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Belladonna, or the Modern Psyche

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The First Night, or the Modern Gothic

Forks was everything that I remembered it to be: tiny compared to Phoenix, and wet. The suffocating weight of the damp, green air had been a shock to my lungs from the moment I stepped off the short-hop flight from Seattle to Port Angeles. But, somehow, it felt even thicker outside my childhood home.

Charlie thought it would be easy to slip back into the same routine we had established years ago, and he was right. I'd been home for less than three hours by the time I'd gotten dinner in the oven and nestled into my corner of the couch with one of his campground mystery books.

"You didn't have to cook tonight, you know?" Charlie said.

"I'm not eating anything you've touched," I laughed, "Have you even used this kitchen since last time I cooked?"

He mumbled something about muesli as he ambled toward the fridge. He was back with a beer a few seconds later and settled into his armchair. Charlie and I had a mutual understanding; comfortable silence was our relationship's default setting.

By the time we finished eating, tiredness had set into my bones.

I found my room exactly how I had left it, save for the thick coating of dust on my bookshelf. I was pretty sure Charlie hadn't set foot in my room since Mom moved us to Phoenix. Even Gran Black's quilt was still draped over the bottom corner of my bed. It was soft and worn and still smelled like her peculiar scent of manzanita and baking bread. It was comforting and heavy — it felt like a barrier between me and the rest of the world. Still, sleep wouldn't come that night. Over the last two years, I'd gotten used to the noises of the sprawling suburbs. But gone were the lulling sounds of Phoenix traffic and the diffuse golden light that seeped in through my bedroom window and warmed the darkness to a soft gray.

Like the air, the darkness in Forks felt thick. Impenetrable. Smothering. I held my hand in front of my face and squinted to see if I could make out its shape. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the blackness enough to do even that. I felt alone, and not. I wrapped the quilt tighter around my shoulders and rolled over, squeezing my eyes shut. I tried to breathe slower, deeper. I counted each exhale: one… two… I was asleep before I hit thirty.

The second night was easier. I bought a small lamp from the hospice thrift store a mile or so into town and set it up by the rocking chair next to my window. It cast shadows in an odd way that made them seem to squirm. It unsettled me, but felt like a fair trade-off for the lack of the surreal inability to separate my own existence from the darkness.

I slept until ten a.m., unusual for me. Charlie offered coffee from Jay's diner when I woke up, and smiled with such gentle enthusiasm that I couldn't help but agree.

"Mom behave herself?" he asked between bites of pancakes.

"Well enough," I agreed.

"Good, good."

Charlie was only thirty-five, but had been my legal guardian since our mom's last episode. She was hospitalized last year and Charlie took sabbatical to stay with me while I finished out the school year. Despite nearly being 18, I still needed looking after. Next year, we agreed, I would transfer to Forks High. By late summer, Mom's psychiatrist said she was doing much better. So, Charlie went back to Forks to arranged for my move and let me stay with her for a two week visit.

"I was thinking we could go down to the res today," he said after our plates were cleared, "Billy said Jake's been missing you."

"Sure." I nodded.

"They've got a surprise for you down there."

"Oh?"

And a surprise it was. Charlie had bought me Billy's old truck — the very one in which I'd spent my childhood riding down to the river, along the coast, through the woods.

"No fucking way!"

Charlie glanced my way with cautious amusement and Billy chuckled. Billy had his mom's warmth and the charming gruffness of someone who had an Old World sort of appreciation for tobacco and spent their days working in garages with grease-covered hands. He and Charlie fixed up motorcycles together, and I reckoned I was the convenient excuse for them to spend the day doing just that. Billy was recently paralyzed by that particular vice, but still loved it more than anything in the world. It was just as brutal a mistress as Jacob's mother had been, he sometimes joked.

"He lets you say that?" Jake said, bewildered. I thought I heard Billy mutter something along the lines of 'don't even think of it.'

"Shut up, Jake," I said, pushing into his shoulder, "Thank you both so, so much. Seriously. This is— it's awesome."

Jake smiled an impish grin that was smattered with the sort of humility that implied he had something to do with it. I rolled my eyes. Billy and Charlie retreated to the garage where Jake watched them, enraptured, as they tinkered with their bikes. I perched on a bench, happy for there not being much expected of me.

"Can I drive it now?" I asked as they walked us down the drive.

"Have you been holding that in the whole time, Bels?" Billy laughed.

"Yeah, Bels." Jacob echoed his dad. Billy, who had half-raised me, was allowed to call me that. Jake, on the other hand? No.

Noticing the blush surely creeping across my face — that damned giveaway —, Billy stepped in.

"Jake, how about you run along before Bella here comes to her senses and forgets why she puts up with you?"

He inclined his head slightly and ran off, in the peculiar way only he ever seemed to, in the direction of the woods behind their house.

"Billy, really, thank you so much," I said as we turned to go.

His smile pulled to one corner of his face as he pat my shoulder, "Love you like my own, Bels." But his brow furrowed before he continued, "Be careful out there tomorrow."

Right. Tomorrow. My first day of Senior Year.

The knot in my stomach seemed to do nothing but grow as the morning drew closer. On the ride home, Charlie had told me to not take Billy's superstition to heart. But, I couldn't help it. Something about Forks unsettled me, and always had.

I was ten the first time that Jake and I ventured too far away from the water at La Push and found— something. I don't really know what.

He ran from the direction of the forest with a blanched face, stumbling over the dappled sand his feet had seemed to know intimately only minutes before. He grabbed my arm and tried to drag me back towards Billy and Charlie. His eyes warned me to flee; they echoed a fear nestled deeply into the human psyche.

His fear compelled me.

Perhaps I was broken — that I had wondered often —, unafraid of that from which generations before me had suffered so profoundly they stored its memory in their very DNA. Or perhaps others merely were afflicted by a type of instinctive stupidity, like how cats fear cucumbers. But whatever it was he had seen infected me with a morbid curiosity that I have yet been able to shake.

When I myself lumbered into the woods, I saw nothing but the tail end of a mutt peeking through the morning fog. Mangy, perhaps ill-nourished, but mundane. Or so I thought until it turned its face towards me and revealed its indubitably human eyes.

I stared back at it — him — more sure then than of anything I had ever been that the beast was truly a beast and not a dog. The back of my neck prickled with a vital fear, which did not subside until the beast fled deeper into the woods with preternatural speed. That feeling often arose when I was in Forks. As if those eyes were still boring into my own. As if I were being seen, truly seen and perhaps too keenly observed, by a creature that was simultaneously too much like me, and not.

Forks was full of these tensions: mornings were darkened by fog and nights made clear by bright starlight, industrial monotony dominated this land of preternatural beauty, animals were often more man than beast and men sometimes more beast than man. The latter is what I would tomorrow face: the particularly cruel fate of being seen by high school students.