Chapter summary: Food everywhere, but Bella can't eat it. Her clothes, all of them, were bloodied in the recent wolf encounter and are now gone. And let's not talk about her period, please? How could it get worse? Hint: don't provoke an irritated vampire.
I sat at the table, nibbling at the biscuits I had made for Rosalie, soaking them, as much as I could, in the soup simmering on the stove. I would have been happy to have the soup straight up. But, no bowls, no cups. And my hands weren't any good at lifting the cast-iron pot off the stove so I could drink from that. Well, they wouldn't be good for anything after I tried something like that. I had burned my pinky on the stove back home when I was nine, tripping and falling into it. Watching the flesh bubble like it was liquid as the heat burned me was a vivid memory that had taught me a healthier respect for stoves than my parents ever could. And not for lack of trying on their part. I looked at my pinky. It had been so long ago, there wasn't even a mark to show for it, but I remembered.
Food: I couldn't wait anymore. Rosalie had been gone for hours. I finished off the soup-soaked biscuit in my hand.
I was semi-wrapped in the blanket, my bare back facing the stove with my front covered lightly. The slightly bloody rag that was the loincloth now was more bloody, acting as the only thing catching my discharge. It was a compromise. I figured Rosalie would kill me — that is, kill me more — if I stained the blanket, so I kept using the rag.
I thought about a joke of me using a rag on the rag. But I wasn't, you know, in a jokey mood at present, having shred that ridiculous bonnet on my head the first hour after Rosalie had fled. That relieved a bit of my frustration, but the cramps and my sensitivity were a dull and ever-present reminder. An annoyance, and I was annoyed.
But that didn't mean I wasn't adding 2 and 2 together. My sum was currently 22, not 4, as it should be. Nothing was as it should be anymore. I got another biscuit from the basket, stood up and carefully dunked it in the pot of soup. I sat down on the rag carefully again, rearranging the blanket around me as best I could. Chin over the table, Bella, we don't want the stink of the soup falling from the biscuit onto the blanket. If I was annoyed, my condition seemed to make our resident vampire more than ready to explode at anything. 'Coco' Chanel gown, indeed!
Yes. Vampire. Rosalie had to be. She just had to be. It didn't make any sense, but there was a whole lot more to that theory than anything else I could imagine. I had blocked what she was doing to Dolly — kissing her neck — up to now. But bloody clothes being a distraction? The "taste of me" in my mouth? My first cramps sending her into a frenzy? Her cold, hard and pale skin? The way she seemed to float on the snow? The "reason" I needed to die?
There were things that didn't add up. Weren't vampires supposed to have fangs? And sleep during the day? Wasn't sunlight supposed to destroy them? And running water, too? Rosalie didn't have fangs, that I could see, and she seemed fully up and about during the day and did "take a swim" with me.
No, wait, she was out during the day, but I had never yet seen her, or seen any of her family, in sunlight. Edward had always visited me after dusk, and Rosalie and I had our run through the forest under heavy clouds and snow. So maybe sunlight was a factor after all.
There were other things, though. Could she have come into this house without an invitation? Vampires weren't supposed to be able to do that, right? And couldn't she just put me under her power if she wanted to make off with me? Didn't vampires do that? Rosalie sure didn't do that to me, because I sure as shooting wasn't walking around under her spell. In fact, I caused a bit of frustration on her part, I recalled, relishing the outbursts from her that I had provoked. She hadn't reacted like I wanted her to when I made that crack about hypocrisy, but I hoped I set her ego back a peg or two.
I took another bite of the biscuit. I had read Dracula and then, out of curiosity, Carmilla. I shuddered; I hoped Carmilla wasn't going to be the model for my situation. Rosalie didn't match much of what was in the books, anyway. I wasn't paying much attention to those stories as I read them, however, so it was hard for me to recollect and tell. Gothic wasn't me: I had read them as a diversion from my usual diet of Edwardian romances. But there had to be something that would be a give away. I now wished I had paid more attention while I was reading them for the characteristics of vampires, but, really, how could I have expected this? I could have been as easily been reading a story about werewolves, for goodness sake. Should I have absorbed every detail about that? That would have been a complete waste of time! Thinking about werewolves brought me back to the recent attack, and I shuddered, although I wasn't as cold as I was that night — last night?
