Ten Years Later - 1932
A key sounded in the door and as the wind pushed it open, the scent of a human came swirling in, a heady mixture of violets and mothballs.
My mouth was full of pins, but that didn't prevent me from smiling ear to ear. I dropped the garment I'd been working on and took out the pins from my mouth carefully. Not that swallowing them, even all of them, would have done me any damage. I'd discovered by now I was pretty much unbreakable.
I stood up from my work station and walked up towards the woman standing in the doorway. She was carrying a armful of boxes, the top of her head barely visible. But I would've recognized that careless disarray of red tresses anywhere.
"Mrs. Elderberry! You're here much earlier than I thought you'd be," I said as I skipped to her side, helping her place the boxes on a nearby table.
She regarded me fondly over her tortoise-shell eyeglasses. "My plane just arrived and I was too keyed up to sleep. You're here much later than I thought you'd be. What are you doing in the store at almost 4 AM?"
I started opening the boxes, smiling back at her. "Oh, you know me, Mrs. E. I'm a night owl. Plus I get my best work done at night."
"A lovely young girl like you shouldn't spend her Friday nights holed up in here like this. It isn't right, dear."
I took a dress pattern out of the first box and held it up for perusal. "Ooh, this would look gorgeous in red."
Mrs. Elderberry laughed, the sound of it like a bell. "I had a feeling you'd like that one."
"So how was Paris?" I asked as I went back to my station and picked up the dress I'd been working on, eager to finish hemming it. The owner would be back later that day and I wanted to make sure it was perfect.
Mrs. Elderberry worked methodically through the boxes, removing the dress patterns and bolts of fabric. "It was cold, dirty, and the people are positively rude. I loved it. You would have, too, Alice. I do wish you could have come."
"Someone had to stay behind to mind the store."
"I don't know what I'd do without you, Alice Paine."
That was the name I'd given myself ten years ago, when I'd left Biloxi, Mississippi behind. I knew I needed to distance myself from that place, not just to avoid whomever had made me into what I was today, but also to go somewhere less temperate, where the oddity of my skin would remain a secret. To that end, I'd moved to Chicago, Illinois, where the winters were long and brutal and much of the year spent in clouds and shadows. During the summer months, when the sun was on full display, I retreated to my hideaway in Juneau, Alaska.
For ten years I'd been living between Chicago and Juneau, straddling the line between mortal and immortal. By observing humans and their habits, I'd been able to successfully mimic their behavior. I prided myself on never having fed on one of them. Something in me, perhaps my stubborn pride, didn't let me do this, although I had to battle temptation from time to time. It got easier to resist the siren's call of their blood the more time I spent among them, although I wasn't completely desensitized. Not quite.
For three of those years, I'd been working with Mrs. Elderberry in her dress shop. I knew I would have to move soon, though the thought of this made me cringe. This was the happiest I'd been in ten years, and Mrs. E. was the first real friend I'd ever made. But that was the pattern to my life -- leave before anyone got suspicious about the fact that I didn't age, or the fact that my skin was harder and colder than theirs, that I was somehow different from them.
The visions helped guide me as far as timing. I'd received another one just last night, in which I was hiking amidst a glorious panorama of mountain peaks. I had no idea where, but I knew I would soon find out.
"Go home, Alice. It's late and you need your rest."
I looked out the window and saw that the sky was turning pink-gold with the start of a new day. I knew she was right -- although my visions had told me today would be overcast (as usual), I shouldn't risk coming in contact with the sun. Not if I wanted to stay here just a little longer.
I made a big show of yawning and stretching at my station. "Yeah, I am beat. OK, Mrs. E., see you in a few hours."
"See you later, dear. Mind your step outside, it's very windy."
I made sure to walk carefully out of the store, bending forward at the waist against the wind as the rest of the few passersby on the street were also doing. It was all a show -- not even the strongest wind could have budged me.
I walked to the small apartment I called home and unlocked the door, dropping my bag on a chair. I flipped the light switch -- and then flung myself back against the door, a guttural growl escaping my lips.
There was a man standing at the window, his back towards me. Something about his stance told me he wasn't ... normal. I also couldn't catch his scent, which raised red flags in my brain. How had I missed seeing this?
Before I could follow the frenzied maze of my thoughts, he turned, and I saw his face for the first time. It was pale and smooth as marble and the eyes were blood-red.
"Hello, Alice," he said with a smile.