”

I began to realize that the bubbles in my belly were becoming a pressure, and that pressure was growing.  It rapidly became difficult to keep the gas inside.  The carbonation was producing so much pressure that I actually felt discomfort.  I tried to keep the discomfort from appearing on my face, but Emily saw right through.

“Alice?  Alice are you all right?”

I managed a tiny smile and then rose to exit the restaurant quickly before I exploded.

I tried to hold back what I knew was coming with all my strength, but when I jumped up, the explosion broke through.

I let out a vampire sized burp that lasted almost 30 seconds.

I and everyone around me froze.  Emily’s eyes got as big as saucers and she backed up a few feet as she covered her gaping mouth.  I had done it. I had finally scared her -- with a burp.

Then she broke out in the loudest laugh I’d ever heard.  She was squealing with delight and laughing so hard that she doubled over and sat on the ground.  Giggles began to rise from the booths around me as the rest of the restaurant began to react the same way.  The giggles grew to chuckles and the chuckles grew to roars of laughter.

“I...never...heard...such...a...big....one...come...from...such...a...small...girl,” gasped one man.

“Oh...I...wish...Frank...had...been...here,” choked out a woman from a far table between snorting fits.

“Alice...Alice...that was the...funniest...thing...and...your...face...you...haven’t you ever...you...looked like you were...so....shocked...”  Emily was rolling back and forth now.

I wanted to growl and bolt from this place, but a giggle somehow made its way through my clenched teeth instead.

I think I was probably the only vampire in history to burp.

I began to chuckle along with the others.  Now that I wasn’t in pain, it really was rather humorous.  I was very glad no other vampire had been here, I wouldn’t live this down for a millennium.

After about five minutes, the laughter died out and I tried to mend my shredded dignity.  Emily just shook her head in mirth.

“I told you not to drink it so fast.  My brothers do that on purpose, you know.  Bobby can burp the whole Pledge of Allegiance when he drinks pop.  All of his friends are so jealous of him.  Wait until I tell him what you did, though, he will be impressed...”

She went on for almost forty minutes straight as she somehow managed to waitress several tables and continuously talk to me at the same time.  She wasn’t the same child-like girl I had met, but she was healing.  Time had begun its work.

I was jealous of her frail humanity that allowed for such pain and such healing all in one lifetime.  All I could do was hide my remaining pain behind my perfect vampire facade.  Of course, Emily saw through my well placed mask within an hour.

“...and then the whole garden flooded, can you believe it?  Alice, what’s wrong?  You seem very off tonight.”

The question and assumption fell from her rambling words so fast that I barely had time to catch them.  I began to wonder at her gift and what she would be like as a vampire, but then I banished the thought with a shudder.  She deserved this wonderful human life that she had been given.  She was just so good at it.

“I found out that some friends died in a bombing raid in Europe,” I said simply.  There was no use in lying about it, anyway.  She would have probably seen through the lie instantly.

“Oh, Alice, oh no.”  She put her hands over her mouth in shock, and then put her warm hands over my stone cold ones.  “I am so very sorry.  I know how you must feel.  Why didn’t you tell me earlier instead of letting me go on and on about my life?”

Her genuine compassion and concern made my cold, bubbling, cherry flavored insides feel somewhat warmer. 

 “You have been through enough, Emily. You don’t need my problems on top of it.”  I was gentle but firm.  I had forever to deal with my pain, she needed to go on with her short life.

“But I want to help.  Oh, no!  It wasn’t Jasper was it?” she asked as her voice became shrill.

“No, no he’s fine,” I quickly calmed her.  He was fine.  I saw him just yesterday watching a nighttime baseball game from the top of the light pole.  “I will be all right.  Their deaths just caught me off guard.  School will help distract me, too.”  At least I hoped it would.

“I’ll get you another soda on the house!  Just wait here, I’ll make it my way with more carbonation.  You’ll love the way it feels!”   She whirled off so fast that she couldn’t see the obvious fear and dread that spread across my face. 

O~o~O

  

Emily’s family welcomed me back with open arms.  Well, not quite open, but not unfriendly either, so that was an improvement.  The dog ripped the hem of my plaid skirt.

Now that I was back in Pittsburgh, I constantly fought the urge to try to find the diner that Jasper and I would meet in, but I refused to interfere again.  It would happen, that was certain, and I would let it happen in its own good time. 

Maybe.

Without the constant traveling, I was able to read and focus on my now looming art show and senior classes.  I also threw myself headlong into clothing design just for fun.  Thus, the fall and winter months of 1943 seemed to fly by even to my vampiric mind, and before I knew it, it was Christmastime.  I didn’t return to New York for Christmas this year.  I simply couldn’t.  So I decided to try my hand at throwing a party again.  This time, it would be for human guests.

With gas rationing so tight this winter, I knew that many students and most faculty would never be able to travel over Christmas, so I threw a Christmas party at the Veterans of Foreign Wars dance hall.

I knew that I was probably the first vampire ever to host a Christmas party for humans at which humans were not on the menu, and the idea of doing such a unique and unusual thing thrilled me.  I also knew that there was a possibility of no one showing up, but that was only a small possibility.  In college, if you throw a party, people will come regardless of who or what you are.  Given the typical college student’s love of free food, I could have greeted the guests from a coffin and they would probably still come in. 

Still, as I made the final inspections of the decorations, done by me, and the food, prepared by Emily’s restaurant, I was unbelievably nervous.  The hall was layered in red and green decorations and glittering with so much tinsel that the original wall color was only barely visible after all my hard work.  The band was one that advertised on the college campus and whom I had heard at other functions.  I knew that they would be a hit, though to my ears they were just short of terrible.

Even if this gathering fell through, though, it really didn’t matter much.  I just needed to throw a party; I didn’t need a lot of people to attend.  Besides, celebrating life, even with humans, was the greatest lesson Annette had taught me, and I just couldn’t let it go to waste.  So, in her memory and just for fun, I opened the doors to the glittering VFW full of food and a live band and waited to see what happened. 

I really shouldn’t have worried.

Emily and all the art students spread the word, and when I went to open the doors, a small crowd had already gathered.  They looked a little tense as I led them into the brightly decorated hall, which I had admittedly gone a little overboard on, but they relaxed immediately when they saw the food and heard the band. 

Within a half hour, the building was completely full.  In fact, it was overflowing, and there was a small crowd near the doors still trying to get in.  It looked as if the entire campus and most of the staff were present, as well as a few party crashers that I knew to expect.  It felt like old times.

I stayed in the shadows near the walls to talk with people and bask in the success of my party.  Everyone I passed congratulated me.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t allowed in the tight groups of talking students or that no one invited me to dance.  They were having a wonderful time.

  Suddenly, Emily burst out of a group of chattering girls, grabbed my elbow and pulled me into her circle of friends.  I was so surprised that I almost didn’t allow her to lead me.  How did she see so much and yet not feel my rock hard arm under the gold chiffon dress?

“See?  This is Alice.  Isn’t she wonderful? She isn’t scary at all.”  She was beaming as she held me in her group for their inspection.  My own smile was locked on my face while I cringed inwardly.

Of course I was scary to them.  Her friends were frozen in fear as they looked at me.  None of them wanted to be anywhere near me, and a few backed away, but most of them were too polite to walk away from the hostess.  Several smiled at me with small grimaces. 

“I am so very glad you decided to come to my party,” I said quickly.  I needed to make them feel comfortable somehow, but there was little I could do to calm them until I went away.

“Thank you for inviting us,” said one of the girls quickly.

“It really is quite a party,” joined in another.  Emily must have been encouraging them from behind.

“It, um, was nice of you to think of having this party,” began another, “because I can’t, um, go home.  So, um, thanks!”

I smiled again, but this time at the whole situation.  I could see Emily’s reflection in their wide eyes as she tried to direct them.  Her arms were rapidly moving and she was mouthing words for them to say.  Each girl obediently complimented me as Emily pointed to them.  It was hard not to laugh out loud.

I finally retreated, much to the girls’ relief, and began to casually mix with my guests again, but this time from a safe distance.  A lovely but apprehensive young woman whose name I didn’t know approached me with caution.

“You’re Alice, aren’t you?” she said a little nervously.

“Yes,” I smiled pleasantly back.  No need to scare her too.

“This party is incredible!  I have never seen such wonderful decorations.  Did you do this yourself?”

“Yes, with a little help from a band and some caterers.  I love throwing parties, and everyone seemed to need a party right now.” 

“Would you consider helping my committee with the decorations for the senior graduation dance?  I know you are a senior, so when I saw what you did with this room, I thought you could be in charge of the decorating for us.  None of us has much experience in it,” she added with a nervous shrug.

I nearly jumped for joy.  I was being asked by a classmate to help throw a party.  Life just didn’t get much better than that for me.

“I would love to help,” I cooed as I did a small twirl rather than a large jump.  I was having a hard time reigning in my enthusiasm, but I really didn’t want to scare her.  The senior dance!  My smile grew a little too wide.

She stood there nervously pulling at her sweater.

“Is there something else?” I asked, still beaming. 

“Well, um, you know how times are tough.... and, well, none of us have new dresses.  I know you do your own clothes.  They are so stylish, and, um, well, could you help us make our dresses a little nicer?”  The last question came out high pitched and fast, and she was looking at me with round, fear filled eyes.

I nearly leapt on her in my joy.  They liked what I wore.  They wanted me to help them remake their dresses.  They wanted my help.  I think I would have cried if I could. I held on tightly to my enthusiasm and simply nodded. I didn’t dare speak.

“We are meeting on Tuesday night at seven.  Can you make it?” she asked as she began to back away, trembling a bit.  So much for not scaring her.

“I’ll be there.  Bring all the dresses and sewing kits,” I ordered.

“Great.  I’ll see you then,” she called in retreat. 

It was the best Christmas present any human could give me. 

 

x~X~x

 

I ventured back to New York during the spring break.  I only planned to spend a few days there because I needed to finish all the preparations for the senior art show and shop for decorative additions for the dresses that my classmates brought me.  I was now in charge of preparing for both the senior art exhibit and decorating for the graduation dance. I also had about thirty dresses to try and fix up.  It was difficult for someone like me to stay within the shoestring budgets I had been given, but my creative side loved the challenge as I set myself to stay within boring human limits.  This was, after all, a human school.

The house hadn’t changed a bit, but the scent of my friends continued to grow steadily fainter.  It was still a comforting place for me to be, but it also seemed haunted with the memories of lost companionship.

The only other change was that the pile of mail now dwarfed the table and spilled onto the hallway floor.  I sighed, and began sorting through the white and manila mountain. 

As I sifted through the mail, opening everything, I wondered what became of abandoned vampire property.  I didn’t wonder for long.  Several requests from Lowe and Associates, the crooked law firm that vampires in New York turned to for legal matters, caught my attention.  They were originally addressed to Paul, but the last few were addressed to me.  The firm used my last acquired name, Alice Stoker. 

The letters addressed to Paul Simpson were requests for him to contact a William Trudel about certain “legal matters.”  The ones to me simply let me know that I needed to contact them immediately. 

Fair enough.  I was curious about what the lawyer needed, but I also dreaded the coming conversation.  

I called the law firm first thing Monday morning.

“Lowe and Associates, Mary speaking, how may I help you?” droned the receptionist.

“Hello, I am Alice Stoker, and I need to speak with William Trudel, please.”  I droned the request just as flatly.  I didn’t want my curiosity to show.

“Oh, my.  Miss Stoker, we have been waiting for your call,” said the suddenly breathless woman.  “I will connect you right away.  I am so glad you finally called us.”

“Hello, Miss Stoker?” said a man’s voice almost immediately.  He must have been standing there.

“Yes.  Your letters indicated that you needed to talk with me about some urgent matter.  What is this about?”

“Miss Stoker, when Paul and Annette Simpson and Marianne and Gregorio Bonacci left for their global trip, they left us some very specific and rather strange instructions.  Were you aware of this?”

“No.  What kind of instructions did they leave?” I asked even more perplexed. 

“Well, it’s rather complex, but your friends left us instructions that if their letters did not arrive every month we should try to contact you at their address.  Mr. Simpson said you would always know what happened to them, and that we should ask you for instructions.  We have been trying to contact you for the last six months,” he finished.

I was stunned.  Did Paul really trust my gift that much?  If so, why didn’t they trust me enough to stay away from the battlegrounds?

“Miss Stoker?”

“Yes, I’m still here.  I’m sorry that I wasn’t available, I have been away at school and didn’t get the notices until today.”  The reply was automatic as fresh pain and guilt over their deaths swept through me, as well as a measure of anger. 

Why hadn’t they trusted me?

“Do you know where we can contact them?  We need to make some changes in their estates.”

“They’re dead.”

The silence was absolute.  After a minute I had enough control to continue.

