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The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner An Eclipse Novella
By Meyer, Stephenie
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2010 Meyer, Stephenie
All right reserved.
THE NEWSPAPER HEADLINE GLARED AT ME FROM a little metal vending machine: SEATTLE UNDER SIEGE—DEATH TOLL RISES AGAIN. I hadn’t seen this one yet. Some paperboy must have just restocked the machine. Lucky for him, he was nowhere around now.
Great. Riley was going to blow a gasket. I would make sure I wasn’t within reach when he saw this paper. Let him rip somebody else’s arm off.
I stood in the shadow behind the corner of a shabby three-story building, trying to be inconspicuous while I waited for someone to make a decision. Not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes, I stared at the wall beside me instead. The ground floor of the building housed a record shop that had long since closed; the windows, lost to weather or street violence, were filled in with plywood. Over the top were apartments—empty, I guessed, since the normal sounds of sleeping humans were absent. I wasn’t surprised—the place looked like it would collapse in a stiff wind. The buildings on the other side of the dark, narrow street were just as wrecked.
The normal scene for a night out on the town.
I didn’t want to speak up and draw attention, but I wished somebody would decide something. I was really thirsty, and I didn’t care much whether we went right or left or over the roof. I just wanted to find some unlucky people who wouldn’t even have enough time to think wrong place, wrong time.
Unfortunately tonight Riley’d sent me out with two of the most useless vampires in existence. Riley never seemed to care who he sent out in hunting groups. Or particularly bugged when sending out the wrong people together meant fewer people coming home. Tonight I was stuck with Kevin and some blond kid whose name I didn’t know. They both belonged to Raoul’s gang, so it went without saying that they were stupid. And dangerous. But right now, mostly stupid.
Instead of picking a direction for our hunt, suddenly they were in the middle of an argument over whose favorite superhero would be a better hunter. The nameless blond was demonstrating his case for Spider-Man now, skittering up the brick wall of the alley while humming the cartoon theme song. I sighed in frustration. Were we ever going to hunt?
A little flicker of movement to my left caught my eye. It was the other one Riley had sent out in this hunting group, Diego. I didn’t know much about him, just that he was older than most of the others. Riley’s right-hand man was the word. That didn’t make me like him any more than the other morons.
Diego was looking at me. He must have heard the sigh. I looked away.
Keep your head down and your mouth shut—that was the way to stay alive in Riley’s crowd.
“Spider-Man is such a whiny loser,” Kevin called up to the blond kid. “I’ll show you how a real superhero hunts.” He grinned wide. His teeth flashed in the glare of a streetlight.
Kevin jumped into the middle of the street just as the lights from a car swung around to illuminate the cracked pavement with a blue-white gleam. He flexed his arms back, then pulled them slowly together like a pro wrestler showing off. The car came on, probably expecting him to get the hell out of the way like a normal person would. Like he should.
“Hulk mad!” Kevin bellowed. “Hulk… SMASH!”
He leaped forward to meet the car before it could brake, grabbed its front bumper, and flipped it over his head so that it struck the pavement upside down with a squeal of bending metal and shattering glass. Inside, a woman started screaming.
“Oh man,” Diego said, shaking his head. He was pretty, with dark, dense, curly hair, big, wide eyes, and really full lips, but then, who wasn’t pretty? Even Kevin and the rest of Raoul’s morons were pretty. “Kevin, we’re supposed to be laying low. Riley said—”
“Riley said!” Kevin mimicked in a harsh soprano. “Get a spine, Diego. Riley’s not here.”
Kevin sprang over the upside-down Honda and punched out the driver’s side window, which had somehow stayed intact up to that point. He fished through the shattered glass and the deflating air bag for the driver.
I turned my back and held my breath, trying my hardest to hold on to the ability to think.
I couldn’t watch Kevin feed. I was too thirsty for that, and I really didn’t want to pick a fight with him. I so did not need to be on Raoul’s hit list.
The blond kid didn’t have the same issues. He pushed off from the bricks overhead and landed lightly behind me. I heard him and Kevin snarling at each other, and then a wet tearing sound as the woman’s screams cut off. Probably them ripping her in half.
