Hey, have you heard about the Pie Man?
He bakes and bakes as much as he can.
He toils and broils,
Hurries and worries,
Slurries and scurries.
Yet the baking is never done.
And with that truth
We know the beast has won.
– Third stall graffiti, (2010). Men’s room. Mel’s Truck Stop; Orlando: FL.
Take a minute, my friend, and sit down beside me. There is a world beyond the world beyond the world.
A world that you can never know unless I take you there.
And take you there I must. If I don’t I will most likely bust. I can no longer wait; my pregnant tale claws its way from my lungs to my mouth.
Let me tell you about the Pie Man.
Better yet, allow me to plug into your third eye and we can travel to see him together!
A corpulent copious creator of baked goods small and large, the Pie Man at first appears to be quite jolly and comfortable in his vocation. Although he has been stationed in his deep, dank and dark dungeon for an endless stretch of time, he is tireless in his duties and seems to take great pride and joy from his efforts. A master of the recipe, a genius of the pastry, improvisational and risk-taking, the Pie Man is beyond reproach. All who know of his work bow to him and honor him in poetry, song, and verse. Perhaps one day you will pay tribute to him in kind.
He works in a mighty fortified kitchen that exists in the flimsy existence between our thoughts and fears, a powerful hub of delicious creation lined with powerful ovens; filled with roaring flame and smoke. See the large iron stoves, with heavy horizontal doors that open and shut with such force that the floor shakes beneath your feet! With but a moment in this transient place, the nostrils become overwhelmed with a mélange of diverse smells – savory gravies, sweet meats, rancid sweat, sharp urine, brackish water, fetid flesh, foreign spices, and staples such as flour, butter, and salt – smells that push through the nose and on to the tongue. Dancing from oven to oven, the portly Pie Man shoves tray upon tray of delicate delicacies, from micro-tarts to stuffed pies that must be squeezed into their hotbox mausoleum drawers, deep into the gaping mouths of fire.
He moves with a grace that defies his loose, flabby skin, a flesh that rather than betray him with chaotic flipping and flapping, slides elegantly across his mighty frame in a celebration of stored gluttony. He smiles and his eyes twinkle a bit as he whistles such alien tunes as “Hymn of the Grinded” and “Sacrificial Lamb”. A true symphony of movement and sound, the Pie Man defies expectation. His multiple arms lift and drop and mix and chop and stir and pound. Like hydraulic hammers, they refuse to exhaust themselves, a furious flurry of productivity. Sweat collects and forms rivers that flow down his temples, a salty torrent dripping steadily onto the shoulders of his ancient chef whites. Once a magnificent garment, his double-breasted coat made of the finest fibers pulled from the sacs of elusive goat-spiders has been marred and scarred by centuries of grime, lard, and guts. Handprints and smears, some belonging to the Pie Man, trace lines fat and thin down the arms and around the hips. More apron than coat, it is the visible history of all that has been PIED.
The fiery ovens that line the walls blast such heat that those lacking fortitude would surely faint. A tribute to his strength, the Pie Man pays no heed as he moves from door to door, taking a quick peek and noting the progress of his babies. In the slivers of time that slide between pie in and pie out, he turns to massive, granite slab tables to prep even more of his tasty treats. A survey of the ingredients before him fills the vision to beyond the peripheral. See bowl upon bowl of arcane and enigmatical ingredients, some you might recognize in another context. With a blur, dough is rolled and cut and set into tins as he takes his broad hands and scoops in the filling – two, three, four, sometimes five hands at a time. His productivity well beyond the capability of man, his many arms and prehensile tail make him the octopus of baking triumphantness.
Splendid pies, such succulence, are spread about the tables.
Each with love and blood and sweat and sprinkles, from rolling pin and mixing bowl, to gently placed crisscrosses of puff pastry on top, an exultant gesture of his commitment to the craft. A jubilant parade of an effort beyond the reach of the mortal man, the unending production is too much for most to bear, and you would certainly be forgiven for possessing buckling knees.
Swooning occurs with all that witness.
