My Love Was Weary
Edward A. Masen
HE knelt beside her pillow, in the dead watch of the night,
And he heard her gentle breathing, but her face was still and white,
And on her poor, wan cheek a tear told how the heart can weep,
And through his heart the tremor ran of grief that cannot weep,
And he said, "My love was weary-God bless her! she's asleep."
- from Asleep by William Winter
There were all of two patients at tiny Lake Heights Hospital and, and as Carlisle Cullen had expected, neither of them had needed him for anything. The night's events had almost entirely consisted of Mrs. Jurgen's frequent rings for Greta's assistance to visit the water closet.
He sat in the cramped staff office by himself that early morning, the latest edition of The New England Journal of Medicine open on the desk in front of him, impatient to get home; tonight would be his night off. In a way, the experience of being impatient to get away from work delighted him - it was still so new. Until three years ago, Carlisle would have preferred to be there, even as slow as it was. It was only his work as a physician that had brought meaning to his existence, a way of being useful and needed in the human world. During his centuries of wandering, the dwellings he'd rented or bought weren't much more than places to keep his possessions. There hadn't been any point to spending much time in them.
Things were different now. When there weren't patients that needed tending to, Carlisle's thoughts invariably turned to his current home and to something in it that no home of his had ever contained before: a friend. No doubt the house was filled with music right now - Edward had been playing quite a bit since their last trip to the music shops in Duluth. Perhaps Carlisle would come home to the melodies of Maurice Ravel again.
Soon enough, he thought. It was almost six a.m., and he usually left between six-thirty and seven. The day nurse wouldn't be in to relieve Greta until nine, but Dr. Hoffleitner would arrive soon with his son, who worked as a daytime orderly and whose first daily duty, much to his chagrin, was preparing breakfast. Once they showed up, the staff would outnumber the patients.
The telephone at the reception desk rang just then, and Greta set down her needlepoint to answer it. From the tiny staff office with its door open to the reception area, Carlisle listened, waiting for her to come tell him what he could already hear being said. After several moments he looked up from his reading and moved the curtain by his chair aside, staring out at the blustery darkness of a November morning... sure enough, there was a lone set of headlights in the distance, winding up the road from the harbor.
"Dr. Williamson, that was the harbormaster's office," the willowy nurse came in saying. "They wanted to let us know that Sheriff Tate is bringing in the body of a woman found on the lakeshore."
"That's probably him," he murmured.
Greta ducked down to peer out the window with him, spotting the headlights. "Should I prepare the morgue?"
"Thank you, Greta, but I'll do that. Would you mind getting the forms together?"
It wasn't as if preparing the morgue entailed much, since it was empty and had been for a few weeks. All that was involved was unlocking it, turning on the light and making sure a table and some instruments were ready. It was the only windowless room in the hospital, tucked in at the rear of the building so the deceased could be brought in and out discreetly. By the time the sheriff's paddywagon was nearing the hospital's rear entrance, the morgue was ready and open, and Carlisle was propping open the back doors in the hallway just outside it.
Given who was bringing in the deceased woman and from where, he didn't ready a stretcher, anticipating she'd already be on one. Injuries were frequent enough at Ashland's busy port that the harbormaster's office, among others, was supplied with stretchers and basic medical equipment. In fact, the location of Lake Heights Hospital, Ashland's first, was mostly chosen because of its close proximity to the piers. The most frequent type of emergency patients were men who'd gotten hurt working there, or out on the water. Someone found dead on the shore was unusual, however, especially since there hadn't been any recent reports of vessels lost on the lake.
As the paddywagon rolled to a stop, Carlisle was dismayed to catch the unpleasant odor of a dog, one of many all-too-frequent reminders that he was in impostor in the human world. Dogs were, after all, man's best friend, and like all vampires, Carlisle had yet to meet even one who liked him. Sure enough, there it was, its droopy silhouette hunched between two men in the front of the vehicle – some sort of bloodhound mix, by the look of it, and old. Of course it smelled him too, and started issuing growly, breathy "woofs" that didn't sound particularly brave.
"Quiet, Buster," said the man in passenger seat. "Stay in here, boy."
Knowing the dog would get more agitated if he approached the vehicle, Carlisle stayed put by the hospital doors as the sheriff shut off the engine and got out with his companion, a bearded fisherman wearing heavy rubber gear.
