It was winter. Thin city snow sprinkled black trash bags and the green-yellow dead grass of dormant lawns. It was mostly a clear night; the moon was high in the sky and surrounded by a blue-white halo of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Alli was out on an evening walk after work with her dog. Her dog was a German shepherd named Rufus. She liked to think the brown parts of his coat were the color of ginger ale.
Back at home, she sat down in the downstairs living room to watch the evening news, Jeopardy and some of the gossip shows. The moonlight coming though the drapes of the bay window had dimmed. She got up to get some water and looked out. The moon was lost in voluminous dark gray clouds, its lighthouse beam reduced to a faded and fuzzy signal that strained as if shining from underwater or from behind heavy cloth. Even with the clouds, the moon and the sky were still beautiful. Alli got herself a glass of water and sat back down on the couch.
Alli noticed Rufus was in an interesting mood. He normally lay near her feet when she watched television. He was lying near the window looking up at it as if with his supersonic hearing he could hear something rustling that she couldn’t. Maybe someone was outside putting out trash and traipsing across their lawn down the street. Or maybe there were cats outside who were going to trigger the motion-sensor light around the back of the house near the garage. Her dad used to chase them away, along with the squirrels that ate up the birdseed in the backyard’s birdhouses. Whatever it was, Rufus soon lost interest and came to lie across her feet.
Or perhaps whatever it was had come inside the house, because movement flickered in Alli’s peripheral vision. She naturally turned her gaze toward it and froze, a familiar and unwelcome pins-and-needles feeling spreading over her arms, neck and shoulders. Sitting near the doorway to the foyer, was another dog, a black dog with white eyes and fur that seemed to move and wiggle, like fire or smoke. Otherwise it looked like a normal dog and was just sitting there panting. Other than its ghostly appearance it did not look frightening but Alli still felt terrified.
It did not disappear or lunge or do anything. Alli became more puzzled than terrified. She didn’t want to look away from it lest it move or attack or disappear, but she had to glance at Rufus. He had not done anything. He hadn’t leapt up or barked or even shifted from his position of lying across her feet. Alli naturally took this as a sign that Rufus was not frightened or angered. But he could see it. He was looking at it – placidly, even perhaps in boredom or out of a strange sort of familiarity – but he was looking at it, which made Alli feel tense. Unless Rufus was hallucinating too, she wasn’t the only one seeing the ghost dog.
Alli reluctantly dragged her eyes back in the direction of the foyer, hoping it was gone, had disappeared in the fleeting seconds she had taken to observe Rufus’ reaction. It was still there. Alli felt a sinking feeling of dread like the bottom had dropped out of her stomach. Still she could not move. And before her eyes the dog transformed. As if it were made of mist it changed into a human form – a human outline drawn by pencil thin lines filled with what looked like white-gray campfire smoke. The human form was not a monster – it was pleasant to look at, normal even, a young woman around her age in a sweater and jeans, bespectacled with long, light-colored gray-scale hair. In Alli’s peripheral vision, Rufus had not reacted at all. In fact, the figure had taken up enough of his time and he gone back to watching television.