Go to the hotel. Maybe there’s a message waiting from Theresa or Hassler.
False hope. He knew it. There would be no message. Nothing but enmity.
I am not losing my mind.
I am not losing my mind.
He recited his name. His social security number. His physical address in Seattle. Theresa’s maiden name. The date of his son’s birth. It all felt real. Like scraps of information that formed his identity.
Comfort in names and numbers.
A clinking on the next block caught his attention.
There was a vacant lot across the street with several picnic tables, a few grills, and a horseshoe pit. Families had gathered for a party—a group of women stood talking by a pair of red coolers. Two men flipped burgers and hotdogs on a grill, smoke rising in blue coils into the still evening air. The smell of cooking meat made Ethan’s stomach ache, and he realized that he was even hungrier than he thought.
New goal: eat.
He crossed the street to the chirping of crickets and lawn sprinklers clicking in the distance.
Wondered: are they real?
Kids chased one another in the grass—shouting, laughing, shrieking.
The clinking was coming from a game of horseshoes. Two groups of men stood across from each other in opposing sandpits, cigar smoke clouding around their heads like exploded haloes.
Ethan had almost reached the vacant lot, thinking the best move would be to approach the women. Crank the charm. These seemed like decent people living a perfect moment of the American dream.
He straightened his jacket as he moved from the pavement into the grass, smoothing the wrinkles, fixing his collar.
Five women. One in her early twenties, three between thirty and forty, one silver haired, mid to late fifties.
They were drinking lemonade out of clear, plastic cups and discussing some piece of neighborhood gossip.
No one had noticed him yet.
Ten feet out, while trying to invent some nonintrusive way of breaking into their conversation, a woman his age looked over at him and smiled.
“Hello there,” she said.
She wore a skirt that dropped below her knees, red flats, and a plaid blouse. Her hair was short and vintage, like something from a fifties sitcom.
“Hi,” Ethan said.
“You come to crash our little block party?”
“I have to admit, the smell of whatever you’ve got cooking on that grill pulled me over.”
“I’m Nancy.” She broke away from her group and extended her hand.
Ethan shook it.
“You new here?” she asked.
“I just got into town a few days ago.”
“And how are you enjoying our little hamlet?”
“You have a lovely town. Very welcoming and warm.”
“Aw. Maybe we will feed you after all.”
“You live around here?” Ethan asked.
“We all live within a few blocks. The neighborhood tries to get together for a cookout at least once a week.”
“How Mayberry of you.”
The woman blushed deeply. “So what are you doing in Wayward Pines, Ethan?” she asked.
“Just here as a tourist.”
“Must be nice. I can’t even remember my last vacation.”
“When you live in a place like this,” Ethan said, gesturing to the surrounding mountains, “why would you ever leave?”
“Would you care for a cup of lemonade?” Nancy asked. “It’s homemade and delicious.”
She touched his arm. “Be right back. Then I’ll introduce you around.”
As Nancy went to the coolers, Ethan glanced toward the other women, looking for a window to enter the conversation.
The oldest of the bunch—a woman with pure white hair—was laughing at something, and as it occurred to him that he’d heard this laugh before, she brushed her shoulder-length hair back behind her ears.
The nickel-sized birthmark on her face stopped his heart.
It couldn’t be, but...
She was speaking now, the voice almost unquestionably familiar. She drew back from the group of women, pointing at the youngest with a mischievous smirk.
“I’m going to hold you to that, Christine,” she said.
Ethan watched her turn and walk to the farthest horseshoe pit, where she laced her fingers through those of a tall, broad-shouldered man with a mane of wavy, silver hair.
“Come on, Harold, we’re going to miss our show.”
She tried to pull him away.
“One more throw,” he protested.
She released him, and Ethan stood speechless as Harold lifted a horseshoe out of the sand, took careful aim, and gave it a toss.
The horseshoe arced over the grass and ringed the metal stake.
Harold’s team cheered. He gave several dramatic bows and let the snow-haired woman drag him away from the party.
Their friends called good night after them.
“Ethan, here’s your lemonade.” Nancy offered him the cup.
“I’m sorry, I have to go.”
He turned and walked back out into the street.
Nancy called after him, “Don’t you want to stay and eat?”
By the time Ethan turned the corner, the older couple were a block ahead of him.
He quickened his pace.
Followed them for several blocks as they walked slowly ahead at the pace of two people who had not a care in the world, holding hands, their voices and laughter lilting up into the pines.
They turned down a street and vanished.
Ethan jogged to the next intersection.
Quaint Victorian houses lined both sides of the street.
He didn’t see them anywhere.
The sound of a door closing echoed down the block. He spotted the house it had come from—green with white trim. Front porch with a swing. Third one down on the left.
He crossed the street and took the sidewalk until he stood in front of it.
Little patch of perfect green grass. The front porch under the shadow of an old pine tree. On the mailbox, a last name he didn’t recognize. He put his hands on the picket fence. It was dusk. Lights just beginning to wink on in the houses all around him. The occasional snippet of conversation sliding through a raised window.
The valley silent and cooling and the highest elevations of the surrounding mountains catching the last bit of daylight.
He unlatched the gate, pushed it open.