Sunday, January 17, 2010
Amnesia, Chapter 4 - Discovery
“Isabella Marie Swan.”
I whispered the words reverently, like a prayer. My breath stirred a few dark brown hairs next to her ear and she twitched ever so slightly, but didn’t awake. A soft “mmmmm” vibrated in her throat, the corners of her mouth curving subtly at the sound of her name. I liked to imagine that she could hear me in her dreams, and that the sound of my voice was soothing to her. I would give anything to be the source of even a moment’s comfort for her, after being the cause of her hell.
I had spent the last three nights like this by her hospital bed, watching her lost in a hazy, narcotic-induced sleep. The sound of her even breathing was the sweetest music I’d ever heard. Sometimes she spoke, usually nonsensical phrases or names of people I didn’t know. Occasionally she smiled or laughed aloud, and I wondered what dreams provoked her happy outbursts. I was jealous of anyone or anything that could inspire her pleasure, and cursed myself for being capable of causing only her nightmares. She seemed to have very few of those, and I was glad. I had overheard the nurses talking about what a blessing it was that she couldn’t recall what type of animal had ravaged her throat like that. If they only knew just how loathsome that creature really was, and how close his proximity, they would have run for their lives.
That fateful night played over and over in my mind like a bad movie on repeat, no matter how I tried to switch it off. The ending was always the same: the hideous monster runs from the scene of the crime like a fucking coward, hating himself and begging whatever God might take pity on his prayers to spare his victim’s life. I had hidden behind a tree and waited until the ambulance arrived, then stood unmoving for some time after the vehicle had zoomed off with her body in its confines. I couldn’t shake the image of the cop bent over her, half-shouting at her to hang on, help was coming, as he ripped off his uniform and pressed it against her neck to stop the bleeding. I could see his hand shaking as he stroked her hair, and the expression on his face seemed to be one of frantic, barely-contained fear. I wondered if he knew this girl, as he seemed so personally invested in her well-being. Then again, I didn’t know her at all, and the lump of terror in my throat at what I had done was nearly strangling me in its grip.
The sound of another vehicle pulling up to the scene shook me from my daze. It was a cop car. A second soon pulled up behind it. I saw the officers step out, leading a German shepherd police dog that began sniffing the area, picking up the scent. My scent. With a sudden spur of self-preservation, I turned and began running as fast as I could into the forest, deep into the thicket which I had so painstakingly picked my way out of less than an hour ago. I was amazed at how well I could see with my new nocturnal eyes, and how quickly the trees sped by me in a blur of feathery leaves and twigs. In mere minutes, it seemed, I stumbled upon a small clearing, and slowed at its familiarity. I looked over to my right, and sure enough, there was the deer stand I’d raided and abandoned hours ago. I gaped at in in shock. How had I found this place again, and how had I made the trip back in minutes versus hours? I felt the crazy-man laugh bubble up from my barely-taxed lungs as I realized how much harder my day had been than was necessary. In all the explorations of my new physical talents, why had it never occurred to me to test my speed? After all, Superman hadn’t just been stronger than a locomotive, he’d been faster than a speeding bullet too.
I stood still for a moment, listening for the sound of the German Shepherd. I heard nothing but the softly falling rain. I knew that even if the dog could stay with my scent despite the wet, it would take the men all night to find me in the dark with their flashlights. I was most likely safe. And even if they somehow caught me, what could they do to me? Their bullets would probably bounce off my skin as harmlessly as the tin can had earlier.
I wandered aimlessly into the small cabin, removing my rain-soaked jacket and draping it over the back of the chair to dry. I stretched out on the cot and hoped desperately for a sleep that I knew would never come. I could do nothing but wonder if I had killed that innocent girl, robbed those lovely green eyes of life forever. Her scent still filled my nostrils; her blood still coursed through my veins, and I hated how alive it made me feel, when I knew better. I was nothing more than a parasite, sucking the life force out of others so that I could exist. Well, I couldn’t, wouldn’t, do it again. There was no way I would take another human life. I deserved to die of slow and painful desiccation instead.
As I lay pondering my fate, wondering how long it would take for hunger to kill a vampire (since the sun burning me up was obviously a myth,) I heard a snuffling noise outside the door. A pungent but somewhat appetizing odor soon followed. I turned my head and saw a large, bulky figure in the doorway, its nose to the floor, following the smell of the empty cans I’d tossed away that afternoon. Huge, hairy paws grasped the bean can and brought it up to the long, quivering snout of the creature…a black bear.
God really was showing me some undeserved mercy, I decided. Maybe I could get myself killed much more quickly than I had originally thought.
