Tony jammed his feet into his thick hiking boots, grabbed his scarf from the hook on the wall, and wound it tightly around his neck. In two swift movements he slipped his gloves over his hands and headed for the back door.
“I’ll find him, Tie Li,” he called over his shoulder, trying to sound encouraging. “I know the pastures and forests around here better than he does. I’ll find him; don’t worry.”
A cold blast of wind hit the boy as he opened the door. Another storm was brewing. He must find and follow Kim’s tracks before new snow covered them up. Time was not on his side.
Mrs. Parks shouted into the wind. “Be careful, Tony! When your father gets home I’ll tell him what’s happened. He’ll start searching too.” The woman’s voice was strained. “Just be careful!”
Stopping by his workshop, Tony retrieved his big flashlight from its recharging stand. The bright beam shot out into the darkness, revealing blowing white drifts and an ever-increasing amount of falling snow.
He searched the edges of the yard, looking for signs in the powdery mounds. By the big birch he found tracks leading through the split-rail fence, heading in the direction of the south pasture.
They belonged to Kim. He was sure. No one else would be going out that way this time of year.
Tony eased through the fence and started following the footprints in the snow, his mind filling with questions. Why would Kim run away? Why would he leave a warm house and head out into the cold like this? And what about Tie Li?
The boy felt anger rising deep inside him. Kim hadn’t even considered how this would affect Tie Li. She loves him! Never mind what he thinks of Mom and Dad, much less me. But Tie Li. She’s his sister! Doesn’t he care about her at all?
Tony quickened his pace. The wind seemed to blow straight through his layers of clothes. A chill ran down the back of his neck.
The tracks wound through the south pasture, turned east, and followed the edge of the woods by the Bentley farm. As Tony crested the top of a small rise, his breath caught in his throat. The tracks were heading straight for the pond. In the darkness, and with so much snow on the ground, Kim wouldn’t have known the pond existed. He could have walked right out to the middle, thinking he was still on dry land.
Tony stumbled along, fearful of what he might find. The bright beam of the flashlight illuminated the tracks as Tony hurried down the hill. Had the surface frozen enough to hold Kim’s weight, or would the tracks end in a black, wet hole out in the middle of Bentleys’ Pond?
At the edge where Tony knew the water would be, Kim’s tracks continued straight ahead. Tony turned and followed the shoreline, keeping the trail leading out onto the pond in range of his flashlight. He held his breath. Kim’s path was leading him over 25 feet of cold, dark water.
Tony stumbled and slid, trying to keep his footing on the uneven edge of the snow-covered body of water, his flashlight steadily scanning Kim’s progress.
“Please don’t break! Please don’t break!” Tony repeated the words over and over to himself.
After what seemed like an agonizing eternity, the tracks grew closer and closer to where Tony stumbled along. Then they were underfoot. “He made it!” the boy shouted into the wind. “All right!”
Tony sat down on the bank. He could breathe again. The ice had held Kim’s weight all the way across. He sat for a long moment, following the tracks over the pond with the bright beam of his flashlight until they disappeared into the darkness. You’re one lucky guy, Kim, he thought to himself. You don’t know how lucky you are.
Tony shook his head slowly from side to side. Somebody’s watching out for you, that’s all I can say.
The boy remembered the multitude crossing the Red Sea. He saw the ark sitting battered, but intact, on the boulders, high in the barren mountains. A thought flickered in the back of his mind. Could it be? But that was so long ago. Did He still do that kind of stuff today?
Tony rose to his feet. The tracks led up the hill, toward the trees. Getting his bearing, the boy began to follow them. Kim had to be told. He had to know about the Pond, about the ark, about the man in the garden.
But how? Kim didn’t trust anyone. He wouldn’t listen.
At the edge of the woods, Tony stopped. The wind blowing through the trees carried a particular scent. It like smelled like–like–
The boy looked up in surprise. The cabin! Why hadn’t he thought of that before? Kim had made it to the cabin!
A fresh determination sped Tony along. Several years before, he and his dad had built a cabin deep in the woods. It was sort of a little getaway, a place to camp on warm summer nights.
Tony began to run. The smell of burning logs meant Kim had built a fire to keep himself warm. Stepping into a clearing, Tony shone his flashlight in the direction of a small wooden structure nestled among the trees on the far side. Sure enough, a soft, yellow glow spilled from the windows and formed pools of light on the snow. Smoke curled from the chimney and hurried away with the wind.
