“Yo, Emi, I’m home!”
The young girl dropped the cubes she was playing with and turned her head towards the source of the sound. Her hazy blue eyes looked in vain around the room.
“Sis, where are you?” inquired the blonde girl, her face showing a cute pout.
No answer came. Emily got up and began to walk around, her arms outstretched. One of her feet kicked a small pile of plastic cubes, almost making her lose balance.
“Sis…" she said, before being cut off by two very familiar arms, who hugged her from behind. The six-year-old cried out, then giggled, rolling on the floor with her captive. Her hands reached to the older girl's face, feeling her. The hands drifted to her chest, feeling it.
“Is this a new t-shirt?” asked the girl.
“Sure is” confirmed Vera. “Got it two days ago.”
"It feels nice," said Lily, feeling it in her fingers. "Bet it looks nice on you."
Vera chuckled, releasing her sister from her hug. Emily sat on the floor, looking in the direction she assumed her sister was.
“How was school today, sis?”
“Nice and dandy. And it looks like you made quite a mess of your room while I was gone.”
Emily’s face became flushed with embarrassment, before crossing her arms.
“Just fooling with ya kid!” laughed Vera, messing up her hair. “This place never looked better.”
“You’re such a tease, sis” chuckled Emily, still sitting on the carpet.
“That I am.” Replied Vera, turning her back.
Emily perceived the sound of the door knob turning, followed by the sound of footsteps.
“Where you going?” inquired Emily.
“Be right back” called Vera’s voice, still outside the room.
About a minute later, Emily heard the familiar sound of her sister’s feet entering the room. But a second sound came in as well. It was also the sound of someone…or something walking into her room.
“Sis, what’s that?!” asked Emily in a puzzled tone.
“Got a present for ya.”
The sound of footsteps came closer. Emily could tell that they were not human. Her fingers gripped her skirt, and she became visibly startled.
“W…what is it?!” asked Emily, desperately looking for Vera’s comforting presence.
No answer came. Emily stretched out her hand, and her fingers made contact. It was wet…and fleshy. A sound reached her hearing. Feint, but still there. A tear streaked along Emily’s cheeks.
The…something that her fingers had touched moved. Her fear-gripped hand rubbed against something longer…and hairy. Before the blind girl could react, something else touched her palm. It felt rough, wet, but at the same time gentle. It makes quick strokes, making her fingers feel sticky.
“Like my present sis?”
Before Emily could answer, the puppy jumped in her lap and went for her face. His tongue left long, wet streaks along her left cheek before the blonde girl lifted him in her arms. The puppy let out several barks, panting and wiggling in her hands.
"So cute…thanks, sis.”
Lilly’s hands gently went along the puppy’s head, going along the neck, and the rest of the body. She felt the fur, getting bit by bit pieces of information in her mind. He's enjoying what she was doing, thought Emily, as the puppy gripped one of her fingers with his teeth, squeezing gently.
“So what’ya gonna name him sis?” asked Vera.
Emily scratched her hair, thinking of a name. The puppy had settled down, curled up in her lap.
“I think….I’ll call him...Ceci.”
“Great choice kiddo.” Agreed Vera, scratching Ceci behind the ear. “Hold on Ems, I wanna do something.”
Emily could detect that her sister was setting something up. Ceci sat up in Emily’s lap, letting out a quick bark.
“What’s wrong Ceci?” asked Emily, running her fingers along his face. The puppy barked in response, licking her fingers.
Emily felt her sister moving quickly next to her.
Emily was too preoccupied with her new friend to pay attention. The only thing that reached her was a faint click.
“What was that?”
"Oh, nothing, just a little something for the family album," replied Vera, picking up her camera.
4 months later
“Go Ceci, catch.”
Ceci barked loudly, his feet making rushed sounds in the grass. Moments later, Emily felt the stick placed in her hand. Her fingers searched for the dog’s head, petting him gently.
The dog replied with a series of barks, rubbing against the girl’s leg. The weather was certainly in their favor, so she decided she could spend more time in the yard. Her mother usually finished dinner by 13:20. The smell of cooked food from the opened kitchen window could reach her with ease. She felt her stomach grumbling. Ceci replied as if to approve.
Time had passed quickly, she could tell. The dog had grown considerably, and she could feel it was as tall as her waist. The company he provided had become invaluable. Almost like a patch of green in an otherwise blank world. She smiled. And remained smiling, feeling the noon sun on her face.
The alarm punctuated the sentence of her sleep with dozens of needles of sounds. Emily's hand searched for a few moments for the alarm clock and turned it off. Next to her, Vera was just getting up from her bed as well.
“Morning sis.” Yawned the older girl, stretching her arms.
Emily replied politely and sat patiently on the bed. She heard the door of the closet open, and a few moments later, she felt some clothes placed next to her.
