Blessed are the Piss-makers.

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Subject A woke up in the middle of darkness and felt for the glass of water at the side of his bed. He found it just as his fingers decided to add some urgency to their search. The resulting action was a slow, slow-motion tipping of the glass and its contents off the bedside table and onto the floor.

His wife stirred beside him, but did not wake.

“Shit, shit, ducky shit,” he muttered to himself. But the spilt milk, or water on this occasion, was the least of his worries.

Subject A felt the dryness of his mouth and tongue. He struggled under the pounding in his head. And he felt the sure and powerful flood of his vital blood coarse through his veins.

It was Fryday and the wolf was returning.

Keeping himself together, he eased out of bed. He left behind a fresh layer of hair on the sheets which he would have to blame on the cat later. The cat was sleeping in another room. She would know that he was moving about, but she would also know that it was wise not to investigate.

Subject A descended the stairs and walked to the door.

With all the stealth he could muster, he undid the locks and eased it open before stepping outside. He always found this last procedure to be better and quieter than merely stepping through the door.

Outside, he breathed deeply beneath the cold, full-moon that gazed lovingly down at him.

 

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In moments, he was off and running towards the open common-ground where he hoped to find some rabbits, a piece of virgin ground to crap upon, and a tree to rub his scent over before he anointed it with his bursting bladder.

Not Making Difficult Decisions

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Being cornered by a difficult decision can be worrying. There are times when we are being demanded to choose a particular course of action in favour of another. We have this idea, this solid appreciation that whatever decision we make is going to have profound consequences. The path that our lives have been set upon wil irrevocably change and things will not be the same, ever again.

Life does that to you because it’s a bully. It keeps taunting you with, ‘Go on. Try it!’ And the more it taunts, the more likely it is that the fear venom will start to rise from the deepest pit of your everyday anxiety. The more it tells you to, “Go on and give it a go’ the more you hesitate, prevaricate, constipate intended actions into an obstinate refusal to act. If we are incapable of acting for long enough, time takes over.

I was once playing football and a very talented midfielder, with a golden boot, gained a freekick just outside of the penalty area. The game was standing at 2-2 and the opportunity presented itself for him to cement his growing reputation in Sunday-League football with a last minute winner. He knew this. We knew this. The opposition knew this. And so did the man and his Border-Collie who were the crowd. Time knew this and was instrumental in what was to follow.

It was one of those mockingly cold Sundays that had refused to let the freezing winds of winter completely go. Rain had begun to join in and was lashing our drawn-out expectations. As the moments went on, we got wetter and colder. Words of support were offered from a few of us towards the golden midfielder. The other team were offering words that were not advice, unless advice was to let the dog take it. All of this added to the tension.

The referee uttered a few words about time-wasting yet still there was no action. Our talented midfielder had dallied too long in the world of indecision. The clock was not just running down, it was racing down, rocketing down. If the kick was not taken quickly, the whistle would be blown.

At moments like these, time steps in.

In this instance, time was dressed up as a rather forthright defender who wanted to ‘get a bloody move on’.

As Golden Boots dillied and dallied, checked the wind, checked the rain, checked the position of the other teams defensive wall, our rogue defender mumbled, ‘Fuckit’ and ran  up to the ball and whacked it. To be fair, he often whacked things; he was a good defender. And the pub was about to open.

I can’t remember what happened as a result of his whacking it. I can’t remeber because this is only a story that I created to illustrate the point of my dilemma. In an ideal world the ball would have sailed into the back of the net. In another world it would have missed by miles or have been saved by the keeper. In the world of Independiente, our Neo-South American football team that owed alliegience to no one other than ourselves, the ball may have gone on to ricochet into forever towards time’s coming dusk. Regardless of the intervention, nothing has changed significantly since then.

I had a very difficult decision to make recently. I had been offered a job in a school in southern Spain. It could have led to significant things. I could have been a contender. The implications of any decision could have been significant. Guess what?

Just as I was standing over the ball, petrified in indecision, the same bloody defender came racing up from behind me and blasted the ball. I watched it leave his boot, fly towards goal, be anticipated by the keeper and then…

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This time, Time was not a defender but an email which I accidently sent off with a swipe of my finger as I was showing it to my wife. I was trying to prove to her that I wasn’t indecisive and Time decided to help me.

