The dog was black, first of all, and fierce-looking,
with paws like dinner plates, so they were afraid
of it, in spite of the ribs that showed through
its matted pelt. But it followed the children
everywhere, and let them hug it and ride it
and comb its snarled coat. It slept lightly,
growled at strangers, whined during storms.
When the horned piper came, and offered
to rid the village of vermin, the frantic dog
had to be chained in a cellar. After the children
were discovered to be missing, their parents
let the dog out. It pulled them desperately
toward the mountain, and broke its leash
when the sound of piping came downwind.
The mothers and fathers ran too. The dog
stood between the piper’s entranced band
and the door that had opened in the rock,
ominous thunder rumbling from its throat,
as the parents gathered their children to
their hearts. The piper darted past the dog,
then turned in the doorway with a look
of utter malice. He spat, and his tongue flew
wriggling toward the dog to bury itself
in black fur. The dog fell without a sound
as the mountain closed again. An older girl
who was mother only as eldest among orphans
flung herself down and wept over the lifeless
black body. Her tears fell like rain on parched
fields, and then she held not a dead dog but
a breathing man, reaching to touch her cheek
with one enormous hand, and he was the kindest
husband and father, covered in shaggy black hair.


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