Last Light
Author:M. Pierce

Last Light by M. Pierce

 

 

 

For one white singing hour of peace

 

Count many a year of strife well lost.

 

—SARA TEASDALE, “Barter”

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

December is the cruelest month to die in.

 

Sheer wind gusts across the Narrows. The wind is white with spindrift. I can’t see an inch in any direction, but I know the Trough—six hundred vertical feet of ice—hangs below me.

 

This is where I die.

 

I crouch against the face of the mountain. My arm bleeds into my jacket. When I tip my sleeve like a cup, blood spills into the wind.

 

I know what this will look like: like I underestimated a technical climb, or the cold and altitude overwhelmed me.

 

But I never underestimate a climb.

 

I begin to descend, the teeth of my crampons catching in the ice, the pick of my axe lodged against a rock. Hand over hand, foot over foot. Slow going in the bitter cold.

 

When a blast of wind tears at my pack, I hug the mountain and swear.

 

Another gale dislodges my boot. My leg swings out. I am exposed, and the wind rips over me. I flip my axe and drive the spike into the ice. Too late.

 

With a snap of breaking ice, I come loose from the mountainside.

 

I am in the air, thrashing. I fall and tumble. My helmet dings a knob of ice.

 

The white world wheels around me, and I land with a crack.

 

Then stillness.

 

I feel no pain through my screaming panic. I roll onto my back and wheeze. I’m alive. My goggles are broken, a shard of lens in my cheek. I taste the ferric tang of blood.

 

But I am breathing. I can see. I can move.

 

I need help.

 

“Help…”

 

The word is a tatter of air.

 

There is no one here to help me. My blood and I are the last heat on this mountain.

 

I think of Hannah. The thought of her comes with a current of feeling, which grows and deepens until my chest aches. She is long gone, and I can’t sleep now.

 

I can’t sleep now …

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

HANNAH

 

 

I remember the book signing—I always will—when so much else is forgotten.

 

I helped convince Matt to do it, along with Pam and his editor.

 

People know who you are, we told him. The secret is out; you have nothing to lose. Do this, at least, for your local fans. Think about how they’ve supported you.

 

And Matt agreed, after weeks of resistance. One signing. A stand-alone event, lightly publicized, to be held at his favorite independent bookstore—Flight of Ideas.

 

That Saturday afternoon in December, the crowd filled the store and a line formed down the street. Readers drove in from surrounding states. An Arizona local, unprepared for the Denver cold, collapsed in line and brought a screaming ambulance to the chaos. News stations deployed their vans. Reporters and photographers clamored for a word with Matt, flashing their press passes as if they meant anything.

 

A modest stock of Matt’s books sold out within an hour.

 

The store manager and employees moved through the mob, wringing their hands.

 

And I stood beside Matt, watching the madness. What had we done?

 

Matt sat at a small table with Pam to his left and me to his right. We brought water, coffee, tea, cookies—but he touched nothing. Empty displays loomed around us. A printout dangled from the table, half torn: M. PIERCE EXCLUSIVE BOOK SIGNING.

 

Readers came bearing multiple copies of his books, hardcover and paperback, various editions. They chattered at Matt as he dashed off his signature. Their stories were variations on a theme of adoration. I read Ten Thousand Nights in high school. I’ve read all your books. I’ve reread this book so many times. I can’t wait for your next book.

 

Matt met each fan with a stomach-level stare. He looked grim and determined.

 

When his pen died, he slid it across the table to Pam.

 

“The pen,” he whispered.

 

About twenty minutes into the signing, Matt rose and disappeared into the crowd.

 

I found him in a storage room.

 

He stood facing a shelf of boxes, a hand covering his face.

 

“Matt?” I touched his back. He didn’t move. I slid my fingers up his spine and kissed his shoulder blade. “Hey, that’s a lot of people out there, huh?”

 

Matt’s silence frightened me—always. We’d been living together for just a month and a half. Matt spent most of his time writing. My job at the agency absorbed me. In so many ways, we were still strangers, circling the mystery of one another. And when I was alone with Matt, as I was in the storage room that afternoon, I sensed I was alone with something volatile.

 

Finally he said, “Do you think my editor did this?”

 

“Did what?” I moved to get a look at his face.

 

Another long silence.

 

I waited it out.

 

“You don’t know what it meant to me,” he said.

 

Matt pulled me in for a quick hug and walked out of the storage room.

 

The signing ran for another half hour, during which Matt sat with his hand half covering his face. Pam gave me a few puzzled looks. I shrugged.