It was supposed to be a peaceful night.
I had plans to stay up late, although I promised my beloved little sister that I would watch Adventure Time with her before I retire to my video games. Mom had just finished doing the dishes. Our dog, Max, was cozily sleeping on the floor beside the couch.
And Dad...well, Dad usually comes home late. As an archaeologist, he would usually spend the entire day combing the nearby forest from canopy to roots looking for artifacts of an unheard-of native tribe. It was a dangerous job, since a rebel group was rumored to be camped somewhere in the forest. But Dad always comes home safe, along with an assortment of artifacts he and his team managed to unearth, much to my mom’s constant fear that one of them might be cursed. But that’s okay. Dealers buy them at a high price.
But tonight was a different night. And Dad came home in a frenzy.
“Open the door! Son! Open the door!”
I jumped up from the couch and ran to open the door. Dad rushed in and took me by my shoulders. I looked and saw something in his eyes that I never saw before: fear.
“Listen to me.” There was urgency in his voice. “Take Liz and Max out into the car while I get your mother.” A wave of protest and questions came both from me and Liz, and Max woke up and began barking.
“Shut up both of you!” Dad screamed, and we both shut up, because Dad is usually kind and screaming is not his thing. “Into the car! Now!”
I lingered a second longer then took a crying Liz out of the house, Max following obediently behind. I looked back and saw Dad and Mom talking. Dad was waving a small silver box he found in the forest two days ago. I liked the box because it contained the most beautiful compass I have ever seen. The design told me it did not belong to some tribe, but nonetheless it was what Dad called an archaeological find. It caught the light and for a brief moment I was mesmerized.
The sudden explosion knocked me off my feet. Liz and I fell down. I scrambled and looked just in time to see Dad dragging Mom out of the house. Behind them, our backyard was in flames.
“Run! Run!” Dad shouted.
I wasted no time. I scooped up Liz and a barking Max and ran to the car parked precariously on the driveway. I reached it just as a second explosion blew half of our house. I scrambled into the backseat with Max and Liz as Mom rushed into the passenger seat. Dad looked back one more time before climbing up the driver’s seat.
Dad hit the pedal and we were cruising off the road at illegal speed. Around us, neighbors were stirring, but suddenly the sound of gunshots made them run back into their house in panic. I panicked too, because somehow I knew who fired the shots. The rebels. Dad and Mom were arguing loudly. Mom tried to grab the compass, but Dad yanked it out of her reach.
Another explosion went off. I looked back and saw the last remains of our home burn up in flames and smoke. I couldn’t help but think of my bed, my things, and all the memories our family shared inside the house. But I would mourn next time, because all I felt is confusion. Inside the car, our parents were shouting, Liz was crying, and Max was barking and howling. I felt lost in the senseless cacophony.
Suddenly Mom screeched and Dad swerved sharply to the right. A bomb went off where our car would have been had Mom not screamed. I looked back and saw headlights following us at a terrifying speed. Mom was shouting “Just give them the darn compass!”
We were near the forest when the firing from behind began. Liz and I ducked and held each other under the backseat, all the while shaking with fear. Dad did his best to avoid the bullets, but one hit the gas tank. He stopped deep inside the forest and ordered us all to go out. I saw sparks sprang up in the metal. Any moment now, the car would explode.
I could still hear the gunshots as I ran behind a tree with Liz and Max. Mom was just passing the car’s hood when she screamed—a scream of terrifying agony that woke up the entire forest. I looked back in horror and saw a blood stain forming on her chest. A bullet had found her heart.
Dad, Liz, and I screamed. And Max began howling yet again. Dad rushed to Mom’s side and caught her before she reached the ground. Dad caught my eye, and in one swift motion, he threw the compass at me.
In the coolness of the forest night air, I felt a chill ran down my spine that has nothing to do with the temperature. I lost my Mom. Or will lose her. Or whatever. Liz threw herself at me as she continued to cry. Dad was holding Mom and trying to get her away from the car.
Then the car exploded.
