The HOLY SHIT IT'S THE LAST CHAPTER Twilight Twenty-Five: Goodnight, Noises Everywhere
Pen name: Feisty Y. Beden
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Chapter 25: Awe
As with all things in my short and twisted life, I soon grew used to the large, blood-red sun. The strange light it cast on me, the unnatural ruddiness of my skin—it became my new normal. It was hard to remember I time when I hadn't been bathed in red light as if I were nothing but a foil-wrapped burger under an infrared lamp at some cafeteria. The thought of the sun as a giant lamp keeping us warm before we were picked and consumed seemed apt, and I'd wonder from time to time what food Edward and I would be. Maybe I'd be some kind of chicken sandwich with a sesame seed bun. Edward? What would Edward be? He was so cold I couldn't imagine his needing to be kept warm. Maybe he was an iced coffee that someone had accidentally left under the lamps. Oh god, ice. I remembered ice. I loved ice. It would drive Charlie crazy when I'd crunch ice at the dinner table. "Grinding bones to make your bread?" he'd ask, shuddering for effect.
The real question was, who was waiting to consume us? The earth? I could imagine the earth cracking open, turning into a gaping maw, swallowing us whole. Maybe it would be like a trash compactor, creaky and crushing. After Edward shot me, my body would probably squish without a sound, save for the snap and cracking of my bigger bones. Edward, though … he was made of bone, or rather, made of something far stronger than bone. Would the pressure of the earth folding in on us affect his body at all Was he built to survive even this? Or would the earth show mercy, pulverizing him? What happened to vampires' bodies? Would he turn into dust and debris? Grinding bones to make your bread, I thought, imagining the earth like a giant savage beast against whom we were powerless.
The bottom line was that I didn't know anything. These were all just theories. And maybe Edward was right. Maybe he'd misread the journal, misinterpreted Carlisle's words. Maybe this was something the sun had to do to reset itself, like a total earth reboot. The sun would supernova, and then it would rise, newborn, like a phoenix. Everything would be back to normal, as if this whole thing were just some kind of video game where you had unlimited lives. You died, but you returned again, right in the place where you were killed, blinking on and off a few times before your body turned solid and you could begin again.
What if we all ended up where we'd died? Dad would be in his bed, Jacob in his messy room in Billy Black's house. What if the ground broke open and I fell to the center of the earth? Was that where I'd find myself again, in Earth 2.0?
And Edward? Would he be where he'd died with me, or would he be back in a hospital bed in Chicago? Would he be the age he would have been if he'd never been changed? Would he be an old man now, come back to life only to die again, as a frail human?
The day the sun turned red, the day that Edward promised me he would give me the death I wanted, was the last time we returned to Charlie's house. We had to leave—I had sworn I would keep on living, at least until it was time to die, and I couldn't keep my part of the promise if we continued to stay where there was no food. Charlie had given me a luggage set for my birthday, my last birthday with him (how long ago was that?), thinking I could use it when I visited colleges, and, eventually, when I went away for school. The tags were still attached. I couldn't remember if I'd ever even taken all the pieces out of the set.
Edward watched me pack. He wasn't sure what I needed, so he sat on the edge of the bed and observed me flit from one corner of the room to my dresser, to my closet, out to the hallway, downstairs, and back upstairs. If I went downstairs, he'd stand at the banister and listen to me rifling through papers. He tried to guess which books I was taking off the shelves, based on the slapping of cardboard on the padded flesh on my palms.
"Sounds like a folio," he'd say.
"D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths," I'd say.
"Greek myths? And isn't that book for children?"
"If the world is ending, it kind of makes more sense to me if we've got vengeful, thunderbolt-throwing gods." I flipped through the book, the musty scent of its old pages making me feel like a child again. The book fell open to a full-page illustration of Zeus. I started babbling, "I remember being scandalized when I realized you could see Zeus's nipple on this page. Man nipples. Or, I guess, god nipples."
"God nipples?" Edward repeated. I could imagine the smirk on his face just from the tone of his voice.
"I didn't know what tunic meant. I thought it was a dirty word, so I'd whisper it into my pillow in the dark, with my door shut, thinking I was being terribly naughty."
"You are the strangest creature," he laughed, and in that moment, I could almost forget why I was packing, why I was choosing books: I was leaving forever.
I packed all the needles and blood bags that I'd taken from the clinic. No doubt we might find other facilities as we searched for food, but I'd rather be prepared. I took a set of utensils, a large dishpan to hold rainwater, some empty jugs to pour the collected water in, and managed to fit everything in the largest suitcase and the rolling duffel.
Charlie's gun went into my backpack, because I wanted it close to me. It was insurance. And although I knew Edward was a man of his word, part of me still didn't trust that he wouldn't "accidentally" leave the gun behind or pretend not to notice if it fell out of one of the bags.
