Maran woke up to a strange wind that gusted through the house followed by a loud thud. She was awake, moreso than the rest of her family hopefully. In the chill of the night, it was possible there was a draft, but the old style of the Edenton was durable to stand the cold of winter. It could've been an opened door or window from downstairs, in which case the proper action to take would be to call the police and report a break-in. It would've been logical, but that wouldn't happen. She didn't really suspect a break-in. There was a window or door open somewhere and she had a feeling her sister had something to do with it, not a burglar.

Kirsa, her sister, had always been the restless type and her walking around in the dead of night was not unusual. When she snuck in the back door last time she had to intervene to give her sister the most subtle informative talk at two in the morning. Never before had she spoken to her about sneak tactics, but she managed to mention the back porch and ledge. Her sister was a bit of a slacker and Maran wasn't exactly daughter of the year, having slipped out at all hours of the morning herself until she was sixteen.

As a student, Maran found herself more immersed in her social activities than in her studies. It wasn't that she was popular—she wasn't—but that she fell in with a rather violent group and ruined her reputation with fights. Her mother caught her sneaking in through the back yard when working in the den. Up until that moment, her mother hadn't shown she suspected. A couple of months of intense therapy and some serious family time, she was a semi-model student. Now she was very well off their radar and into the proverbial melting pot of ignorance. She hated it, for the most part, but she didn't mind not being noticed. It was a sacrifice to let people think she'd converted to the social cult of America.

Normal people would've turned over and gone back to sleep. Maran in her old ways would've gone to shut the window before doing the same, but now her reaction was to go down and investigate somewhat. A likely scenario would be a midnight snack and paranoia and a positively embarrassing lecture from those awake.

But this felt different. Kirsa was usually quieter than this. There was no real possibility of drinking since she was more trouble when sober, but Maran needed to investigate. She sat up, ran a hand through her short brown hair to even it back, and pulled the sheets away. Her feet were itching to move, and it was driving her to leave the room in haste. Something about that wind was borrowing her for a moment, and she felt nearly entranced. The air was so thick she had to get to the door.

Then she heard it, the music. It was so faint that she had to concentrate to hear it. The eerie sound carried her away from her bed, getting louder as she gained distance. Almost to the door, her feet were moving alone to match the music coming from outside. It felt as though a warm blanket was being thrown over her, comforting her and lulling her into a deep sleep. Her body seemed to be in tune to the woodwind sound, but her mind was dozing too quickly for her taste. This shouldn't have been happening. She was in control of herself, she didn't need some outside force to try and exert power. The music suddenly became louder. Her arm shot out and grabbed a coat rack outside of her door, flinging sweaters and a hat into her mother's door. The woman could sleep through a nuclear blast.

Kirsa's door was wide open, and her curtains were billowing. Maran forced herself to concentrate on the cold in the walls as she dragged herself down the stairs and towards the front door, coat rack in tow. Her grip was painful, bringing her closer to what it felt to be awake. There was the choice to make now, whether to bring a weapon to the fight or play it by ear. She wasn't without any fight in her body, a mind of her own and several years in a karate class made her able to defend herself.

A voice appeared in her head, a soothing one with such an alluring sound that she found it hard not to listen. It was too calm and it caused her a headache because no one really sounded like that. The voice was promising her peace and quiet, things she desperately wanted, things Anyone would be foolish not to want so much. Grabbing the railing to the stairwell, she felt her feet almost fall into step and take her headfirst down the stairs. Peace and quiet, a place of her own where she could live. Away from the noise of the world she lived in. It was not far, and she could go with them and they could all live happily ever after. . . Maran scoffed then, her mind focusing on her hand gripping the handrail. Her body was turning to jelly about peace and quiet, but that was exactly the problem. Everyone wanted peace and quiet, so what was so special about that? The voice got quieter as she kept thinking, the fog in her mind disappearing as she became more skeptical of the sounds coming from inside her head.

Her body was back in her control. Finally, she thought. Now, lets see if we can find something worth going after.

She made her way down the stairs and peered into the living room. No one. There was a clear view to the dining room. That meant they were either in the dining room or kitchen, where there were tools of destruction. Maran didn't want to make herself vulnerable to attack. To meet an intruder without properly having something to bring to the fighting ring would be dangerous. The music began to fade, her senses returning to her. The post in her hand was snapped in half over her knee, which hurt at first but was a fade compared to the cloudiness from just now. Was there someone in the house other than the three of them? She made her way down the stairs quietly, dodging the creaky steps and holding her breath as she ventured towards the living room.

