What if Bella lived in 1918? Would the story of Bella and Edward change or remain the same? "It was naïve of me to have thought that, even with their bodies racked with a horrible disease that was killing millions across the world, they would still somehow make it. Even with all of the pessimistic doubts I'd had before, I wasn't prepared for it when it really happened."
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"Are you ready?"
I looked out over the not quite bustling landscape of the village of Mt. Prospect. It was April now and there were not many people out as the temperature was a mere twenty-eight degrees, a fresh two feet of snow covered the ground, and a howling wind swept chillingly through the area. The people who did venture outside of their warm homes were bundled up with thick woolen sweaters and mittens.
The cold did not bother me of course- it might have been a perfect seventy-five degrees complete with a balmy, caressing breeze for all that it felt like to me. However, I was just as anxious as any of the townspeople to get into one of the warm storefronts that lined the main street of the village.
"Yes," I answered confidently.
Carlisle gripped my shoulder in a sign of trust and watched me as I headed off alone to the town at a much slower pace than we'd come.
This was not our first trip into town- it was actually the twelfth time we'd come in the last ten months. Of course, Carlisle thought we should wait several months before attempting any kind of contact with humans. But once we'd started, we then began coming much more frequently to strengthen my stamina.
The village was roughly nine miles from the house that Carlisle had taken me to ten months ago. I found out later that this was actually a house he had owned before for a long time and had only used when he needed to go out of the city to hunt. He had owned a house in the city where he mainly lived, but obviously had not thought it wise to bring me there whilst I transformed. The house here was situated miles from any other human for the express purpose of being out of the way of any temptation.
We'd started slowly. To my surprise, Carlisle suggested that we begin with crowds of people rather than a single human. He explained, and I later found out to be true for myself, that large groups of humans were easier to resist as the threat of danger- or more, the threat of discovery was strong enough to deter the incredible thirst. Being with a single human all by oneself, with no threat of consequence, was much more of a challenge.
Which was precisely our test for today. I had graduated from walking along the sidelines of crowds with Carlisle's hand firmly on my shoulder, whispering words of encouragement, to walking amongst a large group of people with Carlisle at a distance, and then lately we'd been working on enclosed spaces with smaller amounts of people. The last time we'd come to town, I'd been in a store with only two other people and Carlisle across the room. Each time it had gotten easier- the thirst would eventually recede as I thought of other things.
I did admittedly have a great advantage with my new abilities- my "gift" as Carlisle called it. It made it much easier to keep a hold on reality and remember that these creatures with delicious smelling blood- so much more mouthwatering than that of other animals- were actually people and had lives. Hearing their thoughts was incredibly effective in reminding me that they should have better ends to their lives than simply being a meal for me.
Today Carlisle wanted to challenge me. For the first time, he would leave me completely alone in the town, and I would withstand being in a room with a single person.
I was just a tad nervous. I'd grown a lot in my stamina since we'd first begun- I'd never actually attacked anyone, though we'd had some close calls at first. By now, I was able to maneuver through a crowd with ease and could be in more confined spaces with just slightly more difficulty. Still, it had always been comforting to know that Carlisle was right there, and able to interfere should anything go awry.
Just as he had predicted, I had lost nearly all of the strength common to newborns and my eyes had gone from red to amber, and now they were just the same shade of golden brown that Carlisle's were.
I was the most grateful for this change as the blood red irises that had been a part of my new face had always frightened me the most. I had grown well-accustomed to most of the other changes. I remembered exactly the feeling of horror at myself when I understood what I'd been changed into, but now, I could readily accept the view of Dr. Cullen- that this really was not such a horrid life.
It was amazing all of the things one could experience when the foibles of mortality were taken away- even the simple act of sleeping. With all of those hours of the night now completely available, there was so much to do! I'd taken up reading all of Carlisle's books, some of which he'd had here already and some of which, after seeing my interest, he'd ordered from the store in the village. All I needed was to read them once and then I had every paragraph, every word of every sentence stored carefully in my powerful memory. It was utterly fascinating and marvelous.
