I had a big problem, and that was probably the understatement of a lifetime. Here I was, Mary Alice Brandon, a human living in a small town in Mississippi, while my sole mate was a vampire in the Newborn Wars in the South. Not just that, but I was only ten years old, while my future husband was sixty-seven years old. Well, he was only nineteen in human years and forty-eight in vampire years, but in total, he was sixty-seven. Someday, I would grow up and also be nineteen human years old, and then we could be together, if I lasted that long, that was.
I had been seeing Jasper and his army in my visions since as long as I could remember, but it was only last night that I saw the other vampire, James, for the first time. James was a feral monster, and he made my Jasper look civilized and tame, in comparison. James was a sick, sadistic creature who enjoyed playing with his food, and by that, I meant torturing humans. Worst of all, I was his singer, and he had just come across my path in New Orleans.
I had gone along with my father on one of his business trips to New Orleans last month. James would track my scent from the city to my home, where he would kill me and my family, if I were home. So, being home was out of the question. If I ran, then I would at least guarantee the survival of my parents and baby sister, even if I could not guarantee my own. There was no way I could outrun a vampire, so James would catch up with me eventually. My only chance at survival was to find someone bigger and stronger to protect me.
Jasper was the only living being I was aware of that stood a chance of protecting me. Jasper was taller, but James was heavier, with a thicker build. James had the advantage in raw strength, but Jasper had the advantage in experience. James was older, in both vampire and human years, but Jasper has spent his entire existence in battle. James had a red-haired mate on his side, while Jasper had a newborn army at his command. Jasper would protect me, and he would win.
But Jasper was also a blood-sucking vampire who lived a life of constant battle in the South. He was dangerous, and if he did not hurt me, his newborns with their uncontrollable thirst surely would. So, I was taking quite a risk in tracking Jasper down and asking for his help, but I had to do it, as I had no other choice. Jasper was my only hope for survival.
So, I was sure my parents would understand why I was up at three in the morning, packing a bag with a change of clothes, a heavy blanket, and a loaf of bread. Momma had just baked bread last night, and now there would be no bread for her to eat for breakfast, but my need was greater than hers, so I took it. I felt bad for inconveniencing Momma, but I was also saving her life by not being here. Now, if James found my house, he would discover that I was not there and keep going, following my trail. My only wish was that Momma had thought to bake a second loaf, because this would not last me long, but it was all we had, so it would have to do.
I pulled on my heavy coat, even though it was late April and a reasonable temperature out for this time in the early morning. In fact, if it was any warmer, I would look off wearing my coat. But I did not know for certain how long I would be alone looking for my savior and having my jacket could save me many sleepless nights. Once my jacket was on, I slung my bag over my shoulder and hit the road. I walked out to our barn and saddled up our horse, which I rode into town. Once I was there, I let our horse go and slapped her on the rear, encouraging her to head back towards home. Father would find her loose in the morning and tie her back up, none the worse for our journey.
At the train station, I found a place to lie down, out of sight, until the morning and proceeded to try to determine the best way to buy a ticket to McAllen, Texas. McAllen was an up and coming town near the Mexican border, as well as the closest train stop to where Jasper was camped out with his army. Honestly, I was just grateful they were within the United States this week, as they normally spent the majority of their time south of the border.
So, McAllen was where I needed to go, but convincing the railroad attendant that a ten year old girl needed passage to McAllen in 1911 in the middle of the night was nearly impossible, which was why I had to wait until morning. The train would leave at six-thirty, so I would have to surface at exactly six twenty-seven and insist that my father was on that train waiting for me. I would say we got separated when I went to the restroom, so they would let me on and walk me through the train to find my father. By the time they realized my father was not on the train, we will have already left the station. And by the time we reach the next station, I will have disappeared into one of the train’s many storage compartments. The train attendant will look for me, but give up before actually locating me, and I will escape off into the busy streets of McAllen on the other end.
