Disclaimer: Meyer owns all.

Chapter 1

The drought ended the night that Bella Swan fell from the station platform. The rain washed her blood from the rails.

The official report said that it was an accident, but there were hushed whispers of suicide. Mean-spirited gossips spread rumors of a broken engagement, but I know better.

Imagine it, Isabella, a spinster, at long last in-love, and about to be married. I ask you, is that the kind of woman who throws herself in front of a train?

It's a tragedy, is what it is, to think of her life being taken in such a cruel fashion.

I can just picture her betrothed, Edward, alone in the mortuary, bidding his last goodbyes to the corpse (because it's only fitting that the body somehow escape mangling well enough for him to hold her hand and kiss her cheek).

It's not enough that she's dead, either. Those rumors of her seeking her own destruction just draw fresh blood again and again, the vile insinuations leading Edward to wonder if she really did leave him on purpose.

And it is her fault in a way.

Dumb bitch didn't notice anyone following her—preoccupied and dizzy as she was with happiness.

I can imagine that. Happiness.

I can see her waiting on the station platform for the train to pull in, the feather in her tall hat bobbing in the breeze as she pulls out one of those round pocket watches on a chain in order to check the time. No, she's not a hipster. This here daydream is steampunk, if you please.

He will have waited on the platform too, a step or two behind. Not Edward. No. James.

A shrill horn will have announced the train's approach, plumes of smoke racing alongside the engine. People will have surged forward, eager to board. She might have felt a hand on the small of her back, fingers grazing the fabric of her dress in an intimate caress just above the top of her corset. A sharp shove would have been all that was needed to send her stumbling off the platform and onto the tracks.

Unfortunately, my daydream is interrupted mid-train whistle by the sound of my brother stirring around outside, the noise of his muttering coming right through the thin fabric of my tent.

I have to swallow the tears down—this daydream always makes me cry. I hate that the story has to end there, that I can't find a way to bring Bella back from the dead. If Meyer could get Jacob to rescue her from a watery grave after jumping off a goddamn cliff, why can't I save her from a measly train wreck?

But it's a train wreck of a day already. I've been sweating inside my sleeping bag.

There isn't enough room inside the tent to dress comfortably but I hear the click of the lighter and know that my brother is already trying to start a fire for breakfast. So I fumble with my clothes and emerge in all my 'don't give a shit, I'm on vacation' glory, only to trip over a tent stake and land on my hands and knees.

If V and J were here, they'd snicker at my graceful entrance, but my brother doesn't even acknowledge my presence.

He's angry that I'm insisting that we eat "camp food"—boiling water for oatmeal—instead of driving us into town for Dunkin' Donuts.

I ask him if he slept alright and he says that the ocean kept him up. I can hear the waves pounding against the shore right now and I think it sounds nice. Like it's got kami, but in a good way, like raging madness that feeds you instead of sucking you dry.

I don't want to think about V and J, but I can't help remembering that trip we took to T—. I couldn't hear the ocean from our hotel room, even though I don't think that hotel was any further away from the shore than the campsite I'm sharing with my brother. The sea here (just over the dunes from our tent) is angrier than the one washing the shores in T—, which seems funny when I think about it.

Or maybe not funny but perhaps ironic.

I ask my brother if he wants to go to the shore today or if he wants to just stay by the campsite. I'm offering this so that I seem reasonable, because I know he thinks it's a lot of work to lug our beach chairs and a cooler and an umbrella and all of our books to the beach. I shouldn't be surprised when he accepts the offer to stay at the campsite—though I am—because he doesn't even like going into the water anymore. He says he's too old for boogie boards and he doesn't like swimming.

"What are you doing here then?" I ask and he says that he only came so that I wouldn't be lonely.

My twelve year old brother feels sorry for me.

Then he says that it's also the only vacation he's likely to get that summer.

So we stay at the campsite and he plays on his handheld-video-game-thing that I bought for him with my first pay check out of college. And I read.

The signal for my cell out here is dicey and I purposely left the flashdrive of all of the fanfiction I've copy and pasted into Word files at home so that I would be forced to study for Comps. It's a physical pain in my chest—that's how much I want to pull out my phone and just hope for a damn signal so that I can read some fanfiction. But I know I can't. And it's so goddamned hot and humid and it's nothing like that beach in T— (which was pretty even if it was like hell) and I can't afford a hotel room, which is why we're camping, and I hate, positively hate, this fucking book that I'm reading for my Comprehensive Exams. It's all about Late Antique Egyptian coinage—with charts and charts and charts showing weights and purities—which I don't think anyone could find interesting, but I must be wrong since someone went to the trouble of writing this fucking book. You don't need to tell me—I know!Coinage is important from the perspective of tracing shifts in religious, political, linguistic and economic power. But the paper I'm trying to take notes on is wet with sweat—my own sweat—and the ink from my pen is running.

