A pair of French doors opened onto a broad veranda that extended the full length of the house, offering an unimpeded view of the overgrown backyard. Narrow paths, worn down through knee-deep grass, wended around the outer edge of the yard along the fence row, with an occasional side path meandering deeper into the meadow.
Bailey laid with his nose pressed to one of the lower door panes, adding another layer of dog snot to the already frosted glass. He patiently waited with the groundless, sanguine hopes only a canine can possess.
It had been more than five sleeps since Master was home. Bailey had only left his sentry position to eat and, when the girl person let him outside, relieve himself.
It was his job to be vigilant, as a good guard dog must.
From the living room, Patty sat watching the ancient Labrador. Hired by the family to tend to the dog while he’s owner, Jake, was away, at first she came by three times a day to feed and let the dog walk around the yard. Now, she practically lived at the opulent, if vacant house.
Patty wasn’t told anything about Bailey’s owner, only that he was “unavailable.” She wasn’t complaining. The money was great, and the dog was low maintenance. If he wasn’t pining at the back door, he was racing through the maze of rabbit warren pathways in the yard looking for Master.
Having dozed off while lying on the living room couch, Patty was startled awake by Bailey’s insistent barking. He was pawing at the door and spinning in tight circles. Thinking he was agitated by a squirrel, Patty tried to get to the door before the dog broke the glass.
Expecting him to tear across the yard, chasing an invisible critter, Patty was bewildered when Bailey instead, bound to the edge of the veranda, and sat obediently. His tail sweeping the dirt and dried leaves scattered over the deck, Bailey cocked his head occasionally, like he was listening to his Master’s voice.
A disturbing stillness settled over the yard. The only sound was the swish of Bailey’s tail stirring the debris on the deck. Patty stood next to the dog, absently scratching him behind the ears, and peered out into the swaying grass. Move by a silent wind, the grass parted, as if something, or someone, was walking toward the house.
Bailey, his whole body twitching with excitement, took off running towards a slowly materializing man. Dressed in jeans and a dark T-shirt, the man was in his early 20s, tall with russet hair.
Kneeling down, the man gathered the dog into a slobbery embrace, letting Bailey nuzzle and lick his face. After a moment, Bailey ran back to Patty, Nudging her hand, and pulling at her shirt tail, he pushed her to leave the veranda.
Walking beside her as she slowly made her way to the shimmering figure, Bailey’s tongue lolled out of his mouth, a doggy smile on his face.
“Thanks for taking such good care of Bailey,” the man said. “I’m Jake.”
“Yeah, I figured,” Patty said. “This must be what the family meant when they told me you were ‘unavailable’.”
“Right, about that,” Jake said. “I’m dead.”