MOONLIGHT GLISTENED ON THE ROCKS AND BRACKEN, MY SHOES SQUELCHING THROUGH THE GLOOM OF THE FOREST FLOOR. My socks were wet, but I paid it no mind. I needed to find...
I shook my head to clear it and quickened my pace. Even as my breathing grew ragged with the exertion, I forged on, stumbling often. Every root, every lump and hollow of earth was my enemy.
The branches seemed to reach towards me from either side of the path, brushing against my arms and tugging on my hair. But I couldn’t allow anything to hold me back.
What was I looking for?
Breaking out into a sprint, my gaze darted frantically from tree to tree. A silhouette, a shadow – I was desperate for any sign of movement. I refused to give voice to my dread. I just had to keep looking. I had to see something out there in the gloom.
My toe caught on a protruding rock in the ground, and I fell hard. Wheezing with my next breath, I struggled to get to my knees, to look up again, to keep going. I dug my fingers into the moss until they pierced into the mud beneath. Deep down, I knew this was familiar. I knew how this would end.
It was as I had always feared – there was nothing to find. There had never been anything to find, and as that realization set in, I collapsed fully with a scream.
It usually took a while for the screaming to wake me up, though I doubted the same was true for Charlie. I shook in the bedsheets tangled around me, waiting for the worst of it to subside before I decided whether or not to succumb to wakefulness.
I wondered dimly if the rawness of the pain had actually changed in... his absence. It didn’t feel tempered in the slightest. It felt inflamed and swollen as if this gaping wound had been inflicted moments ago rather than months. In a rare moment of something approaching lucidity, I could hardly believe I had weathered it for that long.
Yawning, I rolled towards the bedside table, glancing at the digital clock. If I made a more complicated breakfast, I could probably justify getting out of bed. With a light tremor in my arms, I sat up. I moved to reach for a glass of water only to freeze with my arm outstretched.
Out of the corner of my eye, in the corner at the juncture of the wall and closet, I saw the dim shape of a person. I couldn’t make out many features in the dark, but I thought it was facing me. A moment passed with no movement, and then I withdrew my arm.
I thought of Charlie down the hall. It was unlikely that he hadn’t heard anything. I had almost certainly woken him up. However, screaming again probably wouldn’t attract his attention. I might have even been loud enough to mask the sounds of someone breaking and entering into his house. I couldn’t be sure.
But the longer I waited, the more nervous I became and the longer the figure went without moving. Surely it saw me?
A scream likely wouldn’t draw Charlie’s attention, but commotion might. I glanced at the lamp on the bedside table, then the figure, then the lamp on the dresser at the foot of the bed, ready to start knocking things over, before taking a shaky breath.
I slowly moved to untangle my legs from the bedding. Still, the figure didn’t move. Maybe I could make a break for it, and grab Charlie myself? The distance from the bed to the door was about equal to the closet, but if I was fast enough, I might make it. If nothing else, the noise of me inevitably tumbling to the floor should be enough to attract his attention.
The bed creaked as I sprung off of it and raced to the door. I wrenched it open, glancing behind me to see if I was being pursued, and then stopped in my tracks. There was no one. Not behind me and not in front of the closet. Just the empty bedroom, barren walls, and neatly organized computer desk.
Blinking a few times, I peered around the room, but nothing materialized out of the dark. I trudged back to the nightstand to collect the glass of water, and began preparing for another day. By the time Charlie came downstairs, I was sure I had imagined the specter I had seen in the dark. By the time I settled in to bed that night, I had forgotten it entirely.
There was no sound in the forest. No night-fowl, no lumbering predators, not even rustling in the leaves. Just the endless night accented by my own shallow breathing and clumsy footfalls. It was often this, more than anything else, that always drove the realization that there was nothing in the woods and my efforts were pointless. I was alone and always would be.
As every night preceding, I woke screaming. I took a moment to catch my breath before I checked the time. Unfortunately, it was still too early, and I would have to go back to sleep. A whimper tore from my throat. Tonight would be especially bad, then.
I could at least use the bathroom, brush my teeth again, fetch more water and delay the unavoidable repeated horror. Rubbing my face, I swung my legs out of the bed, only to pause and squint into the dark.
In the corner in front of the closet, I saw a pale figure. With a jolt, I realized I had seen something like this the night before. But it hadn’t been real. I had only imagined it in the wake of my nightmare. Perhaps it was a manifestation of wishful thinking? My mind providing something dubiously tangible to “find” now that I was awake?
