‘Evil Has Won’ Pro-American Germans feel betrayed.

Michelle Goldberg

By Michelle Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

President Trump met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

BERLIN — Klaus Scharioth, who served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States during both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations, was born in 1946, the year after Germany’s surrender in World War II. His earliest impressions of America were of a magnanimous, generous country.

“It was never forgotten that the United States included Germany in the Marshall Plan, which you would not have expected,” he told me, speaking of American aid to rebuild Europe after the war. He remembers getting packages of food from the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, or CARE: “The victor sends the one who is defeated, and who began the war, CARE packages! Imagine that. It doesn’t happen too often.”

In the world he grew up in, America was seen as the guarantor of the liberal democratic order, an order in which Germany, abandoning its aggressive history, would come to thrive. And so for many Germans, it’s a profound shock that the president of the United States now attacks that order, while appearing to fawn over Russia.

“Germans have grown accustomed to the fact that the United States would always be their friends,” Scharioth said. “And it’s like when a very good friend leaves you. It hurts. I would say of all European countries, the Germans psychologically are the ones who are wounded most.”

I traveled to Würzburg, Germany, last week for a conference about the free press, where journalists from Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Poland, among other countries, spoke of the challenges of reporting in conditions of ever-increasing authoritarianism. Afterward I spent a few days in Berlin, speaking to politicians and foreign policy experts as Donald Trump threatened to blow up NATO. In both places there was a funereal sense — not universal, but pervasive — that the era of open societies might be ending.

“For me, the key thing is the Enlightenment,” Scharioth said. “I think that keeps the E.U. together, the values of the Enlightenment — a free press, religious freedom, minority protection, free elections, democracy, a free judiciary independent of all the other branches of government, tolerance, respect for others. I’m afraid the United States might no longer be speaking out for these values. And that makes me very anxious.”

Obviously, even before Trump, not everyone in Germany admired the United States the way Scharioth did. As in every country in Europe, there has been significant anti-American sentiment in Germany, particular on the far left and the far right. But those Germans who do believe in the best of American values are struggling to come to terms with a world in which the United States, whose support has undergirded German foreign policy assumptions for 70 years, can’t be trusted.

“The trans-Atlantic relationship is not going to survive eight years of Trump,” said Marcel Dirsus, a center-right-leaning political scientist at the University of Kiel. He’s not sure it can survive four. “What comes next is anyone’s guess,” he said.

That phrase “trans-Atlantic relationship” might sound like a diplomatic banality. But a world without it would be an extremely different place. America has long wanted Europeans to spend more on their own defense, but should every nation in Europe feel the need to significantly build up its military — and perhaps to nuclearize — the continent would likely become far less stable. There’s no reason to take for granted that most countries in Europe would remain open, pro-Western democracies.

Ironically, part of the original purpose of NATO was to prevent a return of German militarism: Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, once quipped that the organization’s purpose was “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” European integration was premised on American protection. Now that protection is no longer reliable, and to some, America itself seems like a threat.

When I met with Cem Özdemir, a member of the German Bundestag from the center-left Green Party, he spoke with awe of the Statue of Liberty and all it represents. “That was the dream of everybody in the world, that one day we would all live in democracies,” he said. “One day, we would all live in a world that is fair and just. If the guy in the center of this world is evil, evil has won.”

Özdemir was the first politician of Turkish descent to serve in Germany’s parliament and, as a former Green Party co-chairman, the first to lead a major political party. He has sometimes been referred to as the German Obama; an Obama bobblehead sits on the desk of his office. He was staggered by the turn America has taken.

“It reminds me of a James Bond movie,” he said. “You have a guy” — Putin — “who has a clear plan. Step 1, Step 2. It’s Brexit, it’s President Trump, it’s having Europe stumbling, it’s having authoritarian regimes getting stronger on a daily basis, it’s an escalation in Syria. He gets everything he wants.” But while the world seems to be ruled by Bond villains, he said, there is “no James Bond.”

Özdemir hopes that a more integrated Europe, anchored by a Franco-German alliance, can serve as a counterweight to mounting illiberalism. Knitting the countries of Europe even closer together will be a monumental challenge, since right-wing populism is on the rise within France and Germany as well as outside them. But he sees no other choice, given the existential threats to liberal democracy bearing down on Europe. “From the East we’re attacked by Mr. Putin, and now we’re also attacked by the White House,” he said.

