Tuesday, July 03, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 58
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, composer Man Kaye, Director of Classical for SHMRG, has a rather dim view of Beethoven and his music. How do you measure greatness and, he wonders, who will replace him once Klavdia Klangfarben succeeds in eliminating him?
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“Well,” I said, as we walked down the pleasant little street of this country village, “it doesn’t matter, now, we’re here, okay?” There wouldn’t be much time before Klangfarben and her friend Kedaver would join us. “The important thing is to find him first, right? It shouldn’t be too difficult.” The summer folk were mostly gone, not many left.
We looked around, standing on one of the few intersections in town, trying to get our bearings: this house or that one? If Sauerbraten had been right, the coordinates Kedaver entered should’ve put us right there.
Still, Sebastian was pretty upset at having accidentally come along with me like that. He felt he’d been tricked into it, betrayed. His place, he kept saying, was helping his granddaughter rescue her son, not here. I’d had nothing to do with it, I protested, just as surprised not finding Sauerbraten there since everything had started happening so quickly.
Abner Kedaver had been doing his obsequious best to soothe over Klangfarben’s ruffled if soaked feathers, how the technology had fallen short, when we spotted each other just a few yards away from the Time-Device Room. It had been a furious scramble, especially with Klangfarben hobbled by her missing shoe. Cameron got to the door first, shoving them aside.
Kedaver had managed to grab Zoe around the neck as Klangfarben drew her derringer, then, holding it to Zoe’s head, lost her balance. Before she could shoot, Cameron tripped her as Kedaver lunged into the Device Room.
It had been quite a scuffle. Zoe, not sure kicking a dead man where it hurt really would, found out it did. Slipping in one of Klangfarben’s puddles, I banged into the console, hitting my head. Kedaver screamed out in agony as Zoe jumped away, stumbled over me and fell. Klangfarben began waving her pistol right in my face.
His knees tightly clamped together, Kedaver bent over me, found two of our devices, then shoved them into the unit for recharging. Fortunately, he hadn’t noticed Sauerbraten had his own device, not remembering what it was.
“There’s no time,” she shouted. “One of those things hadn’t been used last time – it should have enough power for another trip.”
While Klangfarben kept the pistol on me, her accomplice hurriedly entered the necessary codes.
Since he couldn’t remember which one it was – “Ralph” or “Betty” – he had to enter the code in each one, just in case.
If it weren’t for us, they might’ve had time to stop at Puccini’s Haberdasheria to get her a new pair of shoes. At this rate, she bitched, she’d have to wait until they reached their destination.
Kedaver was dubious. “Not many shoe stores in Heilige…”
“Zip it, numbskull,” she scowled, cutting him off. “Don’t give it away, you idiot.”
“You know,” he continued, unperturbed, “if we could send them all back to the past, somewhere, they’d be out of our hair. It’d be like they were never here, undoing all the work you’ve already done.
I could see her eyes light up, two little beady points of demonic luminescence.
“You can actually do that?” she purred malevolently.
“There may be enough juice in the back-up to ship them off to 1980.”
While she stepped back to look over Kedaver’s shoulder, Sauerbraten slipped his own unit into my pocket, pointing to the handy iHome app.
“Hmm,” Klangfarben wondered, “you couldn’t send them all back to visit Hildegard of Bingen? It’s really lovely there, this time of year.”
“These units aren’t that powerful – 1980’s far enough,” Kedaver smirked, “on a one-way ticket.”
“Excellent,” Klangfarben shouted, grabbing one of the units, raising it triumphantly in the air. She stomped over and angrily tossed it at me.
Waving the pistol, she yelled at me to press the button. But I noticed the address field window read Heiligenstadt, Vienna, 1802.
“Wait,” Kedaver screamed, “you gave him the wrong one!”
So naturally, I hit ‘go.’
“Go,” he prodded Kent-Clarke again, “he’ll lead us to the Time-Gate through the mines.” Schweinwerfer seemed perfectly content with this linear reasoning but Kent-Clarke was convinced he’d end up lured to his demise and enslaved underground. What if he became just another Niebelung, digging in the mines for all eternity? What would happen to all his work, his career?
Reluctantly, the conductor, practically shaking from fear, picked up the tote-bag with Mahler’s score and followed after the apparition ahead of them. Schweinwerfer once again hoisted the now-terrified boy onto his shoulder and trundled behind them.
And what exactly did “through the mines” mean in a strange place like Harmonia-IV? Kent-Clarke hadn’t been able to figure out much about it – New Coalton or whatever you called it – in his brief time here. But whatever it was he’d experienced so far didn’t make Schweinwerfer’s logic more reassuring. He just wanted to get back to someplace familiar.
