Brian’s engine idled but remained alert.
Its throaty humming was reassuring. In front of them was the street onto which she had recently moved with the remains of her family. Now she sat with a stranger who had come out of literally nowhere to help them.
She had been abducted by someone who claimed to have been a doctor and had been lucky to escape with her life. She had been thrown into a world of madness and had seen her dead sister. She had been told that her eldest son was to be her executioner. Her sons were now missing and she was struggling to keep any sense of sanity in place. Within her was an anger that was rising.
Whoever had done this would pay.
“It looks too quiet,” Nick muttered. “Perhaps I should just check to see if it’s okay.”
Laura nodded as Nick carefully opened the door.
“Lock yourself in and keep the engine running just in case. It might be better if you sit in the driver’s seat.”
Laura looked at this stranger and knew that she trusted him beyond reason.
“I want my boys back Nick. I’m not going to desert them for anything or anyone.”
“Laura, we’ll get them back. In the end, we will return everything to its rightful place. Trust me.”
He closed the door and began to walk into the still night. Not for the first time, she was drawn to a memory of Simon and shook it off. For a long while, she believed in him but he had let them all down. Somehow, his death had allowed all this to happen and she believed that she would never be able to find forgiveness. She looked into the dark and prayed that all would be right.
The time on the car’s clock was eight fifteen. A millennium had passed within this day. She was lost in this thought when a hand knocked at the driver’s window. It was Nick.
“It’s okay, the house is empty. I don’t think that they know where you live. Let’s get inside.”
They locked Brian’s doors and left him standing. They took the alleyway leading to the back door rather than use the front. Once inside, they drew the heavy curtains and lit only the most frugal of lamps. If anything was watching, it would have to look long and hard.
The house echoed without the presence of the boys.
Laura was silent. Inside, she was turmoil. Perhaps this was what it was to be mad. Perhaps the world would just slip away and this was what would replace it. In the short course of a day, all that she thought that she had possessed had been stripped away and here she was in a darkened house with a stranger.
“What have you done to me?”
Nick looked across the room to meet her accusing gaze.
“What have you done to us? It’s you isn’t it? You started all of this. Before you arrived, we were doing well. We were a family and now all this. All this madness came with you.”
“Laura, I have come with this, but it is not me that has caused it. It is The Piper.”
The mere utterance of this name stopped her tears.
“Yes, you already know the name. It is he that has caused this and it is he that has taken your boys. It was The Piper who took Simon.”
“But Simon died in a car crash. It wasn’t anything to do with this.”
“It was everything to do with this. Simon knew about that night many years before it was to happen. He was told how it would happen, but was betrayed. He…”
Laura waited for Nick to continue. He didn’t.
“Nick, Nick are you okay?”
There was a flicker and then movement. Now the eyes were staring at her and she could not avoid them. She felt as if she were trapped by their gaze. It was as if they were coming towards her from a great distance yet travelling at a speed that would just sweep evrything before them. Deep within his grey irises were lights that were now cutting through the distance that separated them. She could not move even when she realised that the lights, that were now clinically searching her out, belonged to a vehicle whose trajectory included her. And so it did.
The air was beyond cold.
She found herself in the open with only a blanket to keep her warm. There was a slush of snow that was beginning to freeze with the falling night. Here she was alone. She was standing barefoot at the side of a duel carriageway that was empty of cars. From where she was, she could see the whole of the road running in both directions. On the other side of the carriageway was a wood. She recognised it vaguely. Above her was a footbridge spanning the road.
“Don’t sleep while The Piper wakes.”
Her hairs stood up along her upper back. A shiver of fear ran along her spine and tiny explosions pricked her skin. She knew this voice and wished she did not.
Before another thought could push itself into her mind, she heard the sound of feet running on the muddy earth through the woods. Then they were crashing through the undergrowth in desperation. Something was frightened. Something was running for its life and that something was the slight figure now bursting through the tree line and into sight.
Laura’s heart was racing. She tried to move. She tried to offer help, but could not. She was rooted to the place where she stood.
The figure was running towards the footbridge whilst another shape appeared behind it. Unlike the fleeing figure, this one had no definite shape. It was there because she could see it, yet it was as much a part of the engulfing night as it was of the more tangible objects that surrounded it. If she looked too deeply, it would see her. Laura remembered the memories of childhood when the shadows around her bed would form into solid shapes if she looked too long at them. She always looked too long, seized in morbid fascination at the sinister wonder of it all.
The first figure had fallen. It was obvious that it had been running for a long time and had reached the point where its tolerance of pain was telling it to stop. The other thing moved steadily towards it. Again, Laura tried to make her muscles act. She wanted to scream out that behind it was the bogey man. Run, she wished she could scream, but found nothing there. She was watching the death throes of a hunt and braced herself for the inevitable.
Then came the lights.
Looking to her right, along the wintry frieze of the road, she picked out the headlights of a car moving fast. Its engine was roaring defiantly as it raced towards the scene. The figure on the floor also heard its call and made one last attempt of escape. The dark shape rippled and turned to face the unwanted intruder. Before it could react, its prey was up and running with one last bolt of energy across the road. A metal fence separated the two carriageways and this should have been too much to surmount. However, the promise of assistance elevated the prey to the top and over before the dark shape had moved. In an instant, the car was there with the passenger door open and the intended victim was inside.
Before the car roared away, Laura saw, with astonishment, that the driver was Simon. It was escaping and the dark shape just looked on. There was no attempt to chase. Surely, it could have caught up with its victim as it crossed the road. What Laura had first thought was helpless surprise was something else. That was when she heard the crash and saw the terrible mass of twisted metal that had once been a car.
One headlight was still glaring questioningly into the night sky.
She was back in the house looking into the eyes whose grey sincerity she was leaning on.
“You see, Laura, sometimes we get the wrong end of the tale.”
A sound from the back door hushed them into silence. There was a key being turned and then the low creak of the door being opened. Near silent footsteps were making their way inside the house bringing with them the familiar shape of Michael.
His mother ran to him, hugging him in one movement. Again she was streaming tears, but now they were tears of joy.
He had been delivered from evil.