So, I waited, and I did just that. I was so scared when I went up to that train attendant with my lie that I was crying real tears from my fear. My tears only helped my case, of course, and I was able to beg off to the storage compartment while the attendant was distracted by the conductor. I lucked out in that he did not even have a chance to walk me through the train and discern that my father was not aboard. When he came back and did not find me, he assumed all was well and that I had been happily reunited with my father. Good thing this was a large train, and this man was not from our town.
It took most of the day, but I had not gotten much sleep during the night, what with the visions of my impending doom and all, so I was able to sleep through most of the long train ride. When I was not sleeping, I looked around the compartment until I found some paper. The papers were flyers for a new store in some town in Alabama, but the back side was blank, so I removed a pencil from my bag and started drawing.
I drew four sketches, knowing that Jasper would need them for his army. First, I drew James, complete with sickening red eyes. Next up was his mate with fiery red hair. Then, I drew the clearing just north of Biloxi, which was perfect for an ambush. Finally, I drew the desert outcropping near McAllen where the final battle would occur. Either way it went down, James would not pursue Jasper’s army past McAllen, because that was where my scent would lead away in the other direction. Jasper would take me north.
I finished my sketches about ten minutes before the train started slowing down. I exited the storage compartment when no one was looking, only moments before we pulled into the McAllen station. I exited the train and looked up at the scorching hot Texas sun as it momentarily peaked out from behind today’s clouds, and smelled the freedom in the air: I was closer to my Jasper than I had ever been before.
But as close as I was to Jasper, I was still a million miles away. He was still a vampire, while I was a human. He was still an adult, while I was a child. And most importantly, he was camped out in the desert with a bunch of savage newborns, while I was in the center of town surrounded by civilized humans. I simply did not have enough water, or the capacity to carry enough water, to make the trip on foot. I would need an accomplice.
I headed straight for the town sheriff – who luckily for me had the IQ of a bag of beans – and knocked on the door.
“Can I help you, miss?” Sheriff Smith asked me.
“Yes, my Momma just died, and so, I’ve been sent out here to live with my father. Would you be able to escort me to his homestead?” I asked, fluttering my eyelashes, trying to look every bit the cute little girl I was.
“What would your name be, miss?” he asked.
“Alice Whitlock,” I lied. That would be my name one day, but not until Jasper and I were married. “My father’s name is Jasper Whitlock, and I know exactly where to find him, but he’s too far into the desert for me to walk.”
“And how did you get all of the way out here all alone, Miss Alice?”
“The train. I had no relatives out in Chapin, so the pastor put me on the train to my Pa. Momma was gonna come out here with me to join him in a few months, just as soon as he could get the homestead on our future ranch up,” I lied. If he sent me back to Chapin, it would be just on the other side of the desert I needed to cross.
“So, you have been out to your father’s ranch before and can show me the way?”
“Yes, sir, but it wasn’t much of a ranch last time. It was more of a desert with vague irrigation plans for the cattle and corn and what not. That’s why he wasn’t ready for me and Momma. But Momma caught whooping cough and didn’t make it,” I said, bringing on the tears.
“Don’t cry, little miss. I’ll help you find your pa,” he said before grabbing his gun and leading me out to his wagon.
Sheriff Smith sat me on the driver’s bench and then took several minutes to draw up his horse. Then he checked and made sure we had enough water. We did not; well, mostly I did not, so he grabbed a spare canteen for me, and then we were off. It was simple for me to point out the way, as I had been fixated on this path for hours and could draw the route if needed. So, it was only two hours later that we pulled up outside the barn Jasper was using as a base to hide out from the sun during the day. Not that there was any sun today as it had dipped back behind the thick clouds an hour ago.
I had a vision a few minutes before we arrived, and in it, Jasper and all his men had begged off into the brush to hide. I scried Jasper hiding under a large rock overhang within viewing distance of the barn to watch my arrival.
“This is it!” I announced as we pulled up.
“It looks disserted, Miss Alice,” Sheriff Smith stated.
