The Phantom Pipe-Player

There once was a pipe-player who traveled from town to town to play for the children there. At every town, the children would gather to listen to him play, and every time the children would go home with tears in their eyes. When their parents would ask them why they were crying, the children would say things like, “It was too pretty” or “I feel so sad because I can’t have it.” When questioned further about what exactly “it” was, the children could never give a straight answer. Some said it was the music, some said it was the pipes, others said it was some thing that was in the latter or the former. Whatever it was that really happened was never found out, and all inquiry to neighboring towns would produce the same story, but never any new information about the pipe-player or his performances for the children. In fact, the strangest bit about the whole thing was that while the adults of each town reported seeing the pipe-player, none had ever heard him play, and stranger still, it seemed that the man had visited every town in every direction for miles around, but only ever once.

And so it was that a party of concerned parents went out in search of this phantom pipe-player, and to warn other towns, if there were any left to warn, of his coming. But at every town, it was always the same. No one knew anything about the man, save for what everybody else already knew, and everyone in every town had already seen him come and go. This, at first, spurred the party onward, as they reasoned that if they traveled far enough they would eventually find a place where the pipe-player had not yet been to, and there they might wait to catch him. However, as they traveled farther and farther from home, some decided that their quest wasn’t as important as their families and jobs, and so one by one the group dwindled until there was only three men willing to brave the world beyond the borders of the kingdom in which they lived.

The border was a river with a dense forest on the other side. The river proved easy enough to ford, but the forest was another matter entirely. There were no paths through the tangle of trees and brambles, and so the men were forced to push through, though the brambles snagged at their clothing and hair and torn their skin. They quickly became horribly lost and battered beyond the point of good humors and after a while they began seeing and hearing things in the trees that may or may not have been there. Not long after this, one of the men attacked one of the other two in a fit of madness, and while they were struggling with each other the third took off as fast he could into the trees and dark, never to see the other two again.

Eventually, after wandering for a few days or so, the remaining man came to a clearing in the woods. It was a large clearing, able to hold an entire town, which is exactly what he found therein, or rather the ruins of one. All throughout the clearing were the burned out remains of houses and shops, and one crumbling stone church, blackened by soot. It was obvious that the town had burned down a long time ago, but the man had never heard of any town in the woods beyond the river. He decided to venture forth into the ruins and after checking all the other structures for anything useful, he went into the ruined church.

It was there that he found the pipe-player, blowing at his pipes, but making not a sound. The man, overcome with emotion, fell down at the pipe-player’s feet, weeping bitterly. The pipe-player stopped his blowing then, and pulled out a different instrument, a sort of flute. He began to play this flute and as soon as the weeping man heard the sound it made, he stopped crying.

Around a month later, the man returned to his home, looking no worse for wear, and simply went back to his work at the mill. He didn’t speak a word to anyone, and it was soon determined by his neighbors that he had become a mute. Whenever they questioned him about his journey to find the pipe-player, he just shook his head, almost sadly, but that was the most emotion he displayed after his return. They couldn’t get anything out of him and eventually gave up trying. They decided to put the whole incident behind them for good and continue on as if nothing it had ever happened.

It wasn’t until many years later, when the adults had grown old and batty, and the children who had heard the pipe-player’s music had grown up to take their places, that the mill-worker finally started speaking again. He told his tale to the children who had grown, and when they heard it they understood something that none of the other children who had heard the music were able to understand. From then on, that town, in which the mill-worker and the grown children lived, became a place of strange happenings and secrets whispered behind closed doors. It was afterwards said of the town and its inhabitants that there never was such a silent town by day nor such a busy town by night. Few outsiders visited, and those that did came back with tales of strange sounds in the night and strange looks on the faces of people there.

It is said now that if you go there, you may not come back, and if you do, you might come back changed in some way. But no one goes there anymore, and only once in a blue moon does someone from there venture out to another town, and then only ever covered from head to toe so as you can’t see who they might be. These mysterious folk never say anything to anyone, only pay for what they wish to buy at the shops they visit. And to this day, no one knows anything more about the pipe-player or exactly what happened to the mill-worker after he found the man or what the children who grew up understood about his tale. Maybe no one will ever know, except those who live in the town where strange things happen and to which nobody goes.

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