Friday, 11 January 2013

#FridayFlash - Pipers Piping

A piper sits in the square, huddled on the corner of a monument to a forgotten City Father. Passersby see his threadbare stockings through the holes in his battered boots, and they shake their well-coiffed heads. They tut at his moth-eaten tunic, and mutter among themselves about his lifeless cap and torn mittens. He ignores them, focussing only on the pipes in his lap. His frozen fingers fly up and down the chanter, and he stares at the cold paving stones to avoid their stares.

Minutes turn into hours, and still the piper plays. He slides into a sea shanty; a group of passing navvies dance and jig in the square, and toss a few brass coins into the pot before his seat. He turns the shanty into a doleful funeral march that plucks at the strings of all but the hardest heart, and a small child drops a penny into the pot before her highborn mother can scold her. Soon the piper picks up the tempo and plunges into a frenetic polka. A couple that mirror the piper in their poverty laugh and clap their hands, and they throw a ha'penny into his pot. For each of the givers, the piper spares a short smile, and their lives.

The piper plays all day, yet he never misses a note, and never skips a beat. He weaves music so beautiful it could almost be the faint shimmer that seems to light his corner of the piazza. The well-to-do among the citizenry continue to complain about his appearance, considering his ragtag clothes a disgrace to the fine square, yet they stand long enough to listen, long enough to enjoy. The piper ignores them all, but he has discerned tapping feet, and suppressed smiles.

By the day's end, the city's workers have retired to their homes, or the taverns. Only those with fewer concerns can spare the time to listen to the piper. A handful of officials gather nearby, keen not to be seen listening to such vulgar music, but equally intent on enjoying it. None of them have added to his collection, nor have they offered to buy him supper, or pay to have his boots mended. The piper sweeps his gaze around the square, and contents himself that only those who have spent the day deploring his existence are present.

His music shifts again, this time cutting into a gentle waltz. The onlookers find themselves clasping hands with strangers, forced into pairs by the rhythm surrounding them. The dancers follow in each other's footsteps as they glide around the square, compelled by the music to join the waltz. The piper continues to play, increasing the tempo. The waltzers must dance faster, and the embarrassed smiles and ill-concealed amusement begin to wane. As the waltz gains speed, the dancers struggle, and try to break free. Grins turn to grimaces, and panic rises to replace pleasure. Still the piper plays his song, and soon the dancers are running around the square. They roll their eyes and froth at their mouths in their efforts to leave, but still the waltz holds them in its grasp.

The first to expire is a corpulent bureaucrat, red and perspiring as he huffs his last. His partner, to her eternal dismay, continues to waltz, albeit on her own. Others do not fare better - they drop, one by one, landing in heaps on the stones as their partners keep the waltz going. A socialite is the last to go, who collapses in the square, a single word on her lips as her heart gives out.

"Why?"

The piper stops, and his pipes continue his melody for a few moments until they, too, fall silent. He looks down at the amassed corpses and scowls. No answer will be given now.

He packs up his things and walks out of the square. He hums a tune as he turns into a side alley. A nice foxtrot should enliven his mood as he heads to the next town.

16 comments:

Larry Kollar said...

"The piper spares a short smile, and their lives." Nice bit of foreshadowing there!

It occurs to me that we could use a guy like that around here now. "You gotta pay the piper." Heh.

Tony Noland said...

Like Larry, I loved the menace you threaded through that line about short smile.

John Wiswell said...

Interesting that others read this as menace. I read the tone as quite weary, perhaps tired of the piper's surroundings or the locals. That made the upbeat foxtrot at the end very amusing to me.

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

ditto on what Tony and Larry said!

Sulci Collective said...

Yeah menace & doom for me rather than weariness.

Modern day St Vitus Dance for the socially unjust

marc nash

Peter Newman said...

I liked the same line as Larry, Tony and Mazz. Baa!

flyingscribbler said...

Brilliant take on a well known theme Icy. I can't forget the 'highborn' mother. Does she escape the piper's doom by virtue of her daughter?

Amalia T. Dillin said...

"and their lives" totally caught my attention and shifted the gears in my head, and made me pay closer attention to what came next. I love that this starts out so slowly, so ordinary, but the twist really pays off.

Helen said...

I too loved this line "The piper spares a short smile, and their lives." a hint of what was to come. ^_^

Steve Green said...

I had a feeling that someone was going to pay a high price, and was pleasantly surprised in the manner of his vengeance, and the elegant way you wove the story to get the reader there.

I absolutely loved this piece Icy.

brainhaze said...

Brilliant pace and hidden rhythm to this piece Icy, The whole story is almost a waltzer in itself, taking a faster spin in a different direction at the end. Love it :)

Cindy Vaskova said...

I'm going to steal the word elegant from Steve and say the way his punishment worked was elegant! The opening drew the image of a man one sees everyday and often fails to recognize as a person. But here the image of this huddled figure playing the pipes took a turn that offered a different outcome, and I really enjoyed reading it and coming to this closure. On to the next town!

Katherine Hajer said...

In a story filled with well-chosen details, my favourite was that the pipes stopped playing a few seconds after the piper stopped blowing into them. Nice job.

Sonya Clark said...

I love your imagination! Wonderful story, as always.

tomeliaswriter said...

Very good, Icy. I'll echo the foreshadowing and twist in the end commentary. You have talent.

tomeliaswriter said...

Oops, forgot to ask: do you come up with your own topics and such, or does the #hashtag indicate you receive these on twitter?

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