In another world and in another time, Nick could have been content.
He had found a family that was strong. It was a family that had survived the tragedies that had been flung at them. Nick thought that he might even have been a part of this group; in another time.
Now, he knew that there was something wrong with the mother.
Nick climbed into the deep well of history that had constantly eluded him. The youngest had shone some light upon the well and now Nick eased into the twilight of its mouth. A set of eyes greeted him, ones he had seen before. They had been the ones that were upon Laura’s face during the evening. And then they were gone.
He was struggling for hand and footholds, fighting against the urge to let go, to fall like all things should eventually fall. He continued his descent. Time flowed down the sides of the walls, running over his fingers and down his arms, touching him with memories of the empty times. He remembered the tramp who had died next to him under a bridge. More, he remembered the knocking, the ceaseless knocking; the calls for help.
They had come to him, flocked to his emptiness, begging for the chance to be carried along, to be taken away from the pain of death, to be ferried to a better place.
Not all had been worthy. Some had the smell of blood upon them. Those were the ones that had kicked and screamed and scratched and cursed. Those were the ones that had demanded to be let in. They had sworn their revenge upon him before eventually leaving, sinking down into the place from where they had arisen. Now he could hear the echoes of the past amplified within the well’s dark acoustics and those echoes swam towards him; ghostly hands attempting to pull him down.
And then he was back.
He was in a room with many beds with many sleepers. There was a fragile light from a summer moon that lit the white sheets of their faces. The faces were those of the things that had once been children, but were now not. A woman, a nurse, sat reading a book by the light of a lamp that barely spread across the page. She, this woman, was… Nick thought hard, clasped the sides of his memory, and steadied himself…
Another echo, rebounding off the walls towards him.
It was… It was… and then she looked up, her face captured in both artificial and natural light. It was the nurse.
That was when every eye began to open.
Each sleeping form was now awake. They were rising from their shrouded beds, turning in their rudderless existence and their eyes, the gateways to the soul, were empty. Their souls had been taken and he knew that the bad doctor, the one with the steel finger, had taken them.
The nurse recognised the boy. He knew her thoughts. He knew that she was thinking that this should not be, that she had got the boy away, that he should not be here, after all these years.
Nicholas, you were free. You escaped. Why, why? Why have you returned?
Hers was a face petrified in anguish.
Then he heard him.
The soft tread of the bad doctor’s footfalls were again moving along the corridor. An expectation arose with each step. First there was anger, then frustration, but now relief. The boy had returned and the eyes were turning towards him, burrowing into the place where his soul ought to have been.
He was in the well again, climbing up damp, slime covered walls. Each step, one of faith.
The voices from below were calling him, their shrill notes weaving together into a plea. Nick should have been one of them. Nick ought not to have listened to the nurse, but to the doctor. Things could still be made right. His time, the time of The Piper, was approaching and, if Nick would return, he could sit on high, the right hand of the thing that would come to rule.
If only Nick would come back, come back to the ward, come back to the things that were like him.
Just imagine a world without pain. A life free of cares. An existence liberated from the burden of other people’s lives. He listened, its breath warm against his ear, and his fingers began to lose their grip.