Disclaimer: Twilight isn't mine. I'm not Stephanie Meyer. I'm not Tolkien come back from the dead either. They're the geniuses, and I'm only fiddling with their stuff.
"Voiceless it cries, mouthless mutters. Toothless it bites, wingless flutters." Charlotte looked over at us expectantly, the moonlight accentuating her unearthly beauty. "Well?"
"Some kind of a ghost maybe?" guessed Peter, who was walking alongside her on the forest floor, taking smooth, rapid strides with his short legs. Charlotte sighed as she hopped effortlessly onto a fallen tree trunk half her height, her ankle-length skirt fluttering in the wind.
"No, Pete, not even close," she replied, keeping perfect balance as she walked down the length of the enormous fallen oak. Walking at superhuman speed, of course, as we all were.
"Think about it," she continued, leaping nimbly to the forest floor when she reached the roots of the fallen giant. "Ghosts have mouths and voices. Besides, they aren't real, and the answers to all these riddles are."
Peter considered this for a moment, his brow furrowed with concentration. When a cool breeze ruffled his light brown hair, his frown only deepened. I smiled slightly. I couldn't help it. I'd just seen the answer.
"The wind, correct?" I asked Charlotte.
Her pale face broke into gentle smile, belying the mild irritation that emanated from her. Though I had no doubt the whole point of this game was to cheer me up, Charlotte really was hoping to stump me.
"All right, then. But you won't guess this one so easily." Her maroon eyes sparkled with mischievous delight. "It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It hides behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills. It comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter."
"You don't honestly find that difficult, do you?" I teased. "I thought you were supposed to be clever." Charlotte was rather proud of her admittance to a university before she was changed, even if she never attended.
" 'course she's clever," Peter snarled defensively. "It's hardly obvious. What on earth can't be seen or heard or sensed at all?"
I shook my head pityingly.
"Peter, look." I pointed up at the night sky, dotted with bright stars and scattered clouds. "What's behind the stars?"
"Nothing, just empty space!" he replied. "Wait… is that the answer then? Nothing?"
"It's actually darkness," Charlotte mused. "But that's not a bad answer either. Except I suppose you couldn't say that 'nothing' ends life."
"For humans at least," I muttered. That remark made Peter's concern flare up briefly, but he ignored it.
"I still say it's a much better answer than darkness," he argued playfully. "I mean, what if the moon's shining on an empty hole? It isn't full of darkness then."
"Fine," Charlotte sighed, a bit exasperated. "You can tell Mr. Tolkien he needs to change it then."
"Who?" Peter asked.
"The author of the book," she replied. "The one I read in Cincinnati, remember? You really ought to read it, you know, Jasper. And Pete, I bet you'd like it too. In fact, it'll be one of the first things I have you read when we get to New York City." Peter was not completely literate. He'd never been a very good student as a human, and after his father's death, he'd dropped out completely to devote all his time to the family farm. Unlike Charlotte and me, he had no interest in books. Charlotte, however, was determined to remedy the situation once we arrived in New York City.
"But if I did read that book of yours, wouldn't that prevent you from asking us all these riddles?" I pointed out. I decided not to add that I had little desire to read an epic adventure story about brave heroes battling evil monsters that usually intended to eat them.
"I doubt it would make a difference," Charlotte replied dryly. "You know all the answers anyway." She eyed me shrewdly. "You haven't read it before, have you?"
I rolled my eyes.
"You caught me, Charlotte," I said. "Yes, I was reading The Hobbit in Monterey, in between plotting strategy with Maria, babysitting unruly newborns and fighting to the death against rival covens."
"No, I suppose you haven't," she giggled, a bit nervously. My sarcastic remark had clearly drudged up a few unpleasant memories for her, but she repressed them. "In that case, try this one. Alive without breath, cold as death-"
"Easy!" cried Peter, determined to beat me to the answer. "A vampire!"
Charlotte shook her beautiful head, sending a ripple down her long waves of black hair.
"I wasn't finished," she replied, "Never thirsty, ever drinking, clad in mail, never clinking. And besides, as far as Tolkien's concerned, a vampire isn't a real answer."
"Vampires aren't real, but elves and dragons are?" I scoffed.
"I thought you hadn't read it?" Charlotte frowned.
