Page 58

When he was completely inside the air duct, a wave of panic swept over him. He felt like he couldn’t breathe, his shoulders squeezed between the two walls, and the realization dawning on him that moving backward was now impossible. At least not without popping both shoulders out of socket.

His only method of movement was the paltry momentum his toes could stir up, and they had no reverse gears.

He inched forward, literally, sliding along the surface of the duct.

Still bleeding.

Muscles in revolt in the wake of the climb and his nerves frayed.

In the distance—nothing but absolute darkness, the tunnel reverberating with the echo of his shuffling.

Except for when he stopped.

Then a perfect silence set in, interrupted only by random bangs that gave his heart a start—the expanding and contracting of the metal in response to temperature fluctuations.

Five minutes in, Ethan tried to glance back toward the opening, something in him craving just one last glimpse of light—that smallest consolation—but he couldn’t crane his neck far enough back to see.

* * *

He crawled and crawled and crawled.

Closed in on all sides in complete darkness.

At some point, maybe thirty minutes in, maybe five hours, maybe a day...he had to stop.

His toes cramped from the strain.

He slumped across the metal.


Insanely thirsty.

Maddeningly hungry and unable to reach the food in his pocket.

He could hear his heart heaving in his chest against the metal and nothing else.

* * *

He slept.

Or lost consciousness.

Or died for a minute.

When he woke again, he thrashed violently against the sides of the duct, no idea where he was or even when he was, his eyes open to sheer darkness.

For a terrifying moment, he thought he’d been buried alive, the sound of his own hyperventilation like someone screaming in his ear.

* * *

Crawled for what seemed like days.

His eyes conjuring strange displays of light that appeared with greater frequency the longer he stayed in darkness.

Vivid bursts of color.

Imaginary auroras.

Haunting radiance in the black.

And the longer he crawled in that confined darkness, the more aggressively one thought kept eating at him—none of this is real.

Not Wayward Pines, or the canyon, or those creatures, or even you.

So what is this? Where am I?

In a long, dark tunnel. But where do you think you’re going?

I don’t know.

Who are you?

Ethan Burke.

No, who are you?

The father of Ben. Husband of Theresa. I live in a neighborhood in Seattle called Queen Anne. I was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the second Gulf War. After that, a Secret Service agent. Seven days ago, I came to Wayward Pines—

Those are just facts. They say nothing about your identity, your nature.

I love my wife, but I was unfaithful to her.

That’s good.

I love my son, but I was rarely around. Just a distant star in his sky.

Even better.

I have good intentions, but...

But what?

But all the time I fail. I hurt the ones I love.


I don’t know.

Are you losing your mind?

I sometimes think I’m still in that torture room. I never left.

Are you losing your mind?

You tell me.

I can’t.


Because I am you.

* * *

At first, he thought it was just another phantom light show, but there were no erratic blooms of color. No optic fireworks.

Just a sustained speck of blue somewhere far ahead, as faint as a dying star.

When he closed his eyes, it disappeared.

When he opened them, it came back again, like the only vestige of sanity left in his claustrophobic world. It was just a point of light, but he could make it vanish and reappear, and even this scintilla of control was something to cling to.

An anchor. A port of call.

Ethan thinking, Please. Be real.

* * *

The dim blue star grew larger, and with its expansion came a quiet hum.

Ethan stopped to rest, a soft vibration now moving through the ductwork, moving through him.

After hours in the dark, this new sensation felt as comforting as a mother’s heartbeat.

* * *

Sometime later, the blue star changed shape into a tiny square.

It grew until it dominated Ethan’s field of vision, anticipation roiling in his gut.

Then it was ten feet ahead of him.

Then five.

Then he was stretching his arms out of the opening of the duct, his shoulders crackling, the new freedom of movement as sweet as he imagined water might have been.

Hanging out of the end of the duct, he stared down into one twice as wide and intersected by other shafts.

A soft blue light filled the main airshaft—emanating from a bulb far below.

Down at the bottom, he glimpsed an air intake.

Must have been a hundred-foot drop down to those blades.

Like staring down a well.

At intervals of ten feet, more shafts fed into the main, some of them considerably larger.

Ethan glanced up. The ceiling was two feet above his head.


He knew what his next move was, what it had to be, and he didn’t like it.

* * *

Ethan climbed out into the airshaft with the same technique he’d used to ascend the chute—a pressure stance, each foot pushing into the opposite wall.

His bare feet achieved decent purchase on the metal, and despite the looming fall into spinning blades that awaited even the smallest mistake, he felt almost giddy to be free of that tiny shaft.

* * *

He descended in painstakingly slow increments, one step at a time, keeping pressure against the walls with his arms while he lowered his legs, then shifting the pressure back onto the balls of his feet.

Forty feet down, he rested at the opening to the first large horizontal shaft he’d encountered, sitting on the edge and staring down at the whirring blades as he ate the last of the carrots and bread.

He’d been so focused on surviving that it only now occurred to him to wonder what purpose all this infrastructure served.

Instead of continuing down, he glanced back into the shaft, noticing the darkness was interspersed with panels of light positioned at regular intervals. They extended on as far as he could see.

Ethan turned over onto his hands and knees and crawled across the metal for twenty feet until he reached the first one.

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