“My Pa, Jasper Whitlock, should be around these parts somewhere,” I said loudly enough for Jasper, with his supernatural hearing, to hear. “He doesn’t know I’m coming, so it might take him a minute to crawl out from under that rock and come great me.” And as I spoke, I looked squarely at where I knew Jasper to be hiding and raised my hand to my eyes and then to the rock, in a gesture saying, “I see you,” even though I could not, in fact, see him with my eyes.
Then I was dragged into another vision in which Jasper decided to come out and ask me what was going on. Luckily, it was a rare cloudy day, so being seen by the sheriff was not a huge concern. And then the vision passed, and I waited as Jasper slowly walked out from underneath his rock with his back held straight and his hands behind his back. He had a curious expression on his face, and I could just make out his bright red eyes from behind his messy blond hair. His clothes were torn, but he could pass for a poor ranch hand.
“Pa!” I squealed, running to him and jumping onto him, my small frame clinging to him with all my might so that I could whisper into his ear, “I know you are a vampire, so play along.”
Jasper quickly repositioned his arms to support my weight before I could fall or the sheriff could notice anything peculiar. “And what are you doing out here, darlin’?” Jasper asked me, playing along nicely.
“Oh, Pa! It was awful! Ma caught whooping cough! She was so sick, and then she died, and I was all alone!” I cried, putting on a show. “This nice sheriff helped me out to your homestead to find you. The ranch still doesn’t look like much…”
“Well, that’s just awful and what with the new baby on the way, why, I don’t know what to say,” he replied, pulling off the part of the grieving widower nicely. “Thank you so much, kind sir, for bringing my little girl to me. But with news like that, I’m afraid I’m not much in the mood for company.”
The sheriff nodded and quickly took off, leaving me alone with my man for the first time. No sooner was Sheriff Smith out of sight, than Jasper pulled me into the barn and said, “You have some explainin’ to do, little miss. I can’t be keepin’ a human.”
“I’m psychic,” I explained. “I’ve been seeing you since as long as I can remember, so when I had no one else to turn to, I turned to you.”
“So is your mother dead?” he asked, concerned.
“No, worse. Another vampire caught my scent and plans on drinking me.”
“What makes you so sure? You might just get drunk here with me,” he warned.
“I smell too good. James’ll not stop until he finds me. You’re safe and civilized in comparison to him and his mate Victoria. My only chance of a life is with you.”
“You do smell delicious, my dear. Just what makes you think I won’t drink you myself?” he asked, showing me his teeth.
“Because you are my Jasper. We’re mates,” I insisted.
“How can we be mates? You’re just a little girl,” he replied, surprised at my answer.
“We’re destined to be together.”
“I will not agree to mate with a child,” he growled back with obvious disgust. “And I will not create an immortal child; that’s against our rules.”
“Of course I don’t want to be an immortal child! I know all of the rules. I even know that your newborns are borderline illegal. I am not supposed to be changed until I’m your age. When I am, we’ll be mates.
“If you see it, then I’m not going to argue with you. But I’ll not make any promises and will under no circumstances agree to mate with a child, although I will agree to protect you and keep you safe from this James until you can go home again.”
“You’ll have to keep me alive a few years yet, before you’ll realize that we are two halves of a whole. Our best bet is to go north, while sending your army to my hometown to ambush James and his mate. But if James survives, we’ll have to keep running, which will require you to leave your war ahead of schedule.”
“Why would we do that? Surely James will pick another human to snack on once he realizes that you already belong to a coven.”
“No, he won’t. You have to know what you are getting yourself into by helping me,” I pleaded, looking directly into his eyes. “James will not stop until I’m dead. And if you stand in his way, he will not stop until you are dead, as well. You’ll have to kill him so that we can live in peace, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to my human family. I’m just not cut out to survive in their world.”
