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As Dreams Are Made On

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We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep

THE TEMPEST, Act IV, Scene 1

I’ve thought a lot about how I might die.

I’m not being melodramatic: I’m a diabetic transsexual with a crappy immune system. There was a time when visits to the hospital were an annual tradition for me. I’ve caught antibiotic-resistant infections, horrific stomach flus, and more, and the diabetes has not helped. Leaving that aside, there’s still an unsettling amount of violence against transgender people in this world, and I’ve had to face the possibility that I could be assaulted or worse simply because of who and what I am.

So. I’ve thought about it. I don’t really have a comprehensive list, but if I did, ‘global pandemic’ would be near the top. Your superflus, your Ebola outbreaks, your zombie viruses. Next, your more ordinary infections. Homicide somewhere below that, among the various accidents. Below heart attacks and car accidents, above lightning strikes, plane crashes and shark attacks. Shark attacks are actually at the bottom of the list. I don’t like to swim in the ocean anyway.

Maybe an epic battle. It’s on the list. Fighting for someone or something I love. I’m a pacifist, mostly, but I’d fight for the right cause. I could see myself dying for someone I love. I’d probably die quickly, but hopefully not without any kind of honor.

What I really couldn’t have foreseen - and should have, considering how much I love to read - is that I would die in a bookstore, having accidentally sent a doorstopper of a hardcover toppling directly onto my own damned head.

Although really: did it have to be the tenth anniversary edition of Twilight?

 

*****

 

There was nothing but a dark void for a while. Then, gradually, sound returned. The low hiss of an air conditioner in a neighboring seat. The rumble of airplane engines. Sensation: the edge of a flimsy armrest poking into my skin. A kink in my neck. The general discomfort of an airline seat. My hips shifting to try and ease the squirming sensation near my groin.

My eyes snapped open, though my brain was still half-asleep. I was on a plane. Sunlight streamed through the window. And I needed to use the bathroom. Badly.

Though I still felt disoriented, I carefully unbuckled myself and stood, stooping to avoid hitting my head on the overhead bin - although for some reason I didn’t feel as cramped in the airplane’s cabin as usual. I murmured an apology to the woman next to me, who got up to let me pass, and found my way to the restroom, quietly thanking the universe at large when I found it vacant. I stumbled in, locked the door, and pulled down my jeans, dropping into the seat. Something seemed very weird about all this, and I was pretty sure the problem was in my pants. I rubbed at my face. My nose felt strange. I couldn’t feel my glasses.

Suddenly, everything snapped into focus. I prodded at my face - I wasn’t wearing glasses at all. My nose was much smaller. My brow seemed smoother somehow. I felt along my upper lip, where I’d had a mole since birth - nothing. My chin, where I’m plagued with tiny bristly hairs - it was smooth. My skin was soft, dry and smooth. It didn’t feel anything like what I was used to.

I slowly angled my gaze downward, lifting my shirt - a sleeveless top, pristine white with lace accents, nothing like anything I could remember owning - and looking between my legs.

I definitely did not remember getting one of those, and since it had been one of my life goals for the last twelve years, I’m pretty sure I would have.

Shutting my legs, I looked up at the ceiling and did my business, trying very hard not to think about it. At all. When I finished, I awkwardly got to my feet and got myself together, washing my hands in the crappy little airplane sink. Then, taking a deep breath, I looked up at the mirror.

I was pale. That hadn’t changed. But my skin was clear and unblemished. The face that looked back at me was, frankly, prettier than the one I was used to. My nose was smaller, slender, cute. My eyes were wide and expressive, a deep chocolate brown. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but somehow I was seeing more clearly than I had in years. My lips were a bit thin, but soft and not unattractive. There was still a little baby fat in my face, making me look softer, younger. My frame was slender, with notable curves, nothing spectacular. I looked at my arms: none of the moles I knew, none of the little kitten scratches I’d picked up over the last month or so. I was wearing a silver watch with a brown strap on my left wrist, but no other jewelry, even though I usually have a watch on my right wrist, a Power Rangers communicator on my left (because I’m a nerd), three rings and two necklaces. Above all else, though, as I looked my reflection up and down, I could tell that I was clearly shorter. The ceiling was a good six inches or so higher than it should be. I didn’t need to slouch or duck my head at all.

