A home near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Louis Garrison set the cardboard box he carried down just inside the front door. “I’m home!”
From around the corner, his two kids came running: Christy, ten, and Mike, six. He gathered them up in a hug.
It only took Christy a second to notice the box. “What’s that, Dad?”
“I brought home a surprise.”
“What is it, Dad?” asked Mike.
“I can’t tell you until your mom gets here.”
His wife, Tina, came around the corner just then, drying her hands on a towel. “I’m here, Hon,” she said sweetly.
Louis stepped over to gather her up in a hug. “Hello, love of my life,” he said and then kissed her.
“The box, Dad?” Christy reminded them impatiently.
“You’d better tell them before they explode,” Tina told him, with a knowing wink.
“Okay, okay,” he said and leaned down to lift the top off the box.
A young, golden-haired Labrador retriever lifted its head out of the box.
“A puppy!” the kids cried out in unison.
Louis reached down and picked up the dog. “Your mom and I decided that you were old enough to have a dog now, but you have to help us take care of him.”
He laughed and put the puppy on the floor. “His name is Buddy.”
Late summer 1999
Louis looked up from his book and noticed Buddy watching out the window. For years the dog had waited by the window to watch for the school bus. He smiled and shook his head. “He’s not coming home tonight, Buddy.” Mike had just left for college at Penn State that morning.
Buddy looked over upon hearing his name and whined.
Louis patted his leg. “He’s gone to college, Buddy, just like Christy did.” His oldest had started college four years before.
Buddy trotted over and sat next to him.
Louis reached down and rubbed the dog’s head. “There’s nothing we can do about it, old fellow; kids grow up. It’s just us and the wife now.”
Buddy looked toward the window and whined again.
“I miss them too, Buddy.”
Sunny Sunday Morning, spring 2000
Louis Garrison leaned over to give his wife a final kiss after she climbed into the driver’s seat of her car. “Have fun shopping with your mother.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” she teased.
He rolled his eyes back. “Wouldn’t that be an adventure, with me sitting on a bench somewhere while I wait for you two ladies to come out of a store with your latest acquisitions? No, thanks. While you two are out trying to throw away all our money, I’m going to drive down to the franchise in Grantville and check out the store. I understand the owner is having a difficult time and I thought I’d have lunch there and observe his operations. Maybe I can help him. I’m going to take Buddy with me; you know how much he likes to ride along.”
“The two boys out on an adventure, huh? Are you sure he’s up to it?”
“He’s an old dog and doesn’t get around that well anymore, but he always enjoyed the car rides. I don’t think he has that many rides left; it’s the least I can do for him.”
She nodded sadly. “Are you going to be gone all day?”
“No, it’s a short drive down there and back. I’ll be back in plenty of time for dinner.”
“Well, you boys have fun.”
“We will. You too.” He closed the door to her car and watched her back out of the driveway. As she started down the street, she waved, so he waved back.
He walked back inside the house and called out. “Come on, Buddy; let’s take a trip.”
Mere seconds later, Buddy walked into the room, carrying his leash in his mouth.
Louis took the leash and snapped it to the dog’s collar. “Ready to go, aren’t you? Well, then, let’s go to West Virginia.”
That afternoon in Grantville, West Virginia
Louis leaned over with the plastic bag over his hand to pick up the dog droppings. “My God, Buddy, what have you been eating?”
The dog’s face was completely innocent as he waved his tail happily.
Both Louis and Buddy jumped at the sudden flash of light and loud thunderclap.
“What in the hell was that?” Louis wondered aloud.
Three days later
Louis sat in shocked silence as he thought about what they had said at the town meeting. Four centuries? They had traveled back almost four hundred years to Germany? How could this have happened? How could a town suddenly find itself four centuries in the past with no way to return?
He pulled out his wallet and fished out the picture of the one person who meant more to him than anything else. His wife’s sparkling blue eyes seemed to be looking straight at him. Her perfect smile was as dazzling as ever. The one lock of her blonde hair that always managed to escape curled along her left cheek.
“Four hundred years!” he choked out as the tears ran down his cheeks. Everything he knew was gone, his entire life.
He felt the cold nose nudge his hand and looked down to see Buddy resting his head on his leg.
