“You’re not a murderer, Noah,” his father said. “The only person you’ve ever really wanted to hurt is yourself.”
Noah let out a small chuckle. “You’re right,” he said, then turned the gun on himself.
I PRESS THE GUN TO my temple. I almost literally can’t wait to do it.
There’s this damned push and pull with my father. I feel complete disdain for the man standing before me, who looks nothing like me and is nothing like me and is disgusting to me. Yet at the same time I feel the senseless obedience of a child toward him. I want him to admire me, to be proud of me. To find me worthy. It is truly pathetic.
Mara sits on the table, her legs askew, her body trembling slightly, from the drugs or something else, I don’t know. Something about her, a restrained physicality, carries an implicit threat, like a cobra the second before it strikes. She looks tigerish, a wild animal trapped and cornered. I want to unleash her, and I think this is how. Maybe she’ll be able to save her brother then.
“I would rather die for her than live without her,” I say to my father.
A smile twists his face. “You just love to play the martyr, don’t you. You can lie to her but not to me. You would do it to spare yourself the sight of watching her die, the burden of guilt that her death and her brother’s would bring you. Let’s not pretend.”
“Oh, I’m not pretending.”
“Good. Then let me tell you, as clearly and precisely as I can, what you will be doing if you pull that trigger. You will unleash a Shadow upon the world. She will trail sickness and death behind her, wherever she goes, and it will start today, with her brother. She will burn like wildfire through her family, through everyone she cares about, leaving nothing but darkness and ashes in her wake. And you will be denying the world the answer to diseases that torment children and adults alike. If you choose to live, however, you could save millions. Billions, perhaps. You could usher in a new era of humanity. All it will cost you is one life.”
Mara’s life. The price is too high.
Fuck it. I press the barrel harder against my skull. The metal is warm from my skin, and the pressure is shamefully satisfying.
“Do it then, if you’re that selfish,” my father says.
“Don’t you dare,” Mara hisses, but I barely hear her.
“If I am, it’s because you made me that way.”
“Spoken like a true spoiled brat.” The disgust is evident in my father’s voice. “No, Noah, I think the shitty childhood excuse is played out. You don’t want to be protected like a child anymore? Because you’re seventeen? Then take responsibility for your own decisions. Own your own choices. It’s more than past time for you to grow the fuck up, Son.”
“I’m not your son,” I say, cringing immediately thereafter. What a babyish thing to say. Idiotic.
My father replies, “I wish that were true.”
The words break something inside me that I didn’t even know existed.
“If you weren’t my son, your mother would still be alive. She believed in you. I’m glad she isn’t here to see this.”
My mind refuses to seize on his words, so it focuses on Mara instead. She has been mostly quiet—eerily so. She says nothing in her own defense, so I speak for her. “If anyone is responsible for the things Mara’s done, it’s you.”
“You know that isn’t true. The original owner of that dog of yours? I had nothing to do with that. Nor did I have anything to do with that teacher, who paid with her life because Mara was simply having a bad day.”
God, why doesn’t she speak? “She didn’t know what she was doing.”
“Oh, she would have killed your dog’s owner anyway. Ask her. She’ll tell you.”
“I would have killed him too,” I say, and I mean it.
My father smiles again, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “But you can’t kill anyone, Noah. Not even yourself.”
“What about her family?” I ask, hating the desperation in my voice. “They don’t deserve this.”
“No. They don’t. They’re good people who got saddled with a bad problem.”
Mara inhales sharply.
“You can’t choose your children. No one knows that better than me. But you can help her family. And so many more at that.”
“I love her.” My father thinks I’m speaking to him, but I look at Mara as I say it. There is defeat in her eyes.
“You love her the way you would love a horse no one but you could ride. Like that Arab mare I bought years ago; I thought she’d breed good hunters, but not even the stallions would go near her. Do you remember what happened?”
I wish I didn’t.
“One night Ruth couldn’t find you. It was after your bedtime, which you rarely obeyed. We searched everywhere and found nothing, until we reached the stable. The mare’s stall door was open. You’d mounted her bareback, at nine years old. We found you lying by her side near the back gate. She’d thrown you, trying to go over it, and you’d cracked your head open. You survived with no damage, thanks to what you are. The mare broke three legs and had to be put down. Do you remember?”
“Stop,” Mara says.
“I’ve never heard screaming like that from an animal. It was a terrible death. And it wasn’t her fault. It was yours.”
“Stop!” The sound of Mara’s voice is frightening. “Noah,” she says with perfect calm. “Put the gun down.”
I ignore her, of course, and so does my father. “Mara is what she is. She isn’t safe, but she is capable of love, and she loves her family, and needs you to save them for her. She would give you a reason to do it someday. She knows it. You know it. The least you could do for her is save the younger brother before that happens.” My father’s eyes narrow. “But I’m beginning to see the futility in hoping you would be brave and selfless enough to do something for someone else, for once in your short life. Part of me wishes I could let the both of you go, just to watch you come crawling back to me on your knees someday, begging me to fix her, once you finally see what she’s capable of. Once you have to start burying her bodies yourself.”
He takes a step closer to me, but not close enough to matter.
“I thought you were ready to be the man your mother hoped you would be, but I see you’re just a child, who would burn all his gifts because he can’t have the one he wants.”