When Joe Dowling, seated upright in his bed just after using the bathroom, heard the steaming noise coming from the water boiler in the airing cupboard, his fears were confirmed. The moment he had secretly dreaded for years was now upon him.
The Pipes were back!
There were, of course, no “Pipes”…not really. Those monsters were a figment of his imagination. Or rather, the imagination of the child he was, many years ago. The Pipes were creatures who had infested his nightmares regularly for more than eight terrifying years; female creatures whose “appearances” had struck terror into the heart of the child he once had been. They were neither pretty nor ugly, just plain faces that were pale and expressionless.
One of Joe Dowling’s earliest childhood memories was hearing the loud hissing sounds of water running through the plumbing, and the banging noises it caused. It was quite natural for those noises to follow a running tap or flushed toilet, but that was no comfort to a very young child lying in his bed where he slept all alone in the box room every night. He would cry… scream…until his mother came rushing in to calm him down.
The Pipes were, it would be fair to say, his very own version of “The Bogeymen”.
“It’s only the pipes” the four-year-old Joe Dowling’s mother assured him as she cradled him in her arms. “That’s all it is, honey”. She kissed him lovingly, lay him gently down onto the bed, tucked him in, and kissed him again. Before leaving the room she assured him once more that it was “only the pipes”. Then she closed the door, leaving him alone in the box room.
So that was what the monsters in the boiler tank were called…The Pipes.
They had only been dreams, of course. Just dreams. When it comes right down to it, a nightmare…no matter how terrifyingly realistic…is just that; a dream. You wake from a nightmare either with pure relief or trembling with fear, depending on how bright the room is when you wake up. But you get over it in a matter of minutes and by the time you go down to breakfast it’s all but forgotten about.
Yes, a nightmare is only a dream. But try telling that to the child who wakes up all alone in the dead of night. To children, these night creatures are all too real. Real enough to make a very young Joe Dowling dread bedtime. And real enough to give him bedwetting problems.
Now an adult in his early twenties, Joe Dowling was alone in the bedroom (indeed, the entire house. He lived alone), listening uneasily as the steaming noise continued it’s way through the water pipes. The childhood memories of The Pipes were never going to be erased from his mind. Nor were the punishments his father had dished out to him for wetting the bed.
“Seven years old and still wetting the fucking bed…seven years of age and still fucking wetting the bed…still wetting the fucking bed, and you’re nearly bloody eleven…finishing primary this year and still fucking bed-wetting.”
The hidings never stopped him wetting the bed, nor did the warnings that they would be “much hotter next time”. He never told his parents the truth that he was far too frightened to get out of the bed to use the toilet after waking from the horrific nightmares in the dead of night.
The mother of the three-year-old Joe Dowling had meant well, but her words had no reassurance for the toddler at all.
“It’s only the pipes.”
What on earth were The Pipes?
That was the night when Joe had a nightmare that he was to remember for the rest of his life. In the nightmare, six or seven woman-like creatures with blank expressions on their white faces came into the box room and stood around the bed, peering down on the wild-eyed child.
“We are the Pipes,” they chanted in unison. “We are the Pipes, Joe…we are the Pipes.”
That was all they had said. They didn’t even try to attack him in any way. But their very appearance…those cold peering eyes…were terrifying for the child to behold.
For the next eight years or so, the Pipes would invest on Joe Dowling’s nightmares at least three nights a week.
Joe Dowling (the adult version) sat on the edge of his bed smoking a cigarette. The steaming noise was still there, and Joe knew that he wasn’t going back to sleep until it had eased off.
He inhaled and exhaled smoke, keeping his eyes on the floor. He didn’t dare to look up at the skylight above the door for fear of seeing a cold expressionless face peering down at him.
It was times like this, he realised, that grown men could be just as petrified as children.
The nightmares stopped when he was about twelve or thirteen. It was 1979, around the time his parents separated. Joe and his mother spent that Christmas in a run down hostel. Some two or three months later his parents sorted themselves out and Joe and his mother moved back home. He never again dreamed about the Pipes after that. But he never forgot them.
Joe stubbed out his cigarette butt into the ashtray on his bedside locker. Even now, as a rational adult, he wondered if they were always “only dreams”? Especially the two that he remembered so vividly…yet could not remember waking up from, as though he weren’t asleep to begin with.
One such time was when a ‘Pipe’ came into the room and kept poking at the screaming child with a bony finger. The ‘Pipe’ faded away when the child’s mother came rushing into the room to calm him down. The other occasion was when a ‘Pipe’ entered the room, stared at him with peering eyes for a few seconds, and then left the room.
Now almost twenty five, and really old enough to know better, Joe Dowling could still not swear before the Throne of God that those two occasions were “only dreams”.
He switched off the lamp and buried himself under the covers. Adult that he was, he still wished to God he wasn’t alone in the house. But then again, from another point of view…he prayed to the Almighty that he was!
Sleep eventually came. Long after the steaming sound had ended, Joe Dowling slept. And he dreamed.
Three of the ‘Pipes’ came into his bedroom, walking slowly and looking exactly as they did when they had been terrorising a little boy named Joe Dowling. The plain pale faces were still there, as were the vacant expressions.
They peered down at the wide-eyed man in the bed who wanted to scream but, as with all nightmares, couldn’t manage more than a little whine.
“We are the Pipes, Joe,” they droned in unison. “We’re back, Joe, and this time we’re never going to go away.” They continued peering down into his terrified face. “Never, ever… EVER!”
When Joe Dowling woke, trembling and needing to urinate badly, he saw that it was still pitch dark so he buried himself under the bedclothes, not wanting to see what he didn’t want to see.
It was inevitable, he thought as he trembled under the covers. Sooner or later the Pipes were bound to return to his dreams. Nobody every really outgrew their childhood bogeymen. They simply stored them away for a while.
His need to urinate was desperately urgent, but no way was he getting out of bed until daylight came creeping into the bedroom.
At least his old man couldn’t punish him for wetting the bed now.
(C) Copyright Jimmy O'Beirne 2011. All rights reserved