In front of a cave, in the dimness that is twilight, a caped, hooded figure sat on a large stone. His cape, its patchwork was once bright but now its colours reduced to a brown-greyish tint due to accumulated filth, covered his thin, bony body. The cape's hood cast a shadow over the man's face; his hat rested on his knee. He was waiting for something -waiting while caressing his flute and smoking his long, clay pipe. In the forest that lay in front of him, he heard the call of a wolf, followed by the howls of others -members of its pack, most likely. The man chuckled slightly. Tonight would be the night. Tonight, the burghers of Gaiety would receive their due. At the thought, his chuckle changed into a muffled, vile laughter -his smile showed his foul, rotten teeth.
The life in his pipe had ended, which for him indicated that it was time to put thought into deed. He stood up, removed the hood from his head, showing a gaunt and filthy face with a considerable, greasy nose. His dark eyes would normally flame of anger, of fury -but in the darkness that had now fallen upon the world, one would be unable to notice. His black hair, which was quite greasy as well, was shortly shown to the world, to be covered soon with his felt hat, adorned with a rooster's feather. Under his cape, he wore a pair of leather pants -equally stained and filthy as his cape -and above it, a linen vest, once white but now grey, the upper buttons opened up so to reveal his slightly haired chest. He put his flute to his mouth, whistled a few notes, and then safely put it at his belt. He waited, while looking into the forest.
After a few minutes, a noise rustled through the fallen leaves, and, out of the trees of the forest, a stag appeared.
“Come, my friend,” the Piper said in a whispering voice, as if afraid that someone might hear him, “it is time. You know where you must take me.”
The stag bowed its head, perhaps of awe or deference; its antlers shortly touched the ground before it walked further and allowed the piper to mount it. When the Piper had seated himself, the stag started to move into the dark forest, apparently needing no direction but knowing the way his rider wanted to go to instinctively.
The journey to the borough of Gaiety should have taken about two days, but it took them three hours. The gaunt figure had never ceased to look up at the starlit sky all the way, while the stag had never halted nor wavered to reach their goal. By the time they had arrived at the borough, the full moon was up. Standing on the top of the Puppet's Hill -so called, because it was the place where the borough's criminals were hanged and left to rot -the Piper had a clear view of the borough: the moon cast a light over its ramparts and the houses that lay, so it was presumed by the burghers, safely behind it. The borough was at rest -only the watchmen, patrolling the ramparts, and perhaps a troublesome sleeper, were awake. It was already past midnight, which meant that the night bells had rung, indicating that all fires and lights, except for those of the bailiff's Guard, were to be quenched. Had it been day, then the watchmen would have noticed the figure who stood on a hilltop near their borough, but as it was, the Piper was too far away and, despite the full moon, it was quite dark, especially around the Piper himself: he now carried the darkness with him. And even if he could be seen standing there, it would not have caught the watchmen's attention, as he stood there besides the stenchful, decomposing bodies of the hanged.
The Piper had now dismounted the stag, which silently left the scene, and he walked in the direction of the borough. He bothered not to try to remain hidden, as he knew that neither the watchmen, nor the burghers, posed him any danger, so he walked down the main road. In front of the First Gate, he took his flute from his belt and put it to his lips. A tune he played, and a strange one it was! It was music, but it was no ordinary music; it came not only from his flute, but it seemed as if the music was part of his essence, as if it emanated from him. The watchmen guarding the gate heard it, too, and though the warble was different from what they had listened to before, on that other, full moon's night, they nevertheless recognised it and they were overcome by a slight sense of panic. The bailiff, tonight on duty, reached for the borough's bells, but it was in vain -soon he found himself paralysed, as were the watchmen he commanded.
Meanwhile, the borough's other aldermen -the Steward, the priest, the philosopher, and the poet -were all vast asleep; especially the priest, who dreamt of a young boy with golden-blond hair and crystal clear blue eyes (such blue eyes!) and his precious behind -especially his behind. In his church, so he dreamt, he undressed him, his little body standing naked in front of him, waiting for him to do what pleased him most in his life, and, unlike when he was awake, the boy would not cry out and protest, but act as he was ordered to; the priest needed not resort to threats of hell and damnation. In his dream, the priest would do those things he longed for most in his daytime life; he touched the boy's body, his nipples, stroking his belly, and all was well -but then he noticed the strange, discomforting little warble of unrelated notes played by an instrument that was since months forbidden in Gaiety. At the moment the tune played, a strong sense of dread overcame the priest; he fell back, to the ground, but in the process he hit the large crucifix that stood beside him. It, too, fell down, crashing, but in the process it took the boy with him; the image of the Messiah that was placed upon it crushed the naked child, killing it instantly. The priest, shocked at the scene, stood up and ran outside, into the churchyard.