I tried blinking repeatedly, but it didn’t remove the vision. Neither did squeezing my eyes shut and counting to ten.
Exhaustion, then. My sleep-deprived brain was just struggling to differentiate between nightmare and reality. Not that I was having much success either. Maybe if I left the room as I had the night before it would disappear, having no choice but to conform to sensibility. Would engaging with it at all break the spell?
“Hello?” I croaked.
The figure moved, lifting an arm. I realized the pallor I saw was just clothing as their sleeve slid down. The loose fabric swished back and forth in a slight wave.
I swallowed. Nothing about this shape was familiar, but I couldn’t risk whatever this was escalating. I was already anticipating a brutal night as it was. I had to put an end to this before it went too far.
Surely my subconscious couldn’t provide me with too much more of this. It wasn’t like the nightmares themselves were especially creative.
“Who are you?” I asked. Dark as it was, I could only just make out the shape of their head tilting to one side. But they remained.
I was hoping that would have been enough. “You shouldn’t be here,” I tried, as if being direct with my subconscious would actually get me anywhere. When I blinked, the figure vanished.
With a shaky breath, I grabbed the glass of water and went across the hall to the bathroom. I must be more tired than I thought.
Another night. Another nightmare. Charlie hadn’t come to check on me in weeks, and so I laid alone in bed while I tried to catch my breath. Without him there to perform for, I allowed the guilt to wrack through me for what I was forcing him to put up with.
I was denying him sleep every single night, making him worry about me. I couldn’t keep it together, I was completely unable of being a good daughter. It wasn’t fair to him to put him through this and he shouldn’t have to.
I threw my arm over my eyes with a sob, and tried to mostly to keep it down as I was swept under by the pain. I couldn’t stop the effects of this agony just as I couldn’t stop the inevitability of its cause. I wished, not for the first time, that his sense of obligation as a father didn’t bind him to me. I wished I could make it up to him properly, with something better than meal planning. I wished –
A soft thud, like a glass being set on a table caught my attention. Lowering my arm, I gasped. The figure from before hovered by the bed, head tilted towards me. This close, I could make out dark skin and the detail of a pale baggy blouse, but their features were obscured still behind deep shadows.
My breath caught around another sob. “Oh god,” I whispered, pulling the covers up and over my head. I couldn’t deal with this. I couldn’t process it. I was so tired and it hurt so much. I wheezed and shook until it hurt to breathe. Even through the crying, I imagined my head was being petted through the blanket and almost found it soothing.
When I awoke the next morning, I pried my cheek from the pillow and drank the tall glass of water by the bed in one go. By the time I went downstairs, the numbness I depended on returned, and I tried to forget about what I had seen that night.
I dithered around the kitchen after Charlie headed upstairs. I was no stranger to more or less ignoring my problems – at least the big ones. What I couldn’t fix with hard work and distraction got shelved indefinitely, never to be examined. It was one thing to have nightmares. They were awful, but they were a constant in my routine of careful avoidance and fog.
But hallucinating? Or was I? It could be just another part of the nightmare. While it felt as real as anything did these days, I couldn’t be sure. I had only ever seen the figure after waking up, or at least thinking I had woken up. Even so, being damaged wasn’t the same as being crazy, and I wasn’t entirely at ease with the latter.
I was also a little reticent to investigate further. If I looked too close at one aspect of the nightmare, I might accidentally open the floodgates to the rest of it, and I had labored endlessly to avoid just that. My grasp on stability was hard-earned and tenuous. I didn’t want to risk the catatonia of that first week after... After.
However, if the opposite of catatonia was insanity, then I had no choice. I couldn’t go around being crazy and maintain the veneer of normalcy I had been cultivating for so long. If not for Charlie’s sake, then to avoid the risk of being put in a padded room somewhere, outside of Forks. I couldn’t leave Forks no matter what.
So fine. If it was an escalation of the nightmare, alright. I could deal with that. It was just another facet of my evening penance that I spent the day trying not to acknowledge anyway. A little benign, all considered, by itself, and foreboding if this was the beginning of a trend, but survivable. If I was hallucinating, though, I had to mitigate it and maintain the appearance of a firm grasp on reality. I was exhausted just thinking about it, but it might pare down on what little free time I hadn’t already cut out of my life. And no one had picked up on my act enough to comment so far.