“A bomb hit the ship they were on in the Pacific,” I lied through clenched teeth.  It was hard enough admitting their deaths, but coming up with an appropriate lie was even harder.  How was I supposed to tell him that they had died eating refugees in Germany?

“Are your sure?” he choked out sounding shocked.  All of his businesslike mannerisms were now gone. “When did this happen, and how?  How do you know that they are all dead?”

I took a long breath and prepared my lie.

“They told me that they were planning to go to Fiji.  They were island hopping in the South Pacific trying to make their way home, and apparently their ship was either torpedoed or bombed from above.  It was last July.  When they didn’t show up in Fiji, I became worried and contacted the shipping company.  They informed me what had happened.  I don’t positively know that they are dead, but the company found no survivors.”  I said it quickly and with finality, but I had no idea if he believed me during the long pause that followed my hasty explanation.

“I...I’m so sorry to hear that.  They have been valuable clients here for so long that we never thought they would...it just seemed that they never even...excuse me.”

I waited by the phone for him to gather his thoughts and used the time to clear mine.  The story was a good one, and virtually untraceable because of the war, but the news must have been totally unexpected to this firm.  Obviously they had already accepted the fact that the Simpsons and Bonaccis had very long lives, and I wondered how many of them had just assumed that they would be around forever.

“Can you come in sometime this week, Miss Stoker?” asked a rushed William Trudel.  “We need to act very quickly to settle their estate and as far as we can tell you and the Catholic church are the sole heirs to it.  When can you come in?”

“Wednesday,” I replied automatically.  My mind let me see the only cloudy day of the week even as it whirled with the new information.  They had given me part of the coven’s wealth.  They thought that much of me. 

I barely heard William tell me to arrive at seven in the morning as the realization of just how much they cared for me ripped to shreds the healing scars of their loss.

 

~X~

 

The office always smelled of paper and dust and mildew.  Even in the brightly lit modern room, the smell of old things hung on every piece of furniture.  William Trudel was a slight, balding man with a gray goatee and was nearly invisible behind the multiple stacks of papers and ledgers that were piled on his desk.  It seemed that Paul’s coven had used this office for several generations of lawyers.

Mr. Trudel fidgeted uneasily as he tried to understand the impossible information before him.  Two of the older lawyers were also in the room looking unsure of themselves and clearing their throats regularly.  I wasn’t any calmer than they were, and having a nervous vampire sitting in such a small room only exacerbated the issue.

“Well, where to start?” began Mr. Trudel slowly.  “Mr. Simpson and Mr. Bonacci were clients with us for much longer than we realized.”  Both of the lawyers cleared their throats again and shifted slightly.

“I believe you have used our firm several times in the past, so you know that we often perform rather unusual and somewhat clandestine services for our clientele?” The statement was posed as a question.  I nodded.

“It will take a while to determine the full worth of their estates, but I can assure you the value is well into the millions,” he said the last word with emphasis, but I already knew that.  I was the reason they had so much wealth.

“I am very aware of how much the couples were worth, Mr. Trudel,” I said calmly.  This part was easy. “I was their chief investor and had complete control of all of their liquid assets and investments.  I brought all the information you might need.”  I waved my hand to the large attaché case at my feet. 

“You did very well for them, then,” said one of the other men.  “I would love to give you some of my savings,” he added with a chuckle.

Mr. Trudel shot him a quick glare and continued, “They have the three houses, and several pieces of furniture and art that are nearly priceless.  These items and the investments are the total of the estate to the best of our knowledge.  I don’t believe they had life insurance.”

I gave a quick laugh and rolled my eyes at the last bit.  Of course they didn’t have life insurance.  They weren’t technically alive. 

One of the lawyers shuddered at my response.

“Are there any other items of worth that you can tell us about before we begin to order and evaluate their estates?” asked Mr. Trudel quickly.  He was very red in the face, and I think that this was all a little too much for him.  He struck me as the kind of man who liked his reality safe and boring.  Vampires were not a part of that reality.

“No, everything I know of will be in your files or in this case.  What did they want done with the estate?”  I wondered how quickly I would need to move.

Mr. Trudel cleared his own throat before continuing.  “The estate, except for a few small pieces that are to be given to the people listed in their will, is to be divided between you and the Catholic Church.  It was their wish to be able to give enough money to build a church or monastery from their estate.  You get one-third of everything.  You may choose one home, one-third of the art and furniture, and will keep one-third of all monetary assets.”  He ticked of the list on his fingers as he stated each point. 

I sat silent for a few seconds, an eternity to a vampire, as I let the information sink in.  One-third of their estate was a massive inheritance, and much, much more than I deserved.  They treated me as a true friend and a member of the coven, but a true friend would have stayed with them, a true friend would have given everything to protect them.

I realized that three nervous men were waiting for my response.  “That was very generous of them.  I didn’t expect this at all,” I managed to say.  Though the men remained oblivious to it, my emotions were seething inside at the undeserved gift I had been given.

“It may take several months to sort out the full value of the estate and liquidate the assets.  Can you tell me which house you would like?  We will also need a detailed list of what furnishings and art you would like to keep.  Can you get that to us within the next few days?”  Mr. Trudel was all business now.

“I will bring a full list of the items I choose to you by Friday,” I promised.  So much for a long hunting trip.

“Can you do something else for us?” asked one of the others.  “We have the list of names of the inheritors and the items that Paul and Gregorio bequeathed to them.  Could you gather the items and have them ready to be picked up?”  He almost threw the list at me rather than get anywhere close to my hand.  At the top of the list was Vinny’s name.  He got the old Rolls Royce.  I couldn’t help but smile.

Ivan called me that night as I began retrieving the items that were willed to various vampires and humans in New York.

“Alice? What is this notice that we received from the lawyers?”  He was curt and sounded anguished.

“Ivan, I’m sorry.  I tried to get a hold of you by phone and then I stopped by, but you weren’t home yet.”  My own voice was very strained.  As much as I wanted to share the pain of their loss, I had never told Ivan’s coven about Paul’s death.  I hadn’t been able to tell them earlier because of my own pain and because I knew they would never accept the death of their leader.  To Ivan’s coven, Paul was nothing short of a king.

“What does it mean?”

“Paul and the others died in a bombing raid somewhere in Germany where they were hunting,” I said rapidly.  I had promised myself that I would tell them the truth, but I wasn’t sure how to do this without hurting them.

“You don’t know that.  Whoever told you that could be wrong.”  Anger began replacing anguish.

“The lawyer told me, Ivan.”  I said it in a whisper as I tried to calm my friend.  “Paul had set up a system in which he constantly contacted the firm every month.  They haven’t heard from Paul or Gregorio or anyone in nine months.  I saw them being attacked, but I didn’t know they were dead until the lawyer contacted me.  I saw it, but I wanted it not to be true.  I wanted them to come home, but nine months is too long.  They would have found a way to contact the firm in nine months if they were alive.”

Silence.

“Are you sure?” there was no mistaking the aching and anguished tone now.  They were his friends, too. 

“I’m so sorry,” I managed to croak out.  Hearing his pain only made my own pain worse.  “When will Vasily and Lena be back?”  I had seen them in Chicago, but I didn’t know when they would return, and I wanted to make sure they all knew what happened from my own lips.

“Tomorrow,” he said flatly.

“I would like to come over and see you.  I need to gather some items for the lawyer, but then I will come straight over to talk to you and wait for them.  We need to talk so that you understand what happened.  I have to return to school in a few days, but I want to make sure you and your coven know everything, and I want to explain it to you myself.”

“Yes, I want to talk with you as well.  I miss having you around.  You always make the city seem a little less gray.  It seems that nothing will ever be the same after this war.  I think you told us that several years ago, but we didn’t believe you.”

“I am so very sorry, Ivan.  I really wanted to tell you myself, but I didn’t know where you were.  You shouldn’t have found out this way,” I nearly moaned the last words.  I had failed yet another friend.

Going through the coven’s possessions was difficult at best, and it rubbed raw the healing wound of their loss.  I had to ransack the house as I gathered the paintings, books, and furniture that would go to old familiar names like Chi-Yang, Gerta, and Paolo.  Most of the recipients were now hunting the battlefields of Europe and Asia and would not return for a while, but the law firm promised to hold the items for them.  None of those men would want to cross a vampire, even a dead one.

Once each of the twenty-five items was placed by the front door, I went over to Ivan’s home.  It took a full day of explanations, but the coven finally believed that their beloved friends would no longer return.  It was difficult to see their pain, but I think my presence helped a bit.

When I returned to the house, I went back through each room slowly, wondering as I went which of the remaining items I would want.  I knew I wanted only those items that gave me good memories.  The first thing I knew I wanted was the large, gilded mirror that Annette had brought with her from France.  It was twice my size, but I loved its intricate baroque design.  How many times had we stood at that mirror and admired a new outfit or ball gown?

As I stood looking at my forlorn reflection in the massive mirror, a new image superimposed the one in the mirror.  For just a moment, I was standing there in a tight fitting white gown wearing a veil.  It was so quick that I barely caught it, but it was definitely there.  If I had had a pulse, it would have been racing.  As it was, I was certain that I felt an odd tightening where my heart used to beat.  I tried for hours to pull the ghostlike vision out of the future again, but could only do so one other time.  The second vision held not only me but two other female vampires.  For just a brief flash I was again in the long white gown, but on either side of me were Esme and Rosalie, beaming at my reflection.

Sometime, somewhere in the distant future, I would be a bride.

My chest constricted once again, and I swear I felt my stone heart beat.

Chapter 26: A Fragile Piece of Paper by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Twilight is Stephenie Meyers, and it's all hers. I like to play. Do you think she would share?

Chapter 26: A Fragile Piece of Paper

I couldn’t decide which home I wanted.  I had chosen all the furniture I liked, delivered the Rolls Royce to an overjoyed Vinny, and taken care of everything else that I could within the week that I had, but I couldn’t yet decide which home I wanted to keep.  My mind kept running over the choices as I drove back to Pennsylvania.  It turned out that I didn’t need to hurry with that choice because William Trudel said it would take him until July to finalize everything.  It really was a hard decision, and this was a good time to think about it because right now, I had plenty of time to think. I always took this particular road in Pennsylvania at a frustratingly slow pace for a very good reason.  I didn’t want to crash again if a vision hit.

The caution was well placed.  I had just enough time to pull over and stop as a slightly clearer version of the interior of the diner engulfed me.  I could hear the grill sizzleand the conversations of the humans in the small area.  I could see the men sitting on stools and at tables.  They all seemed to be scarred in some way. 

“Heya Alice, yins want your regular teday?” Marty again greeted me.

I could hear the heavy sound of a hard rain against the roof.

“Maybe he’ll come teday Alice.  Don’t you give up on him,” called a very old man from a corner booth.  He wore an old army hat from the First World War.

“Ya gonna sing fer us teday, Alice?” asked a man beside me.

“Sure Looney, just let me order.”  My voice was clear and happy.

A bell tinkled, and I tensed as I turned in the vision, but it was only the small black boy in the too-large, plaid hat.  He looked around and smiled shyly at me as he walked over to me holding out another paper for me to take.

I was then back in my car, on the side of a dark Pennsylvania road.

I told them about Jasper?  Why would I do that?  Will I really sing for them?  What on earth happened to make me choose a vile thing like Cherry Coke to drink? 

There was no way that I would even consider singing for a human.  Our true voices were one of the things we could not let humans hear. Besides, after the episode in Emily’s restaurant, I didn’t even want to say the words “Cherry Coke” again.

I fought the strong urge to go find that diner again.  It was definitely somewhere in Pennsylvania.  I knew that absolutely now because all three men had heavy Pennsylvania accents. I spent the rest of my trip arguing myself out of quitting school and starting my search again.  The path was set -- I just had to wait for the right time.  I could not force what would happen to occur any earlier or later because it would simply happen. At least that is what I kept telling myself as I drove along the dark road towards my temporary college home.

 

x||xXx||x

 

I looked absolutely stunning as I stood by my pieces in the senior exhibit and art show.  I designed my own pink satin dress with a tight waist and very low dipping neckline.  I was, after all, a grown woman, so I decided to be a little more daring with my dress this evening. Besides, the neckline showed off my pearl and amethyst teardrop necklace.  

My booth overflowed with nearly twice as many pieces as any other student. I could render them so much faster than my human counterparts -- and I didn’t need to sleep.  However, the lack of sleep wasn’t as much of a benefit in college as it had been outside the school. As far as I could tell, none of the students slept more than a few hours each night.

I stood beside my plethora of art pieces looking more than radiant and more than a little frightening. I couldn’t stop smiling, and my teeth, even when accompanied by a stunning outfit, scared people.  Still, most of the visitors, and almost all of the men came over to see my work and ogle at me.  They only came within six to eight feet of me, though.  Despite my frightening smile, most of the people complimented my work and carried on a short conversation.  

