His face was sheet-white, and he stared at Ethan with no expression at all, just blinking slowly, as if lost in some mesmerizing daydream.
He finally slid off the island and crashed through a bar stool and onto the floor.
* * *
In the bedroom closet, Ethan requisitioned a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a black hoodie. The shirt and jeans were a few sizes small, but nothing Ethan couldn’t manage. The tennis shoes he found were another matter. He could squeeze his feet into them, lace them up, but walking around was agony and guaranteed to produce blisters in no time.
The dead man’s boots, while much larger, looked promising.
Ethan tugged them off and kept adding layers of socks until his feet fit snugly inside.
It felt good to be clothed again, even better to be out of the rain in this warm apartment. There was a strong temptation to spend another half hour here, patching up what injuries he could, but he needed to keep moving. If a large group happened to search this floor, there’d be nowhere for him to run.
Ethan grabbed the flashlight, the machete, and went to the sink.
Spent a full minute with his mouth under the faucet, half-crazy with thirst and yet trying not to overload on water.
He opened the fridge.
There were glass bottles of milk. Fresh veggies. A carton of eggs. Meat wrapped in butcher paper.
But nothing prepackaged.
He reached in, grabbed a bag of carrots and a small loaf of bread, crammed them down into the side pockets of his jeans.
Noise stopped Ethan as he headed for the door—voices and shouts welling up from Main Street.
He rushed back through the apartment to one of the large windows and moved just enough of the curtain for him to peek outside.
Twenty feet below: bedlam.
The buildings and storefronts glowed and darkened under the ceaseless exchange of firelight and shadow, the source of it all a giant bonfire raging in the middle of the street in spite of the rain, fueled with pine saplings and long strips of siding ripped from houses. Two men carried a wooden bench toward the blaze, Ethan watching as they heaved it onto the pyre to the great delight of the rain-drenched masses who packed the block, the concentration of bodies increasing with proximity to the flames.
The people below looked nothing like the residents he’d encountered prior to this moment.
Most had outfitted themselves in extravagant costumes.
Fake, gaudy jewelry dripped from the wrists and necks of women. Beaded necklaces and pearls and tiaras. Their faces were a-sparkle with glitter and heavily made-up, eyes popping with eyeliner, and all scantily clad despite the cold and the rain, like a throng of reveling prostitutes.
The men looked equally absurd.
One wore a sports coat and no pants.
Another, dark slacks and red suspenders and no shirt with a Santa Claus hat perched atop his head. He pointed a baseball bat to the sky, the weapon stark white and covered with grotesque drawings of monsters that Ethan could barely see from his vantage point.
Standing on a brick planter, head and shoulders above the crowd, an immense figure caught his notice. The monstrous man was dressed in the fur of a brown bear—still pinned with his brass star—and he wore some sort of metal headpiece mounted with antlers, his face streaked with lurid war paint, a shotgun slung over one shoulder, a sheathed sword hanging off the other.
The man surveyed the crowd like it was something he owned, the liquid pools of his eyes reflecting the bonfire like a pair of stars.
All he had to do was look up across the street, and in the wealth of firelight, he couldn’t fail to miss Ethan peeking down from the third-floor apartment.
He knew he should leave, but Ethan couldn’t turn away.
A segment of the crowd beyond Ethan’s line of sight erupted in shouts that caught Pope’s attention, a big smile expanding across the lawman’s face.
From an inner pocket in his bearskin coat, Pope took a clear, unlabeled bottle containing some brown liquid, raised it toward the sky, and said something that ignited the crowd into a frenzy of fist-pumping cheers.
While Pope took a long pull from his bottle, the crowd began to part, a corridor forming down the middle of Main Street, everyone straining to see.
Three figures appeared, moving through the crowd toward the bonfire.
The outer two—men dressed in dark clothes with machetes dangling from shoulder straps—held the person in the middle by her arms.
Ethan felt something dislodge inside him, a molten core of rage metastasizing in the pit of his stomach.
He could see that she didn’t have the strength to stand, her feet sliding across the pavement as her captors dragged her along. One of her eyes was closed from what must have been a savage blow, and what he could see of her face was covered in blood.
But she was conscious.
Conscious and terrified, her gaze fixed on the wet pavement under her feet like she was attempting to shut out everything else.
The two men toted her to within ten yards of the bonfire and then pushed her forward, releasing her.
Pope shouted something as Beverly crumpled to the ground.
The people in her immediate vicinity pressed back, forming a circle of open space around her, twenty feet in diameter.
Through the window, Ethan heard Beverly crying.
She sounded like a wounded animal—something so desperate in her high-pitched keening.
Everywhere, people were elbowing their way through the crowd, trying to reach the outskirts of the circle, the cluster of bodies forming the perimeter becoming tighter and tighter.
Pope tucked the bottle back into his coat and took hold of his shotgun.
He pumped it, aimed it at the sky.
The report echoed between the buildings, rattling the glass in the window frame.
The crowd fell silent.
No one moved.
Ethan could hear the rainfall again.
Beverly struggled to her feet and wiped away a line of blood running down the middle of her face. Even from this third-floor window, Ethan couldn’t miss the quaking that had enveloped her, the all-encompassing fear that consumes a person who knows exactly what horrible thing they’re about to experience.
Beverly stood teetering in the rain, favoring her left foot.
She turned slowly, hobbling, taking in the surrounding faces, and though Ethan couldn’t hear her words, the tone of her voice was unmissable.
Rain and tears and blood streaming down her face.
A full minute elapsed.
Someone shouldered his way through the mass of people and broke out into the circle.
It was the shirtless man with red suspenders and a Santa hat.