He noticed that it was dark and though the full moon shone brightly in the sky, it did not enlighten the borough's streets. The flute's song still played its tune, which gradually became more unsettling. It did not appear to come from any place or direction in particular, but instead seemed to emanate from the borough itself -its houses, streets, and the quay at the banks of the Joyous River. The warble was soon mingled with the ringing of the borough's First Towers' bells. Soon, the other bells in the borough -of the gates and churches, would follow the alarm raised by the First Tower; the burghers now awoke, and the lights in their houses were lit. The priest, knowing what was now expected of him, wanted to return to his church to do his duty, but stopped suddenly.
It had begun.
The children of Gaiety left their parent's houses and shacks to follow the tune heard by all the borough's dwellers. Those who were too young to walk were carried by the older children; the oldest of them all was the Steward's daughter, beautiful, half-dressed, and leading the children to their destination. Once they stood outside, they all began to dance, and a bizarre dance it was!, as it followed the equally strange, muddled rhythm of the Piper's play. Their faces had the most peculiar expression: they were laughing, or rather, their mouths were smiling; but their eyes, reddened from the flow of tears, were crying. They were humming the tune the piper was playing, but not simultaneously, enhancing the warble and muddliness of the concomitant sounds of the Piper's flute, the children’s hums, the shouting of the parents, and the borough's alarm bells. The children’s dance led them to the borough's First Gate, in front of which the Piper stood, smiling broadly, while never ceasing his play.
Of course the parents, who understood fully that the piper had not arrived for friendly games, tried to hold their children back, to bring them back into their homes, but they failed utterly to reach them, and those who succeeded to touch a child would vanish, screaming fearfully on the spot. Others, anticipating the children's destination, ran to the First Gate, which had opened by itself, but were unable to leave the borough: a sea of flames had blocked the entrance. When the children arrived, though, they were able to walk through it, but the parents who tried their luck and followed would burst into flames, squealing in pain and shortly after reduced to nothing more but piles of ash, to be blown away by the flaming wind.
When the last child had passed through the gate, the music stopped and the flames perished. The priest, who had followed the procession of the maddened children, entered the gate as well; when he had passed through, the flames appeared again, preventing the burghers from following their man of god. At the other end, the pied piper stood, with an expression of intent pleasure on his gaunt face.
“Burghers of Gaiety!” he said silently, but this did not matter -like his play, his words could be heard throughout the borough. “Tonight, I have taken your children. I have taken them, for you have denied me my due. For this, you have now been punished, as your offspring will be so for all eternity. They shall serve me as I please. They will never die. You will never see them again.” The piper paused for a moment, then turned to the Steward, who was standing on one of the towers of the First Gate, where he had been calling for his daughter. “You tried to outsmart me. For this, I shall take your most wretched subject. He shall use her,” the Piper continued, while holding the Steward's daughter by her hair, her head pulled backward, thereby showing her tearful, frightened face, now void of the fake smile it had earlier on, “night after night, for solely his own pleasure.” Again, the piper reached for his flute, and played his tunes. The darkness that had surrounded him vanished, and he was now clearly visible in the pale moonlight, his flaming, black eyes once again visible for the burghers to see.
The flute's play was different now; the hill on which the Piper had arrived with his stag had opened up, showing a cavern reddened by the glow of what appeared to be flames. The children, the Steward's daughter at the front, now silently walked into the cavern and disappeared one after another. The Piper, now ceasing his play, turned to the priest, who was still standing in the shades of the borough's First Gate, and smiled friendly to him. The Piper entered the cavern and Anthenias, the priest, followed him silently, after which the cavern thunderously closed itself.
When the burghers of Gaiety woke up the next morning, they recalled their dreams and, frightened, ran to their children's closed-beds, only to find them empty. Realising, finally, that they had all dreamt the same dream, and that this dream was no dream at all, they ran outside the city to the Puppet's Hill, where the men dug wildly and endlessly, only to find rock and dirt -no passage way, no trace of their children -while the women, now angered by the decision of their borough's leader months earlier, headed towards the Steward's mansion, where they found he had already hung himself, depriving them of that pleasure. No trace of the children was ever found. Only one returned, later that same day, but, being deaf and mute, the child was unable to tell what had become of them.
Elsewhere, in the darkness of the cave where we began our little tale, a scream echoed.
“Come, Anthenias,” the Piper said, chuckling, to the priest, who stood nakedly bound in front of him, “it is time to play. Those who favour children should be punished. And we have all eternity. Don't you agree, m'boy?” The boy, with golden-blond hair and the bluest eyes, smiled silently, took over the knife the Piper had handed out to him, and cut off the priest's member, only for it to grow back. “And later on,” the Piper continued to the boy, “we have some girls to play with.” He then turned again to the priest. “And I believe some of our children would like to play with you.” The Piper chuckled again, and left the boy at it, while serving himself another piece of freshly baked maiden breast.
Note. The drawing is credited to 'jenimal', and taken from http://jenimal.deviantart.com/art/Walter-s-Piper-1-89419439 on July 5, 2014. The story is, obviously, based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and in itself a sequel to an unpublished story of the same author.