"Just the description on the back cover," I assured her. "And is the answer a fish?"
"Yes," she admitted rather grudgingly. "Hmmm… here's one that the main character found especially hard. This thing all things devours, birds, beasts, trees flowers. Bites iron, gnaws steel, grinds hard stones to meal. Slays kings, ruins towns, and beats high mountains down."
"Not a very bright main character, then," said Peter, smiling triumphantly. "That's got to be time. Right?"
"Correct," Charlotte grinned at him. "And Bilbo, to his credit, was panicking a bit."
"Another debatable answer," I mused quietly. "Once again, it doesn't apply to us." Though sometimes I wish it did, I added silently.
"Sore loser," Peter joked. He must have noticed the dark expression on my face, though, because he was feeling worried again.
"Don't you know any riddles that aren't from that ridiculous book?" he asked Charlotte. He was still determined to distract me from my thoughts.
Charlotte considered this for a moment.
"Well," she began, "this one doesn't rhyme, but I'd still call it a riddle. Imagine you have a rope, and different parts of it burn at different speeds. So one inch might take an half an hour to burn, but the next inch might burn in less than a minute. All you know is that the entire rope will burn up in an hour if you light it at one end. You have a second rope that also will burn up in an hour, and you have a box of matches. How can you measure out fifteen minutes?"
"With a watch, of course," Peter grumbled.
"No other objects allowed," Charlotte laughed.
As Peter and I considered the question silently, our little trio reached the top of a ridge we'd been climbing. If it had been daylight, the view of the surrounding countryside would no doubt have been spectacular. Though the Appalachian Mountains were well behind us now and the trees had thinned out, we were still nowhere near civilization. We continued our trek downhill at an effortlessly fast pace.
Before long, I saw the solution.
"You take one rope and light it at both ends," I told Charlotte. "At the same time, you light the second rope at only one end. When the first rope, the one you lit at both ends, burns up, you know half an hour has passed, so you know the second rope is still going to burn for thirty minutes. Right then, you light that second rope at its other end, and from that moment it takes fifteen minutes for the flames to meet in the middle."
"Yes," Charlotte confirmed, "I rather like that one."
"Enough riddles already," grumbled Peter. "I thought we were supposed to arrive at the next town tonight. Sun'll be up soon, and still no town in sight or smell. Clouds are clearing up too."
"You're so grouchy when you're hungry," said Charlotte, rolling her eyes.
We were all beginning to feel thirsty, though. We had hunted well in a coal mining village (the mines were excellent hunting grounds, and it was child's play to make our victims look like casualties of mining accidents) but that had been nearly a week ago.
"If we don't find the town by sunrise, I suppose we can just-" Charlotte froze midsentence, suddenly very alert.
"What is it?" Peter asked, now tensed as well.
"A farm," Charlotte replied with a wide smile. "Can't you smell the livestock? It's that way, can't be more than a mile from here."
"Excellent," Peter grinned.
Following Charlotte's lead, we reached the farm in less than a minute. It wasn't especially large, consisting of only a few fenced-in pastures and a small brick house. A dirt road began in front of the farm house and stretched off into the distance, where it was soon lost to sight amid the surrounding hills.
Although the eastern horizon was only just beginning to turn grey with predawn light, there was already a soft yellow light shining through several windows on the bottom floor of the house. If I listened closely, I could hear at least two distinct heartbeats. Good. There would be enough for the three of us.
"Shall I introduce us?" Charlotte asked, flashing a seductive smile as we approached the porch.
"Ladies first," Peter replied. He was grinning as well, his teeth glistening with venom. Both of them pulsed with excited anticipation.
Charlotte knocked on the whitewashed wooden door. A moment later, we heard approaching footsteps, then the door cautiously cracked opened. The suspicious face of a grey-haired woman appeared in the space between the door and the frame. She opened her mouth angrily, then quickly bit back whatever she'd planned to say. At the sight of our faces, her suspicion melted away, replaced by strong feelings of wonder. Her mouth hung open.
He's speechless. The enchanting voice reverberated in the deep recesses of my mind, like a distant echo from another lifetime. I tried to suppress it.
"Good morning, ma'am," Charlotte broke the silence with her politest Southern voice. "My name is Charlotte, and these are my husband Peter and brother Jasper. We're terribly sorry to disturb you at this hour, but we're frightfully lost, and have been wandering these woods all night. Please, ma'am, may we rest on your porch for a bit? We'll be on our way again shortly."
