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"Say there, Donkey, where are you headed?"
It was cold to be out traveling. Nonetheless alone. It caught Dog off guard, some old donkey trudging alone, eyes straight ahead, each step a routine. Hell, the drifter hadn't even noticed Dog until he bothered to call out.
The donkey stopped, craning his long neck over in the dog's direction, though not directly acknowledging Dog with a gaze.
"To Bremen. To be a musician. To earn my bread."
Dog tilted his head to the side.
Donkey sputtered. "I'm of no use to my master any longer. He'd rather let me starve to death than cough up the measly sum necessary to sustain me. So I decided to make my own way."
Dog blinked a few times. "I see."
"So unless you have any help to offer, I should be on my way. Bremen is yet a long, long way out." And the donkey started off again down the road.
Dog blinked a few more times. "Wait! Wait, please." Dog stood up, too quick for his old joints, and trotted over toward the donkey, who waited as Dog asked.
"A musician, you said? What do you play?"
Donkey smirked before letting out a reckless bray. Dog flinched, but laughed after the other animal was done with his song.
"I am my own instrument."
"You'll be a hit!"
"You really think so?" Donkey's ears twitched.
"Why, certainly! If I could sing like that, maybe my own master would want to keep me around, as well."
Donkey cocked an eyebrow, his tail swishing to and fro. "Your master as well? But you seem like a fine old dog to me."
Dog pouted. "That's what I thought. Can't hunt like I used to now, though. No purpose for a dog like that, as far as he's concerned. I can hardly blame him; I don't do much more than pester strangers all day."
Donkey opened his long maw to say something, but shut it after a moment. The two stood, not looking at each other, until Donkey caved.
"How's your singing voice, Dog?"
Dog's tail wagged. "Oh, me? Well, it's not exactly...I'm quite...is there, uh, why do you ask?"
Donkey smiled in that way only a donkey can. "Nothing would impress the folks of Bremen more than a musical donkey. That is, nothing besides a musical duo of a donkey and a dog."
At once, Dog began barking his heart out. Until he had let out the extents of what he could muster, Dog sang and sang.
Out of breath. "Well...how was that?"
"Let's go down to Bremen, Dog."
And the unlikely duo started off on the road to Bremen.
"Dog. What is it?"
"We must be somewhat near to Bremen, right?"
Donkey sputtered. "I'm sick of this question, Dog."
"I know, Donkey, but my feet are awfully tired."
"You don't say. How do you think I feel—I'm five times your weight."
"I know, I know. I don't mean to blame you, or to complain, I just...I wonder if we should stop and rest."
"Rest? Where? We haven't a home anymore, Dog." Dog looked around. A lurching pit in his stomach formed hearing this said out loud to him. At least, before he left, he had a home. "Not that we had much of one to begin with," Donkey tacked on.
Right. Of course. This was the only option. "Well, perhaps we could ask the people at that house down there if they could help two old travelers out."
Donkey, for the first time in hours, slowed to a stop as he also eyed the shack of a house. He seemed to be thinking dutifully.
"It couldn't hurt to ask, Donkey."
Donkey turned his head toward Dog, his eyes still glued to the house. "Alright. Let's go."
Finally, at the first hint of good news in weeks, Dog began trotting toward the house. Donkey did not reciprocate the enthusiasm, but Dog didn't care, even as he sat waiting for Donkey to arrive.
"Can you see into the window, Donkey? I'm much too short."
"Sure." Donkey peered in, straining to keep out of view of any inhabitants. Inside the house, Donkey spotted a small table, with a family sat around it. A mother, a father, and a daughter. The decrepit home was poorly lit, and the floorboards were peeling. The three were enraptured in conversation. Donkey brought his head back, not daring to peep any longer.
"Well, what did you see?" Donkey looked down toward Dog. His friend was thin. He imagined he himself must be, too. "A family. A family of robbers."
"How do you know they are robbers?"