“Can you manage without me? I gotta go find Ceci.” Said Vera.
“Um…why?” inquired Emily.
Before her sister could answer, a car pulled up in front of the house. Emily heard her mother talking, then Ceci's bark. The sound of their front door opening followed, then her mother spoke to a man she had never heard before. The blind girl got up in fright, desperate to find the door.
“Sis, what are they doing?”
“Relax kid, they’re just taking him away for a while. They’re gonna make him even better for you.”
“No!” cried out Emily, “I want him back!”
Her whole world became disorientated. She wanted to reach him. No matter where she went. Vera grabbed her arm, but Emily clung back, a look of dread and, much to Vera's shock, hate on her face. She walked forwards, stumbling on some books on the floor. She fell with a whimper, feeling a sharp pain in her knee.
“CECI!” she cried out.
Staggering to her feet, she felt her way around, until her fingers made contact with the cold glass of the window. Her eyes opened and desired to see. She truly desired. Yet the only thing that greeted her gaze was the ever-familiar darkness.
The feeling of a pair of arms around her waist followed. The familiar feeling of her sister was soothing. Words reached her hearing, unfamiliar sounds of "special course", "seeing eye dog", and "return soon" swirled in her mind like forever unseen clouds. Yet only one word mattered in her mind:
8 months later
A single leaf fell in Emily’s opened hand. The morning had come, with a gentle, but cold breeze going through her hair. She didn't need a calendar to tell her the seasons. Mother nature was doing a good job by herself.
She stretched out her cane and made her way back to the house. Her feet made the grass beneath them crunch, just another sound among the many that made-up Emily's world. She was surprised by how amazingly detailed the sound could be. Even breathing. Each person had his or her kind of breathing. Hers was always steady and calm. Her sister's, by contrast, was somewhat rushed, other times sounding like the cracking of old twigs. She sighed. Sounds were always a blessing.
A few steps later, another sound, distinct from the tapping of the cane reached her ears. She halted. It was indeed the sound of feet in the grass. But to her shock, they weren't human. Her head turned, trying to determine the direction of the sound, but it moved too fast.
Her heart froze. “Who is it?” she cried out, but no reply came. Her feet refused to move until her ears had discovered the source of the sound.
A new vibration reached her ears now. It was breathing. Breathing mixed with panting, impatient, and eagerness.
Emily's mouth opened, but before any words came out, a quick series of barks cut her off. Two paws made contact with her crotch, and a very familiar tongue licked her cringed fingers. For a brief moment, Emily lost balance, falling to her side. The dog sat next to her, allowing the girl to run his hands over his back. Her eyes opened, still in darkness, but seeing through the eyes of the now overflow with a joyful heart. Her fingers made contact with something attached to the dog's back.
“Ceci” wept the girl, cleaning the tears with her sleeves.
“Told you he’ll be back sis”.
Vera’s familiar voice startled her from the euphoric state she was in. Too many questions came to her mind in too much of a short time.
“Sis, how is this possible?!”
“It was mum’s idea. We really hit the jackpot. The reason we took Ceci was that she got an offer for a free seeing-eye dog course.”
“Seeing-eye dog?” inquired Emily.
“Got that right. From now on, he’s not just a pet. He’s gonna be your eyes…sorta. He’s been trained to help you walk in town, to cross the street, bring things to you, all the sorta things you need to get around more than you do.”
Emily remained speechless. Before her mind could formulate a response to Vera, she felt her sister’s hand on her own, guiding it to the dog’s back. She picked up the leash of the harness, placing it in Emily’s outstretched fingers. The blind girl hesitated for a moment, but the excitement gave her all the encouragement she needed.
“Up Ceci!” commanded Vera.
With a bark, Ceci sprang up. Emily got up as well, confused since she had lost track of her cane. She was now dependent on the living creature at the end of the leash.
“Home, Ceci” exclaimed Vera.
With a bark, the dog turned around Emily’s legs, gently leading his master to the familiar sounds and smells of the house. My cane! How can I manage without… Her thoughts melted into her mind. They didn’t matter. Ceci was back. And that was all it mattered.
6 years later
Snow always gave Emily mixed feelings. The distinct crunch sound beneath her feet made it enjoyable to walk in, but also somewhat inconvenient. True, she did have Ceci, but even he wasn't sharp enough to find the small objects in her path, and her cane was hard to use since any potential obstacle was under five inches of snow.
Ceci looked up to her mistress, and let out a series of barks, before turning left. Emily followed his lead, still holding her cane firm. The temperature had dropped considerably, and knowing the mountainous regions, the snow was going to stick for some time.
Saying goodbye to Vera was probably the hardest thing of all. Despite all their differences, there was no denying their close ties. She was her family away from family. The rough businessman…okay businesswoman, and her, the gentle housewife. Emily giggled in her head. She remembered all the times she had tried to get Vera to learn to cook for more than eight courses. Most attempts left the kitchen in a mess which made Emily thankful that she couldn't see.
