A Good Dog
He awoke with a start, blinking his tired eyes to clear them. He looked around, finding his surroundings entirely alien. The last thing he’d seen was the face of his beloved master, and then everything had faded to darkness.
Then he awoke here, in a dark wood, surrounded by a blanket of white, swirling mist. He could recall no memory of how he had gotten here, and he was beginning to feel afraid. He felt deathly cold, his fur coat doing little to insulate him. Not knowing what else to do, he stood up, shook off his pelt, and lowered his short muzzle to the ground and began sniffing the area, trying to locate any familiar smells.
He was a dog. A small breed, a young pug. For years he’d enjoyed a rewarding life with his family and his master, but recently he’d been feeling very sick, and then one day his family had taken him somewhere, and then he slipped into a deep slumber, awakening in this strange wood. Animals hadn’t much a sense of reason or rationality, but the pug couldn’t help but feel that none of this situation made sense. He suddenly awoke in a strange place he’d never seen before, he couldn’t find any scents he recognized, or any scent at all, and now he see that his paws were invisible in the carpet of mist.
In his confusion, the pug barked into the mist, calling out for his master. He called again and again, but she didn’t come. Again nothing made sense! His master would always come when he barked in distress. Where was she? And furthermore, where on earth was he?
The pug resolved to continue searching with his nose, hoping to eventually pick up a familiar scent. His lawn, the family couch, he’d even prefer the foul scent of the garage if it could lead him home. But alas, still nothing. He could find no scent with his sniffer, none at all. He cocked his ears; he could hear nothing either! The pug growled in frustration, pacing in a circle. What could he do? His senses would not help him, so how could he find his way back? Maybe if he kept going, he could find a road at the edge of this forest. Yes! A road could lead him back! It might take some time, but if he could just find his way back to civilization, he’d have a chance of finding his way home.
The dog yipped in determination, and set off on his way. He would get home if it was the last thing he did.
The dog had hardly taken five steps when he ran into a most unnerving sight. Some of the mist cleared away, revealing a tall, scrawny, horse-like creature before him. The strange animal had pale skin, long, skinny legs and a bony physique. Its head hung low to the ground, it’s face partially hidden behind a mane of long, stringy silver hair that almost reached the ground.
The strange creature stared at the pug with half-shut, dead eyes in complete silence for several moments, and then it spoke to him, in a soft and weak voice.
“Follow me.” It rasped, turning away from the pug and slowly walking into the misty wood.
“What?” The pug barked, confused. “Why should I follow you, you...whatever you are?” At his asking, the gangly creature stopped, and then turned its drooping head back to look at the pug.
“Either come with me, or stay in Limbo for all eternity.” It rasped. “It’s your choice.” Finding he couldn’t very well argue with this, the pug agreed.
“Fine then. I’ll follow you.” He replied. Wordlessly, the scrawny equine-like creature turned and began walking again, the pug following at a much quicker pace, heading deeper and deeper into the misty wood. As he followed the strange animal, the pug look around his surroundings. Everywhere he looked mist covered the ground, and the wood beyond the nearest trees was completely shrouded in shadows. He could see or hear no movement, save for his own breath. Then it hit him: was the other creature even breathing? He listened closely from beside the odd, scrawny thing he was following, but heard no air stir from its mouth. He couldn’t even detect the faintest of a heartbeat. What was going on?
The pug’s thoughts were interrupted, however, when the lanky creature led him into a wide clearing, and dozens of other, similar creatures walked out of the trees into the eerie mist, forming a wide circle. The first scrawny creature led the pug into the center of the clearing, before stopping and kneeling before a huge cloud of the fog. The pug looked to see all the other creatures bowing as well. What’s going on here? He wondered.
“Approach…” A deep, wizened voice rang. The pug was quickly becoming very afraid, but rationalized that the voice was calling for him, and so he approached. The pug nervously scuttled closer to the cloud, arriving before it at the edge of the clearing. “Halt…” The rumbling voice commanded, and the pug was quick to comply. The circle of scrawny beings bowed before the voice, but the pug was only confused. What is this place? Is this a dream?
The pug was unable to finish his thought, when the voice again rose from the fog before him.
“Fear me not, Dexter the pug.” It moaned gently. The pug was utterly shocked frozen.
“How do you know my name? Who are you?!” He asked, backing away just a step. There was no response, until the fog cloud shifted, and an enormous, hairy arm with huge claws appeared out of the veil of mist, swiftly blowing it away and revealing the being behind it.
Dexter gasped at the gigantic creature that sat before him. It had a massive, bulky body covered in unreasonably long dark brown hair, with a very ape-like physique. A thick, muscular neck like a giraffe’s ended in a broad, horse-like head with drooping ears, a mane of long and unruly hair hiding much of the face and neck. The beast’s long, woolly arms ended in four huge, scythe-like claws on huge hands. All in all, this strange behemoth resembled a horse/sloth hybrid.
“I am known by many names…” The huge, hairy creature spoke. “But you may know me as ‘Keeper’.”
The pug, Dexter, was quite disturbed, to say the least. He had no idea where he was, or what this ‘Keeper’ monstrosity wanted, and on top of it all, his master was nowhere in sight. He knew she needed him, but he couldn’t get back to her. Seeing as he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, Dexter complied.