Louis smiled and scratched the dog’s ear. “Yeah, you’re still here aren’t you Buddy? I guess it’s just the two us now.”
Louis sat down on the hillside and waited for Buddy. The dog was having trouble making it up the hill, but soon joined him.
He scratched Buddy behind the ear as he looked out over the landscape. Just down the slope was the smooth wall of dirt where the West Virginia hills didn’t quite line up with the German countryside.
Reaching into the bag he carried, he pulled out the small strip of spiced jerky. He tore off a piece and gave it to Buddy, then took a bite for himself. The spices in the jerky weren’t really good for Buddy, but the dog liked it.
Louis laughed to himself. The spices didn’t always agree with his system either.
They had just come from the vet and the news wasn’t good, but then it wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. Buddy was old and his joints were getting stiff, probably arthritis or something similar. And there wasn’t really anything that could be done; even back home all they could do was give the dog drugs to lessen the pain. Here, they were just waiting for it to get too bad for the dog to endure. After that, well, he didn’t want to think about that yet.
Louis shivered as the wind cut through him. He reached up to flip his collar higher on his neck and then shoved his gloved hands back into his pockets. He knew that the world was in the middle of the Little Ice Age, but damn it, it wasn’t supposed to be this cold at the end of April.
He and Buddy were on their evening walk through the streets of Grantville. Buddy seemed to have a definite destination in mind as he pulled strongly on the leash.
Louis laughed. “Easy there, boy. I’m not getting any younger and neither are you.”
Buddy pulled him along and then suddenly stopped as they rounded a corner.
Louis looked up at the black and white building in front of him. This was the restaurant he had come to visit that fateful day when the Ring of Fire had ripped them away from their home.
Because the store’s owner, Nino Sanabria, Jr., had been out of town doing business that day, he had been left up-time, separated from his family just like Louis. The store had been closed shortly after the Ring of Fire. With no owner to run it and no supplies due to the rationing of the previous winter, no one had bothered to open it again. All the former employees had gone on to either the military or other jobs, with the exception of one poor woman who now lived at the Manning Assisted Living Center because her medicine no longer existed.
With Nino gone, ownership of the shop had reverted to his wife, Michelle, and because the financing was with an out of town bank, she now owned the store free and clear. But Michelle knew very little about running a restaurant and had sold or used the supplies within.
Louis stood staring at the building for several long minutes and an idea began to grow in his mind. In the last year, Grantville had grown by leaps and bounds as both refugees and the curious poured into the area. More people meant a need for more services, especially when many of those people were travelers and other temporary residents. And those people would need a place to eat, a place like the empty building standing in front of him.
He looked down to where Buddy stood beside him and the dog looked at him with questioning eyes. “What do you think, Buddy? Should we see if we can make this place work?”
Buddy wagged his tail and barked happily.
Andreas Muller took a few moments to calm down and build up his nerve. He was getting desperate and there were few options left. The last thing he wanted was to go back to being a soldier. Unfortunately, many people were reluctant to hire a soldier. They had too many bad memories of what soldiers had done, if not to them, then to family or friends.
Now he stood before the building of the business he was about to enter. Like so many of the up-timer buildings, this one had a lot of glass, letting anyone see what was inside. He could see the gleaming counters and tables inside. He didn’t hold out much hope, but he had heard that the owner needed help.
Andreas took another deep breath and pulled open the clear glass door. He heard the small bell tied to the inside handle tinkle as the door closed. His eyes took in the gleaming black and white tiles on the walls and floor and the shiny metal of the counters and table legs. The tables were not filled with people, but then it was the middle of the afternoon, not really mealtime. Several people were seated at the tables and two young women were moving among them, taking orders and serving food.
Near the door, a golden-haired dog was resting on a mat. The dog raised its head and looked at Andreas.
Andreas gently reached down and patted the dog’s head. The dog accepted the attention and laid his head back down.
A tall man sitting at the counter was motioning to get his attention, so Andreas walked over to him. As Andreas took a seat on the stool next to him, the big man extended his hand in greeting. “Hi, my name’s Louis. I haven’t seen you in here before, have I?”
The man’s accent was definitely that of an American. It was hard to tell his age, since all Americans seemed to be younger in appearance, but Andreas guessed he was probably in his forties. Andreas took the man’s hand. “Hello, Louis. My name is Andreas Muller. No, I have not been here before. I was told that the owner has need of help.”