Focus, girl! Great, I was calling myself girl now, too. Dammit! Focus, Bella! Vampires. We were thinking about vampires. And Rosalie/Carmilla. I shuddered again, thinking about how close the names 'Lillian' and 'Carmilla' sounded.
I was going off the deep end. Back to just vampires. What made them tick? Besides blood, that is, as we had already established that one.
Wait. They didn't tick. Undead. They were undead. So, no pulse, right? And mirrors. They couldn't be seen in mirrors. I looked about me, finishing my third, or was it fourth or fifth? biscuit. There was a small mirror by the sole sink by the stove. I stood to get it.
I sat back in the seat heavily and waited for my heart to restart. I felt a draft coming from the direction of the front door, but when I looked over to it, it was closed. There were three rather largish neatly folded piles of clothes on the floor a few feet inside the house. How did...
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I spun around quickly toward the bed. "Jesus-God!" I cried. I really didn't think all these heart-stoppages were healthy for me. The window by the bed framed Rosalie who, I could see, was now wearing a red and black checkered collared flannel shirt. From what I could see, she looked good in it. She actually made the flannel look good. But I don't think she would appreciate a "ready-to-wear" comment. Not just now, at any rate. She pointed toward the clothes piles and pointed toward me. "Put something on before you catch your death of cold." She commanded in a voice that I had no difficulty hearing through the window. Then she disappeared.
"Uhn, Rosalie? Rosalie!" I shouted.
She was gone, but then a second later, she was back at the window. "What!" Her eyes were back to their golden color, but she looked really irritated.
"Um, I'm sorry, but, um ..." I was really embarrassed.
"Well? WHAT!" She didn't appear to be in the mood to entertain circumspection.
"I really need to, you know, go..." I could feel my blush and my eyes hit the floor.
"You aren't going anywhere! You are staying right there, this is our new home for, well, for a while." She didn't get it. Did vampires have to go, at all? The gothic horror stories really didn't cover this.
"No, I mean ... go." Dammit, I would just have to show her. I sat up a bit, grabbed and then lifted the bloodied rag to eye level.
Not to my eye level, because they were tightly fixed on my toes.
I heard an exasperated sigh, followed by a series of angry mutters, sounding something like: "What next?"
"Well, since you asked," What had I to lose, after all? "I am really thirsty, and ..."
"You're thirsty?" she sounded incredulous and amused all at once.
"Yes, parched, and, thank you for making the soup, but I can't really eat it because I don't have a bowl. I guess a cup would actually solve both problems, as I could make water from the snow outside."
She stared at me, then she slapped her hand to her head and slunk out of sight. "Anything else, while you're at it?" I heard float through the window.
"Well, yes?" Again I heard the sigh. "The fire's kind of dying, and I don't have wood to stoke it, and thank you for starting it, but I think it'll go out soon, and I think it'll be more trouble to restart it than ..."
"Okay, okay, OKAY! I think I've got the idea!" She reappeared at the window, looking quite put out. "Here's what's going to happen. You are going to get dressed. I'm going to bring you to the outhouse. Wait! First I'll give you a drink of water. You are going to give me that rag. Then I am going to put you back in this cabin. I'll also give you some firewood. You are not to speak to me, do you understand me?" She shot off these orders rapid fire, like a sergeant in battle, I supposed.
No talking. Got it. I nodded my head.
"Good girl." she growled. I grimaced at the "girl" part. What? Did I earn a pat on the head?
While I was contemplating this, I felt a breeze, I looked to the door, but it was still closed. There was a noise by the stove. Rosalie was there with a metal pail. She undampened the stove and then opened its front doors, with her ungloved hand, I noticed, and reached into the dying fire. With her hand. And pulled out ember after ember, placing them into the pail.
With her unscathed hand.
I sat, staring, right next to her. She looked over at me and grimaced.