Resigned to my plan of action, I went upstairs and began the process of bedding down. When I awoke, I would be ready.
When I awoke, I wasn’t ready. Shaken, I gasped for breath and clutched at my hair, willing the sharp pain to ground me or at least distract from the vividness of the nightmare. My eyes snapped open when I felt a tug on the blanket.
Kneeling beside my bed was the figure. They were holding out a glass of water.
Right. I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes and tried to breathe slowly. If I was asleep, then whatever this was didn’t matter. Just my subconscious offering some semblance of what I was looking for in the nightmare. If I was awake, I would learn to ignore the vision until it bled into the background of my heady numbness, or at least never acknowledge it outside of the wake of the dream.
Slowly, I reached out to take the glass. As I grasped it, my fingers brushed theirs. They were ice cold. In an instant, the figure vanished.
Suddenly, my heart wasn’t only pounding from the nightmare, but with adrenalin. I hadn’t even considered... Either I was crazier than I thought or my imagination was far more creative than I ever gave it credit for. But it was so unlikely, the thought coalesced but didn’t quite take.
I gingerly placed the water on the nightstand and switched on the lamp, scanning the room with approaching clarity. To my surprise, the figure had reappeared in front of my closet, crammed between it and the wall.
In the light, the figure’s head was bowed, their bangs obscuring their eyes. Their dark skin seemed stretched and brittle like paper, wrinkling sharply around their tightly pursed lips. They had a sharp, wide nose and short dark hair. Their hands were pressed flat to the walls beside them and they were trembling, loose blouse shuddering around them. The blouse itself was worn, frayed around the edges, but obscuring the overall shape of the figure. It looked sheer, but then so did the figure, almost. The strangest thing was they seemed to be wearing fairly normal jeans.
“Who are you?” I whispered. They said nothing, head down. My brow furrowed. “What do you want?” Still, they said nothing.
None of this was particularly filling me with confidence, but I had to be sure. “Are you real?” I asked, very quietly. Finally, they moved. The corner of their mouth tilted up, and they lifted a hand to wave it in a so-so gesture.
I scowled. That wasn’t helpful. “Are you going to kill me?” I asked. As if it would make a difference to this maybe-specter, I added: “My dad’s the police chief. You really shouldn’t.”
But before I had even finished, they were already vehemently shaking their head. Their hand drifted up towards their mouth and nose, covering them.
“...You aren’t breathing,” I said, and they nodded. My suspicion finally solidified into a thought I could examine and hold. But it didn’t make sense. “Because you’re a vampire.”
For the first time, they lifted their head, as if to look at me. But I gasped, because they obviously couldn’t. Where their eyes should be were two empty eye sockets. The edges of them were cracked around the edges, and looked painful, exacerbated by the massive dark circles around them. They nodded once more.
I must still be dreaming. There were no vampires in Forks; they all left. There was nothing here to draw one and yet one had apparently wandered in and found me. It was too unlikely, it didn’t feel real. How did this keep happening? Why couldn’t it be him?
Abruptly, I couldn’t breathe, like all the air had been sucked out of the room. My vision blurred with tears, and I lost sight of the vampire, but I didn’t care. I clutched at my abdomen as the tremors wracked through me, as if that could keep them at bay, or hold me together. The vampire could have me if they wanted. I was sure it would hurt less.
But instead of the pain or unconsciousness I would have welcomed, the blanket was pulled up around my shoulders, and a thick arm wrapped around my back, with the blanket separating us. We rocked gently as I fell apart. Eventually, my sobbing subsided to weeping and then to hiccups. I eventually ran out of tears, and felt absolutely disgusting with snot, but I was so drained I could barely move.
Their hand slowly rubbed up and down my arm even after my sniffling quieted down, while the other felt around the side table for the water again, offering it to me. I took the water gratefully, careful to avoid their fingers this time, and downed it in one go.
“Who are you?” I whispered again, mildly surprised by how raspy I sounded. Their lips pressed together again and they carefully extricated themself from the bed. They didn’t go far, however, merely kneeling beside it, facing me. Their thin fingers tapped agitatedly at edge of the bed before they held their palms together and mimed resting their head on a pillow.
It was my turn to purse my lips. I didn’t want to go back to bed, certainly not with a strange vampire in my room. I had to make sure of a few things. My insistence on this point stunned even me. I wasn’t sure when I had last felt anything so vehemently.
