The Piper 37

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His subject had been left alone and she was still disorientated from her ordeal. He had been watching her for some time, hoping that he would get this opportunity. 

It brought him the Andrews mother. She served her up as an offering and he knew that the brothers were nothing without her. She could be used to his advantage. She would draw them in and then she could be dealt with. The Piper hated mothers.

The female doctor had been called away to help somewhere else while the nurses were busy working at the far end of the ward. Nobody really checked the identity of the middle-aged doctor; he walked unquestioned and unchecked amongst them.

“It is Mrs Andrews? Yes?”

Laura opened her eyes and looked up. At the end of the bed stood a man of fifty with steel grey hair and an imposing stance. She had never seen him before and was surprised at what felt like an acid flood beginning to sweep through her body.

“Mrs Andrews, I have been placed in charge of you and am a little worried by your condition. I would like to do a few tests with you to make sure that everything will be okay.”

Laura felt that something was wrong.

“I was with the young doctor, the woman. She seemed to think that I was recovering. She didn’t say anything about tests. Where is she?”

“Forget about her. She is very young and still learning. Now you have me and I have years of experience in this field. We want to make you better, Mrs Andrews. We want to make you well again.”

There was something wrong with his tone. She recognised the practised professionalism that was so common in doctors, but there was something else lying just beyond his words that was not so common. This one could smile sweetly as he pulled the lever at a hanging.

From nowhere he had sprung and suddenly he wanted to carry out tests. He had moved his position to the side of the bed and had put a comforting hand on her arm. The way that he held it, the way pythons held their victims.

“Now, you will listen a little and I will make you well again. You don’t want any more bad dreams do you?”

She had told no one about her dreams, not even the female doctor so how did he know?

He was squeezing her arm tighter now and his eyes were looking deeply into hers and she saw him. She saw the dark shape that liked to call itself The Piper hiding behind his retinas. She saw the dark waters opening up and the creatures that were reaching out to pull her back in.

She tried to scream but his hand was over her mouth with a handkerchief. She could do nothing but breathe in and, as she did so, the substance contained on the cloth entered her system, ending any hope of struggle.

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The waters opened up again and the hands pulled her down.

 

The Piper 35

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“Mrs Andrews. Mrs Andrews?”

She was conscious of being in a room that echoed a lot. The ceilings were high and there was a smell that was unmistakably connected with hospitals.

Her first thought was about Peter. Who would be looking after Peter? The world was coming at her in flashes. She heard the sound of horns that had raised themselves into something more threatening. She remembered the faces of the people as they threw their insults at her. She remembered their hatred that had multiplied with her attempts to reignite Brian’s engine. She only just remembered the police officer as he reached into the car.

“Mrs Andrews. Laura, can you hear me? Blink if you can hear me.”

The voice was different to the ones she had been hearing earlier. This one belonged to a woman.

From deep down, Laura made the journey to the surface. She was swimming upwards and away from a very dark place. There were things down there that searched and searched. Once or twice something brushed the soles of her feet and panic shot through the rest of her body like acid spilt across naked flesh. She looked upwards. She was almost there when a voice whispered into her ear:

They all know about you Laura. They all know about your dirty husband and his cheating ways. Relax. Give your children a chance. We’ll look after them. We have good homes for the likes of them. Let me take you to meet Simon.

Fear gripped her and she pushed with new strength for the surface.

“Laura can you hear me? Blink if you can hear me.”

“I think she’s having a seizure. We’ve checked her for drugs but there are no obvious signs. If I were to make a guess, I’d say that she was experiencing some type of paranoid schizophrenia. The police were able to get some details from the car and we’ve taken the liberty of checking her name against our computer records. If I’m right, this one has been here before.

“Hang on. She’s blinking.”

Laura had finally made it to the surface. She was now in the room looking at two doctors who were staring back at her.

“Laura, it’s Laura Andrews isn’t it?”

Laura pushed the affirmation out of her,

“Yes, it is.”

“You’ve had a bad experience. A police officer found you in your car, crying hysterically. You were blocking a long line of traffic so you caused quite a stir. Could you tell us what caused this? Have you any history of this type of event?”

Laura thought back to the black months after Simon’s death and nodded.

“I was being treated for depression after my husband died. I received counselling, no drugs. I was pregnant at the time.”

The two doctors exchanged looks and Laura thought she could hear the female doctor think the words, poor woman, pregnant to a dead husband.

“Are you on any medication now?”

“No.”

“Do you have any other dependencies like tobacco or alcohol?”

“A bottle of wine once a week, is that a dependency?”

“It’s a lot less than we’re on.”

At that point a nurse moved quickly along the ward.

“Excuse me, but one of you is needed in emergency. They’re run off their feet. I don’t know what’s happening to this country.”

A look from the male doctor indicated that she should be more conservative with her general conversation.

“You go,” said the female doctor, “I’ll finish up here.”

As the nurse and the doctor were walking quickly away, Laura thought she could hear the internal conversation that was going on between them. They were at the cutting edge of immediate medical care and had experienced a massive increase in patients attending casualty with wounds from violent attacks both animal and human.

The world was going mad.

 

 

 

 

 

The Stand.

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In my moments of dread before going into the place where I spend tortured days, I attempt to perfect my vision of the writing that I am working upon at the time. The last month has seen me rewrite The Piper in order to make it readable. My initial foolhardy pride had allowed me to see the forest of a novel without taking much notice of the trees. I got that last bit from Stephen King when he was writing about his writing of The Stand.

I always wanted to rewrite my Piper but was probably overwhelmed by the work that it would entail. I was probably a little afraid of cutting interesting paths in the plot; those little diversions that I believed would make the reader sit up and think, “What a clever bloke!” The truth is that I am not that clever, just a little over-egged. My original book was a pudding of a read with lots of interesting nuggets but no real narrative drive.

