Okay, so this is a thing that I wrote over the summer while I was coping with the loss of a beloved pet. I had this dog for almost the entirety of her sixteen years of life; losing her hit me and my husband hard.
If you read this, expect to have feels. You can't say I didn't warn you.
The rapping of a knock on the door disturbed her reading.
She didn’t often get visitors in her little house in the Suburb of the Dead. Lots of letters, though, sometimes delivered in delightfully odd ways. Slipped in through the windows, delivered by woodland animals. One day a stack had just appeared in her breadbox. She wasn’t even sure why she had a breadbox, but it had opened up that morning and letters had spilled out. Everyone knew she was here, and nobody wanted to bother her, but they couldn’t resist the opportunity for correspondence.
She answered each of them, of course. There was no lack of time to do so. Many people occupied the City of the Dead. It was a place of waiting; few people stayed here forever. There was something beyond this, she knew, but like the rest she wasn’t ready to move on just yet. There were people back home she was waiting for, of both the two- and four-legged variety.
Still, breadboxes and letters in the afterlife. Who would have expected?
The knocking rang out again, polite and patient. She set her book aside and rose, taking a moment to appreciate the sight of the Rainbow Bridge out the huge plate window through the back of her house. That wouldn’t be Gary at the door, would it? He wasn’t that old yet. No...no, of course not. He’d have come running straight over the bridge and stuck his nose and tongue on the window until she let him in, assuming she hadn’t gotten a note letting her know he was coming. Her home was near the bridge by design; some parts of the City where tightly packed, but her neighborhood was quieter, more spread out. She’d almost immediately started calling it the Suburb of the Dead. It amused her.
She shook her head and glided (literally; physics didn’t matter in the afterlife) smoothly over to the door, swinging it open. The man on the other side she recognized as one of the caretakers of the Rainbow Bridge denizens; pets who were waiting for their people to arrive. He was of medium build and bronze skin, and so far as she knew was one of the few who had been in the City for centuries, possibly longer. But what was notable about him today was that in his arms was a fluffy red dachshund with black-tipped ears.
“Well, good afternoon, Sheneh. What brings you here?” She glanced down at the creature in his arms. It gazed up at her with clear brown eyes that burrowed into her soul. Then for a moment those eyes clouded with cataracts, red muzzle became dotted with white, before abruptly snapping back to youth again.
“My small charge, I’m afraid,” he said with a sad little smile. “She seems to be having some trouble adjusting.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t realize that ever happened. The dogs always seem to have the best time, running and playing all over the hills near the bridge.”
Sheneh sighed. “She’s been here for over two weeks now. Poor little thing has been doing nothing but lying next to the bridge, watching and waiting. She vastly prefers the company of humans to that of other dogs. She’s friendly enough to them, but even the dogs and cat she knows well, she won’t stay with.” He cast her an apologetic look. “It happens sometimes. Some animals are just too closely bonded to their humans; they’d lie there and pine until the day their people came for them if we let them. But it’s not good for them, and her people are still young enough we’re not likely to see them for decades yet. In situations like this, they do better if we can place them with a human soul until their people arrive.”
“Like pet fostering back on Earth.”
“On a somewhat longer scale, yes.”
Curious, she stretched a hand out to the little dog. She was rewarded with a tentative sniff and a polite lick, but it didn’t seem as if the dog’s heart was in it. There was another time flash, a sudden appearance of advanced canine age, then back. “What is…?”
“She hasn’t let go of being alive quite yet. The effects will wear off eventually, but it’s a side effect of not wanting to leave her people.”
He shifted the weight of the dog in his arms. “So I thought perhaps I’d ask if you would be willing to foster her.”
That was interesting. “Why me?”
“Well…you’ve registered as intending to stay at least until your daughter arrives, so you’re going to be around quite long enough. And your cottage is near the Rainbow Bridge, so she can see it and reassure herself that she won’t miss when they finally do arrive. Once she’s risen out of her funk, I think you’ll find that she’s quite the feisty, independent little girl. I believe you’ll get along famously.” He bent down to set the dog down on the doorstep.
She kneeled down as well, offering her hand once again. This time she was rewarded with a slight tail wag with the lick. The little dog’s fur was amazingly soft under her fingers. “What’s the catch?”
He chuckled. “No catch. Though you should play her music now and then. I’m given to understand that she’s exceptionally fond of the piano. Oh...” His eyes twinkled. “And there’s one more thing you should know: her name. It’s Leia.”
A full-throated laugh bubbled up out of Carrie’s throat. She stood up to her full height and looked him in the eye. “You sneaky bastard.”
“It seemed appropriate, no?”
The dachshund – Leia – appeared to decide all on her own that she had been invited in to stay. She trotted past Carrie’s ankles and into the house, hopping up onto the couch as if she belonged there. Her ears perked forward and she tilted her head slightly.
“All right, all right you can stay.” Carrie shook her head and fixed Sheneh with a calculating look. “Mom put you up to this, didn’t she?”
He shrugged. “It was my idea; she merely encouraged me. I really do appreciate it, though, Ms. Fisher. I think she’ll be much happier waiting here than alone. But I won’t take up any more of your time.” With another nodding bow, he took his leave.
Carrie clicked the door shut, turning to look at the fluffy creature now royally lounged on her couch. “Well, I guess it’s you and me now, kid, for a while at least. Let’s see if I can graduate you from princess to general.” She glanced over at the coffee table and blinked. “Where did that remote control helicopter come from?”