Madame Mervin, Hammer of Sues (das_mervin) wrote,
Madame Mervin, Hammer of Sues

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The Darkest Hour: Part II (2 of 2)

Yeah, sorry this is later than I wanted to put it up. However, out of nowhere, and old friend who lives from out of state called and said she was twenty miles away and headed my direction. So, that put an end to my plans of posting this for a bit.

Also, expect a normal post from me tomorrow while we wait for Part III of "The Darkest Hour". Most exciting things to tell you about. But, for now, enjoy the second half of Part II of "The Darkest Hour".

Part II


In a fit of nostalgia, Edward splurged with Carlisle’s money that was filling his pockets, buying an actual ticket, inside the warm car rather than just hitching a ride atop the train to be pelted with the rain that was half-sleet now. He was briefly taken aback by the surly ticket taker who rudely demanded the fare, and balked at the price that was nearly double what he remembered it being when he lived here. Edward almost decided against it, particularly in the face of the antagonistic boor behind the glass, but it was with ill grace that he paid his fare anyway and moved away.

He waited on the platform off to the side for the next train. The passers-by gave him a wide berth, and he didn’t have to read minds to know that he made them nervous. But, as always, his ability afforded him the dubious privilege of hearing exactly what they thought of him when they spotted him. It was nothing new—praise of his looks that now only annoyed him, lascivious thoughts that still made him uncomfortable, and always the wary hostility that was due any predator—and now with a dash of contempt; he had been living out in the elements, and it showed in his appearance, his clothes wet and rumpled, his hair a mess. He was already regretting his choice to travel in the open when the train finally arrived, and he sighed and braced himself for being crammed in amid the people who so clearly wanted nothing to do with him—a sentiment that was quite mutual by this point.

The train shrieked to a stop, and Edward moved quickly to the platform’s edge at the head of the queue that was slowly forming behind him. The doors opened, and Edward wrinkled his nose upon entering; the car was filthy—slushy, muddy footprints tracked across the floor, and he could see fingerprints smeared all over the fogged windows as he sat. In his time that would not have been allowed. The car began to fill, the people outside spilling in and rushing quickly to the empty seats, lest they be left standing. There were clearly more passengers than seats, and Edward resigned himself to being packed in amongst them like so many sardines as the seats on either side of him filled.

A great rude oaf with a newspaper jostled him and stepped on his toes, then snatched the last remaining seat, leaving a good many ladies still on their feet; Edward felt his lip curling. Grinding his teeth, he stood. “M’am,” he said to a nearby, rather elderly woman, forcing his anger down. “Please—do take this seat.” He didn’t need to look to know that the cad across the way was paying no attention to his deliberate show of manners.

(Oh, what a lovely young man) “Oh, why, thank you, dear,” she said, still managing to flutter with traces of the coquette she must have been, and Edward smiled at her and moved aside to give her room to sit.

He then moved toward the back of the car, sweeping by the brute in the seat and favoring him with a look of utter contempt; the gaze of a predator was enough to snap even him out of his bubble of selfishness, and Edward did not feel at all badly about the obvious flinch that his glare warranted. His sense of decency only slightly appeased (as there were still a good many ladies standing while men lounged comfortably, oblivious), Edward found a handhold near the back corner (he didn’t need it, but it was a familiar habit) as the train started to move.

He deliberately shoved his confrontation to the back of his mind—which turned out to be a mistake. His outrage had kept his attention, but now without it, he found that he was standing here in tight quarters with a bunch of humans—a bunch of warm, hot, living humans, the scent of them rich in the air

Edward had been reveling in his ability to go for longer spans without eating as he traveled, as he had been staying hidden away during the day—but now, he belatedly realized, it was daylight out, clouds notwithstanding. And in his excitement to be in Chicago, he’d neglected to stop and find something to eat.

Before, his pleasure at being back in Chicago had chased away any urge to feed, but here, stuck in the tight press of people in the close quarters of the train, just sitting here and waiting, the throbs of their hearts and the flow of their blood rushing in his ears, his previously quiescent hunger came clamoring to the fore.

