On Saturday, I did some volunteer work for Wake County Animal Shelter. My plan had been to go to Southpoint Mall afterwards, eat lunch, and wander around the mall looking at different bedding options. As I was driving back towards the West side of Raleigh, I got a phone call from my boss at Harris Teeter. Apparently another Harris Teeter needed someone to close that night. So I agreed to take the shift, although I gave myself some time to grab some lunch, eat the lunch, and change clothes.
James got home around 4:30. I wasn’t home, but as I had told him I intended to go to the mall after volunteering, he didn’t worry. He sat and vegged on his computer for a while. Around 7:00, he realized that I still wasn’t home, and gave me a call. My phone rang, lonely in my car, and the call went to voicemail. He contemplated what to do next; he decided that if I hadn’t contacted him 9:00, then he would start contacting my family to see if they knew anything was up. I called him at 8:30 and explained what happened. He was extremely relieved.
We went out to dinner, to a local burger chain, where he ate a burger and I ate hot wings and a salad. We mostly discussed an exam he had to take for his managerial training program. But it felt like a date night. We were out and about, there was good conversation, we were silly with each other.
At home, we snuggled together on the couch and flipped through pictures of comforters together. We discussed our future. We discussed our visions of home. We were warm and happy. He had worried about me. But now we were just together. There was nothing easier in all the world.
As an atheist, Andy sincerely believed that nothing came after death. She had found comfort in it, in fact. When one died, there was no more worry about earthly problems; all your affairs were in order, whether you had planned it that way or not. You literally could not be bothered anymore. It took Andy a while to realize that she was even dead. She felt herself float in darkness and confusion. If there was life after death, was this it?
It was strange, not feeling anything. She couldn’t blink her eyes. She couldn’t feel her hair, or her skin. There was nothing around her.
But if she was nothing, then what was there?
She was welcome, wherever she was.
Ah, but there was a set of scales before her. What were the scales for? Did they weigh your deeds, put your evil ones on one side and your good deeds on another?
She knew that one side was filled with the people you had loved when you were alive. The other side was filled with the people you hated. If you loved more than you hated, you got to move on. Move on where?
That was yet to be decided. She had not been weighed.
She saw, then, her grandmother stand before the scales. She had just died. Eight years ago was now. There was no time here.
Her grandmother’s scales were tipped towards love. Her grandmother’s entire family (include Andy? How was she there?) stood there, as well as several friends; dozens, hundreds of people she did not recognize. There were only a few people on the hate side, people Andy did not recognize. Andy’s grandmother disappeared.
But what happened if someone hated?
Before the scales were Adolf Hitler. Only a few people stood on the Love side, people Andy did not recognize. But the Hate scale was weighed down by the millions, more than six million, more than eight million. How many?
Racism caused that. To hate a race was to hate millions.
But to love — Andy saw Mother Theresa before the scales, and all the children she had loved weighed down the scales. Mother Theresa disappeared.
What about a child? And she saw a child of about nine, skinny and sickly. Not a lot of people were on the scales, but the child had loved more than hated. Was that any child? Was any child born loving?
Andy saw a child of about three crying before an empty set of scales. No, in order to love, someone must learn to forgive. This child was too small to learn to forgive. And so the child cried.
But the child’s grandfather appeared. He lifted the child up and claimed the child as his. The two of them disappeared. The grandfather was capable of love, and so truly loved the child.
But Nathan Bedford Forrest stood before the scales, and though he had been loved, the power of all he had hated — all the people different from him — so outweighed the many he had loved, that he was not chosen.
Could an adult’s grown soul be empty?
Andy looked and saw Eva before the scales.
Andy and Eva looked at the scales.
The scales remained empty. They waited, but nothing appeared.
Eva had to be sent back. Andy knew that this was the cause of ghosts. Eva was going to become a ghost. But then Eva was called back, by the hospital, by the emergency room doctors, who were working desperately to save her life. Eva had to go back, but she had been measured. Her worth was nothing. She was an empty soul.
