Title: Of Teeth and Bone
Pen Name: faite-comme-moi
An entry for the An Exploration of the Senses Contest
Warning: some may consider aspects of this story graphically violent.
SMeyer owns all things Twilight.
It is a commonly held belief that smell is the strongest memory trigger. In my experience, however, a different sense is a more powerful stimulant, far surpassing even scent. Although, it may be that I am peculiar in this experience.
Let me rephrase that; it may be another way in which I am peculiar.
Positioned as I am in this clearing near our home, awash with the punch of adrenaline mixed with dozens of scents into a dizzying olfactory cocktail, it isn't until the young one's shoulder dislocates with a resounding POP that memory begins to fill me like rice into a Bell jar. The noise signals the loss of vacuum normally present when this large ball lies within its socket. A torrent of memory erupts, not from the sound or smells, but from the ricocheting vibration traveling up my hand to wrist to brain. Memory steals my family and our battle to replace it with other, too similar battles. Too many battles to process all at once.
One battle, though, is all too recognizable; it was the first one I experienced after joining General Lee's army.
This memory delivers me to face a Union soldier slightly younger than myself. I remember being shocked at the time to notice his age since I had lied about my own age in my haste to enlist. I judged the boy, I could neither think of him as man nor soldier, to be around 15 years old. His face was ghastly grey with sweat-saturated dust, the stench of death and fear blanketing us as thoroughly as the morning fog. Echoing screams surrounded us, the fog-obscured battlefield adding an eerie resonance to the cries. The boy's terror was palpable as his eyes darted between my face and rifle. I remember his eyes appeared to consider his odds before moving to strike.
I had participated in many petty skirmishes in my 30 days of war but he was my first intimate battle. Suddenly overcome by the wild fear that only hunger and exhaustion can induce, my pre-emptive lunge toward the boy went wide of my intended target, finding purchase in his shoulder merely by the narrowest accident. My only lucid feeling was desperation, a reckless compulsion to remove my bayonet and lunge again before he could recover sufficiently to do so to me. The bayonet must have become entangled in cartilage because I could not remove it readily, kindling my escalating panic. I was forced to torque my rifle, driving my bayonet to spiral deeper before yanking it toward me until it cleared its confines. As I finally freed the bayonet of its encumbrance, I felt, more than heard, the jarring POP of separation. Its foul reverberations traveled the length of my rifle to take permanent residence in my hands.
I was forced to use my bayonet yet again, my rifle having chosen this moment to jam, thrusting until his abdomen had been jagged open by my hand. I have wondered if fear made his muscles more resilient, the consequence of tension embedded in deep tissue, for his muscles gave fair resistance. Once I was certain that he posed no further threat, my chest heaved spasmodically, the full import of my effort becoming clear to me. Tears mingled with dust and sweat and I was grateful for the lingering fog.
I have scoured war biographies and documentaries, scrutinized battle details recounted by scores of returning soldiers. None describe the sort of memory my hands possess, of the lingering feeling left by my rifle long after the boy lay sprawled in a heap on the blood-soaked field.
Notwithstanding the abundant sensory features, sight and smell are secondary features in this remembrance. Despite the hundred odd years since that conflict, my hands continue to possess the tactile memory of my weapon piercing the boy's shoulder, despoiling his flesh. This is the recollection, remarkably vivid for a human memory, awakened by our current battle.
How ironic that one of my last remaining human memories is so horrific.
Hearing my wife's urgent call of, "Jasper, to your right," delivers me from my enforced reverie to the battle at hand. Grabbing the faceless vampire at my side, I draw him forward, disrupting his balance to throw him easily to the ground. In less than a breath, my teeth are at his throat, sensing the stone cold skin lacerating beneath me. This time I am unsurprised when memory steals my awareness of the here and now once again while my body continues to fight instinctively.
It was time again for us to reduce our ranks and Peter and I have had a heated argument. This was the latest in a series of recent disagreements between us and I am beginning to tire of his petulant mood.
"Jasper, I don't know how much longer I can do this. This constant fighting places a heavy enough strain on my mind but destroying the lives we created, the people we fight beside every day, all at the vagary of Maria's whims, are more than I can continue to bear."
Peter's grimace had become a constant in my life, his normally amiable nature all but absent these days. His pervasive sorrow would have been evident even without my empathic ability, the torment apparent in his mannerisms.
