Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(4)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(4)
Blake Crouch

More and more, he was coming to realize that living in Pines was like living in an elaborate play whose curtain never closed.

Everyone had their parts.

Shakespeare could have been writing about Pines: All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.

Ethan had already played a few of his own.

Downstairs, the telephone was ringing.

Theresa sat straight up as if she’d been spring-loaded, no sign of bleariness, snapped instantly to attention, her face gone tight with fear.

“Is it everyone’s phone?” she asked, her voice filled with dread.

Ethan climbed out of bed.

“No, honey. Go back to sleep. It’s just ours. It’s just for me.”

Ethan caught it on the sixth ring, standing in his boxers in the living room, the rotary phone clutched between his shoulder and his ear.

“For a moment, I wondered if you were going to answer.”

Pilcher’s voice. He’d never called Ethan at home before.

“Do you know what time it is?” Ethan said.

“Terribly sorry to have woken you. Did you get a chance to read the surveillance report on Peter McCall?”

“Yeah,” Ethan lied.

“But you didn’t go and talk with him like I suggested, did you?”

“I was planning to first thing tomorrow.”

“Don’t bother. He’s decided to take his leave of us tonight.”

“He’s outside?”

“Yeah.”

“So maybe he went for a walk.”

“Thirty seconds ago, his signal reached the curve in the road at the end of town and kept right on heading south.”

“What do you want me to do?”

There was a beat of silence on the other end of the line. Somehow, Ethan could feel the frustration coming through like a heat lamp.

Pilcher said evenly, “Stop him. Talk some sense into him.”

“But I don’t know exactly what you want me to say.”

“I realize this is your first runner. Don’t worry about what to say. Just trust your gut. I’ll be listening.”

Listening?

A dial tone blared in Ethan’s ear.

He crept upstairs and dressed in the darkness. Theresa was still awake, sitting up in bed and watching as he threaded his belt through the loops.

“Everything okay, honey?” she asked.

“Fine,” Ethan said. “Work stuff.”

Yeah, just have to stop one of our neighbors from trying to leave our little slice of paradise in the middle of the night. No big deal. Nothing weird here.

Ethan walked over and kissed his wife on the forehead.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Hopefully before morning.”

She didn’t say anything, only grabbed his hand and squeezed hard enough to move the bones.

Nighttime in Wayward Pines.

A wonderland of stillness.

The crickets turned off.

So quiet Ethan could hear the streetlamps humming.

The pounding of his own biologic engine.

He walked down to the curb and climbed into the black Ford Bronco with a light bar across the roof and, on the doors, the exact WP emblem that was engraved on his sheriff’s star.

The engine gargled.

Ethan shifted into gear.

Tried to pull gently out into the street, but the 4.9-liter straight six had been bored out and was loud as hell.

The noise would undoubtedly wake people.

Cars were rarely driven in Pines—you could cross town on foot in fifteen minutes.

Cars were never driven in Pines at night.

Their purpose was decorative, and anyone whose slumber was disturbed by the roar of Ethan’s Bronco would know that something had come off the rails.

He turned onto Main and headed south.

After the hospital, he hit the high beams and pushed the gas pedal into the floor, accelerating into a narrow corridor of tall pines.

With the window down, the cold forest air streamed in.

He drove down the middle of the road, tires straddling the double yellow.

Imagining there was no turn coming, that soon the road would begin to climb.

Out of this valley, away from this town.

He would reach down and turn on the radio, surf the airwaves until he found a station that played the oldies. It would be a three-hour trip back to Boise. Nothing like driving on an open road at night with the windows down and good music blasting. It was only for a split second, but he caught the feeling of living in a world full of others like him. A nightscape light-ridden with the glow of great cities. The distant roar of interstate traffic and jets thundering through the stratosphere.

The sense of not being so goddamn alone.

The endlings of their species, of humanity.

The speedometer needle edged toward seventy, the engine screaming.

He’d already blown past the sharp curve ahead sign.

Ethan stomped on the brake and lurched forward as the Bronco skidded to a stop in the vertex of the curve. He pulled over onto the shoulder, killed the engine, climbed out.

Soles of his boots scraping across the pavement.

