October 11:  Yukon Cornelius tries to avoid the Black Dog of Death

Hiking the mountain trail on a summer night was beautiful, and still very warm. I sweated through my clothes. The moon lit up the sparse clouds. Few people hike at night.  But since I often get visited by strange creatures wherever I am, I try to stay away from crowds. This turned out to be a good idea. A black dog with big glowing red eyes now stood on the path ahead.  That was not a camper’s dog.  I needed to figure out which kind of ‘black dog’ this was before I just walked into it blindly. Folklore was full of reports of black dogs as apparitions of the dead, of the Devil, of doom, and they were often malevolent to travelers.  But those accounts were written in a superstitious age when death and disease and illness were attributed to Sin and other moral or religious laws.  So we gave Death a dog. A dog that warned us that Death was coming.

Perhaps this one wanted to talk.  Some might be friendly guardians.  Which was it?  Was it evil or protective? Was it the You’re Doomed kind or the You’re Safe Now kind?  Did it matter? Yes, I wanted to be aware of what I was walking into. I had a choice to keep going—but now it would be there.  Would it hurt me? How would it affect my hike, my safety?  Do I run from it, or walk toward it?  I needed to know which black dog it was ahead of time, but I didn’t know enough to make a good choice. I also couldn’t make a life out of avoiding unknown creatures.  That’s kinda inevitable for me.  So I took what I knew, just started walking again on the trail, and as I got closer and closer, I tried talking to it (sometimes a bad idea with black dogs). It didn’t move.  I told it I was going to walk around it, and I did.  And it stayed where it was.  If it needed me, it could always follow me, but I needed to keep walking. It trailed me. I was going to have to deal with it when I camped. Closer to sunrise, I found a good spot, next to a clear creek with a pool. I was hot, sweaty, and exhausted, and that creek would feel great. I set up a tent and then went for a dip just as the sky lightened. And ten minutes into relaxing in the water, it showed up again, crossing through the trees behind me. I decided to let it do what it was going to do. I wasn’t exactly in a place to run or defend myself.  Some black dogs are unavoidable. I kept my hands on the bank of the little pool to indicate that I wasn’t going to hurt it. (FYI, I am not immune to attacks by supernatural creatures.) Behind my head, I heard it run towards me. Harder and harder. I ducked down as it leapt over my head and dove into the water in front of me, splashing my face with a wave. I didn’t move. I was in shock and very wet. Then it bobbed in front of me, with its red glowing eyes, and I saw a green tennis ball in its mouth, and it pushed the ball onto my hand. “So that’s your game, Portent of Doom,” I said. I took the ball and threw it down the creek. She fetched it and came back, smiling, nuzzling me. We did this about twenty thousand times. I laughed a lot.  Maybe Death’s Dog needed to play.  Maybe I did.  Sometimes, the things we’re nervous about up ahead turn out to be surprisingly nice—even good for us.

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