The Edward System
Today was Trent’s first day of school at Union Falls High, which makes this his ninth first day of school this calendar year and brings his running total of first days at new schools up to something like ninety. He has a tally going in a notepad that occupies the pocket of his trademark and oh-so-cliché black leather jacket, and he harbors vague plans to celebrate the hundredth first day by doing something nice for himself, maybe knocking off a blood bank or taking a trip down to Cancun during spring break and enjoying the buffet. Granted, it’s not like feeding off of high school girls is the kind of work he feels the need to bribe himself into doing; the taste of their sweet, energetic blood is reward enough. Really, the worst part of the process has to be reading their blogs.
Some vampires get off on knowing their victims before the inevitable throat-puncturing finale of the relationship. Trent prefers to spend as little time as possible getting to the good part. It’s not that Trent has problems with intimacy. Back when Trent was new to this current shtick, he got a kick out of the way the girls latched onto him like a personal savior, some Emo Jesus of a boyfriend to hang all their nascent daddy issues on. That was before they all blurred into one metavictim, a high school girl of sixteen or seventeen (like it matters), five foot whatever, blonde or brunette or maybe red on an odd day, brownbluegreen eyes, wearing clothes from Hot Topic and crazy about Johnny Depp. Trent remembers the first girl he took under his Edward System, a junior named Katy from Hackberry, Texas, and he remembers Shawna, Rebecca, Lori and a few others who came later in that first year while he was still ironing the kinks out of the process. After that they all blend together in a mass of bubblegum and cigarettes and sweet pea lotion from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Maybe it’s time Trent moved to a new section of the buffet, but while he’s strayed from the Edward System a few times since its development to eat the occasional hitchhiker or couple camping in the woods, nothing beats plucking nubile victims out of high school, and Trent always returns to the modus operandi that’s kept him drinking fresh teenage blood a couple times a month for the past six years. He should write Stephanie Meyer a thank you letter.
This week/small town’s victim is looking to be Noelle Worthingson, a.k.a. *~KawaiiKuriFan29~* on Deviantart.com. Trent has no idea who Kuri is or what makes him/her/it so “kawaii,” but the drawings Noelle has posted under that moniker mark her as a perfect target. Most of the drawings fall into one of two categories. The first is that of characters from Avatar: The Land Airbender being “shipped” together. “Shipping” is one of those terms with which Trent has become familiar as part of the Edward System, to his great annoyance, and involves teenage girls arguing on messageboards about which characters are destined to be together; the process generally devolves into melodramatic flamewars that Trent’s victims/dates occasionally feel the need to recount for him in epic detail before he has an opportunity to murder them. The second category features pictures of Edward and Jacob from Twilight (and occasionally Captain Jack Sparrow) fighting to be the object of Noelle’s affections in the same faux-anime style as the Avatar shipping. The attendant blog posts detail why Noelle thinks either supernatural suitor would make the ideal boyfriend, which as far as Trent (who’s a bit jaded) can tell comes down to “pays attention to me” and “is pretty.” Vague sexual euphemisms surrounded by Japanese emoticons seem common throughout Noelle’s writings. Did Trent think his victims were all melting into each other? Here’s a girl who represents the Platonic form of an Edward System mark.
There are a few other drawings, most of them concerning a boy in a Union Falls letterman jacket. There’s no name given on the drawings or in the attendant blog posts, but if Noelle has a crush on some local boy, all the better. It’s nice for the soon-to-be-dead girl’s website to point to a local scapegoat instead of the transfer student who disappeared after a few days of school.
Despite recent depictions of vampire-kind to the contrary, Trent needs to sleep just like the humans he feeds on, and he finds himself yawning as the hour drags past midnight. It could be that he’s low on energy because he hasn’t eaten anything bigger than a stray cat in four days, or maybe his eyes are just heavy from reading all the blog posts about Nickelodeon characters and My Chemical Romance. Either way, he crawls under the covers of his motel room bed (even these spring nights can be chilly when you don’t produce a lot of body heat) and sleeps until seven, when it’s time to get up and shower in the neon-walled bathroom with its cheap complimentary shampoo and finger-width bar of soap.
Then it’s time for the walk to school. Trent has a black 1978 Ford Maverick, polished enough to reflect the clouds as they pass overhead, that he leaves parked at the motel. Experience has taught him not to drive to school. His taste in cars draws attention, and attention is the last thing he wants from anyone but whatever lucky girl he’s picked out as that week’s recipient of the world’s messiest hickey. It’s no good trying to slip out of town after a gruesome murder in a car that everyone remembers. That’s what made Trent abandon his Continental Coupe in Michigan; every now and then he wakes up sweating from the odd dream that he’s driving the Coupe down the freeway again, the familiar feel of its rod-thin steering wheel against his palm, the way the passenger side window rattled when he pushed the engine over sixty. The Coupe’s loss is one of the few regrets Trent’s allowed himself in all his years of undeath. Now he knows better, and the Maverick is reserved for dates and getaways.
