There was nothing. Then there was Jasper. But only in my head. As I inhaled my first remembered breath, Jasper's face filled my mind. Where was he? I urgently needed to find him, but suddenly, I felt a different urgency. My throat? Was that the word? Where did I learn that word? My throat burned.
A new face materialized. The eyes in my brain saw a stranger coming toward me. Then the stranger was there, in front of my physical eyes. What was that smell? Smell? Was that the word? Tendrils of the fiery odor emanated from the stranger and threaded their way down my raw throat, scorching everything they touched. My body operated without my mind, and soon, I dropped the stranger's limp body to the ground. Limp. No, that wasn't the word. Dead. The body was dead. My throat felt better, but not much.
I brushed my hand across my mouth. Mouth? I examined the fragrant red liquid smeared on my hand. Blood? Is that what the dead body had contained? Chagrin filled me. That dead body had eyes too. It had hands, and a throat that now seeped blood from puncture wounds. Puncture wounds created by my teeth. Teeth? Yes, teeth. My body had acted without permission, and the blood had cooled the fire in my throat, but what about her throat?
Strangers' faces flashed through my brain, faces from my future, men, women, and children. Children? Yes, children. My chest ached. Lifeless grimaces and vacant eyes paraded through my future visions. All attached to dead bodies that I dropped. But not yet, I hadn't dropped them yet. New images surged through my brain:
Carlisle. Carlisle hunting...deer? Oh, he was an angel, a god with golden eyes and golden hair. Beautiful Carlisle. He drained the delicious liquid from the deer. I see myself (is that me?) hunting with Carlisle. Jasper hunted with us.
But not yet, I needed to find Jasper. He was in pain. I could see him in my mind now in a flash of his future:
Jasper's black eyes hungrily stalked the woman. She walked past him, and his arm flashed around her and pulled her behind a building. He flinched at her terror, but brushed her blonde hair away from her neck as a lover would before a kiss. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in her ear, and then he drained her body of blood. A red halo encircled his black irises, and the bruise-like shadows under them lightened. But he cried over the dead body. No tears, for tears were impossible, just strangled sounds in his throat. His fists pulverized the cinder wall, snapping the iron supports beneath. The building shuddered under his relentless assault. Jasper stepped away, and the structure fell over and hid his victim from his sight. He grabbed broken concrete with both hands and slammed it repeatedly into his head. He pounded until his hands were full of only dust.
After this vision played in my head, scene after grisly scene unfurled. Jasper’s apologies grew more fervent, and his despair in the aftermath drove him to greater and greater destruction. With each death, Jasper slipped further away from me. He grew unfocused and fuzzy in my mind. Was he leaving me? Panic.
Then I remembered the vision with Carlisle, Jasper and I hunting together. I needed to find Jasper. I could save him. If I did that, the future would fall into place. If I did that, then Edward would share my visions.
Edward? Edward’s lovely face captured my thoughts. He laughed with me as he read a future vision in my mind. Yes, I needed to find Jasper, and so my hunt began. As I set out on the journey, my vision of Jasper became clear again. He was no longer fading or blurry. I would find the diner in which we would meet. He would be wet, running in from the rain. Rain? Yes, that's the word, rain. He smelled wonderful. Not delicious like fragrant blood. He smelled like home.
Oh, blazing pain! The aroma of human blood baked all moisture from my throat. I lurched toward it. Jasper's face disappeared and was replaced by the dead faces. NO. I stopped breathing; stopped smelling. Jasper reappeared. I breathed the fragrance again. Jasper disappeared. I ran away, and Jasper's face became rich with color; all the lines filled in. A vision unfolded of Carlisle and his family, and their stunning golden eyes welcoming us into their home:
Where is Edward?" I asked Carlisle.
Rosalie shifted uncomfortably. Esme’s soft face continued smiling, but she looked uneasy.
"I'm sorry, did I say something wrong? Are Edward and Emmett all right?" I asked.