The man’s face widened in a broad smile. “Well, welcome to the Amideutsch Lunch Counter. I think you’ll like it here; I’m in here all the time. The manager will probably introduce himself shortly. Are you new in town?”
“Yes. I am looking for work.”
Louis nodded in understanding. “I wish you luck with that. What did you do before you came to Grantville? Are you one of the refugees?”
Andreas paused as he considered his answer to the question. Would telling the truth keep him from getting the job? But would telling a lie not be bad as well? He exhaled deeply. “I was a mercenary, but I am tired of fighting.”
He could see Louis considering what he had said. But then the big man nodded. “Well, this seems to be a great place to work. You should try some of the food.”
Andreas was hesitant in his reply. “I do not have much money.”
Louis laughed a bit and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry about that, Andreas; this one is on me.”
Louis motioned to the elderly woman working behind the counter. When she approached, he spoke to her. “Magda, please bring my new friend here a cheeseburger and one for me too.”
“Thank you, Louis,” Andreas said as the woman left to fill the order.
Louis waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t mention it. If you don’t mind my asking, why are you interested in working here?”
Andreas took a moment to collect his thoughts. “As I said, I am tired of being a soldier. But before I was a soldier, I worked in a tavern. When the wars started and people were struggling to survive, they did not have the time or money to spend in a tavern. My wife had died of disease and my children had grown and married, so I took work as a soldier. But I do not like being a soldier, so I need to find other work. I was told this place needed help.”
Louis nodded. “Yes, it could use an extra hand or two. With the way people keep coming to Grantville, I think it’s going to be pretty busy.”
Andreas looked around. “This is not like any tavern I have ever been in.”
“That’s because it’s not a tavern,” Louis answered. “This place is sort of like what we called a diner up-time, but of course the menu will have to be changed to foods that can be found in the area.”
Andreas thought about what Louis was telling him. “I must admit, Louis, I have eaten some of your American foods, but I do not know how to make them. I may not be of any use to the owner.”
Louis again waved his hand to dismiss Andreas’s doubts. “You don’t need to worry. You won’t be expected to know that, at least not at first. It sounds like you know something about running a restaurant. That’s what’s important.”
Magda brought two plates and sat one down in front of each man.
“Magda,” Louis said, “This is Andreas Muller. He’s considering a job here. Andreas, this is Magdalena Bacherin. She does most of the cooking for the place.”
Magda gave Andreas a cold, appraising look and nodded in greeting. “Herr Muller.”
“Frau Bacherin,” Andreas responded.
As Magda walked away, Louis chuckled. “Don’t mind her. She seems cold at first, but she’s really a nice person.” He gestured to the plate. “There you go, Andreas, one cheeseburger. Dig in.”
Andreas picked up the sandwich and took a bite. As he chewed it, he had to admit that it had a lot of flavor, but he still didn’t understand the obsession Americans had with hamburgers. He looked around nervously. “Louis, I enjoy talking with you, but when is the owner coming back? If I cannot get this job, I must look elsewhere.”
Louis chuckled. “You’re right, Andreas, and let me apologize. I haven’t been completely open with you.” The big man stood and extended his hand again. “Andreas Muller, my name is Louis Garrison and I’m the manager here. You’ve got the job.”
“Thank you, Louis, uh, Herr Garrison.”
“Please, it’s been Louis up to now; let’s keep it that way. I think you’re going to do well here, Andreas. You passed the most important test as soon as you came in the door.”
Andreas was confused. “What test, Louis?”
The big man pointed to the dog by the door. “Buddy seems to like you.”
The dog heard his name and looked toward the two men, his tail wagging happily.
Veronika Heyder put the last touches on her sketch as Buddy lay on his sleeping mat in the store. The dog made an excellent model, he barely moved.
“Veronika!” Magda called out, “You have a customer.”
Veronika finished the last bit of shading and then put down the sketch pad. She walked over to the table where the man had been seated. “What will you have, Mein Herr?”
The man leered at her. “Bring me some beer and something to eat, girl.”
Just the man’s gaze made Veronika feel dirty, but she had a job to do. “We have several items to eat, Mein Herr. If you would look at the menu, you can see our selection.”