I tried not to think about it. But I could feel the heat and hear the dripping behind me, and it made my throat burn so bad even though I wasn’t breathing.
“I’m outta here,” I heard Diego mutter.
He ducked into a crevice between the dark buildings, and I followed right on his heels. If I didn’t get away from here fast, I’d be squabbling with Raoul’s goons over a body that couldn’t have had much blood left in it by now anyway. And then maybe I’d be the one who didn’t come home.
Ugh, but my throat burned! I clamped my teeth together to keep from screaming in pain.
Diego darted through a trash-filled side alley, and then—when he hit the dead end—up the wall. I dug my fingers into the crevices between the bricks and hauled myself up after him.
On the rooftop, Diego took off, leaping lightly across the other roofs toward the lights shimmering off the sound. I stayed close. I was younger than he was, and therefore stronger—it was a good thing we younger ones were strongest, or we wouldn’t have lived through our first week in Riley’s house. I could have passed him easy, but I wanted to see where he was going, and I didn’t want to have him behind me.
Diego didn’t stop for miles; we were almost to the industrial docks. I could hear him muttering under his breath.
“Idiots! Like Riley wouldn’t give us instructions for a good reason. Self-preservation, for example. Is an ounce of common sense so much to ask for?”
“Hey,” I called. “Are we going to hunt anytime soon? My throat’s on fire here.”
Diego landed on the edge of a wide factory roof and spun around. I jumped back a few yards, on my guard, but he didn’t make an aggressive move toward me.
“Yeah,” he said. “I just wanted some distance between me and the lunatics.”
He smiled, all friendly, and I stared at him.
This Diego guy wasn’t like the others. He was kind of… calm, I guess was the word. Normal. Not normal now, but normal before. His eyes were a darker red than mine. He must have been around for a while, like I’d heard.
From the street below came the sounds of nighttime in a slummier part of Seattle. A few cars, music with heavy bass, a couple of people walking with nervous, fast steps, some drunk bum singing off-key in the distance.
“You’re Bree, right?” Diego asked. “One of the newbies.”
I didn’t like that. Newbie. Whatever. “Yeah, I’m Bree. But I didn’t come in with the last group. I’m almost three months old.”
“Pretty slick for a three-monther,” he said. “Not many would have been able to leave the scene of the accident like that.” He said it like a compliment, like he was really impressed.
“Didn’t want to mix it up with Raoul’s freaks.”
He nodded. “Amen, sister. Their kind ain’t nothing but bad news.”
Weird. Diego was weird. How he sounded like a person having a regular old conversation. No hostility, no suspicion. Like he wasn’t thinking about how easy or hard it might be to kill me right now. He was just talking to me.
“How long have you been with Riley?” I asked curiously.
“Going on eleven months now.”
“Wow! That’s older than Raoul.”
Diego rolled his eyes and spit venom over the edge of the building. “Yeah, I remember when Riley brought that trash in. Things just kept getting worse after that.”
I was quiet for a moment, wondering if he thought everyone younger than himself was trash. Not that I cared. I didn’t care what anybody thought anymore. Didn’t have to. Like Riley said, I was a god now. Stronger, faster, better. Nobody else counted.
Then Diego whistled low under his breath.
“There we go. Just takes a little brains and patience.” He pointed down and across the street.
Half-hidden around the edge of a purple-black alley, a man was cussing at a woman and slapping her while another woman watched silently. From their clothes, I guessed that it was a pimp and two of his employees.
This was what Riley had told us to do. Hunt the dregs. Take the humans that no one was going to miss, the ones who weren’t headed home to a waiting family, the ones who wouldn’t be reported missing.
It was the same way he chose us. Meals and gods, both coming from the dregs.
Unlike some of the others, I still did what Riley told me to do. Not because I liked him. That feeling was long gone. It was because what he told us sounded right. How did it make sense to call attention to the fact that a bunch of new vampires were claiming Seattle as their hunting ground? How was that going to help us?
I didn’t even believe in vampires before I was one. So if the rest of the world didn’t believe in vampires, then the rest of the vampires must be hunting smart, the way Riley said to do it. They probably had a good reason.
