Joined: Fri Jul 09, 2010 2:22 pm
Location: United States
Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:45 pm
I've done some short stories and started on novels, though never finished. Not really a fan of poetry, although I do have one poem I like. My best short story is a take on the Pied Piper tale, did it for a creative writing class. It's kind of goofy, but I feel like I did a good job with it.
The Sound of the Flute
Ewald scratched his head as the proposal was voiced, looking up with a hard expression. He couldn't remember the last time there had been a fly in the meeting hall, or any such winged vermin. He looked back to the table where it had landed, and thought that it looked like a flea. Whatever it was, it was an unwelcome annoyance. He tried to turn his attention back to the proposal being presented by one of the other committee members, Mathias Simonson.
"…And, as is customary for any traveler, be it refugee, merchant, or, as is the case in this instance, troubadour, I thought it best brought to the attention of this committee before he be granted admittance."
"And so you have done, Mathias," spoke the committee's unofficial director stoically. "Please return to your seat before should ensue the further discussion of this matter."
Mathias nodded, doing as he was bidden. The director continued. "Are there any criteria from those presented on which any of you require elaboration?" he asked.
Ewald swatted again at the minute pest continuing to plague him. "Maybe we should require him to get rid of these damn fleas!"
The entire committee broke out in uproarious laughter, the sound echoing even in the relatively close quarters of the hall. "Per'aps he can magick 'em away with the sound of 'is harp!" someone shouted.
"Or maybe he'll charm 'em into being friendly and we can all go out and have a glass of mead together!" offered another.
"Actually—he says that he plays the flute," announced Mathias.
Everyone looked at him a bit disinterestedly, the cacophony dying down to nothing, the moment brought to an end. The director took the opportunity to speak up again.
"So. Now that…elaborations…have been dispensed, perhaps we can come to some consensus on the admittance of this piper to our town of Hamelin. See that you take yourselves enough time to reach one, then tell me what decision it is that you've agreed upon."
The cacophony quickly sprang up again, albeit not as intensely, as the committee members commenced their chatter, some of it pertinent to the subject, the greater portion of it likely not pertinent at all. Such was the ceremony of Hamelin; emptier of superfluity than some lands, to be sure, though still pouring it not altogether too frugally between the cracks in efficiency.
A matter of minutes passed, perhaps half an hour, and then under the director's increasingly impatient stare the babble of voices began to die down.
"Has the committee reached a consensus on the matter of this musician?"
One of the members, a strong, charismatic, and well-liked fellow called Hans spoke up in response. "We have. We have unanimously decided that there is no reason to withhold this pleasant-sounding troubadour from entering into Hamelin's walls."
The director nodded. "Mathias, you may tell him he's welcome in Hamelin for as long as he likes. You can return to your homes, gentlemen." He got up from his seat, wordlessly exiting through the front door. The committee members gathered around the room followed suit at varying speeds, some making such haste as had the director, others lingering to discourse over the status of crops, the acquisition of a new shear, or some such similar triviality.
Ewald left fairly quickly, not feeling the need for socialization, favoring the idea of returning home to his wife and son.
Someone grabbed his shoulder as he was walking through the open doorway. He turned and saw Mathias, wearing the diffident smile which rather suited him. "Hey Ewald. That was a good laugh earlier, about the fleas."
"Thank you." He was thinking about his wife, barely paying attention to the other man's words.
"Would you like to join me for an ale or two in the tavern? Lars and some of the other men are heading there, too."
Ewald looked at him, then shrugged. What harm could a few drinks do? "All right," he said.
Mathias gave an obnoxiously eager nod to complement his smile. "Great, great!" He headed down the dirt path to the tavern quite merrily, evidently highly pleased with himself for recruiting Ewald to join this gathering. Before long they arrived at the tavern, Mathias practically skipping across the threshold, Ewald still walking placidly.
Sure enough, a few of the men from the committee were sitting at a nearby table, ales already in hand. "Hello, gentlemen," Ewald said as he took a seat, the overeager Mathias doing the same.
