“Do you still have that headache?”
“No, it’s gone.”
“My name is Dr. Jenkins.”
The man shook Ethan’s hand and then took a seat in a chair at Ethan’s bedside.
“You’re what kind of doctor?” Ethan asked.
“A psychiatrist. Ethan, I need you to answer a few questions for me, if that’s all right. You said some interesting things to Dr. Miter and his nurse when they first brought you in. Do you know what I’m referring to?”
“You were talking about a dead body in one of the houses here in town. And that you hadn’t been able to get in touch with your family.”
“I don’t recall speaking with the nurse or doctor.”
“You were delirious at the time. Do you have a history of mental illness, Ethan?”
Ethan had been fully reclined in bed.
Now he struggled to sit up.
Threads of brightness slipped through the drawn blinds.
Day out there.
On some primal level, he felt glad for the fact.
“What kind of question is that?” Ethan asked.
“The kind I get paid to ask. You showed up here last night with no wallet, no ID—”
“I was pulled out of a car accident several days ago, and either the sheriff or the EMTs didn’t do their f**king job, and now I’m stranded here without a phone, money, or ID. I didn’t lose my wallet.”
“Relax, Ethan, nobody’s saying you’ve done anything wrong. Again, I need you to answer my questions. Do you have a history of mental illness?”
“Is there a history of mental illness in your family?”
“Do you have a history of post-traumatic stress disorder?”
“But you did serve in the second Gulf War.”
“How’d you know that?”
Jenkins motioned to his neck.
Ethan glanced down at his chest, saw his dog tag hanging from a ball chain. Strange. He always kept it in his bedside table drawer. Couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn it. Didn’t think he’d brought it along on this trip, and certainly didn’t remember packing it or making the decision to wear it.
He scanned over his name, rank, social security number, blood type, and religious preference (“NO RELIGIOUS PREF”) engraved in the stainless steel.
Chief Warrant Officer Ethan Burke.
“You served in the second Gulf War?”
“Yeah, I flew the UH-60.”
“The Black Hawk helicopter.”
“You saw combat, I assume?”
“You could say that.”
“Were you injured?”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with any—”
“Just answer my questions, please.”
“I was shot down in the second battle of Fallujah in the winter of 2004. It was a medevac mission, and we’d just loaded up some wounded marines.”
“Was anyone killed?”
Ethan took a deep breath in.
If he was honest, the question had surprised him, and now he found himself bracing against a slideshow of images he’d spent a lot of therapy sessions trying to come to terms with.
The shockwave as the RPG explodes behind him.
The severed tail section and rotor falling a hundred and fifty feet to the street below.
The sudden g-force as the helicopter spins.
Alarms going mad.
The impossible rigidity of the power stick.
The impact not nearly as bad as he feared.
Consciousness lost only for half a minute.
Seat belt jammed, can’t reach his KA-BAR.
“Ethan. Was anyone killed?”
Insurgent fire already tearing into the other side of the wreckage, someone opening up with an AK.
Through the cracked windshield, two medics limping away from the chopper.
Straight into the four-blade rotor still spinning fast enough...
Blood sheeting down the windshield.
The insurgents coming.
“Everyone was killed except me,” Ethan said.
“You were the sole survivor?”
“Correct. I was captured.”
Jenkins jotted something on a leather-bound notepad. He said, “I need to ask you a few more questions, Ethan. The more honest you are, the better chance I have at helping you, which is all I want to do. Have you been hearing any voices?”
Ethan tried to suppress the glare.
“Are you kidding?”
“If you could just answer...”
Jenkins scribbled on his pad.
“Have you had any difficulty talking? For instance, maybe your speech has been garbled or mixed up?”
“No. And I’m not delusional. And I’m not having hallucinations, or—”
“Well, you wouldn’t really know if you were having hallucinations, now would you? You’d believe the things you were seeing and hearing were real. I mean, if you were hallucinating me and being in this hospital room and this entire conversation we’re having, it wouldn’t feel any different, would it?”
Ethan slid his legs over the side of the bed and eased his feet down onto the floor.
“What are you doing?” Jenkins asked.
Ethan started toward the closet.
Weak, unstable on his legs.
“You’re in no condition to be leaving, Ethan. They’re still evaluating your MRI. You could have a closed-head injury and we don’t know the severity. We need to continue our evaluation—”
“I’ll get an evaluation. Just not here. Not in this town.”
Ethan pulled open the closet door, took his suit down off the hanger.
“You did walk into the sheriff’s office without a shirt on. Is that correct?”
Ethan slid his arms into his white button-down, which appeared to have been washed since he wore it last. The stink of human decay replaced with the scent of laundry detergent.
“It reeked,” Ethan said. “It smelled like the dead man I had just—”
“You mean the one in the abandoned house that you say you found.”