Letting it play over and over until the anxiety recedes and the exhaustion comes and he can finally slip under.
“I know it’s hard, but you have to try.”
Into the only portion of his days that anymore affords him peace...
His eyes shot open.
A light bored down into his face—a small, focused point of bright and blinding blue.
He blinked, it disappeared, and when he opened his eyes again, a man peered down at him through gold wire-rimmed glasses, less than a foot away from his face.
Small, black eyes.
A faint silver beard the only indication of age, his skin otherwise smooth and clear.
He smiled—small, perfect white teeth.
“You can hear me now, yes?”
There was formality in the man’s tone. Implied politeness.
“Do you know where you are?”
Ethan had to think for a moment—he’d been dreaming of Seattle, of Theresa and Ben.
“Let’s start with something else. Do you know your name?” the man asked.
“Very good. And again, do you know where you are, Ethan?”
He could feel the answer on the cusp of memory, but there was confusion too, several realities in competition.
In one, he was in Seattle.
In another, a hospital.
In another, an idyllic mountain town called...There was a hole where its name should be.
“If I told you that you were in a hospital in Wayward Pines, would that jog anything loose?”
It didn’t just jog something loose—it brought everything back at once like a hard, sudden hit from a linebacker, the memory of his last four days jarred into working order, into a sequence of events he felt confident he could lean on.
“OK,” Ethan said. “OK. I do remember.”
“I think so.”
“What’s your last recollection?”
It took a moment to retrieve, to brush the cobwebs off the synapses, but he found it.
“I had a terrible headache. I was sitting on the sidewalk of Main Street, and I...”
“You lost consciousness.”
“Do you still have that headache?”
“No, it’s gone.”
“My name is Dr. Jenkins.”
The man shook Ethan’s hand and then took a seat in a chair at Ethan’s bedside.
“You’re what kind of doctor?” Ethan asked.
“A psychiatrist. Ethan, I need you to answer a few questions for me, if that’s all right. You said some interesting things to Dr. Miter and his nurse when they first brought you in. Do you know what I’m referring to?”
“You were talking about a dead body in one of the houses here in town. And that you hadn’t been able to get in touch with your family.”
“I don’t recall speaking with the nurse or doctor.”
“You were delirious at the time. Do you have a history of mental illness, Ethan?”
Ethan had been fully reclined in bed.
Now he struggled to sit up.
Threads of brightness slipped through the drawn blinds.
Day out there.
On some primal level, he felt glad for the fact.
“What kind of question is that?” Ethan asked.
“The kind I get paid to ask. You showed up here last night with no wallet, no ID—”
“I was pulled out of a car accident several days ago, and either the sheriff or the EMTs didn’t do their f**king job, and now I’m stranded here without a phone, money, or ID. I didn’t lose my wallet.”
“Relax, Ethan, nobody’s saying you’ve done anything wrong. Again, I need you to answer my questions. Do you have a history of mental illness?”
“Is there a history of mental illness in your family?”
“Do you have a history of post-traumatic stress disorder?”
“But you did serve in the second Gulf War.”
“How’d you know that?”
Jenkins motioned to his neck.
Ethan glanced down at his chest, saw his dog tag hanging from a ball chain. Strange. He always kept it in his bedside table drawer. Couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn it. Didn’t think he’d brought it along on this trip, and certainly didn’t remember packing it or making the decision to wear it.
He scanned over his name, rank, social security number, blood type, and religious preference (“NO RELIGIOUS PREF”) engraved in the stainless steel.
Chief Warrant Officer Ethan Burke.
“You served in the second Gulf War?”
“Yeah, I flew the UH-60.”
“The Black Hawk helicopter.”
“You saw combat, I assume?”
“You could say that.”
“Were you injured?”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with any—”
“Just answer my questions, please.”
“I was shot down in the second battle of Fallujah in the winter of 2004. It was a medevac mission, and we’d just loaded up some wounded marines.”
“Was anyone killed?”
Ethan took a deep breath in.
If he was honest, the question had surprised him, and now he found himself bracing against a slideshow of images he’d spent a lot of therapy sessions trying to come to terms with.
The shockwave as the RPG explodes behind him.
The severed tail section and rotor falling a hundred and fifty feet to the street below.
The sudden g-force as the helicopter spins.
Alarms going mad.
The impossible rigidity of the power stick.
The impact not nearly as bad as he feared.
Consciousness lost only for half a minute.
Seat belt jammed, can’t reach his KA-BAR.
“Ethan. Was anyone killed?”
Insurgent fire already tearing into the other side of the wreckage, someone opening up with an AK.
Through the cracked windshield, two medics limping away from the chopper.
Straight into the four-blade rotor still spinning fast enough...
Blood sheeting down the windshield.
The insurgents coming.