Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: I confess that I am tantalized by the possibility of Midnight Sun, and hope the book comes to fruition - toying with those ideas of Edward's POV during Twilight popped this little short piece into being.
Still Life in Amber
The shores of Lake Michigan are deserted, the gusts of cold February wind blowing off the water and pushing away those who would linger at the water's edge on this overcast morning.
But cold doesn't bother me, so I remain, still as a statue as I watch the whitecaps cresting further out before looking back at the city.
My city. Chicago. Where I had lived.
I shove my hands in my pockets as I start up the hill, the white columns flanking the front of the Field Museum looming before me as markers to my destination, the weight of a thousand memories swirling through my brain as it always did when I came to this place.
Chicago at the turn of the last century was a magical place for a child. The Paris of the Prairie. Its façade of gentility sometimes wore thin over the mud and muck and stench of the stockyards that formed its underbelly, but sheltered by my parents from those harsh realties, I only saw the beauties and wonders of the city back then.
My world was carefully managed, the treasured only son of two adoring parents. Though not the wealthiest in Chicago, my parents were quite comfortable as my father had enjoyed more than a small measure of success at the prominent architecture firm where he worked. He was a Yale man, and I always knew he had high hopes that I too would matriculate there when the time came.
My mother, beautiful and charming, was the life of the parties my parents were fond of hosting. Even now, I can still recall the sound of her laughter ringing out as I perched at the top of the steps, listening to the music and chatter of people below. But the best moments were when she would slip away, stealing up the steps to pick me up and tuck me into bed, her sweet scent and soft skin lulling me as she hugged me close and wished me to dreamland.
She gave me her love of music as well, the lilting strains of the piano she would play for me, her hands flying across the keys, urging me to mimic them. I could spend hours in rapt absorption in front of the grand piano that held a place of honor in our home.
I think my mother would have liked for me to become a musician, a composer or conductor of a symphony perhaps, though I cycled through future professions with the speed of any boy, architect like my father, an archeologist who discovered old ruins, one of the police officers who whistled as he strolled through our neighborhood, twirling his nightstick. Neither of us could have dreamed what I would become, of course. Sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night when things are quietest and I ache for the oblivion that sleep brings, I ponder whether she would be proud or disappointed with how I've lived the existence dealt me. I've never been sure of that answer.
I pause in my climb to take in the soaring skyline again. So many new buildings, so different than the skyline looked back then, even with Chicago's claim to the world's tallest building - a structure that today would be dwarfed by these new masterpieces of steel and glass. My father would have been enthralled to see there edifices, but I feel nostalgic for those old buildings. The house I grew up in, the ivy covered school I attended, that small theatre I would haunt to see films, all long torn down and replaced with something newer, sleeker, more up to date.
Yet I remain the same. Forever adolescent. Forever seventeen.
I resume my walk, still lost in that other time. Coming here did that somehow, pulled me back to my short prelude of life. The Great War had been raging for two years by the time I turned fifteen, though the United States still resisted involvement. I saw the headlines, heard the debates between my father and his friends, but had few feelings about the conflict an ocean away that seemed remote to my small universe.
And then in an instant, that all changed. Nearly a century later, I still can vividly recall the day I snuck away from school early with my pal William to see one of the new moving pictures that had become all the rage. Those flickering, grainy images bounced on the screen, showing the exploits of the Lafayette Escadrille as their planes swooped through the air, landing across a field, and spilling out a group of Americans, volunteers all, laughing and grinning at the camera. Only a few years older than me, they were there, in the heart of the action, fighting the fight and flying those magnificent machines.
I was captivated by those images. The speed, the space, the glory - from that moment on, I wanted nothing more than to be a soldier, and not just any soldier, but a fighter pilot. I read every newspaper article I could find, and was always on the lookout for a new reel of frames of those planes soaring through the air, desperate to be of age to join up before the war was over. My mother and father were horrified.
By the next year, as hostilities worsened and the news of the Zimmerman telegram increased support for involvement, I began to hope that perhaps I would have my chance after all as the months slipped away and the United States officially entered the war. I has promised my mother I would do nothing before I was eighteen, no rash escapes in the dark of night to run away and enlist, and she knew that I would keep my word to her. But I grew impatient with the mundaneness of my schoolwork and the carefully coiffed delicate girls, daughters of my mother's friends who were politely presented to me at cotillions in the hope of some distraction from my soldier's quest.
I wanted nothing more than to fly.
Another year slipped away while I plotted and planned my strategy to enlist, unaware that there was a deadlier enemy on the horizon. The summer of 1918 was warm and stifling, as though the air has settled over the city and been trapped under a giant dome, allowing little relief to those in the sweltering streets. The first cases were reported in April, and by July, the ravages of the Spanish flu had turned the summer months normally devoted to parties and picnics into a nightmare of death and decay.
My father grew ill first. He came home from the office early, something I could never recall him doing, and the symptoms were readily apparent. Doctors were stretched thin, swamped by the overload of cases they seemed powerless to combat, and my mother's message to Dr. Wilson, who'd long been our family physician, brought back a stranger.