And like Diego’d said, hunting smart just took a little brains and patience.
Of course, we all slipped up a lot, and Riley would read the papers and groan and yell at us and break stuff—like Raoul’s favorite video-game system. Then Raoul would get mad and take somebody else apart and burn him up. Then Riley would be pissed off and he’d do another search to confiscate all the lighters and matches. A few rounds of this, and then Riley would bring home another handful of vampirized dregs kids to replace the ones he’d lost. It was an endless cycle.
Diego inhaled through his nose—a big, long pull—and I watched his body change. He crouched on the roof, one hand gripping the edge. All that strange friendliness disappeared, and he was a hunter.
That was something I recognized, something I was comfortable with because I understood it.
I turned off my brain. It was time to hunt. I took a deep breath, drawing in the scent of the blood inside the humans below. They weren’t the only humans around, but they were the closest. Who you were going to hunt was the kind of decision you had to make before you scented your prey. It was too late now to choose anything.
Diego dropped from the roof edge, out of sight. The sound of his landing was too low to catch the attention of the crying prostitute, the zoned-out prostitute, or the angry pimp.
A low growl ripped from between my teeth. Mine. The blood was mine. The fire in my throat flared and I couldn’t think of anything else.
I flipped myself off the roof, spinning across the street so that I landed right next to the crying blonde. I could feel Diego close behind me, so I growled a warning at him while I caught the surprised girl by the hair. I yanked her to the alley wall, putting my back against it. Defensive, just in case.
Then I forgot all about Diego, because I could feel the heat under her skin, hear the sound of her pulse thudding close to the surface.
She opened her mouth to scream, but my teeth crushed her windpipe before a sound could come out. There was just the gurgle of air and blood in her lungs, and the low moans I could not control.
The blood was warm and sweet. It quenched the fire in my throat, calmed the nagging, itching emptiness in my stomach. I sucked and gulped, only vaguely aware of anything else.
I heard the same noise from Diego—he had the man. The other woman was unconscious on the ground. Neither had made any noise. Diego was good.
The problem with humans was that they just never had enough blood in them. It seemed like only seconds later the girl ran dry. I rattled her limp body in frustration. Already my throat was beginning to burn again.
I threw the spent body to the ground and crouched against the wall, wondering if I could grab the unconscious girl and make off with her before Diego could catch up to me.
Diego was already finished with the man. He looked at me with an expression that I could only describe as… sympathetic. But I could have been dead wrong. I couldn’t remember anyone ever giving me sympathy before, so I wasn’t positive what it looked like.
“Go for it,” he told me, nodding to the limp girl on the ground.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Naw, I’m good for now. We’ve got time to hunt some more tonight.”
Watching him carefully for some sign of a trick, I darted forward and snagged the girl. Diego made no move to stop me. He turned away slightly and looked up at the black sky.
I sank my teeth into her neck, keeping my eyes on him. This one was even better than the last. Her blood was entirely clean. The blonde girl’s blood had the bitter aftertaste that came with drugs—I was so used to that, I’d barely noticed. It was rare for me to get really clean blood, because I followed the dregs rule. Diego seemed to follow the rules, too. He must have smelled what he was giving up.
Why had he done it?
When the second body was empty, my throat felt better. There was a lot of blood in my system. I probably wouldn’t really burn for a few days.
Diego was still waiting, whistling quietly through his teeth. When I let the body fall to the ground with a thud, he turned back to me and smiled.
“Um, thanks,” I said.
He nodded. “You looked like you needed it more than me. I remember how hard it is in the beginning.”
“Does it get easier?”
He shrugged. “In some ways.”
We looked at each other for a second.
“Why don’t we dump these bodies in the sound?” he suggested.
I bent down, grabbed the dead blonde, and slung her limp body over my shoulder. I was about to get the other one, but Diego was there before me, the pimp already on his back.
“I got it,” he said.
I followed him up the alley wall, and then we swung across the girders under the freeway. The lights from the cars below didn’t touch us. I thought how stupid people were, how oblivious, and I was glad I wasn’t one of the clueless.
