The old hag had insisted her locked diary be buried with her in the casket. Her white hair created a halo around her head in the simple pine box. The townsfolk were afraid to miss her funeral, on All Hallow’s Eve of all days! After all she’d done in her living years, who knew what she had in store for them after her passing?

Nobody noticed when one tiny girl reached into the casket, grabbed the tattered, leatherbound tome, and hid it inside her coat.

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: While reading this story, notice the creative way the writer put separate elements of the topic into parts of his story.

Sometimes you just must be in the right place at the right time.

It was a cold and blustery day. Fog was dense, clinging to the edge of the ocean like a curtain between one world and another. I trudged along the slowly advancing edge of the swirling surf, just past low tide, the endless battle between ocean and land. It had been a rough couple of years. Lost some friends to cancer, an old buddy to agent orange, and just plain old age. I’m finding the alternative to dying is growing old and living in a worn-out body in a world I no longer understand or participate in. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even sticking around for what’s left of my life. The memory fades and the body declines.

I watched the fog warily as it seemed to close in around us. I reached down to give Jack a scratch on the ears, and he gave me a brief tail wag before stopping and giving a short warning bark. I almost tripped over an object that had just floated in and been deposited in the sand by the advancing surf. It was a small box and I bent down and grabbed it before it could wash back out to sea. It appeared to be tightly sealed with a firm brass latch on one side. I picked it up. It wasn’t heavy but appeared to have been in the water for a long time. There was nothing on the outside to indicate where it came from or what was inside, if anything.

I moved up on the beach away from the surf and kneeled in the damp sand, placing the box in front of me. Jack immediately sniffed it all over, gave a wag, then sat to watch me start to pry it open. The latch was corroded shut and the hinges creaked as I slowly pried the lid up with my knife. Jack barked twice and took a sniff of the box. He gave a wag and the lid popped loose and opened wide. The fog suddenly closed in around us blocking the view of both land and sea. The box was gone and before us stood a doorway. Jack suddenly lurched forward and vanished through the doorway. Without thinking, I plunged through behind him. After all, he’d do the same for me.

“Jack,” I called out and a voice responded.

“Over here,” the voice said. The fog was gone. So was the ocean and the surf. I was inside a large structure. I looked around frantically, and a small man appeared before me.

“Where’s my dog,” I demanded. The man laughed. There was something very familiar about him.

“Hello Ben”, he said. “You should know my name. After all, you did save me years ago when you brought me into your life. You rescued me then and now I can rescue you.

“You mean,” I stammered, unable to complete my sentence.

“That’s right, Ben'” he said, “I’m Jack, at your service. Same as always, actually.” He grinned, just as he always had. “I didn’t drag you out to the beach in the cold and wet for nothing. We had to get that box. They only send it on October 31st every year.

I was silent, trying to make sense of what was happening. This little man used to be my dog, Jack. I wasn’t sure who had rescued who. There was a buzz of sound all around me as I stared in awe at the little people working away at what appeared to be workstations, with small couches instead of office chairs. There was a bowl of water on each desk. “I must be dreaming, or hallucinating, or something,” I said.

“Nope,” said Jack, “this is reality. You haven’t been in reality for some time.”

“A world out of control is my reality,” I said.

“That reality isn’t yours,” he said. “We each have our own reality and you have control over yours only. You can’t change the world, just yourself.

He led me over to a desk where a little white haired old lady was opening a leather-bound book.

“Hello, Ben,” she said, smiling, “I just found your page in the ledger. I remember when they brought you home from the hospital. A cute little baby boy, but you sure were loud.”

She seemed so familiar, and then it hit me. “Gussie?” I stammered.

“Bingo,” said Jack. “Your first dog. She’s an elder here now.”

“You’ve had a long relationship with many of us over the years,” she said, “years filled with love and caring. That’s your reality, not the chaos of the world. You can’t carry the problems of the entire planet on your shoulders, only your own. Dogs are here to facilitate that. You rescued us and we rescue you. That’s the way the world goes round.”

“Time to go back,” said Jack. “It’s dinner time here, and yes, we still eat kibble.”

Suddenly, I was back on the beach. The fog was lifting, and sunbeams were dancing on the sand. I looked around, and there was Jack, wagging and grinning.

“Yes Ben. We still have work to do together before we move on,” he said.

We headed home with the sun shining brightly, man and dog. Jack never spoke again, but his wags and grin do the talking.