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. 

 

 

Books Mature Inside Some Of Us

Author Kazuo Ishiguro, suggests many novelists peak in their youth and once said: “There’s something very misleading about the literary culture that looks at writers in their 30s and calls them ‘budding’ or ‘promising,’ when in fact they’re peaking.”

Contrarily, a recent study from Blinkbox revealed that most authors do in fact get their big break in middle-age and, with 12 per cent of us harbouring plans to write a book in retirement, some argue that perhaps we should be spending more time celebrating, nurturing, and encouraging older talents.

“Writing is obviously a solitary exercise,” says Tim Finch, who was 51 when his debut novel, The House of Journalists, was published. “If it’s something you turn to in middle age, you often don’t have many or any contacts in the literary world.”

Finch, along with around 60 other novelists, is a member of The Prime Writers – a network of men and women whose debut novels were published when they were over the age of 40. One of the few networks of its kind, The Prime Writers’ catalogue ranges from memoirs to historical fiction, using a “vast reservoir of life experience” to inform their writing. The group aims to inspire other writers, and spur “people in their ‘prime’ to realise it is certainly not too late to write that novel and get it published.”

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The Piper 39

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Nobody knew that Pete could tell the time and only Nick knew that he had a special gift.

Pete could read the thoughts that other people had.

The big clock on the playroom wall told him that his mother was late. She always arrived and picked him up at ten minutes past five, give or take five minutes. Now the big clock’s hands were pointing to eleven and six. He knew that that meant that she was very late.

Pete watched as the other children were picked up by their parents, mostly mums. He had confided in one girl, Amy who was almost a year older than himself, that he didn’t have a dad. She nodded and said that she didn’t have one either or rather that she did, but he had moved away to live with another family.

She said this as a matter of fact, but Pete knew that she had been struck by something that really hurt. He knew that she cried herself to sleep when her mother switched off her bedroom light.

Twenty minutes ago, Amy’s mum had turned up with her face of survival and had taken her home.

“Oh, so this is the Pete you’re always talking about?”

Amy had blushed with a childish mixture of pride and embarrassment. Pete was supposed to remain a secret crush and now her mother had blurted it out as if it was something that was funny.

“Your mummy’s late isn’t she? Has she been held up in traffic or something?”

Pete shrugged his shoulders suggesting that he obviously didn’t know. Inside, he knew where she was and how she was trying to make her way back to him.

More important for Pete now was the fact that the big hand was moving towards six o’clock and that was the time the nursery closed. There were very expensive fees for leaving children beyond this time, but Pete knew that fees were not part of anyone’s concern. The big lady with the lovely smile was his immediate problem.

Pete stopped pushing around the Thomas the Tank Engine contingent he had managed to assemble. He’d achieved a minor coup since he had never been able to collect all of them together at exactly the same time. He had Thomas there with his blue livery, Edward and Gordon who shared the same colour, Henry who was green and James, his favourite, who was a stunning red. The toys were old now and had been handled by hundreds of children with care and without care. Tonight, he had aligned them all along the railway track of his imaginary Westward Way Railway Line.

James came to a halt. Mathew, the last of the other children, had been picked up by his mother.

“Do you mind if I get off, I’ve got some shopping to do?” Katy, the nice nursery nurse asked the big lady.

The big lady liked to be called Samantha, but Pete knew that this wasn’t her real name.

“Fine love. I’ll wait here with little Peter until his mummy arrives. Won’t we Peter?”

She gave him that long practised smile. Pete smiled back , not wanting to let her know that he knew how long she had practised that smile.

Katy grabbed her coat and her bag and was out of the door with a friendly goodnight. The big lady smiled again, waited a few minutes and got to her feet. She crossed the area between her seat and the door and locked it. She turned off the lights. Pete felt, without having to see, the smile disappear.

“Now then, Peter, I know someone who is dying to meet you. You will have to put your coat on now as he doesn’t enjoy being kept waiting.”

