(Written September 2010)
I thought of writing this when I stumbled across a wikipedia article about the urban myth of The Pie Man. It had a cool black and white illustration of the pie man, the kind that had come from some old book of fairy tales. Then I couldn't find the exact article I'd read again anywhere, I thought I'd bookmarked it, but apparently not. Eventually I gave up looking for it and just sat down and wrote this.
The Pie Man stood at the edge of the street, adjusting the shoulder straps of his tray to prevent them digging hard into his old bones. He lifted the cloth cover and draped it forward over the edge of the uppermost tray, revealing his tasty treats on top, laid out by the dozen.
“Fresh pie, Madam?” he said.
The passing lady-in-blue turned up her nose and swiftly trotted by, dragging her reluctant husband under her arm before his nostrils could catch a whiff of pastry. He’d had quite enough pies, she had apparently decided, and his portly frame need not carry another, lest his braces snap or his heart give out.
“Fresh pie, Sir?” enquired the Pie Man of another passer-by.
The thin gentleman paused for thought.
“What kind of pie?”
“Meat pie, Sir, baked this morning, not an hour ago.” The Pie Man smiled a toothy grin, wide like the twisted, pointy moustache above it.
“Oh, not right now. I haven’t the change,” said the gentleman.
That’s okay, thought the Pie Man, his smile disappearing, the first pie is always the hardest to sell, it was still late morning, and thoughts will soon turn to luncheon.
The Pie Man strolled down the narrow, cobbled street, calling out his wares. He stopped at a black-painted door and rapped his knuckles against the wood. Presently a young housemaid answered, appearing flustered, shouting a ‘something’ about a ‘someone’ over her shoulder to someone else out of sight.
“What do we have here, then?” she said.
“Fresh meat pies, Miss, two-a-penny,” said the Pie Man.
“Oh, go on then, I’m starving, and another may keep his grace’s temper, if my luck’s to change!” She pulled out a purse in which she rummaged for a penny to trade, and the Pie Man handed over two pies wrapped in squares of thick, waxed paper.
Now we’re getting somewhere, thought the Pie Man. The door shut behind him and his bulging eyes gleamed above a knowing grin.
“Excuse me, Gov,” said a small voice. The ragamuffin tugged at the Pie Man’s apron and stopped him in his tracks. “Spare a pie for a pauper?”
The Pie Man sneered and raised his hand.
“Awright, awright,” the boy cried, retreating rapidly, “only asking! Blimey, some people…”
Trade gradually picked up and, within an hour at most, the Pie Man had sold all his pies. He returned the trays to the bakery, where he was greeted by Mr Brown the baker.
“Business is good, I see,” said Mr Brown.
“Yes, quite fine,” said the Pie Man. “I shall want to double my order for tomorrow, I think.”
“Alright, well, I shall need more meat, there’s precious little left of the last delivery.”
“Then I shall see to it that another delivery is made. It will be left in the locker behind the shop as before, ready for you in the morning, and I will return at the same time tomorrow to collect the pies. All good?”
“Very well, I’ll see you then.”
Late that night the Pie Man prowled the back streets, the narrow passages, under bridges, the dark places, and the hidden places, where things were lost and things could be found. And in these places he would find the homeless, and the hungry, the destitute that could so easily be led astray on the promise of a shiny penny, or the prospect of a free meal.
“Come lad, this way, it’s down here,” said the Pie Man. A small boy, a nervous little wretch, shivered in the cold, and followed the Pie Man down the unlit alleyway. “It’s just through here.” The Pie Man ushered the boy ahead of him, but this alley was a dead end. The boy froze, confused, and scared. The Pie Man twisted the moustache above his wide grin, and struck the poor lad down.
He had thought he was alone, as he prepared his package of meat for delivery to the baker, but the dark places have many eyes, and many tongues. Unseen by the Pie Man, hidden in shadow blacker than coal, was another boy. A more streetwise ragamuffin than the poor soul who had just met his end. He sat in silence; teeth clamping tongue; and watched the Pie Man perform his butchery.
And so word spread, and rumours flourished, of a murderous pie man who would turn the helpless and the homeless into pies, to be fed to the rich and gentle folk. But not every one among the homeless would count themselves as helpless. And not all devoid of another’s care are devoid of care for others.
“Afternoon,” said Mr Brown the baker. It was a little later than customary for the Pie Man to return. “Took a little longer to clear this lot I see.”
“Yes, I suppose trade is not entirely predictable,” the Pie Man mused.
“You might say that, but the public fair’s on tomorrow. There’ll be all sorts about along the bank-side. You could make a killing.”
“Indeed, I expect I could,” the Pie Man grinned.
“So let’s say, you double the delivery and I’ll double the batch, then, eh?”
The Pie Man realised he would have to work extra late tonight.
As the shadows lengthened and darkness descended, the nightly gloom filled up the crevices between houses and shops, inns and taverns, ushering their inhabitants deep inside to seek the protection of light, by candle and by fire. The Pie Man took to his beat. He had twice the work to do tonight, and precious little time to achieve it, as bakers rise before the sun. Yet haste may deny caution, and routine may breed arrogance, and one should not fall victim to such follies.
“Spare a penny for a pauper, Gov?” asked a small voice.
The Pie Man grinned; perhaps this would be easier than he had thought.
“But of course, though could you first show an old man to Hook’s Tavern? For my eyes are dim, and don’t much favour this light, I should hate to lose your penny in the dark.”
“It’s through that alleyway,” said the boy.
Yes, thought the Pie Man, yes it is.
“Won’t you lead the way?” he asked, but the boy would not pass.
“It’s just through there, Mister,” the boy said.
Very well, “Come along now,” just a little further.
There was a tug on the tail of the Pie Man’s long coat. This will do, he thought, and turned around.
The Pie Man was struck square on the temple by a heavy piece of wood, and his eyes would see no more.
“That’ll do,” said the boy standing over him. He bent down and removed the blue and white apron from beneath the Pie Man’s cloak.
The baker went to the locker outside the back of his shop at first light. Sure enough, an extra large delivery of meat had been left for him as promised although, as he set about preparing the filling for his pies, he did notice it seemed a little tougher, and a little more grey than usual. Still, a little extra salt and no one would notice once it was all boiled up and cased in thick, crusty pastry.
An hour before noon there was a knock at the back door. The Pie Man was here for his pies, which the baker had just finished loading up onto trays. The baker opened the door looking up, and then he looked down.
“Hello Sir, I’m here to collect the pies,” said an unlikely looking young lad to a befuddled looking baker. “I’m the Pie Man’s apprentice.”
Loaded up with trays of fresh meat pies, the young lad set off down the street to a large, imposing building. A buxom woman opened the door.
“You again? I told you there’s no room here. We’re full to bursting.”
“I’m not looking for a room, Miss,” and with a wide grin, the lad lifted up a corner of cloth to show her the pies. “I’m here to make a charitable donation.”
The woman looked him fiercely in the eye for a moment before standing aside.
“Go on then. I won’t ask, and you don’t tell, as I sure as hell don’t want to know.”
The ragamuffin stepped in to the orphanage, and was led through to the dining hall where the orphans had already gathered for lunch.
“Hello boys, here we go then. Fresh meat pies today. How’s that then, eh?” and he started to pass out the pies, each one wrapped in blue and white linen.
I wrote this before I watched Sweeney Todd, and afterwards considered renaming the baker Mr Lovett (Helena Bonam Carter's character was Mrs Lovett in the film) or naming the orphan after a character. I also originally called the baker Mr Faust because I couldn't think of another name when I wrote it, but here I've renamed him Mr Brown. I'll probably change that again one day...
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