by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #20 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November 2017.
Happy home too soon at end,
Mist too soon returned.
Loving Mother heart to mend.
Many lessons learned.
Christmas on New Year's Eve
The days following Christmas were bittersweet. Quest enjoyed the new level of friendship and fellowship that he shared with his principal, Mrs. Giraffe. However, his dad and his new Mom were still not home. On top of that he would have to wait another eleven months before the joy of the Christmas season began, again. "Christmas is my favorite season. How do I survive the dearth of Christmas sights and sounds, during the months of January through May? Maybe, I can practice singing Christmas songs in my private room in the den, while making Christmas needlepoints and other kinds of gifts for next Christmas. At least some of the craft stores start displaying Christmas items as early as June. God, being my Helper, I will survive."
Early in the morning of New Year's Eve the bittersweet changed to exceeding Joy. "They're coming! Dad and Mom are nearly here! They're on the way!" Quest shouted and loped down the hill to the place, where they stood on the path leading out of the deep woods. "Dad! Mom! Welcome! Welcome!"
"Boy, are we glad to see you, too, Son." Casa smiled and laughed and jumped and danced and sparred with his excited son as they renewed acquaintance after the week-long absence.
"Well, Boys. There's a new lady in town," Ethelene quipped. "Do you have a kiss for me, too?"
"O, Yes, Ma'am," Quest said in his excitement to see her. He gave her a big sloppy kiss and an even bigger bear hug. "I am so thrilled to have a new Mom! I've never had a teacher, who was my Mom. Come to think of it,...I've never had a Mom, who was my classroom teacher before now!"
"Well, I think you should be aware of a couple of things, My Good Young Sir," Ethelene's contrived firmness was cracking into a smile. "When we return to your fifth-grade classroom, you will get no special privileges from me, simply because I am your Mom. However, on the other hand, you have the benefit of knowing that I will not be any rougher on you than I am on the other children, who are simply my students."
"Thanks, Mom. I'll remember," Quest said.
"'Mom,...' That sounds great. Thank you, Son. Well,...It's about time for you to fill us in on your activities of the week. Did you have a good Christmas Day without us?" Ethelene asked.
"Well, Ma'am, some parts of Christmas Day were better than others. First, I missed Dad really badly, but Ms. Gerry was good company. We had FUN," Quest assured both of them. "Secondly, Ms. Gerry made The Big Choice for Jesus. That means we now have a new family member."
"That's Great, Son. I would be interested to find out how you explained everything to her to bring her to that decision, but I guess that'll have to wait,...unless..." Dad pointed. "Here she comes. Why don't we talk with her right now? She might like to tell us herself."
"Got it," Quest said. "Hey, Ms. Gerry! Look, who I found!"
"I see. I see," she said. "They appear to have enjoyed a great week on their honeymoon."
"We did, indeed," said Ethelene. "But we are glad to be back home to rest. Besides, school starts back next week, and I need to begin to think about my responsibilities."
"I would appreciate that," Mrs. Giraffe assured her, slightly cocking her head, while wearing a little smirk.
"Dad and Mom, I would like to get a head start to the den," Quest said. "I haven't been there all week, and I would like to clean it up a little before you newlyweds arrive. Would that be okay with, you two?"
"Of course, Son," Casa responded. "And thank you for your efforts on our behalf."
"I love you, Dad and Mom!" Quest smiled. "You are my best Christmas presents this year!"
"Oh. How sweet," said Ethelene with a little tear in her eye.
The Last Half of Fifth Grade
The first couple of months of the new calendar year found Quest walking around in wide-eyed awe. "I have a Mother," he thought. "I have a Mother. How amazing is that!"
Of course, there were times, when having a mother cramped his style a bit. "Quest. Wait just a moment, Young Sir," Mom looked down her slightly crinkled snout with firm eyes. "Have you finished those History and Science homework assignments that I gave you in class, today?"
"Then, where did you think you were going through the door of our den?"
"I just wanted to play with my friends for about an hour or so."
"When you have finished your homework, then you may use whatever time is left before sunset for playing with your friends. If you want to play for a longer time tomorrow, then I suggest you focus on your homework right after school."
"Yes, Ma'am. I will," Quest said with a sad heart. "Thank you for the permission to go to play as soon as I finish my homework."
He realized that life had been a bit more laissez-faire when his family had been just his Dad and himself. Now, he had to focus more on his schoolwork because his Mom was, also, his teacher. "It's so hard to get by with anything when your teacher knows where you live because she lives there, too," he thought to himself.
Overal,l life was still rather amazing with Mom-Teacher in his life. The school days were focused on ensuring that grades were up in the "safe-to-pass" zone. Weekends were spent at the lake frolicking in the meadow and swimming in the lake with Dad and Mom, especially when the temperatures were on the rise.
