The Piper 7

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Liam could not remember when he had last slept.

Maybe it had been years. Who cared?

What he did know was that when others chose to close their eyes, he wandered.

Everything had taken place as he had been told. He had a sanctuary of his own that had been provided with a computer. The had a chance to catch up wit homework and the present world. He was a boy who should have been give the chance to do well. Now he would seize the opportunity.

Liam attended school on a drip-feed basis.; whenever he needed to feed, he dripped. If all went well, he would become a bricklayer or something else that would require him to work with his hands rather than his head. Good physical labour would be his saviour, either that or a stint in the army. The boy who sat in front of the computer knew that the army would be his destination, but it would be an army that answered to him and not one that fought wars on foreign soil for the betterment of all.

This Liam was a very different the Liam that had been recorded in the records that the  school and social serves had.

At first, it had been the television with its late shows stretching off into the morning. He would then sit through the endless nonsense of chat shows and re-runs. Sometimes he would watch The Learning Channel and that was more rewarding. He found himself drawn to programmes about history, physics and especially religion. He loved religion and would pity those who now chose to ignore it.

If there was one key to the secrets of everything, then the Internet would provide it.

Since its beginnings, men had worked tirelessly to give their knowledge for free. At school, the teachers placed restrictions on access to this, believing that the boys would try to find sites for sexual yearnings. Many of them appeared obsessed with the female form, naked and defiled and Liam thought this was good, but he didn’t waste his time on such matters. Liam was a learner. He had always been one yet showed nothing of this to those who called themselves teachers or adults. Liam learnt in secret, scouring the world for everything that could be of use to him.

Since he had moved in with The Leatherman, Liam had grown in understanding. The body in the armchair had fascinated him. Its controlled preservation was nothing short of a miracle that awaited his own coming. During darkness, when only the light from his monitor fell across the room, he felt the eyes, long since turned to dust, watching him, pleading for release. Time would come.

Somewhere along the way, he had mastered many skills that enabled him to quietly contact others who had been waiting for him. He established websites that reached out insidiously across space, drawing in those who too didn’t sleep. Many were young like himself, but a significant number were older and some were very old. They had been waiting for him and word was spreading of his arrival like echoes in a sewer.

Soon, his nerves tingled,soon.

Liam had recently taken to wandering the streets. Moving like a shadow along the unwanted hours that people threw away. He loved the illicit mutterings of this time, of the groans of sleepers, the scuttle of feet belonging to creatures that ventured out beneath sight, the plotting of acts whose names could only be whispered. Liam was a nefarious tourist, glimpsing a kingdom that could soon be his. The Piper had been right. Everything was turning towards his promise. Everything was moving along the lines that had been drawn so very long ago. Everything, that was, until the two new boys turned up.

He knew of them before they had arrived. He had been warned many years before but had forgotten.

There are those who will not follow you. They are afraid of you, but they will stand against you. If you let them live, they will attract others from both sides of the void. You must find them before they find themselves. I have tried. There is something protecting them, something stronger than I have encountered before. You must break them.

Now those words flooded back, filtered through his plans and forced him to act. The night was his and he moved with the assurance of a nocturnal. He developed his other senses for detection. Sound and smell became his allies as he moved about the streets. He had checked the obvious routes, but someone had been at the school files and had ensured that there was no address for the boys. He had decided to have them followed, yet they seemed to pre-guess his plans and always managed to avoid their pursuers. It had never occurred to Liam that they would come with their own assistance. If you want something doing well, do it yourself.

Anyone who may have been on the same street as Flowers at this time would probably not have seen him. They would have heard the rush of movement as the floor became alive with sleek, dark bodies, but they would not have sensed their death. The city was alive with the whisper of vermin and a flood of expectation. Where he walked, there was a vague tune which entranced them to the core. A shared memory was being revealed and their gatherings were moments to rejoice.

This was what had been foretold, the bringer of The Piper, and now he wanted something from them. He wanted those who would stop what would happen, he wanted to end the line of those who had inherited the hesitancy of the lame boy so long ago. He wanted the Resistors.

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Before long, he would have them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Piper 5

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Nightmares happen.

The young man had woken with a start. He was in that instant that sleepers recognise, that moment when they wake surprised by the strangeness of their surroundings. The boy was waking up on a bus that was a long way past the place he was meant to get off. Nightmare!

He must have gone way past where he had intended to be because he didn’t recognise anything. Before he climbed off the vehicle, he asked the driver where he was and received a reply that he had been dreading. He was near St Agnes, in the West Lake Park estate, and this was not an area for an outsider to be in at this time of night.

With the bus heading off into the wet splash of the darkness, he pulled his hood up around him and crossed to the other side of the road. From there, he would walk until he found another bus stop that would take him back. The driver had told him that one would be along within another fifteen minutes or so. Fifteen minutes felt like a century.

The road he was walking along looked like any other council estate road in the city. He knew from experience that some places were decent and safe whilst others were best avoided. This one fell into the category of ‘AVOID AT ALL COSTS’. Another thing he knew about was the evidence of gang markings in the form of graffiti.

