“You know what’s coming, don’t you?”
Ethan feigned a throw.
It didn’t flinch and come off the rock as he’d hoped, just pressed in closer to the wall.
The next time wasn’t a fake, but Ethan threw so hard the boot sailed over the creature’s head and took an uninterrupted fall into the canyon.
He lifted the other boot, took aim, threw.
Direct hit to the face.
The boot bounced off and tumbled away as the creature, still clinging to the wall, looked up at Ethan and hissed.
A visage of murderous intent.
“How long can you hold on, you think?” Ethan asked. “You must be getting tired.” He reached down, pretending to offer a hand. “I’ll help you the rest of the way. You just have to trust.” The way it watched him was unnerving—a definite intelligence all the more frightening because he couldn’t know how deep it went.
Ethan sat on the rock.
“I’ll be right here,” he said. “Until you fall.”
He watched its heart beating.
He watched it blinking.
“You are one ugly motherfucker.” Ethan chuckled. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist. It’s from a movie. Seriously, what the hell are you?”
Fifteen minutes crept by.
Late afternoon now.
The sun beginning to drop, the floor of the canyon already in darkness.
It was cold up here on the rock.
A few clouds streaming overhead, but they were inconsequential and swallowed up in all that crystal blue like afterthoughts.
The five talons on the creature’s left arm began to quiver, rattling against the microscopic handhold, and something in its eyes had changed. Still plenty of rage, but now an added element—fear?
Its head swiveled, surveying all the rock within reach.
Ethan had already made the same inspection and arrived at the same conclusion.
“Yeah, this is it, pal. This ledge. My ledge. Your only option.”
A tremor moved through its right leg, and Ethan had opened his mouth to suggest the creature just let go when it leaped from its footholds, elevating three feet and simultaneously swiping its right claw in a wide, flat arc.
It would have torn his face open, but he ducked—talons grazing the top of his head—and then Ethan rose up on both legs, ready to kick this thing off the cliff.
But he didn’t need to.
It had never had a chance of reaching the ledge in its weakened state—had merely taken one last shot at bringing Ethan down with it.
The fall apparently came as no surprise, because it didn’t make a sound and it didn’t flail its arms or legs.
Just stared up at Ethan as it plummeted toward the sunless floor of the canyon, body as motionless as if in the midst of a high dive.
Fully resigned, maybe even at peace, with its fate.
Yesterday, she hadn’t left her room.
Hadn’t even left her bed.
She had prepared for his death.
Had known it was coming.
But watching the sun rise on a world without Ethan had nearly killed her regardless. Somehow, the light had made it real. The people out on morning walks. Even the chattering magpies in the side-yard birdfeeder. It was the continuance of things that crushed her already broken heart. The gears of the world turning on while she lived with his absence like a black tumor in her chest, the grief so potent she could barely bring herself to breathe.
Today, she had ventured outside, now sitting listless in the soft grass of her backyard in a patch of sunshine. She’d been staring up at the surrounding mountain walls for hours, watching the light move across them and trying not to think about a single thing.
The sound of approaching footsteps broke her reverie.
She looked back.
Pilcher was coming toward her.
During her time in Wayward Pines, she’d seen the man around town on numerous occasions, but they’d never spoken—she’d been warned about that from the beginning. Not a word exchanged since that rainy night five years ago in Seattle, when he’d shown up on her doorstep with the most outlandish proposition.
Pilcher sat down beside her in the grass.
He took off his glasses, set them on his leg, said, “I’m told you missed your harvest day at the co-op.”
“I haven’t left my house in two days.”
“And what’s that supposed to accomplish?” he asked.
“I don’t know. But I can’t take people looking at me. We can’t talk about him, of course, but I’d see the pity in their eyes. Or worse, they’d ignore me. Act like nothing happened. Like he never existed. I haven’t even told my son that his father’s dead. I don’t know how to begin.”
It would be evening soon.
The sky was free of clouds.
The row of aspen saplings that separated her backyard from her neighbor’s had turned to gold overnight, the coin-shaped leaves twittering in the breeze. She could hear the wooden wind chimes clanging on the back porch beside the door. It was moments like this—the visual perfection underscored with a reality she could never know—that she feared would one day drive her to insanity.
“You’ve done well here,” Pilcher said. “The difficulties with Ethan were the last thing I ever wanted. I hope you believe that.”
She looked at Pilcher, stared straight into his black eyes.
“I don’t know what I believe,” she said.
“Your son’s inside?”
“I want you to go in and get him. I have a car parked out front.”
“Where are you taking us?”
He shook his head.
“Are you going to hurt Benjamin?”
Pilcher struggled onto his feet.
He stared down at her.
“If I wanted to hurt you, Theresa, I would take you and your son in the middle of the night, and no one would ever hear from you again. But you already know this. Now go get him. I’ll meet you out front in two minutes.”
Ethan stared into the air duct.
The fit was going to be tight, maybe impossible with the hoodie.
He pulled out of the sleeves and tugged it off and tossed it over the ledge, gooseflesh rising on his bare arms. Figured his feet would be responsible for most of the propulsion and decided to come out of his socks as well so he wouldn’t slide.
He got his head through the opening.
At first, his shoulders wouldn’t fit, but after a minute of wriggling, he finally maneuvered himself halfway inside, arms splayed out ahead, feet struggling to push him the rest of the way, the thin metal freezing against his toes.