May arrived and shortly thereafter the last day of school. Quest received a glowing report card, which Dad promptly signed and tucked away in their Chest of Remembrances for mementos of successful occasions in the lives of the family members.
"Time to get ready for a summer full of play dates with my friends at the lake," Quest thought. Little did he know that life was about to change for him for the rest of his Earthbound days.
The Mist Returns
The first week of summer vacation was pretty much the same as all last summer had been. Quest ran and loped and played with his friends through the meadows that surrounded the big lake near his home. They wrestled, then they dove into the lake to swim. When they were exhausted, they laid down on the green, green grass and took long naps.
However, one day early in the second week something strange visited him. It was an old terror that was so old, it had nearly passed completely out of his memory.
His Dad and Ethelene had urged him to stay home and "Be responsible for the house, while we're away. You're getting older and we need a day of 'Just Us'. Are you good with that, son?"
"I'm fine, Dad. I think that's a great idea. Go and have a wonderful time." Quest bid them a fond farewell and turned on his hind paws to go find a good book to read.
That image of his Dad and his new Mom walking out the door was the last picture Quest had of them emblazoned in his memory for the rest of his life on Earth because later in the day when they should have returned, the young cub went looking for them. They were nowhere to be found. Quest looked everywhere. He went to see every one of his friends, "Have you seen Dad and Mom?" "No. When did they leave the den?" was always the response.
Finally, in a meadow at the lake, Quest got a big clue. A huge black mist hung over the meadow across the lake. Swirling, ever circling, always growing larger in circumference. It seemed like an ancient nemesis. It was an enemy, a terribly old fiend, a terror he had tried very hard to forget because (as he now recalled) he and his Dad had been in its belly once before when he was a very small cub. The whole experience had aged both of them significantly. Maybe it was the break in the Space-Time Continuum that Adam had caused so many years ago at the beginning of Time. At least now he had probable cause for its existence with the understanding that came with making The Big Choice.
Then, all those old memories started flooding back. It didn't seem to be a normal mist back then, and it didn't seem to be normal in the present day, either. This mist or something like a mist was actually more like a black hole on both occasions, except that it wasn't in outer space. Yes. He remembered that fact, too. It was right here on the Earth. "How could a Black Hole be sitting on the Earth?" he wondered. Today, the Mist or Black Hole or whatever it was didn't appear content to own the other side of the lake. It was now swallowing the lake whole and coming toward the meadow where he stood. The edge of this thing was nearly on him as he watched.
Quest screamed the only thing he could think of screaming at the time. "In the Name of D'Oso Reimi, the big Grizzly Bear, you will cease and desist! You cannot have me! It's time for you to release my Dad and Mom, too." The Misty Black Hole paused for a moment as though it were thinking about the commands that Quest had just spoken. Then, suddenly and without warning, The Mist expanded and increased its speed. It was on him before he could breathe. In a moment he was in its belly surely and irreparably once, again. He remembered the next part, vividly.
Quest fell and fell and fell and fell and... "Not again. Please, not again. Oh, Why, again? Have you no mercy, Fowl Beast of Darkness?" But there was nothing Quest could do about it. He fell into this nothingness as he had many years ago. Again, there were no walls, no mud, no trees off which to bounce, no grass on which to land,...NOTHING.
At first, the frightened cub couldn't see a thing, but slowly and more surely by the minute, he could make out colors and objects in the misty nothingness. "Oooo, pretty purple and dark blue and maybe a little green... What's that? A fir tree that is sort of shaped like a triangle,...and...pretty colored lights dancing on the limbs. Is that Ethelene just out of reach? MOM, is that you?"
What appeared to be his Mom abruptly vanished as Quest kept spinning in the dark room without walls.
"I've seen this all before. Why am I seeing it all, again? Is there no new message to know this time? Is there no new experience from which to learn? What is this place? I really must know this time. These images meant something then and I know they must mean something now, but I can't quite remember what. I can remember something. That tree was the shape and size of a Christmas tree."
Quest, tossed in body and mind, once more worried in spirit and sick to his stomach, thought about crying, but he needed answers. Being older he chose to keep his wits about him. "Is this a vacuum of space?" wondered Quest. "This nothingness is so BIG. It seems to have friends helping it cause destruction. How could just one void do this much damage?"
"O, God, I know You are with me. How will you help me now? Will You deliver me once more? Or am I finally going into the land of no return?" Everything went black for what seemed to be minutes,...maybe,...hours. Eventually, Quest's eyes started to clear. He could make out colors and a few objects. "Is that purple? YES. And dark blue...maybe some greens. I've been here before. But where is here?"
A grizzly bear roared past, slashing him across the face, but without claws this time. It was D'Oso pointing the way out.
