My entry for the 2015 Tricks AND Treats Contest on FFN. Congrats to all the winners! Do read their stories, all of them are fantastic. Happy Halloween, everyone.
Pen Name: jmolly
Beta: Lissa Bryan
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Bella's arm stings. The freezing has come out of the wound Carlisle stitched. Edward hadn't meant to hurt her when he'd knocked her into the glass tabletop. He was only defending her from Jasper, but just try to tell him that. Since that moment, he's been all broody again.
"I don't understand why you won't just change me." She wraps her arm around his cold bicep as he drives her old truck back to Charlie's. "Why are you so against me becoming like you? Edward, you know the only way I'll truly be safe from harm is if I'm a vampire."
"That's not true. You wouldn't want to be changed if you knew what it was like."
"What is it like?"
Edward parks the pickup in the drive and turns off the ignition. The hot engine ticks with exhaustion. His lips turn down and his black eyes glitter. "I cannot understand why you want to be like me. Why would you want to become a soulless monster?"
She cups his cheek in her hand. "I love you. Don't avoid giving me a straight answer. Plus, you're not a soulless monster. You have to stop talking about yourself that way."
"I am, Bella. You have no idea of the things we've done. The things we continue to do."
Bella blinks. "But you don't hunt humans. What can you possibly be doing that's bad? I don't believe it."
"We don't hunt humans. But there's a lot about us that you don't know. Parts of this existence are horrific."
"What don't I know? You promised you'd never lie to me!"
Edward clenches his jaw. "I have never lied to you. But some knowledge is forbidden to mortals."
"What part did you not get? I cannot tell you or both our lives will be forfeit. There are laws."
Bella presses up against his side. "Edward, I'm your mate. We—"
He narrows his eyes. "You don't even understand what that means."
Without breaking eye contact, she places her hand on his fly. His eyes turn impossibly black but he doesn't move. His face is incandescent with rage. Instead of removing herself to a safe distance, Bella ghosts her fingers over his hardening length.
"Are you suicidal?" he asks through his teeth.
"Quite the opposite."
Her arm twinges as he flicks her hand away. Bella catches her breath as he leans over her and wipes venom from his lips with the back of his hand. She stays very, very still, and wills her tears not to spill.
"Don't cry, please Bella. We're reaching a point where a permanent decision must be made, anyway. I don't see how I can keep on with this."
She blanches. "Are you breaking up with me?"
He huffs. "I should but I don't know how to exist without you, even if it will cost you everything. I'll discuss our options with Carlisle."
Bella stops breathing and then her heart bursts with joy. "You'll change me?"
He averts his gaze. "Don't be hasty. Once you set foot on this path, there's no going back. I will talk to Carlisle, who will call a meeting with the family. Together, they will decide whether to reveal everything to you about our existence. Assuming you gain this knowledge, you will then decide whether to become like me or preserve your soul."
"When?" Bella will have an eternity to teach Edward he has a soul! The sooner they're equally yoked, the better.
Edward's eyes flash. "Do not pester me for answers. My family and I will discuss it and then I will let you know."
"Why are you so angry with me?"
Blowing out his breath, he pinches the bone between his eyes. "I'm not. I'm angry because the whole situation is impossible. I should do the right thing and let you live out your life and die in God's grace but—"
"Edward, look at me." He brings his gaze up to meet hers. "How could I possibly do anything but curse God if you leave me?"
"Don't ever say that, Bella," he murmurs.
"It's true! Don't you love me enough to keep me forever?"
"Of course I love you!" he almost shouts. "I can't bear the thought of hurting you. I do want you forever, okay? But..."
"Okay." She summons a smile and hugs his bicep. "Edward? I love you."
"Yes, I know. I love you more."
"Are we okay?"
"Of course." He seems stiff and resentful, though. "This day has been coming on for a long time. There's no point in continuing to resist facing it."
"You have no clue how happy I am right now."
His face falls into long, sad lines and he somehow looks ancient. "Bella."
"You can always change your mind. At least, for the next month."
"You have to give me a month."
"Why? I won't change my mind."
He doesn't give her an answer.
Edward and Bella follow their normal routine through September and into October. Except, he no longer takes her to his house. They go to school, they spend time with Bella's friends and they lie together in her bed without being intimate. She can't even get a kiss. Silences stretch between them. Neither of them ever says anything about their agreement. Bella is itching for answers but she promised Edward she wouldn't pester him, and she won't. The leaves begin to turn color and the weather grows cooler. As Halloween approaches, pumpkins and Indian corn dot the porches and spooky decorations festoon the land. At school, all the talk is of the Halloween dance, costumes and horror movies.
Edward says nothing about the subject Bella cares about. In fact, he's not very talkative, period. But Bella figures that's just because he doesn't like the idea of her becoming a monster like him.
"Drive to my house tomorrow. Be there at 4PM," he instructs her the night before Halloween.
"What are we going to do?" Bella asks with a big smile. It will be so good to see everyone!
"I'm going to find out if we can scare you," he says bitterly. He looks so heartbroken that her smile fades.
"Love, what is it?"
"Bella… don't tell any witnesses."
"Okay. Is this—?"
"Perhaps, but only if you want it to be. Don't say goodbye to anyone. Not your friends, not Charlie."
A rush of excitement floods Bella's body. "So this is it, then?"
"By this time tomorrow, you'll either be like me, or you—"he inhales rapidly and a look of intense pain crosses his features. "You'll decide tomorrow."
She kisses him sweetly on the mouth. "I'm not going to change my mind."
Edward shakes his head, stone-faced. "I wish, for your sake, that you would."
"You're so stubborn. Don't you want to be happy forever?"
