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Black Dog

There's always been a lot of talk in these parts of 'the black dog', or 'the beast'. A lot of the stories seem to follow a night spent supping the local ale in The Hen and Chicks, but some have come from staid and sensible folk, driving home late at night, or out walking their terriers or labradors in the fields. The recurring theme is that of a menacing beast, slavering mouth, teeth the size of obelisks.

This is my own 'black dog' story:

I'd been out with friends, so called, drifting from a party to the nearby pub, to an acquaintance's house. It was one of those hollow nights, where everyone was trying a bit too hard and no-one was having much fun. I ran out of patience with it about eleven o'clock and suggested to my friend, Kelly, that we should head home. She looked at me like I'd sprouted a walking frame and twin-set, and told me in no uncertain terms that I could go if I wished but I wasn't going to spoil her evening, then stalked off to flirt with one of the guys.

I know, so far nothing new. Two girls go to a party. Two girls fall out. Standard procedure. The upshot was, I walked home alone, in the dark, at eleven o'clock, through the deserted streets.

I was nervous, jumping at shadows, walking as fast as my heels would allow. I kept hearing noises, nothing definable, but enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand out. But actually, walking through the town was alright, there were streetlights, and a lot of the houses still had lights on. I had the sense of not being entirely alone.

Then I reached the lane.

I know it now, I knew it then, it was madness to attempt that walk on my own, dressed as I was, in the middle of the night. Our village was about a mile down that lane, and I reckon now it must be the most desolate and forsaken mile in the world.

I stumbled along, ridiculous heels clickety clacking on the tarmac, scared half witless, when a man suddenly appeared behind me. I sensed him before I saw him. Something alerted me and when I glanced over my shoulder there he was, not more than six feet away.

I couldn't see his face for the dark, but in silhouette I could see he was at least a foot taller than me and a good deal heavier. And he was coming for me. I started to run.

It wasn't like in dreams, where you're trying to run but you feel like your legs are caught in syrup. I was sprinting, fast. I could feel the wind in my hair, I could hear my heels striking the road, my lungs were heaving, my heart pounding. But he was faster, and he had better shoes.

When his hand landed on my shoulder I screamed. I screamed and kicked out, catching him on the shin, jerking back with my elbows to catch him in the midriff. He let go and I started to run again, but it was useless. He was stronger. And now he was angry.

He grabbed me by the hair and pulled my head back. It hurt so much I saw stars. He had his other hand on my throat and he was pushing me down. I tried to fight, to scratch at him, scrabbling with my feet to land another kick. And all the time I was thinking, 'should have gone to self-defence class, like Mum wanted.'

He pushed me to the ground and pinned me there with his knee. I was still fighting back any way I could, but that just made him madder. He punched me in the face. I was stunned, blinking back tears, trying to get my brain to stop rattling. He grinned and started ripping at my clothes.

And then there was the growl.

That's all it was. A growl. Not loud, not long, but it resonated. The man actually whimpered. I would have laughed if I hadn't been so scared myself. We both looked up and there he was, the black dog, and he looked about as mean as a dog can. Not that he had teeth like obelisks, or eyes of flaming red or any of that nonsense, but I suppose what he had was potential.

The man staggered away from me, holding his hands out in supplication. The dog stepped towards us, and the man fled, pounding back along the road the way we'd come. Any relief I felt soon passed. Now I was alone with the beast. My situation had not improved.

But the dog watched the man run then he sat, like a well trained spaniel, looking at me. I pushed myself up, brushing stones from my hands and legs, watching the dog the whole time. When he saw I was ready to go, he got to his feet and turned to face the village, looking over his shoulder at me. I got the message. We walked side by side, me wincing at my bruises, he ever watchful for my attacker.

He stopped when we reached my gate and sat, watching me intently. I wanted to stroke him, to offer him food or water, but something stopped me. I walked to the front door pulling my keys from my bag and looked back. The black dog was still there, but he was hazy, such that I blinked to try and clear my eyes. As I stepped inside, he faded into the darkness.

All these years later, stories of the black dog prevail, still riddled with menace and fangs. But I'll tell you this, the black dog is no beast. You might call him an angel. I call him my guardian.


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


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