Can you stand in the light of such pomp and pageantry? Can you withstand this visage of culinary victory? Stay with me, hold my hand if you must, for this most inhuman of human endeavors and the maestro of its design, at least that which you have told thus far, is but one pinch of sublimity in the scope of the saporous story. It will test all of your temerity to tangle with the truth, but you have stood fast in the moment, and my faith in your fearlessness is stalwart.
Come with me now, and let us let the Pie Man work. It is fortunate that he has not gleaned of our presence, a revelation that will impart itself upon you soon enough. Stick to the flickering shadows from the flames, and follow me as we creep along the walls of this clammy crypt into the narrow passage just past the final stove. Should you need to stop for air (it does get quite thick), curl up into a tight ball and attempt to take comfort in a fetal position. Take no shame nor feel no guilt. To have beheld merely this first chamber is more than most have weathered successfully. Should you grow hungry, do not sample the scraps that have fallen from the tables, for the sheer amount of nutrition would force your system into overwhelming digestive processes, igniting the production of enzymes long forgotten, pure acids in the face of the modern diet. A single taste would result in the self-digestion of the upper and lower tracts, resulting in a backward slide of viscera that would eject from your lower valves with a shocking violence.
Vigilance, my friend, is required.
Down the long and winding passage, past damp walls dripping with slime and bile, we sneak. Slow step by slow step, we proceed down a dark channel that is deftly designed to confound and complicate. Quick turn by quick twist and suddenly the ears pop as we plunge downward, so far into the subterranean that the internal compass begins to swim and vertigo takes its grip. The shadows consume us, and our pestiferous path pushes the mind to the brink. Just as you feel that your previously staunch reality releases its hold, a single flame blinks off in the distance. Crawling toward the light, our genuflections prove well timed, as we reach a solitary torch planted firmly in front of a large, oaken door. Its black iron hinges and lock seem impenetrable, but with some felonious fingers and a fastidious eye, the door becomes liberated from its impervious state.
It swings open slowly, its sheer weight forces one to apply full effort to squeeze and shimmy through. Once past, give your eyes a moment to adjust.
Give your mind a bit longer.
Welcome to the storage rooms, a populous and peculiar pantry of raw, essential ingredients. Here, the Pie Man keeps all that wonders, shocks, and delights. Upon fixing our gaze, we can note many massive crates overflowing with herbs, spices, and all manner of condiments and zest. As did the kitchen, this chamber engulfs and inundates the olfactory; the redolence is almost too much to bear. Smells so splendid and stunning that one might not heed the muffled moans and lamentations that issue out from some point onward. Take another deep breath, seize the essence, and step forward once more, for our eventual egress lies forward, not back.
To the next room we must go.
Take a brief pause to consider that which now fills the eyes. Rack upon rack of raw, hearty meats; cuts of every kind on vibrant display. Flank and hock, neck and gizzard, vein and viscera, all manners of flesh fill the room beyond the crates. The intoxicating smells that once enticed have fled, substituted for the gut-wrenching stench of decomposition and putrefaction. The heat of the kitchen fires above and the thick humidity of these passages have collaborated to create an air so vile and noxious that one will question their capacity to endure such an all-encompassing malodor.
Careful where you step as you navigate this nasty lair, for rivulets and rivers of blood and corpuscle flow in mighty currents along several trenches in the floor. This room is the forever butcher block, meat processed at an alarming rate, not a rack empty, not a rack wanting. Rows upon rows of thick wooden countertops, many with menacing machetes and meat axes sunk deep into their veneer, sit waiting for the Pie Man to take to them with verve and vim.
Such meat, such flesh, such a cavalcade of carnage, only to be outdone by the discordant and cacophonous howls from the flickering portal just beyond this den of slavish slaughter. No doubt your ability to comprehend such madness has reached its extremity, but boundless curiosity drives us forward once more.