Twilight got one thing half-right about vampires: the sun isn’t lethal to Trent’s sub-species. What sort of sense would that make? The light of Sol may reach Earth in greater intensity than that of other stars, but it’s of no different quality. Trent finds the sun pleasant. The sun’s rays offer his body an inner-warmth that his undead organs and slurried bodily fluids can no longer provide. Of course, all of that crap about vampires glittering in the sun is just that. Still, walking beneath the morning sun gives Trent a boost of energy like that a cold-blooded reptile gets from laying on a warm rock, and he spends the hour-long saunter from the motel to the high school repeating in his head what he learned of Noelle by studying her online footprint the night before, already half-tasting her blood in his mouth.
As the school comes into view, Trent wonders whether Noelle drinks regular or diet soda. That’s a distinction he’s learned to make from the taste of his victims’ blood. The girls who drink regular soda have sweeter blood; Trent thinks it’s probably all the high fructose corn syrup. Diabetics have their own taste too, though it’s not one Trent’s fond of and he tries to avoid them; sometimes he doesn’t find out until he’s already put the System into high gear. Noelle was eating a bag of Skittles at lunch yesterday, so Trent thinks he’s safe on that front.
Trent gets to third period early enough to snag the desk next to where Noelle was sitting yesterday. Part of what caught his eye about Noelle yesterday was her penchant for staring out the window while drawing in her notepad yet still answering the teacher’s questions like she’d done the reading. The Edward System is attuned to the dreamy yet studious types. Sure enough, Noelle sits in the same spot again, and Trent has a polite-but-distant look ready for her when she makes brief eye contact. Noelle looks away in a hurry, just like she’s supposed to. Trent’s mouth waters a little.
Most of the class passes as the teacher yammers about a passage in The Sea Wolf where Hump sees red, and the teacher asks how it relates to Nietzsche’s ideas about the ubermensch and whether Hump or Wolf is really the “higher” man. Trent was never much of a reader when he was alive, and of the nine books he’s read since he died, four of them were about glittery vampires. That was enough to put him off reading for the rest of his supernatural existence. With fifteen minutes of class to go, the students get the go-ahead to split into groups, and Trent scoots his chair just an inch closer to Noelle.
“Hey. Did you read this?” he says, knowing she did. Her type always does the reading.
Noelle looks up at him, shocked that someone’s talking to her, and she shuts the cover of her notebook to hide her half-finished doodle of a werewolf in a pirate costume. “I read it last year. It was one of my dad’s favorite.” She brushes her hair back behind her ear and gives Trent a once-over before she says, “Did you read it?”
One of her dad’s favorites—can he pick ‘em, or what? “Nah, this is my second day so I’m kind of lost. Is the movie any good?”
“There’s a movie?”
“There’s always a movie.” Trent scoots his chair the rest of the way over to her desk. “I’m Trent.”
“Noelle. So you just moved here?”
And so the Edward System is a go. They do little talking about Jack London and his sociopathic seal hunter. Instead, Trent steers the conversation to Noelle’s life in Union Falls, the cliques, the best and worst of the teachers, what little there is do that’s entertaining to people in their age and income bracket. Getting a teenage girl who feels like a misfit to talk about what’s wrong with her surroundings may be the easiest step in the System; Trent’s learned to tune out the details and grunt and nod at the right bits. The Edward System works best when the victim sees Trent as someone who can be confided in, someone who sees the world in the same dusky light she does, a fellow rogue soul searching for a mate. He gives terse responses when she’s looking for affirmation and agreement, enough to keep her on the hook without ruining the mystery; the quickest path to success, Trent finds, is to give his victims a vague outline of a personality and let them fill in the blanks with their projections of who and what they want him to be.
After a while she asks, “Where’d you live before?”
Trent glances over his shoulder like he’s afraid someone might be listening, then he leans a half-inch closer, just enough to give Noelle the impression of added intimacy. “Promise you won’t freak out?”
“Why would I freak out?”
She laughs. “I promise I won’t freak out.”
He sighs and says, “Forks, Washington.”
“Oh! Squee!” Noelle bounces in her seat like she just mainlined three hundred milligrams of sugar. “Okay, not freaking,” she says, and she pushes her hair behind her ear again. “I so want to go to Forks. Are the burgers at Sully’s any good? Oh my god, did you ever go on one of their Twilight tours?”
Truth is, Trent has never been near Forks. Everything he knows about Forks is gleaned from the Twilight books, the town’s chamber of commerce website and Wikipedia. Regardless of the location of his last murderous dining experience, he always tells his victims he’s fresh out of Forks. That claim alone is usually enough to get him a first date, and one date is all he needs.
Sure enough, by the time class is over, Trent has Noelle’s number and vague plans to do something Friday night. Trent is an old pro at getting teenage girls’ phone numbers, which raises all kinds of issues when you consider that, while he’s technically seventeen, he’s been seventeen for thirty-four years now. Having to wait until Friday is a bummer, but there’s something about Noelle’s coppery scent that makes his stomach churn. He was hoping to drink her by tomorrow night and be on the road again Thursday morning, but he can find some vermin at the motel to get him by until the weekend.