"No, you didn't say anything wrong," Carlisle answered, "We just wonder how you know our names, and how you know Edward and Emmett."
"Oh, but I've always known you. You were in my head from my first moment."
" Edward and Emmett will be back soon." I stopped speaking as my mind saw the brothers walking in the door in about twenty minutes.
"So then, you are talented." Carlisle commented
"Talented?" I asked.
"Yes, you seem to be able to see things before they happen."
"Yes. I didn't know that was a talent." Calm washed over me, and I saw the others relax. Is that what Jasper was, talented? Did the Cullens know that Jasper was silently putting everyone at ease?
"Well, it's an interesting gift," Carlisle continued, "It seems quite accurate too."
"I don't know if it is accurate. It changes all the time. I saw you all from the beginning, but sometimes I lost you, especially if I tried to do certain . . . things." Things. I didn't want to tell Carlisle that he and his family disappeared whenever I wanted to kill a human.
"Hmmm, I wonder if," Carlisle started.
"Oh, Edward and Emmett decided to take a different route. Emmett wants to buy a gift for Rosalie. They won't be back for 30 minutes now," I said.
Rosalie smiled expectantly.
"Your visions seem to change with decisions people make. Perhaps your visions only show you the future of the course a person is on. If the course changes, then does the vision change?"
Oh. I stopped running and exited the vision with Carlisle and my family. I wondered. I turned and ran back to the appetizing aroma. Jasper, Carlisle, Esmee, Rosalie, Emmett, Edward all blinked out of my brain. I turned and ran away from the smell again. Their faces returned. I thought I understood, and my vision reordered itself. My future conversation with Carlisle corrected and replayed:
"Yes, you seem to be able to see things before they happen." Carlisle repeated in my head.
"Oh, yes. But it changes. I can only see the future of a course a person is on. If they change the course, then my vision changes. For instance, I expected Edward and Emmett in 20 minutes, but they are taking a different route now. Emmett wants to buy Rosalie a gift. They'll be here in 30 minutes." I explained.
"Very interesting," Carlisle answered, and I could see he meant it.
And so I ran. I ran in the direction that kept my loved ones sharpest in my brain. I ran until my visions were as solid as the present. I ran along the edges of a forest. I ran until the sun began to rise.
I stopped and breathed. Breathing was a relief, even though I didn't need the air. No delicious aroma burned my throat. The absence of the scent smelled nearly as sweet as the human blood had. But I smelled a different fragrance. I recognized it from my vision of hunting with Carlisle. Deer. This smell didn't burn my throat as much as human blood. More importantly, this smell didn't cloud my vision of Jasper and my new family.
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. Without prompting, my body chased down that smell. I monitored Jasper's face, and it remained vivid in my head, so I continued my hunt. Seconds later, it was over, and I dropped the dead body. It was a deer this time. No dead human faces to flash through my mind. Why didn't my visions give me the same warning, before I killed, yes, killed, that was the word, before I killed that woman?
Perhaps because my mind didn't know the course my body was on until it was over? I was more aware this time, anticipating my body's response to the smell. That explanation felt right, and would have to suffice. This new understanding unraveled some of my talent's mystery. That is what Carlisle had called it, a talent. Embracing this fresh knowledge, I decided to follow the course that made my visions solid.
The sun rose as I walked and I gasped. My skin . . . sparkled (is that the word?) in the sun. So beautiful. My mind's eye saw Jasper sparkling now:
We walked together near a lake, and I thought his brilliance should make me blink. But my eyes remained open, and I gazed upon his beauty. Prisms of color bled out of sparkling white tendrils of light. Just like the rainbow. His golden eyes smiled at me. My breathing sped up, and his scent filled my senses enhancing his beauty. Green apples. His voice, with its lazy accent and drawn out vowels, complimented the peaceful mood of the scene. “My Alice.”