None of it was right.

This was obviously a dream.

My reflection broke into a smile, showing straight white teeth. This was a dream, and I was aware of it. That meant I could do what I wanted.

I turned toward the door, opening it. I took a high step into the air in front of me, leaving my foot off the ground, fully intending to start levitating. I moved forward. And then, suddenly, I pitched forward, slamming into the lavatory door on the other side of the aisle.

“Miss!” a uniformed flight attendant exclaimed, hurrying up to me. She grabbed my shoulders, helping me straighten up again. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“Ow,” I muttered, but it was really no more than a dull ache where my arms had hit the door. “Oh, uh - sorry. Lost my balance. I’m okay.”

The attendant frowned dubiously. “Why don’t I help you back to your seat, miss? We’re going to be starting our descent soon, anyway.”

“Okay,” I agreed, my cheeks burning as I walked with her back to my seat. My neighbor got up again, giving me a curious look at my escort, and the attendant watched as I buckled myself in, finally nodding and moving back to the front of the cabin.

I sat in my seat for a moment, marveling briefly at how much roomier it seemed, then spied a backpack crammed under the seat in front of me. Tugging it out, I zipped each compartment open in turn, finding a wallet and a passport in one of the smaller compartments. Opening the passport, I found my new face staring back at me. My eyes flicked to the given name.

ISABELLA MARIE SWAN

It took everything I had to keep from laughing. That just wasn’t possible. This had to be a dream. But I’d tried levitating and it hadn’t worked. I tried reaching behind my back, thinking, It’s morphin’ time! I tried to will Falcor into being outside the window, soaring among the clouds. I tried to will the whole plane away, replacing it with the familiar streets of home. Nothing. I looked at the passport again.

ISABELLA MARIE SWAN

That definitely wasn’t right. Text always shifted in my dreams. I’d heard once that you couldn’t read in dreams - that wasn’t true for me, but the text never stayed the same. My eyes scanned the rest of the passport. Date of birth, sex, place of birth, signature, it was all there. I scanned it again. None of it had changed.

I shoved the wallet and passport back in the backpack, then dug in the main compartment until I found a dog-eared paperback. Wuthering Heights. I rolled my eyes, but opened it to a random page nonetheless.

For two months the fugitives remained absent; in those two months, Mrs. Linton encountered and conquered the worst shock of what was denominated a brain fever. No mother could have nursed an only child more devotedly than Edgar tended her. Day and night he was watching, and patiently enduring all the annoyances that irritable nerves and a shaken reason could inflict; and, though Kenneth remarked that what he saved from the grave would only recompense his care by forming the source of constant future anxiety—in fact, that his health and strength were being sacrificed to preserve a mere ruin of humanity—he knew no limits in gratitude and joy when Catherine's life was declared out of danger; and hour after hour he would sit beside her, tracing the gradual return to bodily health, and flattering his too sanguine hopes with the illusion that her mind would settle back to its right balance also, and she would soon be entirely her former self.

Keeping my thumb in place, I closed the book and put it on my lap, shutting my eyes. I slowly counted to a hundred in my head. Then, opening my eyes, I opened the book again to the same page.

For two months the fugitives remained absent; in those two months, Mrs. Linton encountered and conquered the worst shock of what was denominated a brain fever. No mother could have nursed an only child more devotedly than Edgar tended her. Day and night he was watching, and patiently enduring all the annoyances that irritable nerves and a shaken reason could inflict; and, though Kenneth remarked that what he saved from the grave would only recompense his care by forming the source of constant future anxiety—in fact, that his health and strength were being sacrificed to preserve a mere ruin of humanity—he knew no limits in gratitude and joy when Catherine's life was declared out of danger; and hour after hour he would sit beside her, tracing the gradual return to bodily health, and flattering his too sanguine hopes with the illusion that her mind would settle back to its right balance also, and she would soon be entirely her former self.

