Kris Dikeman’s “Nine Sundays in a Row,” published in Strange Horizons, and the last of the finalists for the Million Writers Award, is another fresh take on a classic theme: the crossroads. Here’s the form that this crossroads myth takes:
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.
The narrator is the dark man’s dog, speaking as he watches a girl come Sunday after Sunday. At first, he doesn’t think much of her, but he’s true to the archetype of dog, and soon he is loyal to her–more loyal than she is to herself.
I think what really makes this story work is the voice, and the way the story stays absolutely rooted in its point of view. The dog’s not cutesy, and, while he does fit the traditional concept of dog, he’s not stereotypical. Dikeman uses just a touch of vernacular. This is so hard to get right, but I’d say she pulls it off. The dog’s diction comes through in a “mebbe” here and the way a contraction is used there.
The other characters all have stories of their own–the dark man, of course, and the girl, and the dog’s rival, Red Rooster. Dikeman doesn’t try to take any of that on. She just lets these other stories hover there, just visible at the edges of the dog’s perception. This is the dog’s story, the story of how it is brave, heroic, and loyal, but that story serves as a glass through which many other stories can be glimpsed. This viewpoint is what makes the crossroads story feel so fresh–that and the very specific sense of the dark man that the story creates.