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We Do Not Know What Happened to the Children

Claire Bartlett lives in her enchanted forest cottage in Denmark, where she lives an innocent, hex-free life with too few cats. She has been previously published with Daily Science Fiction and her debut novel, Our Realm is the Night, is coming from Little Brown on April 2nd, 2019.

The rats, we know. We drowned them in nets in the river, and now our town is paved with bones. Thighbones, rib bones, vertebrae, fibulas. Even finger bones. Rat fingers look remarkably like human ones when stripped down past the skin. We ate them, then we used them to decorate our gutters, to ward off drought and pestilence.
We remember the famine by the twisting of our grandmothers' guts. Our children are still born with hunger pangs. They grow up running their tongues across their lips, as though they crave some meat they cannot have.
The beautiful man in the motley coat--it was his fault. He had a magical flute that enchanted all who heard it. First he bewitched the rats, had them sniffing out our grains and swimming in our wells. Then he caused our crops to wilt. And finally he took away the babies and the young ones, leaving the rest behind. We do not know what happened to those children, only that they were taken far from here.
We did our best to make the rest of them forget. They grew up and bore young ones of their own, and the harvests grew bountiful again. The town is recovering, and thus we are happy. Well, the old ones aren't happy; then again, they never are. They sit in their chairs, and when they get drunk on whiskey and wine, they mutter, "We were hungry, and even the rats were gone."
The children must have been lonely, and lost. They must have hungered, as we did. Perhaps they did horrible things to stay alive. We sympathize with that.
We are a destination now, and people flock to see this place. They walk upon our thighbone streets. Their feet click and clack. They gape at the skeletal arms that hold our lamps out over the streets. They measure thigh-to-thigh, arm-to-arm, and finger-to-finger. They ask with incredulity.
They were very large rats, we say.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Author Comments

I wrote this for a class called "Science Fiction and Myth," provided by the Storied Imaginarium. I have always been fascinated by the origins of the Pied Piper story, which wouldn't stop poking me even though I was supposed to be writing a Hansel and Gretel story. So I tried out both.

- Claire Bartlett
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