Standing in the warm drizzle, I feel a small shiver run down my spine. A feeling of déjà vu courses through me. I could remember similar events such as these unfurling in my thoughts. Two sets of footprints leading off to my left and veering towards the hill incline. Yes, I could see where they tapered off from my vantage point. The same slight shudder passes through me again, making it all too clear that I was right in my thoughts. Those sets of footprints seem to tell a story of their own. A story of two separate individuals; one an adult with a certain benevolence and a protector, the other a child of uncanny intelligence with a certain gift nature has bestowed on him. But there is a common factor they shared. Angelic. They’re angels!

Papa! Papa! My car is broken again. It refuses to start. Papa, Papa. Wake up Papa, wake up,” the tiny voice continues. I clench my fists under the covering of a coarse blanket as I shut my eyes tightly against those tiny cries. These are sounds from long ago. Correction! They seem to be sounds produced from another era. I had fled from the vicinity of those sounds to answer another call. An important call that I couldn’t possibly turn away from. A call to duty, as it were. But this was more than a call to duty. I could hear some shouts and laughter combined. They are at it again. Treating themselves to some beer and some ribald jokes for humor. Letting out a bated breath, I absently run my thumb over my two days’ shadow as I decide whether to join my buddies or not. I decide on the latter.

Home. How often that word is misconstrued. It could pose a lot of meanings and challenges, if only a few people could but discern the essence of it. Home is where the heart is. But how about a ripped heart? The one that’s emptied of its liveliness and pulsating energy. It’s like watching a flickering light bulb, finally extinguished. It leaves the watcher feeling deflated and you’re powerless to stem the flood of feelings that tend to suffocate and overwhelm you. It barely leaves you with a breath of your own. Yes. Home is where the heart is. And I couldn’t agree more. But home is still far away from me. And all because…I just cannot explain it all. Just then, a light explodes ahead of me. And I’m not imagining it. But I wish I was.

The uniform-draped stranger keeps his folded hands out of sight as he stares ahead of him, frown creasing his brows. The approaching darkness seems to give his bearing a more impressive, larger-than-life silhouette. His lips turn down derisively as he gauges the smaller figure in the same uniform, but who is unaware of his presence. The pitiful-looking creature is hugging a tree stump as if his very life depended on it. Lips curling further, he swears silently as he observes the abject creature, loathe to have his pathetic form holding onto the tree stump as if to draw some strength from it. He raises his head as another flash of light erupts from the sky. It must be a storm about to break. The storm roiling inside of him needs to break out, too.

The ghosts are coming home to roost. All the men are apprehensive and tempers are flaring. But these are extinguished as soon as they’re alight. However, one could not deny the sulfurous odor left behind, unless you’re nose blind. Another death and another burial. But there’s the vacation to look forward to. Deserted homes to get to. Families to get to. And still the deaths…the dead cannot be forgotten. The storm had torn through the camp earlier, ripping the burlap materials draped over the backs of some trucks. Rather a sorry sight, where once there was some order. Again, the home beckons and men are delighted as kids in Disneyland. Still, there are different versions of what home is all about.

The solitary figure is lost in thoughts as he surveys his surroundings. He had seen his wife and son last night. They had smiles on their faces. His eight-year old son had a smudge of ketchup at the corner of his mouth. And that was kind of cute. His wife had proceeded to cover him with an old quilt, a present from her mother. And that was cute too. He sniffs at the use of the word “cute.” He’s no fruitcake, for crying out loud. Looking down at his mud-caked boots, he tries to read the signs in the dirt, patterns that had been artfully constructed as he trudged through the sodden earth. The signs gradually melt away, revealing his family once again. But they’re no longer smiling. His wife stares at him, or rather through him, her face streaked with dried tears. Her hands are clasping his son’s hands. But something seems to be wrong as his son’s back is turned away from him. A sudden numbing feeling overcomes him as he lurches forward into nothingness, only to come to a rude halt.

They’re all lined up outside. The wind is whispering; nothing harsh. The rhythm of the commands seems to leave them detached and obeying like robots. Each man follows the orders by rote. Arms stretching, feet encased in rugged boots, stomping away. The whispering of the wind continues, providing a certain calmness akin to deathliness. It reduces the rigor of the motions. An angel appears in their midst and she’s coming from the other side of the camp. There are two other angels with her. Their appearance produces a fruity pleasantness in the air. The smell associated with suffering, pain and disinfectants. They are the true warriors. Fighting death and alleviating pain.