I couldn't tell how late it was when we were ready to go. The sun no longer set. There was no more darkness. Had we frozen in time? Had the earth just stopped revolving, like a child's top as it slowed and wobbled and eventually rolled to stillness on its side? I was tired, though, and my eyelids felt heavy.
"Let's go," I said once Edward had brought both bags downstairs as if they were tiny brown paper lunches, relics from another time.
I had a sudden, vivid flashback of school mornings at the house, how in the darkness of the early morning I'd pack my own lunch—when I first moved in, Charlie had wanted to pack my lunch, thinking that was part of his parental duty. The first day he'd made a sad sandwich on moldy bread and turkey that smelled a little off, slathered in about half a jar of mayonnaise. As I eyed the sandwich in distrust, my fingers pinching the top slice of green-flecked bread, the kids at school had started a pile of loose change in the middle of the table so I could buy some gluey mac and cheese from the cafeteria. After that, most days I'd make myself a peanut butter sandwich (crunchy) on whole wheat, an apple, maybe some granola. Lost in the memory, I could smell the bread toasting, the feel of the cool countertop against my stomach as I unscrewed the lid of the peanut butter jar while Charlie sat at the table behind me, rustling the paper and gurgling a happy, tuneless song. I wished I'd known then how precious these tiny moments were at the time. I'd give anything to have that be my everyday life again, anything to open my eyes and find Charlie behind me, using his forehead to bend the newspaper back in half so he could turn the page.
"Wait," Edward said. My eyes flew open, and I was shoved roughly back into reality, the contrast nearly knocking the wind out of me. He set the bags down lightly, his eyes fixed on the bookshelves. "Don't you want to take your photos?"
I'd thought about it. I'd taken the dusty albums off the shelf, felt their heft in my hands, and then put them back in place. I didn't know if it was because I felt those photos belonged here, in our house, or because maybe I didn't want to have such powerful triggers or even concrete proof of another, happier time. I didn't think I could bear to look at photos of me in pigtails, blowing out candles on a birthday cake, Charlie looking at me sternly because I'd taken his picture without permission. That was a life as long gone and fictional as the Greek myths. Rather, the Greek myths were far more real to me now, in this world that held no logic or mercy. As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods / They kill us for their sport.
"That's not my life anymore," I said, surprised at the lack of emotion in my voice.
"Aren't you afraid you'll forget?"
"I'm more afraid that I'll remember."
Edward nodded and silently hoisted the bags back up, and we stood outside the house in the pale pink light.
"Wait," I said, just as he'd turned to leave.
I sprinted through the open door, tore through the house, and pushed my way out the back entrance, stumbling over the stairs down to the backyard. I fell to the ground face first, arms spread wide on Charlie's grave. "Goodbye, Charlie," I said, imagining the soft grass on my cheek was his evening stubble. "Maybe I'll see you soon."
And that was it. The wave of sorrow, panic, whatever, had already passed. Calmly I walked back through the house, feeling like I wasn't quite in my body. Edward stood, concerned, right where I'd left him on the front lawn. I walked to his side and looked back at the house. I waved, as I always did, at the swinging door, but it didn't feel right. It was time to stop pretending life was normal. There was no one to say goodbye to, and I wasn't coming back.
I walked up the steps and pulled the door shut behind me.
This part of my life was over. Maybe it had never existed.
And so we became nomads in the never-ending rose light, traveling from one town to the other. Soon after leaving Forks, Edward found a bicycle that surprisingly hadn't been destroyed by the desperate last people. The chain was loose, and the tires had deflated, but Edward fixed it with things he'd picked out of other people's garages. It made it easier for me to keep up with him and cover more ground. Edward could save his strength, and we found enough food for me to keep moving.
It was hard to keep track of time, even more so than before, because the night and the day had become identical. The sun seemed to draw closer and closer to us, filling more of the sky every time I awoke. I slept when I was tired, never sure if I had become nocturnal or if my body's clock was able to stay the same despite my changing environs. I wondered if this was what it was like to be a vampire, where your life stretched out into just one long day that lasted forever.
Even though I didn't know how long we'd been wandering, I could tell it had been a while when Edward started weakening again. He closed his eyes more and shuffled his feet like he was an old man, but he kept walking, his legs working when he hadn't the energy to speak. I suspected it was his stubbornness and willpower that kept his body moving.
I'd have to give him blood.
"Let's stop," I said when we reached a clearing. I spread out our blankets and pulled Edward down. "Just rest," I said, and he wordlessly stretched out and ceased moving, a statue barely alive but unable to die. I kissed him on the forehead before leaving on the bicycle with my backpack of supplies, pedaling maybe ten miles or so before braking and hopping to the ground.