"Good morning," he greeted the men.
"Wish it was," came the sheriff's monotone reply as he and the fisherman both made their way to the back of the wagon. "I'm not bringing you a patient you can fix, I'm afraid. This one's gone."
"Yes, the harbormaster just called to let us know you were coming in," Carlisle replied. "She washed up on shore?"
The sheriff shook his head, flipping through a gigantic key ring with more than fifty keys on it, apparently looking for the one that would unlock the vault-like rear door of his wagon. "She had a bad fall. Leland here found her."
"Actually, it was my dog that found her. There's no way I would'a seen her if he hadn't sniffed her out and started making a fuss."
"Were you out on the water or on shore?"
"The water," the fisherman replied. "I've got a little stream tug, and I was takin' her out when Buster started baying the way he does when something's wrong. I turned my light on shore in the direction he was making a fuss and saw her lying there; could tell right off she was gone, though. There wasn't anywhere decent to land the boat so I had to steam on over to the harbormaster's to use the telephone."
"It's a good thing you spotted her when you did," the sheriff said, glancing up at Carlisle without having found the right key yet. Clearly, it didn't get used much. "By the time I got out out there and Leland showed me where she was, the tide was on the verge of taking her out. She probably never would've been found."
Odd as it seemed, that was probably true. Unless weighed down by something, bodies usually rise to the surface of water, but not so with Superior. The locals always said that the enormous lake seldom gave up her dead, and in the nearly two years that he and Edward had lived in Ashland, they found that was the case. Man or animal, once it slipped under the surface, it didn't come back up.
"Do you know who she is?"
"She's pretty banged up, but I recognized her," Tate replied, at the same time finding the right key. When he used it, the rear door of the wagon groaned upon being swung open. "Her name is– was Sarah Harper. She was the new teacher at the primary school over on Amur. She had two of mine in her class."
The name meant nothing to Carlisle; he hadn't met any of the schoolteachers in town. But at that moment everything changed. Briny lakewater, wool, canvas and blood were among the scents that immediately greeted him when that paddywagon door opened, but underneath them all was the essential fragrance unique to the deceased individual inside. As faint as it was, the rosy, orange-blossom scent was familiar to him, and it did not belong to someone named Sarah Harper.
Is that-? No...
The chances of Esme Platt being in Ashland were remote, and this woman was known by a different name.
It can't be her. It's just someone whose scent is similar.
That's what he kept telling himself while the two men carried out their task with grim faces, carefully extracting a stretcher from the wagon. Carlisle glanced at the dog - it sat unmoving in the front of the wagon, gazing at him warily. Before making eye contact could provoke it, he shifted his sight to the blanket-shrouded figure on the stretcher as the men trundled up the steps. Cautiously, he drew in another breath... now in closer proximity, her scent was no less familiar. If anything, its sweetness was more intense and exact, bringing the image of a sunny girl in a grass-smudged, lacy yellow dress to mind almost palpably. Something almost sickening jolted inside him as it became more certain that he knew the woman who had died.
How could it be?
His first impulse was to stop them and pull the blanket back, but a deeper, more urgent instinct nagged at him that it was more important than ever not to show too much interest.
"It's the room on the left," he said as they got to the entrance, indicating he'd follow them.
And then, as they passed through the door he was propping open, underneath the sound of their shuffling feet and of the wind that rattled dry fall leaves, underneath Buster's subdued growling in the paddywagon, a single, soft pa-thump emanated from the chest region of the covered figure.
Carlisle didn't usually have to concentrate on keeping himself composed, but it took a couple seconds and a deliberate effort to loosen his grip on the door and follow them. He trailed behind the men and the stretcher in silence, counting the seconds as they shuffled into the morgue, and another unfamliar feeling stole into him - suspense. And he didn't know whether he wanted to hear that sound again or not.
His breath stopped.
Could she still be-? Don't get carried away. They're probably just spasms.
He monitored the passing seconds again as the two men settled the stretcher on an exam table.
…three… four… five… s-
Those weren't random, post-mortem muscle twitches. That was a heartbeat – feeble, but regular – and with every soft thump came a swish of blood that amplified her scent. There was no mistaking it, no use denying it; Esme was under that blanket, and she was alive – barely. And not for long.