The gangs used this method as a form of marking their territory; it meant KEEP OUT. Of course, they were happy if someone wanted to cross into their turf as this meant that they could lay down another marker that usually meant a severe beating that would be filmed on mobile phone cameras. These shots would then be uploaded to an Internet site where the prowess of their gang could reach a wider audience. The boy was not a gang member, but he was not from around these parts. If he was lucky, he would be on the bus back to where he was supposed to be. The streets were empty of people and he hurried along looking as inconspicuous as he possibly could.

To his relief, he spotted a bus stop that had a shelter where he would be able to wait until he gained his escape. He did not see the things that were watching him from the darkness and was not able to hear their alerts and communications.

He looked at his watch. There was no timetable to read as it had been the subject of a sustained campaign of vandalism. Marker pen and spray paint had been used with limited effect whereas the latest strike had resulted in something entirely more permanent; it has been torched. Somebody had doused the thick plastic casing in some inflammable liquid or other and had set light to it causing the plastic to give way to the intensity of the heat and run in unrelenting rivulets along its surface.

Now, as the boy stared at the charred results, the timetable not even a distant memory, he wondered how long he would have to wait. At least the rain had provided him with cover.

A long shiver ran down his spine and he pulled his coat around him. He tried not to think of the things he had heard about. The gangs here were legendary. The stories that surrounded them were stuff of dark mythology and their quoted exploits were too much to even contemplate. He tried not to think about this, but they came back to him, seeping through his consciousness and quietly drowning any optimism that still remained. He looked at his watch again and the hand did not appear to have moved. In the corner of his vision something did move and caused his head to swivel quickly towards its perceived location.

There was nothing.

He looked once more, but found the darkness had become impenetrable. Just the dark, he thought without finding comfort. If he could not see into the darkness, then the darkness could not see him or into him. Odd that last thought.As he sat, his mind imagining the arrival of the bus, last rescue, a dark circle was forming around him. Slowly, imperceptibly so, it began to draw itself towards its focus.

He looked at his watch and tried to pull the minute hand along by squinting his eyes. This way, the whole thing went blurry and he could make the time anything he wished. He was doing this, adopting a Chinese face, when he felt something brush against his leg. He jumped.

With his eyes open now, he took moments to adjust to whatever was left of the light… The rain was still pelting down, cutting away his long view of the street. He suddenly felt really alone and shivered from something that was now more than cold. Something else brushed past his leg, something bolder, something without fear. He looked down towards the floor and thought he saw a rising tide of black water. Must be from the drains. Drains must be flooded.He didn’t have chance to recoil before some other thing barged into his calf followed by another and another. Must be stuff washed up from the sewers.His legs were now deeply rooted in a living stream of blackness. The whole area around him was moving, swirling in angry eddies of intent and he felt fear, a fear that he could never have imagined, and it gripped him in its ancient hands.

He was drowning in the torrent, being carried or dragged along by its relentless progress, when he reached out and saw the approach of someone who would save him.

“Help,” he almost screamed before a black form ran into his mouth and bit completely away, with razor sharp teeth, his tongue.

“What’s wrong? Rat got your tongue?”

Before he disappeared beneath the deluge, he saw that the person before him, the one who he had hoped would be his rescuer, was not really a person at all.

Only a shape; or a shadow.

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The darkness grinned as his motionless body was pulled down through the more than welcoming opening of the drain.

 

 

Profoundly Lacking…

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Same story each morning: nothing is going through my head apart from the memory of the morning chorus kicking off at 4am. 

What wisdom can I impart to the readers of the world on this particularly sunny morning?

And now my idea from sleep has returned.

It comes mooching across the street, tail tucked in tight behind it, nose sniffing the air, ears alert. It looks at me, not straight in the eyes as if in challenge but from the pretence of downcast pupils. Its steps are measured and tantalisingly cautious. I have a titbit held out on the palm of my right hand as encouragement, but the idea continues to sniff the air for possible threats.

My voice has become barely audible, just me and the idea. If I raise my words, others may here and the thing that I am so interested in will just turn and flee back into the shadows.

It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. This is for you, a treat. You must have been so cold out there all through that dark night.

Little by little, step by wary step, it comes within reach.

I hold out my offering and it sniffs before finally snatching from my fingers and racing to the other side of the street where it will stand in readiness to retreat whilst sampling that which it most desires. 

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Good boy/girl…

The Piper Episode 3

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The family spent the weeks of the summer trying to convince themselves that this was home.

Only their mother seemed happy at the change of environment. Michael was stoical (that was a word he would have liked to use), Pete was indifferent in the way only a four-year-old could be and Chris was merely somewhat annoyed. The two eldest boys had time to investigate their new environment and took daily excursions out and about the close vicinity. They didn’t want to venture far as they were not prepared to leave their mother alone for too long. Although she had made massive strides of late, the boys shared the knowledge of the darker times but never openly spoke about it. However, their circle of discovery was forever widening and soon they found themselves in the area where their new school would be. A sign read West Lake Park and Chris thought he had heard of it.

“Fancy taking a look?” Chris had suggested.

