Chapter 7

WARNING: This chapter contains disturbing scenes related to death. If you are sensitive to this subject, please skip to the very end of the chapter or wait for the short, edited recap at the beginning of next chapter. You have been warned.

Playlist selection: Slipped Away by Avril Lavigne

Bella POV
OhmyGod. OhmyGod. OhmyGod.  "AAHHHHHH!"
I stare, wide-eyed and in horror, at the blood-stained linens of Edward's bed.  Something terrible has happened to him, I just know it.  Scenarios flash through my mind - a bloody nose, a cut on his hand.  While these may be logical explanations, my heart screams otherwise.  I just know within my soul that he's been hurt, tortured, or - Oh God... killed! My mind battles between a spastic freak-out and complete shut-down.  It's a fine line to walk right now. I'm unsteadily teetering on the edge of sanity.
"DAD!?"  My voice is shaky and strained.  I move away from the bed quickly, back-stepping toward the door of the room and clutching my shirt as I struggle to catch my breath.
"BELLA!  STAY WHERE YOU ARE!" Charlie shouts from down the hall.
The panic in my father's voice propels my feet into motion, and I run down the corridor toward him. "But, Dad, there's blood!" I shriek, putting emphasis on the one word I can't believe I'm saying. I fucking hate blood.
My feet come to a screeching halt at the doorway of Elizabeth and Ed Senior's bedroom.  Charlie is standing next to the bed, one hand covering his mouth and nose, appearing to fight the urge to puke, the other propping his body against the wall.  But that's not what causes me to stumble and cling to the doorjamb, grasping the wood to support my suddenly wobbly knees.  That would be the stench wafting toward me from inside the room.  It's nauseating, and it permeates my nostrils and seeps through my taste buds, burning it's undeniable identity into my brain.  It's a familiar, but rancid scent.  It reminds me of a dead armadillo roasting on the asphalt in the hot Arizona sun... the smell of death and decay. 
"Charlie!  I need you out here now!" Randy yells from outside.  The French doors leading from the bedroom to the backyard are open, revealing a terrified Randy standing in the middle of the yard, clutching his holstered gun against his hip.
My father turns to me briefly, tears forming in his eyes, and says in his 'Officer Swan' tone, "Bella, please don't touch anything. Just stay right where you are. You don't want to come in here."
I nod, fearing if I open my mouth I will scream or cry.  My brain is still teetering on which route to take.  Should it remain eerily calm and suppress all my emotions or allow the pain and fear to show through?
Pulling the collar of my shirt over my nose like a mask, I attempt to breathe out of my mouth and filter out the putrid smell of the room. 
My eyes lock on Charlie as he scurries around the bed, hops over something on the floor on the other side of the room, and takes wide steps through the patio door. I lean a little into the bedroom, trying to follow him with my eyes as Randy leads him somewhere in the backyard.  My body moves of its own accord, maneuvering around the furniture and stopping at the door as I spot Randy pointing out several objects in the grass.  He leads my dad a few feet into the tree line, where I see my dad's body stiffen, then collapse to his knees and expels the contents of his stomach into the bushes. 
I tear my eyes away from him, allowing him a moment of privacy while he's sick, and glance around the room.
Blood.  There is so much fucking blood.  
Dark, red smudges trail from the center of the bed, down the side of the sheets, across the floor, and through the open doorway.  I gasp and my hand flies up to cover my mouth as I take in the details of the room: bloody hand prints and splatters on the walls, clumps of auburn hair still attached to flesh on the pillows, and tattered clothing with similar dark stains like that in Edward's room.   
Oh my God, NO!
As I turn to bolt from the room, I stumble backwards, bumping into the chest of drawers and knocking a few items off the top shelf.  The sound of metal clanging against the wooden floor causes me to divert my gaze toward my feet and notice a small, gold ring.  Just as I am bending to pick up the trinket and put it into my pocket, something catches my eye under the edge of the bed.  It's hidden by the mattress' shadow, and I can't tell what it is, so I reach blindly into the shaded spot and pull out a firm, yet pliable piece of material.  I move it into the light shining from the ceiling fan, needing to get a better glimpse of it, and screech at the top of my lungs.  I drop the mangled, severed finger to the floor, watching it bounce and roll back under the edge of the bed.  I stand frozen, unable to run from this nightmare room until Charlie and Randy rush back into the room through the patio door. 
"Bella! What?! What happened?" Charlie grabs my arms as his panicked eyes search mine.  I stare at him, unblinking, and point toward the space under the bed. 
