To Follow Him

To Follow Him is an uncompleted YA fantasy novel, the retelling of the legend of The Pied Piper.

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View two (and a half) sample chapters below.


CHAPTER ONE: BEGINNING

 

The rat watched me with empty, unblinking eyes.

I stilled in the shadows, glaring at the monstrous rodent. I raised my broom—I wasn’t afraid to use it. But before I could pounce, the rat skittered away.

The vindictive bristles of the broom quarried into my side. I lowered the brush and resumed sweeping the room. The space arced about me in a circle, five times as tall as it was wide. The cinderblocks that manufactured the building were expensive marble. I dropped to the ground and my handmade dress skimmed the ground. I tapped the marble with caution. It was hard and cold. Just as I suspected.

That was all money could buy.

And yet just one slab could take care of my sister Aloisa and I for at least a year.

A thunk sounded behind me, and I flung myself back into a standing position. My vision clouded with the force of the guilty blush now mushrooming across my cheeks. I focused on shifting the broom back and forth, back and forth, like the hands of a clock.

“Stupid peasant girl,” came a malicious voice. It sputtered with the consequences of some drug. I ignored the speaker, instead concentrating even harder on my broom.

“Did you hear me, girl?” Ever so subtly, I moved my hand to the concealed dagger underneath my skirt. In my condition, I never would’ve struggled against death . . . save my handicapped little sister.

I had to stay alive for her. I had to take care of her.

“Hebnik!” I knew that voice. In fact, I’d know it anywhere. Whiny, nasally, acerbic with the venom of politics.

It was our mayor.

I turned to face him, only out of mandatory respect.

“Stop terrorizing the help—servants—domestics.” Ah, another one of his exasperating features. Our mayor sat on his slothful rump all day, browsing dictionaries and memorizing synonyms whilst ordering luxurious furniture for his palace. Never mind that Hamlin deteriorated around him in wake of the foul rats.

The revulsion in my heart for this man multiplied every time I was in his presence. Laboring at his palace every day infuriated me, but the pay trekked straight to my stomach. That is, Aloisa and I’s stomachs. Food prices inflated daily, as did my wages. Sometimes I’d even receive scraps of food from the cooks. So long as I stayed here, Aloisa and I would never go hungry.

The mayor scratched his globular stomach and petted his finger across his mustache as he peeked about the room. “It’s not clean yet. I want the chandeliers sparkling. There’s a ladder somewhere around here.”

Then he and Hebnik removed themselves from the room with pageantry, Hebnik glowering at me before smashing the dense wooden doors shut.

I stood in the pristine room that glistened brighter than the sun outside.

And I wept.

***

The rain’s symphony of plinks brought exultation to all hearts. Water was scant, and the whole town now stood outside with buckets and cups and bowls. They plucked the drops to themselves as aqueous berries.

I opened my mouth and let the droplets spray my tongue. The relieving thrill bursting over my tongue helped me forget the earthen flavor.

“Would you like a cup to bring some home to Aloisa, bärchen?” Mrs. Hüber asked from underneath an olive hood, her white hair leaping out with a mind of its own. She extended a wrinkled hand that held a chalky-blue-colored vase.

“Danke,” I said and accepted the container.

“How is your sister?”

My teeth threatened to chatter because of the chilling rain. The liquid assaulted my exposed arms and dowsed my hair. “Same as ever. I—”

Not far off I spotted a young woman wearing a burgundy dress. She swiveled around and I identified her as Amandine, the girl who minded my sister while I worked.

“I’m sorry, I—” I didn’t even finish my sentence. My feet whirred faster than my tongue as I darted to the girl. She cuddled a basin, eyes lustrous in senseless incredulity. “Amandine!”

The girl peeped at me. When she recognized my face, her eyes enlarged with guilt. I glared chasms in her pale flesh. “Where is Aloisa?”

Amandine gripped the basin to her level bosom. “I . . . I’m sorry, I just had to come out here and get some water. It’s been days since I or my family have had a drop, and—”

“How could you? I told you never to leave her alone! I was going to get enough for all of us. Aloisa—” I couldn’t entrust myself to any more conversation. I whirled around and sped to my house.

All the while I clamped my fists in rage. Idiotic girl. I never should have trusted her with Aloisa. And yet she had been one of the only available people . . .

I scaled the decaying brick steps, slick with water. The house held two rooms, a bedroom and a kitchen. I could circle the perimeter in fifteen seconds or less. I hurled open the door and lunged into the house.

