Peter van Gil paced back and forth, his gaze fixed on the pavement below. Every eye was on him, awaiting his next words. Would we retreat like rats? Or would we risk it all and advance in order to save our lives and the lives of our loved ones?
Peter looked up and held a toothpick in the air, as if he were conducting the overture for a symphony.
I adjusted my spectacles, noting his overly confident facade. To many, he was a leader unlike any we’d ever had, confident in his abilities, fearless in the face of danger. I was the only one who saw a young, brash boaster who was slightly crazy and hungry for power.
“My brothers,” he said, in a booming voice, “we find ourselves at a crucial juncture. Today we must decide our fate. Will we attempt to live free or will we slowly die, weak and hungry with our broken dreams haunting us like nightmares?”
Only Peter spoke. The dramatic pauses of his rodomontade were met by attentive silence. It seemed no one dare breathe.
“We may be small, but together we are strong,” he roared. “We may be known as ones who run and hide, but today is a new day! Today we will fight for what should be ours!”
Agreement erupted from my right and left until the swell of approving voices seemed to reverberate within me. A cold feeling began to expand in the pit of my small and hungry stomach. It had been days since our food had been taken from us. I could see it was affecting our minds.
Peter would lead them to be slaughtered and they would go willingly, enthusiastically to their death.
He presented the details of “Operation CAT,” speaking about it as if it would be the simplest of tasks. Many nodded their support, overlooking the vulnerabilities that I’d thought were so obvious an hour ago when Peter proposed his idea to me. He’d shrugged off my “what if” questions.
I marveled at my brother who’d developed into a maniacal leader. He was a natural for the role. He was also too far gone, overly trusted, and too greatly adored.
Our clan was prone to panic and fear and slow runners who were too weak to enact his suicidal plan. With just one glance at the complicit look in everyone’s eyes, I knew I’d have to leave that night.
Starvation was one thing, but I refused to watch the Smithfield’s new family cat tear my loved ones to pieces before my weary eyes.