Stephen King On Writing

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If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It’s what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

When I was in the eighth grade, I happened upon a paperback novel by Murray Leinster, a science fiction pulp writer who did most of his work during the forties and fifties, when magazines like Amazing Stories paid a penny a word. I had read other books by Mr. Leinster, enough to know that the quality of his writing was uneven. This particular tale, which was about mining in the asteroid belt, was one of his less successful efforts. Only that’s too kind. It was terrible, actually, a story populated by paper-thin characters and driven by outlandish plot developments. Worst of all (or so it seemed to me at the time), Leinster had fallen in love with the word zestful.

Characters watched the approach of ore-bearing asteroids with zestful smiles.Characters sat down to supper aboard their mining ship with zestful anticipation.Near the end of the book, the hero swept the large-breasted, blonde heroine into a zestful embrace. For me, it was the literary equivalent of a smallpox vaccination: I have never, so far as I know, used the word zestful in a novel or a story. God willing, I never will.

Asteroid Miners (which wasn’t the title, but that’s close enough) was an important book in my life as a reader. Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this!

What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff? One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose — one novel like Asteroid Miners (or Valley of the Dolls, Flowers in the Attic, and The Bridges of Madison County, to name just a few) is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.

Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy — “I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand” — but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher. Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing — of being flattened, in fact — is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.

My Wife, The Piper, Liam Flowers and The End of The World…

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We had a conversation this morning. It was one of those not quite awake conversations that happens on Saturday morning when there is no work to put a stop to them. 

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. I knew that there was some honesty coming. “I like your blog, but it’s not going to support us. It’s not that tunnel that you are looking for.”

In the last twenty months or so, the writing has been coming thick and fast. It’s as if all my old injuries and wounds have set about healing themselves, all at once. It’s a Doctor Who thing; complete regeneration and a new-build exterior. I have been careful not to become all nice and good about the world, as a born-againer would likely be. The world still exists in its pre-breakdown mode, shit and getting shittier, so no amount of glossy- over by an inner ‘positive-mindset-self’ is likely to change it. But what I am doing is expurgating myself of the false beliefs about my life and its values.

“I wish you would rewrite The Piper. I loved that book. It is as real to me as yesterday.”

The Piper was my first novel, an imperfect issue that came kicking into life just less than a decade ago; on the eve of my father’s death. The book was my way of showing that I wasn’t a dreamer, that I had real talent. So, I chose a book about the coming apocalypse, set in a school, led by an imaginary Piper who was based on Pan, an Anti-Christ type boy, an animated corpse that had turned to leather and the holy trinity in the form of three brothers. What type of dreamer would dream that up? Anyway, my father escaped having to read it as a result of him dying. And I escaped any redemption.

“I want to rewrite it. It’s just finding the time.” But I knew that I was lying.

I have a friend who didn’t want to upset me when he told me that he thought my writing now was much better than the writing of The Piper. That was my baby he was talking about. It may not have been perfect, but it was mine. It’s a thing that is rarely done, offer an honest critique about the appearance of another person’s baby.

“Your kid is as ugly as a mule’s arse! If you don’t mind me saying.”

That’s why I have kept it in darkness. My ugly mule-arse baby sits on my bookshelf, lonely and wanting to be loved.

“I love it,” my wife said. “I love it.”

Now I am being asked to become Victor Frankenstein. My little imperfect issue needs a face-lift. It needs rewriting for a modern world. It needs to be accepted.

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Liam Flowers, come forth.

 

 

 

 

Epilogue 1

In her dreams, Elizabeth was on the ward that had consumed her life.

It had not burnt to the ground as she knew it had many years ago, but was intact and filled with the confused slumber of its patients. The book she had been reading was open at the page where she had fallen asleep. She had done her rounds, had tucked in the sleepers, had recreated the stories she had for them.

The book had taken up three full nights. At its heart was a dark secret of which none of its characters dared to speak. At its core was a girl who had been locked away in the attic of her home for years. She had grown in darkness as a way of keeping her pure. This was her mother’s God.

He was not mercy. He was not forgiveness. God was pain and damnation.

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My Stories

Elizabeth had read the book carefully taking each word at a time and not skimming. She was drawn to the story in the same self-destructive manner that addicts return to the drugs that kill them. The more she read, the deeper she was mired in its lines. On the third night she slept.

