The Piper 60 (does it never end?)

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The explosion confirmed their deepest fears.

The boys had made it to the prearranged classroom just before the blast.

Graham could see that a change had come upon both of the lads. Something had stolen the last ounce of their youthful optimism. It was the same something that was preying upon them all and, if it was not checked, it would have them.  

“This is where we begin,” said their teacher.

With that, he led them along the corridors whilst the screaming and shouting permeated the walls. When they heard the gun shots, they stopped dead in their tracks.

“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr Hunter offered.

“This is nothing to what will come,” added Michael knowingly.

They had devised a plan and were praying for it to work.

The basement had been rigged with petrol bombs and fireworks. There were fuses running everywhere and, as Mr Hunter had said, it would take just one spark to send the place sky high. However long they had been planning this, they had done it well. If it had not been such an act of – and he thought about the word he was about to use – terrorism, yes terrorism, then he would have been amazed at the work they had managed to accomplish. Some planning and organisation. However, what he did feel was revulsion.

“What about the police?”

“Sir, I don’t wish to be rude but the police probably won’t arrive. We think that some of them are in on this. Haven’t you noticed that there is an awful lot of violent crime going on every day without anyone doing anything about it?”

“So, if the police don’t come, it’s just down to us?”

“Us and whoever else is left that’s not on the other side.”

It took a while for this to reach its mark, but when reality, or this thing that was masquerading as reality, set in he became more resolute.

“Well then let’s do it.”

They were moving downstairs when another set of shots rang out. Their looks of concern met briefly and then they were back to their jobs. Mr Hunter used his key to open a store cupboard and then let himself and the boys in. Once inside, he locked the door behind him and turned on the light. He moved to the back of the space and started to pull at a loose parquet tile. It moved and he was able to lift it out of its place. Then he grabbed hold of a short piece of rope that lifted a two-by-two foot section out revealing a ladder that reached down into the bowels of the building.

“Another throwback to the War,” he smiled and started to climb down. “This will lead us to the basement. There is another storeroom, the one that you slept in I think. If we can get in there, we might be able to get them out.”

“We have to get them all out sir. We can’t leave any to those bastards,” the voice of Chris snarled.

The older man looked at him briefly.

This is what it does to us, he thought, this is what we become.

 

 

 

Laura jerked forward in her seat as she heard the first explosion.

A plume of smoke rose quickly into the indifferent morning air as she watched from the car.

“What the hell was that?” she asked turning to Nick.

“That’s how it always starts; with a bang. They’re out to make a statement. They want to show their followers their vision and the means by which to achieve it. The explosion is pure Hollywood. It’s for effect, but worse will follow.”

As they waited in the car deciding on their next move, they heard the first rapport of gunfire. After the next short burst, they were out of the car and moving quickly towards the gates. Around them, moved the occasional curtain with a face standing far back. It struck them that most people just did not seem to be home.

“Oi, you stop.”

It was a young voice calling from behind them.

Laura spun round and saw that the voice belonged to a child no older than thirteen. He was out of school uniform and had one of those hoods pulled up so that no one could see the whole of his face properly. With a mixture of fascination and horror, Laura noticed a gun being swung in front of the boy.

“I heard the explosion,” she started, “and I wanted to get to see my boys. They go to that school.”

“What’s their names?” the boy asked.

“Andrews. Michael and Christopher Andrews.”

At this, the boy let out an elongated phew of exclamation.

“Andrews. So you’re their mother? That is a bit of luck. Mr Flowers will be pleased with what I’ve got him. Now, you can meet the boys.”

He pointed the gun in the direction he wanted her to follow.

Unfortunately, he had not noticed Nick walking quietly around his blindside. He had been aware of something, but it had been vague. Nothing to worry about was the thought that passed through his mind as a single blow landed on a pressure point at the base of his neck. All he felt was a thud and then a tingling sensation as his body was guided to the ground.

Nick had already taken the gun and was checking it. He was moving an expert eye over its workings and didn’t notice the way Laura was looking at him.

“What’s the matter?”

“It’s you,” she said. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“That boy never even saw you. I saw you but he never once looked towards where you were standing. How did you do that?”