This was why the ghosts responded so well to her. She was one of them, although she hauled a body around over top of her soul.
Andy called to Eva, in this timeless nothing. But Eva couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or didn’t, hear her. Eva went back.
Andy yelled, but there was nothing in this existence. She screamed. She felt. The scales were before her — she saw all the people she loved, her parents, her brother, Claire, her grandmother, Liz, Sarah, Michael, all the nurses who worked her shift, a few girls she remembered from college, that barista, that waiter, how were they there? She saw the three people she hated, the three girls who had bullied her mercilessly in fifth grade — she had been weighed and she could move on, she could feel herself being pulled.
She yelled for Eva again. She need Eva to know. Eva had to know that her emptiness could be fixed, she could be saved, she could move on, if only she learned to love, if she learned to forgive, if she opened her heart and showed it to someone else –
Andy’s eyes blinked. Slowly her vision cleared. She found herself focusing on a chart in front of her. It was a white board. Instructions for nurses on it. To her right, a wall, a door. To her left, a curtain partition. She was in a hospital. She felt as fluffy as a cotton ball, and wondered if she was high on morphine right now. She didn’t remember anything, really, except that Eva was in trouble.
Andy had been brought back to save Eva.
I have to be honest: I fall a little in love with every single dog that I walk.
I started out my dog walking with an expectant mama dog, Jessica Rabbit.
I took her out for her third walk of the day. I felt bad for her, what with being pregnant in an animal shelter and everything. She was a well-behaved dog, eager for treats but not particularly excited about humans. I was able to get the collar on her without wrestling her, and she walked nicely, not pulling on the leash or anything.
The next was a handsome boy named Stewie.
It made me think of Stewie Griffin, but Stewie was also a very well-behaved dog, although he was excited enough about the walk that I had to wrestle the collar onto him. Since he was such a big boy, I was nervous about him pulling, but he only pulled a bit and calmed down a bunch as soon as we were outside and he was able to relieve himself. He still pulled after that, but not as violently.
The next dog was honestly my favorite dog out of the whole bunch, Lil Eddie.
His bio says that he “walks well on a leash” which is a half-lie. I’ve seen worse. But Stewie and Jessica were such good walkers that Eddie was stinker by comparison. But Eddie charmed me. He was clearly going to be more difficult than the previous two dogs, so I held out my hand for him to sniff — and he put his paw in it.
Eddie knows Shake.
Eddie also tried to pick fights with dogs in the kennels he passed. But away from dogs, away from the shelter, when it was just us and the outside, Eddie was great. He didn’t pull during the walk, but he would just randomly stop. He would look at me to make sure that I was seeing what he sniffed (I didn’t), and then, when I didn’t react, he would take off. I decided to see what other tricks he knew. He seemed to only know Sit and Shake, but he was absolutely delighted to be asked and leaned against me. I was completely charmed.
The next dog was Roscoe.
I was nervous even going into Roscoe’s cage. He kept jumping against the door. I tried to distract him with a treat, just as I do the other dogs, to get him away from the door so I can go inside. He would go for the treat, but as soon as he heard the rattle of the door lock, he would run back to the door and jump on it. There were three uneaten treats on the other side of his kennel, and he was more interested in the door? Finally I just did my best to slip in. He didn’t even try to escape. Apparently he was really excited that I was there.
Roscoe jumped all over me. It took me a while to slip the collar over his head. I then started stroking his back and whispering shhhhh at him, hoping to calm him down. And he did calm down! So I reached over to adjust the collar to fit. That is how I discovered that he was chewing on the collar. As soon as I got the collar out of his mouth, he began jumping all over me, almost knocking me down. I felt a sudden pain on my cheek, and felt it go hot — he scratched me!
I got the collar off of him and got out of his kennel as soon as I could. I took out my phone and checked my face with the camera. There were three hot pink welts across my cheek.
(sorry for the weird hipster angle. my webcam is terrible at picking up details like thin scratches on the cheek, this was the best I could do)
I decided, after a moment of thinking, that Roscoe had just been over-excited. There was no malice in his scratching. However, he was clearly too much dog for me, and even though he clearly needed a walk, I decided not to go back and try to walk him.