It’s mind-boggling that one freakish American election, resulting in a presidency that a majority of Americans never wanted, could do so much damage not just to the United States but also to the global order that the United States created in the wake of World War II. But Germans know as well as anyone the havoc a single demagogue can wreak when the forces of decency are exhausted and unsure of themselves, and they can’t help seeing Trump through the lens of their own hideous history.

“When I talked to my American friends in 2016, I always reminded them of what happened in Europe,” Scharioth said. “Nobody thought in the early 1920s that Italy would become a dictatorship. Nobody thought that Germany, supposed a quite cultured nation, would get rid of democracy in a very short time. Maybe when you have this European experience, you might be more pessimistic than others.”

When Truth Becomes Fiction

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“Ninety-five percent of people who walk the earth are simply inert. One percent are saints, and one percent are assholes. The other three percent are people who do what they say they can do.” 

The Dead Zone   Stephen King

 

I read this book in my late teens or early twenties. It struck me then as something to think about and now it strikes me as prophetic., a successful businessman and delusional egomaniac, becomes a contender for president and would have convinced the blue-collar workers, rednecks and those left out of the American dream, to put him in the Whitehouse. King, being King, made a ludicrously sounding plot believable and now America, in homage to one of its greatest commercial writers, has made the dream come true. The world is going mad and soon Trump will be conducting the cacophonous calamity that will play out on the world stage.

 

I am scared to death of the lunatic. I am scared of those who see his illiberal-evil and believe it. I am scared that what King’s character dreamt about will actually happen. Give me vampires or zombies. Give me a super plague or virus. Give me anything but Trump (and that is not an order). The inauguration hasn’t taken place just yet but soon it will be history. How much are betting companies’ odds on Trump being trumped before he truly takes office? Will a lone gunman try to JF DT?  Alas, there will be nothing that shakes Trump’s immoveable belief and manifest destiny. Only in books do the villains falter at the last; in the real world they continue apace, get their nasty business done and then fade into a distant memory of a one-time terrible illness.

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And so, it has come to pass that the epitome of ignorant evil has survived his first year; almost. Indeed, his stance had become emboldened by the persistent sycophants and fawners who are now anxiously waiting in the queue to shake the hand of America’s best. It makes me sick, sick to the very core of my being that “the will of the people” can be so wrong. And yet isn’t it that this very will is what our newly promoted populist politicians would have us believe is in the same ball-park as the first commandment that Moses inscribed on his tablet? Thou shalt not ignore the will of the people.

 

As a person, I would gladly ignore the slavishly ignorant will of a people who have entered into the wilderness under the guidance of a snake-oil salesman and shaman. They believe that they speak the truth because they dare to say what others nowadays find repulsive. They like to call a spade a spade, a Jew a Jew, a liberal-minded woman a whore or a dyke and a gay an abomination. The truth is to be found in the core of their excremental souls, the way of seeing past evolution, empowerment and even-mindedness. Empathy left the harbour a long time ago and has now been scuttled in the mid-Atlantic.

It is a central irony that in seeking to combat extremism, Islamic in particular, the most powerful democratic nation on earth should elect an equally barbarous ignoramus who seeks to exercise power in the same manner a lynch mob would dispense Frontier-Justice.

 

And there it is folks, the reason for education. The central motivating factor for me to become educated and to attempt to lead others in that voyage of discovery was to rebalance the sides. I wanted to help put more decent thinkers into the world in order to combat the inevitable rise of the ignorant who often feign their own disappearance in order to spring back again when least expected. It’s like an overused cliche from a cheap horror-flick; the keep coming back.

   

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The Piper 36

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Few people knew it, but History was about to become just that.

The class was little over half full. Many of the students had been absent these last few days and so had been a number of teachers. Michael had been surprised to see that the government had become involved and had put the recent increase in school and work absenteeism down to the seasonal lack of sunlight.

Lack of sunlight!

It was explained that in countries where the sun decides to take a six month holiday, people become depressed. Depression led to self-medication and lots of individuals turned to alcohol or other such things to alleviate this. Others just stayed indoors. The government advice was that people should increase their vitamin intake, especially vitamin D. Many of the students at St Agnes had opted for a non-school medication  instead.