That wasn’t possible. I could not be Bella Swan. This had to be a dream. But it wasn’t shifting at all. It was grounded. Coherent. I couldn’t fly. I couldn’t turn into a superhero. I racked my brain and remembered, suddenly, standing in the bookstore, trying to tug a paperback by Seanan McGuire out of a shelf that had been crammed too full. There were hardcovers on the top shelves of the section, facing outward to entice customers. The tenth anniversary edition of Twilight was there. The shelf shook as I tried to get the book I wanted free. The frontmost copy of Twilight was already balanced on the edge. It fell over. I looked up in time to see it falling directly onto my face, but I couldn’t move fast enough, and then - the void.

So maybe this wasn’t a dream. Maybe I was dead. Maybe my brain was sputtering and dying, smashed and swollen by all that Stephenie Meyer had wrought, and this world represented my last dying thoughts.

I looked around the plane. It was awfully full. No one looked dead. There was no blackness fluttering at the edges of my vision. No sign of the Grim Reaper. I saw a perky-looking brunette in jeans and a black tank top across the aisle, and for a second my spirits soared - but no, she didn’t have the telltale eye squiggle, she wasn’t wearing an ankh, and I could see a vivid purple streak in her hair that didn’t really match any of Death’s appearances in the comic. I couldn’t see anything that looked like an ethereal tunnel with a light at the very end, either.

As near-death experiences went, this one left a lot to be desired.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” the speakers proclaimed, crackling to life. “We’re beginning our final descent into Seattle, so at this time, please stow any luggage you may have taken out of the overhead compartments, return your seat backs to the full upright position, put up your tray tables, and keep your seatbelts fastened until the captain turns off the fasten seatbelt sign. Flight crew, prepare for landing.”

Letting out a long breath, I tucked the book back in the backpack, made sure all the compartments were zipped up, and shoved it back under the seat in front of me. Pressing the button to return my seat back to its upright position, I shut my eyes and tried to clear my mind, hoping that one way or another, this hallucination would end by the time I opened them.

 

*****

 

The hallucination didn’t end when I opened my eyes. It didn’t end at any point while I collected my backpack and the parka I fortunately remembered from the book, got off the plane, checked my ticket and the departures board, hurried to Bella Swan’s connecting gate, and finally boarded her flight. Everything I read or glanced at remained stubbornly consistent. I knew the date now - January 17, 2005 - and had glanced at the headlines at a newsstand, though nothing really stuck in my brain. Conflict between Israel and Palestine, political machinations here at home. George W. Bush was still President.

By the time I boarded the smaller plane that would take me to Port Angeles, I’d given up trying to break out of this dream, or hallucination, or dying fantasy, or whatever it was. Clearly that was a non-starter, and I was starting to give myself a headache. Instead I was racking my brain, trying to remember the book. I was pretty sure the book was key here - I didn’t look a thing like Kristen Stewart, so I wasn’t in the movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t actually read Twilight in a while. I didn’t even have a cell phone, let alone my trusty iPhone, and even if I could get on the Internet, I wouldn’t be able to find the Twilight Saga Wiki. I remembered the broad strokes. I would have to hope that was enough to keep me alive and relatively healthy. I still planned to get back to reality as soon as I could, but until I figured out how, I would have to live as Bella Swan.

Emphasis on live. Which would mean making some changes to the narrative, for my own comfort and for my safety. But most of that could wait.

First things first: I needed to find Charlie Swan. Luckily, that wasn’t hard. When I got to baggage claim in Port Angeles, he was the only man standing alone, and he was wearing a jacket with his badge pinned right on front. He also, shockingly, actually did look kind of like Billy Burke, mustache and all. 