“It’s them. Many of them can’t see me. I think that they may not really want to see me. Denial or something. I am not supposed to be. In the hospital, I think they wanted to turn me into what they are, but it didn’t work. The more they experimented, the more incomprehensible I became to them. It’s as if I’m an aberration, something that defies their logic. They can’t understand how and why I am so they don’t admit my existence. Anyway, we can use it against them. Come on now and take this.”

He handed her the gun.

“Do you think you can use it if you need to?”

“I’ll try.”

But then she looked at the child on the ground and wondered if she could really ever use such a weapon on one so young.

 

I Prefer Water To Blood

 

images-799It’s a healthy thing to like the people you have been brought up with, especially if they are in your own family.

Families are about protection and safety. They provide our first glimpse of micro-society and prepare us (hopefully) for the macro one. If your first taste of the micro is off-putting, the macro may taste like an ocean of shit.

I never understood why some people chose to distance themselves from their kin. Some moved far away and never shared a word. The tales of long-lost aunties or uncles, brothers or sisters, were always a quiet source of conversation amongst mourners at funerals or weddings. The exiled were the outcasts, or the odd ones. The myriad of reasons that went into that decision to separate could be appreciated, but their drastic solution did seem a little unforgiving and final.

The family ties with my original blood relations have become strained in the years since my dad died. He sat at the head of the table, issuing edicts, wise words, and crippling criticisms. My sisters worshipped him whilst I had qualified respect. Our natural discourse was debate; we found it difficult to agree. Since his death, my sisters and I have fallen away from each other.

In truth, I have always been a black sheep. I like the contrast. I may be contrary. What I have always been is someone who ploughs their own furrow. Ever since I was little, the differences between me and mine, my original family, have been stark. In later years these have become more evident and this has manifested itself in the distance that now lies between us. I would be a dreamer if I thought it was going to change anytime soon.

Now, I have my own family. It is a very different one from the one I grew up in. Here, there is more love and forgiveness. We try to understand and support each other through difficult times, and there have been plenty of those.

My ties with my original family may now be strained, but I haven’t cut them.

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Perhaps the next wedding, or other occasion, will see improvement. 

 

 

The Importance Of Night

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Almost twenty-minutes past three and I am sittng here in the darkness, without my glasses, whilst my wife and daughters sleep upstairs.

I woke thinking.

Now someway into my veritable older years, though the boy inside me queries this, I have those nocturnal meanderings that lead to a gnawingly inward frustration.

It’s over two-years since I finally wobbled beyond wise words. My ‘burnout’ was a forest fire that destroyed everything that I had come to depend upon in my daily existence and spiritual certainty. Even then, I still had a belief in the whole business of God.

I was a character in some cosmic saga and my lines were being written in a sympathetic ‘it will all work out in the final chapters’ manner. It was a nice thought, but it was a thought that gently drowned me into inactivity. Why should I bother to make the hard decisions when they had possibly already been made for me?

It takes many deaths before we awaken to the possibility of our own.   

I think the fifties decade is the one that begins to place the Grim Reaper before us on an ever more frequent basis. People die. It’s not just people we vaguely know or celebrities we have grown up with. No, those now dying are our friends and our family. At this point, life stops being endless, ceases to be something that will happen tomorrow, and starts becoming a little urgent.

We have just returned from holiday in the past week and yesterday I was talking to my wife and commented on how full ‘holiday days’ are compared to non ‘holiday days’.

We were camping in France and we based our stay around the beautiful Lake Annecy. Our camping was a mixture of hard and soft camping with ten days being spent in mobile homes whilst the other eight was real camping in tents. We had our bikes (five people in my immediate clan) and the car was full to bursting with everything that we were to need and lots of things that we had forgotten that we would need. But we were on holiday and that meant that the days were ours and needed the respect that they deserved. So, instead of just letting them drift by, we filled them full of ourselves. Cycling, walking, talking, cooking, meeting, talking some more, seeing, site-seeing, BEING! We did it all.

Like most of our best holidays, the weeks were book-ended by potentially disastrous events. The car broke down, badly, and or final dash for the ferry saw us driving through the most torrential of storms which demanded my wife and daughters’ abject fear and my 1000 percent concentration. We survived both. When we got home we were well and truly knackered, but we had done it; we had filled the days of our holidays with meaning. We ‘did’ rather than procrastinate. It made sense. Back home the doing seems to get pushed to one side for that great big empty balloon of a thing called ‘everyday life’. And that is what we genrally do (or don’t).

