Lucy is Not a Dog

Everyone at work knows Lucy. While none of them have actually met her yet, they know who she is. How could they not? My office is adorned with reminders of her, including a big framed photo of her with good friends like Bella and the late Brave Bear. There’s also a newsclipping of Lucy and Bear that Stephanie Lucero was so kind to have made when they came up together last time. And I’m constantly noticing Lucinda hairs on my clothes at work, too. No one has said anything about these, but I’m sure they notice them.

But there’s something more. There are email reminders. Like, say, when I go away from the office for several days during travel or holidays, I’ll often send a holiday message along with a fitting photo of Lucy. For example, Thanksgiving might have her standing next to a turkey, Christmas with her bells on, Arbor Day by an old oak tree, etc. You get the idea.

And sometimes, when I send out spreadsheets or charts to my staff, they will see a photo of Lucinda in a special place on the document. Of course, they will have to hunt for her. I don’t just jam a big picture of her in a column or row. But they’ll notice something funny about the box and, when they hover over it with their mouse, POOF! Lucy appears with a cartoon balloon saying something like: “Nice job, Mark!” or “Way to go, Misti!”

I’m sure this was initially cause for some concern on the part of some. But over time, people have not only accepted this somewhat unusual practice but have actually embraced it. Indeed, in the rare instance that I forget to send out a Lucy shot prior to going away for a while, I’ll get a message or two asking: “Where’s the dog photo?”

image

I try not to ever forget now.

And let me be perfectly honest. There are some who do not find it amusing at all. But these are the ones who need it most!

I recently hired a new employee on my team, and did not explain Lucy or anything at all about Leonbergers. He would learn in time. And so, during the NFL playoff games, I fired off a shot of Lucy making fun of the New England Patriots (eating my words now). Most people got a kick out of it (except my boss, who is from Boston…uh oh, my days may be numbered).

The new employee, not knowing who in the world Lucy was, wrote something kinda funny to the entire group like “If that is the same dog from the beer commercials, he better not quit his day job.”

Hahahahahaha.

Well, I’m not sure what beer commercials he was referring to but I do know Lucy is not a “he.” Additionally, she has no “day job” as she is not interested in working. I have no doubt that she would make an excellent water rescue dog and a very good tracker. But for the moment, Lucinda has simply told me these things are not in the cards.

There was silence on the day job comment in the email world for days and I simply forgot about it. But one day, a long-term employee told me that after the new guy wrote that, a few of them spoke to him and educated him on Leonberger protocol. And I really like the way one guy put it the most. Said he to the newb: “You don’t understand, Lucy is NOT a dog.”

Well she is, in fact, a dog. But very well said!

A Canine Christmas Carol (5 of 5)

Chapter 5: Christmas Morning

Jake clung to Morpheus’ collar with all his strength and begged the dark dog for mercy. “I’ll change! I’ll change! I promise. I don’t want to be weak and cruel. I want to be strong and gentle.”

Morpheus’ canines clamped down on Jake’s wrist. He pleaded a final time.

“Just let me go back.  I’ll show you. I’ll be nice to her. I’ll be nice to everyone!”

Through his sobs Jake opened his eyes to look at the dog a final time. He knew this was it. The fall would be long and deep. And he hoped it would not hurt. But instead of the familiar, chilling black face, Jake saw something white. Was it a white dog? Or a white dog without a face? It was formless. Shapeless. Perhaps he was looking at the inside of the pit and had already fallen.

Jake slowly became more coherent and realized there was no dog. Morpheus was gone. Jake was now staring at a white surface, or wall.

Through his sobs he pulled hard on the collar and still felt it in his hands. Only now the dog was gone. Jake was completely disoriented. As he slowly steadied himself, he looked down at the collar and noticed it was now a familiar-looking dull brown. He recognized it as the strap on his guitar case.

Jake was back in his bedroom, kneeling on his bed, face up against the white wall over his bed.

He could scarcely believe it. He was home. The dogs gave him a second chance after all. His heart soared and an overwhelming sense of relief washed over his entire being. The clock, set to dim at night, was difficult to read in the bright daylight. Jake cupped a hand over it to see better. 8:35 am. December 25. Christmas. He was alive and didn’t miss it after all.

Jake threw off the covers and ran to the window to look outside. The grounds were covered in fresh snow. He looked around his room and felt chills as he recalled the black German Shepherd yanking him to and fro like a rag doll during the night. He was so glad that was over.

But he felt good. So good! He wanted to rip open the window and shout joy to the world! But that would be weird and his friends might hear it. So he didn’t. But he thought it. And more importantly, he felt it. And that was all that mattered.

Jake hurriedly got dressed and ran downstairs to begin his new day. There was so much to do! So many opportunities. As he rounded the circular staircase and hit the main floor, he took in the beautifully lit and very large Christmas tree. And he could smell fresh bread baking in the oven. His mother always loved to bake. But he never appreciated it…until this very moment.

Seeing his mom standing in the kitchen, Jake ran to her and hugged her tight. He had never been so happy to see her. And for the first time, he was struck by how pretty his mom looked. “I love you, mom,” Jake said as he continued his warm embrace. Mother just froze. She looked across the room to Jake’s father, who was standing just a few feet away. He, like her, wore a look of genuine shock.

“What happened, Jake?” his mom asked uneasily.

“Nothing,” he said. “I’m just glad it’s Christmas.”

“Well. Yes, I am…well,” his mom stammered. “Me too. Merry Christmas, Jake.”

“Merry Christmas, mom,” came a muffled reply as Jake held his mother tight. She shot a look over to her husband, hinting that he should chime in. Husbands are usually a little slow and this one was no different. But he got the hint. Clearing his throat awkwardly, “Oh right. Yes. Umm Merry Christmas, son.”

When Jake finally released his hug, his mother looked him square in the eye and saw tears welling up in them. But he looked happy. And different somehow; his face was a little pale.

“Is everything alright, Jake? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Jake chuckled and nodded strangely. Then he composed himself. “I’m fine,” he smiled. “Everything is fine.”

Mom and dad exchanged glances. “Well…okay,” she said. “Then would you like to go to the tree and open your present?”

Jake felt a pang of guilt at this. Each year, he had taken pride in making gift giving as difficult for his parents as possible. He would never tell them what he wanted, what he liked, or even what he could use. He had done this because he could see the distress in their eyes when he did so. He’d felt a little more in control this way.

But now he really regretted it. I have a lot of undoing to do, he mused.

“Sure, mom. But I didn’t help you much, did I?”

She looked him in the eyes. A very sincere, soul-searching look. And for the first time ever, Jake noticed she had really deep brown and caring eyes. They kind of reminded him of each dog that visited him in the night. Were they in there somehow? Nonsense…

“That’s okay, Jake. We worked around it and got you something anyway,” she said in a warm, loving tone.

Mom draped an arm around her son and together they walked towards the Christmas tree in the other room. Dad was still shell shocked at what had just transpired. And not ready to move yet.

Under the tree were several wrapped gifts, but only one with Jake’s name on it. It was very small, almost paper thin. Jake’s mother went over and picked it up, then presented it to Jake. “Thanks, mom.” Jake said.

She giggled and shrugged. “You don’t even know what it is yet.”

Jake began to unwrap it, and by now his father had mustered the courage to join them in the room. He sipped his coffee, which contained a little extra “Christmas Cheer,” a little harder than normally. He continued to look on quietly.

Jake finished tearing open the paper and the envelope within and stared at his gift with a broad grin. It was a gift card, usable anywhere. And it was for a large amount. A significantly large amount. Jake was deeply appreciative. And for once, speechless.

