The Piper 61

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Flowers’ plan appeared to be moving like clockwork.

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

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

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

“Graham?”

“Yes, Christopher.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir?”

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

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

“What? What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who did this to you?”

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

“Tell me how this happened.”

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

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

“Sir?”

“You had a gun. Am I right?”

“Yes sir.”

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

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

“Oh. That is rather tragic.”

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

“Are all the groups in the basement?”

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

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

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

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

“But, sir.”

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

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

“Just remember to put on a good show.”

The boy was confused, but nodded all the same.

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

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

“Is everyone here?”

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

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

Again, the dramatic pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some looked upon his remains and felt envy. 

 

The Piper 60 (does it never end?)

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The explosion confirmed their deepest fears.

The boys had made it to the prearranged classroom just before the blast.

Graham could see that a change had come upon both of the lads. Something had stolen the last ounce of their youthful optimism. It was the same something that was preying upon them all and, if it was not checked, it would have them.  

“This is where we begin,” said their teacher.

With that, he led them along the corridors whilst the screaming and shouting permeated the walls. When they heard the gun shots, they stopped dead in their tracks.

“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr Hunter offered.

“This is nothing to what will come,” added Michael knowingly.

They had devised a plan and were praying for it to work.

The basement had been rigged with petrol bombs and fireworks. There were fuses running everywhere and, as Mr Hunter had said, it would take just one spark to send the place sky high. However long they had been planning this, they had done it well. If it had not been such an act of – and he thought about the word he was about to use – terrorism, yes terrorism, then he would have been amazed at the work they had managed to accomplish. Some planning and organisation. However, what he did feel was revulsion.

“What about the police?”

“Sir, I don’t wish to be rude but the police probably won’t arrive. We think that some of them are in on this. Haven’t you noticed that there is an awful lot of violent crime going on every day without anyone doing anything about it?”

“So, if the police don’t come, it’s just down to us?”

“Us and whoever else is left that’s not on the other side.”

It took a while for this to reach its mark, but when reality, or this thing that was masquerading as reality, set in he became more resolute.

“Well then let’s do it.”

They were moving downstairs when another set of shots rang out. Their looks of concern met briefly and then they were back to their jobs. Mr Hunter used his key to open a store cupboard and then let himself and the boys in. Once inside, he locked the door behind him and turned on the light. He moved to the back of the space and started to pull at a loose parquet tile. It moved and he was able to lift it out of its place. Then he grabbed hold of a short piece of rope that lifted a two-by-two foot section out revealing a ladder that reached down into the bowels of the building.

“Another throwback to the War,” he smiled and started to climb down. “This will lead us to the basement. There is another storeroom, the one that you slept in I think. If we can get in there, we might be able to get them out.”

“We have to get them all out sir. We can’t leave any to those bastards,” the voice of Chris snarled.

The older man looked at him briefly.

This is what it does to us, he thought, this is what we become.

 

 

 

Laura jerked forward in her seat as she heard the first explosion.

A plume of smoke rose quickly into the indifferent morning air as she watched from the car.

“What the hell was that?” she asked turning to Nick.

“That’s how it always starts; with a bang. They’re out to make a statement. They want to show their followers their vision and the means by which to achieve it. The explosion is pure Hollywood. It’s for effect, but worse will follow.”

As they waited in the car deciding on their next move, they heard the first rapport of gunfire. After the next short burst, they were out of the car and moving quickly towards the gates. Around them, moved the occasional curtain with a face standing far back. It struck them that most people just did not seem to be home.

“Oi, you stop.”

It was a young voice calling from behind them.

Laura spun round and saw that the voice belonged to a child no older than thirteen. He was out of school uniform and had one of those hoods pulled up so that no one could see the whole of his face properly. With a mixture of fascination and horror, Laura noticed a gun being swung in front of the boy.

“I heard the explosion,” she started, “and I wanted to get to see my boys. They go to that school.”

“What’s their names?” the boy asked.

“Andrews. Michael and Christopher Andrews.”