It's not the book's fault. I'm just broken.

When my brother says that he isn't feeling well, I jump at the excuse to go home. We're leaving three days early and it's a three and a half hour drive home, but I don't care. At home, I've got a dependable signal for my phone and a comfortable bed and air conditioning and a flashdrive full of fanfiction.

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She's pissed. Like I meant for my brother to get heat stroke.

She's hissing when she says my name, "Izzzybella," like she's pronouncing it in Parseltongue. I hate the way she says it. (To be honest, I hated my name altogether until Twilight came out. Afterwards, I secretly wanted everyone to start calling my Bella instead of Izzy, but of course I've never had the guts to say anything to anyone.)

I suppose it is my fault that my brother's sic. I took him on a vacation to the beach in August in the midst of a Global Warming spike (which we're now calling "climate change," like that makes a difference in the fact that it's hitting 90 in February these days).

Yet, what's done is done. What good does it do to scream at me? She's like an opera singer—she has these lungs. She can just scream and scream and scream. I can't scream at all. Even when I'm frightened, all that comes out is a pitiful croak because I can't breathe. And if I try to scream when I'm angry, I just start coughing.

I wonder again what purpose she's serving by yelling at me like this. But that's like asking why a thunderstorm happens. It's a force of nature.

My mother has kami. Like thunderstorms and oceans and great generals. I've tried to explain this to people but they just look at me. I say, it's a Japanese word, kami. It means she's got power.

They still don't get it.

Then I say that if you cut off her head there would be a lightening show, like in The Highlander (I prefer the tv show) when what's-his-name MacCloud (or is it McCloud?) of the clan MacCloud (or McCloud) absorbs the life-force of another immortal (the so-called "immortality" being contingent on not getting decapitated).

People get it then, but I don't think they believe me, like they've never met someone with kami, which makes sense, since "There can only be one" (according to The Highlander).

So I tell them that she's an energy vampire and they let it go—more so because I think that they don't want to talk about it anymore.

I could let them meet her, let them see for themselves. But I try very hard not to let anyone I know meet my mother. Not even V and J ever met my family—except my dad, who drove us to the airport when we went to T—.

My mom's still screaming at me (it's been half an hour at least and my eardrums are vibrating) about what I did to my brother and how could I do that to my brother. I used to think that she was serious. That these discussions (they're not really discussions, though, are they?) were actually intended as an exchange of communication (as if they followed Habermas' rules of discourse, because, yes, I think we all intuitively sense that such rules exist even if we've never heard of Habermas). But I don't think that's right. There's nothing rational about these exchanges. You can't answer a thunderstorm. You can't talk it into going away. You just have to wait it out.

Except that that's not entirely right either. She does want something.

I figure it out at last. After she settles down when it comes out that she wants me to fork over money for pizza. I've already got my wallet open.

She wants to send my father to the liquor store too but I say "no, I've still got to pay rent" and she points out—snaps—that I clearly have the funds to blow on a twenty-three dollar a night campsite and gas to the shore so what's a few more dollars for a bottle of vodka?

I leave with her still screaming at me—I imagine someone reporting us to Child Protective Services because my brother has a sunburn and is sick on his stomach—and I drive home.

I feel bad for my brother. I do. But I think Child Protective Services would be a lot more concerned about his alcoholic parents (and the fact that he has to sleep on a filing cabinet jerry-rigged into a bed because of my mom's hoarding) than a sunburn.

And I also think that my brother is less upset about the heat stroke than the fact that I left him with his—our—parents.

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I swear that I'm going to study for Comps, but of course I don't. I've still got thirty books left on my reading lists and only forty-five days in which to finish them before the exam.

I should finish unpacking too. I've been living in this apartment for six months and I still haven't unpacked everything.

When I first moved, I splurged for a movie poster from Otto Preminger's Laura. I should take it out of the canister and hang it by the front door.

I've had the DVD of Dana Andrew's Fallen Angel from Netflix for the last month and I still haven't watched it. I should watch it. I've got a whole list of film noirs waiting for me to see when I finally return it. Because I still do the mail-in DVD thing. I don't believe in streaming, having that many choices just at your fingertips. It would be like happiness. Besides, my wifi's not that good.

