The Many Crimes of Peter Pumpkineater: A Short, Short Story
The pastoral scene of sheep grazing in rolling meadows and cows gleaning the harvested cornfields was both surreal and deceptive. For while it was the land of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, things were not all well. The folks were not living happily ever after. In fact, people were disappearing. One day they were content living out their roles in the land of make-believe. The next day, they were gone.
Sheriff Dumpty had scrambled his brains trying to solve the mystery of the vanishing village people. Little Bo Peep was the first. It wasn’t only her sheep that were lost. The little girl was also missing. Next was that strange little lad who ran around shouting, wolf. Everyone wanted him to quiet down, but no one wanted him to disappear. Oh, and poor Jill. She climbed that hill alone every day to fetch a pail of water. Jack had been missing for weeks.
And finally, Sylvia Pumpkineater had gone missing, which she often did anyway, but only for a day or two. She had been gone almost as long as Bo Peep. Poor Peter, Sylvia’s husband. He must have been devastated. He just went on tending his garden of giant pumpkins. He was a loner, so no one ventured out there to see how he was doing.
Sheriff Dumpty and Chief of Police, Jack Sprat, not to be confused with all the other Jack’s in town, decided to review all the evidence. They scoured each victim’s story for clues until they came to Sylvia Pumpkineater. Her story was a footnote at the end of Peter’s tale. How could they have missed it? It was as plain as the nose on Pinocchio's face.
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.
Put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.
But it was just a nursery rhyme, one of the stories lived out by the people in the village and surrounding countryside. He wouldn’t really do it, would he? But that would only account for Sylvia, not all the others who were missing.
Sheriff Dumpty, with warrant in hand, picked half a dozen men to be his deputies. It tended to be a bit confusing because all their names were Jack. There was Jack B. Nimble, Jack Beanstalk, Jack M. Hedgehog, Jack Horner, Jack G. Snuffbox, and Jack Dullard. They headed out to Peter’s Place riding on horses, except for Jack M. Hedgehog who rode on the back of his rooster.
When they arrived at Peter’s farm, Peter met them on the road in front of his house.
“Now, Peter,” said Sheriff Dumpty, “I have a warrant, and we’ve come to take a look at your pumpkins.” Peter waved the warrant away since he did not know how to read.
Peter was outraged and demanded the Sheriff and his deputies leave at once. But the Sheriff gave his men a command. “Jack,” he said, “go out into the field and examine all the pumpkins.
All six Jacks climbed the fence and wandered off into the field, thumping pumpkins as they went.
Little Bo Peep
Half an hour later, the Jacks returned with Bo Peep, a young lad who kept shouting, wolf, another Jack who was carrying an empty pail, and Sylvia, Peter’s wife.
The trial was held immediately. Peter was questioned about each of the kidnappings. It seemed that Little Bo Peep’s sheep had wandered off and ended up on Peter’s land where they ate all the young pumpkin plants. The hill that Jack and Jill climbed daily was on Peter’s property. He finally grew tired of chasing them off and kidnapped Jack one day while Jill was busy tumbling down the hill. The lad who cried wolf day in and day out was simply irritating, so Peter found a way to shut him up. Finally, there was Sylvia, his own wife. Her frequent disappearances turned out to be one night stands in the surrounding villages. Peter had put an end to that foolishness. Because of their offenses against him, Peter had locked them each in a separate, giant pumpkin shell.
Each of the victims was also an offender in some fashion. Sheriff Dumpty figured they had already been punished enough and let them go free.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had another and didn't love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.
Peter was found guilty on four counts of kidnapping and four counts of false imprisonment. Since the jail in town was undergoing complete remodeling, Peter was sentenced to one year locked in one of his own pumpkin shells.
Sylvia left Peter after the trial and moved in with one of her boyfriends. Peter eventually remarried the village school teacher who taught him to read. Peter read the Bible and got religion which meant that everyone in the village began to once again live happily ever after.
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© 2018 Chris Mills