Bella had always kept her dad at a distance, even if she always claimed to love him. I’d always thought that was a little shitty of her, and I’d have to live with him for a while, so we might as well get along. I knew he was a good guy, too. So it wasn’t hard for me to muster a smile and wave.

“Dad! Hi!” I called, walking toward him and giving him a brief, slightly awkward hug.

Luckily, he was just as awkward about it, though a big smile broke across his face in return. “Well, hey there, Bells. You’re in a good mood. God, it’s good to see you. Let me look at you,” he said, stepping back for a moment, then shaking his head. “You haven’t changed much. How’s Renée?”

I bit my lip at that comment. If only he knew how much his little girl had changed in the last couple hours. “She’s fine. It’s good to see you, too, dad. I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” Charlie said, seeming a little surprised. Maybe I needed to dial back the affection a bit. Still, he smirked a little. “Bet you haven’t missed Forks, though.”

I gave him a crooked grin. That’d be another change: Bella Swan might like the dry heat of Phoenix, but I preferred places with actual seasons, less exposure to the sun, thick green forests and the smell of pine. “Oh, I don’t know, it might just grow on me. Though it’s going to wreck my tan,” I replied, deadpan.

He gawked at me for a moment, then barked laughter, shaking his head. The bags started pouring onto the carousel, and he helped me collect a couple huge, overstuffed duffels - luckily he recognized them, because I would have had no way of knowing. Then we went out to the garage, where a beautiful classic Crown Victoria police cruiser with all the trimmings was parked. Bella’s bags, my bags, fit easily in the trunk.

Charlie must have noticed my eyes lighting up at the sight of his car, because he gave me a fond smile as we got in. “Here I thought you hated this old thing.”

Okay: I’m not a huge car person. But I like beautiful things, and classic police cruisers are things of beauty, in their own way. I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm. “I’ve just come to appreciate the finer things in life,” I told him, shrugging. “It’s a gorgeous car, and you’ve kept it in great shape.”

“Well, if you like this, wait until we get home,” he said, checking his mirrors and then freezing, looking sheepish.

I froze too. Because I’d just remembered: the truck. And Bella Swan might have her license, but I’d never driven a real car, and somehow I didn’t think my experience driving in L.A. Noire or Arkham Knight would count for much. “...dad, you didn’t.”

“Ah...yeah, I did. But listen, if you hate it, I’m sure Billy can find another buyer,” Charlie said. “You remember Billy Black, down at the reservation?”

I nodded. “Yeah. And Jacob.”

Charlie seemed pleased when I mentioned Jacob’s name. “You remember Jake? That’s great. He’s a good kid, been helping out his dad a lot. I always thought you were closer to Rachel and Rebecca.”

“Oh, well, yeah. But I remember Jake following us around a lot,” I said. I hadn’t even remembered the elder Black siblings until that moment, but I glossed over it quickly. “So you were saying? About Billy?”

“Oh, yeah. Well, he’s in a wheelchair now. Can’t really drive the truck anymore. So he sold it to me for a good price,” Charlie said. “And I know you were talking about saving up for your own car, but I thought, well...you’re going through a lot of changes. This is one less thing for you to worry about. The truck’s kind of old, but Billy’s put a lot of work into it and it still runs real well.”

My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to phrase this. I didn’t want to sound like an ungrateful brat, but the idea of getting behind the wheel of a giant, ancient armored tank of a pickup truck, with absolutely no experience, was maybe the most terrifying thing I’d ever contemplated. Finally, I took a deep breath and spoke, slowly and carefully. “Dad, I really, really appreciate it. I do, that’s amazing.And it sounds like a great truck, and maybe when it warms up I can drive it,” I told him. “But it’s the middle of January, and we’re really far north. And I have never driven in snow. Ever. I haven’t really driven in rain. I think I need to build up to that, you know?”

“Oh. Oh, well, sure,” Charlie said. He didn’t sound too disappointed. Maybe a little guilty. “I hadn’t thought of that. I’ve got snow chains for the tires, but I can see why you’d be nervous. Maybe your old man can give you some winter driving lessons, huh? Just a crash course - okay, bad choice of words.”

