Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 56

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Klangfarben's latest plot has failed as  Mozart was rescued in the nick of time. 

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Chapter 56
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It had been a really tough summer, that year. It seemed so long ago, when Xaq felt his world turned upside down. Life was never the same after one of those “life-changing” disasters everybody talks about. Except the way people talked about them, weren’t they supposed to make you stronger? In his case, he felt it made him weak.

He assumed it took longer for adults to die, especially old people like Grampa. Children, he figured, must die quickly, by comparison. When you consider it, there’s not as much life to flash before their eyes.

That old man in the photographs, the man his mother remembered vividly from her childhood: they said he wasn’t around any longer, though he’d died, then – he’d overheard them talking about it late one night. His father, he kept telling himself, hadn’t actually died: he just wasn’t around any longer. But they treated them like basically the same thing.

Dad was there every day – well, almost every day – and then he was gone. Maybe he was just going away awhile? But it felt like forever and Mom just ignored him, like he never existed. So he began thinking – like the old man in the photograph when his mother was a little girl? – maybe his father’d died, after all…

They spent that summer at his grandfather’s farm. It was a vacation, she said, just him and his mom staying with his grandparents. At first, she’d add, “while your father’s away.” But later, she didn’t mention him.

He missed his dad. Every morning, he kept wondering if this would be the day Dad’d come back, even just to visit. Then, by lunch time when he hadn’t, it was just like every other day. After dinner, there was nothing to do but wait for the next day and hope it would be different, but it never was.

Weeks went by, then months. The routine never changed. Routine, he discovered, was boring.

His mother was always practicing. He enjoyed listening to her, even when she kept practicing the same thing over and over again.

He was seven years old with nothing to do, no one to play with, no need for routine. Life was beyond boring.

While his mom practiced, he was on his own or his grandparents “watched” him.
Most of the time, that would mean his grandmother who was always busy in the kitchen or cleaning or working in the garden.

His grandfather spent much of his time “in the city,” but never said anything about seeing his dad, telling him he’d said hello. On the weekends, Grampa walked him around the farm or down the woodland paths, teaching him the names of plants and trees, of the animals scurrying away from them. That was pretty cool, for a while.

Other days, though his mother said he shouldn’t, he liked to run around in the woods, pretending how he’d find his dad. They would sit quietly under a tree and talk for what seemed like hours.

His grandmother tried to get him to talk about this “imaginary friend” but what could he say? So he was very vague. She never questioned why this friend, a boy his own age, was so quiet.

After all, his dad “wasn’t around any longer,” right? Maybe he was dead. How could you have an imaginary friend who was dead?

He remembered how his mom had said she’d lost her grandfather when she was only six, younger than he was that summer. What he could never figure out was why she never managed to find him.

So sometimes when he’d be looking for his dad, he’d pretend he was looking for her grandfather, too: maybe he’d have better luck.

One day, he ran back to the house, thinking she’d be happy to know he’d found her grandfather down by the pond.

But she started crying and wouldn’t talk to him the rest of the day.

So he kept these friends of his a secret. After all, wasn’t that what imaginary friends were for? Any seven-year-old knew that.

It was lame, telling his mom about the old man. He called himself Sebastian.

He began to like Sebastian. He really didn’t know that much about him, so he could create him complete from his own mind.

He did know he was a musician and Grampa said he’d been a composer. But when he asked them if Sebastian knew Beethoven and Mozart, two composers he’d heard of, they just smiled and then laughed.

So that was what they’d talk about sitting down at the pond, what it was like writing music or talking to Beethoven. Sometimes they’d just listen to his mom practicing when she played in the backyard. But he thought it was odd – the boy did – that he never actually found his dad. Sebastian said he’d never seen him, either.

That was the weird thing. He had to imagine his dad because he never actually found him. Their conversations were all pretend. Sebastian struck him as being very real though no one else could see him. Either way, he was careful talking to them because, even whispering in the woods, he was afraid his mom could easily hear them.

So they developed this way of talking to each other, just through his mind, without ever really needing to say anything out loud. The adults couldn’t hear it, evidently – “I can’t read your mind,” they’d say.


Sebastian was also keen on teaching him the names of plants and trees, as well as the birds and animals they’d see. One day, they were looking at a large tree nearby, hanging over the pond. It was either a willow or an ash, so he asked Sebastian what its name was, and he said its name was Fred.

Once, when Grampa asked him what that same tree was called, the boy studied it carefully, then announced its name was Fred.

