Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Encounter With A Black Dog

The problem with trying to recount an event that happened darn near sixty years ago is that time tends to blend reality and fantasy together. I'll tell what I remember but whether or not that is actually what happened, well, Dear Reader, I leave such discretion up to you.
An Appalachian childhood, especially pre-Deliverance, is a precious thing, most certainly  when those years straddle the transition into modern media. Television was a relatively new thing in those Eisenhower years, but the movies were the palpably real thing-- full of stars, stories, and not too much color. The neighborhood boys around Ratcliffe Cove spent those long summer days making creek swimming holes, hunting snakes, and riding bikes.

We rode bikes everywhere, constantly. We rode bikes to church, to the local store, to the neighbors, and even to the brand new swimming pool in town. A favorite trek of some miles was the Tuesday ride to the Open Air Curb Market, a famous emporium noted for its extensive collection of newspapers (including the New York Times!), magazines (Famous Monsters of Filmland, Amazing, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), and funny books, a.k.a. comic books. All the usual suspects were sold there and before I left for the service, I had a great collection (like a number 9 Superman, number 3 Batman and the first ten or so issues of the Fantastic Four, The Flash, etc.) The new arrivals came in on Tuesday so the store would always have a few boys flipping through the comics; Mrs. Patrick, who owned and operated the store, never yelled at us for reading the comics, in part because she knew that when we came up with the scratch, we'd be back to buy the comics even if we'd read them dozens of times.
Steady work was hard to come by for a ten year old so my friends and I would come up with money by working green. That work was available because Lady Bird Johnson had yet to roar through the mountains so everyone, and I mean everyone, would drive down the road and throw their trash out of the car windows. Along certain stretches of road, it looked like winter year 'round because the shoulders were white with trash. There our fortune would lie--- coke bottles. Glass bottles could be retrieved and turned into the grocery stores for the princely sum of a penny per bottle, later escalating to a nickel if I remember correctly. That, and a little begging from mama, was how I funded my comic books and my other great passion-- the movies.
Downtown Waynesville had two theatres: the Park and the Strand, and two drive-ins: one way out by Dayco, a really long haul on a bicycle, and one at the junction of Ratcliffe Cove Road and the main highway, so the Waynesville Drive-In was a local, er, haunt for Covers, plus it had one outstanding feature: outdoor seating. (It also had the world's greatest concession stand, with hot dogs that were just too wonderful for words.)
My buddies and I saw just about every movie that ran at the drive-in, except for those squishy icky love story things. The in-town theatres put a monthly list of movies on calendar and sometimes the image for the movie was enough to get my imagination racing. I don't recall the drive-ins producing those but if they did, I'm sure I had one. My best buds in those days all lived pretty close by and somehow we always knew what was playing at the drive-in and we'd make plans if it was something we wanted to see.
On that fateful night, we had been to a triple monster feature at the drive-in. I recall one of the movies being about a werewolf, and it was very later when we left the drive-in. The moon was just setting and the road home became very dark. No cars passed us. All the good folks were long in bed by this time, so it was just three lonely bikes, their meager lights cutting through the gloom as we pedaled up Ratcliffe Cove Road.
We were talking about something in one of the movies when we drew close to the fork in the road called Raccoon Road. One of my friends lived down that road so he was prepared to peel off to the right when someone said those utterly fateful and completely frightening words: “What's that?”
Sixty years later I'm completely unsure of what I saw, but I will tell you what I think I saw. Standing in the inside of curve was a gigantic coal black dog that looked like a monstrous Doberman Pinscher. I heard a squeaking sound and the first bike fled to the right; I could hear everyone grunting and straining with effort. The second bike blew through the curve and straight up the hill.
I thought I was pedaling as hard as I could until I drew close to the black dog. Then I saw the eyes reflecting in the light. They were fiery red and higher than my head and they were looking straight at me. I clicked the transmission lever on the bike into its fastest setting and started pumping even harder. The generator on the front tire started whining, and the light grew so bright an oncoming car would thought a train was bearing down on him.
Leaning through the curve, I started gaining on my friend. About a third of the way up the long hill to the top at the Arrington house, the second rider shot off to the right and I stole a glance at him powering up the hill to his house, leaving me alone on the deserted road with a huge black dog on my heels.
Or at least I thought he was. Unlike the people in horror movies who always look back and then fall down, I never took my eyes off the road. I also did something I'd never done before and that was climb that hill in high gear. I was a rocketing laser as I topped the hill and started down hill; gasping and wheezing, I plunged down the hill still pumping as hard as I could. Squealing tires around a couple of turns, I roared into my uncle's driveway, jumped from the bike, and hid on the back porch until I could breathe again.
The black dog was gone.
Oddly, I have no memory of having ever discussed the event with my two friends. I guess this could be one of those kernels of fantasy that lodged in the wrong part of my brain and became a living memory. All I can say for sure is I do remember the black dog, the red eyes, and the bright light on the English racer. I cannot say for sure it happened.


Blogger Jamie Clark said...

You are one amazing writer. I loved everything about this story Bob.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Bob Harrison said...

Thanks! I appreciate the kudos.

10:31 PM  

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