The Road Less Traveled
The rain had just turned to snow as we drove along the mountain road in Washington on that January day. Although I should've been used to them by now, the winding, hillside roads still made me nervous. We'd been traveling for a few days and were glad to be heading home. Sunny California would be a welcome sight after all the cold. Thankfully, Scott was glad to do most of the driving. The fifteen-passenger van we rented could be hard to control in bad weather. It would be getting dark in about an hour, and our five children were getting restless.
"Are we going to stop soon?"
"I need to use the bathroom!"
My head fell back against the seat as I groaned. Family trips were supposed to make good memories. That was only true if you managed to block out the fighting, the carsickness, and the obscene amounts of money spent on eating out. Then there was the gas…
Quit being stupid! I chided myself. He's finally home, and we are all together! Someday the children will be grown and gone, and you'll miss stuff like this. While true, a fresh round of mayhem made me question that last thought. We'd hoped having such a large vehicle would give the children enough room to keep them happy. Not a chance.
"She's touching me!"
"He hit me first!"
"Give me back my car!"
"Quiet down, please." I huffed loudly, turning to face our brood. "Daddy will stop as soon as he can. There isn't a place to pull over right now." Feeling irritated at having to say the same thing twice in the past fifteen minutes, I drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly—one of my coping mechanisms. "Everyone is going to have to be patient, okay?"
Turning back around, I glanced at my husband. He'd been too quiet for a while. "The natives are getting restless," I warned. He ignored me. How annoying. "We should've eaten in Forks instead of just getting gas. That little diner looked like a good place." Still nothing. "If we don't feed them soon, we may have a mutiny on our hands."
He smiled a little but kept his eyes on the road. At least I knew he heard me. Scott took things in stride most of the time. Often people thought my husband was unobservant or cold, but they were wrong. He just chose to overlook some things that other people—like his wife—got upset about. When you've spent two tours in the Middle East, seeing the horrors of war and innocents living in abject poverty, you tend to let the "little things"—like a van full of whining children—not bother you so easily.
When asked about his military service, Scott always pointed out that he was in the reserves—as if it somehow made his service less important. We never lived on a base, and when he wasn't deployed, his service was limited to one weekend a month plus two weeks during the summer. Still, he was a military man through and through, like his father and grandfather before him. In the end, it doesn't matter if you are full-time or in the reserves. When you're deployed, you're still gone. Your family still struggles while you're away, and the enemy still wants to send you home in a box. Scott's recent fourteen-month deployment to Afghanistan had taken its toll on all of us.
This trip was our first getaway since his homecoming. An out-of-state ski trip had been Scott's idea. We really had enjoyed ourselves, and it had been great to get away from the pressures of home. Our family needed the time to reconnect as Scott slipped back into his place. Now that our trip was almost done, I was anxious to sleep in my own bed. It would finally be a warm bed again with my husband in it.
Thinking of a warm bed, I ran my gaze over him. His dark blonde hair was still cut in a "high and tight" as the Marines called it. I knew, from his last deployment, that it would be a while before he grew it out, but he'd never let it get as long as it was back in high school. Really, it wasn't that long back then, but I had a lot more to run my fingers through.
His strong arms flexed as he tightened his hands around the wheel, and I appreciated the fact that he was in good shape. True, he wasn't a teenager anymore, but neither was I. We were both only two short years away from the big four zero. I had put on more weight over the years than he had. Having five children tends to do that.
My favorite thing about my husband's looks had always been his eyes. The perfect blend of green and brown streaks, his hazel eyes were the first thing I noticed about him when we met. Even after all the time we had been together, those eyes looking deeply into mine still made it hard to breathe.
Letting my gaze run over the rest of his 5'10" frame, I had to take a breath to calm myself. Sharing a hotel room with the children had been good for family bonding, yet it had put a damper on our adult time. I never really liked big, bulky guys. Scott had a nice, lean build, so while his muscles were not large they sure were strong…
Calm yourself, Diane!
Turning my head back to the window, I took a few breaths. Working myself up tonight would do no good, since our plan was to find a place to stay in Oregon. I mentally prepared myself for one last night sharing a hotel room with our children.
Oh, but once we get home…
Down girl! Get a grip!
Hearing his sigh, I looked at my husband. My silent husband, I'd noticed.