Grampa stood back, surprised, and grunted. “Huh! My dad always called it that, too.”

Once, when he’d been out in the woods, pretending he was a secret agent tracking down his dad – footprints, a broken twig: he’d gone this way – he’d gotten lost as huge storm clouds darkened the sky.

He knew nobody could hear him, so he just thought the word “Help.”

It wasn’t his dad who rescued him.

It was Sebastian.


They weren’t gone all that long. Sebastian had only escorted Zoe down the hall and to the left, taking her to the ladies’ room, waiting for her so she’d be able to find her way back. When they returned, Sebastian noticed the door to the vault was slightly ajar and he was pretty sure he’d closed it behind them.

Perhaps Xaq had this urge to explore the hallways. But he would know this could be dangerous, what with Klangfarben lurking about.

“What will he be like when he officially becomes a teen-ager?” Sebastian asked, chuckling.

There was nothing else down the hallway except more vaults, each on a different level – R-S, T-W, X-Z-Misc and then the Time-Device Room. He‘d have no reason to check out the others further down the ramp.

Suddenly, Sebastian’s uneasiness about this began to increase exponentially. Then Zoe panicked, hollering out her son’s name as she ran into the vault.

The room was dark, empty, just like it was when they first entered it. Where was Xaq? And where, incidentally, was Cameron? It was unlikely both of them would’ve just walked out and started wandering around.

Sebastian checked the door. No, they were in the right vault: M-Q, Vault #4. This was where Sauerbraten had told them to wait.

Then they heard muffled noises, a pounding against a wall and a voice unable to speak clearly with his mouth full of food. Hurrying to the sounds, they opened a bin to find Cameron, gagged and bound.

It took a considerable effort to lift him out of this cramped storage sarcophagus, a substantial filing cabinet considerably wider than standard but suitable for large scores or a normal-sized person scrunched in with bent knees. How Cameron got there, trussed up with twine and tape, they had no idea, but how ironic he was in the Mahler Bin.

Here were manuscripts of several symphonies Mahler had composed over the past few decades, forming a comfortably padded foundation for Cameron’s incarceration. Many people fell asleep listening to Mahler symphonies but Cameron clearly hadn’t been sleeping.

Zoe tried unknotting the twine around his feet while Sebastian worked carefully to peel the tape off his mouth without undue pain.

Perhaps this was Klangfarben’s clue, that Mahler was next on her Great Composers Hit-List?

“Not Klang-pffft!” Cameron spat out, trying to speak, choking on great gulps of air.

“Cameron,” Zoe said, “who did do this? Where’s Xaq?”

“Gone.” He pointed at the door. “They took him…”

“Not Klangfarben and Kedaver?” Sebastian had no luck trying to find a knife: the twine around Cameron’s wrists was knotted too tightly.

“Where did they take him?”

Before Cameron could answer, a flash of light – energy from across the time-space continuum – filled the room: Sauerbraten and Dr. Kerr had returned.

As the two newcomers high-fived each other to celebrate not only their safe return but also the successful completion of their mission, they realized not everything they’d returned to was in quite the same successful state.

Zoe and Sebastian spilled over each other bringing them up to speed – how Cameron got tied up, that Xaq had been abducted – while Sauerbraten pulled out something resembling a Swiss Army knife and cut Cameron free.

“Not Klangfarben,” Cameron said, rubbing life back into his lips. “That tape really hurt. No idea where – they left a few minutes ago.”

He told them how that conductor who’d come for dinner, Kent-Clarke, barged in behind this big burly man in a black trench-coat, the one who did the actual tying-up, the dumping-in-the-bin, not to mention the abducting.

The more Cameron described all the ugly details, the more Zoe knew this was no famous composer but someone else she’d recently seen.

The big guy was very interested in whether Mahler’s latest symphony was registered: since it wasn’t, they seemed confident they could “succeed.”

“We’d seen him with Wagner and Mahler. He’s got Mahler’s score – and Xaq, too.”


Xaq had been dragged and hoisted and carried and dropped more times than he cared to count. He’d been hauled around with an arm roughly wrapped around his waist or slung over this guy’s massive shoulder. There’d been so many turns along the way, he couldn’t imagine getting back to the library to see his mom and Sebastian again.

Ever since they tied him up with some kind of twine and strapped duct-tape across his mouth before they carried him off, he’d been worried about what lay ahead but he knew it wouldn’t be fun.

What had they done with his mother and her grandfather? Where were they taking him and what would they do to him? Besides, he was starving. Wasn’t there any way of stopping somewhere they could eat?