I let out another breath, smiling and nodding. “Yeah. I’d like that. And honestly I might need some practice with the truck in general. I’m betting it’s a manual, right? I’m used to automatic,” I lied. “But it sounds like it’ll be great once I’ve figured out how to handle it. Thank you, dad, seriously.”

“Aw, Bells. I just wanted to take something off your mind. I’m real glad to have you here. I know it’s hard,” Charlie told me, giving me a sidelong glance. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. At all. But I gave him a reassuring smile and decided to be as honest as I could. “I think this is the best possible thing for me right now.”

He smiled back at me. “Okay. Okay, then,” he said. “Listen, how about we stop by the Carver Café, huh? I don’t have a lot of food in the house. We can grab some dinner. You used to love their pie.”

“That sounds great,” I agreed, smiling more easily now. “But could we stop by a drugstore or something? There’s just some hair stuff I need to pick up. Forgot to do it in Phoenix.”

“Oh - right, heh, girl stuff,” Charlie said, chuckling nervously. “You bet.”

 

*****

 

Dinner was quiet and relaxing - the waitress at the diner recognized Charlie and his daughter, but luckily Bella hadn’t been to Forks for a few years, so it was easy to excuse the fact that I didn’t remember her name at all. I had to make up a lot about Bella’s life in Phoenix, but I’d gotten the impression she didn’t have many friends, so I just let Charlie think I was an introvert (true enough, for me if not Bella) and skated by. I could tell that worried him, so I did my best to assure him that I was perfectly happy being alone.

Then there was a quick pit stop at the drugstore before we arrived at the house. The truck was a sturdy vintage Chevy pickup, painted red, a bit scratched up but still in good shape. It wasn’t entirely to my tastes, but it had some nice, classic curves to the design. Charlie stood beside me while I looked it over, and I flashed him another smile.

“It’s great, dad,” I told him, truthfully. “It’s amazing. Like I said, I just need some practice.”

“That we can do. I’ll drive you to school in the meantime, okay? Least until you find some friends to pick you up,” he said, putting the emphasis on ‘friends’. “Come on, let’s get inside. You have school in the morning.”

I made a face, but nodded, and each of us shouldered a bag and headed inside.

It didn’t take me long to unpack, and Charlie largely left me to my own devices, parking himself in front of the TV and catching up on the news. I didn’t mind - we’d had plenty of quality time in the diner, and I’d need to go through Bella’s things and try to refresh my memory on her life before I could stand up to too much more conversation. Besides, there were a couple things I wanted to do first.

One of them involved a certain item I’d picked up at the drugstore, and an hour or so in the shared bathroom. When I was finished, I stared at my drying hair for a while, holding it up to the light, admiring the dull glint of red that I knew would turn to blazing copper when it was fully dry. I lingered like that until Charlie knocked roughly on the door.

“Oh! Sorry,” I said, opening the door. “Heading to bed now.”

He looked at my hair, his eyebrows rising. “That’s what you needed at the store?”

“Yeah. Real emergency,” I told him, giving him a joking smile, though there was more truth there than I wanted to admit. I hadn’t been a brunette since college - not a full brunette anyway. My hair had been blonde, pink, and purple, but mostly it had been red. Changing Bella’s hair from brown with a hint of auburn to full blazing copper felt like reclaiming a part of myself. My eyes were the wrong shade, I was seven inches shorter (exactly, according to my license), and my nose and brow and whole body were different (okay, I didn’t hate that part), but I was a redhead again.

“Huh. Okay,” Charlie said. “Well, it’s your hair. Get some sleep, Bella.”

“I will. Goodnight,” I told him, heading off to my room. Shutting the door, I switched on the computer, restraining a groan as it took approximately forever to boot up. Based on experience with my own dad, I guessed I had an hour or so until Charlie was done with his nightly ablutions, as I’d decided to call them, and I was earnestly hoping startup wouldn’t eat up too much of that time. But this was a secondhand computer, clearly a few years old, and it was connected to an actual phone line. I was officially living in the Stone Age.