Seeing no harm in that, Michael had agreed so they ploughed on through street after street of houses that bore an unnerving similarity. They put their radar on, knowing that this could be dangerous territory and once or twice spotted other teenagers giving them curious looks, weighing them up, working out their purpose. Eventually, they came to a sign that announced the school that they would be attending in a few short weeks and followed its directions.

 

Set back from the road, protected by its own bus terminal, the building rose from the ground in a grey stare. It was originally a school built for the children of people who expected more from life. Time, however, wears dreams down and buildings have a habit of reflecting that. St Agnes had fallen from grace. Its walls had taken on the make-up of the late twentieth century’s obsession with carbon fuels. Once stone, now blackened, it offered little encouragement. Saplings, planted to bring life to the grounds had been snapped and broken. Smaller names scrawled on walls in an effort to escape detection now fought with much bolder graffiti.

Mud prevailed where grass originally grew and formed trails on most days that could be traced throughout the building. Huge fistfuls of it hung from windows and ceilings. The bike shed encased a carpet of cigarette butts and sweet wrappers. Even the school name had been party to a touch of modernization as the sign standing outside the gates boasted Sh.AGNESS. It was to this place of learning that Michael and Christopher made their way one wet August morning.

“Looks lovely,” Chris muttered.

Michael couldn’t disagree. What he saw was a rundown comprehensive that only retained the name of a school because there was nothing else it could call itself.

“Shagness. What a great name.”

Christopher and Michael had not expected much more from the school. Even though they had come from a different part of the city, they had heard of it and its reputation. In particular, Chris had heard of how Shagness could produce some of the dirtiest football teams in the entire county and how their travelling support would go out of their way to intimidate the opposition and its teachers. After most games, anyone daft enough to have parked their car within the vicinity of the conflict would find tyres slashed, windscreens smashed or just a calling card of Shagness scratched into the paintwork. St Agnes was anything but saintly.

The brothers had decided to check the place out before the start of term. Their expectations were not to be disappointed. As they stood behind the spiked metal fence that surrounded the school, they shared a thought for the nice leafy comprehensive they had had to leave.

“We can’t afford to keep the house anymore,” Mum had said. “I don’t know how it happened but your father’s life assurance policy didn’t cover what we owe. If we don’t sell, then the bank will repossess.”

They had all had a terrible time since the accident, their mother, in particular, taking the brunt. She had never been the same since his death and the anti-depressants the doctor had prescribed only kept the demons at arm’s length. Now the demons were real and in the guise of moneylenders. Something had gone wrong. She was sure that they had done everything to guard their future. She knew, or thought she could remember, that they had taken out life-cover for both of them and that they were more than covered in the event of the unimaginable happening. But the unimaginable had happened and the life assurance had seemingly become a figment of her imagination.

In their rush to sell the house, they finally struck a deal with a man who said he wanted to develop it into flats. After each survey, he found something new that needed to be done and bartered down the price. When their mother had attempted to stem the leak in the projected capital, he threatened to pull out of the deal. In the end, he got what he wanted at a price he could never have hoped for. The Andrews’ family became downwardly mobile and found rented accommodation in another part of the city which most people did not even wish to drive through.

“Can I help you lads?”

They turned around to find that there was a man speaking to them.

“School doesn’t start until Monday and then it’s only for teachers. It’s unusual to get students trying to get in any earlier unless they’re wanting to set fire to the place.”

The man who was speaking to them was probably in his early fifties. He had shoulder-length wavy hair that had once been brown but was now giving in to the ravages of grey. He had what was left of a summer holiday tan that would keep him in a sense of. There was a rotundity around his middle that well-being for the first six weeks of term spoke of his appetite for good food and wine. At just under six feet, Graham Hunter was the epitome of what the general public would see as a teacher.

“We were just looking,” Michael answered. “We are new here and both of us start on Tuesday.”

“In that case then I’ll be pleased to welcome you to St Agnes’s Comprehensive School. As you may have gathered, it is an institution that has seen better days, but who is to say that better days are not just around the corner? Anyway, Aggy, as I like to call her, has been around for over forty years and has been home to me for much of that time. My name’s Mr Hunter and, for all my sins, I’ve been teaching History here for over a quarter of a century. I might even be seen to be part of the history of this place myself, but I’d challenge any court in the land to prove it. Pardon me asking, but you look familiar, are you Chris Andrews who had trials for United?”

Chris looked up surprised and nodded.

“I thought it was you. I’ve seen your picture in the paper. From what I hear, you’ve got a lot of talent.”

“I’m okay,” said Chris shrugging his shoulders in the way that he often did to ward off praise.

“He’s better than okay,” Michael chipped in, “he’s brilliant.”

“Yes I’ve heard that. Just be careful and keep it under wraps for a while. There are some very small-minded lads here who pride themselves on quashing talent. They won’t like it if a new kid turns out to be something special. And you,” he said turning to Michael, “must be his brother. You have the same look about you both.”

“Yes, I’m Michael. I’m his eldest brother and am not very good at football.”

It was Chris’s turn to pipe in.

“Michael is the brains of the family. He writes brilliant stories and is probably going to be the one who will be really famous.”