This adventure was turning out to be one crazy trip through Wonderland. And he hadn’t even gotten on any of the cool rides…

Of course, he was trying not to admit being afraid, just as he didn’t want to think about how much he ached or what that duct-tape was going to feel like when they ripped it off.

It was bad enough their chasing a villain he’d never seen, yet. And only the Big People got to travel back in time.

What about the man running along with this Really Big Person: wasn’t he the conductor who’d come back to the farmhouse for dinner?

“Why won’t he help me?” Xaq thought. “What’s wrong?”

What could possibly happen next?

Xaq felt like he’d gotten caught up in a sick game, some 3-D thriller where you think you’re sucked into the action. Was this some new interactive technology he didn’t know he’d downloaded on his X-Box? Maybe he was really sitting happily in the back seat of Dr. Kerr’s car, entirely oblivious of the long drive to the airport.

But there were great stretches where nothing happened except he was bouncing uncomfortably like a sack of potatoes over this guy’s shoulder. Did he need to be doing something, making wii-like moves to speed things up?

When you got right down to it, this game was more than lame. It was his mom who went time-traveling, not him! It was like he’d gotten into some PG-13 movie with nothing gross worth watching.

Would someone market a game this bad to kids?

There’s always the option it could be a dream.

But what if it’s real?

Then he saw this guy with a scraggly beard dressed in white like he’d been rolling around in a pan of flour. Now, that was beginning to creep him out. CGI aside, this guy was scary. Considering the goons who’d abducted him from the library, this new character made them both look like something from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.


Dumped too far away from them while they talked about reconnoitering around the Time-Gate, Xaq couldn’t really hear the conversation that well. He caught fragments about “Old Man of the Mines” and “enslaving them to work.”

That last bit didn’t strike him as particularly enticing. Once they’d picked him up and started off again, it wasn’t about enticement. So he began thinking less of making an escape and more about being rescued.

The problem was, escape becoming less realistic, how was anyone going to find him?

And for that matter, who would figure it out?

By now, Xaq realized none of these characters could read his mind unless they were simply ignoring him – that was always possible. Maybe, if he really concentrated on his predicament, a message could reach his mom? But since he had no idea where he was or where they were going, how could he possibly direct anyone to reach him?

Then he remembered being lost in the woods when he was seven, calling out to his “imaginary friend” Sebastian to help him.

But he’d met Sebastian – he was real – so he focused on him once again.


Our immediate problem was how to further subdivide our limited resources to pursue what has turned into a more substantial “double front.” We couldn’t very well just give up on Klangfarben, not after everything so far. Allowing even a partial success was simply not acceptable. But we couldn’t let Xaq remain in the hands of this newly emergent villain.

Since the time-traveling device accommodated only two passengers, Sauerbraten and I should continue pursuing Klangfarben, leaving the other three to join the chase for Kent-Clarke and his new-found cohort who couldn’t have gotten very far, yet.

We raced down the hallway back to the Time-Device Room, mindful that Klangfarben and Kedaver could still be there. They will no doubt have returned moments before we had and no doubt will be hopping mad. They might even be waiting for us, hoping to steal back the other devices to keep us from screwing up their last adventure.

Unfortunately, the library’s devices weren’t designed for such hard, continuous use, thus the librarian’s policy of limiting them to only one trip in any given 24-hour period. This, Sauerbraten explained, would make them become increasingly unstable. How this might affect the devices, he wasn’t sure: would they fall short of their destinations or lessen the amount of available time?

Holding up his device, Sauerbraten said while it hadn’t been tested to that extent, he knew it was in every way the equal of the library’s except what tweakings he’d made to the technology only improved it.

More importantly, his had only taken one trip, our return determined by choice, not by the deterioration of the battery. With its built-in automatic recharging unit, we were ready to go with no need to wait. Meanwhile, the library’s out-moded, long obsolete versions had been on three trips already and they barely made it out of 1765 in time.

Rather than buying into Sauerbraten’s up-grade, replacing their present system with something more efficient, the library council, preferring to limit public access to the past, would secretly “retire” the technology once it was no longer reliable.

Just then, clumping down the hallway came an extremely angry, bedraggled Klangfarben, hobbling on one shoe, followed by an equally wet Kedaver. Apparently, their time-device had dropped them in the middle of the plaza’s grand fountain.

But it was too late – seeing us, she knew they had to stop us before we spoiled her chance for a “last hurrah.”

