The Piper 58 (getting close to the end).

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Laura parked Brian on a street that was unnaturally quiet. It was one of those that ran adjacent to the school and would, on a normal school day, be filled with cars dropping off children for their accepted hours of education. This morning, it was deserted.

“Mum I know what you’re going to say to this, but I think that I should go in there. Make sure Michael’s all right.”

“You’re right, Chris. It is a bad idea.”

Chris’s arm was beginning to hurt more. Mr Hunter, who wanted to be called by his first name, had made a rudimentary sling before heading off with Michael. Just another case of people caring for him when he did not deserve it. He was glad of the pain. It reminded him of what he had done.

“But we’re sitting here whilst Michael’s in there. How are we going to know if he needs our help?”

“He’ll call us, won’t he?” She flourished her own mobile phone to add to her point.

Chris showed the mobile phone he shared with his brother as his response.

“He left it on the window sill. I think he did it on purpose.”

Laura’s face was struck by a flash of astonishment.

“Why in God’s name would he do that?”

“I think that he thinks that they’ve managed to get his number. When that shop was burnt down, they sent an email to us with pictures of it happening. If it’s that NuNation stuff, who’s to know what else they can do?”

His mother looked at her own phone as if it was infected and dropped it to the floor of the car.

“I think you might be right, Chris,” concluded Nick.

Chris felt the pain in his arm grow a little more intense.

“You need to be there don’t you? You need to make sure that your brother is looked after properly this time.”

“Yes, I do.”

“What are you suggesting, Nick?”

“I’m not suggesting anything. It’s Chris who made the suggestion.”

“Yes Mum, it was me and I think you understand why.”

Laura looked down into the palms of her hands as if they would provide an answer. They gave none.

“I don’t have to tell you to take care, do I?”

“No.”

“But remember what happened, stays back there. He got to me as well. Don’t feel that you need to do anything stupid to make it up to your brother. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mum.”

“And don’t let them see you.”

“I won’t.”

He was out of the door and walking towards the school before she could say anything else.

“I love you,” she whispered into the growing space between them.

Then, he was gone.

 

 

Being part of the landscape had never been too difficult a task for Chris.

As Chris stood in the cold morning, he watched the comings and goings of Podrall’s former gang. What he did not see was the boy himself.

The happenings of the previous few weeks had taken their toll upon attendance. Only small groups of kids were congregating where once there would have been many. The bus drivers should have noticed this and passed on the message to someone who cared, but nobody seemed bothered and the drivers, with their heavily lidded eyes, had too much else to think about.

The teachers too looked haunted. Many were arriving in their cars, sitting for a time before attempting any entrance to the building. Then the would find something to look for amongst their possessions in an attempt to find something that would make them turn back. Disappointment met each of them. Meanwhile, growing numbers of boys were forming a perimeter around the school.

Chris pulled his hood up and kept to the line of buildings. He tried walking with the ordinary indifferent strides that were the accepted marching method of the students here. He pulled his shoulders in and pushed his head down so that he was only watching his steps. Along the way, he made sure to try the handles of each of the doors as he passed. The doors were not opened until 8.45 and it was perhaps a futile effort. However, he needed some luck and this was the best way of manufacturing some.

A teacher hurried along clutching a briefcase to his chest. Chris recognised him as one of the maths teachers. When he came face to face with him, the teacher’s eyes showed that same emptiness he had been seeing in many of late.

“Sir,” he didn’t know his name, “sir, do you know where Mr Hunter will be?”

The teacher stared at the boy who had asked this question and replied, “At home if he has any sense, as you should be.”

Without further advice, the teacher hurried along as if being caught out in the open air for too long would be dangerous.

“I thought I recognised that voice.”

Chris turned to find that it was the ginger kid that he had fought in the playground all that time ago. He was walking towards Chris with a renewed sense of swagger whilst withdrawing a pistol from under his coat.

“See this, here? This is going to be your ticket out of this school. I’d like to say thank you for that little ruck we got into and this is the best way that I could think of doing that.”

It was then that he saw the sling that carried Chris’s broken arm.

“Broken your arm? Good. When we get the rest of your family we’ll break your heart as well. Now follow me.”

From a window in the History room, Michael and his teacher watched as his younger brother was led away.

“I can’t let them take him like that. I’m going after them,” said Michael resolutely.

“But what of the rest? If you get caught, what will happen to the rest of them?”

“They can wait. It’s my brother first.”

 

The Piper 57

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Somewhere else in that ominous corridor between dark and dawn, another car kicked into life.

Joel Podrall had made it back to his home and had stolen the keys that belonged to his mother’s new boyfriend. They had been sleeping, probably drunk when he had entered and he smiled as he left. He knew what awaited them and did not care to warn the pair.