“Hey there, Mr. Bear,” I said with a raucous, sawed-off laugh as I approached. “It’s your lucky day. Instead of eating the usual garbage, you get to feast on human flesh! Well, not-so-human, maybe,” I rambled. “Undead human, perhaps? Either way, it’s sure to be better than what you’re used to, eh?” The bear regarded me warily and let out a low growl. In response, I formed a fist and whacked the animal straight across the nose.
I don’t know why I had thought the bear would be a match for my freakish strength. It seemed foolish in retrospect. And yet I was still flabbergasted when blood began to pour from the creature’s snout as it wailed in outrage. The beast rushed me, its dagger-like claws shredding through my shirt, and its teeth heading straight for my throat. Yes, I thought madly. Give me what I deserve.
But the bear found no purchase in my stone exterior. Instead, the smell, the heat and the heartbeat of the animal began to pulse through my body just as they had when I’d clutched the girl to me earlier that night. The animal’s scent was nowhere near as irresistible as hers had been, but the overpowering thirst filled my mouth once again. In a quick, effortless motion, I snapped the bear’s neck back and fed on the river of blood that coursed from its artery. It happened so fast, I barely had time to register what I was doing. Only when I stepped back from the limp body of the animal did I fully realize what I was and what I was capable of.
I was a killer. And there was no creature alive I couldn’t defeat.
Self-loathing filled me again as I struggled to accept my new reality. And yet, in the back of my mind, a tiny well of hope began to spring. I may be a killer, but I didn’t have to be a murderer. I didn’t have to gorge on human blood. I could exist on the blood of animals, just as I had eaten their flesh in my former life.
Somehow this realization filled me with relief, and I began to see that there might be a way to come to terms with what had happened to me. Clearly, others of my kind existed, since a vampire had evidently turned me into one as well, then abandoned me to live or die by my preternatural wits. A mindless monster had created me, but I didn’t have to succumb to the same fate. I had no desire to hide in the woods alone and become more and more like the animals I was now forced to hunt. Maybe I could continue to live a human existence somehow, mingling among people without being discovered.
Well, on cloudy days anyway, I chuckled darkly to myself.
As dawn approached and I thought more about the possibility, I became more and more determined. Whoever Edward Anthony Masen had been, he hadn’t asked for or deserved the fate he’d been handed. I owed it to him to try to live the life that had been stolen from him, and to find out of whom and what he’d been robbed. I would give him as close to a normal human life as I could. And I would start by making sure that he hadn’t become a murderer.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl. I had to know if she was alive. The thought of her pale, lifeless face when I left her sickened me. I decided to find out what hospital they’d taken her to, and I would make sure she had survived before I did anything else.
I was still afraid to show myself in the daylight, even though the sky remained overcast throughout the morning. I spent my day dragging the corpse of the bear deep into the brush and then cleaning the cabin up as best I could while I waited impatiently for the cloud-covered sun to wax and then wane over the treetops.
It was easy to find my way to the nearest town now that I had discovered my ability to practically fly on my feet. Once I located the paved road that had nearly been my undoing last night, I followed it in the direction the ambulance had taken. I soon approached the outskirts of a small burg with a modest wooden sign proclaiming, “Forks, Washington. Population 3,275.” I wondered if a town that size would even have a hospital. They may have had to take her somewhere bigger.
I tried to keep an inconspicuously human pace as I strolled down the main street of Forks, taking in the small shops, cafes, post office, and library. I was relieved to see that the library looked recently remodeled, as I wanted to revisit it later and use its public computers. But my destination now was the hospital, which I found easily at the south edge of town.
I stood hidden between a large van and an SUV in the parking lot as I deliberated on a plan of action. I was glad that my jacket looked fairly clean, covering the blood-stained, torn flannel and thermal shirts I wore underneath. My mud-encrusted jeans and sneakers were another story. I knew that I would need to find clean clothes if I hoped to continue to walk around unnoticed. But without money, I would be forced to steal whatever I needed. I wondered absently what kind of work might be available around here for me to make a quick buck or two. Even so, the fact remained that I would still need decent attire if I had any hope of being hired, even in the most menial job.
I leaned down and peered into the rearview mirror of the empty SUV next to me to get a glimpse of myself, in case I was as freaky-looking as I felt. I was surprised to see a fairly normal face looking back at me, not unlike the photo on the I.D. card I still carried. A bit dirty and mussed, but not ghoulish or creepy like I half-expected to find. I ran a hand through my unruly russet hair and took a deep breath, psyching myself up to enter the hospital and act as nonchalantly human as possible.