“Mom. Dad. I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

Jake began thinking about ways to spend his Christmas money. And then a thought occurred to him. Mindful of the first dog’s lesson, an idea flashed into Jake’s head that made him smile even more. It was an idea about having a loving and giving heart. About becoming more like them and less like us. And then he made a soft “Wooooooo wooooo” howling sound under his breath. Then a little louder.  To his ear, it sounded much like that white-faced Golden Retriever.

Jake laughed at the silliness of it all and fell over onto his back, still making howling sounds and laughing. His parents froze and watched the show. It was over as quickly as it began and there was total silence for a moment. But Jake broke this quickly.

“Mom?” he asked. “Would you mind if I gave this to someone as a gift? A girl who lives around the corner?”

Jake’s mom looked perplexed. “You want to re-gift your present?”

“Yeah. If it’s not going to make you mad or anything.”

She began slowly, eyes darting over to Jake’s dad then back at Jake again. “No. It’s not going to make us mad. But it’s for you. Why would you want to give it away?”

Jake didn’t exactly know how to tell her this. So he just spoke from the heart. “I’ve been really bad to her and need to make things right. Plus, her family is in really bad shape. They don’t even have lights on their Christmas tree.”

“And just how do you know that?” Jake’s father asked, finally locating his voice.

Jake realized he was talking too much. “I, well, I just looked in their window the other day and noticed. That’s all.”

A few moments later, Jake was bundled up and headed down the street to little Diana’s house. He had his big gift card stuffed securely in his front pocket. He kept touching it with his hand as he walked, just to make sure it was still there. In his other hand, he carried a metal tin of homemade cookies his mother had given him “as a peace offering,” as she had put it.

Jake now stood in front of Diana’s home and shuddered at the memories of the previous night. He pictured looking in the window with the dark-faced dog that liked to doghandle him from window to window. He also pictured the depressing site of the home in the future – one possible future. All boarded up and sad. Jake thought it looked much better now, covered in snow and no ugly official-looking signs on it.

Jake walked up the short driveway to the front door. With butterflies in his stomach, he knocked loudly. Just a second later, the door swung open and Diana’s mother was standing there. She had probably been watching him walk up from the street. And now, she had fire in her eyes. Jake’s heart pounded again. She pushed open the rickety storm door and immediately challenged Jake.

“What do you want here? Back to finish her off?

“No, I…I came -”

“Get off my property now. Or I’ll call the police,” she threatened. She was already clearly emotional. And he hadn’t even said anything yet. How would this go?

Jake swallowed hard. “Ma’am,” he began nervously. “I came by to say I’m sorry.”

Diana’s mom looked like a ton of bricks had just hit her in the head. “What? You’re sorry? Sorry for what?” She clearly wanted specifics.

“I’m sorry for being so mean to Diana. Every day at school. And on the bus. And…just everywhere,” Jake said with full remorse.

There she stood in the door, just looking back at Jake. Completely bewildered. And a little suspicious.

“And what, may I ask, brought about this change of heart so suddenly? Yesterday you were throwing her to the ground and made her cry for an hour. I was planning to go to the principal on Monday.”

“I know,” Jake said. “And I wouldn’t blame you if you still wanted to. But it would mean a lot if I could apologize to her in person. Do you think she’ll even talk to me?”

She relaxed a little, and decided to trust him. “Okay. Come on in. She’s watching TV in the other room.”

“Thank you,” Jake said sincerely. “Thanks so much. And Merry Christmas.”

“Same to you,” Diana’s mom said, with a raised eyebrow. She was still a little surprised by this unusual turn of events.

Jake was led down the foyer and could hear the sounds of a television as he neared Diana. Jake got chills as he passed through the rooms he’d spied on last night, through the windows.

And then, there she was. Sitting there in a huge blanket wrapped around her. Jake suddenly noticed how cold it was in the home. Little Diana’s eyes became as wide as saucers when she saw Jake. But her mom was right next to him so she relaxed a little.

“Hi Diana,” Jake began. “I just came by to wish you a Merry Christmas. And say I’m sorry for all the stuff I’ve done.”

It was an awkward moment. But the message got through. “And I’ll never do it again,” Jake added, handing over the tin of cookies.

Diana was speechless. Her little hands – the same one’s he’d ripped her sandwich from at lunch yesterday – reached out gingerly for the tin. She clutched it against her chest.

“Okay. Thank you,” she said shyly.

Jake heard the voice of the Shepherd dog clearly in his mind. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong…

Jake now felt very strong. And realized that if that dark dog could see him now, he’d probably be treated very differently. Might even get a paw shake.

“And I wanted to give you this,” Jake said as he slipped an envelope out of his pocket. “But only open it after I’ve gone, okay?”

“Okay,” Diana said quietly.

And at that, Jake flashed a warm smile to each of them, then respectfully departed the home. He had only gotten as far as the sidewalk when he heard screams of joy coming from both Diana and her mother. And Jake never felt stronger. He was glad he didn’t stick around to receive thanks and praise. That would have been a little selfish. As he continued down the street back to his home, Jake realized he could not solve all of Diana’s family’s problems. He was only just a boy himself. But he could offer an encouraging word, uplifting support, and material help here and there.

And of course, stop bothering her. That would be a great start.

Jake decided he would do what he could. And do it with the cheerful heart of a dog.

When he arrived home, his mother was standing just inside the door. She had apparently been waiting for him, because the door swung right open. Just as it had yesterday when he had arrived home from school. Jake instantly had a flashback to the previous day and recalled his mother had said she and his father wanted to talk to him about something. But he never gave her the chance.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“Really good,” Jake answered happily. Then he asked, “What did you want to tell me yesterday? You said we needed to talk, and then I just went up to my room. What was it?”

The smile eroded from her face and she suddenly looked serious. “It doesn’t matter now. It’s not a big deal.”

Jake was curious. “I would really like to know, mom. What was it?”

Through mixed emotions of sadness and happiness, Jake’s mom explained. “Jake, your father and I have been having some problems lately. With each other.”

Jake was surprised to hear this. He had never noticed anything. But then, he had never really paid much attention, either.

“We felt like we had failed as a partnership. There’s a lot more to it and I don’t want to reopen old wounds. But basically, we saw that you were never happy. I blamed him for being too strict. He blamed me for being too lenient. It escalated to the point where angry words were exchanged. Almost every day.”

“Mom no. You guys are good together. Don’t say-”

She interrupted. “But this morning, you came downstairs and made us realize how blessed we are. And how maybe we’ve been too hard on each other. And maybe we shouldn’t give up so quickly. If you can give such a big  gift away like you did, maybe we can sacrifice our pride and move on together. And we – ”

Jake’s father was coming downstairs now. Mom stopped talking and placed a finger to her lips, indicating what she had just shared with him was to remain their secret. Mother and son.

Jake nodded in understanding and smiled. He didn’t need to think about it anyway. It wasn’t going to happen. Like the second dog had said, if you change the way you look at people, the people you look at will change. Jake’s parents had changed in the twinkling of an eye. That dog was right. How did she know? And did Jake’s change in attitude towards them have such a profound effect?

Only the dogs knew. The dogs always know.

From that day forward, Jake was a ray of sunshine in the lives of all he met. He connected with almost everyone and he touched many. He ate lunch alone many days, his old friends deciding he was no longer as cool as he once was. Sometimes he ate with Diana, when she was available. But she’d developed a new confidence of her own and had many new friends. Her lunch table was now usually full.