The car was a Ford that had been messed about a little. Concealed beneath the fading paintwork of the bonnet was an engine that was never really supposed to be there. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The meaty roar that greeted his foot, as he tapped the accelerator, brought an overdue smile back to his face. He knew that he would be out of the city in no time and hoped that he would be able to reach some sort of safety not too long after that. One thing that he did know was that when Flowers decided to come for him, he would have to be as far away as he could. Flowers would show no mercy.

He had told nobody, not even Flowers, of the stash that he had managed to build up. His pockets bulged with notes gained through drug transactions, theft and deception. Flowers would not have understood. He no longer understood Flowers.

With his limited reasoning, Joel tried to work out whether he had ever liked the other boy, whether anything that they shared could be called friendship. He realised that he was thinking too much and that was never a good sign. Nevertheless, the boy that he had come to know as his gang’s leader was not the same one who now walked the world: he was different, so very, very different.

Podrall pushed in the clutch and eased the gear lever. The handbrake was off and he was away manoeuvring carefully through the night. Tomorrow was the big day and it was a shame that he would miss it. There were some kids and teachers at that school whom he really wouldn’t have minded setting fire to, himself.

Hopefully, he would see the ‘tragedy’ on the news or something.

 

 

Liam Flowers sat facing his leather friend.

He had grown to like the smell of his companion and had started seeing beauty in the contours of the creased leather face.

They had been sitting for a long time awaiting The Piper’s return and had both taken the opportunity to study each other in detail. Of course, the Leatherman was dead and could not be relied upon to share the ruminations that the boy had, but Flowers was just satisfied with the overall aesthetics of the matter.

There was, indeed, beauty in death and today would be the day that would light up the world to these new possibilities.

 

 

Half an hour later, two figures found themselves crouching in what should have been a long-unvisited passageway beneath St Agnes.

“You see,” said Mr Hunter pointing at the row of cables, “someone has been messing about with this.”

Michael looked above him and saw the way the cables had been pulled out of their protective cladding. Many were hanging loosely from the ceiling and some appeared to have been partially cut.

“What do you think they are trying to do?”

“Well, it’s not just minor vandalism that’s going on. If I were insane, I would say that somebody is trying to cause a fire or even an explosion.”

The teacher indeed knew his way around. He said that he knew the school better than he knew his own face and Michael doubted him not one little bit.

They had arrived in the basement through a series of passages that had started beneath an old army reporting post dating back to the Second World War. Mr Hunter had said that he thought that it could have been older than that. He said that it was not uncommon for these places to have thousands of yards of hidden passages beneath them that would usually lay undiscovered until some essential construction work needed to be done. As this was on school grounds, a school that was already being marked for closure, that time may not have been far off. Other events would make that academic.

“How did you find them?” Michael asked.

“I did a bit of digging around in books and then for real. I dropped a cup of tea once, when this was still being used as an extra classroom and watched how the liquid just disappeared through the ground. If you’ve seen The Great Escape you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”

Michael had seen the film and had always enjoyed it. His dad had said that it was a classic and had lamented the fact that it was not always shown on Christmas Day. He missed his father enormously and wished that he were here to protect them. Now, however, Mr Hunter was pushing ahead into the basement area. He opened a door and pointed to a barely visible alcove that was acting as a storeroom. Inside were lots of boxes covered in dust.

“That’s probably where your brother was sleeping.”

Again Michael wondered what power had possessed him to do such a thing. If the Piper had succeeded, his brother would have been his. That would have driven a rift between the family bonds (broken the connection) and that would have sealed their fate. They would have perished along with everything else. He was thinking about how close it had come when, from overhead, they heard the unmistakeable sound of footsteps.

Michael looked at the older man and whispered, “Is there anywhere to hide?”

His teacher looked back and replied, “Back the way we came, quickly.”

They moved at speed, yet in near silence, across the basement floor and managed to slip into the partially hidden alcove before the footsteps turned into a real presence. At the back of the alcove was a false wall. The teacher pushed the wall on its left and it swung open. They were inside before anyone noticed. On the other side of the partition two sets of footsteps came to a halt.

“I thought I heard something, did you?”

Michael recognised a voice as one of Podrall’s lads.

“Probably rats. This place will be crawling with them.”

“Yeah, rats. I’ve seen loads of them around lately. The other night about a hundred just came pouring out of the sewers in the middle of the city centre. I was on the bus and I watched ’em racing down the high street like they owned it. It scared the hell out of the shoppers. About ten of ’em, massive they were, broke off and chased this woman with her dog. It was a poodle and they ripped it to shreds. You should have seen the look on her face as they tore into it, she was petrified. Then they ran off as if nothing had happened.”

The one whose voice Michael had recognised listened intently before adding, “Yes, there are lots of stories like that. It’s as if we’re in competition with them. Who is the baddest?”

“Do you think it’s anything to do with Flowers?”

“I think everything’s got something to do with Flowers these days don’t you?”

