The black dog


I’m writing a story for Hallowe’en, because I like traditions. Yes, you might argue, the best time for ghost stories is Christmas, but I’ve started doing them at Hallowe’en now and so I’m trapped in a tradition of my own making. And yes, I’ve not done many of them so I might just up and break this.. look, whose blog is this, yours or mine? Thank you.

Anyway. I’m writing it. And I’m circling back to an idea I have had before, but never used. I’m back to it because I think it’s creepy, but I’m not sure exactly where to take it. I’m tempted to take it to fairytale territory, because fairytales are folk tales, and what are folk tales but the raw, crystallised fears of our ancestors?

Walking alone down a dark road at night, the trees closing over your head, far from home, the moon blotted by cloud. You hear footsteps – behind you? Beside you? Ahead of you? The echoes of the place make it impossible to tell. You stop, listen, but it is silent. They stopped when you did.

Sensible head on – it’s your own footsteps, echoing. You’re a sophisticated human being, you know that.

Fearful head on – you’re being followed. No. It’s worse than that. You are being tracked. But by what?

This is why I read books of folklore, because they answer that question. The Devil, sometimes. A horseman. A giant dog. The spirit of one you have wronged. Situations like the one above, or any number of others (a mysterious rock in the middle of a ploughed field, a scorch mark on a door, a pile of unidentified bones) are like Rorschach tests, and whatever stories build around them are good indicators of what really scared our forebears. And, since they’re not really any different, what scares us. As I said, I like traditions.

So take that a step further and the Black Shuck becomes the Big Bad Wolf, not just a malign presence but an active foe, to be bargained with, outwitted, defeated. The crystal is refined, polished, and becomes a prism. We view our past through the stories it tells us; sometimes we call them tales, sometimes we call them history.

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