The light rises as a hush falls over the crowd. The air is thick and electric with anticipation. Even after all my training and all my practice, I will never ever be able to stop that hesitation on the first note.
This concert was in one of the few wild places that the humans had had the wisdom to preserve. I knew Atlanteans, and some of them were good friends, but the way their leaders looked at the world, like everything was just fuel for whatever cause was an issue. I get why Uncle Poseidon did them like he did, and maybe, and I do mean maybe, he should have been a little more liberal with the trident where the humans were concerned. But anyway, I digress.
Every concert begins the same way, with one deep breath. I pull my pipes off my hip and remember all the bardic ways I had learned from the Tuatha de Danann after I had fled my home. The first notes just hang in the air and I can feel everyone close their eyes and just breathe in the world around them.
The second breath and I can feel the stolen lightning in my hand gripping my panpipes. The weight in my chest as I set my breath to play, lungs filling and ribs expanding as I raise the ancient pipes to my lips.
The exhale, the sound of my pipes coming to life. Hundreds of mortals and more than a few immortals find their hearts enchanted by the notes, the unearthly urge, and passion of my music. Their feet follow the irresistible call to embrace the wild within and dance. My gifts run free once more, the inspiration and seduction to joyous revelry. The wilderness itself seems happy to hear my music floating over the trees, rocks, and rivers again.
Hours on end, until the rising light, and still the party doesn’t stop. For here, in these wild places, man and beast remember who they are; remember the primal feelings they’ve forgotten, and that’s why they love me. I make the real world seem so far away. So far away that they can forget that magic doesn’t exist. They’re wrong, of course, but who am I to correct them?
Nothing in their minds, and the only thing they can feel is their own blood pumping, the closeness of the bodies around them, and the pounding of the music.
The music trails off into silence as it hits me, as the missing piece of myself returns to me, that spark that I set aside to try to escape. I look up at the horizon – the rising sun is just faint color over the trees, and I can’t stop myself.
I guess the party can’t last forever, I think, not quite surprised but a little saddened.
Beneath the stage, my adoring fans look up to me bewildered. I’d never stopped before. I was always the All-Night-Piper. I snap back to myself, realizing that they can feel all my emotions. That is usually what I want, and I tend to get what I want in this area.
“Forgive me, my friends, I was getting lost in wishing I could be down there amongst you all. Now, enough of all this distraction! Get those drums back to the beat!”
The drummers pound out a new beat to get me started, and for the first time in too long I need them to save me. I begin to play again and by my mother’s blessed breasts, it doesn’t seem like they noticed that my mind was elsewhere.
It is well after dawn, and approaching midday, when I have a chance to think about it again, that spark that I had felt just after sunrise. To think that I would have to become Pan of Olympus again, instead of just the mad piper everyone refers to as Pan.
I stand over the little wild shrine that I create before all of my concerts. “Well, I hope it was a wild one, and thanks for the time while it lasted.”
I can feel it all coming back. No longer just hearing the sound of babbling rivers and air moving like a breeze, but hearing the whispers on the wind and the laughter of river nymphs.
Instinct beckons me toward the river, and who would blame me as the father of Satyrs? But now’s not the time for it; they’ll be looking for me before long and that’s not the way I want them to find me, neck deep in the ladies of the waters.
Or is it…I mean, why defy so many expectations?
The aches of revelry linger in my limbs as I rest. Pleased with my work, the ladies rest against me as the sun slowly climbs towards noon.
I kiss the hands of my hosts and make my way back to my camp to meet the band. Oh me, they are not going to like what they hear. Crossing the makeshift barrier we had erected to defend against errant fans and trouble makers, I smell it. Mama’s cooking. And I can feel my stomach lurch toward it, as if attempting to leap out of my skin toward the food.
“Morning all,” I say flatly.
“That’s not the voice of a conquering hero back from the field of battle?” comes Sven, my drummer.
“What are you saying? He’s probably finally found a groupie that can keep up with him, he’s just old,” says Eirena, our female vocalist. Great Zeus, I have never seen someone who can play a bodhran and make it sexy, and don’t get me started on her dancing. Mmmm, once upon a time, a younger me would have lured her from the isle of Sappho, but I’m a kinder, more considerate Pan these days.
“Leave him be; he’s probably exhausted from the way he jammed last night and spent time talking about the nature of our music.” Quintessential Derek. He is the heartthrob on the team. The sweet one and too pure for this world, but the voice on that boy can strip cloth from flesh, like little else.
“Thanks, Derek,” I say somberly, rubbing my aching muscles and heading over to my bunk in the tour bus. I reach under my bed for a locked cash box. Everyone knows it is there, but I’ve been traveling with these guys for a while.
