Red Eyed Edward Contest: 1st Place Judges Vote
Thank you to everyone who played a part in this contest. Thank you most of all to Ninkita... You made this a better story. You make me a better writer. Thank you, hun!
Summary: Bella returns to Forks for her junior year of high school, living with her father as she has every second year since her parents' divorce. Her emotional isolation threatens to overwhelm her, then she senses a mysterious force drawing her deep into the shadows of an abandoned graveyard. The force emanates from a standing stone. . . the gateway to her destiny.
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
I like walking. It gives me time to explore. Time to find and appreciate all the hidden beauty of this tiny town.
That was irony, in case you missed it.
My hometown: Forks, Washington. Population 3,187. Give or take a few.
Forks doesn't feel like home, but neither does Phoenix, although I would choose blue skies over gray in a heartbeat. One foot in the rain, one in the sun. The frustrating reality of growing up a child of divorce. It's my dad's year. My cold, wet, rainy year. At least I can guarantee sunshine at my high school graduation. For now, I'll make it my mission to learn every street and mailbox, every moss-draped tree, every dilapidated porch swing with its mandatory floral cushion harboring a colony of black mold spores. Come next summer, I plan to fly back to the sun and never look back.
I walk home from school a different way every day. I memorize each house and yard, taking special note of the junkers in the driveways and the hand-carved signs hung out to advertise familial pride in the ramshackle tenements. By the end of September, I've covered every possible route, twisting left and right through the grid of narrow streets and duplex ramblers. The wind is a damp, cold breath flowing in from the ocean; an effluvium of seaweed, mud and moss-damp pine. I take it in, picking apart the scents, a patchwork quilt of memories. Fishing trips, tide pools, campfires and walks through primeval forests draped in curtains of eerie green.
I stop at an intersection. Home, my father's house, is off to the right. Just two blocks away. Drab yellow siding, charcoal asphalt shingles and the police cruiser in the driveway.
It's still light. I turn left.
My detour takes me past an abandoned orchard, apples hanging brown and shriveled from the gnarled branches. Lichen and fungus clamber like coral up the trunks and branches, thriving in the waterlogged habitat. I tuck my dripping hair back under my hood and walk on.
The fence changes from weathered split-rail to rusty metal. Corroded iron mounted in crumbling stone, the mortar falling prey to decades of neglect, just like everything else here. I look between the posts to see marble markers, crab grass and tangled thistles half-buried in moldering leaves.
Curious and bored, I enter the abandoned cemetery.
Something calls to me. It hums inside of me. A heat. A vibration. A beacon. . .
I pick my way between the stones, reading names long forgotten. William J. Barney. . . Mariah Churchill. . . Zachariah something beginning with a 'T', his last name erased by time and the elements.
The feeling, the knot of energy beneath my ribs, guides me further back, further in. Near the southernmost edge of the fenced lot, an ancient fir tree grows. Its limbs hang tired and heavy, fingers dragging in the mud. From between its dark green needles, a glimpse of white catches my eye. The pull gets stronger.
It would be so easy to let it possess my body, carry me marionette-like to its source. A tiny voice within me tells me to turn around and leave. To run away. To leave before it's too late, before I lose what little free will I still possess.
I dislike being told what to do, where to go. I always have. But every year I am a ping pong ball, bouncing back and forth between vastly different parents who love me but are too stubborn to admit that this arrangement isn't working. It never worked. It couldn't work. They wanted to share me 50/50 and chose Solomon's sword to make it fair. Fair for everyone but me.
I ask myself, "Run where? To what? From what?"
And that's the clincher. Curiosity wins.
As I enter the oldest section of the cemetery, the grave markers change from simple marble placards to upright stones and carved crosses. One statue, an angel weeping, hovers over a tiny raised sarcophagus. The blackened mortar that fills the seam between case and lid is chipped and gaping. I imagine that I can simply peek between the slabs to view the bones of the deceased child. Icy fingers scratch down my spine.
Pulling my jacket tight against the chills, I skirt around the mourning edifice. My circular path brings me to the deeply rooted guardian tree. I part its branches with a steady hand and find myself standing before a breathtaking work of art.
The monolith seems to have been carved from a single piece of marble. If it wasn't, the work was so expertly executed that I cannot see any sign of a joint or seam. It towers above me, taller than a man, at least seven feet high and three feet in diameter. Like a massive crystal birthed from a vein of cooling magma, it juts up from the earth, an opaque prism tapering suddenly near the top. The pinnacle is capped with a Gaelic cross, the whorls and channels blackened by years of pine needles gathering in its crevices and rotting away. The runoff has stained the stone in rivulets of gray and brown.
I walk around the monument, fascinated and curious. It is so different from every other memorial stone here. It belongs in a European graveyard amid the tombs of fallen kings, not this backwater logging town. My toe catches on a solid object, mostly buried beneath the thick blanket of castoff needles. With one booted foot, I scrape away the sodden material to reveal a marble plaque, filthy and discolored but otherwise in excellent condition.