If you change the way you look at people…

Jake never saw any of the visiting dogs again. But he remembered well the lessons they had taught him. Whenever faced with a choice, he based his decision on one of those three lessons. The Retriever with the white face, who taught him about having a giving heart. The Leonberger who taught him the way he looks at people can literally change them. And the Shepherd who made his point so vividly, that if one is cruel, it is a sign of weakness.

Jake vowed never to forget it. Any of it.

And each Christmas, Jake heard the sounds of squeaky wheels churning down the street, just after midnight. He recognized the sound as the cart of Calvin, and wondered what mission that soothing Leonberger was off to now. Sometimes he rushed to his window to see if he could catch a glimpse of the brown dog with the black face. But he was always too late.

No, he never actually saw those dogs again – in this life. But he sometimes felt they were near. There were many times he found tennis balls in the strangest of places, both in and out of the house. And there were a few evenings when he looked out the window and thought he caught a glimpse of a black-faced Leonberger gazing into his life, as well as the lives of others. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, he awoke to a gentle breeze hitting him on the face. He knew it must be the bushy tail of that dark Shepherd.

Jake also knew Brownie was always close to him. He knew because somehow, in their own mysterious way, the dogs had all told him. Told him that all dogs who cross the Rainbow Bridge are never far from us. They are always close. And that they take great interest in the affairs of people. Especially those they loved and who loved them back.

Lucy the Leonberger

Lucy the Leonberger

A Canine Christmas Carol (4 of 5)

Chapter 4: The Dog of Christmas Future

Jake jolted awake and sat up in his bed. The room was pitch black and his heart was pounding through his chest. He looked around the room under the faint light and felt a presence. But he could see nothing. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and realized he’d been perspiring profusely. Was there somebody in the room with him? Was the next visitor here already? He didn’t know.

The bright red numbers on the clock read 3:53 am. His memory of the previous canine visits was still fresh in his mind. But he felt as if he’d recently dreamed something horrible subsequent to those visits. But he could not remember what it was.

Stepping out of bed, Jake felt his way down the dark hallway and used the bathroom. A few minutes later he reentered his room and decided to look out the window before climbing back into bed. He left the window closed this time, but looked down to where the strange dog had looked up at him just moments earlier. He half expected to see her there again, looking up inquisitively. Cocking her head left and right to his calls. But the grounds were clear. There was no dog. And thankfully, no cart-pulling Calvin standing by either.

Jake went back to bed and pulled the covers over his head. So much had happened in one night; he wasn’t sure what to think of it all. He seriously began to consider the possibility that he might be losing his mind. Is this how it starts? He asked himself. Talking dogs, carriages in my backyard, and black face paint?

He decided to put it out of his mind and get some rest. His head hurt, he was sad, and more tired than ever. Jake closed his eyes and began to drift off.

And then he felt it. The floor beneath him was moving. Vibrating. It felt like a minor earthquake. And then it was over. He looked at the clock to mark the time. 4:00 am on the nose. A moment later the rumbling came back. A second wave, he thought to himself. Or an early aftershock. But something wasn’t right. Jake began to have this strong feeling of impending doom.

There it was again. But this time the rumbling increased in volume and ended in a muffled bark.

Now Jake was horrified. There was a dog in his room. He was sure of it. And he couldn’t even see it. This time, he was too afraid to reach out for his phone light. Or even his lamp. Instead he pulled the thick blankets and comforter high over his head, providing at least the illusion of protection from whatever was waiting for him in the room.

The rumble, growl, and bark again. Then a high pitched double cry/bark that was so different from the growls that it almost sounded like it came from another dog.

“Oh please God,” Jake whispered. “Please don’t let this new dog hurt …”

Jake sensed movement in the room, and felt a puff of air hit him gently in the face. A second later, another. Then another. He heard panting and absolutely knew there was a dog in the room now. But why hadn’t it spoken to him like the others?

Timidly, Jake spoke out first. “I assume you must be the next dog ghost? Right?”

There was no response.

“Hello?” Jake called. “Who are you? Why don’t you show yourself?”

No answer.

Jake felt his whole body tremble. The fear he felt now surpassed anything experienced during the night thus far. This dog, which he had not even seen yet, was frightening. It wouldn’t even speak to him. Yet it had a commanding presence he could literally feel in the air.

He decided to risk a peek out of the blankets. Just as he pulled them down, he felt an animal lunge on top of him. Jake screamed in horror. The dog, after hopping up on the bed, simply continued walking across Jake’s body without a sound. It continued onto the other side of the bed, then jumped down onto the floor again, landing with a loud boom.

Jake could take it no longer. He reached over, hands trembling, and switched on the lamp. His horror was increased when he noticed the lamp light no longer gave soft white glow it had always given. It now emitted a dim red glow, making him wonder who had switched the bulb. But no one switched the bulb. In fact, much of the light was coming from around the lamp, not inside the bulb itself. This made no sense to Jake, but it was true nonetheless. For whatever reason, he was literally seeing red.

Jake now finally saw the dog who had been circling him and striking fear into his heart by its mere presence. And seeing this dog did absolutely nothing to allay those fears. There, standing directly at the foot of his bed, was a large black dog with ears pointing straight up to the sky. Like the previous visitor, this dog’s face was so dark as to render it impossible to determine just where the dog was looking.

But this time it was even worse. The entire dog was black from head to tail, making it look like one black shadow. It appeared as if someone had taken a bucket full of that black face paint and saturated this dog with it. It reminded him of a German Shepherd, but too dark. Are there black Shepherd dogs? Jake wondered to himself.

Morpheus. Ghost of Christmas Future.

Morpheus. Ghost of Christmas Future.

Almost as if in response, this black shadow dog came around to the side of the bed and hopped up with only its front paws. Jake recoiled in terror, over to the other side of his bed. This only angered the dog, who now growled even louder while staring Jake in the face. It was literally the most frightening thing Jake had ever seen in his life. Having a strange dog chase you in your room is terrifying. Even more so when the dog is black and the only light by which to see it is blood red.

Next, the dog proceeded to use its paws to pull the the covers off the bed. It looked like the dog was swimming freestyle, one paw up in the air while the other moved the covers a few inches off the bed. Then the next paw slammed down, digging nails into the fabric, while the other was raised poised to strike. Jake moved so far to the other side of the bed that he fell off, landing hard on the wooden floor.

With the bed now completely stripped, and Jake floundering helplessly on the floor, the dog moved to his side and stood above him on the floor. Jake began to stand up to run out of the room, but the dog latched onto his ankle with his powerful jaws and Jake fell again. Now on hands and knees, Jake was in full panic mode, crawling desperately towards the door and freedom. It was still ajar and he could see the narrow opening just in front of him.

And he came so close, too.

Jake crawled on and had his head and arms out of the room and on the hallway carpet. Then he felt his whole body being pulled swiftly back into the room by those same jaws. He could tell this dog was both strong and smart, for it was exerting just enough jaw pressure on his right ankle as to pull him back without any real pain.

Jake was now so scared that when he tried to scream, no sound came out. He had literally lost his breath and was paralyzed by fear. But it was just as well. He wasn’t going anywhere. If that odd dog of Christmas Present was right, this one was probably not alive. And it could “pass through things” as she had said. There was no telling what else it could do.

Jake decided to lay quietly and accept his fate, whatever it was.

The dog seemed to sense this and appeared satisfied. And stopped growling. And released Jake’s leg. Finally. Then it moved with all fours over to the door, never once taking its piercing eyes off Jake. The dog brushed hard against it, causing it to slam shut. Jake noticed the dog’s ears flip back quickly at the loud sound of the door closing. But those ears immediately resumed their northerly pitch.

