Andrew Robinson

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First Rays of The Sun


Black Shuck

It was a bone shining clean and bright under the dancing waters of the stream. The bone, I knew, was something magical, something othering, something disturbing and bad. I had to have it. I put my hand under the water and took it, fear of the touch and feel of the dead thing overcome by desire. I must have been six or seven years old, perhaps younger. That day we had gone to play in the woods and streams around the back of the house. Exciting contorted dead trunks traversed the chasm-ravine of the stream giving us bridges into the forbidden zones of the forest. All was huge and scary. It was a hot summer day – a classic English summer in the countryside. An idyll, a dream.

Hot oaks and dusty cornfields, crunching splitting dried mud and insects everywhere. The tree canopy gave shelter from the sunlight; how hot those tops of trees must get, and how generously they serve the forest floor with their cooling filters. The thunderbugs found their way into everything; an Eastern English midge, these tiny flies can still be found lodged and sealed within picture frames in my parent’s retirement home forty years and a different county away. The little black marks of their bodies a sarcophagus of summer, wedged between the glass and a watercolour view of Pickering or the Lake District.

Searching the maps, I cannot find this wood. A wood in the imagination of a child.

The bone came home with me to a new resting place on a neat little pile of tissues under my bed. A bone on a bed under a bed. It had some teeth.

The bone must have been something like a badger, a deer perhaps, but I was convinced that it was from an animal with much more power than that; a mystic and wicked animal that lived in the imagination of Suffolk and Norfolk. An animal that killed people with nothing but threat and worry as weapons: Black Shuck, ‘Demon Dog of East Anglia’. The jawbone of that very animal was under my bed. I was in danger.

I do not know where I had heard of this dog, but there it was lodged in my mind. A primal village story, a folklorish warning of the Devil roaming the lanes of Suffolk and Norfolk.

This bone then, that I slept over. My desire for the bone mixed up with fear. I could hardly sleep. Somehow, I eventually summoned up the courage to get rid of the bone. I laid it carefully on top of the rubbish in the dustbin. A burial ritual. Once the dustmen took it away, it was gone. Power removed. The darkness had been banished by the searing heat of the summer. My world, a small boy in a village in Suffolk. My private panic around the bone and what it meant; badness and wickedness and original sin. Sin that was my private sin, owned by me.