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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.
© 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 55

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, the conductor Rogers Kent-Clarke, his cohort Schweinwerfer and their hostage, Xaq, are trying to reach the Time-Gate so Kent-Clarke can return to Earth with Mahler's symphony when they run into the legendary 'Old Man of the Mines.' Meanwhile, we return to the Hague in 1765 as Klangfarben and Kedaver chase Mozart through the royal palace.

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Chapter 55 
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No sooner had I motioned to our friend, Johan van Gyllenhaal, than he turned around to see Klangfarben and Kedaver glowering at us.

“What a bitch on skates she must be! Follow me,” he said, taking Mozart by the shoulder and guiding him forward. “Come, Master Mozart, I want to show you something special – it’s in the Music Room.”

A few words to a servant helped us skirt around the buffet table where Mozart picked up some crème-filled pastries and stuffed them into his pockets, munching on marzipan as we headed toward a back door.

In the hallway, we ran quite literally into the footman again who was about to call other servants to apprehend us and have us expelled, but Sauerbraten explained we were looking for him – to warn him.

“There’s a woman all in black, mounds of silver hair, with a tall thin man – we think they’re going to attack the prince!”

With a gasp, he thanked us, called after some servants who disappeared into the room. In seconds, there was the sound of a scuffle and Prince William was pushed through the door which slammed behind him.

“Ah, Gyllenhaal, there you are,” he said, straightening out his vest. “Does anyone know what’s going on? Brekkerman said something about an attack.”

I explained we weren’t sure what we’d overheard her saying, but she was out to kidnap someone, either the Prince or Mozart. Just in case, we thought it best to get both possible targets to safety.

“Kidnap? Right here in front of everybody? Those French agents are getting very bold – or very desperate.” The prince motioned us forward. “Follow me – if we’re going to hide, let’s hide somewhere good, like the kitchen!”

He explained how his family’s been dealing with threats like this ever since he became the Netherlands’ designated “Stadtholder” when he was three.

“One regent after another,” he said, “and the political issues, not just those inside the House of Orange, get nastier every year.”

Gyllenhaal looked at us in alarm: we’d told him Klangfarben was after Mozart’s father.

“Mmm, oranges,” Mozart said, his mouth full of candy.

“And I shall give you one in just a moment,” the prince smiled.

As we entered the kitchen, Gyllenhaal grabbed me and hissed, “what is going on?”

“My beautiful Katje,” the prince said, giving one of the maids a quick kiss, “how about an orange for the boy?”

Katje giggled.

I told Gyllenhaal how Sauerbraten overheard Klangfarben saying something about killing someone: we didn’t want to take any chances. After all, why kill a mere boy? Perhaps they were using Mozart to get to the prince?

Katje gave the prince the plumpest orange she could find which he then presented to Mozart who marveled at its size and roundness.

Making up some story about Klangfarben possibly representing some creditors from Augsburg, Leopold’s hometown, I mentioned we’d heard they must have run up quite a hotel bill before they left: perhaps it was really nothing more?

“But still,” the prince conjectured, “why would they talk of killing the boy,” whispering over Mozart’s head, “or for that, attacking me?”

“Maybe,” I hinted, “their plan is more sinister, Leopold Mozart’s debts merely a cover?”

Meanwhile, Mozart, eying up a trayful of those elegant crème-filled pastries, stuffed a few more into spare pockets. He pretended to ignore us.

The footman named Brekkerman, eyes bulging and chest heaving, dashed into the kitchen in great anxiety, pressing his back against the door. Everyone in the kitchen hid their amazement, focusing on the business of preparing dinner.

“Ah, Prince,” he barked between gulps for air, “escaped… chasing you… hide…”

Katje held a ladle of cold water to the footman’s lips.

“Come on, then!” The prince bounded off.

Gyllenhaal grabbed Mozart around the waist and raced off after the prince, Katje pointing the way.

Sauerbraten and I could barely keep up, afraid we’d easily lose sight of them.

Back into the maze of corridors, past walls filled with paintings and servants lighting candles against the growing gloom of the day, I assumed we were headed deeper into the center of this vast royal palace. Around the corner, we could hear the clatter of high heels on wooden floors and there, heading toward us, were Klangfarben and Kedaver.

Our only course was through the music room, then back into some other hallway. Could we reach the outside to make an escape or find some inner room to hide in until the footmen caught them?