Edward hunched his shoulders down against the wall of the car, releasing the bar above him lest he dent it, and cramming his fisted hands down into his pockets, forcing himself not to breathe, clamping his mouth shut against his fangs and swallowing the venom that flooded his mouth. People were avoiding him, yes—he was dirty and rumpled and wet, to say nothing of being outright dangerous—but at every stop, any time someone would pass by where he stood, moving the air around him, a wave of the musky heat from their bodies would wash over him, and he would be forced to bite his own lips, his fangs sinking deep into his flesh, to keep himself still and quiet until they passed.

He stared out the window, watching the tall buildings shrink down into houses as they left downtown and headed west, concentrating on the flat gray sky and the slackening rain, rather than the hunger that gnawed steadily at his stomach—why was it that it always seemed to strike at the worst moments? He’d been fine when he wasn’t thinking about it!

At long last, after what felt like a long, miserable year, the train squealed to a stop—his stop—and he was out the door like a shot, shoving the humans aside in his haste to get out of there. The breath of cold, moist air as he burst onto the open platform of the Wisconsin Street station was a godsend. He breathed in deep, letting it fill his lungs, and then held it as he hurried away from the station and down into the surrounding neighborhood.

Edward was so thoroughly distracted by his deliberate reigning in of his hunger that he’d walked several blocks before he even realized where he was. He stopped, blinking, and felt a nostalgic warmth begin to suffuse him. His feet had remembered the way, and he was already up on Lake Street, headed home. Smiling now, he resumed his walk, picking up the pace a little as he turned west.

He knew where he was, recognized the houses, and he remembered who lived where. The library was just down the way, and he’d spent many a day there, his library card a gateway to countless new worlds. There was the park where he’d go play on lazy summer afternoons. He’d fallen out of a tree there, and he’d run all the way home, tears streaming from his eyes as he cradled what had turned out to be a broken arm. Doctor Hemingway had been summoned at once by his mother and had come to set it, and Edward had been forced to spend the rest of the summer in a cast. He unconsciously gripped his left forearm; there had been a knot on the bone there when the cast had come off, and he’d rubbed at it, fascinated, for months afterwards. Feeling the remnants of his wound under his flesh, evidence that he had been broken before but was now mended and whole once more, had been what had first sparked his interest in medicine, made him first wonder what it would be like to be able to heal. But the lump was gone now, he realized, the change from human to vampire correcting all flaws and blemishes and defects in the body, leaving only sculpted perfection behind.

Edward wondered if Doc Hemingway still lived over on Oak Park Avenue. He’d heard that his son had just recently made a name for himself with a new book. He’d been older than Edward by a few years, popular and handsome and athletic, all those things that Edward wasn’t, and so their paths hadn’t crossed much, but Edward remembered him.

And Doc Hemingway would probably remember his old patient, if he still lived in the same house—he’d best avoid going there.

That shouldn’t be difficult; Oak Park was east of here on Lake Street. But Doc Hemingway wasn’t the only person who might remember him here; he would just have to be careful and keep his head down and his mind watchful for someone he might have known before. He flicked his eyes around, an unnecessary reflex after his previous thoughts—and his footsteps slowed, pausing mid-stride where he stood.

Towering over him on his right was Grace Church. He stared at the huge, looming edifice that stood out in stark relief against the leaden sky, jutting proudly up over the surrounding still-snowy houses and skeletal trees. Almost unconsciously, his feet turned and began to carry him towards it.

As he neared, the church grew taller, dominating first the landscape and then his field of vision, and he felt as if he had shrunk down, was seven years old again, scrubbed and clean and wearing his suit, Mother holding his hand as they went to church on Sunday as they did every week. Before and after church was time for socializing, Mother serving and chatting at picnics and teas, and Father hobnobbing with his fellow businessmen, but when in the church, Mother told him, he was with God.

Edward stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up, craning his head back to see the top of the tower. The massive, gray stone structure had always filled him with a sense of awe, not just from the sheer size, but because Mother told him that God lived there. When he was older, he’d come to understand the more abstract nature of that statement, and yet every time he had come here, walked up the steps to go inside, he’d felt that flutter of fearful excitement in his stomach, and deep inside, he was still that little boy who just knew that he was going to go through the doors and meet God face to face.