So it was with King Ben’s Grandma, a wonderful follower who reminds me of a no-nonsense Mother Abigail, that I started to rewrite it. King Ben’s Grandma was my stimulus and remains central to my every rewritten episode.

Reading The Piper from afar now allows me perspective. I read things that I would not feed to the crows. Dead language lay in every line and dead-ends waited for every ‘interesting’ plot turn. So my blogging of the book allowed me to cut, cut, cut. I made a path through the forest, removed anything that wasn’t necessary, and aimed to please KBG (oh, I just got the clever old broad!).

I hope whoever is reading it is enjoying it.

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Mike Evans  

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.

 

 

 

The Piper 30

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Their mother had disappeared to the upstairs. She had slipped out of the room and not returned. Chris went to check upon her and found the sleeping form of his mother totally unresponsive to anything he said.

She was so deep in sleep that even a slight nudge of her arm did not wake her. He returned to the others to tell them. Each had some concern, but each realised that a perfectly rational explanation could be the cause. Exhaustion.

At last, Michael turned towards Nick and asked, “Nick, why are you here and where do you come from?”

Nick sat and considered his response. The boy had asked him questions he found it almost impossible to answer. Since blinking awake several weeks earlier, he had no conception of any history, of any of his history. He was a page that had no writing upon it, or, if it had had, it had been erased. All he knew was from his dreams, and his passenger. The youngest boy had glimpsed him when they had first met and that had worried Nick, but the youngest harboured no harm. He was like his father.

What had drawn Nick to this lounge, to this small, yet now incomplete nucleus, was within him. How could he tell them about that? If they were what he had thought them to be, then they would eventually understand. The problem was that eventually was not now going to happen.

“Let me show you. Is that all right with you, Peter?”

Pete nodded in a way that was beyond his years. Again Michael and Chris were lost.

“It’s okay, he’s a good man,” Pete explained. “We have to hold hands like this.”

And Pete held out a hand to both of his brothers. They automatically clasped his and waited until Nick completed the circle. For the first few seconds, Michael and Chris were reminded of the roller coaster ride they had taken with their father once, in a different life, in France.

The connection was instant. The panorama was a montage of images speeding past. Michael held on tightly, squeezing the hands he was joined to. He recognised the tiny one belonging to Pete, it was warm with a strength he would not have thought his younger brother possessed, but the one belonging to Nick was completely different. It was like holding wood or bone. Michael felt the urge to open his eyes, but resisted. He heard a voice tell him to keep the connection going.

You must not break the connection at any time.

The voice was a collection of many he had heard before. If he picked at the threads, he would be able to identify them all. He thought he could hear his father’s tones and then he saw him.

It was the night of the crash and the road had become silent, apart from the gushing sound of petrol pouring from his father’s upturned car. The image then became his father’s face, a massive gash spilling blood. Closer still and he could see, even feel, the last breaths being taken, and then the eyes opened.

You must not break the connection at any time.

He was now in darkness and could hear the sound of water dripping. It was cold and damp. As he reached out, his hands met stone, hard and unyielding. A slap of feet ran towards him and the a torch swyed with the movement. Transfixed, Michael watched as the light became stronger and brighter until it was upon him.

The carrier of the light was a small boy, wearing pyjamas and nothing on his feet.  The boy rushed past him and Michael understood the panic for now there were many other sounds fast approaching from where the boy had come. These, however, did not belong to anything human or anything else that could be described as animal. This was the sound that ran with an army of rats, rats that were not real, rats that followed only one master. Rats that were hunting the boy. The sound of a hunter’s horn shattered the night.

He was in daylight, a fading daylight whose cerulean sky hung agelessly above him. The boy was now different. He was changed. This one was about ten years of age, his dark hair forming natural curls at the nape, his skin tanned from the climate.

From somewhere in the hills behind him came the sound of a horn, its threat obvious. The boy was running on legs that were at the end of their exertions and Michael understood, without any further prompting, that the boy was being hunted.

The horn again and the faint barking of dogs made the boy’s head turn. Michael saw his youngest brother, or someone who was his doppelgänger grown older, disappear into a clutch of trees.

The signs of a hunt were too obvious to ignore.

 

 

Things I Have Seen

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We treat our perceptions as if they’re constant and intransigent, when many are actually flexible and come from a place.

When we understand where they come from we can actually alter where they’re going to go. It’s stepping out of the physics of no, into the biology of maybe, of possibility.

 

That’s where we think about the ecology of the brain. The brain doesn’t just sit inside your skull; it sits in an interaction between what’s inside your skull and its body, and the body in the world. That’s where perception lives. We often forget, especially in the contemporary digital world, that we evolved in this body, in this body in this world, and that’s where the brain makes meaning.

Perception is in the space between.

I have spent my entire life attempting to perceive what I was seeing. Indeed, the puzzling out of the puzzle that lays before me has taken up an inordinate amount of time. When I was thinking, people assumed that I was dreaming. I was.

The Piper was my first real attempt to articulate my thinking. I was thinking about the insanity of all that we thought of as sane.

Teaching in schools, schools that were, by their nature and their environments, challenging, helped to form my perceptions. I was in the space between me and the rest of the world. Being a particular type of person, I thought what I believed I was seeing was what was actually there. I was seeing what others were missing. The others thought I was dreaming. They were right.

My writing process of The Piper took on a rather novel approach. I taught myself to dream the characters and the plots. Each night I would go to bed reminding myself of the story so far. I would set my dreaming self task. I would programme, as best as I could, the  dormant mind into thinking through narrative and character-based problems. The second book in the series benefited from this approach.

Here’s to dreamers.

May they never wake.