A three-legged table tilted against dent-ridden walls of the empty room. The only form of life was the burial ground of lifeless flowers strewn across the room. That was Aloisa’s doing, certainly. Flowers transfixed her.

I threw myself into the bedroom, but Aloisa wasn’t there. Half of me wanted to fling myself on the ground and sob. But the other half—the dominant half—knew I had to find Aloisa.

I seized the only blanket we owned, a porous gray quilt, and wrapped it about me. Then I left the house.

“Aloisa! Aloisa!” I screamed into the rainless air. “Aloisa!”

Terror gripped me like Hebnik when my cleaning wasn’t satisfactory. I continued shrieking her name as if she were the only thing keeping me alive.

Because she was.

I didn’t want to assume the consequences I’d endure if she had roamed off and . . . I gripped the quilt tighter to myself and cried louder.

A few people came out and asked what the matter was. I knew every single person in town—we were a family, brought together by sadness and pain. A search party grew from the threads of adopted family I gathered along the way, and soon a large portion of the town followed after me squealing Aloisa’s name.

Mrs. Hüber soon heard the upheaval. She left her home and hobbled to me, her eyes bluer than my mood. “If you truly want to find Aloisa, I do know of a way.”

At this point, I’d do anything just to get Aloisa back. Without her, I couldn’t exist. She was the only thing holding me to this earth.

“What is it?”

The group behind me continued walking and calling Aloisa’s name. Mrs. Hüber beckoned for me to lower myself to her level. I did so, and she cupped a hand about my ear. “You could summon . . . The Piper.”

A gasp escaped from my lips. I knew little of the Piper, except what I had been told of him by townspeople. Every night when it drew dark, we saw his house perched on Goathead Mountain, illuminated by thousands of flickering lights. The optimistic stated they were just flames; the dying old men claimed they were something more ominous.

“One must be careful when dealing with powerful men like the piper.”

The echoes of “Aloisa!” reached my ears with an ominous and ironic tinge. “I do not know . . . he sounds dangerous.”

“I am afraid if you wait any longer, it could be too late for Aloisa,” Mrs. Hüber worried. “The piper would be able to get her back. I guarantee it. But finding Aloisa yourself could take a small eternity. Her mind does not work like ours—she could be anywhere.”

A tear flew down my cheek. I swiped it away. Perhaps Aloisa was already dead. Perhaps she would never come back. Perhaps . . .

“So be it. I cannot lose her. Tell me more.”

Mrs. Hüber placed a withered hand on my shoulder with a touch light as air. “Come.”

She pulled me aside, out of the stream of bodies searching for Aloisa. We clung to the side of a building wearing a robe of moss. It rose high to the sky with importance.

Mrs. Hüber tugged at the chain ringing her neck. She flourished the object suspended from the end, a music note embossed on a black leaf. “Place your finger on the necklace. Then close your eyes and think of Aloisa.”

I followed Mrs. Hüber’s directions. The leaf burned in between my fingers, stinging pricks of discomfort, as I longed for Aloisa to be with me. Blazing colors flared in my vision—a rainbow of purples and blues, yellows and pinks—and tears gushed down my face as the rain had dropped from the sky this morning.

And then . . . I heard the most beauteous song my ears ever dared listen to. Its sound seemed to stroke my hearing instruments, and I yearned to dissolve into the exhilarating resonances. Its intoxicating noise sheltered me in a relaxation. My only thought was the identification of the instrument as a type of woodwind . . .

“It worked.” Mrs. Hüber’s whisper splintered my hallucination and I plummeted back to reality. However, my vision clouded when I returned and I could see only smudges.

I panicked. “I can’t see!”

“Don’t worry.” The voice was new. It was young—stunning—manly. “It will wear off. It’s just an after effect of the calling.”

The blur that seemed to be talking was brown, black, and green. I fixed my eyes on the blur I assumed was Mrs. Hüber.

“You aren’t the piper,” Mrs. Hüber accused.

“No, I’m not,” the voice answered. “I’m his son.”

 

CHAPTER TWO: SUMMON

 

Seeing blobs is a curse in its own right.

This strange boy, the piper’s son apparently, was merely a gray, green, and black blob that towered well above me and Mrs. Hüber. From what I saw, he moved with agility, and yet he was tinged with age he didn’t possess. He spoke politely, slowly, and said “please” and “danke” at all the proper times.

I wondered if perhaps he himself were enchanted.

Mrs. Hüber chatted nippily whilst I lost myself in my muddled world.

“How is your father?” That was Mrs. Hüber’s voice, I knew that.

“Oh, he’s not here.”

