A young couple occupied one of the loveseats by the hearth, sipping from glasses of sparkling wine. On a romantic vacation, he figured, enjoying a completely different side of Wayward Pines.
A tuxedoed man sat at the grand piano, playing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Ethan arrived at the front desk, forcing himself to smile through the pain.
The same clerk who’d evicted him from his room that morning started speaking even before she looked up.
“Welcome to the Wayward Pines Hotel. How may I help...”
She stopped when she saw Ethan.
“I’m impressed,” she said.
“You came back to pay. You told me you would, but I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I apologize for—”
“No, listen, I wasn’t able to find my wallet today.”
“You mean you haven’t come back to pay for your room last night? Like you promised me you were going to multiple times?”
Ethan shut his eyes, breathing through the exquisite pain.
“Lisa, you cannot imagine the day I’ve had. I just need to lie down for a few hours. I don’t even need a room for the whole night. Just a place to clear my head and sleep. I’m in so much pain.”
“Hold on.” She slid off her chair and leaned toward him across the counter. “You still can’t pay and now you’re asking me for another room?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“You lied to me.”
“I’m sorry. I really thought I would have it by—”
“Do you understand that I went out on a limb for you? That I could lose my job?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Did you not hear me?”
“I don’t have any place to go, Lisa. I don’t have a phone. I have no money. I haven’t eaten since last night, and—”
“Explain to me again how any of this is my problem.”
“I just need to lie down for a few hours. I am begging you.”
“Look, I’ve explained this to you as clearly as I possibly can. It’s time for you to leave.”
Ethan didn’t move. He just stared at her, hoping she might see the agony in his eyes, take pity.
“Now,” she said.
He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, backing away from the counter.
As he reached the doors, Lisa called after him. “I don’t want to see you back in here ever again.”
Ethan nearly fell descending the steps, his head spinning by the time he reached the sidewalk. The streetlamps and the lights from passing cars began to swirl, Ethan noting the strength flooding out of his legs like someone had pulled a drain plug.
Regardless, he started up the sidewalk, saw that redbrick building looming up the street, eight blocks away. There was still fear of it, but now he needed the hospital. Wanted the bed, the sleep, the meds. Anything to stop this pain.
He was either going to the hospital or he was sleeping outside—in an alley, or a park, exposed to the elements.
But it was eight blocks, so far, each step now requiring a crushing expenditure of energy, and the lights were disintegrating all around him—swirling, long tails getting more intense, more pronounced, skewing his vision as if he could see the world only as a long-exposure shot of a city at night, the car lights stretching into rods of brilliance, the streetlamps burning like blowtorches.
He bumped into someone.
A man pushed him, said, “Do you drive that way?”
At the next intersection, Ethan stopped, doubtful he could make it across.
He stumbled back and sat down hard on the sidewalk against a building.
The street had become crowded—he couldn’t see anything distinctly, but he could hear footsteps moving by on the concrete and snippets of passing conversation.
He lost all sense of time.
He might have dreamed.
Then he was lying on his side on the cold concrete, felt someone’s breath, their voice right in his face.
Words came at him, though he couldn’t assemble them into any sensible order.
He opened his eyes.
Night had fallen.
He was shivering.
A woman knelt beside him, and he felt her hands gripping his shoulders. She was shaking him, speaking to him.
“Sir, are you all right? Can you hear me? Sir? Can you look at me and tell me what’s wrong?”
“He’s drunk.” A man’s voice.
“No, Harold. He’s sick.”
Ethan tried to pull her face into focus, but it was dark and blurry, and all he could see were those streetlamps shining like minor suns across the road and the occasional streak of light from a passing car.
“My head hurts,” he said in a voice that sounded far too weak and pained and fear-filled to be his. “I need help.”
She took his hand and told him not to worry, not to be afraid, that help was already on the way.
And though the hand holding his clearly didn’t belong to a young woman—the skin too taut and thin, like old paper—there was something so familiar in the voice that it broke his heart.
They took the Bainbridge Island ferry out of Seattle and headed north up the peninsula toward Port Angeles, a convoy of four cars carrying fifteen of the Burkes’ closest friends.
Theresa had been hoping for a pretty day, but it was cold, gray rain, the Olympics obscured, and nothing visible beyond their narrow corridor of highway.
But none of that mattered.
They were going regardless of the weather, and if no one else wanted to join her, she and Ben would hike up alone.
Her friend Darla drove, Theresa in the backseat holding her seven-year-old son’s hand and staring out the rain-beaded glass as the rainforest streaked past in a blur of dark green.
A few miles west of town on Highway 112, they reached the trailhead to Striped Peak.
It was still overcast, but the rain had stopped.
They started out in silence, hiking along the water, no sound but the impact of their footfalls squishing in the mud and the white noise of the breakers.
Theresa glanced down into a cove as the trail passed above it, the water not as blue as she remembered, blaming the cloud cover for muting the color, no failing of her memory.
The group passed the World War II bunkers and climbed through groves of fern and then into forest.