That did not come till many months had passed however. The first several months we'd spent nearly every day hunting. It was all I could think about at that time, and it was as if the flames in my throat could never be quenched. Eventually though, we'd try lasting a day without needing to hunt, then broadening to several days, until a week. I could now go more than eleven days without hunting.
However today we had not wanted to take any chances. We'd hunted the night before in anticipation of this trip into town. The circles under my eyes had all but disappeared, there appeared an almost flush to my pallid skin, and my eyes only reflected a golden butterscotch color. Quite unassuming and nothing suspicious to be found at all.
All the same, no matter these changes, I could well anticipate the reactions I would receive upon interacting with people as it was always the same. You generally could not stare at a human for more than eight seconds as their instincts, though so much slower than ours, could at least pick up on the quite real sense of danger and they would become frightened. They also became wary if you were too still, which I came to notice, was a natural state for my kind. And it was more than just a little frustrating and tedious to force myself to move as a human, or, as it felt like to me- moving in slow motion.
I walked along the platform that enclosed the lines of storefronts. There were eighteen people out in total today- six braving the cold in the streets, and twelve inside of the various stores, whether working or shopping. And my goal was to enter a shop with one single human by myself, and leave them alive.
The bakery had the greatest amount, most of which were mothers buying their bread for breakfast the next day. The bar had an unsurprising amount of people, considering that it was late at night. And the dry goods store had a scattering of humans, purchasing items that would best serve them for the blustery night ahead.
In the post office however, there was a single human, trying determinedly to send off a letter, despite the time of day or the uncompromising weather. The man who operated the office had gone to ask the authorities if it would be possible to send any mail out. This would have to be the best option.
Taking a deep breath, not for the supply of oxygen but merely as a way to savor the clean, crisp air before the it would be tainted with the most agonizingly luscious aroma, I finally opened the door to the post office.
The woman turned her head slightly to see who had come in, hoping it would be the clerk. Her eyes widened slightly as she took in my appearance before she quickly turned her head back to the post shelves.
Mrs. Durberville had seen me before, but always when I had been accompanied by Carlisle. Carlisle had been able to interact more with the villagers of Mt. Prospect, with whom he had never had reason to talk to before, and had given them the alibi that we were a father and son staying in the nearby area for a year-long hunting excursion. Mrs. Durberville liked the pleasing, easy-going manners of the man they called Dr. Cullen, but found me to be rather frightening. She always seemed to see something predatory-like in my expression- and there was no change in that estimation of myself now.
In my defense, the woman wasn't making it any easier on me. From the time that her eyes had frozen in recognition of me, the beat of her heart had increased to a much higher tempo, and yet still one could clearly hear the lovely, moist squeezing sound of the space in between beats. The circulation of blood in her system also speeded up in conjunction with her heartbeat, and was now racing through her veins. I could hear the change, but also, agonizingly, see it as her hair was piled high on her head, leaving a clear, terribly inviting view of her small neck, with a quite salient vein throbbing on the side.
But I had been through this before. This part was really not so bad. It was all a mere precursor to when I could actually catch the scent of her, with all of the potent markings combined in one.
I turned around to the window of the store front, folding my arms in front of my chest, as if to somehow steady myself. I then closed my eyes, willing them to block out the appealing sight I had just seen, in preparation for the assault I was about to receive to my throat.
And then I finally took a breath.
Ah, she was truly appetizing. My mouth filled with venom, the name that Carlisle had defined as the moisture that filled my mouth when hunting, and my throat felt as if a torch had been ignited in its depths. There was still no one around close by, no one to notice anything wrong.
In my mind, I easily imagined my body turning towards her, silently, gliding closer to the source of that incredibly sweet, enticing aroma until I was mere inches away from her, my hands slightly raised, ready to stretch that tantalizing throat back and sink my teeth into its soft contours. I could hunt much more cleanly now; not a single drop of her blood would touch the wooden floor beneath us.
Oh, how I hope he comes home soon...