"Of course. Taking you will be the most selfish thing I ever do. It doesn't have to happen. But whatever you decide, Bella, I will be with you every step of the way. I will love you always."
Bella takes her leave of Edward and runs into her house. She detours into the living room and gives Charlie a big hug hello. Then, she jogs up to her room.
What should she take with her? Nothing obvious. Her photo album. Her iPod and phone. Maybe the framed picture of Gran Marie. She can't take her pearls because her mother won't expect her to be wearing those on Halloween. Maybe she can take her yearbook. Yeah.
Bella barely sleeps all night for excitement. She dozes off near dawn and sleeps late. When she wakes up, there's a young man with long black hair sitting on the floor at the side of her bed. Bella jumps a mile. His face is decorated with black paint, and yellow and white marks swirl on his bare chest.
"Jacob?" she yells and re-inflates her lungs to shout for help, drawing her blankets up to her chin.
"Be quiet. I won't hurt you."
Her heart flutters in her throat. "What the hell are you doing in my room? You scared me!"
"I came to warn you. The Cullens are not as harmless as they seem. Don't go anywhere with any of them tonight."
"What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. In fact, it would be best if you were to stay in tonight altogether. Watch some really dumb horror movies, hand out candy and eat popcorn. I could come over if you want company."
"Sorry, I have a boyfriend and we have plans."
"So, you're going out. With it."
Bella's blood whooshes in her ears. "Jake, I really don't know what you and your friends have against the Cullens. They've done nothing but good in this town."
"In this town."
"Okay, I think it's time for you to go."
"If you need help, Bella, just shout. We'll be watching."
Yeah, that's not at all creepy. "Right. Thanks, but I won't need any help. Everything is going to be fine. You don't need to worry about me."
Lips pressed together, Jacob crouches, leaps out through her window like some kind of giant cat, and climbs down her tree. Bella starts to breathe again. "Wow. That was scary."
She goes to peek out the window, but there's no sign of Jacob. Or Edward. She tries calling him but he doesn't answer. He doesn't come all night.
Saturday drags. Bella hears from none of the Cullens. She trusts them, though, so she spends the day getting ready for the coming night. She takes a long bath, trims all her nails and plucks and shaves and beautifies herself until there's nothing else she can think to do. At two o'clock, she returns to her room and puts on the long white dress and stunning white heels she finds on her bed. She rushes to the mirror to look at herself. The line of the dress is marred by her underclothes. Hesitantly, she slips them off, praying that Emmett won't say anything lewd.
If Edward notices, that will be all right. Maybe it would thaw him out a bit!
At half past three, Bella hurries downstairs. Charlie's watching old Vincent Price movies in the family room.
"Bye, Dad," she calls, wishing she could tell him she loves him without setting off any alarm bells. "I'll see you tomorrow!"
Charlie looks up affably. "Whoa! Nice wedding dress. Where'd you get that?"
"Figures. It looks nicer than the one your mother got married in."
"Well, you know Alice. Fashion's her religion."
"Going to the school party?"
"We'll probably at least drop in."
"Okay. Who's driving?"
"Edward's driving a group of us, I think. All my friends are going."
"Kids from the Rez, too?"
Bella avoids looking at her dad. "Jacob Black mentioned he'd be around town tonight."
"Sounds fun. Just stay away from the killer Kool-aid." He frowns and whispers, "Ch-ch-ch. Hah hah hah..."
"And you're sleeping over with Alice and Rose, right?"
"Yeah but we might be out really late. They've all been talking about how epic this night's going to be."
Charlie gives her the side eye. "You can read your books tomorrow."
"Yeah, I know, be sociable, talk to humans, blah blah."
"All right, have a good time." He returns his attention to House of Wax. "Drive carefully. And watch out for drunk drivers."
"Okay, I will. Thanks, Dad."
Will that be the last conversation she ever has with her father? Bella takes two short steps toward her truck, shuts her eyes and thanks him silently. And then she runs.
"Time to start my real life," she tells herself in the rearview mirror, hauling down her seatbelt.
At precisely 4PM, she pulls up in front of the Cullen house. All of them are waiting outside, barefoot in the cold. The females are wearing long white dresses and the males are wearing heavy crimson robes that have cowls.
Jasper bows deeply. "I hope you have forgiven me, Miss Bella."
"Of course, Jasper. You couldn't help it."
He takes her arm and leads her to Edward. "I'm looking forward to spending time with you without wanting to kill you all the time."
"I'm looking forward to not bleeding all the time."
Edward takes Bella's hand and kisses it. "You are a vision." She feels the heat of her blush and wonders if it will be the last.
"Should I take off my shoes?"
Edward hums a laugh. "It's too cold for you. I would prefer you to keep all your toes."
"Hah hah." She blushes hotter and he traces icy fingers across her cheek.
Carlisle looks at her with pride. "Welcome, Bella. It is truly a pleasure to have you join us."
"Thank you, Carlisle. Um, I have to tell you something."
"What is it?"
Bella wrings her hands. "I think Jacob Black knows something about you. He showed up in my bedroom this morning to warn me off coming here. He was wearing war paint."
"What exactly did he say?" Edward growls.
"He said the Cullens were dangerous and I wouldn't be safe tonight. That I should stay away."
"Cursed dog broke the Treaty," Jasper snaps.
Carlisle shakes his head, his expression mild. "What did his paint look like, Bella?"
"He had black markings on his face and yellow and white swirls on his chest."
"Hm. Black is a show of aggression, but white is for mourning and yellow expresses yearning for reconciliation."
Bella's breath catches. "Does he know what you are? What we're planning?"
Edward folds his hands into the sleeves of his robe. "By the time they find us, it will be too late."
