Cù Sìth? The Black Dog

This is the first of a series of small pieces that I’ll tag as “plot twists”. Not long ago, in a writing class, we were asked to write a few paragraphs about an incident that changed our lives — something that changed the way we see and approach the world. My first response was a totally blank mind, but then I realized that there were many such incidents but most of them would seem quite minor to others. There is a thing called “the teachable moment” when we are ready to profoundly get something, even something that seems unimportant to the people around us. Those moments matter forever after. If we think about them later on when we can see the effect they have had and still have on us, we may understand ourselves better. Hopefully, if I tell you a few of mine, it may help you remember and make better use of your own. I call them “plot twist moments” because they alter the course of our personal stories. For example:

About two in the morning, after an argument with my husband, I was too restless and agitated to sleep, so I went out for a walk. This probably wasn’t a wise thing to do in Glasgow, especially on the long, deserted Kelvin Way as it passed the dark, silent Glastow University and then through the even-darker Kelvin Park, empty except for homeless people, perhaps sleeping, perhaps not.

There was a thick hedge between the park and me. I wasn’t really thinking about where I was or the risks of a Glasgow night; I was just hotly simmering and trying to calm down. About halfway along, a tatty black van approached from the other direction — and slowed and stopped about 30 feet in front of me. A brawny, rough-looking man got out.

“Hey, missus! Want a ride?” Hard voice full of innuendo.

“No, thank you.” When in doubt, be polite.

“Och, come on!” He was still approaching, now about halfway to me. This was getting scary.

At that moment, a huge, hulking black dog materialized out of the hedge bordering the park. The dog stepped in front of me, facing the oncoming man and snarling.The man stopped abruptly, holding out both hands as if to push the dog off. The dog took a slow step toward him, and then another. The rumbling growl grew deeper and louder as he continued to slowly pace forward.

“Hold your dog, missus! I’m going!” He fled toward the van, jumped in, and reversed hastily up the street to the nearest corner, disappearing with a squealing of tires.

The dog stood still, but rumbling until the van was out of sight. Then he started to turn toward me and I wondered, “Now what?”

He faced me, the orange glow of the street light reflecting in his eyes, happily wagging his tail, his tongue lolling. He was clearly saying, “Aren’t I a good dog?” I thanked him fervently, and he turned and vanished back into the hedge.

Still somewhat shaken, I went home.

Months later, when I finally told the story to some Scottish friends, one asked hesitantly, “Was that dog real?”

The others all nodded.

There are many legends in Scotland about black dogs who appear when needed to rescue or to harm people. I hadn’t thought of the stories until then and, indeed, the dog had seemed utterly solid, but… I wasn’t certain. I answered, “He was real enough.”

Do I believe the dog was “real” or was it one of the cù sìth, the faery dogs of Scottish legend? I tend to swing both ways. But what I got from this as it settled into me was that I felt protected — and I continued to feel protected. I still do. And the way we feel, the energy we project matters. That alone is a kind of magic.

He was real enough.

What plot twists do you remember way back in your life? And how did they change things for you?