“Don’t talk back to me, girl. Just bring me some food!”
“Yes, Mein Herr,” she answered and quickly walked away from the table. She could almost feel the man’s eyes on her.
“A basic sandwich and a beer,” she said to Magda when she reached the counter.
Magda began to assemble the sandwich. “Do you need any help with that one?”
“No, I think I can handle him. I just want to give him his food and get him out of here.”
Magda placed the finished sandwich on a wooden tray and then quickly poured a beer. She placed it on the tray next to the sandwich. “Be careful.”
Veronika picked up the tray and carried it back to the table. “Here you are, Mein Herr. Can I get you anything else?”
She let out a short scream as the man grabbed her, pulling her onto his lap.
Louis heard Buddy’s barking and immediately rushed to the front of the store. In the dining area he quickly spotted the problem. Buddy was barking furiously at a dirty-looking man he had backed up against a wall. Magda and Veronika were behind the dog with angry looks on their faces.
“What’s the problem here?” he asked.
The man quickly answered, “That dog is mad; he attacked me!”
Veronika countered angrily, “He touched me, Herr Garrison!”
“She asked me if I wanted anything else,” the man protested.
“I didn’t mean that!” Veronika spat at him.
“I’ll handle this,” Louis said calmly. “Magda, take Ronnie back to the office.” He waited until the two ladies had left and turned back to the man. “You scum, who do you think you are? I don’t know how you’re used to doing things, but that’s not the way we do things around here. Now get out of my shop.”
Buddy growled to back up Louis’s statement.
The man looked at Louis, then the dog, and apparently decided not to argue. He quickly gathered his things and walked to the door.
As the man opened the door and stepped out, Louis released the breath he had been holding. “And don’t come back. You’re not welcome here.”
Magda left Veronika in the office and went out to the dining area. She saw Louis starting to clean off the table where the man had been seated.
“Herr Garrison, I will take care of that,” she said to him.
“Are you sure Magda? It’s no problem.”
“Yes, you have more important things to do.” She waved him away from the table.
She quickly gathered up the untouched food and put it back on the tray. Just as she started for the kitchen, she changed her mind.
She walked over to where Buddy had returned to his mat and knelt down by the dog. Buddy raised his head in response. She could tell that the confrontation had taken a lot out of him.
“I know we do not want you to beg for food from the customers, but you have earned this one,” she said and placed the uneaten sandwich down in front of the dog.
As Buddy began to eat the unexpected treat, Magda gently patted his head. “You are a good dog.”
Louis was startled when Johannes came bursting into the store, breathless from running.
The teenager panted heavily as he spoke. “Herr Garrison, come quick! Something is wrong with Buddy.”
“What is it, Johannes?”
“I was walking Buddy at the park and he lay down by a tree. He won’t get up, Herr Garrison!”
Louis flashed a worried look at Andreas.
“Go!” his partner ordered.
Louis grabbed Johannes by the shoulder. “Show me!”
The boy nodded and the two of them ran from the store to the park as quickly as they could.
“Over there!” Johannes panted.
Louis looked where the boy pointed and saw Buddy lying by the tree. He quickly rushed over and knelt by the dog. “Buddy, what is it?”
The dog carefully raised its head with a painful expression, but didn’t get up.
“Oh God, Buddy!” He carefully scooped up the dog and began to run. The veterinarian was several blocks away, but Louis carried Buddy at a full run the entire distance.
Louis gently stroked Buddy as the dog lay silently on the examination table. The veterinarian had just told him that nothing more could be done for Buddy and that it was only a matter of time before the dog died. Buddy was in a lot of pain and it wouldn’t get any better.
Louis knew that it was time for Buddy to go. “We’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we, Buddy? You helped me raise my kids and get them off to college, took trips with me.
He chuckled sadly. “Who would have thought that the two of us would take the most amazing trip of all together, a trip through time?
“We had to start a new life together, a new home, a new job; and you were right there with me every step of the way. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here.
“But it’s time for you to go, isn’t it, old friend?”
He looked up at the veterinarian and nodded that he was ready.
The vet brought the syringe over to the table and gently injected its contents into Buddy. As the injection took affect, Buddy’s breathing slowed and finally stopped. The dog’s eyes closed, never to open again.
