by Jay O'Toole
An earthquake destroys the happy home of Quest, Casa and their late mother and wife.
Sweetest birth and sweetest song
start the life of Quest,
Walked through door to one great wrong,
All of Life's a test...
Quest, a little bear, ventured out of his cave drawn by the scent of fresh honey.
The moment he set paw outside the safety of his home, Quest sensed that something was very wrong. Why were the crickets not chirping? Why were the birds quickly flying from the trees? Why was the earth trembling beneath him?
A boulder slammed the ground inches from where he stood. Quest's eyes rose up to a point. His mouth opened wide.
He turned with a start toward the deafening sound as a great earthquake sent more huge boulders over the door of the cave. Quest fell head over heels, then side over side, down and ever down to the noise of rocks and dust swirling 'round his head, the rush of bird wings flying furiously and other animals squealing, and then falling silent. Finally, bloodied and throbbing, Quest fell into a lump, remaining silent himself for who knows how long.
"Awake,..." he just wasn't sure. Was he still dreaming? "Who am I? What am I? What is my name? Is it safe to move?"
Slowly, understanding returned about some things. However, nothing was like he remembered. His warm, snuggly bed was gone. The sounds he knew so well were gone. His home was gone. Where was everybody?
"Eat? Eat. I've got to find something eat. I'm starved. How long have I been lying here?
"Shelter? I should find someplace to be safe. But where? How is that possible? I'm hurt. How can I stop myself from being hurt, again?
"What should I do first? Where should I go? Ow, something really hurts. How can I go? I...don't...even...know...my...own...name. What's going to happen to me? What can I do next?
“Is anybody out there? Anybody?” Overwhelmed by the hopelessness of his situation, Quest sobbed until he was so tired he fell asleep in the pile of dust and leaves.
He slept for days, until he woke up in a heavy rain that turned all the dust to mud.
"I have got to breathe." Quest thought as the rain carried him further down into the unknown valley without sides and without a bottom. Right now, Quest felt like a lump of clay, being pressed by the huge hands of banging trees, pointy rocks, muddy leaves and ferocious winds into a bear-sized clay pot.
"I can't see. I can't stop rolling. I can't get up. Help me, Somebody!" Quest stopped at the bottom, a sloshy marsh of thick grass. "Thank you, God, for a soft landing."
He had stopped. That was the bottom line, and he was grateful for that.
As he thought about what had been happening to him and where he was right now, he was grateful for a few more things. The blood seemed to be washed off by the rain, but mud had become his bandages. Though he was still sore and didn't feel like moving, at least he had come to a soft landing in the grass.
"If I'm going to survive, I need to positive about things, especially the things I can't change. Though I'm small, I have to keep my crying under control, until I solve the problem of shelter and food. Right now, I don't think anybody can hear me. Even if they can, I don't think anybody cares about my pain. They probably have pain of their own. Quest, you're on your own, Little Man. Be BIG."
"Oh. What Happened?" Casa rattled his marbles and looked for his paws, but they were nowhere to be seen. He felt them, he realized. With those paws he felt around to see if he was all there. He was, but he could see nothing. "Now what? And where is Quest? What kind of a father am I to lose my only son so early in that cub's life? Ossie, where are you? Can you hear me?"
After a few minutes of crawling around, digging for clues, he found the one he didn't want to find. The fur and form were known, but Ossie was no longer in the land of the living. "O, my dearest love, I am so sorry. How will I go on without you?" Casa crumpled into a heap, sobbing and spent.
Shaking himself into the moment, he bellowed "I have to find Quest. I can't bring Ossie back, but I will find our son and care for him for both of us now. I love you, Dearest Ossie. I miss you already. But for you and me, I have got to find a way out of this tomb. It used to be our home, but it will forever be your memorial. Now, how do I find the way out?"
Casa reached his forepaws in search of the wall of this new tomb. It took him an eternity, but soon he recognized something. "Okay, the front door of the cave should be to my left in just a few more steps." What he found was a pile of dusty rocks that made him sneeze.
"No front door to this cave now. Better search for the back way out. Maybe the earthquake or explosion or whatever it was didn't reach that far back in the cave. Some hunter had better not have caused a landslide with an errant bullet. I hate hunters. They don't want me to find out that they have harmed my cub in some way. Hang on, Quest, I'm coming."