Instead of watching movies, I spend two days in bed, the air conditioner on high. I read fanfiction nonstop and when I'm not reading fanfiction, I'm daydreaming.

I've had to give up on that daydream of Bella falling in front of a train. That was just a non-starter. I'll come back to it, I know, try to figure a way around the tragedy, like a child worrying at a loose tooth.

The new daydream I'm working on focuses on Edward. There's a train again, for some reason, though I probably shouldn't be surprised. Trains represent escape. Or maybe sex. But then everything represents sex, doesn't it?

Caballo Rojo didn't warrant a full stop on the train. I—

And by "I," I mean Edward, because this daydream's EPOV.

I had to leap from the train while it was still in motion, and sprint for a ramshackle shed. The barren town in which I found myself, enclosed as it was by such a dry, vast emptiness, hadn't more than straggling vegetation and barely a square mile of construction. All of it too sparse to provide cover for man who needed to stay out of sight.

I waited until the daylight began to wane, cursing and wishing that I could force the sun to set by will alone. As soon as it was safe to do so, I fled the shed, and immediately gravitated in the direction of the church. Its rooftop cross was easy enough to pick out in the midst of so much squalor.

My footsteps slowed as I approached the church. I'd grown increasingly wary of such places once heaven was removed from my reach.

It was a plain church. Squat and simple. A false pediment rose from the front, with the cross at its peak, the sole attempt at opulence. The severity of the place, and the poverty of the surrounding town, was somehow disconcerting, though for the life—the un-life—of me, I couldn't have said why.

I walked slowly around the far side of the church, and froze beside the jumble of gravestones standing there, gasping with disbelief.

There she was, perched on a small pedestal, in a clutch of graves, her arms held out as if to comfort the dead in their pain.

Who would have thought that such a thing could exist? I tried to calculate the odds, and gave up.

For there she was, my Bella, immortalized in stone.

Could an artist have come across my Bella and sculpted her likeness?

No, the statue was centuries old. It staggered the imagination—to think that there was once another woman who encompassed my Bella's beauty.

I decided that it wasn't possible. It was obvious that the artist had cobbled this likeness together from the most exquisite women of his day.

Indeed, the likeness was almost too true, from the kindness in her expression to the gentle grace of her gaze. Her hands too, the fine fingers curved in a delicate gesture, posed to brush a burning brow, to wipe away an errant tear, they were Bella's. If only a lock of hair would escape the statue's cowl, I was sure it would curl over her shoulder just as Bella's did.

The statue shone out in the night, seeming to absorb the darkness and radiate it back out as light. She was luminescent.

I hesitated at the edge of the graveyard, reluctant to venture any closer. Even at a distance, I could feel a strange sensation gradually stealing over me. It wasn't peace. I was too far gone for anything as merciful as that, but it was a sense of calm.

Somehow, I found my way back to the shed before morning, my whole being rebelled against leaving the graveyard.

How, how, could I have imagined myself strong enough to endure this?

When I returned to the graveyard, I found myself hesitating again on the edge of the plot. But this time, I realized the mistake I'd made the night before.

The Virgin wasn't looking in my direction at all. And her features bore a distinct mark of disdain.

She didn't really resemble my Bella at all. I'd been deluding myself.

What I did after that didn't make much sense. Yet even madmen have reason of a sort. It is a calculus all their own. Divine in its own way.

I was not entirely mad, either. Perhaps only half of me. One half of me a fool and grotesque in his drooling infamy. The other half was entirely sane.

I wasn't really going back, the rational half said. I just wanted to see her. I wouldn't stay. I wouldn't even let her know that I was there.

But the reasonable half of me was little better than a jibbering madman.

I ran. I ran and I ran and I ran, because the irrational half of me needed to see her again. Needed to remind itself of the reality of her features. Memorize them so that there could be no chance of repeat blasphemy. She was Bella and there could never be another.

That pout, that tilt of her cheek. They were the reason I'd left. I needed to see her so that I could be reminded that distance was a measure of my devotion. I'd go away stronger, able to endure our separation a little longer.

The reasonable half of me laughed at my predicament, a merry ripple of hysteria. I was a bridegroom to reckless abandon, a festering sore threatening to re-infect what should have been virgin flesh.

I told myself that the juxtaposition of her beauty against my own filth would be enough to remind me why I'd left. Then I could go.

But-ahh! Let us hear now hear now the demon's confession.

