* * *
The booth was in shade when he opened his eyes again. He grabbed onto the metal cord attached to the phone book and hoisted himself onto his feet. Through the dirty glass, he saw the upper curve of the sun sliding behind that ridge of cliffs that boxed in the western edge of town.
The moment it vanished, the temperature dropped ten degrees.
He still remembered his phone number, practiced it a few times on the keypad just to be safe, and checked the receiver once more for a dial tone—silence save for the faintest crackling of white noise bleeding through the line that he didn’t recall hearing before.
He hung up and lifted the phonebook again. The first time, he’d searched the last names, groping for any word that jogged loose a memory or incited an emotion. Now he scanned first names, tracing his finger down the list and trying to ignore that pain at the base of his skull that was already creeping back.
The first page—nothing.
Toward the bottom of the sixth page, his finger stopped.
SKOZIE Mack and Jane
403 E 3rd St W Pines 83278..........559-0196
He skimmed the last two pages—Skozie was the only Mack listed in the Wayward Pines phone directory.
Digging his shoulder into the folding glass door, he stepped out of the booth into the early evening. With the sun now below the ring of cliffs, the light was spilling fast out of the sky, and the temperature had begun to fall.
Where will I sleep tonight?
He staggered down the sidewalk, part of him screaming that he should go straight to the hospital. He was sick. Dehydrated. Hungry. Confused. Penniless. His entire body sore. And it was getting more difficult to breathe with this debilitating pain wracking his ribs every time his lungs inflated against them.
But something in him still resisted the idea of going to the hospital, and as he moved away from the downtown and toward the residence of Mack Skozie, he realized what it was.
He didn’t know why. It made no sense. But he didn’t want to set foot inside that hospital.
Not in his present condition. Not ever.
It was the strangest sort of fear. Unspecified. Like walking in the woods at night, not knowing exactly what you should be afraid of, and the fear all the more potent precisely because of its mystery.
Two blocks north took him to Third Street, his chest inexplicably tightening as he turned onto the sidewalk and headed east, away from the downtown.
The first mailbox he passed had 201 printed on the side.
He figured the Skozie residence should only be two blocks away.
Kids were playing in the grass of a yard just ahead, taking turns running through a sprinkler. He tried to walk upright and steady as he reached their picket fence, but he couldn’t stop himself from favoring his right side to ease the jarring of his ribs.
The children became still and quiet as he drew near, watching him shuffle past with unrestrained stares—a mix of curiosity and distrust that made him uneasy.
He crossed another road, moving slower still up the next block as he passed under the branches of three enormous pines that overhung the street.
The numbers of the colorful Victorians that populated this block all started with a three.
Skozie’s block would be next.
His palms were beginning to sweat and the pulsing in the back of his head sounded like the thump-thump-thump of a bass drum buried deep underground.
Two seconds of double vision.
He squeezed his eyes shut tight, and when he opened them again, it had gone away.
At the next intersection, he stopped. His mouth had been dry, but now it turned to cotton. He was struggling to breathe, bile threatening to surge up his throat.
This will all make sense when you see his face.
It has to.
He made a tentative step out into the street.
Evening now, the chill coming off those mountains and settling down into the valley.
Alpenglow had given the rock surrounding Wayward Pines a pinkish tint, the same shade as the darkening sky. He tried to find it beautiful and moving, but the agony prevented this.
An older couple moved away from him, hand in hand, on a quiet stroll.
Otherwise, the street stood empty and silent, and the noise of the downtown had completely faded away.
He moved across the smooth, black asphalt and stepped onto the sidewalk.
The mailbox to 401 was straight ahead.
Number 403 next in line.
He was having to maintain a constant squint now to stave off the double vision and the stabbing throb of his migraine.
Fifteen painful steps, and he stood beside the black mailbox of 403.
He stabilized his balance, holding fast to the sharp ends of the picket fence.
Reaching over, he unlatched the gate and pushed it with the tip of his scuffed, black shoe.
The hinges creaked as it swung open.
The gate banged softly into the fence.
The sidewalk was a patchwork of ancient brick, and it led to a covered front porch with a couple of rocking chairs separated by a small, wrought-iron table. The house itself was purple with green trim, and through the thin curtains, he could see lights on inside.
Just go. You have to know.
He stumbled toward the house.
Double vision shot through in nauseating flashes that he was fighting harder and harder to stop.
He stepped up onto the porch and reached out just in time to stop from falling, bracing himself against the door frame. His hands shook uncontrollably as he grabbed the knocker and lifted it off its brass plate.
He refused himself even a split second to reconsider.
Pounded the knocker four times into the plate.
It felt like someone was punching him in the back of the head every four seconds, and burning patches of darkness had begun to swarm his vision like miniature black holes.
On the other side of the door, he could hear a hardwood floor groaning under the weight of approaching footsteps.
His knees seemed to liquefy.
He hugged one of the posts that supported the porch’s roof for balance.
The wood door swung open, and a man who could’ve been his father’s age stared at him through the screened door. He was tall and thin, with a splash of gray hair on top, a white goatee, and microscopic red veins in his cheeks that suggested a lifetime of heavy drinking.
“Can I help you?” the man asked.
He straightened himself up, blinking hard through the migraine. It took everything in his power to stand without support.