The Piper 23


Podrall sat in the thick air of the flat trying not to breath in too deeply.

Flowers had called him and asked for his presence. Joel Podrall, who never was one to jump to anyone’s will, immediately made his way to the flat.

As usual, the door was ajar when he arrived. As usual, he knocked respectfully three times and waited. As was the way with these things, a voice from within beckoned him to enter. Podrall was not always sure that this was the same voice. At first he suspected that it was Flowers playing practical jokes with him, yet later, when things started to turn really weird, he was sure that there was at least one other person in there with him.

This morning he had entered and placed himself on the sofa and waited. He could hear Flowers in the bedroom moving things around. The two didn’t exchange conversation. Podrall waited and waited. After half an hour, Flowers shouted from the bedroom.

“I hope you’re on the edge of your seat!”

Podrall checked his position and was going to adjust it when he realised that Flowers wasn’t being that literal.

“With baited breath,” he returned feeling again how much he had learnt through his union with the other.

“Good, and if it’s not too childish, may I ask the members of the audience to cover their eyes for a moment. No peeking.”

Podrall wasn’t about to peek. He knew, knew as if his life depended upon it, that Flowers was aware of every tiny thing that his young accomplice did.

“Cue drum roll,” Flowers said in a practised circus master’s voice and from somewhere there came a sound that could only be described as a drum roll.

Not for the first time, Podrall felt that he was in the presence of a genius. He could hear big clunking movements, the scraping of feet moving along the floor before bumping into something that could have been the table.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; I present to you the first, but not last public appearance of James Harrison, also known as the Leatherman.”

There were a few moments of silence. Podrall waited for the all-clear.

“It’s okay now, you can open your eyes.”

Podrall opened his eyes slowly and was confronted by the sight of a very old man with a very dark and obviously fake tan. He didn’t know what to say.

“So, what do you think?”

“Yes, very good.”

Podrall wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be admiring. His gaze moved around the room in an uncomfortable manner.

“Not the out-of-date interior decoration you fool, look at the corpse.”

The corpse, Flowers had said as if he were talking about a bunch of flowers or a rabbit. Podrall looked and saw for the first time that there was something very unworldly about the bloke who stood before him. For a start, he didn’t have any eyes. The spaces were there for the eyes to go, but there was nothing in them. And there was something about the skin that didn’t look real, even with the overdone tan.

It was the smell that should have given it away. The thing was, he had become so accustomed to the way that the flat had smelt that he had stopped noticing it. It was the smell. The bloke in front of him gave off a very distinct aroma that reminded Podrall of smoky bacon. He smelled of smoky bacon that had been left in the fridge for too long.

“He’s dead,” Flowers said. “He’s been dead for about sixteen years and I think he looks good on it, don’t you?”

In actual fact, if there was such a thing these days, Podrall agreed that he did look very well on it. For someone who had been dead for so long, he certainly could pass for one of the living, at least in this neighbourhood.

“Now I shouldn’t really do this bit, but it’s hard to resist.”

Flowers produced a medium-sized kitchen knife from the sink drawer.

“Watch this.”

He moved around to the front of the Leatherman and thrust the knife into its chest cavity where its heart should have been. He looked at the creature.

“Now, look me in the eye and tell me that that didn’t hurt.”

There was no response.

Podrall sat entranced on the sofa. He had always known that the other boy was special, but this went way beyond that. This guy was in charge of a dead body and God (he smiled to himself at the irony) only knew what they could do with that.

“Are there any more like him?” he asked like a student being drawn into a particular subject.

“I am made to believe that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands like him around the world. I’m told that there are at least another four in this city alone and all we have to do is find them.”

“If you don’t mind me saying, that’s a big task. It’s a decent sized place.”

“Ah my boy, that’s when my next little surprise will come in handy.”

Again, he moved towards the bedroom door and opened it with a flourish. Out poured close to fifty large black rats. They raced into the room pushed on by the cohort behind them and ran towards where Podrall was sitting on the sofa. He pushed himself back and immediately raised his feet off the floor. Terror pricked every sensor in his body. He could see into their black beads of eyes and saw himself reflected.

“Halt!” Flowers shouted and they stopped almost instantly. They turned as one towards Flowers and lowered their front legs so that they gave the appearance of bowing.

“These, Joel, are going to be your little helpers. They are ever so good at finding things that have been lost or are hiding. Nothing escapes their attention. The problem is that they do have ravenous appetites and will eat just about anything. Christ, they had Turkish last night, something I’ve always found too greasy. If you wear this, they will do as you bid them to.”

Flowers moved towards Podrall and pulled something that looked like a ribbon from his pocket. He pinned the ribbon onto Podrall’s chest. Looking down, Podrall could see that it was a medal, its dull weight hung reassuringly from his shirt.

“Remember that when you are in their presence, you must wear that or risk becoming lunch,” Flowers tittered.

“Oh, and one more thing. Have you ever seen that mother of those brothers? The Andrews woman.”

Podrall had seen her on several occasions dropping the boys off at school. In his opinion, she was quite tasty for an older bird.

“Put quite simply, we want her to have a nervous breakdown. There’s a doctor who is currently giving her medication and it shouldn’t be long before she cracks. If you see her around, give a little helping hand would you?”

“Definitely. Anything else?”

“Just stick to that and all should be well.”

A silence filtered up between them and the lesser boy knew this to be his cue to leave.

Podrall left, feeling, once more, that he had been increased. Now he was the master of flesh-eating rats. His chest puffed out and his stride became emboldened, he did not see the curtains of the flat being pulled back slightly.

Can you trust him?

“We can trust him for now. He might get out of his depth later. For the moment, however, he can be trusted.”



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