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THE BIG BLACK DOG

"The Unseen" by Bilal Tarabey

I wake up late today, near noon. 

A ray of sun shines through the narrow space between my curtains, leaving my bedroom otherwise in darkness. These days, I either sleep too much or too little. But no amount of sleep seems to matter; I never feel well-rested the following day. 

I sigh and rub my face, massaging my eyes and forehead, and I get out of bed. Nothing cures the headache that often comes. Sluggishly, my feet carry me forward. Moving them feels like lifting blocks of cement. After I brush my teeth and wash my face, I head downstairs. The floorboards creek beneath me, the rotting stairs carrying my weight. Someday they’re going to collapse. It’s surprising that they even lasted this long. 

I drink a glass of water in the kitchen, thinking of what I should eat for breakfast. Nothing really comes to mind. The emptiness of my stomach makes me nauseous, but the thought of food does nothing to change that. I set the glass on the kitchen counter and walk into the living room. 

To say it rained last week would be an understatement. The four-day storm brought nonstop showers, sending water through my cracked ceilings and into the house. The living room was the worst—the furniture was soaked, now giving off a nasty stench of wet old laundry.

I should’ve gotten rid of this ancient place years ago. Its dying wooden walls are starting to smell foul, the roof is rickety, the wooden boards are falling apart, and the once white paint on the outside is shedding like snakeskin. There isn’t a good reason why I don’t sell this place and leave. I tell myself this was my parents’ house, but that’s not convincing enough.

I cross the room to the front window and look outside. I scan the field before me, my eyes burning with expectation. 

There it is, watching me. 

The big black dog. 

It stares at me through the front window of the house, and I stare back. Not a day passes without it being there, half-hidden between the wheats.

I first spotted it five months ago. At first it came and went, disappearing for a long time before it showed itself again. After a while it started lingering, showing up more often than it used to, and now I can’t remember what life was like before it was here. 

It doesn’t do anything, it just stands there, watching. In the beginning I kept thinking it would come near the house, begging for food or shelter. It never did. Even to this day, I leave leftovers outside, thinking that it might leave once it’s satisfied. The food disappears, but the dog stays. I learned that to stay and watch for the dog’s reaction would mean staying by the window all day. And sometimes into the night. 

I rub my face in exhaustion and turn around, not yet ready to head upstairs and get dressed. 

 

It’s Saturday, so I take the truck and go to town to run some errands. 

At the grocery store, I have a strange feeling in the pet food section. I think back to the dog in the field, knowing it wouldn’t like pet food. Something about it communicates a superiority far beyond that of a domesticated animal.

I buy a week’s worth of basic groceries—bread and butter, mortadella, a box of eggs, milk, and canned vegetables—before heading back home.  

As I pull into the driveway, I see the dog standing in the same position as always, its head and neck popping out from the wheats. It’s a big black blob in an otherwise golden field. 

I can’t call pest control on a stray dog. Besides, these fields don’t belong to me, they belong to Joe Gordon and his farmer family. One thing I know for sure is that the big black dog doesn’t belong to the Gordons. Another thing I know is that it doesn’t belong in the field.

I fix up a late dinner. It isn’t too creative—canned peas and canned corn in a bowl. I sit and eat on the couch, my spoon mixing the peas and corn with the splat of ketchup I squirted for taste. The result is a green and brownish yellow paste, looking like a heap of something too repulsive to sustain my waning appetite. I eat the mush like cereal, almost gagging at the combination of sour ketchup and tin-flavored vegetables. Have they always tasted like thawing water and dirt? 

The damp stench of the couch repulses me even further until I finally throw up the little I managed to eat back into the bowl. I wipe my mouth with a tissue and take my bowl to the kitchen where I rinse it in the sink. After rinsing my mouth, I head back to the living room and collapse on the couch.

An old classic is on TV: Groundhog Day. I’ve seen it a million times before, but as I watch it now, I keep thinking about what it might be like to relive the same day over and over again for the rest of my life… I’d try to kill myself, too, Bill Murray. I just wouldn’t stand it.

When the movie ends, I change the channel to a rerun of some old 70’s show just for the sake of background noise. Silence reminds me of exactly how alone I am. No sound from the outside world wafts through my broken windows and cracked wood to keep me company. The dog in the field doesn’t make a sound. It doesn’t even bark. At least the crickets make noise at night, sorrowfully singing at oncoming darkness.