Pete didn’t move, his mind was delving hers.

She was somewhere else now. She was not in the same room as him but was amongst lots of other children wrapped in white sheets and sleeping in depthless dreams. She was walking along the spaces between the beds. She was making her way towards one bed in particular and when she got there she would pull back the sheet to reveal… himself sleeping.

“Move yourself now, you little shit before I do something about it.”

She moved towards him with menace and then stopped as she heard a knock on the door. Her face contorted a little, she was unsure of what to do. Pete sensed that she could ignore the interruption. Her mind was reasoning that anybody outside would assume that there was nobody within. The lights were out after all. The knock came again and the voice of Katy rang out,

“Samantha, you still there? Samantha, I’ve got the wrong bag.”

The knock was more urgent and Pete slipped inside the hesitation of the big lady and pushed. He pushed her towards making a decision that would help him. She thought to herself once more and this time she decided to answer the door. Pete seized hold of Edward and waited.

The door was opened in the same way it would be opened to unwanted salesmen.

“Oh thank goodness for that. I thought you’d gone. I thought you’d gone with all the lights being out.”

“I was just putting our coats on. His mother called and asked me if I’d take him home. Her car’s broken down.”

“Can I come in then and get my bag? I must have picked up yours by mistake.”

Grudgingly the big lady opened the door just enough to let Katy in. Katy had to literally squeeze through the gap. Pete waited in silence.

“I best give Pete his coat if you’re leaving. We can all leave at the same time can’t we?”

Katy passed Pete his coat and he put it on without revealing what he held in his right hand. The smile was battling to remain together when Katy spilt the contents of the other handbag on the floor by mistake.

A six-inch switchblade fell open on the floor and transfixed everyone.

The big lady made towards it and Pete ran for the door. She turned to stop him and almost caught hold of his coat sleeve. The smile quickly became a savage grimace of intent and he wasted no time in launching Edward in the direction of her left temple. The smack was audible, even above the cry of astonishment coming from Katy.

Pete was out of the door and into the night.

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He laughed about how Edward had got his own back on the Fat Controller and was away.

 

The Piper 38

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The last of the afternoon light was starting its retreat from the school.

“And let’s think about what we have learnt today,” concluded Mr Hunter from the front of the room.

“Hitler and his Nazis did fail. His regime finally buckled under the combined weight of the Allied Forces. Like similar regimes throughout history, there was initial internal resistance, however, that was dealt with through the tacit co-operation of many of its citizens. Hitler’s attempts to change the future through the establishment of the Hitler Youth and the Final Solution never achieved its objectives. Some Jewish people did survive and subsequently emigrated. Many of the youth got bored with the evening meetings until laws were passed to ensure their attendance. And what usually happens once you are forced to do something?”

Michael, who had carried the class, did not volunteer. Flowers put his hand up in the air in a manner that was vaguely familiar to the Nazi salute.

With a sigh of resignation, the teacher acknowledged the input.

“The answer to that is simple. If you are frightened enough, you will do anything. Brutality is what humans understand the most. Any true leader who has a choice between the carrot and the stick will always choose the stick because it works. Very few people like pain and fewer still enjoy watching pain being inflicted on those they love. You, as a teacher of history, know that the German authorities would never immediately punish the individual, at least not on their own. They had a policy of punishing the families and communities as this achieved two excellent outcomes: the perpetrators were dealt with and the chance of encountering revenge attacks was dramatically reduced. On top of that, one has to say, the fear factor kicked in big style. How can you fight something that has no acceptance of good and evil? That’s what it boils down to, not woolly-headed bleeding-heart liberalism.”

There was no triumph in his voice. What came through was a granite determination and conviction. Every face in the room was turned towards the man who had formally been the teacher. For a long while, he was trapped in silence.