Because when I finally made it from Caballo Rojo to Forks—running all the way—oh, how I wanted to go to her.

And it was her. Not some fetid imitation.

Joy mixed with agony and the fool inside of me knew that this—this—was what madness felt like.

I haven't decided why the Edward in this fantasy gets off the train in Caballo Rojo in the first place. If it's an AU and not an AH, then maybe Edward has seen the statue in someone else's head and wants to see it for himself. Or maybe he gets off the train because he's trying to elude someone. That scenario works equally well for Vampire-ward or Escaped-convict-ward, both set in the mid-New Moon bail on Bella of course.

NM rewrites used to be my favorite fanfiction. I made an excel file to rate all of the stories and the author's take on important plot points, like how long Bella made Edward work to get her back and whether Victoria got to her first.

These days, I prefer AH's, but most of them have some version of NM in them. I think that you can really judge a writer by how hard she/he kicks Edward in the balls for leaving Bella like that.

I would make him really suffer.

And making a vampire go to a desert town named Caballo Rojo (I think I just like the sound of those syllables together) seems like a pretty good punishment.

Because I hate the summer. I hate the heat. I hate the sun.

Which is the real reason that I'm spending the rest of my vacation in bed. I think that I only went to the beach to spite V and J. Assholes. And to replace my memories of the three days that I spent on that fucking island with them (T— is a bunch of islands all lumped together into one country, but we mainly stuck to just the one island).

It didn't work. I mean, vacationing at the beach hasn't done a fucking thing to erase my memories of that nightmare. If anything, it's left me feeling like shit.

Right now the most insignificant tasks seem herculean, like going to the grocery store.

I don't want to go anywhere or do anything.

It's so hot but I don't want to turn the air conditioner any higher because my electricity bill is already so high.

I tried to explain it to V and J when they first suggested—told me—that we were going to the Caribbean for vacation. I told them that I don't "do the beach." I said, "I get nauseous when it hits 80." I even joked that I had porphyria, but they thought that I was acting out. People get depressed in the winter, not the summer. V and J said that I was just being difficult. They never listened to anything I said.

And I still feel like I have to justify myself to them. Like it's not enough that I'm spending my vacation alone in my apartment in the dark.

Though even this is better than that vacation I took with the two of them.

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I have to go back to work this morning, and I'm exhausted. I tried to stay awake all night, reading fanfiction, with the notion that I wouldn't have time for it when my vacation was over.

I turn off the alarm and try to make myself feel better by going back over Edward's thoughts when he sees the statue in Caballo Rojo for the first time. And my eyes are pricking with tears again and I don't know if it's because I'm still hurting for Edward, even if he was wrong for leaving, or if it's because I'm here, in reality, and I have to get up and I have to go outside and face everyone.

I fucking hate the fucking walk to the fucking Metro and the fact that I have to take a shortcut through a rotten smelling alley into the garage if I'm going to avoid everyone looking at me on the sidewalk—what the fuck is everyone's problem? why can't they keep their fucking eyes to themselves?—and the fact that it's so fucking hot at eight o'clock in the fucking morning that I've already got sweat stains like a pig.

I fucking hate the fucking Metro when it's not 120 fucking degrees, and I can't help wondering if I'm actually in hell already. To be honest, that would explain a lot.

I'd drive my car but the parking pass for the lot at work is four hundred fucking dollars a month. That's half my fucking rent.

When I walk into work, the angry Eastern European woman at reception says "Welcome back" and I stifle a sob. I'm not a crier. Sometimes I tear up and I have to hold my breath until I'm under control again, but I don't see the point in crying. The last time I really cried, it was at the park with V and J the day before we flew to T— and they told me what they told me.

I think back to that day and I hate myself. I hate that I fell apart like that. That I let them see what they had done to me.

I greet my coworkers and tell them that I had a "wonderful" vacation. I can't do anything about the wavering in my voice so they can think whatever they want.

I open my email and the sheer number of messages makes my chest tighten. I decide to get a cup of coffee before I start reading.

Sipping my coffee, I decide to be efficient, and sort my emails by subject line and proceed to read the most recent message in every chain. I'm able to file twenty emails that way before I begin to feel tense again.

When I'm feeling anxious like this, the only thing that helps is—

I don't like to admit it. Even to myself.

It takes everything in me not to pull up fanfiction. I know that IT tracks Internet activity and I don't want management to realize how much time I spend not doing any work. I could just angle my computer screen and sit here staring at nothing as long as I keep my hand on the mouse and no will notice—

If I daydream.

