Thanks everybody thus far that's being so kind and supportive of this little endeavor. You guys are the greatest.
It was raining again. The drops fell down on the top of the boxcar—a gentle patter to human ears, but a blaring symphony of echoes in his own. But the din of the rain was nothing compared to the clattering cacophony of the train itself as it roared and shrieked its way down the rails.
Edward was, to all outward appearances, asleep, his back against the boxcar wall, his knees pulled up and his forearms resting atop them, his head slumped and his eyes closed. But that was only for appearances—Edward hadn’t slept in years. But even feigning it was soothing, somehow—pretending that he couldn’t hear or see or feel anything except for the wild dreamscapes of his own mind. Childish, perhaps, but he did it anyway—in no small part simply because he could, because despite his apparent lethargy, he was still on the move.
He’d never before really appreciated his sleeplessness, his complete lack of need for rest, until he’d set out on his own over a month ago. He could walk all night and all day, if he wanted to, without ever having to stop.
But he didn’t have to walk—he could run. Run as only a vampire could run, run as he hadn’t really done much since he’d first been turned. He’d all but forgotten the euphoric exhilaration of flying over the ground, his feet barely grazing the grass beneath them, the scenery flowing together in a wild blur, and the wind rushing and roaring in his face as he raced by at speeds that humanity could only dream of.
And he could leap if he wanted to, bounding from treetop to treetop, arcing through the air as if shot from a cannon, only to land nimbly on his feet before hurling himself through the air again, laughing as he soared across the darkened landscape below like a bird on the wing.
So wound up in the travails of trying to be human, he’d forgotten what fun it was just to be a vampire.
He chuckled at himself, just a little grunt, briefly breaking his illusion of sleep. It wasn’t all fun and games, he could readily admit—but it certainly was a lot easier to enjoy the good parts if you weren’t forcing yourself to endure only the bad.
Vampires were night creatures—they didn’t dissolve in the sunlight, like in that ridiculous Nosferatu picture, but it wasn’t their preferred venue. Edward had been living for so long in the overbright and overwarmth of the daytime that he was inured to it, and so it had been a veritable pleasure to begin spending his days hidden away out of sight and move only at night. His skin was no longer so hot and tender, and he didn’t realize how uncomfortable and achy he’d been from all the sun until he wasn’t anymore. To say nothing of his appetite; he could go much longer, it seemed—days, even—without so much as a snack. Before with Carlisle, he’d had to go out every other night to find something small to tide him over until their weekend hunts.
But after a while, the self-imposed daytime rest had begun to chafe, because it meant hours wasted when he could have been traveling. And hence his current location—hitching a ride on a freight train.
He’d started that back when passing through upstate New York. On impulse he’d stowed away in one of the barges on the Erie—no, it was the New York State Barge Canal, now—and had spend the day lounging in style as he’d traveled toward the Lakes. He’d felt rather like Cleopatra—all he’d needed were a golden headdress and a battery of oarsmen. He was, of course, his own asp.
No one had spotted him in amongst the cargo, and when the barge had stopped to unload, he’d slipped out unseen. He had found himself over fifty miles from where he had started, all without going into the sun. He’d declared this a capital mode of transport, and now, when he was tired of a particular place, he tended to hop barges or trains to go somewhere new.
Always going, always moving—and always wonderfully, blessedly alone. Of everything that he missed, of all the misery that he’d spent so long enduring that he’d forgotten what it was like not to have to bear it—that was the most all-encompassing, and the most liberating. Upon leaving Bangor behind, he’d gone deeper and deeper into the forest, hearing the voices receding behind him, listening without thinking, as he always did.
Until all those voices just stopped.
He had too—standing stock still in the middle of the woods, his head thrown back and his eyes shut, reveling in the complete and utter silence of it all. Not of the woods around him, but inside of his own skull—there was only himself, and no one else.
It was glorious.