For a moment, he hesitated with the door open, staring at the Winchester ’97 cradled in the gun rack above the seats. He didn’t want to take it for the message it might send to McCall. He didn’t want to leave it, because these were dark and scary woods and the world they bordered hostile beyond reckoning. There had never been a fence breach to his knowledge, but there was a first time for everything, and being out in these trees in the middle of the night unarmed was just taunting Murphy’s Law.

Leaning back in, he opened the center console and jammed his pockets full with shells. Then he reached up and lifted the twelve-gauge off the rack. It was a pump-action tube feed with a walnut stock and fifteen inches of the barrel sawn off.

Ethan fed in five shells, racked one into the chamber, and set the hammer to half-cocked—the closest thing to a safety on this beautiful dinosaur of a weapon.

With the shotgun laid across his shoulder blades and his arms draped over the stock and barrel, Ethan stepped down off the shoulder and started into the woods.

Colder here than in town.

A yard-thick blanket of mist hovered over the floor of the forest.

The moon had yet to clear the wall of cliffs.

It was dark enough under the trees for a flashlight.

Ethan turned on the beam, moved deeper into the woods. Trying to keep on the straightest trajectory possible so he could find his way back to the road.

Ethan heard the electrified hum before he saw it—cutting through the mist like a sustained bass note.

The profile of the fence appeared in the distance.

A rampart running through the forest.

As he drew near, details emerged.

Twenty-five-foot steel pylons spaced seventy-five feet apart. Bundles of conductors stretched between them, separated every ten feet with spacers. The cables an inch thick, studded with spikes and enwrapped with razor wire.

There was ongoing debate within Pilcher’s inner circle regarding whether the fence would remain viable in a loss-of-power situation—whether or not the height and the razor wire alone could keep the abbies out. Ethan figured there wasn’t much of anything that could stop several thousand starving abbies from tearing through if they wanted—with or without electricity.

Ethan stopped five feet from the wire.

He broke off two low-hanging limbs and marked the spot with an X.

Then he headed east, walking parallel to the fence.

After a quarter mile, he stopped to listen.

There was the constant hum.

His own breathing.

The sound of something moving through the forest on the other side of the fence.

Footfalls in pine needles.

The occasional snap of a branch.

A deer?

An abby?

“Sheriff?”

The voice straightened Ethan’s spine like an electrical current had ripped through it and he swung the shotgun off his shoulders and leveled the barrel on Peter McCall.

The man stood ten feet away beside the trunk of a giant pine, dressed in dark clothes and a black baseball cap. He had a small backpack slung over his shoulder. To the pack, he’d lashed two plastic milk jugs filled with water, which sloshed as he stepped forward.

He carried no weapon that Ethan could see beyond a walking stick with more curve than an old man’s backbone.

“Jesus, Peter. What the hell are you doing out here?”

The man smiled but Ethan saw fear in it. “If I said I was just out for a late walk, would you believe me?”

Ethan lowered the shotgun.

“You shouldn’t be out here.”

“I’d heard rumors there was a fence in these woods. Always wanted to see it.”

“Well, there it is. Now you’ve seen it. Let’s walk back to town.”

Peter said, “ ‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in, or walling out.’ Robert Frost wrote that.”

Ethan wanted to say he knew that. That he’d been reading Frost, that very poem in fact, just several hours ago.

“So, lawman,” McCall said, pointing at the fence. “Are you walling us in? Or walling something out?”

“It’s time to go home, Peter.”

“Is it now.”

“Yeah.”

“And by that, do you mean my house in Wayward Pines? Or my real home in Missoula?”

Ethan edged forward. “You’ve been here eight years, Peter. You’re an important member of this community. You provide an essential service.”

“The Wayward Light? Come on. That paper’s a joke.”

“Your family is here.”

“Where is here? What does that even mean? I know there are people who’ve found happiness and peace in this valley. I tried to convince myself I had, but it was a lie. I should’ve done this years ago. I sold myself out.”

“I get that it’s hard.”

“Do you? Because from my perspective, you’ve been in Pines all of five minutes. And before they made you sheriff you couldn’t get out fast enough. So what changed? Did you actually make it?”

Ethan set his jaw.