“Come on, come on...yes! Oh, God, Windows XP, thank heavens,” I muttered, bringing up Internet Explorer and making a face. I didn’t think Google Chrome was out yet. I made a mental note to get Firefox as soon as possible. Bella Swan helpfully kept a list of her own passwords in the front of her journal, so I was able to log into her e-mail and send off a quick reply to her mother’s two needlessly worried messages, letting Renée know I’d landed safely, but it was late and I had school in the morning, so I’d have to tell her more soon. Then I went to LiveJournal. Bella Swan didn’t have one. I quickly corrected that.

I’d spent much of my time on the flight from Seattle to Port Angeles recalling what I could about the secrets of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires. I couldn’t remember everything. But I could remember enough. The physical characteristics of vampyrus sanguisuga meyerii, if you will. The resilience. The speed. The strength. The venom. The difficult but feasible methods of killing them. The sparkles, oh, God, the sparkles.

More importantly, I remembered the Volturi. I knew their base was in Volterra, Italy. I knew they had been behind the disappearances of tourists at various festivals for countless years. I knew the names Aro and Marcus, Sulpicia and Athenodora, even if I couldn’t remember all the others. Everything I could throw on LiveJournal would probably look like crackpot ranting or bad vampire fiction. Maybe some teenage girl’s half-baked online RP setting. But vampires in this universe survived by keeping up with the times. I had faith that the Volturi would Google themselves at some point. They’d find this post. They’d find me. And they’d descend on Forks like the wrath of God. It would be impossible to miss.

Having resolved to write all this, I started a new post and typed out my first paragraph.

My name is Isabella Marie Swan. I live at 775 South 6th Street, Forks, Washington. I am posting this online because, on the night of January 17th, 2005, at 10:17 pm, Alice Cullen did NOT come alone through my bedroom window on the second floor of the east side of the house for a vitally important conversation concerning her brother Edward.

My back was to the bedroom window, and I smiled as I suddenly felt a breeze blowing across the back of my neck. I’d deliberately closed the window, hoping this would give me some sign of Alice’s arrival, and I couldn’t help feeling a small burst of triumph that it had worked. Still, I wasn’t out of the woods: I’d liked Alice in the books and the movies, but she could be ruthless, I knew. I would need to handle this carefully, assure her that I meant her no harm. An apology would be a good place to start.

“I’m sorry,” I said, honestly, keeping my voice pitched low. “I had to get your attention. I had to be ready to post that. I didn’t want to, but it was the only way. My name is not really Bella Swan, that’s just what it says on my passport, and I will explain, but we need to talk about your brother. You may have noticed that the future has changed. At least, I’m betting it has. And Edward might not like the new Bella Swan as much as he was going to like the old one - ugh, I have no idea how to phrase any of this. Stuff that’s going to happen, stuff that was going to happen, how do you handle it? Hey, can I turn around now? You’re not going to kill me? Right? Please?”

I paused, frowning. Alice really should have said something to me by now. Maybe she’d just left when the danger was past? Or when she’d seen everything I’d decided to tell her? I swiveled in my chair, abruptly stopping when I saw her.

She was impossibly beautiful. Even hotter than Ashley Greene. Not even five feet tall and every crush I’d ever had rolled into one perfect girl. Painfully slender and incredibly graceful, her face framed by short black hair, artfully mussed. Her chin was gently pointed, her nose small and upturned, the corners of her lips slightly canted upward, leaving her with the ghost of a natural, mischievous smile. Her eyes were huge, gleaming gold, and it took me a moment to realize they weren’t just naturally that wide. She was staring at me. Entranced, awed. Like all the jagged pieces of the universe had finally come together and snapped into crystal clarity.

Her voice was a soft, tinkling chime. “Cassandra.”

My gut twisted, and I shut my eyes tight, pinching the bridge of my nose. “...oh, fuck."