In 1918, Doctor Carlisle Cullen, changes Edward into a Vampire, to save him from becoming another victim of the Spanish Influenza pandemic.
A hundred years later, just as another pandemic is about to wreak havoc on the world, Bella Swan, a student studying journalism in New York City, spots a picture of a young man in a magazine dated 1923, who bears a striking resemblance to the guy who lives opposite her apartment. Her interest piqued, she begins a mission to find out if it is him.
Disclaimer: The majority of the characters in this story belong to Stephenie Meyer. I've borrowed them once more to continue having enormous fun with them.
THE VAMPIRE ON EAST FORTY-SIX STREET
February 7th, 2020 - a non-date in historical records. My own history if it's ever written, will show February 7th as the day a journey of discovery began.
Today is September 16th. A little more than seven months have passed since that Friday afternoon, and six months since I've been able to return to the college library where the journey began. Only for my own satisfaction do I want to look again at the publication that sparked my curiosity. I'm not expecting to learn anything new. But still, my heart races with anticipation because I am truly confident my suspicions about the photographs I saw that day are about to be validated.
I remember Friday, February 7th well. A rainstorm and high winds had provided me with a valid reason to delay leaving college for home and spend time in the library. Most Friday's I would scuttle here after my final class to de-stress. Libraries have been my go-to sanctuary since the time I lived with Mom in Jacksonville, and when I attended High School in Forks. Libraries are peaceful places where anxieties associated with student life can be deposited at the door. My college friends say I spend an unhealthy amount of time in here - I'd agree with their assessment.
My favorite seat resides in the gloomiest corner where lights are dimmed for good reason. Here live the library's treasures; the oldest and most precious books and publications that need protection from harsh white bulbs. Like me, these ancient records prefer to reside in the shadows; to avoid scrutiny under too bright a light. This is my happy place where I'm left to wallow undisturbed by my fellow students who never venture into my gloomy refuge.
Reinforced shelves support rows of heavy, leather-bound folders which contain carefully preserved magazines and newspapers dating back to the nineteenth century. My favorites are the rare editions of The Daily Graphic, which first hit New York's newsstands in 1880. A pioneer in photojournalism, the publication provided readers glimpses of events they could never witness with their own eyes. I like to imagine the feeling of wonder folks from that era would experience as they turned the pages. Pictures of the first prototype airplanes, followed a few years later by the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk and her intrepid pilots. In one rare edition, the weathered face of the Apache Chief, Geronimo, stared back at me. I admit I cried that day.
My usual formula when studying old photographs is 'first decipher the where the how and the when,' before I turn my attention to 'the clothes, the vehicles, and buildings. And then, and most importantly, the people.' I like to invent the subject's life, although I guess in most instances I'd be wide of the mark. Quaint words that accompany the photographs hold my interest only as a fact-finding source. My true interest lies in the images taken during this medium's infancy. The earliest photojournalists provided the first accurate pictorial record of real life. My ambition is to emulate them.
The oldest photographs reveal a monochrome world which apart from the surviving buildings, has vanished along with the people. A genteel time when well-heeled men raised their hats in greeting. Refined women floated along sidewalks on unseen feet. Cities built for the wealthy not the poor. Roads built for carriages, not for cars.
I'm not naïve. I accept the pictures in these magazines don't show a true record of the time. Such publications are the equivalent of today's 'Hello'. The wretched poor had no place on these pages. If you could afford to buy a newspaper or magazine back then, you wouldn't pay to be reminded of the destitution on the outskirts of the cities or in the countryside. Such photographs exist, only photographers at the time would not have made a living through selling images of poverty and hardship.
Going back to my journey, I first saw the young man's face gracing an inside page of The Daily Graphic in an edition dated March 1923.
No, that's wrong!
I recognized the man, who Doctor Cullen claimed afterward is his son, in two photographs that accompanied the article, although at the time I dismissed the similarity as fanciful.
'Looking but not seeing again, Ms. Swan?'
One of my Professors would admonish me for this on a regular basis, only I had seen something that day although what I saw couldn't be possible.
From the date of the newspaper, I presumed the young man would be dead by now. This could explain why the image didn't register at first, other than a momentary flash of recognition. That presumption has proved erroneous now.
The article which caught my interest began with a bold headline.
'GUARDIAN ANGEL' SAVES CHILD FROM CERTAIN DEATH
And continued in the dramatic language journalists used at the time …
'On Fifth Avenue, a mysterious stranger caught a terrified child who plunged from an 18th-floor hotel window. The well-dressed gentleman handed the screaming infant to the doorman and disappeared without giving his name. One passer-by claimed the gentleman appeared from nowhere and caught the child, 'As easy as Babe Ruth catches a baseball'.
