The slug hit the lead abby.
It peeled off with a shrill screech and tumbled down the rock, crashing into four more and knocking them over like bowling pins.
The others held fast.
They had climbed to within sixty feet of the plank.
Once again Ethan leaned out over the ledge, heard Hecter groaning, and imagined the cable biting into Hecter’s fingers.
The remaining abbies had taken the hint and spread out.
He took his time shooting them down from left to right.
Watched them plunge into the darkness, taking out a handful of others who had just begun to climb.
He was out of ammo.
“All right,” Ethan said.
Hecter pulled him back onto the plank and they hurried on, crossing the rock face until they rounded the corner at the end.
They rushed up the widening ledge into the mountain.
Ethan could hardly see a thing in the passage, and up ahead, the door to the cavern was shut.
He pounded the wood.
“Two more out here! Open up!”
The bolt slid back on the other side, hinges creaking as it opened.
Ethan hadn’t noticed the door his first time here, but now he made a careful study. It had been constructed of pine logs stacked horizontally and cemented together with an earth-based mortar.
He followed Hecter inside.
Kate shut the door after him and shot a heavy steel rod back into its housing.
Ethan said, “My family—”
“They’re here. They’re safe.”
He spotted them over by the stage, flashed an I-love-you sign.
Ethan surveyed the cavern—several thousand square feet with kerosene lamps hanging from wires in the low rock ceiling.
A scattering of furniture.
Bar on the left.
Stage on the right.
Both rickety-looking, as if they’d been assembled out of scrap wood. At the large fireplace toward the back, someone was already building a fire.
Looked to Ethan like only a hundred people or so, everyone huddled around torches, eyes twinkling in the firelight.
He said, “Where are the other groups?”
Kate shook her head.
“It’s only us?”
As her eyes welled up, he held her. “We’ll find Harold,” Ethan said. “I promise you that.”
The abby screams reverberated through the passage beyond the door.
“Where’s our army?” Ethan asked.
He looked at a half-dozen scared-shitless people who had no business even holding weapons.
The definition of ragtag.
Ethan examined the door again. The bolt was a long piece of solid metal, half an inch thick. It spanned the five-foot wide door, which had been expertly cut to fit snugly into the arch. The housing looked durable.
Kate said, “We could all stand right outside the door. Shoot anything that tried to come down the passage.”
“I don’t like it. No telling how many of those things are coming, and no offense”—Ethan glanced at the terrified faces surrounding him—“but how many of you can shoot accurately in a pressure situation? These things don’t go down easy. Those of you with .357s? You’d better score head shots every time. No, I think we stay in here. Pray the door holds.”
Ethan turned and addressed the rest of the group. “I need everybody to move back to the far wall. We’re not out of the woods yet. Keep quiet.”
Everyone began to migrate away from the stage and the bar, grouping near the sofas against the rear wall of the cavern.
Ethan said to Kate, “We’re going to stay right here, in front of this door. Anything that gets through dies. Where’s the bag of ammo?”
A young man who worked at the dairy said, “I’ve got it right here.”
Ethan took it from him and dropped it on the floor. He knelt over it, and said, “I need some light please.”
Maggie held the torch over his head.
He rifled through ammunition, grabbed a box of two-and-three-quarter-inch Winchester slugs for himself, and then handed out backup ammo to everyone else.
Moving twenty feet back from the pine-log door, Ethan ghost-loaded the Mossberg as an unsettling hush fell upon the cavern.
Maggie and another man stood behind the shooters with torches.
Kate stood next to Ethan with a shotgun of her own, and he could hear her struggling not to break down.
Then suddenly—movement out in the passage.
Kate drew in a sharp breath, wiped her eyes.
Ethan could feel a fight coming. He glanced back, tried to find his family amid the crowd, but they had withdrawn into the shadows. He had come to terms with the possibility of his own death. There was no coming to terms with seeing an abby tear into his only son or disembowel his wife. There would be no going forward after that. Whether he lived or not, he would not survive.
If the abbies got through that door, and there were more than ten of them, everyone in the cavern would die horrible deaths.
He’d expected a scream but instead came the sound of talons clicking on the stone floor of the passage.
Something scraped across the logs on the other side of the door, and then it began to scratch around the metal handle.
The town of Wayward Pines lay in ruin—buildings turned upside down, cars scattered, roads cracked in two. Even the hospital was destroyed, the top three floors sheared off. Ethan’s house in particular had seen the worst of it—crushed to pieces, the aspen trees in the backyard snapped in half and shoved through the windows.
This architectural miniature of Wayward Pines had been commissioned by David Pilcher in 2010, and he’d spared no expense for the elaborate model, whose price tag came in at $35,000. For two thousand years, it had stood under glass as the centerpiece of his office, a tribute not only to the town itself, but his own boundless ambition.
It had taken him fifteen seconds to destroy it.
Now he sat on a leather sofa, watching the wall of monitors as the real town came apart at the seams.
He’d killed power to the entire valley, but the surveillance cameras ran on batteries, and most were night vision–enabled. The screens showed what the cameras saw, and the cameras were in every room of every home. In every business. In bushes. Hidden in streetlamps. They triggered off the microchips embedded in every resident of Wayward Pines, and, my, were they popping tonight.
Almost every monitor lit up.
On one screen: an abby chasing a woman up a flight of stairs.
On another: three abbies ripping a man apart in the middle of a kitchen.
—A mob of people running for their lives down the middle of Main Street, overtaken by abbies in front of the candy store.