Little wonder that he’d spent his first few weeks a virtual hermit, living like an animal in the secluded, wintry forests of New England and Canada, slinking among the trees like a cat, silent as the snowfall around him, and fleeing at the first whisper of a thought not his own. He just wanted to be himself again—not anybody else. And he had, eating his fill of the local fauna, not tempting himself at all with the scent of human blood, and away and apart from all the petty cares of the world that had forced themselves on him for the past ten years.
What he hadn’t counted on was the boredom.
Oh, it had been fine for a while, exploring the Maine forests, hunting his prey, re-learning what it was to be a vampire—rather like playing again, like he hadn’t since he was a boy, his fantasies of being a great and strong warrior-hero suddenly that much closer to life.
But he was past such childish things, and while living in the trees like Mowgli was pleasant enough for a while, he began to grow restless—and began to move.
He’d wound his way all over the northeastern forests, following game and avoiding people, seeing all there was to see, taking in the world with his vampire eyes. But even new territory began to lose its charm, and so, slowly, he’d begun making small forays into the various towns he passed. He would usually find a post office and buy a postcard and a stamp—ignoring the looks his disturbing (and rather bedraggled) appearance warranted—just to send Carlisle and Esme a note as to where he was and let them know that he was doing well. He’d picked up a newspaper once or twice, but the headlines usually just depressed him: news of the wild, decadent lives of the rich and famous, more and more on the devastating depression in parts of Europe, the skyrocketing crime rates as organized crime capitalized on illegal liquor—he’d soon given up on reading about the world in disgust.
He would stop at the local libraries from time to time—that was something about the settled life he definitely missed, although he would have liked to have been able to take the books away so that he could read them without the babble of mental voices that shattered the outward peace of the building. But that wasn’t enough to ruin the pleasure of getting his hands on a book again, of being in amongst people and able to enjoy himself. And he found that he could, too—now that maintaining his façade of normalcy was so much less involved, he had a much easier time of it, simply mingling in among the people, even stopping at the theater one evening, drawn in by the marquee loudly proclaiming that the new Al Jolson picture had sound.
It was on one of these clandestine forays into civilization that he’d found himself skulking around Toledo one night near Christmas, an odd compulsion seizing him to visit one of their old haunts—the last place they’d lived before Maine, and the place where Esme had died. They hadn’t stayed there long, were forced to leave by the sudden addition of Esme to their family, but Edward was nonetheless familiar with the area. The house they had rented had been brightly lit, obviously re-let. The trains were running normally, the line that had crashed and killed Esme now with a new car and rumbling along on schedule. Seeing the town going about its business, talking and laughing as they went about their holiday shopping in the snow as if they’d never even been there, had left Edward with a strange, wistful sort of sadness. But the bitterness of it was so compelling that it wasn’t long after that he found himself re-tracing the familiar paths of South Bend, Indiana, where he and Carlisle had spent four years together—the first place Edward had lived with people since he’d been turned.
In South Bend it was all the more obvious that time had marched on. The building that had housed the tiny apartment that the two of them had shared had been demolished to make way for bigger and newer buildings. The small clinic where Carlisle had worked was still doggedly persevering, but the turned-up dirt in the large empty lot next to it spoke of expansion. The library where Edward would spend most of his days was still there, thank goodness, but the sight of the formidable Miss Henderson, the librarian who could terrify even a vampire, kept Edward from going inside. He had no doubt that she would remember the boy that she had laid into for tearing the page of one of her precious books (it had been an honest accident; Edward had been very young, then, and still not quite used to the inhuman strength he now possessed), and if she saw him looking not a day older than he had almost seven years ago—well, he wisely decided against it.
That had been the difficult part, really—it had been a while, but their stay in South Bend had been both long and recent enough that there were people there he remembered—and who would remember him. Ron Stubbs was still sweeping off the front step of his grocery every morning, despite fact that what had been back then a just budding belly was now a full-grown paunch. There was Paul MacReady delivering the milk, his salt-and-pepper hair now gone entirely gray. He saw the little boys that had rolled their hoops down the sidewalk as he once had now tall and gangling and racing to beat the school bell. He had even caught sight of Cal Helmsley—Edward remembered him as the spotty-faced young fellow who would cringe if he happened to run into Edward when he was delivering Mrs. Bauer’s groceries—and there he was, taller than Edward now, and the girl on his arm wore a ring on her left hand that matched his, and by the swell of her stomach, their first child was soon on the way.
