Pet Talk: Cats and dogs in Halloween tales
This Halloween story is titled “The Black Dog of Hanging Hills.” I don’t know where Hanging Hills is, but it would be interesting to find out. Anyway, even though its not about a cat, it has made my Halloween column:
He smiled as he sat in the Inn’s restaurant, sipping coffee. He had an excellent hike. He was glad his friend recommended Hanging Hills, in Connecticut. It certainly had not been the first place that had come to his mind when considering a vacation. It was beautiful, with wonderful weather, and he was looking forward to his friend arriving in the morning so they could tackle some of the more challenging terrain.
As the innkeeper refilled his cup, she asked him, “Did you have a nice hike?” “Yes, indeed, and I had some unexpected company,” he told her.
“I thought you were the only one crazy enough to go hiking in the rain,” she teased. The man answered with a smile, “It was a little black dog. A cute fellow and he followed me all the way up the mountain and down again.”
He looked up at the Innkeeper and saw her face go pale. “A black dog?” she asked. “That’s not good. We have a saying around here that if a man shall meet the black dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die.”
He laughed. “Oh, that’s just superstition.”
“That’s what Mr. Pynchon said. He saw the black dog twice. The second time he saw the dog, the friend with whom he was climbing fell to his death. And later, Mr. Pynchon decided to climb the same mountain, and he died too. Everyone here believes he saw the dog just before he fell.”
“Nonsense,” said the man in answer to the disturbing story. “It was just a cute little stray.” The innkeeper shrugged and went on to her other customers.
The next morning his friend arrived and they both laughed about the story of the little black dog. They set out on their climb. About halfway up the mountain, he looked up and saw the black dog. “There’s the dog,” he called to his friend.
And then his foot slipped and he plunged down the side of the hill, desperately grabbing at saplings and rocks, trying to halt his descent. It seemed to take forever for him to stop sliding. There was a stabbing pain in his leg. When he looked at it, his head was swimming, and he saw that it was bent at an odd angle. They had to send in a mountain rescue team to get him down and when he got to the hospital, he learned that his leg was broken in several places and that he was very lucky it wasn’t worse.
“You know, it was a very strange fall,” said his friend. “Do you think it could have anything to do with that black dog?”
The man looked down at the cast that extended all the way up to his hip. “I don’t really know,” he said, “But I really don’t want to find out, so next time, let’s go to Colorado.”
But my favorite American folklore Halloween story is from Tennessee and it is titled, “The Wampus cat ...”
They say that the Wampus cat used to be a beautiful Indian woman, who always had to stay at home when the men of her tribe went on hunting trips. One day, the Indian woman secretly followed her husband when he went off hunting with the other men. She hid herself behind a rock, clutching the hide of a mountain cat around her to keep warm, and she spied on the men as they sat around their campfires, telling sacred stories and doing magic.
According to the laws of the tribe, it was forbidden for a woman to hear the sacred stories and see any of the tribal magic. Of course, the Indian woman was eventually discovered and she was punished by the medicine man, who bound her into the mountaincat skin she wore and transformed her into a terrible monster — half woman and half cougar.
Ever after she was doomed to roam the hills, howling desolately because she so desperately wants to return to her beautiful Indian woman body.
Many years went by, and one night a man was hunting with his dogs, when both dogs whimpered and ran off the path. At that moment, the man was overpowered with a horrible smell, like that of a wet animal that had also bee sprayed by a skunk and then fell into a smelly bog.
Then he heard something howl on the path behind him and when he whirled around, he was so scared, he dropped his rifle. His heart was pounding with fear as he found himself staring into the big, glowing eyes of the Wampus cat. The creature had huge fangs dripping with saliva and it looked like a mountain lion, but was walking upright like a man. And then it howled again and the man screamed in terror.
The man leapt backward and ran as fast as he could through the woods, with the Wampus cat close behind. He fled to the home of a friend who lived nearby and burst through the door with the monster only a bit behind. The door was slammed in the face of the Wampus cat and immediately the creature began to attack the door.
Both men grabbed the Bible and began reading aloud. Upon hearing the holy words, the WampuscCat howled in pain and frustration and abandoned its attack on the house, finding its way back into the woods. The man spent the rest of the night at his friend’s house — when he went home at daybreak, he found his dogs huddled in the barn, still shaking with fear.
Needless to say, the man and his dog never went hunting after dark again.
Rene Knapp writes Pet Talk, which appears Sundays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.