They were gaining on us as we charged toward the music room. Mozart, balanced on Gyllenhaal’s hip, held his mirror medallion up and threw the crème-filled pastries back at her, one after the other, making explosion-like sounds as they landed on the floor in her path. Unable to stop, she slipped and fell, slamming headlong right into the harpsichord.

With a scream, Kedaver, leaping over Klangfarben, got tangled in her hair. Holding the syringe in his hand, he lunged at Mozart.

But instead of the boy’s arm, its deadly contents emptied harmlessly into the orange.

Nepomuk leaped forward just in time to tackle Kedaver around the knees, bringing him down with a great crash and a bone-shattering groan.

Before he could recover, I grabbed one of his time-devices, going through his pockets till I found the spare, leaving them with only one.

Immediately, each device began to beep their dire warnings.

“That sound,” Mozart said, “amazing!”

“Uh oh, time to leave, folks – your battery’s getting low.” I held Sauerbraten’s home-made device up to show them. “Mine has better batteries.”

Klangfarben struggled to her feet, lunged forward but once more slipped and fell.

“Don’t leave me here, you filthy bastard,” she screamed, barely able to grab hold of Kedaver’s foot before he pressed the Return button.

As a dozen servants barged into the room, seeing the mess, Klangfarben and Kedaver both disappeared, leaving behind one of Klangfarben’s shoes.

I apologized for their escape, but said there was nothing more to worry about.

Holding up the syringe, I tossed the orange to the wide-eyed prince, telling him to have it destroyed because they’d poisoned it. “It’s fun injecting them with vodka – like eating a screwdriver – but this’ll kill you.”

I also apologized – it was time we should be leaving.

“Vodka? Screwdriver?”

Glancing among themselves, they looked back only to discover we’d disappeared.

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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.
© 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 54

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, we return to the Hague in 1765 as Dr. Kerr and Sauerbraten take young Mozart into the palace to evade the newly arrived Klavdia Klangfarben. There, meeting the Princess and her younger brother, they become involved in a game similar to croquet but which, for novelty's sake, they play backwards. Then, at a reception, they run into Klangfarben and Kedaver. Meanwhile, we catch up with Rogers Kent-Clarke, Philosopher Schweinwerfer and the newly abducted Xaq. 

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Chapter 54 
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“And what, exactly, did that accomplish?”

Kent-Clarke not only had a cumbersome score to carry, now they were saddled with an eleven-year-old boy who was kicking and screaming as they left the library’s Posthumous Manuscript Collection.

“For one thing, now you know that score you’ve stolen won’t dissolve into thin air when you get back to the Other Side.”

Schweinwerfer trussed Xaq’s arms and feet behind him with binding twine after placing a gag over his mouth to shut him up.

“And this,” he said, “will be an insurance policy when the police find us.”

Grumbling about dragging a squirming sack of pre-teen angst around with them, Schweinwerfer hoisted the boy over his shoulder. Kent-Clarke decided the score, as large and ungainly as it was, was still easier to deal with. He tried wrapping it with some binding twine, then stuffing it into a barely big enough tote-bag he’d found near the circulation desk.

“But that doesn’t make sense – I mean, about the score just dissolving into thin air. I can see it plain as day,” he said, holding it out in front of him, “what would make it disappear?”

“For one thing,” Schweinwerfer said, trying not to lose his patience, “you can’t believe that everything you see is always what it is.”

All his talk of laws, technology and registration stamps to the contrary, nothing was getting through to this guy. “Such obstinacy,” Schweinwerfer thought.

“That’s the way it is – so just deal with it,” he groused, “or else...”

The “or else” made a pretty convincing argument, Kent-Clarke considered. There were enough oddities happening to make him question his normal perceptions, anyway: he was holding one of them, a new symphony by a dead composer. And not just any dead composer – one who’d died a century ago. That was pretty “odd,” he thought, one he’d just talked to.

He felt badly Xaq had recognized him when Schweinwerfer grabbed him, the boy discovering too late he wasn’t going to be rescued. Such things, he knew, weren’t supposed to bother him, but somehow they still did.

Things that tugged at the heart were things he’d been told would get in the way of his career. “You must be hard-hearted and ambitious,” his last teacher, Alessandro della Vecchelino, used to tell him repeatedly. He must overcome any concerns about whatever inconveniences he caused his musicians – or other people, too. Xaq was just another sign he’d failed.

With the woods up ahead, they took a break once they reached the edge of town, sitting down for a few minutes, the road to the field on their left. Xaq struggled and whimpered until Schweinwerfer could stand it no longer, conking him on the head to knock him unconscious.