Have you ever been to a funeral and said to yourself, “This is too important to waste”, then gone straight back to wasting it the next day and the day after that and the one after that…infinitum? It’s the holiday thing. We have a brief epiphany, a break from the everyday, a glimpse of what could be, then the blinds come down and we are back in the darkness of the mundane.

The thing with the mundane, the everyday, the normal world, is that it’s not taxing. It may be ultimately a stealth-tax but we don’t immediately feel it. We are not left exhausted by our attempts to seize the day and don’t feel the need to stuff all of our energies into a few weeks that will come to an end.  Unlike life, holidays are finite. And that is ‘rub’. Life does end. It’s a holiday that starts with a breakdown and finishes with a dramatic storm that threatens to derail everybody’s safe passage.

So after those fine words, I am still confused as to what my true holiday should contain.  

I have a decision to make in the next few days.

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I can’t put it off. The clock is ticking. 

 

 

The Piper 55

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If Laura Andrews was going to make that final leap into madness, it would be now.

She sat holding the note studying its contents.

“Who the hell is Dr William Melrose?” she asked Nick directly.

“It’s a long story.”

“Isn’t everything these days? You may as well get it started because we haven’t got long,” she shot back.

“Dr William Melrose was a doctor at Fairfields…”

“Was? Did he get fired for not hitting his target for lobotomising children or something?”

“No, he died.”

Laura let out an exasperated laugh.

“Died?” she repeated. “So you’re telling me that my son, my youngest son is now with some dead doctor at some hospital somewhere? Why does this not surprise me?”

“I think it’s like everything else, Mum,” Chris put in. “I never believed in any of this, even when the bad things started to happen. I thought it was just a load of rubbish.”

He looked at his brother. “I accepted you, Michael. Well, you’ve always been a little strange from the start, but everything else, all this stuff about you, Nick? There’s only so much you can take. But I saw Dad and that changed it all for me. There’s nothing much more that will surprise me. If only he hadn’t died.”

There was silence in the room.

“I too have been seeing loved ones who are now gone.”

Mr Hunter, who had been sitting quietly summing up the situation, now had the eyes of everyone upon him.

“Well seeing is probably not the right word. I’ve been getting phone calls from my son, my dead son.”

He hesitated as this confession was an admission of guilt. I too am a lunatic! 

“Until very recently, I would have described myself as a very sane man. Okay, over three decades in teaching doesn’t always go with that, but sane in comparison with other people; people who were sound of mind. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“What does your son say?” asked Laura quietly.

Graham turned his full attention to the mother who was caught in the eye of this maelstrom.

“He has been warning me about the Piper. He has been warning me from beyond the grave.”

“Does that mean that…” she swallowed hard, but fixed upon Nick once more, “Does that mean that Peter is dead?”

“No. He is alive somewhere. I believe that this note tells us that he is in the care of this doctor.”

“The dead doctor?”

“Yes, but such things don’t matter so much anymore. We are living in times foretold in Revelations. The dead will come back on both sides of the divide. They will stand for the Piper or with ourselves. Peter is safe for the time being. If we don’t act quickly though, that time being will be time gone.”

“What can we do?” Laura asked.

“We can get to them when and where they least expect it. Tomorrow at the school,” answered the teacher.

“It already is tomorrow,” Michael said, looking at his watch for confirmation.

“In that case, you should all try to get some sleep,” added Nick. “As I have a feeling that we’ll need all our energies to deal with whatever will be thrown at us. Just a few hours and I’ll stand sentinel.”

Nobody took too much convincing of the logic behind this as suddenly the realisation of their efforts to date settled upon them and reaffirmed their weariness. All, apart from Nick, were soon away into separate sleeps that were mercifully not blighted by what had gone before.

The sentinel stood his guard.

 

For once, sleep was kind.

At 3.45 am, the sentinel carefully roused his companions. Without speaking, each woke to the understanding that today would be as no other they had ever experienced.

Michael was already making tea by the time the others had pulled themselves from the comfort of their last few short hours. Chris woke to a painful throbbing in his right arm and remembered that it was broken. For all of that, he had slept without pain. Laura had spent the night in ‘her garden’ and could still feel the last of the sun’s rays upon her skin. She saw Chris wince a little as he tried to elevate himself to a seating position and was stung by guilt.

