“Now I live with a stranger with whom I’ve never shared a single authentic moment. It’s been a lonely couple of years since I woke up in Pines, and that’s why meeting Harold and now all of you—people who I can share real moments with—is the best thing that’s happened to me in a very long time.” He sipped his martini, winced. “It grows on you, right?”
Someone shouted, “Never!”
Brad said, “I know we all have to start the cold walk home pretty soon, but I hope I can get up here and talk more about my wife. My real wife.” Now he raised his glass. “Her name was Nancy, and I love her, I miss her…” Here came the emotion. “And I think about her every single day.”
Everyone in the room stood.
Glasses raised, winking in the firelight.
The room said, “To Nancy.”
They drank and then Brad stepped down off the stage.
Ethan watched him walk out into the passageway where the man slid down onto the floor and wept.
Ethan looked at Kate, wondering what her group thought of the striking incongruence of time. Brad Fisher had said he was born in 1966, but the man couldn’t have been older than twenty-nine or thirty, which meant he had come to Wayward Pines, Idaho, in the mid-1990s, with Bill Clinton president and 9/11 still five or six years away. No doubt others in this room had come to town before him and after him. What did they make of it? Did they compare and contrast their own views of the world before, searching for meaning in their current existence? Did those who had arrived around the same time seek one another out for the comfort of a shared knowledge of history?
“Imagine it,” she said. “First time in two years he’s been able to openly speak about his real wife.”
People were forming a line to the dressing room.
“What about his Wayward Pines wife, Megan?” Ethan asked. “He couldn’t bring her?”
“She’s a teacher.”
“They’re true believers. Someone scored him a dose of something that he probably slipped into his wife’s water at dinner. Knocked her out cold for the entire night so he could slip out.”
“So she doesn’t know he’s coming to these.”
“No way. And she can’t ever find out.”
Everyone had left.
Ethan changed out of his black suit and back into the damp jeans and hoodie.
In the main cavern, Kate was blowing out candles and Harold was collecting empty martini glasses and lining them up on the bar.
With the last candle, Kate lit a kerosene lamp for the journey home.
They followed Harold down the passageway.
Outside, the sky had cleared.
Stars blazed down out of the dark and the moon was bright.
Harold took Kate’s lamp and slung it over his shoulder and they all moved down the ledge to where the path swung out across the face of the cliff. All of the homeward-bound foot traffic had polished the wooden planks and the cables clean of snow.
Ethan could see Wayward Pines now.
Snow-mantled and silent in the valley below.
He thought of all the people down there.
Those dreaming of their lives before.
Those still awake in the wee hours in their private prisons, wondering what their lives had become, not knowing if they were alive or dead.
The men and women trudging home from the cavern in wet clothes back to a world they knew was wrong.
Kate said, “Ethan, I have to know.”
“How bad was it? What they did to Alyssa. Did she suffer?”
Ethan reached for the cable and took that first, stomach-churning step onto the plank. He told himself not to look down, but he couldn’t resist the urge. The forest was three hundred feet below the soles of his boots, the pine trees crowned with snow.
“She died quickly,” he lied.
“Please don’t do that,” Kate said. “I want the truth. How much did they hurt her?”
It had been heady in the cavern, but now the questions came in a rush of mounting heat…
Had Alyssa been tortured by Pilcher’s people to name the members of Kate’s group?
Or killed by Kate’s people to stop her from naming them?
Where had it happened?
Who had cut her?
Pilcher didn’t murder his daughter.
Was Kate playing him?
“What did they do to my friend?” she asked. “I have to know.”
He glanced back at the woman he had once loved. She and her husband were standing on the edge of the cliff.
He’d assumed he would come out of this night with a better understanding of what had happened to Alyssa, but he only felt more uncertain.
Plagued with more questions.
Pilcher’s words beginning to echo through his head.
You have no idea…
What she’s capable of.
“They tore her up, Kate,” Ethan said. “They tore her up bad.”
The exhaustion hit him at the intersection of Eighth and Main.
He was alone now, had split off from Kate and Harold several blocks back.
The sky wasn’t that deep blue-black anymore.
He felt like he’d been awake forever, couldn’t remember the last good night of sleep he’d logged.
His legs ached. His stitches had ripped again. He was cold and thirsty, and just four blocks away, his house beckoned. He would strip out of his wet, freezing clothes, climb under as many blankets as he could amass, and just recharge. Get his head right for—
The noise of an approaching car turned his head.
He stared south toward the hospital.
Headlights raced in his direction.
The sight of them stopped him in the crosswalk under the traffic light.
It was something you hardly ever saw in Wayward Pines—a car actually driving through town. There were plenty of vehicles parked along the streets, and most of them ran. There was even a filling station at the edge of town with a mechanic next door. But people rarely drove. It was mainly set decoration.
For a moment, he imagined the impossible—that it was a minivan heading toward him. Dad behind the wheel. Mom asleep beside him in the front seat, kids in dreamland in the back. Maybe they’d been driving all night from Spokane or Missoula. Maybe they were coming here on vacation. Maybe just passing through.
It wasn’t real.
He knew that.
But for a half second, standing in the predawn stillness in the middle of town, it felt possible.