"Marley… you are a great dog."
That was the last thing I heard John say to me that day, in the split second I awoke from my unconscious state. I wanted to thank him, to lick his face in gratitude, but I passed out again right afterwards. And even if I hadn't, there was no way I would be able to move. Besides being sedated, my body had practically shut down on its own. My time had come, and there was nothing I could do about it.
At some point I felt some sort of liquid course through my veins, causing me to see a series of flashing light, and before I knew it I was flying through a red tunnel filled with floating rocks towards a bright light at an alarming speed. As much as I tried to sink my paws into the ground to stop myself from torpedoing across what seemed to be a meteor shower it was no use, especially since I soon realized that there was no ground at all.
I closed my eyes in fear of what was going to happen next, and after a few seconds I felt my head bang violently against a hard surface, a loud metal-like noise echoing through wherever I was. I must of somehow rolled over on my back during the course of my "flight", for when I opened my eyes I was upside down, and all I could see were a few glistening gold bars in front of me. As I turned over to stand on all fours, I realized my paws weren't touching anything. I looked down, and saw that I was floating in midair, as if gravity had ceased to exist.
Turning and looking around, I saw I was surrounded by pink clouds. A lot of pink clouds. I also saw the blue sky right in front of me, so it didn't take me too long to figure out that I was somehow flying in the earth's atmosphere. But then I realized something that completely took my breath away: I wasn't sore anymore! My hips didn't fail to bare my weight as I stood, or even hurt, and my eyesight was perfect once more! And my stomach didn't feel like it was twice its size and on the verge of explosion! I looked at myself as best as I could, and for what I could tell there wasn't a grey strand of fur to be seen. I couldn't believe it, but it seemed that I was back to my young and healthy self.
"Marley Grogan?" I heard a soft voice call behind me. When I turned around I saw a pink female Whippet, with her hears pulled back into a ponytail for some reason, floating right in front of me. She was slender and about my size, and wore a thin purple collar with a pink heart hanging on it.
"…Y-yeah…" I stuttered, insecure, as I carefully approached her by a few inches. "Who… who are you?"
"My name is Annabelle, and I am here to welcome you to your afterlife." she replied, sending me a somewhat heartwarming smile. But that's when I felt my heart sink.
"A-afterlife?! You don't mean…!"
"I'm afraid so." she floated towards me, and I could see care and understanding in her eyes. "Your health was deteriorating, and there was nothing else anyone could do. You were very lucky. Not all dogs have such a caring owner that wouldn't let them suffer so much. Most of them have the exact opposite."
That remark made me think. John had always been there for me, for better or worse. He put up with my rambunctious behavior with the patience of a saint, and restlessly took care me of whenever I needed. He was the one who brought me home and let me sleep with him on our first night together, the one who slept with me on the lower floor when I could no longer muster up the strength to climb up the stairs, and the one who stayed with me through my last minutes on Earth. Annabelle was right. I really had been lucky to have him.
"Now then, what do you say I show you around?" she asked, turning towards the gate. I nodded and followed her as the doors opened to let us pass and we flew through more clouds, many of them with other dogs. "You're going to enjoy it here. You can do whatever you wish, you can laugh and sing all day, you can…"
While Annabelle went on and on about all the possibilities of Dog Heaven, something else caught my eye: on the end of one of the clouds sat a dog motionlessly looking down at the Earth. He looked exactly like a husky, except he was golden brown. It wasn't a breed I was familiar with, and he was looking down with such focus it seemed like he was going to jump at any second.
"Hey Annabelle…" I called her, interrupting her monologue. "… who is that?"
Following the direction where I pointed with my paw, she saw who I was referring to and her gaze suddenly turned sad.
"That's Hachikō." she replied with a sigh. "Believe it or not, he's been here for sixty-nine years and he's still waiting for his owner to return to him."
"Really? Why?" I asked, astounded by such a selfless act of loyalty. Annabelle curled her lips in a sympathetic smile as she looked at him once more.
"He used to wait for him every day at the train station and they would walk home together, until one day his owner died at his work place. Hachikō never knew about it, so he waited for him patiently in the same spot every day for the next ten years, confident that he would return, until he himself died. He's still waiting, nonetheless." Annabelle's smile died and she sighed again. "Excuse me for a moment."
I watched as she flew towards the other dog, stopping right beside him, yet his gaze never drifted away from the planet under him. Although they were a few feet away, they were still within hearing range, so I could everything they said.
"こんにちは、ハチ公。" ("Hello, Hachikō".) said Annabelle, beaming modestly towards the distracted canine. Finally taking his attention away from the Earth, he looked up at her and smiled as well.
"こんにちは、アナベル！" ("Hello, Annabelle!") he replied, bowing his head politely. "どのようにこの晴れの日のですか？" ("How are you this fine day?")
"ハチ公..." ("Hachikō…") her smile faded as she seemed to hesitate, as if trying to find the right words. "...彼は戻って来ていない。" ("... he's not coming back.")
"それはどういうことですか？" ("What do you mean?")
"ハチ公..." ("Hachikō…") Annabelle sighed as she took a seat next to him. "あなたの所有者が戻ってくることはありません。もう、待っていても意味がありません。" ("Your owner is never coming back. There's no point in waiting, anymore.")
Hachikō seemed to think for a minute, but then smiled at her again.
"ああ、彼はです！彼はいつも戻ってくる。そして、私は彼がいないまで右ここで待つつもりです。" ("Oh, but he is! He always comes back. And I'm going to wait right here until he does.")
"しかし、ハチ – " ("But Hachi – ")
"彼が戻って来ている！" ("He is coming back!") he cut her off, desperation perfectly apparent in his tone despite the smile on his lips. "彼は..." ("He is…")
He turned his attention back to what was going on beneath him, indicating that he was done talking. Annabelle understood that and flew back towards me, hanging her head in sadness.
"Well, shall we?" her voice cracked as she continued to fly further into Dog Heaven.
I turned back to Hachikō for a second before following her, and saw a tear run down his cheek as he stared at the Earth beneath him. I might have not understood a word they had said, but from what Annabelle had explained to me I could comprehend that he wasn't going to leave that spot until his owner returned to him.
I felt somewhat bad for him, never knowing what had happened to the one who had cared for him and hanging onto the hopeless belief that he would someday return to carry on with their life together. But somehow I also felt a spark of hope in my non-beating heart, for I knew John was still safe back home.
That thought made me smile, and right before following Annabelle to my new home, I gazed down at the Earth, wondering what the Grogans were doing at the moment.
"Thank you…" I whispered down, almost hoping they could hear me. "…for everything."