Now the dog paced around Jake while wagging its tail. Again and again, circling and re-circling its prey. Glancing into Jakes eyes each time he passed by. Jake now realized the wind he had felt in his face earlier was this dog’s tail, which was thick enough to resemble a squirrel’s tail. Only longer.

Jake started to sit up, but the dog immediately growled and rested a paw on Jake’s back. He collapsed back onto the floor, feeling his jaw click as it hit. Jake winced in pain. The dog held its paw there until Jake was perfectly still. “Oh so you want me to stay down? Is that it?” Jake asked.

The dog did not answer but went back to circling. How long this went on, Jake could not say. But eventually, the dog sat directly in front of him. Jake sensed it was okay to move now. He slowly sat up, looking into the dogs eyes. The dog again growled and Jake quickly looked away. The growling stopped.

“Okay okay okay!” He said. “What do you want me to do? I assume you’re the last visitor dog. Am I right?”

The dog did not answer, but also did not growl. Jake learned that as long as he did not look into this dog’s eyes, he was fine. He also noticed that it wore a blue collar with metal tag dangling underneath it. The collar was identical to the one worn by the Dog of Christmas Past, the Retriever. The one that glowed when he touched it and took him off to those emotion-laden corn fields.

Jake was hesitant to touch this dog. Not only out of fear, but because he did not want to go on another journey. Wherever this dog wanted to take him, Jake knew it could not end well. Looking again at the familiar blue collar, he noticed the metal tag had a single word on it. He slowly inched forward so he could see the inscription, which was difficult in the dim red glow.

The tag was blue but the inscription a bright silver. The dog sat proudly and tilted its head back ever so slightly, indicating Jake was welcome to read the tag.

MORPHEUS

Jake read it aloud. “Morpheus?” Is that your name?”

Morpheus opened his mouth slightly and let his tongue roll out just a tad. His teeth showed a little and he began panting lightly. It looked like the dog version of a satisfied smile.

“Morpheus? Really? Like as in, the Greek mythology god of dreams?” Jake knew his Greek mythology. And seeing a dog named after dreams caused him to consider once more that this was all, indeed, just a very bad dream.

Morpheus flicked his ears back momentarily at the sound of his own name. Then flipped them right back up again and continued to look at Jake. The silence was unnerving. And even though this dog was no longer growling or grabbing Jake’s ankle with his huge jaws, he could not help but feel like something bad was about to happen.

“What do we do now, Morpheus? Show me the way.” Jake was resigned to his fate.

At this, Morpheus leaned his head a little towards Jake, placing his collar almost right on his nose. Jake took this as a sign he should grab it so he did. Immediately, just as before, the collar came to life in his hands. The blue brightened and became electric-looking. Like neon. The room was now a mix of red and blue, and instead of looking beautiful Jake thought it looked like something out of a horror movie. But he didn’t have to look at it for long. For the room melted away once more and Jake found he was in familiar surroundings no longer.

Instead, he was suddenly right in the middle of  what looked like a large school gymnasium. There were light brown wooden plank floors, basketball boundary lines painted on the the flooring, and two basketball nets rotated up and out of the way. But this gymnasium was clearly not being used for sports today. Instead, it was lined with rows of cots and many people milling about. The people came in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some were with families, some without. Some looked a little on the rough side. Others completely docile.

Jake noticed no one could see him, so he relaxed a little and moved about, trying to make sense of the scene. On one side of the large room was a long counter with large bowls of food on it. There were about a dozen people lined up scooping and serving food along one side, and an even longer line of people queued up to receive it on the other. It dawned on Jake that he must be standing in a homeless shelter.

Morpheus weaved in an out of the lines of cots, casting an occasional glance back at Jake to make sure he was still following. Even under the bright light of this room, Morpheus appeared as a dark, shadowy dog. Together they finally reached the other side of the room where all the food was lined up. Jake saw an enormous platter of sliced turkey meat. It looked good and plentiful.

What he witnessed next surprised him beyond belief.

Morpheus walked alongside the long counter of food, trotting quietly (even though no one could see him either). He looked so light on his feet. His tail hair was soft and bushy and flowed nicely when he walked. Just as Jake was admiring Morpheus’ gait, he saw the dog stop right in front of the turkey platter, hop up about two feet on his hind legs, turn his head slightly at an angle, and grab a big chunk of meat off the plate for himself. This he carried off to a corner and devoured with great pleasure.

Jake’s jaw nearly hit the floor. Was this frightening dog here to scare him, help him, or just steal turkey from the homeless? He walked over to Morpheus, who was finished by now, and spoke aloud: “Hey! Are you even allowed to do that?”

Morpheus’ ears went way back and stayed that way for a few seconds. He clearly looked ashamed. But he recovered a moment later. After all, he was on a mission. And Shepherds on both sides of the Rainbow Bridge take their missions more seriously than any other breed. So with turkey crumbs on his black lips, Morpheus continued to lead Jake to another part of the room.

There, in a corner, sat a man wearing a brown knit cap. Next to him was a woman with a wool hood pulled over her head. Even though they were indoors, it was difficult to keep a room this size warm. The man and woman said nothing, but sat together looking despondent. The woman leaned over and rested her head on the man’s shoulders. Neither looked happy but both looked familiar. Jake’s heart skipped a beat when he realized he was looking at little Diana’s mom and dad. Only this time, they looked much older. How many years had passed? Jake wondered. He thought they looked horribly ragged.

His thoughts were interrupted as a man brought two plates of food over to them. Morpheus was nearby, and licked his teeth as he saw the food given over to Diana’s parents. But he restrained himself this time.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the man said as he handed the plates over to the couple.

Through tears, Diana’s mother responded, “Thank you.”

Jake felt nauseous now. He turned to his silent companion. “What is he talking about? Sorry for what loss?”

Morpheus made a snorting sound as he exhaled. Like he was about to bark but stopped before it was fully developed.

The dad spoke next, “I know it won’t bring her back, but I hope justice is done with that bully.”

The food server nodded in agreement. Then searched for the right words. “Yes. Yes I understand,” he said. “And something more needs to be done in our schools. This kind of thing is happening too often.”

Jake was feeling so sick now he almost ran to the bathroom. But he didn’t know where the bathroom was, so he stood easy and continued to listen.

The mother struggled for words through a shaky voice as she fought back tears.  “When a girl takes her own life, it’s gone way too far. And not enough people speak up to stop it.”

The food server nodded and squeezed her hand. Diana’s parents put their heads down again. There was nothing more to say. The man hugged them each tightly, then returned to serving food to the rest.

“No.” Jake turned to Morpheus, as if a dog could undo all of this. “No. I didn’t cause this. There’s no way I caused her to do that. There must have been something else. Someone else!”

Morpheus tucked his tail in shame for Jake. And still said nothing.

“Tell me I didn’t do this!” Jake yelled at Morpheus.

Again receiving nothing from this big black scary dog, Jake gave up. He ran out of the shelter and down the street. He did not know where he was going, but continued to run. Morpheus was beside him in an instant, and deftly moved just in front of him close enough to slow him down without tripping. It worked and Jake found he instinctively slowed down to avoid getting tangled up in the dog’s big Shepherd legs. Once he slowed down a little, Morpheus was encouraged and moved even closer. This had the effect of slowing him down even more.

No way, he’s herding me like cattle, Jake suddenly realized. And now, he simply stopped. Jake stared at the dog, who growled again. Jake remembered about eye contact with this one, and quickly looked away. The growling stopped. Morpheus sat down and turned his head in another direction. Then he raised his right paw at a 90 degree angle and continued to stare forward.

Jake realized he must be pointing at something, so his eyes followed the direction of the pointing paw. What he saw next was a house that was both familiar and completely different. It was all boarded up and had signs posted all over it. Very official looking signs that Jake did not understand. But he knew in an instant it was Diana’s house.

