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The Twilight zone Add to ...

Forks, “The Lumber Capitol of the World,” is the kind of place where you might spot a cyclist pedalling down the street with a chainsaw balanced on his handlebars; where the waitress's pastel-blue eyeshadow matches the booths at the diner, and where gruff hunters, loggers and workers from nearby penitentiaries debate the quality of salmon stocks. For years, visitors beyond the outdoorsy type were scarce – until Stephenie Meyer rolled into town.

Inspired by the western Olympic Peninsula's title as the rainiest place in the continental United States, Meyer chose the towns of Forks, La Push and Port Angeles as settings for her bestselling Twilight books about Bella Swan, a clumsy 17-year-old girl caught in a dangerous love triangle with Edward Cullen, a vampire, and Jacob Black, a werewolf.

Meyer visited Forks for a book signing in 2006, and dedicated fans from all four corners of North America, Europe and as far away as Australia and Japan have headed for this remote, one-stoplight town. As of August, the Forks Chamber of Commerce reported nearly six times more visitors in 2009 than during all of 2008.

And the storm may have only just begun. With Edward and Bella Barbie dolls hitting the shelves, a documentary DVD, Twilight in Forks, released earlier this month and the next Twilight movie arriving next month, the rainy region may be in the spotlight for a while yet – as long as the bad weather keeps up.

Not bad for a town of just over 3,000 people, where the main attractions – aside from the stunning coastal Douglas fir, hemlock, spruce and red cedar forests – are the Forks Police Department, the high school, the hospital and a few homes resembling the descriptions of where the main characters live in the book.

As far back as last spring, the Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, a white three-storey Victorian home dubbed the Cullen House because of its similarities to the one in Meyer's book, has been fully booked for The Twilight Saga: New Moon movie premiere weekend of Nov. 20. “These are families with kids who are excited about books; it's a pretty nice kind of tourism to have,” says Susan Brager, who owns the B&B with her husband, Bill. “What town wouldn't want that?”

Of course, Twilighters, or Twihards as some call them, are not your average tourists.

Take, for example, the five women who partnered with local organizations to create a non-profit, tax-deductible charity, Twilighters for Forks, to save the “famous” historic Forks High School, where Bella and Edward first meet. Although the $3,500 (U.S.) raised so far probably won't spare the school from demolition, their efforts are far more impressive than those of other diehard fans.

The Forks Police Department has apparently noticed a dangerous trend among certain Twihard drivers: They have been racing into town in hopes of getting a ticket with the local insignia, perhaps crossing their fingers the town's real-life version of Charlie Swan, Bella Swan's dad and chief of police, will catch them himself.

That's just a sip of the Twilight Kool-Aid, says my guide, Rianilee Belles, one drizzly Wednesday morning. “Some even take their ticket to court to have an excuse to come back to Forks,” she says.

But Belles can empathize with the obsession. Coaxed by Meyer's description of Forks's lush scenery, she moved with her husband, Travis, and their two kids from Las Vegas in May of last year. Today, the Belles both work at Dazzled by Twilight – a fan emporium created by another displaced Twilighter from Vancouver, Wash. – where they research and create the Twilight tours Travis narrates for guests up to four times a day. “We read Stephenie's blog and all the websites daily to make sure we're on top of everything,” Rianilee says.

The Belles take credit for tracking down the home they believe inspired Meyer's description of Jacob Black's house in La Push, the nearby Quileute reservation home to mythical werewolves. The home is accessible only to people on Dazzled by Twilight tours and as of last weekend, fans will get to visit Jacob's room, which Rianilee and Travis painstakingly decorated to match its description in Meyer's books and the recently released New Moon: Official Illustrated Movie Companion book.

“People think we're crazy,” she says, acknowledging her encyclopedic knowledge of Twilight trivia. “But, hey, when you go to Disneyland, you expect a certain something. Well, this is [our] Disneyland.”

More like the Twilight Zone, I think, after a stroll down Forks's main drag.

Cardboard cutouts of Bella, Edward and other movie characters haunt storefront windows, a motel sign teases: “Edward didn't sleep here” – Meyer's vampires don't sleep, remember? – and seemingly every single boutique from the Thriftway grocery store to Jerry's Lock and Key (that's right, the locksmith) proudly hawk Twilight paraphernalia.