"Shit, Charlie. Get her out of here!" Randy yells. 
The realization that "yes, something horrible has happened" is finally settling into my head.  There's no denying that shit.  Ten million levels of fucked-up has happened here, and I've been trying to give it all the benefit of the doubt.  I should have stuck with my gut instinct. 
Up to this point, I tried to rationalize everything, not wanting to believe all the clues: 
Missing persons? Masens could have gone on an extended vacation. No, they were dead.
No communication? Batteries died in the cell phones.  No, they were dead.
Blood? Nosebleeds. A lot of them. No, they were dead.
Fuck, Swan... what does it take for you to get the big picture? Severed fingers, apparently.
Shock wins the battle in my brain, because I suddenly find myself sitting in the passenger seat of the truck, not recalling leaving the master bedroom.  Randy's fumbling with the CB radio, calling for help, I think. Charlie is standing inside the opened passenger door, rubbing my back in soothing circles and whispering soft apologies, "I'm so sorry, baby... so sorry."
I look up into my dad's eyes, noticing the red puffiness around them, and I reach my arms up, wrapping him in a hug. It's true... they're gone.
"He promised he'd never leave me, Daddy. I love him so much."  The tears start to flow now, but these are not the worried and panicked tears from the last few days.  They are unfamiliar to me, ones of heartache and the destruction of my soul.
He continues with his chant, " sorry, baby..."
Randy offers my dad the driver's seat while we wait for the ranger and crimes scene investigators to arrive, but Charlie declines, not wanting to break our embrace.  We hold each other for a long while, through bouts of sobbing and sniffling, until several sets of headlights shine in the rapidly darkening sky.
A caravan of law enforcement vehicles emerge from the tree-shaded dirt road and park at the far end of the driveway.  Randy rushes over to meet one of the deputies, points toward the cabin and the backyard, then returns to Charlie and me in the truck with the officer in tow.
"Hey, Charlie?  This is Officer Ronson.  He's going to talk to you and then to Bella."
Charlie squeezes me tightly. "Yeah, I know the protocol."  He loosens his grip and looks down at me. "Bella? This officer is going to ask us some questions about what we found here today and about what's been going on before and after the Masens left.  Are you going to be okay to do that alone?  Some of them might be very personal questions about you and Edward."
Just the mention of his name sends a searing pain through my heart, but I stare blankly at my dad and nod in response.  He pulls away, giving my hand one final squeeze for support, and walks with Officer Ronson toward his patrol car.  Randy is talking with two men at the front of the truck.  The younger of the two is dressed in a dress shirt and tie. His hands are perched on his hips, exposing his badge on his belt and gun in his shoulder holster.  The older man is dressed more casually, but carries the same badge and gun, and is writing in a small notebook.
Randy gives them a report of the scene, but only a few words stand out among the rest: decomposition, gaping wounds, torn apart, missing limbs.
NO!  God, NO!  Not my Edward... no!  That wasn't Edward's finger, was it?
I crumple against the tailgate of the truck; the weight of what Charlie and Randy saw in the woods causes me to collapse further to the ground. 
"Sweetie?  Are you alright?" A deep, masculine voice says to me, but the sound is muffled and distant to my ears.  I peer up at the familiar voice, faintly recognizing Ranger Tomlinson as he grips my arm and helps me to stand. "C'mon, let's stand up, hon."   
He sets me back into the open bed of the SUV, wrapping his arm around my shoulder to prevent me from tumbling out of the truck again.  We are quiet for several moments, when I notice flashes of bright light flickering from inside the cabin.
"Wh-What's going on?"  My voice is hoarse and shaky.  It's a rhetorical question, really, but I point toward Edward's window.
"Oh, they are taking photos of the crim-, err, bedrooms."
I close my eyes as he quickly corrects his slip, knowing what he was going to say.  My father is a cop, for Christ's sake!  We've watched all of the detective shows for as long as I can remember.  I know that's what is happening inside the cabin, I just don't want to believe it. 
"The crime scene," I whisper to no one.
Ranger Tomlinson gives my shoulders a gentle squeeze just as Charlie returns, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands. "Bella?  Are you ready to answer some questions now?" Dad nods his head toward Officer Ronson and holds his hand out for me to take.  He helps me off the truck bed and walks me toward the patrol car where the officer is talking with one of the detectives who was interviewing Randy earlier.
As we approach, the detective gives me a sad smile and turns to head toward the cabin.
"Miss Swan?  If you will come and sit here?" Officer Ronson points toward the passenger seat of the cruiser. "I have a few questions to ask you."
