The next day I was fully awake for the first time in my life. I saw and heard the charade around me in a way I never had before. All the music and movies had the same message, but the advertisements were the most incredible of all.

That evening I flipped through channel after channel watching commercials:

“Wolf Pack Insurance has your Back.”

“Ostrich-bite immunizations at your local drugstore.”

“Protocol, the only drug that makes you feel safe, no matter what happens. Side effects may include bleeding from the eyes and gastric eruption.”

“Conservative Wolves have taken the lead this season, but public opinion rests on the Progressive Coalition, while the Liberal Wolf faction is struggling for votes in light of the recent scandal. . .”

“Another case of Ostrich violence has influenced the vote against public rights to own pet parrots.”

I turned off the TV and sat staring at the screen in the darkness. What world had I been living in? And why was I still here?

I found a flashlight, a permanent marker, and pulled a black hoodie over my head. Then I walked quietly out to the alley. My fingers trailed along the rough wall, passing message after message in greens, reds, blues and blacks until I reached the end. Under the last message, “… please look for Kara Huan and get her out,” I knelt and wrote in small letters, “I will try.”

And so I began to search for the girl I had driven to the hospital only a day earlier.

Kara was not at the hospital, and the same kind nurse I had left her with insisted that no one of that name had been admitted. There were no records of her being there, and no story about what had happened to her in the paper. She seemed to have completely disappeared.

I had been searching for Kara every day for a week and was on my way home from sleuthing at the local high school when I noticed a Wolf watching me surreptitiously from the shadows. He had been there the day before as well, and I realized suddenly that I had been very naive. They were watching me.

I parked my car and locked the door, wondering what I should do next. After a moment’s hesitation, I walked right up to the Wolf, and said cheerfully,

“Thank you so much for keeping watch over us!”

The Wolf seemed taken aback, but after I spoke, he drew himself up and puffed out his chest, smiling a toothy smile.

“Well, you are welcome, little lady. Just doing my duty.”

“I’ve been worried about one of the recent victims of Ostrich violence,” I babbled on, blinking back imaginary tears. “She seemed quite out of her mind and I just feel so bad for her. It could have been me that day, but thanks to our heroic Wolf Protectors, I am safe and sane, and she is. . . well, I don’t know what happened to her, but I fear she might have lost her mind.”

“Yes, well, many of the victims do lose their minds,” the Wolf agreed authoritatively. “The asylum is full of ‘em.”

“Oh, dear. . . how sad! Is there any hope for them? Do they ever recover?”

“Some of ‘em do. Medication and counseling helps quite a few of them. Many of them commit suicide though.”

I shook my head sadly and thanked the Wolf again, turning away with as much confidence as I could muster. I knew I was in danger, and I could only hope my little speech would throw the Wolves off the scent of my search for Kara.

But now I had a clue where she might be. . .