"Ewald, Mathias," came the somewhat curt acknowledgement from the men already drinking. Soon, both of the new arrivals had ales in hand as well, everyone drinking deeply and refraining from speech. Ewald always wondered why they didn't just drink alone if they were going to drink in silence, but such was tradition here.
Before long another stepped into the bar, a man Ewald had never seen before but at whose identity he could easily guess. Judging from the lute strapped to his back, this was the troubadour they had just gotten through admitting.
"Ralf!" shouted Mathias, jumping from his seat, and quickly making his way to the man. "It is good to see you here!"
The troubadour—Ralf—returned the greeting with equal cordiality. "Friend Mathias. Thank you for taking the trouble of securing my admittance. It is most appreciated."
Mathias waved it away, leading Ralf to the table. "Nothing to worry yourself over, Ralf. Why don't you come have a drink with the finest men of Hamelin, here?"
Ralf grinned heartily, his thick, red brown mustaches parting to the sides as he did. "I'd be pleased to do so," he said. "That is, if you fine men aren't averse to my company?"
Everyone quickly muttered Ralf's welcome to partake in their company, one of the barmaids coming out with a mug of beer for him at the same time. "Are all the girls in the town so pretty?" he asked as he took the mug.
The barmaid giggled before walking away. Ralf turned back to the men at the table, still smiling broadly. "So, this is old Hamelin, eh? I think I'm rather going to like it here."
"It's quite a good town we have indeed, Ralf," Mathias answered.
Ewald smacked his head as another flea buzzed around it, plastering the pest to his hand. Scowling, he brushed the remains onto the floor and took a long draught of ale.
"A good kill there, friend," Ralf said. "Do you get fleas often in this town?"
"Only recently," said Ewald in a sour tone, wanting to be out of this damn place, away from these damn fleas and this damn troubadour. He was too nice about everything. Ewald didn't trust anyone who was actively jovial without any discrimination, any preference. And he had found in the past that usually, his mistrust was justified.
He finished his drink and stood to his feet, ready to leave this place in favor of a welcoming home. "Afternoon, gentlemen," he muttered brusquely.
"Oh, leaving, are you?" Ralf asked in his elaborate, humbly pompous way. "Well, I bid you good day, then!" The other men nodded and muttered their acknowledgement, as was the custom. Ewald turned and walked out of the tavern, without another word.
He looked up at the sun, judging it would be about dusk by the time he made it home. It was better than six miles to his farm, one of the more distant outliers from Hamelin proper, and would take him the greater part of two hours to reach. He walked briskly, hoping to beat his estimate, thinking eagerly about his wife and son. He wanted a decent reprieve before the harsh farm labor started again tomorrow morning.
Feeling something against his foot, he gritted his teeth as he saw a large rat scurry across the dirt path below him. Rats and fleas, he thought. He needed better companions than those.
The journey went reasonably quickly, Ewald's thoughts largely occupied with his wife and the welcome she'd have for him, and enjoying her on their cot later. He reached the farm just before sunset, striding a bit more merrily into the house, now that he was among well-liked company.
"Katherina, I'm back from the town meeting!" he called. He waited a moment for the expected response, but to his consternation, was greeted with silence. "What the devil?" Ewald looked about the two-room cottage for some indication of what had happened, but found nothing. He sighed, grimacing like he had a bad taste in his mouth, then finally resolved to wait outside for his family to return. If something had happened to them, he could search more easily in the morning than now, with the sun barely a sliver above the horizon.
He heard them before he saw them—the sun by then having completely descended, and significantly more than a few minutes having passed. He shook his head in disgust, walking back into the house; he could hear the joyful tone in their voices, practically hear the spring in their step. She'd worried him over a pleasantry. Over some goddamned pleasantry. He almost wanted her not to come back, now.
He sat on the edge of the cot as they walked through the threshold, practically whooping over whatever alternative to him they loved so much.
"Ewald!" Katherina shouted just as joyfully, all the worse because it hadn't stemmed from him. And inconsiderate, too; he could have been sleeping. He should have been sleeping.
Then he realized. The unmistakable absence in the threshold. Joacim. He wasn't here. "Where's Joacim?" he asked hoarsely. "What's happened to our son?"