My pieces were very tightly rendered and cubist or realist in style because those styles fit my vampiric perfectionism better than any other.  My sculptures were intricate and complex, almost baroque in form.  My work was very popular, and I sold almost everything. I donated the money to the general scholarship fund because the last thing I needed was more money.  The pleasure of people buying my art was just as deep and fulfilling as having people compliment my fashions.  It was my own way of staying in the hearts and minds of the people I had met here. I loved the idea that something beautiful I had created would bring joy to people I would never even know. Not many vampires could say they had ever done that.

I received even more compliments on the whole ambiance of the show.  I had done what I could to stay within the limits of the meager budget.  Truly, I had tried,  and I’d managed to keep within the limits for the decorations and invitations.  Almost.  I only used my own money on the bouquets of roses. The catered Hors d’overs, champagne fountain, and the string quartet didn’t count because they weren’t a part of the original list.  Really, though, how could you have a proper art show without the addition of artistic food and music?

There was one underlying truth that far outweighed any joy brought about by the party.  More important than art work and beautiful music, much more important than a well designed dress and happy visitors, was the single truth that I had done it.  I had, on my own, with no cheating, or at least very little cheating, earned a college degree.  In two weeks, I would walk across a stage and get the only authentic paper I owned. My sense of accomplishment was overwhelming even for me.  Twenty-four years ago, I was alone, confused, and controlled solely by my instincts.  Now I was a professional artist and almost a college graduate.  It was a very human accomplishment, and I knew it, but for me, it meant the world.  I was a success.

o||oOo||o

 

       I stood before my bedroom mirror seething with fury.  I looked absolutely hideous.  Technically, I looked fabulous, but the graduation cap and gown made me look like some type of cartoon.  If I ever got my hands of the man that decided that we should wear cardboard squares and badly fitting robes for such a momentous occasion, I would happily rip him to shreds. 

       I wore the most adorable shirtdress under the pouffy and ill fitting robe, and no one would be able to see it.  I was going to wear a lovely, lime colored, chiffon, calf-length dress to the senior dance, so this outfit, which I had spent quite a bit of time on, was going to go to waste.  It was beyond irritating.

       What made the whole situation worse was that I had seen Rosalie in her cap and gown.  I had no idea of where she was graduating from, but I had seen her as clearly as if she was standing beside me.  Even in the ridiculous garments, she looked wonderful.  It didn’t help my mood at all as I nearly disappeared in the endless folds my own graduation robe.

       Of course, she looked good in everything.  I had even seen her wearing the greasy overalls of a mechanic, and she still looked gorgeous.  I laughed at thee memory despite my bad mood.

       It happened during my last final.  I was just finishing up the rather long essay when I was suddenly in a brightly lit room. I saw a pair of legs sticking out from under a newer looking Chevrolet.  I couldn’t imagine what on earth was happening, until Rosalie pulled herself out from underneath the car.

       “That should just about do it,” she purred with satisfaction.

       “Are you sure, Honey?  We need to be certain that he won’t be able to catch us in this thing.  He’ll be mad enough to rip us both apart.”  I froze as I recognized the voice of Emmett.  I did not need to see any visions of those two while I was trying to take an exam.

       “Don’t worry, he won’t be able to start the car until I tell him what I did.  A little lead on the spark plugs and some tinkering with the wires, and he will be totally lost.  He isn’t a very good mechanic, the little baby.  He doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.”

       “You sure are pretty when you’re vengeful, Sugar,” he said as his voice became a little too thick and low.  I winced.

       “Save it for the trip,” Rosalie smiled as she strode past her mate.  “I will be ready in a few minutes, and then we will be long gone by the time he gets home.  Are you sure you got all the records?”

       “Relax.  It’s all been done.  You know, you may have gone a little too far this time, Rosie.” Emmett chuckled.

       “I don’t think so.  Do you remember how hard it was to scrape off the tar?  Nothing is too far after that,” she growled. 

       “Yeah, but to be fair, he was sure we would smell it.  I don’t think he meant to cover us in it. He just meant it as a fun prank, you know, to stop us from being so rambunctious.”

       “I don’t care about his intentions,” Rosalie called from the house. “I care that he ruined a bed. I care that it took me five hours to get the stuff out of my hair.”

       Emmett just shook his head. “Poor guy doesn’t know much about vampire love at all, does he?  He thought we would smell it before heading to the bed. Honestly, I don’t smell anything from midnight until after dawn.”

       Rosalie returned with two large trunks under each arm, threw them in the back of a shiny truck, and they drove off through an oddly misshapen forest.  I couldn’t imagine a place with such knobby and strange looking trees; it was almost like a scene from another world.  Then, I nearly laughed at the vision as I realized that they were driving through a pine forest that had hundreds or possibly thousands of records embedded in the tree trunks. 

       I was thankfully back in the classroom before anyone noticed my odd expression.  I couldn’t quite contain the giggle, though.  I tried all that night to see what Edward’s reaction was, but my visions don’t always come like I want.  All I heard was a mighty roar coming from the house and Edward running to get in his car.  I didn’t even get to see his face when he tried to start it.  Stupid visions.

       Now as I angrily stood before the mirror, I gritted my teeth in frustration.  I should have looked as stunning as Rosalie, but instead I looked like a miniature nun with a board on her head.  I tried to calm myself by looking to my anticipated graduation. I could suddenly see a vision of myself gliding across the stage and receiving my diploma.  I watched happily as I took the diploma and shook the dean’s hand.  Then I saw the dean back away a few feet and look at me in confused fright. 

       I quickly grabbed my elegant black gloves and looked to the future again. 

       This time, the dean shook my hand and went right on to the next student.  It would be perfect.

 

x||xXx||x

       Helen, the red headed woman whom I had met my first day of registration, was waiting for the graduates in the large band room.  She looked a little grayer and much more frazzled than the last time I saw her.  She barked out our names and lined us up by degree and then by alphabetical order.  We were a small graduating class because most of the other students had gone to war rather than stay and work at their degrees, but the band room was still full with bodies as we all jostled into place.  Everyone in the room had a look of mixed pride and trepidation.  Several students were already crying, but most of us wore smug smiles.  I held my breath as the smell of humans filled the room to the point of pain.  Then, Helen called us to attention, and we marched into the front rows of the auditorium for the benediction and the last lecture we would receive as undergraduate students.

       As we walked in, everyone craned their necks and swung their tassels to try to see friends and family.  I quickly looked around and saw Emily and her family where I knew they would be.  Then, just behind them I noted a gap in the crowded seats. 

       In the middle of an almost perfect circle of empty seats sat three Russian vampires. 

       I beamed at them and they smiled back, looking very uncomfortable but also very proud. My smile was way too wide, and someone in the rows in front of me let out a frightened gasp.  I didn’t care.  My friends were in the audience to see me graduate college, and I nearly burst with pride.

       The valedictorian’s speech was unusually short and to the point.  He spoke in honor of all the students that the school had lost to the war and all the students who would still be called to duty.  The whole graduation ceremony was very patriotic.   After only thirty minutes, the dean called us one by one to the stage where several people from our departments shook our hands followed by the school’s president who handed us our diplomas with a quick “Congratulations.”  We each crossed the stage, flipped our tassels -- what a stupid tradition -- and stood with our classmates back at our seats.

       “Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to present to you the graduating class of 1944,” the president almost yelled.

       Suddenly, the air was filled with hats soaring up and then dropping to the ground.  All except mine.  Mine imbedded itself in the ceiling high above me.  I laughed as I saw the four janitors who would stand below it tonight scratching their heads and wondering exactly how that hat got up there.

       The crowd surged forward to congratulate us.  I ran up to Emily’s family first and thanked them all for coming. 

       “I really appreciate you guys taking the time to come to this.  You have no idea of how much it means to me,” I said as I took a scorching breath.

       “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Emily with a wide grin.  Emily ventured a quick hug, and her parents shook my hand and congratulated me.  I didn’t have to say goodbye now because I would see her tonight at the dance.

       I made my way to where the crowd was avoiding the three large Russians.  They looked strained, but happy. They each hugged me with tight, stone hugs and smiled with confused pride as I showed them my diploma.  None of us spoke because none of us wanted to take a breath. I grabbed a stray cap to keep and quickly led them out of the crowded room that was thick with the scent of humans.  Vasily had no self-control around humans.

       As soon as we were out the door, the onslaught began.

        “How can you stand to be near so many of them for so long?”

       “You didn’t kill anyone?  Not even one?”

       “We are very proud of you.  You are the first vampire I have known who has an education.  Why did you do it?”

       “Four years of your time for that little piece of paper?  Why not get the lawyers to make one for you?”

       “What will you do with that piece of paper?  Will you get a job?”

       “Can you come be a vampire with us now?”

       All I could do was laugh.  There was no way to explain it to them because I wasn’t sure of the reasons myself.  All I knew was that the small piece of paper meant more to me than any other possession I owned.  It was the one real and true thing in my make-believe life.  It was the only thing I had earned all by myself.  They just didn’t get it at all.

       “Thank you so much for coming, it was quite a surprise,” I said. It was, and I wondered how they had managed it. Surprises were a rare treat for me because my visions would have normally told me of their presence. “Did you like the ceremony?”

       “It was...interesting,” answered Vasily.  “What is the string tassel for and why do they make you wear squares on your head?”

       I laughed again, because there seemed to be no answer to those questions.

       “How did you get here?  I didn’t even know you were coming,” I said. 

       “We decided to come down just a few hours ago,” answered Lena.  “I wanted to come earlier, but it took a while to convince the boys.  We are driving down to South America for a vacation.  Paolo invited us to his home in Rio, so we decided to stop in and see you graduate.  I am proud of you for doing this, but I still have no idea of why you did it,” she laughed again.

       “Would you like to come with us?  We would love to have you come on our little adventure,” said Ivan.

       “I think I would like to visit South America, but I can’t go right now.  I still need to settle Paul’s estate with the lawyers, but I would like to join you when that is done, I think.”  It was all so sudden, but I truly did want to see the Amazon jungle and climb the Andes Mountains.  I needed some time to see my future first, but the idea was intriguing.  “Come see my home, and we can talk about it.” 

       The shadows were long enough after graduation that we were able to quickly make it to their Chevy and drive to my home.  We reminisced about old times as Lena helped me get ready for the party.  They applauded my lovely lime chiffon and taffeta dress, and Lena did a wonderful job curling my short hair.  They left when I did, and I promised to join them in South America when I could.

       I had to stay within the school’s allotted budget for this dance, so I used a little vampire foraging and gave the dance a rural, spring look.  Every surface of the gym was covered in some kind of wildflower that I’d scavenged over the last two nights.  Emily brought quilts and gardener’s things for wall hangings and decoration, and I foraged the farmland for old farm tools.  It was perfect Americana and just right for the times.  There was only the lovely and comforting here. Not one image of war remained in this gym.

       It seemed that the whole student body made it to the dance. 

       For the last time at school, I was the star of the show.  All the students knew my name, and I was astounded when two boys asked me to dance.  It didn’t last long, and it didn’t go well, but at least I was asked to dance.  Annette was right; dancing with a human is dangerous for any mortal soul who attempts it.   I’m sure that I sprained the younger man’s wrist, and the older one limped afterward.

         Almost all the senior girls wore the old dresses that I had helped them re-make.  I had nearly made them all brand new dresses when I saw the old things we had to work with, but I restrained myself. We worked for several weeks to fix up their old things.  Making new ones would have been faster

       I made my way to the boring refreshment table where Emily stood looking dejected.  I could have done so much more with the food if they had just let me.  Such a pity.

       “What will I do for fun without you here?” Emily’s voice barely rose above the band, but I could still hear a plaintive lilt to her tone.  She really was going to miss me.  A strange tightness gripped my chest.

       “Look around, Emily, all the juniors you see will want a party like this one.  So you should give it to them.”

       Her eyes widened as my suggestion sank in. 

       “Alice, I can’t possibly do something like this for my class.  How would I even begin to plan it?”

       “We can plan it tonight after the party is over, and then you can be the star of the senior dance.  You helped me with this one, so I know you can do the next one,” I persuaded. 

       Emily had helped me tremendously with this final party.  The last week of school was maddeningly sunny, so I needed someone who could go out in the daylight and get things done. Besides, I wanted to prove to her that she could do something big and wonderful.  She was better at this kind of thing than she knew.

       “But Alice, I don’t think I can.  What if I make a mess of things?  I just can’t do the things you do,” she said in a defeated tone.

       I put my hands on my waist and glared at her. There was no way I was letting her think that she couldn’t do anything she wanted to do.  She had befriended a vampire, how much more horrible could throwing a party be?

       “Oh yes you can!  I’ll get you started, and then you can take over.  You are a natural at making people happy, and it’s time you used that talent of yours.” I pulled her over to where the senior class president for next year stood.  He was a rotund young man with thick glasses and a wide, friendly smile.