I chose the next dog simply because there was a ribbon for Best Leash Walking in her portfolio.
Novia was a great dog with a sad face. Not too much in the way of personality. More than anything she seemed insecure. She kept stopping and looking at me like she expected me to validate her or something. She was, indeed, great on a leash. I had no problem getting the collar and leash on and off. Just because she was so easy after the Roscoe fiasco, I gave her extra treats.
Lambeau was my second-favorite dog. There are a few dogs who interpret leashes as tug-of-war ropes.
I will never stop a dog from playing with a toy. Especially not a shelter dog, who gets so little playtime anyway. Lambeau and I had a blast playing tug-of-war with a leash in the parking lot. Whenever James and I are finally able to get a dog, I am going to tell the matchmaker volunteer that I want a dog that likes tug-of-war. Lambeau knows. Tug-of-war is life.
What happened on November 6 is this:
I hadn’t cleaned Sam’s cage in a week, so it was high time to do so. The first thing that I always do is move Sam to a small critter carrier so he can’t run away. He usually puts up a fight, since he hates getting picked up. But this time, I found him just lying next to his chew tunnel. He didn’t move when I touched him. And he felt cold. So I immediately called the exotic animal vet and set up an appointment for within the hour. I then gathered up Sam and left.
I knew Sam was still alive because I heard him move a little bit on the drive over. He shifted a little bit. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was stopping myself from crying. I kept saying things out loud to him about how it would be okay.
Last time I had arrived at the vet, Sonny and I had had to wait for about 20 minutes, even though I called them and made an appointment for ASAP, just like now. That hadn’t been weird. But this time, as soon as I walked in, they immediately took Sam to the back. The nurse at the front desk asked me twice if I wanted water. I was shown into an exam room as soon as they had one available. That, more than anything else, told me how close to the end of the line Sam was. I was asked again if I wanted water.
Pretty soon the doctor walked into the exam room. Sam had a tumor, a big one, and it was causing him a lot of pain, and they could treat it, but it would be painful to treat, and it might not really be effective. I nodded. I said that I thought that was what she would say. She asked how he had been acting the last few days. I said that I hadn’t really looked at him on November 5 — I had worked at Petsmart, then got sick and went straight to bed — but that on November 4, he had been crawling up and down the sides of his cage and demanding Cheerios as usual. I said that I had noticed that he looked a little bigger than usual but just figured that he was fat. The vet nodded and said that animals did a really good job of hiding weakness.
I agreed to euthanize Sam.
“Do you want to say goodbye to him?” she asked.
I said yes.
Sam was brought in on a heating pad. He was completely still. He looked terrible, especially since he was lying right-side up, showing his sewn-up eye. I wondered if the tumor had been the cause of his mysterious hair loss I had noticed a few months ago.
He was too far gone to stop me from finally touching his tiny baby paws and his cute ears. I ran my finger down the length of his tail. It didn’t flick like it normally did. He didn’t care what touched him. His spirit was already gone. That was when I started crying. I may have already been crying, but that was when I started crying hard.
After a while I calmed down and when the vet came back in, I said that it was time. I agreed to be there when they put him down.
Sam fought for a bit. But he lay there and slowly finished dying. I told him what a brave little pirate mouse he was. I told the vet how he lost his eye. I told the vet about how he fought Moby over Christmas.
Sam didn’t live for very long, but he had lived an exciting life anyway.
Emily: Okay, so, we’re agreed then, the tank is about fifteen feet wide. The water is I’m going to say three feet deep. I think any more and the grizzly won’t be able to move, and any less and the shark isn’t going to be able to swim. It’s a small shark.
Maggie: I still don’t see why it can’t be a polar bear.
Emily: Because it doesn’t matter.
Maggie: No, because polar bears can swim.
Maggie: You showed me, remember, you showed me that video of the polar bear that swam for thousands of miles.
Emily: And then it died!
Maggie: Of starvation! Because we’re killing it!