A hunter took aim. Something whizzed past, barely missing his paw. I understand the enemy of my soul wants to kill me, but D'Oso is with me.
A trap flew toward him with jaws open wide, ready to break bones should any part of him touch the trigger. However, Quest felt peace because he had learned Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
In another part of this great nothingness, Casa and Ethelene were struggling just to keep each other in sight. They were losing that battle, quickly. They wept loudly. They shouted to each other. They heard nothing. They saw nothing. They could do...nothing.
Furiously, the papa bear swung his paws in search of a foothold, something to grasp, anything to help right himself. There was nothing. He fell further, further, further. He was turning, ever turning. There were no walls, no floors, no roof above him.
He tried to roar.
Ever going, but always in the same place...or...so it seemed. "Will this never end? Is there ever going to be hope of something I can understand? Has meaning forever become meaningless?"
The men in her life had been here before, but Ethelene didn't know that. All she knew was that she had never experienced anything like this in her entire life. "Is this what Hell is like, forever? Do people in Hell always strive for Hope? Never, never, never able to reach Hope. Am I having this experience to make me a better witness for D'Oso, when I come out on the other side? I am quite sure it would do that, but will I escape? Is this the end? Is this death? If so, why haven't I seen The Lord of Glory, yet? The Bible verse clearly says, 'Absent from the body and present with The Lord.' Shepherd, come quickly for I am so afraid!"
Aging and Alone
All of a sudden in a flashback of "doing-it-again"-ness in the misty, swirling maelstrom of the out-of-place quasi-black hole, Quest and Casa locked eyes for the last time in this existence, (although they didn't know it at the time.) They saw each other but did they really see each other.
Now that The Big Choice had been made in each of their hearts, they shouted in unison with only moving lips to confirm this. "Here! There! Or in the air!"
They had no more need for doubt. "The Way, The Truth and The Life" lived with each of them and would cause them to be together, again, in His own good time. (John 14:6)
Both hoped because D'Oso Reimi had assured them that He "would never leave (them), nor forsake them." (Hebrews 13:5)
Both opened their mouths once again to roar...
And once again they created together a terrific, mutual silence...
Their faces, however, were for the second time in this outlandish place, creating the loudest cacophony the world had ever heard....or...seen.
"I see you, Dad! I just can't reach you!"
"I see you, Quest! I just can't reach you!"
They were getting quite good at reading lips.
Never being heard,
But always (for the moment) being seen.
They "swam" and they "swam"
and they "reached" and they groped.
They stretched for a foot or a hair or a hand.
They "Yes"-ed for a while. Then, they Noped and they Noped.
The new lady in their lives was already far out of reach. The agonizing struggle was beginning to take its toll, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, this time as it had done once before,...so, so, so long ago.
Sleepiness,...but I can...still...see him. Quest was in Casa's sights, and then...he wasn't.
FLIP. FLOP. Rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling... "Is this a hill?" He wondered. "Are those rocks that are slamming against my already pain-wracked body?" The mud caked on his fur. He sputtered and spat, gasping for air. "Something is down here, but it is not a sure foothold. I'm still rolling." He moaned.
Finally, SPLAT. All four limbs, splayed, in a "pond" that appeared to formerly be a grassy meadow. "Okay. Wait for it." Quest thought with a smile. He waited and waited and waited,...but...nothing. "Where is Dad? Where is Mom? Last time The Mist spit him out right next to me in this pond of a meadow. So, where is he? Where are they? Where am I? Am I in the same place as before? For that matter, WHEN am I? Must find a lake and look for my reflection."
He felt "turned around," disoriented, but soon the sun burned off the rest of The Mist. He saw a lake about a hundred yards to his left. He loped as fast as he could go, but somehow he felt much heavier than before. He couldn't run nearly as fast he could run just yesterday,...or...was that actually years ago?
The Face in the Glassy Lake
When he finally got there, the lake was a clear a glass and the sun was high in the sky. Nothing could have prepared Quest for the face he saw when he leaned out over the lake. "Are you kidding me? That can't be me." He put his right paw to the right side of his head. The bear in the lake mirrored him. He put his left paw on the left side of his head. The bear in the lake mirrored him.
"That has to be me. There are no other bears nor animals of any kind on this meadow. Dad didn't even flop down beside me. Oh, Precious D'Oso, who is this bear I am seeing in the lake? I'm just a small cub...in the fifth grade. This bear's face looks to be at least 20 years older than the way I remember my Dad looking. At least, I think that's what it would be if we lived as long as humans."
"How old could I possibly be in human years?" he wondered. "I look like I could be nearly 60 years old if I were a human. That's certainly not that old, but that's a bit of a shock when what seemed like only an hour ago, I was only ten years old. On top of that, I've lost both my Dad and my Mom on the same day that I aged nearly five decades. I need to sit down."