“Christopher, are you all right?”

“Just hurts a bit, but not much.”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“Mum, of course you didn’t mean to. Just an accident. It’s nothing.”

When Michael returned with the mugs of steaming tea, everybody was up and ready to plan for what they must do.

Their plan was simple: find out what Flowers had planned and stop it.

It was decided that Mr Hunter and Michael should be the ones to go into the school. Chris, with his recent dealings with the Piper, could well be on their radar. It would be too dangerous for him to be seen. Michael, on the other hand, had evaded them before and he believed that he could do so again. He and Mr Hunter would be responsible for reconnoitring the area and feeding back any possible signs of what the others had planned. They knew that the Piper would have devised something spectacular, but they did not yet know the full extent of the drama that awaited them.

Laura, Chris and Nick would stay at the house for what was left of the night and would then make their way to the school. “Just in case you run into trouble,” Laura said.

Mr Hunter (“I think you ought to start calling me Graham now”) had said that he knew ways in and out of the school that nobody else was possibly aware of. Laura had blessed the venture without revealing the true extent of her maternal reluctance. There was something more at stake than just her own family’s well being.

“Why Mike?” she had asked almost as an afterthought.

Nick replied for him, “He is the one the Piper fears the most and so he should.”

“But won’t that put him in more danger?”

“Yes, but if Michael doesn’t act now, the Piper will seek him out. Like me, he is a threat that needs to be disposed of.”

Laura rose and went towards her eldest son. She placed her arms around him and embraced him tightly. Then she held his face between the palms of her hands.

“Whatever I said back then, I did not mean.”

Tears were beginning to make their passages down her cheeks.

“I love you. I love you with all my heart and I don’t know how I will live if something were to happen to another of my sons.”

“Mum, there’s nothing that I can say that will help you, but I do believe that someday this will be over and we’ll be together again. We’ll find Pete. I love you too. I even love that useless brother over there.”

He nodded towards Christopher and got a nod of acceptance in return.

“Take care of my son, Mr Hunter.”

“It’s Graham to you, dear lady.”

“Take care of my son please, Graham.”

“I will, Mrs Andrews. I promise.”

“Thank you. It’s Laura.”

“I will ensure that I return your son in Grade A condition.”

“A Star, if you please.”

“A Star it will be.”

Michael and his history teacher left the relative security of the Andrews family, setting off into a night that would form the frontier of their world’s remaining sanity.

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Beyond that, only monsters roamed.

 

The Piper 54

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The key was turning in the lock and the group watched the downward movement of the handle.

Laura had armed herself with her largest pan, Michael and Nick held knives. If they were to be found, they would fight. The Piper had reminded them of things they had not thought they knew. They were aware that this had happened before, that they had stood side by side in grim determination not to give in. In the unlit kitchen, they could have been anybody from any time. They were the hunted who had reached the end of their run. This would be the time they would stand and fight.

The door was unlocked and was moving silently on its arc. Two figures were entering. The defenders tensed themselves for combat. Laura was the first to move. She pushed all of her anger into a swing that was intended to take the head off whatever had set their sights on them. This was for both her missing boys.

In fact, this was for everyone who had been taken.

Chris saw the object coming towards him at the last moment. He ducked, raising his arms for protection, managing to avoid the intended death blow by a fraction. Instead, his left wrist took the impact with an immediate bolt of pain registering damage. Whoever was attacking him did not stop at this. With its target down, it moved around him searching for another opportunity to strike home. The pain in his arm was intense; the thing on him was intent.

Chris managed to look up and saw with relief that Mr Hunter was now in the fray attempting to hold the flailing arms. As with Chris, the attacker was proving to be formidable. Blows started raining down on him too. Nevertheless, the teacher stuck to his task even though he was registering others in the room. Shadows were now moving towards them and with the boy down it would only be a matter of time.

With his eyes adjusted to the light, Michael recognised the prone form of his brother. His mother, to his alarm, was beginning her assault on what she thought was a diabolical intruder. Michael rushed forward and tried to stop her. To his amazement, she seemed to be too strong for him.

