Pete thought he had woken up in a panic.
His eyes were wide open as he strained his ears to pick sounds out of the night’s quiet. He had discovered that, if he listened hard enough, he could follow noises to where they were coming from and he could see what was causing them.
Tonight, with his mother’s arm loosely encircling him, he closed his eyes again and listened. He was the traveller again, a Pete who could move between the different layers of sleep and along the avenues of awareness that connected man’s subconscious. He was both himself and the many others who had shared his gift and tonight he slipped like a sigh into the air.
He heard the rumbling of a train, the closing of a car door, voices raised in a hushed yet angry tone from the bedroom next door and a sound like wind coming up from the ground. It was this sound that he followed as he shut out the rest. Pete breathed deeply and washed his mind clear of thoughts. All he could hear was the sound from below, rushing across the lower levels like a tide.
Pete sank down to meet it.
Now he was rushing along with the tide of black that rippled and shimmered in the semi-darkness. The tide was living and moved with a determination that had meaning. Pete was aware that all of this was the combination of thousands of individual creatures moving as one. They were in darkness but were rushing out from the depths and from their hiding to meet the new world. They had been hidden for such a long, long time and now they were free. Pete was carried along ill-smelling tunnels, always moving upwards. He could now hear the scratching of feet, the fall of pads on wet surfaces, the scratching of sharp claws.
Fighting his urge to come up from his own depth, Pete held on.
And now there was another sound, vague but insistent.
The sound, that he heard, was coming from the surface. It seeped into the ground like infection and spread its invitation. Nothing down there could avoid its beckoning. When Pete reached out to grasp the source of this he caught the strains of a flute that immediately wrapped itself around him like a serpent. The snake writhed and swung back and forth like a recoiling whip and suddenly he was out of the fold, being dragged at speed towards the surface. He watched as the black tide beneath him revealed itself as an army of rats, so vast that it defied understanding.
Whatever was drawing him upwards, Pete knew that it was unaware of what it had caught. Pete was pulling back now, pushing against the attraction. He no longer wanted to see the source, he wanted to wake.
Wake up, Peter. Wake up.
The voice was inside his head and outside of it at the same time.
Wake up. Wake up!
With this, he was above ground. It was night and he was suspended above streets that were wet and washed clean of people. Only the rats were abroad and they held themselves back in an ever-widening circle. In the middle of all of this was a boy. A boy of the same age as Michael and he was searching the night, looking through the darkness for something lost. It was through him that the insistent tune emanated. Pete was afraid.
Here was the hunter whom Pete had somehow always known. He also knew that the hunter was making strides towards its prey, that he was laying down small temptations to lure its quarry from hiding.
The thing that was the boy moved in many places and had eyes that scoured the land for it’s prize. Pete knew that it wanted everything, either to possess, dominate or destroy. The boy, for there was something left of that, was changing, into something that would be both wonderful and dreadful.
Pete wanted to see the face of the one who stood beneath him and attempted to change his angle, but the hunter sensed the change the way a dreamer senses the slightest movement beyond its dormant state. Pete closed his own sleeping eyes just before the boy opened his and he was gone elsewhere.
Now he was somewhere above another part of the city. This was part of the dream and yet he felt that it was not the way he dreamt normally (as if his dreams had ever been normal). He knew that if he reached down, he could touch this dream and knew also that it could touch him, as well as hurt him.
These were the dreams that his mother had, the ones she would not admit to. For her, they were confirmation of her fragile state of mind, a state that needed therapy and tablets. She had dreamt this way for much of her life yet had only chosen to recall her nocturnal journeys after his father had died. Pete hung there, suspended by his own credulity and thought that this must have been the way birds felt as they surveyed the ground from above. And it must also have been the way angels looked at the world when nobody else was watching them.
He saw a bus shelter, still wet from the evening rain and inside it was orange. Inside the orange was a man. Well, he was a boy and a man at the same time and Pete could read the things that were going through his mind.
He was late out because he had been asked by his store manager to do some extra work. Mr Blake was not nice. He always wanted more and he did not like Stuart (that was his name) and he did not like the others who were like Stuart either. He called them ‘retards’ and laughed about them when he thought that he could trust those close by to laugh as well. He made them do the worst jobs and even created some additional stinking jobs for them to sort out. The man, who had kept Stuart late at work, enjoyed the little sensation of power he got from causing the retards more pain. Unfortunately there were others, now much closer, who would relish the chance of hurting Stuart.
Pete saw rats. He saw a small cluster of them approaching like the claws of a crab. The man, Stuart, was lost in his music that came from the headphones he had glued to his ears. His small cocoon made him feel safe. He was not safe.
The rats were going to hurt him and maybe more. Pete watched them from above and wished that he had the wings of an eagle that would allow him to swoop down onto vermin and tear them to bits. They were His creatures and Pete knew who He was.
He was the darkness behind the night and the fear behind the bad dreams. He was the thing that made milk go sour and that which could make love turn to hate. He was The Piper and Pete had been born hearing his tune.
Wake up. Wake up.
The stranger’s face slowly began to turn toward him.
Wake up Pete. Wake up!
A hand was shaking him. A hand was gripping him. He was being pulled backwards. Now, all the rats stopped and sniffed the air. There was something unwanted in their world and they would seek it out. They were his eyes and ears and they would pave the way for his coming.
Peter, you must wake now. You must wake now.
It was the voice of a man who had saved Brian, the man who had come from out of the darkness to help them.
Now. Now. Don’t sleep any longer.
He was awake. He was free of a million eyes. He was out of the darkness. The tune had stopped and he looked up to find the worried face of his mother looking down at him. Relief swept her features as he finally emerged from his nightmare.
“What on earth were you dreaming about, Peter? You were screaming out and crying. You’re all right now. You’re awake.”
Outside in the alleyway behind their back garden, a figure that had been standing motionless in the shadows moved without sound.
Something had entered his circle and had left.