THE BEST OF PIES • by Derek McMillan

It was the best of pies. It was the worst of pies. I have to admit the pastry could not be faulted. I actually enjoyed it. Then as soon as I bit into the pie I found that it was all gristle and bits of animal I prefer not to speculate about. The Commanding Officer stood over me and made sure I ate every scrap of it too. All of the troops who were going out to the forward base ate these pies. It was as if it were some kind of toughening-up exercise.

I was there to report on the victory over the hill tribes who had been revolting. The Dictator (he had no other name or title) was going to defeat them in the next four days. If there were no victory there would be no report. The CO cheerily told me not to worry because in that case I would probably be dead. He actually slapped me on the back quite hard and the officers who were sitting at the table with me found it quite amusing.

Orders were shouted and echoed around the underground bunker where we had been eating. As we left a subaltern pointed out the steel doors to me.

“They will hold out for a good four days,” was his confident prediction.

If I had any trepidation about the food at the forward base, it was immediately dispelled at my next meal. The food was plentiful and better than I have ever tasted at any army base. The men visibly perked up. Life at the forward base might be a fraught. Correction, it was fraught, what with snipers and improvised explosive devices. However the food and the conditions were excellent. Nothing like the horror pie of my first night came my way again.

It was on the second day that the hill tribesmen launched an assault on the camp. I have seen better attacks mounted by unarmed Boy Scouts to be honest with you but the CO gave the order “panic stations” and the men retreated in disorder.

They held onto their guns but dropped their packs in order to move the faster. The disciplined troops looked like a complete and utter rabble. I expected the CO to be incandescent with rage. On the contrary I caught sight of him smiling at the panic. The hill tribesmen were so busy looting the abundant supplies in the camp they were slow to give chase and the steel doors of the underground redoubt clanged behind us.

The CO did a piece to camera for me. “We have just fought a decisive engagement with the rebels and they will give us no trouble for many years to come. The casualties among the hill tribesmen have been catastrophic while as you can see,” (a quick pan around the room) “all of my men are unharmed.”

I was baffled. The CO went back to his office with senior officers and a bottle of Scotch. For the rest of us it was the ghastly pies again. To my surprise I saw a number of pies being taken into the CO’s office as well.

Four days later when the steel doors opened again, the hills were eerily silent except for the sound of carrion crows. The forward base and two villages I visited were littered with remains. None of the rebels or their wives and children had a mark on them.

“Poison?” I asked somewhat incredulously, “we were eating poison?”

The CO nodded.

“And the pies?”

“You need to eat one every four days or so. They are vile so that any which fell into the wrong hands were unlikely to be eaten but they contain the antidote. The poison takes roughly four days to work as you can see from this lot. You can report the victory but no details in case we decide to use this method again. It is the Dictator’s own idea of course. He is a strong man.”


Derek McMillan is the author of Stories from the Mirror of Eternity which is available on Kindle. Amazon allows you to “try before you buy” so you could have a look. Derek is a retired teacher and his editor is his wife, Angela McMillan.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Samantha

    Good Stuff Derek! Smart story and with very good flow.

  • Samantha

    Good Stuff Derek! Smart story and with very good flow.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A simply told story, though it felt a bit contrived in places. One of my pet hates is sentences starting ‘It was…’ Apart from the two examples parodying Dickens, there were three more ‘It was…’ sentences.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A simply told story, though it felt a bit contrived in places. One of my pet hates is sentences starting ‘It was…’ Apart from the two examples parodying Dickens, there were three more ‘It was…’ sentences.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I enjoyed this. Dickens meets Kipling in the mess hall, where Christie’s fiddling with the rations…

    I thought the ending paragraph needed some tightening. Liked the last two lines just fine.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I enjoyed this. Dickens meets Kipling in the mess hall, where Christie’s fiddling with the rations…

    I thought the ending paragraph needed some tightening. Liked the last two lines just fine. Four stars. (I stopped giving star ratings, but fell off the wagon when this started falling. So came back to note the vote.)

  • Cranky Steven

    Quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I await more from this author. Four stars.

  • Cranky Steven

    Quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I await more from this author. Four stars.

  • joanna b.

    excellent story. lines like “the hill tribes who had been revolting” and “Correction, it WAS fraught” and the “unarmed Boy Scouts” paragraph amused me no end. i’m with Sarah in wishing the ending had been a bit better. “The Dictator’s own idea of course” puzzled me in that i wondered was it really or was that the C.O.’s tongue-in-cheek dig at the Dictator? Mention of him — the Dictator — suggested another story line to me so the ending felt incomplete. or am i missing the obvious? someone tell me. regardless, 5 stars from me.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I thought it was intended in the parodic “is ssstrrong like bull!” vein–the sort of leader who swallows ten cobras live to show he’s a man among men–so building up a tolerance for poison would be just his style. And troops better follow in the Great Man’s footsteps…

      • joanna b.

        thanks, sarah. i did miss something: i missed the poison as linked to the Dictator actually taking it. thus i felt the very last sentence was extraneous to the story. now i see it is not. i’m now wondering if i’m the only one who didn’t get it or if the author should have made it clearer.

