The paw tracks appear on the coldest February mornings, just as Brad is leaving for work. We replaced the carpet and painted when we moved in, but a cold track appears just the same. A thin edge of ice reveals the print of a Labrador-sized dog. Just the one set of prints, from the edge of the tile in the kitchen to the middle of the great room carpet. Brad ignores them. He doesn’t want to be tied down by pets or be one of those families who resort to externalizing their problems—his words, said while talking me down from an anxiety attack. No ghosts. No brain tumors hallucinations. Ill-fitting seals. Breathe.
Brad doesn’t know, but I put a bowl of water down in the morning before I plug in the phone and log in to work. Sometimes a chill comes to settle against my legs while I’m talking or typing, and it reassures me.
I had just filled the bowl when the wind started. A gust shuddered the back door, which doesn’t extend all the way to the jam. It was just below freezing and the thump of the door was followed by a rattle. My first thought was bones banging against the door, dead clouds dropping their bird-bone knuckles on us. Panic swung me around. I saw the sleet hitting the window.
Something squeaked. I thought it was me, strangling my own yell. There wasn’t anyone here to talk me down. A chill folded around my ankles and another burst of sleet shattered against the window. Something grey rose up in the window and before I could think “Brad’s grill cover” a thick grey mouth hit the glass.
A frozen shark attacked the window. Another burst of wind, another glimpse of icicle teeth, a frozen white underbelly and a tiny black eye. This time, the teeth scratched the window and broke. My ankles warmed up as a shadow coalesced by the back door, barking. The water bowl fell, shattering against the tile.
Stormlight filled the kitchen with cold grey and I saw the shark drawn back into the yard by a heavy gust. The grill was naked and covered with ice but the grey form was no longer a cover. The leak under the door was like a riptide, pulling me closer to the monster in my backyard, tugging me over the slick, gritty remnants of the water bowl. The thin rug in front of the door ruched up and the wind dropped. My feet were bleeding.
A grey hunger slammed the window again. A loud crack webbed the window. Over the sound of the wind and the heavy sounds of the creature inflating in each gust, I heard a sharp bark and then something slapped the door; something heavy.
The shark hesitated, some of the ice cracking from its skin. The door thumped again and I took a breath. “Get ‘im, boy.” I grabbed the knob, flipped the lock, and opened the back door.
Ice teeth bared, the grey form surged forward. Before it reached the door sill, the nose crumpled and the frozen skin cracked. It snapped at me, unfolding a jaw that was lined with glassy teeth. It was larger than I was and my feet were still bleeding across the tile. It writhed, straining just to the sill, close enough that I could feel the massive cold swelling into the house.
An impact dented its side and it turned, snapping onto something I couldn’t see. Then it was dragged down on the concrete, skin shattering, teeth breaking, and the great black eye—a frozen leave, I saw now, rolling off the edge of the porch.
I was so cold. Sleet hammered against the tile. “Come here, come on, come back in,” I said. Over and over, trying to call something back into the house. My legs were too cold to feel anything subtle. The soles of my feet burned against the cold grit. I stared at the uncovered grill, the crushed cover, and the sleet covering the lawn. It had turned to snow. A track of prints dashed around the yard.