“A writer. Now that is something. I always thought that I would be a writer, but I never quite made it. I’ve had a few short stories published but nothing more. I thought that I had the great novel within me and that teaching would allow me to flourish my literary pen and carve a name for myself. Alas, it doesn’t appear that it is ever going to be.”

Both boys felt an instant liking for the teacher in a way that they had not felt for a long time. He was easy to listen to and hard to dislike. If nothing else, he promised to be something worthwhile at their new school.

“Now I’m not supposed to do this, lads, but I’ll give you a tour of the place. It’s always better without the teachers and the students.”

When they got back to the gates, a small group of local lads had gathered. Some were riding their BMX bikes in lazy Es obviously eating up time. Others had positioned themselves on the seats of the bus shelter and were engaged in a mixture of smoking and spitting, mainly they were waiting.

“The smoke signals have been going up,” Mr Hunter sighed resignedly.

Michael looked at him and asked what he meant by that.

“You haven’t met them yet, but that is a welcoming party from the local estate. They like to think of themselves as a crew or a gang. Unfortunately, they are waiting for you.”

“Why?” asked Michael perturbed.

His younger brother looked at him no longer amazed by his lack of street knowledge.

“Because we are on their territory, in their manor and we didn’t have an invitation.”

Again, the look on his older brother’s face illustrated confusion.

“Chris is right,” said the teacher. “The school is right in the middle of gangland and this one belongs to a group called the WLP, West Lake Park, the name of the estate. I think it would be better if I gave you a lift home.”

By this time, the members of the gang had spotted them and were starting to turn around.

“Hunter, are those your boys?”

“Are those your rent boys?”

Each of the group took the lead from the previous and added their own take on the enquiries before the teacher led the two back towards the car park. The name-calling intensified and reminded Michael of the noise a pack of hyenas made after they had surrounded their prey.

“I would say don’t worry about them, but that would be silly. Be very careful of those lads and don’t be caught out by them. They are like a pack of animals and I shudder to think what they could do or have probably done already. When you come to school, always make sure you take the bus or get a lift. Never, and I mean never travel through the estate on foot. Do you promise me that?”

There was genuine concern written across his face as he asked this and the brothers nodded with a yes chorused from between them. All understood, the teacher opened the doors of his vehicle which was a partly restored VW camper van. Transport from another age. The gang was outside lining the exit throwing taunts and accusations as they left. One lad, in particular, wore a twisted expression of contorted aggression.

“That, as you will find out, is Mr Podrall, one time leader of the merry men, now second in command to a usurper named Flowers. The other lad is new to the school and is, I know I shouldn’t be saying this to you, a very dangerous character that makes the rest look like Telly Tubbies.”

His passengers laughed at that, but got the picture. The VW pulled away onto the main road leading out of the estate and with that, another chapter was about to be written about lives that were to be anything other than ordinary. 

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Their narrative was following an unseen course.

 

 

A New Beginning (Autumn 2007)

Home from Home

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1.

 

The Volvo let out a sigh as the ignition was switched off. Its passengers sighed quietly too as everyone sat looking at the new house.

“Well guys, we’ve made it.”

At the age of forty, Laura Andrews turned with her work in progress ‘not a problem’ smile and patted the steering wheel. She could have said that shehad made it and that would have summed up her terrible journey of the past fifteen years. She had been happy, no she had been more than happy, but that was in a previous life and that had changed, Changed Utterly… Simon would have jumped in with the name of the poet and Laura would have given him that Duh response as they had both studied Yeats as undergraduates. For a second she thought of the Wild Swans At Cooleand of how they were destined to spend the rest of their lives with their first mate. She felt anger welling up from far below and remembered what she had been taught to do. When she had first gone into therapy she had suffered from panic and anger attacks and had been shown how to think through these anxieties, to counteract the darkness with light. The light she had chosen had been the one that was closest to her heart. She saw herself on a bench, just as the sun was setting. Their first baby was in her womb and she was – had been – happy. If she could sustain this vision, the darkness would eventually go away. Now she decided to make her way to the garden and counted slowly before saying, “Brian’s made it again.”

Michael, who was sitting next to her in the front passenger seat, nodded.

“Brian’s done it again,” he repeated.

Brian was the name they had decided to give the Volvo estate car. It had served them well for over five years and had managed to compensate for the unusual driving techniques sometimes employed by Laura Andrews. It was called Brian because of its speed and colour. A surprising yellow and a turn of pace that would match that of the snail on the children’s TV programme was an appropriate name for the vehicle. Still, it had never let them down. This was the sixth time they had moved house in three years and the boys were becoming dab hands at packing what little they had and moving at a moment’s notice. They never thought to complain.

The new house was situated on a very ordinary road on the outskirts of a very ordinary district of the city. It was constructed from an austere stone that wore the soot of a century’s coal fires. The front garden was evidence of the neglect it had witnessed from the numerous tenants who had stayed in its confines and the door, painted green, was stained with the dirt of traffic.

Hall Road was a late Victorian terrace that had always found itself in what town planners liked to call a transitional zone. In layman’s terms this meant that it had never had the opportunity to make its mind up whether it was a residential area, a commercial area or a bleak industrial area. In truth, it was all of these things and none of them. Hall Road was an afterthought for planners and for those who lived, sold or worked in and around it. It was a meeting place for those who had fallen on hard times, those who were recently arrived or those who merely wanted to hide. The Andrews family ticked all of these boxes.