He shook himself a little. He wasn’t seven, he was seventeen—no, he was twenty-six—and he smiled a little at his own folly, although if he was going to be honest with himself, it felt a little forced. He unlocked his legs and mounted the steps slowly, his shoes clocking over the stone beneath them, the sound loud to him but quiet enough that a human could not hear it. The huge open window that spanned the front of the building stared down at him like a great lidless eye, and he stopped again.

As he stared up at the church before him, Edward suddenly felt himself overwhelmed by unease. He was still himself, yes, and this was his church—but he was a vampire. No, he wasn’t a demon from those ridiculous horror stories used to frighten children, he had a reflection and didn’t sleep in a coffin and the sight of a crucifix didn’t send him fleeing, and yet…

Now he was being ridiculous. Carlisle had been around much longer than he had—even still going to church when he could—and he was firmly convinced that vampires were just another of God’s creatures—for surely, didn’t God create all things? He wasn’t a demon, had made no deal with the Devil to become what he was, and most importantly, he didn’t feed on the blood of the living. Taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders, now determined to go inside for no real reason that he could fathom, he marched up the remaining steps.

As he neared the front, one of the heavy wooden doors swung open, and a figure emerged. He was wearing a black suit, and Edward knew that he was Deacon Parsons, a young man newly ordained and only just starting his service here. He turned and jumped when he saw Edward standing there.

“Good afternoon,” Edward said, inclining his head.

Parsons nodded stiffly, and Edward saw himself through the man’s eyes—pale and gaunt, his unblinking eyes staring. “What can I do for you?” he asked.

Edward kept his face pleasant; his presence enough was alarming on its own, no need to add to it. “I’m just—taking a walk down memory lane. I used to attend this church.”

(Somehow I doubt that) Edward blinked at him as the man’s eyes traveled up and down his frame—taking in the scuffed shoes, the tattered trousers with the stained knees, the rumpled and rain soaked shirt, the jacket with the hole in the elbow, and his hair, standing in wild points from the rain. Suddenly self-conscious, he raked a hand through the disarray on his head and straightened his collar; Mother would have been appalled to see him like this—especially at church.

The deacon’s face had hardened with Edward’s awkward attempts to straighten himself. “Well, services are tomorrow afternoon,” he said, and even if he had not heard the thought shouted in his mind, Edward would have been able to hear the unspoken implication that he was not wanted here.

Edward stiffened. “But isn’t anyone welcome in a church at any time?” he asked, his voice low.

Parsons crossed his arms, standing in front of the open door. “Anyone who wishes to enter God’s House is free to do so, should they seek prayer and comfort,” he said. (But not if they’re just looking for a place to sleep—or hoping to pinch something to pawn for liquor money)

Edward bristled where he stood. How dare you call me a liar? Do you know who I am? he wanted to shout. I am Edward Mason—my father donated one hundred dollars every year, and my mother embroidered the altar covering—and I was an acolyte at this very church for four years! And I’m not a vagrant—I live not three blocks from here on Forest Avenue—

Only he didn’t. Not anymore. His father no longer donated money, and his mother had made that cloth nearly twenty years ago, and it was probably gone long since, and he…was a vagrant, a man with no home, living in the woods and hopping trains like an indigent. He wasn’t part of this church anymore.

“Good afternoon,” Edward said, his voice curt, and he turned where he stood and walked away.

The mist in the air began to thicken, turning back into light, slushy rain as Edward strode angrily away from the church, turning abruptly onto Forest Avenue, not having to think as his feet still remembered the way home.

No—not my home. Lights were winking on in the surrounding houses as the weak afternoon light began to fail, the rain and the sinking sun bringing darkness slowly upon the town. Edward stared despairingly down the street. What was he doing here? This wasn’t his home anymore. Someone else probably lived there now—was he just going to go to the front door and demand to be let in, because he used to live there?

No—but he wanted to see it. Needed to see it, needed to know that some part of him remained here.

