About a month after the dog went missing, and a week after we’d given up looking for her, I noticed a white man standing in our driveway.
Richie had already gone to bed, and the only reason I was still awake at such an hour was because I forgot to put out the recycling, which is why I noticed the white man in our driveway.
There was a time in my life when such an occurrence would’ve undoubtedly frightened me, but at my age now, still grieving over the loss of such a perfect animal as our dog, I was simply interested in the possibility of something new happening, something actually weird. I even had a sense of the supernatural, as though something of another state altogether was taking shape.
I turned on the porch lights and opened the front door, wielding my bag of recyclables like a flail. “Hello?”
The white man stood rock-still, holding a can in one hand. He had a small cut over his left eye, almost obscured by the curly grey shoulder-length hair.
“I think you should see something,” he said.
I stayed in the doorway, determined to retreat and slam the door in his face should he make a move, but he didn’t.
He grimaced, but in a kind of handsome, sympathetic way, like James Dean, whom he otherwise looked absolutely nothing like. “I really think you should see this.”
Strange things had been going all summer. There’d been a rash of armed clown sightings, which was the kind of thing where a hoax is just as real as the real thing, and everyone was on edge heading into the big election. But that just excited me more, feeling as though I were finally privy to my own personal ordeal with something uncanny.
“Who are you?”
The white man looked hurt, disinterested, tired, pressed for time, drunk; it looked like he would lose his grip on the can any moment, but, through sheer force of will, it stayed between his fingers. He made a kind of flat line with his lips until they seemed to disappear and sighed through his nose. “Do you want to see it or not?”
I closed the door behind me. I found myself wishing now more than ever that I had the dog with me. She wasn’t actually big enough to stop a full-grown white man, but she was fierce enough to slow one down if it came to it, and her coat dark enough to make them think twice. I walked down the porch and tried to act casual, act like I owned the place, which I did, even if technically it was in Richie’s name.
I laughed. “You’re freaking me out, dude. See what?”
“You’ll see,” he said, emphasizing the wrong half of the sentence. He didn’t move so I walked past him, my heart almost getting stuck in my throat at the moment he came in arms’ reach but then settling back down as the moment passed without incident and I put a few more feet of distance between us. Then he followed me to the recycling bin. I regretted tossing my bag into the bin—I felt like I was losing a good friend and a trusted weapon—but was reassured by the presence of beer bottles on the ground, easily within reach, should I need to glass the white man.
He nodded down the alley to an even larger dumpster, its lid open but contents obscured by the dark.
“You might want to take a look,” he said.
He stayed at the mouth of the alley as I walked towards the dumpster, by curiosity struggling with my paranoia through every step, each one feeling heavier than the last as though gravity was settling in around my ankles and holding my down. The white man said nothing, didn’t move, stayed in the light of the corner streetlamp watching me. I got closer to the lips of the open dumpster but was given no hint of what was inside it, the outline of the metal frame barely visibly under the diffused pink glow of the polluted sky.
The possibility of the supernatural had been what talked me out of being scared of the monsters under my bed or in my closet or outside my window as a kid. I could recognize based on my limited understanding of the natural world that it was genuinely impossible for there to be an ordinary threat under my bed, like an actual murderer—there simply wasn’t space for one under there. Thus if something grabbed my foot as it hung off the side of the mattress then it would be something supernatural, something genuinely out of my world and thus out of my hands, and what could be done about that? If something supernatural happened to me the best I could do is experience it.
That was the dominant theory at the time, but confronted with the open dumpster all my fears came rushing back to me, natural and supernatural, and I couldn’t talk a single one of them down.
I got right on the brim. I imagined all of the non-supernatural things that could be in there—our missing dog, a man with a knife and a rope, a dead body—and realized that my logic didn’t work at all.
“This is stupid,” I yelled, frightening myself with the volume of my own voice. “It’s too late to go digging in trash!”
I turned around and it was like all the gravity gave way, lifting me back to the mouth of the alley as though in one bound. I took no chances, pre-emptively shouldering the white man with some force as I sprinted past him in case he tried to do the same to me. He stumbled and finally dropped his can, falling against a wall.
“Hey,” he called out to me. “Don’t be scared. I really think you need to see this.”
But I was already halfway back to Richie’s place.
My heart was pumping so fast I had to take two Tylenol PM in addition to my usual Benadryl to fall asleep, and because it was the weekend I got to sleep in.
In the morning Richie made us coffee and showed me his phone.
“Have you ever heard of this thing called Yelp?”
“Yelp? Yeah, like a thousand years ago.”
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “You can look up all these different places to eat.”
“Listen,” I said. “Some creep showed up last night when I took out the recycling.”
“Whoa,” he said, locking his phone. “What do you mean?”
“He said I should see something, and he followed me to the dumpsters. He wanted me to look inside one of them, and I freaked out and came home.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t wake me! What if he was a rapist?”
“I know,” I said. “It was stupid.”
Richie got up and rinsed out his mug. “Did you see what was inside?”
“No, of course not. Too weird.” He looked out the kitchen window into the opposite kitchen window of the neighboring unit. “I wonder what was in it though?”
I wanted to get mad at him for obviously putting curiosity over my safety, but it was good to know the feeling was mutual. We sat for a moment, both of us staring and thinking that it might’ve been the dog, until I finally said: “We could go back and look.”
“You think it’s still there?”
“I don’t know. Let’s go see.”
The alley looked much less unknowable in the daylight, shorter and altogether safer than I remembered from the night before. We arrived just in time to see the garbage truck backing out, blaring its warning bleeps and leaving an empty alley behind it.
We rushed to the old dumpster but it was, of course, too late. There was nothing to see.