Houdini sits with his Human, Boss, in the Internet Place. It’s an odd location, this Internet Place, because the perception of it is so very... well, personal isn’t quite the word, unless one accepts that there are Two-legged Persons and Four-legged Persons. Houdini’s Internet Place looks rather like a big pasture, with well-marked paths going hither and yon. Some of the paths wind into and around copses of trees, or alongside streams. Houdini likes the Internet Place because somehow, he always gets to sit right next to Boss when it’s sitting time.
Houdini: Boss, what are you sad about?
Houdini: When we were looking for you here in the Internet Place, one of the nice people we met said I was probably right that you’re sad about something. ‘Cause I told her what you smelled like when you left the Ranch.
Boss: Oh. Yes, and no, Mr. H. It’s not easy to describe. Mrs. Boss’s Mother Mary isn’t with us anymore and she won’t be coming back. It’s sad because we really really liked Mother Mary, but it’s not sad because now Mother Mary is done with being ill. It’s called "dying" and it’s something that happens to everyone.
Houdini: Even you?
Boss: Even me, and even you, and even Mamma Munch.
Houdini looks around at something for a while, and wags tail slowly.
Houdini: But Mamma Munch is OK, right?
Boss: Yeah, and I expect she’ll be around to for quite a while. We don’t know when the time will be for dying, usually, so mostly we just keep on keeping on.
Houdini: What happens after someone dies, Boss?
Boss looks at Houdini, and reaches down to pat his head.
Boss: Now there’s the six million dog biscuit question, H. I don’t know.
Houdini: But Boss, you know everything.
Boss: No, not everything. Not by a long shot. I know what I was taught about dying, and I know what some other people believe, but I don’t know what really happens.
Houdini: What do people say happens?
Boss: Well, some people say that depending on how you lived or what you believed, you go to one of two places. Some people say that, like the other people, how you lived determines if you come back and do it again, or go on to another place. And some people say that nothing happens, it’s just the end.
Houdini: I don’t like the smell of that, Boss.
Boss grins at Houdini.
Boss: Which? Part, or all?
Houdini: Well, I don’t like the smell of things just ending. Just doesn’t smell right, but ... but... well, it doesn’t smell wrong, either. And, now I sniff at it, it’s pretty much the same for the other parts except I want to know more.
Boss: Welcome to the six million dog biscuit question, H.
Houdini sniffs the air in the Internet Place.
Houdini: Does this smell any different in the Real World, Boss? Maybe it’s just this Internet Place.
Boss shakes his head ‘no’. Houdini leans against Boss.
Houdini: So what were you taught, Boss. Mamma Munch taught us we should listen to the Humans, and work hard, and have fun, and she does that too.
Boss: I was taught something like the first part of what I told you, H, that depending on how you lived you go to one of three places.
Houdini: THREE? You said two before!
Boss: Three. If you were really really bad, you went someplace called Hell. Not a nice place. If you were really really good, you could go someplace called Heaven and be with some One called God. Most people kind of fell in the middle, and they would go someplace called Purgatory for a while, which wasn’t nice like the Hell place, except you could go to Heaven after a bit. You couldn’t go to Heaven if you went to Hell. And to make it even more confusing, if you died when you were a very tiny pup, before a special thing happened, you went to a place called Limbo, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t Heaven either.
Boss stands up and walks through the Internet Place. Houdini follows, running ahead, to the side, nose to the paths, occasionally following one of the branches a little bit before running back to Boss. He cocks his head and sniffs some of the things Boss looks at, pictures of places, snippets of conversations. While they’re walking, he looks up at Boss.
Houdini: A while back, you went away another place, like this time, just not as long. Things smelled just like this. What happened then?
Boss: That was when my brother died, Houdini.
Houdini: What was your brother like, Boss?
Boss: People say we looked and smelled a lot the same, Mr. H. The same, and different, just like you and Smudge and Squrrel.
Houdini: What do you think now, Boss? You said that’s what you were taught, but what do you think Now?
Boss stops surfing the Internet, looks at Houdini.
Boss: I don’t often go on about that, Houdini, because it is such an unclear scent. What I think works for me, but it wouldn’t necessarily work for you or anyone else.
Boss turns to go down another path but Houdini runs and sits in front of him. Boss tries to step around, but Houdini sits in front of him. Boss tries again, and again Houdini sits in front of him.
Boss: You really want to know?
Houdini places his paw on Boss’s thigh.
Boss: OK. One of the things my father taught me is Man needs Faith. Much of this is only acceptable on Faith. Then again, Faith only takes me, personally, so far. I believe in One God, the Creator. Past that, it gets fuzzy. Past that, I don’t know anymore.
I believe in treating others as I want to be treated, straight up and level. I believe that Something happens after Dying, because there’s too much of what I see around me in the Real World keeps going and going. Life begins, Life ends. Drought happens, Rain falls. Mountains rise and fall, oceans swell and wain. All of it is used over and over and over again. Given my belief in the Creator, given my perception that all this is going round and round, Something happens after Dying.
But I don’t know what, and I won’t know until my Dying Time arrives. And until then, I figure on keeping on walking this Path, eh?
Houdini looks around, and all of the paths in the Internet Place shudder, squirm, slide and merge briefly into one Path. The rich scent floods his nostrils with Goat, Hog, Cow, Dog, Human... other Animals he recognizes and more he does not... Hay, Grass, Roses, Honeysuckle, Dogwood... Smoke, Decay, Mold, Carcass...
Feces and Urine Scents mark the passage of Multitudes.
Then the Path shudders and fractures and twists, whipping and whirling as far as his eyes see and his nose scent, leading left, right, up, down, and back.
Boss: Ah, Houdini. Welcome to the six million dog biscuit question.