“Uh, hey, guys, I’ve been really trying to figure out how to say this, but I guess the time is here and there is no other way…this one is going to be my last one for a while…”
The sound of the collective “WHAT!?” was enough to scare many of the locals from their hiding places and cause a number of birds to begin calling in alarm.
“But you’re always the one pushing to do one more, another gig, another place,” replies Derek.
“More songs, more drums, more booze, more broads,” Sven quotes me with uncertainty on his face.
“Always push yourself, make the music better,” says Eirina, scold in her voice and disapproval in her eyes. “What is it, some bitch dragging you away with empty blue Bambi eyes?”
“It’s not like that. I’m not running off for a girl, I didn’t get anyone knocked up, and it has nothing to do with all of your playing. I just have a family thing and I can’t get out of it.”
No one in that circle believes me, and right they shouldn’t; I haven’t been the fondest speaker of family while we’ve been together, and here I am bending the need to familial obligations.
I open the box and pull out each of their pay. “Look, I don’t know when I’ll see you again, but I promise, I will.” I hand each of them an envelope. “Listen, I’ve been stockpiling some gifts for each of you and I want you guys to have ‘em. Sven, in your envelope I have the titles to all the vehicles we use to get around, the bus, the boat, the jet. All the things you’ve been flying and driving. I want you to have ‘em.”
Sven pats the envelope against his arm. “You’re not inspiring confidence about seeing you again there, boss man.”
“Eirina, you’ve been a master at mixing and recording. I’m leaving the recording gear and the studio back home to you,” I say with my textbook smile on my face, trying not to show how unhappy I am to do this.
She crosses her arms and looks at me. ”Are you leaving? Or are you dying?”
Derek has his head down, his hair falling in front of his face to hide the fact that he is nearly crying.
“Derek…” I say, suddenly balking at the task of leaving.
Derek snivels and sniffs, and it comes to me why he is so upset.
“Derek, I know. I know I said I’d be here and I’d help you, but something came up and I have to go away.” I put my hand on his shoulder. I had brought him out of the slums and given him a place. This homeless kid was a part of a band that played for some of the wildest parties and events around and he didn’t do it for the money, but just because I had offered to get him out of the cold and off the street.
Derek won’t look at me, nor will he take the envelope from me. I hand it to Mama.
I get to Mama: the cook, the manager, the dagger of reality in the bohemian existence we live in. Before I get to even open my mouth, she puts a finger to my lips. “Don’t try that bullshit with me.” The years on her face are hard when they are usually so soft.
“I…” I can’t. These people are my family, and I am hurting them, but it’s not like they would believe me if I were to say, oh, by the way, I am not a Pan, I’m THE Pan.
Mama looks at me like she knows what is going on. “You’ve already made up your mind, and you know I’m just going to ask why, so why don’t you not feed me bullshit, and I won’t make you lie.” All I can do is nod and hand her the envelope meant for her.
“The house, it’s paid for, and there should be enough in the safe to keep it running for a few years.” My heart is heavy. As in, Atlas ain’t got nothing on this, heavy.
“Look, I gotta get going, my ride will be leaving soon.” And with the disappointment of ages on my back, I walk to the river with a pair of drachma in my hand. A conspicuous boat waits there with a hooded ferryman at the ready.
“Going down, Jeeves,” I say, my usual coping mechanism of snark showing.
Bound for Tartarus and all I have are my pipe, my bodhran, my flask, and a backpack full of sausages.
The river Styx is never a pleasant place, and no matter what you do to make it a happier passage, it never works. The world sinks to grey and nothing can feel good, but the passage to the docks of Stygia is easy, and I begin the slow descent down into Tartarus. I am not going far; I doubt that many souls have passed here since I felt my spark return.
I come and do as I had promised. I ensure my doubtless passage into the isles of Elysia, pay my respects, thank him for all the time he’s given me, and then made my way back. I, of course, offer the proper respects to the gatekeeper, in the form of a sack full of every kind of wurst the butcher had at the time, and began the slow trek out of Hades toward Olympus.
A very good actor once said in a movie, “If you know where to look, getting around isn’t that hard.” And if you know your way, the distance between the underworld and Olympus is a joke; something someone could walk in a day.
My heart is in my throat. Standing in a cave’s shadow, arguing with myself about if I should be here or not.
There is a zot of truly epic proportions and I immediately hide back in the cave, thinking that Granddad has decided to finish what he started in the bronze age. Then I realize what just happened. “Damn it, Jolt.”
A tendril of electricity coils out of my hand like a snake, with the point looking at me. Something about it always gives me the impression of a mischievous canine. It crackles at me in the form of a titter, as if to mock my suffering.
“I’m glad you are so eager to go back. I’m sure Zeus would be happy to welcome you home.”
Of course, the fucking thing is right. So, I step out of the cave and begin my way home…