Piotr didn’t notice the hunger at first.
Since he’d become wealthy his opinion was required on any number of subjects such as who should pay for the upkeep of the jail. He’d assumed the authorities would, but the council and guilds decided the populace should meet the bill, as it was they who languished within the prison walls most frequently. The wages of the constables, the maintenance of the stocks and the gibbet were added to the charge through the same logic.
As Piotr listened to the learned men of the town debate, he wondered why the contents of a man’s purse should determine how closely he was listened to. He didn’t recall being asked his opinion before he was wealthy, back when he was the one sitting in the stocks, the one pelted with wormy cabbage hearts and green potatoes.
He almost suggested the populace pay for a cushion for the stocks – he remembered the seat being very hard – but it probably wasn’t the sort of thing a powerful man should concern himself with.
The banquet after the meeting was the first time he noticed.
He’d grown used to the rich food, the range of wines and ports and Madeiras. He was admired by his fellow worthies for his slim frame, the bones still visible at his wrists and collarbone, where their’s were masked in fat. He smiled, flushed, assured them he would soon put on weight.
But as he picked at the feast, he realised something – since having money he had never felt full. When he was poor and ate a large meal (a rare occurrence) his stomach would swell and harden as if he were a sheep suffering from Bloat. Now he could eat and eat – gorge, even – and was never full.
Always the rat of hunger gnawed at his belly, scratched at the back of his mind.
He tried every food on offer – thick cut meats heavy with Burgundy sauce, glazed fig puddings pocked with chestnuts… Even the pea pottage that had once been his only sustenance left him hollowed and bony.
Hunger filled Piotr’s every waking hour, his every thought, his every dream. He took to chewing pine twigs between meals to busy his jaw, to stop him gnawing at his own fingers. His nights became restless, his days sluggish. He took to walking the country after dark, snaring and eating wild animals, searching for something that would fill him.
One evening he walked abroad. A Hunter’s Moon swelled behind thin cloud, the land clean and grey beneath it.
He paused to drink at a brook and that was when he saw it – a hump he’d at first mistaken for a rise in the earth but as he drew closer resolved into a man. The body lay on its front, hands beneath it, head slumped forward into the water. Ripples formed and broke about the right cheek and jawline, water tumbling into the ear, rushing back down on itself.
Piotr’s first instinct was to haul the stricken man to dry land, to have him washed and laid out for burial.
He bent to grip the man’s wrist. The flesh was surprisingly soft and cool, the muscle tender, relaxed in death as it might never have been in life. A calm knowledge washed over Piotr…
The next night he slept well and the night after that. His restlessness would gradually increase but a night roaming the country setting his traps, devouring his prey, would sate him.
Piotr no longer remembers the discomfort of the stocks or the taste of pea pottage.
Written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #139 – Devour. Come and join in here.
Don’t ask me where the idea for this came from, only that the word Devour suggests not merely hunger but desperate hunger and from there I imagined a man who might never be satisfied.
What do you think Piotr has become? Merely a capitalist exploiting the poor? A psychopath or something much darker?