Author Topic: Pseudopod 392: The Dog’s Paw  (Read 4231 times)


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on: July 01, 2014, 02:22:49 AM
Pseudopod 392: The Dog’s Paw

by Derek Kunsken.

“The Dog’s Paw” is Derek’s first horror story and was written on a balcony overlooking Port-au-Prince six weeks after the earthquake of 2010. It first appeared in the Canadian horror anthology CHILLING TALES: IN WORDS, ALAS, DROWN I and was also selected for inclusion in Ellen Datlow’s YEAR’S BEST HORROR VOLUME SIX.

DEREK KUNSKEN has built genetically-engineered viruses, worked with street kids in Central America, served as a Canadian diplomat, and writes science fiction and fantasy in Ottawa, Canada. His work has previously appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, On Spec, Podcastle and several times in Asimov’s Science Fiction. His work has been short-listed for the Aurora Award and has won the Asimov’s Reader’s Award. His website is Derek Kunsken and he blogs at Blackgate.

Your reader – Lewis Davies – is an ex-actor turned history teacher and you can follow him @lewiskernow on twitter. He is always looking for opportunities to read aloud.

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“A cloud of gray smoke expanded around them. Tears leaked from Mr. Abdullah’s eyes and Lewis put his arm around him. He took Mr. Abdullah’s cigarette to tap off the ash and left both cigarettes in the ashtray.

“You are a great man,” Lewis said in Arabic.

Abdullah shook his head.

“You have a big heart,” Lewis said, “and I’ve come to help you.”

A choking sob burst from Mr. Abdullah.

“Tell me why you cut off your arm,” Lewis whispered.

Abdullah’s browned lips pressed into a damp line.

Lewis sighed. “Show me your arm.”

Abdullah turned his head sharply away.

“These marks are a sign,” Lewis said, “nothing more. Show me.”

Abdullah shook his head, but Lewis held him and lowered the blanket slowly. Mr. Abdullah’s wife squeaked and turned away. The edge of the blanket revealed a dog’s paw, furred in brown, with black pads under the foot, hugged close to Mr. Abdullah’s chest. Lewis gently pulled at the paw. He stroked the fur.

“We can fix all this,” Lewis said.”

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Reply #1 on: July 01, 2014, 08:04:49 AM
I enjoyed the story overall. 
Künsken has an envyable way of creating believable worlds. 
I would have liked to see him go all out and really create a different world instead of using the East/West role-reversal. 
I thought that the role-reversal was the only thing that kept me from losing myself fully in the story, but it was forgivable. 


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Reply #2 on: July 01, 2014, 12:35:29 PM
So...  the United Nations somehow makes it so that if you violate their ethical boundaries, you start turning into an animal?  I wasn't sure what the connection exactly was between the transformations and the UN and that ended up distracting me throughout the story watching for answers that I didn't see.

I was sad to see the girl die, but wasn't all that moved by his reaction to the stoning.  Yes, stoning sucks.  You are literally bludgeoning a defenseless person to death with big pointy rocks.  What did you expect it to be like? 


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Reply #3 on: July 01, 2014, 10:09:54 PM
I liked this. It reminded me a lot of Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant".

The titular paw was a bit strange, though. And, if this weren't a horror podcast, I'd have said unnecessary. The created world and the situation were already compelling enough, without this tangential bit of weirdness.


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Reply #4 on: July 02, 2014, 03:11:58 PM
I agree that the relationship between the transformations and the UN could have been clearer. But then again, perhaps the scariest thought would be if the transformations really were the legitimate signs from an angry God/universe/whatever that they are purported to be in this imagined universe of the story.

I liked the overall story in any case. I particularly enjoyed how we are sort of setup to view Lewis as potentially at least sincere and well intentioned, only to eventually have it hinted that he is less than sincere, and has intentions most modern people would not approve of.

This story reminded me of that old entry in the Borderlands anthology, or at least I think it was in there, where the imagined world is a place where kids are sacrificed to the Fast Food Gods. But while that story felt bluntly over the top and overly didactic in the process, this story felt more carefully devised to mess with the reader's expectations and comfort zones. I can see why it made a Best of compilation - it's topical, challenging and ugly. Does it say much beyond shoving the problem in our face and making us squirm a bit though? I will have to think about that.

The protagonist's reaction to the stoning may not be very moving, but the laughter and sense of everyday business surrounding it and contrasting with his reaction was affecting. I recall hearing of a recent case in real life where a family killed their daughter on some courthouse steps and the crowd there did nothing to stop it. Horror can help us explore the strangeness inside the human spirit.

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Reply #5 on: July 03, 2014, 03:18:26 PM
I thought the transformations were the will of God (metaphor for how someone that is in shame feels), and the UN were trying to protect the world from the transformations.  That's why I commented that it make have been better for him to just make up an entire new world.


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Reply #6 on: July 04, 2014, 03:10:46 AM
Ugh. My response got lost, I think.

I found the "role reversal" critical to the story. With the first reference to honor killings, I thought the Brits were there to stop the killings. Then I realized, no, just the opposite. It made me question my own preconceptions. Then with the realization that there was a real cost others were paying for what the young women were doing. It made me start thinking, what would it take for such a killing to be justified?

The story made me uncomfortable and poked holes in my assumptions . That's a good story.
« Last Edit: July 04, 2014, 07:53:53 AM by eytanz »


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Reply #7 on: July 09, 2014, 03:32:27 AM
My take was the same: a reversal of secular European and hardline Muslim values. But if an objective Power exists to transform family members due to Shaming, and if that Power is religious, would it strike non-believers? And if that Power is a secular, say a law of nature, why would the "Muslims" in this story fight it? Evocative descriptions in this story, and just enough hinting of the outside world to leave me wanting more, but for me the Power needs a little more explaining.