I read the words and feel them take hold, worming their way into my bones.
Edward Anthony Masen Cullen
Born June 20, 1901
Our Beloved Son and Brother,
We Will Mourn Your Loss
Every Day of This Existence
'Every day of this existence.' It's an odd choice of words, even for a decades-old tombstone. And there is no dash nor date to mark his departure from this world. I circle the monolith once more, then reach out, placing my hand flat against the north face. The stone hums beneath my hand. Resonant and warm, the feeling echos in my bones, shaking loose the ennui and apathy that have caused my heart and mind to stagnate all these years.
I am alarmed, but I don't pull away. I step closer.
With both hands pressed against the icy marble face, I feel it. The pull of the tides. The heat of the sun cresting the horizon. The rush of the blood within my veins. I hold my breath until I am giddy and lightheaded. This is life. This is what it feels like to belong. To be wanted. To have the essence of my being cradled and treasured within something greater than myself.
It tells me I am home. Home. Home. . . .
As the light fails, I drag myself away. I feel colder already, no longer sheltered beneath the fir tree. The pull is still there, but it weakens as I walk away. I miss it. I vow to return tomorrow after school. Edward Anthony Masen Cullen. . . I wonder who he was and how he died. I wonder if his family's descendants still live in or around Forks. I do not recognize the name, but a lot can happen in a couple generations. Perhaps they moved away, or the name disappeared with the death of the last male descendant. With a bit of sleuthing, I know I can find answers.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
"Bella, wait up!" Mike calls, running to catch me before I step into the crosswalk.
"Hey, Mike," I greet him politely.
My sporadic attendance, here one year, gone the next, creates a tense and shaky bond with my peers. I am neither fish nor fowl. Not a new kid, but not in any crowd or clique. Mike is one of the 'popular' kids, or as popular as you can be ruling a class that never quite reaches triple digits.
"Where are you off to?"
"Home. Chores," I lie, mildly surprised at how easy it is. I've never practiced lying. I don't often have cause to speak, let alone say something false.
"That bites. We're all heading to Crowley's house to play Call of Duty."
"I'm not really into board games," I say.
"It's actually a video game. On the Xbox," he explains, trailing off as I start across the street.
I wave back over my shoulder, dismissing his attempts to include me. I know what an Xbox is, but I really don't care at this moment. Now that I am walking toward the cemetery, the strange pull has returned. It is almost insistent. It quickens my steps and my heart rate. I am nearly jogging as I pass the old orchard, the scent of fermentation and mold sour in my throat.
My eager, searching eyes find it, and I stop, my hands gripping the corroded iron bars for support. Solid white and quiet, it lurks in the shadows. I should be frightened. That would be the normal reaction. After all, this is a graveyard. A place for ghosts and ghouls. But I'm not normal. I never have been. I've never fit in with my peers. It seems a little late to start trying now. Rather than being fearful, I feel curious and hungry, missing the hum of the stone's energy feeding my soul.
I enter through the gate and walk straight to the tree. My eyes never drop, but my steps are sure, somehow moving over and around clumps of grass and grave markers without tripping. It is almost magnetic, the way it draws me in. I smile as I slip beneath the hanging boughs. I let my backpack slide from my shoulders. I unzip my raincoat and hang it from a bare, brittle branch. My hands land on the cool stone and I laugh, relieved to be back within its embrace. The buzzing hum. . . it makes my blood simmer in my veins.
I want to fall into the feeling. I step closer. Closer. Until I can rest my cheek against the stone.
I lose myself.
I don't know where the hours go, but it is dark, and I am late. Feeling cold inside already, I grab my jacket and bag and run home.
"Hey there, Bella. Where've you been?" my dad asks from his spot in front of the television.
"Oh, I dropped by Tyler Crowley's house after school to work on a project, then me and my friends lost track of time. Video games, you know. I'm sorry. Have you already eaten?"
"There's pizza on the counter. Dig in," he says, nodding toward the kitchen.
"Thanks, Dad," I smile.
Inside I'm quaking as I help myself to two slices of pepperoni and sausage deep-dish pizza. I need to be more careful. My dad's a cop. One slip up is no big deal. But if it happens again, he'll question me until he finds out the truth.
What is the truth? I don't even know. I've found something. Something beautiful and tantalizing. Something inexplicable, but wonderful. I've found something magical. . . and I don't want to share.
I hurry through my homework, not worrying about how neat it is. I stuff everything back in my bag and start up my laptop. I don't know where to begin my search. I try his name first. There are no hits for Edward Anthony Masen Cullen. Thousands of hits for other combinations of the names, but none that include all four or even three.
I research the last name, finding that it has Gaelic roots, which explains the cross. I search for 'Cullen' in combination with 'Forks' and other nearby city names. There is one hit. A public record of a property deed just south of Forks. I click through the Department of Taxation website with my heart pounding. No sales on record since 1936. The property is still held under the names of Carlisle and Esme Cullen.
