Disclaimer: Not mine.
AN: Um, hi? Remember me? I am so, so sorry about how long this took. Really, really sorry. It was one hell of a summer. So, this isn't beta'd, because I wanted to have this out for Halloween. If there are errors, and I'm so completely sure there are despite reading this eight million times, they're my fault. (I want to make it clear that Vampshavelaws came nowhere near this with her magical red pen. Sorry about that too, everyone.) Thank you for sticking by me, everyone. I promise to do better now. Happy Halloween!
Quick recap: After Bella stayed in a mysterious clearing for longer than the fabled time limit, a thing has started haunting her hometown. It appeared to kill a student at her high school. Edward didn't believe Bella when she told him what happened, but did after a voice called out to him in the dark.
He saw her when the wagon rolled by his father's house. He was sixteen, expected to strike out on his own, yet still apprenticed to the barrister in town. Her bright hair caught the sunlight and caught his eye as he surveyed the town. She was holding onto the side of the wagon with one hand and her hat with other, laughing at something the woman driving the wagon was saying. She was sunlight and new and he was hers. He would never regret that moment more or less in his long life.
The old Victorian building that housed the town's historical society loomed in front of Bella. It was probably her imagination, but it seemed to lean over her, making her a little leery of the condition of the steps. She gripped the handrail as the stair creaked under her weight. Although the front rooms looked dark, the website had said that the society was open to the public until four. She cupped her hand against the glass and peered in, but she couldn't see anything that would indicate if the building was open.
The door yielded to her tentative push and Bella stepped into the dim lobby. Old photographs of town's earlier years lined the hallway, with white, typewritten cards posted beneath them to indicate what the photos depicted. Bella drifted along the row of photos and studied images of buildings and people long gone.
A noise in the hallway signaled the presence of another person. Bella turned in the direction of the sound. A middle aged woman, Bella thought she looked slightly older than Bella's mother, stood in a doorway that led to another darkened room. "Can I help you?" the woman asked.
"Hi, yeah," Bella squeaked. "Thanks. I was, um, wondering," Bella pressed her lips together and took a deep breath to calm down. "I'm doing some research?" Her voice lifted at the end of the sentence to transform it into a question. "On the town?"
The woman gave Bella a tight-lipped smile and nodded. She crossed her arms over her chest and Bella realized that she was going to have a hard time gaining access to the archives. Why did Alice and Edward think she was the better person for this job? "Have you tried the library?" the woman suggested.
Bella resisted, although not without difficulty, the urge to roll her eyes. "Yeah. Yes," she corrected. "But the stuff there doesn't go back that far. And someone suggested that I come here."
The woman eased into a chair behind the plain wooden desk in the lobby. "Well," she folded her hands on the desk, "how far back are you looking?"
Bella eyed the brochures piled in neat stacks on the desks. The brightly colored pieces of paper advertised the town's Victorian history and quaint eateries. It seemed like it was the only era the town liked to acknowledge. "The very beginning," she told the woman. "I need information about its founding."
The woman, Bella really wished that she had introduced herself so she could stop referring to her that way, raised an eyebrow and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm sure you understand, dear," Bella's teeth clenched at the term and the woman's tone, "that there really isn't a lot of information that has survived." She tapped a pencil against the desk. "And what did survive, is very, very fragile. We don't really just let people rummage through the archives."
Bella clutched her notebooks to her chest and said, "I know. I mean, I understand." She adjusted the strap of her messenger bag and shifted her weight. "But the lady at the library? She said a lot of stuff had been transferred to microfiche and stuff."
"Mmm," the woman shrugged noncommittally. "What, specifically, do you need?"
Bella's fingers tightened around the edge of her notebook and she took a deep breath. "I was looking for documents, or maybe diaries or journals, that talked about the witch."
The woman's eyebrows rose and the corner of her mouth tilted up in a sort of amused expression. "Well, I don't know how much information you're going to find on a myth."
"See," Bella said, "I don't think it's a myth."
"Really now?" the woman asked. She tapped a pile of brochures into alignment. "And what makes you think that?"
Bella lowered herself into one of the cane backed chairs and rested her notebook on her lap. She clasped her hands together and prepared to plead her case. "I don't think," she flexed her fingers and prepared to lie, "that she was a witch. Just a real person."
"Do you?" the woman murmured.
Bella nodded. "She existed, yes. And that's why I need to look at the archives."