My father starts to extricate his hand from mine, but I grip his palm tighter, reaching with my other hand to enforce my tight grasp.
"Bells, honey, he needs to question each of us separately.  I'll just wait for you over by Randy's truck, okay?" 
I glare up at my father, tears streaming from my face, and now angry that he's going to leave me with this person who will ask me sensitive questions at a point when my sanity is in jeopardy.  Oh, hell no.
"NO!" I demand, my voice more harsh than I intend for it to be.  After a few seconds, I try a new tactic - begging.  "Please say you will stay with me, Daddy?  Please?"
He peeks up at Officer Ronson, gauging his response, and then nods. "Alright."
The officer wastes no time and jumps right into the barrage of queries: How did I know the 'victims'?  How did I know they were missing?   When was the last time I saw them?  Did Edward and I have an argument? Did I touch anything when I went inside the cabin? Did I touch or move the bodies?  
At first, I want to vomit over the thought of "the bodies", ripped to shreds and decomposing in the backyard.  Referring to Edward and his parents as if they are mere objects and not real people, sounds so cold and heartless. The memory of holding that mangled finger in my hand causes a sudden shiver to rush down my spine.  That was a part of a living, breathing human being.  Someone I cared about and loved.  It could have belonged to any one of them, and it was rotting away under a bed in a cabin in the middle of a god damned forest!  I know the officer needed to stay emotionally detached from the situation, a stranger probing into our private lives, asking about someone that was special to me, but he didn't appear to be too sympathetic.  Aren't there supposed to be grief counselors here? 
I answer all of his questions, some in detail, some in short, clipped answers.  Others I can't even answer at all.  To those inquiries, I plead to my father with my eyes, begging him to answer for me because it's too painful to think about right now. 
His final question sparks some life into me: Are there any recognizable features on Edward's body that would be easily identifiable?
I was going to deny any visible markings, other than a few random freckles. He didn't have any noticeable scars or birthmarks... but he did have a new tattoo.
"YES!" I shout, nodding my head furiously.  I run my fingers over my left inner wrist. "He just got a tattoo right here.  It was Latin for a Monarch butterfly; I don't remember how it's pronounced."
"Okay, that helps.  Anything else?"  Officer Ronson scribbles diligently on his notepad and glances up at me expectantly. I shake my head 'no', and he directs Charlie over to a van to do my fingerprints since I had touched stuff inside of the cabin.  Later, Charlie sets me back into the back of Randy's truck, waiting for word that we can leave to go home.  That's all I want to do... go home and crawl into bed, fall asleep, and forget this entire day ever happened.  It's hard to believe that several hours ago, I walked across the stage to accept my high school diploma, and now, I'm at the possible murder scene of my fiancĂ© and his parents.
This is the worst day of my life.
Somehow, all of this drama doesn't trigger another breakdown.  No tears, no rapid heart beating, no nausea.  I'm either in complete denial, shock, or I'm just completely fucking numb.  That last part scares me.
A short time later, another van arrives and Charlie tries to distract me by asking random questions and pointing in the opposite direction.  Sometimes I think he still sees me as an eight year old girl, needing to be sheltered from unpleasant things.  Well, I'm not eight; I'm eighteen.  I know there are dead bodies in the backyard, one of which may be Edward's.  A part of me wants to run behind the cabin and see for myself if it is really Edward that's been torn to pieces by a wild animal.  But I couldn't live with that being the last image of his beautiful face, his silky hair, and sparkling eyes that I would get to see.  As much as I need proof for my own sanity, I don't want to tarnish the memory of Edward by seeing any more blood, mangled limbs, or decomposing flesh.
And still, I feel nothing at the possibility of his corpse rotting away a few feet from where I sit.  I just don't want to believe it. It's not happening. It's not real.
Several more flash bulbs flicker through the night sky as officers and investigators collect more evidence and photographs of the surroundings.  Several black garbage bags are taken from the cabin and placed into one of the vehicles; I assume they require further analysis.  One of the detectives approaches us, detailing my dad and Randy with a list of the items that were removed and informing us that we are now free to return inside the cabin if we wish to remove any personal items.  I am tuning out most of their conversation, lost in my own head and denial, when I notice a gurney being wheeled from the backyard, weighted with a bulky, black bag strapped to it. 
"Oh, God!" I wail, turning my face into my father's chest.
Charlie glances over his shoulder to see what has upset me. "Jesus," he whispers, wrapping me tightly in his arms and rocking side-to-side. "I'm sorry you had to see that, baby. So sorry."  He holds me for a few moments as they load the gurney into the coroner's van, and we watch them pull away, heading down the dark, dirt path. "C'mon, Bells. Let's see what we can salvage from inside, okay?"
