His left hamstring screaming with every flexion.
He shut it all away—the fear, the agony, the cold—and tore through the pines, dodging gravestones.
The four points of light behind him didn’t appear to have noticed his exit as they were still on an intersecting trajectory with the mausoleum.
In near total darkness, the disorientation was staggering. He had no idea if he was heading north or south, toward town or away, but he kept running until he reached a stone wall that formed the decrepit border of the cemetery.
Climbing over, he straddled it, taking a moment to catch his breath and glance back the way he’d come.
At least a half dozen newbies in addition to the original four, and there were more appearing every second behind those, a veritable army of fireflies emerging in the dark and all moving toward him with a kind of bobbling motion that made him fear the people holding them were running.
Ethan dropped the microchip on the stone wall.
Then he swung his legs over and hopped down on the other side, wincing at the biting pain in his left hamstring. But he ignored it and pushed on into a field of cut grass.
On the far side, playground equipment gleamed and he could see the rain pouring through the illumination of an overhanging streetlamp.
Beyond, in a stand of dark pines—more flashlights, more voices.
Someone shouted back in the cemetery, and though he couldn’t tell if this was directed at him, it had the effect of accelerating his pace.
Approaching the swing set and sliding board, it occurred to him where he was, and the burbling of running water above the rainfall and the pounding of his heart confirmed it.
Though he couldn’t see it in the dark, on his left lay that grassy riverbank where he’d first come to consciousness in Wayward Pines five days ago.
And the river.
He almost course-corrected to move toward it, but then a light winked on down where he imagined the shore should be.
Ethan streaked past the sliding board, shouldered through a hedge of dripping bushes that nearly ripped the flimsy hospital gown off him, and stumbled out into the street.
The gown hung in tatters around his neck like a shredded cape.
He tore it off, desperately needing oxygen—a full minute of deep inhalations wouldn’t be enough—but there was no time to stop and replenish his lungs.
Lights from the cemetery, the river, and the pines on the north end of the park had converged in that open field in a luminescent swarm that moved toward him now as a single entity, accompanied by a jumble of voices drunk with the giddy exuberance of a chase.
A fresh shot of adrenaline spiked Ethan’s blood.
His muddy feet hammered the wet pavement as he sprinted naked up the middle of the street, rain sheeting down his face.
Realized that his objective had moved.
Forget reaching the river, he needed to find some place to hide and ride this madness out. Didn’t know how many people were chasing him, how many had already seen him, but streaking naked through town was going to get him killed in a hurry.
A deep voice shouted, “There!”
Ethan glanced back, saw three shadows dart out of a large Victorian house, the man in front tearing down the steps, through the front yard, and leaping over the white picket fence with considerable grace while his companions bunched up at the gate, fumbling with the latch.
The hurdler hit the sidewalk midstride and accelerated, dressed all in black, boots pounding the street. He carried a machete whose wet blade glimmered under the glancing beam of his headlamp, running hard, breathing hard, and a voice in Ethan’s head said flatly with the dead calm of a filibustering senator reading a phone book at three in the morning—That man is fifty yards away, he’s armed, and he’s going to catch you.
What are you going to do about it?
Accessed from the attic, it is the highest window in the house.
Teardrop-shaped with an overhanging eave that keeps the glass protected from the rain.
It is late and dark and the hush of rainfall on the tin roof above her head would be a peaceful sound on any other night.
A sound to sleep to.
To dream to.
Her telephone didn’t ring with all the others, and for this, she is grateful.
She’d prayed they wouldn’t expect her to take part in this, and that confirmation is a small comfort in the midst of this nightmare.
From her vantage point on the third floor, she can see the flashlights appearing across the valley like the lights of a great city coming to life. Hundreds of them. Most distant, nothing more than motes of brilliance in the pouring rain. Others close enough to see individual cones of light sweeping through the mist that is beginning to form in the alleys and depressions.
When he comes into view, her heart stops.
Running like a ghost up the middle of the street and pursued by a trio of black-garbed men with machetes.
She’s known this was coming, thought she’d prepared herself as much as one can for such a thing, but seeing him in the flesh—his fear, his panic, his despair—she has to bite her lip to stop herself from screaming out to him.
I’m watching his execution.
Ethan passes out of view, moving toward the buildings that line Main Street, and it hits her like a load of double-aught buckshot to the chest—she has seen him for the last time, because she will not go to the house on First Avenue to witness what’s left of him, to see the damage inflicted upon her husband, the father of her son.
More people flood up the street en masse, everyone racing toward Main.
Despite the dreary weather, it’s a carnival atmosphere, and more and more, she sees costumes, many no doubt prepared in advance.
Though no one ever speaks of the fête, she knows there are people who long for the telephones to ring.
For the chance to run amok in the wee hours of the night.
To draw blood.
She and Ben joined the mob last time—as if they’d had a choice—and while they hadn’t found their way into the eye of the storm that had actually beaten Bill Evans to death, they’d been caught up on the periphery.
Heard his screams and pleas against the laughter and maniacal taunting of the crowd.
Afterward, the entire town had reveled on Main Street until dawn—liquor flowing, fireworks exploding, dancing, singing, feasting—and while she couldn’t help but feel sickened by it all, an undeniable oneness buzzed through the crowd like the air itself had been electrified.