"Why so quiet, Gunnery Sergeant Landrum?" I asked playfully.
He shrugged, scowling straight ahead.
"What's wrong, honey?"
"The road's pretty icy. We need to find a place to spend the night in the next town instead of waiting until we get to Oregon. The sooner we get off the road the better." He didn't usually worry about the road conditions, so I was immediately on edge.
"Do you want to head back to Forks or just stop at the next town?"
"Next town, I guess," he murmured. "It'd just waste time to backtrack." His eyes didn't leave the road.
I turned back to the children, about to ask them for quiet yet again…
Scott grunted. "Stupid truck."
By the time I turned to look, headlights were flying past us. A truck came around the curve driving just over the center line, forcing Scott to swerve over the edge of the road.
That's when we hit the ice.
Without warning, we were sliding.
My eyes froze on my husband; I watched him grimace with effort as tried to control the van. The tires didn't squeal. For a moment, there was no sound as the ice kept our tires from touching the pavement.
For just a few heartbeats, all was silent.
The ice ended, and noise erupted around us. Our tires found the road once again, screeching loudly. The van swerved as Scott fought for control. The crunching of glass joined the horrific symphony as our van tipped over and slammed to the ground. Something crashed into my shoulder and arm; I cried out in pain. The van began to skid and slide on its side—my side. My ears rang because the noise was so loud—not just one noise but many. Screaming…we were all screaming. The pops of metal twisting and breaking. The crash of glass giving way. It seemed as if we would slide forever.
The van came to a standstill. As quickly as the noise around us started, it stopped.
My vision blurred and faded to black.
"Diane? Diane!" I could hear my husband, but he sounded far away.
"Diane, look at me!" My eyes were open, and everything looked fuzzy.
"Diane, look at me!" I knew it was Scott calling to me. I couldn't focus. Ouch. My head hurt. I reached up to touch it.
"Don't move!" Scott ordered. "Don't move. Just…just look at me."
I turned my head to my husband's voice. When my eyes finally focused, I could see the look of horror on his face.
"Diane, listen to me very carefully." His voice was tight and controlled. "Your seat belt gave out. You're lying on the door."
Struggling to get a grasp on my surroundings, I stared at my husband. I couldn't think clearly. What would cause the look of panic on his face? If the van was on its side then my laying on the door wouldn't be such a bad thing. The van was on the road, so I could just stand up and climb out on his side.
Then it hit me—there was no road on the other side of my door.
"Don't look!" Scott commanded.
I couldn't help myself. A turn of my head was all it took to confirm my fears. As I looked out of the window I was lying on, all I could see was ground—a long way down. We had skidded over the edge of the cliff—just enough for my door to be exposed. Without my seat belt to hold me, the only thing between me and the ground below was my door and the window in it. I was laying half on the glass and half on the door itself. The next thing I heard made me turn back to my husband in silent terror.
The glass was cracking.
"Don't move." His eyes locked onto mine. "I want you to very slowly reach up with your left hand so I can pull you up to me."
As I tried to obey sharp, piercing pains jolted me.
"My arm…It's broken," I whimpered. "I can't move it."
"Don't panic." His voice was smooth now as he tried to calm me. "Try your right arm. Just move as slowly as you can."
As I very slowly turned to reach out to him, the cracking of glass made me freeze. My eyes, still locked on my husband, saw his grow wider when the sound of groaning metal erupted beneath me.
The door was giving out.
A face appeared in the window behind my husband. "My name is Dr. Cullen," he said as his eyes swept the inside of the van. They came to rest on me. I could see that he wanted to help me.
I had other ideas.
Ever since the van came to a halt my mind never left my children. I could hear them crying, groaning, and talking to each other. Were they hurt? How badly? I had no idea.
"We have five children in the back!" I shouted. "Get them out first!"
Scott's eyes never left mine. He was calculating, trying to figure out the best way to help me. "Yeah. Get them out first."
Dr. Cullen's face disappeared from view. Just a few seconds later the doors at the back of the van opened. How did he get back there so fast? The doors protested loudly as if they were being pried apart.
Scott looked back at our precious, frightened children. "This is Dr. Cullen," he said in his authoritative daddy voice. "He's going to help you out of the van and get you to a safe place. Go with him and do what he tells you."
