by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #4 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November, 2017.
Mama Ossie lives, again,
only in their dreams.
Waking seems like such a sin,
heart unthreads at seams.
"Quest, we'll talk more about this breaking of the eighth commandment, later, but now we need to find shelter. It's getting late in the day. There is a thick growth of fir trees at the lower end of the valley. We just have time to get there and stuff limbs, leaves, and evergreen needles in between some of the trees for a make-shift bed. Let's get a move on!"
"Okay, Dad, I see it! Last one there is a rotten egg!"
Quest hadn't lost his thirst for fun, even after Dad had reprimanded him. "Youth..." Dad thought with a smirk.
The whole task took the better part of an hour. A few minutes later and they were both "sound asleep."
Dad dreamed of happier days with Ossie, while Quest dreamed of his Mom, too. What would they do without her in their lives?
"Casa, the baby is coming!" Ossie was in great pain, but she kept her wits about herself.
"What do you need me to do, Ossie?" Casa was nearly frantic.
"Go to the White Willow tree near the back entrance to the den!" she urged him. "Peel off about a dozen strips of the bark that are about half the length of one your forearms! Bring them to me quickly! I want to chew on them, while I'm giving birth!"
"Of course, I will!" he shouted at a lope. "Back in a minute!"
The White Willow tree was already peeling in places as if it knew it was being called into duty at this critical time in their lives. The pain relieving properties of the White Willow bark have nearly been forgotten by many of the human residents of Planet Earth. However, some of the wiser humans are starting to discover what the animals have known, since the beginning of time. Plants have healing properties that are greater than the chemical-based medicines that have been "discovered" or created during the past century.
Casa loped so hard in his dreams that he tossed Quest to the other end of the make-shift bed. Quest awakened for a moment, "Dad must be having a bad dream. I'll just stay here. Let him sleep. I'm okay. I'm sure I can get more sleep very Soozzzzzzzzzz..."
Casa had arrived at the White Willow tree in his dreams. He tore furiously at the invisible bark, gathering it in his arms, running just as adamantly back to his pain-wracked wife.
"Here's the White Willow bark, Ossie! Now what?"
"Stay with me! It won't be long now! AGGHHH! The pain is so strong! I don't know how much more I can take!"
"Take my paw! Grip hard! You won't hurt me!" Casa assured her.
Ossie squeezed with all her might, making splinters of the White Willow bark. "Give me another piece, please!"
"Oh, God! How long will this take!"
"Not long now, Ossie!"
"Why, God! Oh, why did You include pain in the birthing process!"
"I'm so sorry, Ossie!"
"Did you intend to punish us for some reason?" she spat through her teeth. "Wasn't it Your command to 'be fruitful and multiply'? Why, then, do You punish us for obeying Your command?"
"There is a reason, Ossie, but I doubt that you want to hear it right now!"
"You're so right, My Dear Husband!" she growled so loudly that he shuddered. "Explain this, and I will slash you across your face!"
Casa smiled as he leaned back a little, but said nothing.
"Smart man!" Ossie nearly laughed, which acted like a pin in the bubble of her anger. "Why does God give the male of the species all the pleasure with such consistency, while He gives the female of the species such pain with inconsistent pleasure? Again, don't answer that!"
One final push and the baby boy cub screamed his first breath, flailing his arms at first, then finding Ossie's tummy he curled into his familiar position and went back to sleep. Ossie was so tired from birthing that she quickly dropped off to sleep, too.
However, at that moment Casa startled awake, unsettled at the vivid images of his dear wife along with her sweet voice, yet now realizing that she was gone. He alone had responsibility to care for this boy cub. He cried inside grieving the pain he couldn't fix with White Willow bark.
Quest had fallen asleep, again, too. "Mommy, can we go play by the lake, today?"
"Quest, you know I have to make supper before your father gets home from work," Ossie said. "If we have time after supper, then I think we all might be able to go to the lake. Would that be okay?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Quest replied. "I sure hope he gets home soon!"
"Me, too, Son. Me, too."
In his dreams he watched as Ossie tore the leaves and tossed them into a bowl with the mushrooms and cheese and pieces of cooked eggs. "Mom is such a good cook! I never have to worry about getting enough to eat.
"Mom, how did you learn how to cook?"
"Well, My Young Sir, I learned by watching my Mom prepare the food, when I was a little cub," Ossie smiled. "Would you like to learn to cook, too, Quest? Things have changed, even for the bears in the past few years. Now, husbands and wives share responsibilities in the home. It's true that your Dad still gathers much of the food that we prepare (or cook,) but I, too, go to gather the leaves and berries, when I am able and need a break from "the four walls." Your Dad seems to like seeing me out in the woods with him. But at home your Dad joins me in the cooking process. He is now quite handy in the kitchen."