“I won’t let him hurt you. I don’t reckon I know what has gotten into me today, but I will not suffer your loss, even though we just met,” he revealed, and I let out a sigh of relief, knowing that he felt it, too. Even though he had made it perfectly clear that he was not interested in me as a mate, he felt the bond we shared. Deep down, he must have sensed that I was right. “But what did you mean by ahead of schedule?”
“You’re not meant to fight with Maria and leave the wars for several decades yet. It will mean never meeting your best friend, but if you go with me, he and his mate will remain human and get the happily ever after we never could. You’ll be much happier in the north without the constant fighting. In another few decades, the emotional turmoil will make you depressed until Maria will no longer be able to stand your presence. Then she’ll try to kill you.”
“So we go north?” he asked urgently.
“Well, then, let me send my men home to Maria first.”
“No, you must send them to Biloxi to head off James. Send only one newborn back to Maria with a message as to what is going on. We need her and her army to protect us and kill James. We will flee while they fight, just in case. Here, I have the ambush all planned out,” I said, retrieving my sketches from my bag.
I spent the next several minutes showing Jasper my sketches and explaining my plan. My scent was all over Mississippi from traveling with my father, so when James arrived in Biloxi, he would start tracing my most recent paths. He would find the trail to the train station, but I went to the train station about twice a week, thanks to my father’s line of work. My father was always taking the train in his travels and my mother, sister, and I would see him off at that station and greet him when he returned.
So, James would find my scent trail leading to the train station, as well as a trail from two days ago leading back to my house. It was going to rain this afternoon, so both trails would be washed out, and James would not be able to tell that the return trail was older. So, James would wind up right back at my house, before he would set about to follow all of the other washed out trails he could find.
James would quickly come across my departure trail from last week, when my father and I had traveled on horseback up to Brandon. We had stopped at many little towns along the way so that my father could sell his pearls. He sold most of the pearls in Brandon, but he had a buyer for a few in a number of small towns. We took a different route home so that we could stop by all of the towns we had missed on the way up where my father sold the rest of his pearls before we finally made it back home.
Most people thought that I was inconveniencing my father by going along with him on these trips, because I was a child and slowed him down. But with my visions, I knew the best places to sell each pearl in order to obtain the highest selling price, so I doubled my father’s profits. We really needed the money right now, because we had the new baby and all. My sister, Cynthia, was just a year old. Babies were expensive and time consuming, so sending me with my father solved both of these problems. Not only did I double our income, but I was also out of my mother’s hair so that she only had to take care of the baby.
So, with the rains washing away most of my trail, it would take James a week to journey to Biloxi, Brandon, and back. A week was plenty of time for Jasper’s army to get into position. The army would be waiting just outside Biloxi and ambush James and Victoria. If there were any survivors, both sides would regroup and meet up here in McAllen for a repeat. Jasper’s army would fall back deep into Mexico before setting up camp in McAllen, so that James could not follow them. James would not be able to step foot into Mexico without Juan’s army’s approval.
Juan was the leader of the newborn army that controlled most of Tamaulipas, the northeastern most Mexican State. His territory was adjacent to Maria and Jasper’s, but the two armies were as close to allies as was possible. Basically, they had a temporary truce in which they each agreed not to attack the other and to let the other pass through their territory as needed. The goal of the truce was to take down a rival army directly to the north and split up said rival’s land between the two. The truce was temporary in that it would end as soon as this goal was accomplished, but for now, it would be used to our advantage.
Jasper’s newborns would retreat through Juan’s land, so when James tried to follow, he would be stopped by Juan’s army. It would take James an additional three months to pick my scent back up at the McAllen train station, assuming he survived his first encounter with Jasper’s newborns, that was. By then, Maria would have doubled her army and would be waiting in McAllen to finish off James and his mate. Only if he got past the newborns a second time would he be able to find Jasper and my trail north. Even then, we would be sure to travel through as many bodies of water as possible, just to confound the trail.