The woman gave her a thin-lipped smile. "They didn't exactly have a census back then."
"I know what I'm looking for," Bella ground out between clenched teeth. "Are you going to let me look or not? I don't want to look at the originals. Just the copies," she begged.
"No," the woman's mouth turned down in an apologetic moue. "I don't think we have anything that fits your criteria."
"Seriously?" Bella's eyes widened. "You know this without even letting me look?"
The woman nodded. "There's nothing here that can help you, I'm afraid." She stood up and gestured for Bella to do the same. "And it's our closing time, now, so you'll have to go."
Bella locked her knees and refused to move. "Please, it's for an extra-credit project for school."
"I need to close up," the woman said. She opened the door and waved at Bella.
"Thank you so much," Bella said as she slipped through the door. "You have been so helpful." She rolled her eyes as she said this, well aware that she sounded like a bratty teenager.
"Good bye." The woman shut the door as soon Bella's back foot cleared the threshold. Bella heard the lock snick into place. She blinked against the last of the late afternoon sunshine and huffed out a breath. She was suddenly back at the beginning of her search and she had no idea how to proceed from there.
"It makes no sense."
"But that's what happened," Bella protested.
"Yes, I get that," Alice placated. "But it makes no sense that someone would be snotty about the archives."
Bella nodded and tapped her pen against her notebook. "I agree," she said. "Completely." She shrugged. "Unless she was in on it?"
"But in on what?" Alice snorted. "A three-hundred year old mystery isn't exactly a thing you can be prosecuted for. If there was an incident three hundred years ago."
"But what else could it be?" Bella wailed. She closed her mouth quickly when she realized how whiny she sounded.
"I don't know. It's just so odd that they would be able to concoct and maintain some vast conspiracy for so long for no real reason." She glanced around her bedroom, searching for answers in her picture collages and bookcases. "I mean, it's not like we've been genetically blessed or the town is freakishly prosperous."
"No more Shirley Jackson for you," Bella chided. She dropped her head down onto Alice's mattress and sighed. "She was just so rude, you know? So rude. And I cannot figure out why. Maybe she was afraid I'd do something to wake her up?" She angled her face towards Alice and raised an eyebrow. "Lady, have I got news for you."
"That could be a reason." Alice drummed her fingers against the notebook resting on her bent knees. "But there would be no need to be so odd about it, you know?"
Bella sighed. "I do. It's just so clichéd, right? And that might be what offends me the most."
Alice snorted. "It's a terrible thing: to have been the victim of a trite smackdown."
"Yes, thank you for making me aware that I am at the end of my very short list of ideas and more than a little embarrassed."
"Who embarrassed you, Buttercup?" Edward jogged up the steps to Alice's room and dropped his backpack at the foot of her bed.
Alice held up a finger and waited for her mother to yell to keep the door open. When it came, she called, "Okay," and motioned for Edward to close the door quietly.
"Who embarrassed you?" Edward repeated the question as he settled into a chair by Alice's desk.
"The lady at the historical society. She was super rude. And I super don't like her."
Edward frowned. "I think Em's mom works there on Wednesdays. She's really nice, most of the time."
"Oh," Bella drew the word out. "Do you think?" She raised herself on to her elbows and stared at Alice.
"Maybe?" Alice twirled a strand of hair around her fingers. "Maybe."
"This part of the conversation makes less sense than the one I thought we were having," Edward interjected.
"Well," Bella scooted into a sitting position. "If Rose complained about me, maybe there's some trickle down resentment?"
"Why would Mrs. McCarty care?"
Alice snapped her fingers and pointed at him. "Exactly what we've been wondering all along."
"The end result is the same, though, right?" Edward asked. "We can wonder all we like, but we still need a new plan."
"So, in that vein, what do we know about witches?" Alice tapped her pencil against her notebook and looked over at Edward and Bella.
"They wear pointy hats?" Edward suggested.
Bella swatted at the air, mimicking hitting his arm with the back of her hand. "Nothing," she said. "We know nothing about witches or this witch."
Alice sighed, "We need to fix this."
"How do we stop this?" Bella asked. "She's incorporeal and really, really angry and getting kind of strong."
Alice shifted so she could access her laptop. "I really don't know. I mean, we pretty much know it's her and that she's real or was real and is now not real? How does that work anyway?"
Bella snapped her fingers. "Alice, focus. I ramble. Edward makes unhelpful comments. You get ideas. Our partnership was working beautifully."
