THE PIED PIPER
It was in the first week of October, as the russet gruel of Autumnal detritus camouflaged the earth in the dull raiment of expectant incubation that the caravan arrived, it’s entourage cajoled up the clay slopes and coarse meadow land which typified the tundra of the Yorkshire moors, an approach announced by the pathos of bells and the rustic invitation of cycled wood oil which were maniacally carried forth upon the bleak sterility of more decisive winds.
The convoy, as with others of it’s type, left evidence of transit amongst the riven coves and sculpted reliefs of the hardened soil, refuse discarded in the wake of passage, old bill posters, pillaged tins, animal bones and frayed rags,the confetti of activity evicted from it’s freight, a testament of progress which, despite regaling beneath the wing of commerce, soiled and corrupted all that which it touched, a defilement that, in littering the ground with garish profusion, served in it’s manner, to establish precedent, the train being an interest of purely solitary persuasion, a concern of unique and singular extraction, a moving shanty which, in presuming the aspect of mercantile authority, bled effluence where it passed.
And yet, despite representing what, amidst the many wonders of modern life, may be considered an unexceptional stake, the caravan retained an element of mystery which eluded definition, a peculiarity confirmed as the coach established premium upon the outskirts of a hamlet in the foothills of the Downs, for as it picketed encampment, relinquishing it’s bowels, a number of coincidences transpired, a series of occurrences which, but for the preternatural sensitivity that isolated communities are cursed to observe, would ordinarily have been dismissed.
The first of these incidents was a violent storm, a squall of that scourged the village with such ferocity that it confined people to their houses, causing them to seek confidence in huddled embraces and whispered asides for fear of injury and supernatural retribution,
The second was the disappearance of every living creature from within the hamlet and it’s neighbour hood, both domesticated animals and more opportunistic breeds vanishing from the safety that human husbandry may harbor as though claimed by the pang of some unspoken initiative.
The third, and most peculiar, was a marked change in the behaviour of the village’s children, for where once the town’s offspring would gambol freely in it’s streets, discovering superstition through the rules of play, now they slept, rising only to feed, as though smitten by some torpor that defied investigation, a proclivity which, when discouraged by parental intercession, succeeded only in driving it’s sufferants covert, youths being found asleep beneath the shelter of hedgerows and trees after having been spurned towards collusion by daily convention.
After some days the caravan opened it’s coffers for public exhibition, an event which, in being precursored by the erection of a podium upon the outskirts of the village and the of placing of billboards about it’s streets, attracted a degree of cursory attention from those inclined to follow such things amongst the hamlet’s number.
The first night of exhibition was announced with the fanfare of commercial bragartry which typifies communal events, a concert performed by a man dressed in the immaculate eccentricity that stagecraft venerates, his limbs swathed in the benighted flannel of a bygone age, a cut tailored sharply despite decrepitude.
The instrument that he played was a pipe organ, a machine notable amongst others of it’s kind for the detail invested in it’s construction, every centimeter of mechanism’s surface appeared to be engraved with illustration, it’s pipes encrypted with the writhe of script long since forsaken by liturgical economy, it’s panelling embellished with a retinue of images to which no cultural origin could be ascribed, it’s keys coaxed profound by the craftsman’s mark as though in inspiration of recital.
The spectacle presented by the affair succeeded in attracting a small audience dredged from surrounding concerns, a gathering that, despite betraying reservations as to the pertinence of such fayre amongst the intimacies of village life, dutifully sat awaiting the commencement of performance at the perimeter of the stage,
After some minutes of mute expectation, the musician duly appeared, bowing humbly before introducing himself as “The Pied Piper”, a name undoubtedly arrested from legend to tease intrigue from spectation.