       “This is Emily McKensey, and she helped me plan and pull off this party,” I said with a little too much intensity. 

       He backed away from me just a bit, but stammered out a greeting to Emily.  Emily just stood there looking like a frightened deer. 

       “She would be very good at planning next year’s senior dance,” I pressed, “and I think you should have her be in charge of it.”

       “You helped with the dance?  Wow, you did a great job.  I thought Alice did it all by herself, but if you helped, I definitely want you to be in charge of our dance next year.”  He was happily agreeing with me as Emily was rapidly shaking her head.  The sight was rather comical with her thin, tall head and wide eyes saying no and his thick face and multiple chins all vibrating yes.

       “Great!” I yelled.  “We will get started on it tonight.”  I grabbed Emily’s hand and led her over to a corner to begin plans for a dance I would not host.  She was as pale as me.

       “How could you do this to me?” It was a shrill accusation rather than a question.

       “I had to do this to you.  Emily, you have been hiding for far too long.  You will do a great job with the party, I just know it.  I think the war will be ending next year,” I was sure of it, “and you will do very well to go with a patriotic theme.  Just use plenty of color and upbeat music and it will be a hit.”

       Her eyes were glossy, and she looked like she was going into shock, but she was nodding gently and thinking.  As I talked a small smile broke out on her face, and I knew the idea was taking root. 

       The party lasted past 3 am, and Emily stayed to help me clean up.  It would have gone faster without her, but I enjoyed her company and her sweet chatter.  The funny girl inside the woman was coming back to life a little.  I envied her ability to heal.

       As I drove the winding roads up to New York, I rubbed my hand across the leather binding of my diploma and slowly began to realize why this little, fragile slip of paper was so important to me.  Everyone else I knew had a past that they could at least partially remember.  They were someone before they were turned into stone.  I was no one.  I was seemingly born into this stone and crystal body that is the only life I have ever known.  The only remnant of humanity that I could recall was a name that I wasn’t even sure was mine.  But here beside me, a single piece of paper proved that I could have been human, that I am, indeed, a good vampire, and that I can do whatever I want to do with this endless, strange life I woke to.  I smiled all the way to Long Island.

 

 

 

Chapter 27: Not Quite Vampire Enough by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thank you to my wonderful Betas, Molly Alice and Remylebeauishot! You guys rock!

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I own a new Mac laptop named MacGyver. She would be jealous.

 

Chapter 27:  Not Quite Vampire Enough

 

 

 

 

 

We ran together in the mist of my vision.  All of us.  Jasper ran beside me, and every part of my body tingled in reaction to the future my mind saw.  We ran until we returned to the large cabin on the lake by Mount Washington in New Hampshire, where we collapsed onto the sofas laughing at Emmett’s most recent joke.

That vision is why I was here at the offices of Lowe and Associates taking possession of the cabin home and relinquishing the other two.  I would never step foot in the Long Island home again.

I expected to feel sorrow at letting the home go, but instead, I was relieved.  The house held too many memories that stayed perfectly clear and sharp in my mind.  Every time I walked through the door, the memories rushed back at me and the pain of their loss came at me in fresh waves.  Now, it was over.  I signed the papers one by one, and let the memories recede from my mind.  That part of my life was done, and now I was ready to move on. 

“Everything seems in order, Miss Stoker,” Mr. Trudel said as he handed me the last paper to sign.  His hand trembled a little. 

“Thank you so much for your help, Mr. Trudel.” I smiled trying to be reassuring.  He’d spent several hours in my presence in his small office, and it was wearing on him.

 “If you don’t mind me asking, what will you do with all the money?”

“I don’t mind,” I laughed.  I didn’t.  My fortunes were now more than doubled, and I had my own home.  Right now, I didn’t care if he asked me if I sparkled in daylight.  “I plan to take a trip to South America to see some friends.  I will be gone until May of next year.”

“That is almost a year away,” he said incredulously.  “How will we get in touch with you?  We need to be able to contact you if something happens.”

“Don’t worry. I will make it a point to call you at least once a month.”  I hoped my visions would help me foresee any issues. I planned on keeping a mental eye on this office filled with humans.  It’s hard to see humans in my visions, but perhaps I could catch a glimpse of something if it concerned me.  My fickle visions would usually do at least that.

“Just don’t go too long without contacting us, please.  The last time we tried to contact you it was a paperwork nightmare,” he said curtly.

“Finding out that my friends were dead wasn’t just a paper nightmare for me,” I retorted. 

“Sorry.  That was harsh, I know, but you’re now the richest person I know, and since we are partially responsible for your wealth as well as your identity, I think we have a right to try to stay in contact with you.”

“All my mail will come here, so you will know exactly what is happening to my wealth.  I’ll keep in contact as often as I can.  Besides, I’ll need more identities soon, so I’ll return for those if nothing else.”  I signed the legal papers with my most recent name. I wouldn’t need a new identity for at least three more years.  I was twenty-two now according to my birth certificate.

I returned the papers and stood to leave. 

“Miss Stoker?  Please be careful.  I know you are a woman of incredible capacities, but you’re still very young and very frail, and the world is a very big and very brutal place.  I don’t want anything to happen to you.”  He seemed almost fatherly as he shook my hand in farewell.

I stifled a laugh at his appraisal of me.  I was probably the most brutal, non-frail creature he would come into contact with this year -- if he was lucky.  The mortal and frail world had more to fear from me than I ever would from it.  

“Thank you Mr. Trudel, I’ll be careful and I will stay in touch, I promise.”  I tried to smile as I left the office with my copy of the papers.  I needed to leave quickly before the morning’s thin cloud cover disappeared. Between the sun and the burning inferno in my throat, I desperately needed to get to my car. 

Once inside, I took several breaths of clean air, revved the modified engine and headed north.  I wanted to check on the cabin, my cabin, and get some decent hunting in before I headed south.  I wanted to be back in New York by May first next year so that I could see Times Square this summer.  That is when the war was going to end. I already saw that we were going to win, and that party would last all night.

x||X||x

 

I pulled my hands up from the tiles I’d just pulverized and looked at them. They were covered in the blood red color of the church’s roof. Perfect.

I let my arms fall back to the damaged roof and growled in frustration. This wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and I didn’t need any more of my body tinged crimson. Red eyes were quite enough.

I knocked my head against the tiles, and felt them disintegrate underneath it. I was about to destroy this old building in my frustrated anger. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something else, but as the sun set in another bright red color, all I could do was think about how many mistakes I’d made.

After only a week, I’d left the car in the small shed at the cabin and ran south to try to find Rio de Janeiro.  Ivan’s coven told me to find them and Paolo there in an “abandoned” villa outside of the city.  It hadn’t been abandoned until Paolo and Maria showed up and “removed” the occupants.

It only took two days to run the length of North America. I ran at night and hid during the day if I was near humans.  It was a beautiful trip until I hit southern Texas. From there to central Mexico, it was nothing but ugly. Despite the stark surroundings of the Mexican desert, the run south invigorated me.  Finally free of my human fetters, I ran and acted like a vampire – too much like a vampire it turned out.

I sighed again and looked around the dirty church roof. I longed for Paris and the shopping in Europe. 

It was so inconsiderate of them to fight a war where beauty, fashion and high culture were centered.  From what I had seen of southern Texas and northern Mexico, they could have bombed themselves silly here and not harmed a thing.  Why didn’t humans think these things through better?

I’d been fine until I decided to hunt the few animals in the forests of central Mexico that were palatable.  I stopped there to refill myself and see the ancient Aztec ruins before heading into the massive capitol city. 

Unfortunately, my hunting grounds crossed the path of some of those blundering archaeologists who were wandering around like idiots in the forest trying to find ruins that lay right under their feet.  I thought I was far enough away from humans.  I thought my visions would tell me if someone would cross my path. 

Stupid.  I was stupid.  They were stupid.  Now, they were dead.

That mistake ruined all my plans and made me vulnerable again to human blood. I hated archaeologists. I hated Aztec ruins. I hated that I had to lie on the roof of an old church outside the massive sprawl of Mexico City waiting for the sun to set. I hated the fact that I couldn’t go see the city as I’d planned.  Right now, I hated pretty much everything.

I didn’t want to kill them.  I didn’t even know they were there.   They just happened to be near me while I was hunting, and suddenly there they were, pumping hot delicious blood through their hearts.  Just like before, I snapped and went on instinct alone.  Just like before, I didn’t even know what I was doing until it was done.  Just like before, I could see the lives they should have had and the grief of their families.  One little, stupid slip, and I lost everything

I sat up and looked around. I couldn’t leave yet, even thought the sun was finally setting. I was far too angry, and in a black and very vampire-like mood surveying one of the most populated cities I had ever seen, that was a recipe for disaster.  There was no way I could go down there now.  My eyes were too red, and my desire for human blood too fresh.  Every time I took human blood, the craving to continue feeding came back just as strongly as it did when I was a young vampire. 

When would it become easier? 

I moaned to myself.  How could I go through four years of school without touching the hair of a human’s head and turn around and feed on three humans in an instant of carelessness?  Stupid.

The last rays of the sun glittered red off my skin, and I rose to run past the city and its unsuspecting humans.  I couldn’t go into the city with bright red eyes, and not just because of the humans.  Mexico City was full of vampires, or so I had been told.  With newly reddened eyes, I’d be seen as a threat by any of the vampires of this city, and so I needed to get out of here quickly.

The rumor turned out to be true. Even with my second sight, I nearly ran into others of my own kind twice before I got out of the mountains and into the lowland jungle.  Each time, the vampires would chase my scent for several leagues before they gave up. 

I decided to avoid this city on the way back north.  Perhaps I could take the western route and swim in the Sea of Baja and visit Hollywood again.  I would love to see tinsel town and perhaps even go on to Las Vegas.  That would definitely be fun.

I ran leisurely during the next two days, staying in the deep shade of the jungle, and made it to the Panama Canal on my second day out of Mexico City.  I waited until nighttime and jumped the canal in one great leap. 

Then I did it a few more times for good measure. 

It isn’t every day that you get to go between continents in one fell bound.  I jumped back and forth until three drunk lock workers staggered out of their little house and then ran off screaming that a ghost was flying over the locks.  I joyfully did it a few more times for their benefit, and then began my run south chuckling about the stories that would be told about the beautiful phantasma that had haunted the locks this night.

It took just four more days of running to reach the ocean city of Rio de Janeiro.  Then I was faced with three major issues.  First, my eyes were still rather red, and I needed to find a suitable animal to help return them to their right color and to stop me from hunting anyone else in this large city.  Second, I needed to avoid any unfriendly covens or individuals while I hunted for my friends.  Third, I needed to find the scent of Ivan’s coven in this pungently aromatic city.

I decided to try to find the scent of the covens first because they were supposed to be located in a large home outside the city proper.  They would hunt like they did in New York, feeding on the thousands of lost humans who lived in the ramshackle shanties near the river, so every few nights they would probably enter the city. I might just get lucky and catch their scents somewhere.

That was not a good idea.

The area surrounding the city was a mix of vampire and human scents so interwoven and plentiful that it was nearly impossible for me to determine where they were coming from and going to.  However, my scent was easily picked up by resident covens, and I had to run for cover into the jungle three times in one night.

Fine, I would hunt first.

I ran due west, deep into the jungle covered hills to find two of my new favorite South American delicacies, wild boar and jaguar.

The hunting was easy.  I found two wild boars by morning, and had caught the scent of a jaguar soon after that.  The jaguar led me deeper and deeper into the thick jungle as it hunted howler monkeys. 

I’d never had monkey.

I tried one and discovered that howler monkeys aren’t bad.  Though they are herbivores, they have a somewhat similar taste to carnivores, and I it found rather pleasant.  However, they are also rather small, and so I returned to hunting the scent of the large cat. It took nearly an hour of running to catch up to the cat after trying monkey, but I ended the chase quickly and without a fight.  I didn’t want to ruin my clothes.

It was on my way back to the city that I first saw the small tribe of Indians that must have seen me hunt the jaguar.  They stood before their lean-to huts and chanting wildly in a guttural language that I couldn’t understand.  They were dancing around a circle of wood and holding what must have been their form of talismans.  From fifty yards beside me a shrill cry sounded, and the whole village entered the circle of sticks.

I turned to see the tribe’s elders and what must have been the shaman advancing towards me with spears drawn.

Terrific. 

I decided to smile and hold out my hands to see if perhaps they had mistaken me for something else, but they only stopped and began their shrill cries again.  They kept calling me the same name over and over, so I had to assume that they knew something of the truth about me.  But, how?

I heard the fire roar to life around the people in the center of the sticks.  Yep, they definitely knew. They stood motionless, surrounded by a wall of protective flames as I stood motionless trying to decide the best way out of this.

The shaman’s group also froze, and then brought up torches and began waving them at me screaming their strange chants with renewed furor.

