Hassler crests a ridge.
A lake comes into view that shines like a jewel. Close to shore, the water has frozen, but it’s still liquid out in the center. He sits on a bleached tree stump and raises the butt of the rifle to his shoulder.
The lake is immense. He scopes the shoreline. There’s nothing in the direction he intends to travel but unblemished, glittering white.
On the opposite side—a couple miles away—he spots a bull in a bloody patch of snow pulling long ropes of intestines out of a massive grizzly bear whose throat the abby has torn out.
Hassler starts down the gentle slope.
At the lakeshore, he studies the map again.
The forest comes close to the water, and keeping between the shore and the trees, he makes his way around to the western side of the lake.
The trek through the snow has worn him out.
Hassler unslings his rifle from his shoulder and collapses near the water’s edge. In proximity, he sees that the ice isn’t thick. Just a fragile crust from the hard overnight freeze. This snow has come early. Way early. By his reckoning, it’s only July.
He scopes the shoreline again.
The woods at his back.
Nothing moves but that abby across the lake, its entire head now buried inside the grizzly’s belly—gorging itself.
Hassler leans back against his pack and takes out the map.
There is no wind, and with the sun directly above him, he feels warm down to his bones.
He loves mornings—without a doubt, his favorite time of day. There is something hopeful about waking in the early light and not yet knowing what the day has in store. Emotionally speaking, late afternoons are the hardest, with the light beginning to fail and the knowledge setting in that he’ll be spending another night outside, alone in the dark, the threat of an awful death forever in the wings.
But in this moment at least, the coming night feels very far away.
Once again his thoughts turn north.
To Wayward Pines.
To the day he’ll reach its fence and return to safety.
To that little Victorian house on Sixth Street.
And to the woman he loves with a ferocity he will never fully grasp. It was for her alone that he willingly abandoned his life in 2013, volunteering to be put into suspended animation for two thousand years, with no idea of what kind of a world he’d be waking to. But just knowing it would be one with Theresa Burke alive in it, and her husband, Ethan, long since dead, was more than enough for him to risk everything.
He pairs the map with the compass.
The most prominent feature in the region is a ten-thousand-foot peak that was once called Mount Sheridan. The top thousand feet of the peak stand above the timberline—blown stark white against the purple sky. It’s windy at the summit, with streamers of snow spraying off the top.
An hour’s walk in prime conditions.
Two or three in a foot of newly fallen snow.
For now, it simply represents his north.
The direction of home.
Bob climbed out of the car and closed the door gently after him.
The woods were quiet, the screams in town distant.
He walked a little ways out from the hood and tried to think.
Leaving town had been the right choice. They were still alive.
The dome light in the car kicked off.
Darkness closed in.
He eased down onto the pavement and put his face between his knees. Wept softly. After a minute, the car door opened behind him and the interior lights threw color on the road.
His Wayward Pines wife walked over.
“I said I needed a minute,” Bob said.
“Are you crying?”
“No.” He wiped his eyes.
“Oh my God, you are.”
“Leave me alone please.”
“Why are you crying?”
He gestured toward town. “This isn’t enough?”
She sat down beside him.
“You had someone, didn’t you?” she said. “Before Wayward Pines, I mean.”
He made no response.
They just sat there in the road.
Barbara finally said, “This must have been awful for you.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t any picnic on your end.”
“You never seemed like you were really—”
“How is this remotely your fault? None of this was our choice, Barbara. You were never married before, were you?”
“You were my first. In more ways than one.”
“God, I’m so sorry.”
“How is this remotely your fault?” Barbara laughed. “The fifty-year-old virgin—”
“And the queen.”
“Sounds like a bad movie.”
“How long were you and Paul . . . ?”
“Sixteen years. I just can’t believe he’s dead, you know? That he’s been dead for two thousand years. I always thought I would be with him again.”
“Maybe you still will.”
“That’s nice of you to say.”
She reached over, took hold of his hand, and said, “These last five years, you’re all I’ve had, Bob. You always treated me with care. With respect.”
“I think we made it work about as well as it possibly could.”
“And we did make damn good muffins.”
Somewhere out there, gunshots echoed across the valley.
“I don’t want to die tonight, honey,” she said.
He squeezed her hand. “I’m not going to let that happen.”
The old woman sat in her leather recliner, the footrest extended, a dinner tray on her lap. By candlelight, she turned the cards over, halfway through a game of Solitaire.
Next door, her neighbors were being killed.
She hummed quietly to herself.
There was a jack of spades.
She placed it under the queen of hearts in the middle column.
Next a six of diamonds.
It went under the seven of spades.
Something crashed into her front door.
She kept turning the cards over.
Putting them in their right places.
Two more blows.
The door burst open.
She looked up.
The monster crawled inside, and when it saw her sitting in the chair, it growled.
“I knew you were coming,” she said. “Didn’t think it’d take you quite so long.”
Ten of clubs. Hmm. No home for this one yet. Back to the pile.
The monster moved toward her. She stared into its small, black eyes.