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 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.”

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Go Forth and Multiply

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King James Bible
And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

We didn’t sleep well last night. I was awake and struggling to return to the earlier shallows of dreams. Sophie was awake. She knew that I was awake. I knew that she was awake, but we did not communicate. We were deep in thought.

A few hours earlier, she had asked me to drop this ‘mental illness thing’. I knew she meant business. This had followed on the back of some news I had imparted to her about the events of my day. ‘Events’ make me seem busy, occupied, in demand. However, it’s just a word.

My Events:

Agencies? Begged me to do this new supply gig, begged. I said no. They phoned again and begged some more. I eventually said yes. I was originally booked into a Catholic school who had requested me. So that was given to somebody else. I told the other agency that I would be elsewhere next week so they cancelled my two remaining days. I went along to a second interview at a college on Tuesday. Spent half an hour there and lost a full day’s pay. They haven’t bothered getting back to me. The new school agency phoned me at 4pm, on Friday afternoon, to say that it had been cancelled for next week. I asked them if the other school was still on and they said they had given it to somebody else, but not to worry…because? Fuck, fucking nose 👃

From a text to a friend.

It doesn’t take much imagination or empathy to understand my then state of mind. After telling my wife, she, too, fell into despair.

“We are going to lose the house!”

I thought about telling her that it was too big to lose, but thought otherwise.

“How much of your savings have you left?”

I had been watching my savings since June. I had been watching them diminish. I had been telling myself that there would be a cut-off point, a moment when decisions would have to be made. Up until now, I hadn’t done anything.

Voices were raised for the first time in almost a year. She told me that she was taking the girls to the cinema for the night. She needed to get out of the house. I accused her of abandoning me and she agreed. To add fuel to the fire, she told me that we would have to sell the house and that it, “would break her heart.” She was right and I was wrong; I know that now.

I am fifty-five years old. I have no recognisable source of income. I still have children to raise and a mortgage to pay. I need to decide what to do about it.

My best plan was to procrastinate. Yet I was there, at that moment when something had to be done. My dreams had been just that, empty thoughts drifting over a harsh landscape, hoping to find somewhere to lay down roots. I am writing now, still tired from the night’s non-sleep. My wife is hanging out washing and not communicating. Well, she is, but not in spoken terms.

Our usual routine for Saturday morning is to wake up, make two mugs of tea, sit in bed, talk a little and peruse the day’s news headlines. We used to read newspapers that were made of paper. In the distant past, before ‘the will of the people’ determined that we would be leaving Europe, we would share French or Spanish property porn. The act of looking for dream houses in foreign countries lifted us. Now that is gone and the only thing my wife could say to me was, “You need a plan.”

MICHAEL CAINE

The moment in The Italian Job when a plan is needed.

We never found out what happened to that bus and its hapless passengers. My hope was that somehow they would be able to pull the bullion back, rebalance the vehicle, and then escape through the from door with their hard-fought, but ill-gotten gains, intact. The law of gravity and probability would have told me otherwise.

The plan I have is to get out of teaching and into something that wants me and that I want. Writing is there, but that is part of the dream. It’s not yet real. Nobody pays to read it. I can learn to work with my hands which will involve an apprenticeship of sorts in North Wales. I need those skills and I need to be out of the false structures and regimes that have govern my recent life. I have a pension of sorts (and a pauper’s plot) so, I could take that now. I…

Brokencomets

There’s that bloody rock again.

 

I could go forth and multiply my chances of doing something worthwhile; and keep my marriage. 

It was Hamlet who struggled with indecision, forever wondering if he should act or not act. He even had a dead Dad who spoke to him every now and again. Perhaps what is happening to me is that I am slowly turning into a Shakespearean tragic character. That could be a question, an answer, or another prevarication. Who knows? It is said that those people who do not mobilise themselves in times of war tend to be the ones most likely to lose their lives. When outrageous fortune is flung against you, it is a wise decision to get out of its trajectory.

My hands have for many years been those of a wanna-be writer and poet, but they will now learn to work for their living. They will saw wood, mix concrete, and build fences. They will cut and callous and grow hard against the coming winter. They will grasp onto the very fibres of a life that needs to be pulled back into being. I have spent too long knocking at the door of education and will now move on.

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When we first moved into our then dilapidated home, we were met with radiators that were as useful as this. Like the rest of the house, they were old and obsolete, in need of replacement. We found out that it wasn’t the fault of the radiators but the fact the central-heating system predated the Ark and hadn’t worked since the great flood.

My friend told me recently that we are all destined to become radiators.

When we are young and dynamic, people notice us. When we get older (he thinks fifty is the critical age) we are not even noticed in a room.

We are ‘radiators’.  

But can they multiply?

