Contest #78 shortlist ⭐️

24 comments

Friendship

People don’t seem to notice Betty much in the daytime. But when night falls she glistens blackly, slithers up my arm, crawls across my neck, to perch on my shoulder with her whiskers tickling my earlobe. You know how sometimes a laptop pop-up when you’ve watched too much of a series in one sitting asks if you’re still there? When I feel Betty’s saliva pooling on one of my collarbones I know it’s time for us both to go to bed. She watches as I brush my teeth, fascinated. I have no qualms undressing before her now, having long ago given up trying to get her to leave my bedroom. She’ll only scrape at the door, making me feel guilty.

I’ll lie there listening to her softly snoring at the foot of the bed. The rhythm does not send me to sleep; instead I wait in the darkness for her to snuffle and splutter. It’s very difficult for me to switch off and not worry about her. She is not in the best of health.

In the days she is quiet, well-behaved. She performs her best trick, getting lost behind me. I walk ahead, wondering if she’ll jump out and startle me, knowing all the shortcuts around the blocks as she does. I see other walkers chatting to acquaintances in the park. Betty is yet to make any friends, or help me make friends. She is not menacing, but people either ignore her, or give her a wide berth if she’s being playful, straining at the leash I’ve learned to hold in a very tight grip.

We come back home and I hang her leash on the hook, letting her roam free again. She heads straight to her drinking bowl, nails skittering across the floor. I think how different that sound is to when I’m unable to sleep; an almost insectile clicking. It fights with the ticking of my wall clock for my attention, the sounds magnified in the gloom.

When I first got her she would bark constantly. The slightest thing would wind her up and make her go. No matter how many walls I put between us her yelps would pummel my mind and so I let her sleep on the bed before my grey matter turned completely to dough. The neighbours would reach into their eye bags to shoot me looks of weary irritation the next morning while we set about our business. From my own dark circles I’d send what I hoped were pitiful, placating glances while suppressing a petulant cry of “it’s not me – it’s her.” Or sometimes I’d go for a tiny apologetic wave that became a tucking of a lock of hair behind my ear when all it succeeded in was making the recipient turn away, focussing all their attention on unlocking their cars or putting out bins. After particularly gruelling nights, I baked the sets of neighbours both sides a batch of bone-shaped cookies, leaving notes in describing how Betty had helped and she was very sorry about all the noise. With a splotch meant to look like she had signed off with a paw print. They ate the cookies and left the containers on my doorstep but never a return note. Never acknowledging the cause of our collective misery.

It’s not like I asked for her. She just turned up on the doorstep one day.

As previously mentioned, in the daytime she usually doesn’t demand so much attention. But it wasn’t always so. Before I trained her, she was a little nightmare. I almost considered renaming her Blasphemy, so often did she have me cussing at some idiotic ruinous thing she had done.

I like to start my weekends by writing in a journal, listings things I’m grateful for. My best friend Suzanne suggested it and, perhaps sensing my reluctance, bought me a pad with ‘make every day count’ written on it, underlining a picture of a rainbow. I stuck it in a draw. Then one sleepless, nails a-clacking night I started writing in it to grumble about how tired I was and sort of took it from there, really. Betty thinks my writing implements are brightly coloured sticks longing to be gnawed.

After she loses interest in that tug of war, I move on to yoga. Suzanne cannot take credit for that idea. My GP suggested it when I complained of my aching back and cracking joints. When I assume the bridge position, Betty likes to pretend she’s at Crufts and I’m an obstacle to either run under or jump over. I gave up doing tree pose after she tried to cock her leg on me.

In the evenings I sometimes like to play on my acoustic guitar. I don’t sing very well. Sometimes Betty will howl along. Which had me in hysterics the first few times but then I wondered if she was maliciously trying to drown me out, relegating me to backing singer while she took centre stage.

Occasionally I like to take a bath before bed. I make an event of it – candles, oils, soothing sounds playing from my mobile, a magazine that always ends up damp and curly no matter how careful I try to be. If I’m in there too long, Betty will rest her snout on the bath’s rim and gaze at me with those doleful eyes as if wondering why I’ve decided to become half fish. I see my nakedness reflected in her eyes and find fault with it even in that warped miniature form. I get her to leave by phoning the landline from my mobile.

I tried knitting, as a way to occupy the hands wanting to harm me, to give my scattered thoughts some direction. It works up until the moment Betty decides she’s a cat after all, and bats my balls of wool around the floor.

Me and my shadow. This black dog only I can see, that I’ve had to accept is a part of me. Small enough to fit on my shoulder, pressing down with all the weight of the world.  

January 29, 2021 16:34

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24 comments

Karen Mc Dermott
16:38 Jan 29, 2021

This story was inspired by the Manic Street Preachers' song, 'Black Dog on My Shoulder', which was in turn inspired by Winston Churchill describing his depressive episodes as a black dog that was hounding him. I'm hoping that a black dog - an imaginary one - is 'unusual' enough to fit the prompt.

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B.C. Barlow
17:12 Jan 29, 2021

Very cool story. Thanks for the history lesson on Winston Churchill.

