Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Family Ghost


From my theme calendar for the month titled Inspiration.

photo by Steve Bloom Images - Alamy.


Doom Dog, Dog of Darkness, Barguest, Black Shuck, Shriker, Old Shock, Padfoot, the Mauthe Doog - names given to a species of spectral hound which haunt the laneways, crossroads and moors in various parts of Britain.

By and large an apparition tied to location rather than person. And one, moreover, quite catholic in its intent and appearance. Sometimes a forewarning, sometimes an aggressive danger, sometimes (though not often) with a protective purpose.

One of these "straunge and terrible" creatures, however, apparently crossed the Atlantic and attached itself to a branch of my husband's family, appearing consecutively to the eldest male member of each generation. Usually in autumn, when the mist lies thick in the hollows and smothers the feet of passersby. No one knew precisely why, except in the lamplight at clan gatherings there were dark whispers of murder of a solitary settler and theft of his gold. He had, so the story goes, a large black mastiff -- which disappeared.

The last known sighting occurred sometime in the last century, possibly in the 1930s. The traveller, confronted by a big black dog on a lonely country road, threw the mill chains he carried at the creature and they went right through it.

Many years later, my husband was disappointed when, on an appropriate misty October night on the Gray Road that courses along the rocky ridge above the river, he deliberately presented himself as the eldest born for a visitation from the family specter.

Nothing large loomed out of the mooncast shadows. No click of claws on the gravel. No padding of feet in front or behind. Not even a howl.

Perhaps cold iron is efficacious after all.

Some of you may remember -- from a snippet posted some time ago -- Lillie's occassional companion, Dumbarton the Doom Dog ("Dummy" for short), the watch dog with the phospherous grin.

This is his lineage. He emerged from folklore and family lore.

46 comments:

Carla said...

How interesting! I like Dumbarton, but had no idea he was also the family ghost. Does the family folklore say what your particular spectral dog portends? Presumably sinister in some degree, since the reaction of the 1930s traveller was to throw something at it. Does the story say how the dog reacted to having mill chains thrown through it?

Travis Erwin said...

The spirit dog will be back I predict. He just wasn't coming when your husband was expecting him.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I wish I had cool familial legends like that. I got nuthin. I guess I'll just have to make stuff up.

I'm with Travis. The Black Mastif doesn't sound like a dog who comes when called.

Bernita said...

Carla, the dog vanished.

No real information on portent that I've been able to uncover, seemed to operate merely as a haunt. Maybe a reminder of past evil? All very unsatisfactory/frustrating from my perspective.

Travis, we live a thousand miles from there now. It's appearance did seem to be location specific as well as family specific.
One could argue that cold iron exorcized it.

Bernita said...

Oh crap! "Its appearance..."
~the internet is rotting my brain~
For such a hard-headed family, SS, they had an unusual compliment of paranormal experiences.

BernardL said...

'Perhaps cold iron is efficacious after all.'

It is indeed. I love the lighthouse picture, and copied it. :)

Bernita said...

Yhis calendar has fabulous photos, Bernard.

jason evans said...

Those ghosts need to be more dependable. They never showed up in the cemeteries I used to visit at night either.

(BTW, that's a STUNNING picture!!)

Ric said...

And non-writers wonder where we come up with these wonderful images and ideas...
Every family has great stories - this one certainly is usable for Lillie.
I hope your hubby gets to keep the legend going.

Whirlochre said...

Now there's an interesting idea for a nasty kind of character — someone who hears no voices and is haunted by no ghosts, who goes out on a killing spree with the sole intention of acquiring companions. Bound to have been covered already, methinks.

Bernita said...

And I find that quite frivolous and irritating of them, Jason.

Families are veritable gold mines, Ric.

Doesn't mean the concept shouldn't have another take, Whirl.

Dave F. said...

Ah the spectral hound. The hound from someplace other than heaven. A canine Cassandra presaging dire events or warning of trouble ahead.
It's interesting that the latest occurrence I read was Sirius Black in Harry Potter. The occurrence I adore is Conan-Doyle's Baskerville.

I like your few paragraphs. They set the right mood.

laughingwolf said...

mine it for all it's worth, bernita, like someone said: there is nothing new under the sun, just the original spin one puts on it ;)

of course, dogs, of all kinds, make ideal wuffy companions! :O lol

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dave.
It is said that Doyle drew on the legend for his Hound.

Laughingwolf, I can't imagine being without a dog.

Robyn said...

Like Dave, the Baskerville Hound remains my favorite.

Nothing especially paranormal in my family beyond each generation scaring themselves silly with ouija boards. The women in hubby's family have a tendency to dream the future, which has come out a few times in my daughter.

Bernita said...

Robyn, H.P. Lovecraft had a short story about Hell Hounds that also scared me silly.

Dream precognition is fascinating.

writtenwyrdd said...

Cool! You could write a story about this, how Dumbarton first appears. As he apparently takes a likeing to Lillie over the hubs, that would make an interesting twist to play with.

Rick said...

Steal from reality and you'll never go wrong! But I agree with those who say a very old dog can indeed learn new tricks

raine said...

Also a Baskerville fan.

...he deliberately presented himself as the eldest born for a visitation from the family specter.

Could be he preferred to choose his own time and place. Or thought it scary that your dh would come looking for him. ;)

Bernita said...

You're right, Written! Dumbarton has potential.

"Steal from reality and you'll never go wrong!"
I always feel more confident with a tale if I can do that, Rick.

Raine, he'd travelled over that road many times and no contact - so he made a special effort.