It didn’t take him long to walk the rest of the way down to his house, number 424 just past Superior. There—and for a moment, there in the failing light, it was as if he was home. He was coming back from the library and he would walk up the steps and inside, and Father would be at his place by the fire with the evening paper and Mother would be sitting across from him, her hands busy sewing, and the phonograph would be playing Debussy or Saint-Saëns or maybe some Joplin and he would walk in and they would look up and smile—

His heart no longer beat, but he still felt a sudden, painful thump in his chest as he snapped from his fantasy. No, Mother and Father weren’t here, and this wasn’t his house. He blinked, and his eyes were drawn like magnets to the sudden, jarring differences that he could see. The house wasn’t green anymore, but blue. The molding around the windows and door was different—much more stark, that pretentious art-deco nonsense. His mother’s prize rosebushes were gone, ripped out, and the planters were instead filled with an ill-kempt riot of juniper and a stand of deadened bushes, jutting blackly out from the mounds of old snow that still filled them. The meticulously-kept lawn was brown and shaggy, and from inside he could hear the wild strains of jazz music blaring from the radio; the house was ablaze with light, and he could hear the sounds and thoughts of a party.

Feeling vaguely ill, he crept silently up the patchy lawn, slinking around the side of the house and to the window that should look into the parlor. It was a party, that was for sure, and from the look of things, the local bootlegger must have made a killing. The soft cream-colored walls had been papered over with a garish paisley, and thick carpet covered the wooden floors. The fireplace was cold and dark, but the hideous parti-colored shades on the multitude of lamps gave the place a wild, hedonistic look. The house was packed and loud with wild, riotous guests, abandoned drinks littering the furniture, and Edward stared bleakly inside, cold and lost outside the window.

He glanced upwards; the second story was dark, and so he silently and determinedly climbed the dilapidated trellis hanging tiredly from the side of the house, and found himself looking into what was once his parents’ bedroom. The walls were different here, too, and Mother’s tidy room was now a disaster, the bed unmade and clothes strewn everywhere. Clenching his jaw, he crawled across the eaves, clinging to the side of the house like a spider, doggedly making his way to the window to what had been his bedroom. He passed by the hall window, at the end of which he could see his mother’s neat sewing room transformed into a catch-all crammed with junk, before he finally made his way to his own window, and found himself looking in on a frilly pink nightmare, not a book in sight, the shelves crammed full of vapid feminine knickknacks, his photographs of Europe and his Yale and Cubs pennants replaced with obnoxious posters of New York City and Rudolph Valentino.

His fingers let go of the windowsill of their own accord, and he dropped to the ground, landing on his feet, but slumping numbly where he fell, sitting heavily down on the wet, muddy grass.

This is what he’d come back to? He traveled halfway across the country to see this? This tawdry testament to this debauched decade? His house—his home—gone, and this left in its place?

Where was the piano where his mother had first taught him his scales? Where was Father’s old roll top desk where he would sit on Saturday afternoons? Where were the sheaves of sheet music that he played and all the phonographs that he would listen to in the evenings? Where was his collection of baseball cards that he and his father had amassed together? Where were all the books in the library, the collections of Shakespeare and Dickens and Tennyson and Twain? Where was his grandfather Edward’s Civil War rifle and medals, his father’s pocket watch, his mother’s diamond necklace, the Mason family Bible, his parents’ photographs—

Where was his life?!

His hands flew up to his head, grabbing handfuls of his hair as he pressed his forehead to his knees. Was there nothing here left of him, not even the slightest remnant or memory to show that Edward Anthony Mason had once lived and laughed and loved and died here? Was ten years all it took to erase everything about him? With a bitter laugh, he realized that even he had nothing left of his life; the only evidence that his family had ever existed at all were the two wedding rings on the chain around his neck—all that Carlisle had seen fit to scavenge from his parents’ bodies as he smuggled their dying son out of the hospital.

And for what? This not-life that stretched endlessly on, an eternity of pointless monotony, of pretending to be something that he wasn’t, a never-ending waste of everything he had ever been, of his hopes and dreams and aspirations? To live on after everyone and everything he’d ever cared about was gone, with no chance of ever reclaiming it again?

There was a sudden flash of light in his eyes, and he flew to his feet, his silent heart leaping into his throat. Blinded briefly, he held up a hand and squinted against the beam that was shining in his face, even as a voice demanded, “What are you doing there?”

His eyes adjusted, and he saw the flashlight, the uniform, the badge. Perfect. Just what I need. “I’m sorry, officer,” he said, keeping his hands in sight as he walked out toward the sidewalk. “I was just taking a bit of a walk down memory lane.”

