Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (Page 98)

“I’m not running anywhere,” I promised.

“We’ll see,” she said, smiling again.

I frowned at her. “Back to the story—Carine was swimming to France.”

She paused, settling into the story again. Reflexively, her eyes flickered to another picture—the most colorful of them all, the most ornately framed, and the largest; it was twice as wide as the door it hung next to. The canvas overflowed with bright figures in swirling robes, writhing around long pillars and off marbled balconies. I couldn’t tell if it represented Greek mythology, or if the characters floating in the clouds above were meant to be biblical.

“Carine swam to France, and continued on through Europe, to the universities there. By night she studied music, science, medicine—and found her calling, her penance, in that, in saving human lives.” Her expression became reverent. “I can’t adequately describe the struggle; it took Carine two centuries of torturous effort to perfect her self-control. Now she is all but immune to the scent of human blood, and she is able to do the work she loves without agony. She finds a great deal of peace there, at the hospital.…” Edythe stared off into space for a long moment. Suddenly she seemed to remember the story. She tapped her finger against the huge painting in front of us.

“She was studying in Italy when she discovered the others there. They were much more civilized and educated than the wraiths of the London sewers.”

She pointed up to a comparatively dignified group of figures painted on the highest balcony, looking down calmly on the mayhem below them. I looked carefully at the little assembly and realized, with a startled laugh, that I recognized the golden-haired woman standing off to one side.

“Solimena was greatly inspired by Carine’s friends. He often painted them as gods.” Edythe laughed. “Sulpicia, Marcus, and Athenodora,” she said, indicating the other three. “Nighttime patrons of the arts.”

The first woman and man were black-haired, the second woman was pale blond. All wore richly colored gowns, while Carine was painted in white.

“What about that one?” I asked, pointing to a small, nondescript girl with light brown hair and clothes. She was on her knees clinging to the other woman’s skirts—the woman with the elaborate black curls.

“Mele,” she said. “A… servant, I suppose you could call her. Sulpicia’s little thief.”

“What happened to them?” I wondered aloud, my fingertip hovering a centimeter from the figures on the canvas.

“They’re still there.” She shrugged. “As they have been for millennia. Carine stayed with them only for a short time, just a few decades. She admired their civility, their refinement, but they persisted in trying to cure her aversion to her natural food source, as they called it. They tried to persuade her, and she tried to persuade them, to no avail. Eventually, Carine decided to try the New World. She dreamed of finding others like herself. She was very lonely, you see.

“She didn’t find anyone for a long time. But as monsters became the stuff of fairy tales, she found she could interact with unsuspecting humans as if she were one of them. She began working as a nurse—though her learning and skill exceeded that of the surgeons of the day, as a woman, she couldn’t be accepted in another role. She did what she could to save patients from less able doctors when no one was looking. But though she worked closely with humans, the companionship she craved evaded her; she couldn’t risk familiarity.

“When the influenza epidemic hit, she was working nights in a hospital in Chicago. She’d been turning over an idea in her mind for several years, and she had almost decided to act—since she couldn’t find a companion, she would create one. She wasn’t sure which parts of her own transformation were actually necessary, and which were simply for the enjoyment of her sadistic creator, so she was hesitant. And she was loath to steal anyone’s life the way hers had been stolen. It was in that frame of mind that she found me. There was no hope for me; I was left in a ward with the dying. She had nursed my parents, and knew I was alone. She decided to try.…”

Her voice, nearly a whisper now, trailed off. She stared unseeingly through the long windows. I wondered which images filled her mind now, Carine’s memories or her own. I waited.

She turned back to me, smiling softly. “And now we’ve come full circle.”

“So you’ve always been with Carine?”

“Almost always.”

She took my hand again and pulled me back out into the hallway. I looked back toward the pictures I couldn’t see anymore, wondering if I’d ever get to hear the other stories.

She didn’t add anything as we walked down the hall, so I asked, “Almost?”

Edythe sighed, pursed her lips, and then looked up at me from the corner of her eye.

“You don’t want to answer that, do you?” I said.

“It wasn’t my finest hour.”

We started up another flight of stairs.

“You can tell me anything.”

She paused when we got to the top of the stairs and stared into my eyes for a few seconds.

“I suppose I owe you that. You should know who I am.”

I got the feeling that what she was saying now was directly connected to what she’d said before, about me running away screaming. I carefully set my face and braced myself.

She took a deep breath. “I had a typical bout of rebellious adolescence—about ten years after I was… born… created, whatever you want to call it. I wasn’t sold on Carine’s life of abstinence, and I resented her for curbing my appetite. So… I went off on my own for a time.”

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