Charlie ushers me toward the cabin, weaving around investigators and through police-taped areas.  Inside, there are several black powdered smudges along the door knobs and frames and a large biohazard sign taped on the door to Elizabeth and Ed Senior's room.  Thankfully, Edward's room is not closed off, and I shuffle in, wary about touching anything.
"They are already finished with their investigation in here, Bells. You can look around and take what you want, okay?  I'll wait for you in the kitchen." Charlie nods his head in the direction of the main living area and leaves me alone in Edward's room. 
I run my fingers across the top of the dresser as I take in the mess the police made in here.  More fingerprint dust along the door jamb and mirror, his bed stripped of its linen and pillow, bagged and tagged for analysis.  I sigh sadly, wanting to have been able to hug that pillow and inhale his comforting scent all night, but I will have to settle for the rapidly fading one back in Phoenix.  The nightstand holds his usual items: a tube of strawberry Chapstick, a tiny notebook with a figure-eight scribbled on the cover, his favorite sportsman watch, a pocket guide book of regional insects, and a crinkled picture of me in a bikini?! 
What a perv.  I smile sadly to myself.
I take the items and stuff them into the pocket of my shorts and turn to rummage through his closet.  Shirts. Shorts. Hiking boots. Sneakers. The usual. In the corner of the closet, I notice Edward's duffel bag.  Pulling it out, I sit on the edge of the bare mattress, checking the pockets and main compartments.  Inside, I find a cluster of dirty, smelly clothes, probably worn while he hiked or fished with his dad.  In one of the side pockets, I find his cell phone. I swallow the lump in my throat, knowing this was what he touched the last time he texted me.  He probably kissed my picture on the caller ID before he turned it off.  Peter always gives him a hard time about how "whipped" he is over me.  I mash the power button on the phone and the screen comes to life.  Edward's name pops up on the screen as the phone greets its owner, vibrating and chirping its "hello".  I smile at the familiar sound, letting the memory of him picking the welcome ring tone because he said it reminded him of me, wash over me.  He's so romantic.
Was, I correct myself. He was romantic.
"You ready to go, Bells?"  Charlie calls from the hallway.
"Yeah, gimme a minute."
I empty my pockets and stuff all of his belongings and clothes into the duffel bag.  I meet my dad in the kitchen as he's bent over the ice chest, shoving food into it. "Looks like they didn't eat all the bear meat..."
Ugh.  I can't... I don't... Jesus.
I leave Charlie to his scavenging as I walk outside the front door, noticing Elizabeth's hammock near the treeline.  I smile to myself, remembering a motherly chat she had with me a few years ago, when she tried to get Edward and I closer in our relationship.  She laid down next to me on the hammock and rocked us back and forth, telling me that she noticed how Edward was looking at me differently.  I questioned her about what she meant exactly, but she only smiled and said, "You've grown into a beautiful young lady, Bella.  Edward's noticed."
A flutter of pages from a nearby open book breaks me from my reverie.
What's this?
I pick up the novel, and flip it to the back, reading the synopsis.
"Vampires?" I scoff.  Figures. 
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and a chill shoots through me.  I have the eerie feeling that I am being watched, but chances are that no one from inside the cabin would notices me by the hammock.  It rested just against the edge of the yard in a corner, hidden behind Randy's truck.  I shrug off the sensation and scamper back onto the porch, just as Charlie is wheeling the cooler out.
"Let's get on the road, kiddo.  We've got a long night ahead of us."
We pack Randy's truck with the Masen's belongings and say goodbye to the cabin.  It questions my belief in fate that the nicest, most loving family were viciously attacked in the one place they saw as their refuge from the harshness of the real world.  They came here to escape the pressures of day-to-day life in the city, to unwind and relax, to seek out the beauty of nature and, in Edward's case, to capture it in little jars to study.  But even in their little piece of heaven, here in the forest of the White Mountains, some evil creature savagely attacked these innocent people.
I could understand if the Masens were out hiking and stumbled across a mountain lion's den, startling the animal and causing it to naturally defend its territory. Maybe even if they were to accidentally get between a mother bear and her cubs, causing her to lash out and kill them to protect her young.  But for it to enter the cabin?  Surprising them in their sleep and ripping their bodies to shreds? Dragging their corpses out of the cabin and into the woods?  No. I don't believe an animal would do that.  Jesus, what if they had still been alive when they were being pulled out of bed?