At this, the boy let out an elongated phew of exclamation.

“Andrews. So you’re their mother? That is a bit of luck. Mr Flowers will be pleased with what I’ve got him. Now, you can meet the boys.”

He pointed the gun in the direction he wanted her to follow.

Unfortunately, he had not noticed Nick walking quietly around his blindside. He had been aware of something, but it had been vague. Nothing to worry about was the thought that passed through his mind as a single blow landed on a pressure point at the base of his neck. All he felt was a thud and then a tingling sensation as his body was guided to the ground.

Nick had already taken the gun and was checking it. He was moving an expert eye over its workings and didn’t notice the way Laura was looking at him.

“What’s the matter?”

“It’s you,” she said. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“That boy never even saw you. I saw you but he never once looked towards where you were standing. How did you do that?”

“It’s them. Many of them can’t see me. I think that they may not really want to see me. Denial or something. I am not supposed to be. In the hospital, I think they wanted to turn me into what they are, but it didn’t work. The more they experimented, the more incomprehensible I became to them. It’s as if I’m an aberration, something that defies their logic. They can’t understand how and why I am so they don’t admit my existence. Anyway, we can use it against them. Come on now and take this.”

He handed her the gun.

“Do you think you can use it if you need to?”

“I’ll try.”

But then she looked at the child on the ground and wondered if she could really ever use such a weapon on one so young.

 

The Piper 59

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It was a forced march to some secret place.

“Oh, Mr Flowers is going to look forward to seeing you. It seems that you broke your promise to him and that can’t be good. I think, and this is just a conservative guess, that he will take a long time exacting his revenge. I think that you will think, and wish, that you’d never been born. But that’s just me thinking and nobody has ever taken much notice of that.”

Chris was thinking that this was a veritable monologue for such a brute. Whatever was affecting them was obviously bestowing more power both physically and mentally. They were no longer a rag-tag army of truants and racketeers, now they were behaving as if they were in a real force. The fact that this one had a gun, or something that looked like one, did not bode well.

“You’re probably a first, you know,” Chris shot out.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re probably the first person in your entire family that is able to string a few sentences together, and for them to make some kind of sense. You father would be proud of you; if you had one.”

His captor stopped and pushed Chris to the wall.

“You’d better learn to shut that trap of yours before it gets you into trouble.”

“Dah, dah! You may not have realised, but I am in trouble so what I said still stands, you bastard.”

The pistol was pulled from his assailant’s pocket and rammed underneath Chris’s chin. He had played his final card and was winning. If he could make the ginger kid do something stupid on the playground, he might be able to raise the alarm. He’d probably be dead, but it would work.

“Don’t get so close you fat git. You stink and I’d rather not take that to my grave with me.”

The fury was building in the other boy and it was translating itself into a trigger hand that was shaking. Chris’s goading had worked.

“I’m not going to let anyone else have the pleasure of doing this,” the ginger kid said and he roughly pulled Chris away from the wall and down the side of the building.

It led to a rough patch of ground that rose steadily up a small incline before falling away. Once at the top of the mound, Chris was tripped and pushed so that he fell into the dip. His arm screamed out in agony, but he swallowed the pain. He was not going to let this attacker have the satisfaction of that. Once he’d stopped rolling, he turned to face his would-be executioner.

“Any last wishes? Would you like me to tell your mother anything when we find her?”

The gun was being pointed and Chris thought that this was right. He had been a traitor to his own family and had sold his soul for the chance of spending one last day with his father. He thought of his mother and his brothers. Now, he was going the same way as his father and that was good. He deserved it.

With a smile on his face, the other boy pulled back the safety. Mr Flowers had made them do this over and over again during the last few weeks – just to be sure. He liked the feel of the gun in his hand; it was as if it was meant to be. The thing in front of him was unrecognisable from the one that had beaten him in the fight at the beginning of the year. Was it that the Andrews kid had changed so much or had he? It didn’t matter. Soon many would die this way. Unlike this one they would be begging for their lives. Some would be spared and they would be allowed to join the crusade, but many would be left to feed the carrion.