Again looking at Morpheus for guidance, Jake asked: “They lost their house? I hope I didn’t cause that too!”

No growl. No grunt. Jake hoped that was a good sign.

“Is that why they were in the shelter? They have no place else to go?” Jake asked, growing more and more concerned by the minute.

And then he reflected. For the longest time, Jake saw little Diana merely as a person to be toyed with. Breaking her spirits had made him feel powerful. She didn’t put up much resistance, so he didn’t think it could have bothered her too much. Surely he could never have foreseen consequences such as this. Taking her own life? Devastating her parents like that? Over what? Was it really that difficult for her?

I guess it was, he thought. And picking on someone in and after school was easy. But seeing her home, the barren tree, her sad parents, learning of their difficult circumstances up close – this all brought it right home. There was a ripple effect to each insult, each taunt, each physical assault. How he wished he could take it all back. Jake looked down at the sitting Morpheus, who by now had placed his pointing paw back down on the pavement.

“Why don’t you talk? You’re so quiet is scary.”

Morpheus said nothing, but the more time Jake spent with him, the more he felt like he was picking up on impressions from the dog. They were very slight, but present nonetheless. And right now, he sensed Morpheus felt pity for him. Pity and a touch of disgust. This dog was loyal to someone, he could tell. And also a force to be reckoned with.

Morpheus stood up now, and moved closer to Jake. The blue collar around his neck was pulsating blue, beckoning Jake to grab hold of it. One moment it was regular blue nylon, the other it was glowing bright. Jake felt dread as he reached out this time, but grab it he did. And everything went dark.

When the lights came back on, Jake found himself seated in a courtroom. It was packed with people and every bench was filled. He saw two large tables at the front, presumably lawyers sitting at both. There was a lot of commotion and talking. And a few artists drawing pictures of the scene. Jake moved around and looked at everyone up close and saw many familiar faces. But they all looked so different. Older.

Jake saw two police officers standing at the other end near the entrance. One reached down to pet a dog, and Jake realized with surprise that the dog was Morpheus. He was now wearing a black leather wrap with the imprint of a police badge on it. And he looked right at home. Mouth slightly open, smiling the canine smile.

You’ve got to be kidding me, Jake thought. He then realized with both surprise and joy that one woman in the room was his mom. But her face was puffy and her eyes red. She looked very sad. And Jake’s father was nowhere to be seen.

“Mom!” he called out to her. “What are you doing here?” But she could not hear him.

“All RISE,” the bailiff bellowed. The judge entered, long black robes flowing behind him, and sat in a large leather chair. After opening with some fancy legal statements that made no sense to Jake, the judge turned to a group of 12 seated off to the side of the room in a separate area. He asked them if they’d reached a verdict.

One person stood up and confirmed that they had. This gentleman then read off Jake’s name and said they, they jury, had found him guilty of 2nd Degree Manslaughter. The man continued, “…and we hereby sentence the accused to 15 years in prison.”

“So ordered,” the judge declared. Then slammed his gavel down hard. This sound was loud and it echoed in Jake’s head for a time. Jake heard his mother cry out, at which point he ran up to the police dog Morpheus and begged him. Begged and pleaded for him to change this.

“You can stop this. Stop it! Do something. This can’t happen. I’m too young to go to jail. What did I do? I’m not that violent! I only slap people around once in a while. What did I do to earn this?”

Jake grabbed the blue collar again, and it lit up instantly. “Take me out here!”

And it was done. The courtroom vanished, piece by piece, until Jake found he was alone with Morpheus in the middle of a dark field. It was chilly and foggy, making it difficult to see what was around them in any direction.

“What’s going to happen here?” Jake asked. “Haven’t we seen enough?”

Morpheus was even more frightening in this environment. Black dog standing, staring, on a cold foggy evening. Staring right at Jake, who had no idea what was coming next. He decided to appeal to whatever mercy this Shepherd might show him.

“I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I’ve been so cruel to people. I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know. I didn’t think about it like that. Just let me go back home now. Please.”

Morpheus simply looked down at the ground and began moving his paws rapidly. He was digging and digging hard. One paw after the other dug in, big clumps of dirt flying behind him. The dog worked tirelessly and endlessly, scraping the earth away and gradually making a very large hole. Morpheus became less and less visible as he stepped down into the ever-expanding hole he dug. First his head, then his whole body.

“What are you digging for at a time like this?” Jake asked. “Did you lose a bone or something?”

Morpheus was barely visible now. The hole was extremely large, and now so deep that to get out, the dog had to make several attempts. At last Morpheus was able to jump up and out. His nose and paws were completely covered with dirt. But he looked happy with himself.

“Great. Now what do you want to do with that?” Jake asked sarcastically.

Morpheus responded by growling and barking. Only this time, he bore his big canine teeth as well. And simultaneously began circling and herding Jake.

“What? No no! Stop. I was only joking.”

Morpheus continued to circle. Growling and now nipping at Jake’s clothing, grabbing the cloth but just missing the skin. Each time he did this, Jake cried out in fear. He now got a good look at those sharp teeth and greatly feared what it would feel like if they sunk into his flesh.

He seemed scary before. But now he seemed vicious.

Morpheus’ circling became tighter and tighter, slowly moving Jake closer to the circle. He thought about jumping over it to the other side, but cast a glance down into the pit, and noticed it was far, far deeper than he realized. In fact, it was so deep it appeared endless. Fixated on this strange , dark abyss, Jake lost his balance and fell partway into the pit. His fall was caused by Morpheus, who was so close that Jake grabbed hold of the blue collar without even thinking about it.

The collar – and Morpheus’ neck muscles – were now the only things keeping him from tumbling deep down to an unknown fate. Jake was beyond panicked. He screamed at Morpheus. “Help me up! Pull!”

Morpheus did not pull.

Jake screamed at the collar. “Light up! Light up! Take me to another place!”

But the collar did not light.

In desperation Jake cried out, “bring the other dogs back! I want Calvin’s cart!”

But the other dogs did not come. No, not even Calvin and the magnificent cart.

“I want to look for tennis balls with that retriever!”

But no retrievers could hear his pleas.

Jake’s eyes burned as dirt fell into them. In utter and complete frustration, he tried to pull Morpheus down with him by the collar. But the Shepherd was too strong for him.

And then, for the first and only time, Morpheus broke the silence. In a voice that penetrated Jake to the core, a message laden with a warning was delivered. And left an indelible mark on Jake’s soul forever more.

Never forget the third lesson.

“What? Anything! What is it?”

Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.

And with that, Morpheus opened his jaw wide and shot his head down to Jake’s wrist – the only thing holding him up – to deliver the fatal bite that would cause him to lose his grip. And tumble down into the dark pit of unhappiness that Jake had crafted for himself.

Jake screamed and cried and begged for mercy as he tried his best to cling to Morpheus’ life-saving blue collar.

A Canine Christmas Carol (3 of 5)

(this part has a Leonberger in it)

Chapter 3: The Dog of Christmas Present

Jake heard the strangest sound coming from outside his bedroom window. It was faint, but loud enough to be a nuisance. And it woke him up slowly from a long and confusing dream. He sat up in bed and rested on one side, trying to pinpoint the exact source of the sound.

But it was completely unfamiliar. And intermittent, lasting only a second or two at a time, followed by a long pause. Jake decided it was definitely some type of animal, crying or howling in some strange manner. The sound resembled a cross between someone gargling mouthwash and…a wookie. Yes indeed. A wookie. A creature that doesn’t even exist, but nearly everyone can describe its sound.

