Once upon a time, there was a small town in Germany called Hamelin. Ordinary name notwithstanding, the city was overrun with rats. They were in houses, inns, shops, schools and in every street. Over the years, the people had been practising open dumping of food and refuse, and the rats multiplied, then their population exploded.
The mayor had often held meetings with the town folks to discuss this problem. They were well-meaning folk but had no real expertise to solve the problem. At first, they had thought that cats would drive away mice.
It turned out that there weren’t enough cats around to chase down the hundreds of thousands of rats in the streets. Besides, some of the villagers were more of dog people, if you know what I mean.
Then they tried using poison.
Incredibly, that backfired to a spectacular degree. Not only did the rats build up an immunity to the poison over a matter of weeks, but the poison also killed many other livestock and regrettably, even the cats as well. The prognosis wasn’t looking too good for the beleaguered town.
One day, a stranger sauntered to the town of Hamelin. He was a weird looking man, dressed in bright, outlandish colours that would make Lady Gaga blush. Oddly enough, he also carried a flute along with him. He had a stern look on his face and had walked straight to the mayor’s building.
Squaring down with the mayor, he said, “It is well known around Germany that Hamelin has a problem with rats. I will get rid of all the rats. What would my reward be?” For a moment the mayor was stunned.
It was difficult for him to believe that a man who was coming from somewhere suddenly was claiming to drive away all the rats from the city. Not only did a ratless town make it a great place to live, but industries like tourism could finally thrive.
“Ten Thousand gold coins from our treasury if you can do as you promise,” proclaimed the mayor without hesitation. The stranger nodded his head and said, “In a day’s time Hamelin will have no rats. Would you be so kind as to show me where my Airbnb is booked?”
After settling his accommodation, the strange man got to work.
He walked out in the street, pulled out his flute and started playing it. An eerie sound floated in the air. People of Hamelin could hear the beautiful tune from every corner of Hamelin and were paralyzed hearing this enchanting tone.
All of a sudden, there was a rustle that grew in volume until it nearly became unbearable. Thousands of rats came all the way from various directions, out of the hipster bakeries and fusion restaurants and indie cafes.
It seemed that the rats were mesmerized with the delightful tone of the flute. The stranger headed towards the river, with all the rats of Hamelin behind him. It was an extraordinary sight for the folks of Hamelin to behold. Here it was, at last, the bane of their existence being led away in neat little droves.
If the piper realized the commotion and admiration he was causing, he paid no heed.
He kept his head up high and continued playing the flute and walked right into the river, stopping only at its deepest point. The rats followed him in a trance and were drowned in the fast flowing waters of the river. Success! The strange piper had got rid of all the rats and kept his promise.
The mayor and the town’s people were rejoiced watching the bizarre yet wonderous scenes right before their very eyes. Work complete, the piper approached the mayor for his reward.
But the unscrupulous mayor had changed his mind. When the stranger went to him, he said, “It is a wonderful task you have accomplished but isn’t ten thousand gold coins a hefty reward for a day’s work. I will pay you five hundred gold coins instead. Besides, we didn’t have anything in black and white.”
Being an old timer on Carousell left the piper rather used to being lowballed, but this was a first. The stranger looked at the mayor up and down for a full minute and then walked out.
“Woohoo!” exclaimed the mayor. Not only did he get the de-ratting service for free, but the piper wasn’t even gonna put up a fight. The major had visions of buying a new bell for the town hall with the money he saved.
But this wouldn’t be a financially prudent (nor morally prudent) bedtime story if this mayor went unpunished. When people do stuff for you, common sense and morality dictate that you give stuff back in return. Especially when the compensation was agreed upon to start with.
As the pied piper walked out to the town square, he was approached by three other rather downtrodden people.
“Did the mayor just stiff you? I am the town doctor, and have been treating the spread of rat-vector diseases without compensation since the start of its outbreak,” lamented the first man.
“And I am the town architect, who has not been paid for designing new sewage systems that carry refuse away to prevent the rats from breeding. I can hardly keep my family alive these days,” a tear rolled down the left cheek of the second man.
“I am the town’s only financial specialist, and the mayor has denied my dues despite me providing adequate insurance protection for those affected by the rats. He literally has not given me a penny for over hundreds of hours of work,” said the third man.
Upon hearing this, the pied piper’s resolve hardened. “No worries, gents, for I am here to settle the score once and for all.”
In the street, he pulled out his flute again and started playing it. This time the sound that came from the flute was different but was eerie as well. All the children of Hamelin stiffened and started to follow the stranger with glazed eyes.
The stranger walked out of town and disappeared into the mountains. Children followed him, impervious to any exterior stimuli.
The parents of the children wept, “Where had the stranger taken their children,” they went to the mayor and complained about it. The mayor was helpless. He knew that he had been dishonest (and a real prick) with the stranger.
The stranger returned to Hamelin but children didn’t accompany him. The mayor rushed to him, begging for forgiveness.
Pleading with the piper, he wailed out loud on this knees, “Please sir, I admit that I am in the wrong. I am prepared to make good our original agreement.”
Without batting an eyelid, the piper stated his terms, “Actually, not so fast. If you broke our agreement, then there should be some extra compensation given to me. After all, if you had been straight up with me, there wouldn’t have been this mess in the first place. Also, you need to pay the other professionals their dues.”
Completely and utterly broken, the mayor was left with no choice and paid up his all his debt, and then some.
Satisfied, the pied piper played his haunting tune to beckon all the children up in the mountains, and the town rejoiced. (Only those with children, mind. The singles were kind of ambivalent. Such is human nature.)
The mayor was shortly replaced in the next elections by someone with higher moral standings, and legend has it the pied piper bought a new set of Versace suits with his money. No one said that heroes couldn’t have weird fashion tastes.
The morals of the story?
Pay your professionals for the work they do, and never try to lowball them as you would on Carousell. They are professionals for a reason!
Enjoyed this story?
Read about Part 1 in this series here: Little Red Riding Hood
Read about Part 2 in this series here: Hansel and Gretel
Read about Part 3 in this series here: Chicken Little
Read about Part 4 in this series here: Jack and the Beanstalk
Read about Part 5 in this series here: The Three Little Pigs
Read about Part 6 in this series here: Goldilocks and the three bears
Read about Part 7 in this series here: The Pied Piper of Hamelin
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