Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty dandelions.
Messer the shaggy Newfoundland dog counted the yellow blooming dandelions over and over again. Thirty on the little hill in the meadow of Collarworld, the afterlife home for pets to wait until they are reunited with their masters.
Thirty dandelions. Thirty little yellow pictures of sunshine.
Messer leaned down, his black nose sniffing one of the dandelion blooms. It reminded him of the meadows and fields of his home in the living world.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”
Messer looked up. Standing next to him was a beautiful, muscular pointer dog.
“They are. What’s your name, friend dog?”
“My friends call me Snicker,” barked the pointer.
“Snicker – that’s a happy name. How did you earn that name?”
“I was born on a farm and raised to compete in dog shows.”
“Wow, so was I. I won best of breed twice at the national dog show,” beamed Messer with pride.
“Did you now? I used to compete at local dog shows, but I did take best of show one time,” barked Snicker.
“My name is Messer. Saint John’s Maritime Messer Jubilee, to be more precise.”
“So you were a show dog,” Snicker replied. “You’all do anything besides being a show dog?”
“Well, after a few years, my master retired me from competition. I used to run around in a field just like this, a field with dandelions all over it. And this is the first time I’ve seen dandelions in Collarworld since I’ve arrived. My best friend here told me that dandelions are rare here, they only show up a few times a year. They’re even more beautiful than I remember.”
“Who is your friend?” Snicker asked.
“He’s a king orange tabby named Vincent.”
“Nice. Say, I have some friends that I’d like you to meet some time, they’re members of a group called the Guild of the Bloodline. We were show dogs and fancy cats, bred for perfection. You’all look like you were the top of your breed. You’d be perfect to join us.”
Messer smiled. “That would be great. Let me go find Vincent, I’m sure he’d want to meet you as well.”
“Well… right now let’s just keep it between ourselves, shall we?” Snicker barked. “We’all are kind of a small group. Don’t want to bring in too many members just yet. We want to keep this little group purely for us. But if you want to join us, come meet us over by the Sawdust Meadows some time. Maybe we can take in a performance at the circus together, and you’all can meet my friends.”
“That would be great. I’m glad I met you, Snicker.”
The pointer smiled. “You’all are good people. I gotta go now, I’m gonna tell my friends about you. Nice to meet you’all, Messer.”
“Okay. See you later.” And with that, Messer returned to counting the dandelions.
It was a brilliant, sunny day at Indigo Acres, the agrarian section of Collarworld where farm animals waited for their masters to cross over from the living world to the afterlife. While they waited, the farm animals plowed fields, laid eggs, gave milk, and lived a peaceful, quiet existence.
In the past few months, the leader of Indigo Acres, an English drafthorse named Cassius Marcellus, took in two new residents – a grey-eyed kitten that Cassius Marcellus named Arklatex, in honor of Cassius Marcellus’ home stable in the living world; and Torch, a a cat who for many years lived in the Ashen Forest with several feral cats. The farm animals knew to treat Arklatex and Torch as welcome residents of Indigo Acres, in that they would remain under the guidance and care of Cassius Marcellus.
And it was at that moment that Torch was wandering through the stables, trying to determine if all the stable locks were working. He pawed at the old, ancient bolts – if a cat could pop the lock, then a smart horse might use its tongue or lips to manipulate the bolt and walk free. The lock was tough to tackle … a few swings with his paws, nothing out of the ordinary. This lock seemed stable. While Cassius Marcellus was away from the farm, Torch would make sure to keep the barns in tip top shape. He felt at peace. He felt a true sense of worth, a feeling he had not experienced in a long time.
Torch’s ears picked up at the sound of the cry. It came from the east. Speeding up the wooden beams to an open window, the grey cat looked out to the farm.
There was Arklatex, the grey-eyed kitten, surrounded by three other animals – a Doberman and a tiger-striped cat, and a third animal that seemed obscured from view.
“Help me!” Arklatex shrieked.
“Drag him off,” barked the Doberman. “Don’t know how it thought it belonged here.”
The tiger-striped cat swung a claw toward Arklatex; the timid kitten backed up – right into the jaws of the Doberman. Arklatex swung and flailed, hoping to get away.
“Stop shaking around,” snarled the tiger-striped cat. “Your filth don’t belong here. You’re one of those whelps who escaped from the Rainy Barn. We’ve been looking for you. And now we found you.”
The tiny kitten wiggled and flicked, trying to squirm away. The Doberman’s jaws tightened around the kitten’s throat.
“You and two others escaped from the Rainy Barn,” hissed the tiger-striped cat. “A Siamese kitten and a Dalmatian pup. Where are they?”
“Help… help me…”
And then, the third member of the attacking party… a medium-sized dog … paced up to Arklatex.
“Hello, little kitten. All we want to know is where the other escapees from the Rainy Barn went. Tell us now and you stay alive.”
“I don’t know… I don’t know, I swear… please let me go… talk to my master, Cassius Marcellus, he will tell you all…”
“Be quiet,” the dog growled. “You came from the Rainy Barn. You have no masters. Nothing but mixbreeds and overbirths and bastards. You don’t belong in Collarworld. You never belonged in Collarworld. Collarworld is for the pure and the true. Real pets who wait for masters and mistresses.”
In the paddock, Torch peered through the window. Three animals… a Doberman, a tiger-striped cat, and another dog. He had to get out of the paddock and warn someone. But for now… all he could do was hide.
“Last chance. Tell us where the other bastards went.”
“I don’t know, I swear, I don’t know… Please, I don’t want to go back to the Rainy Barn. Please don’t take me back to the Rainy Barn,” Arklatex wept.
The dog moved forward. “You don’t have to worry. We’re not taking you to the Rainy Barn.”
The kitten looked up.
“The only way to get rid of filth like you’all,” the dog named Snicker growled, “is to visit a little place where you bastards belong. You’re going to visit a place in Collarworld called Fred’s Chasm … and if you’all don’t tell us where your missing bastard friends are … well, I guess you’all are going to find out how deep Fred’s Chasm really is.”
[to be continued]