How could this be?
It had been more than ten years ago, during his time in Columbus, Ohio, that he'd treated Esme for a broken leg. And in the too-brief hours he'd spent in her company, he'd become fond of her. It happened every once in a great while; some unusually interesting human being would drift into his sphere, someone who made his perpetual loneliness more acute as he forced himself to maintain a cool but necessary distance; friendships with human beings were an impossibility. Esme had been one of them, and he hadn't kept quite as cool or distant as he should have. Nothing regrettable, however, as he had been about to leave the region and create what he thought would be permanent distance anyway, which he'd done. But those hours he spent with her were among his most treasured. At sixteen she'd been on the cusp of womanhood, but still a child in so many ways, from her sheltered life on a family farm to the fact that her injury was the result of falling out of a tree. But she'd charmed her way right into a privileged place in his long, flawless memory.
It had been bittersweet, in the years since, to imagine how her life would be progressing. Naturally, it would be a happy life, he'd thought. How could it not be? Someone as artlessly charming and bright as she was, lively, inquisitive, insightful, not to mention so very lovely... few human beings stood a better chance at having a fulfilling life.
As he drew up to the head of the table to begin the exam, it disturbed him to have been so wrong. She would be twenty-six now, and lay before him utterly broken... the last human being whose death he wanted to witness, and not only was that about to happen, it was on his own watch. Or perhaps there was a minuscule chance she could be saved...
"How high was the cliff?" he asked the sheriff.
"I'd say about eighty, ninety feet."
Bracing himself for what he knew he'd see, Carlisle took the blanket draped over her and lowered it gingerly; both of the men took off their hats.
It was easy to see why they thought her dead. Her blue-tinted, mangled face wore the slackened mask of death, her half-open eyes dull and vacant, and Carlisle knew without having to look further that her injuries were fatal. He could already detect the scent of spinal fluid leaking into regions it shouldn't, the telltale sounds of a punctured lung… there had been blood loss from numerous wounds, many of them internal, and who knew how many broken bones, including a shattered cheekbone and dislocated jaw. And there was one other thing her scent told him – principally from the uniquely scented fluid built up in her battered chest region. She'd given birth very recently.
Oh, Esme. What happened to you?
The icy chill of Lake Superior's waters and wind had apparently slowed her biorhythms, inducing a state of semi-hibernation. Her breathing was too infrequent and shallow for the men to detect, and the reduced pulse had drastically slowed her bleeding. The cold was probably the only reason she was still alive, but all it had done was stave off the inevitable.
There was nothing to be done for her... medically.
There was no conscious decision on his part, but the sadness that had started to engulf him stopped encroaching as a plan of action began to take shape. There was so little time, and so much to do. He had to play every card right, and find out as much as he could. Fortunately, the questions he had to ask were routine.
As would be expected, he put on his stethoscope and set the bell over her chest on the still-damp, tattered nightgown she was wearing. At the same time, he rested two fingers against the carotid pulse point at her throat, grateful for the warmth deep below that only he could feel. But he also knew it could seep away and cool as they stood; her heart would give up soon.
He nodded solemnly, taking off the stethoscope. "She's passed on. Any idea how she fell?"
The fisherman shook his head. "I didn't see it happen. She was already lying there when I spotted her."
"About what time was that?"
"I'd say around four."
"Well, given the state of her remains, this probably happened just before then," Carlisle said. "Did you see anything else unusual in the vicinity? Anybody else?"
The fisherman shrugged with a bewildered shake of his head, and then the sheriff spoke up.
"I didn't see anything to indicate foul play, if that's what you're getting at," he said. "She was fairly new here and kept to herself a bit, but she was well-liked at the school, didn't have any enemies. And from the way she was lying there, it was definitely a straight-down drop; not like she'd been pushed. We stopped by the rise she fell from on our way up here and I took a look around. No sign of a struggle. I'm pretty sure it was a suicide."
"Not an accident?"
Tate frowned as he shook his head. "Nah, that's unlikely considering how she's dressed, the time of night she was out there. And she must have been in pretty low spirits. It was common knowledge that she was a widow; her husband came back from the war with mustard gas injuries he never recovered from, and he eventually croaked, but not before she was pregnant. She moved here from Pennsylvania back in August and took the teaching job, had the baby a week or so ago."