It's over the top, but business is booming. By last count, Sully's Drive-In sold 10,650 Bella Burgers this year – each with a set of vampire fangs, naturally. Meanwhile, florist Charleen Cross, the owner of Twilight Central, estimates 600 people came through her flower shop and gift store in a single day this summer. Even in the dead of winter, Cross says, the fans keep her business afloat: “I barely sold any flowers for Valentine's Day,” she says, “but Valentine's Day was a holiday, so the Twilighters made up for it.”

Of course, not everyone is happy about this surge of insatiable teenagers and giddy middle-aged women. Judging by the smug, unimpressed look of the suspendered hunters whose path I blocked snapping pictures at the Forks Coffee Shop, I gather the rapture surrounding their stomping grounds is still a bit of a head-scratcher.

Even Michelle Rouse, the part-time innkeeper at the Cullen House where we stayed, has her gripes. “I used to always get this raspberry flavoured latté, and then they changed the name to something Twilight-related and jacked up the price. I don't blame them for jumping on the bandwagon,” she says after serving me croissant French toast for breakfast – the house Twilight Special – “but I'm not paying.”

If some locals are grumpy, Catherine Dilly and Valérie Daven certainly haven't noticed. The two women in their late 30s from a small town near Fontainbleau, France, say everyone they've encountered has been overwhelmingly helpful. “Since we got here yesterday, we've continued to meet people who volunteer to drive us here and there and show us all the sites. It's been really touching,” Daven says.

Back at the Cullen House, Twilighter Michelle Hutchings from Chicago looks out the window of her imaginary lover's dining room with a faint, satisfied smile, as her husband sips his coffee, unfazed. “I'm just the driver,” he says – implying with his tone that she's the Twilight fan. Wisps of grey and white swath the sky like a blanket of stretched wet wool, but as far as Michelle is concerned, the weather is perfect. “I'm so glad it's raining,” she says.

Special to The Globe and Mail

* * *

Pack your bags

GETTING THERE
By air
From Sea-Tac airport, drive north to Edmonds, where you'll take a 30-minute Washington State Ferry to Kingston ( www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/visitors_center, 1-206-464-6400). From Kingston, drive north through Port Angeles to Forks. By land and sea From Victoria, MV Coho carries passengers and vehicles to Port Angeles daily year-round (www.cohoferry.com, 1-250-386-2202). From Port Angeles, drive west along Highway 101 for about 90 kilometres or take the No. 14 bus ( www.clallamtransit.com/route-14-timetable.html, 1-360-452-4511).

WHERE TO STAY
Here are your best bets for Twilight-themed accommodations: Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast 654 East Division St., Forks; 1-800-943-6563; www.millertreeinn.com. From $95. Team Edward fans will love the Miller Tree – a.k.a. the Cullen House. The Pacific Inn Motel 352 South Forks Ave., Forks; 1-800-235-7344; www.pacificinnmotel.com. Six Twilight-themed rooms from $104. The Dew Drop Inn Motel 100 Fern Hill Rd., Forks; 1-360-374-4055; www.dewdropinnmotel.com. One Twilight-themed room for $156, breakfast included. Quileute Oceanside Resort 320 Ocean Dr., La Push; 1-800-487-1267; www.quileutenation.org/accommodations. Motel rooms from $121 and oceanview luxury suites from $236.

WHAT TO DO
Look for Bella's red 1953 Ford Chevy parked in front of the Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitors Information Center (1411 South Forks Ave., Forks; 1-800-443-6757; www.forkswa.com ). Grab a detailed map of all the Twilight sites and a sheet of Twilight trivia to jog your memory. Dazzled by Twilight tour (11 North Forks Ave., Forks; 1-360-374-5101; www.dazzledbytwilight.com.) Be one of the first to walk into Jacob Black's room. Whether you're a Twilight newbie or a dedicated fan, Travis Belles will keep you on your toes throughout the 21/2-hour tour in Forks and La Push with his knowledge of the latest Twilight rumours. $42. Real-life Quileute culture (www.quileutenation.org/news-and-events.) Hike along the wild Pacific coastline in La Push and learn more about Quileute culture at the Wednesday-night Healing Circle/Drum Group, where Quileute tribal members play drums and dance for those in spiritual need. Bella and Edward's first date Re-enact it at Bella Italia (118 East 1st St., Port Angeles, 1-360-457-5442, www.bellaitaliapa.com ). The mushroom ravioli – their first-date dinner – is made with Olympic Forest mushrooms and costs $18.

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