The vineyards snaked through the fog, the rust-coloured vines creating a pattern that led nowhere - just up and up until they disappeared. Martha ran along the lakeshore, hoping to clear some of the cobwebs from her mind. "Out, damn spot," she muttered to the wind. The frosty Halloween evening had invited her openly into its shadows and the fog had set the stage for her active imagination. Sighing, Marsha tried to focus on the pain in her side instead of the pain in her heart. It had only been six years, she reminded herself. That would sound foolish to those who had never experienced a loss of ... Marsha dug in her heels and came to a full stop. What was that?
A wisp of fog hung conspicuously low, creeping along the ground, winding its way through the big roots of the sycamores growing along the lakeshore. Marsha hugged herself and strained her eyes in the muggy darkness of an October night. The wisp bounced over the rocks and across the sand. She could just catch occasional glances of it as it seemed to dip a toe into the ice cold water and then retreat. Just like .... oh, my God - like Barnum! Marsha fought the tears as she remembered her beloved puppy. Sweet, funny Barnum, who had run along the lakeshore, teasing the waves with his silly rushes and retreats, refusing to come back to her and Pete until they had joined him at the water's edge.
Marsha felt the familiar pain rush through her heart and into her throat where the flood of tears hid until she could no longer force them back. Just then, the wisp of fog twisted and did a somersault, rolling over and over as it formed into a white, furry ball of energy. Marsha hurried to the next opening in the brush and peered between the trees as the ball bounced off of a rock and landed partly in the water. Blinking and then squinting, Marsha left the path, crossing the open beach and peering along the shore. No sign of the little furry ball anywhere. Marsha sighed with disappointment. Just as she was going to start back to the path, Marsha looked down and froze. There, in the sand, were four perfect paw prints, and laying beside them was a tiny heart-shaped rock. Marsha bent down and wrapped her cold fingers around the smooth rock. Holding it in the palm of her hand, Marsha lifted her eyes to the stars twinkling in the sky where the mountains rose above the valley fog. "Barnum, you old trickster. You always knew how to make me smile." Marsha grinned broadly, wiped the one remaining tear from her cheek, and nodded. Ready to go home now.
Barnum barked once, as he lifted his nose to the sky. Marsha's body slowly dissolved and disappeared, leaving the dog alone on the beach. He barked again and turned, running back along the familiar path.
"Barnum! Come on, boy." With one look back, Barnum dashed to Pete's side. "I know, boy. I miss her, too," his master whispered. Man and dog matched each other's steps as they moved closer to the bright yard light of their lakeside home.