Dr. Cullen came at dusk, and I remember the strange sensation I had when he first stepped into the parlor where I sat with my mother, as though I wanted to stare at him and couldn't bear to all at the same time. He'd been quick in his examination, but there was little to be done, and somehow we knew it by the set of his shoulders as he turned back from my father's bedside.
Two days later, my father was gone, and I was the one who'd fallen ill, wracked by the chills of fever and unable to get up from my bed. My mother never left my side, spending hours cooling my forehead with a damp cloth and murmuring wordless lullabies as though I were still a tiny baby in her arms, even though her eyes were red and bloodshot from tears.
If I'd known more, or been stronger perhaps, I would have tried to push her away, recognizing her own symptoms and realizing that her vigilance at my side would only further weaken her. Her maid, Molly, fetched Carlisle back later that night to tend us both after Mother collapsed in the floor beside my bed.
I remember so little of those days, really, not her death, not what followed. It was as though one day life was as it had always been, and then the next I awakened a new creature, my body frozen and hardened and my mouth watering for something I'd never tasted before.
And time began to stand still for me.
I enter the doors of the Museum, and head to the ticket booth to purchase my admission. The girl seated there appears bored, her thoughts unfocused as she mulls what she will do when her shift is complete. I clear my throat lightly and she snaps to attention, her eyes widening as she surveys my face, her head suddenly swirling with a warring mix of attraction and fear that she doesn't understand. A look I know well, the reaction of prey to predator, and I lower my voice to a calming tone that seems to relax humans as I ask for one student ticket, focusing on the remains of the other predator in the great hall, the massive skeleton of the tyrannosaurus that draws all eyes.
A young boy and his mother stand beneath the rib cage, the child's face lit up in rapture as he gestures to his mother, enthralled by the site of the beast while he babbles furiously his picture book knowledge of dinosaurs. I can't help but smile as I pass them, the mother's thoughts content, full of pride and love as she watches her child.
When I was that age my mother took me to the Field Museum of Natural History almost weekly as well. It hadn't been in this place then of course, was still housed in the old Palace of Fine Arts built for the World's Fair in those days, but there was already a wealth of treasures. I would wander for hours in those halls as she patiently followed, holding my small hand as I drank in the exhibits. It's still one of my favorite places to come when I need to think.
I hurry up the stairs, impatient now for my destination. Of all those early exhibits, the one that held the greatest fascination for me were the insects trapped in amber. Hundreds of them, each tiny body frozen perfectly forever in a golden glow.
I step into the room where they are now housed, far more than there had been in my childhood, and survey the walls of glass hiding the immobile treasures, grateful that the exhibit is deserted so early in the morning. My favorite is near the end, a small coppery brown moth, its wings spread as though to take flight in the moment its life was stolen.
Is that the right word? Stolen? I pause before the case, staring at the moth. For a hundred years I've wrestled with that notion. What had I lost so long ago that left me as I am, a shell still waiting for something to fill it. My life? I was dying anyway. I cannot blame Carlisle - had he not acted, I would not be like the tiny creature before me, locked in stasis, but still in existence. I would be like its peers, the other creatures long perished and faded and forgotten, unpreserved like this small wonder.
Was it my soul? That ephemeral, unexplainable spark of animation?
Whatever its name, for me, something has always been missing. My century of perpetual adolescence, of always being on the precipice of life without ever living it has weighed heavily on me at times, although I try to hide it from my family.
My siblings don't seem to have the same detachment. I've felt it, the passion and sorrow and joy and love filtered secondhand through the prism of their thoughts, the emotions that sweep away excitable Alice, exuberant Emmett, even the more reserved Jasper, and narcissistic Rosalie. It feels as though they are alive, even as they are, hardened and inhuman like me.
Perhaps it is something peculiar to me then, the counterpart to my ability to hear others thoughts balanced somehow by this inability to feel the world in the same depth.
For a time I thought I needed only to experience more to have that type of awakening, to explore the world on my own terms, rather than as the obedient son. To finally fly on my own as I'd hoped to so many years before. The time spent away from my family during my rebellion, the things I did in those years, no matter how I justified them to myself, only served to deaden me further, to kill whatever spark of a soul might still have remained.
I gained a sense of peace in returning to my family and once again shunning the innate desires within for the sweet taste of human blood. But that tranquility hasn't awakened me from the ennui of my existence, the boredom of passing each day as the one before. Meaningless time. Always the same. Everything changing but me.
My finger touches the glass gently as I imagine reaching through and crumbling the rough edges of the amber block encasing the small moth, freeing it forever. The images of the previous week flash before my eyes again unbidden, to a small town like so many others, to a single girl, so like thousands of others, who in one brief moment shifted my entire universe with the siren call of her scent and the lack of fear in her eyes. I've spent the last week running away, first to Alaska, and now here, trying to reconcile this sudden upheaval and shift of the axis I'd thought immovable and unchangeable.
Because for the first time, in nearly a century, I feel truly . . . alive.