The podgy man eyed him disdainfully, and Edward could feel the sudden tensing and rill of hostility when he got a look at his face. (This looks like the bum what got spotted sleazing around here) “What you’re doing, kid, is trespassing on private property,” he informed him roughly. (And probably casing the joint)

Edward stiffened. “I just used to live here, sir—I meant no harm,” he said evenly.

“Yeah, I’ll bet you did. Where—in the gutter?” the man sneered.

Edward’s fists clenched. “No, sir,” he ground, his jaw tight.

“Look—we don’t like your kind around here, boy” the cop said, drawing out his billy club with studied casualness and twirling it idly in his hand. “So why don’t you run along back southside where you came from?” (Before I see you out)

“This is a public place, and I have every right to walk here if I want!” Edward growled.

The cop blanched, but then rallied his courage with the stick in his hand. “I’ll tell you what rights you have, bucko—and I’m telling you to get the hell out of here!” he snarled, and he swung his arm to strike.

Crack! The stick slammed into Edward’s outstretched hand, and he grabbed it and yanked it towards him. The cop, his wrist still through the leather strap at the end, was hauled forward before he knew what happened, and Edward dragged him within an inch of his nose. “I’ll go where I please, you pathetic thug,” he hissed, and the cop cowered, his bravado fleeing in the face of Edward’s fury. His eyes were wide, sweat beading on his brow, and Edward could hear his heart beating, pounding with sudden terror, his blood rushing wildly through his veins, thick and ripe with fear, and he could smell him, so close

(What the hell—?!)

With an inhuman snarl, Edward jerked the baton free and threw the man away from him; he sprawled on the ground at his feet, and Edward snapped his club in two and threw it aside. The cop scrambled backwards, and Edward advanced, Oh, no, little man, you can’t escape me—you don’t want my kind here, do you?—well, let me show you exactly what kind you’re dealing with!

(Oh my God, what is he going to do?!)

Edward froze where he stood, quivering, and he suddenly saw himself through the man’s—Officer John McMannis, husband and father of three—eyes: his face bloodless and livid, his eyes wild and black, his teeth gleaming in the glow of the streetlights as he advanced.

He looked like a madman.

Or a monster.

McMannis managed to clamber to his feet and took off at a run; Edward felt a momentary wild urge to chase him, to catch him, to strike—but he squashed it and turned tail and fled in the opposite direction, and didn’t stop until he was out of Oak Park altogether.

He hid himself in a park on Lake Street, not at all winded from his run—how could he be, when he didn’t need to breathe?—but his chest was heaving all the same. He buried his face against the rough, wet trunk of a tree, concentrating on nothing but the pungent smell of the bark beneath his nose.

His ears were quivering for the sound of prey, and so his eyes shot upward at a rustling noise above him; a squirrel was skittering along the branches. With a single leap, Edward was in the tree, and he snatched it up before it even had time to try to escape. He sank his teeth into it, deliberately ignoring its squeaks of pain and terror and its slowly weakening struggles—dead things did them no good, didn’t satisfy their hunger. Truth be told, nothing would, yet he drank all the same. His mouth flooded with a hot, coppery bitterness, and he forced himself to swallow it down, even as his stomach churned and his throat tried to close against the disgusting, rusty fluid that coated his gullet with its sour stickiness and oozed sluggishly through his veins.

He drained it dry and tossed the rapidly cooling corpse aside, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. His throat burned with thwarted thirst, as it always did when he tried to placate the ravening beast within with a poor substitute for what he truly craved. He then raked a hand through his hair and took a deep breath, wrestling his hunger into submission—there were times that he wondered if feeding only made it worse, wetting his appetite without truly slaking his thirst, waking the monster inside without bedding it back down.

He breathed deep again, and then dropped back down to the ground, looking around to see where he was. He’d run all the way over to River Forest, from the looks of things. The train tracks were close, and he could feel the vibrations in the rails—he could hop on one (on top, not inside, not in the state he was in), and it should go south from here, but would then take him to the city, swinging east down by the cemetery—

He stopped. Concordia Cemetery was just south of here. That was where the Anthony family plot was—his father’s people had been from New York, but all of Mother’s relatives were here. He had no idea what had become of his parents’ bodies, of their possessions—the estate that should have rightfully come to him had obviously been sold off—probably by those same New York relatives.