My fingers fumble the address four times before I am able to type it into Google correctly. The map shows me a secluded parcel almost two and a half miles outside of town. If I walk there after school, I won't have time to visit the monolith before I have to come home. The desire to know more about this man and his past is powerful, but the compulsion to return to his memorial and feel the living energy it possesses is formidable.
"It's only one day. It's only one day. I'll be back," I reassure myself as I get ready for bed.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
The school day drags. My teachers drone, my classmates prattle, even my lunch is tasteless and boring. I am absent minded and distracted, despite my efforts to act normal. Mr. Banner expresses concern, and I wave it off. Just a bug. I'll feel better soon.
As soon as the final bell rings, I hurry off, bypassing my locker to escape campus before anyone can flag me down or ask where I'm going. I follow the route I memorized last night, walking as quickly as the slippery, leaf-strewn shoulder allows. I reach the property forty five minutes later. I almost miss the turnoff, overgrown as it is, but an ancient iron post still bears a rusted sign, the letter 'C' curling around an old family crest. I recognize the symbol from the carved plaque by the monolith.
The road must have been paved with stone at one time. It's the only thing that has prevented the forest from swallowing it completely. I slip beneath the overhanging trees, squeezing between narrow-trunk conifers that have found feeble purchase in the layers of fallen leaves and branches. I know I am on the correct path because iron lamp posts pop up every ten yards.
I step out into a clearing and stop, transfixed. The house is massive. White pillars hold up the sagging roof. The wrap-around porch kneels, broken by years of neglect. But even in its sad condition, it is impressive. Stately. I approach the abandoned home, breathless and amazed.
He lived here. Once upon a time, Edward Cullen ate, lived and slept beneath that roof. For the thousandth time I try to imagine him. Was he brutish or graceful? Simple or smart? The early logging community would not have attracted many educated professionals, but the Cullen family's wealth and prominence was apparent in the size and grandeur of their home and the stunning memorial they had erected for their deceased son. I decide that I will look for other family markers in the cemetery tomorrow. It is unlikely that he was the only one to die here.
I walk around the entire house, taking in the boarded windows and extensive damage from insects and rot. I don't dare climb the steps to the front door. Several are missing and the rest are on the verge of disintegrating. One of the boards on a first-floor window is hanging, crooked and splintered. I knock the pieces away easily, but the thick-paned glass is murky with grime. I heave against the weight of the window, but the latch holds and the frame creaks. I don't want to break it.
I pull the boards away from another window and try again. The latch pops free and the window moves an inch. Sweating with exertion, I manage to raise it more than a foot, but the frame is so warped that it won't move any further. Looking around the clearing, I make sure I am truly alone before lifting my foot high enough to hook over the frame. Hopping and pulling myself up awkwardly, I am able to worm my way through. I land, breathless, on marble tiles. Marble that perfectly matches the monolith.
The rugs are moldy, the patterns indiscernible. The smell of rodents and rot are heavy in the stagnant air. I lift my shirt to cover my mouth and nose, then I start to explore. I am in an old living room. Turn-of-the-century furniture lies in shambles, the silk threads and cotton batting filched by industrious mice to line their nests. There is a piano, collapsed and shattered, its strings coiling around and between the fractured bones of Mozart and Bach.
I find the kitchen, the wooden slab still solid and sound, although it, too, is coated in grime. Appliances, probably state-of-the-art at that time, sit listlessly on buckled legs. An ice box. A wood-burning stove. Stacks of tarnished silver and delicate china sleep in carved wooden cabinets. How has this place never been looted? Has it been invisible all these years?
I try the stairs, but my foot crashes through the third step, and I scream, the alien sound of my voice echoing from the walls and ceilings. The effect is haunting.
There is one more room on the main floor. A sort of parlor, with abandoned sofas rotting in a ring and winter-bare bookcases yawning on every wall. I turn to go, only stopping when I notice an oil painting hanging above the ancient mantel. The light is poor, only thin strips of gray creep through the split boards that shield the windows.
I pull my key-chain out of my pocket and turn on my penlight, aiming the beam at the oil canvas. There are five faces - three men, two women. Their clothes are fine; black coats and shiny waistcoats on the men, lace-trimmed gowns on the women. But it isn't their historic finery that arrests my attention, it is their faces.
I kneel, my legs suddenly weak and unsteady. They are beautiful. More than beautiful. Otherworldly. Their skin is smooth and white as moonlight, their features godlike and perfect. And the artist, whoever he was, captured their expressions flawlessly.
The young blond man stands in the center of the portrait, his eyes glinting gold and watchful, but his mouth is relaxed, almost smiling. A stunning woman leans into his side, her hair a mass of honey and wheat, coiled in burnished strands atop her head, her gaze radiating so much love and acceptance. Her eyes, like his, seem to glow with an inner light, like the amber warmth of sunlight passing through stained glass.