Mrs. Hüber snorted. “Obviously. I may be old, but I’m not blind. Where is he then?”

There was a slight hesitation—the absence of sound made me feel claustrophobic. “He’s in Heaven, ma’am.”

That shut Mrs. Hüber up. I eagerly inherited the reins of the conversation.

“I was the one that summoned you.”

“Ja, I know.”

Ah—I saw how it was. Perfectly polite towards the elderly, but churlish in matters of adolescents.

“So what do you do now?”

“I know why you summoned me. It’ll take a day’s length for me to find your sister.”

I balked. “A day? My sister is—she can’t—she could be dead right now, for all I know.”

The piper’s blotch leaned backwards, as if he were mounting upon the balls of his feet in displeasure. “She’s not dead, I can assure you. I find alive things—I’m not in the business of summoning the dead or magicking rutabagas.”

“You know what, maybe I don’t need your help,” I quipped, hurling an acerbic curtsy his way. “It’s been a pleasure making your acquaintance, but in the small while we known each other, you’ve blinded and bickered with me incessantly.”

“Firstly, I did not blind you. Technically, that’s the pipe’s doing.” My vision sputtered black. When it returned, it was less fuzzy. “Secondly, it takes two to tango—if you follow my jist. Thirdly, I’m afraid that’s not how it works. Once you called upon me, there was no going back.”

I burrowed my fingernails into my palms, envisioning that my hand was this prideful musician’s face. “How pleasant. Do you have a brochure I can look at?”

“I left them back at the hut, sorry.”

His humor was as grating as Mrs. Hüber’s crooning of Gaelic love songs. “Well then, let’s please make this as short as possible. What must I do now?”

The piper’s chest puffed out in deep breath. “You are looking for your handicapped sister. The last time you saw her was this morning—you left her in the care of the most capricious, empty-headed young woman in town. I applaud you.”

I was glad I couldn’t see his face, for it would have made a much bigger target for me to scratch at. “Hold your tongue.”

“Give me one day. I will find your sister. Then we shall discuss payment.”

“Grand. Aug wiedersehen.”

Goodbye, Miss Ingrid.” The blur bowed deeply, perhaps mockingly—I couldn’t tell.

But I could tell one thing—I never told him my name.

***

Mrs. Hüber crossed her arms, emanating the appearance of a toddler’s soul in an old woman’s body. “I liked his father better.”

My vision had returned, and I was glad, for missing Mrs. Hüber’s infuriated visage would’ve been quite a loss.

“He was horrid,” I agreed. “No wonder there’s a no refund policy.”

Mrs. Hüber shot her hands out like a wrinkled octopus and snatched the wooden chicken figurine sitting on the table in front of her. She had a rather worrisome obsession with painting five-eyed chicken and rooster statues. No one ever bought them—but she didn’t want to sell them anyway.

“He must’ve gotten his personality from his mother,” she muttered mid-stroke.

“I’ve never met someone so insolent—so hoity toity—so . . . uncouth.” He almost instilled in me admiration because of his dogged insolence. “You would think he has never before been in the presence of a woman.”

Mrs. Hüber couldn’t speak—the mission before her riveted her awareness. She delicately poked yellow speckles on the poultry’s humped back.

“Why does it take him a whole day?” I questioned, taking advantage of Mrs. Hüber’s experience. “And do you really think he knows if Aloisa is . . . around still?”

Mrs. Hüber, finished with her speckling, placed her brush on the table and white a white eyebrow. “The other piper took a day too. He didn’t disappear entirely, actually. We saw him ‘round quite a bit.”

“Delightful.”

“I don’t actually remember much about the other piper, now that I think about it. I can’t even remember what he got rid of.” Mrs. Hüber scoured her brush with precision as her brows skated down a furrow in her forehead. “How peculiar.”

Poor Mrs. Hüber. I imagined what getting old must be like. Feeling young, but rising from your chair after eating and feeling every bone in your body creak. Feeling scared, as your brain drips full with memories that shall never be remembered. Feeling hopeful, and yet uncertain as you watch the future generation doing things you would never do.

I never wanted to grow old.

“Well, I best be headed home.” I rose from my chair, but my elderly friend nodded her head no.

“It’s not proper for a young woman to be all alone at night in a house. Stay here.” I grinned at her offer. “I shall protect ye from the banshees that wander the streets at night.”

I smacked back into my chair. “Oh, ja. Those.”

“For truth and for certainty! There are ghosts that wander this town. I have often talked to them myself.” I ran a hand over Mrs. Hüber’s table, dust collecting like a church assembly. “Perhaps the piper will run into them.”