"Regardless," Carlisle says, "we shan't let the prejudices of the dogs ruin our festivities. If they show up, we'll deal with them."
Emmett smacks his hand into his fist. "Sounds like fun."
"Are we going out?" Bella asks Carlisle.
"Oh, yes. It's time for us to celebrate the Samhain."
"The shortest day of the year." Edward looks anything but cheerful.
"Samhain," Rosalie says with a dark smile, "is the day when we celebrate the return of cattle from the summer pastures and livestock is slaughtered for the winter."
Rosalie smirks. "Frightened, little girl?"
"Of course not." Edward would never let anyone hurt her.
"Quit it, Rosalie," he snaps.
Emmett laughs. "Nothing to worry about, Bella. Think of this party as our Thanksgiving dinner."
Bella raises a brow. "What's on the menu?"
"Not you." Edward kisses her on the temple and glares at Rosalie.
Esme smiles sweetly at Bella. "We light bonfires for protection and cleansing, and welcome the souls of the dead who will pass on to Heaven this night."
"All Saints' Eve. Do fairies come?" Bella wonders aloud. It's part of the Irish mythology, after all.
"Ooh, yes!" Alice exclaims. "We've had all manner of mythical creatures show up. It's the best night of the year!"
"Why haven't you told me about this before?" Bella asks Edward.
"You'll know about it soon enough."
"What about druids? Will there be druids?"
Carlisle sighs with satisfaction. "We are the druids, Bella. The sacred priests and priestesses who care for those souls who have become stuck in the Shade."
"Only the ghosts who choose to be freed. Some people free themselves, some get stuck and come to seek help and others refuse to move on."
Alice smiles. "It's been a long time since we last came to perform the rituals."
Bella beams. She just knew the Cullens were good! "Are all vampires druids?"
"No," Edward says. "But all druids are vampires." He ushers Bella into the Volvo and his family members get in their own cars.
"Where are we going?" Bella wonders aloud.
"We need offerings for the rites and we're not allowed to buy them. They have to be given to us by the locals."
"Wow, like the myth. The terrified townsfolk leave offerings for the druids to appease them."
He doesn't smile. "Something like that."
Twenty minutes later, the Cullens park their cars on the street in front of Jessica's house and ring the bell. Jess answers the door and Angela is not far behind.
"You guys are awesome!" Jess squeals. She's dressed like a genie.
"What are you supposed to be?" Angela the sexy nun asks, looking at their costumes.
"We're druids," Edward gestures at himself and the other males.
"And what are you? The druid brides?" Jess asks Bella as she slips off her shoes.
Alice grins and holds out store bought bags of chocolate bars, popcorn and chips. "We're the vestal virgins."
Mike pops up from behind the girls. He's dressed up as the Wolf Man. "Virgins?"
Rosalie gives him the stink eye. "It's Halloween. We can be anything we want."
"Want to sacrifice your virginity, huh?" He smirks and gives her the once-over.
"In your dreams." Rosalie swishes the skirt of her vintage '40s gown and brushes past him.
"Have a care," Emmett warns. "That's my bride you're ogling. I might go all serial killer on you."
"Cheers, man!" Mike lifts up his solo cup. "Want some jungle juice?"
"Thanks, but no. I'm holding out for some blood."
Mike leans toward Jess. "Dude needs to chill."
"Trick or treat," Edward says darkly.
"In the kitchen." Jess points a thumb behind her. "Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen! I didn't notice you there. Let me get my mom."
"Thank you, Jessica," Carlisle says. "We just stopped by to say hello."
"You guys look great."
Edward takes Bella's hand and leads her to the kitchen. Kids from school are darting everywhere, jabbering, eating and flirting with each other. The Cullens and Hales greet people and chat about their costumes. Edward produces a cloth bag slightly bigger than his hand that blends in with his robe. He plucks a handful of candy corn from a bowl on the table and pretends to nibble on it. Bella knows it's going into his bag. She reaches for a couple of miniature Hershey bars from another bowl and fumbles at the mouth of Edward's bag, which rests against his thigh. He bends to kiss her temple.
"Be careful not to take any of the treats we brought or the ceremony will be defiled."
She brushes her lips over his. "Okay."
Without looking away from her, Edward scoops up another handful of candy corn. Bella takes some, too. It all ends up in the bag. Then, he takes her hand and leads her downstairs to the basement, which has been decorated with black crepe paper, fuzzy toy bats and rubber spiders. A fat jack o' lantern provides the only light aside from the big screen TV, where Grindhouse is grossing out the kids.
Mike claps his hands together. "So, you brought the vestal virgins. When do we get to see some mayhem?"
Alice winks and shows Bella a big knife. "It's plastic," she whispers, "and there's blood in the handle. Are you up for being sacrificed?"
"Edward!" Alice yells. "A virgin must be sacrificed. Are you up for it?"
He smirks at Bella and looks down her cleavage. "I'm most definitely. Up. For it. Bella, will you allow me to impale you on my great… big… knife?"
A lot of woo-ooing ensues and the boys in the room start to punch the air and woof. Almost all of them are dressed either as zombies or hobos.
"Oh, yeah." Bella looks Edward up and down. "You can impale me on your big knife anytime."
He shifts his stance. "It's going to be rough."
Mike and his friends whistle and egg them on.
Bella wets her lip. "I hope so."
Edward takes a step closer. "It may hurt."
"I can take it. Make me scream."
"Whoa-a-a-a-oh…" Jess says, exchanging a cheeky look with Angela and Katie. Bella walks over and hugs Jess and Angela, kissing each of them on the cheek.
"Goodbye." She moves to take Edward's hand so he can help her lie down on the coffee table.
"Hey, what about me?" Mike points at his chest. "What am I, chopped liver?"