Seated in front are two boys and a girl. Or rather, two young men and a woman. The blonde girl was staring straight at the painter as she sat for the portrait, so her gaze passes right through me. Hard. Challenging. Bitter. Her eyes aren't liquid-soft amber. They are topaz, cold and brittle.
The young man to her left holds her hand on his knee, twin silver bands on their ring fingers. His expression is a dimpled smile, as if he was stifling laughter or remembering an inside joke while he posed, and the painter was in on it. Dark brown hair curls against his broad forehead. Broad shoulders, broad hands, broad smile. He was a big man. With golden eyes. Of course.
And then there's the boy to her right. I realize that this must have been an older portrait. He is much younger than the dates on the memorial plaque implied. If he was born in 1901, but the family didn't purchase this home until 1936. . . he would have been an adult, established with his own life and career when the family lived here. Even so, I know it's him. Edward. I know because my heart pounds and my hands shake. And the hum. . . it vibrates deep in my stomach, calling me back to him. I look into his eyes, and I see my soulmate. Trapped, like me, a creature suspended between two worlds.
His wayward hair looks like it has a life of its own, curling in fire-tipped auburn waves. His features are stark and chiseled, but as beautiful as a Greco-Roman sculpture. He is perfect in every way. Every way but one. It must be some trick of the light, or water damage to the painting itself, but his eyes don't match the others'. They are looking over me, over the painter's head, focused on some point far, far away. Lost. Desolate. And they glow crimson, bleeding from within.
Shaken, shaking, I let myself out, yanking hard on the jammed window until it crashes back into place. I shove my arms into my sleeves and zip up my coat. It's raining again, and the light is failing. I jog through the twilight and think of his face, angelic in its beauty but possessed by some foreign agony. I want to visit him. To tell him what I've found. To tell him that I know him now. Edward. . .
Tomorrow. I will see him tomorrow.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
Yesterday, I was despondent. Today, I am brimming with energy and excitement.
"Feeling better, Isabella?" Mr. Banner asks.
"Yes. I feel incredible," I grin, then tamp it down. Mike is watching me.
I avoid him, but he stops me at my locker. I curse myself for forgetting my science notebook which I need to finish writing my report for tomorrow.
"Hey, Bella. So, I was wondering if you wanted to grab a milkshake after school tomorrow. It's supposed to be sunny."
"I don't know. . ." I stall, trying to come up with an excuse.
"Jessica and some of the others will be there," he adds, trying to put me at ease me with the promise of a group gathering instead of a date. I glance to my left and see our classmate watching us surreptitiously from her locker at the end of the row. She doesn't look happy.
"It sounds like fun, I just don't want to make plans without checking with my dad first. I've only been back for a month," I say, and the excuse sounds weak, even to my ears. His face falls. I should feel bad, but I don't. "I'll check. If not, maybe some other time," I add, softening the blow.
Jessica is within earshot. I can tell, because she smiles. It's good to feel wanted, I think sarcastically. If only she knew. . . I'm not her competition. She has nothing to worry about.
I take a different route to the cemetery. It adds a few minutes, but I don't want people to notice a pattern and start bothering me. Maybe I'm being paranoid. Something tells me it's safer this way.
Safer? I don't know why that word popped into my head.
I feel anxious as I draw closer. Fretting at my own slow pace until it finally comes into view. Iron rails, crumbling stone walls, and the fir tree towering over it all. I check in front and behind, but the street is deserted. This stretch always is.
When I finally stumble and fall against the stone, I chuckle breathlessly. "Edward," I say, knowing who I am addressing. He is the boy in the portrait. I know he is. "Edward," I smile, sinking down to sit with my back against the monolith. I set an alarm on my watch so I don't slip up again, then I lean my head back and close my eyes, feeling the thrum of my heartbeat vibrating through the stone. "Edward," I whisper, and the hum of his reply caresses my spine.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny, but I've seen the forecast. It won't last. I dig through the cabinet under the kitchen sink, finding an old scrub brush and yellow rubber gloves.
"Cleaning day?" my dad asks, filling a mug with coffee.
I jump, striking my head on the underside of the counter. "Ouch! Ow, ow ow."
"Sorry, Bells. Didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay. I was thinking of giving the kitchen floor a good scrubbing. It's been a while," I say casually.
"Before breakfast?" Dad's lower lip disappears beneath his salt-and-pepper mustache. He's doing the math, and something doesn't add up. I only clean when I'm stressed or excited about something.
"Not right now, later, but I wanted to make sure I didn't have to buy anything from the store."
"Make me a list if you do need anything," he says, then leaves the room.
I sigh. I better plan on cleaning the kitchen floor now. I pour myself a bowl of corn flakes, eating so quickly that I dribble milk down my chin. I hear my father's footsteps returning, so I slow down, dabbing my mouth surreptitiously with a paper towel. He rinses his mug, puts it in the drying rack and sits down at the table with his newspaper.
