Little known fact, the mayor of Hamelin reneged on his contract Meave Maddox aka, the Pied Piper when he rid the small village of a rat infestation. The legend states he then turned his magical flute on the children and marched them out of town much to the chagrin of the town's folk. Taking place in the thirteenth century in Lower Saxony, his action did not cause an Amber Alert as it would have today. After the betrayal, Meave moved to Palm Springs. The gossip manuscript written and published by hand at the Therpopulois Abbey on a remote island in the Aegean, carried the entire sordid account.
Meave was a curious sort, dressed in pied rags sewn together from various swaths from his days in Hamelin as a rag picker. It was during this time he became acquainted with the robust rat population. He found them docile for the most part, content with their station as village refuse cleaners. Rats did not have a good reputation with the rest of the general population, however and many citizens were distressed when they found one of their kind munching on scraps thrown carelessly into the alley refuse containers.
"We must strive to control their swelling numbers." Mayor Stumbert announced it in the public square. "I will pay anyone who helps reduce the pestilence problem we currently are experiencing."
"Cats!" Shouted Frau Groussing, Hamelin's crazy cat lady. She smiled as four of her cats purred around her dirty feet.
"Cats? I had not considered that." Mayor Stumbert stroked his long white beard.
Frau Groussing released her seventy house cat at various locations in Hamelin, but since the cats were well fed, they were not effective. In the morning, the rat population seemed to have grown. Rats filled the narrow alleys of the village as the cats were being fed by their owner, Frau Groussing.
Mayor Stumbert concluded cats were not the answer. He ordered his staff to hang posters in the village posting a bounty on the rats.
Meave read one of the postings on his way to pick rags.
"Sure could use some of that gold." He thought to himself as he put his hand to his stubbly chin.
No one in town paid much attention to the unsightly rag picker with his garment of many colors and his filthy appearance. Shopkeepers would chase him away when he was seen peering in their windows.
The fact was he was quite ambivalent to their jibes and barbs about his shabby attire and his grungy appearance. He was told that appearance was not a true reflection of the worth of a person and character mattered much more. Many of the barb throwers considered him to be pathologically ambivalent.
As an orphan, his blind Uncle Klaus raised him. It was his uncle that taught Meave the values that would shape him. Once a master flute player in an orchestra, Klaus gave his nephew lessons in the evenings.
"Music is the universal language known by both men and beasts." He would tell Meave as he played Mozart's Magic Flute. "Music is the balm that soothes the soul."
Life with Uncle Klaus turned out to be comfortable, but one night as Meave played the flute, his uncle had a fatal heart attack. Since Meave was just twelve, it was determined by the city authorities that he would go to the orphanage. They arrived to take him there despite the orphanage’s poor reputation with allegations of mistreatment and endenturement of the children.
One of the attendants, Herr Whidding was a surly curmudgeon who took pleasure in inflicting suffering on the children. Armed with a thick paddle he wielded frequently, his favorite target seemed to become Meave.
"Stop playing that blasted flute, boy!" Whidding would rave when Meave would play for the other children, but the other children would go into a trance whenever he began to play. Whenever he played some old folk tunes, the children would begin to dance.
His ambivalence also grew out of the hypocrisy shown to him as a young orphan. As he walked down the sidewalk, the town's folk would turn their heads the other way even though he would doff his cap. They would turn up their noses as they walked into the church. His pathological ambivalence grew out of his feeling that at times they seemed to blame him for being an orphan. He heard them talk behind his back, contemplating if he was a bastard child or not. There seemed to be no end to their cruel remarks.
Being an orphan, however, wasn't his fault. His mother died of consumption and his father died a soldier's death in combat. When the welfare workers showed up, so did Uncle Klaus, his mother's older brother, to prevent them from taking him away to become a ward of the state.
Finally his pathological ambivalence came from a God who never seemed to be listening to his prayers or turned a deaf ear to his prayers. Uncle Klaus taught him God did listen, but in his four years under the cruel hand of Herr Whidding, God had not bothered to show him any signs that he was listening.
Meave ran away from the orphanage and played flute in the town square, but often his sessions were interrupted by the police. His money was confiscated and he would spend the night in jail where it was warm and he would get a good breakfast before being released.