Many of the students sitting alongside Michael were ones he had only heard of when their names had been echoed into nothingness as the resister was called. Now they were all seated alongside him in the History room.

Mr Hunter was sitting on the edge of his desk explaining how the Nazis managed to seize power in Germany. Michael thought that he looked tired, the way his mother had started to look again.

“On the 30thof January 1933, Hitler gained what he was after. He was given the Chancellorship of Germany.”

The teacher surveyed his audience, a motley crew if he was to be honest, but they were quiet. Some, he suspected, were off in their own private thoughts (or whatever amounted to thinking). His one crumb of comfort was that the Andrews boy was present. He watched his keen eyes from his position at the front of the class and wished that more of them could be like him.

Since his coming to the school, even amidst all that was happening, Mr Hunter felt that the boy brought some hope. At last he had someone in his lessons who understood the processes of debate and reasoning. The others, even the ones who had promised to be academically able, had slowly closed down. It was as if they had given up. Being noticeably ‘brainy’ was not good for one’s chances of survival at St Agnes.

“We know that Germany was in a terrible state after their humiliating defeat in the First World War. This was made worse by the Great Depression of the 1930s, a depression that the country never really recovered from, but what other factors could have been involved in turning a leading European country into a state that did not merely condone violence, but also used it to increase its popularity?”

He looked out at his audience once again and waited for a show of hands that he knew would never come. Even the Andrews boy was a reticent participator today. Not being too eager to let his learners off the hook so quickly, the teacher waited.

Michael wanted to suggest something. He knew that he did not have the answer, but also knew that that was not what history was all about. People simply weighed up the evidence and measured one argument, one interpretation, against another. It was like playing Cleudo. Nevertheless, this morning he kept his hand down.

The lesson had been running for twenty minutes when the door opened and in walked Liam Flowers. He smiled at his classmates and raised a knowing eyebrow to Michael.

“Good afternoon, class. Good morning, Mr Hunter,” he flourished, turning to the man perched on his desk.

“And good afternoon to you, Mr Flowers. Did you have trouble finding us?”

“No, sir. I never have trouble finding anything I really want to find.”

He stared deeply into the eyes of the teacher. Mr Hunter looked back before cutting short  the contest. Michael watched the exchange from the back of the room and understood that something was taking place.

“If you would care to take a seat, you might find yourself interested in what we are discussing. I know that you are an enthusiastic student of history.”

Flowers had to hand it to the old man, he didn’t rise to the bait.

“And what,” the boy asked moving to the available place next to the Andrews boy, “would that be?”

“Michael Andrews, could you possibly inform your partner as to what we were discussing?”

This was a regular trick that the teacher used to make sure that everybody was listening. What hurt Michael was that Mr Hunter knew, had to know, that he had been the only one listening. It was bad enough having to sit next to Flowers, but having to openly engage in conversation was something else. Still, he was in the spolight. The whole group turned around in their seats to witness what was going to happen.

“Mr Hunter,” his throat felt suddenly dry and he instinctively swallowed. He coughed slightly and hoped this did not translate into obvious trepidation. “We,” he began once more, “were talking about Hitler’s rise to power. Mr Hunter wanted us to think about the factors that may have contributed to that.”

“Hitler again? Is he still banging on about him? Mr Hunter we’ve all had enough of Hitler. Why do we have to put up with you working through your own issues? It’s becoming just a little boring.”

“The rise of the German far right is an essential part of your study,” the history teacher replied calmly. “If you wish to do well in this course, you…”

“We get another teacher?”

“I was about to say that you attend both in body and in mind.”

“Not many faces here today are there?” Flowers was not to be outflanked. “I wonder if your audience might not be getting sick of the bleeding-heart liberal who is supposed to be teaching them about history, real history. What’s he been telling you about Hitler and the Jews?”

He turned to Michael. “You listen to him don’t you? What’s he been saying?”

“He didn’t have the chance to say much before you came in. We were just looking at the things that could have got Hitler into power.”

“Well that’s not difficult is it?” Flowers had the stage again. “Hitler came to power to save his country. No, he came to power to save the world from socialists and Jews. I dare say that our fine teacher over there might even fall into one of those categories. Do you, sir? Are you a Jew or a socialist?”