I swallow nervously. He's hovering. It's not like him. I tell myself to act normal.
What do I normally do on a Saturday morning? Eat breakfast, start my laundry, knock out any homework, then I read. If it's sunny I take a blanket out into the backyard. If not, I curl up on the couch or hang out in my room. Carrying a bucket of cleaning supplies to an abandoned cemetery is not normal behavior. Not even for me.
I wash my bowl and spoon, sort my laundry and bring my homework downstairs. If my father is set on watching me, let him watch. There's nothing to see. I tell myself that, but I know it's a lie. My eyes are too alert. My movements are jerky. I'm wound tight, so tight, and I can't hide it.
I force myself to be methodical with my math homework, checking and rechecking each equation. I move my laundry to the dryer and start a load of sheets and towels. I complete a rough draft for my language arts essay then take my laundry upstairs to fold. My father is still sitting at the table, turning pages in the paper as if there's actually something interesting to read. Anything out of the ordinary qualifies as news here, but that doesn't justify his lingering presence in the kitchen.
"I was going to start cleaning the floor now," I say, once all my clothes are stowed in my dresser.
"Oh, right, of course. I'll help you move this out of the way," he says, carrying the four dilapidated chairs into the living room. He drags the table back until it blocks the doorway. It squawks angrily against the chipped and faded linoleum.
I fill a bucket with soapy water and get down on my knees to scrub the floor. It really does need a good wash, but I mourn the loss of my plan for today. My sternum aches, tendrils of pain radiating through my chest and throat with every heartbeat, making each breath a chore. I miss the stone. My stone. My Edward.
I am wiping the now-clean floor dry with an old towel when my father reappears, dressed in his uniform with his belt and holster on. "Got a call. I'm heading into the station. I won't be home for dinner."
"Oh. Okay," I reply, trying to infuse some surprise and disappointment into my voice. Inside I'm giddy with excitement. It's not even lunch time yet. I have plenty of time after all.
A few minutes later, I hear the cruiser pulling out of the driveway, gravel crunching beneath its tires. Exerting every ounce of self control I possess, I finish drying the floor, fold the linens and force myself to eat lunch. I gather my supplies and load them into my backpack, deciding to leave the bucket under the sink. It would be too conspicuous. Hard to explain. Instead, I fill two spray bottles with cleaner and water for rinsing. The rain will have to do the rest.
My steps have a bit of a bounce as I head to the cemetery. The sun is shining, and I have the entire afternoon to spend near Edward's grave. I arrive beneath the tree and feel how the stone greets me, vibrating the air with an almost audible buzz. Before I get to work, I place my palm flat against the marble and whisper, "Hello. I'm back, just as I promised."
I start with the brush, roughly clearing away pine needles, dirt and lichen. Next, I spritz the stone face with cleaning solution and scrub it vigorously, grinning as the natural glow of the marble shines through, pure as moonlight. It is hot, dirty work, but it feels wonderful. I shed my extra layers, stripping down to a tank top and jeans, and keep spraying and wiping.
Once I've touched every surface, I step back to view my work. Gray and peach-pink veins wind their way through the stone, capturing my eyes and taking them on a journey from the solid foundation stone to the cross on top. I haven't gotten all the dirt out of the intricate carvings, but the contrast between milk-white stone and darkened shadows is actually quite breathtaking. Every detail stands out in stark relief. It is a beautiful sculpture, carved with ornate arches and beveled borders in four tiers. Now that it is clean, I can see the seams where the four faces were joined to create a tapered prism.
As I walk around the monolith, I see I missed a spot. Standing on the base with my body pressed full length against the stone, I wipe away the last smear of dirt. I don't step away immediately. My skin is pink with exertion, steaming in the cool evening air. The stone offers blessed relief. It is cold at first, soothing as ice on a burn. But it warms with my body heat, humming at a higher frequency, shooting fire through my nerves until I can't even breathe.
The light is fading as clouds roll in from the ocean, but I'm no longer afraid. Being close to the stone, seeing its true, unblemished beauty, feeling the living strength that emanates from its center, it's a moment that awakens some primordial force within me. This is my place. I will never feel as content, satisfied or complete as I do here. I feel. . . happy. Alive. Free.
It is getting harder and harder to leave the stone, but my alarm is sounding. I cannot risk rousing further suspicion with my father. He wouldn't, couldn't understand. I cannot risk losing Edward.
I hurry home, shower, throw together a quick dinner and retreat to my room. Minutes later, I hear my father's car pull up. I didn't realize I had cut things so close. Or maybe he hurried home to check on me. . .
I haven't had a chance to research the Cullen family further. If I can find Carlisle and Esme's descendants, perhaps they can tell me more about Edward and the circumstances surrounding his death. My initial internet search turns up confusing results. Apparently there is a Dr. Carlisle Cullen registered in the state of Vermont. Neither name is very common, so I assume he is a descendant of the family here in Forks.
