Content Warning: Intimations/rumours of past child abuse and paedophilia.
A Loquacious Enigma: Unraveling the Myth Behind the Legend
by Addison Black, MAR. 7th, 3075
The Symphony House stands tall and glorious, its brilliant white walls curved and swirling upward like a giant seashell. The building is suffused by the glow of the evening light and the miniature bulbs illuminating it from under. We are in Tarragon, an upper-class area of Lorendi, home to some of the most eclectic recreational hotspots and extravagant boutiques. However, it is only after dark that Tarragon truly comes to life. Nightclubs and bars frequented by Lorendi’s elite entertain until dawn; the Yellow Factory, a Warhol-esque initiative manned by a collective of leprechauns and fairies is a widely lauded must-see for modern art enthusiasts, as is Hansel and Gretel’s Blue Note jazz club. If one is lucky, one can even spot Hildr, the Valkyrie-turned-talkshow host who often dines in the area with her socialite friends.
It is here in Bastet’s Haunt — a popular hotel bar owned by the titular goddess and which overlooks the Symphony House, that Anson Sänger has agreed to meet with me. His residency here is temporary, while construction on his new villa wraps up. By the time he ambles in, almost two hours late, I am starting to believe that the troubling reputation that precedes him might be grounded in some truth. I am expecting a seedy, macabre person. Instead, the man I encounter is dressed elegantly in a sleek, velvet green suit which matches his dark eyes. Golden blonde hair falls in waves over his shoulders; his stride is casual and his smile is easy, although it never quite reaches his eyes. Despite the blatant tardiness, Sänger doesn’t apologize, and it won’t be the last time I notice this about him. Yet, one cannot help liking him instantly.
We order something light. We converse about events big and small; about the many ways in which my planet has changed since the last time he visited (1994, apparently, while in the grip of an intense grunge music obsession), about the recent time-traveling innovations heralded by the Spanish-Italian Republic (he is quite knowledgeable about earthly developments). He seems genuinely interested in the work of human reporters like me, who come to Lorendi — home to fairy tale and mythology characters of the world — and bring awareness to how Lorendians interact in the 31st century.
He is an easy conversationalist. Maybe this is how he does it: once people meet him, they forget, if only for a moment, what this man has done — or been accused of doing. I decide to put an end to the small talk and breach the subject at the heart of this investigation. I begin by asking him about his recent arrival to Lorendi, his appointment as the new Musical Director of the Symphony, and the preparations ahead of the grand opening which is almost upon us.
“About damn time,” he laughs. “The children are restless with excitement. I hope they still like living here after it all dies down, however.”
I ask him what he means: “Lorendians…,” he says, in between sips of his drink, “are set in their ways, so new arrivals evidently create ripples. Mine just happen to be larger and more pronounced. It’s going to be an adjustment for those who think that others’ so-called sins are greater than theirs.”
His tone is offhand, but no longer completely casual.
Since we have finally come to the subject of wrongdoings, I decide to confront him about his. “Why should the public trust you, when you have shown neither contrition, nor an explanation for the Incident of 1284? You do, after all, sometimes go by the moniker they originally bestowed upon you, The Pied Piper.”
His eyes dance with mischief, “Something about embracing the cross people nail you to?” And then he is suddenly more serious. “And why shouldn’t they trust me? I’m no worse than Zeus the nymphomaniac, Pinocchio the pathological criminal, or that girl Alice who repeatedly offends with her drug sprees. Lorendians should either learn to embrace all the scandals that come with the inhabitants, or none at all.”
But I insist. It’s as if he is twisting the knife in the wound, sometimes.
The inhabitants of Hamelin who lost the kids in the Piper Incident of 1284 (also known as The Abduction of 1284, or The Mayor’s Unfortunate PR Gaffe) never got an explanation as to why Anson Sänger strolled out of the village with their children in tow, so many centuries ago. In fact, many had resigned themselves to never finding out if their children were dead or alive when Sänger was found to be traveling with them as the now-famous musical group The Pipers.
