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.