He abruptly turned and started walking, headed south. He emerged from the park and jogged over to the rails; he followed them through the surrounding town, the icy rain picking up again and wetting him thoroughly by the time he reached Madison Street.

The darkness was nearly complete by the time he found himself at the cemetery, but it didn’t matter to him; his eyesight was as good at night as it was in daylight—better, even, in that the sunlight tended to be painful to his over-sensitive eyes. As it was he could see each and every stone outlined in stark relief, even able to read the names and dates.

The gate was closed, but it was a simple matter for Edward to vault the fence, landing softly and silently in the dead grass. The night was still here, even more so than outside the stone fence it seemed, the wind and rain singing a soft dirge, rather than a raucous cheer. He walked swiftly between the stones, his feet sure even on the slippery ground, wryly reflecting on the appropriateness of his haunting a graveyard at night.

The Anthonys were more toward the west end; his mother brought flowers on Memorial Day, and he had gone with her as a boy, feeling the uneasy awe and morbid fascination that he supposed everyone did when in a cemetery—knowing that there were bodies just beneath his shoes, that this was where dead people went, where dead people were, and that one day he would be there too—

Only he wouldn’t.

The thought soured his little burst of nostalgia, and he hurried he steps. The familiar marble angel was just rising into view, the one that marked his mother’s little sister who’d died when she was just a girl from scarlet fever. The angel had always captivated him, her face white and hard and, he’d always thought, inappropriately serene to be marking the grave of a child, and he remembered the way he would always stop and look at it when he was younger, saying a silent hello to the aunt he’d never known, who’d died before she’d ever had a chance to grow up.

He stopped there now, just staring at the white marble figure. It seemed smaller now, and he towered over it, but the empty white face regarded him with the same cool unconcern. Virginia Leigh Anthony, born 1874, died 1880. Only six years old. And now who remembered her, Edward wondered. Did anyone know her favorite color, what she liked to eat, the games she played, what she had wanted to be when she grew up? Did anyone even care?

He turned away, his eyes scanning over the stones that he knew to be his grandparents and great aunts and uncles and distant cousins and—there. His memory, still sharp, let his now sharper eyes notice the out-of-place monument. To the far side was a large, plain gray stone that he didn’t recognize, and the name at the top was Mason.

Edward was in front of it like a shot, in his haste forgoing keeping to human speed, and he found himself looking at a generic, flat granite slab. Underneath the surname, he saw carved “Richard Tilden, 1858-1918”. And just to the left and a little below, he read “His Wife: Elizabeth Frances, 1870-1918”. And—his non-existent breath hitched—to the right, “His Son: Edward Anthony, 1901-1918”.

Edward’s knees felt like water, and he dropped to the ground, squelching in the wet earth atop the grave. Carlisle had told him that he’d pinned a death certificate with his name to a surrogate unclaimed body, just another lost victim of the epidemic, but he’d never thought about it—never really imagined what had happened afterwards, because he was still alive—after a fashion. He’d never thought about the wheels of civilization grinding on, of going through the appropriate motions to manage a death—his death. They’d had no living relatives in the area at the time—but had no one come forward to check the identity? Had whoever had inherited their possessions simply sent word to have them interred as quickly as possible? Had anyone come to the funeral?

Had there even been a funeral?

It was a queer sensation, looking at your own name on a tombstone. Didn’t everyone secretly wonder where their final resting place would be and how it would look once they were in it, a question that was never truly answered? And yet here he was, perversely alive after his death to see his own grave.

But he wasn’t, not really. And this wasn’t his resting place at all, but rather that of some anonymous stranger, buried next to his parents and amongst his family in the place that was rightfully his. That should have been his, if he’d not cheated the fate that was dealt to him.

And now would never be his.

It was a gift, Carlisle had told him when he’d first begun to question the nature of his strange new life—a gift to both him and his parents. Because he himself was now an indelible memory of his life and those he had loved—because those that we love are always with us, always a part of us, he said. And now his parents, their lives and loves and memories, would live on as long as Edward remembered them—would live on forever in their son.