I asked if she knew where the statue had come from.

She told me that it had always been there. It was simply their Virgin.

Of course.

I've decided that before Edward leaves Caballo Rojo, he should get a room in a boarding house. I want to keep him there, tossing and turning in agony for a while. If it's an AU and he's a vampire, then he's burning for Bella's blood. If it's an AH and he's an escaped convict (I'll work out later how he's gotten his hands on a change of clothes and money), then he's gotten hooked on drugs in prison. Or maybe he has malaria—the kind with bouts of fevers and chills.

When the serving girl left me alone in my room, I laid down, trying not to breathe, not to hear, not to think. It was useless. The sense of calm that had set in when I first laid eyes on the statue faded.

Turning over on my side, I curled into a ball, trembling. I gasped for air, trying to ease the agony. No hunger ever burned liked this.

By the time that I had recovered, night had fallen.

I returned to the church as if by a compulsion, and hesitated again at the edge of the graveyard.

If anything, the Virgin's features had grown softer since I'd last seen her. Pity ghosted across her brow and a single tear appeared to have formed in the corner of her eye, on the verge of falling.

I swayed on my feet, leaning towards her across the space. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn that she had turned slightly during the day, angling herself a fraction of an inch to the side, as if waiting for me to return.

Someone as exquisite as she didn't belong in that town. I tried to imagine a set of circumstances that could have brought such a work of ethereal beauty to this backwater. It boggled the mind.

I tore myself away just before the sun rose. Going back to the boardinghouse, I tried to preserve that feeling I'd experienced in that graveyard, blocking out everything else.

It was hell.

The next night, I was sure of it. The Virgin was slowly turning in my direction. The hint of a smile now curved the corners of her lips. It was possible, wasn't it? After all, a creature like her could never harbor ill will, even towards a monster such as me.

I raised a foot and waited, ready for something to tell me that I wasn't wanted, some sign that the monster—ME—wouldn't be allowed to trespass upon sacred grounds.

I lowered my foot slowly, bringing me a whole four inches closer to my goal.

I imagined the earth would open up to eat me.

Nothing.

The next night, she seemed to have anticipated my arrival, having shifted again so that her gaze met mine as I arrived at the edge of the graveyard.

The longer I looked, the more there was to see. Her expression was so mercurial—she hurt me at the same time as she soothed me.

What was it about her that was so arresting? I tried to put a name to it.

At the end of two more nights I thought I had it.

The suffering her expression engendered in my chest—the grief that I felt in response to her own obvious grief—was only what I deserved. A testament to whatever crimes I'd committed.

Nevertheless, there was forgiveness too. The tear in the corner of her eye was a mark of pity. Mercy.

And I realized then why she reminded me so much of Bella. I'd had forgiveness once and I'd thrown it all away. Bella's love had been just that. Grace.

This revelation left me stunned. I felt my mouth fall open and a shudder pass through my frame. What have I done? I squeezed my eyes shut, unable to bear the sight of the Virgin's sorrow. Was she done with me? I wrenched my eyes open and looked at her. She couldn't abandon me. Please. I began to raise a hand in supplication—she couldn't shun my touch—and flinched at a sudden burst of noise. A harsh, braying sound. The cackling of demons.

I spun, ready to lash out at whoever dared to intrude.

I saw a ragtag collection of men, women and children passing in groups. They were all dressed in shabby finery. I heard new sounds of movement in the church behind me and realized that a ceremony was taking place.

Already, a few of the passersby had noticed me in the graveyard and I could hear them speculating. They were curious enough of the reclusive gringo who'd so strangely appeared in their town. I didn't want them to give them any more reason to suspect me. Besides, my time in the graveyard was no one's business but mine. I wanted privacy.

I started to leave, when I heard it again. The burst of laughter that had startled me in the first place. I looked around, trying to place the sound, and when I succeeded, I knew it—I was going mad. I was mad.

Bella again. Alive, her veins full of blood and a smile curling up the corners of her lips when her head turned. I could only see her from behind, but it was her. She was here.

Of course. I should have known. I had left her and she'd followed me.

Or no, my evil angel had set me upon her scent.

Again.

For this minion served a deity devoid of mercy.

Involuntarily, I found myself following this walking, breathing doppleganger. She was surrounded by laughing children, apparently leading them to the church and giggling along with them as they marched. I hung back, not wanting to intrude. Yet I could tell that she sensed my presence. She looked back over her shoulder at me more than once, before ducking her head shyly. I'd yet to see her face full on. Bella was there, though, in the slope of her shoulders, the waves of her chestnut hair.

