“You could be happy, Ethan.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You could have an amazing life here.”
She pushed open the door, stepped inside.
“Am I crazy?”
“No,” she said. “Not at all.”
The door closed after her, and then he heard the dead bolt turn. He walked to the door and stared at his reflection in the glass, half-expecting to see a sixty-year-old man, but he was unchanged.
He wasn’t hungry anymore.
He wasn’t tired.
Moving down the steps, down the stone path, and onto the sidewalk, he only felt this tightness in the center of his chest, a familiar sensation that used to hit him just before a mission—walking out to the chopper as the ground crew loaded the fifty-cal Gatling gun and the Hellfires.
* * *
Ethan didn’t see a car until the next block—a mid-1980s Buick LeSabre, its windshield plastered with dried pine needles and sitting on four tires that could have used some air.
The doors were locked.
Ethan crept up onto the porch of the closest house and lifted a stone cherub from its perch under a window. Through the thin curtains, he saw a young boy inside, seated at an upright piano, playing some gorgeous piece of music, the notes drifting out onto the porch through a four-inch crack where the window had been raised off the sill.
A woman sat beside him, turning pages of sheet music.
Though only a foot tall, the cherub was solid concrete and weighed in excess of thirty pounds.
Ethan hauled it back out into the street.
There was simply no way to do this quietly.
He heaved it at the window behind the driver seat, the angel punching easily through. He unlocked the door, pulled it open, climbed inside over the shattered glass, over the seats, and behind the wheel. The impact had decapitated the angel, and Ethan grabbed its head out of the backseat.
Two blows were sufficient to crack open the plastic sheathing under the steering column and expose the ignition cylinder.
The light inside the car was bad.
He worked solely through feel, fingers tugging out the power and starter wires.
The piano playing inside the house had stopped. He glanced toward the porch, saw two silhouettes now standing behind the curtain.
Ethan fished the pocketknife out of his jacket, opened the largest blade, and cut the pair of white wires he was betting fed power to the car. Then he shaved the plastic sheathing off the ends and twisted them together.
The dashboard lit up.
The front door to the house swung open as he found the darker-colored starter wire.
A boy’s voice: “Look at the car window.”
Ethan shaved some plastic off the end of the starter wire, exposing the threads of copper.
The woman said, “Wait here, Elliot.”
Please, please, please.
Ethan touched the starter wire to the power wire, a blue spark crackling in the darkness.
The engine coughed.
The woman was moving toward him through the yard.
“Come on,” Ethan said.
He touched the wires together again, and the engine turned over.
On the fourth, it caught and sputtered to life.
He revved the RPMs, shifted into drive, and punched on the headlights as the woman reached the passenger-side door, yelling through the glass.
Ethan sped off down the street.
At the first intersection, he turned left and backed off the gas pedal, reducing his speed into the realm of reason—a pace that wouldn’t draw attention, somebody out for a nice evening drive.
The gas gauge showed a quarter of a tank remaining. Reserve light not yet on. Not a problem. There was enough fuel to blow out of Wayward Pines. Once he got over the pass, there was a one-stoplight town about forty miles south. Lowman, Idaho. Right on the highway. They’d stopped there for gas on the way out. He could still picture Stallings by the pump in his black suit, filling the tank. Ethan had walked out to the edge of the empty highway, stared at the abandoned buildings across the road—a shuttered roadhouse and general store, and one diner, still alive but barely kicking, the smell of grease in the smoke that trickled out of a vent on the roof.
He’d called Theresa from that spot with just a single bar of connectivity.
Barely remembered their conversation. His mind had been elsewhere.
Last time he’d spoken to his wife.
He hoped he’d told her he loved her.
The brakes squealed as he brought the Buick to a full stop, left turn signal clicking. Aside from a handful of people on the sidewalks, the downtown was dead and Main Street empty as far as he could see.
Ethan eased out into the road through a gentle left turn and accelerated slowly, heading south.
He passed the pub, the hotel, the coffee shop.
After seven blocks, the hospital.
There were no outskirts.
The buildings simply ended.
God, it felt good to be going, finally getting out, a palpable weight lifting off his shoulders with every revolution of the crankshaft. He should’ve done this two days ago.
There were no signs of habitation here, the road on a straight trajectory through a forest of pines so giant they could’ve been first-growth.
The air rushing into the car was cold, fragrant.
Mist hovered between the trees, and in places, across the road.
The headlights blazed through it, visibility dropping.
The reserve light came on.
The road south out of town was on a steep and winding grade for several thousand feet up to the pass, and any minute now, the climb would begin. It was going to burn through what little gas remained. He should turn around now, head back into town, siphon enough to ensure he reached Lowman.
Ethan hit the brake for a long, sharp curve.
The mist was soup through the heart of the turn, the fog blinding white in the high beams, Ethan slowing down to a crawl with nothing to guide him but the faded double yellow.
The road straightened, shot out of the mist, out of the trees.
In the distance: a billboard.
Still an eighth of a mile back, all he could make out were four painted figures standing arm in arm.
Big, white-teeth smiles.
A boy in shorts and a striped shirt.
Mother and daughter in dresses.
The father suited, wearing a fedora, waving.
In block letters, under the perfect smiling family:
WELCOME TO WAYWARD PINES
WHERE PARADISE IS HOME
Ethan accelerated past the sign, the road moving parallel to a split-rail fence, the headlights grazing over a pasture and a herd of cattle.