Michael wanted to urge him on. Michael wanted him to respond with an argument that would raze Flowers to the level he should be at. Unfortunately, the bell sounded for the end of the class and the school day. Chairs moved quickly and bags were swung onto backs. Nobody spoke as feet quickly made for the exit. Within seconds the room was empty of everyone bar the trio.

“Interesting point there, Liam,” Mr Hunter spoke in hushed tones suggesting he had accepted the logic of his student. “You displayed some excellent skills of explanation and deduction. You would make a fine student of this subject and…”

“Cut the crap, Hunter. I didn’t say that for your benefit. The problem with your type is that you think the world is built on reason. No matter how many wars and atrocities continue to take place, you believe in your flimsy values and ethics. I feel sorry for you. Your time is dead and buried and you don’t even know it. Teacher of History, how apt.”

Turning towards Michael, Flowers smiled.

“You are a little more interesting,” he said getting up. “I’m rather looking forward to having a further talk.”

He walked slowly out of the room and Michael listened to him disappearing along the corridor.

“Michael, I think it’s better that you wait here for a while.”

 

 

It had been coming.

Michael knew that something had to happen and that he could no longer be protected by anyone other than himself. Flowers had laid down the gauntlet and Michael had no choice but to pick it up.

“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll be getting the bus with Chris.”

“If you think that’s safe, then you go ahead. Just take care of yourself, young man. I’ve got a feeling that Mr Flowers doesn’t fight fairly.”

“Me, too.”

When Michael emerged from the classroom, the corridors were deserted. Not even the faintest echo of feet could be heard bouncing around the walls. Each classroom that he passed revealed itself to be vacant. He was struggling to believe that everyone could have left so quickly and so quietly. If fire drills went as smoothly as this then there would be no need for them.

A door behind him flapped shut and he turned to see who had come through it. The door swung to and fro free from assistance. There was nobody there. He heard a chair scratch itself across the floor and he moved on. He increased his pace a little to keep him ahead of the tiny sounds that were emerging from where he had come. A cold breeze ran past him and he broke into a jog. When he finally reached the exit and pushed, he discovered that it had been locked.

Michael stared at the door in disbelief and tried it again. He could not bring himself to believe that the caretaker had locked the main exit so early. He kicked at it in frustration and his slight rebellion made him smile.

He was turning back when he heard a storm of feet charging along the corridor above him. It sounded as if a tempest had conjured itself from the afternoon and was in the process of dashing the ground in cruel satisfaction. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped. No even a footfall fell beyond the others. Not a noise after that. Sweat formed on his skin ran in huge droplets along salty tracks down his face. Pinpricks of anxiety started tingling through his system and shook him out of any complacency he may still have harboured.

Think, think he thought to himself. Where’s the next exit?

He didn’t know the school that well and had been a creature of habit in the few months that he had been there. Now, he cursed himself for his lack of adventure. In that breath of time, it had also crossed his mind that Chris was not there.

Chris was not there waiting for his brother.

They had always been together, through everything. What Michael could not do, Chris could and that was reciprocated. Michael was on his own for the first time outside of his dreams and this was becoming more and more like one of his nightmares as even the flimsiest of the sun’s rays began to falter.

He pressed a light switch and nothing happened. A cacophony of doors slammed in a falling of dominoes and that was enough of a cue for him to launch into full flight. Laughter chased his every step.

He was doubling back upon himself knowing that that was what they would want him to do. He was thinking through his escape and he was trying to see his plight through the eyes of his tormentors. He was putting himself into the shoes of a boy he had only just met. He was using some innate intuition to allow himself an advantage.

The rush of feet came again and this time it was much closer. He listened to the noise until it fell into a distant silence. He moved forward and heard his own shoes signalling his whereabouts. Every step he was taking betrayed him – ringing through the empty school, a radar for his pursuers to follow. He was running in near darkness now and so would his pursuers. He stopped and hooked his thumb into the back of his right shoe and slid it off. He did the same with the other one and pushed them into his bag. He ran barefooted, in silence, until the rush of feet came again.

