SHE CAME HOME as usual that evening and walked up the steep, rustic steps to her home in the canyon, carefully avoiding Oscar, a five-inch European garden slug ( Limax maximus ) on the seventh step from the gate.
He (actually he/she because slugs are hermaphroditic, each possessing male and female gonads; the woman, a biologist by training, thought of him as Oscar/Oscarina, but that is another story) seemed to feel that the seventh step was part of his territory. He could usually be found in the slow, laborious process of oozing across the step to the other side of the hillside garden when the woman returned from work.
Reaching the house, she was greeted by Betty, her little dachshund. Instead of taking Betty for a walk as she normally did, she let the dachshund out into the garden while she prepared supper. Chopping onions and peppers, she drifted off into her thoughts. Vaguely she heard Betty barking somewhere in the garden.
Sometime later, she realized Betty was no longer barking. She opened the window and called. Silence . . . or possibly a faint noise that sounded like "mrph." Suddenly frightened, the woman ran out to the steps and saw Betty in the dim light down near the seventh step. The little dog was prancing about but strangely silent. The woman rushed to the site. Horrified, she found herself staring at a weird apparition: Betty with a muzzle ending in a huge, bristling ball of grass and leaves.