Friday, 31 October 2014

Pictonaut- Oct 2014 - Dance, Devil! Dance!

Another month, another pictonaut. This is the time of ghosts and goblins, and good old John the Crazy has given us a picture appropriate for the time of year. As ever, I started writing and then never stopped. I have so many ideas for this one that I think I'm going to NanoWrimo it (because I hate sleep!). Anyway, here is my story for this month, part 1 of a much larger project. Enjoy.

"Dance, Devil. Dance!
To Old Nick's pipes.
Don't look, don't look,
At his face of ghostly white.

Dance dance, Devil!
Hear hooves clip clip.
Don't look, don't look,
At the body made of stick.

Devil! Dance! Dance!
On eve hallowed.
Don't look, don't look,
Or he'll take away your soul."

Pound, pound, pound! Roland's heart thumped against his chest in rhythm to his tugs on the wooden board nailed firmly across his door. He had done all he could: the doors were boarded, the windows blacked out, the children in a peaceful, drug induced sleep, the luckily little bastards. Still, there was nothing he could do to quieten the anxiety, that open tap of adrenaline pouring straight into heart and brain. He would not sleep tonight, nor would anyone in town. With everything prepared and checked and checked again, Roland slumped his body, alert yet fatigued, against his barricaded front door and did the only thing he could do now, the only thing anyone with any intelligence in them would be doing tonight, and listened for the pipes.

In this eerie silence before it all began, Roland thought he could feel the hearts of all the village beating with his own, sounding out a tattoo to keep the pipes in time. All he was for this one night was his heart, his breath and his will. This was the same as ever, he supposed, but the reallisation of it now was immediate and raw, stripping away the hopeless fantasies of self importance, of power and control, which we protect ourselves with everyday. Breathe, eyes shut tight, stay alive; that was the whole world.

Sound began to creep its way through the cracks in Roland's walls, and he pushed his ear against the solid pine of his front door, made icy cools my thus autumn evening beyond. Don't look, he repeated to himself, don't look, just listen. Don't look! Roland listened for the pipes.

Something was wrong. At first, Roland refused to believe he own senses, and pushed his ear hard into the wooden door to prove his mistake. He strained to hear the pipes, he should have heard the pipes. For the first time in his entire life he found himself desperately wishing to hear the wretched pipes. But wish as he might, there was no denying that's not what he heard.


It was a man. An ordinary man from an ordinary place. A dead man.

* * *

The mist had seemed to stroll into town along side Mr. Utland, keeping pace with him, clinging to his ankles as he dragged it through the streets; the far too empty streets. Mr. Utland glanced up the road, a valley between sloping gardens topped by pleasant rural houses; and down it, into foggy blindness. There wasn't a soul or a sound beyond himself and his footsteps.

"Hello!" he called out. There was no response. Mr. Utland tried to peer into the windows of the houses as he passed them, but they were all too dark to see inside. Or so he had thought at first. When he caught the glint of a streetlamp across the front bay window of one house, he saw that rather the pitch black penetrating deep into the building, it did in fact form a skin across the interior of the glass. They've blacked them out, Mr. Utland thought, every one of them.

Mr. Utland was struck by this decidedly odd behaviour and stopped to consider his situation for a moment. The fog paid no heed to his change in momentum, and rolled on at the same gentle pace, off towards the bottom of the street. Puzzlement was not all that impeded Mr. Utland. He had been walking a good long while now, looking for somewhere to rest his head for the night. He was moments from giving up, dusk falling and robbing him of his sight to travel by, when he had come across this village, a minor miracle for which he sent out praise to any minor deity who mightbbe listening. But now he was done, this was the end of his road. Mr. Utland sat on the side of the road and took of his shoes, exposing his overheating, sweaty feet to the cool evening air. He took out a silver case from his breast jacket pocket and flicked it open to reveal the cigarettes and lighter inside. Lighting up, Mr Utland breathed the smoke in deep and listened hard to the barely audible peace of the countryside, calm and silent.

Except that it wasn't silent. Mr. Utland thought he might he going mad, but he was certain he could make, just on the edge of his hearing, a sound of something out of place. He strained and cocked his head and, yes, he was sure, he could hear pan pipes softly playing on the breeze.