“Hopefully they’ll scare him out of town.” Mrs. Hüber trundled about the room and unfastened a wicker basket, from which she confiscated two quilts. She returned to her seat and handed me a quilt.

“I paid the ghost of an unwed bride to abduct him in his sleep. Ye shan’t see him no more.” I smiled warmly. Mrs. Hüber always had my best interests in mind. When my parents disappeared, she took me under her wing dutifully. I was the independent sort; certain I could make do on my own.

Nonetheless, she had always been there with her silly fowls and her endless bounty of tongue-tingling food and soft quilts.

“I . . . I just feel terrible about leaving her with _______,” I admitted, wrapping myself in the warmth. It smelled of old paint.

Mrs. Hüber waved her hand in the air, dismissing my folly. “We all fail, bärchen. I am the only perfect one in this whole blasted town, and it is time to accept that.”

I grinned at her humor.

“Oh fiddle faddle, I bluff. Imperfection is the matter of life. If nothing bad ever happened, what fun would life be?”

“It would be smooth and luxurious.”

Mrs. Hüber huffed. “Like my arms.”

The old woman and I talked long into the night. We chattered about all sorts of things, as women do. Women discuss anything and everything. A talent most all of us possess is the proficiency of inventing conversation about both important and unimportant things. Generally, the topic is unimportant. But, every now and then, one can find a person with whom they can speak of both important and unimportant things.

Perhaps this is the real definition of a friend.

Once Mrs. Hüber dozed off amid a narrative of her golden childhood, I allowed myself to collapse into the fear that had threatened me all day.

Of course I’d been drowning in worry all day. But did I show it? Of course not. I couldn’t. I was the stoic one in the family—Aloisa displayed enough emotion for both of us. Too many emotions in a house and bam everything would collapse like an overweight horse.

The house creaked. It was not ominous, as most house creaks are. In fact, it was rather assuring. Foolishly, I whispered hi to the walls. The house creaked again.

Just as I settled into the warm blanket, a scratching sound brought me back to reality. My eyes flickered open and I glanced down to see . . .

A rabbit.

It’s not every day one finds a rabbit has walked—er, hopped, into his house. But it’s even less common to find a rabbit has walked into his house with a letter in its mouth.

The rabbit wiggled its nose and I tried not to giggle at its cuteness. I removed the paper from its mouth, figuring perhaps I was already asleep and was having a strange dream brought on by the stress of the day.

But when I opened the paper, I knew I was not dreaming. For I’d never dream that the paper was a letter from the piper’s son.

I request the pleasure of your company outside. I just need a few minutes to report on my progress. Just business.

Oh, he really was a charmer indeed. I wondered if he always woke his victims from slumber before twilight. I slunked out from underneath my quilt, my body complaining at being torn away from the cozy cocoon. But perhaps the boy would tell me he had found Aloisa ahead of schedule and was leaving town. I smiled at the thought.

The front door did not creak as I opened it, and I thanked my lucky stars. Mrs. Hüber probably would have loved to bestow a lecture on the various virtues of plenteous sleep.

Once I was outside, I glanced to my left . . . and received a light tap on the shoulder from the right.

“Great—!” I shrieked. And yet attached to the shoulder were a pair of broad shoulders and a rather handsome head. “Are you the piper, or a bandit?”

The boy grinned. My unfavorable predispositions threatened to dissolve like sugar in tea. “I could say I’m a bandit and be lying. Or I could say I’m the piper and be lying. Or I could be neither.”

I flung my hair over my shoulder, painfully aware that it was not fixed in any style. “You’re the piper. I know you are. I recognize your voice.”

Please stop calling me ‘the piper.’” He complained. “It makes my ears hurt. Call me Quarter.”

“Quarter?”

“Long story. But basically it is short for quarter note. That’s a musical term in case you—”

“I knew.”

Quarter shrugged. “Good.”

Then he stilled. He stared at nothing in particular—my pinafore, it seemed like, but his mind was obviously elsewhere.

“Would you mind telling me what you came here to share? I’m tired.”

“Girls—so whiny,” he commented childishly. “Well, anyway, my pipe knows where Aloisa is. She’s alive and doing well. She outside of town—from what I know, in another town across the way. I don’t know much else.”

I thrust my hands into the pinafore that so captivated his attention. “Why can’t we go get her ourselves?”

“My pipe is rather jealous.” Quarter said this with a perfectly straight face. As if owning an inanimate object with feelings were perfectly commonplace. “If we were to go find her ourselves, who knows what would happen.”