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Karen Mc Dermott
17:16 Jan 29, 2021

Thanks for reading :)

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Palak Shah
14:50 Feb 08, 2021

The story was interesting and the twist was extraordinary and made me question everything that I had just read. :)) Congrats on being shortlisted. Can you please read my stories and leave some feedback. It would be appreciated a lot. Thanks :))

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Karen Mc Dermott
17:12 Feb 09, 2021

Thank you so much Palak :) As a judge I've already read 53 stories this week and going over to read yours might be seen as favouritism at this moment in time. However, I'll look out for future stories of yours in the batches I get sent. Good luck with the competition!

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Palak Shah
20:52 Feb 09, 2021

Thank you so much :))

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Michael Boquet
16:37 Feb 05, 2021

Wait, so if the dog's imaginary, does that mean your main character was the one that was barking and disturbing the neighbors? Or chewing on her own pencils? Don't get me wrong, this is a very well written story and I like the concept in and of itself. That said, I feel like your "twist" hinders rather than enhances the narrative. I was assuming Betty was going to be a big rat, so an imaginary dog was surprising and elicited a personal reaction. A well done story, if a little on the odd side, not that that's a bad thing. Congrats on getting...

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:39 Feb 05, 2021

Thanks for reading, Michael :) I imagined that the neighbours were shooting the narrator dirty looks for disturbing their peace with her big boo-hoo mental breakdowns. That's something I should watch out for in future though; trying to ensure that's evident to the reader instead of just staying in my head, heh.

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Sam Ackman
04:38 Feb 19, 2021

This is a really wonderfully written story! I enjoyed guessing if it was an animal or emotion as you toyed back and forth with the wording. I was really glad the ending cleared it up - but that’s likely just the kind of reader I am. Congrats on the shortlist!

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Karen Mc Dermott
10:11 Feb 19, 2021

Thanks Sam! I like an ending that ties up all the loose ends too.

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Thom Brodkin
03:20 Feb 17, 2021

I confess I come to you regularly because I want you to read my stories but I am always treated to your talent. This story was deservedly shortlisted. It felt eerie and uneasy as I read it. I was uncomfortable and confused but it’s exactly what the black dog of depression is like. You captured in a way that made those who don’t understand, understand. Fantastic job. Brilliant read. I almost feel guilty now asking but if you have a moment can you check out my latest. I’d love your insight.

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Karen Mc Dermott
11:41 Feb 18, 2021

Thanks Thom! I'll be over shortly :)

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Jonathan Blaauw
07:51 Feb 10, 2021

Wow, this is excellent Karen! Excellent! A bit darker than your usual, I think, but you do this kind of stuff just as well. Maybe even better. Like every good short story, you make every single word count, and right from the beginning, you create a subtle melancholy atmosphere and maintain it right the way through. That's not easy to do, especially in a story as short as this. Masterful writing. As soon as I started reading I wondered if the pet was some sort of emotion - depression, insecurity, etc - not because you gave anything away, I d...

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Karen Mc Dermott
17:46 Feb 10, 2021

Thank you so much, that means a lot, especially coming from you :) Well done on guessing it straight away. I had a thought for a recent prompt -- although too late -- about the person who decides to cut ties with a family member, to have them working in a tie factory cutting material into shape. Yes, that is the sort of 'inspiration' that strikes me in the middle of the night, haha. If you can remember the blind rat book I'd be curious to check it out. I'm going through a serial killer documentary binge at the moment and reading a crime th...

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Gwyn Everett
02:07 Feb 07, 2021

I enjoyed this one a lot :) Some of the phrasing was strange, but it brought out the voice of the narrator in a unique way.

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Tom .
18:11 Feb 05, 2021

Very powerful. Good Job

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:40 Feb 05, 2021

Many thanks!

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Amanda Fox
17:24 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you for sharing the story - I liked the little twist at the end that Betty is only visible to the narrator. It was really neat to dig into the comments and see the Winston Churchill inspiration. Congrats on the shortlisting!

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:41 Feb 05, 2021

Thanks for reading and for the lovely comment, much appreciated.

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Michael Young
16:20 Feb 05, 2021

I had to guess at the pet all the way through, cat, dog or other. The close brought it nicely into focus. I know the black dog has bitten many and I like the way it is there but not there. There's a nice weave to the story, Betty playing hide and seek through each scene.

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Eric E
17:01 Feb 02, 2021

Amazing. I love the descriptive phrases like "almost insectile clicking" and "pitiful, placating glances while suppressing a petulant cry of “it’s not me – it’s her.” A powerful and moving story. Personally, my favourite song of this name is by Led Zeppelin!

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:46 Feb 02, 2021

Thanks Eric :) I do love a bit of Zep too.

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Endellion .
20:06 Feb 09, 2021

Can you give me any feedback or advice in my stories? It would mean a lot to me.

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Ryan Lm Colli
19:46 Apr 08, 2021

First of all, a big thank you for such an excellent critique of my story. And coming from someone who's heading the leaderboard this is very humbling. I gave read a couple of your stories, and as I had mentioned I am a huge, huge fan of writing skills. Let me tell you, this is my first attempt at a longer story though I have penned four full length novels besides two books of poems. I wrote this on my phone, and hit the sent button without so much as a second look. Also, it's something to do with my phone button keys- I get confused and at t...

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