He sat some moments before the burlesque array of the organ, flexing his fingers in a passive gesture and preening the air as though inspired by unheard melody before beginning to play, slowly at first, cherishing the timbre of each note through the novelty of it’s incident, holding short phrases of inconsequent progression in various states of sonorous suspense, then more rapidly, divulging harmony in the contradictions represented by minor displacement, a song which drifted aimlessly through suggested motifs before achieving the pace of ordered momentum, and, as he played, the audience succumbed to the music’s allure, their reticence dissolved in the wake of exposition, some swaying in tearful sympathy to the progression of the piece, overcome by the persistence of it’s revelation, others dancing, intrigued by harmonies submerged beneath the encroachment of more obvious accord, an enchantment which affected all in equal measure, weaving engagement from reserve, however,as the music reached it’s crescendo, rolling through the tumult that grants such wonder reason, the organist stopped, rising from his pedestal and hesitantly crossing to the centre of the stage.
“You like that,” he announced smiling sharply, his confidence unfatigued by the evidence of exertion which one would ordinarily associate with such endeavor, “it’s easy”, he continued cooly brushing himself down, “a pleasure to perform before such an audience, a pleasure to be heard”, he paused, withdrawing a small sheet of paper from his pocket and holding it up against the light.
“My next piece is somewhat more complicated,” he intoned cursorily scanning the throng that milled about his feet, “I shall play a composition that will re-define your expectations, a symphony which, in terms of beauty and grace, some may deem miraculous, a song of such power that it is coveted by kings, censored lest it’s subtlety should betray the mysteries of life”, he paused allowing his words to settle before returning to his seat.
“Do you believe in magic?” He said as he prepared for the recital, an enquiry to which he expected no response, and, as the Pied Piper played, weaving through the metre of his composition, so the congregation gathered at his feet fell beneath his spell.
An air of blithe facility distinguished the obligatory tediums of village life in the morning following the performance, those that had attended the concert rising to greet dawn with an enthusiasm which belied reservation, the old going about their business as though invested with youth, their faculty invigorated with fresh initiative, the sick inexplicably recovering perfect health as though never having suffered ailment, the symptoms of myopia, blindness and gout being instantaneously relieved amongst the pastoral community without recourse to assistance, a series of rejuvenations which ultimately raised issue amongst the hamlet’s population, circulating to alight upon the musician’s presence there.
The next night progressed in the same manner as that which had preceded it, the Pied Piper, reciting an elaborate choral arrangement before entrancing his audience with work of a more mysterious and insidious persuasion, a formula that similarly resulted in the remedy of ailment amongst the region’s people, a rejuvenation of inexplicable extraction, a routine which, by process of repeated intercession, eventually amassed a sizeable following, a contingency drawn together in mutual addiction to voyeuristic absolution and miraculous good health.
After some time, the concerts began to inspire both devotion and gratitude amongst’s the village people, constituting a manner of dependence seldom spared for such affairs, a loyalty which, when chided towards conscience by it’s circumstance, simply lured folk back towards adherence, a seduction complete but for one thing, the mistrust that men habitually reserve for the unknown, an attribute preternaturally inclined to equate any beneficial aspect to which it may ascribe.
People began to question the Pied Piper’s motives, the purpose of his sorcery and the price of submission to it’s thrall, a concern frequently enunciated at village assemblies which were convened to mete arbitration over civil affairs, for, in restoring health and evoking happiness, it was presumed that the musician could similarly retract his gift, compounding the very ailments that he claimed to circumvent.
As a result of such anxiety or perhaps the pursuit of the power that the Pied Piper appeared to possess, a small group of men from one of the surrounding villages eventually decided to purloin the musician’s organ, stealing into the caravan in which the apparatus was housed on one of the cold winter’s days that clarify December, an operation which, in witnessing difficulty, demanded the contraption’s dismantlement, a protracted process that both haste and secrecy conspired to subvert, the removal being conducted in an amateuristic fashion throughout the early hours of morning as the musician lay sleeping in his bunk, it’s salvage deposited in an old stock-house for later re-construction.
The next night, as the crowd gathered at the outskirts of the village, shifting random file in expectation of performance, the Pied Piper appeared upon stage, clothed not in the immaculacy for which he was renowned, but in rags, brandishing an ornate clay mask before his face, an article buckled about the frown of Grecian tragedy in a bizarre parody of the entertainer’s craft.