I was getting on Rosalie's happy side just all the time, it seemed. She closed the stove back up, readjusted the dampener and disappeared out the front door. I shook myself back to reality, and headed toward the pile of clothes. Before I could get there, Rosalie was back inside. Apparently, I wasn't working fast enough, because she picked me up and placed me back in my chair by the table, whisking away the blanket, which magically appeared on the bed.
Before that registered, that is, before I could blush or cover myself, I found myself wearing a cotton tee, and then a wool sweater.
I didn't see this happening; Rosalie moved just too fast for me to follow anything in my stunned state. I pushed my hands through the tee's and then the sweater's arms.
My feet were suddenly out in front of me and then encased in knee-high woolen socks.
Wool. Ugh. Scratchy. Well, I guess it's warm...
The red, black, blue and white form suddenly transformed from a blur to a statue. Red and black checkered flannel shirt, form-fitted denim jeans, covered by laced up leather boot clothed Helen of Troy. A perfect statue of a runway model posing in lumberjack clothes. Sexy lumberjack clothes.
Wait. What did I just think? I meant the clothes looked good on her, fitting to her as if tailor-made for her specifically. That's what I meant: she looked good. Well, she looked great. No, I meant...
I was blushing so furiously that I thought blood might seep out of the pores in my cheeks. Thank God she can't read my mind.
The statue looked over at me quizzically and then raised an eyebrow.
Oh, my God! She can read my mind. I am so dead. My breath picked up as Rosalie shrugged, confirming my deadness. She walked over to the stove again and reached into the simmering pot of soup, cupping the liquid in her hands.
"Thueeeh zegondz." She gasped out through gritted teeth.
After a beat, she walked over to me and put her fingertips to my bottom lips.
Oh! Three seconds! I smiled with recognition, held up my hand and counted to three with my fingers. She tilted her cupped hands toward me, and I took in a small sip of antelope soup heaven.
She pulled her hands a couple of inches away from my mouth. "Tuwha haat?" again through gritted teeth.
The soup was hot, but pleasantly so, not at all scalding hot, as it was in the pot. I shook my head no. She returned her cupped hands to my lips, tilting the liquid toward me. I finished it greedily, never taking my eyes off hers. She noticed. She raised her chin once, as if to say: drink up.
"Mohrha?" she grated out, pointing at the pot. I nodded. She held up three fingers, and I nodded again in understanding. This serving transpired in complete silence. When I finished that serving, she simply pointed at the pot with a raised eyebrow.
I hesitated. I was hungry, but I needed to go. I shook my head. She looked at me, shrugged, went back to the pot. I thought was was going to get another serving, whether I wanted it or not. I could see the "mother knows best" attitude just dripping off the flannel. But then she surprised me: she grabbed the basket from the table, putting it on the floor near the pot, then reached into the soup with one hand and pulled out an arm's length of meat. She expertly ripped it into four hand-sized chunks, depositing them into the basket. She did this as if she were ripping a piece of paper in half, not as if she were separating muscle from muscle. She moved the basket into the sink.
Rosalie pointed at the basket, then at me, then at her mouth making chewing motions. I nodded, hoping that she meant that for later and not now.
I guess she did mean it for later, because she disappeared out the front door, this time closing it behind her. And then I heard few loud sounds of respiration — she must have been holding her breath the whole time inside the cabin ... and not because of the soup smell, but because of my blood, I bet! — which was followed by a stream of rather unpleasant verbiage. It was quiet; I don't think it was meant for my ears, but after the monastic silence in the cabin, her quiet voice was almost deafening: melodious and ringing. And angry. Something to the effect of "I'm never going to wash this stench off of me! Never!" I felt rather small for being so weak and helpless that I put her through something so obviously odious to her.
She then marched back in, closing the door with her shoulder, and walked up to the stove. She rested her cupped hands on the stove top for a minute. I winced and looked away. Then I jumped in my seat: she was right in front of me, cupped hands pressing against my lower lip.
I was afraid to look at the damage done to her hands. Were vampires lepers? It looked like she felt absolutely nothing as she cooked her own hands on the stove. Then all my thoughts were obliterated: cool liquid slid down my throat.
