Wondered how much of it was truly there, how much he imagined.
“I know you’re all worried about those who didn’t make it in here. I am too. We barely made it ourselves. And some of you may be wondering why we didn’t stop and help. I can tell you right now that if we had, this would be an empty cavern, and we’d all be dead in that valley. That’s hard to hear. As the man responsible for us being in this situation . . .”
Emotion reared its head.
He let the tears come, let the tremor disrupt his voice.
“From my place at the back of the line,” he said, “I saw what was happening to our people above ground. I know what these aberrations are capable of. And I think we all need to start coming to terms with a hard, hard truth. There’s a chance we’re all that’s left of Wayward Pines.”
Someone yelled, “Don’t say that!”
A man stepped into the circle. He was an officer of the fête, still dressed in black, still carrying his machete. Ethan had never exchanged words with him, but he knew where he lived, that he worked at the library. He was slim and fit, with a shaved head and faint stubble across his jawline. He also carried that whiff of unearned arrogance that seems to cling to those who crave authority for the sheer sake of power.
The officer said, “I tell you what you do. You get on your hands and knees and crawl back to Pilcher and beg the man’s forgiveness. Tell him you did this. Tell him you brought this shitstorm down on our heads all on your very own and that we want to go back to the way things were. That none of us signed up for this.”
“It’s too late,” Ethan said. “You all know the truth now. You can’t unknow it. There’s no easy way out of this.”
A short, squat man—the town butcher—pushed his way into the circle.
He said, “You’re telling me my wife and daughters are dead. That at least a dozen dear friends of mine are dead. So what are you saying we do about it? Hide in here like a bunch of cowards and write them off?”
Ethan moved toward him, his jaw tensing. “I am not saying that, Andrew. I am not saying we write anybody off.”
“Then what? What are we supposed to do? You pulled the wool away from our eyes. But for what? To lose most of our people and live like this? I’d rather be enslaved. I’d rather be safe and have my family.”
Ethan stopped a foot away from the man. He scanned all the faces, found Theresa’s. She was crying. She was sending him love. “I may have fired the opening shot,” he said, “but I didn’t turn off the fence, and I didn’t open the gate. The man responsible for the deaths of our families and our friends, for you even being in Wayward Pines in the first place, is alive and well two miles from where we stand. And my question for you is: Are you going to stand for that?”
Andrew said, “He’s backed by his own private army. Those are your words.”
“So what do you want us to do?”
“I want you to not lose hope! David Pilcher is a monster, but not everyone in the mountain is. I’m going across the valley.”
“Right now. And I’d like Kate Ballinger and two others who can shoot to come with me.”
“We should take a large group,” the officer said.
“Why? So we attract more attention and get more people killed? No, we need to go light and fast. Stay unseen if at all possible. And yes, it’s likely we won’t come back, but the alternative is to sit here in this cave and wait for the inevitable. I say we go out swinging.”
Hecter said, “Even if you make it into the mountain, you actually believe you can stop this man?”
“I do believe that.”
A woman stepped out of the crowd. She still wore her costume from the night before—a ball gown with a tiara she hadn’t thought to take off. Her lipstick, mascara, and eyeliner streaked garishly down her face.
“I want to say something,” she said. “I know a lot of you are angry at this man. At the sheriff. My husband . . .” She took a moment to collect herself. “Was in another group. We’d been married six years. It was a forced marriage, but I loved him. He was my best friend, even though we barely talked. It’s amazing how well you can come to know a person through eye contact. Through subtle glances.” Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd. She stared at Ethan. “I want you to know that I would rather Carl be dead and I would rather die today than live in that sick illusion of a town for one more hour. Like prisoners. Like slaves. I know you did what you thought was right. I don’t blame you for a thing. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I know I’m not the only one.”
“Thank you,” Ethan said. “Thank you for saying that.”
He made a slow turn, studying the ninety-five faces watching him, feeling the true weight of their lives on his shoulders.
He said, finally, “I’m going out that door in ten minutes. Kate, you in?”
“We need two others. I know more of you may want to come, but there could still be another attack on this cavern. We want to leave you well armed and well guarded. If you think you can shoot, if you’re in exceptional physical condition, and if you can control your fear, then join me over at the door.”
Ethan sat on the stage between Theresa and Ben.
The boy said, “I don’t want you to go back out there, Dad.”
“I know, buddy. Between you and me, I’m not all that wild about it myself.”
“So don’t go.”
“Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to.”
“Because they’re the right things.”
He couldn’t imagine what was going through the boy’s mind. All the lies he’d been taught in school suddenly melting against the blistering heat of the truth. Ethan could remember his dad waking him from nightmares when he was Ben’s age, telling him it was just a bad dream, that there were no such thing as monsters.
But in his son’s world, monsters did exist.
And they were everywhere.
How did you help a boy come to terms with something like that when you could barely face it yourself?
The boy wrapped his arms around Ethan and squeezed.
“You can cry if you want,” Ethan said. “There’s no shame in it.”
The boy looked up. “Why are you crying, Dad? Is it because you aren’t coming back?”