The crunch of wheels braking to a stop startled me as a car pulled up on the opposite side of the SUV. I heard two doors open and shut as the car‘s inhabitants exited, and their conversation carried over the top of the vehicle between us.
“God, Mike, I still can’t believe what happened to Bella,” a girl’s voice said with a tinge of disbelief. “What are the odds of her getting attacked by some wild animal on the side of the road like that?”
My spine went rigid. They must be talking about me and the girl. The girl had a name, and it meant “beautiful” in Italian. My heart did a pathetic little flip at the discovery.
“She should have known better, wandering around in the dark like that,” a male voice answered angrily. “I told her I’d give her a ride home from work, but no, she had to drive that damned bucket of bolts she calls a truck. Shit, I wish I’d ignored her and forced her into my Buick before she could say no. If I had, she wouldn’t be lying in the ICU right now.”
Thank God, she’s still alive. I wanted to cry with relief.
“I heard she almost died twice,” the girl said with an odd tone of excitement, as if this were a piece of juicy gossip instead of sobering news. I already disliked her. “They had to give her transfusions and stuff ‘cause she lost so much blood.”
I could see the pair as they left the car and headed toward the hospital entry; an ordinary blond boy and curly-haired brunette girl, close to my age. Probably classmates of Bella’s.
“I know. I‘m hoping they‘ll let her have visitors. It sucks because she hardly knows anybody here. All she has is Chief Swan. But I heard her mom just flew in from Florida today….” the boy’s voice faded to silence as he and his companion walked away from me.
Chief Swan…Police Chief Swan? Of course. The man who had knelt over her so lovingly last night was her father. Christ almighty, I had nearly killed the Chief of Police’s daughter. It sounded like the plot of some bad teen comedy flick. Scratch that; this was obviously a bad horror flick instead. I might as well get used to it, since I was now one of filmdom’s most infamous demons incarnate.
Okay. The girl was alive. I had gotten my answer; now I should turn around and walk away. If I had any shred of humanity left in this walking corpse of a body, I would leave this girl alone and never darken her doorstep with my presence again. But I could no more turn my back on her than I could wolf down a Big Mac for dinner. In the small microcosm of my new world, she was the only thing that mattered.
My dark musings were again interrupted by the sound of voices. The blond boy and brunette girl were already coming back my way, grumbling about not being able to see Bella. Apparently she was too weak to have visitors yet, and a Doctor Cullen had told them he’d let them know when they could return. I crouched unseen next to the SUV until their car left the lot. Since I evidently wouldn’t be able to check on Bella the normal human way, I decided that it was time to take my new vampire powers for a test drive.
The speed in which I’d traveled the forest last night led me to suspect that I might be able to rush past humans undetected. I put that theory to the test as I zoomed into the hospital entryway, past the staff at the front desk and the patients waiting in lobby, to the nearest emergency fire exit. I peered back out through the glass panel in the stairwell door; no one looked as if they’d seen anything unusual. I chuckled to myself, feeling frankly a bit smug about my success.
Darting from stairwells to closets, I quickly traversed the small county hospital until I found the intensive care unit. I hid in a supply closet, listening and waiting. It was amazing to me how quickly I could duck out of the path of nurses looking for swabs and bandages, or janitorial staff loading up their cleaning carts. My bursts of speed were simply undetectable by the human eye, and I continued my game of cat and mouse until later in the evening, when the lights were out in all the patients’ rooms.
I had gleaned a few tidbits about Bella Swan from the snippets of conversation I’d overheard as I hid. She had been stabilized, and her prognosis was better. Her worried mother hadn’t left her side since she’d gotten off the red-eye early this morning, and her father had barely been able to persuade her to accompany him home for a few hours’ sleep this evening. But the heavily sedated Bella was finally alone in her room, nurses hovering just down the hall, by about 10:30 p.m. At 10:45, I stood just inside her door, gazing at her still form in the hospital bed for the first time since I’d committed the horrible act that had brought her here.
My breathing was quick and shallow as I took her in. The sweet scent that had driven me to madness the night before rolled over me in waves, and I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath as if to block it out. Her smell was beyond anything I’d experienced in this new life, and surely in the life before. The human scents of the hospital staff had tickled my nose every time they got too near, but I was able to shake off the bloodlust. This girl was different, somehow. Even diluted by the transfusions of others, her blood sang to me like a symphony, making my morning breakfast of black bear seem like tinkling elevator music in comparison.
My heart sank as I realized that no matter how much animal blood I consumed, Bella would be my siren, drawing me in and forcing me to bash myself on the rocks at her feet over and over again. One look at the thick, seeping gauze bandages covering the wounds I’d inflicted assured me that I would never, ever harm this girl again. But I would also never be able to deny the inexorable pull she exerted over me. Like a polarized magnet, I would hover ever near her, but never quite touching, never close enough to do further damage.
