The honor system. When was the last time you saw that in New York, Alan?”

“Right around the moment that the Dutch settlers swindled the Indians out of Manhattan.” Wake kissed her and got out.

He watched as she drove down the street toward the single gas pump down the street. A smear of something pink lay melting on the sidewalk, surrounded by tiny black ants. Some kid must have dropped strawberry ice cream off his cone. Wake watched the line of ants streaming from under the diner to the smear, ravenous, more and more of them pouring out from the cracks to feed. He hurried into the diner, stopping just inside the doorway, feeling like a man who had just realized he was standing in the middle of a minefield.

Not two feet away was a life-size cardboard standup of himself looking haunted and sensitive, a blowup of the author photo that Alice had taken for his last novel, The Sudden Stop. Basic promotion, but in their condescending review of the book, the New York Times had found room to say it—“while Wake’s sleek good looks undoubtedly contribute to his massive sales, the current author photo, so redolent of the archetypal tortured artiste, signals an attempt to cross over into literary territory.” Yeah, thought Wake, next photo shoot I’ll wear a frilly dress and hockey mask so no one thinks I’m putting on airs.

He stared at his frozen image and thought of the frantic book tour, the missed connecting flights and crowded bookstores, the gushing television and radio interviews. He remembered settling into the plush silence of a waiting limo after a long day, looking out at the world through thick smoked glass and wondering which side of the fishbowl he was on. Worse than all that, though, was the constant sense that the famous Alan Wake was a total fraud. The praise, the flattery, the first-class jets and four-star hotels… it would all come to a crashing halt when the world realized that he hadn’t been able to write a word since The Sudden Stop. He had spent months now staring at the blank sheet of paper in his typewriter. All he had to show for it was the title: Departure. It was just a matter of time until he ran out of excuses to his publisher, his agent, his wife… himself. What good was a writer who couldn’t write?

“Oh. My. God,” a female voice said.

Wake wanted to bolt out the door and chase Alice down, wanted to beg her to drive away, back to a city big enough that he could disappear in.

“Omigod, omigod, omigod,” said a young woman, coming out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on her apron. A pretty girl in a waitress uniform, with light brown hair and a face like an eager mouse. “This is so amazing. I almost didn’t come to work today, if you can believe that. I would have just died if I had missed you.” She pumped his hand like a desperate wildcatter. “I am your absolute biggest fan. Honest.”

Wake slowly disengaged his hand from her grip. “I didn’t know there was a contest.”

“I’ve read all your books, Mr. Wake,” she said. “Every one of them.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m Rose Marigold,” said the girl, shaking his hand again. “I got the standup from your publisher. I put it up so I can see you all day while I work.”

“Nice to meet you, Rose,” said Wake, looking around to see if anyone was watching the scene. They weren’t. The only people in the diner was a park ranger in uniform at the counter, and two white-haired old coots sitting in one of the back booths. One wall was covered with dusty trophy heads—deer, elk, and antelope—but their dull glass eyes didn’t see a thing.

“Mr. Wake?” Rose peered at him. “I know at the end of The Sudden Stop you killed off Alex Casey, but he’s not really dead, is he? I mean, not like forever dead. Alex Casey’s my favorite character in the whole world.”

“That’s very flattering,” said Wake.

“You’re full of tricks, aren’t you?” said Rose, grinning as she wagged a finger. “You can tell me. It’s not like I’m going to post it on my blog. Unless you want me to, of course!”

“I… I really have to…,” said Wake, backing away. “I’m supposed to meet someone here—”


“A Mr.… Carl Stucky,” said Wake. “He’s got the key to the cabin my wife and I will be staying in.”

“You’re staying in Bright Falls?” Rose fanned her flushed face. “This is the best day of my life.” She turned to the deputy sitting at the counter. “Rusty, did you hear that?”

“Yup. Best day of your life, Rose.” Park Ranger Rusty hoisted his coffee cup to Wake. “Best cup of coffee in town too, sir.”

“Rusty, this is Alan Wake, the famous novelist,” said Rose. “Mr. Wake, this here’s Rusty. He’s no longer human. Nothing but black coffee under a thin layer of skin.”

Rusty sipped from his cup, smacked his lips. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wake.”

“Back at you,” said Wake. “Do you know where I can find Carl Stucky?”

Rusty jerked a thumb toward the corridor in the back. “I believe he’s using the facility.”

“Thanks,” said Wake, starting toward the corridor. As he passed the two old men sitting in the booth, one of them pointed at the nearby jukebox.

“How about some tunes, mister?” demanded one of the old men, clawing at his white beard.

“Play B2,” said the other one, a cheerful type with a black eye patch, his lone eye bright and blue as a sapphire.


His hair was as white as the other man’s, and so was his beard. He had an adhesive name tag on his chest with Tor Anderson scrawled in red crayon. The other man had a similar tag with Odin Anderson on it. “I’d play it myself, but my legs fell asleep.”

“?‘Coconut’?” said Tor. “Again? You call yourself a rock and roller? You disgust me, you demented has-been.”

“Don’t worry about them,” called Rusty. “They wandered off from the Cauldron Lake Clinic, er, Lodge. Dr. Hartman will be by to pick them up any time now.”

“Coconut, coconut, coconut,” chanted Odin, snapping his fingers.

“Shut up!” shouted Tor. “Just because we’re brothers, don’t think I won’t strangle you in your sleep.”

“Come on, mister, be a buddy,” Odin pleaded with Wake. “B2.”

“What’s the matter, mister, you don’t like music?” said Tor, his opposition to the song evidently forgotten now.

“B2 will change your life,” said Odin.

“Change your sheets, anyway,” snarled Tor.

“Three sheets to the wind,” cackled Odin. “God, we used to get drunk back in the day.”

Wake put a couple of quarters in the jukebox, punched B2.

“Hammered,” agreed Tor, stroking his beard. “Hammer of the gods.”

An elderly woman stood at the entrance to the dimly lit corridor holding up a battery-powered lantern.

Wake started around her. As Alice had said, Bright Falls was just a quaint little town… filled with senile lunatics.

The woman squinted at Wake, her mouth a prim line. “I wouldn’t go in the corridor if I were you, young man.” She clutched at him, tried to block his path. “It’s dark in there!”

Wake kept walking. The corridor was dark and shadowy, lit only by a flickering light in the far corner. “Mr. Stucky?”

No answer.

“Mr. Stucky?” called Wake, louder now. Twirls of flypaper hung from the ceiling, dotted with unwary insects. Probably could use a few ant traps too. He pulled open the men’s room door and stuck his head inside. No one there. Just a damp towel beside the sink and a machine that dispensed squirts of cologne for twenty-five cents. He closed the door, turned around, and jerked. A woman stood there, right beside him. A woman in a black dress, wearing a pillbox hat, her face veiled. On her way to church or a funeral, or maybe just another one of the local crazies. “Excuse me,” said Wake, stepping back. “I’m looking for Carl Stucky.”

“Carl couldn’t make it.” Through the veil it looked like she was smiling. “Poor man was taken sick.”

“He was…” Wake had a hard time looking at her. He felt disoriented. Even through the veil her eyes were so dark that he felt like he was falling into them, losing himself. “Carl was supposed to give me—”

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