Note from Tessa, the First: Some of you may know that Maggie is currently wandering about the wilds of Europe, leashed to publicists and forced to live off the blood of booksellers.
Valiantly, she began writing her Pied Piper story to post for you today, but seeing as she’s in Germany, the home of said Piper, there was a snag.
Her laptop died. It seems her story is too close to the truth for the spirit of the Piper to allow her to finish it (though he apparently has nothing against straight irons"). Against the wishes of the dead and in the face of curses and painful consequences to our firstborn – we’re posting the beginning of her story anyway!
This was what Maggie managed to throw my way before being sucked into some untold Hell dimension, where she’s no doubt being forced to dance with personified preservatives. If we ever hear from her again, she’ll make it up to you. Somehow. Some way.
The piper didn’t care much for children.
He had been in his current state for long enough that he couldn’t remember if it had merely been a very long time since he had been one or if he had never, in fact, ever been one at all. In any case, he found children to be a difficult breed. Like the Celts, they were never on time, like the Huns, they seemed to fixate on the smallest and most inconsequential of details, like the Romans, they were prone to fits of passion and temper just when it was time to sleep. There was nothing so uncomfortable for the piper as the idea of being trapped in a conversation with a child, struggling for something to say, some conversation topic that would fill that interminable time until the child was retrieved by whomever it belonged to.
To be fair, the piper did not have very much in common with children.
But the piper did have a lot in common with rats. And such commonality was both comforting and aggravating; one never likes to see so much of themselves in another. Like a rat, the piper had good hearing but bad sight, was a good swimmer but a poor climber, and had short brown hair that was impervious to the elements. The piper could withstand great heat and great cold, and carried a great many germs though none of them troubled him particularly. Like a rat, he could eat almost anything though he preferred cooked eggs if they were to be had. He did not have a tail, but he could not remember if he had lost it or had merely never had one.
It was the piper’s desire for cooked eggs that drove him toward civilization. Unlike roots and garbage or bulbs and grubs or berries and half-feathered baby birds, cooked eggs required a fire and a pan and a hand to combine the two. The piper was not a fan of fire, so cooked eggs required money.
Money was a tricky thing. Like water, it had a way of disappearing in the sun even if you were not using it. Money was always a problem for the piper; it was an element that he didn’t understand.
But cooked eggs!
Of the many skills he possessed, his ability to conjure rats from walls was the one most likely to earn him a wage. So he kept a look out as he journeyed. There were rats everywhere, and some towns had made their peace with that, but some towns could not come to an agreement. The piper sniffed and crawled and poked in the rubbish pits near the towns, looking for rats inexpertly killed or trash scrubbed fastidiously clean. Everyone knew that food drew rats in. But they never understood that a lack of food wouldn’t draw rats back out. Clean garbage, dead rats, too many cats: this was a recipe for cooked eggs.
Hamelin was one of these towns. As the piper strode in, walking from shadow to shadow until he felt sure, he saw the dead rats hanging from doorways, tied by their tails in threes and sevens. Such mystical methods were useless: rats didn’t believe in God or gods. The piper sneered and clucked his tongue at the gesture.
“What are you about?”
The man who addressed the piper was very clean. His face was scrubbed until his cheeks were red as a painted doll, and his lips, too, were bright and full as a woman’s. All of him was stuffed and full in soft curves and dimples that filled his clothing. He was an animal fed to contentedness, a creature pleased and coy. The piper flared his nostrils.
“Rats,” the piper said. “I am a rat catcher.”
“You are never one,” said the man. “Go on out. We don’t serve those with their hands out here.”
The piper said, “The rats speak for me.” And he ran his fingers along the bottom of his many-colored jacket. It was made of patches upon patches upon something that was once the skin of something that was once alive, and knotted in a tough fringe at the hem were scores of tails that swayed when he moved.
Note from Tessa, the Second: I think it’s safe to say Maggie was hungry when she wrote this. Mmmm cooked eggs. To distract yourself, check it out: All three Merry Fates will be at The Loft in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Friday the 22nd of October for our VERY FIRST panel! It’s open to the public, but also part of KidLitCon.