With another half glance at me, she darted up the two steps into the church.

I tried not to draw attention to myself, waiting for the other churchgoers to go inside. The woman who owned the boardinghouse where I was staying saw me and tried to convince me to join the congregation inside the church. I was as polite as I could be, gently declining.

The service seemed interminable. Every so often, I could hear them break out into hymn and I was able to pick out Bella's voice. That delightful chiming of bells.

By the time it was over, I was perched on the roof of the church, behind the bell, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Bella must have expected to find me waiting, however, for she came out and looked around, her shoulders dropping when she didn't see me.

I carefully tested the air for the first time that evening. It seemed safe enough. I inhaled a lungful and—

I was confused. Something was wrong. My throat didn't burn.

And as if waiting for just that cue, the girl twirled suddenly, showing off her fancy dress to her companions. At last, I saw her face clearly.

Savage claws seemed to rake across my flesh. I almost cried out from the shock.

Her face was perfect. Nose, eyes, mouth, forehead, cheeks and chin, each set together in the most ideal symmetry. She was perfect.

But my true Bella's face wasn't perfect.

I'm shaken from my reverie when the fire alarm goes off. I'm sure it's just another damn drill but everyone's getting their stuff. The alarm is so loud that it vibrates the air.

Outside, we're all milling around in the heat—the air's fucking rippling above the asphalt—waiting for the fire department to give the all-clear. I stand off to the side under the shitty shade of a dying six foot tree pretending that I'm not staring at them, the "cool kids" standing in a huddle by the entrance of the café. We're supposed to wait by the picnic tables but it's awfully buggy and that's why they're probably by the café. I know that I could join them if I wanted to. They might not want me there but they wouldn't tell me to leave.

But I just don't feel like it.

J and V don't work here anymore. So at least I don't have to endure that indignity.

It's too hectic to daydream out here with everyone bitching, and even in the shade there's too much glare to read fanfiction on my phone. So I watch the secretaries bat at the mosquitos.

When we're allowed to go back inside the building, it's time for lunch. I could read fanfiction on my company computer now if I wanted to because it's my own time and I don't think the IT software is savvy enough to pick up that it's basically porn. For some reason, I don't feel like it though.

I already feel so numb. Like I'm underwater watching the world through bubbles and swells.

I know that I need to shake this off and get back to reality. I never should have gone on vacation. I needed time to study for Comps but I didn't actually do that, did I?

I decide that I need to temper this malaise with a rigorous dose of misery. Wretched though it may be, full-blown depression is preferable to this angst, this confusion. Because really there's nothing to be confused about.

A coworker asks how I'm doing and I lament that I'm still plowing through my emails, trying to catch up. She consoles me, saying it took her two whole days to get up to speed the last time she went on vacation.

When she walks away, I go straight to that treasure trove of fun facts to know and tell and misinform and plagiarize, Wikipedia, and type this into the search engine: Solitude. After all, that's what I need, isn't it? To be left alone and to be content with my loneliness.

I'm hoping to find an image of that statue in that cemetery—it's called Solitude, isn't it?—and I'll print it out and prop it up next to my computer so that while I'm working my eyes can fall on it and I'll remember. A somber shot of depression embodied in a portrait or a graveyard statue. The angry Eastern European woman will huff and say it reminds her of me.

But my attention is captured by a link to an article on the subject of Solitude, by which I mean the physical (and mental?) state, not the statue. I click on the link and start reading.

Some people claim to enjoy solitude, the article reads. There are many possible reasons for this. Such a person may simply be a lone wolf.

This makes perfect sense to me. I nod, because I don't need anyone.

Or they may suffer some sort of mental condition predisposing them towards avoidance.

I stare at the screen.

And not in a staring-at-nothing-daydreaming sort of way.

But in a that's-rather-disturbing sort of way.

It isn't the suggestion that I might not be mentally sound that gives me pause. I already know that I'm a missing a card or two from the deck.

It's the utter thoroughness with which the author of this particular article pursues the possibility. It's the vast list of possible kinds of crazy that I might be, because a list is indeed provided, with hyperlinks for further information.

I click on these possibilities one by one, wondering with perverse fascination which madness is most like mine.

What a fool I am.

Introverted? I don't even quibble this one. It was one of the things I resented the most about V and J, how they were always wanting to go out. To do things together. Wasn't it enough that we saw each other at work every weekday?

