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An old man walked into the woods with his dog, just as he had done every day for the past thirty years. As he walked the familiar paths, he greeted each tree with a “hello friend”, just as he had done every day for the last thirty years. The old man was kind and gentle. If he ever happened upon a rabbit, or a deer, or perhaps a fox, he would greet them with the same “hello friend” that he bestowed upon the trees. Rain, snow, wind, none of these things could keep the old man away from his beloved woods.

“Rusty,” said the old man to his dog, “you’re not the first dog I’ve been out in these woods with, and God willing, you won’t be the last. But you’re a good friend to me, and I thank you for that.”

“Whoa, whoa. What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Rusty. “Are you about to kill me or something?”

The old man’s jaw dropped as he looked down at Rusty, who met his gaze, gently panting. “Earth to Bob,” said Rusty. “You’re freaking me out.”

“R..Rusty…you can talk,” stammered the old man. “I can’t believe this.”

“Why?” countered Rusty. “You talk to animals. You talk to frigging trees. Wait, wait, you were doing that, and you didn’t know….?”

“You’ve never spoken to me before, old friend,” said the man.

“Because you’ve never freaked me the fuck out like that, Bob,” said Rusty.

The two walked quietly down the paths for a while longer.

Finally, Rusty spoke again. “Nice day, right Bob?”

“Yes,” the old man answered.

“Well, you’re actually dead,” said Rusty. “That’s why I can talk. You died in your sleep last night. This is Heaven. Helen is probably here somewhere, and I suppose your old dogs, too. Congrats, Bob. You’ve made it.”

The old man stopped walking, and was silent. He held up his hands and looked at them. They began to tremble, and the old man began to sob quietly.

“Bob, Bob. I’m kidding,” said Rusty. “You’re not dead. I’m messing with you. Lighten up.”

“I don’t understand,” said the old man. “What is happening to me? Rusty, am I losing my mind? You can talk. My dog and I are talking. I am talking to trees. To animals. My dog has told me I am dead, only to reveal that he, my dog, was playing a joke on me… I must be going crazy.”

The old man looked down to Rusty, who sat silently for a moment, before tilting his head to the side quizzically.

“Woof,” said Rusty, and he ran off to chase a squirrel.

The old man leaned against a tree, dazed and confused. A few minutes passed, and Rusty returned to the old man’s side. The two sat there quietly until the day’s light began to fade. Rusty had curled up on the ground to keep warm, and was dozing intermittently. The old man finally spoke.

“Okay Rusty, I am ready,” he said. “I am ready to go.”

Rusty raised his head, then slowly ambled to his feet. His tail began to wag.

“I am ready, Rusty, come on boy.”

The two began to walk back down the path, exiting the forest.

The next day, the two returned to the forest, and shared a silent walk in the woods.

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