In her dream, she woke with the sounds of the sleepers seeping into every crevice of the ward. Waking more, her eyesight adjusting to the night, she raised herself from her chair and felt an energy that had not been there for many years. She looked at her hands and was amazed at how different they were. She turned them over in front of her gaze and saw the backs were now not the veined maps onto which an almost translucent covering of skin was projected. These things she held before her belonged to a younger woman.

She was dreaming and she knew it. She had often woken within a dream and, even knowing that it belonged to the wanderings of sleep, had allowed its tidal ebbs and flows to take her where they would. For the most part, she would forget these nocturnal drifts only for some consciously chanced upon detail to sweep her back. At that, she would stop in her tracks and feel the chill of something reaching out from darkness. These episodes of déjà vu were now starting to fall upon her like leaves in autumn.

It could just be the onset of old age; altzeimers spiked amongst her deepest fears.

In this dream, she moved through the ward, listening to the familiar sound of the invisible ones. She was able to see each bed inhabited by their sleeping occupants and the regular rise and fall of their breathing. All the beds were occupied and it seemed that the ward was not confined by the hospital’s walls. She could see into the shifting darkness and thought she saw beds stretching out for mile upon mile towards some barely glimpsed horizon.

Then there came the sound.

At first it was a low indistinguishable sound that could have been the merest hush of a nervous breeze, but the sound began to grow and swirl around the beds. Blankets began to flutter as if brushed by a passing hand. Elizabeth was frightened.

Every instinct screamed, ‘run’.

She listened knowing that if she heard its true notes, she would be lost. This was the time to swim upwards from this sleep. She pushed upward from the floor, but nothing happened. Movement and sound converged. She was aware of sheets being filled with the forms of sleeplessness. In the far distance was a darkened cloud invading the sky. The stillness that arrived before a storm settle around her.

She would pull herself toward waking. She would tell herself that this was not real, that it was only a dream; a nightmare. Her heart raced and pounded in her chest and pulsed into her temples. Her skin rippled with an ancient angst like a memory locked into despair.

Now, there was fresh movement in  the ward. The sigh of bedsheets, the pat of bare feet on the cold floor. But closer still, there was a hand climbing from beneath the starched linen. The hand that was revealing itself from beneath the veil of dread was that of the Piper and the bodies that were rising from their white cotton shrouds were those of her parents, her brother and the neighbours lost so long ago on that summer night.

She would wake now.

That was how it would happen. She would wake and she might even scream. Hairs would stand rigid on her spine. She would be hyperventilating. For a brief moment, there would be a memory of what she had been through. For a moment, she would remember the touch of the Piper’s clammy hand. For one long eternity, there would remain the memory of a world that was not supposed to have been. For an everlasting instant, she would remember awaiting the grasp of the Piper as he claimed her for his own.

But then she would wake.

That was when he had touched her. The hand was warm and she knew it belonged to the  boy called Nicholas. She turned torwards where she thought he would be and saw the face of the boy grown old. He had grown and now beckoned her to follow.

She was now old and frail and her bones only left the nursing home for short periods in its gardens. She had lived a long life, perhaps longer than God had intended, but she had always been haunted by those children on the ward. Now she had dreamt of Nicholas, the one who had escaped. The boy who was now a man. She also understood that God had not forgotten her and the debt she owed him.

Although her bones ached with years of rheumatism, she pulled them from her bed. She was upright surveying how the moon had thrown its light through the window. It was a cold night and the one that she had been waiting for. With no regard for the torturous strain brought on by movement, she washed and dressed in silence. She would leave this place of the dying and find her way back to where much of it had started: Fairfields House.

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Once she thought that she had cheated God, but she hadn’t.

He had forgiven her and she owed Him.

 

 

The Piper 64

There was silence between them as they pulled on the cords. They were pulling their own weight and that was a task.

They were working in darkness with a shaft of vague light indicating their destination. They toiled knowing that every moment counted. Muscles ached and burned until, at last, they reached the hatch. Michael pushed with his remaining strength. To his surprise, it opened easily and they climbed out into the school kitchens. These were deserted. The staff, that had arrived for their morning’s work, had fled upon hearing the first salvo. Michael looked at his mother, palms were bleeding.

“Michael, does that hurt?”