“Nothing to say? Oh, and by the way, I’ve got a silencer on this so that nobody will hear me. Bye…”

But before he could properly finish, a huge force hit him plumb in the back.

The wind rushed from his lungs and stars into his field of vision. He was falling forward in the same manner that the Andrews kid had done and when he landed, he could only turn to see what was probably a foot moving at speed towards his face. The force of it spun him round and blood instantly shot out of his nose. The accompanying crack told him that bones had been broken. Nevertheless, he still attempted to get to his feet before a series of well aimed punches knocked whatever senses he had into a temporary oblivion. He would, at some later stage, wish that it had been permanent.

Michael looked down at his work and was pleased.

His brother was safe and the one who would have murdered him was now unconscious. Next to the inert body was the gun that Michael knelt to retrieve. He picked it up and studied it with a certain detachment. He checked its weight in both hands and looked along the sights. His eyes were blank as he pushed the gun into the temple of the one who was prone.

“Michael, what are you doing? Michael, don’t do it.”

But Michael was someplace else now.

He was in a clearing in a forest and it was winter. At the side of the road were the remains of people. Men, women and children had been herded here to be shot in the skull. There were even babies amongst them. Michael had heard the shooting from the woods and had known what to expect. He had moved quickly and silently towards the place and had come upon this.

His spirit shrieked out in anguish. And then he saw the soldier.

In truth, he was but a boy around the same age as himself, but he was wearing the garbs of the Waffen-SS. His comrades had marched on and had left him to search the corpses for valuables. They were moving fast, taking villages by surprise and they were not taking prisoners. The boy soldier never knew what hit him as the butt of Michaels’s rifle smashed into the side of his head. He lay there in the snow recovering his senses. Blood was streaming along the side of his face and into the snow where it froze almost instantly. His eyes were able to focus on the figure in front of him and his first thought was that this was an angel, a dark avenging angel who had come to punish his misdeeds.

“Don’t kill me,” pleaded the surprisingly childlike voice. “Don’t kill me. I have a mother and family. I am sorry, but I just search the bodies. I do not kill. Please forgive me.”

“It is not my forgiveness that you should ask for, it is theirs,” Michael said pointing at the frozen corpses. “Is there any god that could forgive this? I should shoot you now and save God the trouble.”

The child soldier was losing control and he cried out his pleas though stutters and tears.

“If you kill me, you will be as bad as they are. You will be a killer too.”

Michael thought about this and knew it to be true.

“You will run from this place and you will hide. If ever I see you again wearing that aberration, I will kill you and take you back to Hell myself. Do you understand?”

The boy nodded and attempted to clasp the feet that had spared him. Michael felt revulsion and moved away.

“Michael,” his brother’s voice was calling from somewhere beyond the woods, “don’t do it!”

Michael took the cold metal away from the temple of his brother’s attacker.

“That was close,” he uttered.

Chris nodded and tried to smile. He couldn’t quite pull it off.

Before making their way back into the school, they bound and gagged the ginger boy.

This time, they had the feeling that this act of kindness would come back to haunt them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Piper 58 (getting close to the end).

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Laura parked Brian on a street that was unnaturally quiet. It was one of those that ran adjacent to the school and would, on a normal school day, be filled with cars dropping off children for their accepted hours of education. This morning, it was deserted.

“Mum I know what you’re going to say to this, but I think that I should go in there. Make sure Michael’s all right.”

“You’re right, Chris. It is a bad idea.”

Chris’s arm was beginning to hurt more. Mr Hunter, who wanted to be called by his first name, had made a rudimentary sling before heading off with Michael. Just another case of people caring for him when he did not deserve it. He was glad of the pain. It reminded him of what he had done.

“But we’re sitting here whilst Michael’s in there. How are we going to know if he needs our help?”

“He’ll call us, won’t he?” She flourished her own mobile phone to add to her point.

