by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #14 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November 2017.
Failing grade caused greatest pain,
Dad said, "Time to move."
Greatest Joy at end of rain,
Enid was reproved.
As Casa had predicted the door to the cave was open, again, when they finally awoke about the time of the spring thaw. The usual stretching and yawning felt restorative as they began to open their eyes to see the new green and very colorful world.
The seeds of hope planted in their hearts by D'Oso Reimi started to blossom in a big way like the roses, gardenias, jasmine, and lantana that all started to put on their blooms of red, orange, yellow and white. There was still a long period of waiting to leave the days and nights of boredom with really "not much exciting" happening.
Quest enjoyed Mrs. Calvert's third-grade class over the next four months or so. He finished her class with high grades of A-pluses to B-pluses.
Though the young bear was all set for another summer of rolling in the grass and swimming and fishing in the lake, his thoughts of reverie were short-lived, since Casa realized that it was time to move further north to look for another job.
"Where are we headed now, Daddy?"
"Quest, I have heard that there is a new bear-run construction project in the forest east of Enid Trails in the state of Oklahoma. It is quite a ways from Fort Worth since this is in Texas. Some of my on-the-job friends in this plant have suggested that the trip to Enid Trails will take five or six weeks of hiking and rest on the challenging roads that climb and descend several times before we get there."
"Do you think I'm old enough to make the trip, Dad?"
"I think we'll have to try because I'm surely not going to leave you here. When the road gets rough, we'll take frequent breaks, even sleeping in the same place a night or two as need be in order to replenish our strength. But know this, we will make this trip together. The length of time it takes for you to make it to Enid Trails is the time it will take me to make it there. You're my son. I'm proud of you ahead of time...just for trying something that we both know will be challenging."
"Thanks, Dad. I won't let you down."
"I know you won't, Son. We better pack this evening and get a little more rest overnight. I'd like to start early in the morning."
"Can you carry all of our things? I already have quite a few things of my own."
"Well, that's the thing about long trips and moving to new states for a new life. Animals like bears do not have the luxury of moving vans like humans do. You will carry two (or at the most, three) of your stuffed people and a favorite pillow. I will carry a few provisions for food and not much else. We'll leave the rest of our things because the alpha bear of another family is headed this way with his whole family to work in the factory in my place. They will need the things we are leaving behind. I'm sure we will find everything we need when we arrive in Enid Trails."
"Alright, Daddy, I will trust you. You've always provided for me in the past."
"And D'Oso Reimi has always provided for both of us, even when we couldn't see Him. There's no way to control the comings and goings of such a large bear as He. As Winston Middlesbrough was wont to say in his writings about the planet of Reimi IV, 'D'Oso Reimi is wise, but such great wisdom can often look like foolishness.' I have come to know that is true from personal experience."
The trip to the forest east of Enid Trails was difficult, indeed. Seven weeks of walking, loping, trudging and some extended resting in between put the two road-weary bears into their newly found den with only one week to settle in before school started. Quest spent most of the week sleeping to recover his painful paws, while Casa spent the bulk of that week interviewing for and landing the job he had hoped to have. The construction of roads and municipal buildings in the forest for the use of forest animals was hard and often grueling work, but Casa stayed at it, showing the foreman that he could really pull his weight. All the time he was thinking about his dear cub for whom he had become quite adept at being both father and mother.
The Friday of that first week was a big day for both of the bears. Quest had to be registered into his school, Shady Oaks Elementary. His teacher, Mrs. Pierson, they learned, was related to one of the most famous pumas "in that neck of the woods."
"Hello, Casa. Hello, Quest. I am looking forward to having you in my class this year. We will have great fun in all of the subjects, but since I am especially fond of History, I plan to take the class on many field trips. Do you think you would like that, Quest?"
"I guess so. What are field trips?"
"That's the best part. We will go for hikes to some famous and historical places in the deepest parts of our forest. We'll take notes about what we see. We'll make rubbings of some of the tombstones. We'll take examples of the fallen leaves and insect exoskeletons that they leave attached to trees. Cicadas are a prime example of this. When we get back to the classroom on those days, we will feel refreshed from the brisk walks, the filling of our lungs with fresh air and the encouragement that our minds are more greatly filled with excellent knowledge."
"Well,...it certainly sounds like fun. I'll be looking forward to it,...I think."
Casa spent most of the weekend reassuring Quest that having a puma for a teacher was a really good thing. "After all, nobody will ever attack you or any of your classmates because pumas are excellent hunters. Their stealth is second to none. Any potential predators will be dispatched with great aplomb in short order."