This time it went on for longer and he could hear the distance between them being eaten up. He had decisions to make. He was being chased into a trap. The feet were the drum beaters that scared the prey. The prey would hear the noise and would flee towards apparent safety. Unfortunately, the beaters were not the most imminent threat. No, the main threat would be waiting around the corner or beyond the next doorway. Somehow, he had to find a way out before he got any further.

He took a chance and tried a classroom door.

He needed to be quick and quiet. It was locked. He moved on and across to try another and this time it opened. He eased himself in and closed it just as another rush of feet gathered speed and crashed along the area he had only recently departed.

He sat crouched with his breath held and waited.

He waited for a sweeper to come along. He had read about sweepers and how they would come along after the main chase. Their job was to ensure that the prey had not deviated from its intended path. He waited and sure enough he heard the stealth of footsteps making its way towards him. He heard the sweeper trying doors and pushed himself hard against his. He dug his shoes into the floor in a vain attempt to stem any surge from beyond. His body tensed against the wood and he was aware of his heartbeat transferring itself through his bones and muscles and further into the wood.

A hand grasped the handle and slowly pushed down.

Michael’s body absorbed the momentum from the other side. It came in a slow inquisitorial fashion. Another deeper examination followed with more weight being placed behind the intruder’s question. Michael again absorbed this and, even though his body was ringing with the sharp volts of adrenaline, he controlled his urge to overexert. The door handle returned to its original position, a few seconds passed like years and the footsteps moved away to another door.

Michael listened intently to the sound of other doors being tested. He had lost track of logical time, but he was sure that the sweeper was spending less on them than the others. Eventually, the sweeper reached the large doors at the end of that stretch of corridor and the sound of them being swung open should have allowed Michael some respite.

His instincts told him to stay where he was.

Minutes gathered like water from a dripping tap. Seconds nudged their way through the slightest of gaps and collected in the vastness of space. Infinitesimal amounts were now forming themselves into a sphere that clung to their source with the reason of irrationality. His enemies would not give up so easily. Michael counted to battle with the gravitas of a mystic. When he reached four, he resumed the count, placing imaginary defensive supports against his door. He was building for survival.

One, two, three, four. One, two three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three…!  

A huge force hit. The frame was shaken. Again, something massive hammered against it and this time it seemed to be knocked free of its surroundings. Whatever there was on the other side, it should have broken the defence by now. Michael sat lost in his mantra and was not alone. He pulled forth the faces of his family, each helping him to stack his ramparts.

They would not, they could not pass.

The creature on the other side let out a scream that was joined by a wailing chorus of squeals rising in unison with their combined frustration. After this had died away, a voice that was calmly modulated arose.

“You are quite impressive, Mr Andrews. You have surprised us all. Still, this little display of defiance will only stretch out the end. It will be of little consolation to you now that I tell you that your loving mother has been taken by us. Little Pete, oh so innocent little Pete, is under the watchful eye of a very attentive carer. Yes, she’s one of ours. She was one of the lost children now fully grown. She’ll look after Peter.

“Oh, and I’ve got a special request from another family member. Chris says it’s no use fighting. He’s a strong lad, much stronger than you and I think he’s thrown in the towel. Well, he’s not here to help you is he?

“Finally, one last little snippet of news is that my faithful follower, the venerable Mr Podrall has been given an early Christmas present. I gave him a Luger. It was a special keepsake from the last war. He’s using it now to rid the world of that parasite who you think will save you.

“Have your day,  little man. Enjoy the final moments before the end of days.”

A breeze arose and quickly turned into a wind that swept along the corridors and the classrooms. Everything that had been there was sucked into its vacuum, even the premature darkness.

Even the air that Michael breathed was different as he emerged from his stronghold.

One, two, three, four. 

They had gone.

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Purposeful Hand Use Increases Satisfaction. For Plants And Beyond.

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Purposeful hand use enhances well-being in a technologically saturated culture.