"Widow or not, it's rare to hear of a woman taking her own life when she's a new mother."
Sheriff Tate's frown deepened. "That's just it. After we got her into the wagon I stopped by the harbormaster's one last time and phoned the school superintendent to let him know we were taking his new teacher to the morgue, and that the baby might be by itself at the cottage, but Litner said the boy died Friday morning. Crib death. I'm guessing that's the straw that broke this camel's back."
"I see," Carlisle managed to say. "That's a shame."
"That it is. I only met her once, but the girls and the missus always talked about what a nice lady she was. You wouldn't know it to look at her now, but she was a pretty little thing."
Carlisle's jaw tightened. "Is there family to notify?"
Once again, Tate shook his head, this time fishing a piece of notepaper out of an inside coat pocket along with a pair of reading glasses, which he donned and then started to read out hastily scrawled information about "Sarah Harper:" full name, maiden name, birthdate, family…
"Litner said her father passed on while she was a kid, mother and brother died of the flu," he continued. "She didn't list any extended family on her employment contract or talk about friends she might have had, didn't get mail that anyone saw. She was pretty much alone." Tate sighed, folding up the notepaper again and taking off his glasses. "The whole thing's just sad all the way around. I'm going to meet up with him after daybreak, have him let me into the teacher's cottage when he goes in to look after her things. Maybe she left a note."
While the sheriff related this information, Greta came in with a clipboard with several forms, including a death certificate.
"So young," she commented sadly.
"Indeed," Carlisle murmured, drawing the blanket back over Esme's battered head to shield her from being gawked at further, careful to leave a tent of air around her face.
When he took the clipboard from Greta and started to jot down information, Sheriff Tate cleared his throat.
"Um, doc, despite what I just said, I'm planning on ruling it an accident when I file my own report. I think most who knew her will suspect it was a suicide, given the circumstances, but the kids at the school-"
"Say no more," Carlisle replied, exchanging a glance of solemn agreement with the others. "Nothing I write here will conflict with that."
This token of benevolent dishonesty wasn't unheard of when it came to some types of suicides; a sympathetic nod from the living to the deceased, affording the poor soul a little dignity. Carlisle had seen it done before, many times.
And while what he was about to suggest was also common enough, it didn't offer much dignity at all. But it was the best (and only) excuse he could think of to get her out of there in his own custody, fast. This wasn't like it was with Edward, in a large city with people dying by the thousands in an epidemic. There was no way that the disappearance of the only corpse in this place would go uninvestigated, let alone unnoticed.
Just hold on a little longer, Esme.
"Since there's no one to claim her remains, I'll arrange to have her donated to Marquette," he said without looking up from the forms he was filling out.
"Donated?" the fisherman asked.
"To their medical school. It's on our list of facilities in need."
"It's your alma mater, isn't it?" Greta asked, and Carlisle nodded absentmindedly, his attention seemingly on the paperwork.
This was often a routine at morgues when the identity of a corpse was a mystery, or there was no one to claim it. There were plenty of labs that needed cadavers for experimentation and, since it was rare for anyone to donate their remains to science, they were almost always inadequately supplied. Most cadavers in medical school labs were made up of the unknown and the unclaimed, those who had no one to speak for them when they died.
The sheriff had some familiarity with the process, and so did Greta, of course. The fisherman, however, blanched when he realized what Carlisle was saying.
"Is that normal?"
The sheriff nodded. "When there's no one to claim 'em."
"That doesn't seem right."
"I understand your qualms," Carlisle said. "But I assure you, they'll treat her with respect."
But the fisherman was right to have misgivings; Carlisle knew perfectly well that not all medical students treated their deceased human subjects with respect, but that didn't matter right now. He had no intention of handing Esme Platt over to a lab, even if she had been dead, and it was a safe bet that the fisherman would be even more disturbed by what what Carlisle's real plans were.
"I need your name and address for these records, if you would, sir."
"Leland Hooper. 14 Cherry Street."
"Thank you, Mr. Hooper," he said, filling out the last empty spaces on the forms. "Now if you and Sheriff Tate would sign…"
The men took their turns signing where they needed to, officially recording their witness to the passing of Sarah Ann Harper, who was dead on arrival as a result of injuries sustained in an accidental fall, and was to be removed to the medical school at Marquette University...
