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.

 

Purposeful Hand Use Increases Satisfaction. For Plants And Beyond.

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Purposeful hand use enhances well-being in a technologically saturated culture.

Research has shown that creating or tending things by hand enhances our mental health and makes us happy.  Dr. Kelly Lambert (bertlab.com) explored the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood.  She found that hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise. Too much time on technological devices and the fact that we buy almost all of what we need rather than having to make it has deprived us of processes that provide pleasure, meaning and pride.  Making things promotes psychological well-being. Process is important for happiness because when we make, repair or create things we feel vital and effective. It’s about losing ourselves to the moment, allowing the rest of the world to continue without us having to notice and just making things.

When I was a young man, my father often pointed out that I did not study for my subjects at school nor did I make things (I wasn’t good with my hands). Ergo, I was set for a life of non-achievement, dreaming and possible drug use. I hate to admit that his jibes would come at least 75% true. He never, ever watched me play sport so had not a clue about how good at that I possibly was. In truth, I was and always have been, up until the night of the burnout, a dreamer. Now, I only dream about tooth extraction. I also dream that I will one day be good with my hands.

Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor.  Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. Peak moments occur as one putters, ponders and daydreams. One can be tickled, moved or transformed by a thought or idea along the way as well as by the endpoint.

Psychology Today 

 

My Little Big-Man phase of being a landscape gardener exposed me to the joys of building or creating things of feverish beauty or of beautiful functionality. Perhaps, I tended towards the functional with my love of creating lawns from the madness of an overgrown garden or simply creating fences whose geometry was simply gorgeous. My landscaping years were my forty-night escape into the ethereal wilderness of the immediate present (I was living for the moment). Indeed, that present sometimes presented me with a feeling of absolute euphoria!

 

 

Creating something with your hands fosters pride and satisfaction, but also provides psychological benefits. Because it can uncover and channel inner stirrings, wounds smart less and growth ensues. When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood. As you sift, shape, move and address your project your inner being moves too. As one of my clients said, “It isn’t so much what you can do, but what you do do.” The process itself provides value.

Creativity is a powerful tool for altering the inner life because making things or transforming inner states into outer productions fosters solace and satisfaction, even if the stimulus arose from an injury. Wordsworth described poetry as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.”   Take it out of your mind, through your hand and into the world. Fragmentation and tumult turn into focused drive. Order arises out of disorder. And because it is your own order–organic and not imposed–it provides a special peace or feeling of resolution.  As another client said to me after she finished typing a novella that stemmed from a troubling event, “I got rid of the story.” This is a form of sublimation or turning the raw into the refined. You may or may not be conscious of what perturbs you, but creative action with your hands, mind and body can turn undermining forces into usable energies.

Psychology Today

My own writing provides me with the opportunity to create and to grow something. This book/blog started off as a way of capturing the time immediately after my moment. It ran on and on with me eventually seeing it begin to turn into something of value. The book/blog has helped me through a very dark time and I turn to it for solace and solutions. Unfortunately, solutions never write themselves, only the individual can do that. But it still doesn’t get me away from the need to build. That’s why I found myself heading across England and into North Wales. For me, the chance to work with my hands was a chance to free myself of the creeping self-doubt that was beginning to cloud my days. It also provided the possibility of me learning ‘valuable skills’ that could be employed to make money without having to turn to an ordinary employer.
My friend had told me that he had a job laying a floor. I thought to myself, as I often do as my skills of thinking to anyone else (telekinesis) are rather shockingly bad, that this would be easy and enjoyable.
Blessed are the tremendously naive for they will be rewarded with a great bloody shock.
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Imagine this as a work place in which workers mix concrete, carry bags of sand and cement and spend hours on end bent double. Oh, and let’s not forget that I would endure the constant banging of my head on the ridiculously low ceiling and beams.
Dust, damp and dangerous levels of damaging material floating in the dead air, were just a few delicacies of my dreamy return to the land of the men who are good with their hands.
But it felt strangely liberating. 

Many thanks to:

Carrie Barron, M.D.

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 Problem With Believing In Oneself

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I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

The Piper 33

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Laura Andrews woke with the night still clinging to her.

Her body ached with a phantom exertion. She had been back in the familiar landscape of the previous nights, but this time there was the voice, the voice of the Good Doctor, the one who had spoken to her so kindly.

Laura. Laura. Laura. 

Her name was being washed across a black sea.

Laura, Laura Andrews, have you forgotten your marriage vows? Have you forgotten the promises that you made? In sickness and in health you said.

Forever and ever, forsaking all others

So, poor old Simon is dead. He’s as dead as a doornail and you, you’ve wasted no time in finding something else to fill your bed with?

“I haven’t slept with anyone. I have always been faithful to Simon. I have always been his wife and I have stuck by my wedding vows.”

Oh dear, aren’t we a little sensitive about that?

Laura knew what was coming next.

It was an odd place to have an accident, don’t you think? Is it not a street known for its prostitutes? They have a quaint name for it. The Red Light District; sounds so comforting. Christmas Eve, the celebration of the birth of light out of darkness, a time for the family to unite and your husband, your dear loyal husband is found dead in his car in a street used by prostitutes.

“It wasn’t like that, you bastard. It wasn’t like that. Simon was faithful. He was the most wonderful father in the world!”

Was he a good husband Laura? Were you a good wife?

Laughter arose from beyond the horizon and its power raised a wave that she could see grow and grow. Standing on the black-ash beach, Laura could see its approach and could hear thousands of angry voices. She tried to run, but the black ash held her fast. She could not even pull herself from this depth of sleep and feared that, if she could not escape, everything would be swept away. She would be consumed by its greed.

She was dragged along the floor of existence. She saw Simon chasing a girl along a dark street. She saw the funeral, the empty aisles where their friends should have been. She saw herself giving birth to Peter and then she saw Christopher lying in a pool of blood with rats racing over him.

She screamed and they laughed at her. She screamed from the depth of her being and still they tried to pull her on.

I will give you more than I grant many others. I will give you the face of your executioner.

And there was Michael rising up before her. He was looking as though he was going to strike her and her screaming took her over the edge of sleep into a darkened alleyway where a figure stood with something clasped in its hand. It raised it like an assassin would raise a knife and came toward her.

Laura turned and ran.

The darkness surrounded her every step and pulled at her attempts to flee. There were things moving on either side of her, dark slithery masses that watched through dead eyes. She knew that they were waiting for her to trip, to fall so that they could be upon her. They would rip at her flesh until nothing was left but the memory of the attack.

Ahead of her was a bluish light and there was someone standing within is sphere. The silhouette called out to her yet she was too far away to hear what it was saying. The footsteps behind Laura were quickening and becoming heavier. She knew that if she were to turn to look upon her pursuer, she would be swallowed up. What was there was not a man; it was something else, it was pain, pain that had lasted forever.

She looked down and as she did she saw that she was no longer running on her feet for they had worn away; she was running on legs made of wood that were splintering with each stride.

Run Mrs Andrews, run towards me.

It was the voice of her dreams. Laura turned and saw it, a manic grin behind the wheel of a black car, its headlights cutting the distance between her and safety. Its hunger was forcing her backwards, forcing her to lose her balance on legs that were turning to matchsticks.

And then she fell.

 

“Mum, Mum, Mum!”

It was Michael’s voice rising up out of the void.

Laura felt the stab of fear as she remembered the warning.

“Mum, Mum wake up, you’re dreaming. It’s only a dream. You’re okay. It’s me Michael.”

 

Her eyes flashed open and he saw terror written upon them.

“Get away from me,” she hissed. “Get away from all of us, you murderer.”