“Oh, bosh. Jealous instruments.”

Quarter’s face darkened. The moon revealed itself from behind a cloud, giving up his hide-and-seek. For the first time, I could see Quarter fully.

He was dark, in a word, as a good possessor of magical forces should be. His hair was unstyled, uncut, and midnight black. It kissed the tops of his ears, giving him an immature look. His ears were big and slightly crooked. His jawline had completely transformed from boy to man, strong and square. His eyes, full and communicative, spoke words that lips couldn’t.

But what most captivated me was the strange purple color of his eyes. Now they shone, absorbing the light of the moon.

“Your eyes—” I began, dizzy in the splendor of the boy doused in moonlight. “They’re—”

“Purple, ja. I know.”

“Why?” I couldn’t believe myself. Actually being civil to this egotistical . . . I really was losing it.

“My dad had them too. I don’t know if it has to do with the pipe or the magic or what.”

“Your father . . . he’s passed?”

“Ja.”

“I’m sorry.”

Quarter bowed his head in respect. “Me too.”

“So . . . you inherited the pipe, then?”

“Ja,” Quarter replied. “As soon as my father died it disappeared from his side and appeared on mine.”

He pulled his green shirt up to reveal a belt of leather encircling his waist, to which was attached a tall pouch. “This is where I keep it. Always.”

“May I . . . may I see it?”

Quarter’s face hardened. “Tomorrow, perhaps.”

The enchantment departed. The moon slithered back under cover of clouds, and my former prejudices returned. My mouth screwed in displeasure. “I don’t want to see it if it’s such a bother to you.”

“It is no bother. What it is is late.”

“That’s fine,” I returned, voice void of feeling. “Today has been quite emotional for me, so if you don’t mind, I must return. Mrs. Hüber would die to know I’m out here.”

Quarter merely nodded and then spun on his heels and loped off along the path in front of him that led away from town. No goodbye, no ending banter.

I wanted to hit something, and badly. So I slapped the side of Mrs. Hüber’s house. I regretted the decision when my fingers pulsated and stung. And yet I had denied myself any sentiment today.

In the somber hours of the night, I simply wanted to feel something.

 

CHAPTER TWO AND A HALF: SUBMERGE

 

The water pulsated in front of him, as alive as the wind rustling through his hair and the trees waving jagged fingers his way.

He had to do this. He knew it. It was a brave thing to do—not cowardly at all. Save the whole world from himself, or indulge in the evil? He could be the most powerful being in all the world. And yet . . . the warming of his heart caught his attention. It was the good inside of him, begging solemnly.

He couldn’t be bad. He just couldn’t. There was too much good inside of him. He was proud of this realization.

It was good before death to be proud of oneself.

He stepped a foot in the foul waters. They drenched his shoes in coolness. He closed his eyes, accepting his fate. He would be a hero, right? Because heroes did the hard things. They were the ones that saved people.

But . . . heroes didn’t save people from themselves. Did they?

So what was he then?

These thoughts plagued him as he fell deeper and deeper into the waters. He held his breath and immersed himself.

At first the water was calming. The absolute still, the falling light casting spots of shine into the ripples of liquid. He held his breath, losing oxygen faster and faster. If he thought about it, he panicked. His lungs clawed for the air they knew roamed above these cruel waters. And yet he closed his eyes tighter and thought only of the girl with the long black hair.

His lungs kicked his brain, begging it to change its mind about this foolish suicide.

The feeling was nearly unbearable, like being sat upon by an elephant. He could’ve laughed if he weren’t dying—he felt proud once more. He was so funny.

But then—light. Images passed through his head so quickly he could hardly register them. There she was, with her curious eyes and broken smile. There was that hated pipe. There was his father, the wretch whom he had inherited the evil from. Amid these images flashed bursts of light. Surely he was dying now. If this was death, it wasn’t so bad.

He could actually breathe. Really, truly breathe. He took in a deep breath and his lungs rejoiced. He sucked in more breaths, glad the drowning was over.

He could not see a thing, but his fingers registered something spiky yet soft. Heaven was spiky? How strange indeed. He quieted his thoughts. God might not like his foolish mortal predispositions.

Now his vision was back. He expected to see bright light, gates of gold, angels, harps. But that was not what he saw.

The water of the River Weser pulsated in front of him, as alive as the wind that rustled through his hair and the trees that waved jagged fingers his way.

And burning in his hand was the pipe. The wretched pipe.

Surely death—surely drowning—was better than this fate.