  • joanna b.

    excellent story. lines like “the hill tribes who had been revolting” and “Correction, it WAS fraught” and the “unarmed Boy Scouts” paragraph amused me no end. i’m with Sarah in wishing the ending had been a bit better. “The Dictator’s own idea of course” puzzled me in that i wondered was it really or was that the C.O.’s tongue-in-cheek dig at the Dictator? Mention of him — the Dictator — suggested another story line to me so the ending felt incomplete. or am i missing the obvious? someone tell me. regardless, 5 stars from me.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I thought it was intended in the parodic “is ssstrrong like bull!” vein–the sort of leader who swallows ten cobras live to show he’s a man among men–so building up a tolerance for poison would be just his style. And troops better follow in the Great Man’s footsteps…

      • joanna b.

        thanks, sarah. i did miss something: i missed the poison as linked to the Dictator actually taking it. thus i felt the very last sentence was extraneous to the story. now i see it is not. i’m now wondering if i’m the only one who didn’t get it or if the author should have made it clearer.

  • S Conroy

    Good one. Really enjoyed the read. Thanks.

  • S Conroy

    Good one. Really enjoyed the read. Thanks.

  • I liked the story. Humor me -> Subtitle it “Journal of a Wartime Pie Eater.”

    I was thrown by the first paragraph and the word ‘fraught.’

    The first paragraph : “I actually enjoyed it.” I think that didn’t fit with the next sentence where the guy describes how unpleasant the pie was.

    I was confused with the use of the word fraught as a noun. I am used to seeing it used with the word ‘with.’ So, I looked it up. That didn’t help me either. The definition looks like it could have been used to mean abundant or uncomfortable. Both could potentially apply in the context of the paragraph, and now the word seems ambiguous to me.

    • S Conroy

      Think “I actually enjoyed it” is ok, since it refers to the outer pastry, not the contents. And with fraught I think you’ve spotted a typo. IMO it should just be the adjective ‘fraught’ without ‘a’ before it.

      • I don’t normally eat a pie crust first. I just shove the whole thing in my mouth. 🙂 I think it could be worded to show the pie “looked good. Tasted retched.” No big deal really. It doesn’t change the story.

        (fraught) That might be the case. Not something I see used that way much. But now that I have said that, I am sure to see it everywhere. 🙂

        • MPmcgurty

          I admit feeling a bump there, even as I read it twice. “Then as soon as I bit into the pie…” could seem out of order with the crust reference. I finally decided, based on my own pie-eating method, that he tested the crust first before actually sinking his teeth into a piece.

      • D McMillan

        Mea culpa. It is entirely my fault. I nearly said “my fraught” but stopped myself. It was originally “a fraught experience” but I dropped the experience without dropping the “a”. Apologies.

  • I liked the story. Humor me -> Subtitle it “Journal of a Wartime Pie Eater.”

    I was thrown by the first paragraph and the word ‘fraught.’

    The first paragraph : “I actually enjoyed it.” I think that didn’t fit with the next sentence where the guy describes how unpleasant the pie was.

    I was confused with the use of the word fraught as a noun. I am used to seeing it used with the word ‘with.’ So, I looked it up. That didn’t help me either. The definition looks like it could have been used to mean abundant or uncomfortable. Both could potentially apply in the context of the paragraph, and now the word seems ambiguous to me.

    • S Conroy

      Think “I actually enjoyed it” is ok, since it refers to the outer pastry, not the contents. And with fraught I think you’ve spotted a typo. Imo it should just be the adjective ‘fraught’ without ‘a’ before it.

      • I don’t normally eat a pie crust first. I just shove the whole thing in my mouth. 🙂 I think it could be worded to show the pie “looked good. Tasted retched.” No big deal really. It doesn’t change the story.

        (fraught) That might be the case. Not something I see used that way much. But now that I have said that, I am sure to see it everywhere. 🙂

        • MPmcgurty

          I admit feeling a bump there, even as I read it twice. “Then as soon as I bit into the pie…” could seem out of order with the crust reference. I finally decided, based on my own pie-eating method, that he tested the crust first before actually sinking his teeth into a piece.

      • D McMillan

        Mea culpa. It is entirely my fault. I nearly said “my fraught” but stopped myself. It was originally “a fraught experience” but I dropped the experience without dropping the “a”. Apologies.

  • MPmcgurty

    So the first pie was like the initial shot in a series of vaccinations? 😉

    I liked this story very much. Clever beginning and the straightforward middle gives me pretty much all I need to understand the ending (hey, that’s an accomplishment). The ending may have a bit too much packed into it, and I wonder if the reference to the Dictator was a victim. The last two lines are good, maybe they just need to stand apart for effect.

  • MPmcgurty

    So the first pie was like the initial shot in a series of vaccinations? 😉

    I liked this story very much. Clever beginning and the straightforward middle gives me pretty much all I need to understand the ending (hey, that’s an accomplishment). The ending may have a bit too much packed into it, and I wonder if the reference to the Dictator was a victim. The last two lines are good, maybe they just need to stand apart for effect.

  • (I’ve been gone 2 days) I groaned at the first line and still wonder at its necessity, although I understand the exterior reference and the interior meaning. I found it too difficult to follow the poison/remedy of the necessary pie eating sequence to really enjoy the story. Maybe I’m just too road-weary.

  • (I’ve been gone 2 days) I groaned at the first line and still wonder at its necessity, although I understand the exterior reference and the interior meaning. I found it too difficult to follow the poison/remedy of the necessary pie eating sequence to really enjoy the story. Maybe I’m just too road-weary.

  • Carl Steiger

    I think I’d like to try one of those gristle pies, and I doubt a real hill-tribesman would turn up his nose at one, but I enjoyed this very much.

  • Carl Steiger

    I think I’d like to try one of those gristle pies, and I doubt a real hill-tribesman would turn up his nose at one, but I enjoyed this very much.