Like Michael, Nick reacted late. Nevertheless, when things fell together, he moved to prevent the imminent tragedy. Michael was trying to hold his mother and was losing the battle. Laura’s body was filled with depthless rage. Nick moved in. With Michael’s arms around her, she still managed to continue her assault on the one protecting the other on the floor. By the way he was lying; the one on the floor was injured. Whoever he was, he was not the threat that Laura thought him to be. Moving into the space between her and her directed anger, Nick was able to grab the heavy pan by the handle stopping it reaching its target. Laura’s eyes flashed at him again with the same fury he had seen earlier.

“Mum, stop. It’s Chris. It’s Chris.”

Her eyes blinked and the wrath was no more. The violence of the previous seconds hung in the air before dissipating. The tableau remained for moments longer with each of its parts breathing deeply.

“Mum, it’s me Chris.”

Laura dropped to her knees and embraced the injured son. Tears fell upon him as she soothed his brow.

“Chris,” she uttered through sobs, “I didn’t know. I thought it was them. I thought it was them.”

She buried her head into the curve of his neck and hugged him tightly. His arm exploded with pain and he cried out.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s my arm. I think you might have broken it.”

Indeed she had.

The teacher stood by bewildered. He was bleeding from a few places around his head where the pan had glanced him with a scything blow. He recognised Michael’s voice and had now placed the other pieces of the jigsaw together. The thing that had attacked him was none other than the boy’s mother. She had fought with a venom that was incredible. Now that he saw her, she was only a mother, a slight figure that would not cause anybody any intentional harm. Then he saw Nick and a distant memory nipped the edge of his consciousness.

They lifted Chris to his feet and assisted him into the lounge. Nick took the keys and locked the kitchen door before following. With the next door closed behind them, it was safe to turn on the light. They sat looking at each other, Laura holding the arm that she had broken.

“We need to fix that soon or it will cause him agony,” Nick said.

“We’ve got a big first aid kit in the attic,” suggested Michael. “I remember putting it up there when we moved in. Silly place to keep it I suppose. I’ll bring it down.”

The eldest son was reacting quickly to events with an unruffled approach. His clear head would be needed many times before this was over. As he walked towards the hallway, Chris gazed at him with a mixture of guilt and admiration. This was the brother he had traded for his day with his father. This was the one he had chosen to leave behind when the Piper had dropped into his dreams. This was Michael, his elder brother, who was so selfless in his actions, who never thought about himself before others. He was a brother who should never have been betrayed.

“Michael.”

“What, Chris?”

“It was me who sold you out. I’m sorry. I believed him. He said that we could have Dad back if you were gone. He said that you were the cause of all the badness that was happening. He said that you were not real.”

“That’s how the Piper works.”

They all turned to Nick who was seated in the armchair.

“He works on lies. He unties the bonds that connect us. He sows the seeds of hatred and distrust. You have come through a test today and you have done well. The Piper has not achieved what he needed to achieve and the repercussions will be devastating. There will be a huge sacrifice that will be the signal for the thing to begin. I don’t know what it will be, but its tremors will be felt around the world. This thing will break the dam of restraint and hell will follow. If we only knew what he had planned, we could try to stop him.”

“I think I know,” said the teacher. “I think they’re going to do something with the school.”

The school brought back memories for Michael that he wished to forget. They would have to revisit it and try to stop what was going to happen. He shuddered with the memory of the rats.

“Mum, I’ll need the torch.”

“It’s by the door. I left it there last night for some reason.” Laura thought of last night and it was a million years away.

Michael found the torch and started up the stairs. Once he reached the safety of the top flight, he switched it on. He was relieved that the battery was not dead. Above him was the attic entrance. He reached up and unclipped the catch that kept it secure. The door fell open and he pulled at the ladder that would allow him to enter the attic space.

He climbed carefully and watched as the torch’s beam cut through the dust. All the things that would not fit in this smaller house were stored here . A small window framed the moonlight as it cut a block into the dark. His torch picked out the fireplace at the back of the room that suggested that this had been more than a storage area in a previous time. His mother had intentions of moving that fireplace to the lounge to give the place character, but she hadn’t got around to it.

Michael found the first aid box and stifled a giggle at how big it was. He had always thought his mother was a little overanxious and had wondered if she had been expecting a war rather than the cuts and bruises that accompany childhood. He stopped in mid-thought and realised how useful this would now be.