I floated in the serenity of my vision, until a delicious smell assaulted my nostrils. Jasper disappeared, and a new, terrifying vision invaded my thoughts:
Three men stood in robes. Two had black hair, and the third had nearly white hair. I couldn't move. Slicing sensations cut through my arm, legs, and my neck. My ears roared with a high-pitched screeching unlike anything I had words to explain. The unbearable sounds accompanied the slicing.
My eyes were now level with an expensive pair of Italian shoes. My head rested on the ground? I tried to turn it, but it was no longer attached to my neck. I smelled something sweet burning…
In my terror my body ran, and the vision ceased when I reached shade of the trees. I didn't sparkle as much there. I did, however, still smell humans. Jasper's face populated my brain. I jumped straight up and sat on a tree branch. I heard the humans now. A small amount of their odor reached my high perch. Tiny burn.
"This is too far," a woman whispered. My sensitive ears had no trouble hearing her, or even hearing the tiny click her eyelids made as she blinked. "We should get back to the others."
"It's safe Lily. I wanted to be alone with you." A man answered.
"I don't feel safe. I feel like we're being watched. I want to go back."
"Just one kiss before we leave?" the man asked.
I heard a soft sound, and then my mind flooded with visions of Jasper kissing me. We sparkled in the sun, and his cool lips trailed my jaw and whispered against my throat. He stared into my eyes crooning, “My Alice,” and then pressed his lips to mine. Kissing. I liked that.
For the next three days, I walked, and I sparkled. If I smelled human blood while I sparkled, then the terrifying visions returned. The three men seemed to be judges. Their leader, Aro, accused me of not keeping the secret. What secret was I supposed to keep?
I ran for trees when I saw the visions, always hiding high up. If it took me too long to reach shade, the visions concluded with the slicing sensations, the sounds like stone being sawn, and the sweet burning smell.
The third day I clung to my branch and heard soft footfalls. I smelled cinnamon, coffee and wood smoke. A voice shimmered through the air like soft silk.
"Little vampire, what are you doing in that tree?"
At the bottom of my tree, a deeply colored man peered up. His pure black hair sprayed rainbows from each of his tight curls. I saw him softly bend his knees and land on a branch facing me. A split second later, I saw him do it again, perfectly mimicking my vision.
He smiled. I stared at his beautiful lips. They seemed soft, but that probably was not right. Their fullness misled me, because my lips were not soft at all. Contrarily, the only thing harder than my lips, were my teeth. Delicate mists of light bounced off his teeth in the diffused sun.
"Hello." His smooth voice swirled around me. "Why are you hiding in this tree?"
His breath revealed more scents. Strawberry and burnt sugar.
"I'm hiding from the sun," I explained
His smile widened.
"Why are you hiding from the sun?"
"I don't want to burn and die," I answered simply.
The man's laughter rolled like tumbling satin. Oh, but he was beautiful
"The sun can't hurt you. That's a myth that humans like to repeat."
"I'm not afraid of the sun. I'm afraid of the three men in Italy. I see visions of them when I walk in the sun."
"Yes, that sounds right. They wear lovely shoes."
"You like their shoes?" he mused and glanced at my bare feet.
"I like them very much."
He chuckled. "My name is Robert."
"Alice, who is watching over you? Who is your creator?"
"I don't understand. You are the first, uhm, vampire I've met."
Of course he was a vampire. He was just like me, and he had called me a vampire. The word felt uneasy on my tongue.
"That is very strange. Who would abandon a lovely thing like you?"
Jasper's face wavered a bit. This worried me. Agitation nipped at me, because I didn't' understand what Robert meant by my creator. He didn't explain.
"So tell me, Alice, do you see the Volturi every time you are in the sun?"
"No, only when I sparkle and smell humans at the same time. I jump into a tree when I smell the humans."
"So very strange," he repeated. "However your gift works, it serves you well. You do need to stay out of the sun when you smell humans."
"If you are able to smell the humans, they are nearly close enough to see you. If they see you sparkle, they will know you are different. The Voluturi are very strict about keeping our secret."