“Children,” he intoned, “should be neither seen nor heard…”

Kent-Clarke hadn’t even flinched. Besides, the boy was beginning to get on his nerves, insurance policy or no insurance policy. Where were all these police Schweinwerfer worried about, anyway? There was no one else in sight.

Something else he was having trouble processing: a while ago, he was in the woods in broad daylight but they’d sneaked into town in the dark. Now, it was dark over the woods, too. He tried imagining the place maybe had two stars and he was, after all, only used to a place with one. “Just where are we?”

It seemed reasonable to think he’d fallen through a hole and landed somewhere at the other end of it. What he couldn’t wrap his mind around was where that hole had led him. This was hardly a place underground – it had sky, for one thing, and there was night and day, sometimes at the same time which was weird. There was a whole, big city down here, not just an abandoned rural mining town from years ago, surviving in another dimension. And where did all these composers come from? The place was crawling with them!

There was something else on Kent-Clarke’s mind, so he thought he’d mention it.

“I can understand why I’d want to steal this score, but why are you helping me? What are you getting out of this?” Everything in Kent-Clarke’s world had been based on the concept, hardly a philosophical one, of cause-and-effect – you do something, someone does something back. If you study hard and do well, I’ll give you a good grade; if you don’t, you get a bad one. You do something nice for me, I’ll do something nice for you, and so on.

But Schweinwerfer already said he couldn’t return with him to share in the glory – he’d automatically become invisible, crossing over. So Kent-Clarke couldn’t really see how the big guy was going to benefit from helping him. Was it a purely altruistic gesture, making sure Kent-Clarke returned safely to the Other Side, or was there some alternative plan in mind?

Schweinwerfer didn’t flinch. “It’s because I believe this symphony has an important message for people on Earth about the End of Time.” He didn’t bother to elaborate how it would realize his dream of apocalyptic destruction. Pegging Kent-Clarke as an ambitious, publicity-seeking conductor, with or without talent, the philosopher was convinced Kent-Clarke could help him realize his own dream.

He could feel the vindication at hand, even if he’d have to wait another two years, four months and twenty-seven days. He’d been waiting for it for 165 years as it was – what was a couple more?

“Funny thing about eternity,” he thought, watching Kent-Clarke. “You wait so long, you become impatient. Then, when it’s almost in your grasp that you can practically taste it, you’re less concerned about waiting a little longer.” He thought that was being very philosophical and hoped he could remember to jot that down in his notebook once he got home.

Home, of course, was deep in one of the abandoned mines north of town. In life, he’d spent years living in mountain caves south of Dresden and found that, all told, he rather liked it there.

Schweinwerfer nudged his new friend – his newest ally – and pointed to the left.

“The Time-Gate you want is that way. Should something happen and you can’t get back immediately, I live that way,” he pointed toward the woods a little to the right of center, “and we can hide there till the road is clear. It is not far.”

That “we” sounded mildly comforting.

Kent-Clarke hadn’t thought beyond grabbing the score. Getting back safely, even how far he had to carry the score, much less avoiding the police or border guards or anything else that affected his safety, hadn’t occurred to him. He was going to run back to the gate by himself, find his way home: simple. But once there, how did he find this gate? The first time, it was an accident, a blur. And now? Would falling through another one automatically take him back or somewhere else? Did he fall up?

And now the police were looking for him – the fact they’d be after him so quickly surprised him. With the score in his hands, there wasn’t much reason to have a trial if they arrested him. Would they just throw him in jail? Did they have courts and lawyers in this place? But he was guilty, wasn’t he? Guilty!

“Here it is,” Schweinwerfer said, pointing to the wide-open field at the edge of town.

From there, it looked like clear sailing.

“That’s it? The gate’s out there?” Kent-Clarke sounded dubious.

“Yes. You can’t see it,” Schweinwerfer said, “but to find it, you must trust in your faith that you will. You have to believe.”

“Well, okay. Here goes.”

Hoisting the score up against his chest, he prepared to make a dash for it.

“Down!” Schweinwerfer grabbed him by the shoulder. “You can’t just run out there like a fool! The police are watching for you.”

Great! He couldn’t see them, either: how about he just believed they weren’t there?

They sat still for a few minutes that seemed like an hour, waiting for something but for what, he had no idea. What if the police weren’t there but then arrived while they sat there waiting?

Then he heard it. The crack of a twig.

But it had come from right behind them. When he turned and saw it – him – he practically screamed: a pale old man in rags, white from head to foot, a long beard, his hair wildly unkempt.