I was so used to piercing my skin right at the crook of my elbow that I didn't even flinch or feel the slightest urge to look away. I watched the blood travel through to the donation bag, the transparent tubing quickly becoming opaque, impermeable to the pale red light. It reminded me of those old-school glass thermometers that you'd have to tilt to see the temperature. As the bag filled, I tried to remember the feeling of the glass bulb under my tongue. The last time they'd used a glass thermometer on me was sometime when I was a little kid living with Renee. "Don't bite the glass!" she'd fretted as she pressed her cool hands to my flushed cheeks.
When I'd clamped the tubing and removed the needle, I ate a stale breakfast bar we'd found a few days ago. The box had been infested with boll weevils, but they were long dead, and at this point I wasn't choosy. Just extra protein, I thought as I bit and chewed, trying not to notice any differences in texture. I just wanted to get back to Edward, to make him strong again, and I couldn't pedal ten miles unless I got some food in my stomach.
He hadn't moved at all from his position on the blanket. I knelt beside him, smoothing his hair away from his eyes. "Hey, you need to eat," I said, stretching out by his side. I pressed the warm bag into his hands.
"Don't want to leave you," he whispered.
"So don't." Maybe he was accustomed enough to my blood, my scent, that he wouldn't lose control. And if he lost control, well, wouldn't that be a mercy for me?
"I'm fine," he said. His voice sounded so hoarse that I imagined his parched throat, every word rubbing like sandpaper inside his trachea.
I removed the clamp from the donation tube. I threaded the end of it into his mouth, which was open slightly—probably took less energy to do that than try to keep his mouth shut.
Weakly he tried to smack my hand away, but I just hushed him. Once the tubing had passed between his teeth and was nestled between his cheek and molars, I pressed on the bag. He sputtered a little at first, but then drank greedily, gaining strength as the bag emptied. It was amazing watching his transformation, his reawakening. I'd seen this only once before, since he'd been so careful after that first time to be far from me when he fed.
When the bag was empty, he looked at me with his blood-red eyes, mimicking the abnormal sun above. He growled as he smelled the air around me. "So foolish," he mocked, grinning cruelly.
"Edward, you're still in there. You're there. You're stronger than this." I tried to touch him, but he jumped back, horrified, as he remembered who he was, who I was.
"B-bella, why?" He seemed so small and helpless then, and he shook violently as he tried to control himself.
"You were weak."
"You should have let me stay weak." Every word was such an effort with his jaw clamped shut.
"I need you, Edward. You're the only thing that makes me want to live."
"You're not safe."
"I trust you."
He laughed. "I don't trust me, you tasty morsel." He grinned wider, showing his teeth.
I put my hand on his cheek. "Remember who you are. You are not the monster."
Something in his demeanor changed, and although his eyes stayed as red as the blood he'd just consumed, they seemed shameful and afraid.
"I have to go," he said, wrenching away from my touch.
"Don't leave," I begged.
"I'll hurt you." I couldn't tell if it was a warning or a promise.
"Please," I said, reaching for his cool hand. He crouched down low, looked at me with something like hatred, and ran from me.
I called after him until my voice was ripped to shreds, but he didn't turn back.
I didn't want to sleep, in case he returned. I was hungry but didn't want to move—what if he came back and couldn't find me? Of course I knew he could probably follow my scent, but everything felt unsure to me now.
It was the first I'd been alone in a while, and I didn't know if he'd be back. We no longer had the doorframe to mark our days. We didn't have sunsets to tell us when one day shifted to the next. We—I—had nothing now.
I sat on the blanket cross-legged and unzipped my backpack slowly, reaching inside for Charlie's gun. The cold steel reminded me of Edward's hand, and I pressed it to my cheek and tried to pretend he was touching me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make myself believe, so I opened my eyes and laid the gun down on the blanket.
I stared at the gun and wondered where Edward was. I sat up, refusing to sleep, refusing to eat the last of the stale breakfast bars. Eventually I slumped over from exhaustion, sleeping with my spine curved, my head on the bit of blanket between my crossed legs.
I woke up in confusion, my legs asleep, my back aching. Where are you, Edward? I asked again and again, wishing he could read my thoughts.
I kept vigil for—well, time no longer was definable. I didn't move from the spot where we'd last been together. I stayed awake as long as I could, but eventually I'd collapse, sleep fitfully, and wake up, hoping he'd come back. I still didn't eat, but I allowed myself sips of water, just enough to keep me lucid.
He would come back. He'd have to come back.
I wished I had days, my doorframe, some way to know he was returning. No matter how horrible my life had become, somehow there was always something else that could be taken away: sunsets, scratches in wood marking the time, Edward. Just when I thought I'd already lost everything, I found there was always more to lose.
I was being shaken awake. "Edward?" I whispered hopefully, but when I sat up, I saw nothing. The ground was moving. Was this the earthquake?
Was this the end?
"Edward!" I cried out. "I need you!"