Chris showed the mobile phone he shared with his brother as his response.

“He left it on the window sill. I think he did it on purpose.”

Laura’s face was struck by a flash of astonishment.

“Why in God’s name would he do that?”

“I think that he thinks that they’ve managed to get his number. When that shop was burnt down, they sent an email to us with pictures of it happening. If it’s that NuNation stuff, who’s to know what else they can do?”

His mother looked at her own phone as if it was infected and dropped it to the floor of the car.

“I think you might be right, Chris,” concluded Nick.

Chris felt the pain in his arm grow a little more intense.

“You need to be there don’t you? You need to make sure that your brother is looked after properly this time.”

“Yes, I do.”

“What are you suggesting, Nick?”

“I’m not suggesting anything. It’s Chris who made the suggestion.”

“Yes Mum, it was me and I think you understand why.”

Laura looked down into the palms of her hands as if they would provide an answer. They gave none.

“I don’t have to tell you to take care, do I?”

“No.”

“But remember what happened, stays back there. He got to me as well. Don’t feel that you need to do anything stupid to make it up to your brother. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mum.”

“And don’t let them see you.”

“I won’t.”

He was out of the door and walking towards the school before she could say anything else.

“I love you,” she whispered into the growing space between them.

Then, he was gone.

 

 

Being part of the landscape had never been too difficult a task for Chris.

As Chris stood in the cold morning, he watched the comings and goings of Podrall’s former gang. What he did not see was the boy himself.

The happenings of the previous few weeks had taken their toll upon attendance. Only small groups of kids were congregating where once there would have been many. The bus drivers should have noticed this and passed on the message to someone who cared, but nobody seemed bothered and the drivers, with their heavily lidded eyes, had too much else to think about.

The teachers too looked haunted. Many were arriving in their cars, sitting for a time before attempting any entrance to the building. Then the would find something to look for amongst their possessions in an attempt to find something that would make them turn back. Disappointment met each of them. Meanwhile, growing numbers of boys were forming a perimeter around the school.

Chris pulled his hood up and kept to the line of buildings. He tried walking with the ordinary indifferent strides that were the accepted marching method of the students here. He pulled his shoulders in and pushed his head down so that he was only watching his steps. Along the way, he made sure to try the handles of each of the doors as he passed. The doors were not opened until 8.45 and it was perhaps a futile effort. However, he needed some luck and this was the best way of manufacturing some.

A teacher hurried along clutching a briefcase to his chest. Chris recognised him as one of the maths teachers. When he came face to face with him, the teacher’s eyes showed that same emptiness he had been seeing in many of late.

“Sir,” he didn’t know his name, “sir, do you know where Mr Hunter will be?”

The teacher stared at the boy who had asked this question and replied, “At home if he has any sense, as you should be.”

Without further advice, the teacher hurried along as if being caught out in the open air for too long would be dangerous.

“I thought I recognised that voice.”

Chris turned to find that it was the ginger kid that he had fought in the playground all that time ago. He was walking towards Chris with a renewed sense of swagger whilst withdrawing a pistol from under his coat.

“See this, here? This is going to be your ticket out of this school. I’d like to say thank you for that little ruck we got into and this is the best way that I could think of doing that.”

It was then that he saw the sling that carried Chris’s broken arm.

“Broken your arm? Good. When we get the rest of your family we’ll break your heart as well. Now follow me.”

From a window in the History room, Michael and his teacher watched as his younger brother was led away.

“I can’t let them take him like that. I’m going after them,” said Michael resolutely.

“But what of the rest? If you get caught, what will happen to the rest of them?”

“They can wait. It’s my brother first.”

 

The Piper 57

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Somewhere else in that ominous corridor between dark and dawn, another car kicked into life.

Joel Podrall had made it back to his home and had stolen the keys that belonged to his mother’s new boyfriend. They had been sleeping, probably drunk when he had entered and he smiled as he left. He knew what awaited them and did not care to warn the pair.