“First off, Mr. Keeper;” Dexter began. “How do you know my name?” The beast Keeper looked down at Dexter, revealing his milky, blind eyes.
“I know many things...about many people and animals.” He rasped slowly. Something about this Keeper told Dexter that he was very old. “But what matters now is you, Dexter.” Keeper pointed a massive claw at Dexter, not looking in his direction at all. Dexter took a step back.
“What do I matter here?” The pug asked. “Where’s my master? Do you have anything to do with all this?” Keeper was silent. The strange beast closed his foggy eyes and breathed out a long sigh. He seemed deeply upset, but helpless about what was next to come.
“Your beloved master is safe and sound…” Keeper began, eliciting a brief spark of joy from the pug, only to be extinguished by what Keeper said next. “...but you cannotreturn to her.” Dexter gaped, his ears falling flat.
“What?!” He whispered sharply. He was about to question more, when Keeper raised his hand.
“You will not like to know of this, Dexter…but your body...has died.” Dexter was frozen in shock. He was...dead?! “Your spirit has left the realm of earth, and now wanders Limbo, the realm where passage may be granted.”
“Passage?” Dexter barked, perplexed and still in shock over the previous revelation. “Passage to where?”
“The realm of the spirits.” Came a new voice, a voice soft and kind, like the toll of a bell. Dexter looked to see Keeper shift his arm aside, revealing a much smaller, hooded figure as white as the mist. Dexter watched as the hooded figure slowly approached, and saw a huge pair of white, feathery wings spread open behind it. The winged being stood beside Keeper, and then removed its hood, revealing a beautiful human-like face, with ivory-white skin and soft, lavender eyes framed by shimmering white hair that flowed into a pair of braids long enough to rest on her shoulders and hang past her waist. Two feathery tufts peeked from her hair, resembling an owls ears.
“You may call me Azrael.” The angel said, with a kindhearted smile.
Dexter was frozen in silence. He eventually found the strength to speak.
“What is this?” He pleaded. “Is this some wild dream?! Am I...am I really-”
“Calm yourself, my child.” Azrael said. She then looked to Keeper, who nodded.
“Yes, my poor son. You are dead.” Keeper affirmed in sorrow. “The sickness that plagued you caused you to suffer horribly, and your master could not bear it in her heart to see you in such pain...”
“Did she…?” Dexter whimpered, already knowing the truth.
“Yes.” Keeper confirmed, eyes closed sullenly. “Your master had you enter a peaceful sleep, from which you would never awake.” Dexter whined, deeply saddened. Not by what his master had done for him, simply by that it had happened at all.
“It was out of mercy, Dexter.” Azrael told him sadly. “Otherwise, your death would have been in agony.” Dexter nodded. He understood. She didn’t have the heart to see her beloved dog suffer, and so she had made the decision for his death to be painless, so that he would pass on in peace.
“She loved you, Dexter.” Keeper said.
“Far too much to see you in such pain.” Azrael added. Tears beginning to slip down his muzzle, Dexter breathed in deeply, rising to look at the beings before him.
“Was...was I…” He tried to say through his sorrow. “Was I a good dog?” Azrael smiled a teary smile, as did Keeper.
“Yes, Dexter. You’ve been a good dog.”
Dexter slowly began to smile as his tears fell free down his cheeks. Hearing those words, those wonderful, beauteous words, at last assured Dexter that yes, his life had been worth it. His life had been well-lived, his life had had meaning. He could go now, happy.
“I’m ready.” Dexter said, drying his tears. “I’m ready now.” Azrael and Keeper both smiled warmly, and then Azrael gently took the little pug in her arms, kissing him softly on the forehead. Dexter looked up to see Keeper offer a gracious smile.
“You have left one life behind, my son...” He said. “But there is another that awaits you.”
“A long life of happiness and prosperity.” Said Azrael. “A life among the stars and heavens.” The dark sky then parted, a shining ray of light appearing from above.
“I’m ready to pass onward.” Dexter reaffirmed, smiling joyously, but with a hint of regret. “I just wish I could say goodbye, one last time.”
“Worry not.” Assured Keeper. “You will see her again.”
“I will?!” Dexter barked in joy. “When?” Azrael chuckled sweetly at the little pug’s excitement.
“One day.” She promised. “In time.” Dexter understood, and nodded. Azrael then spread her huge, shimmering wings, taking off into the air with Dexter safely in her arms.
“Goodbye, Keeper!” Dexter called as they ascended. Keeper smiled, and rose up to return a kind wave.
“Farewell, my friend. You will find love and joy once again in the ages to come.” Azrael turned back to the sky, flapping her angelic wings and soaring ever higher, leaving the Woods of Limbo far below. Dexter nestled into the angel’s warm and loving embrace, seeing the woods and Keeper vanish into the fog of Limbo, before setting his gaze on the sparkling heavens above.
I was a good dog. He thought happily, before closing his eyes to rest them. I had a good life. I was loved. Now it’s my time to go… Dexter had one last thought before the celestial light overtook him.