Collarworld has a thousand realms and neighborhoods and locations, each realm designed for pets to wait and play and frolic until they are once again reunited with their masters and caretakers in the afterlife.
And for months, it seemed as if Cha-Cha the boxer had searched each realm, looking for her brother Rascal, who had arrived in Collarworld many years before. But despite visiting many of the realms in Collarworld – the farmland of Indigo Acres, the circus lands of the Sawdust Oval, the beautiful beaches of the Shore of the Cedars – she could find no clues to her missing brother.
Although Vincent the tabbycat and his friends also tried to find information on Rascal, their efforts were fruitless. Nobody had knowledge of the boxer who saved Cha-Cha and her mistress from an armed gunman by giving his life to fight the shooter.
Eventually, Cha-Cha settled into a peaceful existence in Collarworld. She chose the Green Meadow as her realm of peace, and when the pain in her aching left foreleg allowed her to, she played games of fetch and tag with Vincent and several of the other pets. She even watched as Vincent climbed the great oak in the Green Meadow, knowing that once Vincent reached the third branch, he cold see dozens of Collarworld realms in a single gaze. Maybe, perhaps, Cha-Cha thought, her brother Rascal was in one of those realms, still searching for her.
It was a cool, breezy day in Collarworld, and Cha-Cha decided to explore a realm of Collarworld that she had not previously seen. She hiked most of the day through a forest of brilliant, silvery leaves. Each leaf captured the sunlight and reflected a luminous grey shine upon the forest floor, and for Cha-Cha the illumination and brilliance gave her hope. She had never visited this part of Collarworld before … and maybe if she followed a winding path in the forest… a step here, a step there… perhaps someone in the forest could help the boxer find her littermate.
Vincent must be worried about me, Cha-Cha thought. He shouldn’t worry. Silly old tabbycat. I’ll be fine, she thought.
After hours of walking through the forest of silver leaves, Cha-Cha arrived at a clearing. Beautiful green grass. Several spreading trees for shade. A glistening stream. Peaceful. Tranquil. Cha-Cha smiled. Every time she visited a realm in Collarworld, she thought the new realm was better than the last. This one, however, was the most beautiful of all.
In the distance, resting under one of the shade trees, was another dog. I wonder if this dog knows of Rascal, Cha-Cha thought. She paced towards the resting canine. She recognized the breed as a German Shepherd.
The dog was asleep. Maybe I shouldn’t disturb him, Cha-Cha thought. I’ll come back another time and … and …
The German Shepherd opened his eyes. “Who are you?” he snarled.
“Hi, um, I didn’t man to wake you,” Cha-Cha barked.
“You woke me. Who are you?”
“My name is Cha-Cha, and I’m looking for my brother, he’s a boxer just like me.”
“He’s not here,” the German Shepherd growled. “And you shouldn’t be here either. You need to go. Now.”
“Why? I mean, I’m sorry I woke you up, but – ”
“No,” the dog slowly roared. “It is not safe for you to be here. Please leave me alone.”
Cha-Cha walked around to face the German Shepherd. “Who hurt you?” she asked.
“You need to go.”
“I’ll go … but I think you need a friend.”
“I don’t need anybody. I’m fine where I am.”
As Cha-Cha walked toward the tree, the German Shepherd noticed something in the boxer’s gait.
“It’s an old wound from the Living World,” Cha-Cha replied.
“You should have been healed from that wound when you arrived here.”
“I chose to leave it, until I can find my brother again it will always remind me to find him.”
“Did your master harm you?” he asked.
“Not quite,” Cha-Cha replied. “I protected my mistress from an evil man who tried to kill her. The man shot me in the side. My brother fought the man, and the man shot my brother to death. The evil man was later captured, but my brother died. That was a few years ago.”
“But your mistress survived. Thanks to you and your brother.”
“Yes,” said Cha-Cha. “I stayed with her for many years after that, and then one day I woke up and I was here in Collarworld. How long have you been here?”
The German Shepherd looked at the nearby stream. “I’ve been here for many, many years. Longer now than when I was in the Living World.”
“Why are you here by yourself?”
“In the Living World, I was the trusted pet of a college professor. Some of his students did some horrible things to me – they put something in my dog food that tasted funny and clouded my mind, to the point where I attacked my master. Ever since that moment, I’ve felt shame and disgust with myself, and I’ve chosen to live in exile here in Collarworld, and not let anybody near.”
“What will you do when your master crosses over and looks for you?”
The German Shepherd closed his weary eyes. “He crossed over two years ago. I still couldn’t face him, I still felt guilt and anger about what I had done. I broke his trust. Thankfully, another dog volunteered to be his reunion companion, and my master will never have to know my shame.”
“You did nothing wrong,” Cha-Cha barked.
“I hurt my master. That’s the worst thing a pet can ever do. It doesn’t matter if I did it from my free will or if it was a mistake. I did it. There is no forgiveness for that.”
Cha-Cha laid down next to the German Shepherd. He tensed up, just for a second.
She licked the side of his face. “I forgive you,” she barked.
“You can’t forgive me,” the German Shepherd moaned. “Nobody can.”
“I just did.”
And for a moment in time, all was peaceful and calm in the clearing.
“You need to leave,” the German Shepherd barked. “I appreciate your concern…”
“It’s not concern,” Cha-Cha replied. “It’s caring. You can’t blame what you did on yourself, when a human caused you to behave like that. We are trained, and we are intelligent. I know I’m going to find my brother Rascal, and I know that you’re going to find peace as well, friend dog.”
The German Shepherd looked at Cha-Cha. “Rascal.”
“Yes, that’s my brother. A boxer, just like me.”
“How long ago did this happen – the man who attacked you?”
“Twelve, thirteen years I think…”
The German Shepherd scratched some grass with his paw. “I know what happened to him. He was here in Collarworld, but only for a few days.”
“And where did he go?”
“Go find the one known as St. Francis of Assisi. He is the patron saint of all animals in Collarworld, and he was the man who you first saw when you arrived here. Ask him about the Order of the Seven Angels. If I remember, the one you call Rascal was here just long enough to be asked to join the Seven Angels. Every human in the Living World is watched over by seven angels from the day of birth to the day of death. Only the most pure and noble of all creatures joins the Order. That’s where Rascal is. St. Francis can tell you more if you ask him.”
“Yes,” the German Shepherd barked. “That’s where he is. He’s helping to protect a human on Earth.”
“That’s how he died,” Cha-Cha yipped. “He protected Miss Dottie and me on Earth.”
“Then truly he was a blessed choice for the Seven Angels. But you need to go now… I can’t explain more, but you are not safe here.”
“Do you really want me to leave?”
The distant rustling of leaves, a whisper of breeze in the branches.
“You can come back another day,” the German Shepherd whispered, “when I’m better rested.”
“Okay,” Cha-Cha said, “Thank you. And thank you for telling me about Rascal.”
“You’re welcome. Now please let me rest.”
“Just one thing.”
“One thing. No more.”
“Before I go… what’s your name, friend dog, so I can tell my friend Vincent back in the Green Meadow who helped me?”
“You know Vincent the cat in the Green Meadow?”
“I do. He’s my friend.”
“You tell him that you met Bismarck in the Clearing of the Silver Forest. And he’ll explain everything else.”