"Daddy, your head's bleeding!"
"Is Mom OK?"
"You're coming, too, right?"
"Everyone quiet," my husband calmly ordered. "Just go with the doctor. I'm going to help your mother. We'll be out as soon as we can."
"Hello, children," Dr. Cullen said softly, his voice calm and soothing. "Everyone slowly come towards me. You older girls be sure to help the little ones next to you. That's right. Move slowly now."
All of this took only a few minutes. For those few minutes, I was completely distracted from the danger I was in. A sigh of relief came from my chest because I knew my children were going to be taken care of. That relief came to a halt when the door groaned again.
"Reach for me, sweetheart," Scott pleaded. He gripped the steering wheel as he stretched his free hand towards me. His eyes fixed on mine as if he was trying to lift my body to him with his mind.
I continued to twist my shoulder towards him again. Soon a loud grinding sound came from the door below me, and it dropped an inch. A scream jumped out of my throat. "I can't reach you!"
Scott's hand moved to the latch of his seat belt.
"No!" I yelled. "Don't you do it! I'll try again! You stay there!"
I lurched forward to prove my point. My only thought was to stop him from unlatching his seat belt.
The van door screeched and popped open with a bang. As I dropped, I twisted and grabbed the failed seat belt with my right hand. My useless left arm crashed to the side of my body, sending a wave of pain and adrenaline through me.
"DIANE!" Scott screamed. "HANG ON!" In a flash, he wrapped his arm around his seat belt several times and pressed the latch. He fell a bit, and then his arm bore his weight. He reached toward me with a look of desperation. Latching onto my hand where it clutched the failed seat belt, he gripped tightly and pulled.
It was no use.
My hand was covered in blood. I was slipping…the seat belt that was my lifeline…slipping through my fingers.
He couldn't save me. I had to save him.
"Go back!" I shouted. My hand slipped an inch. "I'm going to fall! You get out of this van right now!"
"No! I'm not going anywhere without you!"
Dr. Cullen's face came into view again. "Your children are sa–" His words choked off in a gasp as he took in what was happening.
"Grab him please!" I begged Dr. Cullen. My hand slipped again—I couldn't hold on much longer. This was it. I knew I wouldn't survive the fall. I was going to die. There was only a moment to look into my husband's eyes one last time. "I love you so much," I whispered. "You get out of this van and take care of them."
The last bit of seat belt slipped through my fingers.
As I fell from the van, I saw Scott reach out for me, instinctively, letting go of his lifeline. More terror rushed over me as I realized that he was falling, too. I tried to keep my eyes on him, but the wind whipped us around like rag dolls. It seemed like we fell for hours. Screams erupted from me unabashedly. Scott was screaming, too. We both knew the ground was coming up fast, bringing with it pain and death.
When I hit the rocky earth, I felt the sharp, stabbing pains of breaking bones and splitting skin. The impact forced the breath out of my lungs. Even as I bounced and landed again, the lack of air made it impossible to scream as pain consumed my body.
Everything went silent.
Somehow, I managed to open my eyes. "Scott?" I gasped. "Where are you?"
"I'm here." He was dragging himself towards me. Blood streamed from his head as he pulled himself along by his arms. His face told me every movement caused him excruciating pain. Still, he was determined to be near me.
In an effort to get to him, I tried to move. Pain rocked through my body and I screamed.
"Stay still. I'm coming."
Slowly, painfully, he made his way to me. As he did, I looked down at myself. Both of my legs and my left arm were twisted in disturbing ways, obviously broken. Any movement caused ripping pangs of agony. It hurt to breathe.
Scott made his way to my side and lay down with his face inches from mine. A few moments of wordless communication passed between us. We both knew what neither of us wanted to say.
We were dying.
Both of us–dying. Our children, up on the road, were about to be orphans.
I broke the silence. "I love you."
"I love you."
"There won't be much left after the house is sold. What will happen to them?"
Scott reached over and stroked my face with his fingertips. "That's in the Lord's hands. There's nothing more we can do for them now."
It hurt to talk, but I wasn't about to waste these final moments. "Scott, you know what?"
"What, sweetheart?" he asked softly.