Then she heard mumbling around the corner. Kirsa was talking to someone in the kitchen, not begging or conversing like usual—which in her case was near yelling—but answering questions in an almost cheerful disposition. Kirsa wasn't a chipper person by any means, just like her sister. Maran's ears prickled a little at the mention of her name, and there was no secret about her position now. The splintered rod in her hand served well as a weapon, and she had every intention of using it on an assailant.

"She's overprotective, violent, and strong." Kirsa's voice. It didn't sound like her at all,

more chipper and automatic, but the tone was not really unmistakable. When you lived with someone long enough, some things were automatic. Her hand clenched around the pole and she heard a male voice, accompanied by the returning music. This time it was louder than before, as though trying to convince her to fall back asleep. At first she thought it was a good idea, the sleep so calming it was sickening. It was a mellow light in the black. . . Then she heard her sister giggle. He giggled as well. His shrill sound pierced her eardrums, deadening the eerie tune again. Never again, she promised herself.

"She is a stubborn one," the male voice said again. He had an accent, possibly German, and why he was in her living room, Maran wasn't sure she'd find out right away and enjoy the answer if she did. "We'll have to bring her in to say hello." The music stopped altogether, but there was the opening of a drawer. Someone was going for something sharp. Crap, crap, crap. Maran's heart sped up and her grip loosened on instinct. She needed to get this one right. She also hoped that Kirsa wasn't going to let someone hurt either of them.

She just needed to stay completely quiet and strike when the opportunity was best. Then a voice whispered to her. "Psst. Who are we waiting for?" Maran tensed and saw spots. Turning, she found the broken coat rack gone from her hand and missing completely while staring into the face of a young man, quite a bit shorter than her. At five-foot-nine, Maran towered over many of her classmates and it helped with intimidation at times. The man was about four-foot-nine, and he carried something at his side. It looked like a recorder, but it looked so old. He wore a green shirt and tights, a belt holding his clothes up. Something told her he didn't belong from this region or even time, his clothes suggested. It worried her.

"Are you the sister?" His accent, so thick, was like an ice cube down her back. Her nails were digging into her palms, trying to grab onto the pole again that wasn't there. "I took away your little toy as good little girls don't play with sharp objects."

"Who are you?" Her voice cracked, it was so dry. The man grinned so wide his teeth glinted. His teeth were sharp enough to tear through leather, and that scared Maran. Many people were scared off by threats, idle or not. Maran's fears were based more on actual experience. Sharp things cut deep, and she'd been torn into before. The man looked so sure of himself that he could cut into her as well.

"Call me Hamelin. I'll be taking your sister. You're too old, a giant I'm afraid, but the journey specifically states that no giants are to be admitted."

"I'm not a giant. There are a lot of tall kids around. As I recall, you weren't able to hold onto me, not the other way around." There. The slight sneer and unwavering smugness he bore into her was moved just a bit.

"Either way, you're not a child by far, giant." The name he'd given her spiked her anger the slightest bit, driving away some of her fear. For a moment she could feel the weight of the post in her hand. She hadn't been aware of a cloudiness fogging her vision as she stood facing him. Her memory didn't feel like it was all there. Maran could hear her sister creaking up behind her, and turned to catch the hand sailing down to her soldier before it reached her. Kirsa had a knife and Maran had nothing. Thankfully Kirsa was also shorter and though she had a good right hook, she was no match for her older sister. Maran's eyes went wide as saucers when she spotted the look in those once dull eyes. They were green with excitement in the glow of the outside lamplight as she tried to push the knife down with incredible strength. The eldest of the two ducked under her sister's arm and twisted it back behind her, removing the blade from her hand. Maran had no idea what happened to her sister, whether she was in on this psycho's game or if she was hypnotized. She'd hurt the kid if she had to, but only with the intent of knocking her unconscious.

"And neither is my sister. What do you want?"

"A short time ago there was an infestation and I went unpaid."

"It's called an invoice."

"All debts are promises."

"Did you get shorted, then, Mister Hamelin?" He smiled again.

"In a manner of speaking, yes, so I'm taking my dues." Maran was confused. What dues could he possibly want that he'd have to entrance children to get them? She stared at him as though trying to step away and sweep the strange sense of familiarity into something discernable. It sounded somewhat familiar and it was on the tip of her tongue. Then it wasn't. The cloudiness came back and fought for some control over the thought process, taking her immediate line of thinking away. "As I said before, go back to sleep, giant."