There’s the secret again. The Volturi accused me of not keeping the secret. Well for goodness sake, I would keep the silly secret if I knew what it was.
"They don't want humans to know we sparkle in the sun?" I asked.
Robert flashed another brilliant smile. Light fractured on his teeth and bounced off in eight colors. I felt as though he had pulled the breath from me. Jasper blurred a bit. I didn't like that.
"No, dear." Dear? I liked that.
"They don't want the humans to know we exist, so we don't draw attention to ourselves. Humans don't sparkle, so we don't show them that we do. As long as you are in the shade, they will think you are human, too."
"But we still sparkle in the shade," I objected.
"Very true. But our eyes are stronger than theirs. They can only see us glitter in strong sunlight."
"So, I could be around humans, and they wouldn't know?" I asked.
He looked me over.
"Well, you are still very young, and your eyes would give you away."
"I don't understand," I said
"Have you seen a mirror?"
"You should look the first time you get a chance. In the meantime," he fished in his pocket, "wear these around the humans." He handed me a pair of spectacles with dark lenses. I slipped them on.
"Do I look human now?" I asked.
He laughed. "Not a chance, but they won't know what is different about you."
Again, I didn't understand, and this angered me. I saw Robert drop from the tree, and seconds later he followed my vision and landed with a soft thup.
"Will you come out of the tree, Alice?"
I supposed it was safe. No visions warned me otherwise. I landed one tiptoe at a time. Thip, Thap.
"Ah, you are a little dancer," he noted. What did that mean? My anger grew. I drew my eyebrows together.
"I don't understand what you mean. I wish you would speak more clearly."
"Yes, you're right. My apologies. You move like a dancer. It's very pretty."
I felt a bit better. This is the first person I'd ever talked to, and I was getting angry?
"Thank you," I said contritely.
"It's okay Alice. You're young, and things may seem bewildering or irritating. That's normal. It would be much easier if your creator were here to help you."
"What do you mean by my creator?"
"The vampire that changed you."
"Changed me from what?"
Was he going to make me ask a million questions? Why didn't he just explain himself? Robert cocked his head.
"From a human. Alice, don't you remember who changed you from a human to a vampire?"
"I was human?" Perplexing.
"You don't remember?"
"I remember seeing Jasper's face, and then smelling the blood."
"You don't remember burning?"
"I burned?" I asked and remembered the visions of the Italian shoes that ended in burning smells.
"Hmm. Amazing. No, you didn't actually burn, but the transformation from human to vampire is very painful. It feels like burning in a fire."
"I've only burned in my visions of Italy. Have many humans been changed into vampires?"
"Not many. Still, we don't die, so our numbers have accumulated. No one has ever counted, but the process is difficult. Imagine drinking blood."
I did, and just the thought ignited a yearning that seared my throat.
"Now imagine stopping."
"Impossible." I said.
"No, not impossible, but very difficult. The vampire who created you needed to be extremely focused on keeping you alive. To go through such an ordeal and abandon you makes no sense."
"So, a vampire changed me by drinking my blood and leaving me alive?"
"Not exactly. The vampire changed you with his venom. Drinking your blood was just inevitable. It is the venom that burns in a human's veins while they transform."
"Do you remember being human?"
"I didn't like it much. At least what I can remember of it. You see, the humans divide themselves into groups according to skin color, hair texture, family origin, money. They have more lines to separate themselves than I can think of. I belonged to a group that was enslaved. I was forced to work on a farm every day."
"Did you have family?"
"Yes. I remember having two brothers. I don't remember much about them, except they were forced to leave our family when I was still a child. My mother cried."
"How were you changed?"
"I never thought about my circumstances much. I was born into a life of servitude, and I expected nothing else. I even fell in love with a woman on the farm, wanted to be with her always. That's when I met Lucas."
"Was Lucas a vampire?"
"I didn't know it at the time, but yes he was. He told me that I didn't have to continue living as a slave. He said he had a way out."
"What was the way out?"
