“Of course. This’ll be the shortest trip ever taken on account of there being no roads out of town.”
Bob turned onto First Avenue.
He wasn’t about to admit it verbally, or by action (which would mean using the lights), but it was pretty dark. Arguably too dark to drive without headlights.
It had been months since he’d been behind the wheel, and he felt rusty.
They passed the sheriff’s station.
With their windows rolled up, the screams emanating from town barely intruded into the tense silence inside the car.
Soon, they reached the outskirts.
Through his window, Bob could see movement in the pasture.
“They’re out there,” Barbara said.
“I know it.”
She reached across his lap and hit the lights. Twin beams shot out across the grassland. Eviscerated cows littered the pasture by the dozens, each one surrounded by a cluster of monsters in the throes of gorging themselves.
They all looked up from their kills, bloody mouths glistening in the high beams.
Bob floored the accelerator.
They blew past the goodbye sign—a perfect 1950s family, smiling and waving.
WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED YOUR VISIT TO WAYWARD PINES! DON’T BE A STRANGER! COME BACK SOON!
The road entered the forest.
Bob downgraded the high beams to corner lamps, the fog lights just bright enough to keep him straddling the double yellow.
Mist swept across the road between the narrow corridor of pines.
Bob kept glancing in the rearview mirror, but all he could see was a tiny swath of scrolling pavement lit red by the taillights.
“Go faster!” Barbara said.
“I can’t. There’s a hairpin turn coming up.”
She climbed between the seats into the back and sat on her knees, staring through the window.
“Anything?” Bob asked.
“No. What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know, but at least we aren’t in town, in the midst of everything. Maybe we could just pull off into a quiet place in the trees?” he suggested. “Ride this out?”
“What if there’s no end to it?” she asked.
The question hung between them like a black cloud.
The road out of town began to curve and Bob steered into it, keeping their speed under twenty miles per hour.
Barbara was crying in the backseat.
“I wish he hadn’t told us,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“Sheriff Burke. This is all happening because he told us the truth.”
“You’re probably right.”
“I’m not saying I loved it here, but you know what?” Barbara sniveled. “I didn’t worry about bills. I didn’t worry about our mortgage. You and I got to run a bakery.”
“You had gotten used to the way of things.”
“But we couldn’t talk about our past,” Bob said. “We never saw our friends or family. We were forced to marry.”
“That didn’t turn out so bad,” she said.
Bob held his tongue as he drove through the heart of the curve.
The road out of town became the road into town.
He eased off the gas as they passed the welcome sign.
Wayward Pines lay straight ahead, enveloped in darkness.
He let the car roll to a stop and killed the engine.
“We just wait here?” Barbara asked.
“Shouldn’t we keep moving?”
“There’s barely any gas left.”
She climbed back into the front seat.
She said, “People are dying out there. Right now.”
“That goddamned sheriff.”
“I’m glad he did it.”
“I said I’m glad.”
“No, I heard you the first time. I mean, why? Our neighbors are being slaughtered, Bob.”
“We were slaves.”
“How are you enjoying your new freedom?”
“If this is the end, I’m glad I know the truth.”
“You’re not scared?”
Bob opened his door.
“Where are you going?” Barbara asked.
The interior dome light burned his eyes.
“I need a moment alone.”
“I’m not getting out of this car.”
“That’s kind of the point, darling.”
As they closed in on their group, Ethan registered the growing disconnect between what he’d seen above ground and the fact that his people were still alive down here in the tunnel. It reminded him of the sickening, random way that fate and chance figured into battle—if you had stepped left instead of right, the bullet would have gone through your eye instead of your friend’s. If Kate had led their group to a different tunnel entrance, it could’ve been Ethan and his family being slaughtered on Main Street. He was having an impossible time putting Megan Fisher out of his mind. He’d seen enough death and destruction in Iraq to know that it would be poor Megan who would haunt his dreams for many nights to come. Knew he would always wonder—what if he’d risked everything and gone outside? What if he’d killed her attacker? Saved her? Carried her back to the tunnel? He would play that scene over and over until it bulked up with the perfection of a fantasy. Anything to replace the image of that woman under the abby in the middle of the road. There were still moments from the war he carried and would always carry—incomprehensible agony and suffering.
This trumped them all.
They reached the end of the line just as the group was turning up a new tunnel.
Ethan thinking, One quarter of humanity was just wiped out.
He looked down the line of his people, saw the back of Theresa’s head in the low light.
The need to be close to her and Ben was overwhelming.
Megan in the street.
A single, piercing howl blasted through the tunnel.
Maggie and Hecter stopped.
Ethan raised his shotgun.
The torch began to shake violently in Maggie’s hand.
Ethan glanced back.
The line had stalled—everyone had heard, everyone craning their necks, straining to stare down into the darkness of the tunnel.
Ethan said to everyone, “Keep the line moving. Don’t stop no matter what. Just go.”
They went on.
After fifty feet, Maggie said, “I think I hear something.”
“What?” Hecter asked.