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Pipers Piping

Mari Ness has published many stories with Daily Science Fiction, and many other fine venues.
If you follow the sound of the pipes on a very certain Monday morning, you might see them. The partridge first, in the little pear tree. The turtledoves next, and then hens. By this time, you might be laughing, or groaning, at someone obsessed enough with a silly carol to be following it this closely.
But. Those pipes.
If it is early enough, or late enough, and if you have other things to do, you might return, with the pipes echoing in your eardrums, to tell your silly Monday story, making others laugh. Of course, if you ever try to prove your tale, to take others there--well. The pipes will be silent. The birds will be gone. And no pear tree could ever grow on such a windswept hill.
Or you could--it's a Monday, after all--just follow the sound of the pipes.
You know what comes next--the calling birds, all singing, much merrier than the hens or the sulky turtledove. Your breath quickens. Gold gleams ahead, hanging from a tree: five golden rings.
Reason enough to follow the pipes, even as their melody changes to something else, sadder, sweeter. Though--the geese. You should have remembered the geese. They certainly have decided to make sure you will, fiercely attacking you with beaks and wings. It is all you can do to back off, covering your face, wincing or screaming as your arms and legs fill with bruises and blood.
Fortunately enough, the swans do not like the geese. At all. They raise up their necks and hiss, expanding their even larger wings in a cacophony of white and black. You stumble into their wings, feel them wrap against you.
You could go back. The gold rings are still there. Then again, so are the geese--wounded, but still hissing, not soothed by the ongoing sounds of pipes and drums. You might be fast enough to snatch the rings and run for it--but geese can fly. The cows just ahead are much calmer, though the maids standing next to them are not. Then again, just beyond them, you can see the nine women and ten men whirling around to the sound of pipes and drums. They might welcome another partner. You push aside the swan wings.
The maids offer you milk. You taste it, astonished--you have never had milk like this, or anything like this, really: tingling, not too sweet, light yet filling. You feel your feet start to rise up from the ground. You understand why the men and women are dancing, and why the one dancer seems delighted to dance alone.
You could stop here, sip more milk, or dance.
But the drums are still beating. The pipes are still piping. You think of what you have already seen, already tasted; think of the angry geese blocking your return, think of what may be ahead.
It's Monday. You are pretty sure you have twelve days before you can truly reach the end of the song. You listen to the pipes, sip more milk, and dance on.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 25th, 2017


Jenny Overton's children's book, The Thirteen Days of Christmas, taught me to look for a story behind the song.

My story just went in a slightly different direction.

- Mari Ness

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