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Authors: Blake Crouch

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BOOK: Pines
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Out here, the only sound came from the fluorescent lights overhead—a soft, steady hum.

He suddenly realized what he should have done in the first place and bent down through the pain in his ribs to unlace his shoes.

In bare feet, he moved down the corridor.

Every door on this wing was shut, and with no light slipping through the cracks beneath the doors, none of the rooms but his appeared to be occupied.

The nurses’ station stood vacant at the intersection of four corridors, three of which led to additional wings of patient rooms.

A shorter hallway behind the station ran down to a pair of double doors with the word
emblazoned on a nameplate above them.

Ethan stopped at the elevator right across from the station and punched the down arrow.

He heard pulleys beginning to turn through the doors.

“Come on.”

It took years.

Realized he should’ve just taken the stairs.

He kept looking over his shoulder, listening for approaching footsteps, but he couldn’t hear a thing over the noise of the rising elevator car.

The doors finally separated with a screech that made his teeth ache, and he stepped to the side in the event someone had ridden up.

No one exited the car.

He hurried inside and pressed

Studying the illuminated numbers over the doors, he watched as the car began its slow descent from 4, and a full minute had passed—enough time for him to put his shoes back on—before the
illuminated and the doors began to creak open.

He squeezed through, stepped out into another intersection of hallways.

Voices murmured, not far away.

The noise of a stretcher rolling along on a squeaky wheel.

He went the opposite way, tracking through three long corridors, and had begun to suspect he was lost when he spotted an

He hurried down a half flight of stairs, punched through the door at the bottom, and stumbled outside.

It was early evening, the sky clear and fading, and the mountains taking on the after light of the sun in tones of pink and orange. He stood on a short walkway extending out from the hospital—a four-story, redbrick building that reminded him more of a school, or a mental asylum.

He took as deep a shot of oxygen as he could without bringing the pain, and it felt amazing to inhale this cool, pine-scented air after breathing the hospital’s antiseptic stench.

He reached the sidewalk and started down Main Street toward the buildings of downtown.

There were more people out than in the afternoon.

He passed a restaurant situated in a small house with a patio off to the side. People dined outside under aspen trees strung with tiny white lights.

The smell of the food made his stomach growl.

At the corner of Main and Fifth, he crossed the street and returned to the phone booth where he’d lost consciousness two days before.

Stepping inside, he thumbed through the directory until he found the street address of the Wayward Pines Sheriff’s Office.

* * *

He felt better than he had in days walking toward the east side of town as the light began to fail and the temperature dropped.

He strolled past a barbecue in progress.

The smell of charcoal on the breeze.

The good, sour aroma of beer wafting out of plastic cups.

The sound of children’s laughter echoing through the valley.

The cicada-like clicking of a water sprinkler nearby.

Everywhere he looked, it was a painting.

Like the Platonic ideal of a town. There couldn’t have been more than four or five hundred people living here, and he found himself wondering what had brought them. How many had discovered Wayward Pines by accident, fell in love, stayed? How many had been born here and never left?

Much as he’d always been a big-city guy, he could understand not leaving a place like this. Why abandon what appeared to be complete and total perfection? Quintessential Americana surrounded by some of the most striking natural beauty he’d ever laid eyes on. He’d seen pictures of Wayward Pines the night before he left Seattle, but none of them had even come close to doing this little valley justice.

And still,
was here.

And by virtue of that fact, or rather
of it, this place wasn’t perfect.

His experience, there was darkness everywhere human beings gathered.

The way of the world.

Perfection was a surface thing. The epidermis. Cut a few layers deep, you begin to see some darker shades.

Cut to the bone—pitch black.

He couldn’t take his eyes off the mountains as he walked. The eastern wall must have gone up three or four thousand feet. Toward the top, all rock and ice.

The final strands of horizontal sunlight were striking the cliffs at his back, and he turned around and took a moment to stop and watch the glow fade away.

When the light was gone, the rock turned instantly to the color of blued steel.

And the nature of it changed.

It was still beautiful.

But more remote.


* * *

The placard above the glass double doors:


Moving toward the front entrance down a walkway lined with baby pines, he felt a new impulse of frustration course through him.

Through the glass, he could see that the lobby was dark and empty.

Still, he grabbed the doors and gave them a rough tug.


It was after hours, sure, but

Ethan backed away from the entrance, glanced down the length of the single-story building. On the far end, it looked like a bit of light was slipping through the blinds behind a window.

He moved forward again, rapped his knuckles against one of the glass doors.


He banged with even more force, pounding the glass so hard the doors rattled in their frames.

Five minutes passed, but no one ever came.

* * *

Two stars and a planet had appeared by the time he reached Main Street, and the chill that had been pleasant fifteen
minutes ago had become uncomfortable, cutting through his thin oxford shirt, his sockless feet beginning to tingle with numbness.

Worse, the first sign of real hunger was manifesting itself as a hollow ache in the pit of his stomach and a dizziness behind his eyes.

He walked several blocks down to the Wayward Pines Hotel and climbed the stone steps to the entrance.

Through the panes of glass in the door, he saw lights on inside, and a young woman sitting behind the front desk.

Ethan entered the lobby into a welcome blast of warmth.

A grand piano occupied a corner across from the massive hearth, which presently housed a roaring fire.

He stopped for a moment and held his hands out to the heat. The boiling pine resin gave off the sweet smell of a candle. He could’ve stretched out on the couch and napped for days.

After a moment, he dragged himself away and walked over to the front desk.

The woman smiled at Ethan as he approached.

She struck him as midtwenties. Cute, though a little on the heavy side, her black hair pulled into a short ponytail. She wore a white dress shirt under a black vest, and her name tag identified her as

Ethan sidled up to the desk and rested his forearms on the high counter to steady his balance.