I stood for an indeterminate length of time near the door, breathing her in, forcing myself to get used to her heady scent. Then I slowly approached the bed, ready to break for the door at the first sign that I might lose control. I had to see her face. I had to hear her breathing. I had to feel that she was all right, and that she would open her eyes tomorrow morning and greet her worried parents.
I looked down at her long, dark lashes and pale, freckled cheeks in wonder. Her dainty nose had ugly plastic breathing tubes protruding from her nostrils, but her pink mouth showed signs of vitality. She was going to survive this, survive me. She had to. If she didn’t, I would surely go mad. Because as horrible as I felt about what I had done to her, the ugly truth was this: That moment when her heartbeat had locked with mine was the most intensely erotic and emotional experience I‘d ever had. Of course, I only had 30 hours of this current life to go on, but I was pretty sure that I’d never felt such euphoria as a human. Her life force melding with mine was about as deep and visceral as anything I could imagine. If I could bottle that moment and be able to relive it at will, I would never accomplish anything else.
The guilt of these admissions washed over me as I stared at her placid, unconscious face. I didn’t know how I could ever make any of this up to her, or if I should even try. She would recoil from me in horror if she ever saw me again. I would be forced to hide from this tiny northwest town once she revealed the terrible truth about me.
But for now, I would steal these few quiet moments, drinking her in, silently thanking her for my life, as it was; and promising to be her unseen and unwanted guardian angel. No one would ever harm Bella Swan again as long as I was around to protect her. I snorted inwardly at the irony that I was the one she would most need protection from. Yet I was certain that the sight of her bandages and her scars would be all the incentive I’d ever need to squelch my vampiric desires.
I heard footsteps in the hall; moreover I felt and smelled human life heading this way. I briefly touched a strand of the girl’s silky hair and whispered, “Good-bye for now, Bella.” I had exited the hospital building before the nurses reached her room to check on her.
I took advantage of the empty late-night streets and leisurely checked out Forks, getting a feel for what was there, which wasn’t much. I guessed that it was a logging town, the majority of its inhabitants working the forest where I had found myself yesterday morning. I couldn’t tell how close I was to the coast, but the air had a faint briny odor and heavy dampness, so I guessed it couldn’t be far. I was anxious to get to the library in the morning and do some investigating.
Near the west edge of town, I came upon a medium-sized bar with the name “Jake‘s Place“ scrawled over the door, its telltale neon beer logo signs illuminating the small windows across the front. It was apparently still open, judging by the cars lined up along the length of the building. Well, here was my chance. If I couldn’t blend in with the colorful types who usually frequented the local watering hole, I didn’t stand much chance of fitting in anywhere.
I entered the establishment and looked around, surprised to find how roomy it was inside. The L-shaped building sported numerous pool tables and arcade games in one wing, while a large elevated bar, tables and booths filled the main room. It had just the right amount of ambient light so that somebody with sparkling marble skin could sidle up to the bar without feeling like all eyes would be fixed on his peculiarity.
I rested on one elbow, wondering if I could get away with ordering a water, since I had no cash on me. And could I choke down enough of the stuff in order to avoid suspicion?
“Hey there,” a deep voice said evenly. I looked up to see the tall, dark-haired bartender approaching, cleaning the bar with a damp rag as he walked. “What’ll it be?”
I tried to shrug carelessly. “Just water for now, if that’s all right.”
The burly bartender studied me with piercing blue eyes. “Sure, coming right up.” I know what you are.
I started in surprise at his last words. His lips didn’t move, and yet I heard his accusation as clear as day, hanging in the air between us. I blinked hard and decided that this vampire thing was making me paranoid, probably deservedly so.
“You new in town?” he asked, setting a glass of tap water with ice in front of me. I took the tiniest sip I could manage and tried not to swallow all at once.
“Yeah, just visiting. I’ve been hiking the past few days,” I explained, gesturing at my dirty clothes with a wry smile as if to back up my statement.
“We get a lot of hikers and hunters in the Olympia Forest,” the bartender said. “Be careful, though. A girl was just attacked not far from here last night.” He gave me an intense, almost challenging stare. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that he somehow knew what had happened. But that was impossible.
“Really? No kidding,” I responded in mock surprise. “It’s funny you should mention that, because I think the same thing happened to me. I’m pretty sure someone knocked me out cold and stole my backpack, wallet, everything. I woke up with nothing on me but the clothes I’m wearing.” I decided honesty was the best policy, for the most part. I could see I wouldn’t get much past this guy.
