Ethan began to read: “This message is for the ten officers of the fête. A fête has been scheduled to begin in forty minutes. The guests of honor are Kate and Harold Ballinger. Their address is Three-Forty-Five Eighth Avenue. Make your preparations immediately. Of critical importance is delivering Kate and Harold to the circle at the corner of Eighth and Main alive and unharmed. Do you understand what I’ve just said to you?”
A series of yeses tripped over one another coming through the line.
Ethan hung up the phone and started the timer on his watch.
The officers lived for the fête.
They were the only residents allowed to keep actual weapons in their homes—machetes issued by Pilcher. Everyone else resorted to makeshift instruments of death—kitchen knives, rocks, baseball bats, axes, hatchets, iron pokers from a fireplace set, anything with heft, a point, or an edge.
He had wondered all afternoon what this block of time would feel like—the forty minutes between setting everything in motion and making that final phone call.
And now that he was in it, it screamed past with unimaginable velocity.
He wondered if the last meal of a death row inmate felt something like this.
Time moving at the speed of light.
Pulse rate accelerating.
An eerie, emotional review of all that had led to this moment.
And then he was watching the last ten seconds wind down on his watch, wondering where the time had gone.
He silenced the alarm.
Lifted the phone.
Punched in the second code.
That same computer-generated voice advised, “Please record your message after the tone.”
The tone came.
He read off the second script: “This is Sheriff Ethan Burke. A fête begins now. The guests of honor are Kate and Harold Ballinger. They are to be caught, brought unharmed to Main and Eighth…” He struggled with the final words. “And executed in the circle.”
After a long pause, that CG voice said, “If you are satisfied with your message, press one. To review your message prior to sending, press two. To rerecord your message, press three. For all other options, press four.”
Ethan pressed one and shelved the phone.
He got up.
On his desk, the nickel plating of the Desert Eagle gleamed under the lamp.
He reloaded and holstered it and walked over to the closet where he took down the headdress and the bearskin cloak.
Three steps from the door, the ringing started.
The first one bled through the radio.
The piano playing stopped.
He heard the bench squeak—Gaither standing.
The man’s footsteps trailing away.
The sound of him lifting the phone.
Then Ethan’s voice—the message he had just recorded—came quietly through the speakers.
Gaither whispered, “Oh God,” and then the radio transmission cut to static.
Ethan moved down the hallway, thinking only of Kate.
Did your phone ring?
Did you answer it and listen to my voice ordering your death?
Do you think that I’ve betrayed you?
He passed Belinda’s desk, made his way through the dark lobby.
Outside, there was no moon, just a sky chock-full of stars.
He’d heard this sound before, as his own fête was beginning, but tonight it seemed more sinister because he fully understood the implications.
Hundreds and hundreds of telephones simultaneously ringing—an entire town receiving instructions to murder one of its own.
For a moment, he just stood listening with a kind of horrified wonder.
The sound filled the valley like haunted church bells.
Someone ran past on the street.
Several blocks away, a woman screamed, though whether from excitement or pain, he couldn’t tell.
He walked down to the sidewalk and peered through the large glass windows of the Bronco. They were tinted, and considering the only light source was a streetlamp across the road, it was impossible to see anything inside.
Carefully, he opened the driver-side door.
He tossed the cloak and headpiece into the passenger seat and climbed in behind the wheel.
It was like driving through his old neighborhood in Seattle on Halloween night.
On the sidewalks.
In the streets.
Staggering around clutching open mason jars.
The costumes had been ready and waiting.
He cruised past a man in an old bloodstained tuxedo, carrying a two-by-four carved down into a handle at one end, the other embedded with shards of metal like a mace.
The houses had all gone dark, but there were points of light appearing everywhere.
Flashlights sweeping through bushes and alleyways.
Cones of light shining into trees.
Even from behind the wheel, Ethan could see the divisions in the gathering crowd.
How some people saw the fête as nothing more than a chance to dress up, get drunk, go a little crazy.
How others carried an angry purpose in their visage—a clear intent to do harm, or at the very least, drink their fill of watching violence done.
How some could barely stand it, tears running down their face as they moved toward the center of the madness.
He kept to the side streets.
Between Third and Fourth, the headlights struck a pack of children thirty strong running across the road, bubbling with deadly laughter like hyenas, all costumed, knives gleaming in their little hands.
He kept a lookout for the officers—they’d be dressed in black and wielding machetes—but he never saw them.
Ethan turned onto First, headed south out of town.
In the road beside the pastures, he stopped the Bronco.
Turned off the car, stepped outside.
The phones had stopped ringing, but the noise of an assembling crowd was growing.
It dawned on him that it was in this exact spot, four nights ago, that he’d discovered Alyssa Pilcher.
God, how quickly it had all come to this.
Wasn’t quite time for him to make his appearance, but soon it would be.
Are you still running, Kate?
Have they caught you?
Are they dragging you and your husband toward Main Street?
Are you afraid?
Or on some level, have you been long prepared for this?
Ready for this nightmare to finally end?
On the outskirts of Wayward Pines, it was cold and dark.
He felt strangely isolated.
Like standing outside a stadium and listening to the noise of a game.
In town, something exploded.
He waited fifteen minutes, sitting on the hood of the Bronco with the warmth of the engine coming through the metal.