Michael looked down at his hands and saw the blood for the first time. He was reminded of the boy he had killed.

“No, it’s fine. Let’s get going. Where have you parked the car?”

She was just able to tell him that it was on Thurston Road and they were off out of the kitchen fire exit and around the back of the building.

At roughly the same time, Mr Hunter was emerging in the grey morning with the first of his refugees. They had come out at the same place they had gone in, and, being some distance from the main building, that afforded them just enough of a chance to go undetected.

The bedraggled survivors were being led out into the open by their teachers.

“What now, Graham?” asked a dazed Mrs Sanderson, the PE teacher who he had always respected.

“I’m afraid that we must let the children make their own way home. We can’t take all of them can we?”

“What about St Stephen’s on Blythe Street? Why don’t we take the children there and then ferry them home?”

As more of the students were leaving the passages, Graham saw Chris. There was a look on his face that caused him immediate concern.

“What’s the matter, Chris?”

“I think they might have captured Michael.”

Some moments passed and then the deputy head emerged.

“Are you the last, Martin?”

“I’m afraid so. The boy told me to leave him and lock the door behind me. Which one is Chris?”

Chris stepped forward.

“Son, your brother was a hero. He told me to tell you that he would see you again and that that was a promise.”

Chris’s composure crumpled. Slumping to the ground, he buried his head in his hands and wept openly. Graham sat beside him with an arm around his shoulders and knew that he was close to tears, himself.

“I’m going back in for him. I can’t leave him on his own in there. He wouldn’t leave me all alone and I’m the one responsible for this.”

He tried to shrug the consoling arm away and found that it had become more than that.

“Chris, you’re not going to do anyone any good if you go back in there. Stay here. You heard his promise. He said you’d see him again didn’t he?”

“Get off me. Get off me!” He was fighting now like an animal caught in a snare. “You’re not my father. You’re not family. Get off…”

And that was when the school exploded.

 

 

Flowers had listened as the steps approached him and he had tried to trace their passage when they momentarily stopped. Then he heard a rush of feet coming up from the basement. There were cries of anguish and urgency. Something was wrong. Something had interfered with his plans.

“Sir, I think the timer’s been set off. Rawlins heard it ticking. It could blow any minute…”

Flowers took moments to digest what he was being told. He turned towards the place where he had last heard the solitary footfalls, but whatever had made them was now gone. For the briefest instant he discerned the outline of a figure leaving the building through the main doors that had been opened as if by a stiff breeze.

Yes, they had better move and quickly.

“Right! Everyone outside.”

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It was as they reached the perimeter fence that the school went up. Not quite what he had planned, he thought, directing his camera phone towards the flames, but good enough.

 

The Piper 61

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Flowers’ plan appeared to be moving like clockwork.

However, whilst the assembled school was being moved towards the basement, Chris, Michael and Mr Hunter were moving along the underground passages. Their intention was clear; they would somehow smuggle out the captives. The one part of the plan that did not bear up to scrutiny was the part where they created enough distraction to ensure everyone could be directed into the passageways.

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Oh and by the way, my name is Graham, even for you lads. Seems that the time for sirs and misters may just have come to an end.”

They moved on in silence with Chris seriously considering how he was going to ensure that he called his teacher by his first name. Most people knew the first names of teachers whilst others were astounded that they had been given first names in the first place. However, teachers were always Mr or Sir if you didn’t want to get on the bad side of them.

“Graham?”

“Yes, Christopher.”

“Just trying it for size. It’ll take a while though.”

Michael smiled to himself relishing this moment of sanity in this sea of madness.

Above them a darkness was forming and this time Flowers smiled to himself at that which he had helped to come into being.

The last group had been herded into the basement area and, at last, it was within sight. This would be a memory all would savour. It would be a note in history that marked the turn of the world. He would be the usher for The Piper and now he felt his presence more than ever before. He was becoming part of the world. He was physics and matter and he was more than reason.

Those flies in the ointment had caused him distractions. They had caused him pain. Hadn’t he lost his best follower to them? When he found their hiding place, he would surely exact a revenge that was fitting. The mother, their strength, would suffer long and hard for their treason.

“Sir?”

Flowers turned from the future to face one of his soldiers.

“Sir, we have found something that you ought to know about.”

“What? What is it?”

“It’s Teally sir, we found him behind the school. He’s been attacked and tied up.”