'Mr. M. O'Reilly', the hotel doorman, pronounced, "Lord Jesus, I witnessed a miracle."
A quick-thinking photographer, taking pictures of the hotel from the opposite side of the Avenue, snapped two pictures of the young hero before he vanished into thin air.
The Guardian Angel's face caught my eye that day; gaunt but still striking, even in black and white. A tall, slim man with piercing eyes, a strong jaw, and dark, luxurious hair. Also, and de rigueur for Fifth Avenue, his attire in keeping with the fashion of the day, with one exception - no hat.
In both pictures, his unbuttoned overcoat flared like an old-fashioned cloak around his calves. An indication he wore it for style, not warmth. I remember staring at his face on that February afternoon, wondering what his story could be and why he hadn't remained to receive the praise that would no doubt have been heaped upon him.
Seven months later, and six months since the college closed due to the rapid spread of the Coronavirus, I've returned to the library to re-examine the article. I need to prove without any more doubt that my eyes had not been playing tricks on me that day. Although I'm confident my original suspicions will be confirmed, my heart still pounds as I open the folder.
A familiar icy sensation crawls over my scalp as I scrutinize the two grainy black and white images I first saw in February. The evidence before me cannot be disputed anymore. I had noticed something extraordinary back then.
Seven months on from my first sight, I'm able to look at the photos with a more knowledgeable eye. The expression on the young man's face confirms the other side of his story. The anomalies with physics and time. If I'd saved a child from certain death, my face would show relief, or joy, or pride. All I see in this young man's face is fear.
My dilemma now is what to do about what I've suspected all along is true, and have now proved without a shadow of a doubt. I guess this situation is comparable to seeing a ghost, or a UFO on a starry night. Okay, I have photographic evidence that the man in the picture bears more than a striking resemblance to Edward, but most sane people would put this down to coincidence. Edward would deny being the Guardian Angel in the picture of course, even though he has all but admitted to me it was him.
'He must be a distant relative, Bella. A throw-back! Maybe this is his grandfather?'
I can almost hear the explanations, followed no doubt by derisory comments that would come my way if I tried to suggest to any sane person that the doctor's son must be at least 120 years old. Persuading myself this is probable and not one of my other explanations for how he came to be in the right place at the right time, has taken me six months. I'm still not a hundred percent convinced, even with the knowledge that I've recently acquired, plus the other unaccountable events that have happened to me during this time.
Touching the pages is not permitted without special gloves. Mrs. Field is not at her desk. I cannot resist. My right index finger gently slides over his hair before following the line of his jaw to rest on his mouth. How I would love to bury my fingers in those thick locks, or to caress that jaw, before tasting his soft lips in real life. I imagine his expressive eyes are looking at me, even though when these pictures were taken they would've been fixed on the photographer. Is this why he looks fearful? Does he not want his image recorded? There would have to be a good reason if that was the case, which could tie in with him disappearing from the scene so quickly. Or maybe it was because of what I now suspect he could be.
Straightening from my bent position over the newspaper I relax into the back of the chair to recall that February afternoon when I saw Edward's photo for the first time, and the extraordinary months that followed. My recent interactions with Edward and others have led me to question everything about the world I live in. The night in the forest with Jake has only added credence to what I suspected. An admittedly fictional TV series I chanced upon last night has finally swept my original presumptions aside. Common sense, which I thought I had in abundance, has all but gone. The road I now travel has transported me into a fantasy land of myths and legends.
In this library, in the same corner, in the same chair, I had no indication on that day that my life would soon change dramatically, and not just because of my interest in the man in the pictures and the young man who lives opposite me on E46 Street, who I now have evidence are the same person. Like the envious Martians from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, who invaded the tantalizing blue planet that orbited closer to the sun, another invader had already sneaked up on our world to wreak havoc. This new enemy though was invisible, but just as deadly.
Walking home from college on that freezing February night, I had no reason to suspect that my fascination with Mr. Red Eyes, which had been resurrected by two black and white photographs in a copy of the Daily Graphic dated 1923, would take over my life. If I'd known then what I know now, or should I say what I'm ninety-nine percent sure I know now, would this have taken me down a different path, or would my natural curiosity still have won the day?
Friday, February 7th, 2020 - seven months earlier
Mrs. Fields throws everyone out of the library at six and tonight is no exception. The wind is still battering the library windows while I wriggle into my jacket and stuff my notebooks in my backpack. Not ideal conditions for the long walk home to E46 Street. At least the rain has ceased when I exit onto the drenched sidewalk. Once I turn into the wind though, icy droplets detach from awnings and flapping road signs make a beeline for my face. Only a few steps into my journey, my skin feels like a pincushion. Riding a bus is pointless at this time of night. Lexington is always gridlocked so I set off for home with my head bowed against the onslaught.
