“Everyone was killed except me,” Ethan said.
“You were the sole survivor?”
“Correct. I was captured.”
Jenkins jotted something on a leather-bound notepad. He said, “I need to ask you a few more questions, Ethan. The more honest you are, the better chance I have at helping you, which is all I want to do. Have you been hearing any voices?”
Ethan tried to suppress the glare.
“Are you kidding?”
“If you could just answer...”
Jenkins scribbled on his pad.
“Have you had any difficulty talking? For instance, maybe your speech has been garbled or mixed up?”
“No. And I’m not delusional. And I’m not having hallucinations, or—”
“Well, you wouldn’t really know if you were having hallucinations, now would you? You’d believe the things you were seeing and hearing were real. I mean, if you were hallucinating me and being in this hospital room and this entire conversation we’re having, it wouldn’t feel any different, would it?”
Ethan slid his legs over the side of the bed and eased his feet down onto the floor.
“What are you doing?” Jenkins asked.
Ethan started toward the closet.
Weak, unstable on his legs.
“You’re in no condition to be leaving, Ethan. They’re still evaluating your MRI. You could have a closed-head injury and we don’t know the severity. We need to continue our evaluation—”
“I’ll get an evaluation. Just not here. Not in this town.”
Ethan pulled open the closet door, took his suit down off the hanger.
“You did walk into the sheriff’s office without a shirt on. Is that correct?”
Ethan slid his arms into his white button-down, which appeared to have been washed since he wore it last. The stink of human decay replaced with the scent of laundry detergent.
“It reeked,” Ethan said. “It smelled like the dead man I had just—”
“You mean the one in the abandoned house that you say you found.”
“I didn’t say I found it. I found it.”
“And you did go to the residence of Mack and Jane Skozie, whom you’d never met before, and verbally harassed Mr. Skozie on his front porch. Is that a fair statement?”
Ethan started on the buttons, fingers trembling, struggling to fit them through the holes. Got them out of order, but he didn’t care. Get dressed. Get out of here. Clear of this town.
“Walking around with a potential brain injury is not on the list of smart things to do,” Jenkins said. He had risen out of his chair.
“There’s something wrong here,” Ethan said.
“I know, that’s what I’ve been trying to—”
“No. This town. The people in it. You. Something’s off, and if you think I’m going to sit here, let you f**k with me for one more second—”
“I am not f**king with you, Ethan. No one here is f**king with you. Do you have any idea how paranoid that statement sounds? I’m merely trying to determine if you’re in the throes of a psychotic episode.”
“Well, I’m not.”
Ethan pulled on his pants, got them buttoned, reached down for his shoes.
“Forgive me if I don’t take your word on that. ‘An abnormal condition of the mind, generally characterized by a loss of contact with reality.’ That’s the textbook definition of psychosis, Ethan. It could’ve been caused by the car accident. By seeing your partner killed. Or some buried trauma from the war resurfacing.”
“Get out of my room,” Ethan said.
“Ethan, your life could be—”
Ethan looked at Jenkins across the room, and something in his stare, his body language, must have suggested the real threat of violence, because the psychiatrist’s eyes went wide, and for the first time, he shut up.
* * *
Nurse Pam looked up from her paperwork behind the desk in the nurses’ station.
“Mr. Burke, what on earth are you doing up and dressed and out of bed?”
“Leaving?” She said it like she didn’t comprehend the word. “The hospital?”
“You’re in no condition to even be out of—”
“I need my personal belongings right now. The sheriff told me the EMTs may have removed them from the car.”
“I thought the sheriff had them.”
“You sure about that?”
“Well, I can put on my Nancy Drew hat and—”
“Stop wasting my time. Do you know where they are?”
Ethan turned away from her, started walking.
Nurse Pam called after him.
He stopped at the elevator, punched the down arrow button.
She was coming now—he could hear her quick footsteps on the checkered linoleum.
Turned and watched her approach in that lovely throwback of a nurses’ uniform.
She stopped a few feet away.
He had four or five inches on her. A few years as well.
“I can’t let you leave, Ethan,” she said. “Not until we know what’s wrong with you.”
The elevator doors screeched open.
Ethan backed away from the nurse into the car.
“Thanks for your help, and your concern,” he said, pressing G three times until the button illuminated, “but I think I got it figured out.”
“It’s this town that’s wrong.”
Pam stretched her foot across the threshold, blocked the doors from closing.
“Ethan. Please. You’re not thinking clearly.”
“Move your foot.”
“I’m worried about you. Everyone here is.”
He’d been leaning back against the wall. Now he pushed off and came forward, stopping inches away from Pam, staring at her through the four-inch space between the doors.
He looked down, tapped the tip of her white shoe with the tip of his black shoe.
For a long moment, she held her ground, Ethan beginning to wonder if he would have to physically remove her from the elevator car.
Finally, she pulled her foot back.
* * *
Standing on the sidewalk, Ethan thought the town seemed quiet for late afternoon. He couldn’t hear a single car engine. Nothing, in fact, but the sound of birds cheeping and wind pushing through the crowns of three tall pines that loomed over the hospital’s front lawn.
He walked out into the middle of the street.