Ethan wanted to say he knew that. That he’d been reading Frost, that very poem in fact, just several hours ago.
“So, lawman,” McCall said, pointing at the fence. “Are you walling us in? Or walling something out?”
“It’s time to go home, Peter.”
“Is it now.”
“And by that, do you mean my house in Wayward Pines? Or my real home in Missoula?”
Ethan edged forward. “You’ve been here eight years, Peter. You’re an important member of this community. You provide an essential service.”
“The Wayward Light? Come on. That paper’s a joke.”
“Your family is here.”
“Where is here? What does that even mean? I know there are people who’ve found happiness and peace in this valley. I tried to convince myself I had, but it was a lie. I should’ve done this years ago. I sold myself out.”
“I get that it’s hard.”
“Do you? Because from my perspective, you’ve been in Pines all of five minutes. And before they made you sheriff you couldn’t get out fast enough. So what changed? Did you actually make it?”
Ethan set his jaw.
“You made it past the fence, didn’t you? What did you see? What turned you into a true believer? I hear there are demons on the other side, but that’s just a fairytale, right?”
Ethan set the butt of the Winchester on the ground, leaned the barrel against a tree.
“Tell me what’s out there,” McCall said.
“Do you love your family?” Ethan asked.
“I need to know. You of all people should—”
“Do you love your family?”
The question finally seemed to register.
“I used to. When we were real people. When we could talk about the things in our hearts. You know this is the first real conversation I’ve had in years?”
Ethan said, “Peter, this is your last chance. Are you going to come back with me?”
“My last chance, huh?”
“Or what? All the phones will start to ring? You’ll disappear me yourself?”
“There’s nothing for you out there,” Ethan said.
“At least there’d be answers.”
“What’s it worth to you to know? Your life? Your freedom?”
McCall laughed bitterly. “You call that”—he gestured behind him in the general direction of town—“freedom?”
“I call it your only option, Peter.”
The man stared at the ground for a moment and then shook his head.
“Tell my wife and daughter I love them.”
“How am I wrong, Peter?”
“There’s never only one option.”
His face hardened.
Sudden onset of resolve.
He shot past Ethan like he’d exploded out of the starting blocks, still accelerating when he struck the fence.
Arcs stabbing into McCall from the wire like blue daggers.
The force of the voltage blasted Peter ten feet back from the fence into a tree.
Ethan knelt at the man’s side, but Peter was gone.
Lesioned with electrical burns.
Crumpled and drawn.
The air reeked of charred hair and skin, his clothes polka-dotted with smoldering, fire-rimmed holes.
“For the best really.”
Pam stood leaning against the tree behind him, smiling in the darkness.
Her clothes as black as the shadows under the pines, only her eyes and her teeth visible.
And the moon of her pretty face.
Pilcher’s beautiful pit bull.
She pushed off the tree and moved toward Ethan like the natural fighter that she was. Slinking. Graceful. Catlike. Complete body control and economy of movement. He hated to admit it, but she scared him.
In his past-life work with the Secret Service he’d only encountered three pure psychopaths. He felt confident Pam was one.
She squatted down beside him.
“It’s like yuck, but also makes me hungry for barbecue. Is that weird? Don’t worry. You don’t have to clean this up. They’ll send a team.”
“I wasn’t worrying about that at all.”
“I was thinking about this poor man’s family.”
“Well, at least they didn’t have to watch him get beat to death in the street. And let’s face it—that’s where this was heading.”
“I thought I could convince him.”
“If he’d been a new arrival, maybe. But Peter snapped. Perfect resident for eight years. Not so much as a negative surveillance report until this week. Then suddenly, he’s off in the middle of the night with provisions? He’d been holding this inside for a while.” Pam looked at Ethan. “I heard what you said to him. There was nothing else you could’ve done. He’d made up his mind.”
“I could’ve let him go. I could’ve given him the answers he wanted.”
Pam smirked. “But you’re smarter than that, Ethan. As you just proved.”
“You believe we have the right to keep people in this town against their will?”
“There are no rights anymore. No laws. Just force and fear.”
“You don’t believe rights exist inherently?”
She smiled. “Didn’t I just say that?”
Pam stood and started off into the woods.
Ethan called after her, “Who will talk to his family?”
“Not your problem. Pilcher will handle.”
“And tell them what?”
Pam stopped, turned.
She was twenty feet away and barely visible in the trees.
“I’m guessing whatever the f**k he feels like telling them. Was there anything else?”
Ethan glanced at his shotgun leaning against the tree.
A mad thought.
When he looked back at Pam, she was gone.
Ethan stayed with Peter for a long time. Until it occurred to him that he didn’t want to be here when Pilcher’s men finally came for the body. He struggled to his feet.
It felt good to walk away from the fence, the noise of its current steadily fading.
Soon, he moved through silent woods and mist.
Thinking, That was so f**ked up and you have no one to tell. Not your wife. No real friend to speak of. The only people you can share this with include a megalomaniac and a psychopath. And that’s never going to change.