“It’s sad,” uttered a small voice from the back of the car.

Peter, the four-year-old of the family, had not yet learnt to allot emotions to humans or at least things that were animate. He saw things in terms of happy and sad rather than in any physical manner.

“Yes, I’d say it was sad,” agreed Chris, his second eldest brother before his mother shot him a glance. “It needs us to cheer it up,” he added in an effort to save himself.

“Yes, we can do that. We can cheer the place up can’t we Mum?” Michael, forever the diplomat, the peacekeeper and the image of his father interjected. “We can cheer the place up just by turning the lights on and giving it a bit of company.”

His mother breathed out an apologetic laugh.

“Just until we get ourselves going again boys. It’s only for a while. I promise.”

That was the thing with their mother, she felt the guilt of having dragged her young sons through her own descent. The dark terrace stretched out before her with cars lining either side and she thought for a moment of the life that had been theirs until recently. For where they found themselves now, a few short years may have well have been a century or belonging to the life of another. Again, the she tasted the bile and swallowed hard.

“It’s all right Mum. It’s going to be fine. This new job of yours will make all the difference and we get the chance to go to a new school don’t we Chris?”

“Oh. Yes, a new school. Great.”

It was Michael’s turn to shoot his younger brother a look of censorship. Chris got the message and rolled his eyes.

“They’ve got a good set of football teams. That’ll suit you won’t it Chris?”

Chris smiled in agreement.

“With your skill, you’ll walk straight into the first team.”

“If they don’t break my legs I might. St Agnes is the dirtiest side in schools football. If they can’t win on the pitch they do it off it. They take no prisoners.”

“You boys make it sound as if it’s war rather than an innocent game of football. It’s not about the winning but the taking part.”

“Yes Mum, but it’s the way they take the parts that I’m not too fond of,” responded Chris in his traditional deadpan. As usual, he could always make his mother laugh even in the darkest of her moods.

“Well, do you want to stay here all night steaming up the car or do you want to get in and give the house something happy to think about?”

“Happy Mum. Happy,” little Peter echoed from the rear of the car.

Once they had unpacked themselves from the car, their mother led them up the short path to the door. She took out her key, placed it in the lock and turned. Obstinately it refused to turn at the first time of trying, but then it clicked into place, moving stubbornly to allow entry. Open, the smell of its emptiness wafted into the evening air. Laura hesitated for a moment and touched the frame of the door, sliding fingers along the neglected paintwork. Michael had seen her do this many times before when she came across something new. It was as if she had to check its solidity, touch its tangibility, feel the reassurance of its reality. She had done this frequently in recent years and today’s ritual seemed to have done the job. She smiled to herself and nodded to her sons.

 

The next moments saw them following their mother in through the front door. The first light didn’t work so Michael made his way into the living room and turned on the main light there. It immediately threw out a shaft that lit up the central hallway. A pile of letters had managed to build up and had been pushed against the wall by the door upon opening. A stairway ran away from them towards the bedrooms and an ancient musty smell greeted their arrival.

Moving from room to room, the family investigated their new surroundings. Immediately behind the front room was another, smaller one. Then beyond that was a kitchen that was long and thin with reasonable fittings and decoration. Out back was a strip of worn turf, the remains of a small garden orchard and a hut. They didn’t venture beyond the paved area.

What was more interesting was the upstairs where they found three decently proportioned bedrooms and a bathroom with separate shower. Laura Andrews said something about first appearances and book covers and this seemed to put a smile on her face. All things taken into consideration, it appeared that the house had managed to exceed their expectations.

Michael and Chris set about bringing in their possessions from the car, working in tandem so that there was always someone to make sure that nothing went missing. They had heard a few things about this end of town and didn’t want to take any chances. Their mother stayed indoors with Peter sorting through the cases and placing the appropriate things in the appropriate rooms. Their industry was rewarded when the last of the boxes was unpacked and the kettle was beginning to boil.

It was already dark outside as the August night was prematurely being vanquished from the skies. Although rain had threatened throughout the day, it was still dry and seasonably mild. The work that they had done had built up decent appetites and it was decided that the two eldest boys would go out to hunt down some fish and chips for a late supper. One of the benefits of living there would be the proximity of fast food takeaways.

With purpose in their steps, the boys set off along Hall Road towards the main thoroughfare where they had noticed a line of shops including what looked like a small supermarket, an Indian takeaway, a newsagent’s and a fish and chip shop.

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What they didn’t notice was the outline of a figure standing back from the road, clothed in the garb of shadows, watching everything they did.

 

Serialisation Of The Piper Book 1

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THE PIPER

Stealing souls (Summer 1966)

 

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment; I am the Lord. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt”

(Exodus 12:12-13).

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Before 1

Even in this state, the boy knew there was something wrong with the man in the white coat.

In fact, if facts were anything to be believed, he knew that this was not a man at all. His outward appearance was just that. The boy saw what he really was but could do nothing about it.

Bring unto me the little children.

And they had.