It hadn’t occurred to him, in a place where everybody was already dead, that there would be anything even remotely resembling ghosts.

He was more amazed than alarmed.

“As I die and exhale,” Schweinwerfer said breathlessly.

The figure quickly disappeared, an apparition in the mist.

“That’s a policeman?”

“No.” Schweinwerfer bowed with considerable awe. “One of the local legends.”

He explained how he’d lived in the mines for many years since he first arrived here, but had never seen him face-to-face.

“That was the one they call ‘The Old Man of the Mines.’ He exists!”

Afraid the apparition was coming to claim his soul, Kent-Clarke, now preferring arrest, hunkered down to await the explanation he hoped was coming.

Was this man or spirit, something evil like the Troll King in Peer Gynt? If anything, Kent-Clarke felt he could run even faster, now, hoping to find his way home before anything worse happened to him.

“I don’t know – there are many different legends about him.” Schweinwerfer wasn’t very reassuring. “Some tell stories of his rescuing the lost; others, that he kidnapped and enslaved them in the mines.” Neither really bothered him.

Suddenly, Kent-Clarke was a child again, sitting around a camp-fire in the woods on a moonless night, the older boys telling scary tales.

The old man soon returned, looking less apparitional, perhaps, but that didn’t stop Kent-Clarke from jumping nearly a foot in the air. As it turned out, the man wasn’t so much white and ghostly as dusty.

“You are trying to find your way to the gate through which you pass to Earth?” The voice sounded hollow, not especially spirit-like.

Kent-Clarke was not sure his head nodded or shook in fear.

“Come, then, I will show you, but you must… beware, eh?”

Schweinwerfer prodded him to follow the old man, leading them deeper into the woods.

= = = = = = =

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.
© 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 53

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Zoe Crevecoeur thinks back to various problems in her life, dealing with her career, her ex-husband, raising her son. Meanwhile, we return to the Hague in 1765 as Dr. Kerr and Sauerbraten sneak into the palace to avoid Klavdia Klangfarben.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 53
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

A courtly servant, closing the gate where coaches entered to stable their horses, assumed we were also servants and locked it behind us. Too casually dressed for the main entrance, we managed well enough until an officious-looking footman approached us, stopping us with some suspicion just as a small group of aristocratic yet equally casually dressed men walked past.

Identifying himself as the personal secretary to Count Henrik van Wassenaer, Gyllenhaal introduced Sauerbraten and me from the Imperial Court in Vienna, as friends of Johann Chrysostomus Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart, musician to the Archbishop of Salzburg.

“So many names for such a small musician,” one of the noblemen turned to us and said, waving the footman away.

I noticed how the footman, bowing obsequiously as he left, still eyed us with suspicion.

“Ah, my lord, perhaps a small person but already a great talent,” Gyllenhaal said, bowing courteously. “Who knows what the future may bring.”

“My lord,” I added, imitating Gyllenhaal’s bow as best I could, “few of us may knowingly comprehend that future, but young Mozart, here, I’m sure will become a man well known to many in the world.”

“Indeed, you think so? Such an unassuming little boy.”

Sauerbraten said, seeing Mozart flush, “You have not yet heard him play, I gather?”

“No, dear sir, I cannot say I have, though my wife has, when he first arrived in town over a month ago. She talks of practically nothing else, since. I was expecting somebody older, perhaps more… geniusy…”

With a hurried but luxurious bow, Gyllenhaal introduced us to the Prince of Nassau-Weilburg, Karl Christian, who, his own territories aside, was the husband of Princess Caroline, our hostess, his gesture encompassing the palace around us. As the older sister of Prince William, he told us, she served as regent until the Prince of Orange turned 18 next year.

Any further confusion on my part, unused to addressing royalty like Sauerbraten and, even for his tender years, young Mozart, was allayed by the hurried arrival of Count Henrik, apologizing for being late to the party.

“No problem, my dear Henrik.” The prince greeted him casually. “I have just been introduced to your little prodigy here, the one you and my wife have been filling my ear with, these past several weeks.”

“Oh yes, Herr Mozart,” the count said, extending his hand to the boy. “How is your poor sister feeling? Better, I have heard.”

“She improves daily, my lord,” Mozart answered, taking his hand, “and sends her best regards and deepest apologies for having caused such a mass of inconveniences which you have so graciously taken care of for us.”

For being only nine years old, Mozart was well versed in politeness. Small wonder he’d won the hearts of royalty across the continent.