Edward rolls his eyes and gives Bella a nudge. "Go on. Give the dog a bone."
She arches a brow at Mike. "Enjoy it, because it's never going to happen again."
"I'd have to kill you," Edward growls.
Mike accepts a kiss on the cheek from Bella. He covers his heart with his hand and pretends to swoon while Hobo Austin and Zombie Eric give him congratulatory pats. As Edward helps Bella to lie down on the table, Jess crosses the room and takes Mike's hand.
The robed druids surround the table. Alice and Rose stand behind them and light a pair of candles.
Edward says something in a foreign language and Alice hands him the knife. He mutters some words over it, balances it on its point and shows it to the crowd like it's a prize on Price is Right. The young people laugh and clap. Emmett and Jasper start to sing what sounds like a Gregorian chant and Edward slips his leg over Bella, straddling the table. The laughing teens go wild as he places Bella's hands above her head and runs his hand over the tops of her breasts as though searching for a good spot. She can feel him, hard against her thigh. He can probably hear her ovaries explode!
Smirking, Edward raises the knife over his head. "Ready to experience a small death?"
Bella blinks, writhes and runs her hands up his thighs. "Take me."
He captures her hands and pins them above her head. "Ah ah ah! No touching the officiant!" He says something in the foreign language and gently plunges the knife "into" her left breast. It doesn't hurt at all. Fake blood runs down the plastic blade and pools on her chest. Edward raises a brow. "You're supposed to die," he whispers.
Bella screams in a manner worthy of Jamie Lee Curtis and bucks up against his cock. She squirms against it several times for good measure and the puddle of blood on her chest spills everywhere. Then she rolls her eyes and falls limp. The teenagers howl and clap. Bella squeaks open an eye in time to see Edward throw back his head. His thighs quiver against hers and his jaw falls slack. When he opens his eyes, they're smoky. She forgets she's supposed to be playing dead and stares at him. Her very proper mate just came on her stomach in front of a crowd of ogling humans.
He licks the blood off his knuckles and then runs his tongue down both sides of the knife blade. That's when she realizes the blood isn't fake. She touches her boob to make sure there isn't a hole in it. There isn't.
"That was better than any porn I've ever seen," Eric moans.
"Hot." Mike nods energetically.
"Smokin' hot," Ben agrees.
"Intense," Jess squeaks.
Edward rubs the damp fabric covering Bella's stomach with the hem of his robe and stands. He hands off the knife, reaches for Bella's hands and helps her up. He pulls her against him and the blood smears between them. "Was it good for you?"
She manages to nod. "Any time you want to sacrifice me again, let me know."
"I'll remember that later tonight."
"It's a date."
Carlisle appears at the top of the stairs. "Kids? We must go, we're going to be late."
"Aw!" Jess whines. "The party's just getting started!"
"Sorry, we have another commitment." Edward stares at Bella.
"Well, okay. Can you come back later?" Jess begs.
"Maybe," Edward murmurs.
"Okay, thank you for coming!" Jess goes to hug Bella but Bella pushes her back.
"My dress is wet. You'll get blood all over you."
"Hey, what's a little blood on Halloween?"
Emmett's grin is evil. "The dress isn't the only thing that's wet, right Eddie?"
Mike is still slack-jawed. "I can confirm that."
Jessica, and many of the other kids, hug Bella and the Cullens goodbye. The vampires take their leave.
Rosalie gets behind the wheel of her red Merc. Em rides shotgun and Carlisle and Esme get in the back. Edward sighs and holds the door of the Volvo open for Bella. She gapes at him.
"You want me to drive?"
"It's tradition." He won't meet her eyes as she gets in. He and Jasper climb in the back seat and Alice hops in beside Bella.
"Uh, Jasper, my dress?" Bella gestures at the blood marring the perfection of her gown.
"No worries, Miss Bella. It's not my cup of tea."
"Pig's blood," Edward supplies.
"Ah. I wondered where you got it."
"Are you excited?" Alice bounces up and down, making the car rock. She's now wearing a gorgeous crown of Easter lilies that dust the air with golden pollen.
"Yeah," Bella says. "Where are we going next?"
"A very special place lost to time. A place just for us." Alice produces a crown of white roses and weaves it into Bella's hair.
"So pretty." Bella caresses the tight blooms. "Seriously? There's a place just for druids?"
Alice nods at her, eyes large. "There have always been places for us. And there's a place for you."
Bella's laughter bubbles up. "I can't believe this is happening! I'm so glad I'm going to be part of the family!"
"You can thank Edward. No matter how much he'd like you to think that we had to twist his arm to bring you with us, it was his decision."
"Thank you for bringing me, Edward!"
"I could not resist any longer, my love." She glances in the rearview mirror because he practically purred it. His eyes are sultry. She flushes.
Jasper shakes his head. "Neither of you would have made it through another year."
Edward sighs. "I guess you're right."
Edward laughs softly. Rose turns the Merc onto the highway. Bella follows.
"Where are we going?" she asks. "I don't know the way and it will be dark soon. Maybe you should drive, Alice."
"No, like Edward said, it's tradition for the people joining the family to drive themselves to the celebration. You just follow Rosalie and if you can't keep up, I'll tell you where to turn."
Bella follows Rosalie's tail lights for miles. The mountain roads twist and turn. Soon, it's too black to see much of anything. The sky is overcast and white mist crawls across the ground.
"This is a totally epic way to spend Halloween!" Bella shakes her head, grins and presses on the gas as they take another steep incline. Somewhere out in the darkness, a wolf howls mournfully. The Cullens look toward the sound and frown.
"Spooky?" Jasper teases.
"No sense of self-preservation," Edward mutters.