I was gasping hard now. The pain was fading as my body began to shut down. "I wish we had…more time together. We had…twenty years…but it was just…not enough. I wanted…many more years…with you."
He stroked my face again. "I feel the same way," he whispered. "Many more years would have been wonderful."
Suddenly, impossibly, Dr. Cullen appeared. My mind couldn't comprehend how he got to us. His face was grave as he silently looked us over; his expression confirmed that we were beyond saving. He seemed to be puzzling over something for a long moment. Then his face smoothed, and he spoke calmly. "Did you really mean what you've just said?"
How did he hear us?
"What?" my husband asked.
Dr. Cullen looked us in the eyes, in turns, as he spoke. "When you said you wished you had more time together. You both wished for 'many more years.' Did you mean that?"
My husband replied fiercely. "Yes, with all my heart. She's the love of my life. The twenty years we had are just not enough."
Nodding in understanding, Dr. Cullen's eyes went to me. I wanted to say more, but my strength was failing me, so I whispered, "Yes."
Dr. Cullen paused for a minute. Then he began to speak fervently, his words picking up speed, as if he had more to say than time to say it. "I have a way to give you those many years. There is no time to explain fully. You are dying so I must act quickly. Your human life is over, but I can offer you a life after it that will let you be together. There will also be a way to look after your children—to be sure they will be well cared for."
As he spoke I had the time to really look at this stranger who had shown up to help us. His eyes were…yellow? His skin was pale white. My stomach lurched as I realized this man was not, well, human. How was that possible? What was he?
My husband and I looked at each other and back at him.
"What–exactly–do you mean?" Scott asked cautiously.
"There is no harm in telling you since you will not live much longer if you decline my offer." He drew in a deep breath and slowly answered. "I am a vampire."
I stared at him with shock. I didn't want to, but…I believed him.
My mind went to a black, locked-away place, as if it were a real room deep inside. I hadn't opened that dark door in years. What if I had been right back then? Wait just a minute! My brain was screaming at me. It can't be! All this time I thought…
He looks like…
But the eyes…
Vampires are real?
Every vampire book and movie I knew flooded my thoughts. Then it hit me. "You want us to kill people just so we can live? No! We can't do that!"
"No." Dr. Cullen shook he head. "We do not kill people. We hunt animals." I gasped for air and then convulsed with pain. Dr. Cullen's eyes tightened. "I am sorry to press you, but you will not live much longer. You will have to decide now."
I really can't tell you everything that ran through my mind because I don't know. My thoughts came quickly: More time with Scott. More time with my children. How would that work? We wouldn't have to kill people?
My mind stopped racing when my gaze drifted to my husband. His face was smooth. His mind decided. He spoke with a clear, firm voice as he looked deep into my eyes. "If it means more time with you, I'd walk through fire. I say yes, but we must agree. We either do this together, or we both die right here."
I looked up at the vampire. My mind never thought to fear him because his yellow eyes were kind. "Yes, together," I whispered.
Dr. Cullen nodded then was very still for a moment, deep in thought. He reached in to his pocket and produced a cell phone. "I need you right away. Bring one of your brothers." Then he spoke so low and fast that I really didn't catch much more. In less than a minute, the phone was put away.
The grave look was still on Dr. Cullen's face as he spoke to us again. "This is going to be very painful. I am sorry, there is no other way. It will be the worst pain that you will ever know. Yet the pain will not last forever."
My small laugh seemed to surprise him as I choked out, "I'm not feeling all that great now." He chuckled once at that, but there was no humor in it. I sucked in a ragged breath and continued. "Just promise me that Scott and I will stay together. I can get through anything if I know he's near me."
"You have my word," Dr. Cullen promised. He leaned in closer. "I am going to have to bite you now."
My body automatically tensed.
"I am going to have to bite several times, in fact. I am very sorry about that. But, I need to get as much venom into your bodies as possible because of the extent of your injuries. The venom will heal your bodies as it changes you." He could plainly see my panic. "Please trust me. I will not be killing you, but it will feel like I am. Are you both ready?"
Scott and I looked in each other's eyes. We both read fear in the other—fear mixed with determination.
"Ready, Dr. Cullen," Scott said in a firm voice.
"Please, call me Carlisle."
"Ready, Carlisle," I whispered, unable to say more.