Behold one of many savage truths, unmerciful in its purpose. The farming halls, a reason for blindness, for what you see cannot be unseen. Stockades filled with imprisoned men, beasts, and children. Long tubes run from a ceiling obscured by a hanging fog of despair and dread. These tubes, filled with some unidentifiable gelatin, have been jammed unceremoniously into the gaping maws of these pathetic prisoners. Their lips flutter helplessly around these invasive chutes, their cries muffled but steady. Whimpering, wailing, whining, these hopeless moans rise upward, only to wither away, unacknowledged. Struggling with their incarceration, their artificially large bodies offer no strength or resolve that can shatter their binds. Trapped until killed, nothing but cattle and chattel for the Pie Man and his ovens.
The origin of these men and beasts is unknown, but if you were to have the time to walk the rows of stockades and lift their lifeless heads, you might find a familiar face or two, perhaps an ancient associate or a known personage. More shocking that on closer inspection, one might notice that each grasps a key, some still with silver shine, others faded and grimy with tarnish. They clench their means tightly, white knuckles and all. Strange, but they do not seem to perceive our presence. Their minds have deeply retreated into a personal wretchedness of individual design.
The endless rows of torment stretch to the shadows, and most likely beyond. A sudden noise alerts the senses, and a quick hiding place is secured. Small, dwarven figures emerge from vaginal portals in the far corners; a steady marching line of leather-skinned creatures featuring slanted eyes, bulbous noses, and sharp teeth. They hum an unfamiliar tune as their squat, muscular forms partner up with seemingly random prisoners, who are given a sudden kill shot to the base of the neck. As their bodies collapse, these powerful, armored imps catch them, and drag them towards the butcher room. Others unchain festered and worn animals, and do the same, the only variation being that these beasts are pulled in another direction, and for another purpose. The captive children are left to contemplate all that they witness, for it may be many years before they are paid a visit.
These short, nightmarish minions are abruptly interrupted by their master, the Pie Man, who appears from a shimmering veil in the center of the room. With their feet frozen, they lower their heads as he surveys their latest collection. In an ancient tongue long since forgotten, he barks out small corrections and a few more prisoners are dispatched. The only expression they share is one of relief. The Pie Man smiles, and gathers his diminutive warrior slaves. For your edification, a brief interpretation of the exchange is allowed.
“Who am I?” he asks.
“The PIE MAN,” the dwarves answer in unison.
“And what do I do?”
“You make the pies!”
The Pie Man frowns. “Come again?”
“You BAKE the pies.”
“Yes. What a difference a ‘B’ makes,” the Pie Man says. “And why do I bake the pies?”
The dwarves gather together to collaborate on their answer. One is pushed forward in front of the group. The strange, small mutant creature struggles to stand straight, clears his throat, and says, “To feed the beast.”
“Yes, little ones. To feed the beast,” the Pie Man confirms. “Now, back to work.”
The Pie Man smiles, his thick, greasy lips turning up at the corners. He watches his freakish army slowly haul the needed ingredients to be processed. An overlooked detail, a large, ornate mirror, hangs from the far wall. The Pie Man stops to consider his powerful form. Appendages bristle from his jacket – sinewy arms, armored claws, and a tentacle or two. This grotesque collection of amazing attachments is only exceeded by his devil-forked, prehensile tail, which is currently tugging on his coat in an effort to prop and prim. A phantasmal persona, who is only outclassed by the one that he serves.
Your eyes have a foggy film, your brow is furrowed, and your stomach contorts in certain capitulation, yet you clearly haven’t found yourself willing to search for the door. Clearly you wish to ascertain the reason for the repugnant world of the Pie Man. Although every molecule of your composition screams for mercy, your incessant need to know overrides the rational mind, and you must push forward to hear the final, dreadful punch line.
Follow the Pie Man back to the kitchens and soon you will know. Our prance and dance is over. It’s time for the hammer to rain down upon us and deliver its glorious gospel with each terrible blow. Sneaking back past the sorrowful cries of anguish, we cling to the corners lest we find ourselves falling into the mixture of the next pretty pie.
He does not seem to notice us, but that could be a trap unto itself.