"We're nearly there," Alice wriggles with excitement. "I'm so glad you asked for this, Bella. I can't wait for you to be my sister!"
Up ahead, the brake lights on Rosalie's Merc flare red. She parks at the entrance to a dark village. Bella peers at the aged wooden buildings. There's not a light to be seen.
"Where are we?" She looks at Edward with affection and is pleased to see that he looks hopeful. A bit excited, even, as he helps her out of the car.
"This is our special place. We care for the souls here. It is here that you will decide your own fate."
She takes him by the arm and inhales his beloved scent. "Tell me what's going to happen."
"Ah," his smile fades. "That, I cannot do, love. Tonight, all shall be revealed. You will choose one of three paths. One would strike me through the heart but I would heal and discover everlasting joy. One would anger me at first, but I will remain your devoted servant regardless. And one would destroy me utterly."
"You're speaking in riddles," Bella frets. "What if I make the wrong choice? This concerns both of us."
"It must be your choice, Bella. Only yours." He looks uncomfortable. "This is your last chance to back out. No one will leave here human."
"May I ask you a favor?"
"Will you try not to scream, no matter what happens?"
Taking her hand, he leads her to the others. The crisp fall wind presses the thin silk of Bella's gown against her legs. The males raise their hoods. The females each light a white taper candle. Esme presents one to Bella, who cups the flickering flame in her hand to shelter it from the wind.
"They won't go out, Bella," Alice says. "They're magic."
Bella drops her hand and the flame continues to burn brightly, dancing in the gloom. "Wow."
Out of the trunk of Rosalie's car, Carlisle, Emmett, Jasper and Edward lift hundreds of small carved pumpkins, two at a time, and the girls kindle the tea light candles inside. The men begin to sing a low-pitched chant in an ancient, thrumming language that seems to vibrate right through Bella's soul. The female vampires answer them with high, melodious trills. Soon, the abandoned town twinkles with warm, amber light.
At the entrance to the main street, Carlisle lights a huge bonfire within an enormous circle of stones. "We light this bonfire tonight to protect all souls and cleanse them of evil. We welcome the souls of any dead to this place, to celebrate their lives and set them free. Bring forth the offerings."
The males bring their red sacks of candy to Carlisle and he says a short prayer, laying his hands on each offering. The males rejoin their mates outside the circle.
"Finally," Carlisle says, "We welcome Isabella Marie Swan, the human mortal who loves both the living and the dead, to be one of us. May she forever be light to our darkness, a soul to the empty, and a servant of love. May she be a living sacrifice and enjoy the gift of eternal bliss."
"So be it," the druids answer.
"If you set foot in this village," Edward warns, "you will not make it out as a human."
Smiling, Bella tucks her hand into the crook of his arm. "So be it."
The men resume their chant. Edward takes Bella's hand and leads her toward the first dark building, a tiny jack o' lantern cradled in his other palm.
"What is this place?" she wants to know but he continues to sing. He gestures to her to step across the threshold.
Inside the dank wooden cabin, he stops chanting and places the small jack o' lantern he's carrying on the rickety table, which is set with pristine white dishes and silver cutlery for one person. Suddenly, something is with them. Something that drags a foot when it walks.
"Welcome, Sadie." Edward beams. "Do sit down and partake of this glorious feast."
Every hair on Bella's head stands up. She cannot scream. She cannot catch her breath! The thing half-falls into the chair at the table. Edward makes a show of putting little pieces of candy corn on its dish. How can it eat? It smells putrid! It reaches out, takes the spoon Edward offers, and scrapes it across the dish. It brings the spoon up to a rotten mouth. Tangled, greenish hair falls down to obscure its face.
"That's the way! It's good, isn't it? Eat your meats and remember to bring your lantern to the festival. Pray excuse us. We must see to the Hastings." Edward tugs at Bella, who can't stop staring at the thing. He carries her to the next cabin, resuming his song. The same ritual meal happens, but there are four dead things at the table this time. The dead man hisses as Edward chats cheerfully to it. And so it goes, from house to house.
On the path between each house, Edward sneaks worried glances at Bella. She cannot tell him she's all right. Nothing is all right. Monsters and ghouls exist.
Halfway down the street, they find Rosalie kneeling in a kitchen before an old wood-burning oven. A baby is crying. She opens the door of the oven and coos at a small bundle. Acid wells up in Bella's throat. Rosalie rocks and sings to the bundle and lets it lick at her fingers. When Rosalie asks Bella if she'd like to kiss the baby, urine runs down Bella's leg. And despite it, Edward takes Bella into house after house after house until there are no more.
Lifting Bella's hand, Edward blows out the stub of candle that remains.
Suddenly, there's music: a flute, a fiddle and a guitar. Alice, Jasper and Emmett are playing for the souls. Edward grasps Bella by the hand and tugs her into the town square. The dead come forth from their houses carrying the tiny jack o' lanterns. They hold the pumpkin lights to their chests, and something miraculous happens: the decay and ugliness fall away. Soon, there are nearly a hundred bright faces laughing and singing, wearing their Sunday best and embracing their neighbors. They clasp hands, kick up their feet and begin to dance.
Bella looks up at Edward in wonder. Smiling, he takes down his hood and kisses her softly. "Thank you for not screaming."
"I, um, had an accident."
"Nothing to worry about. The souls wouldn't notice that, but screaming and crying would upset them."
"And you? Are you upset?" The Edward she knows would have taken her away the moment he knew she was frightened.
He tilts his head slightly. "Do you understand why I wished you to have a different future?"
Her lashes flutter. "Yes. But this doesn't change anything. I know what I want."
Rosalie twirls with a little child cradled to her breast. Carlisle and Esme make a ring with some young children.