"Oh, dear, you needn't worry about him. Let me tell you about what—"
"What happened to our son?" he repeated, more raggedly, more desperately.
"Ewald, nothing happened to him," she said assuringly, setting down the lantern she was holding. "We went into town expecting to meet you, and I guess we must have just missed you, but there was this charming man, playing a wonderful tune on the flute in the middle of Hamelin Square…"
He could feel his blood boiling. "A charming man? A charming man named, Ralf, I suppose." He thought back to earlier that day, to the council who had just voted this man into the town. He should have said something. He should have tried to deny the fool entrance. He let out a sigh that was maybe more akin to a low growl.
"Did you meet him, then?" Her voice was laced with a semblance of concern, but still it was far too casual.
"Katherina, what happened?" he asked brusquely, tired of her deliberate niceties.
"Dear, it's nothing for you to worry about. Some of the children were enraptured by him, and I can't say I disagree with them." She smiled for a moment before she continued. "He offered them a moonlight performance, in the woods. We all fancied it a wonderful idea. It'll just be until morning, Ewald."
"What in Hell?!" He was on his feet now, towering over her like an enraged beast. "You left our son under the sole protection of that pompous charlatan? Good God, woman, what vile spirit could have possessed you to make a decision of such absolute stupidity?"
"Ewald, I think you're—"
"You think something, Katherina? You claim to think, and yet, you put absolutely no thought into giving our only son into the care of this raving madman!" He was practically frothing from the mouth, his eyes bulging from his head, looking, in the shadows of the dim lamplight, like nothing more than the raving madman he described.
Katherina cowered away in fear, not sure what he was going to do next. Ewald shook his head in complete disgust, heading for the doorway. "I'm going to find our son," he said. "My son," he muttered to himself as he stalked out of the house.
He grabbed his spare lantern as he walked over the porch, pouring in the oil and lighting it with his tinderbox as quickly as he could, setting out vaguely east. He knew well the direction of the forest, but it was large enough that even with his lantern and sense of direction, he was searching relatively blindly.
The thought of this haughty piper kidnapping his son—many of the children, in fact—was enough to turn his stomach. He didn't know what the devil was going on in the forest, but he was going to put an end to it. The miserable fact of it was that the women had all swooned over him so much that they'd allowed him to do it. He vowed to never let Joacim out alone with his wife ever again. He tried not to contemplate the possibility that there might not be an again.
Shaking his head, he refrained as best he could from all thought on the subject, until he reached the relevant site. He didn't need to be scared of all the ugly unlikelihoods when he might have the power to prevent a tragedy, or, at least, rescue his son from this fool.
As vast as the forest was, it took him under an hour before he heard the raucous, gleeful shouting and, more faintly, the crisp, clear notes of a flute. Well, perhaps was just an arrogant musician trying to boost his ego with the praise of children, after all. But he wouldn't believe it until he saw for himself, and brought Joacim back to his safe home and warm cot.
The noise was emanating from a large copse Ewald knew fairly well, and chided himself for not heading to in the first place; it was easily the best gathering site in the entirety of the forest, though it wasn't considered proper for upright Christian townsfolk to make such use of it, even in daylight; especially not after dark. That didn't matter, of course; this was an outsider, who was oblivious to such improprieties. Still, it wasn't exactly something to assuage his anxiousness.
A short time, and then he had reached the outskirts of the copse, crouching in the bushes to assess the situation before he took action, not wanting to chance making matters worse than they already were. Before the scene ahead of him even fully registered, he was startled by the sudden realization that the gleeful shouting had stopped—though not the notes of the flute. More warily, more alertly, he turned his attention to the piper and the children—to his son.
The piper stood atop a small stump, moonlight shining down on him as he played, as if he were atop a grand dais illuminated by extravagant chandeliers, court bard to some high lord. The sight was dazzling, even to Ewald; so much so that it took him a moment before he noticed what was occurring below.
Rats by the hundreds—thousands, maybe—were crawling into the copse, swarming over a few distinguishable forms of children, several more likely hidden under the multitudinous hordes of vermin. Ewald would have sworn the rats were flocking to the notes of the piper's flute if he didn't know better—and, when he thought about it, he wasn't sure he did. Masses of fleas jumped from body to body, the rats' virulent companions, feasting on rodent and man alike.