In the end it was all those old familiar faces that prompted him to leave South Bend—too dangerous. He didn’t think it would get back to the Imperial authorities that he’d let himself be spotted by someone who was in a position to notice that he didn’t age, but it didn’t do to take chances. So he left South Bend behind him. But that left only one last place on his pilgrimage along the history of his new life as a vampire—the place where it all began.
Back to Chicago. Back home.
It had been a dry but overcast evening when Edward had first jumped aboard this train, but as they crossed into Illinois, the lowering clouds had opened up and poured their payload out onto the countryside below. It would be cold, which tended to make him a bit sluggish, but not uncomfortable, seeing as he had no body temperature to maintain. In fact, Edward had been so well-wetted on his travels to the point that it had ceased to be an annoyance to him at all. Really, there was something delightfully nostalgic about arriving back home in a Chicago winter rain.
The lights of the city were bright in his eyes as the train began to swing northward, brighter even than the line of light painting the eastern sky as the sun rose behind the clouds. The buildings surged upward from the surrounding land, taller and taller as they neared, and Edward knew that he’d have been breathless even if he had needed to breathe. Chi-Town. He was almost there.
The train was swinging up from the south, skirting Lake Michigan, the thin blue streak on the horizon. It was carrying coal and iron, no doubt headed for the industrial zone in the south of the city. Edward crawled out and sat atop the boxcar, the admittedly light rain turned into lashing whips that he barely felt as they raced closer and closer to home, the long, low plains giving way to long, low buildings that only grew taller.
He waited until the train just started to turn west again, watching with eyes that could move and see more and faster than any human for a quiet and empty place, before leaping from the car. He landed with only a whisper of sound in a careful crouch, and listened—no one. He was safe, and so he stood, his feet slapping wetly on the pavement as he ducked down between the two small brick buildings, looking for the nearest el-line.
He found it, just a few blocks away, and he crawled like a fly up the side of the fire escape of a tired old tenement to wait for a passing train. He didn’t bother with sightseeing here—he wanted to see the Chicago he knew, the parts he remembered—the parts that were his.
He was antsy, fidgety—ridiculous for him to be impatient, when he had all the time in the world—but he was still happily relieved when he heard the approaching clatter of a passing train, and he jumped atop it as it sped by, wobbling a little on the curving roof before sinking into a low crouch to ride into the city proper.
And he had been right—Chicago could indeed stay awake until the break of dawn, and today was no exception. As he flew into town atop the el, he could see the lights and hear the sounds and feel the thoughts—this was no sleepy little New England village. Rain and cold and the lateness (or earliness) of the hour didn’t stop them—no, the town was bright and wild and alive, and Edward felt his still heart lifting at the sight as the train sailed up into the heart of downtown. He barely had enough presence of mind to squint at the street signs as they flashed by, but rather just looked at the buildings, and he found that he remembered, that he knew where he was, and so he jumped off between two buildings on 47th Street, and then he was there.
He stood there for a moment, suddenly unsure. Would he remember? Would Chicago be all that he recalled from his childhood, would everything that he wanted to see still be there?
Then he snorted at his own silliness—of course it would. This was Chicago—and it always would be. He ran a hand through his rain-soaked hair, making it stand briefly on end before being flattened by the rain again, and then shoved his fists into his wet pockets and turned out onto the streets of downtown Chicago.
It was so bright. As he strode along the sidewalk, gaping like any common tourist rather than a native, he simply couldn’t get over all the lights. Electricity had been common enough when he had lived here, he supposed—his home had been wired for electric lights shortly after he had been born, and he had come home from school one summer to find that his parents had a new radio alongside their old Victrola—but never could he have imagined the wild flashing of so many bulbs in one place. The town was all but burning with electric fire, lit from within and without by man’s invention.