“Good evening,” Lisa said. “Welcome to the Wayward Pines Hotel. How may I help you tonight?”

Her greeting seemed off. Not the words, but the delivery. Like she was struggling through something she rarely had to say.

“Do you have any vacancies tonight?”

“We sure do.”

Lisa typed on a keyboard.

“Just tonight?” she asked.

“Yes. For now at least.”

Ethan glanced at the computer monitor—an ancient monstrosity. Like something from the late eighties. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen such a dinosaur.

“I have a nonsmoking, nonpet room on the second floor with a king bed.”

“That’ll be fine.”

She finished typing. “And would you like to put this on a credit card?”

Ethan smiled. “That’s an interesting question.”

“Really? How so?”

“I was involved in a car accident several days ago. A truck slammed into the side of my car. Just up the block from here actually. Maybe you saw it?”

“No, I sure didn’t.”

“Well, I was just released from the hospital, and the thing is...I haven’t been able to locate my wallet. None of my personal belongings, in fact.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”

He thought he saw Lisa’s smile lose just a touch of its initial enthusiasm.

“So how exactly will you be paying then, Mr....?”

“Burke. Ethan Burke. See, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. I won’t be able to pay for the room until I get my wallet back tomorrow. I’m informed the sheriff is in possession of my things. Not sure why, but...” He shrugged. “Is what it is.”

“Hmm. See, I’m not really allowed to open a reservation without a cash advance or at least a credit card number. It’s hotel policy. In case—and of course I’m not saying that this would necessarily happen—but in case there was any damage to the room or charges incurred that—”

“I understand that. I’m well aware of the purpose of deposits. What I’m telling you is that I will be able to pay you tomorrow morning.”

“You don’t even have a driver’s license?”

“Everything’s in my wallet.”

Lisa bit her bottom lip, and he could see what was coming—a nice girl working herself up to be the bad guy.

“Sir—Mr. Burke—I’m afraid that without a credit card or cash or identification, I’m just not going to be able to give you a room tonight. I would love to. Really. But this is just hotel policy and...”

She stopped talking when Ethan leaned over the counter.

“Lisa, do you know why I’m wearing a black suit?”


“I’m a special agent with the United States Secret Service.”

“You mean those guys who guard the president?”

“That’s only one of our duties. Our primary mission is to protect the integrity of our nation’s financial infrastructure.”

“And so you’re, like, on an investigation in Wayward Pines?”

“I am. I had just arrived in town when the accident happened.”

“What kind of investigation?”

“I can’t discuss any details.”

“You’re not pulling my leg, are you?”

“If I was, I’d be committing a federal crime.”

“You’re really a special agent?”

“Yes. And I’m tired and I’m asking you to give me a break. I need a room for the night. I promise you—I’m good for it.”

“And you’ll pay tomorrow? First thing?”

“First thing.”

* * *

Key in hand, he trudged up the steps to the second floor and emerged into a long, quiet corridor. Faux lanterns had been mounted to the walls every twenty feet, and they shed a weak, yellow light on the Persian carpeting.

His room was at the far end, number 226.

He unlocked the door, stepped inside, hit the light.

The decor ran to the folksy side of the spectrum.

Two badly done iconic Western scenes.

A cowboy on a bucking bronco.

Group of ranch hands huddled around a campfire.

The room was stuffy, and there was no television.

Just an old-school black rotary phone sitting on one of the bedside tables.

The bed itself looked soft and enormous. Ethan eased down onto the mattress and unlaced his shoes. Walking around without socks had already started several blisters on the backs of his feet. He took off his jacket, his tie, and undid the first three buttons of his oxford shirt.

There was a phone directory in the bedside table drawer, and he took it out, set it on the bed, and lifted the antique phone.

Dial tone.

Thank God.

Strangely, his home phone number didn’t immediately spring to mind. He had to spend a minute visualizing it, trying to picture how the number appeared when he smart-dialed on his iPhone. He’d had it just the other day, but... “” He knew it started with those three numbers—the Seattle area code—and five times, he spun them out on the rotary phone, but five times he blanked after the six.

He dialed 411.

After two rings, an operator answered with, “What city and listing?”

“Seattle, Washington. Ethan Burke. B-U-R-K-E.”

“One moment please.” Over the line, he could hear the woman typing. There was a long pause. Then: “B-U-R-K-E?”

“That’s right.”

“Sir, I’m not showing a listing under that name.”

“You’re sure?”


It was certainly odd, but considering the nature of his job, his number was probably unlisted. Come to think of it, he was almost sure it was. Almost.

“OK, thank you.”

He shelved the phone and opened the phonebook, located the number to the sheriff’s office.

It rang five times and then went to voice mail.

After the beep, Ethan said, “This is Special Agent Ethan Burke with the United States Secret Service, Seattle field office. As you know, I was involved in the vehicular accident on Main Street several days ago. I need to speak with you at your earliest convenience. The hospital informed me that you’re in possession of my personal belongings, including my wallet, phone, briefcase, and firearm. I’ll be coming by first thing in the morning to pick them up. If anyone gets this message before then, please call me at the Wayward Pines Hotel. I’m staying in room two twenty-six.”

* * *

It was full-on night as Ethan walked down the steps from the hotel entrance, his feet killing him, hungry as hell.

The café adjacent to the hotel was closed, so he headed north under a sky filled with stars, past a rare bookstore, a couple of gift shops, and a law office.

It wasn’t that late, but with everything closed for the night, the sidewalks of Main had emptied out. He’d begun to come to terms with the horror of not having dinner on top of everything else when he spotted light spilling onto the pavement on the next block down. His pace involuntarily quickened as he caught the first whiff of hot food exhausting out of a vent in the building up ahead.

BOOK: Pines
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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