He lifted the box and felt its weight. Carrying it towards the doorway, he looked back at the fireplace and noticed something protruding from its ancient grate. He put the box down and walked towards what had attracted his interest. Kneeling down, he saw that it was an envelope. Michael pulled it from its resting place and looked at it. Like the fireplace, it was old. Time had stained it with its passage. The paper was fragile so he handled it carefully. There was no address on its front. He placed the envelope on top of the box and descended the ladder.

In the lounge, the group waited. They had spoken only a little whilst awaiting Michael’s return. Nick had told them how he would put together a sling that would be able to keep the break supported. He told them that he would need to see someone who knew more about such things, but that they couldn’t trust themselves to a regular hospital. The Piper had his spies everywhere. As Nick put together the sling, Laura searched for the painkillers and handed two to Chris.

“This should help. Do you need water?”

Chris shook his head and then tried to swallow one. His mouth was completely dry and the tablet felt like a brick.

“I think I’ll need that water after all.”

Michael held out the envelope.

“I found this in the fireplace. It’s strange that we never saw it when we were putting stuff in the attic.”

Laura returned with the glass of water and Chris washed down the tablets. Michael opened the envelope and he gently pulled out a leaf of paper on which an elegant hand had written its message.

“To whom this may concern,” Michael read loud. “Peter, your youngest son is safe. He is with us at the hospital. I am afraid that he met with an accident and was in need of immediate medical attention. Do not worry for he is now recovering. He says that you need to come and find him post haste. The teacher is correct in his assumption that the school is the target and, therefore, you will need to halt their plans. I need not remind you that you are all in extreme peril. Act quickly and effectively. Save all you can, but remember to remain as a family. He has no power that can break this bond.

Peter asks for his mother not to worry. He loves her and his brothers more than time itself.

When they come for you, as they will, remember that your strength is your unity. Never give up on your quest to be reunited no matter what befalls you.

Take God’s care and trust in Nicholas,

Dr William Melrose.”

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The Piper 53

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He was no longer dreaming.

Petras and his father were moving quickly through the forest at the base of the mountain. They had not seen any of the other herdsmen which stung them with guilt. Perhaps they should have waited, his father thought. Perhaps they should have looked for the others. That, he knew, would have meant their deaths.

There was only one thing that they could do that would be of any use and that was to warn the village. They were not aware that they had been overtaken in their rush for home. The raiders were riding horses that made next to no noise as they galloped. Their hooves had been softened by cladding them in straw-filled cloth. They moved like a breeze through the trees and the father and son knew nothing of their passage.

“Father,” Petras said through clenched teeth. They had been running for miles and the boy could not bring himself to ask for a rest. His lungs were stinging and the pain in his muscles was now unbearable. His father had been running ahead and did not hear. He was intent on getting back to his wife. So when Petras fell, it took some time for him to notice.

“Father!” the boy shouted with all of his strength and, at this, his father stopped.

In all his haste, he had not considered his young son. He had been running at a pace that meant the boy could not keep up. When he turned, he saw how far behind his son had fallen and a shame fell across his face. He ran back to where Petras lay.

“Petras, Petras are you all right?”

Petras looked up through tear-stained eyes. He was aware of something that was wrong with his leg. When he had fallen, something had caught his standing foot. He had heard a loud crack and believed that it had been a branch that he had trodden on. His momentum had carried him forward and he had wheeled awkwardly in a sudden broken arc before falling face first into the forest pine needles.

Looking down at his son, he could see that the boy was not all right. His leg, just above the right ankle, had formed itself into an angle that was not natural. His father had treated countless goats that had done the same. Many of the herdsmen would have slaughtered the animals there and then. Their meat would have been covered with salt and taken back for later consumption. Unlike the others, Petras’ father had gained much insight into immediate treatment of such breaks. Many a goat had lived to graze another day because of this. Unfortunately, what he saw here disturbed him.

Petras had indeed trodden on a branch and it had broken under his feet. In doing so it had formed a rudimentary snare that had caught the boy’s foot precisely. As the body travelled forward, the foot remained and, when it fell, that foot was rooted to its trap. Such a quick movement brought about a massive force that was focussed on such a fragile bone. The boy was young and it would mend, but it would never be completely straight.