* * *

Roland had heard the pipes so many times before that he felt attuned to them, as though he could feel the sound in his mind, his soul, before his ears truly caught sound of them. And Roland knew, he knew, that the pipes had begun the minute the stranger had called out. A handful of moments later and this was confirmed by his more conventional sense.

Whoever this outsider was, he was done for, already beyond help as the pipes grew clearer. The Devil take him, Roland thought. At least the village, my children, will be spared. But he was an innocent, vulnerable and unaware. Could Roland really live with himself if he just allowed this man to be taken? Wouldn't he be culpable? But then he had his kids to think about, and anyway, there were plenty of other people who could help. But they weren't helping and weren't likely to. Who would?

I would, Roland found himself thinking, taking himself completely by surprise. Without giving himself time to hesitate Roland grabbed the nearest piece of cloth to hand, (and old woolen scarf) and a small switch blade from the table in his hallway and, after prying the boards off his front door, threw it open and hurtled headlong into the street.

* * *

Mr. Utland took one last, long drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out on the curb he was perched on. Slowly, he exhaled and watched as his tobacco smoke swirled and mixed with the fog, until he couldn't tell what was water vapour and what was poison.

He could hear the pipes clearly now, and was listening to them. with fixated pleasure when the attack came. Perhaps, had he not been so enthralled by the mysterious piper's tune, Mr. Utland would have heard the hurried steps that came towards him. But he could hear nothing but those magical pipes, and when the hit came, a full body's weight being smashed into his own, it knocked all the wind, and all the fight out of him.

"Don't look!" his assailant cried. Mr. Utland, reeling from the shock of the impact, just caught a clumped of a length of woolen material before it was wrapped tight around his head and eyes.

"Get up!" he was ordered. "Don't look!" There was little he could do but comply. "Move!" came the final command. This seemed a step to far to Mr. Utland.

"I can't..." he began, but a strong shove proved to him that he most certainly could, and the knife he felt to his throat a moment later demonstrated that he most certainly would. All the while the pipes grew louder.

Mr. Utland half staggered, was half dragged up the banking garden he had sat beneath. More than once in the brief but difficult journey he stumbled and the blade at his neck nicked his skin. He cried out when he fell to his knees finally when they reached the top of the lawn and he tripped on the bottom step leading up to the porch. His captor put his hand around Mr. Utland's mouth and leaned into him.

"Shut up!" he demanded and Mr. Utland complied. They stayed like this for a while, Mr. Utland blindfolded and gagged, the man behind him almost motionless, as though he were waiting for something, or listening for it.

Mr. Utland listened too, and again he was caught in the spell of the pan pipes. He felt a desperate, illogical need to see where such a sweet melody was coming from, like he was hoeing his breath and all he wanted to do was give in to the natural impulse to breathe deep, cool lungfulls of air. Mr. Utland's hand went instinctively to the scarf around his eyes.

"No," his captor hissed into his ears. "Don't look. Don't look." The attacker pushed the cold steel against Mr. Utland's face to emphasize his point, all the while repeating his mantra under his breath. Don't look, don't look.

A new sound floated down the empty street and into Mr. Utland's conscious, as feet tapping against the tarmac. Not feet though, the sound was too hollow, more a pair of clicks than thuds, like hooves, Mr. Utland thought, but there were definitely just the two of them, so that could not be.

The assailant's chanting increased in speed. Don't look, don't look, don't look, don't look. For what felt like minutes, they remained like this as the clip-clop, clip-clop got closer and closer. In a moment it would be right on top of them. Mr. Utland and the knife man both tensed.

The noise stopped. The assailant slouched down to his knees, the knife slipped from Mr. Utland's throat. Then came the scream, loud and high and echoing from every building, every tree, every car, every wall, such that it was a few moments before Mr. Utland realised that it had stopped before the second echo, cut short at the height of its crescendo. The echos faded and the village was silent again.

"What..." Mr. Utland began, barely able to speak. "What was that?"

"Someone looked, " Roland said. "Someone always looks."

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