“Who - who is it?” I asked with a shaking voice.
“Chinese take-out,” the voice on the other side answered. It was a voice I had never heard before and I immediately knew who he must be.
I threw open the door, grabbed the delivery guy by the front of his shirt, jerked him inside and slammed the door shut behind him.
“Easy, lady,” he protested mildly, grinning at me.
Marcus looked a lot like Kara, but older and saner. And considering the jeopardy he was in, he also seemed surprisingly relaxed. His calm demeanor was the straw that broke the camel’s back of my self-control.
“What took you so long?” I demanded as pent-up anxiety made my voice and hands shake. Marcus’ smile faded, and he put the plastic bag of Chinese food containers on the nearest table.
“They’ve been watching you and Kara both really closely. . . Thank you for helping me get word to her. That meant a lot to me.”
The last two weeks of stress and confusion had caught up with me suddenly, and to my great frustration, I started to cry. I turned away and made myself breathe deeply and rhythmically in order to get control of myself. Marcus waited.
“Did you really bring Ch-Chinese take-out?” I asked, trying to distract myself. Marcus laughed ruefully.
“No, I don’t have any money. I got the bag and containers out of a dumpster.”
I began to laugh as well, and the laughter released a lot of my tension. I sat down on the couch and gestured toward a chair.
“Sit down, please. And tell me. . . tell me what’s going on.”
Marcus told me that Kara had been released with daily home-care visits from a Wolf Psychologist. Marcus had watched the house, but been unable to get close to Kara, as the Wolves were watching it too. Once he had delivered flowers to her door, with a carefully disguised note on the card.
“What are you going to do?” I asked at length, when he paused.
“Wait a little longer,” he said somberly. “There is a. . . a rule of reality. You can never really save someone else. You can hope and wait. You can be there when they need you. But you can’t save someone who isn’t already fighting to be free.”
“But, I think most people just don’t know. . . they don’t know the truth. If they did, a lot of them would leave.”
“My parents knew,” Marcus said quietly. “That old man in the asylum— Lenny— he knew as well. He even left for a while. . .had a nice little orchard going in The Valley Between, but he came back to this Charade.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Sweets,” Marcus replied. “He missed his sweets. Said he was just going back to get a load of sweets, and then return. And my parents— they said it must be God’s will that we live under the rule of the Protectors. They said if we just kept all the laws, we’d be safe anyway.”
Marcus swallowed and looked me in the eyes, unashamed of his own tears.
“And the Ostriches?” I asked, “They don’t make you stay?”
“No. We hardly ever see them. The Ostriches only stand between the predators and people who venture out of the city. Everyone in the mountains are free to leave if they want. It’s just that if they do, they never come back.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’m not back in the mountains yet,” Marcus replied somberly. “But I’m not here because I want to be. My heart is still in the mountains. And if I die trying to save my sister, well. . . there’s no better way to go.”