Daydream a great deal? The article doesn't include a definition for a "great deal," however, and given the lack of a standard measure, I refuse to take this as a mark against me (despite the Comment at the bottom of the screen from a guy named BeerMan: "Freeks would have more time to make friends if they didn't spend all of their time with daydreaming." As if it's that easy. As if the daydreaming and the fanfiction are the cause of anti-social tendencies when they are in fact the result.).

Experience moments of dereality? I don't know what dereality is, but I click on the link and read the definition, and have to concede that I do indeed disassociate from reality, and quite often too.

Secretive? Desperate, now, I argue (to myself) that this not a fair question. After V and J, it is only natural that I should want to protect myself. They were always wanting to know everything about me, while at the same time claiming that they already knew everything there was to know about me. As if they could see right through my skin to my inner core. And if that was true, then what they saw couldn't be worth very much, because they certainly didn't think much of me.

I glance around the office and wonder if my coworkers realize just how crazy I am.

I prefer that they not think of me at all.

I'm sure that the empty round of amorphous social interactions that I make myself endure generates no more than a soporific cloud of inclinations—tendencies—nothing so concrete as a character by which I might be judged. What personality? A mess of weak-willed uncertainty, feint-hearted pandering and contrived shows of false interest, so as not to offend. The truth: I am constitutionally incapable of bearing life and hence alternate between broken-backed feebleness and raging anger, hostility born of the knowledge that I am a failure.

And with that thought, I realize that I am out of control, clearly on the brink of mania.

I keep clicking through articles though. At one point, an advertisement for Vedic astrology flickers in the corner of one of the pages. It reminds me of V, naturally. She got a book on Vedic astrology once, and told J—

Well, does it matter what she told J?

She told me that her book said that I was an empty vessel. That others were meant to use me to fine-tune their own energies.

What kind of an astrological system tells a person that they're an empty vessel?

An empty fucking vessel?

A goddamned copper bowl?

That alone should've clued me it to what V had planned for me. I don't want to be empty. I don't want to be malleable, subject to manipulation. I'd much rather be unchangeable. Terrible even. Medusa if need be.

I'm not even sure that Vedic astrology is legit. But V was Indian—is Indian, because as far as I know she's still kicking—so it wasn't my place to question it, even though she claimed to be Buddhist, not a Vedic Hindu.

Not that Indians can't have astrology, either. But if they do, and it looks and sounds just like Western astrology—plus empty bowls—then I can't help feeling like someone's being taken for a ride, and I don't know if it's Indians being forced to assimilate or me being mindfucked by a psychology major (V) who's taking advantage of the fact that I like Jung (a psychologist who liked archetypes and myths and said some fucked up things about Jews that I pretend he didn't say so that I can keep on liking him).

But maybe I don't get the empty bowl thing because I'm stuck in my own cultural paradigm.

If only the bowl didn't remind me that my mother's sole reason for keeping me around is to suck me dry.

I wonder if there's a bowl sitting on V's coffee table with my still bleeding heart sitting in it.

I'm sure it's a good thing to be seen as a source of food in many cultures. Nurturing and whatnot. No one's ever complimented for it though. If anything, they say I'm a bitch. I think it's just a way for them to get me to drop my shields so that they can suck me dry.

I quickly click away from page with the astrology advertisement (V and my mother are both Scorpios, surprise surprise) and keep on clicking, a desultory miasma of text and images flashing across the screen.

I can quit anytime, I tell myself. But I keep clicking.

At last, I come across another article, this one about something called a Tulpa.

What a funny word. Tulll-pah. I imagine a stoned J trying to sound it out.

Apparently, Tulpas are thought-forms come to life. Tibetan monks conjure them up with their minds.

These monks are Buddhist, of course, which just makes me think of V again. I ignore that and keep reading.

Tulpas are apparently quite powerful once they're created. They even have lives of their own, carrying on their own affairs separate from their creators.

Even though monks are the ones who usually create tulpas—an artifact of meditation and a physical emanation of increasing spiritual power—anyone could make one. Anyone who tried really really really hard, that is.

This Belgian-French explorer from the early 1900s studied with the Tibetans and supposedly made her own Tulpa. Other people could see it, or so she said.

And it's apparently a big thing now. There're whole Internet communities for people who create Tulpas. There're even instructions.

There's also a Tulpa My Little Pony tie-in, but that goes over my head.

Or under it.

