I managed to catch a flight from Manitoba to Brazil, after traveling cross-country through Canada. I should have been more alert, but I only had one thing on my mind: Get away from Carlisle, get faaar away. Have you ever tangled with a moose? I never had, until this little adventure. It all worked out, though. I was hungry anyway. And vampires heal pretty quickly.
Anyway, lucky for me, none of our private staff seemed aware of my current estranged state, so it was easy going once I got to the port where our family keeps its sea craft. The staff was friendly and helpful, dropping everything to take me out to Isle Esme on one of our boats.
Isle Esme is located off the coast of Brazil. Carlisle bought it for Esme awhile back and named it after her for some reason. It's now the Cullen "home base" of sorts, our only truly permanent residence. It works since it's so isolated. We get a new crew of servants every dozen years or so, to allay suspicion about our nature. Everyone except Carlisle and Alice went there to wait and see what happened with our drama.
I got to the island and stood for a long time just looking at the house. It sprawled over several thousand feet of land space, made of separate rooms interconnected by short passages. Fun place to play hide-and-seek in. I wasn't sure what kind of reception I'd get when I went in, whether they were "waiting" for me or not. Finally I walked up to the main door and went inside.
"Esme? Jasper? Emmett? Rosalie? I'm here!" I called out.
"Edward!" Esme came running from the room to my right. "Welcome home!" She threw her arms around me, and I gratefully grabbed her in a bear hug. I forgot how therapeutic a simple hug can be, with nothing behind it. At least with Esme, I could be sure it was innocent; she wouldn't do anything like grab my ass, something I wouldn't put past Rosalie or Alice.
"Carlisle was looking for you earlier," she told me. "He sounded kind of worried. Should I call-"
"No!" I interrupted her. "I mean, I already met up with him, and we talked, and we're good now."
"Are you sure? Because it sounded like he had a lot of things to go over with you."
"Oh, I'm sure. Really. In fact, he even told me he had a lot of important business to take care of, and that we shouldn't disturb him with calls unless it was an emergency."
"Okay, well, if you say so," she uncertainly. Then she brightened again. "Anyway, it's so good to have you back, Edward. I missed you when we all left and you decided to stay behind. Carlisle didn't say why, said you'd tell me if you wanted to. Will you tell me?"
"Yeah, it might help me. I had to see about a girl. You remember Bella?"
"Oh, yes, she was such a nice girl. Not exactly the sporty type, though, was she?"
"What? Oh, the baseball game. Yeah, no, she really wasn't." Fun to make sport with, though.
"What happened between you two? I mean, you're here, so…?"
"She…quit. She broke it off." With finality. "I don't think I'll ever see her again."
"Oh, bad break-up? You poor dear." She embraced me again.
"That's as good an explanation as any, I guess." I hugged her back, more gently this time.
She looked up at me. "Do you want to talk about it?"
I smiled down at her. "Maybe later. Where's everyone else? Jasper, Rosalie, and Emmett?"
"Oh, well, Rosalie and Emmett went out on another honeymoon. I think that is just so sweet. They are such a cute couple."
"Yeah, I guess." I'd forgotten how disconcerting Esme's thought process could be sometimes. They likely meant they were going to clean up a town-by feeding on all the lowlifes that no one cared about. "What about Jasper?"
"Oh, he's around somewhere-"
"He's right here," said Jasper as he came around the corner from the other side of the house. "What happened, Edward? Your lady friend dump you for someone…better?" For a second I was terrified he knew what happened in Alaska. Nah, he couldn't know that. Still…it's as good an explanation as any.
"Something like that. Like I just told Esme, she gave up on our relationship; gave up on me." And on life, apparently. What a waste.
He walked up to me and twisted his head so his upturned face was cock-eyed as he looked up at me. "So, you come here to mope around and spazz out before having fun again?"
I punched him in the arm. "I'm not the spazzer, Spazzper, remember?"
He glared at me. "I told you not to call me that."
"But why? Isn't that your name, Spazzper?"
"Oh that's it, you are so dead!"
"You'll have to catch me first!" With that, I ran around Esme to the next room of the house, with Jasper right on my heels. He chased me for hours, until finally I tired of the game and let him catch me. He noogied me so hard I checked for a groove in my skull when he was done.
The next couple of days were incredibly relaxing. Carlisle never made an appearance, Esme was attentive and motherly, and Jasper and I had a tussle about once a day over random things. Mostly I just lazed around and read any books or manuscripts I found laying around the house. Good times.