At Edward's "Hey," Bella blew him a kiss. "I mean that in the nicest, least helpful way."
Alice sat up straight and shoved her hands into her hair. "I really don't know what to do."
"Can we try something? Like a spell or something? Anything other than sitting on our asses and letting nature run its course?" Edward asked.
Alice nodded and rested her chin in her palm. "There has to be someone who can help us, don't you think?"
Bella shrugged and stared at the poster over Alice's bed. "Who would help us? Who would believe us?" Glancing at Edward, she said, "You know how hard it was to believe us and even then you only did because you saw what you saw. And it still took something a little more to convince you."
Edward brushed a hand through his hair and exhaled slowly. "But I believe you now," he said. "And someone else might too. What about Emmett and Rosalie?" he suggested.
Alice sighed and looked at him before turning to Bella. "I know you don't want to talk to them, but I think Edward has a point. I really think Emmett could help. His family is one of the oldest families in the town. They have to have something."
"But what good would it do? Say they have journals or letters or old newspapers or a very detailed and descriptive handwritten confession, how does that help us?"
"Well, for one think we'd know – maybe – what exactly she did last time to make a whole town turn on her. And maybe we'd be able to figure out how she died. And then maybe we could learn what not to do to get her stay away completely." Alice knotted her fingers together. "And the other reason why I agree with Edward is -," she broke off and stared at her hands.
Bella looked up at her from under her lashes, her finger freezing mid-loop on Alice's bedspread. "Is what?"
"Don't get mad," Alice whispered.
Edward let out a deep breath and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. She had pretty much guaranteed that Bella would get mad.
"Why would I get mad?" Bella straightened her spine and stared at Alice.
"I think she's using you. Or your energy. Or she did. And I think she wants to keep using you. So you need to forgive them, so she can't use that."
Bella jumped to her feet. "Are you kidding me with this? Are you seriously saying that this is my fault?"
Edward snatched at the hem of her sweater. "Bella, calm down. That's not what she's saying."
Bella shook him off and started to gather her belongings. As she shoved them into her backpack, Alice said, "No, no. That's not what I meant. I think that she used your emotions or whatever to release energy or something. I'm not saying it's your fault."
Bella blinked rapidly against the build-up of tears on her lower lashes. "No, of course you aren't." Her face felt flushed. A cold sensation crept through her stomach as she thought about what her friend was saying and how Edward wasn't rushing to contradict her. Her numbed fingers struggled with the zipper on her bag. "Bella," she mimicked, as she tried to get the teeth to catch, "calm yourself because being angry that one of your best friends kept a huge secret is making a witch all happy and tingly."
"Bella," Edward started.
"No, I'm going home." Bella marched towards the door. "I'm tired. I'm stressed and apparently partially to blame for someone's death. So yeah, I'm really just kind of want today to end now."
"Bella, calm down," Edward stood up. "She didn't say you're responsible for Josh's death. No one thinks that. Also, wait, because I can drive you."
Bella shook her head. "No, I'm going now. I really, really need today to end." She brushed a strand of hair off her face and rubbed at her cheeks with the sleeve of her sweater. "I don't want this anymore. I just want today to be over." She darted out the door and down the steps before Edward or Alice could stop her.
"That went well." Edward fished his keys out of his pocket. "I'll see you tomorrow," he told Alice, "I've got a girl to catch."
She was not lost. She had waited patiently, oh so patiently, for this time to come around. She did not want peace. It would not come for her anyway and it mattered not at all to her. But she did want. Oh, how she wanted. And time was growing close.
Bella hitched her bag onto her shoulder and marched in the direction of her house. Alice was wrong, she told herself. She was not the reason for the witch. There had to be another explanation. Although she didn't know what it was and she had blamed herself initially too. But she refused to accept responsibility for something this awful.
The spaces between the street lights seemed larger and darker as Bella hurried through streets. Her temples throbbed and the cold feeling that started in Alice's bedroom seemed to have settled itself permanently in her stomach. She breathed deeply, trying to remember the techniques she learned in her mother's yoga class, but the shaky, slithering feeling wouldn't leave her.
She shivered as a breeze slipped between her sweater and her skin, trailing down her spine. She cursed herself for being so stupid as to leave a warm, safe house because she heard something she did not want to hear. Hunching her shoulders, she clutched her bag's strap tighter and picked up her pace. As she stared into the dark spaces between the trees, the dark moved.