I’ve decided to serialise this short story as it’s a little long for one go. More soon!
The Piper at the Back Gate
I was woken again by the sounds of panpipes playing somewhere beyond my garden fence. So soft I could scarcely hear it, the faint melody crept like the scent of midsummer along the vines of honeysuckle and into my bedroom window to tug me awake. I lay stupefied as the song wound around my heart and took a firm hold before dragging me to full wakefulness. The past few nights I’d woken in the same way but as my senses returned, so the melody faded and I’d sat on the edge of my bed in the darkness suddenly unsure of what I’d heard. The bright brash light of the bathroom had broken the spell utterly and I’d slid back into sleep like an otter into water.
But that night I could not turn to sleep again; the wild unearthly song that rose from my night garden could surely never emerge from a forgotten stereo left playing away to no one.
A faint breeze trembled the curtains but I didn’t go and peep out. I’m not sure why even now.
Instead I slipped from bed and crept downstairs barefoot and clad in the floating white nightie I’d always hoped made me look like the heroine from a gothic novel but in fact just made me look like a tent that has been blown away by a campsite gale. I found my way by memory and feel, not wanting to turn the lights on. Beyond the mess of the conservatory the garden seemed darker than normal and I stepped cautiously out onto the patio, my feet these days too tender to walk easily over bare concrete strewn with bird seed and escaped gravel.
The hideous orange glow of the streetlights had vanished as if the power for the whole area had been cut and the night sky was the purest shade of deep indigo studded with the white pinpoints of the distant stars, shining with a luminous and lovely light. A quarter moon hung golden in the sky, a harvest moon in the making.
The scent of flowers filled the still cool air; the final few flowers of the honeysuckle seemed to twinkle in the dim light and the lilac stars of the night-scented stocks poured their rich fragrance into the darkness. A single cricket began to thrum his song somewhere in the bushes, and the night breeze shook the shrubs. My feet were cold in the grass, and I could feel the moist earth beneath them.
Just as I began to think I had simply dreamed the music, I heard a faint trill, a little rill of playful music that made me certain this was no recording. The sound was rough and a little breathy, oddly inexpert like a talented child who has made a set of pipes and now seeks to play them.
To my surprise, the back gate was standing a little ajar. We seldom open it and to be honest, the padlock is stiff and hard to use. I put my hands to the top of the gate and I could feel that the bolt was drawn back and the padlock hung loose.
I wanted to slam the door shut, and to run back to the house and pull the sheets over my head and not find out what lay beyond my back gate that night. But the better part of me was enthralled by the spill of luminous light that I saw pouring through the gap between gate and fence, and every trill of those unseen pipes grew sweeter and wilder as I listened as thought the player had got the hang of them now, and I knew I would go through, come what may.
Beyond my back gate by daylight lies an area of rough grass leased to one of my neighbours as extra garden; he uses it to store building materials and a barbeque. The grass is cut a few times a year but it’s not really either a garden or a wild area. It covers about the same area as a small suburban garden, and is bordered at the end by chain link fence and small trees that act as hedges between our gardens and the grounds of the school beyond. It’s rather a sad bit of land, neither one thing nor another.
But that night a different world lay beyond my gate, a vista of might-have-beens. I pulled the gate open as far as I could so I had a chance to look through before walking through myself, but the odd light didn’t seem to act the way light should. It seemed to prevent me from seeing.
The hard surface of the path beneath my feet was cold and as I stood dithering I felt all my feet needed was grass beneath them and I began to walk forward almost without intending to. The grass beyond the garden gate lay like combed hair or water weeds below the surface of a slow stream; it shone and shimmered as the night wind caressed it. My feet sank into it as into a glorious carpet, burying them up to my ankles in cool refreshing softness. I still was unable to see very much, the weird light seeming to blind me. It occurred to me that this light was like moonlight but it seemed denser and more solid.
The night was filled with scents that I struggled to name; along with the familiar scent of honeysuckle and hay, I could smell roses both wild and cultivate and a whole host of other fragrances some exotic and others homely like the smell of stables. Amid them all was a musky scent that reminded me of deer. I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath and as I did so, the music began again.