Oh, how it itched. Yet again, they stood between him and fate.

“Bring him in. I want to know everything.”

And as the boy was dragged in, Flowers, always the pragmatist saw an opportunity to instil that most valuable of emotions: fear.

“Put him there on the steps. Be careful not to harm him any more than is possible.”

He knelt at the side of his lowly follower and held his head. The boy’s vision was impaired. He had obviously taken a blow to the head. Flowers was concerned and caring.

“Who did this to you?”

Through pain and fuzzy consciousness, the boy attempted to explain. He was sweating and did not know why. Being so close to Flowers these days was like being next to an open fire. The heat from exchanges with him invaded any space around. There was an energy coming from him that was inexplicable, but so was Flowers.

“Tell me how this happened.”

“It was one of those Andrews. I caught him sneaking around and I was going to bring him to you. I know that you want them.”

“Ah good. It sounds as if you were doing the right thing there. I have but just one little problem.”

“Sir?”

“You had a gun. Am I right?”

“Yes sir.”

“And now, if I’m not mistaken, you have no gun. How has that come to pass?”

“Somebody must have hit me from behind. I didn’t hear anything. All I remember is waking up and being brought here.”

“Oh. That is rather tragic.”

Flowers turned and motioned for one of his minions to come forward.

“Are all the groups in the basement?”

“Yes, sir. The last ones just went in.”

“Turn off the lights and lock the doors. Leave a man on guard. There is something I’d like everyone to see.”

Looking down at the boy, now shaking in anticipation of what was to come, Flowers was almost apologetic.

“You see, failure is not something that we can put up with. What you have done, and I agree that it was out of your control, is to let me down. History is full of such events. One man, one boy or one woman, it doesn’t matter. If they are in that position of trust and they make the wrong decision, then everyone suffers. Rather sad would you not agree?”

“But, sir.”

“No calm yourself. We have made our choices through our actions and now I will reward you with the chance to redeem yourself.”

“Sir, thank you. Thank you sir. How can I ever repay you?”

“Just remember to put on a good show.”

The boy was confused, but nodded all the same.

“Can we lift our stricken comrade to the top of the stage?”

Two boys instantly shot forward and lifted Teally to the dais. Flowers turned to the newly formed group.

“Is everyone here?”

“All but Imraz. We left on guard, sir.”

“Excellent. Now as you may be aware, we have a family of parasites that are getting in the way of things. This boy here had one of them this morning and that could have been the key to finding them all. They are a family unit which means that they care about each other more than they care about anything else. I know it’s lame, but hey, that’s why we’re taking over.”

Again, the dramatic pause.

“Anyway, can you imagine the opportunity of having one of them at gunpoint ready to be delivered to me? Amazing luck? Unfortunately, he was not so careful and got himself knocked unconscious. We found him a little while ago and here he is so full of remorse.” He swept a hand to where the boy lay.

“As with any of our fallen comrades, you can always rely upon me to give you a second chance. And here is yours, Teally, or whatever you were called.”

Like a magician brandishing a wand, Flowers made an extravagant movement of his hand. Pure pantomime rather than theatre. There ought to have been a drum roll to accompany it, to build up the tension, but there was a sound far more ominous.

From deep below there came a distant patter. Growing in intensity by the second, it sounded as if this was a far off tube train speeding toward them. The patter became a rumble and the rumble became a stampede.

His toy soldiers filled with anxiety at the approach. Many were looking from one to another and some were even edging backwards. Flowers was smiling. When the noise became too much, the trap door below the stage exploded upwards and out shot a rage of black fur, biting, snarling and hissing. In seconds, the entire area was covered in a black mass of hunger.

“These my boys are your new comrades. They are loyal and obedient. They do not fail me as they are allergic to failure. Just watch while they make failure into success. He who has not done what I wished will now enable us all to learn a valuable lesson. Let the lesson begin.”

Without more being said, without any explanation or order, the rats leapt forward onto their victim who did not even have the chance to throw out a scream. They ripped and devoured, biting each other for the juiciest pieces and glorying in the time of their rebirth.

The band of boys watched with a mixture of fear and enjoyment. Teally, who had so recently been part of their crew, was now no more than a set of bones being gnawed by these marvellous creatures.

Some looked upon his remains and felt envy.