I opened my eyes to see the cold window front. The pull of the scent was just as strong, but, as I read the thoughts of the human whose blood I had just desperately desired a moment ago, it was slightly less appealing now.
Mrs. Durberville was very keen to get a letter out to her husband tonight. He had been away for weeks, attending to business at one of the factories he owned in Chicago. But for the past few days their son had come down with a fever and she was now most insistent that Mr. Durberville come home immediately. She had stayed up all night long yesterday with her son and could not leave until this time, and now she absolutely dreaded whether she would be able to send the letter at all tonight.
I took a few steps back from her, silently so that she would not notice. She would never know how close she came to death herself just now.
The door swung open with a tinkling bell attached to it, signaling the arrival of another human. I was grateful- it really was easier with more people in the room.
The man that entered was still not the post master. He was Mr. Durberville, tall and young with a neatly clipped black mustache, and the shoulders of his thick coat lightly dappled with newly fallen snow. His mouth stretched wide revealing very white teeth as he saw his wife.
"Darling!" she cried in surprised relief.
The couple took in my appearance as if remembering that I was here at all. I turned around, pretending to look at different kinds of stationary, to give them more privacy. Well, at least the illusion of privacy- I could still see and hear everything, even were I to try to block it out.
Mr. Durberville brought his arms around his wife and smiled indulgently at her. "You seem to be happy at my early arrival?" he murmured, and if I was only human, I likely would not have been able to hear it.
She beamed adoringly in response. "Why, yes of course. I was just about to write you- but how ever were you able to come home so soon?"
He swept some loose strands from her forehead before answering. "I finished business at the factory sooner than anticipated." He smiled with a strange gleam in his eyes.
I froze. Not because the addition of this scent made things more difficult. Not because I was afraid of losing control. It was because I knew exactly why Mr. Durberville had been able to leave business early in Chicago.
Mr. Durberville had needed to stop by one of his downtown businesses because of a recurring problem with the workers. The factory was mainly staffed by children under the age of thirteen years old, and most came from several orphanages in the area. This was of course, an astute business strategy as they could pay them so little, as well as keep working and housing conditions at a bare minimum. There was one drawback however, and that was that such conditions did not make the children the most healthy or happy. As Mr. Durberville inspected the factory, he had observed some of the boys talking back to one of the supervisors and decided to demonstrate proper punishment for such offenses. Unfortunately, the leather whip he'd used, or perhaps the vehemence that he'd employed while using it, was too strong for two of the boys, and they had died the night before. As he was an orphan and in sole employ of the factory, there was no one to be missed by him and no one of consequence to notice his disappearance, so they buried him behind the factory. This was protocol for Mr. Durberville by now, as it had not been the first time that this had occurred.
He'd also delayed his arrival at home for some days by stopping in at the abode of his mistress.
I could feel the bloodlust rising in me again, and perhaps this time I would not be able to control myself anymore. But this was for an entirely different reason.
Just as the thoughts of Mrs. Durberville had helped dissipate the call for her blood, the contents of Mr. Durberville's mind might end up being the cause of his death.
The postmaster finally arrived back in the store, momentarily disabling my murderous intent.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Durberville, there's simply no mail going out tonight. Not in this weather."
She smiled happily at him. "Oh, that's alright, Frank. I don't need to send a letter anymore." She placed her arm in her husband's and the couple walked out of the store, looking perfectly happy and content.
Frank Greesom, the postmaster, looked to me. "And you, young man? Is there anything I can help you with?" he asked politely.
I turned from the stand of stationary, my jaw clenched tight and my hands in fists in the pockets of my jacket. Frank's eyes widened and he stiffened at the expression on my face. I had to admit, it was rather terrifying.
"No, thank you," I muttered before walking out of the store.
I took in several deep breaths of clean air as I tried to control myself. I recalled all of the things that Carlisle constantly told me, of the sanctity of people's lives, that we could be different from others of our kind, that we did not have to be slaves to our base instincts.