The disinfectant smell seems to vanish mysteriously. Now, a different smell seems to cut through the air like a surgical blade might, through flesh. It’s a smell so overpowering and it carries such a heavy stench. It’s in everyone’s memories. The smell of defeat and the fear of losing. All combine to daunt and pervade the senses. Rather mitigating. The commands surprisingly continue as before. And all are going through the motions like automatons. Limbs moving like puppets. But with more vigor. I feel the soft breath of something against my face. It has a sweet-sour odor that seems none too unpleasant. I close my mind determinedly to it or else I embarrass myself, which is rather deplorable.

The ebb and flow of a tide of emotions grip the dour-faced solitary figure standing from a vantage outcropping of a craggy hill. His stance seemed formidable and imposing. He had left the camp…still loathe to be near the pathetic creature he had observed earlier. Many people can’t stand his eccentric ways. But that’s their worry. Not his. Now, the poor fella reminds him strongly of someone familiar. And this realization gnaws deeply at him. He had noticed his presence right from the moment they converged at the Mount from different camps. The Mount is the main camp base. And they’re all researchers in a delicate quest. A quest to determine the cure for the world’s ills. The world is already cracking from the sheer force of these. Tik tok, tik tok…..

Trembling, as the force of different emotions ravage through him, he studies the piece of rock in his hands. ‘What answer might it bring?’ he wonders, as he turns it this way and that. Time is running out. And there’s still the coming vacation. Home is where the heart is. He had felt a negative force roaring towards him like a train. Its onslaught is full of malevolence, as it threatens to override his feelings and sanity. He’s got to be strong. Like the rock he’s holding. Maybe stronger. There’s still the quest to consider. They were warned about the messenger. It’s going to come like a thief in the night. A chill seems to sweep all over him. And it is not from the coolness of his surroundings either. That malevolence. It’s so pervading. But he mustn’t yield to it.

One angel is left in the field, and she’s hugging something to her chest. Heart thumping, she darts a look around like a hare caught in a car’s headlights. She’s quick on her feet, too. Like the hare. Again, that voice comes to her. Its whispery notes, not unlike the raspy sounds produced by the swinging motion of gnarled branches in a dry wind. And like those very gnarled branches, her emotions are threatening to break down her defenses. The other two angels—her friends—had watched her leave camp. She had simply left them, mumbling something about a walk. A walk into the gathering dusk, she observes now as the shadows gradually creep closer, trying to engulf her in its inky blackness. She would remain strong. She owes it to the little boy. He had looked up to her for help right from the moment he joined their camp. He came from down the valley, he had said. Lived with his old uncle, his only living relative. There was something about his posture. Like one seeking assurance. And she had given him that assurance. Have no fear, she had said to him. Anything that happens, does so for a reason. But who is she fooling?

The camp seems desolate and deserted now. A bystander could swear that nothing is moving in the hallowed grounds. Grounds where warriors and dark knights marched. There are fading footprints dotting the landscape as proof. But you have to be looking for them to see them in the shadows. Getting closer to the camp, the story is totally different. There’re a lot of emotions unleashed at the moment. These myriads of emotions are clashing against each other. They’re all tied to the quest. But then everything begins and ends with the quest. The clock is ticking. Going tik tok….tik tok. They’re all racing against time. It seems defeat lies in wait for them all. Who is ready to offer himself as a sacrifice in order to save the world? It’s a question forming in everyone’s minds and many are afraid to answer. As if giving an answer will bring about the actualization of a hideous form of horror of enormous proportions.

A sudden crack of a dry twig causes the small form tracing some patterns on the soft earth with a stick to jump suddenly. Looking up, he gives a small smile. It’s the angelwoman. That’s the name he calls her, even though she’s unaware. She has taught him a whole lot these past few weeks. And they’d all be leaving soon, he thinks sadly. And it would be just him and his uncle, again. And the thought seems to bring him despair. Why do the good things or times don’t last? The angelwoman is not smiling. And come to think of it, he hasn’t seen her smile for some days now. And he is not deaf to the whispers going on at the camp. Someone has mentioned a word that sounded ominous, even though he didn’t know the meaning. But the word has somewhat taken up a chant in his mind to the extent of bearing a musical quality. Kwest! Kwest! Kwest!