“I am your teacher and a human being who does not seek to persecute others for his own benefit. What are you, Mr Flowers?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I am Liam Flowers. If you are able to hang around for a little while, you’ll understand just who I am.”

There was silence.

Flowers watched the faces of the assembled to determine if anyone else had the balls to stand up to him. Nobody attempted to meet his gaze.

“And you,” he said looking at Michael once again, “do you believe that I am who I am?”

“No.”

Flowers thought for a moment.

“Very interesting. You deny me my existence?”

“Not that.”

“What then?”

“It’s the quotation. I think you know that you used it.”

“What’s that then?”

“I think I know what…” interjected Mr Hunter.

“We’re not interested in what you think, old man. Your time has run. What do you think, Andrews?”

“I think you have a problem. I think that you have a God complex.”

“God is the least of my problems.”

 

 

 

The Problem With Believing In Oneself

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I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

The Piper 33

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Laura Andrews woke with the night still clinging to her.

Her body ached with a phantom exertion. She had been back in the familiar landscape of the previous nights, but this time there was the voice, the voice of the Good Doctor, the one who had spoken to her so kindly.

Laura. Laura. Laura. 

Her name was being washed across a black sea.

Laura, Laura Andrews, have you forgotten your marriage vows? Have you forgotten the promises that you made? In sickness and in health you said.

Forever and ever, forsaking all others

So, poor old Simon is dead. He’s as dead as a doornail and you, you’ve wasted no time in finding something else to fill your bed with?

“I haven’t slept with anyone. I have always been faithful to Simon. I have always been his wife and I have stuck by my wedding vows.”

Oh dear, aren’t we a little sensitive about that?

Laura knew what was coming next.

It was an odd place to have an accident, don’t you think? Is it not a street known for its prostitutes? They have a quaint name for it. The Red Light District; sounds so comforting. Christmas Eve, the celebration of the birth of light out of darkness, a time for the family to unite and your husband, your dear loyal husband is found dead in his car in a street used by prostitutes.

“It wasn’t like that, you bastard. It wasn’t like that. Simon was faithful. He was the most wonderful father in the world!”

Was he a good husband Laura? Were you a good wife?

Laughter arose from beyond the horizon and its power raised a wave that she could see grow and grow. Standing on the black-ash beach, Laura could see its approach and could hear thousands of angry voices. She tried to run, but the black ash held her fast. She could not even pull herself from this depth of sleep and feared that, if she could not escape, everything would be swept away. She would be consumed by its greed.

She was dragged along the floor of existence. She saw Simon chasing a girl along a dark street. She saw the funeral, the empty aisles where their friends should have been. She saw herself giving birth to Peter and then she saw Christopher lying in a pool of blood with rats racing over him.

She screamed and they laughed at her. She screamed from the depth of her being and still they tried to pull her on.

I will give you more than I grant many others. I will give you the face of your executioner.

And there was Michael rising up before her. He was looking as though he was going to strike her and her screaming took her over the edge of sleep into a darkened alleyway where a figure stood with something clasped in its hand. It raised it like an assassin would raise a knife and came toward her.

Laura turned and ran.

The darkness surrounded her every step and pulled at her attempts to flee. There were things moving on either side of her, dark slithery masses that watched through dead eyes. She knew that they were waiting for her to trip, to fall so that they could be upon her. They would rip at her flesh until nothing was left but the memory of the attack.

Ahead of her was a bluish light and there was someone standing within is sphere. The silhouette called out to her yet she was too far away to hear what it was saying. The footsteps behind Laura were quickening and becoming heavier. She knew that if she were to turn to look upon her pursuer, she would be swallowed up. What was there was not a man; it was something else, it was pain, pain that had lasted forever.

She looked down and as she did she saw that she was no longer running on her feet for they had worn away; she was running on legs made of wood that were splintering with each stride.

Run Mrs Andrews, run towards me.

It was the voice of her dreams. Laura turned and saw it, a manic grin behind the wheel of a black car, its headlights cutting the distance between her and safety. Its hunger was forcing her backwards, forcing her to lose her balance on legs that were turning to matchsticks.

And then she fell.

 

“Mum, Mum, Mum!”

It was Michael’s voice rising up out of the void.

Laura felt the stab of fear as she remembered the warning.

“Mum, Mum wake up, you’re dreaming. It’s only a dream. You’re okay. It’s me Michael.”