"I wasn't interested. As I said, I didn't think much about my circumstances, and I wanted to be with Blossom. But then our, well, owner, exchanged her for money."
"Yes. There was nothing I could do, and for the first time, I seriously thought about my lot. I thought about what Lucas had said, and wondered if there was a better life. I was ready for a change, but he didn't visit anymore.
"I grew to hate every day I lived. I worked because I had to. I dreamed of killing the man that called himself my owner. I dreamed of running far away and never looking back."
"Not at first. I heard rumors of others slaves that ran to freedom, butI didn't know where to go. Ignorance tethered me to the farm I despised. One day, I decided the answers would not come to me, I had to find them. I had to run first, and worry about where I needed to run, later
"So, you ran?"
"I lived on the run for six days, when I stole a chicken from a coop. The chicken's owner heard me, and shot me in the leg with buckshot. I got away, but my leg festered. After four or five days, I laid down to die. I burned with fever, and was too weak to draw water. I thought I was having a fever dream when I felt icy hands touch me."
"Lucas's. He told me later he had picked up on my scent, and could smell the blood and infection. That day though, he only told me he had a way to free me from slavery. Then he bit me."
"And it burned?"
"I burned for four days. At first, I could think of nothing else. Eventually, I was able to burn and listen. Lucas explained that when the burning stopped, no one could ever enslave me again. He said I would be too strong, too fast, and too deadly for the humans to contain me. He told me how I could get revenge on the man that thought he owned me."
"Did you get your revenge?"
"I did. The so-called master and his family died at my hands. Well, perhaps saying they died at my teeth would be more accurate."
"What about Blossom?"
"After about a year, I looked for Blossom. I wanted to free her, and Lucas said he would help."
Robert shook his head.
"I found the farm she had been sent too. I was too late. Blossom died in childbirth, and her child died with her."
"I'm so sorry. You said we don't die?"
"No, not naturally anyway. I'm told we can be killed. First, immobilized by dismemberment, and then burned."
That would explain the burning smells in my visions. I shuddered.
"Only another vampire would have the strength to kill us though."
"Where did Lucas come from?" I asked to change the subject. I didn’t like this talk of burning.
"He never talked much about his human life. From the way he spoke, I always assumed he was born in Africa. He had an accent and once mentioned the ship over."
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know. We parted ways about two years after he changed me. He chose another slave to free, and I wanted to travel."
"Do you miss him?"
"I think we vampires always love our creators. They are a type of parent, so yes, I miss him. What about you, Alice? You could travel with me. I can teach you the things you need to know."
I wanted to travel with Robert, but Jasper's face flickered in and out.
"No, I don't think I should do that,"
Jasper's face solidified. Relief
I felt Jasper's future hands on my future face. His eyes golden eyes betrayed no thirst. His tangy-smooth scent of apples and leather encircled me like an embrace.I brushed my fingertips along his cheek, feeling the path his scars carved into his skin. He grabbed the hand and kissed my palm.
"I have to meet someone."
"So you do have some friends."
"No, but I will," I smiled.
"Your gift reveals many secrets Alice. Where are you to meet your friend?"
"In a diner. I don't know where, but now that I have the dark spectacles, I can start searching them."
"There are many diners. Thousands. Can you narrow your search down?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what language will they speak?"
"What are the people in the diner wearing?"
"They are cold. It's raining, and they are wearing heavy rain jackets. Some carry umbrellas."
"Do you see anything that will clue you into the location? A sign? A newspaper?"
A man sitting at a table, near the door, was reading a newspaper. I saw the words, but I didn't want to tell Robert that I couldn't read them.
"No, I don't see anything that gives me a clue."
"I have a hunch you need to go north." He said.
“I have a gift too. I have hunches. That's all, but they never lead me wrong."
Robert invited me to hunt with him, but I saw dead humans in his future. I declined.
"I wish you the best, Alice," he said before he darted toward the sweet human fragrance.
"Goodbye, Robert," I said to his retreating back. Loneliness chiseled a void into my chest.