David had shown me a culvert under the wall around the city that would allow me to come and go under the cover of darkness. He lent me the camping gear and I moved the campsite to the hillside outside of town, near the road through the pass. I believed that if and when Kara and Mom left the city, they would leave it by that road.
My next move was to go dumpster diving. I dug up an old pair of boots that were missing laces and had holes in the toes. Next, I tore holes through the elbows of my hoodie by rubbing it on the pavement. It also got good and dirty in the process. I was still wearing the sweats I’d worn the night I biked out of the city, so I kept searching through dumpsters until I found a ragged pair of jeans with the knees blown out. These I cinched around my waist with a piece of rope. All the while I had to duck into the shadows and hide every time a Protector car cruised by.
At last I was rewarded for my effort when I looked into yet another dumpster for something to eat and was smacked over the head with a broken umbrella.
“Hey, looser, this is my dumpster. Go find your own.” A haggard looking old woman with a grocery cart threatened to stab me with the pointy end of her umbrella. I raised my hands and backed out of her way.
She frowned suspiciously at me and spat on the ground. “Worthless brat,” was her comment. “What’s a strong boy like you doing in this world? You should be working for a living.”
Her comment served to educate me further. I was too young and strong to be homeless. I should be handicapped. So I developed a severe limp and kept one arm drawn up as though it were useless. The well-dressed Marcus Tamotsu of my past would have been horrified. I looked and smelled terrible.
Now it was time to go find Kara and Mom.
To my dismay, our house was dark and empty. My dad’s final threats that I would be the death of my mother and sister flooded back to haunt me. I was afraid my whole family had been incarcerated or killed over my disappearance.
“No, God, no. . . please. What happened here?” I whispered hoarsely.
After a few minutes of thinking over the possibilities, I reasoned that it was more likely Dad had simply decided they should all go stay with my Aunt Emily in Tiny Town for a few days to avoid the questions and drama that would have caused him stress. Yes, that was by far the more likely situation.
I stood in the darkness behind our house, wondering what I should do. I was tempted to break in and sleep in my own bed. Besides, maybe Mom had left a note for me.
It was simply out of thoughtless habit that I continued to limp and drag one leg as I approached the silent house, but it saved my life. I tripped over a rolled up paper in the pathway and fell down. Groping around, I picked up the paper, and as got to my knees a harsh bark greeted me from the shadows.
“Move on, beggar! This house is under surveillance. If you didn’t smell like piss and whisky this’d be your last night on the street.”
With trembling legs and hands I limped and staggered away. What a fool I’d been! If it weren’t for David’s good advice and the scorn of an old woman, I’d be dead by now. Wolves were watching the house. What had happened to my family?
I slid down an alley wall and sat on the cold pavement. The newspaper was still in my hand. I unrolled it and gasped in horror. The front page was a photograph of Kara’s white face, screaming in terror.
The article said Ostriches had killed my parents, but that the wolves had rescued my sister. Part of the article was an interview with a bystander, another girl about my sister’s age who had been driving by. She told how the brave Protectors had held off the Ostriches while Kara had escaped the scene by running to get into the car with her. The bystander’s name was Jane Grey.
Mom. I’d been too late. A cold wave of guilt smothered me and I gasped for air. What had I done? I should have taken them with me when I left. Instead, I left them behind to bear the retribution that should have fallen on my head.
“I would gladly die a thousand deaths to know you and Kara are safe,”
I heard my mother’s voice in my head.
“Don’t look back, Marcus.”
I took a deep, shaky breath, and got to my feet. I had to find Kara. That was my mission now. I had to find my sister or die trying.
I decided to go back to the alley where I had left my message about Kara and scratch it out. The last thing I needed now was for the wolves to be watching my sister while I was trying to contact her. The paper had said she was in the hospital but would be released in a few days. The writer talked about her art and community importance. When she was released, she would go to the art school, I was sure of this.
When I reached the alley, someone was already there. My heart stopped in shock. They were watching the wall too! But after waiting in the shadows at the end of the alley, I became convinced the slim figure kneeling before the wall was not a wolf at all, but another young person like myself. I moved past, consumed with curiosity, but determined to be more careful than I had been earlier.
Fifteen minutes later I had hobbled around the whole block, and now shuffled down the alley as though I were dumpster shopping. The figure was gone.
“I will try.” Was written in tiny letters next to my message about Kara.
Who was the girl I’d seen kneeling in the alley only minutes earlier? A friend of Kara’s? One of the forest people?
I decided that as a homeless bum in the city, the corner on which I would beg would be at the end of the alley. From there, I would watch and learn until Kara returned home and until I had discovered the identity of my mysterious co-conspirator.