He brought the flute to his lips and began to play. She didn't want to feel vulnerable again, and she knew what was coming.

"Oh no you don't," she said, grabbing the instrument. She took his oversized collar and threw him up against a wall, making a point to put the pole against his voice box. "No music, no hypnotizing, and that's final." Hamelin began chuckling. His voice was almost as annoying as the damn flute, but it was infinitely more tolerable. That sound would keep her from falling asleep like, as he said, a giant.

"You think you're the first to come to and threaten me? You are one more sleeper, and your dear little sister is coming along for the ride." He was suddenly across the room, next to Kirsa and playing his tune again. The three were facing each other then and Maran realized that the man was playing to her sister, who was sporting a chipper smile on her face as she approached her elder. Maran's grip on the pole loosened for a second, even though the look was creepy as hell, and Kirsa took it easily into her hand.

Then it swung upwards. An impact on her chin. Maran fell to her back and Kirsa lunged forward with the splintered end coming down towards her face. Rolling out of the way at the last second, the sound of splintering wood followed as Kirsa's blow damaged the wood floors. Crap! On her feet again, Maran reached at the flailing weapon and caught it with a few of her fingers. Kirsa gleamed with happiness and pulled the post straight back, causing splinters to dig into her sister's hand. She let out a short howl and grabbed the smooth end of the stick, injury noted and surpassed. The pain was a reminder that it wasn't really necessary to stop when hurt. Kirsa slid away before Maran could punch her, being evasive with a playful streak. It wasn't a bad idea, just highly inconvenient for the older of the two. Before she could step forward again, the post came flying from the side, clocking Maran in the temple. She cursed and walked to the side of the room. The pain was immediate and prolonging and she wanted it to stop Now!

Her little sister began to walk to the back porch. When Hamelin's sound began to carry again, Maran punched the wall and began to lose feeling in her feet. Her body fell against the wall, sliding downwards while Kirsa stepped over her crouched form to skip out of the house. Hamelin began to laugh, his playing losing grip on her very slowly as his laughter turned to a hypnotizing song.

"Giant, giant, sleepy sleepy giant," he teased.

Fall asleep, hit the ground,
make sure you don't come around,
fight and cry and scream and wail,
let me know who's set to sail,
leave your homes and follow me,
right into the deep deep sea.

He trailed off as his laughter started up again, and the door slammed as Kirsa left the cooling house into the freezing outdoors. Maran knew she had to get up and follow, had to keep her sister from disappearing because of a crazy out in the world. Her legs were still numb and her head hurt like it should have, but she somehow found the energy to force their movement, staggering almost drunkenly to the back door to trail them. Her hand grabbed a blanket before bolting out the door, and something told her she would need it by the end of the night. If she were smart, she'd take the cell phone from her mother's den, but then again, if she were smart, she'd not try to call 9-1-1 and tell the police that her sister had been abducted by a magical creature bent on stealing her sister and doing who knows what.

The cell phone stayed in the den, she ran out the door at a dangerous speed. The short man, Hamelin, was turning out to be more trouble than he was worth, and as he led Kirsa away, two more doors shut in the distance. Who the hell wanted to leave their homes at this hour simultaneously? Stalker, pharmacologist, ransom, kidnapper, pedophile, tons of bad things to happen to innocent children in the dead of night, but this was a list of things Maran thought the man could've been.

But to explain the way the flute could stop her and remove kids from their homes—in this day and age!—still confused her. Maran knew with what she'd experienced so far tonight, her options were winding down and she'd have to accept a truth before the sun rose, be it an alarming discovery or a case of influenza. Kirsa began skipping East towards 7th & Maple, and the two who just exited their homes in order to follow the flutist music in a similar fashion. Maran had to know if she was facing something new, and as the cold air hit her face she had one thought going through her mind, Let the little bastard have the kid, it's too cold to chase after her. Part of her was completely fine with that one, only because she didn't want to go to the bay area, which seemed to be a highly possible destination.

She followed the small, cheering crowd down the street, and Hamelin appeared by a door. The door opened and a child answered with such enthusiasm. The music played louder, causing Maran to shut her eyes tight in order to concentrate. It was so intoxicating. She hobbled along after her sister, blind, and when the music faded so did the drunken feeling. Breaking off into a run, Maran pushed past a slew of dancing children that just appeared at a crossroad, Hamelin in the lead. She caught up with him in little time, trying to figure out the craziness of this situation before something bad happened.

