Dr. Roberts was the pride of Martiville. After years of patient research and effort, he had managed to produce the world’s first shot glass Chihuahua. He proudly displayed the little puppy in his hand at the town council meeting. It was tiny, as small as a mouse, and completely adorable. Nearly every one lifted their cell phones in unison to record the historic moment.
The town was smitten. A new town sign was commissioned, “Martiville: home of the shot glass Chihuahua.” Citizens joined waiting lists to become approved breeders. Dr. Roberts happily accepted as many applications as possible, certain that there would be a large demand for the little puppies.
Three years later, Dr. Roberts was in disgrace and the new town sign was gone. The little dogs were intelligent and within months many had managed to escape from the breeders. They took residence in the walls of all the buildings in town and began to multiply.
They made scratching sounds and barked and squealed at all hours. At first they only came out at night, but now they could be seen during the day too. They ruined food not kept in metal containers. They ripped and chewed anything and everything. Furniture, clothing, books, toys, papers, and tools. They traveled in packs.
Cats wouldn’t go near them. In fact, there were few cats left in Martiville. Most had run off after the first year. The dogs were too smart for traps. When they tried fumigation, the dogs somehow managed to migrate to surrounding homes until it was safe to return. The citizens of Martiville didn’t know what to do.
They held yet another city council meeting to try to solve the problem. They tried to ignore the tiny dogs nipping at their ankles and piddling on the carpet. The dogs that ran across the table and chewed on their notes and barked as they tried to speak were harder to ignore.
When they invited comments and suggestions, an angry mother stood. “My baby was in his crib. They chewed through the mosquito netting and bit him seven times before I could rescue him. If they’re biting people now, it won’t be long before they start spreading disease. We may be looking at the next great plague,” she said.
The alarmed citizens began to shout at the mayor and town council. Several were googling plagues and house listings in nearby towns on their phones. When the mayor finally had calmed the meeting down, a man at the back stood. He wasn’t a citizen of the town, and his clothes looked frayed and patched because of wear, not puppies. His beard was scruffy and his face lined.
“I would be willing to solve your problem,” he said. “For a fee, of course.”
The mayor looked skeptical. “Do you have any references?”
The man smiled. “Not exactly. But, I’d be willing to wait to collect my fee until after my work is done. I’d be happy to sign a contract binding us both to our agreement,” he said.
“What do we have to lose?” A council member asked.
“Do it!” Someone yelled from the audience.
They held a vote. It was unanimous. The scruffy, patchy man was hired. “What is your name?” The mayor asked.
“Call me The Piper,” the man said.
The mayor frowned. “All right. When can you get started?”
“Meet me here tomorrow morning at ten,” the piper said. “I’ll get rid of your pesky problem as soon as I’ve read over and signed the contract.” He whirled and his patchy coat swirled around him as he left the room.
The whole town gathered at city hall the next morning. The mayor and the town council signed the contract. The patchy piper read through the terms and signed with a flourish. Then he pulled out a little flute, smaller than a piccolo.
He put it to his lips and blew and moved his fingers. No sound came out. He paused. Nothing happened. He soundlessly played again.
There was a dull, roaring noise, as tiny dogs poured through doors and windows of every building, barking eagerly. The number of dogs that had been living in the walls was surprising. Nearly everyone had their cell phones out to record the event.
The piper led the dogs to a nearby river where they jumped in and were swept away and drowned. “That’s barbaric!” A citizen yelled.
“Who cares!” another one said.
“Wasn’t there some other way?” Someone asked.
The piper turned to the mayor. “Let’s go back to city hall and complete our agreement.”
“Wait a moment,” the mayor said. “We need to calculate taxes and permit fees and the required insurance costs for city employees.”
“That wasn’t part of our agreement,” the man said. “It wasn’t in the contract.”
“It’s part of our city laws and automatically applies to any agreement made by the city,” a city council member said.
“I am not a citizen of your city. Your laws do not apply to your agreement with me,” the man said.
“Of course they do,” the mayor said.
The man looked around at the crowd. Hundreds of cell phones were recording the argument. The man smirked. “If you do not pay me the full amount, I will make it impossible to use any technology within your city limits.”
“Are you threatening us? We don’t bargain with terrorists. You just invalidated our agreement,” The mayor said.
“We could put you in jail for that,” a city council member said. “You get nothing.”
“He did what you asked. I think you should pay him,” Dr. Roberts yelled from the crowd.
“As though anyone is going to listen to anything you have to say,” someone yelled. The citizens began to shout at each other and the mayor and the piper.
“Is that your final answer?” the piper asked.
“Yes,” the mayor said.
“Very well,” the piper said. He lifted his flute to his lips and began to play another soundless tune. The cell phone lights blinked out. The streetlights and houselights followed. The man swirled his patchy coat and turned, walking out of town, playing as he left.
Nothing that used electricity of any kind worked. Cars refused to run when they crossed city limits. Nothing they tried fixed it. The city of Martiville died, just like that. People walked their belongings in wagons and wheelbarrows to trucks waiting just outside city limits. Within weeks, nearly everyone had left.