And I had thought the Gypsy was bad.

How did they know about the fire? I couldn’t believe that it was only a coincidence that they not only saw me bit also knew I was a threat, and that they somehow knew fire could harm me. Of course, I had to be broken apart first, but it was the thought that counted.

I didn’t want to hurt these frightened people, and I didn’t want to get too near their fire, no matter how small it was because it would singe my clothes, so I jumped into the trees and ran through the canopy as the angry noises of the tribesmen faded into the distance.

Well, this trip is certainly an adventure, I thought bitterly. I had mistakenly believed that a nice, leisurely trip to a new place would be fun and invigorating, but this trip was turning into a very weird and bloody mistake.

By the time I reached the city, I was full but so frustrated I could have bitten the head off of the next vampire that crossed my path. Literally.

I went quickly from roof to roof tasting the scents carefully and checking my visions.  The human scent was unbearably strong, and my progress was frustrating and slow, but I finally found the house that smelled of vampires I recognized.  I looked carefully into the future and saw myself sitting petulantly on a large, wooden chair as my friends came through the door.  This was it.  Finally.

I went inside through a window and found the ornate and heavy chair. Then, I sat down to wait.  My mood soured as I recounted all the odd things that had happened to me on my trip down. I’m sure my face showed my frustration and anger. I was rather put out with my friends for not warning me about the whole insane place.  The city was infested with vampires and the jungle full of bizarre natives, what kind of place was this?  I couldn’t believe that Paolo spoke so highly of it.

It took nearly two hours, but the five vampires finally returned with bright red eyes and jovial laughs just before dawn.  I growled to myself and waited in silence.

Ivan was the first to recognize my scent.

“Alice!  Dear little Alice, you made it!”  The large Russian called as he ran in, scooped me off the chair and hugged me tightly.

Suddenly, I was being hugged by several arms at once, and kissed on the cheek.  My anger wasn’t gone, but I was in a much better mood by the time they all put me down.

“How do you like my wonderful city?” Paolo said, beaming with pride.

I decided to crush him gently. “Well, I haven’t been impressed so far.”

“What happened?” gasped Lena.  She knew me very well and could see by my face that I was still miffed.

“For starters, finding a vampire house among a city full of smelly humans is not nearly as easy as it might seem.  Not to mention that finding the right vampires in this city is like finding a needle in a haystack. How many of us are here? Then, when I took off into the jungle to hunt a bit, the natives were less than friendly.  Finally, when I did at last find the right place, you weren’t here.”  I ticked each one off on my fingers, making a clicking sound with each point.

“Are your eyes red tinged?”  Maria was leaning close to me, looking into my eyes with a grin on her face.

“Did you slip again?” asked Vasily.  They were definitely not helping my mood.

“Yes, I slipped.  Happy?”  I didn’t say it, I growled it.  The others backed up a bit.

“Does it happen often? I don’t remember her slipping in New York,” said Paolo thoughtfully.

“It happened once with us.  She went off to hunt some animal and got two humans instead.  She really does try not to eat them, but she seems to slip up a lot around us,” answered Vasily as if I wasn’t even in the room.

“She shouldn’t worry about it; think of all the lives she saved in New York.  Surely a few now and then can’t be so bad.  She spends so much time not eating, really it’s almost absurd,” responded Paolo.

“I am standing right here, thank you very much,” I growled again.  I hated it when they talked about me like I wasn’t in the room. 

“Huh, well don’t feel too bad, Alice, we think you are cute with red eyes,” Ivan laughed and slapped my back.

This was not going well for me.  I wanted sympathy and all they felt was morbid curiosity.

“Come, let me show you our home here in Rio,” said Maria as she grabbed my hand and began to lead me through the lovely home.  They were trying to distract me, and I was more than ready to be distracted and welcomed by my own kind again.

The home was situated on a hillside overlooking the city and the ocean off in the distance.  It had a multitude of windows and balconies which gave the home an open and bright feeling, even though it was paneled in ornately carved dark wood.  I could see why Paolo had chosen this home, but I was also gripped with sadness over the family that had died here.  The others didn’t even think about the humans who once lived here, they were merely a meal that was eaten and disposed of without a second thought.  In fact, the best thing about the house was its proximity to the poorer sections of the sprawling city, which were good hunting grounds for a coven of two.  By the time we returned to the front room, I was feeling a little sick at the attitude of my fellow vampires.

“So, as you can see, our lives are easy here, and we have all we need.  This house and the humans below provide everything for us.  We are quite content here,” Paolo finished proudly after the tour. 

“What have you been doing all of these years, Alice?” asked Maria as we sat to wait for nightfall.

Where should I start?  As I looked back over the fifteen years since I had last seen Paolo and Maria, I realized just how much I had done. 

“I traveled in Europe and the Middle East and Northern Africa until 1934 with Paul’s coven,” I began.  I couldn’t stop the sad tone that slipped into my voice.  “I left them in the savanna of Africa and came home to travel in the United States.”  A new wave of guilt, not as strong as before but still quite potent, washed over me.

“We all feel just terrible about their loss,” comforted Maria.  “Paul was a true leader among the vampires of the world.  I can’t imagine living in New York without them.”  Vasily and Ivan nodded in agreement.

“The golden days are over now,” said Vasily with a sigh.  “We all think there will be many conflicts among the old and new vampires that return to New York.  It may not be the best place to live until everything settles down.  In fact, Lena and I plan to move to Chicago and let Ivan stay in New York.  We can manage the mob better with a permanent member of the coven in both cities.” 

“How do you manage it here?” I asked Paolo.  “It seems that there are a lot of vampires in this city.  How do they keep the peace?”

“We don’t.”

“But you said you live here in peace,” I countered.

“Only because we can fight better than most and because we don’t claim any of the city as our own.  We hunt as needed, and we do that quickly, and shop for our needs, but other than that we cannot leave or do much.  We have had several conflicts since coming here ten years ago.”

“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” I stated morosely.  I’d traveled all this way to enjoy myself and relax a little, but they were making it sound like we were prisoners in this ornate home.

“It really isn’t that bad,” laughed Ivan.  “With all of us together, we have been able to do much more and roam about openly at night.  We already spent several nights swimming in the warm ocean.  It is a lot like the Caribbean, Alice.  Wait until you hear the music and see the dances, they are magnificent.”

His assurances lightened my darkening mood just a bit. 

“If we are lucky we can even get into a fight, like the old days,” added Vasily.  He and Ivan’s idea of fun always centered around fighting. 

“Did you travel the whole time?” asked Maria trying to return to her original question. 

“No, I only traveled for about five years.  I went to college in 1939 and just graduated with my degree in art and design this May,” I said with a proud smile.

Neither Maria nor Paolo moved, but a rather curious expression spread across their faces.  Paolo looked questioningly at Ivan who shrugged and just smiled.  “It was important to her,” he said apologetically.

Of course they didn’t understand.  Going to school was so far out of a normal vampire’s desires that they had probably never even given it a second of thought.

“Why did you want to get an education?  You were already good at designing clothes, and you threw a party better than Annette.  What else did you want to learn?”  Maria asked me this as she just stood there looking at me like I was some kind of freak, which I admittedly am.

“I don’t remember any of my past as a human, so I wanted to have a human experience and I wanted to learn more about the subjects that I love,” I explained. 

“Were you in classes with humans?”

“Of course I was.  We don’t have vampire colleges.” I sighed as I waited for the onslaught of questions that I knew was coming.

“How many did you kill?”

“None.” Another sigh.

“Really!  Not even one?”

“No, not even one.  I held my breath when I needed to and ate every weekend so that I wasn’t hungry.  My eyes don’t give me away, so as long as I avoided the sun, I had no problems.”

“Wasn’t it awful to sit in their classes?  Learning is a tedious thing, even for humans.”

“Sometimes it was boring, but mostly I had fun.  I even hosted three parties for the humans while I was there,” I added proudly.

“Why?” gasped Paolo and Maria at the same time.

“Because I wanted to.  I love throwing a party, and my human friends needed one.  Besides, it is something only I can do,” I said, openly boasting a bit.  “You have no idea how fun it was to be a student and be a part of something so thoroughly human.”

“We throw parties for humans too, sometimes,” mused Maria, “but they don’t leave.  They have a good time for a little while, though.  It is fun to watch them enjoy themselves before they die.”

“It’s even more fun to watch them go home to their families with a smile on their faces,” I said pointedly. 

We were so different from each other that they couldn’t possibly understand why I did what I did.  I looked into each of their disbelieving faces until they all looked away.

We spent the sunny day talking about the world’s problems and then went out to see the sights and hear the sounds of Rio de Janeiro at dusk.  It was as bright and festive as the Caribbean had been – such a difference from the subdued and war-torn nation I had just left.  Although we saw and smelled several other vampires, no one dared confront our large group.  Paolo and Maria exulted in their new found freedom, and we roamed the city and ocean side until just before dawn.  They were right, the music and dance were unbelievable.  The colors of the city were almost shocking, and I couldn’t wait for a cloudy day so that I could go out and see them in the sun’s light.

We spent the next day indoors, but this time they taught me the exotic and erotic dances I’d seen the night before.

And so it went for the next few days until we parted company for our separate hunting trips.  My visions were plentiful here and I could not stand to be near them when they hunted humans.  The crisp vision of the hunt and the sight of blood were a little too much for me to bear, so I ran into the jungle again to hunt whatever I could find.

When I returned to the home, the mood had shifted.  Another coven confronted the five of them during their hunting run, and while no fight ensued, they were certain that the confrontation was not over.  Paolo and Maria were anxious, but Ivan and Vasily were jubilant.

“Are you up to a little fighting, Alice?  It looks like we’ll have some fun, soon,” laughed Vasily as Maria and Lena grimaced.

“I will help to protect you, you know that,” I assured them, “but I don’t want to pick a fight for no reason.”  I couldn’t lose more of my friends, not this time, but I really didn’t want to fight a coven over a city that I had no interest in. 

“I don’t want a fight either,” agreed Paolo.  “If there’s any way to avoid it we will.  The other coven thinks we are a threat to their herd, and they want us to leave or burn.  If we can convince them that we are not a threat, then they should leave us alone.”

“They won’t ever leave you alone,” snapped Ivan, “and you know it.  Once they think you are a threat, they’ll kill you no matter what.  Even if we leave tonight, they will still come for you.  The only option is to fight.”

“Why can’t they just leave us alone?  I hate coven fights.”  Maria sounded as morose as I felt.

“This is our home, and we aren’t bothering anyone but the humans.  We shouldn’t have to leave,” answered Paolo flatly.  No, he wouldn’t want to give this life up; it was too easy.

My cold chest felt a little colder and more like stone than it had in months as I realized the truth of his words.  If we didn’t fight for Paolo and Maria, they would burn to ashes in the future.  A quick vision confirmed that truth.

“We had better start practicing,” I said tonelessly.  “There isn’t much time.” My vision was clear, and I knew we had only a few days at best.  Within a week of returning to my own kind, I was drawn into another battle.  I looked to the future to see how this might end, but all I saw was the fight, not the outcome. 

x||X||x

We practiced street fighting for the next few days.  It was just as fun as ever, and I could see why Ivan and Vasily were so happy with the prospect of burning the other coven.  I enjoyed the good to practice and had fun playing with them so physically again.  I’d been around humans for so long that I’d forgotten what it felt like to really use my strength.  The lessons I learned so long ago hadn’t faded one bit, and I held my own against each of the others.

We didn’t have long to wait for the coming conflict.  Four days after my return from the jungle, we went out to relax and see the sights of the city near the ocean again.  Paolo decided to lead us to a more desolate part of the oceanfront, so we could swim if we wanted.  This was our choice, of course, because we didn’t want to be caught in the tight confines of the city where there were so many places to be ambushed. 

We wandered like before, taking in the sights, but much more warily.  As we walked, I saw, clearly now, that others followed us.

“They’re coming,” I hissed and the others closed ranks, but we continued walking.  Just before we reached the oceanfront, the first figure appeared on our right flank.

This wasn’t the place the visions showed me, so I knew we wouldn’t fight here.  It looked like there would be six of them, but I couldn’t be sure.

Paolo quickly veered left and followed the beach to a more secluded area near a hill.  Two others began following us at our rear and left flank.  Another topped the hill as we rounded it.  It was a good spot, open but hidden from the city’s view.  Yes, the visions I’d had were of this place.  This was the site of the battle. 

I let the others know and we formed a loose but defensive circle and waited while the other coven formed its own loose circle around us.  There were five of them and six of us.  Two newborns had joined the coven, and their unmistakable crimson eyes gave off a warning that all of us knew instinctively.  Part of my mind wondered if these new ones really understood what was happening or if they had been tricked into the battle just as Jasper’s newborns had been.  Regardless, they would need to burn as well.  It was the only way to protect Paolo and Maria.