His eyebrows raised. “Wow, sorry to hear that. That’s rough, getting your I.D. stolen and everything. But the girl I was talking about was attacked by some kind of animal or something. Went straight for her jugular. Nearly killed her.” Again he shot me an intense look, as if he were baiting me. I was beginning to get unnerved.
“I’m really sorry to hear that. How’s she doing?” I asked. I didn’t have to fake my concern.
“Touch and go, from what I hear,” he said soberly.
“Hey Emmett, bring us a refill, will ya?” A voice hollered from one of the booths. The bartender excused himself and filled a pitcher for the group, and then spent the next ten minutes serving up the other patrons.
“Looks like you could use some help around here,” I observed, an idea coming to me. “I don’t suppose you’re hiring? I need to make some cash, get some new clothes, find a place to stay. The thieves took everything.”
The bartender gave me a curious look. “Haven’t you gone to the authorities and reported what happened? Or is there something you’re trying to hide?” he asked pointedly.
I took a deep breath. “Yeah, there is something, actually.”
I knew it, here it comes.
I stopped in surprise, again wondering how I was hearing these words when his lips weren’t moving. Son of a bitch, I was really losing it.
“I think I got whacked on the head pretty hard, because I don’t remember a damned thing,” I said in a hushed voice. “I don’t even remember who I am. This is the only clue I have.” I pulled out the student I.D. card and showed it to him, not the smartest thing in the world to do, since it proved I was underage. But I felt like I had nothing else to lose at this point, and it felt good to finally admit at least part of the truth to someone.
“’Edward Masen,’ eh?” the bartender read off the card, then looked at my face, comparing it to the picture on the I.D. “Good to meet you, Edward. My name’s Emmett Cullen.” He stuck out his beefy hand in greeting. I shook his hand, trying not to grip too hard with my iron fingers. My eyes widened when he gave me a crushing squeeze back. It was the first time since I’d awakened yesterday morning that I’d felt anything resist my abnormal strength. The guy was broad and muscular, but I still hadn’t expected him to be any match for me.
Poor fucker doesn’t even know.
Before I could comprehend Emmett’s last silent sentiment, he spoke aloud. “Yeah, we could definitely use some help around here. I might be going to college soon; at least, if my dad has his way, I will,” he laughed. I wondered if the ’dad’ in question was Bella’s doctor. “Billy could use some help. You know how to mix drinks?”
My brows furrowed as I tried to recall if I did. Emmett laughed louder. “Of course, you don’t remember. There’s nothing to it, I’ll teach you. Oh, and as for the underage thing, I’ll be quiet about it if you will,” he said conspiratorially. I wondered what had made him change his tune, but I didn’t care. I was grateful for the opportunity to make some honest money.
“You look pretty skinny. Can you do heavy lifting?” he asked, still sounding amused. He hefted a wooden case and suddenly tossed it toward me over the bar. My hands shot up and caught it in a reflex motion. I was dismayed to see that the case was loaded with full beer bottles, and probably weighed a ton. Shit, I was going to give myself away if I didn’t start acting more human.
Emmett only grinned and said, “You’re a wiry fucker, aren’t you? That’s good, you’ll do well around here. Come back tomorrow afternoon when we open at three o’clock. The owner, Billy, will be here then and you can talk to him. He’s a native American dude in a wheelchair, you can’t miss him. I’ll put in a good word for you.”
“Thanks,” I said gratefully. “I appreciate it, really.”
Emmett reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He peeled a couple of hundreds from the roll and held them out to me. “Here, go get yourself some clothes to tide you over until you get your first check. You can pay me back whenever.”
“Wow,” I said, surprised at his generosity. “That’s above and beyond. Thanks, man. I’ll pay you back out of my first check.”
“Yeah, well…you look like you could use a break,” Emmett said with a half-smile.
I raised my glass to him in acknowledgement and managed another sip before I slid off the bar stool and gave a quick good-bye wave.
I’ll be keeping my eye on you.
A small shiver ran through me as the bartender’s voice pierced through my head in farewell. Was there any possible way he actually knew what I was? His strength was superior…could he be a vampire as well? I don’t know why the thought hadn’t occurred to me while I was sitting right across from the guy. He was uncommonly pale and well-muscled, but wouldn’t I somehow know if I were confronted with one of my own kind? I hadn’t noticed any particularly different smell from him, but I had been too busy trying to ignore the tantalizing scents of all the humans scattered throughout the bar. The thought that there were other vampires mingling with humans, undetected, both shocked and thrilled me. Maybe it really was possible to pull it off long term. Unless, of course, this guy planned to make one of the bar patrons his midnight snack.