Emily: Fine. It can be a polar grizzly mix. Those exist.
Maggie: If it doesn’t really matter, then it could be a squid.
Maggie: No, a squid, a giant squid, and they can have an epic grapple fight underwater.
Emily: Grapple fight? I hate grapple fights! There’s so many rules.
Maggie: No, it’s just a simple strength test.
Emily: No, there’s dexterity and endurance and-
Maggie: It’s all just strength! How long can you hold on? This isn’t D and D anyway, this is all hypothetical! So you can have this giant shark and this giant squid-
Emily: This is land versus water!
Maggie: Hear me out, so this giant squid and this giant shark are grappling under water, teeth are gnashing…wait, isn’t trivia night in half an hour? How are we getting to trivia night, anyway?
Emily: Oh, Brooke is driving us.
Emily: Yeah, Brooke. From my poetry class, remember?
Maggie: Oh, I remember.
Emily: What’s wrong with Brooke? She’s awesome. And she’s smart. And she took History of Sports last semester, so we might actually have a chance of winning this week.
Maggie: She’s just so negative.
Emily: She’s just so negative?
Maggie: She’s just so negative. (at Emily’s look) What?
Emily: I just think you two have a lot in common and she would make a great addition to our group of friends which right now is just the two of us. Just give her a chance.
Emily: Think of the gift card. Think of the fried pickle chips. You love fried pickle chips.
Maggie does love fried pickle chips. But she hates Brooke more than she likes fried pickle chips.
Maggie: Maybe I should just stay home. I have a lot of homework to do. I have to write a paper on Appalachian English, and I haven’t even organized my notes, much less made an outline.
Emily: But you have notes. You spent all night yesterday getting notes. That’s probably more than what most people have.
Emily gets a text message.
Emily: Oh, it’s Brooke. She apologizes for running late (Brooke is not running late and Emily’s reading of the line should indicate that) and she’ll be here in just a few minutes. Cool. (I’ll) Grab your coat, lady?
Maggie: No. I don’t want to go.
Emily is not pleased. Maggie is in the wrong here. She is being immature. But Maggie is afraid of change, and Emily is too happy-go-lucky to confront her.
Emily: I’ll cover for you. But I’m not always going to be able to save you.
Maggie: I know.
Brooke enters, looking stressed and afraid.
Emily: Brooke! Hey, bad news… (sees Brooke’s face) What’s wrong?
Brooke: I just got mugged.
Emily: Oh my god, what happened?
Brooke: This is the second time this week. I think it was the same people, too.
Emily: Oh my god, are you okay?
Maggie: It was the same people?
Brooke: I was just walking to your building to pick you up and they just jumped out of nowhere and she kinda (pretend slaps Emily)and then he grabbed my purse!
Maggie: Did you get a good look at them? Did you call the police?
Brooke: What would be the point? If I reported it, they wouldn’t try to find them. It’s bad publicity if a crime happens on campus so the college would just suppress the report and it wouldn’t go anywhere and I’m just a college kid anyway, I only had like $43 on my card. How am I going to buy a new ID? Do replacement driver’s licenses cost money?
Emily (to Maggie, who actually has a driver’s license, just not a car): Do they cost money?
Maggie: Are you from out of state?
Brooke: Yes! I wish my parents were here. No I don’t, they would yell at me for being so stupid as to get mugged. I’m never going to see that money again. I don’t want to go anywhere ever again. I hate everything.
Emily: We don’t have to go anywhere. We can just order in. We’ll order a pizza. Maggie’s treat.
Maggie glares at Emily.
Brooke: Even my own friends pity me! I am just a failure at life.
Maggie’s glare intensifies.
Emily: Who would win in a fight, a shark or a bear?
Brooke: Who cares? Life is meaningless.
Eva flicked the lightswitch. Nothing happened. She frowned and clicked it again, several times. “No electricity, like they said.”
“That’s why we brought flashlights,” Claire said.
They scanned their flashlights around the church corridor. The wreaths and tinsel lining the doors and walls made the whole place shimmer. They walked carefully, taking care with each step, as if the floor might crumble beneath them.