 

Later in bed, I struggle to sleep. 

I’ve been under the sheets for an hour now. It’s always like this, a headache to sleep and a headache to stay awake. A silver moonbeam travels through the slim gap in my curtains and rests on my chest. At night, there’s nothing and no one outside or around you. You just lay in bed, staring up at the dark nothingness of your shadowy ceiling—alone with your thoughts, or rather, with the heavy weight of emptiness sucking the inside of your mind clean, leaving you alone with the feeble beat of your heart and your eerie breathing. That’s usually all I could hear: emptiness. Louder than the crying crickets who lament to the sky.

But something other than the crickets stirs the black deadness tonight. I hear deliberate and menacing scratching—the sound of nails, no, claws scraping against something—into something, like it’s trying to get in.  

I get out of bed and walk to the window, pulling the curtains apart. I scout the field with my eyes, looking for the black dog. I don’t know why I decide to do that, I don’t even know where the sound is coming from, let alone its source. 

Recently, I’ve been feeling a little suspicious of it. It’s gotten bigger since I first saw it months ago. I’m also not entirely sure if it’s gotten bigger or if it just looks that way because it’s been moving closer towards me…

I can’t find it now in the field. I look around the house, admittedly fearing the chance of spotting it too near. Would it ever leave the field? Would it actually come too close? 

My eyes adjust to the darkness of the night. The moon births a new beam of light, brighter than the others, and shines at a single spot in front of my house. Something black now appears, no longer camouflaged.

The entity stands a centimetre away from my welcome mat, the source of the scratching on my door: the big black dog. 

 

The next day I decide to go to the furniture store. The rotting smell of the living room is starting to get to me. 

I can’t know for sure if it’s the need for new furniture that pulls me out of the house or if it’s the sense of unease at staying inside, knowing that the dog is out there.  

Last night I just watched it, standing by my window until it would leave. It never did. It stayed there until I gave up and went to bed. In the morning, it was back in the field. Back at enemy base. 

What the hell did it want…?

Now I go to unlock the front door, my truck keys in hand. I feel the urge to glance at the shotgun hanging above the door frame. The black dog might be waiting outside for me, right outside my door again. My heart starts sprinting, and I feel a sort of coldness spread across my chest, like a spiderweb growing bigger until it entraps my lungs. It catches at my nerves and blood, freezing my heart—how can it still beat this fast? I tremble thinking about going out there just like that—no gun, no protection, nothing. 

That damned dog… What was it doing here last night? What did it want? Damned devil dog, what the hell did it want? What did it want from me?

I realize I no longer feel like going to the store right now. How cowardly of me, afraid of some dog. A big, ugly, black creature. But my mind tells me it’s dangerous, capable of doing horrible things to me.

I postpone my trip until another day.

 

I am awoken at night by the sound of scratching again. I look out the window, my heart beating hammers and my breath dying out in my throat. 

Everything hurts, what’s inside me is about to tear right out of my chest.

I look down at it, there at my very doorstep. It yearns to come in, to come find me. It’s standing there, waiting for me to give up and let it in. 

There’s a weight on me I can’t see, a constant looming presence of something dark that clings to me like a slow and suffocating death. I’m being eaten up inside by the tension, and for once, the darkness in my room doesn’t feel comfortable. Instead, it drowns me. 

The most menacing thing about the dog is how it stands. It always stands, like it won’t rest before it gets me. When I squint into the darkness, the dog feels my eyes staring and it looks at me. All I see is a black blob in the night, with two yellow circles where its eyes should be, beaming at me like they could smile.

 

I finally go to Goodman’s Furniture today. 

I leave the house in a rush, looking around like a wild man. The dog’s in the field, a long distance away from where it was last night, but I still make a run for it to the truck. I have never felt so terrified of it before.

When I reach the furniture store, I walk in and immediately go to the sofa section. I’ll eventually need to replace the whole living room, including the rug, the curtains, and the armchair. 

I scan the options I have. There are only a handful of sofas, the most of which are brown leather. I suppose they appeal to me; their material is smooth and cool to touch. 