Research has shown that creating or tending things by hand enhances our mental health and makes us happy.  Dr. Kelly Lambert (bertlab.com) explored the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood.  She found that hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise. Too much time on technological devices and the fact that we buy almost all of what we need rather than having to make it has deprived us of processes that provide pleasure, meaning and pride.  Making things promotes psychological well-being. Process is important for happiness because when we make, repair or create things we feel vital and effective. It’s about losing ourselves to the moment, allowing the rest of the world to continue without us having to notice and just making things.

When I was a young man, my father often pointed out that I did not study for my subjects at school nor did I make things (I wasn’t good with my hands). Ergo, I was set for a life of non-achievement, dreaming and possible drug use. I hate to admit that his jibes would come at least 75% true. He never, ever watched me play sport so had not a clue about how good at that I possibly was. In truth, I was and always have been, up until the night of the burnout, a dreamer. Now, I only dream about tooth extraction. I also dream that I will one day be good with my hands.

Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor.  Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. Peak moments occur as one putters, ponders and daydreams. One can be tickled, moved or transformed by a thought or idea along the way as well as by the endpoint.

Psychology Today 

 

My Little Big-Man phase of being a landscape gardener exposed me to the joys of building or creating things of feverish beauty or of beautiful functionality. Perhaps, I tended towards the functional with my love of creating lawns from the madness of an overgrown garden or simply creating fences whose geometry was simply gorgeous. My landscaping years were my forty-night escape into the ethereal wilderness of the immediate present (I was living for the moment). Indeed, that present sometimes presented me with a feeling of absolute euphoria!

 

 

Creating something with your hands fosters pride and satisfaction, but also provides psychological benefits. Because it can uncover and channel inner stirrings, wounds smart less and growth ensues. When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood. As you sift, shape, move and address your project your inner being moves too. As one of my clients said, “It isn’t so much what you can do, but what you do do.” The process itself provides value.

Creativity is a powerful tool for altering the inner life because making things or transforming inner states into outer productions fosters solace and satisfaction, even if the stimulus arose from an injury. Wordsworth described poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.”   Take it out of your mind, through your hand and into the world. Fragmentation and tumult turn into focused drive. Order arises out of disorder. And because it is your own order–organic and not imposed–it provides a special peace or feeling of resolution.  As another client said to me after she finished typing a novella that stemmed from a troubling event, “I got rid of the story.” This is a form of sublimation or turning the raw into the refined. You may or may not be conscious of what perturbs you, but creative action with your hands, mind and body can turn undermining forces into usable energies.

Psychology Today

My own writing provides me with the opportunity to create and to grow something. This book/blog started off as a way of capturing the time immediately after my moment. It ran on and on with me eventually seeing it begin to turn into something of value. The book/blog has helped me through a very dark time and I turn to it for solace and solutions. Unfortunately, solutions never write themselves, only the individual can do that. But it still doesn’t get me away from the need to build. That’s why I found myself heading across England and into North Wales. For me, the chance to work with my hands was a chance to free myself of the creeping self-doubt that was beginning to cloud my days. It also provided the possibility of me learning ‘valuable skills’ that could be employed to make money without having to turn to an ordinary employer.
My friend had told me that he had a job laying a floor. I thought to myself, as I often do as my skills of thinking to anyone else (telekinesis) are rather shockingly bad, that this would be easy and enjoyable.
Blessed are the tremendously naive for they will be rewarded with a great bloody shock.
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Imagine this as a work place in which workers mix concrete, carry bags of sand and cement and spend hours on end bent double. Oh, and let’s not forget that I would endure the constant banging of my head on the ridiculously low ceiling and beams.
Dust, damp and dangerous levels of damaging material floating in the dead air, were just a few delicacies of my dreamy return to the land of the men who are good with their hands.
But it felt strangely liberating. 

Many thanks to:

Carrie Barron, M.D.

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 Piper 34

9781843869245-uk

The muffled cries shook him from his sleep.

