1. Turning Back the Clock
"I'm good darling but I'm not that good. I can give you 22, 24 hours tops."
The Gypsy woman's hovel reeked of six-week-old spoiled milk, rotted intestines, fetid moss, and something approximating burnt three-year-old sweat socks and that was just the décor. The hag herself was a cornucopia of olfactory delights that Edward hoped he would never have to endure again. He held his breath whenever possible.
"Twenty-four hours? That's only a day!"
"Bingo! Handsome and on the ball." She looked at Alice. "Your brother seems to be the whole package don't he? But then we all know he ain't really your brother. Not by blood anyhow." The haggard Gypsy shifted her voluminous girth in her creaking chair. It protested, moaning under her weight. Her expression suggested she knew what was coming next all too well and her eyes flicked back and forth knowingly between Edward and Alice.
Alice looked quickly at Edward. She must have the sight, too .This is dangerous.
Edward nodded. Definitely, on both counts. What the Hell was I thinking? Then he went cold. A fly in an elaborate web. I was thinking about Bella, of course.
"Well, Mr. Perfection what'll it be? Will you be taking the full meal deal now?"
"It's more like a Happy Meal without the toy or the fries, you witch. But you're the only game in town and it's been a long way to get to you."
"Bringing something back from the dead's a tricky business, lover. As you know, it's a lot easier just to make something dead in the first place." Edward shuddered at the word "lover." The woman's thoughts reeked almost as much as her home. He shut them out but only partially. The worst ones seeped in as if through his pores. "I haven't even begun to describe the pain."
"Spare me the details and let's get started already."
"Edward …" Alice stepped forward but he raised a hand and she was immediately still and silent.
"Well there. I'm sure none of us could see that coming." She smiled her filmy grin at Alice. "Looks like you're just along for the ride as usual, girlie. Best steady yourself and get ready to hold him down. We're going to need all your "special" strength."
Alice shuddered. There's still time…
Edward shot her a withering look.
If she noticed, the Gypsy said nothing as she gathered vials and objects together. "Time to take off that expensive shirt and lie down precious. It's gonna be a bumpy ride."
Edward did as she asked and lay back on her mangy couch. Inwardly his skin crawled, outwardly he was sure the couch was already crawling. If he could retch he would have. Every fiber of his being longed to be somewhere, anywhere, else. Bella, Bella, Bella … He chanted the name in his mind like a mantra trying desperately to conjure her scent, a flash of her ebony eyes, a soft swish of her satin locks but it was next to impossible in this pit of Hell. Only the touch of Alice's hand on his arm was reassuring even if it did seem tighter than it should be. He could tell she couldn't see the outcome of anything since they had stepped into this woman's hovel. Somehow the Gypsy must exist in the in between – that strange grey area that sometimes fogged up Alice's foresight. Maybe this woman was like the wolves. But despite how he might feel about the wolves he found it extremely unfair to them to make the comparison.
He was so deeply focused on any detail he could find of Bella it took Edward a full minute to realize the woman was hovering over him, her face dangerously close to his own. He tried not to wince in disgust. But failed.
"She's a lucky girl, that one. Has no real idea of the depths of your devotion exactly. She'd walk through fire herself for you. But from my view she still gets the better deal."
"Enough of the commentary, let's just get this over with."
She smiled that sickening smile he had grown to despise in just the few short minutes he'd known her. "Of course, handsome, but I wouldn't be much of a host if I didn't point out that what you do now, you do at your own risk. No refunds. No exchanges. All sales final."
He heard Alice whimper inside her mind. She hated flying without a net. The blockage was like a concrete wall and it seemed to be giving her a massive headache. "Fine. Do it already."
"Drink this. Then lie back." She proffered a chipped cup.
If he could have ripped out his tastebuds, his throat and a better part of his stomach he would have. The frothy liquid snaked down into his gut like greasy, acidic, acrid fire. It was the foulest, filthiest substance he had ever imbibed. Instantly pain jackknifed into his centre. He hadn't felt anything quite like it since … since he had been changed from human to vampire. He had told Bella once that the pain was something you could never forget. He was sure the memory never dulled with time, never faded. Now he was sure he had been very, very wrong. His throat let out a gargled cry and the cup fell to the floor. He collapsed backward, falling into white hot agony.
He heard the Gypsy's voice from far away chanting. It sounded deeper, harsher, guttural. He felt her fingers tracing lines on his chest. Then he smelt it. His eyes flew open. He could make the woman out and dark, wet symbols on his chest but his vision was blurring from the outsides in little points of light cascading out the edges. "Is that blood?!"
She pushed his head back flat against the mildew cushions, her gnarled hand over his eyes. "Better not to ask. You don't want to now." She resumed the harsh chant.
His back arched as his body writhed with pain. He felt a cold hand on his arm. It fluctuated from too cold to normal and back. Far away he heard something like an animal growl and scream. But it's possible the sound had ripped itself from his throat.
Time fell apart. Images flashed through his mind. His mother. A man in the street. A hospital bed. A doctor, maybe Carlisle. Fever. Nurses. Bite marks. Bella. He held on to Bella. Beautiful Bella.
Biology class. The cafeteria. The meadow. The sweet things rushed by too fast. The pain kept thundering back crashing against him wave after wave. It reached a height and pounded forward. He sought Bella's face in the blur. Held it. Screamed her name. The light was fading. The pain was throbbing. Throbbing.
After a time he was aware of an ice cold hand on his arm. It never moved or changed its pressure. He shivered from the cold of it. His chest burned. His limbs hurt. His heart was beating so fast. His lungs filled and emptied of air almost simultaneously. He could feel the blood pounding in his ears. Wait? The blood?
His eyes snapped open and it was all so dim, so dark, so blurry. Was this the same place?
"Edward?" The voice was like bells on the wind, musical, magical. He looked to the source. She was beautiful and vaguely familiar. Golden brown eyes framed with thick lashes in a creamy white face. Dark, lustrous hair fringed her angelic face. "Edward?"
"Alice? Is that you?" His voice sounded wrong but something about all this seemed recognizable. "What…"
She threw herself around him then hugging him so tight he lost the ability to breathe for a full second. It seemed he needed to breathe quite badly. Strange.
"Oh Edward! I thought you were dead! Really dead! You've been out for three days."
"Three days?!" He was becoming more aware of his surroundings now. It smelled foul but not quite as foul as he remembered. Just sharp and musty. "What the Hell?"
His stomach growled. He thought about one of Bella's steaks. Mushroom ravioli.
"I can't believe it worked."
"What worked?" He wanted food so bad. It felt like it had been a century since he'd had a proper meal. What did a cheeseburger taste like?
"Edward," Alice said slowly. He was getting used to the new magical pitch in her voice. "Edward. You're human again."
He stopped cold.
"And if that miserable witch was right. We don't have much time to get you back to Bella."