WIP Wednesday – Blues Hound

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I got to keep moving….and the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail…

 Robert Johnson, 1937

The above lyrics were written by Robert Johnson, an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was known for being somewhat ordinary in most regards, except for his musical talent. His undeterred commitment to the road – travelling in all seasons and weathers saw him travel all over the Mississippi delta, playing in Memphis, Helena and smaller towns across the region. He died at the age of 27, of unknown causes. But legend tells of a deal done with the devil at the crossroads, perhaps explaining both his seemingly supernatural skill, and need to keep moving on.

This popular, enduring legend has sat with me for some time, and today’s ‘Work in Progress Wednesday’ is Blues Hound – a story that I hope you find devilishly good!

CHAPTER ONE

Isaac sighed as he placed the trumpet back inside its battered case. The red velvet lining was beginning to look worn and had torn in a few places. He once imagined it covered in stickers of exotic locations and visa tags, but now, the only thing it was coated in was the beer some drunk had knocked over as he passed by. He cleaned and buffed away until the liquid and the smell had gone. He sighed again as he shut the case and locked it.

Three of the bulbs around his dressing room mirror had blown and never been replaced. It made his strong, dark face look drawn – grey almost. Strange shadows fell down from his brow. His salt and pepper stubble and matching buzz crop hair made him look younger than he was, but the crows-feet and eyes themselves never lied. He was old and tired.

He took his old trilby hat from the stand and placed it on his head. He looked in the mirror and let out a third and final deep sigh. At least black never went out of fashion. The hat, shirt and suit were the only clothes he owned, but he had never needed more. He opened the door of the dressing room and turned out the lights as he left.

He crossed the dark bar in silence, giving a simple nod of the head to Bubba – the big, mean looking, but actually kindly owner who was stacking the tables and chairs. In a few short steps he was out into the early morning air.

Honestly, what do I expect? he thought. He looked around. He was playing in a swamp, on the outskirts of a town even Louisiana considered distinctly back-water. This is how he would end his days, playing in an out-of-town bar surrounded by nothing but swamp, gators and cottonmouths. He shuffled along the dirt track to the crossroads where he would wait for his grandson. He set down the trumpet case, disturbing the dust a little so that it was picked up and carried a little in the wind.

It wasn’t cold out, but he felt a sudden chill in the air. As he looked up, he watched as the stars seemed to go out one by one. He checked his watch to see if he was early, only to notice the second hand slowly shudder and then stop. He heard the wind pick up, then suddenly, it was rushing along the road, howling like an express train, and, as he looked, he caught the thick tendrils of a twister as it touched down a little way from the crossroads. As his breath caught in his chest, it seemed to suddenly change size and velocity, passing him by in a cyclone of brown tainted air and tumbleweed. He realised it was just a dust devil, but he felt unnerved and on edge.

He looked back up the road and saw a pair of headlights steadily approaching him. He smiled with relief, grateful for his grandson’s timely appearance. But as the car drew near, he realised it wasn’t his grandson in his dishevelled Volkswagen bus. It was a sleek, black, 1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in immaculate condition. It looked like it had just driven off the production line. It slowly trundled to a halt beside him, the big V8 four-stroke engine burbling and rumbling its displeasure of the low spluttered revs as it idled. The blacked-out window now opposite him slithered downwards with an electric hum. A silver-haired, handsome – but older white man, met his gaze with steely blue eyes and a smile that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a crocodile.

“You must be the Isaac I’ve heard so much about,” grinned the man.

At that, the driver’s door opened and a very large black man, wearing an expensive and tight fitting pinstripe suit stepped out. He had a huge barrel chest and he seemed to ripple as he walked. Isaac had seen Cassius Clay and Doug Jones fight at Madison Square Gardens in 1963, and he felt sure this man would have been able to hold his own against either of them, or perhaps even both at the same time. As it was, he appeared to be the man in the car’s valet, as he opened the door for him.

The man wore a perfectly tailored, dark grey pinstripe suit, with a claret red tie and a white silk shirt underneath. As he stepped from the car, he put on a matching grey pinstripe fedora with a claret silk band. Isaac had always liked the look and feel of a hat and found himself warming to the man unintentionally.

“Who have you heard about me from?” Isaac asked, wondering if he could be a talent scout maybe.

“Oh word gets around,” smiled the man. “Smokey Bo Benson mentioned you, wanted me to check you out.”

“Really? Thought that boy died a long time ago,” Isaac smiled.

“Bluesmen don’t die, they just improvise,” grinned the man.