The moment I turn the corner onto Lexington, the bitter air finds its way through the seams and zip of my too-short jacket, and even worse, through the fashionable holes in my thickest pair of jeans. Even my eyeballs sting as I fight against the unseen monster whose breath is doing its utmost to keep me from reaching my apartment.
When the wind blows from the north, the New York grid system, combined with the presence of sky-high buildings, turns the streets into dangerous wind tunnels. Staying upright presents a challenge for anyone who hovers around the hundred-pound mark. Me for instance. Even though I'd lived part of my life in the most northerly state on the West Coast, I've never felt so affected by the elements as I do in this city of contrasts. During my first perishing winter here, I dismissed a fellow student who dropped into the conversation that New York resides on the same latitude as Madrid and Naples. I would often recall this gem of information during my first boiling New York summer.
To distract from the miserable journey, I fix my thoughts on the uncanny resemblance the man on 5th Avenue has to the good-looking but strange guy I'd seen coming out of the apartments above the Community Clinic on E46 Street. I'd only laid eyes on him three times during the eighteen months I've lived on the street; the first being a few days before I flew home to Forks for Christmas 2018.
I literally bumped into him as I turned the corner from Lexington. I apologized profusely as I'd been watching the uneven sidewalk rather than looking where I was going, and listening to music through my ear pods. I hardly touched him, but he gasped for breath as though I'd punched him which I thought at the time was weird.
The second occasion happened three months later at the end of March 2019. I'd been out for the evening with college friends and admittedly, once again, had been concentrating on the sidewalk. He walked out the door next to the community medical clinic which is directly opposite my apartment building. I swerved one way to avoid him and he went the same way, so we collided without touching if you know what I mean.
"Can't you look where you're going," he hissed. I looked up at his face and realized this was the same guy. As he looked down on me I swear he growled.
"What's your problem?" I retaliated. He gasped for breath again, the same as our first encounter, before hurrying away, this time clutching both sides of his head with his hands. I remember at the time thinking what a strange reaction. His actions certainly intrigued me enough to continue watching him until he disappeared around the corner. Even then, I picked up that something about him felt wrong, odd, strange even. I also remember thinking that he looked out of place. His clothes were not what young guys in New York would wear to go out in the evening. The closest way to describe his outfit would be the sort of garments a grandmother would pick out; smart and boring. Black wool coat, white shirt, dark tie, dress shoes. He moved awkwardly too – I'd describe his gait as a speedy shuffle if that makes sense. His facial features were striking though – pale and gaunt; hair, long and luxurious, eyes piercingly bright.
After that incident, I took more care when approaching the junction and crossed to the opposite side of the street to avoid bumping into him again. I did keep watch on the door from my bedroom window though as my interest had been piqued. The fact that this guy is outrageously good-looking had absolutely nothing to do with my fascination though. He struck me as an anomaly. I like anomalies. I didn't see him again for another six months.
After a hot September day and a warmer than average evening, I'd propped open my top window to attract any breeze wafting down the street. I prefer fresh air to the air-conditioned variety when I'm sleeping and only use the fans on the warmest of nights from June to August. The apartment's elderly system is noisy and dries my mouth so much I feel like I've swallowed broken glass when I wake up. That night I woke with a jump at four in the morning, no doubt aroused by the sound of raised voices on the street below.
Curiosity compelled me to be nosy. I tweaked the blind and looked over to the opposite side of the street where Doctor Cullen was yelling at the strange guy. I deduced from the doctor's gestures that he wanted him to get inside. He had hold of the young guy's arm with one hand while he furiously pointed at the side door with the other. I spotted Doctor Cullen's wife watching from the window above. She looked to be fully dressed and not in nightclothes which struck me as odd. I remember thinking that maybe she hadn't been to bed.
Doctor Cullen talked far too fast for me to pick up what was being said. His facial expressions told a story though. I watched the confrontation progress until the young man abruptly stopped arguing to look directly up at my second-floor window. Once again he clutched the sides of his head with both hands before running towards the open door where he disappeared inside. Doctor Cullen glanced up at my building, although not at my window, before closing the door silently behind him.
While the argument had been in full flow, I had taken the opportunity to view the young man's face in detail. Hollowed cheeks enhanced his bone structure. An impressive jaw set angrily. Unruly hair flopped over his forehead whereas before it had been neatly groomed. His eyes though - I couldn't look away from them. The lampposts on either side of the street were some way away but even in the dim light, I noticed something strange about the color.