I shook off the idea and decided that I was in danger of losing my mind altogether, having such thoughts. I wandered to an empty municipal park I’d discovered earlier and made myself comfortable on a park bench. I ought to try to get some sleep, or at least rest a bit. But I had the sneaking suspicion that vampires didn’t require much of either. Maybe I wasn’t even capable of sleep anymore.
The latter had become clear by dawn. I tried lying down, resting my head on my wadded up jacket. I never grew sleepy. When I closed my eyes, visions of Bella seared the backs of my eyelids. I was a bit worried at how much she consumed my thoughts, conscious and unconscious. I didn’t even know her, and yet I had somehow made her the center of my world. Maybe it was because she had inadvertently and tragically been the catalyst for me to discover what I was.
Which led be back to the question, who had I been before? And did I have a human family looking for me? I waited in the park until 8 a.m., when the small public library opened. I hoped it would provide me with some much needed answers.
Anxiety nagged at me as I walked through its modern glass doors, and I glanced surreptitiously at the librarians behind the desk. One looked up at me and gave a warm smile, then went back to her paperwork. Apparently nothing about my appearance had struck her as particularly out of place. I sighed in relief as I settled into one of the computer cubicles and began the online search for clues about Edward Masen.
I started by Googling “Burlington,” and at least half a dozen US cities popped up on the screen, none of them located in the Pacific Northwest. I tried typing in my name instead, and found numerous Facebook entries that matched. One had my grinning mug attached, but without knowing what password I had used, there was no way to access the account. Frustrated, I cross-referenced my name with the town of Burlington, and finally hit pay dirt: a team photo of the Burlington Community High School track and field team in Burlington, Iowa popped up. I scanned the photo, looking for my now-familiar features. There I was, in the back row, the tallest kid of the bunch. I chuckled at the idea that I had been a runner. I certainly wouldn’t have trouble taking home every possible track trophy now.
But the question remained, if I was from the Midwest, how did I end up so far from home, alone in the Olympia National Forest? Had my family vacationed here? If only I knew their names. I tried typing in the last name Masen along with Burlington again. Several entries came up, but not as many as I feared, probably due to the unusual spelling of my last name. The most recent, however, was from an article printed in the Burlington Hawk Eye newspaper just one week ago. The headline made my heart sink, and I clicked the link with a terrible foreboding.
“Local Family Found Dead in Washington State.”
Smiling photos of a man, a woman, and me accompanied the article. It stated that Edward and Elizabeth Masen were last known to be vacationing with their 18-year-old son Edward, Junior in the Pacific Northwest when their car was found along a wooded stretch of Highway 101. The car had apparently swerved off the road and hit a rocky embankment, causing the fuel tank to explode. The vehicle was burned beyond recognition by the time police and firemen arrived on the scene. The couple had eventually been identified by dental records, and while no evidence of their only son could be found, he was presumed dead as well. A brief search of the area had produced no evidence that Edward Masen, Jr. was still alive.
And, truth be told, he wasn’t. A strange new creature had arisen in his place, one who had no memory of the terrible events of his past. And try as he might, he could muster not one shred of sorrow over the loss of his parents, who may as well have been passing strangers for the lack of recognition he felt as he studied their happy faces on the computer screen.
I stared hard at the article for a long time, trying to reconcile myself to the fact that there was no one who would be looking for me, no one missing me. At least no one whom I was aware of. Any distant relatives and old friends had buried me figuratively days ago, and would be moving on with their lives. But even if I had found a different outcome, would I have been able to return to the life I’d lost? How does one pop up at the old homestead, greeting the family with a “Hey, I’m back, but there’s just the teensy little difference that I’ve somehow been turned into a vampire. That doesn’t have to be a problem though, honestly. Let’s just go on with our lives as usual, shall we?”
No, it was probably a good thing that things had transpired the way they did. Now I had no obligations, no ties to a past I couldn’t remember. I still felt angry at my inability to feel the loss of two apparently loving parents, and a normal teenaged existence. The Masens deserved more, I was sure. But I was unable to properly honor what I couldn’t recall or miss.
I finally closed the link to my past, and Googled some information about my new home instead. I viewed a map of the labyrinthine Olympia Forest in which I’d been understandably lost, and noted that Forks was, indeed, located not far from the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was also the rainiest place in the continental US, which made it the perfect place for a shiny-skinned vampire to roam the daytime undetected. And it was now the home of Bella Swan, who apparently was also new to Forks, according to the kids I’d overheard outside the hospital yesterday. So we have something in common, I thought with satisfaction. I immediately berated myself for the idea that I could ever develop any kind of reciprocal relationship with her. That train of thought would lead only to disaster.
