“As the Lodge Turns” Episode 69: A World Without Bing?!

On this episode of “As the Lodge Turns”…

“Did you just say you’re a…guardian angel?” I ask, my jaw nearly brushing against the turf.

Ralphie calmly shakes his head. “No, no. That’s not what I said at all.”

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I heave a sigh of relief, slumping into a more comfortable sitting position. Of course, my ears must have been playing a trick on me! Maybe my superb beagle nose dulls my other senses…

“I definitely said I was a beginner guardian angel. There’s a big difference in experience between a beginner and a regular, you know,” he reminds me in a characteristically nonchalant bark.

My head spins again as I process these words, but no amount of gnawing on them can clarify their meaning.

“But…you’re Ralphie! You’re my friend, you have a family, and you’re, well, alive! How can you possibly be a guardian angel?”

He tilts his head to the side as he considers these points, but his pleasant expression remains unchanged.

“I work as a guardian angel part-time. Night shifts, mostly. See? I wear many different collars,” he says, and I foolishly look at his neck before I realize he’s not being literal.

“Okay, let’s say I believe you do work part-time as a guardian angel…” I pause, only to continue after a nod from Ralphie. “Why did you show up at my house?”

“Because you really needed some help,” he says in a calm bark. “You were having such terrible thoughts, and I volunteered to come and save you. Now here we are, in a world that’s never seen hide nor hair of you.”

A world where I don’t exist?

It looks exactly the same as the world where I do exist, and I recognize each friendly face that passes by. Nothing has changed, then! Whether I’m here or not, everyone goes on having fun.

My stomach churns. Part of me is overjoyed to learn that my life leaves no distinguishing paw prints, but another part is…

“Can they see me? Hear me?” I ask, letting out an experimental bark before he can answer.

No response whatsoever. I try again, and again, and again, until I feel my throat going hoarse. I’m nothing but a ghost, unable even to stir the cool, still air.

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“Not a ghost. More like a spectator,” Ralphie pipes up, and I shudder at the recollection that he can read my miserable thoughts. “But this is the world you wished for. No Bing means no Bing. Not one part of you is really here. Would you rather I wiped everyone’s memories instead? You should’ve been more specific.”

Ralphie acts as though I’ve scolded him for bringing me the wrong tennis ball. I cast a glance at my friends as they run about in exciting games of chase; their paws beat against the springy turf, and I can only wonder how getting exactly what I wanted could make me feel such sorrow.

“Oh, cheer up. Being a spectator has its perks,” he says, nudging my shoulder in a reassuring gesture. “When you exist, it’s pretty hard to see things as they really are. You always have to do something, make decisions in the moment. But when you don’t…well, the view is so much clearer, isn’t it?”

Without my realizing, Ralphie has guided me towards the fence. At his direction, I peek through it, and the sight is strangely familiar. Scarlett sits alone, much as she did when I first met her, quietly surveying the yards in her self-imposed isolation. I see the other dogs staring at her, and I know they’re debating whether or not they should try to coax her into conversation.

“In this world, Scarlett will spend the rest of her life this way. She’ll never meet a nosey beagle who isn’t intimidated by her harsh and haughty behavior,” Ralphie says, shaking his head in disappointment.

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Scarlett’s mouth is curled into a bitter little grimace. That’s right…that’s how she used to look. I never even noticed how much she’d changed…

But that’s all gone, now.

“Anyone could help Scarlett come out of her shell,” I stammer. “I’m sure someone in this world will find a way, if they just keep trying!”

“You’re right, Bing. Good intentions are never in short supply; in fact, there’ll be plenty without you around! But do you know how rarely we act on them? Many of us are terrified that we’ll say or do the wrong thing, so we give up before we’ve begun. Not you, though. You’re too clueless to quit…”

Ralphie trails off, a soft smile brightening his face.

I changed Scarlett? I had no idea that my clumsy attempts at winning her friendship had altered the course of her entire life…

“But wait,” Ralphie says, startling me out of my skin, “there’s more!”

He shows me example after example of my many meddlesome moments at the Lodge, and I’m stunned by the impact such tiny, impulsive acts of kindness have had on the lives of others. I’ve never believed that I had anything to give to anyone. Sure, I’ve felt the need to intrude in my friends’ business and help whenever and however I can, but I always thought that that was the least I could do. I wasn’t saving the world from utter destruction like a superhero, or eliminating hunger or anything impressive…I was just doing what I felt was right.

And in this world where I was never born, there’s no one to fill the void I never occupied. As I see my deeds undone in the quiet and continued struggles of my friends, my heart aches; I want to rush to their sides, to support and reassure them!

I want to exist!

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“But my parents…I’ve let them down too many times. I’m positive that they’d be happier without me,” I admit, my resolve weakening as the less pleasant memories readily flood my consciousness.

Ralphie’s brow furrows, almost imperceptibly.

Before I understand what’s happening, the turf under my paws softens into a carpet. The walls close in around us in the blink of an eye, and though a tree stands in one corner of the room, the rest of the space is remarkable for its emptiness. No decorations stand on the tables, no festive smells fill the air, and no lights reflect in the darkness of the window glass.

“This is my house…but I don’t recognize it at all. Who lives here, in the world where I don’t exist…?”

Then I see them. They sit far apart, each absorbed in the glowing slabs that they always carry. They hardly look up, their fingers and eyes silently darting over the squares of blinding light. Dad coughs occasionally, sinking further into the couch where another me was lucky to lie beside him. Mom seems uncomfortable, her back unusually straight as she stabs at the engrossing object in her tense hand.

Mom and Dad aren’t happier without me. Far from it.

I always knew they loved me, but I didn’t realize that I’ve helped them too…!

“Ralphie, I’ve changed my mind! I take back my wish! I need to exist!”

But no voice answers my frantic calls.

…to be continued…