One day I found several official-looking documents stored away inside an armoire in the corner of a little-used room of the house. I was looking around some of them when I found some interesting papers. They were documents concerning the house and the land it was built on. Something didn't add up.
I wandered around the house, comparing a floor plan blueprint to the rooms in the house. When I realized what was off, I ran to find Jasper.
"Jasper! Take a look at this! We need to go exploring."
"What? Edward, what are you talking about?"
"Look at this!" I shoved the blueprint in his face. "This is the floor plan used to build this house."
He gave me an odd look. "Yeah, so?"
"So there's twenty connecting rooms in this house. How many are in the plan?"
He was silent for a moment while he counted. "There's…twenty-one."
"Exactly! There's a hidden room somewhere in this house."
I could see the gears in his head starting to turn. "Hey, yeah, and I never thought about really exploring the place before, beyond a cursory inspection of all the rooms. I wonder what could be in there. Mountains of treasure?"
"Nah. Evidence of major crimes on Carlisle's part."
"Yeah, and he's keeping them in that room so that it can never be proven he was the perpetrator."
"Wait, wait, I have a better one! It's the hiding place for evidence that Carlisle was once an exotic dancer!"
"During the Victorian Era!"
"His routine went like this," I said, and struck a seductive pose. Then I spoke in a fake Don Juan voice. "Feast your eyes, ladies, as I undo the top button of my ruffled shirt." I wasn't wearing a button-down shirt, so I mimed doing so.
Jasper played the part of the women, fluttering his lashes and speaking in a high-pitched voice. "Oh, dear, he's practically naked! Another! Undo another button!"
I continued. "Pay attention, damsels, as I reveal…my sexy knees!"
Jasper squealed and fell into a dramatic faint on the nearest couch, throwing an arm over his forehead.
He peeked at me under his arm, we looked at each other, then simultaneously burst out laughing at our overactive silliness.
"Let me see that again." Jasper reached for the blueprints and studied them for a while. "Hmm. It looks like this extra room is subterranean."
"You mean it's a basement room, or a root cellar or something?"
"Yeah. See how it's set off to the side like this? It's even a different color than the others, and obviously it's not an attic."
"Oh yeah, why didn't I see that before?"
He grinned at me. "Probably because you too busy spazzing about your 'amazing discovery.'"
I lightly smacked him upside the head. "Quiet, you!" I settled down to consider the blueprints again. I looked up at Jasper with conspiratorial grin. "So, do you want to do a little exploring?"
He grinned right back. "Wouldn't miss it."
We scoured each room of the house, looking for trap doors in the floor, or hidden passages behind walls. We were in Alice's room when Jasper cried out. I hurried over to him. "What? Did you find something?"
"I certainly did." He was holding…a toy. A very kinky adult toy. I couldn't even go into detail about it, except that it was designed to be inserted…somewhere; it made us both very uncomfortable to find that thing where we did, me because of what it was; Jasper because of whose it was.
"So…is that thing for her…or for you?" I asked uneasily.
"I've never seen this one before," He turned frightened eyes on me. "I don't think I even want to know."
"Let's put it back and never speak of this again."
He nodded, very quickly. "Agreed." That ended our search of Alice's room.
We searched through the rest of the rooms in the house until we came to the one we had, until now, been deliberately avoiding: Carlisle's office. It was one of the outside rooms of the house, and one of those farthest from the front door, making it the most isolated of the rooms. The only entry points were the one door and the window-all the rooms had windows, but this one only had a small one high up on the wall, so it wasn't even a practical entrance. The room was lined with bookshelves filled with books, mostly about medical stuff, and crime mysteries. Toward the back of the wall was his desk, with a big comfy office chair behind it. Neither of us had been in there before; Carlisle had expressly forbidden anyone from going in there without his permission or invitation.
We stood outside it for several moments, not speaking. Finally I said, "So, we goin' in there?"
Jasper looked at me, then back in. "Yep."
"P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney?"
He gave me a disgusted look. "Not if you don't grow up."
He took a hesitant step inside, with me right behind him. I half-expected some alarm to go off or something, because it seemed that what we were doing was just that disobedient and wrong. We paused when we were both completely inside, looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and relaxed just a bit as we started prowling around.
Jasper found it first. "Hey, Edward! Over here!" He was crouched behind Carlisle's desk, after pulling the chair out. I went over to join him. "Look, there's a trap door in the floor."
"Under the desk? How cliché is that?" I scoffed.
"Took us long enough to find it, didn't it?"
"Only because Carlisle had us scared spit-less to come in here alone."
