“As the Lodge Turns” Episode 68: A Christmas CatasTREEphe!

On this episode of “As the Lodge Turns”…

Well, I’ve really done it this time.

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Mom and Dad quietly collect the broken bits of ornament from beneath the tree that, only minutes before, was standing proudly near the fireplace. The comforting glow of the lights will no longer brighten the room, nor our golden star wink from its lofty perch. The material memories of Christmases past pathetically cling to branch and bough, now a pitiful, lifeless green.

I can only watch as my parents rummage through the wreckage, their brows furrowed and their minds focused on the task at hand.

How many times have they told me not to run in the house? Since I was just a baby beagle I’ve tried my best to obey their rules, but my excitement got the better of my conscience; my paws tripped over a wire, and I bowled into the trunk with all of my weight. Down it came, brushing my tail as I scrambled away.

If only I’d listened! Now it’s the night before Christmas Eve, and everything is ruined!

Dad suddenly notices me standing there, shifting back and forth on my traitorous paws.

“Bing, come here.”

I make no complaints as he silently leads me to the backyard, and none when he leaves me to sit in the chilly night air. He closes the door with a heavy sigh, and I feel even more ashamed of myself. The deck railings are wrapped with garlands and bows, and the colorful lights dance as if nothing has changed, but I know that nothing can return to the way it was.

Surrounded by these cruel reminders of what might have been, I lay down my heavy head.

‘Mom and Dad should never have adopted me…’

A light breeze rustles the red ribbon dangling near my nose.

‘…maybe…I should never have been born in the first place…’

“You really shouldn’t think that way, you know!”

My breath hitches in my throat as I frantically search the soft light around me, and then the darkness beyond.

Did I just hear a voice…?

“It’d be so much easier for me if you’d say these things out loud. There’s no need for privacy, since I can read your thoughts anyway. You’d save me some effort!”

Every limb freezes, and I shut my eyes as tight as they’ll allow. I run through possible scenarios in my head. An intruder? Someone here to rob us? A m-m-monster…? It did say it could read my thoughts…

“Oh, my bad. I forgot that you’re scared of everything. Just a moment, please…”

That curious, terrifying voice is, strangest of all, familiar to me. As the soft sound of footfalls approaches my cowering form, I slowly open one eye.

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A majestic dog, with fur nearly the color of snow, steps into the light, the hint of a smile at the end of his long snout. I instantly recognize that amused face, and a pleasant warmth spreads all the way down to my tail.

“Ralphie…? What on earth are you doing…in my backyard…?” I ask, my bark faltering slightly as the bizarre nature of the situation dawns on me.

Ralphie’s mouth opens into a slightly wider grin. “First things first. What’s all this talk about wishing you’d never been born?”

I cast a forlorn look at the door, at the gentle light peeking out from the blinds. I’ve destroyed Christmas, and nothing I do can ever make up for that. How could I expect him to understand?

“I…knocked over the Christmas tree. Everything is broken. I knew I wasn’t supposed to run around like that, but I did it anyway. If I were my parents, I’d never let me back inside. Everyone would be better off if I disappeared…if I’d just never existed in the first place.”

The silence that follows is made all the more stark by the sharp chill in the air, and for a moment I suspect that I’ve truly been alone this whole time. But when I venture a glance at the place where Ralphie stood, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that at least I haven’t lost my grip on reality along with everything else.

“Seems kind of silly,” he says, giving one of my old bones a thorough sniff. “Mind if I…?”

“Um, sure…” I mumble, wondering anew why he’s in my backyard, asking for something to chew on. “Listen, Ralphie, what are you doing here? And how did you get here, anyway?”

He continues happily gnawing on my bone, as if I’m the one who appeared uninvited in his backyard. Resigning myself to the fact that I won’t receive any satisfactory answers or explanations, I turn my head towards the door.

“It is silly, isn’t it? I can’t just erase my existence,” I say, watching my parents moving about the room with brooms and pans in hand.

Something cold lands on my nose, startling me out of my gloomy reverie. I bat at my snout, trying in vain to remove the mysterious moisture, until I notice the delicate flakes of snow collecting around my paws.

Where did this come from…?

“About that,” Ralphie says, finally abandoning my bone, “you can erase your own existence. Just say the word. But are you sure that’s what you want?”

The snow falls faster, the feathery powder surrounding us completely in a matter of seconds. My heart beats faster at Ralphie’s words, and though I know he’s only bluffing, I feel the weight of this choice deep in my chest.

“Yes,” I say in a firm bark, bracing myself for teasing or laughter.

Ralphie fades behind the curtain of snow, and the darkness of the evening brightens into a blinding white that fills my field of vision. Panic sets in as I search for a way out of the maddeningly quiet tunnel, desperate to detect any sight, scent, or sound in my newfound solitude.

“Ralphie!” I call out, my bark harsh and shaky. “Ralphie, where are you?”

“Right here. Chill out, Bing.”

His voice reverberates all around me as the snow suddenly clears. But before I have the chance to feel any sort of relief, I see that we’re no longer standing on the deck.

dogs at pool

We’re in the middle of the pool yard at the Lodge!

“How’s that? Not too shabby for a beginner guardian angel, huh?” Ralphie asks, gazing around us with a proud little smile.

Guardian angel…?!

…to be continued…