Many versions of events surround the Incident of 1284, each more heinous than the previous: in some, Sänger enchanted the children with his magical pipe and led them to their deaths out of vengeance, because the Mayor had refused to compensate him for ridding Hamelin of its rat problem. In others, it was Sänger who had lured the rats to Hamelin in the first place, so that he could infiltrate it and trick the villagers out of their money — the children had been mere collateral damage.
Many even claim that his interest in the latter was of a more sinister, (read: paedophilic) nature. There are not a lot of versions that support the rumor that Sänger was a victim (of the villager’s broken promises, of their maltreatment…), but they exist as well: Sänger has never publicly commented on the matter.
Again, he is not the least bit apologetic. He smiles his easy smile, which belies something harder underneath; still, it is impossible not to be enthralled by this charismatic man. Is this what the children saw, too, when they decided — or were made — to follow him?
“I will only say this once. I cannot make anyone do what they did not already wish to. Those villagers were overwhelmed, and those children were being neglected, in more ways than one. Many wished them to get educations, to see the world, and were more than happy to hand them over to me, when they heard I was leaving. Of course,” he adds lightly, “nowadays they’d rather claim that I kidnapped them, rather than admit that they were awful parents.”
It is an enticing explanation, I must admit. The children have, after all, always publicly claimed to be happy and fulfilled, despite the rigor entailed in a life of music performance.
“Anyway,” Sänger says, looking genuinely bored for the first time, “let them talk. It is what it is. If you want more, you should be interviewing the Mayor. I heard he moved here a few decades ago.”
I assure him that I have every intention of doing so; in order to give our readers all sides of the story, I will also be interviewing some of the children, as well as some of the Hamelin villagers who moved to Lorendi to be with them.
Lastly, I ask Sänger how he intends to deal with the level of stigma Lorendians have rarely had to endure. He has been called a trickster, a child molester, a murderer and a cannibal, exacerbated by the fact that he counts the likes of Rumpelstiltskin, Eris and Loki as friends, not to mention his relation to Peter Pan by marriage.
“Ah, but Mrs. Black. Who are we, if rumors do not precede us? I stay sane because, simply put, I am not complacent. I don’t celebrate early. I will always have to prove myself, even when my actions speak louder.”
And what strange actions those have been, if truth be told.
Later, as he prepares to go back to his apartments, Anson Sänger hands me an invitation for a party at Johnny’s Appleseed, in celebration of his tenure at the Symphony. “Off the record.” He leans close, his depthless eyes twinkling. “I wouldn’t be in this privileged position today had it not been for the whole Hamelin disaster. Would I do it again, knowing what I now know about how the world would react?”
The clear double doors close on him. He walks backward, a flicker of taunting in his green eyes.
“Who knows“, he mouths, grinning all the way.
BIO: A. Martine is a trilingual writer, musician and artist of color who goes where the waves take her. She might have been a kraken in a past life. She’s an Assistant Editor at Reckoning Press and co-Editor-in-Chief/Producer/Creative Director of The Nasiona. Her collection AT SEA, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize is forthcoming with CLASH BOOKS. Some words found or forthcoming in: Déraciné, The Rumpus, Moonchild Magazine, Marías at Sampaguitas, Luna Luna, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Pussy Magic, South Broadway Ghost Society, Gone Lawn, Boston Accent Lit, Anti-Heroin Chic, Cosmonauts Avenue, Tenderness Lit. @Maelllstrom/www.amartine.com.
Of the story, A. Martine says, “It’s part of a larger series of short stories in which I explore figures from the mythologies of the world who have been stranded in a fictional land named Lorendi. This series is inspired by my multicultural upbringing, thanks to which I grew up reading fairy tales and folklore from around the globe. I am fascinated with their similarities, their differences, and how adulthood often gives us greater insight into their intricacies and double meanings. Another other short story “Just A Fire”, published with Metaphorosis, is from the same universe.”
The featured illustration from Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin is by Kate Greenaway (1846–1901) and is in the public domain. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.