The Piper at the Back Gate 2

For the first half of the story see the post below this one.

I kept my eyes shut, hoping to be able to let them accustom to the new light, but I really wanted to open them and see the player of those pipers. I did wonder if I were asleep and dreaming all of this.      

The rough sound of the pipes had become smoother and more even and I sensed that in the silence, the player had perhaps been altering the pipes to make them sound better. I let myself listen to the tune that was never quite a tune; I kept thinking I would recognise the melody but I began to understand this melody had no name because it was new. It issued from the mind and the pipes completely newborn and unnamed. It came to me that I was the first human being to hear this piece of music.

  Finally, I made myself open my eyes.

  I’d begun to know what I’d see for some time but even so, it came as a shock. My mind said it wasn’t afraid but my knees disagreed and gave way, and I pitched forward onto the grass, suddenly boneless and unable to stand.

  Apart from the piper, everything else was a complete shock. From being a scrubby bit of land tucked away behind a row of old council houses, the land had transformed into a glade from a forest. No wonder I couldn’t see any streetlights; they were gone. In the penumbra of light shed by the piper, I could see trees seeming to extend into the distance for a long way before being lost utterly in deep shadows. What trees they were, too! I’ve seen trees like them only in dreams, great giants from the ancient past, trunks rearing to the sky like massive stone pillars, their bark rutted and coated with moss and lichens. The undergrowth was scanty, the grass dotted here and there with the white dots of sleeping daisies amid emerald moss as lush as a carpet. Even in the weird light I could see that the usual forest floor army of brambles was absent.

  The piper lolled against one of the huge trees, half sitting and half sprawling against it, his legs crossed and his eyes twinkling as he blew soft notes in his set of pipes. They were made of reeds, I thought, or maybe bamboo, but I know nothing of these things; I only know he made such tender tunes as he breathed softly into them.

   I’d known him for many years but I thought he’d been a dream, a fantasy lost in childhood memories. He’s a shape-shifter but he’s gone back to the form that amused him most, the one that humans used to know him by, and later reviled him for, calling him devil or demon.

  “You don’t think I’m a demon do you?” he said, softly, letting his pipes drop into his lap, his hand still curled round them protectively.

  I shook my head but I didn’t seem to be able to speak. I’m not afraid, I wanted to say but on some levels this wasn’t true at all. I certainly didn’t think him a demon.

  “When did we last meet?” he asked and again I shook my head. I didn’t know. In all the years since I first glimpsed him, I’d often thought I’d seen him again but never quite sure whether my over active imagination was playing tricks on me. I’d even begun to doubt my own experiences as a child.

  “That wasp,” he said. “The one you saved from the Coke. I was there. You didn’t see me, of course.”

  I swallowed.

  “Then you know about the one I killed,” I said, my throat dry and rough.

  He shrugged.

  “It happens,” he said. “You had good reason. That’s all I ask, really. Good reason.”

   “But we didn’t meet then,” I said. “You were watching me, but I didn’t know.”

  “Didn’t you?” he asked, one eyebrow going up at a comical angle.

  “I didn’t know,” I said, firmly.

  He shrugged again.

  “It doesn’t matter,” he said.  “I think we almost met, when was it, now. Ah yes, 1982, Summer time, Bedford Castle. You ran away.”

  “I was scared,” I said defensively. “You don’t know how scary you are, you know!”

  A small creature had appeared in the grass near his crossed ankles and he scooped it up; it was a tiny baby rabbit. He held it up to look at it and black button eyes regarded him evenly for a moment before he let it down and laid it on his lap where it sat happily whiffling its nose at the pipes in his other hand.

   “Scary am I?” he asked.

  “To a human, yes,” I said. “Very scary indeed.”

  “Are you scared now?” he asked.

  I considered. To be honest I was feeling odd but not as scared as I had been.

  “A little,” I said.

  He nodded.

  “I suppose it’s only natural,” he agreed.

  “What do you want with me?” I asked.

    I wasn’t sure why I had or where I’d found the courage to ask it.

  He shrugged, a strangely elegant gesture that seemed very human indeed.

  “I get lonely,” he said.

  I almost laughed out loud and he must have sense this or read my mind because he did then laugh. His laugh reminded me of the sound a stream makes as it flows over rocks.

  “I do,” he said a little defensively but I thought he was not serious really.

  He sighed. The little rabbit shuffled and then scrambled off his lap and disappeared into the grass.

  “There’s not many of you left these days who can sense me,” he said. “The children don’t play the way they used to, you know. They don’t climb trees much or paddle in streams or make things from bark and leaves. So they grow up and never know what’s out here, beyond their garden fences. Some of them never even go into the gardens. They surround their lives with concrete and metal and plastic and never feel grass beneath bare feet or the moon on their faces or the frost in their lungs.”

   “It was going even when I was a child,” I said.

