Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

Journal

The Black Dog (The 52)

April 21, 2014 by Richard Wright in Journal, The 52, Writing
Every Monday I’ll post a new short story here, based on an image somebody out there has sent me. Welcome to the 52 This week I’m collaborating with comics artist Adam James, who sent along the glorious ink drawing below. There are several fairly obvious stories that this image could lead to, but I didn’t want to write those. I wrote the following instead.

The Black Dog

by Adam James and Richard Wright

the black dog

The sad woman first saw the black dog during the week of the accident she was not involved in. It slunk between the headstones of the cemetery where the bodies were buried, and it never took its eyes off her. It was an enormous, savage beast of unusual size, with filthy matted fur and evil red eyes. Ribs poked at its flanks because it was always ravenous, but it also had muscle, weight, and power. Only she could see the creature.

It snarled and drooled, and stalked the sad woman for many months after.

The calamity that she did not witness, to which she grafted new layers of searing fear and burning chaos every time she closed her eyes, was a fresh wound even two years later. The black dog appeared to her often, solidifying from the clouds of angst that clustered along routes and rituals she refused to abandon. Having evaded it for so long a time, the sad woman knew that it would crunch her to nothing in seconds if she allowed it to catch up with her.

Time did nothing to sate the fiend’s persistent hunger, but it hollows the sad woman out. She was less of a meal than before, but the black dog was fixated. It wanted her, and only her.

At a shopping mall in town, she was almost trapped. As she stepped onto the downward escalator its growl rumbled through her pelvis like a malicious orgasm, making her gasp. She looked around, terror making a startled pigeon of her. Below was a shop where once she had purchased baby clothes and a cot. The black dog waited in the doorway with its head low. Blood-rinsed eyes met hers as it slunk towards the bottom of the sliding steps. There it abandoned patience, stepping into the metal floor. Cold sweat soaked her blouse, freezing her. Three bounds were all it would take.

The stairs proved too troublesome for its tiny, hungry brain. It stumbled, then skittered back as the ground slid beneath it. When it darted forward a second time it yelped as it fell, startling the sad woman from her horror. Sobbing, she raced the wrong way up the escalator, heart hammering as she struggled to outpace the descent. It took a long, frustrating minute, during which she stuttered a dozen apologies to the grumbling shoppers who were compelled to clear her path. Pointing down in explanation, she told them that the monster wanted her, but that they were safe. It would ignore them, because she was the only prey it desired.

Nobody looked reassured.

At the top of the escalator she looked back at her nemesis. Her abandoned shopping bags were at its feet, shredded and coated with drool. It stood with one paw on her ruined purchases, as though daring her to retrieve them. She did not rise to the challenge.

A few days later the sad woman was in her car, cruising along the motorway. The vehicle had been hers for only eighteen months, a compact replacement for the family-sized four-by-four she once owned. As she passed the exit that haunted her nightmares that subterranean growl trembled up her spine.

Checking the side mirror, she found it bulleting along in the emergency lane behind her, ears down and lips drawn back. Strings of mucus trailed from its maw. The sad woman eased her foot down on the accelerator as her bladder pulsed. Ever since the accident that did not involve her she had been uncomfortable at speed, especially when she was unable to give the road ahead her full attention. The mirrors wanted to suck her in, and it was all she could do to resist the urge to look over her shoulder and see how near the beast was. Objects in a rear view mirror, she knew, were closer than they appeared.

As she approached her own exit from the motorway, the dog vanished. The half hour pursuit had exhausted the thing, but her drive home through the suburbs was still marked with paranoia. It could pounce from any of the gardens she passed, where families had scattered toys over neat lawns, and crush her beneath its weight.

Nights were the worst. Sprawled on the sofa, she drank gin and watched reality shows that bore no resemblance to any reality she knew. Outside, the black dog padded through the streets. It snuffled the trails of loneliness and regret that oozed from her, following them to her home. Sometimes it howled, a crude expression of savage longing.

Before midnight struck she would bolt the doors and windows and retreat upstairs. The bed that waited was too big for a single person. The pillows had not smelled of cologne for many months, but that did not prevent her from remembering that they once had.