"Yeah, whatever. We going down there?" He lifted up the hinged lid and smiled at me.
I smiled back. "After you."
"My pleasure. Alley-oop!" he said as swung down into the darkness. I heard a crash. "Meant to do that!" Jasper called up. Then, "Watch that first step, it's a doozy!"
I chose to use the ladder I found against the wall, and climbed down after him. It took a minute or two for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, but eventually we could see well enough to find the chain that turned on the bare bulb overhead. What we saw when the light came on made us both gasp.
It was…a laboratory. The concrete walls and floor stretched a good distance out and maybe twenty feet wide. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with shelves. The shelves were covered in various scientific paraphernalia. There were hundreds of jars filled with different preserved creatures in various stages of development. One I recognized as a human, and there were several jars showing growth and development from an embryo just large enough to be seen with the naked eye, to the third trimester, with every limb and organ developed. On the shelf above was another human, but this one had skin that shimmered slightly, and apparently bright yellow eyes. What disease could cause that?
I looked further into the room, and saw a table in the center. It looked vaguely like a surgical table, but this one seemed to be made completely out of steel, and possibly some stronger metals, if I wasn't mistaken. There were two sets of shackles, one set near the middle, and the other at one end. At the opposite end was a clamp big enough to hold a human head. Big enough to hold a human…body. A shiver of fear went through me. This is a freaky, freaky, place. Something bad went down here.
Jasper shuddered. "I don't like this place, Edward. I can feel, it you know? Whatever happened here…it wasn't good, and was probably pretty gruesome."
"Whoever was lying on that table…" I gestured toward the metal object, then just shook my head.
"Let's keep looking, maybe we can find something to tell us exactly what this place is, and what happened." Jasper moved on down toward the back, stopping at an old desk near the back wall. I went back to examining the jars on the shelf. I saw a large glass jug with a white Catholic cross engraved and painted white on it. That looked interesting. I cautiously removed the stopper and took an experimental whiff of the contents. I didn't smell anything out of the ordinary. As far as I could tell, it was just regular water. I shrugged and replaced the stopper, then put the jug back on the shelf. Something tickled at the back of my mind, but I wasn't sure what. I looked back at the jug. Why keep water down here? It's not a bomb shelter; maybe it used to be? Still, why label water like that?
Then Jasper called out to me. "Edward, you wanna see this." I noticed it wasn't a question. He sounded a little anxious. Clearly he had found something very interesting. I went over to him at the desk and saw he was reading some notebooks. On closer inspection I saw they were journals. Each entry was dated and written in practiced script. I read the entry Jasper currently had displayed.
Experiment: Fiery Hair, Fire Test-Testing the durability of vampire skin to commonly encountered sources of fire, and testing the effects of increasing conflagrations
Procedure: I started with a candle flame, holding it against the subject's skin to test what the subject felt, and how it affected the skin. I moved up to fire the size of a torch flame, then a campfire.
All the preceding flames caused some pain and/or irritation to the subject, and the skin appeared to scar up for a while, but it went back to normal within a couple hours.
In the final test, I applied a blowtorch flame to the subject's entire epidermis. The result of this test was fascinating: the subject's body became completely solid, turning into one impenetrable mass, but also rendering the subject immobile.
Conclusion: Vampires cannot be killed by exposure to fire on their skin; fire must get underneath the skin before they become combustible, as I established in my earlier experiment.
I looked up at Jasper. "This is sick. Carlisle was performing experiments on his own kind. On our kind."
"And not just one; he has several of these." Jasper gestured to a small stack of notebooks he had found. He flipped to another random entry. "Look, here's another interesting test. This stuff is actually good to know, even as horrifying as it is."
Experiment: The vulnerability of vampire skin to various piercing weapons.
Procedure: Tested effectiveness of different weapons on subject's epidermis, focusing on those particular to lore concerning vampires and other supernatural creatures. Materials and results:
Wooden stakes, focusing on ash, hawthorn, and oak: ineffective
Silver blades/points: ineffective, though it caused some discomfort and irritation for the subject
Other metal types: all ineffective
Vampire skin: effective, when made into a whip
Vampire teeth and nails: very effective; melted down material from such and coated previously tested weapons with material gleaned from former subjects. Thusly modified, previous weapons became effective puncturing tools.
Note: Wooden stakes with vampire nails covering the points were unexpectedly effective, causing paralysis in limbs where the subject was stabbed, and total paralysis when stabbed through the heart. It was not fatal, but did render the vampire completely helpless to anything I would want to do.