“You play?” Isaac asked.

“I’ve been known to play a mean fiddle from time to time,” the man quipped with a grin. “Why don’t we talk about getting you out of this dump and into the limelight Isaac? Come sit with me whilst you wait for your grandson.”

Isaac took a step towards the car. After all, what do I have to lose he thought.

Books to Bark About

Well it’s National Dog Day, and as a reader I have always been pulled in by stories that featured canine characters, whether good or bad. The Call of the Wild has already featured on this blog as one of my favourite books of all time, so some of you will already know I’m a little barking about this kind of thing. So much so, that now I’m a writer, you’ll always be able to find a dog in my own stories. So in order to truly bring these two things together, let’s look at some of the literary canines that leap off my bookshelf.

Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild is my comfort book. The one I turn to when I need to feel warm and cosy on the inside, especially if it’s the opposite outside. This book is basically apple pie to me. Well, at least when there’s no apple pie.

The main character in Call of the Wild is Buck, a cross between a St Bernard and a sheepdog. I’ve always imagined him as looking something a little like a modern-day leonberger.

Buck is kidnapped from his comfortable home and sold to a trader, finding himself in the barren and unforgiving landscape of the North during the gold rush. He finds adversaries in dogs and people alike, with his trials eventually awakening something primal in his spirit, but not before he bonds with a man who shows him true love. Torn between instinct and loyalty, Buck moonlights between two worlds until tragedy intervenes and makes the choice for him.

Thor

Thor. And I don’t mean the guy with the hammer. I mean a German Shepherd, a loyal family dog at the centre of Wayne Smith’s novel of the same name.

Thor is very protective of his family, and in the past it has landed him and them in trouble. But when something supernatural and savage enters their world, it is first only Thor who can see it. Although his human pack are unaware of his taste for wild rabbit, it soon becomes clear that he is not the only blood thirsty predator in their midst. As the threat draws closer, Thor sets out to protect them at all costs.

Eventually made into the film ‘Bad Moon’, which was also pretty good!

Plague Dogs

No list of anphropomorphic tales would be complete without at least one Richard Adams novel, so enter the Plague Dogs. The story of Rowf and Snitter, an old black labrador and a fox terrier who escape from a research laboratory, is something really quite special.

Adams’s unique story telling style forces us to see the dogs in the story as people and the humans as animals, something made abundantly clear when we discover what Rowf and Snitter have been exposed to.

Not exactly a feel good story, but still somehow a beautiful one.

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Fang and Fluffy. Two of the best misnamed dogs in all literature. Fang is a coward, who runs away at the first sign of danger despite being a Neapolitan Mastiff, whilst Fluffy is a three-headed, ferocious cerberus of gigantic size! And both are encountered within the pages of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Both are also owned by Hagrid, the half-giant grounds keeper with a penchant for dangerous animals.

Hagrid is my kind of guy!

CujoAnd of course, not all doggy characters are good guys. In Cujo, the master of horror himself Stephen King takes the breed of dog known for saving lives and outstanding loyalty, the St Bernard, and turns it into 200lbs of terror.

When Cujo is bitten by a rabid bat, he too soon falls victim to the disease with no cure. As his senses and sanity are ravaged by the deadly virus, so Cujo turns on the inhabitants of a sleepy, backwater town with similarly savage results.

Arguably the most famous canine villain of all time though can be found within theHound pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. The large and deadly dog is never fully identified beyond being of ‘mastiff’ type, but that doesn’t stop it killing two people during the course of the story.

The tale was in fact based on legends Sir Arthur heard whilst staying on Dartmoor, centred around a phantom squire and his pack of hellhounds, said to be heard baying when the moon was full and the night was clear.

Sherlock Holmes and a creature feature. What’s not to like!

I could of course mention many more. From the rough collie of Lassie Come Home, Pongo and Missus of 101 Dalmatians, Montmorency of Three Men In a Boat, Toto of Wizard of Oz, or even the haphazard Afghan pup what-a-mess, dogs are a firm favourite when it comes to books, and certainly in my library at least.

So it shouldn’t really be a surprise to find not one, but several dogs in my own book, Shadow Beast. The first and most prominent is Meg, a three-legged Border Collie who lives with Thomas Walker, my protagonist. Like most dogs, Meg has probably helped her owner stay sane and been there for him in moments of loneliness. She also saves his life later on in the story. You’ll also find a team of fearsome hunting dogs, and a pack of hounds to boot. But don’t be alarmed if you’re not a dog person, there’s also a cat in it too 😉 And it’s a big one.

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