Many years ago, when I was seven, I had a great friend named Courtney. The two of us played together almost everyday. We even walked home from school together, since it wasn’t very far from our homes, and it was a different time back then.
It was mid-autumn and I found myself walking home by myself. I had not seen Courtney since the end of school, when she said she would catch up to me. It was a very windy, gloomy day, and leaves were blowing everywhere.
About halfway through my trip home, a big black dog started following me, a few feet behind me at all times. After a minute or so, I stopped to pet him, because he did not look vicious at all, but more street-tired, and I felt bad for him. The moment I laid my hand on his head, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes and whined – a horribly sad noise. I was taken aback for a second, but then asked him what was wrong, not really expecting a reply.
After that, though, he stayed next to me the rest of the walk home. I walked through my yard, got the key from under the mat, and let myself in. The dog followed me inside, and I thought I would try to get him some food. I knew my mom sometimes fed strays, so I looked in the cabinets until I found a giant Tupperware container and a big bag of dog food.
I poured him some and watched him eat. He seemed to cheer up a bit; I petted him again, and he wagged his tail faintly. Then I heard the garage opening: my mom was home from work early.
I let the dog out the back door and told him in a quiet voice, “You have to go now, Henry, but maybe me and you can see each other again sometime?” I wasn’t sure where the name Henry had come from, but it seemed right. He looked up at me in an understanding way, and slowly made his way out the fenced-in backyard.
My mom seemed in a big rush to find me, and when she did, she knelt down and hugged me tightly, whispering in my ear, “Oh, thank God,” over and over. I didn’t understand, just hugged her back.
She finally told me that Courtney passed away in a car accident walking home from school. I was really broken up about it, but I thought of Henry, and it made me happy to think that maybe she had a friend before she had to go.
Many years passed. I was 31 and my grandmother had been in the hospital for a month, a long process that had us all drained. I was sitting at home all alone when I heard something at my door. Thinking it was a prank by the neighborhood children, I didn’t think much of it. It kept repeating, and I finally opened the door in exasperation – only to see the dog. He looked the same as I remembered him, but I didn’t think it could be the same dog as before, since I was two states down from where I’d lived before and it had been a long time.
However, I wanted to know for sure, so I quietly called out his name: “Henry?”
He lifted his head and looked up at me. To test my theory, I then called out, “Jason?” The dog didn’t even twitch. It was Henry.
I fed him again, then I opened the door and he left. A few minutes later, I got a frantic call from my mother to come to the hospital; my grandmother had passed away. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence, and I accepted the dog as a messenger of sorts.
I dealt with the funeral, but was still very upset about the dog. He gradually faded from my mind.
About three years later, I was at home, very sick and tired, in my bed. My sister was taking care of me at the time, and she came in my room to ask me if I had a black dog. I knew instantly who it was and summoned the strength to walk to the door.
There was Henry, and I was sure he was there for me. Nonetheless, I called him to come in, but he refused. I even got some food to try to coax him inside, but he wouldn’t budge. Finally, he barked at me and ran away.
I thought it was my time, but I got better, and within a week I was back to normal. I went grocery shopping in my old truck, deep into the evening. The sun had just set, and I saw an old black dog walking slowly along the side of the road, stopping as I passed. I knew at once who it was, but wondered who it could be for this time, as most of my family had passed away at this point, my sister was perfectly healthy, and I had fully recovered.
Henry looked at me, and I knew something wasn’t right. He himself was sick.
I picked him up, put him into my truck, and drove to the nearest vet. They couldn’t find anything wrong with him; medically, he was in perfect health. They just thought it was old age that was weighing him down, and they suggested I take him home and make him comfortable.
I did just that: I wrapped him in my bed covers, fed him a nice steak I had picked up for my dinner, and brushed him out till he was sleek and handsome. In his last moments of life, he looked up in my eyes and nuzzled his head on my hand.
Then, I felt his head rest all its weight on my lap. I sat there patiently for 10 minutes, waiting for his chest to rise again. It never did.
I gently picked him up and buried him in my garden, buying a headstone for the grave. I had carved on it his name and two dates: the date I first saw him, and the date that my messenger in disguise left this earth forever.