His father knelt down and stroked the boy’s face.

“It will be painful, but I will fix it.”

With that, he ran his hand through the boy’s hair realising his dilemma. His wife would be in danger very soon if he did not get back whilst his boy would possibly perish if he left him without treatment. In his bag, he carried those things that he would have to use in cases of emergency. He took out his length of leather strapping that was rolled into a ball and unwound it. Next, he pulled out two even sticks which he placed on the ground. Looking around, he searched the forest floor for something and immediately found what he was wanting. He placed his hand on a twig that was newly broken and still replete with sap. This he motioned towards his son.

“You will need to bite on this. Bite hard. Give all your pain and fear into this. It will take it.”

Petras bit upon it and his father immediately started his work. His hands felt along the bone and touched the exposed places where nerves screamed in outrage. The boy screamed too, but forced it into the stick. He bit harder that he had ever done before and sunk through so that he tasted the familiar pine. His father had had mapped the break and was preparing to set about pulling the lower bone downwards whilst twisting it so that it would fit back into its original place. It would have to be a quick operation if he was to spare his son an eternity of unbearable pain. With practised speed, he jolted on the loosely hanging ankle so that it was free of any obstruction. He felt his son’s body go rigid and could only imagine the agony he must be in. However, wasting no time, he twisted the lower bone and then slotted it into something that resembled the original. When he looked at his son’s face, he saw that he had passed into unconsciousness.

He placed the sticks at either side of the break and wrapped the leather tightly around the leg and splints. He was happy that the boy was not aware now of feeling and pulled the straps tightly so that movement would be restricted. The bones were back where God had intended them to be and they would not move against each other until the break was mended.

This done, his next decision was to find a place to hide him until he could return. He knew this forest like he knew his own face and lifted up the inert body with tenderness. He had, as a child played here and knew of a cave that was hidden to all but him. The cave was in an unexposed crevasse that was guarded by trees. Here, he was certain that he could ensure his son’s safety. No wild animals or hunters of Pan would ever find him.

The man set off with his wounded son and disappeared into the trees. At the same moment, the dogs, which were the scouts of the hunters, leapt upon a lone woman who was washing clothes in the river. They tore at her with the savage delight of demons, ripping out her throat so as to silence any warning that she may have given. On the bank above her, a dark horseman watched with even darker fascination.

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This was Pa An and he was the giver of death.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Piper 52

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Just a few feet further and Flowers would have it.

He had taken a rope from the room belonging to the caretaker and was now using it to lower himself into the darkness.

The Piper had come to him in his dreams and had shown him something that would make the job easier. He had taken him along dark tunnels and down into the pit of the earth. Everywhere, water stood. It was black and unliving yet still there was something in there that moved. He knew it to be the souls of children.

They are trapped. They are the innocents who were the payment I never received and they have spent their time fermenting their anger for the ones who betrayed them. If they were to be released, then the world would feel their anger and would struggle to fend off their revenge.

Liam listened as the Piper explained about the plague of rats and remembered a story he had been told in school, long, long before he had come to this. The story was of a town in Germany that had suffered from an invasion of the vermin that ate everything in sight. The townspeople were on the edge of starvation as a result of this curse and they sent out messengers to all the regions around them calling for help. Some of their pleas fell upon deaf ears whilst others were answered. The problem was that, those who had answered them turned out to be fake or merely ineffective.

The rats not only stayed, but they multiplied.

And then came the brightly dressed solution: a rat-catcher who carried a flute.

It amused Flowers to think that he was involved in a real life fairy tale.

He had been given the power to play the pipe and now many were dancing to his tune. The Piper was, at best, a vague essence that only he and a select few could see. He knew that Podrall could not see him yet. He also knew that some of his enemies could see him. Residing in the depths of his conscience was a grain of awareness. This tiny particle of reason grated like a stone in a shoe. No matter how he tried to shake it off, it remained.

He needed an act of absolute evil to rid himself of it once and for all.

Flowers lowered himself into the black pit and landed on firm ground. He pulled the torch he had been carrying from his pocket and switched on the light. He was beneath the basement of the school and was amongst a confusion of cables and pipes. The Piper had led him to this and he knew what he must do.