So, I explained all this to Jasper, and we went over which battle plan would be best for dealing with these two nomads. And when we were done, Jasper said, “Okay, this sounds like a good plan, and I know what I need to tell my men and Maria to do to make it work. But just what makes you think Maria will sacrifice herself and her army to protect us?”
“Maria will want my power. Tell her that I’m psychic and wish to join her coven and be her third in command. She’ll jump at the chance for power and gladly assume that you’ve left in order to protect me – to save me to serve her. She’ll sacrifice her army to have me, so all you have to do is send word that we plan on returning just as soon as James is taken care of.
“Okay, my little fortune teller,” he replied before following my orders.
Jasper picked me up and put me on his shoulders as he called out to his men to meet him in the clearing. The looks on the newborn’s faces when he told them of his plans to protect the human and abandon their surveillance in the area was priceless. Most were confused as to why he was not drinking me, and the rest were excited about the news of a fight in Biloxi.
Jasper assuaged all of their concerns by saying, “She’s special. Her gift will greatly benefit our cause when she is just a little bit older. We’ll rid her of her vampire problem and raise her ourselves until she is old enough to be changed. Now, go on to Biloxi and ambush these scum,” he ordered, before laying out the battle plans and handing over the sketches. He made sure to emphasize that they were to kill the two vampires in my sketches, no matter the cost. Then he sent one newborn off with a message for Maria, while the rest took off running into the desert headed for Biloxi.
Jasper grabbed my canteen and bag of supplies from where the sheriff had left them and took off in the opposite direction. “It’s been a long time since I was human, so you’ll have to remind me when you need to eat and drink, my child,” he said as he ran with me on his back, faster than I had ever gone before; we even passed a train on our way.
Texas was not the wettest place in the world, but Jasper must have taken me through every body of water along the way, because I was wet and miserable by the time we reached Oklahoma. And the cloudy, humid spring day was not helping one bit. It was in Oklahoma that I first dared to mention that I was thirsty and hungry. And although I did not mention how miserable my damp clothes made me, I knew he could feel my discomfort, because he was doing his best to ease it and keep me calm.
We stopped at Lake Murray and had a picnic lunch together. Well, I ate and drank, and Jasper refilled my canteen.
“So, my Alice, tell me how we are gonna carve out a territory in the north with just the two of us? And how am I gonna protect you from the Volturi? Surely they’ll not approve of me keepin’ you as a pet,” he said as I engulfed my bread. I had been so nervous about my journey all day, that it was nightfall, and I had just now touched my bread.
“Vampires don’t fight for territory in the North. You’ll be able to hunt as a nomad, going from town to town and taking as you wish. And you plan to change me, in order to make me your mate, so you’re not breaking any of the Volturi’s laws. Aro himself found Jane and Alec when they were children. The worse thing that will happen to us is that Aro will enlist the two of us into his Guard,” I answered.
“That doesn’t sound bad at all. I hear the Guard gets treated very reasonably, especially compared to Maria’s army. But tell me, Miss Alice, how do you know all of this? You seem to know so much more than me.”
“Like I said, Jasper, I’m a psychic, and the only possible future for me is to be turned into a vampire. Either I become one, or I die at the hands of one, but never life as a mortal. I’ve spent my entire life studying your kind because of how close your world is tied to my own.”
“And where would you go if I turned you away? Surely you would be safer with a random human than with a monster like me.”
“Look at me, Jasper,” I insisted, pulling on his chin until he lifted it, so that I could look into his bright red eyes. “You are no monster to me. And if it were not you, I would have to find Aro himself. He would protect me for my gift, but then I would be indebted to serve in his guard for all of eternity. I’d much rather spend my eternity with you.”
“But I drink from humans. How will I ever keep you alive long enough to change?” he wondered dejectedly.
“I can’t see all of the details along the way to our destiny, but the first step is certain. First, we need to travel north. I’ll sleep on your back tonight as you run us into Colorado. By tomorrow, we’ll reach Idaho, and there, we’ll be safe. I don’t have much bread, so we’ll have to find a store tomorrow night to buy some, but I don’t have any money.”