The Piper 29

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His muscles had already begun to tense for action even before he heard a thing. When he heard the car pull up, Michael ran to the door and opened it.

His mother had left him concerned and now she was home. He was puzzled, then, to see her turning towards the opposite side of the road, eyes following those of her youngest son and leading to the stranger who was standing in shadow. Danger was the first word that ran across his mind.

Michael moved out into the open and beckoned his mother to come inside quickly.

She turned with a smile, that was not quite hers, and indicated with a shrug of her shoulders that all was well.

He was reminded of dreams he had had, dreams in which a dark stranger made his way to their door, knocked and was invited in. The stranger, who appeared familiar at first, changed completely once he had gained access. No longer a man at all, the thing clad in darkness, would smile its triumph before getting ready to set about its work. That was the point at which Michael would wake, sweating, stifling a scream of warning, legs preparing to run, to run at the invader.

“Quickly before he gets us,” he spilled out still in the flood of panic.

His mother looked back at him questioningly. She was confused by his actions and showed it in the slightly embarrassed smile that flickered along her face. There was something else that Michael saw that night, something almost concealed, something that was close to contempt.

“Don’t be so stupid Michael, it’s only Nick.”

Michael looked towards her, this time it was his turn to wear a questioning expression.

“Nick, Michael. The man who made Brian live again,” added Pete by way of explanation.

And by then the stranger, who was known as Nick, had started to cover the ground between them and, as Michael studied his features, a spark of recognition lit in the twilight of his memory.

“We need to talk,” said the stranger.

Then it came to him; it was the voice on the phone, the one that sounded like Dad’s. Michael listened harder to the underlying tones.  He looked once more at the figure, half expecting his father to be standing there, fully wishing that it had all been a lie, a joke that time had played upon them, but it was still just Nick, the stranger who had made Brian live.

“Can we go inside? It’s not safe out here. He has his spies everywhere.”

Once inside, they sat around the kitchen table.

Michael tried to gauge the intentions of this man who had just, quite literally, come out of the dark. The features that had brought back memories were now different, the light of the kitchen was sharper.

Nick was anything between thirty-five and forty years old. There was a flurry of grey starting to appear at his temples, but beyond that there were no tell-tale lines or wrinkles. Michael found himself staring rudely at the visitor whilst his mother made tea. Above his left eye socket was the faintest of marks, something that had long since healed. A childhood accident, he thought. Nick caught his gaze but didn’t display any signs of annoyance, he merely smiled back and nodded, making Michael want to apologise; which he didn’t. There was something else written within the gloom of Nick’s eyes.

Laura brought cups of steaming tea to the table and then sat down. She ought to have been full of questions, asking what on earth could have prompted him to find them and how, indeed, had he found his way to where they lived? She was not.

Michael watched, in growing confusion, as his mother went about the business of entertaining an uninvited visitor without venturing close to an enquiry. Chris, on the other hand, showed deep interest in the stranger. Always reserved, Chris betrayed this with sharp head movements, ones that were distinctly birdlike. He was following the action, letting his eyes assess each of the players, sizing up what was going on. Pete sat comfortably to the side of Nick, almost serene.

Once Laura was seated alongside the rest, Nick began.

“You are in grave danger; all of you. There is a force out there that means you harm.”

He looked into the faces of those who sat around him and felt sorrow for what they must now endure.

“You have come to its notice, as I did, and once it has you in his sights, it is almost impossible to escape. The most you can hope for is to hide. There are many hiding, even those that are still conscious, and that is what it wants. It wants the good to be so afraid that they do nothing.”

The gathering was stunned into silence by this keen imitation of a soothsayer. The dark message was delivered in tones that appeared to be at odds with the warning. The voice held a youthful quality that belied the speaker’s age. However, when he spoke again, it was the Nick of today whose vocal chords had undergone the prerequisite sandpapering of time.

Laura smiled, the smile that had hardly flitted from her face since her return. Michael wondered if she might not be indulging the quiet ravings of this madman, a kindly madman by all accounts, but nonetheless, a MADMAN.

At the mention of the threat, Chris had flinched. Michael had seen it though nobody else seemed to have done so. A sharpness had cut across his eyes suggesting the memory of pain. It had only been a momentary flicker of a change, but Michael had definitely seen it. A second later, Chris did a reconnoitre of the other faces gathered at the table to see if he had been spotted. Michael was looking down into his cup of tea by then and Chris felt relieved that he had gotten away with whatever he had been thinking about.

“What is it?” Michael asked.

Nick turned to him then and looked deeply into to his eyes.

“Some thing old. In the past it has been known by many names. You have heard of Pan, the Pied Piper?”

“Stories for children,” Michael returned.

“Stories for children, yes. It is still coming for you.”

This was certainly a lunatic sitting before them but the others were listening.