The cave was piled with strewn rocks and settled dust. Casa inched his way along the floor, following the familiar curves of the wall that remained, until he located the back opening. Hope rose in his weary chest. The faint glint of actual light told him that morning had arrived. The possibility of finding Quest was growing by the minute.
The decline down to the outside was more difficult this morning. After all, the dust had settled back here, too. Casa's exit from this new mausoleum was like falling down Slippery Rock at the end of Fir Wood Creek. In a few moments he was out in the sunlight. The morning sun brightened his spirits and the fresh-after-the-rain atmosphere cleared his lungs.
Hope renewed. It was time to find his cub.
Casa scrambled over the hill of his cave in search of Quest, but the cub was nowhere to be found. "Where did you go, Quest? Where did you go? How will I find you?" he wondered. Turning his thoughts heavenward, he prayed, "O, God in Heaven, if you answer the prayers of bears, please help me to find my little Quest. I'm lost without him."
The tears rolled down his furry cheeks as he remembered the joy of holding his cub in his arms as they fell asleep last night. Together. Baby lay on papa's chest. "Will we ever get to do that, again?" he sniffled. He shook himself. "NO. Stop it, Casa. Stay strong. Be positive. Do whatever you have to do to be your best for the search. Quest needs you. You will be of no help to him, if you fall apart. Onward and upward (or downward as the need may be,) but do it, because you can do it."
Maybe the explosion of the earthquake had affected Casa more than he realized for he started having thoughts that were clearer than usual.
"'Was it a crack in the Space-Time Continuum? Did the Universe and Time really explode and expand outward? Did it all snap back in place today?' Well, this is all very interesting that I am starting to think like a human, but what has this got to do with finding Quest? O, that's right. Now, I remember...Why does Quest seem to have been gone only a few minutes, but also ages ago?"
He thought about stories that Quest and he loved to read. Time moved differently in those fantasies than it did in the real world. Maybe that was it. Did "his life flash before his eyes" in the cave, when he almost died?
In a moment he topped the hill and came down to where he remembered his front door being. Now, however, it was the rock-strewn slab of his wife's permanent resting place. A hole had opened in Casa's heart as surely as rocks had shut his door. Tons of rocks marred his home.
As he scanned the horizon, there was a gap in what he could see. It appeared to be a black hole, not in space, but on the very landscape of Earth itself.
"Is Quest in there?" Casa wondered what he could do to run or to hide as this mystery came to where he stood. "O, God, where are You? Will you help me now?"
"WOW! Where am I? This fog clings to me. What's that awful smell? If only I could see something,...anything,...clearly. I wish it wasn't so clammy. I'm glad I've got fur, but still...this chills me to the bone." Quest mustered strength to stand and study his surroundings, but the sight did him very little good. There seemed to be bright blue above him and to his sides, but near him was oppressive darkness that almost seemed like a person.
"Could the blue mean it's morning? Maybe, but I sure can't prove it in this clammy darkness. Which way do I go to get out of here?"
He scrambled toward the right, but the mist swallowed the blue on that side. "Reverse ground. Maybe, if I go to the left." But as he did that the mist swallowed up the blue on that side, too. "Well, it's a cinch I can't go up." Yet, as quickly as he said the words the mist swallowed up the blue that was above him, too.
NOW, he sank into hopelessness.
"See here, Mist, that's not fair. You don't own me. Go away and leave me alone in the Name of Doso Reymi, Who claws at all our enemies and defeats them."
Obeying his words, rays of sunlight cut through the mist. Quest could see clearly, again. Without one doubt, he knew where he was. Peaceful Valley, where he and his dad had spent many an afternoon playing "Hide & Seek" among the pine trees, firs and cedars that lined the hills on the sides of the valley. When they had tired of running and playing, then fell into each others arms in the thick grass and slept for hours.
"I did fall a long way, but the path back up to the cave shouldn't take me more than a couple of hours in that dir..." He broke off mid-sentence because the very same mist, that he had commanded to leave moments ago, had swallowed up the entire mountainside.
It didn't seem to be a normal mist, but something like a black hole. Yet, it wasn't in outer space. It was right here on the Earth. The mist didn't appear content to own the mountainside and his pathway home, but it was now approaching the valley where he stood. The big, black, ugly hole was nearing him as he watched.
"Now, what did I say? Are you coming back for more? How dare you? I may be a little bear, but Doso Reymi defends the weak. In his name I tell you, again, LEAVE!"
This time the mist continued to approach, ignoring the commands of the cub, named "Quest."