I believed him implicitly, though we had yet to encounter any others of our kind in the area to provide a different outlook. From the first he had ever told me, I knew I could trust implicitly in his view, in this way of living that he had sacrificed much to have.
And yet, sometimes I wondered...
Would it really be so bad to eliminate the humans that did not deserve life- the ones that were barely human themselves? I had the uncommon ability to see just who was worthy of the life they had and who were not- and Mr. Durberville was by far hardly the most evil mind I had trespassed. I knew perfectly well that there were much more depraved and decrepit minds currently enjoying complete anonymity and had little chance of being discovered and brought to condemnation.
Could this not as well be some of the benefits of my new gifts- to bring justice to those who truly deserved it? And would it not be the best option for myself as well- finally able to partake of the blood that called to me so tantalizingly, and still be justified in doing so?
I would never align myself with those of our kind that Carlisle had met in Italy; I could never desire to hunt the innocent. It was only during times like these, when I met with those who would serve the world better sleeping under six feet of dirt, that I could at all imagine myself actually feeding off of humans.
But these thoughts always dissipated after a few moments, when the bloodlust was under control. I had never talked about this view with Carlisle, knowing what he would say. I had learned quickly that he had a lot of faith in people, too much perhaps. Still, it was not worth it to throw the life I had established with Carlisle away.
I walked out of the town, a bit too quick to appear normal. It did not matter as much, as even less people were out now. The snow was falling thicker, and the temperature had dropped another five degrees.
Soon I had arrived at the town limits, finding Carlisle at exactly the same place I had left him. His expression was slightly worried as he watched me. I remembered that I had passed today's test and smiled quickly to reassure him. His features relaxed into a smile in return.
"I take it things went well, then?" he asked.
I paused slightly. "Yes. I caught Mrs. Durberville alone at the post office. Certainly, it was a bit harder than usual, but I was able to endure it. She was never in any danger." Again, I was reluctant to tell Carlisle that the real danger had only occurred when Mrs. Durberville's husband arrived.
Carlisle clapped a hand on my shoulder. "I'm so proud of you, Edward. You've adapted to this life so well, I can't..." he faltered for a moment, then smiled easily. "Well, actually, I'm sure you are aware of how much it means to me."
I smiled back at him at the reference to my mind reading abilities. I certainly did know how often Carlisle pondered the increase in happiness that had occurred in his life since he'd decided to change me. It was vastly different compared to the centuries of solitude he'd endured before, having no one to share this life with him, like the difference between night and day. And, though he'd never said it aloud, at times I'd caught him thinking of me as his son.
I did not mind this comparison so much. Even if my memories of my human life were not quickly fading away, as they most definitely were, I imagined I would still view Carlisle as a type of father for myself- the father of my new life.
And this was another reason why I felt reluctant to share with him my occasional bloodlust for less deserving humans.
We ran back to the home, barely leaving tracks in the snow-covered hills. It took us much less than a minute to cover the nine miles.
I stepped into the large living room, taking out one of Carlisle's medical tomes that I had not read yet. It was about six hundred pages in volume; if I perused it carefully, it might entertain me for two hours or so.
Carlisle sat down on the large couch in the middle of the room. He watched me for a minute; his thoughts indicated that he was preparing himself for something.
"Edward, there's something that I'd like to discuss with you."
I looked up from the medical book. There was a slight guarded look in his expression, but he tried to appear natural.
"There was a bit more to the test that I gave you today, which you passed so excellently. Now you know that you can do this by yourself- or choose to live this life at all. I don't want you to feel any debt to me, and you're welcome now to make the decision for yourself- if you want to stay with me." He'd tried to keep his voice polite and level as he'd spoken, but by the end there was just a tinge of rough emotion.
I'd heard him occasionally thinking such thoughts before- and knew how much it was costing him to give me this option. I smiled at him easily. "Of course, I want to stay with you, Carlisle."
His eyes closed for a second, his joy and relief so strong. He did not trust himself to speak, so he used his mind instead. Thank you.
