Last Light
Author:M. Pierce

I strained to catch the sound of Hannah’s breath.

 

I lay on my back on the couch, my fingertips skating up and down my stomach.

 

“Shit,” Hannah said.

 

My hand paused. “What’s up?”

 

“Nate’s here.”

 

“God, I don’t care,” I said, and for a moment, I didn’t.

 

I sneered and sat up. My T-shirt flopped into place.

 

“I have to go,” she said.

 

“I know. Fine. Good luck.”

 

“Don’t be angry, Matt.”

 

“I’m not. Are you? Is he listening?”

 

“No, he’s waiting outside the phone booth.”

 

“The phone booth? What the fuck, Hannah?”

 

“I can handle it. Gotta go. Bye.”

 

“Fuck.” I dragged a hand through my hair. “Fine. All right. I love you…”

 

“Yeah. Bye.”

 

The call ended with a loud click.

 

I frowned and flipped my TracFone shut.

 

“Goddamn it,” I whispered.

 

That was my first conversation with Hannah in three weeks. We spoke a few times before that—when she told me she planned to attend the memorial, when Night Owl happened, and of course when I first got to the cabin. I was in bad shape then.

 

“I love you,” I said again. The wind answered, pressing against the cabin. Hannah would have told me she loved me, but Nate was watching. I understood that.

 

I tried to picture them together: Hannah and my brother somewhere in New Jersey. Hannah in a phone booth. Nate waiting outside.

 

Jealousy rose like bile in my throat.

 

Oh, Nate and his grand house and his do-gooder job and his happy fucking family … he always swooped in when I checked out. He would comfort Hannah. He would hug her. His arms would be around her, not mine.

 

I pocketed my phone and began to pace the main floor of the cabin. I kept the place terrifically hot, the thermostat at seventy and a fire always burning in the grate. I would have kept it cooler if Laurence were with me, but the lucky bastard got to stay with Hannah. His absence would raise suspicion. Missing Matt, missing Laurence—doesn’t add up.

 

Though technically I was dead Matt, not missing Matt.

 

I had a mountain lion to thank for that.

 

Finally I plopped down at the desk, which I had positioned in front of the deck. The sliding door gave view to pines and mountains caked with snow.

 

Kevin must have paid a pretty penny for this place. The cabin sat far back on four acres. The nearest neighbors were a mile up the road, and they weren’t around.

 

I was alone.

 

As far as Kevin knew, I was dead.

 

Hannah called Kevin a week after my “disappearance.” He was a mutual friend with a conveniently remote cabin.

 

She fed him the lines I fed her. Can I stay at the cabin? I need to get away. I want to be closer to the search. If Matt’s out there, I want to be out there. But I don’t want to impose. I understand if …

 

Kevin offered the cabin without hesitation, as I knew he would. He was in Miami anyway. I felt a twinge of guilt as I surveyed the Rocky Mountains, and I shrugged it off.

 

I had to remember, I was driven to this.

 

The media, the public, my editor, even Pam—they drove me to this. I couldn’t write in the public eye, and what could I do if I couldn’t write? But they wouldn’t understand.

 

I flipped open my notebook and studied the first line of my new story.

 

December is the cruelest month to die in.

 

I smiled and slouched in my chair. I couldn’t go wrong, riffing on Eliot.

 

I thumbed my way to chapter one and began to write. A cup of cold coffee stood by my laptop. I sipped it as I worked.

 

I wrote for three hours, stopping only to laugh or gaze out at the mountains. Once I walked through the cabin. Then I returned to the desk. As long as I was in the story, I wasn’t aching for Hannah. As long as I was in the story, I wasn’t worrying about Hannah on the East Coast with my family.

 

I burned out around two in the afternoon. My stomach growled. The fire was dead.

 

Middle of the fucking day.

 

I booted up my laptop and connected to the Internet, the dial-up ringing and grating.

 

I drummed my fingers on the desk as my e-mail loaded.

 

I had a new e-mail account and a new laptop, bought with cash. New clothes, a new prepaid cell, nothing taken from the condo. The scope of the search for me didn’t inspire confidence in Colorado law enforcement, but I knew my finances would be checked, the condo searched, and phone records reviewed. Standard missing persons protocol. I covered my bases.

 

A new e-mail appeared in my in-box:

 

YOU HAVE RECEIVED A PRIVATE MESSAGE ON THEMYSTICTAVERN.COM FORUM

 

My God. I sat forward.

 

Was this it?

 

I navigated to the forum and swore as I waited for the page to load. Fucking dial-up, fucking dial-up …

 

First I checked my forum post. It had forty-seven views and no replies.

 

SUBJECT: From one NIGHT OWL to another by nightowl on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

 

Message me. I want to talk. You’re not in trouble. I’m not angry. I’m intrigued.

 

I had one new private message. I clicked the little envelope icon and scanned the sender details. The user name, icarusonfire, was unfamiliar.

 

The message was four words long.

 

SUBJECT: [no subject]