Jake was baffled by his own comparison, but that’s what it sounded like to him.

It was coming from outside his window. Now completely unconcerned about waking his parents, Jake unlocked his window and forced it up high. He opened the screen and felt the cool winter air sting his nostrils as he looked outside. He shivered at the temperature. Then shivered even more at what he saw. There, sitting below his bedroom window on the lawn, was a very large animal. It looked like a dog, but somehow different. Too big to be a dog.

Jake looked back at the red digits on his clock – the only source of light in the room. The time was 1:57 am. Brownie was right. No one shows up on time, here.

Jake turned back around and looked at the animal. It simply looked up at him but said nothing. Jake again convinced himself that all was a dream. This was likely just a stray dog that had wandered into his yard and fought with another animal. That must have been the sound he heard. Perhaps a fox. Or a coyote. Could have been anything making those noises.

Jake was still unnerved by the uniqueness of this animal, which was staring up at him without moving a muscle. Or at least it appeared that way. It was hard to tell under the dim moonlight. In fact, the animal seemed to have no face, but only a light-colored body. Was it brown? White? The color it was impossible to tell. Jake made a hissing sound just to see what it would do.

“Pssssst!” he called.

The animal cocked its head slightly to the side at the sound of this. But otherwise remained perfectly still.

Jake next made a clicking sound with his teeth and tongue. Now the animal tilted its head in the opposite direction. It looked so funny to see this spooky shadow of this thing tilt its dark head from side to side in response.

“Awwww it’s no use,” Jake said as he placed both hands up on the window to close it. “Pure BS is all you are. You don’t scare me.”

Jake had the window halfway down when he heard it again. The guttural sounds of a wookie. And it was clearly coming from this creature.

Without warning, he heard a voice in his head. Don’t close it yet.

It felt like a lighting bolt hit him. The terrible realization that this was not over set in hard. Jake still had pins and needles coursing throughout his body when he looked back down. And was forced to admit this thing was standing there for him. “Who are you?” Jake asked, his breath producing enough fog to momentarily block his view of the talking animal below.

I am Lucy the Leonberger, the Dog of Christmas Present.

Lucy the Leonberger. Dog of Christmas Present.

Lucy the Leonberger. Dog of Christmas Present.

Jake was growing less frightened by the insanity of all this. But growing far more annoyed by the minute. “What did you say you are?”

The Dog of Christmas Present, Lucy repeated with an inner voice that contained an almost silky soft quality. Jake felt instantly drawn to her, but confused at the same time.

“No I heard that part. What else did you say you are?”

Lucy the Leonberger. 

“The what?” Jake asked.

The Leonberger, Lucy replied again.

“A what?” Jake pressed.

A Leonberger, Lucy replied again without the slightest edge in her voice. She clearly had a ton of patience.

“I have no idea what that is. Are you a dog or something else?” Jake asked with sincere curiosity.

A dog, Lucy responded. The oldest purebred German breed, in fact. Tell you more another time.

“Whatever. I really don’t care,” Jake said, momentarily angered by Lucy’s seeming refusal to provide more of an explanation. “Well if you’re this dog ghost thing, why didn’t you magically appear in my room or something? Like the others did. Making me freeze my butt off for nothing.”

Because I am the Dog of Christmas Present. Meaning, I am still here alive on the earth. The others have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. So they can pass through stuff. If I tried that I would bump my head hard. Again. 

Jake considered this for a moment, then decided to just let it go. “Okay so you’re really here? Like not a ghost?”

Not a ghost. But our time is short. I am expected back home very soon. My humans will miss me and become worried if I do not hurry back. 

“Where…how did you get here then?” Jake asked.

Fast carriage, pulled by our Leo leader, Calvin. Say hello to Calvin over there, Lucy said and gestured by turning her head to face another direction. Jake couldn’t believe his eyes, but there on the other side of the lawn, near the large oak tree, was an enormous animal attached to some kind of big cart. It looked like the Trojan war horse with some kind of mythological cart behind it.

“Hi Calvin,” Jake called out. Then felt really silly for doing so.

Come down here with me. We will walk together. 

Jake considered just going back to sleep and forgetting the whole thing. He was not sleeping well this evening and was growing quite fatigued. But if he did that, this odd dog named Lucy would probably still be sitting out there in the morning. And so would that big Calvin thing. Or worse yet, would continue to make wookie sounds all night. One thing was certain, he did not want to clean up any messes left by either of these goliaths.

“Fine,” he called down to Lucy. “Let me get my coat.”

Just a few minutes later, Jake stood outside his front door and found Lucy waiting for him on the other side of the house, just under his bedroom. At first he was taken aback at her size. She appeared much larger now than she had from above. He cast a wary eye over to the standing war horse named Calvin, who was standing perfectly still as if he was a gaudy lawn ornament.

Ready? Lucy asked.

“I guess,” Jake answered noncommittally. “Where are we going?”

Not far. Just around the corner.

“Can we ride in the cart?” Jake asked.

You cannot. Nobody rides in the cart but me, Lucy responded with finality. And somehow Jake knew that was the end of the discussion.

As they made their way through the dimly lit streets, Jake stole a few glances at this new apparition named Lucy. She was difficult to really see in the face. Only when they passed one of the few functioning lampposts did he get a half decent glimpse at it. And realized it was pure black. Strange but somehow quite attractive.

As they rounded a corner, Jake realized with a sinking feeling where they were going. A few moments later his fears were confirmed when Lucy stopped in front of little Diana’s house. Lucy stood erect, all fours perfectly straight and her back tall. She held her head high in a supremely confident gesture. Jake noticed, even in his sorry state, how regal this animal looked.

“What did you say you were?” Jake asked her again.

Here. Put this on, Lucy said, ignoring the question.

“What? Put what on?”

There is a vial wedged in my collar. Take it out and open it. Put the contents on all over your face.

Jake was thoroughly confused now. But he had come this far, so figured it was too late to turn back now. He placed his hands around Lucy’s thick collar and felt something hard and cylindrical. It was the vial and it slipped out easily. Jake held it up to the faint light and was now more confused than ever. This must really be a dream.

It was black face paint.

“What the – ?”

Our faces are naturally dark, enabling us to look into the human world when most of you never even see us. If I told you how often Leonbergers stare into your house windows at night, you would never believe it.

Jake made a face. “That’s a little creepy. Wish you hadn’t told me that.”

No matter. But you…should you look into a window with your white face, they will see you. So make yourself look more like me. If only for the moment.

“What kind of dog are you?” Jake asked, as the questions inside his head multiplied themselves.

I get that a lot. Please not now. Hurry. We don’t have much time.

Jake smeared the oily black substance over his face. He liked neither the smell nor texture of it. It went on very wet and made his face feel even colder. Especially when the cold breeze hit his face.

“Okay. There. Look okay to you?” Jake asked.

You don’t look like a Leo, but it will do.

“Okay so now what?”

Now walk up to the house and look into the closest window. Only look. You will hear them though my ears.

“Fine.” Jake said. Anxious to get it over with, he walked right up to the closest window and looked inside. There he saw a man and a woman seated at a small kitchen table. He recognized the woman as Diana’s mother. Jake instinctively ducked down when he saw her, mindful of their hostile exchange just hours ago. Jake didn’t recognize the man but assumed it was Diana’s father. Although both of their glances swept across Jake and Lucy several times, they were apparently never spotted.

This crazy black dog face paint really works, Jake thought to himself.

Jake spotted cigarettes on the table and felt a flash of anger. “Well look at that,” he said in a hushed tone. “They get free lunches but can afford smokes? Ha! Mooches.”

