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The Black Dog of Hanging Hills

Retold by S. E. Schlosser

Justin stepped out of the front door of his Meriden hotel and
stretched. He had arrived a day early for the hiking vacation he
was taking with his best friend, Tom. The drive had been a long
one, and he felt the need to stretch his legs while there was still
some afternoon left. He didn’t want to get back into the car,
but he was eager to get his first glimpse of Hubbard Park.

When Tom had first recommended hiking the Hanging
Hills in Connecticut, Justin had been skeptical. Connecticut
was not the first place that had come to his mind when considering a vacation. But as usual, Tom had been right. It was
beautiful here, despite the rain. Tom was enthusiastic about
hiking the Metacomet Trail, part of which went through
Hubbard Park, where there was a stone observation tower on
East Peak called Castle Crag. Then the trail meandered over
West Peak, 1,024 feet above sea level.

“From Castle Crag,” Tom had said, “you can see the
Sleeping Giant Mountain Range to the south, and on a clear
day you can catch a glimpse of Long Island Sound. To the
north you can see all the way to the foothills of the Berkshires!”

I won’t go too far, Justin said to himself as he pulled into the
parking lot. Just get a bit of a preview.

If the gorgeous landscapes he had seen as he traveled along
I–691 were any indication, then he and Tom were in for a real
treat the next day when they hiked the Metacomet.

Justin found his way easily to the blue-blazed trail. The rain
was a bit heavier now, and no one was in sight. He was quite high
on the mountain when he heard barking. He looked around him
and saw a medium-sized black dog with great big brown eyes
and a long silky tail trotting up the path toward him.

“Well, where did you come from?” Justin asked. The dog
pranced about, his whole back end wagging with his tail.

“Would you like to take a walk?” Justin asked him. The
dog barked excitedly and rushed ahead a few yards. Then he
paused and looked back at Justin expectantly. Justin laughed.
His parents had two black Labradors back at home. He had
seen that look before.

“I’m coming!” he said, and hurried after the dog.

They hiked the mountain trails for another half hour
before Justin reluctantly turned back toward town.

“You must be getting hungry, too,” he said to his canine
companion. The dog wagged his tail enthusiastically. They
proceeded back down the trail they had just climbed. But
when Justin emerged onto the road, the dog was gone. He
shrugged philosophically. After all, he couldn’t take the dog
home with him.

Realizing that he was soaked to the skin by the persistent
drizzle, Justin hurried back to the inn to take a hot shower and
change.

He dined that night at the inn restaurant. After enjoying a
steak dinner, Justin lingered at the table, sipping his coffee and
reviewing the day. It had been an excellent—if short—hike.
When Tom arrived in the morning, they would hike all the way
over West Peak.

“Did you have a nice hike?” asked the pretty blond waitress,
coming over to refill his cup.

“Yes indeed. I had some unexpected company,” he said
with a smile.

“Really? I thought you were the only one crazy enough to
go hiking in the rain,” she teased.

“It was a black dog,” he said. “Cute fellow. Followed me
all the way up the mountain and down again.”

He looked up from his coffee to see that the waitress’ face
had gone pale.

“A black dog?” she asked. “That’s not good.”

“Why not?”

“We have a saying around here,” she replied. “‘And if a
man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if
twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die.’”

He laughed. “That’s just superstition.”

She did not laugh with him.

“That’s what a man named Mr. Pynchon said, back in the
early 1900s,” she said. “He saw the black dog twice. The second
time he saw the dog, the friend he was climbing with fell
to his death. And later, Mr. Pynchon decided to climb the same
mountain, and he died, too. Everyone here believes he saw the
dog just before he fell.”

“Nonsense. That was years ago. This dog was just a cute
stray,” Justin said uneasily.

She shrugged. “I’d be careful if I were you.” She took the
coffeepot over to her other customers.

Tom arrived early the next morning. When Justin told him
about the black dog, he chuckled. “I should have warned you
about the legend. Are you sure you want to go back up the
mountain today?”

“Oh please,” Justin said. They both laughed. Tom hurried
into the inn with his luggage. As soon as Tom had settled into
his room, they set out on their hike.

The day was perfect and the scenery was beautiful. Justin
kept taking big breaths of the clean air. The narrow trail they
followed twisted up and up. There were wildflowers everywhere.
Justin saw bloodroot, trillium, and Dutchman’s-breeches. Now
that the rain had cleared, he could better appreciate the splendid
views.

“See, isn’t this better than flying all the way to Colorado?”
Tom called.

“It’s not bad,” Justin replied.

They stopped for a few minutes to admire the view from
Castle Crag before they continued onward and up the steep
path of West Peak. Suddenly Justin heard a familiar bark. He
looked up. Farther up the steep trail stood the black dog,
plumed tail waving. He looked deep into the friendly brown
eyes as he called back to Tom: “There’s the dog.”

Justin’s smile faded suddenly. The dog’s eyes had begun to
glow with a red light. A shudder of alarm went through his
body, just before his foot slipped on the muddy trail. He
plunged down the side of the mountain, desperately grabbing
at rocks, trying to halt his descent. It seemed to take forever
for him to stop sliding. There was a stabbing pain in his leg.
When he looked at it, his head swimming, he saw that it was
bent at an odd angle. He heard Tom yelling in panic just
before he fainted.

They had to send in a mountain rescue team to get him off
West Peak. At the hospital the doctor told Justin that his leg
was broken in two places.

“I know that path,” the doctor continued. “That was a
nasty place to take a fall. You’re very lucky to get away with
only a broken leg.”

Then the doctor let Tom come in.

“You know, that was a very strange fall,” said Tom uneasily.

“You don’t really think it had anything to do with that black
dog?”

Justin looked down at the cast that extended all the way up
to his hip. “I don’t know. But I don’t really want to find out.
Next time, let’s go to Colorado.”

Tom agreed.
 


 
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