“Why are you doing this to me?” he asked, and there was a note of desperation in his voice that wasn’t staged, which sourced straight from the wellspring of terror that was mounting steadily, moment by moment, in the pit of his stomach.

He stared up at her—a strange angle from his prone position on the gurney that showed the underside of her chin, her lips, her nose, the ceiling panels, and long fluorescent lightbulbs scrolling past.

“Pam,” he said. “Please. Talk to me. Tell me what’s happening.”

She wouldn’t even look down at him.

On the other side of the nurses’ station, she released the gurney, let it roll itself to a stop, and walked on toward a pair of double doors at the terminus of the corridor.

Ethan glanced at the signage above them.

SURGICAL

One of the doors swung open, and a man emerged wearing blue scrubs, his hands already covered in latex gloves.

A face mask hid everything but a pair of calm, intense eyes that matched the color of his scrubs almost perfectly.

He said to the nurse in a soft, quiet voice, “Why is he still awake?”

“He was struggling too much. I couldn’t hit a vein.”

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The surgeon cut a glance toward Ethan.

“All right, keep him here until he’s under. How much longer do you think?”

“Ten minutes.”

He gave a curt nod and then headed back toward the operating room, shouldering forcefully through the doors, his body language aggressive, angry.

“Hey!” Ethan called after him. “I want to talk to you!”

In the several seconds the doors were open, Ethan took in an eyeful of the OR...

An operating table in the center of the room flanked by large, bright lights.

Beside it, a metal cart on wheels bearing an array of surgical implements.

Everything laid out clean and shiny on sterilized cloth.

Scalpels of every size.

Bone saws.

Forceps.

Instruments Ethan couldn’t name but which resembled power tools.

A second before the doors swung back together, Ethan watched the surgeon stop beside the cart and unsheathe a drill from its holster.

He looked at Ethan as he squeezed the trigger several times, the high-pitched squeal of the motor filling the OR.

Ethan’s chest heaved under his hospital gown and he could feel the bass drum thump of his accelerating pulse rate. He glanced back toward the nurses’ station, caught a glimpse of Pam disappearing around the corner.

For a moment, he was alone on the corridor.

No sound but the clink of scalpels and surgical equipment on the other side of those double doors. The patter of the nurse’s fading footsteps. The hum of a fluorescent bulb directly above him.

A mad thought—what if he was crazy? What if the surgeon in that OR opened him up and actually fixed him? Would all of this disappear? Would he lose this identity? Become another man in a world where his wife and son did not exist?

He managed to sit up.

His head woozy, unwieldy, but that could’ve been from the beating administered by Sheriff Pope.

Ethan stared down at his wrists, both of them cuffed to the metal railing of the gurney.

He tugged against the bracelets, the chains going taut, his hands turning purple.

Excruciating.

He eased the tension and then jerked back hard enough for the steel edges of the bracelets to dig into his wrists. On his left, it broke skin, blood sprinkling on the sheet.

His legs were free.

He threw his right one over the side of the railing, stretching and straining to reach the wall, but he was three inches short.

Ethan lay back on the gurney, taking a cold, hard look for the first time at how well and truly f**ked he was—drugged, chained up, and on the verge of being wheeled into an operating room where they were going to do God knows what to him.

He had to admit that the last time he’d woken in the hospital and spoken to Dr. Jenkins he’d run through a patch of self-doubt, wondering, fearing that maybe he had suffered some injury that had impacted him neurologically.

Skewed his perception of people and space and time.

Because nothing in Wayward Pines made sense.

But these past few moments—Nurse Pam’s sociopathic behavior, their refusal to heed his objections to surgery—had confirmed it: there was nothing wrong with him beyond the fact that people in this town meant him harm.

He’d already experienced plenty of fear, homesickness, and hopelessness since arriving in Wayward Pines, but now he bottomed out into complete despair.

For all he knew, death waited for him on the other side of those doors.

Never see Theresa again. Never see his son.

Just the possibility of it was enough to bring tears to his eyes, because he’d failed them. Failed them both in so many ways.

His physical absence. His emotional absence.

He’d brushed up against this level of horror and regret only one other time in his life—Aashif and the Golan slum.

Lingchi.

Now the fear was beginning to fully consume him, dull his ability to process information and properly react.

Or maybe it was the drug finally breaking past the blood/brain barrier and taking control.

Thinking, God, don’t crack up now. Must stay in control.

He heard the grating screech of the elevator doors opening ten feet behind him, followed by the approach of soft, quick footsteps.

Ethan tried to crane his neck to see who was coming, but by the time he did the gurney was already in motion, someone rolling him back toward the elevator.

He stared up into a beautiful, familiar face, the prominent cheekbones igniting his recognition. In his current state, it took him five seconds to place her as the missing bartender from the pub.

She pushed him into the elevator car, working to fit the gurney inside.

She punched one of the buttons.

Her face was drawn and pale, and she wore a navy poncho that dripped water onto the floor.

“Come on, come on.” She kept driving her finger into the lighted B.

“I know you,” Ethan said, but he still couldn’t recall her name.

“Beverly.” She smiled but it was riddled with nerves. “Never got that big tip you promised. Jesus, you look terrible.”

The doors started to close—another long, groaning screech worse than nails on a chalkboard.

“What’s happening to me?” he asked as the pulleys strained to lower the car.

“They’re trying to break your mind.”

“Why?”

She lifted the poncho and pulled a handcuff key from the back pocket of her jeans.

Her fingers trembling.

It took her three attempts to finally get the key into the lock.