Without incident, we return to the kitchen. The fires have subsided and the Pie Man orchestrates his minions in the loading of pie after countless pie onto large rolling carts made of twisted metal and glass. Shelf upon shelf hosts these infinite pastries, and after a time that cannot be measured, every pie from every oven has been stacked. The dwarves coo with the pleasure of a task well executed, but the Pie Man has no patience for laudatory gestures. He merely grunts and groans, gyrating slightly to relieve his massive girth from one frazzled foot to the other. With a stunted, stuttered shout, he points to a peculiar portcullis that slowly rises, revealing yet another mysterious passage. His stunted assistants sigh in protest, but begin to push the carts down the foreboding hall.
We follow yet keep our distance, hearts beating, pounding. There are many eyes to see us, but the persistent dissonance of grunts, the straining wheels of the carts, and the continuous bellowing of the Pie Man effectively hides the sound of our movements. The corridor curves, weaving a dangerously disorienting path. Here, the walls seem to breathe, slowly undulating in a suspiciously calming pattern. One should walk along the walls, but do not touch them. This will surely sound an alarm.
A brief time tracking our fiendish friends, and soon a new room opens up. A massive, circular space with a murky pool set in its center. Hundreds of feet in diameter, and filled with a murky fluid, the foul stench of sewage steals the very air from the lungs. No corner to hide in, one must do their best to remain still in the face of the great reveal.
The Pie Man and his despicable minions begin to line their carts of steaming pies in a circular fashion around the edge of the pool. Chanting, they move in ritually robotic fashion, only the Pie Man expressing excitement as the delivery of the pies becomes imminent.
This vile, subterranean sea begins to boil and froth. The chanting of the twisted dwarves grows in volume and force, and a form begins to emerge from beneath. Sweat and tears gush down the Pie Man’s jowls and a strange, joyous glow frames his face. Breaking the surface, endless rows of teeth, yellowed swords and daggers, rise. Some long, others short, some broken, others sharp – all gnashing, the hunger of the beast apparent.
Then the eyestalks, hundreds of eyes appear.
Human and inhuman, but all can see. They wiggle and squirm, taking in the surrounding supply of fresh, steaming pies.
Then gills and scales, rivulets of swampy water rolling along their serrated edges.
Then the small mouths, biting and chewing in anticipation.
Maws and jaws and beaks and muzzles and mandibles and jowls, the globular and ill-defined head of this monstrous miscreation destroys all cognitive function as a final, colossal orifice spreads its wet and slick lips open, revealing a gruesome display of void and vacancy, a ravenous and manic cavern of hopelessness and misery.
The Pie Man, overcome with excitement, begins to hysterically point and gesture for his pies to be fed to this behemoth. The shovels begin to furiously work to reduce the mountainous piles of sustenance, pies flying through the air, dropping here and there, but always finding a snapping mouth to feed. A thunderous groan of approval ushers out from the leviathan as the vulgar orgy of unbridled consumption shakes the room so violently that many of the foul mutants feeding it lose their footing and plunge into the pool, victims to the multitude of greedy gobs.
After the last pie has been devoured, silence.
Satisfied, the summoned hellion slides quietly beneath the surface of the mucous pool. The porcine Pie Man wipes his thick brow, turns suddenly, and with a deftness that defies his corpulence, expeditiously exits. His gnarled half-men remain, chittering and chattering with a quizzical titillation. Salivating, they begin to grind their jaws, staring lovingly at the carnal stew before them. The water begins to agitate, bubbling, buzzing, and tumultuously rolling. Bubbles rise from below, bursting with a putrid and noxious gas. A fecal stench subjugates the air as blackened, feculent clumps commence floating, bobbing on the surface. Greedily, they clamor and grab for the closest excreta, quickly shoving the gifts from below into their gullets. They fight and claw for the juiciest chunks until none remain.
With nothing to hold them, our discovery is dangerously nigh. A hurried exit is prudent. And with that, our introduction to the Pie Man must conclude.
What is heard cannot be unheard.
What is seen cannot be unseen.
What is known cannot be unknown.
On the rough edges of reality, the Pie Man keeps the nightmares nurtured and nourished.
This short story of mine was first published by Dark Fire Fiction