"My love," Edward touches her wrist, "will you do me the honor of dancing with me on this sacred night?"
"I would love to dance with you."
Edward wraps his arms around Bella and kisses her thoroughly for the first time in a month. He traces his fingers over the roses in her hair. "Thank you. No matter what happens, I will always remember how beautiful you look tonight and what a privilege it is to have you in my arms."
"Edward, you're safe with me. Show me whatever it is that you need me to see. I trust you to take care of me. I am not going to leave you tonight. Stop trying to say goodbye."
His lip tips up and he peeks at her. "Hello?"
Bella runs her hands down his backside. She can't feel the outline of any clothing under the robe. "Well, hello. What are you wearing under there?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out." He lets his hands wander. "Although we appear to have something in common."
She blushes. "When do I get to confirm that?"
"Naughty Bella. If you're so inclined, I'll let you unwrap me later."
He laughs a little. "Assuming there's no running and screaming, I'm all yours."
"Oh, I promise not to frighten you."
"Silly!" He leads Bella in a merry dance and the stars come out and light the assembly as though it's been blessed by the angels.
Outside the circle of the bonfire, shadowy figures lurk. Bella nudges Edward and whispers in his ear. "Who are they?"
"The lost. Those who refuse to move on. Some are confused and others fear the wrath of their creator."
"Yes, Bella, and poltergeists." His lips turn down. "Now you see our purpose and soon, you must choose."
"Yes. You must pick your place."
"You'll know. First, we must send away our guests."
"Oh." Bella peeks at the vibrant souls. "To Heaven?"
Carlisle stands inside the circle beside the bonfire and everyone begins to wander toward him. "Welcome, friends. On this night, we invite you to come and live in the light. If any here wish to change place with one of the lost, and ensure his place in Heaven, come to me now."
A plump, middle-aged lady lifts her long skirts and curtseys. After Carlisle blesses her, she hurries to one of the lost and opens her arms.
Edward calls out to the souls, making Bella jump. "Greater love hath no mother than this: that this lady lay down her soul for her son."
The lost thing bows his head.
"He begs for forgiveness, thanks his mother and asks for mercy," Edward says and the mother lifts her face toward her son, who opens his mouth and inhales loudly. White mist leaves the mother's mouth and her knees buckle. The thing catches her in his arms and continues to feed. Soon, the son becomes young, strong, wholesome and lively. In his arms, his mother lies gray and desiccated.
"All hail Rowena!" Edward shouts, and the Cullens chant her name to the heavens.
"God bless Rowena," Bella murmurs.
The young man sets his mother on her misshapen feet, leaves her behind, and strides into the circle. "Do you want to go home now?" Carlisle asks.
The soul holds out his hands to Carlisle.
Carlisle takes the young man gently in his arms. He rears back, teeth elongating, and bites.
Bella wants to run away. Blood sprays from the young man's neck and runs down the back of his shirt. Carlisle opens red eyes as he drinks and stares at Bella, who presses herself back firmly against Edward.
"I thought you didn't feed from humans," Bella whimpers. The other Cullens enter the circle, and souls willingly step into their arms. Blood from the baby saturates the front of Rosalie's gown. When she's drained his little body, she gently casts it into the bonfire with no more concern than if she'd been laying down a cord of wood. With a flash of white sparks, he vanishes into thin air.
"We don't feed from humans." Edward strokes Bella's arms. "These people are not mortal but they're trapped between the mortal and immortal worlds because they were unwilling or unable to move on when they died. However temporary their vessels are, they're much more nourishing to us than those of animals. When we murder them, we give them what they want, and take what we need. It's an excellent solution that gives relief to all of us." He gives her a squeeze. "I must admit that I am awfully… thirsty."
"Oh," Her voice shakes as she tries to hold onto him. "You… should…"
"This is what you're asking to become; a creature that helps people to die."
"I… accept that."
"No you don't, but if you wish to mate with me, you must."
"I… have asked to see you hunt." She watches warily as Esme sinks her teeth into a little girl.
"Bit different than you imagined, isn't it. If I don't feed tonight, it will be far more difficult for me to control my thirst around humans. Even though I fed well at the last Samhain, my throat has been agonizingly painful since the end of summer."
"Okay." It isn't really.
He moves to face her. His eyes are the blackest black. "Bella, the truth is, I would feed tonight whether you approve or not. These people need us and we need sustenance."
She manages to nod. Edward lunges forward as a voluptuous young woman with black hair throws herself into his arms. He swings her in a circle, cups her face and places an open-mouthed kiss to her jugular. Something he's never done to Bella. The young woman arches back and wraps her leg around him, her smile ecstatic. He nuzzles at her throat until the light goes out of her eyes. Then, he kisses her on the forehead, leaving behind a smear of blood, lifts her in his arms and casts her on the pyre. Sparks whoosh upward and she is no more. Bella wants to scream. And yet, there's beauty in it.
"Poor girl had never been kissed." Bella jumps as Alice speaks directly in her ear. "He does that for them sometimes if they ask. Don't be jealous over the next one, okay?"
Bella blinks rapidly. "How can their bodies be re…? There's no logical explanation for it."
Alice arches a brow. "And there's a logical explanation for the existence of vampires?"
"Isn't there? It's a virus. A genetic mutation."
"It's a curse."
A man in his forties approaches Edward hesitantly, hanging his head. Edward nods at him decisively and the man edges forward. Edward kisses him full on the mouth for a long time. With tongue.
"He never does more than kiss the souls. A few men ask every year. Some people, you know, have been discriminated against so much that they don't accept themselves and it's one of the ways souls get stuck. Edward doesn't get anything out of kissing them but their love. He's always kind to the dead. Well, he's an uncommonly thoughtful and generous person as you know."