I think about how leather tends to wear out over the years, but I’m not too worried about that. I don’t like to think about the future. Besides, I’ve never had a leather sofa before, so I suppose some change would be good for the house… It’s not so bad to make change. I can afford it, and—

I see a movement in the corner of my eye, outside the shop’s window. I don’t know why it compels me to turn and look. But there’s nothing outside. 

I shrug and go back to the sofa. I think I’m going to get this one. Since I’m here, I might as well make a mental note of anything else I might want to get later. I walk to the end of the aisle and turn left. I make it to the armchair section and am pleasantly surprised to see a dozen of them. I can’t help but feel kind of… glad. Being able to choose from several options gives me a sense of excitement, however dim it may be.

I walk down the aisle to find a brown leather armchair that matches the sofa. Just smelling the air in this section is satisfying; the smell of fresh clean leather and fabric encircles me like a bubble, making me think of how nice it would be to have my living room smell this. I wish I could stay in this bubble forever.

I see the movement in the corner of my eye again, something dark and fast. I look to the window, but again, there’s nothing. I don’t know why I start feeling paranoid. The scent of new furniture and leather no longer smells pleasant, the store begins to smell too clean and artificial. I’m suddenly uncomfortable here. It must’ve been a passing person, dressed all in black. It’s not what I think it could be, there’s no way.

I turn away from the window. There’s nothing outside, but I still feel that someone—something—is staring at me. I fail to resist the urge to turn around and double-check. I wish I hadn’t. 

There it is: the big black dog. 

How is it here? It’s never left home! How can it just show up here?

It stares at me from the window. I see its yellow eyes, like poison, the eyes of a disease. 

Does nobody else see it? Look at them! The people, they’re just ignoring it! A thing like that, huge, dark and terrifying… They can’t be ignoring it, can they? Nobody turns their head, nobody even flinches. It’s invisible, it’s only me who sees it.

I look around like a madman, turning in a circle. I feel like something is about to jump at me in the store, from the ceiling, left, right. I can’t stand being here anymore, I’m going to suffocate. I’m going back to the house.

I rush across the store and make it out the door without buying anything.

 

How would I be if things were different? It’s hard for me to see the future. 

When I look to the past, everything is vivid. I see my memories, my life events. But when I look to the future… I see nothing. There’s a nothingness—bright, blurry and white, like staring at a milky sun. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see anyone or anything, not a place, not even myself. No matter how hard I try. 

Above me, the living room light starts to flicker. I set my bowl of mush on the side and sit up on the couch, watching it, waiting for it to either die or stabilize itself. The bulb flashes, on and off, the dim hue of the yellow light fading when the fleeting darkness comes. 

The bulb fights to keep shining, but a force fights just as relentlessly to smother it. The bulb gives one last attempt before the room is plunged into darkness, with me in it to hold its heavy weight.

The digital clock by the TV flashes 11 p.m. I’m comfortable in the darkness of my own room, but here in the living room, it feels strange, menacing. I feel like panicking.

I immediately get up and head to the door. I feel for the keys on the hanger, take them, and walk out. There’s only one place I know that sells lightbulbs and is open at this late hour. 

I’d parked my truck close to the front door this time. It stands like a shield from the beast that lies beyond. I slam the door and rush to the truck, an ache in my lungs for me to get in as soon as I can. The night air freezes my insides as I breathe it in, unlike the safety of the stale stuffiness within my home.

I drive the truck to the sleeping town, aware that I’ll soon have to get out and walk the streets unsheltered. On the way there, I could swear I was being chased, a shadow dancing in my rear-view mirror. 

I park the truck across from the market. I watch the mirrors before I get out, just to make sure. I hurry across the street and push open the glass doors of the market, desperate to be somewhere safe again. 

I’m immediately bathed in the blinding harshness of the artificial lights. I glance at the distracted cashier man and walk straight into the small aisles. 

I skim my eyes everywhere, so furiously that I feel a wave of dizziness. In my state, I see a fleeting blackness escape the aisle, turning to enter the other. I stare at the corner of the aisle where I see it whoosh and disappear. With heavy steps and a racing mind, I cautiously follow into the adjacent left aisle.

I feel a pair of eyes on me, everywhere and nowhere all at once. I don’t want to be here anymore. In a merciful moment, I spot the lightbulbs at the end of this aisle. I rush to grab one and go to the cashier.