When I conduct an image search, my blood runs cold. There is a Carlisle Cullen on the University of Vermont faculty website, working from the tiny Elizabethtown Community Hospital near the shores of Lake Champlain. I know that face. He is the blond man from the portrait. His hair is styled differently and he wears a modern suit, but he is definitely the same person. His eyes stare out from my computer monitor, compassionate but watchful. . . his golden eyes.
Trembling and confused, I continue sifting through hundreds of images, mostly medically-related photographs or excerpts from research papers. Buried nine pages in is a photograph from the last ECH faculty Christmas party. The caption reads, "Doctor Carlisle Cullen presides over the community giving tree with his wife and children. From left to right, wife - Esme, daughter - Rosalie, with her husband, Emmett, and son - Jasper, with his wife, Alice. The Cullen family's dedication has revived the spirit of joy and charity in this annual Elizabethtown tradition."
I immediately recognize the younger couple from the portrait, along with the doctor and his wife. There is another couple with them, now. The man is tall and serious. His longish blond hair is combed back and glasses blur his eyes. However, there is no masking the golden gaze of his diminutive, brunette wife. She is staring at the camera with one eyebrow raised. Staring straight at me and smirking. Panicked, I slam my laptop shut.
I feel as if she is watching me even now, looking inside my head and heart. If she could, if that were even possible, what would she see? I know the answer to that. She would see a marble monument and a bronze-haired boy with lost, lonely, blood-stained eyes.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
Every day at school, I am careful to move and speak as I always have. Slightly disinterested, but concise. By the time another Friday rolls around, Mike has stopped bugging me. He often catches my eyes as we pass in the hall, but looks away nervously. I shrug off his curious, distressed gaze as I load my backpack with homework for the weekend and flee campus.
A weekend. A whole weekend!
My dad has plans to go fishing tomorrow. I plan out my Saturday in advance. I can complete all of my chores tonight and leave as soon as he's gone in the morning. I can be there when the sun rises. When the stone turns from gray to white, glowing opalescent and pure, I will feel it awaken.
It is Friday afternoon, so I cut my visit shorter than normal. It hurts to leave early, but I promise him I will return with the sun, and I rush home to prepare dinner. My dad seems to be watching me more than usual. Again, I remind myself not to be paranoid as I wash the dishes. Breathing naturally, I plonk myself down in front of the television with a crossword puzzle and a soda. It's something I've always done. Familiar and predictable. I hope it throws him off the scent. His cop instincts are humming.
"So, Bella," he starts in, his voice projecting his discomfort.
"Yeah, Dad?" I don't look up from my puzzle. My eyes would give away too much.
"You've been pretty busy lately. A lot of school work?"
"No, not really. Just trying to use the daylight before it disappears completely."
"You must be spending a lot of time with your classmates, then. Right? Any of these boys around here catch your eye?"
I choke a little and try to hide it with a laugh. "Boys? Really, Dad?" I scoff. Inside, my heart is racing.
"Well, I remember what it was like to be 17. I don't want you to feel like you have to tiptoe around me. Just, you know. . . be safe."
"Uhhhhh. . . ." I have no words. My cheeks are flaming. I fold the crossword in half and place it on the coffee table beside my soda. "Yeah, I'm not having this conversation with you."
"I know. Your mom already. . . I mean. . . I'm sure you're being smart. You're a good kid."
"Thanks, Dad," I croak, mortified.
I know he has been concerned about me. I just didn't realize that was where his mind was going. In a way, I'm relieved. He couldn't be further off base with his fears.
"Good," he mumbles, sinking into his armchair. "That's good. . ."
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
Saturday morning, I force myself to wait an extra fifteen minutes after my father leaves. I pack a thermos of hot chocolate, two peanut butter sandwiches and an apple. I stuff my history textbook into my bag along with a couple of books that I might actually enjoy reading. I roll an old towel tightly and fit that into the top of my backpack. There's no reason for me to come back until evening.
A car is passing as I near the cemetery. I don't recognize the driver, but I keep walking until the car is out of sight before backtracking to my destination. Once I'm hidden beneath the tree, I relax.
Just in time. The light is growing. An orange glow softens the eastern sky. I sip my hot chocolate with my back against Edward's stone and wait. The warmth floods through me, around me, turning the stone a blushing peach, almost the color of human flesh. I turn to the side and press my cheek against the marble, smiling with tears in my eyes. It is so beautiful. So tranquil.
I hear and feel a crack. It's only a tiny popping sound, but it strikes me like a rifle shot. I gasp, my heart pounding with dread.
I reason through my panic. The stone is solid matter. It has been heated and cooled repeatedly, expanding and contracting year after year. It's a miracle it hasn't happened before. Look at all the other tombstones. Cracks, chips, worn spots. . . they happen. Erosion is natural. To be expected.
However, I'm sure my efforts in cleaning the monolith have removed the insulating layer of dirt, making daily temperature swings more extreme than normal. Maybe the cleaner I chose was too harsh, seeping into the pores and seams and degrading them further. I bite my lip, fighting tears.