No, I can't think about that.  I won't think about that.
Whatever has stolen the life of my best friend - the man I was destined to marry - and the lives of his parents, has ruined all of our lives.  One family wiped out, annihilated, the other left empty, broken, and forced to suffer without our loved ones forever.  It's a tragedy any way you look at it.
The three of us file into the truck and take a moment to watch the few remaining investigators and detectives.  They quickly store the evidence and pack their equipment into the van before taking a final sweep of the property. As they move behind the cabin, out of sight from our point in the driveway, Charlie turns to look at me from the front seat.  We stare searchingly at each other for a moment before he nods once, silently asking if I'm ready to go.  I close my eyes briefly, release a heavy sigh, and nod in agreement.  "Let's go, Randy," Charlie says quietly.
As we pull away from the cabin, I lay my head against the glass of the passenger window, staring at the last place my Edward had been alive.  Alive.  It's still unfathomable to me that he's gone.  The bright lights from the investigation crew start to fade into the night.  I reach my hand up, touching the glass to try to hold onto him as long as possible, not wanting to let him go.  Our trek down the dark, bumpy, winding road of the mountain seems like it takes seconds instead of nearly a half hour.  As the tires of Randy's truck hit the smooth asphalt at the base of the mountain, I finally close my eyes and drop my fingers from the window.  
He's gone.
As we pull into the parking lot of the ranger's station, Charlie speaks grimly, "Sweetie, I'm going to call your mother." He takes a deep breath to gather his emotions and lets it out slowly through his mouth, whispering, "I need to be the one to tell her."  I nod and open the door, climb out of the truck, and automatically begin to transplant our cargo into Charlie's truck. My actions feel robotic as I concentrate on the current task at hand and don't pay attention to the goings on around me.  I vaguely notice Ranger Tomlinson meeting Charlie in the parking lot and pulling him toward the building.  I couldn't tell you the content of the conversation; my brain feels so cloudy, yet empty, that I can't focus on any meaningful thought.
Once Randy and I have transferred all the cargo into Charlie's truck, I climb into the passenger seat and pull my knees up to my chest.  Several minutes pass and I glance in the side mirror, spotting Charlie sitting on the curb of the sidewalk.  His shoulders are shaking lightly and his cell phone is pressed to his right ear.  I don't envy him at this moment.  I can't even imagine how he deals with giving families the bad news as a police officer, much less dealing the same news to his wife.  He's probably glad he didn't have to come home and break the news to me too; I was here and saw the gruesome scene first hand.  Poor Renee, all alone at home in Phoenix.
Charlie stands up quickly, snapping the phone shut and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.  Releasing a heavy sigh, he climbs into the cab of his truck, and offers me a small smile.  He buckles his seatbelt as he pulls out of the parking spot of the ranger's station and out of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. 
The radio plays for a distracted audience of two, the gentle twang of country music only masking the deafening silence in the car.  We are lost in our own minds, replaying the last few hours over and over in our brains, or as in my case, contemplating my future -or lack there of- as we merge westbound on Highway 60.
It's late - a quarter past midnight - and I'm completely exhausted.  Today started out with the short-lived relief that I thought Edward had come home to find me in his bed this morning, but the disappointing reality was that there was still no word from the Masens. The entire graduation ceremony was a wash.  I couldn't tell you what our Valedictorian said, or if I had even walked across the stage.  Finding Edward was my focus, and everything else was background noise... like this fucking country music.
I find myself suddenly frustrated with the slow, sad tune trickling through the speakers, needing loud, head-banging music to drown out my thoughts and to keep the tears at bay.  I reach toward the knob and turn it, bypassing Mexican and hip-hop stations, until I land on classic rock.  Nodding my head approvingly, I glance up at Charlie, gauging his response, before I crank up the volume.  We are jamming to the sounds of Motley Crue as we cruise down the highway.  The windows to the truck are rolled down, allowing the warm summer breeze to gust through the cab.  The roads are dark and lonely, a sporadic street lamp illuminating the asphalt every mile or so.  God, I'd hate to get stuck out here, in the middle of fucking nowhere.
The car jolts and swerves sharply to the right, coming to a sudden stop on the gravel shoulder of the highway... right in the middle of fucking nowhere.
What the...?


Post a Comment

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or it's character names - those belong to Stephenie Meyer. Bittersweet Irony and it's characterizations, backgrounds, and plot lines belong to SweetVenom69. No copying, translation, or reproduction is allowed without my written authorization.
© 2010 SweetVenom69.