One night he happened to have his flute with him as he picked through a stack of rags someone had left on the sidewalk. Of course the material was torn and soiled, but the colors were vibrant nonetheless. As he began to go through them, a pack of rats appeared. One of them, the leader, bared his sharp teeth. With nothing to fend them off, Meave put the flute to his lips and played A waltz.
"Music will soothe the soul of a wild beast." He could hear his uncle tell him when Meave was learning to play.
Much to his amazement, the rats became docile, even the one who bore its teeth. Standing up, Maeve began to move his feet as his uncle had taught him.
"It's like this, my boy. Uh one, two, three." He would take Maeve dancing a waltz around the small front room to A three quarter time.
It was like magic.
It was like magic until the police stopped him.
"Why are you playing the flute after curfew?" The chubby officer asked.
"I was practicing." He nodded as the rats ran for the shadows.
"This is not the time." The tall lanky officer shook his head. "I'm afraid we are going to have to take you in." He slapped his stick against his open hand with a loud, "Thwack!"
Mayor Stumbert stood in front of the citizens of Hamelin on A podium, "The rat infestation has gotten worse. I need someone to rid us of these varmints. Other mayors have reported a disease connected to rats that has turned into an epidemic."
The crowd began to murmur.
"So you see, we must take this problem seriously." He turned his head to the two men flanking him on either side.
Meave raised his hand slowly. He heard some of the people chuckle.
"Him? What can that beggar do?"
"Mayor?" He spoke out.
Mayor Stumbert looked out and saw the young man dressed in different colored rags. He sighed letting his shoulders visibly slump, "Yes?"
"I believe I have a solution." He coughed.
"I'm sure if my cats couldn't do it, whatever crazy idea you have would be preposterous." Frau Groussing hissed.
"Whatever you can do to rid this village of rats, you will earn your weight in gold." Mayor Stumbert declared.
"Alright." Meave nodded. "With nothing but my flute, I will rid Hamelin of rats."
"What are you, some kind of pied piper?" Mayor Stumbert squinted at Meave.
"Exactly." He chuckled.
Starting at the north end of Hamelin early the next morning, Meave began to play his flute. It was a warm summer morning, children were already playing on public playgrounds.
"Look, there is the Pied Piper!" One of them would point and shout when he would pass by. All of them would run and wave. There was a long line of rats trailing behind as he played.
By late afternoon, Meave had completed his symphony and was headed out of the village without a single rat left behind. The children cheered as he waltzed into the woods.
Legend says he led the rats to A river and drowned them, but then too, the statue commemorating him has him wearing fine attire proving you can't trust the accuracy of A good legend. No one was ever sure what became of the rats, but those who actually knew Meave, knew he would never do such a thing to the rats. All the citizens knew was Hamelin was rat-free.
Mayor Stumbert had the Pied Piper meet with him the next day. Reading an official edict, he thanked Meave for ridding the village of the rats.
"And the gold?" Meave asked.
"Yes, about that."
Legend does tell us that Meave walked out in anger and putting his flute to his lips to rid Hamelin of all of the children. Legends have been known to exaggerate just a bit. No doubt Mayor Stumbert helped promote some of these fake rumors about this Pied Piper.
The sad truth is our past is full of stories of mistreatment of the innocents without resorting to old legends. But then perhaps legends can substitute for reality when the truth is too much to bear.
From what my sources have told me, Meave Maddox moved to Palm Springs upon his betrayal in Hamelin. He still plays his flute in some of the swanky places and casinos out there in the desert. From what I've heard, he also works part time in pest control in some of the more ritzy casinos, but I wouldn't put any chips on it if I were you.
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I drew your story from the critique circle. I like the modern retelling, besides who isn't moving to warmer climates these days and working part time, pursuing a new career. I hadn't read a mention of rag pickers in some time. That's some old world poverty for sure. I had a different take on an American Legend with the same prompt. If you have time to read, tell me what you think.
Thank you, Kevin. I've always like Shrek for the way it does fairy tales. Give me name of your story and I'd be glad to read it over.
My story this week is The Ballad of Jim Bowie. It is a humorous take on an American Icon.