Indigo Acres, an agrarian realm in the afterlife waystation known as Collarworld, was more than just a place for farm-raised animals to wait in peace until they are once again reunited with their masters. The ruling animal of Indigo Acres, a drafthorse named Cassius Marcellus, cultivated the fertile fields for vegetables and flowers and grains; he guided many of the farm animals to help raise these nutrients for other pets in other realms. Each stalk and vine, each furrow and row, provided emotional nutrients for the pets of Collarworld.
Today was a harvest day, and baskets were filled to the lip with corn and carrots and rice and clover, treasures that volunteer pets would deliver to the various realms. While delivering the food might seem an arduous chore, for many Collarworld residents it was akin to fulfilling a blessed sacrament – help others as your master once helped you.
“Let’s gather together, brothers and sisters,” Cassius Marcellus neighed to his volunteers. “This food has been blessed and consecrated. May your journeys and travels be joyful and swift, and may all your destinations be reached with warmth and care. Thank you for volunteering to deliver the harvest today. As a courier, you will bring joy to those who need. This is our Eucharist for our fellow brothers and sisters in Collarworld. Let us go now in peace and love. Harness up!”
The volunteers slowly walked into their hitches; as dogs and cats were strapped to their harnesses and bridles. One by one, a caravan of wagons slowly traveled away from Indigo Acres, bringing delicious emotional sustenance throughout the afterlife waystation.
Cassius Marcellus knew that these harvests weren’t real vegetables and meats; the foods in the wagons were foods of emotional nutrition, a psychological representation of the meals animals enjoyed in the Living World. What might appear to be tunafish and chicken chunks for hungry dogs and cats were simply an emotional representation of same, a constant reminder of the bond between human and animal.
As the last wagon left the Indigo Acres farmland, Cassius Marcellus turned his attention to other farm matters. The soil in one plot needed another tilling. And the tree stump that blocked access to rich ground needed to be removed today. Maybe he’d pull it out himself. He flexed his chest. I can do it, he thought to himself. A little hard work never stopped Cassius Marcellus in the Living World, it should not stop him today.
The drafthorse’s ears peaked. He looked around. Left. Right. Then down. Down to the ground, where he saw a white-pawed black cat.
“I know you,” Cassius Marcellus whinnied. “You are Lord Mourire of the Ashen Forest.”
“I’m not a lord,” spit the feral cat. “I wish everybody would stop calling me that.”
“What brings you here to my realm? Have you come to volunteer as a wagon-driver?”
“No,” Mourire sneered. “I have better things to do in life than be a glorified packhorse. No offense.”
“Anyway, I heard that you can get anything from the Living World.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen. I need to get a chew toy. It’s not for me,” Mourire quickly blurted. “I’m too old for play toys.”
“Those are hard to acquire here.”
“Look, I know you can get them. I’ve seen animals here in Collarworld with balls and rubber bones and stuffed dolls. They weren’t here when Collarworld was first created. And word has it that you can get them.”
The drafthorse gazed to the horizon. “I can get some things,” he said. “What did you have in the Living World that was your most favorite toy?”
“Did you not hear me? I said it wasn’t for me.”
“Then who is it for?”
“It’s for my friend Hickory.”
And for the next few minutes, Mourire explained his relationship with the Dalmatian puppy to Cassius Marcellus – how Mourire rescued the runaway puppy, a survivor from a puppy mill in the Living World who was trapped in Collarworld’s Rainy Barn realm, a home for unwanted puppies and kittens. Mourire explained how Hickory now lived with him in the Ashen Forest, and how Hickory thrived with the care of his feline master.
“Did Hickory have any toys in the Living World?” Cassius Marcellus asked.
“I don’t know,” Mourire replied. “Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. But I want him to have a toy here. I want him to be happy. He deserves more than just being cast aside by an uncaring breeder.”
“It sounds as if you care very much about this puppy.”
Mourire scratched at the dirt. “He has no one else. He was left to die in the Living World, all because he was born with a hip problem. Breeders don’t like dogs with hip problems. And he deserved better than to spend eternity in the Rainy Barn. He deserves the chance to be loved by someone. Cared about. All pets do.”
“Even yourself?” asked the drafthorse.
A quiet, peaceful breeze wafted through Indigo Acres.
“Yeah,” Mourire whispered. “He does mean a lot to me.”
“Follow me,” Cassius Marcellus commanded. “Let’s check the stable. I think there’s a couple of chew toys that need a new home.”
“Sounds good,” Mourire replied.
“Perhaps a little teething ring? I have several of those.”
“I don’t know… I’m not thinking that will work for him.”
As Mourire and Cassius Marcellus entered the stable, Mourire saw a pile of toys and treasures near one of the stable gates. Among the toys was a small rubber clown head, its face marred with the bites and gnaws of previous canine owners.
“How about this?” Cassius Marcellus asked. “If you bite on it, it will squeak.”
Mourire winced. “Oh that’s all I need. Hearing that thing squeak all through the Ashen Forest.”
And after a few moments, Mourire looked at Cassius Marcellus.
“How much do I owe you for the clown toy?”
The drafthorse smiled. “It’s yours. Take it. I’m sure Hickory will appreciate it.”
“Thanks.” The black cat pawed at the clown head. It squeaked softly. “Yeah, I’ll have to get used to this.”
“Now if you really want to pay me back,” Cassius Marcellus said, “come back in two days and help me with a harvest. I could use another wagon-puller to bring some hay to the Oval Pastures and feed the racehorses.”
“In two days?”
Mourire pawed at the toy again. “Can I make it three days? I’d like to spend some more time with Hickory and give him this toy and let him play with it.”
The drafthorse laughed. “Three days is fine. I’ll see you back here. You can put the chew toy in the wagon out by the stable. The one that’s loaded with corn cob and carrots.”
“Corn cob and carrots?”
“Yes. On your way home, could you take the wagon by the Doghouse Estates and drop off some carrots and corn cobs to the residents there? I mean, you’d have to pass it on the way to the Ashen Forest, wouldn’t you?”
Mourire nodded. “Yeah, I can do that. Only because it’s on my way home.”
“I hope you enjoy the toy, Lord Mourire.”
Mourire’s black tail flapped back and forth. “How many times do I have to tell everybody … I’m not a lord. I’m just a cat. That’s all I am and that’s all I’ll ever be.”
Cassius Marcellus grinned.