He took a deep breath, his expression brightened considerably. "Well, now that that's settled, I wanted to suggest that we move on to a new area. I usually wait a few more years before moving to a new area, but I think it might be best to have a fresh start soon. You have very clearly proven that you are capable of withstanding temptation and I think we could handle a more populated city. I was thinking of going more north, up to Wisconsin- it's much easier for us when the climate is overcast more throughout the year and I've heard that they have excellent hospitals there. They also have some fine colleges there, if you wanted to further your education. But if you had any other ideas, I'm more than open to them."
This too did not surprise me as I'd often heard him contemplating it over the last few months. And it was good as it had given me time to think for myself if there was anything I needed to do before finally leaving the area of my birth and all ties to my human life behind.
"I'm more than willing to go anywhere you want, Carlisle- but there is something that I'd like to do before we leave." My voice came out a little unsure.
"What is it?"
I looked down at my hands as I spoke and tried to keep my voice level as well. "When my parents died, there were no other surviving members of the family to inherit- it should have all gone to me. If we wait too late, the house, my mother's things, will have all gone to the state. I was wondering, if it would be at all possible for us to return, just for a few days, so that I can claim them."
Carlisle did not speak for a moment, studying my expression carefully. He could tell how important it was to me, but he could also think of some major impediments in such a plan. He spoke hesitantly. "I can well understand your desire to retain the things of your family, Edward. I too, kept a relic of my father's parsonage for sentimental reasons. But, I waited until several decades had passed to return, so that no one could possibly remember me. And, as you know, we don't know what has been decided with regards to your supposed death- none of the news has reached here. It could be very dangerous for the both of us to try to return."
I had thought of all of these reasons myself. I knew it was probably foolish. But my own memories were fading so fast, I could barely recall the look of the house I had grown up in, or the scent of my mother's perfume she had always worn. I already well felt that I had dishonored my parents by allowing them to die, and now I was almost entirely forgetting their existence. The only hope I had was by retaining their physical possessions, I could somehow keep their memory alive.
Carlisle took in my expression, not needing to read my thoughts to know what I was feeling. "Well, there's no harm in trying is there? We certainly know how to be inconspicuous." He sighed slightly. "We should start off by knowing what has been determined of your death, and if there were any connections made between my subsequent disappearance. We could make a stop at the hospital..."
"Why the hospital?"
"The hospital where I worked at and your family had been interred should have your medical records. Usually, if a mysterious death has occurred, they'll place a copy of any police findings or official statements in them as well. We could go directly to the police station for that, but"- he gave a grim smile- "if they determined that I murdered you, it's probably safer to check the hospital instead."
I nodded, not even aware that that conclusion could have been reached.
"Of course, having you in a hospital, with likely liberal amounts of blood in the air, is probably not the best idea. Would you prefer to stay here?"
I had anticipated this too, and very much agreed with his assessment. "I was thinking, rather, that I might visit the graves of my parents- since this will likely be the last time we are in the area for awhile. And," I gave a wry smile, "a cemetery should not be too dangerous for me, even by myself."
Carlisle nodded. "Yes, you should be fine. At best, it should take no more than a few days. If they thought that your body simply went missing, we can write to the procurers of the will and give proof that you survived."
"And if they thought you murdered me?" I asked lightly.
Carlisle's face turned bleak. I had tried to keep any accusation from my tone, as of course, I felt no resentment towards him, yet knowing that he would take it hard anyway. "Then we'll have to find some other means, perhaps. But, we'll find something, Edward. I promise we'll do everything we can."
I nodded again. This would be my final farewell, not only to my parents or the city that I grew up in, but most importantly my life as a human. And I could withstand it if I could just keep something from it. Something that would not fade with time, like my fast-slipping memories- that would last through eternity with me.
"It's dawn now," Carlisle observed as he looked through the curtains, bringing me from my thoughts. "The sun is coming out, so we won't be able to be out until the storm comes again. Shall we postpone our trip until tonight?"
I looked at him, feeling the determination forming in myself. "Tonight," I agreed.