“But the memories came back.”
“Yes. And I knew something was very wrong. I couldn’t make contact with the outside world. I knew this wasn’t my life. But there was something, I don’t know—sinister—about Pope. On some instinctive level, I knew better than to question him about anything.
“I didn’t have a car, so I started taking long walks toward the outskirts of town. But a strange thing happened. Every time I’d get near to where the road looped back, guess who showed up? It dawned on me that Pope wasn’t really a sheriff. He was a warden. For everyone who lived here. I realized he must be tracking me somehow, so for two months I kept my head down, went to work, went home, made a few friends—”
“And they’d bought into all this as well?”
“I don’t know. On a surface level, they never blinked. Never gave any indication that things were out of the ordinary. After a while, I realized it must be fear that was keeping everyone in line, but of what, I didn’t know. And I sure didn’t ask.”
Ethan thought back to the neighborhood party he’d stumbled upon—God, was it just last night?—and how normal it had seemed. How perfectly ordinary. He thought of all the quaint Victorian houses in Wayward Pines and of all the families who lived inside them. How many residents—inmates—kept up a strong, carefree countenance during the day, but then lay awake at night, sleepless, minds racing, terrified and struggling to comprehend why they’d been locked away in this scenic prison? He imagined more than a few. But human beings were, if nothing else, adaptable. He figured just as many had convinced themselves, convinced their children, that things were exactly as they should be. As they’d always been. How many lived day to day, in the moment, banishing any thought or remembrance of the life they had known before? It was easier to accept what could not be changed than to risk everything and seek out the unknown. What lay beyond. Long-term inmates often committed suicide, or reoffended, when faced with the prospect of life outside the prison walls. Was it so different here?
Beverly continued, “One night at the bar, a few months after my arrival, this guy slipped me a note. It said, ‘the back of your left thigh.’ That night in the shower, I felt it for the first time—a small bump, something under the skin—although I didn’t know what I was supposed to do about it. Next night, he was back at my bar. Scribbled a new message, this time on the ticket—‘cut it out, keep it safe, it’s how they track you.’
“First three times, I chickened out. The fourth, I manned up and did it. By day, I always kept the chip with me. Carried on like everyone else. And the weird thing is that there were moments when it almost felt normal. I’d be at someone’s house having dinner, or a neighborhood block party, and I’d catch this feeling like maybe it had always been this way, and that my prior life was the dream. I started to see how people could grow to accept a life in Wayward Pines.
“At night, after my shift ended at the pub, I’d go home, leave the chip in my bed where I was supposed to be, and head out. Each night, a different direction. I kept running into dead ends. To the north, east, and west were these towering cliff walls, and I could climb them for a hundred feet or so, but the ledges inevitably got thinner, and I would always run out of handholds or come to a point where I didn’t have the guts to keep climbing. I came across more than a few skeletons at the base of those cliffs—old, broken bones. Human. People who had tried to climb out and taken a fall.
“Fourth time I ventured out, I went south up the main road, the one I’d driven into Wayward Pines. I found what you found—it just looped back into town, back into itself in an endless circle. But I kept heading south into the woods. Must’ve gone a half mile before I finally came to the fence.”
The throbbing in Ethan’s leg had become unbearable, worse than the pain of Beverly’s incision. He loosened the duct tape.
“It was twenty feet high and it ran through the forest in either direction as far as I could see. There was barbed wire across the top, and it hummed like it was electrified. The same sign was attached to the fencing every fifty feet. It said, ‘Return to Wayward Pines. Beyond This Point You Will Die.’”
Ethan rewrapped his leg.
The throbbing had faded, and there was still pain, but it seemed to have dulled.
“Did you find a way through?”
“No. It was getting near dawn, and I thought I’d better get back to town. But when I turned to go, there was a man standing in front of me. Scared me to death until I realized who it was.”
“Guy who told you about the chip?”
“Exactly. He said he’d been following me. Every night I’d gone out.”
“Who was he?” Ethan asked, and he couldn’t be sure in the low light, but it looked as though a shadow passed across Beverly’s face.
A prickling sensation, like a low-amp current, ripped through Ethan’s body.
“What was Bill’s last name?” he asked.
“Evans was the dead man in the house. The one you steered me toward.”
“Right. I wanted you to understand right off how dangerous this place is.”
“Message received. Evans was one of the Secret Service agents I was sent to Wayward Pines to find.”
“I didn’t know Bill was Secret Service. He wouldn’t tell me anything about what we called ‘our lives before.’”
“How did he die?”
Beverly lifted the flashlight off the floor, its bulb beginning to weaken in intensity.
She switched it off.
The whisper of rain and nothing else.
“It happened the night we tried to escape. I still don’t understand exactly how they found out, because we left our microchips in our beds like we’d done so many times before. Bill and I met up at our predetermined spot with supplies and provisions...but we never had a chance.”
Ethan could hear the grief splitting her voice.
“We had to go separate ways,” she said. “I made it back to my house, but they caught him. Tore him apart.”
“Who tore him apart?”
“The entire town, Ethan. I could...hear him screaming from my house, but there was nothing I could do. At last, I understood. I realized what it was that kept everyone here.”