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 36

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Few people knew it, but History was about to become just that.

The class was little over half full. Many of the students had been absent these last few days and so had been a number of teachers. Michael had been surprised to see that the government had become involved and had put the recent increase in school and work absenteeism down to the seasonal lack of sunlight.

Lack of sunlight!

It was explained that in countries where the sun decides to take a six month holiday, people become depressed. Depression led to self-medication and lots of individuals turned to alcohol or other such things to alleviate this. Others just stayed indoors. The government advice was that people should increase their vitamin intake, especially vitamin D. Many of the students at St Agnes had opted for a non-school medication  instead.

Many of the students sitting alongside Michael were ones he had only heard of when their names had been echoed into nothingness as the resister was called. Now they were all seated alongside him in the History room.

Mr Hunter was sitting on the edge of his desk explaining how the Nazis managed to seize power in Germany. Michael thought that he looked tired, the way his mother had started to look again.

“On the 30thof January 1933, Hitler gained what he was after. He was given the Chancellorship of Germany.”

The teacher surveyed his audience, a motley crew if he was to be honest, but they were quiet. Some, he suspected, were off in their own private thoughts (or whatever amounted to thinking). His one crumb of comfort was that the Andrews boy was present. He watched his keen eyes from his position at the front of the class and wished that more of them could be like him.

Since his coming to the school, even amidst all that was happening, Mr Hunter felt that the boy brought some hope. At last he had someone in his lessons who understood the processes of debate and reasoning. The others, even the ones who had promised to be academically able, had slowly closed down. It was as if they had given up. Being noticeably ‘brainy’ was not good for one’s chances of survival at St Agnes.

“We know that Germany was in a terrible state after their humiliating defeat in the First World War. This was made worse by the Great Depression of the 1930s, a depression that the country never really recovered from, but what other factors could have been involved in turning a leading European country into a state that did not merely condone violence, but also used it to increase its popularity?”

He looked out at his audience once again and waited for a show of hands that he knew would never come. Even the Andrews boy was a reticent participator today. Not being too eager to let his learners off the hook so quickly, the teacher waited.

Michael wanted to suggest something. He knew that he did not have the answer, but also knew that that was not what history was all about. People simply weighed up the evidence and measured one argument, one interpretation, against another. It was like playing Cleudo. Nevertheless, this morning he kept his hand down.

The lesson had been running for twenty minutes when the door opened and in walked Liam Flowers. He smiled at his classmates and raised a knowing eyebrow to Michael.

“Good afternoon, class. Good morning, Mr Hunter,” he flourished, turning to the man perched on his desk.

“And good afternoon to you, Mr Flowers. Did you have trouble finding us?”

“No, sir. I never have trouble finding anything I really want to find.”

He stared deeply into the eyes of the teacher. Mr Hunter looked back before cutting short  the contest. Michael watched the exchange from the back of the room and understood that something was taking place.

“If you would care to take a seat, you might find yourself interested in what we are discussing. I know that you are an enthusiastic student of history.”

Flowers had to hand it to the old man, he didn’t rise to the bait.

“And what,” the boy asked moving to the available place next to the Andrews boy, “would that be?”

“Michael Andrews, could you possibly inform your partner as to what we were discussing?”

This was a regular trick that the teacher used to make sure that everybody was listening. What hurt Michael was that Mr Hunter knew, had to know, that he had been the only one listening. It was bad enough having to sit next to Flowers, but having to openly engage in conversation was something else. Still, he was in the spolight. The whole group turned around in their seats to witness what was going to happen.

“Mr Hunter,” his throat felt suddenly dry and he instinctively swallowed. He coughed slightly and hoped this did not translate into obvious trepidation. “We,” he began once more, “were talking about Hitler’s rise to power. Mr Hunter wanted us to think about the factors that may have contributed to that.”

“Hitler again? Is he still banging on about him? Mr Hunter we’ve all had enough of Hitler. Why do we have to put up with you working through your own issues? It’s becoming just a little boring.”

“The rise of the German far right is an essential part of your study,” the history teacher replied calmly. “If you wish to do well in this course, you…”

“We get another teacher?”

“I was about to say that you attend both in body and in mind.”

“Not many faces here today are there?” Flowers was not to be outflanked. “I wonder if your audience might not be getting sick of the bleeding-heart liberal who is supposed to be teaching them about history, real history. What’s he been telling you about Hitler and the Jews?”

He turned to Michael. “You listen to him don’t you? What’s he been saying?”

“He didn’t have the chance to say much before you came in. We were just looking at the things that could have got Hitler into power.”

“Well that’s not difficult is it?” Flowers had the stage again. “Hitler came to power to save his country. No, he came to power to save the world from socialists and Jews. I dare say that our fine teacher over there might even fall into one of those categories. Do you, sir? Are you a Jew or a socialist?”

“I am your teacher and a human being who does not seek to persecute others for his own benefit. What are you, Mr Flowers?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I am Liam Flowers. If you are able to hang around for a little while, you’ll understand just who I am.”

There was silence.

Flowers watched the faces of the assembled to determine if anyone else had the balls to stand up to him. Nobody attempted to meet his gaze.

“And you,” he said looking at Michael once again, “do you believe that I am who I am?”

“No.”

Flowers thought for a moment.

“Very interesting. You deny me my existence?”

“Not that.”

“What then?”

“It’s the quotation. I think you know that you used it.”

“What’s that then?”

“I think I know what…” interjected Mr Hunter.

“We’re not interested in what you think, old man. Your time has run. What do you think, Andrews?”

“I think you have a problem. I think that you have a God complex.”

“God is the least of my problems.”

 

 

 

The Piper 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 Piper 34

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The muffled cries shook him from his sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nick? Who’s Nick?”

Her son did not give an answer.

 

Flowers watched the Leatherman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael and Chris arrived in school early that morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twas the night before Christmas and all around the house

Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.

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

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

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

He had reached another audience.

 

 

 

 

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 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.