His followers had taken to the roads of the kingdom and had stolen where they could. Their master wanted the young. He wished for those minds still forming, minds that could be moulded and controlled. He wanted the chance to steal the souls of those in his charge. And his followers did their jobs well. Night after night they scoured the land for that which their master desired and soon the ward was bursting with the lost ones.

The boy had been one of the taken. He had been snatched from the garden of his home during one sleepy summer’s dusk and had been deposited on the desolate ward where his tiny existence would be taken from him. Like the others on the ward, there was to be no escape.

The thing in the white coat moved amongst them and fed upon their tortured dreams. Night after night, it arrived at his bedside and watched. Always, the white coat would come in the darkest hour bringing with it the promise of relief. All the children had to do was surrender.

Yet the boy did not yield.

 

 

 

Book Two

(The Festivities 1993)

1

He was dead.

He had been that way for many years. Nobody had noticed as no one had cared. James Harrison had enjoyed in death the isolation that he had sought in life. The curtains of his flat had remained drawn. Only the tiniest shaft of light had penetrated on those days when the sun had been released from behind the veil of clouds. For all intents and purposes, this was a tomb not unlike those that were sometimes found in Egypt.

He had been sitting, seething at the television screen, wondering if he should collect another bottle of cider from his fridge and thinking that he should turn down his central heating, when it happened.

The beautiful young people on the television were laughing at their own poor attempts at being funny and he was considering changing programmes. Normally, he just needed to reach to the side of him and pick the remote control from the table but this time it wasn’t in the usual place. His hand searched more frantically but for naught. Swearing under his breath, he leant over and found that it had fallen to the floor. He attempted to reach it but only managed to nudge it under his chair. His frustration and blood pressure rose. Now he had to get up. With a strain that surprised him, he prised his body from the comfort of the cushions and was able to stand, before lowering himself to the carpet. His hand felt blindly in the darkness under the chair and he thought that he felt the hard plastic touch of the control. Yet, as he moved to clasp it, it moved away from him. Now his heart beat with primal anger.

The first of many tiny explosions of white fireworks interrupted his vision and he felt the air seeping from his lungs like a departing breeze. His first thought was that he must be coming down with something and his second was to blame the outside world of people for being incubators of such diseases.

The next thing that happened caused him concern. His attention was dragged from the underworld of the chair to the doorway where he thought that he had seen movement. It had only been in the corner of his sight yet he was sure that something small and dark had scuttled along the line of the skirting boards. His mind registered vermin.

When he had been working the fishing boats, he had seen rats as big as cats patrolling the darkest corners of the boats. They had developed a taste for the sea and had gorged upon the fish that had been the prime task of the fishermen’s cold ventures. Somehow, they could never find the things when they were searching back in dock. They just disappeared.

Again, he had seen something move and this time it was bigger. He looked more closely, ignoring his original mission but there was nothing. His eyes were playing tricks. One final push brought success and he muttered his begrudging satisfaction before returning to his pew.

The presenter was leering at him. Her common voice was filling the room and her false smile reached the sides of the screen. Like an executioner, he pointed the remote control and pressed the trigger. Nothing happened.

He pressed it again and nothing happened. Again and again and again. He exploded into obscenities as the audience fell about in induced laughter. He threw the malfunctioning equipment at the plastic smiles of the winning couple and watched it bounce off their arrogant faces.

Behind him, he heard scratching. It was getting louder and he was sure that it was moving towards him. He sat solid in his chair.

His mind’s eye saw it first. It was a rat the size of a dog and it was, he could never know how, smiling at him.

At exactly 8.27, he died. Disbelief swept the muscles of his face. The end credits rolled with the theme tune that was to play his death march. It is as a result of our society that people are allowed to live and die without ever having been noticed, or missed, by anyone. Winter is the season that takes many individuals as they are prone, through natural selection, to offer themselves up to the elements. It is the same as when hunters track a herd across the Great Plains identifying an easy kill. In our instinctive need for safety, humans have gathered themselves into strongholds, towns and cities, where the harshness of the old world can be kept at bay. It is a paradox that this is where the predators from the old world now gather to pick off easy meals.

At around the same time as Harrison met his eventual partner for eternity, many more were disappearing from the field of existence. For them, life had blinked and was gone. Whatever it had failed to give them, many of them still harboured some hope of a kinder afterlife. Harrison too would have had this if it were not for his unfortunate meeting with his personal ferryman.

In Britain during that winter, there was a rash of unreported deaths. The divorced, the disabled, the rich and the once famous were being carried away in the full view of a society that simply did not see. During the course of a few short days spanning the mid-winter solstice, a number of apparently unconnected deaths were left unreported.

In Birmingham, a fifty-five-year-old man ‘vanished’ while seated at his dinner table. His last meal awaiting his attention, cooled and then decomposed in a parody of himself. The apartment block, in which he had lived for fifty years, had been declared officially empty and stood awaiting a purchaser and redevelopment. A downturn in the local economy had helped to keep this opportunity closed like the lid of a coffin. The initial odour that rose from his corpse was not noticed and his mummification was ensured.

