Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(9)

by Blake Crouch

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.”