The Black Dog
Georgena Goff | Unibook | 1971 | 156 pages
At the request of her boyfriend Jed Kluskey, Charlotte (Lottie) Daley moves into a boarding house run by a clairvoyant landlady, Mrs. Potter. Jed is an academic writer researching the history of the Holme clan, an infamous local “psychic family”, whose current member actively participates in Mrs. Potter’s séance group. Did every university in the early seventies have their own Department of Parapsychology, offering doctoral degrees in Pseudoscience? According to legend, the original Holme was born of a virgin birth, but never found after his mother died in childbirth. Rumors tell of her grave being guarded by a supernatural black dog—a dog that disappears at twenty-five year intervals with the arrival of a new, fully-grown Holme.
Lottie wins the trust of Mrs. Potter after she encounters a spectral black dog in the hallway outside her room, precipitating an invitation—much to Jed’s satisfaction—to the landlady’s next séance. However, the séance ends in tragedy; in the course of the psychic reading, the room is filled with the disembodied sound of a dog panting, and Mrs. Potter dies from an apparent heart attack. Lottie initially suspects Holme, but he eventually wins over her trust by charming her with his fair lashes and shy smile—not by licking her hand or chasing a red rubber ball.
Initially visiting Holme’s remote mansion by the lake to assist with some light typing duties, Lottie finds herself falling under his mysterious charms. She moves into a room at the house and settles into a role supporting Holme’s own practice of psychic readings. Even Jed’s warning about two missing local women goes unheeded—until Lottie makes a shocking discovery in the cellar. Finally finding the resolve to leave, Lottie’s path to freedom is blocked by a malevolent black dog.
After Lottie moves into Holme’s estate, The Black Dog shifts focus, becoming more of a captive drama than a psychic mystery. The lore surrounding the virgin birth and the cycle of Holme’s appearance remains sketchily detailed, but the circumstances of Lottie’s fellow prisoners are grimly described. Most unsettling is the “sugar tit”, a rag filled with milk-soaked crackers and pinched into a nipple shape, that Lottie fashions to help nourish a withered companion, an adult curled up inside a child’s cradle. In an alternate existence as an exploitation novel, The Black Dog could have been titled Sugar Tit—with Lottie herself as the (figuratively) nipple-shaped sustenance for a ravenously evil presence, leaching away her life force as it attempts to regenerate.