Hidden in the darkness, we made our way to an empty dock, closed for the night. Diego didn’t hesitate at the end of the concrete, he just jumped right over the edge with his bulky burden and disappeared into the water. I slid in after him.
He swam as sleek and quick as a shark, shooting deeper and farther out into the black sound. He stopped suddenly when he found what he was looking for—a huge, slime-covered boulder on the ocean floor, sea stars and garbage clinging to its sides. We had to be more than a hundred feet deep—to a human, it would have seemed pitch-black here. Diego let go of his bodies. They swayed slowly in the current beside him while he shoved his hand into the mucky sand at the base of the rock. After a second he found a hold and ripped the boulder up from its resting spot. The weight of it drove him waist-deep into the dark seafloor.
He looked up and nodded to me.
I swam down to him, hooking his bodies with one hand on my way. I shoved the blonde into the black hole under the rock, then pushed the second girl and the pimp in after her. I kicked them lightly to make sure they were in, and then got out of the way. Diego let the boulder fall. It wobbled a little, adjusting to the newly uneven foundation. He kicked his way out of the muck, swam to the top of the boulder, and then pushed it down, grinding the obstructions flat underneath.
He swam back a few yards to view his work.
Perfect, I mouthed. These three bodies would never resurface. Riley would never hear a story about them on the news.
He grinned and held up his hand.
It took me a minute to understand that he was looking for a high five. Hesitantly, I swam forward, tapped my palm to his, then kicked away, putting some distance between us.
Diego got a weird expression on his face, and then he shot to the surface like a bullet.
I darted up after him, confused. When I broke through to the air, he was almost choking on his laughter.
He couldn’t answer me for a minute. Finally he blurted out, “Worst high five ever.”
I sniffed, irritated. “Couldn’t be sure you weren’t just going to rip my arm off or something.”
Diego snorted. “I wouldn’t do that.”
“Anyone else would,” I countered.
“True, that,” he agreed, suddenly not as amused. “You up for a little more hunting?”
“Do you have to ask?”
We came out of the water under a bridge and lucked right into two homeless guys sleeping in ancient, filthy sleeping bags on top of a shared mattress of old newspapers. Neither one of them woke up. Their blood was soured by alcohol, but still better than nothing. We buried them in the sound, too, under a different rock.
“Well, I’m good for a few weeks,” Diego said when we were out of the water again, dripping on the end of another empty dock.
I sighed. “I guess that’s the easier part, right? I’ll be burning again in a couple of days. And then Riley will probably send me out with more of Raoul’s mutants again.”
“I can come with you, if you want. Riley pretty much lets me do what I want.”
I thought about the offer, suspicious for a second. But Diego really didn’t seem like any of the others. I felt different with him. Like I didn’t need to watch my back so much.
“I’d like that,” I admitted. It felt off to say this. Too vulnerable or something.
But Diego just said “cool” and smiled at me.
“So how come Riley gives you such a long leash?” I asked, wondering about the relationship there. The more time I spent with Diego, the less I could picture him being in tight with Riley. Diego was so… friendly. Nothing like Riley. But maybe it was an opposites-attract thing.
“Riley knows he can trust me to clean up my messes. Speaking of which, do you mind running a quick errand?”
I was starting to be entertained by this strange boy. Curious about him. I wanted to see what he would do.
“Sure,” I said.
He bounded across the dock toward the road that ran along the waterfront. I followed after. I caught the scent of a few humans, but I knew it was too dark and we were too fast for them to see us.
He chose to travel across rooftops again. After a few jumps, I recognized both our scents. He was retracing our earlier path.
And then we were back to that first alley, where Kevin and the other guy had gotten stupid with the car.
“Unbelievable,” Diego growled.
Kevin and Co. had just left, it appeared. Two other cars were stacked on top of the first, and a handful of bystanders had been added to the body count. The cops weren’t here yet—because anyone who might have reported the mayhem was already dead.
“Help me sort this out?” Diego asked.
We dropped down, and Diego quickly threw the cars into a new arrangement, so that it sort of looked like they’d hit each other rather than been piled up by a giant tantrum-throwing baby. I grabbed the two dry, lifeless bodies abandoned on the pavement and stuffed them under the apparent site of impact.