...and never before had Carlisle been as perturbed by human sluggishness. This kind of impatience wasn't a delight at all. Each pen stroke seemed to take an interminably long time, and he had keep his jaw from clenching when Leland Hooper paused to read every word of the form, ponderously scratching his bearded chin.
All Carlisle wanted was to snatch her up and get her out of there before that sound stopped, and his anxiety was only compounded when he heard the engine of Hoffleitner's car coming up the road.
Don't lose your composure now.
Finally, he got the clipboard back in his hands.
"If you'll excuse me, I'll get the release papers and call Marquette's switchboard to let the head of the department know they're getting a donation," he said calmly. "She'll have to be transported as soon as possible in order to be of use."
"It's a Sunday morning, you know," Sherriff Tate said.
Carlisle nodded. "If they don't have anyone handy to come get her, I'll drive her in."
"That's good of you, doc," the sheriff said with a hint of relief.
"It's no trouble. I happen to have tonight off, and I've been meaning to visit some old friends there anyway."
With that, he left the morgue and strode to the staff office, the distance only sharpening his awareness of that soft, precious, thump… thump…
The others also wandered out of the morgue, lingering in the corridor by the rear doors, their hushed chatter predictable.
"…not looking forward to telling the children…"
"…never met him before. Kind of an odd duck, isn't he?"
Hoffleitner and his son would be walking in in a few moments – any of them could wander within hearing distance, and it would work in his favor if Hoffleitner did just that. After he took the phone's earpiece off the cradle, the latch stayed discreetly depressed under his fingers as he spoke to no one.
"Good morning, operator. Milwaukee, please... Hello, would you please connect me to the switchboard at Marquette University…"
As he went on with the charade, Hoffleitner and his son came in through the front entrance. The boy, still rubbing sleep from his eyes, mumbled a passing hello towards the reception desk without noticing it was vacant, and lurched down the hospital's corridor towards the laundry and kitchen facilities.
"I need to speak with Dr. Fisk, please… I know it's early yet, but if you would please ring his residence… I should speak with him directly…"
Carlisle blocked the view of the telephone he was speaking into by keeping his back to Hoffleitner, who came into the office shedding his coat and hat.
"…he won't mind under the circumstances… thank you… Good morning, doctor. Carl Williamson here… it's been a while, I know… well, I have a donation for you; a deceased young woman brought in this morning… massive injuries sustained in a fall… less than three hours ago… I'm bringing her in myself, actually. I thought it would be a good chance to catch up… looking forward to it. How's the weather in Milwaukee today...? Ah, well, if I stay ahead of the rain coming in up here I should get there by four or so… which entrance…? I understand… see you then..."
"That's an odd wind out there this morning," Hoffleitner commented once Carlisle hung up- unsurprising, as the aging doctor often came in making extensive observations about the weather. Unlike most people, he didn't talk about weather as conversation filler, he was truly fascinated by it. "Like it can't decide to be warm or cold. Smells like rain's coming, but they've got the storm flag up at the harbor, so I wonder if there's more than that in store."
"Think we'll get our first snow?"
"It's overdue, and the barometer's definitely low enough. So you're taking off to Milwaukee for the day?"
"Looks that way," Carlisle replied, and then briefly related the events of the last ten minutes.
Hoffleitner's brow furrowed. "What a damn shame. It sounds like she had more than her fair share of loss."
"Milwaukee, though - that's quite a drive."
"Not to worry. I should get back in time to be here tomorrow night."
"Not unless you spend hardly any time there and don't get much sleep at all," his senior colleague observed. "You're not an intern, Carl. There's no point in knocking yourself out like that. Tell you what, I'll call James and get him to fill in for you tomorrow night and Tuesday. He owes you."
"Thank you, I'd appreciate that," Carlisle said, hiding his sheer relief that the conversation had gone the way he'd hoped.