"I'm sorry," I tell him, regretting my actions. Tears drip down my face, dropping from my chin and the tip of my nose, soaking into the stone.
I don't want this monument to fade, to fracture or break. I want it to outlive us all, to sit here unchanging every day of this existence. And I will visit it every day, the one constant in my life. My true home.
"I'm so, so sorry," I repeat, sniffling back more tears.
The day is warm and beautiful, a rare thing in October. As the morning stretches on, my guilt recedes somewhat. I am gradually able to reclaim my good spirits. It was only a little pop, I tell myself. Probably just a hairline fracture.
I finish my history notes and get up to stretch my legs, circling the monolith with my fingertips stroking the carvings. Hard, yet still soft somehow, the texture is enchanting. I sit back down on my towel, facing the stone, with my bare feet pressed flat against the base. It towers over me, but it isn't sinister. It's stunning. Elegant. Graceful. Hungry.
Hungry? I pause and cock my head to one side.
Yes. It's hungry. It wants me. That pull, the subtle vibration in my core, it has grown exponentially stronger. It craves my presence, just like I crave it.
"I'm here," I say, knowing it cannot respond. Even so, I imagine that it sighs. I feel it in the soles of my feet. An exhalation. A settling.
"I'm right here," I repeat, smiling, and bite into my apple.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
It is October 17th. There's a new moon tonight. On this clear, cloudless night, the stars will be blazing. Seeing him during the day isn't enough any more. Every night stretches out before me, interminable and empty. I can hardly sleep any more. Missing him, being apart from him for hours, it's excruciating.
I wait until I can hear my father snoring, then I slide my freshly-oiled window open and balance on the sill. The wood creaks alarmingly, but I'm committed. I slide the window shut and lower myself carefully to the ladder that I leaned against the wall this morning. My father rarely deviates from his path between the front door and the cruiser. Our yard languishes, neglected, year after year. He won't notice the ladder. I'm certain.
In the faint silver glow of midnight, I sneak down the deserted street. Nobody is awake. A dog starts barking, but I hurry past, and it loses interest. When I reach the cemetery, the stones seem to float an inch or two off the ground, my depth perception thrown off by the absence of colored light. I tread carefully, following my normal route, until I pull aside the night-blackened curtain and step up to Edward's stone.
My heart pounds. The cracks have grown. I can see them clearly, even in the dim light. I am terrified by what I've done. If it falls down, if I lose him, I will die. I will wither and drift away, hollowed out and hopeless. It isn't fair! I've been alone for so long. Now that I know how it feels to be happy and content, the thought of losing it all again tears the air from my lungs in wrenching gasps.
"Oh, Edward," I sob, creeping up to the stone.
An entire piece of marble has fallen from the spot just above my head. I brush off the dirt, using my saliva to wet the stone and wipe it clean on my shirt. I climb up on the base, standing as tall as I can to fit the piece back into the correct spot. I will bring some glue once it's light.
"I can fix it. I'll fix it," I promise desperately.
I fumble with my penlight to help me get the orientation right. I don't want to chip the fragile edges. My light shines through the dark opening into the hollow place behind the stone. Something catches the light and throws it back. A reflection.
I am looking into an eye, its pupil fully dilated and black as obsidian.
He moans, merely a whisper. But his agony is mine. The truth slams through me, nearly tearing my heart in half.
This isn't a tomb. . . It's a prison.
"Edward," I breathe.
The eye shifts. He sees. He knows.
I stumble backwards and fall, bruising my elbow on the edge of the plaque. Backing away, crablike on my hands and feet, the horror nearly crushes me.
In my mind, I see the dark-haired girl's golden eyes watching me. Challenging me. Make a choice. As if she knew I would find that photo. As if she knew I would connect the dots. Even as I run, my lungs burning in the frigid autumn air, I know that it isn't fear that drives me away. Not fear of him, anyway. Fear of what I am about to do.
I know what I am.
My reason says it's impossible, but I know what he is.
And I know that my fate, my destiny, is written on that stone slab. I was made for him. He is my eternity.
I climb back into my room and huddle in my bed. There is no internal struggle. My decision is already made. It was made the first time I touched the standing stone. But how. . . ?
As I cower beneath my covers, my plan takes shape, a spider's web spinning itself within my mind. The symmetry is breathtaking. Of course. It makes perfect sense.
If I don't do this, I will mourn his loss for all of my existence. My pitiful, empty, meaningless existence. So really, I have no choice.
~*~ MONOLITH ~*~
I stay away for days. It is torture, but my goal gives me strength and focus. When I return, it will be for the last time. I won't be leaving again.
I'm only seventeen, but I have affairs to see to. Errands to run. Loose ends to tie. I write draft after draft of my letters to my parents until I get them right. They are both used to living without me 365 days at a time. One year will become two, then three, then five. They'll miss me, they'll mourn, but they will survive.
