Strange Horizons: October 27, 2008
The story opens with a statement and with a warning.
If you wanta learn you somethin', go on down to a place where two roads cross. Get there Saturday 'round midnight, and wait there 'til Sunday morning—do that for nine Sundays, all in a row. The dark man, he'll send his dog to watch on you while you wait. And on the ninth morning, the dark man will meet you. And he will learn you—anything you wanta learn. But you remember this: that dark man, he don't work for free.
Nine Sundays and you can learn anything you want. For a price.
The twist? The story is from the perspective of the dog. The narration focuses on smells and sounds, things a dog (even a potential hell-dog) might notice. The dog, of course, has attitude.
She's back under the oak tree, I'm back in the verbena. No breeze tonight, it's hot and close, and Mr. Moon is half the fella he used to be. She's got a lantern, makes a little circle of light, drawing every skeeter in ten counties, big cloud of buzz and bother. She's all over coated up with some unguent from a plastic bottle. Nasty smellin' stuff, and not hardly working by the way she's cussing and slapping.
She cusses like a man, and she's wearing those big old boots again. I expect she wishes she were beautiful. That's what I'd wish for, if I was an ugly woman.
Each Sunday brings a new section to the story and Dikeman manages to keep the essential core of a young woman sitting and waiting and still make each section feel dynamic. There is waiting and there is the dog’s thoughts, but the originality in flipping the mythos of waiting for the Devil at midnight simply works. Dikeman has written a very good story here.
In its own way, “Nine Sundays in a Row” is a beautiful story. The reader knows part of what is coming just because of what kind of story it is, but by the end, yeah, it’s a beautiful story. Even when everything is broken. It’s beautiful because there is a hint, a chance that maybe one day everything won’t always be broken. This will make sense by the end of the story, though perhaps it is also what I brought to the story rather than what Dikeman put in the story.
The story is a finalist for the StorySouth Million Writers Award. I had been semi-curious about those stories but hadn’t gotten around to any of them. When Rachel Swirsky, herself an outstanding writer, recommended the story (with the admission that Dikeman is a friend), I figured it was time to take a look. Besides, it had been far too long since I read anything from Strange Horizons. This is a reminder that I need to start again. It was more than worth the read.