I stood paralyzed at the scene. Mom...Dad...both were consumed by the flames. Liz screamed her most bloodcurdling scream yet, then choked and began wailing uncontrollably. Max was yipping pitifully. The grass caught fire, and the forest sounds sprang to life.
I stumbled to the moss-covered ground and held Liz closer. I was crying now. Who wouldn’t after seeing his parents die right in front of him? Every muscle was shaking. Every nerve was tingling. Max was howling and barking, mixing his sounds with that of the forest. It made my hair stand on its end.
I suddenly became aware of the cold metal in my hand. I clicked it open and looked at it with scornful eyes. In the glow of the flaming car and trees, the compass shone with a deadly beauty, unaware of the trouble it somehow had caused.
As the night grew darker, I used some of my Boy Scouts training to make a camp where I think we’ll be safe. We have to go to sleep hungry. Tomorrow, we must try to find water at the very least. This is a big forest, and I don’t plan to stay longer, no matter how senseless the world outside is now.
I was half expecting the rebels will find us in our sleep. Thank God, I woke up alive. Liz was already awake and was crying. I lay down beside her.
“They’re gone, Liz,” I whispered. “Mom and Dad...they’re gone now.” I know I’m not doing anything good to comfort my sister, but I have to vent out too. Now that the morning had dawned and the forest seemed less scary, I remembered everything that had happened the previous night.
All my life, Mom and Dad had been there. Now they’re gone, and I have never felt so lost, so senseless, so confused. It’s like I don’t have a purpose anymore. Or direction. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know how we will survive. I am at a loss for life itself.
As if reading my thoughts, Liz turned and faced me. She pressed her forehead on my forehead and wiped my eyes. For a second I thought I will break. Then I gathered up my courage and made my face straight. I have to be strong for Liz. I am her brother and I will protect her now that Mom and Dad are gone.
I broke out of the hug and looked around. Our dog was missing. There was no way I would lose somebody else now. In a panic, I called him, but there was no answer.
“Max will find us,” I said, giving Liz a forced smile as she too stood up and started calling his name. I took out the compass and checked if it could help us out of the forest. The needle pointed helplessly to the north as I realized I do not have a map. The compass was useless.
Liz called again and to our relief, Max answered. However, our relief was short-lived. Max was not alone.
He came with a group of soldiers behind him. Instinctively, I drew Liz closer, but Max yipped at me then wagged his tail, then ran back to the group, his tail still wagging. He repeated the process until I got it. These weren’t the rebels.
“I am Sergeant Gonzales,” said a man who was probably their leader. “I know you have a lot of questions.” The air grew eerily calm as if waiting for a revelation. There was an anxious silence for several seconds. Then he told me the story.
Dad wasn’t just an archaeologist. He was a tracker and a spy, looking for clues that could lead to the rebel group’s headquarters. Two days ago, he stole the compass box which contained important information. It was a clean job, but not all went as planned. The rebels had watched him silently, noted his family and home, and extracted their revenge on him last night. They stopped when they thought we all died in the car explosion. I shivered just thinking we could also have been killed under the scope of a sniper.
I gave the compass to Sgt. Gonzales. He took it then tinkered with it until the compass sprang up like a lid. To my surprise, he took out a folded map underneath the glass. It showed exactly where the rebel’s base is, along with guardhouses, supply routes, and other important locations.
I was still shaken by the loss of my parents, but soon I found out that the sacrifice had given me peace. In a few months, the rebels have been subdued. Plans which included bombings and assassinations have been thwarted. Liz and I received medals of honor in behalf of our Dad. And we got support from the government because of his work.
Liz and I stayed with a distant uncle from then on. The scars of the past continue to hurt us, but at the same time they molded us in the most painful yet beautiful way possible. I thought all hopes and dreams exploded with our home, and the future died with our parents. But I was wrong. Somehow, the road found us again. And now we walk it with dignity. All is not lost.
Author’s Note:This was first published in The Central Echo Literary Folio “Lost.” The Central Echo is the official student publication of Central Philippine University.
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