  “I never dreamed it would,” he said. “I can scare humans still but they never see me any more. I can pull their hair and trip them up and yet they don’t know I am there.”

  He gazed round the deep dark shadows of the forest.

  “They never come here in their dream even,” he said.

  He seemed downcast and the pipes had slid from his hand and dropped into the grass.

  I managed to get to my feet and staggered over to where the pipes seemed to be dissolving in the earth and retrieved them. I put them back into his hands, brushing off the earth that seemed to cling to them. He stared at them as if he’d never seen them before and then with a renewed smile, his teeth gleaming like the light on the surface of moonlit water, he set them to his lips and began to play.

  He watched me for a moment and then stopped playing.

  “You will keep telling people about me, won’t you?” he said, his voice seeming to plead with me, but playfully. I didn’t believe he really needed to plead; it was part of his games, like the game an otter plays with a shiny stone for an hour in the sunshine.

  I nodded.

  “As long as you keep playing those pipes, I will,” I said.

  I could feel myself becoming rapidly sleepy, like a slow anaesthetic seeping into my bloodstream as the melody seeped into my bones again.  I felt my eyes grow heavy and irresistibly they closed as I sank gently to the mossy surface of the forest floor.

   When I woke, the dew had fallen and I lay curled like a hedgehog in the middle of the lawn, my nightie sopping wet and stained with green from grass and lichen and bark, and dawn light shone through low level clouds and the rising sun hung like a dove-grey pearl beyond the trees.

  I sat up, my body aching with the damp and my head pounding and tried to remember how I’d ended up here. I must have walked in my sleep, I thought and then I saw the back gate stood ajar still and as I rubbed my eyes, I saw the tiny fluffy white tail of a baby rabbit whisk away out of sight and I remembered.

The Piper at the Back Gate 1

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.

A poor fit

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and musing, while running round like a bluetailed fly.

I’ve spent my life as the proverbial square peg being hammered into a round hole; so much so that I feel I have actually lost my real shape and have become an amorphous blob that squidges and squeezes and stretches to fit whatever space is available. I also feel this is reflected too in my struggles not to turn into the Fat Lady at the Fair.

OK, you could say I’m flexible or adaptible. Or that I am multi-talented and able to turn my hand to anything. All of which are true enough.

What I am getting at is the constant erosion of my perception of who I am and where I fit in this life. I’m many things, obviously. A teacher, a healer, a mother, a wife, a writer, a poet, a ….well, fill in whatever label you feel might fit me from what you’ve seen and read here. But beyond all those things, who and what am I?

My current profession is a poor fit, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I am a good teacher, a very good one if I set aside false modesty. I’m a bloody good guide and courier. But to do these things, something essential to my soul is shunted to that inner “backroom” like an old carpet bag waiting for collection at the end of the day. I don’t pretend to be anything, or anyone. But a huge section of the real, the essential ME is missing.

I constantly have to monitor what I say among people, constantly simplify my language, my choice of topic. Some of that might be put down to being among folks whose first language isn’t mine, but even so, you’d think I’d be able to speak my thoughts in the staff room. I thought so too, until someone had a go at me last year.

Life for me is the Bed of Procrustes. You may remember the story of the Greek chappy who made his overnight guests sleep in a bed that supposedly fit everyone perfectly. Well, if the guest’s head was over the head end of the bed, Procrustes whopped it off with a sword. Ditto the feet. If someone was too short, he mashed them and bashed them out until they did. He met his end at the business end of Theseus’ sword, but his legend lives on.

I simply don’t fit.

As far as I know, I don’t fit anywhere. Apart from the fact that the interview I went to last week was almost certainly pointless because they’d already earmarked their internal candidate, I would not have been appointed because I would have been too good for the job. I know too much; I’ve read too much. I’d have made the others feel very uncomfortable. And I hate that. I don’t feel superior to anyone, and yet, it seems as if people perceive that I must.

I’m too big for Procrustes’ bed.

So what goes, then, my head or my feet?

Or should I be a modern day Theseus and in some strange esoteric way beat the bully and free myself?

Answers on a postcard…

No, really. Any ideas of how to beat this metaphor and ease my own reality would be gratefully read. I’m increasingly uncomfortable.

Here Be Dragons!

Here Be Dragons!


The beaten path is very wide,

Trodden smooth by countless feet,

Wearing it deeply into the land,

And cutting a track through time.

I was content for many years,

Happy to follow where others led.

Then one day the path ran out,

Ended abruptly with a sign,

Rimmed in red, that ran:

“Warning! Here be dragons!”

I stood some time alert,

Watching for flames and wings,

And yet none came in sight.

I waited on, still unsure

Until a single step I took,

Passed into blank uncharted lands.

And still the dragons didn’t fly,

Eager to devour my presumptuous soul.

A second step and then I found

My feet were on another path,

Thread-thin but strongly felt.

And then I knew beyond a doubt

What the warning sign had meant:

Beyond this point, you become

Those very dragons that we fear.