Lucy’s ears moved slightly forward and she leaned against Jake with her side.  Then, looking up at him, Humans with addictions need even more love, Jake. Not less.

That concept struck Jake as odd. But he was not going to debate it with a dog. Then Lucy moved without warning. She gracefully lifted her two front paws and collapsed into Jake’s knees. “Hey what are you doing?” Lucy now drilled forward, pushing Jake over to another window using her head. Jake was momentarily startled by her strength.

I’m just moving you, Lucy said. Now look into this one. What do you see?

Jake looked into the window now in front of him. He saw only a very small Christmas tree with no lights or decorations on it. There was neither a star nor an angel on top. In fact, the whole room was spartan and depressing.

“A tree,” Jake said.

What else? 

“Ummmm…no lights?”

Very good. And what else? 

Frustrated again, Jake glared down at Lucy. “I don’t know what you’re looking for. I don’t see anything else. Can we be done now?”

You see nothing else because there is nothing else. No gifts. No family. A very small and broken human pack. And if I could get in to force open the fridge with my nose – which by the way, I can do – you would see no food in there either. 

Jake stared at the boring old tree. He pondered the words of this strange dog for a moment. He knew Diana was poor. Everyone knew it. And he hadn’t previously cared one bit. But for some reason, seeing the empty house up close was a whole different –

“Hey! Quit it!” Jake said as Lucy nuzzled him back to the original window. “Fine I’ll look into this one again. You could just ask me, you know.”

This is more fun, Lucy said with a lighthearted tone.

Jake found himself staring back at Diana’s parents again. And now he gradually heard their speech, which increased both in volume and clarity. In fact, it became so clear that Jake found he could hear every word, breath, and syllable. Almost like musical notes that practically appeared in his mind. So crisp and clear, unlike anything he had ever heard before in his life. All sounds were greatly accentuated and seemed to collide with each other at an almost disconcerting rate. It was a strange, new experience, hearing literally every sound – and so magnified.

He could hear when someone scratched their face. It sounded like a buzz saw.

He could hear when someone breathed in and out. It sounded like an old fashioned locomotive.

He could hear could hear when a teacup was set down in its plate. It sounded like a bowler knocking down a strike.

Suddenly concerned again, Jake spoke up. “It’s too loud. Why is it so damn loud?? I can hear everything.”

You hear everything through my ears. Welcome to dog world, Lucy said sagely. Then added, think on this moment next time you play your music so loud in front of us, especially in the car.

“Oh my gosh…I really need to wake up soon,” Jake said, covering his eyes with his hands and shaking his head.

Look. And listen.

Jake obeyed. And after a few moments, his ears adjusted to their new acuity. And so he listened to them talk for a long time. There was tension between them, but not directed at each other. They were deeply concerned for the welfare of their daughter, little Diana. They spoke of  her struggles and hopes at great length. And there were many of the first. Not nearly enough of the second.

Jake listened for a long time, what seemed like hours. There was so much going on in their lives. A ton more than he had ever imagined.

Jake’s intense focus on Diana’s parents’ conversation was abruptly interrupted by a loud sound, making him jump. For a split second, the thought he had leaned too hard on the glass and tripped a security alarm. But now he realized it was coming from the direction of the street, and sounded like thundering horse hooves accompanied by a high-pitched squeaky noise. Jake was struggling to focus on the source of the sound when he noticed that Lucy was no longer standing next to him. Turning in every direction, Jake whispered as loud as he dare, “Lucy! Lucy! Where are you?”

How long had she been gone? Jake felt a flash of anger that she had brought him here then abandoned him.

The noise on the street grew louder and then stopped. In the dim light of the sole functioning street lamp, Jake could see the outline of that huge dog and cart that had been parked on his lawn earlier. In the back of the cart, there sat a dog. He knew it must be Lucy, but still approached warily. That large dog pulling the cart was scary big. He looked as if he could devour Jake in just two or three bites, if he wanted to.

“Lucy?” Jake called.

It is time for me to go, Jake, Lucy answered softly. Calvin is to take me back to my home now. I hope you heard what you needed to hear.

“What I needed to…do you even know what’s going on in that home? Did you even listen?” Jake asked in a shrill voice.

No.

Don’t you even care?

It was for your ears, not mine. Even though I loaned you mine.

“He’s losing his job, Diana’s dad is. Downsizing. And they didn’t have dinner tonight. They skip it most nights. And their daughter is seriously ill. I never knew that. And -”

Lucy interrupted him. Sometimes having good hearing is a curse, isn’t it?

Jake was stunned. This dog didn’t help him at all. Just showed him a bunch suffering from another family then hopped up on a cart with the Trojan war horse, and prepared to trot off into the darkness.

“Then why did you even make me come out here,” Jake asked?

Because you need to learn the second lesson, Lucy whispered (as much as a dog can whisper).

“What is that?” Jake asked, hanging on this dog’s every word now. Before Lucy could answer, a strong breeze picked up and was loud enough to make hearing quiet speech impossible. Lucy waited for the wind to die down so she could answer. While waiting for it to quiet down, the air moved all around them swiftly. And Jake watched both Lucy and Calvin’s hair billow in the breeze. It moved in waves and ripples, almost in unison. Jake imagined that if gold could be woven into the thinnest, longest, and finest material, it would appear exactly as the coats adorning these two magnificent creatures.

Finally the wind died down. And Lucy provided the answer.

If you change the way you look at people, the people you look at will change.

This held Jake’s thoughts for a full minute, during which time the cart started to roll forward. Calvin’s gargantuan paws made a leathery sounding thud with each step.

“What do you mean by that? Wait a second! Don’t go yet. You have to explain that to me.” Jake followed beside the cart, still talking to Lucy. Together the crude caravan  plunged into a dark part of the street again, and Jake could not see Lucy’s face. He wondered if she was looking at him or just staring forward. Regardless, he kept pace with the cart, desperately searching for more wisdom from this dog.

But the cart began to move impossibly fast. And the wind had brought snow. The street was getting slick.

You have to get back, Lucy said. You have one more visitor tonight. And you do not want to be late for him.

“Who? Who comes next? Will it be Calvin?

The cart pulled ahead of Jake. He could no longer keep up with it. But he was determined to try. He ran harder and harder in the dark snow.

And then he slipped on the wet surface, fell hard, and hit his head on the pavement. The lights went out. And Jake was out again.

A Canine Christmas Carol (2 of 5)

Chapter 2: The Dog of Christmas Past

The high-tech digital clock silently flipped over to 12:23 am. Jake suddenly awoke. He awoke mainly due to lack of air, having fallen asleep face down in his pillow. As he lifted his head, Jake realized he had been lying in a pool of sweat. He looked at the time, and relaxed. It was all just a bad dream after all. The spooky version of his old dog, strange references to Three Dog Night, and…that horrible scene out the window. It all meant nothing.

Midnight came and went without incident. Just as he knew it would. Jake allowed himself a smug look as he rolled around to sleep on his back.

Without warning, Jake suddenly heard a dog panting. In the dark room, he turned towards the sound and saw the shadowy outline of a dog sitting at the foot of his bed. He jumped up in a panic, fumbling for his phone to activate the light. But he dropped it. Then gave up and went straight for the lamp.

The room was suddenly bathed in light, but not from the lamp. The lamp paled in comparison to the light surrounding…yet another dog. This one completely unfamiliar to him. It was large with a brownish/golden coat. A dog with a pure white face. This dog’s visage was unique. It reminded him of a geisha, wearing white coloring on her face.

“Who are you?” Jake asked timidly.