He paused in an aspect of mock despair moving his head rhythmically from side to side, before finally beginning to speak. “I have observed you from this stage upon the many nights of celebration that, through subtleties unknown, have been permitted license,”
He moaned casting a baleful glare out across the audience, “I have seen you making merry beneath the shroud of twilight, hungry for the gifts that I alone bestow, and it is apt for you to know that I am hungry too, enamoured with a passion that demands appeasement, a desire which will not rest until it’s detail is resolved”.
He hesitated allowing the crowd to absorb the significance of his words, “there are men amongst you that have stolen from my horde, people who, in greed, have sought to test my power, individuals who, in violation of my privacy, have removed my organ from repose, stealing away with the only thing that I have ever held dear”.
He paused again, whimpering with the shrill of exasperated delerium, “I have dwelt upon the issue and must know that I have erred, I am a fool to have shared my miracle with you, and…”, he said, collapsing in a paroxysm of utter dejection, “I damn you all, I curse every one of you in equal measure, may your souls seek recourse in Hell”, and with these words he vanished from the stage, overcome with emotion.
The next day the Pied Piper failed to appear, an inattention which, despite arousing sentiments of unease amongst the hamlet’s number, was immediately acreditted to professional fatigue, a dismissal that only began to raise issue upon the repetition of it’s incident the following night, spiting concerns which the small community’s innate reverence neatly deferred, a postponement that went unexplained for some time, raising rumors of abduction and even demise amongst the superstitious chatter of parochial exchange which typified village life, before, approximately one week after the absence had been noted, the musician’s caravan departed, leaving nothing more than a discoloured patch of scrub land and a thin macquillage of commercial detritus in it’s wake.
And, as the caravan left so the influence that it’s trade had wielded over the townsfolk dissipated, the shadow that the musician had cast over the hamlet evaporating like mold grown delicate with age.
After the Pied Piper had departed, those who had stolen his organ attempted to re-construct their haul, a feat of engineering which, in being effected in the basement of a small stock-house, succeeded in blessing the crude confines of urbane practicality to which such buildings are avowed with the mark of exotica, the instrument both dwarfing and shaming the dimensions of it’s sanctum as though, through some trick of temporal distortion, attempting to exceed it’s confines.
After having re-assembled the instrument, the thieves began to test it’s potential, teasing sympathy from it’s many facetted array, a process through which they slowly began to comprehend it’s secret, an understanding which, although, hindered by technical incompetence, gradually reaped reward, until, after some weeks of tentative deduction, they made their findings known, issuing a declaration at one of the tribunes held by the village to arbitrate such matters.
Within time the detail of the research and it’s peculiar discoveries became widespread, the men of the village acknowledging the issue with a mixture of disdain and intrigue, some condemning those that had re-constructed the instrument for their implication in the theft, others expressing a manner of grudging admiration for their part in the resolution of the Pied Piper’s mystery, all parties betraying one aspect in common, a ghoulish fascination in the technology with which the organ was invested, a branch of science hitherto unknown.
Some weeks later, after the news of the miraculous instrument had circulated, a pestilence descended upon the hamlet’s number, a manner of contagion which, in appearing to blight it’s victim by exact degrees, leaving unique legend upon the flesh of forbearance, remained dissimilar to the many strains of common infectation that typified village life, a malaise that, in progressing through it’s cycle unabated, became distinguished by a series of degenerative symptoms which, in proving insoluble, ultimately concluded with the reduction of those that it had claimed into various states of semi-sentient stupidity, a condition that, in shrieving the community of it’s native intellect, deftly replaced it with the concerns of a voracious infancy, sparing only those, who in impulsiveness and ignorance, had retained a discrete distance from the Pied Piper and the effects of his mysterious power.
Enquiries were made as the epidemic claimed toll, a school of conjecture which inevitably returned to dwell upon the issue of the Pied Piper and the musical experimentation which had been conducted upon his stolen organ, but no cure was ever found, of those who had been blessed by the musician’s miracle, not one was saved from the touch of the disease.
And so it was that those who had never audienced the musician were fated to care for those afflicted by his curse, to nurse them through the pangs of stultified incomprehension which distinguished their condition, a term beneath which, but for the organ’s consignment to a local museum, all memory of the Pied Piper and his strange music was irreconcilably lost, a myth forsaken by the passage of years turned about the detail of lesser incident.