Nevertheless, communication was going to be difficult. Their refusal to breathe made perfect sense to me – the temptation of my blood was too strong. But I wasn’t about to suggest they rectify that just to talk to me. It was my understanding that... he and his family had been unique, besides another small group in Denali. I would just have to keep it very simple.
So, I shook my head, and said, “No, I have a few questions first.” Slightly bemused, they spread their hands as if to say go ahead.
I took a deep breath. “Alright. Are you going to hurt anyone in this town?” They shook their head very quickly, cutting their hands through the air as well in negation. That, plus the lack of harm that had befallen me and Charlie, I took to mean no one had been harmed already either. If anyone had, I would have heard about it. Or I hoped so. I wasn’t sure if I had paid enough attention to hear any gossip about anything lately.
I shied away from that thought, and picked another question from my list. “Are you alone?” They nodded slowly.
“Have you been here long?” They shrugged, held up four fingers, and waved their other hand in the so-so gesture. I blinked. They had found me right away. “About as long as you’ve been coming in to my room.” They had the decency to look contrite, and held a hand to their chest. They seemed somewhat frustrated, tapping their fingers to their collarbone, before finally cupping a hand to their ear.
“Oh,” I said. It was strange. Distantly, I was embarrassed. “You heard me screaming.” They nodded.
I lost the momentum of my interrogation as I strained to avoid thinking too hard about that. I shook myself again as if to physically dispel another relapse, and tried to sound impartial when I asked, “Are you going to come back?”
They tilted their head, their empty eye sockets unnerving me as they continued to say nothing. I wasn’t sure what I wanted their answer to be. Much as this vampire was a strange and uncomfortable invader, they had done me no harm and... and they were a tenuous link to... to...
I swallowed hard, but a sound escaped me anyway. Their features softened, and they nodded once. I didn’t argue as they drifted closer and gently pushed me to lie down. They tucked me in like a child, feeling around the bedding carefully to avoid touching my skin. When I awoke to the alarm a few hours later, they were gone, but the glass was full again.
I had been distracted all day, thinking about my conversation with the vampire, but no one seemed to notice. My teachers did not call on me in school, and Charlie didn’t do much more than greet me when I came home. He seemed to ask after my day more out of habit than out of a genuine expectation for an answer. It suited me just fine, if struck me as a little odd.
I served leftovers and rushed through my homework after I finished washing up. Where I usually tried to take as much time working as I could, I was eager, for once, to go to bed. I should have been frightened, but I wanted to see them again, talk to them. There was a part of me, small and unvoiced, that was terrified that the promise made to me all those months ago would come true. It will be as if I’d never existed.
But if this vampire was real, then so were my memories. I didn’t have to worry that I had only imagined him.
I climbed the stairs and went into my room to collect toiletries, disappointed to find it empty of any ghostly interloper. The vampire had admitted that the only reason they found me was because of my nightly hysteria and I frowned.
Crossing the hall to the bathroom, I took my time with my nightly ritual. I should not have rushed through all of my chores, I realized. Now I had all this free time to burn while I waited
Charlie’s snoring was already rumbling from his bedroom by the time I stepped out of the bathroom, though. That, at least, was a good sign.
Back in my own room, I flicked on the bedside lamp, changed into pajamas, and sat on top of the bed. I folded my arms, then unfolded them and pressed my hands to the bedding. Patting the covers a couple of times, I glanced at the clock, then the window. With a huff, I got up again. I pulled a curtain open to peer outside.
I couldn’t make out much in the dark. There was the clear shape of the truck and Charlie’s cruiser, the dim light of a streetlight a few houses down reflecting orange light off of the road, and of course the forest, dark and impenetrable.
I didn’t want to go to sleep again. I didn’t want suffering to be my only gateway to this fragile connection to the supernatural world. I couldn’t bear it.
“Hello?” I said quietly, my breath fogging on the glass. “Are you there?”
The trees moved with the breeze, but I otherwise saw nothing out there. I closed my eyes and touched my forehead to the cool window. With a sigh, I pushed myself upright and turned around. Behind me, in the corner in front of my closet, stood a now-familiar figure. A small smile curved their mouth and they waved.
“You came,” I breathed. “I wasn’t sure if you would or if... if you would only come after.”
Their features fell into concern, but same as the night before, they said nothing.
“Still not breathing?” I ventured. They nodded once. Their hair seemed to shimmer strangely in the lamplight.