Tony stood looking at the cabin for a moment. What should he say to his new brother? Would Kim try to chase him away?
Snow began to fall in earnest as the wind built to a roar. Tony spoke softly to himself. “It’s too late now. Like it or not, he’s got company for the night. I’m not heading back in this storm.”
The boy made his way to the front of the cabin. Drawing in a deep breath, he lifted the latch and pushed open the door. The warm glow from the fireplace cast long, willowy shadows across the room. Kim looked up, startled by the burst of cold air that followed Tony into the room.
“What are you doing here?” he said, pulling a blanket closer about him. “I told everybody to leave me alone.”
Tony brushed snow from his pants and coat. “I know.” He sat down on a chair to pull off his ice-encrusted boots. “Tie Li was worried. She was scared something might happen to you. And you better believe that something almost did!”
“Who cares?” Kim looked back into the fire.
Tony felt the anger rising again. He almost shouted. “Tie Li cares! Mom and Dad care!” Softening, he added, “I guess I care too.”
Kim continued to stare into the flames. He spoke quietly. “I love my sister.”
“You sure have a crazy way of showing it. And what did you tear up your room for? What’s the matter with you, anyway?”
Kim covered his ears with his hands. “I don’t want to talk about it, all right? I’m confused. I’m angry. I don’t know what to think or how to act. I just want to–to–oh, never mind.”
Tony’s mouth dropped. open. “You want to die, don’t you? Isn’t that what you’re trying to say?”
Kim spun around, his face flushed with frustration. “Yes! I want to die! There, I’ve said it. Now leave me alone!” The boy buried his face in his hands, great sobs rocking his body.
Tony jumped to his feet. “Why? Why, Kim? I know you had a horrible past, but why do you want to die?”
“Because.” The words were choked. “Because I can’t live with the pain. It’s too much. Every minute, every second, I remember my village, my parents, the way it used to be. Each day the hurt is worse than before. I just can’t live with it anymore.
“I feel guilty because I can’t be a good brother to Tie Li. I see her looking at me with such love, and I can’t return it. I hate myself. I’m no good to anybody. Everything I love gets destroyed. I’m even afraid to love Tie Li. Something would probably happen to her.” He looked over at Tony.
“But I love her so much. I love her . . .” The boy’s voice faltered in a long, painful cry. He buried his face in the blanket and leaned against the pile of firewood resting beside him.
Tony stood in the shadows, trying to understand the depth of his brother’s sorrow. In a world of computers and mathematics, problems all have logical, well-defined methods for getting solved. But here was a broken heart. How did you fix that?
“Kim?” Tony walked across the room and sat down beside the sobbing boy. “I’m sorry you’re so sad. I don’t understand everything you say. I’ve never lost as much as you have. But . . .” Tony searched for words, “I think I can show you Someone who has. Maybe He can help you understand how to live and be happy again. But it’s a secret. Only Tie Li and I know about it, and you have to promise you won’t tell anybody.”
Kim raised his head. “What are you talking about?”
Tony hesitated. “You’ve got to promise me you won’t tell a soul.”
“All right, all right, I promise.”
“OK. Now listen. Out in my workshop–”
The door to the cabin burst open as Mr. Parks rushed in. “Tony? Kim?” He saw the boys sitting by the fire. Heaving a great sigh of relief, he sat down heavily on a nearby chair. “Thank God you two are all right. I thought you’d probably head up this way. The snow has covered your tracks. Kim, you gave us quite a scare. Are you OK?”
Kim shook his head. “I’m OK.”
Tony stood and walked over to his father. “Dad, can we stay here tonight, Kim and I? We need to talk about some stuff.
The man studied his son’s face. “Well, I guess so. The fire will keep you warm. You sure you’ll be all right?”
“We’ll be fine, Dad. Thanks for coming to look for us.”
“If that’s what you want. I know a little girl who’s about to climb the walls down at the farm. She’ll be glad to know you two are safe and sound. You both mean a lot to her.” He looked at Kim. “You know that, don’t you?”
The boy nodded and looked away.
Mr. Parks rose to leave. “I’ll see you guys in time for breakfast, OK?”
Tony waved. “We’ll be there.”
The man walked into the night, following the beam of his flashlight. The storm had begun to slacken. Occasionally the moon would peek from behind high clouds, flooding the world in softness. What was Tony talking about? What was so important back there in the cabin?