Ewald's eyes darted around the scene desperately, searching among the filthy carnage for some sign of his son. When he found none, it was all he could do to keep himself from charging in there to look. He pinched his brow, thinking furiously, hoping for some way to extricate Joacim from this torrent of horror. He thrust his entire consciousness into focusing on this one problem, and yet, somehow, the mesmerizing, malignant notes of the piper's flute were all he could think of, even as rats swarmed over him, onto his stomach, his arms, his legs, into his mouth, until he was buried under a mountain of fur, teeth, and blood, those simple, clear notes still floating through his head until his consciousness faded into nothing.
He woke to a world of unimaginable pain, tiny scratches and bites covering the entirety of his body, blooding pouring from wounds too numerous to count. He tasted fur and blood in his mouth, and remembered what happened. He looked around, wondering that he was still alive. The sun was just beginning to rise above the hills on the horizon, glorious herald to the impending dawn.
Ewald collapsed back to the ground in pain as he hacked up several wads of hair, grimacing. He forced himself back to his feet and surveyed the rest of the scene.
The piper was now nowhere to be seen, the rats and fleas evidently having followed him in his flight. The bodies of children lay strewn about the copse as if dolls thrown about in a tantrum. Ewald wished that were the case, instead of the horrible situation he knew to be reality. His stomach churning in revulsion, he gently shook each body, trying to see if any were still alive.
He found six which stirred upon touch; six who were still alive. The rest of them wouldn't ever stir again. Nine dead, because he and Hamelin's committee of fools had allowed this desecrator into their town. Joacim was among those dead, but he didn't dare shed a tear now. He had to lead these children back to safety, first. There would be time for mourning, once all was said and done, though mourning wouldn't do anything for those killed, for Joacim. He spat on the ground in utter disgust, taking a moment before he turned to the wretched survivors, so mangled and bloodied that one could hardly call them the lucky ones. He shook his head at the senselessness of it all as he ushered them away from the scene, back in the direction of Hamelin. He noticed Hans's son, Mathias's daughter. He felt a sharp pang of jealousy that their children had managed to survive.
He shifted his arms as he led the deathlike procession into town. Something felt distinctly uncomfortable when he held them by his sides, like his armpits were bulging. Swollen rat bites, he supposed. Though it was strange that there was one on each side, and that both had swollen almost exactly the same way. He shrugged uncomfortably before discarding the subject, knowing that the swelling would either heal, or it wouldn't.
Ewald almost collapsed again as he was struck by another fit of coughing only a few hundred yards from the town's outskirts. The pain was much worse this time. His whole body felt like it was on fire, incinerating from the inside out. He felt something spew out of his mouth in abundance—blood, a small part of him, the only part not consumed in agony, managed to realize. He took a step forward and it felt as if his body ignited anew, bursts of anguish rushing through his blood every time he moved. It threatened to consume him, but it didn't. It couldn't. It was his duty to bring these children to safety. Just a few more yards. A few more. Surely he could handle that.
Step by agonizing step he trudged forward, intent on his duty. Sweat and blood poured from his body in streams; he felt as though he were walking through Hell.
He fell into the excruciating rhythm of it, confident he would cross the last few feet to victory. Step, breathe. Step, breathe. He would lead these children back to their parents. He would. And then he was going to take a long nap in his cot. Step, breathe. Step—
He tripped over a twig, plummeting to the ground below. He hit his head on a sharp rock, but he barely felt it.
The children watched with blank expressions as blood oozed from the wound on his head, as the life left his pain-filled eyes. Others rushed over, Lars and Mathias and several others, a search party come too late. Parents comforted their children even as they coughed up blood, the same way Ewald had.
"What's wrong with his neck?" one man said. A few other men gathered around as he poked Ewald's lifeless corpse with a stick. Blood oozed from the swollen area of the neck, blood or maybe something else—it was black.
"What do you suppose that is?" the man said incredulously.
"I don't know," said another, nervously. He coughed in his shirt sleeve, without noticing the drop of blood he'd left upon it. "Looks like some kind of black plague."