The angelwoman bends to stare at the pattern the boy has drawn in the sand. As she stares at the earth, some thoughts begin to take form in her mind. Thoughts she feels are related to the pattern in the sand. As a callow youth, he seems very determined in taking on tasks that tests the vestiges of a man’s strength. This is so applaudable in one so young. He had some questions about the quest. But she had waved him to silence. The quest is not something one discussed off-handedly. It’s both a solemn and dreaded topic, generating same emotions. But she has a crazy feeling that his curiosity about it is far from over. She quickly makes a sign of the cross.

Watching the pair from a distance, the regular solitary figure gives a slight grunt. He tucks his hands deeper into the flannel material of his jacket and rocks on the heels of his scuffed boots as he continues to study the two figures in the distance. They remind him of another pair. But they’re a thousand miles away. He had dreamt about his wife and son again last night. This time, there was no ketchup spot on his son’s face. His face was scrubbed clean. Too clean for comfort. He feels a sudden chill despite the two layers of clothing he wore. Time is running out for them all. The quest has to succeed. It has to succeed despite the odds or we’re doomed. Point of correction; the world is doomed. He turns on his heel abruptly, heading back to camp. He hopes the pair he had seen don’t jinx the operation, or there would be hell to pay. Nothing must go wrong with the quest.

The singing continues right into the late afternoon as a group of six continues in their painstaking task right down the valley. It’s a matter of life or death. Success means victory and failure means defeat. A woeful defeat with dire consequences for everyone. The singing continues, taking on a celestial quality. The air seems to amplify its quality. It’s all too enveloping. The trees and all other living creatures apart from man seem to sit up and take notice. One cannot help but be caught in its enchantment. The singing goes on heedlessly, with no musical instrument playing in the background. It’s that overpowering! Singing needs no embellishment of any sort. Just the sole power of straining vocal cords, producing the most fantastic, ethereal sounds ever conceived by man.

The three angels link their hands together as they stand in the cold. Their capes billowing in the strong wind. They have their uniforms on, if the floor-length rough tunics they wore are to be called that. The linked hands clench fiercely as different thoughts roll through them. Then their lips begin to move in unison as if in prayer. Tension builds within them as they are filled with energy. Looking at them, they seem so ethereal and transparent. Their tunic and form suddenly taking on a flimsy appearance. The little boy observes from a distance. He is caught up in their magic. He moves a few steps cautiously towards them, then stops abruptly as if bumping into a glass wall for he could still see the angelic figures holding hands, through it.

The task is building up, nearing its completion. The huddled six figures continue their life’s work relentlessly. The music had given them a renewed sense of devotion and zeal in completing the task. Nothing must go wrong in this battle. It is a fight to the finish. The quest must be completed. Successfully! The holidays are nearly here. And everyone is homeward-bound. What better way to celebrate than to have the quest ready to launch in an hour? Hurrah! A squeak is heard suddenly. A small sound, but loud enough to cut through the air like a hot knife through butter. What could be happening? They all turn in disbelief as a small boy enters the room waving frantically outside. Abandoning the nearly completed quest is suicidal, but that was exactly what happened. Quest briefly forgotten, they all go out to behold a sight, so mysterious in its shape and form.

The camp is gone totally. But the campers are all milling around aimlessly. Confused in thoughts as they look around them in wonder, not minding that they’ve been there for quite a while. But this isn’t home. Home is where the heart is. And the heart is anywhere but there. The ground had suddenly given way beneath them and they’re all left to flounder. Even the quest is totally forgotten. And everyone is resigned to the pitfalls that must surely arise. But the thing is, the event of burying what is forgotten must go on, whichever way it turns out. All must participate. All must take the blame and no one should be spared.

The campers are all gone and only the memories remain. Forlorn and confusing memories—all weaving their effects everywhere and anywhere. It is all so tragic. There is no longer any existing quest. It’s all part of a memory now. A little boy looks out through a glass window in a brick building downhill, alone in his thoughts. His gaze is fixed at some distance. He is also seeking some answers. Answers that are related to the forgotten quest. He had hoped that the kind woman would have taken control of everything. Everything had seemed to go on so well. The kind woman would have been the solution to everything. He smiles as he remembers the strange remark that she gave about his inquiry of the strange unhappy man he had seen uphill severally. Some people are filled with doubts, child. Problem is that there would have been no need for them, if they could but realize it.