But was he even their son anymore? He’d thought of himself as Edward Cullen for years now. And surely the good son Edward Mason wouldn’t lust for human blood. Not even his face was the same—the changes wrought by a vampire’s venom were all-encompassing. He’d looked like his mother, everyone told him, but with his father’s color. But not anymore—the green of his father’s eyes was washed away by a glittering yellow, a cat-like gold that had dulled with time to a rusty burnt orange. The change had altered his looks—nothing dramatic, but just tiny changes all over, subtle shifts in his bone structure, smoothing imperfections and adjusting the lines and planes of his face, turning him into something strikingly beautiful and alluring to his prey. But the changes, however small, summed to something dramatic to one who knew his face as well as he did, and he knew that he no longer looked like his mother. There were times when he could barely recognize himself in the mirror.

Would his parents even recognize him anymore?

Surely they would have been able to see through whatever unnatural changes he’d undergone, to see that their son was still there. Surely his father would, the man who’d insisted that his wife and son be treated for the ‘flu first, refusing aid until Edward was seen to, even as he coughed and choked and grew steadily weaker. And his mother, surely she would too, she who with her last dying, delirious breath, had begged the beautiful face that she thought was an angel to make her son live, and Carlisle had promised that he would.

He had lied. Edward Mason died anyway, and here was his tombstone to prove it.

Edward Mason was gone. His home was gone, his possessions were gone, and his family was gone—and all that was left was a slab of rock and some moldering bones, and for one horrible instant, all Edward wanted was to be there with them, sleeping peacefully for the first time in ten years in that bed of earth.

He stared at it, at the bland, impersonal monument that blended into the surroundings, even the final marker of his own end an empty and forgettable nothing. The names were carved deep, still sharp after only ten years, not worn down like the older ones. Richard Tilden, Elizabeth Frances, Edward Anthony. All dead.

There was a Bible verse cut below them, the sort of thing that was scrawled on tombstones across the world, most likely. “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in me, though he were not dead, yet shall he live. Whoever so believeth in me shall never die.”

Edward stared for a moment more, before a harsh laugh escaped him. He’d been resurrected, but he wasn’t alive—and he would live forever regardless.

Because he wasn’t human anymore. He was something else.

And just how do You account for that? Will I die if I no longer believe? Or have I cheated You too?

Or have You cheated

“Hey! You! Get away from there!”

Edward nearly leapt out of his skin—that was twice in one night he’d been so distracted that he’d been startled, something that rarely happened since he’d been changed. He jumped to his feet and saw a bent old man in galoshes and a moth-eaten box coat rushing towards him with a rake.

It was the groundskeeper, Archie Stanton, and he was furious. “I’ve had it with you kids sneaking in here!” he bellowed. He skidded to a stop, and Edward saw his face falter, his anger briefly failing him when he got a look at who—or rather, what he was shouting at. But he rallied again, foolish in the face of the obvious threat, and hollered, “I’ve told you wild kids to stay out of here!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Edward, his voice flat as he turned away and looked back down at the stone. No answers were written on its face, its only words a mockery. “I—I haven’t been here in a while, and I was coming to see—”

“The cemetery’s closed, you hooligan!” Archie yelled, shaking his fist. “And don’t try to fool me—you little monsters are always in here at night on a dare or something, playing pranks and defacing the stones—have you no respect for the dead?!”

Something in Edward’s chest clenched, and he twitched against the sudden urge to lash out at this puny, yammering creature who had interrupted him with his false accusations. “I have family buried here, sir,” he said coldly. “I was not pranking anything.”

“A likely story!” Archie sneered. “If you was visiting family, you’d come during open hours—now get!” And he waved his rake at him.

“Are you calling me a liar, sir?” Edward asked, his voice low, and he knew he was, and he found that he would very much like to show him the error of his words—in particular the fact that the man’s initial fright and distrust had been the truth all along.

“If the shoe fits, you good-for-nothing!” came the barked rejoinder. “I’ve had it with you lot coming in here and tearing up the place!”

Edward felt a growl fighting to escape him. “I’m sorry, sir,” he bit out, his voice rippling with something not quite human, and the man heard it. “I’ll leave.”

“Damn straight you will, before I call the police!” he yelled, more loudly to cover up the shakiness that Edward could hear beneath it—that he wanted to hear.

But without another word, he simply spun on his heel, turning his back on the stones of his family, and he walked away, borne out by a string of shouted threats, leaving the graves of his parents and himself behind him.

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