The car was a Ford that had been messed about a little. Concealed beneath the fading paintwork of the bonnet was an engine that was never really supposed to be there. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The meaty roar that greeted his foot, as he tapped the accelerator, brought an overdue smile back to his face. He knew that he would be out of the city in no time and hoped that he would be able to reach some sort of safety not too long after that. One thing that he did know was that when Flowers decided to come for him, he would have to be as far away as he could. Flowers would show no mercy.

He had told nobody, not even Flowers, of the stash that he had managed to build up. His pockets bulged with notes gained through drug transactions, theft and deception. Flowers would not have understood. He no longer understood Flowers.

With his limited reasoning, Joel tried to work out whether he had ever liked the other boy, whether anything that they shared could be called friendship. He realised that he was thinking too much and that was never a good sign. Nevertheless, the boy that he had come to know as his gang’s leader was not the same one who now walked the world: he was different, so very, very different.

Podrall pushed in the clutch and eased the gear lever. The handbrake was off and he was away manoeuvring carefully through the night. Tomorrow was the big day and it was a shame that he would miss it. There were some kids and teachers at that school whom he really wouldn’t have minded setting fire to, himself.

Hopefully, he would see the ‘tragedy’ on the news or something.

 

 

Liam Flowers sat facing his leather friend.

He had grown to like the smell of his companion and had started seeing beauty in the contours of the creased leather face.

They had been sitting for a long time awaiting The Piper’s return and had both taken the opportunity to study each other in detail. Of course, the Leatherman was dead and could not be relied upon to share the ruminations that the boy had, but Flowers was just satisfied with the overall aesthetics of the matter.

There was, indeed, beauty in death and today would be the day that would light up the world to these new possibilities.

 

 

Half an hour later, two figures found themselves crouching in what should have been a long-unvisited passageway beneath St Agnes.

“You see,” said Mr Hunter pointing at the row of cables, “someone has been messing about with this.”

Michael looked above him and saw the way the cables had been pulled out of their protective cladding. Many were hanging loosely from the ceiling and some appeared to have been partially cut.

“What do you think they are trying to do?”

“Well, it’s not just minor vandalism that’s going on. If I were insane, I would say that somebody is trying to cause a fire or even an explosion.”

The teacher indeed knew his way around. He said that he knew the school better than he knew his own face and Michael doubted him not one little bit.

They had arrived in the basement through a series of passages that had started beneath an old army reporting post dating back to the Second World War. Mr Hunter had said that he thought that it could have been older than that. He said that it was not uncommon for these places to have thousands of yards of hidden passages beneath them that would usually lay undiscovered until some essential construction work needed to be done. As this was on school grounds, a school that was already being marked for closure, that time may not have been far off. Other events would make that academic.

“How did you find them?” Michael asked.

“I did a bit of digging around in books and then for real. I dropped a cup of tea once, when this was still being used as an extra classroom and watched how the liquid just disappeared through the ground. If you’ve seen The Great Escape you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”

Michael had seen the film and had always enjoyed it. His dad had said that it was a classic and had lamented the fact that it was not always shown on Christmas Day. He missed his father enormously and wished that he were here to protect them. Now, however, Mr Hunter was pushing ahead into the basement area. He opened a door and pointed to a barely visible alcove that was acting as a storeroom. Inside were lots of boxes covered in dust.

“That’s probably where your brother was sleeping.”

Again Michael wondered what power had possessed him to do such a thing. If the Piper had succeeded, his brother would have been his. That would have driven a rift between the family bonds (broken the connection) and that would have sealed their fate. They would have perished along with everything else. He was thinking about how close it had come when, from overhead, they heard the unmistakeable sound of footsteps.

Michael looked at the older man and whispered, “Is there anywhere to hide?”

His teacher looked back and replied, “Back the way we came, quickly.”

They moved at speed, yet in near silence, across the basement floor and managed to slip into the partially hidden alcove before the footsteps turned into a real presence. At the back of the alcove was a false wall. The teacher pushed the wall on its left and it swung open. They were inside before anyone noticed. On the other side of the partition two sets of footsteps came to a halt.