The Old Man’s mysterious glow was barely enough to light their way, however dimly, through the enveloping stillness and the coal-black night. Surrounded by tree-trunks, large-leafed bushes and odd fern-like shrubs, the path rose and fell. Kent-Clarke felt more frightened with each step, the deeper into the woods they went, every turn bringing with it the potential for disaster.
Each time, he felt relieved they hadn’t stumbled over the edge of a cliff or met some giant ape lurking beyond those trees.
Xaq, meanwhile, kept up a constant out-going telepathic stream, calling to Sebastian for help.
If they’re trying to help him steal the score, Schweinwerfer and the Old Man, why was Kent-Clarke afraid of everything they did? Why did he keep thinking they may not be looking after his best interests? Without their help, he might find his way back but walk into Smighley’s trap. Then, what happened to all his hopes and dreams?
Perhaps they wanted to steal the score for themselves, benefiting their own strategic plans. Wasn’t that the American Way, the Corporate Paradigm? Get someone to do the work, then push him aside and take the credit?
The music world was full enough of sharks, fed by the frenzy of competition. He learned early to always watch his back. What about this big guy and his scrawny accomplice? They could easily kill him.
Stopping briefly to look back, the Old Man growled, waving his scraggly arm forward.
Schweinwerfer nudged him and Kent-Clarke stumbled into the mineshaft.
It was close to dusk in early October when we’d arrived in Heiligenstadt, a pleasant little village a few miles north of Vienna. From the corner where Sebastian and I were standing, there wasn’t much to see – a handful of comfortable houses on a few streets with a church behind us and great stretches of woods not far away. An old woman walked past, carrying a basket loaded with eggs and cabbages, immediately assumed we were new arrivals from the city. She gave us a cheery greeting and asked if we were looking for rooms.
“The house, here – Herr Binder’s – he’s got some rooms to let, though you’d be next to this young musician, up from Vienna. He’s a brusque man, keeps to himself, but plays some beautiful music,” she said. “Sometimes,” correcting her initial impression with a quick frown. “Can’t always enjoy it, but he does play marvelous well,” she smiled, nodding appreciatively.
Before we said a word, she pointed at a distant figure heading our way.
“Here he comes, now, back from another walk.” She’ll soon be fixing dinner in her kitchen, listening to him play the piano. “Just ring the bell, there, if you’re needing rooms.”
She disappeared behind the house as the man, gradually coming into focus, looked familiar.
The only reason for us to be in Heiligenstadt in October of 1802 would be to meet composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven. Working on his 2nd Symphony, he was also dealing with symptoms of impending deafness.
The stooped figure of Beethoven, deep in concentration, paid us no attention, walking past, even after I first greeting him, saying hello.
Only when I said “Herr Beethoven” a little louder did he stop and turn.
Frowning and clearly annoyed, he looked at us impatiently, asking how we knew him and how it was we had found him here.
When I explained we were traveling through the area and had heard some of his performances in Vienna, careful not to mention anything that might not have been performed yet, he gradually softened and almost smiled.
“I’ve been here alone these past six months but I am sorry if I cannot spare the time, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Come, not even for a pint at the tavern,” hoping there was one nearby.
Then I noticed Klangfarben furiously hobbling up the street, Kedaver dutifully at her heel.
“Ah, if you insist,” Beethoven said, leading the way.
“They wouldn’t go through town and march right into the policemen’s trap,” Sauerbraten said, “probably skirting north of town along the woods.”
Zoe was concerned about how much of a lead Kent-Clarke had, carrying her son.
Cameron, wondering if Sauerbraten wasn’t giving the conductor too much credit, found the trail. “It looks like you’re right – they’re heading due north.”
Perhaps it was just as well Sebastian was the one going time-traveling, this time. He might have trouble keeping up with them. Lagging behind, Zoe was having a little trouble herself, but her son needed help.
She tried to pace herself, thinking how she got through playing the Bach Chaconne – “balance yourself, take even breaths, don’t push it.” Rather than tiring herself out, she soon found herself alongside the two young men.
Call it adrenaline or a mother’s love, she discovered the strength to keep going and soon was out in front, leading the way.
Eventually, the road ended and the path almost disappeared, becoming ominously dark, almost impenetrable, slowing them down to a cautious, walking pace. Cameron spotted some broken twigs where they must’ve stopped but their visibility was limited.
It was after they came to the fork that Zoe began to lose hope. The three of them walked around, looking for clues.
Just then, a whisper floated past them as tiny lights gathered in the gloom.
“This way, this way,” it repeated. “Thissss way…”
“The flowers,” she said, “listen! They’re talking to us!”
And fireflies led the way.
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To be continued…
- Dick Strawser
The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.