"All right, I am going to have to start with you, Diane. You are fading quickly. Although you will be in a great deal of pain, it is important that you are as quiet as possible until I can move you. My wife is up on the road with your children. Emergency crews will be here shortly, and they must not find us. Do you understand?"
We both nodded.
His icy fingers brushed the hair away from my neck. Fear welled up in me. Seeking my usual safe haven, I locked my eyes on Scott. I wanted to hold his hand, but my body wouldn't move.
"I love you," he whispered
"I love you," I replied softly.
Razor sharp teeth slicing into my neck cut off that thought. All I could hear was my gasping as the bite turned into a searing pain. I used all the strength I had left to hold in the scream that tried to escape. His teeth dug into me again and again along my arms and legs. I kept my gaze on Scott as long as I could. His eyes were full of horror as he watched what was happening to me then they glazed over in pain when Carlisle bit into his neck.
Two voices appeared out of nowhere. I couldn't turn to see who they came from.
"Carlisle, what is going on? What have you done?" The first voice was shocked and angry.
"I will explain it all later," Carlisle replied. "I have to get back up there. Take them home."
"Well, this is…interesting," the second voice replied slowly.
Who were they? What did they mean? I couldn't make sense of these voices. The burning that started at each bite spread through my entire body. All I could think about was staying quiet. I closed my eyes and curled into a ball—as much as I could—and I tried to hold the screams in.
Someone lifted me. I thrashed against the arms in panic as fresh waves of fire shot through me. Were they taking me away from my husband? The arms clenched tighter.
"Don't struggle. Be still." It was the angry voice. I was in so much pain, all I could do was obey. The next thing I knew, I was being put down on something cold and hard. Wondering where I was distracted me from concentrating on being silent, and I cried out.
"You must be quiet!" The angry voice ordered.
My eyes squeezed tighter as I reined in my screams again.
I heard movement next to me. My eyes opened just long enough to see that it was Scott. He too was curled into a tight ball. As much as my body hurt, my mind was glad that I was beside my husband again.
"Okay, guys," the second voice began—deep and full. "The ride's going to be bumpy till we get back on the road. Hang in there."
Doors closed near my feet. Other doors opened and closed farther away. Even with all of the pain, my mind struggled to grasp my surroundings. If I opened my eyes, could I keep quiet?
I had to look.
We were in a van, lying on the floor. As the van started to move and bounce, it became harder to be quiet. I groaned but managed not to scream. Still trying to make sense of where we were, I heard the two voices talking from the front seats. I focused so I could listen.
"Roll down the windows," the deep voice whispered, "It'll help with the smell."
It was silent for a few moments.
"This is insane!" The angry voice spat out. "It's too great a risk. We don't know these people! Strangers! Random strangers!" There was a tone of disgust mixed in with the anger. "Now Carlisle wants to bring them into our home? Insanity! I don't like this at all."
"Calm down, Edward," the deep voice said. "We were all strangers at first, right? Carlisle knows what he's doing." The deep voice was completely calm. "Don't get so worked up. Carlisle said he would explain everything."
"Emmett, do you not see the danger in this foolishness? The danger this poses to our family?"
Emmett huffed. "Carlisle said to take them home and keep them safe. So that's exactly what we're gonna do. Hey, he looks pretty strong. Cool. Hope he likes to wrestle."
Edward sighed. "You are absurd. Of course I'll do as he asks. I still say this is madness."
Fear mixed with the pain inside of me. Where were they taking us? Had we just made a huge mistake? What did we really know about these people…these vampires? My mind started to spin again as the fear of the unknown grew. Soon all thoughts were cut off as the burn grew hotter. My mental energy was spent. I couldn't listen anymore. I couldn't think. The burning, searing, pain pulled me under as I held in the screaming. Small grunts and moans came out anyway. I knew I couldn't be this quiet for long. The only other sound I that could still hear was Scott gasping at my side.
©2011 Midnight Ariel
Beta House: Project Team Beta
Betas: SqueakyZorro & Evil Pumpkin
2012 Edit beta: SqueakyZorro
A big thanks to my betas. I have studied up on my comma rules. Your creative advise was most helpful. If you are a writer, you need a beta. If you need a beta, Project Team Beta is the place to go to find a good one.
Graphic Artists: SunRay16
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