"Alright, Dad, I can see that, but what is to stop her from seeing one of us a juicy morsel. Who will protect US from her?"
"You're imagining things, My Boy. You will have a great time this year. Trust me."
First Day of School
Quest asked to get to school early in order to "get a lay of the land." Casa agreed. At 7:30 on Monday morning the two bear "men" started exploring Quest's new educational "home" for the next year. Everything was pretty straightforward. The school was shaped like a big H if you could look down from an airplane. Each wing housed a different grade level from third through sixth grades. The playground was huge by the standards of his last school. Quest met a couple of other fourth grade bears, and they all seemed to "hit it off" as new friends.
The time flew by and before they knew it, Mrs. Pierson was calling for her students to come in and take their places by finding the chairs, marked with their names "on a 4 X 6 card in black marker."
"Students, my name is Mrs. Pierson. As you may have noticed I am a puma. I will expect the greatest decorum in my classroom at all times. If you are caught talking, when it is not time to have friendly conversations, then I will just eat you."
Quest's eyes were as large a saucers.
"No. No. Children, I'm just teasing. That was a little puma huma (or was that pumer humor, I never can remember.) The point is that you may be placed out in the hallway for excessive talking, but I would never eat anyone. I am a reformed puma. I have retrained my brain to fiercely protect, but never to attack."
Quest melted into his chair, relieved.
"However, Children, there is one non-negotiable with me. I expect you to get plenty of sleep every night in preparation for my class. I am well aware of video games in which some of my students always seem to excel. They play these games all night, sleeping through most of my classes the next day. This will not be tolerated. All children your age NEED at least eight to ten hours of sleep every night. I will accept no less. Come prepared or don't come at all. That is all."
Mrs. Pierson turned her back to the class, starting to write on the chalkboard. The first words were, "READ THESE ASSIGNMENTS CAREFULLY AND BEGIN IMMEDIATELY."
After her modicum of introductory niceties, Mrs. Pierson was "off like a shot," and she never looked back. She apparently expected her children to get the lessons by "reading, writing and 'rithmatic." In other words, they had to "put two and two together" she was "not going to play around with them." She was a good puma. "Keep up or get run over!" seemed to be her philosophy. She lived it every moment of their days together.
At 3:00 P.M. at the end of that first day of school Quest was still sitting in his seat, staring "like a deer in the headlights," DAZED and CONFUSED. When Casa arrived to gather his son for the walk home, he knew something was wrong, but he tried the cheery approach. "Hey, Buddy. How was the first day of school? You do realize that the class day is over, right? Are you ready to go home for an evening of FUN, FUN, FUN?"
"NO, DAD. I've got go home and go to bed. I need ten hours of sleep every night before the next class day. I need to start as soon as possible."
"WOW. Are you sure, Son? Let me talk with your teacher and get confirmation of that one."
"NO, DADDY! PLEASE, DON'T TALK TO MY TEACHER! YOU'LL ONLY MAKE MY LIFE WORSE!"
"QUEST?" But his son was already halfway across the playground on his way back to the den. Casa had to lope to catch up and had to keep loping because the boy didn't slow down until he got home and into his bed.
That was life with Quest and Casa every day of the fourth-grade year. Quest was, apparently, terrified of his teacher, but he would never allow his dad to get anywhere near his teacher because he thought that his dad's interactions at school would only make things worse.
The "F" on His Paper
Quest was a peaceful child, until the fourth grade. Then, he became anxious, nervous and wary of everyone in his world. Maybe it was the fact that his teacher was a puma. Maybe it was the fact that she had "one non-negotiable." Maybe it was the fact that she seemed to be such a fearful presence. Whatever it was, became worse the day he had a test paper returned to him with a Big Red "F" emblazoned at the top of the paper.
He became upset, and his dad couldn't make him better.
His eyes darted back and forth at every movement, sudden or otherwise.
His stomach became nervous upset all of the time.
His became unable to sleep because he was trying so hard to get "ten hours of sleep every day."
By the last week of school, that year, Quest was a nervous wreck!
BUT on the day after, school let out for the summer, and Quest was back to his old self.
This was especially true when Casa told him that they would have to move, again,
because the construction project had fizzled somewhat, and Casa was one of the ones to be laid off.
"No worries, Dad! Why wait 'til tomorrow! It'll take me less than five minutes to be ready to go! Let's leave now! Where shall we go this time? North? South? East? West? No place is too far! No road is too rough! Take me anywhere, but here! I have had enough of this forest to last a lifetime!"