 

Her eyes flashed open and he saw terror written upon them.

“Get away from me,” she hissed. “Get away from all of us, you murderer.”

 

 

The Piper 32

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If The Piper did not know the dreams of his followers and would-be converts, he would, graciously, allow them to tell him. In fact, he had known them all along.

Chris stirred in his sleep and fell into wakefulness. The almost total silence of the night greeted him and for a moment he was reassured. Then, he heard it. From far, far off came the sound. It floated beneath hearing yet washed against senses only dreams could have.

Chris’s eyes were wide open but nothing appeared before him. He waited knowing that the world would take a little time to settle. He waited for the long darkness to fade. He waited for the time when all would give way to light. He waited for the not so familiar surroundings of his bedroom to establish themselves once again.

He waited.

And waited.

There was no light, only darkness woven into a thick coat. And, for the first time, Chris noticed that there was no sound apart from that which had woken him. He strained his hearing to pick up any other notes of normality, but found none.

Before, he could unpick sounds. He knew that things went on. While others slept some worked. A train could be heard from many miles away. A car starting would cough itself into existence. The distant chimes of an unknown church would signal the passing of another hour and an aeroplane would cut a huge swathe through the emptiness of the sky. Now, no matter how hard he tried, there was nothing but the one sound and that, he was sure, was getting closer.

Against his will, Chris raised himself. He planted his feet on the carpet and was pleased that it was still there. He had expected something else. He pushed himself up from the bed and walked barefoot towards the door. The velvet dark wrapped itself around everything.

He used his hands to guide him, walking like a blind man to where he knew the door would be. His memory had given him a compass from which to navigate. He reached the door and opened it. His hand pushed out into the hallway and travelled to where the light switch should be. Once found, he pressed it down. There was no, absolutely no response. The darkness stayed the same.

If Chris had been another, he may have felt panic. But Chris was Chris and he never panicked. He moved towards the stairs and was relieved that he was able to guide himself without fear of falling. He took his first step.

He had never consciously counted the stairs. His body told him when he should be reaching the end; yet, the descent continued. He stepped down more and more aware that this was probably still a dream. Chris was not one for dreams. Even after the death of his father, Chris had never had those memory movies that others took for granted. He had never made his father live again, been carried on his back across a warm beach, had never snuggled into the warmth that was no longer there.

The last time that he saw his father was the last time that he had been alive. Since then, nothing. He had always accepted his as a matter of fact, in the same way he accpeted this nocturnal illusion as a fact. And, in this dream, he was on a flight of stairs that refused to end. In this dream, he heard something that now wrapped itself into a more familiar sound of a flute.

In this dream, the sound of the flute was a man.

For Michael, there would have been warning signals. Michael would have sensed the danger. Michael would have reached out for the light of consciousness. He would have turned and pulled himself back up the stairs and out of this rapidly developing nightmare. Unfortunately, Chris was not his brother and, being consciously unaccustomed to this other world, he did not know what to expect. Indeed, he moved forward in expectation rather than in trepidation. He was starting to enjoy this night-time sojourn.

Chris stumbled as he reached the bottom of the stairs. His stride was broken and he found himself on an even surface. Where this was, he did not know.

The was the beginning of a bluish light that showed him what looked like a cavern. As his hand touched the wall, he felt a slimy dampness. It an oily texture and this made him pull away.  He was confused. Chris, who had never knowingly addressed fear, felt the needle points of a thousand explosions run along his arm. He knew he ought to turn back, but could not.

As he continued to edge into the darkness, he found each step an exertion. He was fighting for control, battling with the thing that had always conformed to his requests, his own body. It was as if a revolt was taking place, that his own muscles had decided to mutiny. He would have, and should have turned back if it was not for the singular enticement of the flute. Its mellifluous invitation was both a comfort and a challenge.

Ahead of him, the most fragile of lights crept from an opening and he moved towards it with a more purposeful stride. He would not be defeated. He peered into the hollow and saw the thing that was making the flute sing. As he entered, the flute fell silent. A voice, if that is what it could be called, rose up and greeted its new visitor.

Even without seeing the source of the voice, he knew that a smile had appeared.

It ran like a razor across a face he would never be able to describe.

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The Piper 31

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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.

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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.