"What do I need to do, Mom?"
"See those spinach leaves?"
"Tear them in two and put that in this bowl."
"We're making Chef Salad, tonight! And I'm the Chef!" Ossie laughed, which startled Quest and he woke up.
"Come back, Mom! Come back!" Too late he remembered that sweet dreams are not always reality.
Why is it Wrong to Steal?
The next morning the bear men ate their breakfast in silence. When they were finished, Casa looked at his cub with a grave face and said, "Son, we need to have a conversation."
"What about, Dad?" Quest asked.
"Last night you told me that you didn't understand why stealing things that belonged to others, like 'pick-a-nick baskets,' was wrong. I believe that it is very wrong. I want to explore this subject with you, right now. Will you help me?"
"Sure, Dad! Where do you want to start?"
"First, Young Sir, I would like to know what about stealing don't you understand?" Casa asked with a rather perplexed face.
"Well, I don't understand why it's wrong, if I'm hungry, and the humans are not around, (which means I don't scare anybody,) for me to take what I need to eat to satisfy my hunger," Quest said with a straight face.
"What? It's not like I'm taking everything they left just because I can! I just eat enough to not be hungry anymore! What's wrong with that?"
"You really don't know, do you?"
"No, Dad! I really don't know! What DID I do wrong?"
"Well, Son, for the moment I will lay aside the fact that stealing breaks one of the Ten Commandments. I will, also, table the matter of the possibility of a ranger tranquilizing you and taking you to a deep part of the forest for release...a long, long way away from me. I want to hold a mirror in front of your face and ask, 'What if...?'"
"'What if...' what, Dad?"
"What if you, Quest, had prepared your own meal for a long trip to the woods near a far away, strange and as-yet-unvisited-by-you town? What if one of the local bears found your food, while you were sleeping? What if that local bear was hungry? What if that bear took enough of your food to satisfy his or her hunger? Would you be happy about that?"
"No! I would not!" Quest assured him. "But that's why I sleep with my belongings close to my body, not to mention the fact that I'm a light sleeper! So, I would kill anybody, who tried to steal from me. Or at least I would maim that low-life bear!"
Casa rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"What? Wouldn't you?"
"You would handle the violation of one of the Ten Commandments by breaking another one," Casa hung his head. "Two wrongs don't make a right, My Only, and therefore, Dearest Son!"
"'Thou shalt not kill.'"
"Wait! That one's in there?"
"Yes, but let's stay on track for the moment," Casa urged. "'Thou shalt not kill' is a whole other conversation."
"What, Dad? You wouldn't protect your own property, if someone was trying to take it?"
"I would. That is why we are having this conversation in the first place. Humans have a right to protect their own things, even though they are not as strong as you or me, which means they have to carry guns, when they are in the forest to protect themselves from filching bears, like yourself. That is if the ranger doesn't get there in the first place to tranquilize you for your own good and ultimate safety."
"So, you're saying it's not okay to steal from weaker creatures like humans?"
"It's not okay to steal from anybody! Their weakness or strength has no bearing on the matter!"
"Really? I'm stunned!"
"Quest!" Casa rolled his eyes, again. "You already seem to know at least on some level that stealing is wrong. You said, and I quote, 'So, I would kill anybody, who tried to steal from me. Or at least I would maim that low-life bear!' You used the word, 'steal' in a sentence, and you called the thief a 'low-life'. Doesn't that show that you consider stealing to be wrong?"
"Sure! It's wrong, if somebody is doing it to me, especially if I catch them!"
"You mean, it's not stealing, if nobody catches you?"
"O, Boy!" Dad shook his head some more. "We've really got to work on your 'inner policeman'!"
"The humans call this the conscience. It's the part of you that tells you that you are doing something wrong, even when nobody is around to catch you doing that wrong thing."
"What's the fun in that?"
"What's the fun in not having the food you made for your long trip, especially if you weren't around to catch the one, who did this dastardly sin, evil and wrong action?"
"THAT wouldn't be fun at all! I would be really sad and angry, not to mention very hungry." Quest bowed his head. "I'm starting to see what you mean."
"It's all in the perspective. If you don't know whether something is good or bad to do, then ask yourself, 'How would I feel, if somebody else did this thing to me?'"
"A wise old bear once told me, 'Whatever you would want someone else to do to you, then do that very thing to that bear (or even to a human.) He called it The Golden Rule, which means that it is the very best rule by which to live your entire life."
"Alright, Dad. I'll think about that, and I'll try to change my behavior." Quest stared off into space as he thought about their conversation.