I set the lightbulb on the counter and wait, giving a side-long glance to the aisles on my right. I tap my foot on the floor, everything seems so endless. Just give me my bulb and I’ll go, but the cashier man looks miserable, stubborn and sloth-like. You can’t even imagine what state I’m in.

“You want it in a bag?” he asks. 

“No,” I mumble.

I’m grateful that he takes the money out of my hand because I jump at the feeling of something behind me. A large presence, heavy and dark, strokes the back of my legs. I can feel it through my jeans, the sense of icy dread that now travels all along my body. 

I spin backward, panting, eyes wide, and I ram my elbow into the stand on the counter, sending bubble gum and lighters flying all over the counter and to the floor. Nothing’s behind me, but my heart refuses to calm. I see my chest rise and fall beneath my shirt, and I wonder how fast my heart needs to go before it explodes.

“What’s wrong with you?” the cashier man screeches. 

I spin to meet him, straightening myself up off the counter. 

“What’s the matter? What happened?” He snaps, wearing a repulsed look on his face.

I continue to pant, looking at him desperately but saying nothing. 

“Do you hear me talking to you or what?” He claps his hands inches away from my face. “Are you right in the head?”

Nothing is right. 

The dog is gone. I silently reach for the lightbulb on the counter, and mutter, “Keep the change” before I leave. 

The drive home feels like a dream. I reach the house and I’m in my room, in my bed, within the blink of an eye. I didn’t even bother to fix the living room light. 

I roll to my side and hug the sheets, shutting my eyes. The last thing I feel before the darkness swallows me is my eyes submerged in salt and water.

 

“You got all the load in the truck?” 

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m at the only automobile repair shop in town. I work five days a week, taking used automobile parts from the shop to the car dump.

I nod at Frank, the manager.

“Yeah Frank, I got it,” I say.

“Remember,” he says, “you tell him I’ve got more spares for him to expect by Monday.”

“I will.”

I get in the truck, turn on the ignition and drive. The way to the dump sees nothing but a view of long meadows and fields on both sides of the road. It’s a nice view, calm and quiet. I would enjoy these drives more often if I weren’t too busy thinking all the time. I’m thinking of the furniture, of the house, about tomorrow, yesterday, and that dog. Always, that dog.

When I reach the dump, I greet Mathew and he unloads the parts. I help him set them where he wants, near his cabin where he stays during the day. 

“Thanks,” he says, wiping his hands on his dirty pants. 

“No problem,” I respond. 

My eyes trail over Mathew’s left shoulder and fall on an object balanced against his cabin. He turns around to look and chuckles, hands on his hips.

“What, that?” He grins. “That’s a Remington 870. Kills about anything on a hunt,” Matthew explains. He looks real proud of himself. 

He asks me to come take a look. I follow silently.

“I like taking her up to the forest. She’s perfect for hunting all kinds of birds, or larger animals like rabbits.” He lifts the shotgun and carries it with a smile.

I nod.

“The gun’s pretty good for big game too, if it’s loaded with buckshot.”

“Big game like what?” I ask.

 “Well,” he says, “all sorts of bigger animals. Deer, hogs.”

“And dogs.” I whisper.

Mathew looks at me for a moment before letting out a short laugh.

“Sure! If it’s feral.”

I shake his hand and turn to leave. 

“Hey, if you’re interested in hunting, consider getting one of these,” he calls behind me.

I pause in my tracks and look back. I give Mathew a small smile.

“I already got one.”

 

I stop at the town’s gun shop on the way home, desperate to find buckshot. I buy two packs of the shotshells, and I drive straight home.

The shotgun I have posing above my front door is the same as Mathew’s, but I’d only ever used it in the past for shooting ducks and birds. Now I’m in front of the house, my Remington in hand. The sun is falling behind the fields, and the dog is nowhere to be seen.

It’s time to settle this. I’m sick and tired of having to live like this—with this demonic presence lurking outside, living in my head. I’m getting rid of this rotten disease, this—this monster. 

With three shotshells in my gun, I march into the field. I scan the wheats for a sign of that evil thing—it’s easy to spot, ugly and wrong. Its big black shape blotches this golden landscape like a tumor.

I keep my gun pointed, ready to shoot at any moment as I kick the wheats with my feet. It’s hiding.

