Editors note: if you are sensitive to fiction involving animals, this story may cause emotional distress. And while “A Good Boy” is a complete work of fiction, it is inspired by various news stories throughout the years. With that being said, there are no depictions of animal abuse or animal cruelty in this story.
Black smoke rose higher and higher, dancing on the line where heaven and Earth meet. Great plumes turned the blue sky somber ash. Far below, a quiet suburb bustled with activity.
Fire truck sirens wailed in the distance while people gathered in front of their homes, speaking to each other in hushed tones as if anyone cared to listen. At the center of the chaos, a young mother named Deidra cradled her dog while her once beautiful home burned in front of her. Deidra’s son, a six-year-old named Colby, hugged her from behind as the flames ravaged the only home he had ever known. They both owed their lives to their loyal pitbull Atlas, or “Atlas the Brave,” as the papers would later call him.
When the fire broke out in the basement, Diedra was in the laundry room folding towels. Colby played quietly in his room upstairs. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
A faulty water heater was to blame. It was a new addition to the home and improperly installed by an inexperienced plumber. Atlas, in the midst of a barking frenzy, rushed into the laundry room.
“What’s wrong, Atty?”
He tugged at Diedra’s pant leg with his teeth. Before she could react, black smoke poured in through the door.
Diedra only retained some specks of memory from that night. Images of running up the basement stairs, acrid smoke choking her lungs, and the panic. The paralyzing panic of not knowing where her son was.
“Colby! Colby!” she screamed.
Then the smoke won and she blacked out in the living room. Flames jumped up and licked her clothes. Hell surrounded her.
She regained consciousness a safe distance from the house. It was only when she caught sight of Atlas dragging Colby from the inferno that she understood how she got there.
She rushed over to the boy. His face was smeared with black ash and he coughed violently, but he was okay. Atlas was not.
Having seen that his family was safe, the mighty dog collapsed to the soft lawn. His entire body was badly burned and it was clear he would not survive. Diedra dropped to her knees and gently scooped him up in her arms.
Atlas looked up at her. His kind brown eyes showed no fear, only gratitude. Gratitude that his family was okay. And it was through these kind eyes that he spoke his feelings. Spoke words that could not be heard but only felt.
“Are you two okay?” his eyes asked.
Diedra’s tears rolled down her face, mixing with the ash to paint her cheeks with streaks of gray.
“I hurt, mommy,” Atlas said with his wide eyes. “I hurt so bad. Why does it have to hurt?”
Diedra could feel his breathing become more and more shallow. She knew the time was close at hand. At that moment, all she could think about was the time they had rescued a sick puppy that had been abandoned on the side of the road. It was Colby who spotted the little dog through the car window. A sad little lump crying for its mother. They had named him Atlas.
Atlas, strong enough to hold the world on his shoulders. Atlas, strong enough to protect his family. Atlas, strong enough to save them when they couldn’t save themselves. They had rescued the poor dog, but now it was he who had rescued them.
“Oh, Atty,” Diedra said, remaining as calm as she could manage. “I love you.” She fought back the sobs that threatened to steal her composure. She didn’t want his last memory of her to be a sad one. “You’re such a good boy.”
“I’m a good boy?” his eyes said with a flash of puppy-like recognition.
Atlas’ heartbeat slowed. Even young Colby understood what was going to happen and so the boy whirled around his mother and met his best friend face-to-face.
“Please don’t go, Atty.” Colby whispered.
“I don’t want to go, Colby. But I think I have to.”
“Atty,” Colby sniffled.
“I’ll never forget you. My… family.”
With that last flicker of love in his eyes, Atlas’ heart stopped and he drifted away peacefully. Only then did Deidra break down; her anguish inconsolable.
And so the smoke rose higher and higher, dancing on the line where heaven and Earth meet. But where the smoke could not, one beautiful soul passed through unhindered to take his rightful place among the stars.
For the rest of time, when humankind looks to the night sky, it’ll be in the twinkling of a star that they see his spirit shining so bright. The spirit of Atlas the Brave.
A good boy.
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