I am Max, the Glorious Golden Retriever. And the Dog of Christmas Past.

Max. Glorious Golden Retriever of Christmas Past.

Max. Glorious Golden Retriever of Christmas Past.

Seriously?” Jake asked both nervous and bewildered. But trying to sound brave.

Yes. We are supposed to retrieve some things from your past together. Are you ready? Yes. You are ready. I feel -

“I didn’t even answer you yet,” Jake interrupted.

Wooooooo, Max howled lightly, almost as if he was clearing his throat. I have a thing or two to show youCome with me? Yes. Come with me. I know you want to come with me. And probably pet me.

“No.” Jake said simply. “I really don’t. This is getting to be too much.”

Wooooohhhhh come on. It will be fun. You will like it. Do you have any tennis balls in the house?

“What? What kind of question is that? No. We don’t play tennis.”

Max looked down. Ohhh okay. Let us go outside then. There are always tennis balls outside.

“No there aren’t” Jake said.

Max walked out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and outside. Curious, Jake followed him. And could scarcely believe his parents hadn’t woken up to all of this noise.

Max jumped into a huge pile of pachysandra. He then ran around, with nose down low, from one side to the other. This made a rustling sound that was almost deafening in the silence of the night. Max searched and searched, never bringing that nose up, and wagging his tail hard the entire time.

“You’ll never find a tennis ball here. I already told you that,” Jake said. He was tired and exasperated. And wondered what he was doing out here, with a strange dog after midnight.

In very short order, the search was over. Max pranced over to Jake and had something in his mouth. It looked like a half-eaten potato. Max was wagging the whole rear half of his body, tail included. He looked so happy and proud of himself. Then Max dropped the potato-looking object onto the brick walkway and it bounced. Then rolled. Jake now saw that it was indeed an old tennis ball.

“Hey! Let me see that,” Jake said as he grabbed for the tattered old ball.

Max quickly picked it up again, the turned away from Jake. Each time Jake lunged forward, Max backed up a step. He was not giving that ball up!

You said you don’t play tennis. Why are you trying to take my ball? Max inquired, tail still wagging.

“Oh my God!” Jake said, placing the back of his hand to his brow and shutting his eyes in frustration. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m doing here!”

Now do you want to pet me? Max asked hopefully.

“No!” Jake responded loudly.

Okay. Then come, boy. It’s time now. Grab hold of my collar. 

Jake looked confused at this request. And to be perfectly honest, he was still a little frightened by the whole ordeal. But this canine apparition, like the previous one, seemed harmless enough. Something deep inside told him to grab the collar. And just trust Max. So he did.

The moment Jake slipped his fingers around the thick, blue collar it began to glow brighter. It seemed to come alive in his hands as it instantly turned into an almost electric blue colored collar. Jake’s room slowly melted away, and he sensed they were running together through a vast field. Grass and corn stalks were flying by as they ran together. Even though he was barefoot, he felt no pain. Only pure joy! Jake was free. He thought this must be how dogs feel when they run.

How nice it would be, to run like a dog.

Just as he was forgetting his fears, it was over. And they were still again. In front of him, Jake noticed a little boy running around a clearing in the midst of the corn fields. He was playing and jumping. The boy’s dark, straight hair was blowing in the breeze. Along with the boy was a little yellow puppy. The boy and the puppy looked so happy together. One wagging his tail, the other laughing out loud with pure enjoyment.

It was the picture perfect human-canine bond. Right before his eyes.

Sometimes the boy would chase the puppy. Then the puppy would chase the boy. They took turns. Other times the boy would pretend to grab the puppy, and the puppy would turn around and play bite the boy. Just little puppy nips.

Jake smiled.

Wooooo wooooo! Isn’t it great? Max suggested.

“Shut up!” Jake snapped, angry at having such a beautiful scene interrupted. “And stop howling like that,” Jake pleaded. “You’re freaking me out.”

Sorry, said Max (or more accurately, sent Max). Did you like this? Do  you remember it? We are always amazed at how much you humans can remember. How did it make you feel back then?

“What?” Jake asked, thoroughly confused by this dog now. He was asking way too many questions. And Jake was about to stop listening to the Dog of Christmas Past altogether.

And then it hit him. He was looking at himself as a boy. The puppy was Brownie. Just days before he got sick and had to be put down.

Now the scene took on a whole new meaning. Jake looked into the clearing again. The little puppy. The little boy. So happy together. Completely oblivious to life outside the safety of the corn circle. And what was ahead of them.

Max interrupted Jake’s thoughts. Do you remember how this dog made you feel?

Jake said nothing. But continued to look at the boy and his puppy. They were both sitting on the ground now, and he watched as the boy pulled the puppy close to him. And hugged him. And pet him on the head. And gave him a few kisses. The puppy seemed to like this and rolled over for a belly run, which was promptly given.

It looked like so much fun. So peaceful. Why wasn’t life always like this?

Max repeated, Do you remember how this dog made you feel?

“No,” Jake replied, a little too quickly.

Yes you do. You forgot for a time, but you never truly forget how a dog makes you feel. Never.

Jake ignored Max, then noticed the boy wander off and disappear into the corn fields. The puppy was left alone. Now little fluffy Brownie sat quietly and looked into Jake’s direction. Jake took one step towards him, then stopped himself suddenly.

It’s okay, Max said. You can go to him.

Jake released all inhibitions and tore off through the corn stalks. They cracked and snapped as he sprinted towards his first and only puppy, torn from his life so long ago. Brownie saw and recognized the older Jake right away, and wagged his tail. Then stood up to meet him.

Jake crashed into the ground right in front of Brownie, and placed both hands around his little puppy. Brownie whimpered and cried for joy, so happy to see him again. Jake remembered the soft feeling of puppy fur, the sweet smell of little puppy breath, the fine & sharp needle teeth that were now trying to bite him.

He laughed and played and for a moment, forgot he was an older kid who didn’t like animals. He scratched Brownie’s belly, and began to feel tears in his eyes. He suddenly became emotional and talked openly – from the heart – to his puppy. “I missed you so much. The day you left was the worst in my life. I’m so glad you’re back.”

He hugged Brownie tightly as the puppy’s tail wagged a mile a minute.

A large gust of wind blew hard across the field. It grew more and more powerful, causing Jake to take one hand off the puppy and place it on the ground to stabilize himself. Brownie took this opportunity to jump out of Jake’s arms. And then he darted straight into the labyrinth of the tall corn stalks, in the same direction the boy had run.

Jake jumped up and followed after him, screaming his name and whistling – like he used to – to make him come back. Jake ran into the fields and looked and looked and looked. But to no avail. Brownie was gone. The boy was gone. Jake had a strong feeling inside that Brownie was not coming back. And he was devastated because of it.

He looked back to where Max was, and saw him still sitting there. The wind blowing his thick, brown fur. His white face staring wisely down at Jake. Eyes looking deeper and browner now than before. Jake noticed Max was no longer wagging his tail. And for the first time, this old dog looked serious.

Through clenched teeth and streaming tears, Jake cried out to Max, “Why do you show me things like this? It’s all in the past. These are just stupid memories of a stupid dog that is long gone. I don’t care anymore. I just want to go home.”

Max continued to stare at Jake. But said nothing.

“Why?” Jake repeated  more loudly. And weeping openly now. “Tell me why you’re doing this! Why??”

Because you need to learn the first lesson, Max said plainly.

“What is that?” Jake asked, sobbing so uncontrollably now he could barely get the words out.

Each time one of us dies, we take a piece of your heart with us. But each time we come into your life, we give a piece of our heart to you. Do this enough times, and you’ll have a heart as loving and forgiving as ours.