And the sounds! That was as he remembered, he thought, feeling a smile beginning to stretch his face as he turned out onto Halstead Street—the ruckus and roar of thousands of souls filling the streets, the laughter and the gaiety, the frenzied rush of life that was so conspicuously missing from all the remote wildernesses and little towns that he’d been forced into since leaving home. This is what he remembered—he was born for this, to immerse himself in the thrust and push of humanity. Why else would he awaken to find himself able to hear the thoughts of those around him, if he wasn’t fit to be part of them?
He didn’t even try to tune it out, but rather just let the city fill him up, fill his body and his mind, letting the thoughts and cares of those around him override his own, let himself become the city—he was Chicago. He was home.
Edward didn’t know how long he spent wandering the streets of downtown; he just let his feet carry him where they willed. He found his father’s office building as he wandered down Michigan Avenue, a tall sentinel amongst its fellows lining the street. How many times as a boy had he and his mother taken the train in from Oak Park to visit him for lunch? His feet took on a mind of their own from the building door to their favorite little restaurant on the corner a block away from his father’s office, where the three of them would sit and eat, and Edward would always clamor for a piece of cheesecake and Mother would admonish him, but Father would give in and they would share one together. Afterwards, they would walk Father back to work, and before he would go inside he would lift Edward up high over his head, and Edward would shriek with happy laughter. And then he and Mother might go for a walk in Grant Park, there along Michigan after visiting Father, and they would sit and feed the ducks, and when he was little, Mother would sit with him under a tree and read to him, and then when he was older, he would read to her.
He found himself cutting quickly across Jackson to Lake Shore Drive, walking back down south along the water and out to Northerly Island. As he stood on the rainy pier, he didn’t see the gray water splashed with raindrops; he was far away on that sunny weekend in summer when Mother and Father had first taken him out to the beach. The lake had seemed enormous then, and Edward had stood by the water’s edge for what had felt like forever before finally summoning to the courage to charge into the water. Afterwards, of course, it had been near impossible to get him out of it—only the promise of lunch, a picnic on the shore with cookies, had been able to summon him back to dry land. And then he was right back in afterwards, and his swimming costume had been quite full of sand by the end of the day, and he’d fallen asleep in his father’s arms on the train back home. They’d gone often in the summers, just to the beach when he was small, and then when he was older, Father would rent a boat and take him out, and that was where Edward had learned how to sail, and they would cruise around the lake, just the three of them, himself and Father and Mother…
But it wasn’t then. It was cold and gray and raining—and it was only Edward who stood there on the pier. He blinked the rain from his eyes, vaguely startled to find himself still standing there, and he looked at his wrist without thinking—what time was it? But he didn’t know—his own watch no longer ran. He had accidentally smashed it in a hunt weeks ago, but he wore it strapped to his wrist all the same and kept catching himself looking at its still and silent face. But it told him nothing, and he wheeled around suddenly and fled the docks, rushing back towards town, and away from here.
The memories were crowding over themselves in Edward’s mind, such that as he walked the streets, the clamor of voices not his own were gradually becoming nothing more than a low drone in the background. His steps slowed, grew less sure as he felt a thick sort of melancholy settling in on him, dampening his previous innocent enjoyment of seeing the city of his birth again.
When had he last thought of his home, his childhood—his parents? When had he last really thought of them, really remembered them? He hadn’t even known they were gone until after he’d been changed—Carlisle hadn’t told him until weeks after they had actually died, just two other nameless and faceless patients in the open ward of the hospital, crowded with the dead and dying patients wracked with influenza. And even then, to his sudden, newfound shame, his grief had been largely shunted aside by his new and frightening ability to hear the very thoughts on the wind—to say nothing of the fact that he was a vampire. By the time he’d managed to come to grips with his new state of being, the loss of his parents, his home, and his life had subsided into a dull ache that was easy enough to ignore.
But now, here, where his memories were no longer so distant but rather staring him in the face, he found he could think of little else. He supposed it was no surprise, then, that he found himself at the train station that would take him west out into Oak Park, back out to where he used to live—he wanted to go home.
Back | Table of Contents | Forward