“Money is not necessary when you’re a vampire, so I’ll get you more bread. But if I must run all of that way with you on my back, we better get started,” he said, helping me pack up my supplies, wrapping me in my coat, and encouraging me to take a final sip of water.
Back onto Jasper’s back I went, and off he ran. Being safe with Jasper was so soothing, that I fell asleep on his back right away. When I woke, the sun was rising over the eastern horizon, and we were running over forest covered mountains.
“You were correct, my darlin’ Alice; we did cross over into Colorado while you slept. We can stop here for a moment,” Jasper said, setting me down by a small stream. I took the opportunity afforded to me to take care of all my human needs, including drinking as much water as I could. I tried not to be a pain as I knew Jasper was not used to accommodating human needs, so drinking while here would save us a stop in a few hours.
I ate a slice of bread, washed up, and then we were off again. We stopped once more around noon and then again at nightfall. And as I had predicted, we did make it across the border into Idaho. “Where to now, my Alice?” Jasper asked me as I sat and ate the last of my bread.
“You’ll have to take me into a local store in the morning to purchase another loaf of bread, but after that, I don’t see anything in particular on our horizon. We’re plenty north to be safe from Maria and James for a while, but far enough south that you won’t have trouble protecting me from the harsh winters. You should leave me in the woods while you go hunt in town, and then we can travel a little further west tonight. We’ll have to set up a homestead in order to keep a roof over my head, but we won’t be able to stay long.
“It all depends on if James gets past your army or not. If he does not, we’ll still have to move regularly, in order to hide from the humans. But if he’s still after us, we’ll have to fly or sail away from him in order to not create a trail. You should be able to buy a hot air balloon to take us to the east coast, and from there, we can catch a ship to Europe. In fact, we could even buy a yacht and live at sea until I come of age, if James is too persistent. But hopefully, it will not come to that, and James will meet his end at the hands of one of your newborns. And you only need to protect me for six to nine years before I’ll be old enough to change.”
“You’re perfect just the way you are, my Alice. I wish you didn’t require me to turn you. Are you sure you don’t wish to return to your family and live a human life, once James is taken care of?”
“My family will be safer without me.”
“That is only because James is out there. Once he is dead, you could return.”
“I’m sure that I’m meant to be a vampire with you, and I don’t wish to return,” I said, thinking about how I would never see my parents or my baby sister again.
This knowledge made me sad, but it would be easier on everyone this way. Besides, I really did see my family being better off without me. I couldn’t see details that far into the future, but I could see enough to know that something bad – and not just James – was awaiting my parents if I were to stay. I had seen the vague, unhappy ending for my family ever since my sister was born, but this ending was wiped clean away the moment I decided to leave. Now, I saw my parents grieving over my loss and growing old together; I had never seen that far into any future before.
“It’s either you or Aro. With anyone else, I’m likely to be dead inside a year,” I warned. “There’s a small chance that I will live longer than a year if I stay with the humans and kept switching ships, but even then, James would find me eventually.”
“And you’ll be safe in the woods while I hunt?” he inquired.
“I was on my own all the way from Mississippi to Texas; I’m safer than any adult human would be. I can see that no dangerous animals or humans will cross my path while you’re gone. And most importantly, it will take James months to catch up with us. In the meantime, you need to feed regularly so that you are not tempted to drink me.”
“Then I’ll leave you here and come straight back for you. I can get bread while I am out, but is there anything else you would like to eat?”
“Well, there is nothing else that is easy to carry, except maybe dried fruit, meat, or nuts. You can worry about feeding me properly once we find somewhere to settle,” I insisted.
Jasper nodded and disappeared into the surrounding forest in a blink of the eye, saying only, “I’ll come back for you, my Alice.”
I used the time alone to wash in the stream. It was cold and I had no soap, but it was better than nothing. Then I changed into my fresh clothes, put on my coat, and curled up in my blanket to await Jasper’s return.