The Piper’s unworldly music echoed in his ears, somehow longer than all the other sounds of the battlefield. Walter Blythe felt the same thrill he had once felt in Rainbow Valley, when he had glimpsed the Piper for the first time. He had known that they would follow the Piper, but he had never imagined how it would be. He had never imagined the trenches of France.
He wondered if any of the other young men around him could hear the music, could see the shadowy figure they followed.
Walter doubted it. He had always been the only one who could.
The music grew louder in his head, until the pain exploded in his leg. Walter stumbled, then fell to the ground as bullets flew and men continued to rush around him, to fall around him. He tried to rise – he had to follow the music, had to hear the next notes. His inability to rise, to follow, made him yell in pain and frustration as he kept struggling.
Walter raised his head, teeth gritted, and saw the Piper standing before him, with a look of sadness on his face. He seemed almost solid enough to touch, so real that Walter thought he might reach his hand down, help him get to his feet.
But the Piper did not extend his hand. He turned away, after giving Walter a last sad look, and continued playing. The music grew softer and softer, until Walter could no longer hear it, could no longer see the shadowy figures.
The Piper was gone, and he was still here. He had been left behind. The pain in his leg grew, and Walter was suddenly reminded of a long-ago conversation. His sister Di and his mother had always loved the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, as had Walter. Now, he found himself remembering the end of the story, the little lame boy who had been left behind, that his sister and Una Meredith felt sorry for.
He had never expected to be the little lame boy, the one the Piper left behind.