My mother once told me that the most effective weapon of war was a locked and loaded ink pen. My own weapon was a wet paint brush which, she assured me, could be just as deadly. “Always tell the truth with your weapon, Kara,” she said “there are enough killers out there already.”
But art school was full of pressures to reinvent the schpiel. They called it “modern”, “socialist, “freedom of speech” and “inspirational.” The better we budding artists were at painting idealistic realities, the higher our grades, and the greater the accolades. A few heart-wrenching paintings made it to magazine covers.
In my effort to rise in the ranks, I painted images of children leading Wolves by dog collars, and and children dressed in Protector uniforms. Mother was my most difficult critic. She would look at the scene I had labored over and say simply, “nice.”
Once in frustration I insisted, “It’s how the world should be!” But mother simply repeated, “it’s nice, Kara.”
And I knew that “nice” meant “ridiculous.”
In my senior year I no longer showed my paintings to Mom. I let her find out I was great when one of my pieces appeared on the cover of Wolf Heroes magazine, which I left lying on the coffee table.
“You’re a great artist, Kara,” she said earnestly when she saw the lifelike depiction of an Ostrich lying slain at a Wolf’s feet. “And I’m proud of your skill.”
But really she was saying, “paint the truth, Kara. Paint the truth.”
Now I had bigger things to worry about. Marcus, my Marcus, who had always been there for me was drifting away. I could see it in his eyes. He had always been the one with straight A’s and extra credits for work he hardly put any effort into. It was like he was born knowing the answers. But during his second year of college he just seemed to quit inside.
After I got home from school that day, I had a long talk with Mom about him.
“Don’t worry, Kara,” she said. “Marcus has to figure out what he really wants. And I think he’s close.”
“What about me?” I wailed.
“Your time is coming,” she said. “When you’re ready.”
“No, I mean - what am I going to do if Marcus leaves us on some wild goose chase? He’s always been my best friend.”
“He won’t forget you,” Mom assured me. “It wouldn’t be like him.”
But he did. The next morning Marcus was gone and Dad was furious. Mother silently served breakfast, and although her face was pale she had an unusual strength about her that puzzled me.
“What did he say?” Dad demanded for the third time, after ending yet another call to one of Marcus’s friends. “Did he give you any hint of where he was going?”
“No, he didn’t say.” Mom reiterated. “He just went out the back door. He’ll probably be home any minute. Why are you so angry?”
Dad wouldn’t say why he was angry and Mom wouldn’t say why she was so calm. And I had to go to school.
That was the first day Marcus wasn’t there to pick me up at school and take me home on his handlebars.
When I got home, Mom was in Marcus’ room crying, and I panicked.
“Marcus! Where is he? Mom - answer me. Where is Marcus?! Mom!” I didn’t know I was shouting until I heard a little kid outside in the street echoing me.
“Kara, come and sit down on the bed,” Mom said quietly.
“Where is he? He’ll be home soon! He’ll be home!” I began to sob the words I wanted to hear.
“Kara— your dad said Marcus. . . Marcus. . .” Mom’s voice crumpled up and collapsed.
“Mom, is he— is he—? He’ll be home any minute. He will. You’ll see.” I insisted.
“Your dad said Marcus was killed by ostriches this morning,” Mom said suddenly in a clear, steady voice.
“Dad said?” I echoed, trying to understand her tone of voice. “What do you mean? Mom? Is Marcus—?” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “dead.”
“I don’t know,” Mom said, pulling my head against her shoulder. “I’m not convinced, Kara.”
I could hear her heart beating through her apron and the light sweater she wore. It was steady and the sound calmed me considerably.
“You mean,” I whispered, “you think he might be alive. . . somewhere?”
“In the forest,” Mom said. “Maybe. I just don’t feel like he’s dead.”
“Neither do I.” I sat up. It was true. Somehow, I could feel my brother was still alive.
When Dad came home, we ate dinner in silence. His face was pale, and he appeared to not even know Mom and I were there.
The next day I didn’t go to my classes, unable to bear the thought of explaining to my friends what had happened to my brother. I didn’t even know what had happened. Shouldn’t we be searching for Marcus, or calling family or something? Were we even going to have a funeral?
Dad didn’t go to work either. He stayed locked in his office until midday, then he came out and abruptly announced he was going for a drive.
Mom and I ran out the door right behind him and jumped in the car. He looked at us with peeved surprise, but said nothing.
To my shock and dismay, there was a Protector guard standing outside our door. When he saw us all come out and get into the car, he followed.
“Dr. Tamotsu,” he said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to accompany you and your family for the next few days. . . just in case—“
“Fine.” My dad snapped, “Get in.”
My heart leaped with joy with the realization that if we were being watched and guarded. Someone must believe Marcus was still alive! They were hoping to catch him coming home.
I had no idea where Dad was going, and now I didn’t care. Mom and I sat in the backseat, smiling at each other with the silent knowledge we shared.
The Protector sat in front with Dad and did not speak. Dad silently drove out of town and into the forest. I thought he might be driving over the mountain pass to the next city where my aunt lived, but he slowed down and cruised through the pass, staring out the windows as though he were searching for something or someone.
Mom and I stared out our own windows as well. No one said a word.
I had never noticed before how beautiful the mountains were. The trees were so tall and lovely. I wondered how many kinds there were and what they were called.
We were halfway through the mountain pass when a protector car drove up behind us and turned on his lights. I felt a rush of fear, wondering if Dad was in trouble; if we all were. But he calmly pulled over and waited for the wolves in uniform to approach his window.