“What is it that you want Fernando?” asked Paolo quietly.

“I want the city,” laughed the tall, thin vampire named Fernando.

“I can’t give it to you because it isn’t mine.  We claim no hunting land here,” Paolo stated firmly.

“Yet, you bring others in,” accused Fernando as he pointed to each of us.  “They will feed on the herd and take our nourishment away.  Did you ever think about that?”

“They are our friends from America.  They came to see us as guests and will leave when the visit is finished.  They are not a threat.  You on the other hand make new ones who will eat more than their share as well.” Paolo pointed to the newborns as his words came out in a mild growl. We all tensed into slight crouching positions.

“We don’t want a fight, Fernando, we just want to live in peace.  There is no reason for this to happen,” Maria said, trying to diffuse the tension, but her words fell on deaf ears.

“If you don’t want a fight, why are you ready for one?  Why have you been training for one?” hissed a female to our left.

Ivan sighed and said, “Because we knew this was going to happen.”  He turned and winked at me.  He was happy and looking forward to fighting the newborns.

“Perhaps if your friends leave we can talk about living peacefully again,” offered Fernando in a barely concealed lie.

Ivan laughed. “You will not let them live in peace.  You want this city all to yourselves, and you will fight anyone to get it. So you have to be destroyed.  That is just the way it is.  We will defend our friends, and you will lose.  Simple.”

My mind was focused on the writhing and twisting visions of the future.  They changed as each one of the eleven of us changed our tactics or minds, but the fight was a certainty.  But in the visions, the numbers were off.  There were six of them, I was sure of it.  Where was the sixth vampire?

 I sent out the only warning I could in a barely audible voice.  “Be prepared, there is another one out there somewhere, and our numbers will be even.”

Our group tensed, but Vasily merely grunted and his smile got a little bigger.  Of course he wanted an even fight.

As if our tensed stances were some type of signal, the vampires around us launched their attack.  The small female to my left threw herself at me in a low attack.  Her face was a comical mixture of surprise and fury as I jumped at the right moment and she hurtled into the soft sand, sending up a plume of the white stuff.

 Behind me, I could hear Lena and Vasily growl and leap at their opponent, and I felt a twinge of pity for the vampire.  Ivan and Vasily, brothers and vampires for over a century, were nearly impossible to beat, but add Lena in the mixture and they were unstoppable.

My female roared in fury and whirled on me for a frontal assault which she would again make as a low attack.  I moved sideways and kicked down on her back with a high roundhouse just as she flew past.  She hit the sand again with a loud thud.  I tried to leap on her back to snap her head, but she twisted out of the way just in time.

She fought well, but I was her equal, and my visions gave me the clear upper hand.  We faced each other growling and weaving, and just like before, I was taken over by my strong instincts.  I only barely noticed that the sounds were changing and that howls and metallic snaps were now audible over the growls. 

She would leap at me for a high pass, and in the strange double reality that my visions often caused, I saw her leap just a fraction of a second before she actually did.  I dropped and grabbed her legs as she went over, and again my vision led my hands as the future overlaid itself on the present. I pulled her down on me and wrapped my arms around her torso as I bit deeply into her neck.  She arched her back and howled in fury.  This brought her head closer to my arms, and I simply reached up and ripped her head back until it snapped from her body.

I dismembered her and looked to see of anyone had begun a fire when my vision returned to the very near future.  Three others would be rising from the water.  Three!  How had my visions missed that?  Not six vampires, but eight.  Ivan also dismembered his opponent, but the others were still fighting.

“Three more are coming from the water.  Get ready!” I yelled frantically as I began to rip the wriggling body of the female apart.  I didn’t need any parts of her grabbing at us as we fought.  Ivan raced to the water’s edge and I ran to join him as he tried to head off the three opponents who I now saw just under the surface. 

The other three were also newborns.  This was a tactic I had seen when Jasper fought.  The older vampires would lead the newborns in battle, and then more would join when the enemy was distracted.  

With wild, scarlet eyes, they rose from the water like a three part leviathan. 

“Don’t let them get their arms around you,” Ivan hissed to me.  I didn’t need the warning.

The three lurched at us in unison, two taking Ivan, and one rushing me.  The speed was incredible, and I was nearly caught by the young man as he hurtled himself, arms outstretched, at me.  He turned immediately and began his attack again, but he used the same tactic.  This was the key, I knew.  They hadn’t had training yet, so they only knew how to fight and kill one or possibly two ways.  I knew quite a few more ways than that to kill.

The new one launched himself at me again, and I jumped high over him and risked a back kick at his head as he passed.  It worked.  My foot hit his head like a rock hitting metal, and he flew forward, off balance, right into Lena’s fist. 

I whirled to see Ivan being overpowered by the two newborns who fought him.  He was a skilled fighter, but the two newborns were both striking him with lightening fast jabs trying to open him up to be crushed.  I ran over and delivered a double handed blow to the nearest one’s back.  It thrust him forward and Ivan was able to get his head into a choke hold.  With a massive tearing sound and sickening pop, the newborn’s head came off.  Ivan snapped him in half and turned with a grin to face the other.  He was still having fun.  Men!

My vision showed me the next attack of the one I had tossed Lena’s way, and I met his lunge with another well place kick to the face, letting the velocity of the kick carry me away from his grasping arms.

From my right flank there was another howl of pain followed by the sharp sound of cracking rock.  I heard Fernando let out a frustrated hissing noise, but I couldn’t turn to look until my opponent was dismembered.

Once again, I gave myself to the instincts of a vampire.  I rejoiced in the fight, unconcerned about my friends or even myself as I lunged at my opponent.  His face filled with fear as his attacks became less and less successful.  I didn’t care about his fear.  I was barely aware that Lena had joined me in my fight.  She lunged at a counterpoint to me, and for the split second he was distracted, I climbed onto his back and bit deeply into his neck.  Lena reached forward at the same time and pulled his right arm off.  His scream was startling even to me.  He wove wildly with me biting his neck and Lena trying to grab the other arm.  Finally, with one last deep bite, I pulled at his head. It sheered easily off, and Lena shoved his body into the sand.  I leapt up to see if I was needed elsewhere as Lena ripped him apart. 

Fernando and another female were all that was left of the group.  Paolo and Maria tried to fight him alone, but they hadn’t succeeded because they had never been good fighters.  Vasily now joined the fray, and I came in to complete the circle.

“If you hadn’t been greedy, this wouldn’t have happened,” chided Ivan as he began the all too familiar dance.

“We can share.  We can rule this city together,” offered Fernando in a desperate attempt to change what would now happen.

I heard the roar of the fire behind me.  Vasily always carried a small flask of kerosene with him.  He was so good at being a vampire.

“Maybe if you had offered that first,” mused the now confident Paolo, “then we would have said yes, but you meant to kill us, no matter what, so I have no choice but to kill you now.”

Ivan let out a guttural roar, which I knew was just for show, and leapt at Fernando’s back while Paolo charged his front.  The three fell down with a thud into the soft sand and began to thrash about.  The female shrieked, and Maria and I pounced.  Maria took her back while I ripped at her from the front.  Small chunks of her body flew in every direction as she fought off our combined attack.  It took only a minute of our tearing to force her to the ground where we mercilessly finished dismembering her. 

I was so caught in the fight, so thoroughly vampiric, that the vision that should have warned me only sent me into the madness of bloodlust.

Several young people, staggering drunk, would round the edge of the hill trying to find the source of the loud sounds.  They would not even see us as we attacked.  I already smelled and tasted their blood on the salt air.  Perhaps if I hadn’t been fighting, I could have stopped them.  Perhaps if I was less a monster right now, I could have stopped myself.  But the fight and the vision worked together to make it unchangeable.  I surged at the first human to round the hill without even thinking.  He and the others didn’t have time to register the massacred, burning bodies on the beach. The humans were dead before they hit the ground.  Their lives twisted and drained from the future as their blood drained from their bodies, but I couldn’t stop it from happening.  I was too far gone to do more than register the damage and pain we’d caused.  We burned the bodies of the nine males and five females with the bodies of the vampires who had attacked us.  My eyes glowed crimson from the three I devoured.

Human bodies don’t turn to ash.  They become mangled, black lumps of burned meat.  I watched numbly as the men swam the steaming remains out to sea where they would let it sink below the surface.  I tried not to think about the families who would not know where their children had gone or what horrible fate they met on this beautiful beach.  I turned my face to the lightening sky and watched the colors change. I kept my focus there because I didn’t need to see the families. My guilt was overwhelming enough.

“That was a good catch, Alice,” said Lena approvingly.  She obviously couldn’t see my face.

“I don’t think they saw anything before they died,” Maria agreed matter-of-factly.  “Only one had time to turn.  I think the rest died without fear.  I like it better that way, you know, when they don’t suffer as they quench our thirst.”

I peered at Maria out of the side of my eye.  She had a soft look on her face and was slowly nodding in approval.  Lena was beside her and her face was peaceful as well.  This had been a fun and fulfilling night for them. 

From their point of view the deaths were unavoidable.  The humans might have seen us, and so they had to die.  They were feedstock that needed to be slaughtered, and, for them, my quick actions ended the young lives quickly and painlessly.  For them, this was a good thing.   

“You feel badly about this, don’t you Alice?”  Lena’s tone was accusing as she looked into my bright red eyes.

“How can she possibly feel badly?  We fought and won our first coven war here, protected our identity from human exposure, ate well, and saved the humans from feeling too much fear and dread.  How is any of that a bad thing?”  Maria was becoming angry.  She was so happy with how the night turned out that she simply couldn’t feel the loss of the humans.  The herd had been thinned a little, that was all.  They weren’t young men and women with lives to live and families to love, they were dinner, and we had eaten them kindly. 

I sighed.  “I don’t seem to fit in well, do I?  I’m not a human and not nearly enough of a vampire.  I’m sorry to ruin your night,” I said sheepishly as I looked at them.  “It did turn out well for us.” 

Ivan mercifully strode up and slapped my back hard enough to force me forward a foot.

“I miss fighting with you, little one,” he laughed.

“So what do we do now?” asked Vasily.  “We have a few hours before dawn, and no one will threaten us tonight.”

“I only got two,” began Paolo, “so maybe we could go out on a little victory hunt and then we can all head out to see some of the ruins in the jungle.  I could use a little trip after tonight.”

“I’ll just meet you back at the house,” I said flatly.  Vasily looked to Lena who just frowned and rolled her eyes.

“Oh,” was all he said.

On the way back to the home, my two sides battled for control of my feelings.  The tame part the one that actually liked humans for who they were, wanted to wallow in shame and guilt.  The vampire side wanted to kill the tame part outright and then revel in the victory.  The vampire side reminded me of the wonderful taste of the blood and how delightful it felt to finally ease the constant burn in my throat. The vampire side wanted more.

I spent the sunny hours of the day preparing to go on a long trek through the jungle and over the Andes with the others.  I also wrote a long letter to Emily and filled it with colorful drawings of the birds, animals, and plants here.  Black and white pictures would never do this place justice.  The simple act of writing settled the matter between my two halves, and the tame side came out barely victorious.  So long as I was with others of my own kind, the vampire in me tended to have the upper hand.

Chapter 28: Of Wieners and Dogs by Openhome
Author's Notes:
Thank you Mooly Alice, Remy, Abbyweyer and Stephenie! You all helped make these chapters wonderful. Of course, only one of you really owns it.

Chapter 28:  Wieners and Dogs

 

 

I drew pictures for Emily and her brothers and took pictures for myself wherever we went.  The letters to the tall human woman helped me stay focused enough that no one else in South America died because of me.  For seven months, we explored the jungles, deserts, mountains, and ruins of this southern continent.  I learned a hundred different dances, so exotic and erotic that they would probably be outlawed back home.  I swam at the southern most tip of the continent during the southern hemisphere’s late winter and rode a glacier.  I even tried penguin – horrid.  The blood was hot, but it tasted of fish.

I sent over thirty letters to Emily’s family in that time, as much to share the beauty with them as to keep the vampire within me under tight control.  My companions felt no need to control themselves.  They ate over three hundred humans, and by February, I was more than ready to leave their company.  Ivan had persuaded Paolo to try to take a firm hold on Rio de Janeiro and make it his domain.  The reasoning was that Paolo could rule it fairly and keep the peace like Paul had done, but we all knew it was simply a lie to allow them to eat whenever they wanted. I refused to have any part in it, so I bade my friends farewell and headed to Los Angeles and then on to Las Vegas. 

The city didn’t know what hit it.

I left with over twenty-five thousand dollars in my pack, which I used to pamper myself as I leisurely made my way back to New Hampshire and my own home.  The remaining money would go for a new car next year -- something outlandish and insanely fast. 