When you're thirsty, there is nothing in the world that tastes like water does ... sweet and life-giving. And this cool water seemed to reanimate every cell in my parched being. I almost whimpered in relief. I finished it off. She walked out again, coming right back in nearly the same instant. She didn't even ask, verbally or not, whether I wanted more. I saw that she had snow in her cupped hands as she placed them on the stove. I watched the snow melt in her hands. I watched her hands ... they didn't melt.
She came over to me, and I drank the water down again as quickly as I could. I looked at her with pleading eyes. "Mohrh?" she asked. I nodded. Out she went again. I had two more "cups". After the fourth "cup" of water, I pointed at the door, dropping my eyes and blushing again. I saw as I peeked at her that she nodded. She took my hand as we walked to the door. She opened it, and I looked outside dubiously. She had on those nice leather boots. I had on woolen socks. While I was wondering what to do, I found myself instantly cradled in her arms, flying across the forest floor.
I remembered that I had forgotten to check the little mirror by the sink when she put the basket of meat there. Well, here was the perfect time for the other check. As casually as I could, I rested my head against her chest. That wasn't unnatural, was it? I listened intently.
No sounds of breathing.
I pressed my head as hard as I could against her chest where her heart should be.
No sound of heartbeat. No moving internal pump that should have been moving blood throughout her cold, hard, and perfect body.
I dared to look up to her face, but I guess we had arrived, as I found myself in motion, dropping from her grasp into a standing position beside a small shed with a crescent moon on it door. The outhouse. The pail of embers sat adjacent to the building next to a pail of water. She opened the door. It was dark inside, of course, but it was definitely more than your one-seater crapper. It had two seats separated by a fold-up flap urinal.
The previous owners, besides being a bit on the well-to-do side, also had a sense of humor. The urinal had been stenciled: "Pee in here" and the seats had stenciling behind them: "Poop here." I lifted one of the seats. It had a cloth cover. Wow! They went all out. I looked closer. The cloth was flannel. Red and black flannel. It looked like it was new.
Just then Rosalie opened the door and walked in with the pail of water, she then reached outside and grabbed the pail of embers, closed the door, plunging us in near darkness, and poured the embers into the water pail. Steam hissed ferociously, filling the room, and then heating it.
That's Rosalie: the outhouse's central heating expert. Well, that was actually pretty considerate of her.
There seemed to be at least one ember left in the ember pail, because she took it out and touched it to the wall. Light brightened the outhouse as the candle I had not seen before flared to life.
"Thanks!" I said before I remembered 'no talking' rule, and then I cringed, waiting for her to bite my head off. But she just nodded. I guess the rule really was 'no talking if you're expecting a verbal response' rule.
"Ummm, well." I said. I set my rag on the urinal flap and pulled up my sweater, bending to sit down. Rosalie's hands grabbed my wrists, and she lowered me carefully onto the seat. I guessed her motive: sitting on a flannel toilet seat could be slippery work. When I was fully seated, I moved to extract my arms, but she wouldn't let my wrists go.
I tried to reassure her: "It's okay. I'm not going to fall in; I can support my own weight, you know."
But she wasn't buying it. She shook her head no and gasped "hrypertermiah."
Oh, yeah. I suppose hypothermia could sap the strength out of your body. Also the fact that the extent of my activity today included crawling to the door and sitting at the table eating biscuits and being "spoon"-fed soup and water. I guess I didn't have much to judge if I could support myself.
"Well, at least, could you please look away?" I pleaded. I have no memory of anyone helping me go, on top of which this was a rather sensitive time for me anyway, and I was extremely embarrassed already.
She didn't even roll her eyes; she just looked away. I breathed out a sigh of relief, "Thanks."
After a while, where I did actually follow the instructions behind me, I finished and said, "Um, okay, I'm done." Rosalie transferred my left hand to my right, encircling them both in her left, and with her right she brought the water pail in front of my hands.
"Tooh haat?" she asked again. I looked at her quizzically. I wasn't supposed to drink ember-filled water, was I? Then she dunked her hand into the pail, and motioned with her eyes to my hands and to the water.
Oh! She wanted me to wash my hands. I put a tentative finger into the water. It wasn't hot, it was just warm, so I put both hands in, "Nah, it's great; it's just warm."