“I thought I heard something, did you?”

Michael recognised a voice as one of Podrall’s lads.

“Probably rats. This place will be crawling with them.”

“Yeah, rats. I’ve seen loads of them around lately. The other night about a hundred just came pouring out of the sewers in the middle of the city centre. I was on the bus and I watched ’em racing down the high street like they owned it. It scared the hell out of the shoppers. About ten of ’em, massive they were, broke off and chased this woman with her dog. It was a poodle and they ripped it to shreds. You should have seen the look on her face as they tore into it, she was petrified. Then they ran off as if nothing had happened.”

The one whose voice Michael had recognised listened intently before adding, “Yes, there are lots of stories like that. It’s as if we’re in competition with them. Who is the baddest?”

“Do you think it’s anything to do with Flowers?”

“I think everything’s got something to do with Flowers these days don’t you?”

The other nodded.

“Is it true that Podrall has left?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Just heard it.”

“That’s just dangerous talk. If I were you I’d stop thinking it right now before somebody else hears. Anyway,” he said looking around, “it might be rats down here but I’m not hanging around to find out. Have we got the stuff that he promised us?”

“I think that it’s upstairs behind the stage. Hope mine’s an automatic. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.”

With their added confidence, the two shared a smirk before heading back up the stairs.

Michael looked towards his teacher in confirmation.

“Yes, Michael it looks like the worst case scenario. Let’s see what we can do to stop it.”

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Time was running out.

 

 

 

 

 

I Prefer Water To Blood

 

images-799It’s a healthy thing to like the people you have been brought up with, especially if they are in your own family.

Families are about protection and safety. They provide our first glimpse of micro-society and prepare us (hopefully) for the macro one. If your first taste of the micro is off-putting, the macro may taste like an ocean of shit.

I never understood why some people chose to distance themselves from their kin. Some moved far away and never shared a word. The tales of long-lost aunties or uncles, brothers or sisters, were always a quiet source of conversation amongst mourners at funerals or weddings. The exiled were the outcasts, or the odd ones. The myriad of reasons that went into that decision to separate could be appreciated, but their drastic solution did seem a little unforgiving and final.

The family ties with my original blood relations have become strained in the years since my dad died. He sat at the head of the table, issuing edicts, wise words, and crippling criticisms. My sisters worshipped him whilst I had qualified respect. Our natural discourse was debate; we found it difficult to agree. Since his death, my sisters and I have fallen away from each other.

In truth, I have always been a black sheep. I like the contrast. I may be contrary. What I have always been is someone who ploughs their own furrow. Ever since I was little, the differences between me and mine, my original family, have been stark. In later years these have become more evident and this has manifested itself in the distance that now lies between us. I would be a dreamer if I thought it was going to change anytime soon.

Now, I have my own family. It is a very different one from the one I grew up in. Here, there is more love and forgiveness. We try to understand and support each other through difficult times, and there have been plenty of those.

My ties with my original family may now be strained, but I haven’t cut them.

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Perhaps the next wedding, or other occasion, will see improvement. 

 

 

Are You Burning Out?

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Signs of burnout:

· You are exhausted all the time, no matter how many hours you spend in bed

· A sense of isolation from other people, and even from yourself, to the extent of becoming a virtual recluse

· Ineffectual, no matter how much work you put in

· A feeling of emotional deadness

· Chronic anger even in the previously mild mannered

· Loss of empathy for other people’s problems even when it is your job to be empathetic

· Feeling of being trapped

· Increase in cynicism

· Loss of sense of humour

· Loss of sex drive in a relationship but increased interest in casual sex and other activities that can become addictive such as drinking, shopping and internet chatting

· Increase in physical problems including back and heart pain, headaches, frozen shoulder, chronic fatigue, adrenal and thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome, post-viral illnesses, viral meningitis and even heart attacks

· Rising dislike for yourself and others