“What do you mean? Like, is the universe saying ‘don’t’? Can’t we agree that the universe doesn’t give a shit anymore, and probably never did?”
Kate looked over at him. “I don’t care if we jump together or climb down together. But whichever it is, let’s just not do it alone.”
Someone grabbed his arm and pulled him down out of the truck. It was the first time he’d been outside in days, but he couldn’t see anything through the black hood over his head.
“What’s happening?” Pilcher asked.
The hood was ripped off.
He saw lights—fifty, sixty, maybe a hundred of them. Flashlights, torches, held by the residents of Wayward Pines, and by his own people from the mountain, all of whom surrounded him in a tight circle of bodies. As his eyes adjusted, he saw the buildings of Main Street looming above him, their facades and storefronts awash in firelight.
Two men stood with him in the circle—Ethan Burke and Alan Spear, his head of security.
“What is this?” Pilcher asked. “You throwing a fête for me?”
He looked around at all the faces, hidden in shadow, distorted by firelight. Angry and intense.
“We took a vote,” Ethan said.
“Everyone except you. A fête was on the table, but in the end it didn’t feel right, putting you to death using the same self-policing approach you forced upon the citizens of Wayward Pines.” Ethan took a step closer, his breath clouding in the cold. “Look at these people, David. Everyone here lost family, lost friends. Because of you.”
Pilcher smiled against the rage.
The murderous, soul-melting rage.
“Because of me?” he asked. “That’s hysterical.” He stepped away from Ethan, moving out into the middle of the circle. “What else could I have possibly done for you people? I gave you food. I gave you shelter. I gave you purpose. I protected you from the knowledge you couldn’t handle. From the harsh truth of the world that exists beyond the fence. And each of you had to do one thing. One! Goddamn! Thing!” He shrieked the words. “Obey me.”
He caught the stare of a woman standing several feet away, the tears glistening as they ran down her cheeks.
So many tears in this crowd.
So much pain.
And once upon a time, he might have given a shit, but tonight he only saw ingratitude. Entitlement. Rebelliousness.
He screamed, “What more could I have f**king done for you?”
“They’re not going to answer you,” Ethan said.
“Then what is this?”
“They’re here to walk with you.”
Ethan turned to the nearest section of the crowd. “Would you all make way please?” As they parted, Ethan said, “After you, David.”
Pilcher stared down the dark street.
He looked at Ethan.
“I don’t understand.”
Someone shoved him from behind, and when Pilcher regained his balance, he turned to see Alan glaring at him with a lethal intensity.
“Sheriff said to go,” Alan said. “Now I’m telling you, and if you can’t make your legs work, we’ll be happy to drag you by your arms.”
Pilcher started walking south down Main Street, between the dark buildings, Ethan on one side, Alan on the other.
The crowd followed the three men like a vigil, and an uneasy silence descended. No one spoke. There was no sound but footsteps scraping the pavement and the occasional muffled sob.
He tried to hold it together, but his mind was frantic.
Where are they taking me?
Back to the superstructure?
To a place of execution?
They passed the Aspen House and then the hospital.
As everyone moved down the road into the forest south of town, Pilcher realized what was going to happen.
He looked over at Ethan.
The fear sweeping through him like a shot of liquid nitrogen.
Somehow, he kept walking.
At the curve in the road, everyone stepped off the pavement and headed into the woods, Pilcher thinking, I never even looked back, never got one last glimpse of Wayward Pines.
A shallow layer of mist had pooled in the forest and the torchlights looked otherworldly cutting through it.
Like disembodied points of fire.
Pilcher was growing colder by the minute.
He heard the buzzing of the fence.
They were walking beside it.
Then they were standing at the gate. It had all happened so fast, as if no time had passed since they’d removed his hood in the middle of Main Street.
Ethan offered a small backpack to Pilcher.
“There’s some food and water inside. Enough for several days if you last that long.”
Pilcher just stared at the pack.
“You all didn’t have the guts to actually kill me yourselves?” he asked.
“No,” Ethan said. “Just the opposite actually. We all wanted it too much. We wanted to torture you. To let each person left standing take their pound of flesh out of you. Do you not want the pack?”
Pilcher grabbed it, slung the strap over his shoulder.
Ethan went to the control panel and punched in the manual power override.
The humming stopped.
The woods became quiet.
Pilcher looked at all his people. Those from town. Those from the mountain. The last human faces he would ever lay eyes upon.
“You ungrateful f**ks! You’d all have died two thousand years ago if it wasn’t for me. I created a paradise for you. Heaven on earth. I’m your God! And you have the audacity to kick God out of heaven!”
“I think you got your scripture wrong,” Ethan said. “God didn’t get exiled. It was the other guy.”
Ethan opened the gate.
Pilcher looked at Ethan, long and hard, and then glared out at the crowd.
He crossed out of safety to the other side of the fence.
Ethan shut the gate.
Soon, the lines resumed their protective hum.
Pilcher watched as the crowd turned away from him, the flashlights and torchlights receding into the mist.
Then he was standing alone in the cold, dark forest.
He headed south until the hum of the fence became inaudible.
The starlight coming though the tops of the pines was insufficient to light his way.
When his legs became tired, he sat down against the trunk of a pine tree.
Far off, a mile or so away, an abby screamed.
Another one answered. Much, much closer.
And then another.
Pilcher heard the sound of footsteps.