The man stops kissing Edward, tucks his face into Edward's shoulder and clings to him. Edward gives him a pat and whispers something in his ear. Then, he snaps the man's neck and eases him gently to the ground so he can feed.
"This," Bella murmurs, "isn't a curse. This is a blessing. You help people find peace."
"They are our only shot at redemption."
"Again with the damnation thing! I just can't understand why—"
"Edward is right. He has no soul."
Bella is shocked speechless. Alice lifts a shoulder. "I didn't have one either until I bonded with Jasper."
Esme slips her arm around Bella, who leans into her motherly side, looks up at her trustingly and flinches; Esme's face is covered in blood and the white peonies in her hair drip with gore. "Before you hear our histories, Bella, I must remind you of what Edward said: no one will leave here alive. Tonight, you meet your death. No human may ever know our secrets."
It's real. There's no escaping death without paying a heavy toll. Edward was right? It can't be true. She can't take her eyes off him.
"Six thousand years ago," Alice says, "there was a king named Aro. He captured his enemies and ate them alive, piece by piece, laughing while they screamed. He poured their blood into vessels and used it in evil rites. And thus we are cursed to covet blood."
Esme takes up the thread of the story as Edward releases the man he kissed into the fire. Bella catches his eye and they gaze at each other. His eyes are clear, like glass. As she watches, they fill with blood, then turn black. Empty.
"A servant of the one true God placed the curse on Aro." Esme licks her lips. "She said his soul was forfeit and he was doomed to walk the Earth, not alive yet unable to die until –if he should serve God and man for a thousand years- he might be redeemed and go to a peaceful rest." Esme pushes back her matted hair. "Only Aro did not repent. Instead, he rejoiced. And led by demons, he began to poison those in his service with venom and turn them into creatures like him. They turned others. The servant of God came to those vampires who grieved their sorry state. She offered them an olive branch: should they willingly serve God and man by guiding the lost into the hereafter, after a thousand years, they might be restored and go peacefully into the light. So the first druids came to exist."
"And," Alice adds, "to keep the druids from falling into depravity, God bestowed upon us the mate bond. We are eternally paired and one cannot live without the other, for our souls are linked."
"But, you said Edward's soul…" Bella watches as an old man holds out his hand and Edward clasps it and smiles. He gives the man his final, deadly embrace. "Edward has always been so loving. How is it possible that he doesn't have a soul? He has a beautiful soul!"
Alice shakes her head. "In each pair of mates, one comes into the bond with a soul and the other does not. We have the ability to sense who has a soul and who does not."
"When druids mate," Esme explains, "the vampire without a soul recognizes the key to getting it back is the soul of the mate. When they mate, the partner with the soul offers it in sacrificial love, and pulls the lost soul back into its body. Henceforward, the souls are linked."
Alice sighs. "It was the loveliest thing when Jasper released his soul for me. When I got mine back, it was like there were colors I'd never seen before. Sounds I'd never heard."
Bella glances at Esme. "And Carlisle gave his soul for you?"
"Oh, no. I gave mine for him."
How confusing. "But he always had faith in God and that he wasn't lost. That's why he abstained from hunting humans."
"We feel the lack when our souls are missing, Bella. Some vampires revel in it. Others grieve. And those who grieve know that love and completion cannot be demanded, the gift must be sacrificial. We can't ask our mate to save us. Their eternal soul must be freely given in order to be bound to us."
Alice hugs herself as she watches Jasper feed. "And that's why druid love never fades, Bella. Never ends. Because once we're together, our souls are always touching." The howling of wolves grows louder.
"I…" Bella's eyes flicker from the lost souls outside the bright circle, to the last, ecstatic dying souls, to their reapers. To Edward, who is watching, his robe soaked in blood, his face a mask of stone, his eyes betraying his anxiety.
"I want to save him."
Giant wolves jump toward the circle and are repelled by an invisible force.
"Don't concern yourself, Bella," Esme says. "They can't hurt us."
Carlisle kneels to pick up one of the tiny jack o' lanterns. He joins Esme, Alice and Bella. "It's time." He holds the jack o' lantern out to Bella but before she can take it, Alice prevents her.
"The first dolls ever created were repositories for souls," Alice tells her. "And so jack o' lanterns become vessels for those gathered tonight. So, what will you do?"
Bella's mouth goes dry. Blood and death are within touching distance. The bonfire smells sickly sweet. It's overpowering, like incense. For the first time, she truly understands Edward. He loves her and the thought of losing her soul, well, she never thought it was possible. But what if she were to lose it? Edward is afraid. For her, not for himself.
"Edward, I love you."
The wolves pace and snap. Bella tries to ignore them.
Edward's hands ball into fists. He looks like he wants to run to her. To cry out. But he says nothing. Thunder crashes and lightning arcs out of the fire, making the fur of the wolves stand on end. It booms again and all the wolves but one run away.
"But you really are stupid sometimes." Bella's gaze falls upon Rowena, the mother who sacrificed herself for her son. "No one can lose his or her soul by trading it for someone else's. It's a selfless act. You don't go to hell for that."
The red wolf shrinks down into human form. "Lies!" Jacob Black shouts. "Stop this, demons!"
Bella glares at Jacob. Thunder crashes and lightning speeds along the ground and knocks him off his feet.
Jasper leads Rowena into the circle. "Well done, brave servant. Thank you for being so patient. Go to Heaven and be with your son!" He picks her up and places her in the fire. She disappears. Small, silver sparks shoot upward. The few lost souls left outside the circle fade into the night.
"What am I supposed to do?" Bella asks Carlisle.
"Choose your future."
"The question is not how, it's what."
"What are my choices?"