She shook her head at me. Huh? She then wrapped her left hand around my back and under my arms, leaning me back, and then, with her right hand picked up the pail and then poured a bit just below my stomach between my legs.
I had never had this done to me before. This must be a big city East Coast thing. It felt good, like taking a bath, but I couldn't look anywhere. My eyes shifted from place to place, not being able to rest on anything even for a second. Fancy that, a Montana girl being ashamed of getting washed. Well, yeah! You've got a problem with that? I knew that emotions were running rather high if I could get angry at my own internal monologue.
She moved the pail away and then leaned me forward.
And kept leaning me forward. My head was almost between my knees, when I felt water on my backside and yelped in shock of that. Then wet paper rubbed me back there. Then more water. I was too far gone to know how to react now. Way, way, way too far gone.
She stood me up. Can this be over now, please? Not quite: she had a soft-looking white cloth in her hand. She made rubbing motions with it in front of the crotch of her pants and then her backside and handed it to me. I toweled off the remaining water. There was a couple of red dots on the cloth now, so I put it on the urinal beside my old rag. I didn't think she would want me to use it again later. I didn't know the exact extent of her sensitivity to my blood, but it appeared she was very sensitive. Maybe a few dots were too much? I wasn't going to risk guessing wrong.
Rosalie reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a pair of cotton panties, from another pocket came a pad. I hadn't seen her pack these items for me, but somehow she had, because she had known I would need them, even though she, apparently, did not. Well, not the pad, at least. I wondered when her last period was. I was betting vampires didn't release their own blood voluntarily. I wondered if she remembered what having a period felt like. And for all this, she still remembered to get me those things. I looked at her, awestruck. She was taking care of me.
Unbidden, tears began to spill out of my eyes. Rosalie seemed impatient, however, tsking and shaking the articles in front of me, so I took them, putting them on. As I was doing so, bent over, putting on the panties one leg at a time, pad in place, I whispered very clearly: "Thank you. You are being so kind to me."
I stood again and regarded Rosalie. She appraised me for a moment, dispassionately, then nodded. She picked up my old rag and the white cloth, and tied them together in a series of knots that made them look rather like a rope ball. There was a large bucket in the corner of the outhouse; it looked like a 55-gallon drum. She opened the lid and scooped out a white, fine powder. It smelled sweet and sour: lime. She opened the seat where I was sitting and poured in the powder. The smell of sweetness filled the enclosed area. It had nothing on her scent: in her proximity to me I could detect just the slightest taste of honeysuckle and rose again. It made the lime smell sharp and bitter by comparison.
She then extinguished the candle with her fingers. She opened the door and picked me up with her right arm. Her scent became strong now. It smelled like home: not like the house where I had just come from a day — two days? three days? — ago, the Swan residence, but like going home or coming home or being home — safe, happy, at peace. Her scent had that kind of lulling affect on me, enveloping and comforting me.
She stepped outside, and with her left arm, she casually flicked the rope ball perpendicular to the path we had taken. The ball flew up, up, up into the sky and then disappeared beyond the tree tops. She stood still, listening. Seconds later, I heard a nothing sound of "plop" in the distance, and I imagined the rope ball hitting water. I wondered if that water was the Belle Fourche she had mentioned before that I had fallen into; I was desperate for some way to get my bearings. I wasn't a local geography expert, however, I had never heard of the Belle Fourche before. We were most likely very far from Ekalaka.
Satisfied that my recently dirtied "cloths" were properly disposed, Rosalie shifted me to the cradle position between her arms, and we sped off. I had a couple of seconds before we got back to the cabin, so I said it.
"You're being so kind ... for a vampire."
The world spun so fast that I didn't know up from down anymore, and I felt myself slam into something. Crunch! Oh! That was me hitting the snow. I rolled over twice before coming to a stop face down in it. Shocked from the cold and disoriented from the spinning I quickly lifted my head and looked around.
I wish I hadn't.
Chapter End Notes:
Both Bram Stoker's Dracula and J. Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla are in the public domain. You can obtain a copy to read from, e.g., the website Project Gutenberg.