In Manchester, the body of a travelling salesman, back for a not so festive break from the distraction of his business, was left to its own devices in a flat that had not been visited by members of the outside world for years. These, like their other unknowing companions in death, benefited from conditions that favoured the preservation of their cadavers if not their memories.

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It was as if someone had drawn up a list of the more desirable and had gone out collecting in time for Christmas.

 

 

 2

The baby had abandoned its cries on that eve before Christmas.

During the short time that it had been part of this world, it had discovered only pain and indifference. Only fourteen months and the world had rewarded its struggle with a second-hand travel cot and sheets that bore evidence of its neglect.

The television was on and was showing a programme that followed the love lives of the young. His mother, who was now without a love life, sat watching the entertainment. Tears of unfathomed regret waited beyond her eyes. She stemmed them with her anger. She pulled at her cigarette and welcomed its harshness into her lungs. Saturday night and here she was trapped in this flat with a baby she didn’t want or love. She looked over towards the kid and snapped her gaze away just as the thing started to throw back some recognition. She needed a drink. Within a minute, she was out of the door, turning off the light as she went.

The baby sat helpless in the dark.

Even for one so young, it had gotten used to this and had discovered, through pain, that silence was the best option. She would be gone a long time. Sometimes, she would not return until the next morning and then she would sleep. The baby would lay silent until sleep brought about some relief. It welcomed the comfort of the night and loved the stillness of the flat when she wasn’t there. Already, he had learnt the hard lessons of life and these were to shape a heart that would not be hurt by anyone ever again.

The child shivered as a cold breeze ran along the floor. Goosebumps shot up its arms. The boy had never seen anything like this before. It stood high like the woman but had no shape. It was darker than any night the baby had ever experienced and yet it meant him no harm. There was a hand that reached out and stroked his face.

Boy, you have been chosen. You will lead my army and you will be without equal in the time that is to come. This existence that you have to endure is only preparation for your life to come. Take care to experience all those things that will make you strong. I will be watching you from the distance and I will make sure that she does not harm you beyond that which will benefit us.

I give you this sign that others will recognise.

The dark placed a clawed hand on the child’s back and when it lifted again there was a small black mark that was shaped like a flute.

In years to come, I will call upon you. For now, you must grow boy and become strong. She that now lets you suffer shall meet her own torment when she has fulfilled her usefulness.

With that, the shape was gone. The child’s life had been marked by the hatred of a woman that could not bring herself to accept any responsibility for her baby’s existence. She would continue to serve a purpose only so that the child could get the chance to start its long journey. She was mother only by accident and her time would be spent in servitude to the greater cause.

The boy, that he would eventually become, would never be able to say anything about this woman for he would never know her. Her death would be a reminder only to those who had nothing else to think about, whose lives were meaningless and empty, shells that had lost their inhabitants. He would never know or care that he once had a mother. He would grow up in the care, or indifference, of others. He would experience neglect and abuse in the same measure as others tasted love. He would travel as a dark pilgrim through the jetsam of the modern world meeting cause admiration and fear amongst those he would meet. In some future, already sketched, he would bring about the pain of purgation for those not worthy of this toy that was life.

After finding the boy, the thing that had wandered for centuries would wander some more. Like a dark Magee, it would bring gifts to those who would inherit this earth and he would bring the wish of desolation to those that desired it.

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Throughout the world, its black seeds were being sown into desperate lives and it silently rejoiced in its own coming.

 

 

 

The Piper 3 The Pretorist. Giving My Unpublished Book An Airing…

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Although the day had begun with a cold dew upon the grasses and shrubs of this foreign land, it had managed to climb itself out of its torpor and by midday it had become extremely hot. Petras told her that she needed to cover her head or else she would be struck by the sun. She knew that it was important to follow his advice but she had no additional clothing with which to make a protective covering. The cruelty of the land, however, provided the sought after material.

They had been travelling for just a few hours when they came across the first village. Village was a loose term for the burnt out remnants. Scattered amongst the ruins, Kate thought she saw piles of rags. She was firstly confused at both the sight of the destruction and discarded clothing. She turned to the boy for some explanation before realisation shone its harsh light upon her.

“But?” the question choked her thoughts as revulsion and horror flooded up from the deep pit of her stomach. She bent double and heaved upon whatever there was in her emptiness. The pain of the act wrenched her disbelief from her.

Petras had seen so much like this that now he was now blind to the horrors. For him, the piles of rags were just that. He had stopped considering the rotting corpses that lay within them. What Petras saw was the chance to get some cloth that would save the girl’s head from the unrelenting attention of the sun that was now burning towards its apex. He was already returning from his first forage holding his offering before him, when he saw that the girl was doubled over and trying her best to vomit, he thought that it must be because the sun had already begun to work its inevitable ways upon her.

“Here,” he whispered caringly pulling a goat skin filled with water from beneath his robe, “drink this, but not quickly.”

The girl looked up at him and her face displayed the streams of tears that had cut through the reddened dust that had settled upon her. She pushed the skin away.

“What happened here? What type of a world is this?”

The boy was puzzled momentarily, her questions were accusations and he did not comprehend them. She was staring past him, her gaze trapped by the scene beyond. He followed her focus and finally saw what she saw, smelt what she smelt.

