Chasing the Sunset

By Wayward Tempest

We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
---Wilfred Wilson Gibson

I didn't ask for it to be over, but then again, I never asked for it to begin. For that's the way it is with life, as some of the most beautiful days come completely by chance. But even the most beautiful days eventually have their sunsets.

The world was spinning. The sky had illuminated the ground before him where the sun was coming down to rest amid the western mountains. It seemed so bright that it gave off the illusion of the heavens diminishing into the earth causing them to become one continuous blaze of sky. The ground was no longer there beneath his body, but the warmth was. Nothing else seemed to exist. He breathed in again. It was a low, hollow sound that echoed in his chest. Every breath was becoming more and more difficult. Death had come to him, on a day when he least expected it.

Oh yes, he was old, and he couldn’t get around as fast as he used to, but he could hold his own. “I’m not helpless,” he thought to himself. And yet, today he was, weak as a little infant. He couldn’t move. He had lost control of his body. It refused his orders. It’s not that he wasn’t expecting it; he had seen death approaching from afar with a slow, steady pace. However, he had turned his head away just long enough for death to gain some running ground and strike him while he wasn’t looking. He had frequented this hill a lot lately. Climbing to the top to watch the sun in all its magnificence fall below the horizon. Something seemed to call him from this high crest beckoning him from the valley below. He looked toward the sun again. That’s where the call seemed the strongest. He longed to go towards it, but he couldn’t. Not in this body.

The world seemed hushed from his perspective on the ground. The birds had stopped singing; the wind had ceased to blow. All was quiet. He was alone. He suddenly became afraid but then reassured himself. “This will be easier for Her,” he considered with a somewhat lamented satisfaction. “Less pain.” He didn’t want her to have to watch this. She had witnessed enough deaths in her life. Suddenly, pain shot through his body. He tried to resist crying out, but it felt like all the wounds he had ever received in his life were reopening themselves towards the open sky. “It hurts to die.” He kept his gaze on the sun and cried softly without tears.

The ground thudded beneath him. Something was coming. Oh he hoped it was something big, with teeth that could end this in one quick snap from its jaws. He welcomed it. Pleaded inwardly with it to end his pain. He remained still. The beast was upon him and his muscles tensed feebly for the upcoming blow. It never came. He was puzzled, but too weak to move around to see his intruder. He then heard his name, softly, almost in a whisper. She had come. He was both overjoyed and sad. He hated goodbye, but he felt a contented peace being near his friend in these last short breaths of life. They had pretty much grown up together. Perhaps this was only fitting. They were a team after all. He wanted to stand and run to her but he was so very tired. She picked up his upper body and cradled him as gently as a summer breeze. He managed to open his bloodshot eyes a bit and was able to make out her serene eyes in the blur. She caressed his worn face with a gentle hand while holding him close with the other. The pain had lessened now, he felt safe, a calm amidst the chaos. He could feel her heart beating against his body. It soothed him, took him back through time to his youth, when he would nestle close to his mother. Though he could not recall her face, he never had forgotten the warmth.

That was something that they had both shared in their youth, a painful loss of a mother. That’s what first bonded them together. She’d taken him in, poor and starving from the streets, and he had driven her fears away. They became an inseparable pair. Running through the fields and cobbled streets wreaking havoc as only innocence can. Time passed, and the innocence faded. The laughter was joined by sorrow and sadness again. Also fear. Many times they were thrown into life or death situations. His life’s work became clear to him then. He had an honor and an oath to carry out. He swore that he would be her guardian, her protector, shielding her with every part of his being as long as he lived. For it was all he knew to give.

He felt droplets of water hit his face and he looked up once more to meet her tearful eyes. He wanted her to understand. To know that it was okay now. He had a long, full life behind him, and it was time to have a rest. She would understand, if not now, in time. Yet he wanted to comfort her as he had that little child so many times before. Cuddling close to her, becoming a blanket for her tears, letting her know she wasn’t alone. And it hurt that he couldn’t do that anymore. He didn’t worry though, because she had another protector, someone she could turn to after this was all over, and it gave him another peace of mind. Through his weakening senses he could detect him standing not too far away. Ready to come to her aid, but also allowing him to have this moment with his companion, and he was grateful to him.

A wave of pain much greater than the last shook his entire frame. He was unable to suppress his cry this time and he trembled in agony. She rocked him gently back and forth and began singing tenderly as she tried hard to choke back her own sobs. He knew this song. She used to sing it when she was sad or frightened. He turned to face her. “Wherever we go after this life,” he reflected in his eyes. “I’ll be the one running ahead to welcome you there when your time comes.” He closed his eyes again. Words echoed in his ears that he could not understand. He was so grateful for this life he had been given. He was grateful for her. He was born into a world for the servitude of man, and she had never called him anything less, than friend. And suddenly, it didn’t hurt anymore.

He opened his eyes after what felt like a few moments or an eternity afterward. Time had no meaning anymore. He felt strong enough to stand and quickly jumped to his feet. He no longer felt the ground beneath his toes. When his eyes met the sky he was able to see all the colors for the first time. The orange and red hues blazed across the sky in infinite patterns and the sun fell a little lower behind the trees. He heard an echoing laughter in the sun. Like that of joyful children playing among the last golden beams reaching towards the sky. He adored children. He knew that was where he had to go and yet he had trouble taking that first step. He turned and looked behind him. She was still there, cradling and looking at the empty shell he left behind. His courage faltered. He suddenly became fearful of the place beyond the trees, not knowing who or what was there, or if he could be accepted. He sought out her guidance one last time.

“Good dog, Angelo,” she whispered. “You’re a good dog."

With that, he found the strength to run.

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