They were heading towards the bay, and with mystified children unable to think on their own, it was probable that he was planning something massive to compensate for his loss, whatever that was. The water was well below swimming temperature, and Maran had to think fast before something drastic happened and they were all in deep trouble. There were things even she'd allow, like a joy walk around the city.

"Waitaminute. I need you to clear something up really quick. I can see you're a busy midget so I'll keep it to a minimum. You're a flutist who claims to have cleaned up an infestation and went unpaid. In response, you made the children of the city disappear. That's something out of a fairy tale. . . it doesn't happen in Real Life!" She grabbed his shoulder, turned him to face her.

"Of course it happens, giant, it's a true story."

"No it isn't! That had mystical crap and rats, a whole messload of people not paying up for something they saw coming. This isn't like that. You're just stealing kids and what? Training them to play follow-the-leader?" Hamelin giggled, actually giggled. Maran wanted to take a grip of his neck and squeeze as hard as she could. Why she didn't was beyond her but there was crazy logic all around tonight. When the laughter quieted down again, Hamelin approached her and drew her closer to his height with a wiggle of his finger. He made complete eye contact before whispering in a very low voice, different than from before with his laugh.

"The story remains that I didn't get paid. That's the moral. If you can't deal with this reality, what makes you think you understand your own?"

"She's just a kid!"

"And they were just rats." Maran froze. Kirsa tried to move forward, but the grip Maran had on her arm was vice-like. The air was cold and damp, and they were standing knee-deep in similar water, Maran breathing heavily but determined to win the situation. The Pied Piper was furious. And part of Maran had a fear of that look. The other part of her, the fighter, grew angry. Her hand came up and grabbed him by the face. Pushing him away with as much force as she could muster, she pulled Kirsa nearer to the shore. The music disappeared and she knew her chance had come. She grabbed her sister's other arm and turned her so they were face-to-face. While the music was still gone, Maran shook Kirsa as hard as she could. After a second, she went from limp to tense, her eyes opening for a second before she fell back and the music started again. Her eyes were open now, at least. Maran took that as her cue that she was in the presence of a sound-minded sister and turned to the Piper.

"You can't take the kids and you sure as hell haven't saved this city from any infestation. I still see the same scum everyday and the world isn't seeing anything worth changing for." Maran fell silent, shaking from fear, anger, and the cold. The Pied Piper of Hamelin said nothing, but he stared, his black eyes boring into hers. The cloudiness was gone, the music no longer bothering her. But those eyes, they promised suffering. Kirsa started to dance around, something frantic as she mumbled about freedom and whole families she could live with just beyond the waterfront, but that was several miles away, and Maran would be damned if she let her ungrateful sister drown herself.

"A pound of flesh I require! You're willing to make that deal?" the Piper yelled over the screams. Maran didn't say anything, but picked up her sister with as much force as she could and walked back to the shore. Setting the struggling, screaming girl of thirteen on the ground, she waited for her to balance before yanking the splintered post out of her grip. Her mind said goodnight the moment Maran swung at her stomach and winded her enough to cause unconsciousness.

"Sure." The laughter and song began to course through her once again, and the peace came back to her, promising the things she so desperately thought she could find with him. For the first time that night, she let herself think it was possible, and she faced the bay. The Pied Piper of Hamelin took his dues.

Kirsa woke up in the morning, groggy and her head pounding as the music faded. Stretching on the wet ground, her body rolled until she rested on her back. There were sirens in the background and she was pulled into a sitting position after awhile. The signals from her brain weren't reaching her limbs very quickly, she was so tired. "Kirsa? Answer me if you can hear me!" The person, a male, was trying to wake her up, and slowly the night came back to her. What was that sound, she asked herself as her body shook awake. Then she remembered cold water, eerie music, and her sister fighting some small man. Where was Maran? Kirsa remembered she was pulled into the water, and then what?

She remembered nothing then, nothing but the music. It lingered, and how it came after her. She couldn't scream, could barely talk when they asked questions. The sea called to her, like they had everyone else, but she was frozen in place from fear. All she could say was, "The music played, it played until they were all gone, it promised to take me away and I'd never felt so happy. But somehow the music stopped and I couldn't go too." She cried.