Kat did not know what to do. Her favourite ball had gone. Well, rather flown. Over the wall into the next garden, that was. One moment, she had been playing enthusiastically, the next moment a blue and green flurry had waved her good-bye and dropped out of sight.
Now, what was she supposed to do? Her parents had told her never to go into the neighbor's garden, and she knew exactly why - big signs all around the garden told her. "Beware of big dog." She had heard it, too, yowling at night sometimes, maybe a bit more often around the full moon, and she had always been afraid of what must be a terrible beast.
It was cold, and standing around thinking (with a finger in her nose, which never failed her when looking for good ideas) soon made Kat even colder. Her mother had packed her thoroughly, pink woolly hat and gloves and the blue jacket she also wore during ski vacation. Her long brown hair had been tucked under the hat, but had come out again after only a few minutes of running around. Kat didn't like the pink stuff, but her mother had insisted. "If you don't wear them, you won't go out. And don't let me catch you without them."
Snow flakes started drifting out of the sky, slowly, without sound. The garden was all covered in white already, and there were icicles hanging from the roof. It was getting darker. Kat knew that in a few minutes her mother would call her back inside, and her green and blue ball would probably be lost for got. She went to the back of the garden, where she could not be spotted from the kitchen window, and climbed up the old apple tree until she could see over the wall.
Kat never got her ball back. That afternoon, even bevore her mother had called her for dinner, she came running back inside, out of breath from playing outside, red cheeks, bright eyes. "I'm cold, I want to play in my room." Her mother checked to see whether Kat had developed a fever, but obviously everything was alright with the girl. Maybe it had simply gotten too cold. Or she had gotten tired of playing on her own, who knew? Eleven years, such a difficult age...
Kat had dinner with her family that night, then she went into her room to finish her homework. Later at night, she lay in bed, and it was dark and the tree outside her window kept tapping against the window pane with soft movements. Her heart was beating fast, and she did not dare close her eyes for fear of what might come haunt her in her dreams. She thought of what she had seen in the neighbor's garden - a barren place, no plants except for an old yew tree with some red berries where the birds hadn't picked them off already. A small hut in the far corner. A long rope leading from a metal ring in the wall to the throat of what might have been a young man, if it hadn't been for the fur. Standing upright, covered in coarse brownish-grey hair with dirty patches. He had no clothes, but didn't seem to mind the cold, and only partially hidden by the coarse hair, between crooked-shaped short legs, hung greyish genitalia that resembled nothing Kat had ever seen in her biology class books - shriveled and crooked and larger than she had imagined. Feet and hands ended in crooked claws, but other than that were perfectly human. The face had been distorted somehow, as if someone had modelled it from clay and smashed it because ha had not been happy with the results. The being - man - had held her ball in his hands and sniffed at it with interest showing plainly on the strange face. Then he had looked up and right at her face, showing about the wall. It had made a step in her direction, and Kat had dropped out of sight immediately. Surely the rope was not long enough for the - thing - to come over to her?
Kat's parents soon realized that their little girl was not intent on playing in the garden any more. She also did not want to help with planting and gardening any more - she said it was boring and that she did not like the garden. Instead, she stayed in her room or went outside to meet other children. They were growing up so fast...