As the passing ambulance sped toward the hospital, the shrill sound of the siren pierced the darkness.  But it was too late; no amount of speed could meet the need of the ambulance's mission. 

Later that night reaching from his bed Jeremy Ward's left hand pressed against the frosted window pane leaving an indelible print.  Rivulets of water began to run down the glass forming a small pool on the window sill.

Christmas Day was hastily approaching; a mere five days away, and Jeremy was hoping to be back home. The 10-year old pressed his nose closer in order to get a better view of his family standing in the hospital parking lot below.

In the glow of the streetlight stood his Grandfather Sam holding a small box and the leash to Jeremy's dog, Cain, who was large white lab-Samoyed mix, Jeremy's father, Robert, and Jeremy's mother, Margaret.  Cain was the reason they were outside: dogs were not allowed in the hospital's ICU.  And it was Jeremy's beloved dog that had sniffed out the recurring leukaemia.  Everyone had thought the disease had long since been defeated, but Jeremy's body was no match for its latest onslaught.

Moments later Grandpa Sam came ambling into Jeremy's room carrying the same small box.  Jeremy could see the box had been wrapped in glittery Christmas paper with a small bow on the top.

"What's in the box, Grandpa?"  Jeremy asked.

"A Christmas present for you.  Something my father made for me, and I'm passing it on to you - sort of like a tradition. When I was a little boy -just about your age- your Great-grandfather Joseph, my father, taught me about dogs and the angels."

Grandpa Sam paused, "Jeremy, you know how Santa has all those elves to build all of the toys at Christmastime.  You know:  his helpers."

Grandpa Sam continued, "You see, Jeremy, when God made the Earth he created dogs to be His eyes - maintaining His watchfulness – on Earth.  You know:  His helpers.  He wanted them here to protect people, to be their companions, and to just always be underfoot.  And to be sure that they would report directly back to Him, He gave every dog an angel, an angel in between, to be the dog's voice between Heaven and Earth.  That way God could be aware of everything going on in His domain."

"Go ahead," Grandpa Sam urged, "Open the box."

Inside was a small, hand-whittled oak ornament of an angel with open wings holding a small dog in its arms.  Attached was a bright blue ribbon with which to hang it.

Two days later, Jeremy Ward joined his Great-grandfather Joseph in Heaven.

The sun remained a stranger at the cemetery that Christmas Eve privately mourning behind the curtain of ashen clouds. Snow was falling at a steady pace.

Grandpa Sam had slipped the angel ornament inside Jeremy's hand when no one was looking.

Cain's head rested on the foot of the casket during the services.  Cain knew his master was gone, but, as with the rest of the family, letting go was not yet an option.

A pall had settled in for the night around the Ward household. Everyone chose to be alone with private memories:  to pass the lengthy time; and to deal with their own feelings.

Grandpa Sam had turned on the lights on the Christmas tree and had left them on as part of the annual tradition.  But he had long ago retired to his room, dozing in and out in his chair as he feigned reading a book.

Cain's loud bark disturbed the still house.  Grandpa Sam stirred from his shallow slumber.  The barking was continuous and was coming from the living room.

When Grandpa Sam got to the living room, Cain was seated at the foot of the Christmas tree barking, almost happily.

"Cain, what is it, Boy?  There's nobody here."

Grandpa Sam looked up from Cain to the tree - a shimmer of blue catching his eye.  There on one of the upper boughs hanging from its bright blue ribbon was the carved angel:  indeed, as Grandpa Sam had said, delivering a message - but this time from Heaven.

In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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