Clasping his shoulder fraternally, I had forced a consoling tone to my voice.
"Brother, you are overtired and thinking too much. You need to find a distraction that will buffer your mind from this anxiety. Nothing good has ever come from allowing one's mind to run away with itself."
While I counseled Peter to cease resisting our lot, I harbored my own secret torment. No one, not even this friend who was closer than kin, my only affection in this lonely existence, knew the extent of my influence over others. Or, more important to the issue at hand, their influence over me.
Our newly obsolete yearling soldiers projected a complex mix of emotions as they prepared to die their final death at their commander's hand. The acrid stench of fear was a given; even immortals experience fear. Outrage and betrayal are more variable while surprise and rage are incessantly present. Each of these emotions taunted me, exposing my cowardice in continuing to carry out Maria's orders.
Having executed more of my troops than I cared to recall, my dubious experience had taught me that teeth and hands were the most efficiently lethal combination. My dispute with Peter had left me more hopeless than normal over the task before me. Steeling myself against the work to be done, I resolutely re-directed my thoughts away from the emotional debris churning the air as each newborn fought me fiercely, their survival instinct compensating for their diminishing strength. I was ruthlessly methodic, a killing drone, perfunctory and remote until I had laid waste a dozen of my troops.
In the end, however, I was unable to escape the taint of my actions.
While my body was indestructible, it was still susceptible to the ravages of this repetitive killing motion. Both of my jaws became rigid with tension, fear-fraught annihilation having taken residence in the bones and tendons. With every killing bite I inflicted my burden increased. Months of this tension had resulted in a pervasive despair that Peter had unwittingly amplified.
Fighting Victoria's little troop is too eerily similar to my time with Maria. One bite, a single fatality and my awareness stutters like a pebble on a body of water. I'm unnerved by the force of memory my teeth has unleashed. My head roils backward although I have not been touched, my memory a more dangerous opponent than anything currently present in the meadow.
Years of training, however, have regimented my will as thoroughly as my body. This training serves me well, allowing me to direct my focus toward the battle before me. My concentration codifies in the present just as a dark-haired newborn adopts a fighting stance in front of me. Although I execute a feint maneuver, which I should be able to perform with my eyes closed, the newborn's reflexes circumvent my defenses and his teeth imbed in my shoulder.
My howl is of outrage more than pain, although a stinging sensation radiates from the bite. My opponent's venom wars internally with my own, traversing across my chest. Far from impeding me, this bite instead sharpens my focus, providing a focal point to rally my purpose.
This is my family at risk here. In contrast to my innumerable other combat experiences, this battle represents something tangible for me. It provides a motivation stronger than country, territory, or idealism ever had. This discovery reveals how sacred the people gathered in this place are to me. The vehement furor I feel to defend my family is astounding to me. It is now startlingly apparent that these five people are family to me in the truest sense.
Preserving their existence becomes my single-minded goal.
I understand the urgency to protect Alice. This need is a given, as unremarkable as it is unsurprising. More than a wife, Alice has been the entire world to me, the only absolute necessity in my life. The ludicrous truth of my need to protect her is that I know in my deepest self that my protection for Alice is unnecessary. It serves to fulfill my need more than to truly keep her safe. Alice is possibly more dangerous than I am.
My place in this family, my function in their complex dynamic, has never been more meaningful than at this moment. With newfound insight, I can trace our interdependence. Alice's prescience and Edward's telepathy have been unequivocally useful assets. Carlisle's leadership, Esme's tenderness and Emmett's infectious humor are more ephemeral. While my empathic talent has been useful, I have never felt that it provided a significant value. For many years, I had believed my love for Alice to be my only tie to this family. This is where she wanted to be, so here we were. Now, my role as guardian, bestowed by the sum of my decades of violence, uniquely qualifies me to protect them. They are unique among our kind, a more evolved way of life worthy of preserving.
Pride is not a feeling I ever expected to equate with my past. Today, however, I relish that my scar-strewn skin broadcasts a silent warning that I am dangerous. My scars, once a source of shame, project a warning that I can use to my advantage, exploiting the subliminal fear they evoke. Recognizing the comfort my families trust in my skill has brought them, I can now claim pride in my ability. I can feel the circle closing on my past.
Redoubling my efforts against what is left of the newborn army, I propel myself into a confrontation with two vampires.
I have a noble purpose to my existence.