"Edward told you what to do," Alice says softly. "You just have to think about how each of these choices would affect him, and then you'll be able to decide."
Her eyes widen. A blue orb appears. It expands and solidifies into the shape of a man. He whispers a secret that only she can hear.
Oh. She should have known.
"Bella, the only thing that can hurt me is you... and I don't have anything else to be afraid of."
Yes. Everything makes sense. If she were to walk away, out of the circle, she would die. The only things worth hoping for would be gone. It would destroy him utterly. And her.
She won't walk away. But Esme says one way or another, she has to die tonight, at least to her humanity.
Outside the circle, Jacob Black lurches to his feet. His skin is gray.
"Oh, no. He's dead, isn't he?"
Edward watches Jacob's shade solemnly. "He spoke out against a holy thing. I am sorry, Jacob." He stoops to pick up one of the few remaining jack o' lanterns. Jacob steps into the circle and takes it.
"You don't hate us anymore, then?" Edward checks.
Jacob takes the jack o' lantern and presses it to his chest. He returns to his living aspect and casts a sorrowful look at Bella.
"Who will you have, Bella?" Edward asks.
Edward's love for her is selfless and he couldn't stop loving her if he tried. And in her place, he would not hesitate to share his soul with her.
Bella clears her throat. "I couldn't choose to remain human and die. Leaving Edward behind would devastate us both. We'd never recover. I'm sorry Jacob, it was never an option. I'm so, so sorry for your loss."
"Go to God, Jacob," Carlisle says quietly.
Jasper leads Jacob away to the fire. Bella keeps her eyes trained on her mate.
"And you've practically admitted that if I were to refuse to share my soul, it would hurt you. You'd be angry for a while but you'd remain devoted to me. I could never hurt you that way. And that only leaves one other option."
"Yes. One that will strike me through the heart."
"But you will heal and discover everlasting joy."
"Yes." Redness wells in his eyes and tracks down his cheeks. She wipes his tears of blood away with her thumbs.
"Always upset," she sighs. "But you are an idiot."
His lips quirk up sheepishly. "No doubt. But is there a particular reason you're calling me names at this time?"
She grabs him by the hair and gives him a little shake. "Your soul isn't gone. Edward Masen was never lost. I used to think he was inside you but I was wrong." Bella places her hands on Edward's chest and looks him dead in his blood-colored eyes. "I can see him. He stands at your right hand. He says he's always with you, hoping you will love him again. Edward Masen whispers in your ear and tells you what is right and wrong. Tells you how to love. All you have to do is let him in."
"I don't know how."
"Carlisle?" Bella beckons him closer and reaches for the jack o' lantern. He places it in her cupped hands. It's warm. It pulls at her, making it difficult to concentrate on what she wants to say.
"Edward Anthony Masen Cullen, will you be my soulmate forever?"
Edward Masen shines like the sun. He steps right into the jack o' lantern and vanishes even as its glow brightens. Bella gives her Edward a triumphant smile. She stops resisting the pull from the lantern.
A thousand lights appear outside the circle. They enter it all at once and fly on lacy wings to Bella and Edward in its center. Bella watches in amazement as tiny fairies of all colors and shapes pinch her skin with their tiny hands. Something bright flutters on her skin and then the pain begins. With each fairy's tug, she can see her soul being pulled from her body. The experience rather resembles her idea of how Peter Pan's shadow might have felt each time he lost it. It's irritating.
The fairies give an unexpectedly powerful tug and Bella cries out in agony as she leaves her body. She hears Edward yell. Then, she is air and light and music and snowflakes, and she feels nothing as she watches her body crumple. It never hits the ground. Edward's body never hits the ground either. The Cullens have them in their arms.
Bella looks at the jack o' lantern. Being a blessed object, its draw is irresistible. And why should she resist? She is to be married to Edward. She thinks about being inside the vessel and is immediately drawn into the light.
It's warm and amber and love surrounds her.
He's there. With her in the light. They aren't wearing anything. She opens her arms and her heart. "Be mine. Stay with me forever."
"I promise to love you every day of forever."
"Be one with me."
The light surrounding them bursts into twinkling stars like a billion white fireworks. She can't force her eyes open, it's so bright.
After a moment of disorientation, she blinks and looks down upon Edward's face. She's lying unclothed on top of him and he's flat on his back in the protective circle. His robe is spread on the ground beneath. The Cullen Family has left and the bonfire is out, although tiny jack o' lanterns continue to dot the darkness with cheerful light.
Edward's Bella welcomes him, soul and body, because Isabella Marie Swan Cullen loves both the living and the dead. "Set us free."
Edward's face lights with boyish wonder. He gives her a sweet smile she's never seen before. He takes her hand, brings her wrist to his face and inhales deeply as he has done so often since he found her. He turns her so that her back is to his front and brings his arm up to her mouth. His wrist is wet. She licks it. It's good. She pulls nectar from his veins. And then, his mouth is on her neck and it's warm and sensual and the best kiss she's ever had. They're spooned up on the ground and it's just so natural and there's no more reason for them to deny their bond. He lifts her leg over his thigh. Alone in the circle, they gasp as he makes them one. As they move together, his venom dances through her veins. There is no pain. Instead, there are kisses, and unrestrained passion, and enough declarations to last a thousand human lifetimes. Or longer.
Dawn comes. Tiny fairies peep out of forest leaves. Edward and Bella lie together upon a white gown and a red robe marred with blood, venom and earth. All the monsters and all the saints are gone. Bella sits up. There are no houses, no town; only tidy graves, each bearing an empty, crushed jack o' lantern, in an ancient cemetery surrounded by a circle of stones.
The lovers smile into red eyes.
There is light to their darkness.