When I'd looked up at him after the second time we collided, his irises were black, or very dark brown. The rest of his eyes – I can't remember the correct name for the white bit - I know it begins with an S - were the whitest I'd ever seen on a human face. His eyes looked different tonight. They looked red, almost like he wore joke contact lenses. I could spot them even from one floor up. I guessed he could be a drug addict which could be why Doctor Cullen looked so angry. I had the feeling though this wasn't the reason. His clothes were disheveled, so maybe he had an alcohol problem? It was only afterward that I questioned why he wore a long black coat when I doubt whether the air temperature had dropped much below seventy degrees.
I couldn't sleep for the rest of the night. Instead, I lay in the dark on top of my quilt while the dawn crept through my inadequate blind. An intense headache had hit me without warning after I'd stopped watching the confrontation. I prayed that the pain would not develop into a migraine as I had a full day of college ahead. I spent the following hours forensically dissecting my two previous encounters with Mr. Red Eyes, and the fleeting moment when he glanced up at my window, including his reaction afterward. Like I do with old photographs, I invented life stories for him while trying to work out why I'd only seen him three times since I moved into the apartment in September 2018, just over a year ago.
What bothered me most when I thought about this last encounter is the split second when he glanced up at my window. There's no way he could've known that anyone was watching. Only my right eye would've been visible through a chink in the blind. Unless he'd been spying on me from the apartments above the clinic and knew this is my room, I could think of no other explanation why he looked directly at my window instead of any of the others. I couldn't be certain, but I'm positive he knew I'd been watching the argument. What had caused him to stop mid-rant with Doctor Cullen and stare directly at my window, I couldn't guess?
My curiosity about this guy grew as quickly as the daylight that filtered through my blind. He didn't look anything like Doctor Cullen or his wife, so I doubt whether they could be related. The Cullens live in the apartment directly above the clinic. Occasionally I'd see Doctor Cullen's wife, who I've only discovered recently is also a doctor, opening the drapes and walking round what I presume is their living room. There are two other floors above their apartment, so maybe this guy is a tenant?
When I eventually dragged myself out of bed at eight o'clock, still with a blinding headache, there was no one to talk to about the night's disturbance. Elliot had stayed over, evidenced by his shoes and jacket dumped on the floor by the sofa. Neither he nor Angie had lectures until the afternoon so there would be little chance either of them would emerge from her bedroom until the absolute last minute unless they shot out to the bathroom. I had to wait to get to college before I could talk to anyone. Jenna got to hear my story first.
"Is he good-looking?"
The inevitable question I should've expected after I explained to her what happened.
"Yes, he's very good-looking but that's not the issue here. He's strange."
Jenna didn't seem interested in speculating about a possible explanation for the behavior of my mysterious neighbor so I gave up.
The rest of the day passed as usual. My headache had disappeared as soon as I left my apartment and turned onto Lexington where I breathed in my first lungful of polluted New York air. I attended two lectures, one given by a random journalist from a provincial newspaper, the other by a magazine editor. In the afternoon I had a one-to-one with my politics tutor about a piece I'd written about Mayor de Blasio and his efforts to recruit more minorities in the city's cultural centers. I'd included photos, but no recent ones of the Mayor as he seemed to have gone AWOL lately. My tutor looked impressed but praise doesn't come readily from her lips.
That night in late September 2019 proved to be the last time I would lay eyes on Mr. Red Eyes, before spotting the photographs in The Daily Graphic five months later. To be honest, I didn't think about him much after that as my college course, my job, and my admittedly limited social life, kept me fully occupied. New York herself proved to be a great distraction. When I arrived here from Forks in 2018, I was determined to enjoy every minute of my time in the city I'd dreamt of living in for the past four years. As time and finances allow, I've absorbed into my being every experience the city that never sleeps has to offer and so far I've enjoyed every minute.
Inside my silent apartment, I breathe a sigh of relief, not just from getting in out of the cold, but because Angie and Elliot aren't here. All I want to do is get rid of another piercing headache that has raised its ugly head the moment I reached the corner with Lexington, to thaw out in a hot bath, grab something tasty to eat, and have an early night.
My last thoughts before I close my eyes are about those two photographs, and my growing belief that if I searched hard enough, Mr. Red Eyes would have a fascinating story attached to him.
If only I knew where to start looking.
I hope you have enjoyed the first chapter of my latest tale.
Because the story is set mainly in 2020, there are references to the spread of the Coronavirus. There will be no political or other opinions voiced here, just actual dates and facts that are already in circulation. The virus and its management is a contentious issue everywhere, so I don't want to upset anyone.
As always, I love receiving your comments and reviews, and I'll try to answer as many as possible.
I really hope you enjoy getting to know a very different Edward, a truly surprising Bella, and a nice Jacob (for once.)