The other nodded.

“Is it true that Podrall has left?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Just heard it.”

“That’s just dangerous talk. If I were you I’d stop thinking it right now before somebody else hears. Anyway,” he said looking around, “it might be rats down here but I’m not hanging around to find out. Have we got the stuff that he promised us?”

“I think that it’s upstairs behind the stage. Hope mine’s an automatic. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.”

With their added confidence, the two shared a smirk before heading back up the stairs.

Michael looked towards his teacher in confirmation.

“Yes, Michael it looks like the worst case scenario. Let’s see what we can do to stop it.”

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Time was running out.

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

Are You Burning Out?

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Signs of burnout:

· You are exhausted all the time, no matter how many hours you spend in bed

· A sense of isolation from other people, and even from yourself, to the extent of becoming a virtual recluse

· Ineffectual, no matter how much work you put in

· A feeling of emotional deadness

· Chronic anger even in the previously mild mannered

· Loss of empathy for other people’s problems even when it is your job to be empathetic

· Feeling of being trapped

· Increase in cynicism

· Loss of sense of humour

· Loss of sex drive in a relationship but increased interest in casual sex and other activities that can become addictive such as drinking, shopping and internet chatting

· Increase in physical problems including back and heart pain, headaches, frozen shoulder, chronic fatigue, adrenal and thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome, post-viral illnesses, viral meningitis and even heart attacks

· Rising dislike for yourself and others

Read After Burnout Review from Goodreads.

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I was extremely pleased to read this:

 

An Educator Burns Out, Loses The Pieces Of His Sanity, Finds Those Pieces And Uses Them To Recontruct A New Self.

With great humor and raw honesty the author takes us through his disillusionment, his depression and aniexty. His journey through medications and discovery of the “madness” finding in so many people. While trying to sort out his mental/emotional crisis, he is also dealing with a daughter that has issues of her own: a severe eating disorder.
The journey of this one man, this one teacher, to rebuild himself and his family is often raw. It’s truthful and real. You’re never sure how things will turn out, just like life.
A great read! I recommend this book to anyone stuggling with society’s expectations, career burnout or mental health issues.

 

Thanks go to the reviewer.

Thanks, Angie.

The Piper 56

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The streets of the city were quieter than they had ever been.

The good, the bad and the ugly were mostly indoors awaiting the arrival of the dawn. Some sat in silence, others slept a disturbing sleep whilst a significant few were fixed, enraptured by their computer screens. On this night, there was only one destination that was filling the search engines, NuNation.

Tonight was the film-feast made real.

Liam Flowers walked through the silent city in deep satisfaction. He was on the verge of success and sensed the relief of a short life spent in enforced failure now changed utterly. Tomorrow would bring about the beginning of the end of this life tand the start of the new one. He had been shown the new world in which he ruled and hd been told that his enemies would be punished. The old, and those young who stood by them, would meet a traitor’s fate.

One little thing was missing; the Andrews boy.

Michael Andrews had not been delivered to him; the fatted calf was missing.

Soon the rats would come and their invasion would sweep the streets. Tomorrow was to be the night when it would all take place. There would be fire and sacrifice and then would come the cleansing.

“Liam,” a voice rose from the darkness.

Flowers turned and saw the outline of Podrall. He was walking towards him, his head hidden beneath his hood. There was something wrong.

“I’m sorry, but we could not find him. He’s gone. I think that he just got out before we got there. I’ve…”

Podrall had been given the simple task of picking up the character known as Nick. He had been spotted with the family and had been traced back to a house he shared with other ‘retards’.

Simple job – not done!

Flowers had a feeling that Nick was not what he first appeared to be.

“You’ve cocked up. You have made the worst mistake of your life.”

“But…”

“He’ll want your blood for this. He blames you for the mistakes. What should I do?”

For the first time in a while, Flowers sounded human. He had a quality to his voice that spoke of empathy. He had gone out on a limb to save this boy, but things had changed.

“If you want to live, you must run. Don’t stay in the city or they will find you. Tomorrow is the new dawn and everyone who is not with us will not be for much longer. Leave the city and hide.”

“But…”

“Or don’t and die.”

The confused eyes of his loyal soldier searched for some reprieve and found nothing. He saw his fate closing in around him before his survivor’s instinct kicked in. Not looking at Flowers, he turned and broke into a deep stride. He had no other thoughts than to get out of the city.

Nothing moved around him as he ran. His footfalls echoed in the empty streets into the unnatural night’s calm. He had that familiar feeling of a thousand eyes watching him from the shadows and he was afraid.

Without the protection of Flowers, Podrall was naked. He was a boy again without a gang to lead. He was alone and isolated. He was a victim waiting to happen. However, Podrall’s adventures had taught him much and he believed he had enough about him to get out of this.

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On a night like this, he could do anything.

 

 

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.