I would have shopped in New York in April, it was high time I bought some new clothing anyway, but the clothing styles were about to become radically different.  The end of the war, now immanent, would bring major changes to the fashion industry. So, rather than visit the boutiques I loved, I went hunting for a vampire-friendly apartment. This city had been my home for too long, and I wasn’t quite ready to break ties with it yet. I wanted to have a place here and wait for the end of the war and the celebration that I saw clearly see in my mind. 

More importantly, this was the time that my vision showed me meeting Jasper in the lost diner where I would order the wretched cherry coke for some unfathomable reason.  The diner was full of young men who bore fresh battle scars from the war, and I knew I would meet him sometime in the next five years in a diner where the battered men had Pennsylvania accents.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t search for that diner, but it was all I could do to contain myself.  Instead, I busied myself with my first goal, to find an apartment, preferably a modern one in a high rise.  I could come and go as I wished then.  Two days after I arrived, I found precisely what I needed in a small two bedroom flat in Manhattan with very modern, totally unnecessary, appliances.  It even had a nice balcony.  Most importantly, it was on the top floor, and I needed to live on the top floor because the smell of the humans around me was not so potent.  The apartment was even conveniently furnished so that I didn’t need to buy so much as a stick of furniture. 

Two days after moving in, it was cloudy enough to spend the entire day on Wall Street adjusting my considerable stock portfolio and investing my fortune for the post war boom that I saw coming.  I would be very busy with my stocks for the next year as the world emerged from the war economy and began producing goods at a pace never seen before.

By the last Friday of April, I was settled, and I made my way to Lowe and Associates to check on my absentee life.

“Miss Stoker,” gasped the secretary when I walked in.  “It is so good to see you again.”  She was lying, but she lied rather well.

“I probably should have called, but I decided on a whim to come by,” I explained.  It was always a good thing to drop by unexpectedly when people had control of your money.

“Please have a seat.  I’ll go get Mr. Trudel.  I suppose you will want your mail as well,” she said breathlessly as she bustled off to get my things.

I sat in the expensive office and took several burning breaths.  I had been around my own kind far too long, and being here proved it.  I could hear every heartbeat and smell their subtle differences from where I stood, and it bothered me that I so desired their blood when I was already well fed.  I needed practice before I went to see Emily.

The secretary returned, stumbling under a huge box full of letters and files.  I gently took it from her and placed it easily on the floor for inspection later.  Most of the letters were from Emily, of course.  Who else would write? 

“Alice, it’s good to see you,” greeted Mr. Trudel.  I quickly shook his hand wishing that I had remembered gloves.  He winced when our hands touched but didn’t yank his hand away.

“I’m glad to see you as well,” I said politely.  “I will be staying in New York for a while and have rented an apartment here.  I thought I would come by and pick up my mail.”

“You have an apartment here?  Excellent.  I would like to go over the finances and other issues with you for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.  We can also get your mail sent to your new address.”  He was all business, as usual.  He needed a hobby.

“I would like to keep the mail coming here.  I still plan to travel some,” I said with an inward cringe as I realized that, despite my resolve, I would probably go looking for the diner again.  “So it would be easier for you to receive my mail and pay my bills.  However, I will be taking over my finances immediately.”

“Of course,” nodded Mr. Trudel as he began taking notes in a small book.  “Is there anything else we can get for you?  Do you need some new papers?”

“There is one thing,” I began as a smile spread across my face.  “I would like to learn how to forge the documents that you make here.  I believe I have paid your company enough money through the years that you should be willing to let me see how you make them.”  That would be a useful education.

Mr. Trudel looked rather put out.  “Well, um, we don’t usually let anyone see our... handiwork.  Our work is quite... proprietary, and our artists don’t like to be watched,” he stuttered and then cleared his throat.

Oh.  They didn’t want to be caught.

“Don’t worry, I really don’t want to be found out either,” I reminded him.  Sheesh, did these guys really not know what I was?

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t give you any promises at all,” he said warily.

I left the office carrying the huge box easily in my arms and went directly home to catch up on a year’s worth of old mail.  Emily’s letters were charming and fun to read.  Her trivial issues, so brief and fleeting, were of upmost importance to her human mind, and it was fun to enter her world again.  She loved my letters and drawings; her brothers liked them so much that they made them into a book to take to school.  Her classes had all but ended this school year, and she was now doing rounds and practicing being a nurse.  Her clinicals were going well, but she hated almost all the doctors because they were so very conceited.  The plans for the dance were going well, too, but she kept second-guessing every decision she made.  I was glad not to be there this year, because I would have knocked her senseless in frustration.  I was pleased, though, that she was so engaged in the business of life.

I quickly wrote her a reply before night fell, and headed out to mail it as the last rays of the sun disappeared from the city.  I was going to do what I had promised myself not to do; I was going to look for a diner that I knew I would only find during the day. I should have been working on finances or seeing a Broadway show, but it was just so close that I couldn’t not go looking.  With a sigh, I wrapped a dark coat around myself and began to run the streets of New York searching for what knew I would not find.

 

x||xXx||x

 

       I was on a very tight schedule, even for a vampire.  Emily would graduate on Friday, May 4, and host the graduation dance that night. I had to be back in New York for the announcement that the war in Europe was over by May 8.  The celebrations would be of a magnitude not seen in my lifetime.  I could foresee that the announcement of Japan’s surrender would cause an even greater celebration, but that wouldn’t happen for several months -- perhaps during the summer sometime.  I had no idea why, but mushrooms were involved somehow.  It was all very strange.

       I made it to Pittsburgh on May 2, and promptly began looking for the diner.  It was stupid, and I felt guilty for doing it, but I just had to find Jasper.  As I suspected, the diner wasn’t in Pittsburgh, but looking kept me out of trouble until I met up with Emily.

       May 4 was blessedly cloudy.  I walked right up to her house and knocked on the door with a barely suppressed smile and a gift of a new, very modern and stylish overcoat.  So long as I was in the city, I couldn’t help but shop a bit in the boutiques of New York.  I didn’t buy anything for myself, but shopping for Emily’s graduation gift simply had to be done. It was sacrifice I had been very willing to make.

       Emily’s brother opened the door and immediately greeted me.

       “Hiya, Alice!  Hey Em, Alice is here fer ya,” the boy yelled.  He looked almost six inches taller than I remembered him.  He would be taller than his six foot six inch father soon.

       “When did you decide to grow?” I teased.

       “Wasn’t my idea, believe me, but I’m real glad it happened,” he grinned, wrinkling his freckled nose.  He had the same childlike quality that Emily’s face held.  “I can finally take my dad when we wrestle.  Thanks for those nifty drawings, I got to use them as my science project for the fair this year.  It was the best one there, and I didn’t even have to do anything.”

       “Alice!” yelled a familiar and welcome voice.  My smile grew even larger, and Emily’s brother took two steps back in alarm while she ran past him to hug me.  My face was suddenly smothered against her upper abdomen in a very awkward hug.

       “I am so glad you came.  Come and see me in my cap and gown.  It looks so nice.  I just can’t believe that I am finally graduating, especially after all that’s happened...”  And so the year apart melted into nothingness as she led me up to her room crowded with gifts and boxes of all sorts.  She barely took a breath between words.  For her protection, neither did I.  “...so those things came from my aunt in D.C., and, look, my dad got me this wonderful corsage.  Tom’s parents bought me this purse and matching nurse’s shoes -- they are so wonderful -- and I can’t wait to open your gift.”

       I handed it to her without a word and she opened the box with a squeal of delight.  The little girl had not entirely been lost.

       “Oh, Alice, this must have cost you a fortune.  You shouldn’t have spent so much on me,” she gasped as her hands caressed the white mink dinner jacket.  She hugged the jacket to herself and beamed at me, “I just love it so much.”

       She was so much fun to give gifts to.  “I knew you would love it, that’s why I got it for you.  Don’t worry about the cost, I have some really good inside sources.”  I did too.

       “Wow, did you have fun in all your travels?  I can’t believe how many places you visited in just a year.  The pictures were wonderful.  Did you get any of my letters?  I know they were pretty boring in comparison,” she added with a blush.  That took me aback.  I had forgotten just how much her blood could pool under her cheeks and in her ears.  I looked out the window to get a fresh breath and clear the desire from my mind. 

       “I loved reading about how things went for you here,” I said truthfully.  “I can’t wait to see what you did with the dance tonight.  So why do you have all these boxes?” I asked to change the subject.  I didn’t need a reminder of how much my throat burned and how many people’s I ate in the last year while I sat in this human house with my human friend.  I cringed inwardly.  I was not planning to be her friend for much longer.  I did not want her anywhere near me when the others returned from the war.  I did not want her in danger.

       “I got a job in Philadelphia at the Children’s Hospital there.  Isn’t that wonderful?  I’m so excited that I can barely contain myself.  Anyway, I got an apartment with two other nurses and I will be moving next week to start my new life.”  She was nearly shaking with excitement.

       “That is wonderful Emily!”  I could feel my own smile respond to her joy.  This would be the perfect job for her, and I was ecstatic.  It was refreshing to feel joy for another person’s personal triumph.  This was such a human thing, and it was strangely poignant for me.

       “Honey, we need to leave in twenty minutes, get ready,” called Emily’s mother from the bottom of the stairs.

       “Oh,” she gasped.  “Oh, Alice, help me with the cap and gown.  I know you can make them look good on me.”

       I laughed as I helped her don the gown and set the hideous cap on her brown curls.  Making a cap and gown look good was a miracle far beyond my skills to perform.

       We drove to the school and dropped Emily off to get into formation in the small band room.  The family sat together with me to one side, dwarfed by the tall humans around me.  I must have looked like a child next to Emily’s lanky brothers.  I really hated that.

Even though I could not bear to breathe, and I was sitting surrounded by tasty humans that I had to ignore, I was glad for the time that I could spend with this very human, very normal family.  I was so glad that it was cloudy, I really didn’t want to miss Emily’s graduation because of the sun.

The graduation was just like mine had been, just like they had probably all been.  Staff, faculty, and graduates tried to look distinguished in ridiculous outfits with cardboard pinned or taped on their heads and fluffy tassels hanging in their faces.  I nearly laughed during the short speech offered by the school’s president because it was word for word just like the one he made at my graduation.  Then the valedictorian gave a speech that was almost word for word like the one offered at my graduation.  The guest speaker spoke of duty to country and the need to fight evil despots no matter what the cost, just like a year ago.  Did all graduations go this way?  Probably.

Seventy-eight minutes after it began, the last name was called and the graduates threw their caps into the air as we all clapped and shouted our congratulations.  I looked up to see the deep six-inch dent my own cap had left in the ceiling.  Yep.  It would probably be there until the building was demolished.  I felt a small sense of pride at the little mark that would always remind the school that Alice the vampire had been here.

Suddenly, human bodies shoved and jostled against me as families dove for their graduates.  Emily’s head kept appearing above the crowd as she jumped up to see her family.  Annoyingly, she really didn’t need to jump to see them because they all stood a head over the crowd.  Then, she broke through the bodies and was jumping as she hugged her mother and father.  Her brothers both glared at her, conveying their joint disapproval of showing their sister any type of affection in public.  They were such boys.

“Are you coming to the restaurant with us, Alice?” she asked breathlessly.  Her employers were giving her a huge luncheon on the house to celebrate her accomplishment.  As much as I wanted to spend my final time with her, I refused to go.  I would not go anywhere that included both Emily and food in the same room.

“I think you should celebrate with your family now, and I will celebrate with you tonight at the dance,” I said, cheerfully smiling at her.  She was never afraid of my smiles like she should be.

Her face dropped a bit.  “I thought you would be there for lunch.”

“I have other people to see in Pittsburgh while I’m here,” I gently lied, “but I will be in the gym by five to help with the final set up.”  That cheered her a bit.

“You promise to be there?”

“I have been looking forward to this dance for a year,” I said truthfully, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Just check everything for me, all right?” she whispered.  “I think I remembered everything, but I’m not sure.  Mom says it’s all done, but I just don’t really know.”  Her uncertainty made me laugh.

“Don’t worry about a thing, I’m sure it’s perfect, but I will check anyway.”

“Thanks, Alice.  You’re the best,” she sighed and hugged me tightly again.  How could she do that?

I waved the family off to eat and meandered around the campus.  Then I went to the gym to check on the party. 

It was decorated in the typical human way; crepe paper streamers and cheap paper flowers.  The food involved tiny, dry sandwiches, potato salad, and the ever-popular mini wieners dripping with sweet smelling barbeque sauce.  So typical. Emily had done one thing creatively; the walls were covered with the graduates’ favorite toys and memorabilia from their childhoods.  The effect was charming, but very subdued.  I would have had every surface covered and the gym completely transformed, and it was all I could do not to jump in and do some decorating of my own.  This was her party, I firmly reminded myself, and the vampire touch was neither wanted nor needed here. 

