Dawn’s alarm clock rang at three in the morning, the witching hour. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up, blearily trying to see whether or not her dog, Tuft, was lying on the bed. Putting her glasses on, Dawn determined he wasn’t, so she kicked the covers back violently and got out of bed.
“Tuft! Here, Tuft!” she called as she pulled on a dressing gown and shoved her feet into old, battered brown slippers. The medium sized mutt came running into the room, his tongue lolling, and began to sniff her frantically. Dawn bent down to pet him, and said, in the kind of voice usually reserved for babies, “Walk? Want to go for a walk? There’s a good boy!”
Five minutes later, she’d exchanged her slippers for flip-flops, and was walking down 45th Street, Tuft pulling at his leash. It wasn’t cold, exactly, but there was a dampness in the air, and Dawn could smell the air coming off the river. She walked slowly, letting Tuft sniff out this lamp-post and that car, and held her small can of mace tightly in her other hand. You couldn’t be too careful, that’s what her mother always said.
It was at the corner of 45th and and 9th that it happened. Tuft stopped, growling, and Dawn stopped too. Once before, Tuft had saved her from interrupting a drug-deal that had been going down in the middle of Central Park in broad daylight. Dawn didn’t know how he did it, but the dog was something special. She looked around now for the source of whatever it was that was making Tuft nervous. The streets were almost deserted though. A lone truck was trundling down 9th Avenue, but it was moving away from her. 45th Street appeared empty both in front and behind her. “What do you see, Tuft?” she murmured to him. “What do you smell?”
The dog was looking straight up, and his nose was wriggling furiously. He stood up on his hind legs and pawed the air. He growled as he fell back to the ground and then did it again. Dawn had never seen him act like this. She looked up, too.
An object was floating high above her. It looked like a badly put together Lego space-ship. But it couldn’t be a space-ship… could it? As she watched, lights winked on and off on different parts of the misshapen thing. Suddenly, a spotlight went on and blinded her, framing her and Tuft in its beam. She winked hard, trying to adjust herself to the sudden light and to see something through it. But it was impossible, there was no way she could see past it. Shielding her eyes, she knelt down, leaning over Tuft and hugging him. He was still growling.
“What is it what is it what is it what is it?” she muttered. “This can’t be, this is like a bad science fiction movie, this is ridiculous, this is-” but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She fell silent, shaking with fear now, and bent her head over the dog, breathing in his scent, which as gross as it was – and, amazingly, a corner of her mind was rational enough to think to itself that Tuft needed a bath – the smell felt more real than anything she’d just seen.
Tuft began to bark now, trembling in her arms. Dawn heard what sounded like an echoing bark, as if in answer, and the spotlight went off. The darkness blinded her now as much as the light had at first. She looked at Tuft and then looked up at the floating thing, and then back down at Tuft. He was still growling and barking alternately, and she realized he was trembling with anger, not fear. It was as if a dog had come into his territory and had threatened him.
Looking up again, Dawn watched as the space-ship, or whatever it was, floated a little way down 9th Avenue. Tuft was now wagging his tail and his hackles were going down. He licked Dawn’s face, but she kept looking up, watching the thing hover onward. Tuft barked again, and Dawn, surprised by the loud noise right in her ear looked at him. When she looked back into the sky, there was nothing there.
For the second time that night, she said “What the…?”
When Dawn got to work at five, she picked up one of the newspapers that had been delivered to the convenience store that she owned. There wasn’t anything in it about tests on flying crafts done in Manhattan or about strange blimps being sent into the sky around three in the morning. There wasn’t even some splashy article about how the alien-nuts were warning everyone that there would be ETs coming to earth one of these days. Nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever.
Dawn threw the newspaper down, opened the locks on the door, and went inside. She turned on all the lights immediately and looked around, making sure there was nothing weird lurking in the room. Finally, as she set up the till and began counting the money that had been in it over the night, she decided to shrug the whole thing off.
“New York,” she said aloud to the empty store. “Anything can happen, right?”