"Edward, this is appalling," Jasper said, in fearful awe of the sheer amount of knowledge contained in the volumes, and the method in which the knowledge was obtained.
"In more ways than one," I replied, looking around for something specific now. Jasper continued reading the grotesque tales while I prowled around the room, searching for the missing articles. In the very back of the room, I found what I was looking for. There was an outline of a door in the back wall, barely discernible in the light. It was covered with a thick layer of dust, which made it nigh invisible. I ran my fingers around the edges, searching for some kind of latch or indicator of a way to get it open. About halfway down the left side I found a small handle. Dust fell off as I lifted it and pulled. It wouldn't budge. No amount of pulling on my part would move it an inch. I gave up when I thought I might pull the handle off the door altogether. I turned around in frustration, tilted my head back, and fell heavily with my back against the door-which opened inward unexpectedly, causing me to stumble backward, almost falling on my backside in the middle of the room. What I saw when I got my bearings had me staring in disbelief.
The cluttered ten-by-ten room was stacked with a myriad of different vampire-slaying weapons and vampire deterrents taken from old lore. A number of different blades were arranged on a table, from cultures and eras all over the world. A giant sealed jar contained several cloves of garlic, and an entire shelf was dedicated to wooden stakes, of all different sizes and types of wood. All of them had a silvery substance covering their points, to about a third of the way toward the other end. Oh. These were the stakes Carlisle had used in that experiment.
I opened a chest in the back corner, and found a whole bunch of whips that looked silver-plated. I looked around and picked one up, flicking it idly, trying to get my mind around the room and its horrific content. Then it snapped back and whipped my upper arm.
It cut me.
I stopped playing with the whip, and instead held it between my hands and really examined it. I thought back to what Carlisle's notes had said. Vampire skin: Effective, when made into a whip. I dropped the weapon in horrified disgust and jumped back, rubbing my hands against my pants. I had been playing with…vampire skin.
"Edward…" Jasper called from the other room. His voice shook. He was nervous and scared. I came out and joined him again. "You better read this one," he said, and pointed shakily at a particular entry.
Experiment: The effects of holy water on vampires.
Procedure: Tested various amounts of holy water, starting with a few sprinkles against the skin, up to total immersion. No apparent harm or irritation to skin.
Final Test: Filled the spare area of brain cavity of subject with holy water; left it there all day, or until some observable reaction happened. Subject became noticeably calmer during course of experiment. Drained out water at day's end. Subject now appears to be brain-damaged; acquires simple understanding of events of world around her; accepts everything at face value.
Conclusion: Holy water effective only on direct contact with vampire brain.
"So what?" I asked.
"Read that description again. Then read the note underneath. Doesn't it remind you of someone?"
I read the entry again, and the personal note underneath that official entry:
I think I will keep this subject around, to observe any further development and to determine if the effect is permanent, or if it will wear off in time. That, and I feel some professional responsibility toward her, perhaps even some attraction. I know if I let her go into the world this way, she would most certainly die, and for some reason I don't wish for that to happen.
This time certain phrases jumped out at me: brain-damaged; simple; accepts everything at face value; yeah, it did remind me of someone. I darted a glance over to the jug with the cross that I had examined earlier. Holy water. I looked up at Jasper, reflecting his horrified expression.
"Esme," I whispered. "I always thought she was damaged in her fall from the cliff…but Carlisle did it to her. She's stupid and witless because Carlisle ran a sick, twisted experiment on her."
Then, suddenly, I knew. I bowed my head and pressed the heels of my hands against my eyes. Carlisle wasn't going to sex me up in humiliating ways. I was going to be his next "subject," which would probably be even worse.
The wave of fear that came from me made Jasper pause. "Edward?"
"Jasper, I have to go."
"What? But, you haven't been here-"
"I have to leave!" I seized Jasper's upper arms and shook him a little. "I need you to do something for me, Jasper."
He stared at me, a little startled. "Well, sure, what do you need?"
"I need you to get Carlisle off my scent; tell him I'm going somewhere I'm not, like China or Siberia."
"Um, ok, but where are you going? And why are you trying to get away from Carlisle?"
I looked past Jasper, hit with sudden inspiration. "I think I'll go somewhere I can get lost indefinitely, if all goes well."
I looked back into Jasper's sympathetic eyes. "There are miles and miles of unexplored tunnels under the streets of Paris. I can possibly elude him forever there, if I'm lucky."
"To the catacombs of Paris?"
I smiled and nodded and began walking toward the ladder that would take me out of this demented science lab. "Yeah, Jasper. To the catacombs of Paris."