“This place is creepy,” Andy said.
“They always are, when it’s not mass,” said Eva. “I’ve been to a lot of churches at weird times, they always feel weird.”
“Weird how?” Claire asked.
“I don’t know,” Eva said. “It’s indescribable. You get scared to touch things.”
There seemed to be nothing to add to that. They plodded forward in silence. They reached a door. The reflections of the light against the glass panes and the tinselly wreath made Eva and Andy wince. Claire simply opened the door and led the way through. They found themselves at the intersection of another hallway, this one with several doors. It appeared to be of newer construction than the area they had left behind. The door shut behind them. They stood where they were.
“Where’s the sanctuary?” Andy asked. Then, after a moment of no response, she asked, “Where’s the breaker box? We should find the breaker box, right? That seems to be the best response to a power outage, right? Someone answer me. This place is creepy.”
Eva looked at Claire, who was thinking hard.
“No seriously, someone make a sound,” Andy said. “I am seriously creeped out.”
Eva’s flashlight hit a homemade-looking tapestry, which depicted an angel hovering over the Holy Family. There seemed to be a fair amount of glitter over the whole thing. Beneath the manger were the words O Holy Night.
Eva began to sing.
O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and e’er pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
She sucked in a breath, and then belted it out.
The hallway suddenly seemed lighter than it had been. Andy looked at Claire, who had clearly noticed. She was looking all around. Andy looked around as well, but had no idea what Claire was looking for.
On your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Claire and Andy looked straight at each other, as they realized, suddenly, that Eva was not the only one singing. They looked at Eva, but Eva’s eyes were closed, focused on singing.
Oh night divine!
Oh night when Christ was born
The hallway wasn’t evenly lit; it seemed to shimmer with all sorts of different lights, all around them. Claire frowned at them, but Andy was fairly enchanted with the scene.
Eva not only hit the note, but almost seemed to dance with it, play with it. Her voice was absolutely gorgeous, completely like nothing Claire and Andy had ever heard. Claire stared at her. Andy grinned, living completely in the moment. She could hear the other voices, too, humming in background to Eva. It was absolutely lovely.
Eva ended the song quietly. The lights began fading.
Oh night, oh night divine
The song ended, and the lights went away with her. Eva opened her eyes and winced at Claire’s flashlight pointed at her face.
“Do that again,” Claire said.
“That was amazing,” Andy said.
“How do you feel?” Claire asked.
Eva shrugged. “My throat hurts a bit. I shouldn’t have hit that high note without warming up a bit.”
“You sounded great,” said Andy. Eva smiled a bit.
“Sing again,” Claire said. “Please.”
“Yes, please,” Andy said.
Eva shrugged and sang the first song that came to mind.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas-
“No, no, something pretty,” Claire said.
“Claire,” Andy hissed.
Here we are a-wassailing among the leaves so-
“Something pretty,” Claire said.
“That is pretty,” Eva said.
“Claire, let her sing what she wants,” Andy said.
Eva simply smiled. Claire stared at her. Normally Eva would be completely embarrassed about being the center of attention. She would fuss and shrug and avoid giving any opinion at all. This was the happiest she had ever Eva. She actually was rather pretty when she smiled. And that voice…
Something was very wrong.
“Try again,” Claire said.
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
But Eva stopped. She looked around in the dim light of the flashlights. Andy and Claire looked around, but saw nothing.
Silent night, holy night
The hallway began to glow again.
All is calm, all is bright
The light broke into a thousand different lights all around, and they all seemed to have voices behind them. Andy had to admit that it was sort of creepy, now that she knew it was — supernatural? She looked at Claire, who was again staring at Eva.
Roun’ yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peeeeaaaaace
The room was suddenly dark, lit only by their flashlights. Eva finished the last line alone.
Sleeeeeeep in heavenly peace
The ceiling lights flickered and then turned on all the way. Somewhere far away, the building’s heating unit hummed to life.
“They’re gone,” Eva grinned. “I did it again.”