I bit my lip. There was a solution to their silence, I knew, but I didn’t want to suggest it, as if giving voice to the thought might cause it to manifest in my bedroom. Nonetheless, they hadn’t harmed me so far. I doubted they would start now.
“Do you... do you feed on humans?” I braced for their answer, unsure what I would do if they said yes, but they merely shook their head. “Oh,” I said, relieved. “Animals then.” But they shook their head at this also, and held a brittle hand to their throat.
I blinked once in surprise. “You don’t feed at all?” They nodded.
That made absolutely no sense, even if it explained the garish bruises distending the emptiness of their eyes. I tried not to think on it too closely, but I remembered the story of Carlisle’s early days, how he had starved himself until desperation robbed him of reason. I swallowed.
“That can’t be healthy,” I said. They shrugged and leaned back, the off-white of their blouse melding oddly with the green of the wall.
“I still wish you’d make noise,” I said morosely. “You don’t feel real.”
This amused them for some reason, but they obligingly rapped their fist twice against my closet door.
“Gee thanks,” I muttered. Their face split into a grin, the skin around their mouth creasing sharply. Then their face turned thoughtful. They tapped their fingers once against their thigh before lifting both arms. They rested one hand against their opposite wrist and brushed and tapped it arrhythmically with their fingers.
My brow furrowed. “I’m sorry?” Shaking their head, they touched their chest, then mimed talking with one hand. Next, they returned to touching their wrist in weird patterns. It took me a second before I got it.
“Oh! Sign language?” They nodded. It didn’t look much like sign language to me, not that I knew much about it. “But how... should I just say a word and then you’ll show me how you say it?”
They held a finger to their chin, considering, but then shook their head and pushed off the wall. I noticed their bare feet seemed to glide across the carpet as they drifted closer. Kneeling by the bed, they pressed their hands flat together before spreading them while keeping them touching on one side.
It had been a long time since I’d played charades. I couldn’t even remember when it had been. Before I moved to Washington, definitely. “A book?” I tried.
They nodded eagerly and pointed a finger to their other still-open palm.
“A page?” They nodded again, then tapped their finger on their palm several times.
“...The page. On the page?” Another affirmative.
“Like... words?” They tilted their head from side to side and tapped their palm more vehemently. After a moment, they raised their pointing finger to curl it into a small hole with their thumb, and then resumed tapping.
“Small words.” They shook their head, and made the little hole again, squeezing it tighter. “Smaller words. Letters. Letters?” They beamed at me, and clapped once, nodding. Close as they were, I could see tiny fissures around their lips where moving them so broadly actually split their skin. Abruptly, the vampire turned their head towards the bedroom door, and their smile vanished.
I held my breath as we both listened and I watched the vampire. All the little cracks around their mouth had resealed, but the smaller ones around the edges of their eyes did not. The skin there looked dry and fragile. I wondered what could be done to a vampire that would rob them of their sight and shuddered. I probably didn’t want to know.
They turned their head back towards me and bowed their head in slight embarrassment. “Did he wake up?” I whispered cautiously. They shook their head. “You were going to show me letters?”
They pursed their lips, and raised their hands again, resting one hand on the other wrist. They showed me a short motion. “’A?’” I said.
We went through the entire alphabet like that twice. I could keep up with that fine until they started doing them out of order, but after an hour of this, I mostly had it. The majority of the letters were fairly distinct. The vampire only paused when I yawned around the letter ‘H.’
“’M good,” I said drowsily. “Let’s keep going.”
“Not tired,” I mumbled.
“I don’t wanna sleep,” I said, with a little more force. Exhaustion was practically my closest companion these days. I could make it a little while longer.
Their fingers tapped against their wrist, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a letter.
“C’mon, please?” I said. “What’s your name?”
They considered for a moment. L-O-R.
“Lor,” I whispered. They offered a small smile. It didn’t even crease around their lips. “I’m Bella.”
For the first time in a long time, I found myself smiling back and meaning it. But it didn’t last long.
I exhaled heavily through my nose. “What will you do?” I asked, torn between watching their face and watching their hands.
“Please stay,” I whispered. They nodded slowly, then shooed me down. I watched them as they moved to stand and then wandered across the room again, only to sit in front of my closet.
“Goodnight, Lor,” I replied, and flicked out the light. When I awoke screaming a few hours later, Lor had made good on their promise, and stayed with me until I had cried back to sleep.