He moved towards a knot of pipes that were rusted with time. One of these pipes would provide the answer. In his pocket, he had a vial that had been delivered to his door one night. The Piper had explained that if he used it correctly, the match would be lit for his return.

“It is fear that gives one control. If the masses fear you, they will follow. For mankind, fear was the main reason for its rapid development,” the Piper had said. “You do as I say and they will abandon their illusions of security. We will have dominion over all. On this night we will ring the changes and rid ourselves of our enemies.”

Liam knew that all the world was his enemy. He had known that from the start and nothing had convinced him otherwise. He pulled back the insignificant covering protecting the pipe and opened the vial. As the liquid ran out onto the metal, it raised a whisper of smoke. It was as he had thought, a type of acid and it was strong enough to burn through metal.

In the corner, something stirred. He welcomed its approach as it was a harbinger of the things to come. As it shook itself from its restless sleep it made a slow progression towards where something that smelt vaguely human stood. Then it smelt soemthing else. It was the scent of the dark thing that had conjured it.

It was the scent of the Piper.

 

 

Above him, in a forgotten stockroom, lay Chris.

He was waking from a rocky sleep and roused to find himself on a cold concrete floor. His muscles ached with the strain and the cold of the night. The darkness was almost absolute as he struggled to his feet. Again, his muscles pained him deeply. The sensations they were giving off were ones connected with an exersion he could not remember. He recalled events.

The previous day had been a bad one. He could remember his mother waking up and showing the signs that they had dreaded for so long. She had the symptoms of the depression that had shown themselves so frequently in the months after their father’s death. He thought about his father and an image sprang into his mind of him standing on a rock in the face of an angry sea. Thinking with a clarity that could have been cinematic, Chris saw himself next to his father. He was holding him as wave upon black wave crashed against their disappearing sanctuary.

You must not lose faith again Christopher. Your family needs you. The world needs you. You have fallen yet not so far that I could not catch you. That was your chance. You have used it up. Now do not let me down. When you wake, you will have to find a way out and get to your mother and Michael. Peter is someplace else, but he is also working his way back.”

Chris was looking into the face of his father and seeing him for the first time as a person. There was fear in his eyes that was not only for his son’s predicament. Nevertheless, there was resolution that he would not give in to that which would defeat them.

“The Piper lies. He wants you all dead. When he told you that you could have one more day with me, he lied. Those that you thought were your parents were only shadows. Now make it better or it will all end here.”

“But, Dad,” Chris said through tears. “Dad, I love you. I never got to say that before you went. I love you Dad. We need you.”

His father’s hand was running through his hair to soothe him.

“You must go now Chris. They are getting closer.”

And when Chris looked around, the sea was battering against their rock and the black tide held out claw-like hands that would pull them from their safety.

“What about you, Dad? What about you?”

I am some place they cannot reach for the time being. Now take this and give it to your mother. Tell her that I never did stop loving her and that I could not help the harm that I have caused her.”

With that, Chris felt something metallic placed in his palm.

“This is my love to you all.”

And that was when the lights came on.

“It’s Christopher isn’t it?”

Chris recognised the voice but could not see its owner. The lights had temporarily blinded him.

“What on earth are you doing down here?”

“I don’t know,” Chris replied in all honesty.

It took a few seconds for his eyes to accustom themselves to the sharp glare of the artificial light. When they had recovered, Chris saw the somewhat dishevelled figure of Mr Hunter standing in the door.

“What’s happening, Mr Hunter?”

“I don’t know, son. I really don’t know. Let’s get out of here before they come back. There is something in this school that should not be here and I believe it means us all no good.”

“I think I know what it is,” muttered Chris half ashamed. “I think I may have met it.”

“I think that we may all have met it at some stage. For now, we’ll make sure you get home safely.”

The teacher had keys to corridors Chris could not remember and soon they were out into the car park where his old Volkswagen camper van waited. The night sky was alive with muffled explosions, sirens and distant screams. As Mr Hunter started the ignition, he turned to Chris.

“I saw you in my dreams. You were on a rock in the middle of a black and angry sea. There was a man with you. Was that your father?”

“Yes.”

“Then there is something that I cannot explain. You see, your father has been in my dreams for many years now. He has been telling me about this night and he has shown me the place where I would find you.”

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The two looked at each other aware that they were now, and always had been, part of something that was beginning its final act.