“Where are you, you damned devil dog?” I mutter to myself, gritting my teeth.

I search until the last rays of the setting sun melt to blue. The crickets start to sing anxiously. I look back to the house and find that I’m far into the field already. It’s growing dark, and I didn’t bring a flashlight. 

“Where are you?” I call out. “Where in the hell are you?!” 

I’m losing patience. I’m sick of playing these mind games.

“You DEVIL!” I scream. “Come at me!” 

I nudge my gun forward like a sword. 

“Come at me! Come! Come!” 

Nothing responds but the echo of my own voice.

I know it’s out there. It knows what I’m going to do, that clever infernal creature. 

I stop walking and put down my gun. I feel my right arm ache. The Remington’s butt sits on the soil of the field, its mouth pointing upwards toward the darkening sky. I look up at the vast nothingness, searching for answers, for help. Silence only comes, as it does every day. 

I hang my head low and rub my face with my hand. My head starts pulsating and I get a headache. All of this is madness. I want nothing more than to return home. I trudge back where I came from, feeling the growing darkness cloak me with the heavy weight of a black hole. I’m sucked in.

In the house, I still clench my gun in my hand, but I feel weary. The house has changed. I never fixed that light. I can only see shadows, shapes in the darkness. The stench of the furniture has worsened to the point where I feel the urge to clamp my nostrils shut. I’m going to choke.

It’s all wrong. 

I hear a creaking sound; the front door is pushed open all the way. I turn and I find it there, at my doorstep. It doesn’t scratch, because the door isn’t shut in its face anymore. It enters freely.

I've lost.

I study the dog up close for the first time. Its big black body is clean, and it looks well-fed. It stays as silent as always, never making a sound. 

Those yellow eyes, they stare at me—into me, above me, behind me. I’m overcome by terror, feeling my body freeze yet burn all at once. The irritational horror, the maddening anxiety—they rage in my chest until my neck sweats ice and my heart beats hammers against my lungs, piercing me.

I can’t blink. All I can do is tremble and stare at this unfathomable abomination. I have an urge to scream and cry, but I grit my teeth and raise my gun in the dog’s face. The Remington shakes even more than I do.

I feel like the monster now: frantic, wild, overwhelmed by anger and despair. 

“I can’t take you anymore, demon,” I spit.

The dog just stands there.

“Aren’t you gonna run?” I ask.

I stare at it, into those foul, poisonous eyes.

Silence. Neither of us move.

“Well?!” I yell. 

I should just shoot it, now’s my chance, now’s my long-awaited chance to be free of this burden, this monster haunting me, this darkness smothering me.

I tremble, my finger sweats on the trigger.

I’ve never killed an animal this big before.

The mouth of the gun is about to graze the dog’s nose, but it just stands there.

I’ve never killed a dog before.

I squeeze the gun, bracing myself to shoot. Tears flood my eyes. There’s a battle going on between me and the Remington, my finger constantly hesitating at the trigger. I’m so close, I’m so close, I’m going to pull it, I’m going to end this—but—

The tears begin to escape my eyes and roll down my cheeks, down to my chin. Soon enough, I begin to weep. The Remington falls loose in my grip, and its mouth swings down to meet the floor. I can’t do it, I can’t kill an animal like this, a dog… I can’t.

I ache in the darkness, every wail leaving my body feels like the result of a punch to the chest. The blackness surrounds me, the furniture steals my breath to add it to its rotting stench. Every painful sound that emanates from me rattles the wooden walls until their paint chips and sheds. Everything falls apart, and nothingness consumes me.

There is nothing but the big black dog. There was never anything. 

I dare to eye it one more time. 

This is my chance…

The big black dog lowers itself to the ground, and I watch with fascinated horror. It sits, and I finally understand. 

to be free…

I lift the gun one more time, but I turn it on myself. This time, I don’t hesitate. I pull the trigger.

Contributor
Ayah Hussein

Ayah Hussein is a Lebanese-Canadian student who attended her first year of undergraduate studies in English at the American University of Beirut. She is now graduating at the University of Toronto, Canada, with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English. She minored in creative writing.

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Ayah Hussein is a Lebanese-Canadian student who attended her first year of undergraduate studies in English at the American University of Beirut. She is now graduating at the University of Toronto, Canada, with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English. She minored in creative writing.

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