He woke up confused. The aching in his hips was gone; breathing was light and easy. He looked at the meadow surrounding him. The grass was thick, seed heads glowing golden among the long green blades waving in the warm sun. He remembered being back there, a quick sting of a needle, then he was here. But where was here? He was so comfortable, here, without the pain that jabbed him awake back there. The sunlight wrapped around him like his favorite old blanket, and he was soon asleep again deep in the green grass.
He didn’t know how long he had been asleep when he woke up with a sense of anticipation. He didn’t know what it was; couldn’t quite put his paw on it. As the drowsiness wore off, he remembered the meadow in front of him. Still here.
He looked around. Other dogs dotted the land. There was a grove of trees straight ahead in front of him. As his head turned to the right, he saw the blue-orange sky and an empty path. His eyes adjusted to the light from the sky, then he saw a dot in the distance on the path, a dot that grew larger into a human. The old man was walking alone. He observed him as he continued towards him. His back side began to wiggle. Then his whole body. He jumped up in recognition, then ran towards the man. At the same time, Kevin began to run towards him.
As soon as he was close enough, the dog jumped into Kevin’s opening arms. Kevin held him tight as the dog licked him while Kevin laughed and scratched his ears. He loved that. Kevin couldn’t do much back there as age invaded his body but he could scratch his ears better than anyone.
“Hey there, my sweet fella! I’ve sure missed you!” Kevin said tenderly, still holding him in his arms.
“I’ve missed you too – so much. Where did you go?” The dog shocked himself with these words. He couldn’t talk to Kevin, at least not this way. And he couldn’t understand Kevin’s words before. He knew the tones in his voice but this was something different. Very different.
“I came here and have been waiting for you.”
“Where is here?” the dog wanted to know. He wanted to know a lot of things, like why Kevin could walk at all. Why he wasn’t in pain anymore. Where had Kevin come from. Why could they talk to each other?
“Here is where we get to spend the rest of forever together. No more pain, no more leaving each other. No sadness, no goodbyes. Just sticks and balls and frisbees and rawhides and ear scratches, as much as you want,” Kevin explained. “You have questions. We have plenty of time, all the time, to help you figure it out.”
“But to do that,” Kevin continued, “it’s time for us to go. Are you ready boy?”
He didn’t know quite why but he was ready. Kevin put him down and he sat by his side, waiting. Waiting for those words.
“OK, boy, let’s go!”
Kevin turned on the path, facing the blue-orange sky, and began to walk. He followed him. As they walked, growing smaller in the distance and the grass filling in the path behind him, he heard the sound. A sound getting louder as they walked toward it.
The excited, enthusiastic barking chorus of all of Kevin’s dogs. All of them, waiting to welcome him home. And they ran toward it.