“You made it past the fence, didn’t you? What did you see? What turned you into a true believer? I hear there are demons on the other side, but that’s just a fairytale, right?”

Ethan set the butt of the Winchester on the ground, leaned the barrel against a tree.

“Tell me what’s out there,” McCall said.

“Do you love your family?” Ethan asked.

“I need to know. You of all people should—”

“Do you love your family?”

The question finally seemed to register.

“I used to. When we were real people. When we could talk about the things in our hearts. You know this is the first real conversation I’ve had in years?”

Ethan said, “Peter, this is your last chance. Are you going to come back with me?”

“My last chance, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Or what? All the phones will start to ring? You’ll disappear me yourself?”

“There’s nothing for you out there,” Ethan said.

“At least there’d be answers.”

“What’s it worth to you to know? Your life? Your freedom?”

McCall laughed bitterly. “You call that”—he gestured behind him in the general direction of town—“freedom?”

“I call it your only option, Peter.”

The man stared at the ground for a moment and then shook his head.

“You’re wrong.”

“How’s that?”

“Tell my wife and daughter I love them.”

“How am I wrong, Peter?”

“There’s never only one option.”

His face hardened.

Sudden onset of resolve.

He shot past Ethan like he’d exploded out of the starting blocks, still accelerating when he struck the fence.

Sparks.

Arcs stabbing into McCall from the wire like blue daggers.

The force of the voltage blasted Peter ten feet back from the fence into a tree.

“Peter!”

Ethan knelt at the man’s side, but Peter was gone.

Lesioned with electrical burns.

Crumpled and drawn.

Motionless.

Sizzling.

Smoking.

The air reeked of charred hair and skin, his clothes polka-dotted with smoldering, fire-rimmed holes.

“For the best really.”

Ethan spun.

Pam stood leaning against the tree behind him, smiling in the darkness.

Her clothes as black as the shadows under the pines, only her eyes and her teeth visible.

And the moon of her pretty face.

Pilcher’s beautiful pit bull.

She pushed off the tree and moved toward Ethan like the natural fighter that she was. Slinking. Graceful. Catlike. Complete body control and economy of movement. He hated to admit it, but she scared him.

In his past-life work with the Secret Service he’d only encountered three pure psychopaths. He felt confident Pam was one.

She squatted down beside him.

“It’s like yuck, but also makes me hungry for barbecue. Is that weird? Don’t worry. You don’t have to clean this up. They’ll send a team.”

“I wasn’t worrying about that at all.”

“Oh?”

“I was thinking about this poor man’s family.”

“Well, at least they didn’t have to watch him get beat to death in the street. And let’s face it—that’s where this was heading.”

“I thought I could convince him.”

“If he’d been a new arrival, maybe. But Peter snapped. Perfect resident for eight years. Not so much as a negative surveillance report until this week. Then suddenly, he’s off in the middle of the night with provisions? He’d been holding this inside for a while.” Pam looked at Ethan. “I heard what you said to him. There was nothing else you could’ve done. He’d made up his mind.”

“I could’ve let him go. I could’ve given him the answers he wanted.”

Pam smirked. “But you’re smarter than that, Ethan. As you just proved.”

“You believe we have the right to keep people in this town against their will?”

“There are no rights anymore. No laws. Just force and fear.”

“You don’t believe rights exist inherently?”

She smiled. “Didn’t I just say that?”

Pam stood and started off into the woods.

Ethan called after her, “Who will talk to his family?”

Recommended
» Fallen Too Far (Rosemary Beach #1) read online
» Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2) read online
» The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) read online
» Rush Too Far (Rosemary Beach #4) read online
» Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) read online
» Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) read online
» Eclipse (Twilight #3) read online
» The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underwo read online
» Easy (Contours of the Heart #1) read online
» Divergent (Divergent #1) read online
» I Am Legend read online
» New Moon (Twilight #2) read online
» Forever Too Far (Rosemary Beach #3) read online
» Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4) read online
» Insurgent (Divergent #2) read online
» Never Too Far (Rosemary Beach #2) read online
» Midnight Sun (Twilight #1.5) read online
» Unseen Messages read online
» Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) read online
» Allegiant (Divergent #3) read online
» Twilight (Twilight #1) read online