It hadn't been his intention to earn time off when he'd volunteered to work holidays and come in for vacationing colleagues - it had been because he valued every opportunity to be of use - but it was a very welcome incidental benefit. He had a tendency to develop the reputation of being almost too dedicated to his work; even Edward had told him that Hoffleitner was concerned that young Dr. Williamson wasn't enjoying life enough, and would accept any excuse to give him time off. As he donned his own unneeded coat, hat and gloves, he silently thanked the powers that be that he'd built up so much goodwill with his colleagues at Lake Heights. He detached carbons of the forms he'd filled out, folding and tucking them into an inside coat pocket.
"Except for the woman there weren't any notable developments overnight, so if it's no trouble I'd like to get going and see if I can't stay ahead of the weather."
"By all means. And take it easy on the way back; that may be quite a storm brewing. Maybe stay there for a night or two until it blows over; have a real visit with your friends."
"I just might do that, Robert. Thank you."
It was all Carlisle could do not to run on his way back to the morgue.
Less than ten minutes later, after enlisting the sheriff's help to situate Esme's stretcher in the backseat of the Cadillac, he was driving at top speed beyond the boundaries of Ashland, trying not to bend the steering wheel in his grip as he monitored the dying life behind him.
Her sluggish heartbeats were seven seconds apart now instead of six, and what's more, he'd soon have to leave pavement and turn onto the four-mile road that led to his house. It was all frost-hardened dirt, which meant rattle-inducing bumps that would almost certainly aggravate her injuries and snap the fragile thread tethering her to life, unless he slowed to a crawl, which was just as risky. He couldn't lose her now, not after getting so far, and there was no point to staying in the car- he could protect her more easily, not to mention get her to the house faster, if he carried her and ran.
Using his last ounce of patience, he took his foot off the gas, scanning the terrain up ahead, and then steered the Cadillac off-road onto the first soft, flat ground he spied. He let it continue into the woods, rolling slowly right into a dense copse of trees. Thick branches bent, cracked, brushed and scraped against the frame as he inched the vehicle ahead, stopping only when it was fully ensconced, well-hidden from view of the road. It was then that he shut off the engine and headlights, listening closely to his surroundings for a moment.
A faint sliver of moonlight sliced through, then disappeared behind smoky clouds again. No sound from the road. The wind whistled in through minute imperfections in the seals of the doorframes, and thin birch branches tapped mad, brittle rhythms against the windowglass, casting spidery shadows within the dark. But the only sound that filled their solitude, as far as he was concerned, was the soft, warm beating of her heart.
They were alone, and it was time.
He crept quickly into the back of his darkened sanctuary, hovering over her shrouded form. At last able to look upon his battered prize without clinical detachment, he hastily took off his gloves and threw them to the floor, then drew the blanket down. The sight of her was just as saddening as it had been in the morgue, but now, with his emotions unguarded, Carlisle's face crumpled as he took in her icy pallor and dull gaze. The frame of the car shuddered as a gust of wind swept against it, but he took no notice.
"Esme, oh, why?" It came out a whisper.
Hovering mere inches over her, he could feel her heart now, its beats vibrating through the small space between them and resonating against his chest... all he could think of was seeing her eyes stir to life with rich warmth again. Knowing what he was about to do, her fragrance became more than lovely, it became tantalizing. He let the side of his face ever-so-slightly caress hers as he brought his lips close to her ear.
"I don't know what brought you to this," he murmured, brushing damp locks of hair from her neck. "But please let me bring you back. Forgive me, Esme."
And then he flexed his throat to close it.
It was over in less than five seconds. That's all it took for him to sink his teeth into her throat, for warm ambrosia to slip into his mouth and his tongue to caress her, stroking his venom into torn flesh as he trembled with the effort to keep his throat closed. His eyes drifted shut, the euphoria beckoning…
And then came the faint pestering within, urging him to withdraw now. He froze, only his jaw moving as he detached, each milimeter of new distance fought for. Keeping his eyes shut, he swept his tongue over the wound one last time, and then flung himself away and out the rear driver's side door.
Carlisle crashed heedlessly through the woods for several moments and then stopped cold, every muscle coiled as he battled for control.
Spit it out.
Spit it out.
A spray of blood, black in the night, finally spattered onto clusters of dead leaves still clinging to the branches in front of him. Only his chest moved as he took long, deep drinks of air in an attempt to fill his senses with anything besides the velvety, ecstasy-inducing flavor coating his tongue, the source of so much more of it within easy, easy reach.
