The first time it happened, Colette was out with some people and needed an excuse to get away without hurting feelings. “I’ve got to get home to my dog,” she said. “Don’t want him peeing on the carpet. You know how it is.” And the people she was out with laughed and nodded and traded stories of their own peeing pets as Colette got the heck out of there. “Good luck with your pooch!” said Gary, though the truth was, Colette had no such animal.
The imaginary pet excuse worked so well the first time, Colette used it again and again. Out on a crappy date gone horribly south? “Gotta get home and let the dog out! So sorry!” If she really wanted to make a hasty escape? “I’ve got two dogs at home! Time to give ’em a bathroom break!” And it always, always worked.
In fact, it worked so well, Colette sometimes felt a genuine pang of guilt if she stayed out too long. She actually felt she had a real animal waiting in the apartment for her. This was awesome when it came to projecting convincing believability and ensuring a trouble-free escape. But maybe not so awesome when she started to rush home because of the imaginary pet, and when she started skipping social engagements altogether so she could be there for Casey the make-believe Irish Setter or Frenchie the cockapoo or Turnip the chihuahua, whichever dog she was imagining at that particular time.
Still, Colette managed to get by all right until her one blind date turned out to be a German Shepherd named Chang. Things got weird when Colette mentioned her dogs, and Chang started to sniff every square inch of her right there in the middle of the steakhouse. It didn’t take long for him to start with the growling and accusations; he knew from the lack of dog scents on her that she was lying. She disgusted him, pretending to be a dog lover when she wasn’t even a dog owner. He couldn’t even smell a cat or a hamster or a goldfish on her, for dog’s sake! “I’m going to out you in front of this whole restaurant as a complete fraud! Prepare to be humiliated!”
Before Chang could live up to his threat, though, he suddenly yelped and swung around. He snapped at the air around him, as if he were trying to bite something no one else could see. Then, he flew across the room, hit the wall, and slid down to the floor. He thrashed in a puddle of knocked-over beer, snarling and yapping, and then he convulsed and fell silent.
A moment later, Colette felt something brush against her leg. Something furry and invisible. She jumped when she felt two unseen paws snap onto her kneecaps. She heard sniffing and whining from the thin air in front of her, and her heart pounded like a piston in her chest. “Chili? Is that you?” Reaching out, she felt a furry head she couldn’t see. “Turnip? Casey? Icarus?”
But her only answer was panting and the pressure of paws on her knees. “Turk? Winchell? Thank you for saving me! Now please show yourself!” There was nothing at first…and then she glimpsed a black-furred head begin to coalesce. Begin to reveal itself from the empty air.
And at the same time as the glossy black paws began to materialize, Colette realized she herself was fading from view. For a split-instant between transformations, she and the new dog crossed paths and could see each other’s faces. The imaginary dog, as it panted, looked like it was laughing at her.
And then, with a whimper, Colette was gone.