The dog lifted his head up from where he was laying. It was tiring, and everything hurt, but the raven was back. The one no one else seemed to see or smell. He looked at her bobbing along in the house at night, perched on some of the shelves where his humans kept those things they would look through before special lights and sounds flickered on what they called the teevee.
“Are you ready to go with me yet?” the raven said in her soft voice.
The dog laid his head back down. “I can’t. Not yet. They’re trying so hard. I can’t hurt them. I need to stay a little longer.”
“You’re suffering,” she said gently, bobbing her head. “They can see that. They don’t want you to hurt any more than you want them to. You can just come with me now.”
“No,” the dog said again. “You say how it’ll be easy, how the pain goes away. But not for them. They need me. And … I’d miss them.”
The raven hopped down next to him. “And they’re going to miss you. But you can’t stay forever. And the longer you stay, the worse it will feel. My mistress and I only want to help.”
She was right; somewhere he knew it. All the things he’d loved before: running with them, playing games—even with that other little dumb dog they’d brought into the house several seasons ago—all seemed to be impossible now. Even food gave no joy when he simply could not feel its relief, couldn’t even try to eat. It was too hard even to climb up into the soft spaces and just be with them like he always loved to do. First he’d lost the place where they slept, and recently he’d lost the places where they simply sat.
But still they’d been trying so hard. His humans had been trying to give him the joy back. Trying things he couldn’t even understand, but he somehow knew they did out of love for him. How could he throw that away to go with the raven?
“I just…” the dog sighed out a breath. “They need a few more days. That much more.”
The raven hopped into his vision to look at him. “If they had their way, it would be all the years of their long lives. Compared to us at least. But they see. One of them summoned someone. It was hard for them, but they’ve called upon a gentle hand close to my mistress. She helps those like us take this journey.”
The dog contemplated. He couldn’t quite feel sad, but he did for the knowledge they’d be separated. “When?”
“After the sun rises. I will be here with you when you need me,” the raven said. “And they will all be here for you.”
He glanced up one more time to watch the raven fly off through the walls that were a barrier to him and his “brother”—at least that was what the humans called the other dog. His brother didn’t even notice. As always, only he saw the raven.
Night passed. During it, he’d felt the pain once again and hadn’t been able to find the strength to wake anyone to get outside. They never scolded him anymore, but he still felt embarrassed. One of his humans merely cleaned and the dog could smell the tears through the mess as the sun was rising outside.
In the morning, they made him special treats, trying to give him a little piece of whatever they had. There was always one of them petting him, being close to him. He knew what this meant; the raven had told him as much. Still, he did not mind. There had never been enough time anyways to soak up all he could of the feel of someone’s hand through his fur.
The ringing sounded that meant someone was at the door. The smell of his humans’ apprehension was thick in the air, but one of them went to open it while the dog’s brother moved to see who it was. The dog himself did not feel like traveling down the stairs, but from the smell that came in with the woman, he could tell she was a good person. And the raven was with her.
The kind lady did not seem to even see or acknowledge the raven, but there it was again, perched on her shoulder. The raven looked at him while the lady knelt and petted him and talked to his humans. Their sadness was filling the air as they laid a soft covering on the floor. He wished he could make that hurt go away like he had in times before.
“It will be time to go soon,” the raven said.
“They don’t seem ready,” he responded.
She shook her head. “I know. They rarely are. But you need not fear. She will help. They will help each other. Even your brother will help as best he can.”
He almost told her, He’s not my brother, but the simple fact was they were close enough. He’d even grown to like the other dog most of the time, tried to teach him what he could. And his humans were going to need the other dog.
For the first time, the dog began to worry. “Will it hurt more?”
“No,” the raven said. “This is the end of pain for now. This is freedom once you reach it. As I said, she will help.”
The new lady was coming in close now. She was petting him, whispering to him over and over that he was such a good dog, like his own humans told him so often. It made him remember all the good times with them, times they’d made each other happy. He barely even felt the pinch at the back of his neck. And then all the pain inside began to lessen as his body started to relax.
“Look at them,” the raven said. “Look how much they love you. Keep that with you for the journey.” She was close to him now, always right near him or at his ear.
His humans were trying to coax him onto the soft material on the floor. Instead he backed away. He wanted to do what she’d said, wanted to see and smell them all for as long as he could. Vision was already growing hazy, and wherever he went, he wanted to have that sight imbedded of all his humans and the others that loved him.
Everything was blurring, and he could feel his limbs growing tired. When he slipped to his side, he heard one of them sob. He had no way to tell them that he felt less pain now. That everything was relaxing and that he could still see the raven. That she was his friend and guide. Even as everything went dark and he felt their hands moving and stroking him, he could still see the raven.
“Relax and feel this,” she told him calmly. “We’ll go soon, but for now, focus on all that they do and say.”
The dog did as the raven advised. He felt them brushing his fur once more, all of their hands on him at once. Gentle words reminded him of how good he had been and all the fond memories they had with him. It felt wonderful as everything began to fade. It felt so calming as everything slowed, as the pain dwindled down to leave only the petting and the soft words, the raven always close and waiting.
Then, after a moment of complete, sleeping calm, the dog was suddenly up. No, this was not just awakening. This was a feeling of true freedom, beyond even what he’d felt when he was so young. He could move around everything, could smell and see more than he ever could before. All the physical world was there, but so much more.
He turned to all his humans, hunched and huddled around the shape he’d once been. He wished he could cut through their sobs, could somehow tell them about what he smelled and felt and how they all looked in his new vision. And there was the raven, glossy and dark, wings spread and gliding around him.
“They all look so sad,” the dog said, as if he needed to mask his free exuberance.
“It’s true,” the raven said sympathetically. “It’s the nature of separation when we’ve left an imprint on each other. And if you look close, you can see the imprint you’ve left on them.”
And in this new place and state, he could. The sadness that shimmered around all of them was made up of swirls where his body had brushed theirs. A thousand impressions of his nose where he’d bumped one of them to say it was time to play. Paw prints and smears from licks in all those times that he’d jumped up to say hi or thank them or merely be excited they were home. Looking at his own form in the strange in-between, he could see so many hand prints from them, the little scratches where his tail met his body, the swirl of a thousand rubs at his belly when he’d rolled over. Every place where their spirits had touched lingered in this place.
“It’ll be like those other times,” the raven continued. “They would leave for some reason or another and you would have to stay with someone who cared, yet always you wondered when they would return. The joy you felt when they came back through a door will be the same when they finally cross the threshold themselves.”
Even as she talked, the raven was flying through the window into the cloudy sky, and the dog found he could follow with ease, like running over the air. He saw others waiting for them, misty figures resolving into a larger dog, a similar breed to his own, a cat with black and white splotches, a few other different dogs. On each of them, he could see those same handprints that matched his humans.
“These are those that came before you,” the raven said with a flutter, “the ones that knew your humans before you even came into this incarnation. They’re here to welcome you, so you needn’t wait alone. And they can’t wait to hear how the humans are doing and to learn about the new one that hadn’t been attached to his own animal before.”
The dog joined their ranks and felt himself crossing from the world of his body to the existence beyond. His spirit brushed with theirs as the raven guided them all back. She had assured him that his humans would be alright, and as he traveled the gap with the others he was learning that there were many ways to see them again.
Crossing into the next place, the dog felt light, free, and infinitely loved.