“It’s Pan. This is what he does.”

Kate was somewhere else. She was back in her room, hidden behind the flimsy excuse of a barrier. Inches away from her, was the dark thing. She knew its mocking tone, heard its invitations. This was The Piper, the same menace that was sweeping across this other world. Pan was the child that The Piper had grown from. Pan was the devilish merriment that accompanied murder and The Piper was its adult embodiment. Even evil cannot deny time, she thought.

She knew death as she understood the carnage before her. This was the work of an adolescent consciousness, these corpses that were like leftover play things that had lost their novelty. This was the other side of the promise, the realisation of the world according to Pan. A thought struck her, if this thing could age, then it could die.

Petras had been reading her mind.

“You want to kill him don’t you?”

Kate’s eyes burnt with intent.

“If you truly wish to kill him, I’ll work with you.”

“Why does he do this?” she asked after a time.

“He does it because he enjoys it. He desires to turn children against their parents, against the world. He leaves the bodies as a reminder of his power.”

“Why do they follow him?”

“Because he makes them believe and want to be part of his family. He promises everything a young mind could wish for and all they have to do in return is to show devotion. The other gods, well they just sit on high, this one, and trust me, he is a god, joins in the fray. He is their leader and their father. He is their brother and the sharp stab of wonder that comes about when the impossible is made real. Pan is god of madness.”

Indeed, Kate believed him to be so. She believed in the world that he had managed to bring into being. She believed in the fact of The Purge and equally believed that this world, this ancient world in which she had awoken, was most definitely real. She could touch it and it could hurt her. But if it could hurt her, she surely could hurt it, even to the death.

As she was considering the implications of this new state, she noticed that the eyes of the boy had become alert to something. The air around them was no longer filled with the industry of insects or the occasional call of birds. The very air had stilled and she heard it; silence. Silence, complete and utter, as if the whole landscape was hushed in anticipation or angst. Kate felt the old fear return but controlled it. Petras had her by her arm and was pulling her down and into the cover of a partially burnt hut. She noticed, with sadness, the remains of an uneaten meal discarded on a table. Not even time for one last supper.

They waited crouching in their hurried hiding place, the seconds of time straining ahead of them. Petras, watched the open ground, covering all angles with the eyes of one who had survived the hunters. Not for the first time, she found herself giving thanks to whatever force had brought the two together. This boy was part of it, had always been a part of it, and their trajectories had been forced to intersect. He knew this world as Joel had known the other. If Joel was to be found then she was sure that Petras would discover him. However, more important was his ability to read the land and its signals of danger. She watched him and trusted his instincts. Something caught his eye and she too tried to locate it.

Beyond the larger pile of bodies, which she had mistaken for clothes, the village fell away down a hill that led to the valley in which the river ran. Anything approaching the village from this side would have to climb a rocky path that was mainly suitable for goats or adventurous youngsters. Whatever, was now on the outskirts of the village, was coming from that direction, keeping low and out of sight. Both her and the boy waited and watched. They remained suspended in their vigil for some time knowing that to break this would give the game away. The sun beat down upon the dead and living assured of its own safety.

Kate felt a tug on her sleeve and looked at Petras. His eyes had become more intent and did not turn to explain. Instead, he offered the slightest of nods, a gesture that directed her own gaze. At first she saw nothing, just the waves of warm air rising from the ground. Then she saw the object of his attention. The top of a head bobbed up from behind one of the outlying corpses. The movement was almost indiscernible and she would have missed it completely if Petras had not been there. Now she was able to see it clearly as it moved stealthily along the ground. After some more time, it raised itself onto its feet and Kate could see that it was human. It was a child even younger than themselves.

Still they watched it and their caution was rewarded when the child, having carried out its recognisance, did one final sweep of the ruins with a slow and deliberate circle and raised its arms into a wave. The signal made, more emerged from the hillside approach. Kate counted six and noticed that one of their number was an elderly man creaking in the sunlight.

“Don’t disturb the dead,” the man uttered,“ but see if there is anything that we can use. We need bread if there is any and maybe some wine. I have had nothing but river water for the past three weeks and I think that I have imbibed the very nymphs themselves.”

The old man laughed to himself but nothing rose from the group to whom he was talking. Instead, they made their way into different directions seemingly set upon answering their mission.  Kate and Petras kept low unaware that behind them a hushed pair of feet was making its way towards their position. Indeed, the only warning they received was the one that was cried out in alarm for the rest to hear.

Within moments, the entire flock were upon them. From nowhere, it seemed, they had produced rude but lethal looking weapons. Kate, who had not fully responded to the cry of alarm, found herself caught in a fierce headlock with the blade of a knife across her throat. Her assailant gripped the roots of her hair so that her throat became more exposed. Seeing this, Petras pulled back from his instinctive response, that was to throw himself upon the deadly attacker, and quickly searched for a weapon for himself.

The time it took for him to do this was enough to allow the rest of the pack to fall upon him. He lashed out with feet and arms landing punches and kicks whilst receiving many more back in return.

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Finally subdued, his face pushed into the dirt, he too felt the sharpness of cold metal against his throat. They had been undone before they had even begun.