Author's Note: Hello! Thanks for reading Our Last Twilight. If you have a minute to review, I'd love some feedback! Feel free to alert me to any errors or typos you notice, since I'd definitely like to fix them.
As you may or may not have noticed, this story is rated M, but mostly for sexiness later on, rather than for violence, which I'm going to try to keep to a minimum (well, as much as I can, considering the dead are rising).
"Oh, for God's sake!" The words slipped out before she could help it, and the sound of her own voice startled her. Bella hadn't spoken for days, maybe even a week. At first the quiet had suffocated her, but she had slowly grown accustomed to it, and now speech was stranger than the silence had ever been.
She wondered how long she would have gone without speaking if she hadn't found herself grappling with the stupid vending machine. She was at the Visitors Center of Shard Lake State Park. She had fled to the park after the small town where she was visiting friends had been overrun by…
Well, the dead.
Bella waited for the nausea that normally accompanied the thought of the dead, but it was fainter than usual- probably because there was nothing for her to throw up. She hadn't eaten since around the time she had last spoken. She had found the visitor's center today, after hunting for it for four days. It was only thanks to dumb luck that she had stumbled upon it before she succumbed to dehydration. Shard Lake State Park was huge, and the Visitors Center was smack in the middle of it.
The center appeared to be abandoned, which was at once a disappointment and a relief. She would have appreciated another human for company, but if there weren't any people nearby then it was unlikely that the dead were hanging around either. She had nearly cried when she'd walked in the door and found herself face to face with the racks of chocolate, energy bars, and gum. If she hadn't been so utterly exhausted, she probably would have sat down and had a good cry.
There were also a number of maps, which might prove useful, and an absurd quantity of birdwatcher's guides, which were totally useless- unless they happened to include notes on which birds were easiest to catch and cook. But what Bella really wanted was inside of the vending machine; so close, yet just beyond her grasp.
Beautiful, precious, untainted, unattainable water.
She was tempted just to grab the heaviest item she could find and smash the glass, but what if that set off some kind of alarm? She wasn't worried about the police showing up, but any loud noises would attract them.
The dead. She had outrun them before, when she'd escaped from that godforsaken town, but that had been days ago. She was weak now, so thirsty that her head pounded and she was seeing double. The dew that she'd collected from the grass that morning was the only liquid she'd consumed in almost forty-eight hours. She could barely walk, let alone run. Until her strength was back, her survival depended upon her ability to remain undetected.
She'd tried throwing herself at the vending machine a few times. She'd had a friend in high school who had been able to get anything he wanted out of a vending machine just by leaping on it and shaking it. Granted, he had been 6'2" and she was 5'2", but she had been hoping that her desperation would help her.
Nope. It looked like she was going to have to smash the damn thing, and hope that the noise didn't wake the dead. Literally. But first she needed to catch her breath. Shaking the machine had winded her, and she was trembling. Her blood sugar was so low that it was probably in the negative. She sank to her knees in front of the vending machine, wrapping her arms around herself and waiting for the tremors to subside.
This was definitely not what she'd had planned when she'd graduated from Stanford less than six weeks ago.
No, less than six weeks ago she had been graduating with honors and a B.A. in English. Less than six weeks ago, she'd gotten the news that her book, a coming of age novel set in her hometown, Forks, had been accepted for publication. Less than six weeks ago, her long-term boyfriend, Jacob, had proposed. Less than six weeks ago she'd had parents, friends, love, and a life.
Now she had dehydration and the terrible fear that she would never see any of them again.
Oh God. Bella closed her eyes. She tried not to think about Jacob or her family. It was too hard, too terrifying. If she believed for one minute that they were all dead, she wouldn't be able to go on. In the past few weeks, living had become a struggle. Isabella needed something to struggle for, or she'd end up like the broken people that she'd passed on the road to the park: stumbling, senseless shells of human beings, almost as lifeless as the dead who preyed on them.
No, it was better to think about her plans. Better to think about how this whole apocalypse thing had screwed up her life. Better to think about how goddamn irritating it was that she'd spent two years writing, editing and submitting a novel, only for the world to end just a few short months before it was about to become available in Barnes & Noble.
Making herself angry was a technique that she had learned in the early days of the outbreak, and it had saved her in moments when terror and exhaustion threatened to overwhelm her. It was working even now. She was getting good and mad when there was a soft scraping sound from outside the building. Instantly, fear replaced anger.
Please, please just be the wind. Bella moved quietly, going from her knees to a tense, crouched position. She couldn't afford to be chased away from the visitor's center before she'd gotten a drink. She wouldn't last much longer without some water. Cocking her head, she listened, waiting to hear the soft hissing and moaning that the dead made when they were closing in on their dinner.
There was nothing. Not a sound. No shuffling footsteps, no growling. Bella waited another minute, but it seemed that luck was with her.
How very unusual.
Bella slowly stood. She still felt shaky, but the little scare had reminded her that she didn't have time to waste. She needed water, and then she needed to find someplace safe, someplace where she could actually get some sleep.
Sleep. God, she missed sleep. She remembered lazy Saturday mornings in bed with Jacob. He'd read the paper and drink coffee while she sipped tea and proofread her book.
She'd give anything for a good night's sle-
There was another noise, and not just any noise. A foot step. The sound of someone or something climbing the creaky steps of the visitor's center. She was not alone. Her skin crawled, and her blood pounded so thickly that she could feel it in her temples, in the heady, dizzy feeling that came before complete and utter panic.
There was only one way in and out of the visitor's center, and that was the front door. If whatever it was came in the front door, then she would either have to go through a window, or run up three flights of stairs to the wildlife observation deck.
Please don't come inside. Please don't come inside.
The creature paused outside the door, and then Bella saw the doorknob turn.