As he'd hoped, spitting out the blood was making a small difference. Three years ago he'd swallowed two mouthfuls of Edward's, not having thought to close his throat until it was too late, and had nearly gone mad with the effort it took to refrain from drinking more. On this dark morning, he still felt that vicious desire clawing at him, the white-hot need, and while it wasn't as bad as it had been with Edward, resisting it wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Still, he couldn't afford to take any longer than a minute to get a hold of himself. There was so much to do, and it had to be done now; he had to get her to the house immediately and enlist Edward's help.
Oh, no. Edward. He's not going to be happy about this.
Forcing himself to move, he opened his eyes and turned back to the car, its rear door hanging open, half-unhinged and wedged into a thick spruce bough, his hat sitting forlornly on the running board. Esme was still as stone on the stretcher in the backseat, oblivious to wind biting at the edges of the blanket half-covering her. The pain of being bitten apparently hadn't roused her the way it had Edward, but then, Carlisle reminded himself, she was much closer to death than he had been. He held his breath as he made his way back to the car through the small trail of destruction he'd created in running away from it.
It was with extreme caution that Carlisle threaded his arms and hands under her, fingertips probing lightly to detect internal injuries so he wouldn't make them worse as he picked her up. Her fragile warmth, so precious, was a calming reminder of everything that depended on his maintaining control.
"Hold on, darling girl," he whispered. "We're almost there."
He didn't run at top speed at first, apprehensive about jarring her in any way - so many injuries, some he hadn't detected yet, to be sure. Soon enough he'd adjusted to how to keep her steady and ran as fast as he could; by then the house was only a few minutes away.
Her heart rate wasn't picking up in the slightest; he let himself breathe again, dismayed to realize that the scent of his venom hadn't advanced beyond the bite wound. The wound itself was sealing, but he began to worry that her heart would give out before the venom circulated enough to begin the transformation.
Perhaps if he did it again, tried to get it into her bloodstream from other places… did he have the strength?
If only he could tell it was already working. Was she feeling it at all?
Edward would know.
Edward would be able to hear her thoughts. If she wasn't feeling the effects, then perhaps he'd try to deliver more venom-
Not yet. Stop. Stop thinking of that.
He had to at least try to put any experience her blood out of his mind for the next few minutes, even as consumed as he still was by the effects of tasting it; his own thirst would set off Edward's, and he was getting close enough to the house to be within range of Edward's gift.
And try not to think about how she was found for now; he might not understand. But I need to warn him... we need his help.
Circumstances being what they were, Edward would have reacted by now if he'd heard Carlisle's thoughts, so he knew he wasn't in range quite yet - but he started a litany of calling out.
Edward! If you can hear me, let me know. And hold your breath... Edward!
He crested a rise that he knew was right about at the edge of Edward's range from the house, but there was still nothing.
This should be close enough. Perhaps he's distracted? He hunted three days ago, so he's probably not thirsty enough to have gone again...
Edward, can you hear me yet? Edward!
His anxiety ratcheted up as he realized just how much more problematic this situation would be if Edward wasn't there to help. It simply hadn't occurred to him that his fledgling and friend might not be there.
Harbor Creek, one of the property borders, was coming into sight, and he was starting to think he might be facing this alone when a soft, concerned reply rang out at last.
"I hear you."
Prepare yourself; don't breathe.
Thank you for reading! Although this story stands alone as a one-shot, it's also an outtake of My Lost Youth, my EPOV pre-Twilight trilogy about Carlisle, Edward and Esme, and Edward's journey as a killer. It's on posting hiatus until it's finished; readers of MLY should check out my profile for an update.
Research notes: It's macabre, but true – unclaimed and/or unknown deceased persons were often donated or sold to medical schools and other labs, sometimes even if the deceased person had wanted to be buried or cremated, but didn't have any assets to cover the expense. In many cases the bodies were sold for a profit, and some facilities weren't picky about where the bodies came from and didn't ask questions. At least one known killer of the era, Dr. H. H. Holmes (real name Herman Mudgett), disposed of the bodies of some of his victims in this manner.
It's also true that bodies in Lake Superior tend to stay submerged; the temperature of the water usually hovers at or below freezing, and gases that usually build up in a body post-mortem, causing it to float, don't form.