In my letter, I tell them that I met a boy. A boy who gives my life meaning. He makes my heart pound and my knees weak. No, I'm not just being childish or impulsive. He is my reason for living. I cannot live without him. I'm running away with him. Forever. I tell them I love them. I tell them goodbye. I seal the envelopes, drop them in the mail and set off for my final destination. I no longer worry who sees me walking to the cemetery. By the time they think to investigate, it will all be over.
Ducking into the shelter of my favorite tree, I look up and freeze. The mallet in my bag isn't necessary after all. I've been gone for nine days. Just nine days. The monolith is no more. It's been obliterated. Chunks of marble litter the earth. The Gaelic cross lies in two pieces at my feet.
I meet his eyes. His black-as-night, bottomless, tortured eyes. He doesn't blink. He is standing, bound to a solid iron post that is as thick around as my thigh. Shackled and chained at his ankles and wrists. His legs and torso wrapped around and around with fist-sized links of welded iron.
I approach him slowly and his eyes drop down, widening in surprise. He understands.
I have flowers in my hair. My feet are bare. My gown, a vintage dress from the antique shop in Port Angeles, sweeps around my ankles.
"Carlisle should have killed me," he hisses, his hungry eyes swallowing me whole. "He should have destroyed me when he had the chance."
His voice is satin and sandpaper, dry as the desert wind. The marble shards and dust continue to shiver and fall as his entire body shudders, the chains rasping and grinding together.
Transfixed, I step closer, sucked in by the pull, that insistent tug on my soul. I am trembling, too, the heat of my desire rolling off me in near-visible waves.
"It's okay. I want this," I say, my eyes wide so he can see the honesty and commitment in my heart. "I want you."
I step up on the base, grabbing onto the chains at his waist. I stand toe-to-toe with Edward, my bare feet burning into the cold marble slab. The iron post rises above his head, black and menacing. The chains around his arms and legs creak as he strains against them.
I can free him. I can break his bonds. I have that power.
He shakes his head, but he is bound so tightly that he can barely move. The marble beneath my feet quakes as he struggles. I find his hands, ice cold and harder than stone. But brittle. Fragile, somehow. I run my fingers down his, touching every sculpted joint. His hands curl into fists, the bones standing up in ridges. His clothes are rags, his flesh sinks in hollows between every bone, but his beauty still consumes me.
"Two bodies, one soul," I whisper.
I wrap my arms around his neck, my fingers tangling in his copper-silk hair. I stand up on my toes and tilt my head back, back, back until my spine creaks and my jugular pulses angrily against the strain.
"No," he protests weakly, "No, please. . . Not you. . ."
But decades of imprisonment and starvation have weakened more than his body. I feel it when his resistance crumbles. He groans, his breath sweeping sweet and cold across my skin. His head bends down until his lips rest against my throat.
You may now kiss the bride.
I don't feel the pain, only the pleasure of finally touching him. The hum becomes a ringing cry, then a roar. A rushing flood of flames pours out of me to fill his brittle flesh, until the chains shatter and his arms are crushing me to him.
Arms firm, strong and hot, filled with my blood.
~*~ THE END ~*~
Or is it?
You have questions? Well, I have answers!
Yes. No. To get to the other side. Uh, 1.77245...
Wait. . . that's not what you wanted to know?
Okay, in all seriousness, here we go. . . This one-shot is from Bella's POV. It starts and ends with her thoughts and perceptions. She doesn't tell you what happens before or after because she does not know. And she honestly doesn't care. Her only goal, her only focus, is giving herself completely to Edward. Just like canon Bella, when it comes to her own safety and welfare, she is completely selfless (or thoughtlessly irrational, depending on who you're talking to).
Now, if we could flip the coin and see this from Edward's POV. . .
Did I call this a one-shot? Well, I lied! Tune in next week for Part I of 'the rest of the story'. Thanks for reading!
Check out the other entries on the Red Eyed Edward Contest page. At a minimum, you have to read these ones!
"Blood and Water" by JMolly - This story was my favorite in the whole contest, and there were A LOT of great stories to choose from. JMolly paints a stunning picture of the Bengali culture, but also lifts the trap door to show the sinister shadows beneath. This story stuck with me long after I read it. Beautiful imagery, impeccable writing and editing, a real masterpiece!
"Mate" by sheviking - Take 15 minutes and read this story right now. Actually, give yourself 30... You'll want to read it twice. Very hot, but also many-layered and dynamic. You'll read it so fast that many of the nuances won't surface in your mind until later. Then you'll probably want to read it a third time, like me. *winks*
"Boy With a Broken Halo" by araeo - Who doesn't like a good redemption story? What starts out as a simple hunt turns into far more than Edward bargains for. Bella, thinking she's dreaming, throws all caution to the wind for one crazy adventure. Funny thing... at the end, Edward is the one who wakes up. The pacing, character development and plot arc of this story are perfectly contained in just 15K words.