“Goodbye, Buddy,” Louis choked out quietly.
Andreas walked into the veterinarian’s office and found Johannes sitting there.
“Herr Garrison is in there,” Johannes quickly told him, pointing to the door.
“Thank you, Johannes. Have you been here all this time?”
“Yes, Herr Muller. I did not want to leave them.”
“Go home, Johannes, you have studying to do.”
“But Buddy and Herr Garrison!” Johannes protested.
“I will look after Herr Garrison. Stop by the restaurant on your way home; Magda has some sandwiches prepared for you.”
“Yes, Herr Muller,” the boy said and hurried out the door.
Andreas walked through the door that Johannes had shown him. Inside he found Louis tightly clenching Buddy on the table, his face buried in the dog’s side. He hated to interrupt. “Louis?”
Louis looked up at Andreas; his eyes were red and his cheeks were wet with tears. He looked sadly at the dog’s body on the table. “I had to let him go, Andreas.”
“He was old and in pain; it was a kindness to let him go.”
“He was the last I had.”
“The last what, Louis?”
“My last link to my old life!” Louis choked out and buried his face in his hands. “I’m completely alone now.”
Andreas quickly pulled up a chair and sat beside Louis. He put his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “I know you were close to him, Louis. Our animal friends can come to feel like one of the family. But you are wrong, my friend. You are not alone.”
“But they’re all gone now, all of them. Tina, the kids, and now Buddy. Everything I knew and loved is gone.”
“And I say again, Louis, you are not alone. Buddy saw to that.”
Louis looked up, confusion on his face. “What do you mean?”
“Buddy was how old, fifteen?” When Louis nodded, he continued. “That is a long life for a dog, Louis. He has had sore joints and could not walk well for the last two years. Even the veterinarian didn’t know why he held on for so long, but I think I know.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Buddy was looking after you. He couldn’t leave until he knew you would be okay. He had to wait until you had a new family.”
“But my family is all gone. Buddy was the last I had.”
“Your old family is gone, Louis, and I will help you mourn them. But you have a new family now: Magda, Veronika, Johannes, all of them. And you have me, Louis. I heard one of you up-timers say that friends are family that you choose. Louis, I am your friend and your brother. Buddy’s final act was to make sure you had a new family so that you weren’t alone.”
Louis looked up at Buddy again. For several long moments he stared at the dog before speaking again. “Will you help me bury him, Andreas?”
“It would be my honor to help you lay your friend to rest, Louis.”
Louis looked up when he heard the knock on his office door.
Veronika stood there, looking unsure. “Herr Garrison, I am so sorry about Buddy. We all loved him; he was one of us and will be missed.”
“Thank you, Veronika.”
She pulled something into view. “I made this for you.”
Louis took the large square object from her and looked at it. It was a framed sketch, one that Veronika had drawn of Buddy sleeping by the window. On one side a verse was written. He could feel the tears forming in his eyes. “Thank you.”
“A friend from school gave me the verse when I told her about Buddy. She said it brought her comfort when she lost her pet.”
Louis glanced at the words. “I’m familiar with it, Veronika. Please, thank your friend for me.”
Veronika nodded and started to turn away. She quickly turned back and wrapped her arms around Louis in a hug. “I’m going to miss him.”
Louis held her tight and let his tears fall. “We all are, Ronnie.”
Veronika released her hug and quickly left the office. Louis could see she was wiping away tears. He looked down at the picture and read the words of the poem silently.
The Rainbow Bridge
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals that had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together . . . .
Author unknown . . .
Andreas watched as Louis hung the picture on the wall next to where Buddy’s sleeping mat had been.
Louis stepped back and looked at the picture. “Do you think it could be true, Andreas?”
Andreas looked over the words of the poem. “I don’t know, Louis. I am not a theologian, but I cannot believe that God would forever separate us from those who bring us so much happiness and love.”
Louis nodded towards the window. “It looks like the storm is over.”
Andreas looked outside. The thunderstorm had passed and the last of the rain was dripping down the window. The cloud front was passing to the east and the afternoon sun was coming out. In the eastern sky a bright rainbow was forming.
This story is dedicated to all those who have friends waiting for them by the rainbow bridge and was written in memory of the friends who wait.