He had raised himself and had popped his head around the corner of her bedroom door. What had greeted him shook his senses, almost smashed them.

His mother was sleep-talking. She was sitting bolt upright in bed, eyes wide open, speaking into the grey air of the morning. Her face was contorted. There was a loathing that he had not seen before and then, ever so slowly, she had turned deliberately toward him. As soon as her eyes met his, the indistinct light sliced through with unearthly ease, Michael saw that the hatred was directed at him.

“Get away from me, get away from all of us, you murderer!”

She had hissed and then she had loosened her gaze and fell back onto the bed.

He had watched her, making sure that she was sleeping before closing the door.

Michael then walked around the house, his bare feet hushing his progress. The sounds of the city, waking up and going about the mundane business of the day, were beginning to assert their tenure outside. Indoors, the veil of normality was being pulled away. He heard the heavy sobs of his youngest brother, sobs that heaved upon the air, but when he checked, Pete was sleeping soundly. Along the hallway, Chris uttered, as if in conversation and Michael wondered if the whole world had not begun an internal conversation.

His own dialogue was working away, asking question after question, looking for answers. Nick’s journey had thrown them all into confusion and Michael wanted to speak. He descended the stairs and entered the living room only to find the sleeping bag empty and the back door unlocked. Sometime during the night, Nick had left.

This was a bad sign, Michael was sure of that. His mother’s reaction to him was bad too. She had not just been dreaming. When she had spat out those words, they had been directed at him. She had called him a murderer and had meant it. Something had crept into their lives and was working its way around their sanity. His mother showed the signs of stress, the same ones he had seen carved across her features after his father had died. The thing was that she had been all right. She had recovered from those times and had lately started to smile again, a real smile. Something, or someone, had gotten to her.

Was it just him or had the world decided to lose all of its reason?

When she finally entered the kitchen, she appeared calm. She even had a smile and a kiss for Pete. His little brother looked up towards her, attempting to gauge his mother’s mood, but the contact was broken as she made her way towards the kettle. Laura had, without knowing it, feasted upon a handful of the tablets the good doctor had given her. Although the rigours of her sleep were still at work on her body and mind, she felt better.

“Mum,” Michael said, “Nick’s in trouble.”

His mother never wanted to hear that voice again, but she managed to look in the direction of the thing that called itself a son. The faintest of smiles, a brush of familiarity ran across her face.

“Nick? Who’s Nick?”

Her son did not give an answer.

 

Flowers watched the Leatherman.

For now, it was sitting in the armchair where all this had started. The thing that had been James Harrison was no longer. This thing was better. Liam studied its features and wondered what mayhem he could cause with this at his behest.

So far, he had contented himself with mere party tricks. The thing with the knife had amused him immensely and he had absolutely adored seeing the look on Podrall’s face. Podrall was a good soldier. He was able to learn what was required quickly and to respond to the demands that were placed upon him. There would be a place for him in the new world.

Flowers also thought about The Piper and how much he had given to him. He knew that he was destined for great, great things in the time to come and there were occasions when he wondered if he would not stop developing his own talents. The Piper had been the key and had enabled Liam to open up those doors that were closed to ordinary humans.

On the other hand, Liam had ceased to think of himself as an ordinary human. There had been a mark on his ankle. Hadn’t that been there since his birth and could it not be said  that he should be here at this time?

He told the Leatherman to stand and it did so. He told it to sit and it did as it was bid. Flowers was getting bored. He wanted more than this. He wanted to play and what better place was there to play than at school?

There was the thing he had been working on with hypnotism.

He wanted to see if it worked on the teachers. Teachers and leathermen were more or less the same with the latter having more going for them. Part of him wanted to take his new toy to school, but that would be a little previous wouldn’t it? What about this business with public transport? He hated travelling with other people. The kids could be so rowdy and the old folks, well they just whiffed terribly. Babies pissed their pants because they knew no better and old people pissed their pants even though they did know better. In between this was the age of enlightenment in which the young experimented with new ways and adventures. He would not travel by bus. He would call his old mate, the social worker, and get him to provide a taxi.