To keep myself from helping Emily, I decided that I might as well try to see Jasper or the others.  The few glimpses that I got of them always made my mood better, and I wanted to see them today as I said goodbye to my only human friend.  As I searched, I sadistically hoped that Edward and Rosalie were going at it again.  They were hilarious when they were mad at each other.  In fact, the fights with Rosalie, playing music, wrestling matches with Emmett, and hunting trips were the only things that seemed to pique Edward’s interest at all.  He seemed so bored with life.  I needed to shake up his routine. 

I let my mind wander, not really thinking of what I wanted to find.  That technique worked best to bring about the visions I needed to see.  Just like life, trying to force a vision rarely worked the way I wanted it to.  So I sat and simply desired Jasper’s presence.

Suddenly, his image filled my mind.  My body tensed and then relaxed in the special way that always happened when I saw him.  It was so strange how I could desire him so fiercely and yet have complete contentment overshadow the desire just by seeing him.

       It was a quiet vision of him sitting in what looked to be a dark library, simply reading a stack of books.  He was engrossed in the process, and the look on his face reminded me of myself when I had first learned to read in the old school, or when I discovered the library in New York.  The vision lasted a long time, with Jasper just sitting there, turning pages every few seconds and then picking up a new book, but I reveled in the scene.  It was so clear, almost like I was in the room silently watching him.   

Then the vision was gone.  I was totally and utterly content, and, for the first time in years, I had no needs other than to replay the scene over and over until his peaceful face was burned into my mind.  I was truly annoyed when I finally heard the footsteps of the first humans who had come to finish setting up for the party.

I sighed and stood to help whoever it was with the final preparations.  As a precaution, I stopped by the bathroom to check my face and change into my party dress first.  I didn’t need to touch up any makeup because I didn’t wear anything but ruby red lipstick, but I also didn’t want to terrify the unwary human who would have to set up a party with a vampire by looking too much like one.  I set my face to my most benign look, and walked into the gym to see what I could do to help.

The four nursing students who had volunteered to help set up for the dance looked up at me with astonished faces as I walked in.  At first, the looks were shocked, then jealous, then slightly fearful.  It was the way all human females looked at me.  Except Emily of course, but she was weird. 

The four girls backed away and waited for me to say something to them, so I cleared my throat, smiled a very small smile, and politely greeted them.

“Hi, my name is Alice.  I’m Emily’s friend and she asked me to come help with the party.  So what can I do?”

They all just stood there for a moment, their pounding hearts sounding alarmingly tasty to my ears, and then one of them said rather shakily, “Hi.  Emily told us you would be coming.  Could you set up the last of the streamers over the stage where the band will play?  We are just finishing up the food.”  She tried to smile in return, but she only managed to look a little ill. 

Streamers, great.  I know that they are the hallmark of human parties, but really, haven’t I taught Emily better? I sighed and headed over to the stage.

“How many does she want up?” I asked over my shoulder.  Two girls jumped at the sound of my voice.  I rolled my eyes in frustration. Really, it wasn’t even dark in here.  How could one little vampire in a chiffon dress terrify them so badly?

“Just use as much of the rest as you can,” called the courageous one, “and then that will be the last of the decorations that need to go up.”

Oh no, I thought, there is so much more that could go up, but I obediently walked over and began twisting and hanging streamers from the basketball hoop to the edge of the stage.  I decided to use up the last of the thin, droopy stuff. 

I hated streamers. They were sickeningly simple and cheap looking, and much too fragile for vampire fingers.  My hands were used to being gentle because fabrics tend to disintegrate under normal vampire pressure, but these crepe things were ridiculously wraith-like.  I would never have even considered using them even though they were normal decorations for these humans.  When I had finished making the stage look like a garishly colored rain forest, I went around and continued hanging crepe paper streamers on any surface not sufficiently covered by the limp paper flowers that drooped around the gym.  The nurses’ gazes never left my back, and I wondered just how frightening I had become in the months that I had spent with my own kind.  Why couldn’t I find a balance between human and vampire?

To make my mood just that much worse, I could hear the girls talking about me over by the food. 

“I don’t know why all the guys like her…”

“…more scary than pretty, if you ask me…”

“The guys like her until they actually meet her, and then they run.  Just watch tonight…”

“…looks at us with that smile, but the smile looks hungry like we are hamburgers or something…”

“Will you ladies stop?  She is a friend of Emily’s and helped her a bunch when she needed it.  Look, she’s doing what we asked without so much as a complaint.  You are so jealous that your eyes are turning green, so just shut your traps and finish the food,” hissed the courageous one. 

I was very grateful for her tirade as I was just about to jump in myself, and the vampire in me was very eager to show them just how hungry my smile could look.  If they wanted scary, then I could definitely help them out.

I sighed heavily.  I may be justified in my anger, but the fact that the beast growling inside me had grown so powerful so quickly set me aback.  The beast wished to kill them for being rude, and I had nearly given in.  Even as I tried to calm the angry vampire, it was reminding me of just how tasty young nurse could be and justifying the murders by killing only the vicious ones while letting the nice one live.

I grumpily continued in my self-appraisal until I heard Emily’s frantic voice coming from the hall.  I turned to see that she was pale and her eyes very wide as she took in every detail of the room. 

“Alice,” she called with relief in her voice, “is it perfect?  Did I do okay with everything?  What else is there, I just know I forgot something.  I don’t know about the colors, either.  Maybe…”

“Will you please relax!”  It was a frustrated command and not a question.  “It is perfect.  The food is ready, the decorations are set, and the band is in the hall.  You did very well.”  I lied a bit to make her feel better.  It was more correct to say she did very well for a human, but who was I to judge?

“It looks terrific, Em,” yelled one of the girls from the refreshment tables.  “The colors are perfect and everyone will love it.” 

Were there any humans in this state with a sense of good taste?

Given the current circumstance, I realized that “taste” was a word that I shouldn’t use right now.

The uncomfortable standoff between the nurses and myself eased just a bit with the arrival of Emily and her parents.  Her father and mother were staying to help for a while, but her brothers had been shipped off to a friend’s house so that they could not destroy the dance.  They had been scheduled to help Emily set up, but, apparently, their father had found several home made smoke bombs, two large slingshots, and a huge supply of black ink in their rooms, and they were now banished from the dance.  Such a pity, it would have been more fun for me if they had made it here undetected. 

Suddenly, the band showed up, people began shuffling in the doors, and Emily was surrounded by well-wishers and admirers. The tall, painfully shy girl who had somehow found a vampire to befriend simply blossomed in front of me.  She stood taller, smiled wider, and began talking animatedly to those around her.  I felt a swell of pride at her transformation.  I had traveled thousands of miles over several continents.  I had turned away from my murderous nature and lived among humans without harming many of them.  I had returned from the depth of grief and sorrow and become a college graduate.  None of those things compared to this.  Forcing Emily to come out of the shell that she had made for herself may have been the most important thing I had ever done.

Then, without warning from my fickle visions, the crowd surrounding Emily was drawing close to me, with Emily leading the way.

“This is Alice, most of you probably remember her,” she said smiling, “and I would never have even attempted this without her practically forcing it on me.”

I smiled at the sea of faces that regarded me with a mix of attraction and apprehension.

“Really, it was just a suggestion,” I laughed, trying to appear benign.  It didn’t work, but I didn’t really expect it to.

“Anyway, as I was saying, Alice has never even once tried the food that the restaurant makes.”  She smiled wickedly as I froze in trepidation.  “But tonight I am making her at least try my dad’s special barbeque sauce and wieners and my mom’s potato salad.”

“Emily, no!”  My face and the growl in my voice were enough to make the other graduates step back several feet, but Emily was, of course, undeterred.  After spending three hours trying to get the vile cherry coke out of my stomach, I couldn’t imagine what a barbecued wiener would do to me.

Her face turned petulant as mine turned murderous. 

“Alice, please,” she whined.  “Mother and father spent hours cooking the food, and I want to share it with you.  This is my dad’s secret recipe barbeque and my grandmother’s famous potato salad.  You just have to try them.  Please?  As a special treat for me?” 

The conniving wench was piteously begging, and, surrounded by the curious faces of the others, I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to avoid the food.  The vampire reminded me that I could easily avoid it if I was willing to kill to do so.

So, prompted by the cantankerous human and to keep the monster contained, I smiled and said, “Well, if it makes you happy.  But I really am not all that hungry, so could I have just a little please?”  My voice sounded like gravel as the growls from the vampire made their way out.

Emily squealed in delight and darted off to get my “little” amount of food while the crowd continued to watch in curiosity.  They all instinctually knew what Emily was oblivious to, that this scene was somehow very, very wrong.

She came back with a plate piled high with dripping wieners and sludgy potatoes.  I knew that the humans loved these two items, she had bragged about her father’s recipe and her grandmothers cooking before, so I am sure Emily couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t want to eat the plate full of food. 

“Alice, stop looking like that!  It isn’t going to kill you to eat this, you know.  It might even put some meat on your bones,” she said, as if she was talking to a child.

I laughed almost hysterically at the thought of food killing me and putting meat on my bones.  Then, looking wildly around, I simply grabbed the offensive pile and stared blankly at it. 

“Really Alice, there is no reason to look so sick.  Good grief, you are even paler than normal.”  She was getting annoyed now.  I tore my gaze away from the plate and looked around at the faces.  The evil nurses had looks of triumph, like they knew something was seriously wrong with me.   I tried to ignore the vampire’s call to remove their evil from the earth.  Then I tried to silent the vampire’s terrified screams as I put the sickeningly sweet and slimy wiener in my mouth and swallowed. 

It was far worse than I could have imagined.  I couldn’t actually taste the food, but my sense of smell told me more than I needed to know.  The meat smelled and tasted of salt, and the sauce was a mixture of tart and sweet that overwhelmed my vampire senses.  I knew I would smell nothing but sauce until I rid myself of it.  I had never in my life felt so much like screaming and running in panic.

Suddenly, I realized that I had very in-humanly swallowed the wiener whole, and that my face was contorted into a look of sheer disgust.

I steeled myself, forced the look on my face to change to some mimicry of joy, and said, “Wow, Emily, this is incredible.”

She laughed and clapped her hands.  “For a minute there, I thought you were about to throw the whole thing up.  Mom and Dad will be so happy that you like it.  Now try Mom’s salad while I get you something to drink.”

I very nearly lunged for her throat, but the shrinking, sane part of my mind somehow kept enough control to merely pop a helping of the lumpy salad into my mouth and chew it to a liquefied state.

The second I swallowed it, my entire middle section began to try to heave the thing back up.  It tasted of nothing, but had a grotesque texture that revolted every part of me.  I locked my non-heaving muscles in place and tried not to look like the puking monster I was.  It took every ounce of control that I had gained in the last twenty-five years to continue taking bites of the vile, tasteless stuff. 

A cup found its way to my hand and I was vaguely aware in the midst of my suffering that Emily had handed me some of the unnaturally red punch.  I put it aside, and quickly, much too quickly, shoved the remainder of the food into my mouth and pulverized it.  Then, with one final dip into my shrinking reserve of control, I grabbed the drink and drained it in record time. 

My entire inner body was screaming in protest and pulsing in an attempt to rid itself of the mass of food inside.  The drink only helped get the food further down my esophagus. It brought no relief and only added to the sickeningly sweet taste and smell.  The red dye tasted metallic and only made the whole torturous session that mush more horrid.  I was vacillating between quaking in anger and heaving in disgust, but I put the drink down gently and turned to Emily.

It took everything I had to not kill her and all the gawking humans in the room.

“Thanks,” I smiled, “tell your Mom and Dad that they are great cooks, Emily.  I can’t believe I waited so long to try their cooking.”

“Do you want more?” she asked brightly.

Do you want me to kill you now or later?

“Um, no thanks, but maybe a little later.  I really am not very hungry,” I said as I tried to command my stomach to stop its convulsive retching.

“You ate like you were famished,” she laughed, and several others laughed with her.

I looked around, partly in curiosity and partly to find victims, and I found that the humans were relaxing and smiling around me.  The simple act of eating a pile of food made me seem so much more human that they were now willing to accept me.  It was an unexpected response, and one that was absolutely not worth the effort.

Blessedly, just then the band started up with a lively swing number.  Quickly, the crowd thinned and people made their way to the dance floor.  Emily stood smiling at me until her dad came over and led her to the floor as well.  I was only vaguely aware of all of it because I was trying to keep my control just long enough to make it into the trees.

Forcing the food out was horrendous.  I heaved and heaved and forced muscles normally used to drink warm, think fluid to retch up the solid and liquefied masses in my belly.  It took nearly half an hour to get most of the large chunks and thicker liquid out.  It smelled and looked disgusting.  I had no idea how to get the smaller chunks and thinner liquid out, but I didn’t want to hunt until it was all gone.  It was, however, not painful anymore and not so sickening that I couldn’t join the others who would by now be looking for me.