Paying the Piper

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A plague of seagulls hold a seaside town to ransom. Will the mysterious stranger be able to get rid of them? And at what cost?

Submitted: March 10, 2017

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Submitted: March 10, 2017



Have you ever met someone who actually seems to change the air around them wherever they go? Like a sort of electric charge- prickling and fizzing with a sparkle you can't tear your eyes away from? That was what it was like that day that Stefan walked up to my desk. He made the tired mums, the concerned old men and the earnestly political young women sat in the waiting room recede to a faded mural against the peeling, institution cream wall. His hair was an arctic blond and reached the collar of his long black leather coat. His eyes were pale blue fringed with thick white lashes- I couldn't look anywhere else.

'May I speak with councillor West please?' He said, in a faintly Eastern European accent.

'Errm- do you have an appointment? 'I stammered.

'no but I must speak with him urgently- I can help him with all this' he swept his hand over to the splattered window.

'What?' I didn't understand.

'With your town's problem. I can get rid of the seagulls'

Perhaps I should explain. For about 2 years, Bingham on sea had had a big problem.

Seagulls- I don't mean just a normal few stealing your chips every now and again. These birds were everywhere

They had pebble dashed the whole town with their foul green excrement, their haranguing screams drowned out even the crash of the waves on the shingle beach. The pier had been shut for months now because if anyone ventured along it the gulls would dive and menace until the only option was to jump off. Seagulls had turned Bingham on Sea from a hearty old fashioned seaside town- the type of place that the prime- minister might bring his family for the May bank holiday- to a nightmare settlement where we were all held hostage by mean eyed sharp beaked wardens, only a couple of basic supply shops remained, people who could move away had already done so, the rest of us were trapped by mortgages, dependants, or in my case my increasingly desperate father- Councillor West.

Stefan was already striding towards dad's office

Hang on- there's a queue- I said feebly- honestly, the thought of him sitting waiting for anything was ludicrous.

He slammed the door behind him as he entered the office.

Ten minutes later he came out with dad- they were both smiling - Stefan

With his guileless joyful smile I've come to know so well, and dad, well his smile not quite reaching his eyes- he's up to something, I thought .

They shook hands.’£10,000 we're agreed then’ Stefan said. ‘Yes, of course- once every seagull is out of here.’  Dad replied, glancing a warning look at me.

Ha- I thought- £10,000- what a joke! We didn't even have 10.00 in the kitty.

I'll start first thing tomorrow Stefan said, by sunset the gulls will have gone.

After Stefan had sauntered out of the building, long leather coat trailing behind him, dad turned to me.

‘Reckons he can get rid of them all!’

‘How?’ I asked- we'd tried everything from Falcons to air rifles.

‘He didn't really say....something about charming them away.’

Fine I thought another nutter promising miracles.

Next morning as I walked along the sea front, hood up against the inevitable swoops and mess I saw him. He was stood perfectly still - his hands hovering near his mouth- as I approached I saw a glint: he was holding some sort of silver flute. He turned to me with a strange half smile, not saying anything. Then he started to play.

The music was like nothing I'd ever heard, and yet it was all the music I'd ever heard- sweet, ancient, ebbing and flowing, soaring and plunging like the sea itself. Clouds gathered above the town, moving fast over the roofs- only they weren't clouds- they were seagulls, silently forming huge swells, moving forward forward, and up. As Stefan continued to coax the miraculous tune from his flute, the birds stemming as one huge air born spectre rose and rose so the beast diminished to a single floating speck, like a child's lost balloon. And then they were gone. What just happened? How? And yet it seemed so perfect, so natural- just part of what has always happened- animals flock and swarm. Then they leave.

‘All of them?’ I must have said it out loud - Stefan nodded, he put the flute in his pocket with a shaking white hand

‘Are you ok?’ I touched his sleeve. He looked terrible, exhausted, pale as death dark ringed eyes burning and flaring with their own freezing light.

He nodded again. And headed off in the direction of the council offices.

By the time we got there he had regained a little of his bounce. He threw open my father's office door

‘I’m pleased to report’- he started formally- and my dad turned with that patronising look on his face

‘I suppose you've got rid of them all?’

‘Yes! Yes I have sir’

Dad went to the window with a smirk, strained to look out, and then hurried outside the building.

‘Well I shall need a full inspection’, he blustered-‘ you can't tell me you got rid of every last one of them?’

He turned to me and I nodded- ‘yes dad- they're gone’ I murmured - starting to feel - what- dread? Fear? Guilt? All of those for I knew that what I'd just seen wasn't normal, wasn't of this world, and I knew that my father had no intention of paying....and he wouldn't believe me when I told him that Stefan couldn't be cheated.

‘Thank you so much for allowing me to use my – skills’ Stefan's voice had regained all of its command now ‘I can assure you that they are all permanently removed. So if I could have my money- I must be going- I've heard they have a terrible rat problem in Hackney at the moment- I'm needed.’

‘Hmm well of course we'll have to wait and see if they come back before we can release the.....’dad stammered

‘We had an agreement, Sir’-the ‘Sir’ was spat out as a curse.

‘Did we? Did we though? Have you got the contract?’ Dad turned to me

‘Dad, you know I don't’ I tried to plead silently to him- please, just pay.

Surely you must know? Surely you must see what he is? Who he is?

But dad just stuck his chin out- you're a crackpot hustler- probably on drugs- I don't owe you anything

‘No!’ I shouted, but it was too late.

It's the way of things people, animals, they thrive, they multiply, they love and they betray. Then they leave.  But nothing is without consequence. Oh dad, I was your most precious thing and so that is what you had to lose forever.

It's ok, I'm ok half lit, here, but gone yet always with Him, happy to be part of his collection.

© Copyright 2018 Penelope G. All rights reserved.

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