She let her mind wander. It was the first time that her blindness had become a trap. Having her room at the Montana School for the Blind dorms was good, but it still felt lonely. She had spent the first semester just getting the hang of the area, and by now, she had quite a picture in her mind of the main places of interest for her. Though she got along with the school well enough, she still needed Ceci for trips outside, and around town. He was still her very companion. The living link between her and Vera.
She felt Ceci stop, and instinctively, she did the same.
“Are we at the store?” inquired Emily gently.
No response came. She felt Ceci tense up, then let out a series of alert barks. Emily took a gentle step back, looking worried around. Her heart raced since she had no way to determine what had made Ceci act so aggressively.
The guide dog barked again, scratching the snow with its paws. Another series of barks came in reply, and Emily’s ears perceived they weren’t from her companion. They were more guttural and deep. Before the girl could react, she felt something grip her cane, and yank it from her hand with violence. This was enough to make her collapse on her side, releasing the grip on Ceci’s harness. Her fingers searched the snow in panic, looking for the cane. The familiar sounds of the town hadn’t reached her ears, so they were still somewhere on the road.
She screamed for help, but the only reply was the sharp, cold wind, and the barks of the two dogs. She distinguished Ceci quite clearly. The other dog barked violently, and a series of an incoherent mixtures of snarls, gnashing, and squealing followed. Emily gripped her arms in fright. Her entire universe was now defined by one word: FEAR. The fear of the cold. The fear of the dog that had attacked. And in the back of her head, a fear that she wanted to keep in check at all costs: the fear of losing Ceci.
A sharp yelp of pain reached her ears, followed by the sound of something violently falling in the snow next to her. The animal got up, shaking the snow from its fur, still panting for breath. It turned for a brief moment, and Emily felt a warm and familiar tongue licking her gloved hand. The touched his fur quickly and felt her glove sticky. A tide of horror struck her like a hammer. He’s bleeding. Dear God, he’s bleeding.
Before Emily could react, Ceci ran from her again, and the sound of battle resumed. Emily remained frozen in place, unable to determine which screams of pain came from which dog. She could only hope. Hope that Ceci would win. She heard the jaws of one of the dogs clamp shut, the head shaking violently. A surreal sound, a mixture of gargling, half snarl, and choking followed, then another series of barks. Emily slowly crawled in that direction, then halted. There was silence.
One of the dogs was advancing toward her. Her face was by now soaked in tears, some of which had become frozen crystals on her cheeks. A faint, but still familiar bark reached her. Ceci's voice was feint, and when the dog opened its jaws again, it coughed, and a thick drop of blood fell on Emily’s sleeve.
The dog stretched next to her, as he had done hundreds of times before. He was panting, his tongue outstretched. His side was soaked in blood, and one of his eyes was missing. He shifted his head towards his owner.
Trembling, Emily reached out her hand, touching the dog’s head. She felt a twitched in pain, but remained still. The girl’s voice seemed strange, even to herself.
“Ceci…you….no…please, stay with me!”
The dog gave one last bark, before collapsing on its side in the snow. Two or three spasms shook him, then he remained still. Emily had worked her way around until she managed to curl up next to him. Her pet's body felt unusually warm.
“It’s okay Ceci, I’m here for you.”
The cold of the snow gripped Emily as in a crystal, but her mind was still in other places. Places where the creature next to her was not broken and bloodied. Places where she could imagine him for what he was: her hero.
Flashes of remembrance filled her head. The day she received her first set of cubes with outlines formed on them. The day she cooked her first meal. The day Ceci came to their house. The photo of Vera and Ceci she would never get the chance to see.
She felt the dog's breath become more jagged, followed by a long spasm. Her fingers gripped his fur, and as if by magic, the sounds around them froze, deep in the ice of her intention. Two sounds of the same kind remained though: the sounds of their hearts beating.
Vera. Thanks for the best gift you ever gave me, sis.
They remained in that embrace for what seemed years. Emily was becoming conscious of the thing layer of snow that was starting to form on her. She didn't want to die. But part of her said that if she was going to, it might as well be here.
Slowly, other sounds were beginning to mix with the steady rhythm of the hearts. Some distant, some near, but all of them fragmented.
Hey…rabid dog…looking for.
Poor girl…school…no responsibility…
She tried her best to ignore them. Her desperate hope was to focus on the sound of the heart. With one great effort, she blocked her mind from the advancing sounds around her and opened her ears to the only sound that mattered. The heart still beats with the sound of thunder. One sound, but whose? Her mind desperately tried to make sense of it, as she felt arms removing her from her frozen embrace.
My heart. It was my heart all along.
Ceci’s had long died out.
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