"Well, alrighty then. I have heard about a job quite a distance to the east of here, but since you don't mind where. We'll leave now and talk on the way."
"Great, Dad! I love it already!"
On the road, Again!
The long night of trudging through forests, swamps, muck & mire gave way to the astonishment of sunrise on the bank of a huge river.
"What is this place, Dad? How will we ever get across to the other side?"
"First things first, My Boy. Here's what appears to be an important sign. 'Miss Slippy's River: Iffen you wants ta cross, then ya best head down ta the dock 'n ketch the next paddle wheel that's takin' a load across from there. Welcome to Miss Slippy's Land (on the other side of the river, that is).' Well, I reckon we 'best head down ta the dock.' Last one there, Baby Boy,...Get's Wet! See, Ya! Wouldn't want ta be ya!'"
"Au contraire, Mon Capitán! My dust is your breakfast!" (Big Smile)
Quest was, indeed, the first one on the dock, but Dad was the reason they could get on the boat. That being said. Dad paid the fare and they boarded the paddlewheel. In a couple of hours, they had made it across to Miss Slippy's Land.
They were greeted by another provincial sign in that most interesting dialect. "Welcome to Miss Slippy's Land. You made it. Good fer you. We hope yer ready ta pull yer weight 'cause we gotta whole heap of a lotta people already here."
"WOW, Dad. They don't sound very friendly, do they?"
"No worries, Buddy. They're probably just very friendly to 'home folks.' Maybe they'll let us on pass through without too much grief."
"I sure hope so," Quest said with his head down.
A few miles away from the Eastside Dock, Casa found a used airboat dealer. He paid "Bayou Honest" Joe, the slimy alligator proprietor the "going rate" of "Five Hunnert Smackers & a Mess o' Croakers" for a dilapidated airboat with three out of four blades in the fan. Slowed down a little by half a day of fishing to pull out the "mess of croakers," the bear father and son were finally on their way as the sun began to lengthen its rays toward dusk.
Dad found the most out-of-the-way bayous, swamps, and marshlands to be the way to traverse Miss Slippy's Land without being noticed much. With a fair amount of country driving for a bear, who had never commanded any kind of boat before this one, the two funny-looking bears with ducktails in the fur of their heads were about ten miles from the border of the next state,...only they didn't know it, yet.
"I don't know about you, My boy, but I am feeling very tired. What say we look for a bridge to tie up the boat? We'll drop a couple of hammocks from high up in one of these trees on the bank. Then, we should be safe for the night. We'll get a fresh start at sun up."
"Whatever you say, Dad. I'm almost asleep right nowwwww..."
"Stay with me, Buddy. I don't know these parts. It could be a very treacherous night. I'll try to sleep 'with one eye open'."
They were in their hammocks and "out" in fifteen minutes flat.
A night of nerves can be both long and short. At first light the sun tapped the boys on their shoulders. They awoke to something they had never seen before. Three alligator's were parked under their tree with mouths wide open. Three more gators were sunning themselves on Casa's junky old used airboat. A seventh amphibian was a crocodile, wearing a badge of the law. He stood at attention on the bridge. He had a broad-rimmed state trooper's hat on his head with a great big ol' smile on his face.
"Good morning, my fair Ladies." the trooper smirked. "Iffen you'd like to be delivered from your situation, then I suggest you listen up real careful like."
"Say on, My Good Man," Casa responded, smiling.
"Say what? I'm gonna play like you agreed with me. At any rate, the boys underneath you would really like to 'give you the business' by having you give them their breakfast this morning. However, we're all businessmen here. So, here's the deal. The three boys on their newly-found airboat..."
"Hey! That's mine! I bought it yesterday!"
"Like I was a-sayin'. The boys are more than willing to drive you the ten miles to Alabama and drop you off into the very first inch of that property there. Whatever the folks in Alabama want to do with you is their business."
"You mean you're stealing our boat?"
"No more than the way you stole 'room and board' last night in that there tree! The way I see it. Your boat pays for the 'room & board.' You get a free ride to Alabama without me puttin' you into the pokey fer stealing. You don't get eat by the boys. And finally, the boys get to make money recycling that boat by taking it back to the cousin that sold it to you at the River. Your life and your freedom fer that boat. Does that work fer you?"
"Quite well. We'll be right down. Thank you for the kind offer."
"Don't mention it."
Thirty minutes later they were literally dumped off into the first inch of Alabama real estate as the boat made a wicked turn and the two bears flopped into the mud.