I switched the computer off and headed toward the door, nodding at the librarian who had greeted me earlier. She waved and smiled in return.
My, he’s a handsome boy.
My eyes jerked back to hers at the sound of her voice. Her lips were still closed in a pleasant grin. Hell, it was happening again. Maybe all vampires did this---heard voices in their heads. Maybe the lack of sleep was driving me mad.
I made myself busy shopping for clothes the rest of the day, which was unpleasant but necessary. I found a few cheap shirts, a couple pairs of jeans and clean socks and underwear at a discount store. The sales clerk told me there was a nice sporting goods place a few miles from Forks that sold heavy-duty hiking apparel, and I made a mental note to check it out once I had a paycheck in my hand. I managed to find a used watch and a decent pair of used sneakers in a consignment store so I could ditch the ruined ones I’d been wearing, and by then I had used up the money Emmett had loaned me.
I wondered where I could take a shower and get myself cleaned up. I was pretty sure that as a vampire, I didn’t really need to bother with human hygiene anymore, but I knew I would feel better if I could stand under a hot stream of water for even a few minutes. When I came upon Forks High School on the north end of town, I decided this was my chance. I sneaked into the boys’ locker room while they were outside playing football and cleaned myself up a bit, putting on my new clothes and surveying myself in the mirror. I thought about what the librarian had said. Was I good-looking? I gazed dubiously at my face in the mirror, running my hand through the thick, gravity-defying mane of bronze hair on my head. Heavy eyebrows, large greenish-blue eyes and angular bones were my defining features. My nose was a little flat, a little uneven. My smile was a bit crooked as well. I had no idea if women would find me appealing. Would Bella find me attractive? Was that the reason she had stared so intensely at me when we first met that night? Not because I was hideous, but because I was handsome?
I shook my head, as if to physically knock the notion out of my brain. There was no point in even considering it. She would scream in terror the minute she saw me.
I looked at my wrist, glad to have a watch again, and realized I’d better get back to Jake’s Place and try to get myself officially hired. Emmett was already there and waved in greeting, then motioned to game area, where a sharp-eyed native American sized me up as I walked toward him. Though he was wheel-chair bound, he had an aura about him that commanded respect.
“So, you must be the kid Emmett was telling me about,” he said gruffly. “You don’t look 21.”
“Well, sir, the truth is, I seem to have a bit of amnesia, so it’s hard to say,” I said half-truthfully. “What I do know is that I find myself in need of work, and I’m hoping we can help each other out.”
“That’s some tough luck, there.“ The man eyed me warily, then finally stuck out his hand. “Billy Black. I’m a sucker for a hard luck story, so I’ll give you a trial run here tonight. If you can pull your weight, I’ll keep you on.”
I shook his hand, and his eyes opened in surprise. I suddenly wondered if my skin felt odd to the touch for a human. What if I felt as cold as a corpse? I quickly withdrew my hand and said in introduction, “Edward Masen, sir. Thanks for the opportunity. I’ll make sure you don’t regret it.”
He nodded curtly. “You do that.” If you’re as good as Emmett, I won’t care what you are.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Was he in on it too? Or was my paranoia really raging out of control?
Emmett came to my rescue, steering me toward the bar for my first drink-mixing lesson. It turned out I remembered quite a few basic mixed drinks, so the former Edward had apparently done his share of partying. The afternoon and evening passed quickly, between cleaning, stocking the cooler and bar, and serving the patrons. Like many small-town bars, Jake’s Place was an all-ages establishment, tagging underage kids with bracelets so they could hang out in the gaming area drinking sodas while the adults played cards and darts in the main room. By the end of the evening, I was beginning to believe the librarian’s assertion that I was “handsome.” My tip jar was full, and more than one woman seemed to flirt with me while I filled drink orders, despite the fact that I was much more reticent by nature than Emmett. He was a natural-born ladies’ man, I could tell, and his tip jar showed it. The men seemed to respect him too, though I suspected his intimidating stature had a lot to do with that.
I stayed around after closing and helped Emmett clean up, and by then all I could think about was getting back to the hospital to check on Bella. Billy had left earlier, but not before telling me I’d done a good job, and he’d see me on Monday. Emmett slapped me on the back with enough force to knock a linebacker flat, and again I felt like he was testing me. There was no way I was just going to come out and confess I was a vampire, nor would I ask him if he was. If my instincts were wrong, he’d be calling the mental ward faster than I could run. Well, that was probably impossible, but I didn’t feel like taking any chances with the big lug.