Gabriele C. said...

That's a cool story. I had no idea the dog was part of the family, so to speak.

I have the same problem as Jason. Ghosts never show themselves to me, no matter how suitable the location, time and weather. ;)

StarvingWriteNow said...

Neat! Sorry your hub was disappointed in his quest for the ghost dog, though. Now THAT would have been something!

Charles Gramlich said...

Great story. Nothing like that in my family. I'm sort of wishing your hubby had seen something as well. I've heard of the black dog legend that truckers talk about. I'm guessing it's a transplant from overseas.

Bernita said...

"I had no idea the dog was part of the family, so to speak."
What a neat way of putting it, Gabriele!

Beth, especially since he's a trained observer.

True, Charles.We carry some of our ghosts with us.

spyscribbler said...

That is a FANTASTIC story. I would be SO disappointed, too! That's something.

Jeff said...

What did your husband plan to do if he saw the ghost dog? I know what I would do. RUN!

Steve Malley said...

Sometimes I think the Wee Folk and all their ilk were hard hit by the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere you'd look, too much iron!

Of course, now that more and more of the world around us is made of plastic and copper, aluminum and nickel and lithium, I wonder if we'll start to see their resurgence.

Not necessarily a good thing...

laughingwolf said...

ah yes, good ol howard phillips, one of my alltime fave writers in the genre

once i get out of this apartment, i'm getting another dog... they're not allowed here :(

Ello said...

How very cool! And rightly sinister in tone. You know some people just don't attract the spirit world while others have closer affinity. Just because it didn't show for your husband doesn't mean he won't show again.

I can't wait to read more of Lillie and Dumbarton!

Bernita said...

And all that adrenalin wasted, Natasha.

Jeff, he probably would have too!

Especially the lithium. We'll have to see if life imitates art, Steve.

Bernita said...

Nobody did atmosphere quite like him, Lw.

"some people just don't attract the spirit world while others have closer affinity."
That could be it, Ello.

Shauna Roberts said...

Congrats on the new edition of Weirdly! I look forward to reading your new Lillie story.

Scott from Oregon said...

When my white dog passed, I started to see versions of her all around. White dogs between fence slats... White dogs standing up and barking over short fences. White dogs following the local bum around...

I've been trying to collect photos-- shots out my truck window...

The answer to the ghostly dogs is that the bum's white male Akita "gets around"...

But the sightings are eerie nonetheless...

laughingwolf said...

the latest 'weirdly' is not in book form? :(

Bernita said...

Thank you, Shauna. Hope you will enjoy it.
(And if you don't, there are lots of other stories in the anothology which you might.)


Scott, that sort of post-mortem hallucination is quite common. And very heart-stopping.

Lillie believes she suffers from it in Malignity.

At present, Weirdly II is an e-book, Laughingwolf. Print may come later.

SzélsőFa said...

This was an interesting read Bernita.
I wonder why a dog and a black one at that.
Black makes them look stronger and less friendly - I got that, but why not a wolf? Or a bear?
In the HP series, a black dog is the other form of a positive hero.
As far as I know, in the Hungarian folklore crows and/or ravens are the harbingers of bad fate or bad events.

Bernita said...

Szelsofa, I suspect a certain traditionally British cultural influence was at work in this instance and shaped perception.
The Black Dogs are related to the Wild Hunt/Gabriele Hounds myths and black is often associated with Hell Hounds.
Had the family had any significant Native American heritage to shape their thought patterns, I imagine a wolf or a bear might well have been perceived, but those legends were not part of their cultural visualization/rationalization -- even though some branches of that family have been on this side of the Atlantic for over 300 years.

laughingwolf said...

k, thx... i'll wait for it since i like to hold what i read, i will order the first, though

Sam said...

Very interesting!!
We don't have any family legends, or mysterious black dogs, except our old black Lab.
:-)

Lana Gramlich said...

I'd bet much of these kinds of legends harken back to the Celtic notion of the hounds of the Wild Hunt.
Charles ended up having some very weird black/ghost dog synchronicities last night, after he'd commented here.

Bernita said...

Then I hope you'll like "Stone Child" in Weirdly I, Laughingwolf.

Sam, you might be surprised. Sometimes you have to ask the right questions.

Or the Wild Hunt derived from them, Lana.
Read about Charles' experience.Eerie.

laughingwolf said...

i'm sure i will, bernita :)

cindy said...

i love that the folklore made it into your novel!

and interesting comment by ello about being close to spirit life. the chinese have a saying for it, "big life". i think it means you're so grounded to the mortal realm, spirits cannot touch you.

it's like those who are more sensitive and can get the ouijii board to respond, and those who cannot. if you believe in this sort of thing. =)

i definitely believe in the supernatural, but i think i'm a big life person, too.

laughingwolf said...

ordered the book, won't get here for 2 - 5 weeks :(

Barbara Martin said...

Ghosts usually appear when you're not expecting them. They find a moment that suits them.

The apartment I had when I lived on Summerhill in Montreal had a resident ghost that would appear in the evening in the hallway next to the bedroom; although I only ever saw the bottom half of him. He was dressed like the man on the Captain Morgan rum bottles, right down to the buckle shoes.

Travis is correct. Your husband doesn't need to see him just yet.

Bernita said...

Couldn't help it, Cindy, the whole thesis of the novel revolves around ghosts.
"Sensitive" is the appropriate word, I agree.

Thank you, Laughingwolf!

What a nice ghost, Barbara.
Over time, some ghosts fade and dissipate, possibly because their energy patterns are disrupted - depending on type.