Donkey paused. "Their bounties. No family that small, owning this little, could own the ornate decorations I saw in that house."
"Wow! Real robbers! Thrilling."
"Which means we can't just ask them for help, Dog."
Dog stopped himself from protesting, realizing the truth of Donkey's words. "Oh. I see. So what do we do?"
Donkey's felt his shoulders rising in tension, much as he willed himself to calm down. "I have an idea."
"Let's hear it."
"We perform for them!"
Dog's tail started wagging. "Of course!"
"Everyone loves a surprise musical performance! Even robbers. And, if they're unimpressed, they'll surely respect our self-starting attitude and initiative."
"Exactly! Here, climb on my shoulders to get in through this window. I'll come in through the door."
Dog nodded his head, his ears flopping about wildly. He hopped onto Donkey's back, who let out a small strained puff of breath before quickly straightening his back out. Dog poked his head in through the window, seeing the family. But no jewels, nor gems, nor other decorations of robbers. "What's the hold up, Dog? Jump in and start singing! I'll come in and join you."
Dog looked back down at Donkey, totally unsure.
"Just do it!" Donkey urged himself upward, almost forcing Dog inside. So Dog jumped, landing with an awkward thud. The family froze, staring.
"Sing!" Donkey ordered from outside, making his way to the front door.
Dog began barking as melodically as he could. The mother screamed, jumping up from her chair and running to the corner of the room. The daughter erupted in a terrified mess of tears and screams.
At once, Donkey burst through the door, stripping it from its hinges, braying with all his might. Feeling encouraged, Dog started barking louder.
"Good Lord above!" The father shouted, moving toward his wife after grabbing his crying daughter, angry eyes locked on the animals.
"Keep singing, Dog! They love it!"
And Dog did as he was told.
Faster than Dog could perceive, the father reached into a cupboard, pulling out a musket.
Dog's heart stopped at the sight of the weapon similar to that his master had used to hunt. His master had never worn the expression of fear borne now by the family. He stopped singing. "Donkey, I don't think these are robbers."
"Keep singing!"
"Donkey, no! They don't like our song! We're not musicians!"
Donkey finally noticed the musket being loaded and quieted. His song was quickly replaced by a scream of terror, much louder than his music.
The father swung the gun to his shoulder, pointing it square in Donkey's face. Dog felt himself overcome by an emotion he hardly recognized.
"Don't you dare!" And Dog leapt toward the father. Dog barked with ferocity rivaling his prime. Donkey's eyes jumped between the gun and his friend. He couldn't keep his eyes open, fear overwhelming him.
All five animals in the house screamed before all were deafened by the horrifying bang of the musket. Donkey, shocked to still stand, opened his eyes slowly.
"Get out! Now!" The father waved the gun at Donkey, who was finally silent, frozen with dread at the sight of his friend's mangled, bloodied body. Killed instantly.
"Dog...I...I'm so sorry..." Donkey blinked one last time before barreling out of the house as quick as his tired old legs could take him.
If there was no Bremen for dogs like his friend, then there sure as hell was no Bremen for donkeys like him.


Image of Among the Shadows


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Image of Abigail Haworth
Abigail Haworth · ago
This is so interesting. Though sad. What tale is it based on? It wasn't familiar to me.
Image of Abigail Haworth
Abigail Haworth · ago
Okay I looked it up, and now I'm mad because they actually got a happy ending in the story 😆

This is an interesting and more resonant take though, I feel. Drives home more the point.

Image of Abigail Haworth
Abigail Haworth · ago
It sounds like they have a monument actually in some town in Germany?
Image of Gus Eberlein
Gus Eberlein · ago
Thank you for reading! Yeah, it's from the Town Musicians of Bremen by the Brothers Grimm. My parents read it to me a lot growing up, and this story is partly inspired by the song "Bremen" by PigPen Theatre Co. The original story has 4 animals, and a monument of their fabled stack is in the northern German city of Bremen.