“Bad accident,” I commented.
Diego grinned. He took a lighter out of a ziplock from his pocket and started igniting the clothes of the victims. I grabbed my own lighter—Riley reissued these when we went hunting; Kevin should have used his—and got to work on the upholstery. The bodies, dried out and laced with flammable venom, blazed up quickly.
“Get back,” Diego warned, and I saw that he had the first car’s gas hatch open and the lid screwed off the tank. I jumped up the closest wall, perching a story above to watch. He took a few steps back and lit a match. With perfect aim, he tossed it into the small hole. In the same second, he leaped up beside me.
The boom of the explosion shook the whole street. Lights started going on around the corner.
“Well done,” I said.
“Thanks for your help. Back to Riley’s?”
I frowned. Riley’s house was the last place I wanted to spend the rest of my night. I didn’t want to see Raoul’s stupid face or listen to the constant shrieking and fighting. I didn’t want to have to grit my teeth and hide out behind Freaky Fred so that people would leave me alone. And I was out of books.
“We’ve got some time,” Diego said, reading my expression. “We don’t have to go right away.”
“I could use some reading material.”
“And I could use some new music.” He grinned. “Let’s go shopping.”
We moved quickly through town—over rooftops again and then darting through shadowy streets when the buildings got farther apart—to a friendlier neighborhood. It didn’t take long to find a strip mall with one of the big chain bookstores. I snapped the lock on the roof access hatch and let us in. The store was empty, the only alarms on the windows and doors. I went straight to the H’s, while Diego headed to the music section in the back. I’d just finished with Hale. I took the next dozen books in line; that would keep me a couple of days.
I looked around for Diego and found him sitting at one of the café tables, studying the backs of his new CDs. I paused, then joined him.
This felt strange because it was familiar in a haunting, uncomfortable way. I had sat like this before—across a table from someone. I’d chatted casually with that person, thinking about things that were not life and death or thirst and blood. But that had been in a different, blurry lifetime.
The last time I’d sat at a table with someone, that someone had been Riley. It was hard to remember that night for a lot of reasons.
“So how come I never notice you around the house?” Diego asked abruptly. “Where do you hide?”
I laughed and grimaced at the same time. “I usually kick it behind wherever Freaky Fred is hanging out.”
His nose wrinkled. “Seriously? How do you stand that?”
“You get used to it. It’s not so bad behind him as it is in front. Anyway, it’s the best hiding place I’ve found. Nobody gets close to Fred.”
Diego nodded, still looking kind of grossed out. “That’s true. It’s a way to stay alive.”
“Did you know that Fred is one of Riley’s favorites?” Diego asked.
“Really? How?” No one could stand Freaky Fred. I was the only one who tried, and that was solely out of self-preservation.
Diego leaned toward me conspiratorially. I was already so used to his strange way that I didn’t even flinch.
“I heard him on the phone with her.”
“I know,” he said, sounding sympathetic again. Of course, it wasn’t weird that we could sympathize with each other when it came to her. “This was a few months back. Anyway, Riley was talking about Fred, all excited. From what they were saying, I guess that some vampires can do things. More than what normal vampires can do, I mean. And that’s good—something she’s looking for. Vampires with skillzzz.”
He pulled the Z sound out, so I could hear how he was spelling it in his head.
“What kinds of skills?”
“All kinds of stuff, it sounds like. Mind reading and tracking and even seeing the future.”
“I’m not kidding. I guess Fred can sort of repel people on purpose. It’s all in our heads, though. He makes us repulsed at the thought of being near him.”
I frowned. “How is that a good thing?”
“Keeps him alive, doesn’t it? Guess it keeps you alive, too.”
I nodded. “Guess so. Did he say anything about anyone else?” I tried to think of anything strange I’d seen or felt, but Fred was one of a kind. The clowns in the alley tonight pretending to be superheroes hadn’t been doing anything the rest of us couldn’t do.
Excerpted from The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Meyer, Stephenie Copyright © 2010 by Meyer, Stephenie. Excerpted by permission.
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