“Yes,” said Claire. “That voice — it was unearthly.”
“Thank you,” Eva smiled.
Her smiled faded as Claire gave her a searching look.
“Your throat doesn’t hurt? You feel fine?”
“A little lightheaded, a little sore,” Eva said, touching her throat. “Nothing unusual. I feel less lightheaded now.” She seemed to be shrinking back into her usual self.
“Do you sing a lot?” Claire asked. “I’ve never heard you sing.”
“You should sing more,” Andy said.
“I used to,” Eva said, shrugging. “Maybe we should go outside?”
“Yes,” Claire said. “Yes, let’s go outside.”
Claire led the way out, walking in brisk, hurried steps. Andy was able to keep up easily, but Eva had to jog to keep up with her. Down the hallway, through the coffee hall, and out the back door. The Church leaders were keeping warm in the minivan of the youth minister. Andy started to walk towards the minivan, but Claire walked towards the parking lot’s entrance/exit. Andy waved at the church leaders and followed Claire and Eva. The minivan was shut off, and the church leaders began leaving the minivan.
The three girls crossed the street and in stood front of a house.
“Sing Oh Holy Night,” Claire said to Eva.
“What’s going on?” Andy asked.
Claire looked at Eva, eyebrows up, waiting for her to sing. Eva was slumped over, looking through her bangs between Andy and Claire. She looked more like herself than she had in the church.
“You can’t just order her around,” Andy said. “What is going on? What the — what are you doing? What do you expect to happen?”
“Have you always been that good at singing?” Claire asked.
“Yeah,” said Eva. It was a simple statement. It was a fact.
“Claire,” Andy said.
“Well I guess technically I haven’t always had a good voice,” Eva said. “My music teacher in elementary school said that I had perfect pitch, so I started voice lessons when I was in third grade. I stopped taking lessons when…” She shrugged.
Andy, knowing very little of Eva’s history, wondered what the end of the sentence was. She looked at Claire, who was staring at Eva. She looked at Eva, who was staring at the ground.
“When what?” Andy asked.
“What’s going on?” the pastor asked. “We saw the lights come back on. We were hoping you would have a report for us. Did you see any ghosts?”
“Oh, yes,” Andy said. “It was pretty cool, actually.”
“Eva,” Claire said, “Will you please sing O Holy Night for us?”
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and e’er pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A window opened in the house they were standing in front of. Andy watched to see if someone would complain about the noise, but heard nothing. Eva’s voice was beautiful still.
A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
FAAAAAAAAAALLL on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night, when Christ was born
Oh night DIVIIIIIIIINE
Again, Eva hit the high note perfectly.
Oh night divine
The church leaders applauded. Andy heard an applause from the open window. Once again, Eva’s voice had been absolutely outstanding. Eva smiled and curtsied a bit. Only Claire was frowning.
“Oh, Eva,” she said. “You didn’t come back quite right, did you?”
The guinea pigs on the sales floor of Petsmart have taken to knocking their hutch on its side. I have absolutely no idea why. I can only surmise that they’re just rebelling against the dictations of their human masters. Whenever I see that they’ve knocked over their hutch, I mutter, “Viva la revolucion” and set it back. I’ve named the guinea pigs Joan and Ida to acknowledge their revolutionary spirits.
One of the cashiers decided to watch me feed the reptiles and small animals instead of work for the last ten minutes of her shift. We chatted all friendly-like about bearded dragons, and then turned the corner to look at the rodents. Joan watched me as I approached the cages.
I looked into the guinea pig cage.
“Look at this,” I said. “Look at you!”
I unlocked the guinea pig cage and took out the bowl of guinea pig food. It was mostly full.
“Look at this,” I said. “What have you been eating this whole time? This is full of healthy and nutritious foods just for you and you refused to eat it! What have you been eating all day? Was it hay? I have a whole box of hay that I was going to give you two, but now I’m not sure.”
The cashier was giggling behind me.
“What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” I asked.
Joan responded by biting the lip of the metal food bowl. The cashier and I cracked up.