Saturday, 2 September 2017

'The Black Dog of Zero'

The third story in the Sarob anthology Darkly Haunting is by the Welsh surrealist Rhys Hughes. It concerns Colin, who we meet in the pub with his mates, counting down to his twentieth birthday. Due to a mix-up Colin's friends go on to a club without him, and he can't find them. Yet they remain convinced that he was with them. What might this have to do with the black dog Colin encounters on his futile, drunken quest?

We move on to Colin's thirtieth, and this time thing seem set to go well. He is on a winter holiday with his girlfriend. But again a glimpse of a mysterious black dog coincides with confusion, loss, a sense of failure and betrayal. And so the pattern repeats itself as the protagonist reaches forty, and fifty, as the black dog of zero returns to blight Colin's landmark birthdays.

A black dog is an ambiguous creature in folklore, sometimes hostile, occasionally benevolent. Here the creature embodies the obsession anyone might feel as they close another decade having not achieved what they hoped to. Eventually, when he reaches sixty, Colin decides to wait for the dog with a loaded shotgun. But the confrontation does not go as one might expect. An enigmatic tale about growing old, then, and of a man haunted by the familiar 'What if...?'

That's all for now. More from this running review in due course. Just two more tales to go!

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