I gazed toward the horizon but saw nothing. It was happening, and Edward wasn't going to keep his promise. I was going to die here alone. How long did I have? Maybe the earthquake would last days, a slow crumbling away. Or maybe it would be quick, an egg cracked in half.
He wasn't coming back. It was up to me.
I picked up Charlie's gun, putting it at my temple, then at my stomach, then in my mouth, and under my chin. Which way would be the most effective, the quickest, the most merciful?
I didn't realize I was crying until I felt warm drops fall on my legs. "Edward, you promised!" I shouted at the sky. The sun looked ready to swallow the earth, an angry red dragon.
I closed my eyes, the gun under my chin. I would count to ten, and then I would pull the trigger. The ground was bucking beneath me like a wild animal, and I heard cracking, rumbling, trees falling in the distance.
Ten … nine … eight …
The air smelled of sulfur.
Seven … six … five …
I breathed in the suddenly hot, acrid air.
Four … three … two …
I began to squeeze the trigger.
I opened my eyes, and there was Edward, standing in front of me.
"Are you a dream?" I asked, lowering the gun and standing up on unstable legs.
"I keep my promises," he said. "I ran back as soon as I felt the ground shake."
"So it's time, then?" I asked, suddenly afraid. Suddenly not sure if I could go through this.
He just nodded sadly, prying the gun from my fingers.
"I don't know."
"Where will it hurt the least?" I asked, my voice quavering.
"I think if I get your brain," Edward said, swallowing hard. He put the muzzle of the gun where I'd had it trained a few moments before. He closed his eyes, as if he couldn't bear to look at me while he filled his end of the promise.
"Wait," I cried.
He lowered the gun immediately.
I collapsed against him, no longer able to keep my balance on the quaking earth. He held me up in his strong arms. I took the gun from his hand and tossed it away. It turned out that this wasn't the way I wanted to die.
"Kiss me," I said.
He crushed me to him, his mouth on mine, and the earth crumbled around us. There were explosions, fire, but the little patch of ground on which we stood stayed intact, waiting for something. Waiting for us to be ready.
He kissed down my neck, and I shivered, remembering all our firsts.
Our wrists bound together, his soft kiss.
He slid his hands up the back of my shirt.
"I want you," he said, and I pulled my shirt over my head.
"Never stop kissing me," I said, seeing the earth behind him crumble and collapse. "Never stop."
"I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't. Just lie there."
And he did his best statue impression as I lowered myself onto him, wincing a little at the cold and the pain, but feeling so close to him, so close, so together, so not alone.
We sank to the ground, never breaking contact, always kissing. I could feel the heat coming from the large crack in the earth closest me.
"Is this all right?"
"More than all right," I said, shy and bold all at once. Was this really me? He kept his eyes closed as I rocked slowly on him, afraid to move for fear he'd rip me in two.
Edward fumbled with our clothing, and then we were both naked and unashamed, a new Adam and Eve. In the corner of my eye, I could see a crack opening the earth, heading straight to our last intact piece of land. We didn't have much time.
He stayed cool while I sweat from the exertion. He licked my neck. "You taste like salt," he said.
"Does it taste like my blood?"
"Only a little."
His face, oh how beautiful his face became, brighter than the brightest sun that I could remember, and his eyes opened in surprise as my body clenched around him.
"I love you, Bella."
"And I love you, Edward."
The crack kept growing closer, but we moved together on our blanket. I looked in his eyes as he gazed at me, trying to memorize my face. I had already memorized his.
"I love you, now and forever," I said, feeling not bitter or angry, but grateful, full of awe, that I had been able to find him, find such love in this shell of a world.
"Now and forever," he repeated as the ground opened beneath us, and we fell, his arms still holding me close to him. He would never let me go, no matter how far we fell, how deep, into the hot air from the collapsing earth's core.
My skin began to prickle and burn, and I cried out in pain. But his cool arms soothed me, and he kissed me harder than I ever remembered being kissed, until I forgot the pain, forgot the falling, forgot that this was the end of the world.
A/N: OMG, you guys, I finished! WOOOOOOOOOOT! I'd like to thank everyone who READ this (not wrote, OMG, brain fart, thanks to Spargelkun for enjoying my egregious, possibly Freudian, slip), anyone who pimped this, Mrs. TheKing for making this the first #readalong, feathers_mmm for giving this story the "Wallbanger effect," my girls at the Rav, the lovely peeps at ADF for making me a VIP author [visit them at adifferentforest(dot)com], and especially my posse of crunty love: philadelphic, Algie, adorablecullens, and MsKathy. All my love to NelsonSmandela, my fic wife. I love you, baby.
This story was largely inspired by Don McKellar's 1998 film, Last Night. I highly encourage you to check it out. It's one of my favorites.
Thank you for reading my tale of doom.
August 9, 2010