He wanted more than anything in his life to go to her.
Take her in his arms, tell her everything would be okay.
That she would survive this.
But instead he turned his back to her and made his way once more through the crowd.
When he reached the Bronco, he climbed up onto the hood and scrambled the rest of the way up the windshield.
He stood on the roof, the metal dipping under his weight, but it held.
The crowd descended into frenzy again, screaming like their rock star had just walked onstage.
Ethan could see everything from where he stood—the firelit faces crammed between the buildings, the burning car, the circle where Kate and Harold waited to die. He didn’t see Theresa or Ben and this gave him some small piece of comfort. He’d warned his wife not to come. Had instructed her to take their son, against his will if need be, and ride out the fête from the relative safety of the crypt.
He lifted the questionable mason jar of hooch into the air.
The crowd reciprocated—hundreds of glass bottles raising, catching the bonfire light of the burning car.
A toast in hell.
They all drank.
He smashed the bottle into the street, drew the Desert Eagle, and fired three shots into the sky.
It kicked like a motherfucker and the crowd went crazy.
He holstered the pistol and took the bullhorn, which dangled from a strap on his shoulder.
Everyone but Kate.
She was screaming his name, screaming why for God’s sake why are you doing this to me I trusted you I loved you why?
He let her go, let her finish, let her scream it all out of her system.
Then he raised the bullhorn.
“Welcome to the fête!”
Screams and cheers.
Ethan forced himself to smile as he said, “I love it even more from this side of the bullhorn!”
That got a big laugh.
The manual had given specific guidance for how the sheriff should handle this moment when everyone had gathered and the time for the execution was at hand.
While a handful of residents may have no issues with killing their neighbors, or even relish the job, when it actually comes time for the execution to begin, most people will feel uneasy about spilling blood. This is why your job as leader of the fête is so critical to its overall success. You set the tone of the celebration. You create the mood. Remind them why the guests of honor have been singled out. Remind them that the fête ultimately preserves the safety of Wayward Pines. Remind them that deviation from the rules is a slippery slope, which could easily result in any one of them landing in the circle next time around.
Ethan said, “You all know Kate and Harold Ballinger. Many of you would call them friends. You’ve broken bread with them. You’ve laughed and cried with them. And maybe you think that makes tonight a tough pill to swallow.”
He glanced at his watch.
It had been more than three hours.
For f**k’s sake. Any time now.
“Let me tell you about Kate and Harold. The real Kate and Harold. They hate this town!”
The crowd erupted in aggressive boos.
“They go out at night in secret, and here’s the worst of it—they meet with others. Others just like them who despise our little slice of paradise.” He drummed up some rage. “How could anybody hate this town?”
For a moment, the noise was deafening.
He waved everyone quiet.
“Some of those people, the secret friends of the Ballingers—they’re here with us tonight. Standing in this very crowd. Dressed up and pretending to be just like you.”
Someone shouted, “No!”
“But in their hearts, they hate Wayward Pines. Look around you. There are more of them than you think. But I promise you—we will root them out!”
It was slight, but as the crowd roared again, Ethan felt the Bronco shift imperceptibly on its shocks.
“So the question arises—why do they hate Wayward Pines? We have everything we need here. Food. Water. Shelter. Safety. We lack for nothing, and still, some people feel this isn’t enough.”
Something struck the metal roof under Ethan’s boots.
“They want more. They want the freedom to leave this town. To speak their minds. To know what their children are being taught in school.”
The boos continued but with a measurable lessening of conviction.
“They have the audacity to want to know where they are.”
The boos stopped altogether.
“Why they’re here.”
The crowd dead silent, heads cocked and brows beginning to furrow as they sensed the sheriff’s speech taking an unexpected turn.
“Why they aren’t allowed to leave.”
Ethan screamed through the bullhorn, “How dare they!”
Thinking, Are you watching this, Pilcher?
The Bronco shook under his feet and he wondered if the crowd could hear the noise.
Ethan said, “Almost three weeks ago, on a cold, rainy night, I watched from that window”—he pointed at the apartment building that fronted Main—“while you people beat to death a woman named Beverly. You would’ve killed me. God knows you tried. But I escaped. And now I stand up here under the guise of leading this celebration of depravity.”
Someone shouted, “What are you doing?”
Ethan ignored this.
He said, “Let me ask you all something. Do you love life in Wayward Pines? Do you love having cameras in your bedrooms? Do you love knowing nothing?”
No one in the crowd dared answer.
Ethan spotted two officers shoving their way through the people, no doubt coming for him.
“Have all of you,” Ethan asked, “resigned to Wayward Pines? To life in this town in the dark? Or do some of you still lie in bed at night beside your wife or your husband who you barely even know, wondering why you’re here? Dreaming of what lies beyond the fence.”
Blank, stunned faces.
“Do you want to know what lies beyond the fence?”
An officer broke out of the crowd and ran toward the Bronco, machete in hand.
Ethan pulled the Desert Eagle, aimed it at his chest, said through the bullhorn, “Fun fact. The shockwave alone from a fifty-caliber round will stop your heart.”
The rear left window of the Bronco exploded, glass showering everyone who had crowded up against the side of the vehicle.
Ethan glanced down, saw a taloned arm sticking through the hole in the window.
It disappeared and punched through again.
The crowd retreated.
A scream that no one could have mistaken for human ripped out from inside the Bronco.