the pied piper

Dec 08 2013

In the desperation of the rat plague, a young creature was brought before the town council, and introduced by the secretary as the piper. “What are you supposed to do?” asked the mayor.

The piper was a fragile fool shrouded amidst a faded pied rag, with long skinny limbs sticking out that the mayor could have snapped over his knee. It had flawless pale eyes like clear pools of fresh water, too wide apart and too large, barely submerged in the shallows of a bulbous skull. In a more reasonable cranium those luminous orbs might project a mesmerising beauty, but in the skull of The Piper, amongst dirty smears, they represented the gaze of an imbecile. Its hair was raggedly chopped and between the tufts peeked a few scabs.

“I am supposed to murder all the rats with my pipe,” it drawled, grinning vacantly. The mayor fondled the badge of office hanging from his neck and wrapped the chain around his finger and released it. The heavy golden medallion was technically the property of the town, but the mayor liked to amuse himself by considering it more as a gift for his services that the famine did not oblige him to sell. “Go on then, like a good piper,” he said. “Go away and do it.”

The piper went out onto the street and started playing its pipe. The pipe was a long tube with holes in it, formed out of some worthless shiny metal. The piper was dancing around, stroking the holes with its rippling fingers and blowing in the end of the tube, but as it played, no music came out. A crowd was gathered to the pantomime, and for a few moments the piper stopped to smile and wave. As more of the townsfolk were drawn to the spectacle, they began to point and laugh, and at times the piper was overwhelmed with their mirth, and itself stopped piping in order to laugh along with the rest of them. It had a pleasant tinkling laughter that softly resonated like sweet little bells, if little bells were forged of water, but in the uproar its laughter was inaudible.

But slowly and surely the laughter and pointing diminished as the onlookers registered the appearance of rats around their feet. The rats were coming from everywhere out of drains and from under scattered garbage and from within doors. They were hearing the strains of the silent song, and they liked what they heard. They were swaying along with the unskilful dancing of the piper. The townsfolk lifted children onto their shoulders and retreated to the shadows of town buildings. They crowded the windows and balconies of the town hall and public house peering down on the ocean of verminfur that swarmed the village. He was there in the village square piping for hours and hours late into the night until it seemed that all of the rats in the world were assembled. Then, followed by the crowd, one by one the piper ran the rats all down to the pier and into the water where they danced to their drowned deaths.

The crowd hoisted the piper up above their heads and carried it back to the council chambers. The mayor was waiting for it. “Thank you for your services,” said the mayor, “Now goodbye, go back to where you came from.” The piper was happy and bashful and babbling as it walked out onto the street, and it began to play its favourite song. At first the crowd simply watched it wandering off into the countryside, but something about the song called them afterwards. The song wafted through the houses of the village and into the surrounding farmlands, like the aroma of something irresistibly good to eat, some nourishing and wholesome sustenance. And the townspeople who had been present followed afterwards, and all the people anywhere around put down what they had been doing and followed along too, including the mayor.

They didn’t know why they followed but that they must do it. Some of them wondered why they were following. They thought that they were like Odysseus listening to the Sirens, and if only they could tie themselves down they wouldn’t need to worry. But their worry would not persist, as they thought that the music was not seductive like a Siren song. But the music was beautiful, and it was good and genuine and real. And they had to hear that music, they couldn’t ignore it. The piper came to a mountain, and as it approached, the mountain opened. Beyond the gates of the mountain the townsfolk glimpsed a strange gentle other land, which the piper passed into before the mountain closed behind it.

The mayoral medallion was melted down to pay for excavations, but there was nothing but rock in there. When the cash was exhausted and all were completely destitute they tore their fingers to shreds scratching in the earth. Some of them wandered away, but most of them died of starvation, infections, and emotional deficiencies. Their corpses were eaten by rats.

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