It's kind of creepy. (The My Little Pony tie-in is uber creepy, but I'm not letting myself dwell on that). I mean, creating a little friend who runs around and keeps you company is a little off-putting. They'd be in all your business, because if they're in your head, they're there ALL OF THE TIME.

I never even had an imaginary friend growing up, my daydreams (or excursions into dereality)—which I've had for as long as I can remember—being sprawling epics, the characters amorphous, blending into each other. When I found out what imaginary friends were, I wondered how a kid was supposed to tell the difference between one of these friends and a ghost. I thought imaginary friends were CREEPY.

Like Tulpas.

But now?

Countless articles later, it's an hour past the time I'm supposed to leave work. "You need to go home," my supervisor says when she interrupts, smiling at me from the doorway, the adorable little idiot. I wonder, and not for the first time, if I'd be happy with my life if I had a job that actually challenged me, that was demanding enough that I'd be in serious shit if I blew off an entire day of work.

But that's why I was going to school, isn't it? The elusive greener pasture.

I go home in a daze. A nice cushy, cloud-like daze. I eat a tv dinner and then sat on my bed with the lights out and my eyes closed.

Concentrate.

How hard can it be? Surely I, if anyone, with the amount of hours I spend submerged in dereality every day, should be able to whip up an imaginary creature in no time at all.

One of the articles recommended that I decide what my Tulpa would look like before I started. This makes sense. That time my mother decided she would become a Neo-Pagan, she convinced me to do a vision quest, and I wasn't supposed to imagine what my spirit guide would look like. I was just supposed to let it reveal itself to me.

It took two hours of me imagining myself in a cave for the damn thing to show up, and when he—she—it did, its appearance frightening me so badly that I was jarred out of the vision (meditation, trance, whatever) and refused to ever do it again.

A part of me, a very small part, sometimes feels guilty, wondering if my poor spirit guide is still sitting in that cave waiting for me. But I sure as hell don't want it showing up as my Tulpa.

I quickly decide that I want my Tulpa to be human. Or at least to look human.

I'm self-aware enough to know that an outsider would probably think that I'm making a mistake in trying to create a Tulpa. But apparently I'm a dereality addict. I figure, in for a penny, in for a pound. And how bad can it be, really?

Besides, I know that I'm not the only freak out there. L. M. Montgomery—famed author of the Anne of Green Gables series—wrote a story about a young woman who spent all of her time daydreaming, a story that went on to inspire a Twilight fanfiction, Rosybud's Ladder to the Sun. If the heroines of these stories can daydream, why not me?

(Ok, so yeah, these heroines eventually stop daydreaming and start living their lives, but it's not like I'm a criminal.)

And there is a kind of rightness to it, after all. The first time I heard of Twilight it was in the airport leaving for that vacation with V and J.

V's name isn't really Victoria, of course. Nor is J's name really James. But the initials are right.

And this "coincidence" with the initials is significant enough that it's even made its way into my Memoirs to Prove the Non-Existence of the World (a collection of the evidence—and it's mounting up—that the world is indeed not real).

It isn't difficult for me to choose a gender for my Tulpa. V was always harping about whatever (she imagined) was going on with me and J. She had no idea. He hurt me. But she ripped out my fucking heart. It will be a long time before I can trust another woman again.

My Tulpa will be a man.

I fall asleep, creating him.

AN:

Un-betad.

18 chapters of ~ 4000 words. Weekly updates.

HEA. Bella/Edward.

Rated M for language and subject matter.

Genre: This is mystery-lite, with a dearth of evidence and investigation.

WARNINGS: No rape. The main character is physically attacked at one point but the attack is not overtly sexual. There is frequent discussion of suicide, but no attempts on the part of the main character.

This story discusses religion and ethnicity. I'm trying to do so in a sensitive but realistic way—which means that the characters are flawed, so they sometimes say things that are questionable. But it's supposed to be obvious from the context that what they've said isn't being condoned. If anything, this story is about religious freedom and ethnic equality. If you think that I've screwed up, please let me know.

Rec: Rosybud's Ladder to the Sun How can you die when you've never really lived? That's the problem Bella Swan faces when she's told she only has a year to live. Can she make up for a lonely, unhappy life in the short time she has left... and maybe find love too? All-human, EXB. Twilight - Rated: M - English - Angst/Romance - Chapters: 22 - Words: 111,847 - Reviews: 2595 - Favs: 4,117 - Follows: 1,689 - Updated: Sep 24, 2010 - Published: Oct 31, 2009 - Bella, Edward – Complete