The alcohol took her different ways each night. Sometimes it cleared out great pits in her where hate and anger could pool, and she lay awake with a bestial snarl on her lips that would shock her with its familiarity. Other times it washed her in a vast grief that she could no longer set free with tears. Her face had long forgotten how to cry, and so her trapped pain grew septic and rancid where it puddled in the caverns of her heart.

She missed them both so very much. Time did nothing to make that bearable, making liars of all the friends who had told her that it would.

After an hour or two her eyes would drift shut, and only then would she hear the black dog creaking and sniffing around the edge of her bed. Already in freefall towards sleep and nightmare, she never managed to open her eyes and see. When she thought back in the mornings she was glad. Acknowledging its hulking presence would be the signal it needed to attack. That much was certain.

The black dog had been the sad woman’s nemesis for so long that she was paralysed with mixed emotions when the bus knocked it over.

It happened outside the gym, where she had been following the advice of her few remaining friends and trying to sweat away her sorrow. It did not work. While her body pushed and pulled things, her mind was free to wander where it would. It always chose the same weary destination.

As the glass doors opened onto the street she felt the beast’s rumble crush the everyday cacophony, rising up through her feet and shooting along frayed nerves to her heart and brain. Across the road, where old women with shopping trolleys queued at a bus shelter, the black dog crouched beside a rubbish bin. It saw her at the same moment she found it, and sprang to its feet. There was nowhere to run, and they both knew it. The black dog waited for a long moment, perhaps wondering whether she would try anyway.

The sad woman gave a single sob and surrendered. The chase had lasted too long. She did not have the energy to sustain it further.

The dog leaped, all its attention on her.

The bus clipped its haunches with a solid crash, sending it spinning. The sad woman watched it slide to a stop in the middle of the road, its torso heaving as it panted in pain and terror. It lifted its head to look at her, front paws twitching as though it believed it could drag itself the rest of the way. Its back legs were still. Dogs did not usually weep, she knew, but this one proved the exception. Thick tears, grey with salt and sorrow, poured down its muzzle. Was there frustration in its heart, to find itself thwarted at the last?

The sad woman did not run, although it occurred to her that this was her chance to do so. If she fled then she would be free of the thing. There would be no further need to watch the shadows, to hold herself ready. There would be no need to focus on the world around her, staying attuned to its rhythms and alert to the subtle shifts that might hearken its arrival.

If she fled, the rest of the world would no longer have meaning for her, because she would be alone.

She jogged to her car and brought it around. Ignoring a dozen curious stares and the blaring of irritable car horns, she opened the back door and dragged the black dog in. It looked at her with something like gratitude, if gratitude were sharp and angry, and whimpered as she manhandled it.

That night she placed it on the bed, then climbed in beside it and waited. For a while the black dog panted, its rancid breath billowing through the room. Tired of waiting, she rolled over to face it, drinking deep of its cancerous odour. Its red glare was an abyss.

“I want you,” she told it. “I want you to fill me up.”

The black dog clamped its jaws over her mouth, silencing her and making a pincushion of her face.

They lay like that for a short while, the woman and the monster that was only partial metaphor. Their breaths worked in tandem, her exhalations filling the beast’s lungs, and the beast filling her own in return. Soon it was not merely breath that transferred. Like a grotesque balloon animal, the black dog began to deflate. The sad woman felt it crush further into her mouth on every breath.

First its tailbones scraped her throat, and then the hot filth of its intestines and their contents followed. The sad woman cried as it slurped into her, turning itself inside out. The black dog felt heavy on her stomach, but soon spread further. Its weight added to her own as its heart and lungs smashed their way into her mouth, making her limbs and organs impossibly heavy. Within minutes the only sign that the black dog had shared her bed was a bitter aftertaste on her tongue.

The black dog’s power and malice lay beneath the sad woman’s skin. Accepted, made welcome, it gave her the strength to do what she needed to make the sadness go away.

 

Adam James is the up-and-coming artist behind the horror comic tentatively titled “Night Terrors”, along with several other projects underway. He currently resides in Nebraska with his half-Velocioraptor/half-dog Daisy, wife, and two young sons.

 

This story, and the whole of The 52, is yours for free. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll also check out my latest novel The Flesh Market. Thanks!

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