"Nonsense, don't be ridiculous!" the woman stammered. "Here, do come inside and rest as long as you like!"
She opened the door and beckoned us in, clearly mesmerized by our inhuman beauty. I wished I could block the powerful waves of awe and excitement coming off her.
"Thank you kindly, ma'am," Peter said.
"Call me Ellen," she smiled a little too warmly at him, and I noticed a spark of jealous anger from Charlotte. "Here, have a seat. I'd just come down to start breakfast, shouldn't take me more than ten minutes or so to whip something up. You three must be awfully hungry! Surely you'll want to eat before heading out again."
"Yes, we'd like that very much," I agreed, my mouth already moist, "if it's not too much trouble."
"No trouble at all," Ellen beamed, now bustling about a tiny kitchen while we sat around a small circular dining table. "Now where are you three headed?"
"New York City, ma'am, eventually," Charlotte replied. She stood up and approached Ellen, as though she intended to help prepare the food. Which, in a way, she did.
"Good heavens!" the woman laughed, now slicing a side of bacon. "My, you have quite a way to go! The nearest town is a good ten miles from here, though I'm sure George will be glad to show you the way."
"Ten miles?" Charlotte asked, taking another step towards Ellen. "Do you have many visitors, then?"
"No, not at all," Ellen replied cheerfully as she cut generously thick bacon strips. "No family, no neighbors, months go by before anybody has reason to come out to this old farm. But me and George, we like it that way."
"Good," Charlotte smiled. "Then no one will be suspicious."
Ellen paused. I felt her pleasant feelings shift to uneasiness. She turned to look at Charlotte, but before she could voice her question, Charlotte was latched onto the side of her throat.
Immediately, I was hit with strong emissions of shock and panic. Ellen shrieked, and tried to plunge the meat knife into Charlotte's torso. The knife ripped Charlotte's blouse, but bounced violently off her granite midriff. The sharp metal slipped out of Ellen's wrinkled hand and fell to the floor, slashing the skin of her calf as it went.
Peter and I flew out of our seats. The scent of spilt blood was maddening, overpowering! The dull ache in my throat erupted into a searing flame.
A sound to my left! Footsteps! Another heartbeat!
"Ellen!" shouted a short, balding male human as he rushed down a set of stairs into the living room adjacent to the kitchen.
The female human was almost empty now, with both Peter and Charlotte drinking from her. I turned toward the new scent.
The human grabbed a metal poker stick from the fireplace and swung it at me. He was pitifully slow, but I didn't dodge the blow. The iron pole bent when it struck me. I smiled, baring my glistening teeth.
The male human's rage turned to horror and fear. He was frozen in place, too terrified to move. His emotions hit me with much more force than the iron poker had. Still, the powerful surge of his horror was nowhere near as overwhelming as my own fiery thirst. I reached out and gently placed my hand on his neck.
There was a soft cracking sound, and his gushing emotions abruptly ceased, as if I had suddenly turned off a faucet. Unlike Charlotte, I always killed my food before eating it. I embraced the limp body, and sunk my teeth into the wrinkled skin.
Ahhhh! As I swallowed, the painful fire in my throat was extinguished.
How can I describe such a blissful sensation? I suppose it would be like sticking a burning hand into a bucket of ice, like finding water after being lost in the desert. The only difference is that our fire is quenched, not by cold, but, ironically, by heat. The taste is deliciously sweet and rich, of course, but the taste is only half the pleasure. The heat, the warmth of the hot fresh liquid sliding down your throat, is truly irresistible. As you drink, that incredible warmth spreads down to your chest and then outward, heating your whole body from the inside out.
Amazing, isn't it, how much more you appreciate something once you've lost it forever? It's impossible to fully understand just how wonderful that warm lifeblood is until you yourself become as cold as stone. This was what we craved, this was what we thirsted so painfully for; not only the taste, but the lingering warmth of blood inside our hardened bodies once again. We didn't need the blood to exist, after all. No. We needed it to feel alive.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Reviewers make me very happy. Constructive criticism is welcome too. And, no, this in not a one-shot. There'll be at least several more chapters. This is my first attempt at something longer than one scene, so please let me know what you think!