The world could be such a good place if you knew how to work it.

Fifteen minutes later and the honk of a taxi signalled his day out. The sunlight caused him to blink even though it was now late November. He had not been about during daylight for many months and he relished the sensation of being amongst the real somnambulists. He listened to the driver’s uninteresting talk and decided to make a note of his taxi licence so that he could make a call on him later. Another waste of a life and body, another meal for his hordes.

He strolled into the school grounds two hours later and noticed the incredulous looks on the faces of the teachers as he made his way to his favourite subject: History. He positively hated Mr Hunter and wanted to see him become a part of the subject that he taught. Heads on spikes, that was the answer. Heads on spikes.

It didn’t take long for one of Podrall’s boys to get the message that Flowers was back. Indeed, there was a general chatter that had started which was similar to a Mexican wave. Even the teachers were not immune from such telepathy. Flowers was back and everyone felt they knew what that could mean.

Michael and Chris arrived in school early that morning.

Michael was still smarting from the incident with his mother. Of all the times he had seen her lose it this one was the most disturbing. He had seen real hatred in her eyes and that was what had perturbed him. For a moment he thought that she was someone or something else.

Michael glanced secretively at Chris to check if he hadn’t changed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something wrong with his brother. He wasn’t speaking properly. He wasn’t telling the truth. There had been something in the way that Pete had looked at him that told Michael that things were not as they seemed. Pete, the baby, saw through them all yet couldn’t articulate what he saw. Pete had been there to pull them all together when Dad had gone and now Michael was certain that Pete was still the fulcrum around which they all revolved.

The last few weeks had been relatively quiet at school. Since the initial attack, there had been nothing directed towards them. Okay the school was still SHAGNESS, a byword for savagery, but the brothers had been avoided. Michael would go so far as to say that they had gained a certain amount of respect from the other kids: Podrall’s crew had kept their distance.

There had been no repercussions from the fight. The lad who had to be taken to hospital had only suffered from concussion. He didn’t take the matter any further. There were no detentions and no warnings as to future conduct. Everything appeared to have been swept under the carpet as if nothing had really happened. That was schools for you.

They separated and went to class. Between the normal low-level disruptions that were designed to get at the teachers and stop the lessons from going anywhere meaningfully, Michael was able to learn that Othello was a negative version of Romeo and Juliet and that his overpowering love was which drove him over the edge and into murder. Sometimes love, or the thing that fills the void when it is not there, can be one of the most destructive forces in the universe.

He also learnt that Flowers was in school. As none of the other students still did not care to speak to Michael,  he had to be content with picking this information up through the bits that he was able to steal from the conversations of others. What he was able to glean was that Flowers was one of those kids who was special.

He scared people, both teachers and students, but carried with him a legendary status that marked him out from the rest. If the government had a ‘gifted and talented’ category for the stuff that Flowers had, they would probably produce some of the most feared and respected leaders in the world.

He was thinking about this when the door to the classroom opened and in walked Flowers. It had to be.

The entire class fell into silence for the first time that morning. The English teacher stopped what he was writing on the board and turned in unconcealed reverence. You didn’t need a sign up to tell you to beware. He was a kid not unlike Michael. They could have been brothers. Michael saw this straight away and a rhyme popped into his head,

Twas the night before Christmas and all around the house

Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.

Flowers looked around the room, spotted the empty desk at the side of Michael, half smiled to himself, and walked over to it as the teacher started to amend his register.

“You may continue now, sir,” he announced to general titter from the class.

The teacher coughed to clear a throat that had suddenly gone dry. He flourished his board pen in a fashion that suggested he may even act out the rest of the scene and Flowers put his folded arms on the table as a makeshift pillow and went to sleep.

He had reached another audience.