I raced through the dark to the hospital, and was in Bella’s room in minutes. A wave of panic broke over me when I was met with an empty bed. There was no way she could have been released already, and she couldn’t have…no, I refused to even entertain the thought. I darted to my usual stations around the building and listened for any word from the night shift, but all was quiet. Frustrated, I began rushing from room to room, looking for her. She had to be here; they must have moved her. Relief flooded me when I finally found her in a recovery room on the second floor. She’d been moved out of intensive care, so that meant she was better.
I was shaking when I pulled up a chair next to her sleeping form. I didn’t even care that I probably looked like a crazy stalker, watching her while she lay unconscious. All that mattered was the sound of her breathing, and her occasional stretching and stirring as she rumpled the blankets around her.
“You scared me, Bella,” I whispered, gently pulling a strand of hair off of her face. Did she smile a little, or was I nuts? Probably the latter. I was glad for my vivid nocturnal eyesight, because I could see that the color had returned to her cheeks a bit. It was a definite improvement. God, she was pretty. Not in an obvious way…just subtle and natural. I could look at her face and her slender frame for hours and never tire.
And that’s exactly what I did. Time seemed to mean less and less to me the more I got used to the idea of immortality. I would be measuring it in decades, not hours. And time somehow both stood still and flew by effortlessly when I was with Bella. Sometimes I whispered silly things to her; sometimes I even sang to her. She seemed to like that, though I couldn’t be sure. I’d read her chart, so I knew she was completely out of it from the pain killers in her IV. I also found out her full name, and I liked saying it. I liked the way it felt, the way it rolled over my tongue when I spoke it out loud. Isabella Marie Swan. I had missed her 18th birthday last month. I was glad she would live to see another, no thanks to me.
Dawn arrived far too soon, and I reluctantly left her bedside. It was a good thing I was forced to leave, because her delectable scent was burning my throat, and I knew I’d have to retreat to the forest for another hunting expedition. This time I managed to corner an elk from its herd and make quick work of it. The rest of my day stretched interminably before me, and I made my way back to town to find something to entertain myself. I went to the library and read the day's newspapers and magazines, then checked out a couple of books to take with me. I was still perplexed as to how I could remember books I’d read in the past, but had no personal memories of the parents who may have read them to me. I went to two movies; first an action flick, and then a romantic comedy. The last one was a mistake, because it made me entertain ridiculous ideas about Bella that I knew could never come true.
I went back to the hospital afterwards, even though it was a bit early. Bella’s parents were still there, and I overheard them talking with the nurses about the possibility of her going home soon. They also mentioned how relieved they were that she couldn’t remember what had happened to her, and were glad that Dr. Cullen had said she possibly never would. My heart swelled with dangerous hope for the first time, and I tried to put a lid on it. Even if she never recognized me as her attacker, I would know it. Every word I would say to her would be a lie of omission. Besides, she deserved everything good in the world, like a human boyfriend and a career and eventually a family of her own. I could never give her any of those things. We didn’t belong together.
I sat at her bedside after her parents left, vowing that this vigil would be my last. I cringed as always at the sight of her bandages, and concentrated on her beautiful face instead. I wished I could get lost in her sea green eyes once again. Maybe, if I were lucky, I would run into her someday in town and be blessed with a small glance. I began whispering futile daydreams to her, about what it might be like if we were ordinary kids and we could just go to a movie or play video games or hang out in the park. This girl had definitely turned me into the wimpiest vampire in history, I was sure.
The night passed quickly, and I ran out of stories and songs to sing to her. I sighed and took a long look at her face, dreading how endless and empty the nights would be without her next to me.
“Good-bye, sweet Bella,” I murmured, pressing my lips to the hair over her forehead. I rose and, with effort, tore my eyes away from her and turned to leave.
The words were barely audible, a breathy sigh. Had I heard them, or was my mind playing tricks on me again? I whipped my head back and stared at her, afraid she was awake. Her eyes remained closed; she still appeared to slumber. Even though I was probably just going insane, I leaned in and spoke to her again.
“You don’t want me to go?” I asked softly, my breath stirring her hair.
Her lips parted and she answered in her sleep, “No.”
My heart thumped pathetically in my chest, and I reached out to touch her hair.
“I have to, angel. But it won’t be forever, I promise.”
She stirred slightly and made a tiny humming sound in her throat, then lay still. I watched her a moment longer, then quietly left the room just as the nurses began their morning rounds.
My ridiculous undead heart was soaring. Against all my better judgment, I knew that I would keep my promise. Somehow, some way, I would see Bella Swan again.