Smiling, Count Henrik whispered something in van Gyllenhaal’s ear which did not, I noticed, make our friend smile, but rather a glance he darted at the boy made me think was not in his best interest.

“I hope your sister will soon be able to join you for a performance before the court, Herr Mozart,” Count Henrik continued. “When that event occurs, I’ve asked young Gyllenhaal to inform my uncle, Count Unico.” For the new arrivals’ benefit, he explains that Unico van Wassenaer loved music, even composed a good bit himself when he’d been younger.

“Unfortunately, once the weather gets colder, my uncle – he’s very frail, now,” he turned to tell Karl Christian, “just turned 73 – he’d be reluctant to leave his palace for the trip into town,” he told Mozart.

“I would like very much to meet him, sir, and perhaps hear some of his music, or at least study a few scores.”

“I think that could be arranged,” the count said. “Would you like to play a little for the Prince, today, so he’d have a chance to hear you?”

The prince, however, resisted, waving the idea away.

“Perhaps later,” he said, shrugging his shoulders apologetically toward the boy. “We are already late for my wife’s garden party. Come – please join us, since you are here. You, too,” he said, indicating Sauerbraten and myself.

“It is always good to have new players joining in the games.”


“She likes converting the winter ballroom into a summer garden.”

And that’s exactly what she’d done. All around us were pots of brilliantly colored flowers, mostly tulips of several varieties, with numerous trees of various sizes creating pathways between sculpted mounds of dirt and coffee beans.

In the midst of all this, strolling around, were several women and a few other noblemen, dressed “casually” mostly in shades of white or light brown, very summery looking despite the chill in the November air.

“Ah, Master Mozart,” the most elaborately dressed of the women said as she approached us. “What wonderful fun that you have joined us.”

This was Princess Caroline, we were told, who most graciously invited Sauerbraten and me to join them, though I demurred, excusing myself for being terrible at playing games.

“All the better,” she said. “No ceremony, here.”

A young man all in white with gold trim joined us whom the Princess introduced as her brother Prince William, Holland’s future ruler.

He greeted us warmly, bowing deferentially when the Imperial Court was mentioned, and clapped Mozart warmly on the back by way of welcome.

Taking her husband by the arm, Princess Caroline announced the game should now begin.

The indoor garden was set up with gaily painted wooden balls spaced around the different paths where I could see small iron hoops. Servants were passing out distinctive mallets, equally colorfully painted, to each of us.

“Croquet!” I blurted out but they regarded me like I spoke in tongues.

“What, pray tell, is this ‘crow kay’ you speak of?”

“Sorry, my lady,” I said, pausing to find an explanation. “It’s a game we played back home. What do you call it?”

“It’s called ‘paille-maille,’ all the rage now, but not the way we’ll play it.”

She proceeded to explain the rules-of-the-day: instead of working toward the final score, everybody began with a perfect score and worked backwards. Instead of earning a point, for a well-played stroke, you would lose a point.

“The winner, then, would be the first person to reach zero.”

“Everything is backwards!”

“Everything, my dear Mozart. And we play backwards, too.”

At her signal, the footman who had viewed us so suspiciously before now walked in holding a large ornate mirror, one tall enough to reflect the whole person. This, the Princess explained, would be held in front of us, like so, but we must hit the ball with our mallet, like so, so that it rolls behind us – backwards!

“A perfect game for the Kingdom of Back,” Mozart delightedly told us, mentioning the imaginary land he and his sister played in so often on this long journey of their childhood. “Wait till I tell Nannerl!”

“Considering Prince William is the first among us,” she continued, “this time, he should go last.”

He bowed deferentially, grinning broadly.

“That would mean,” he said, “the youngest should go first: clearly, that would be Mozart.”

Matching the color of mallet to ball, Mozart gallantly looked into the mirror and hit the ball backwards right through the nearest hoop.

Sauerbraten went next and muffed it, his ball curving to the left of his hoop. I followed and the footman holding the mirror raised his eyebrow in a look that said, “don’t pretend you’re an aristocrat.” I winked at him, making him stand back rather surprised as I tapped the ball which then didn’t go anywhere near my hoop.

The line then went through the court, from the youngest of the ladies to Prince William who, other than Mozart and van Gyllenhall, was the only one to score – or, more accurately, to deduct from their score.

After the second round, the Princess announced anybody who missed their hoop must drink a glass of wine – or in Mozart’s case, punch since she didn’t know if his father would quite approve his drinking wine. Though Mozart was disappointed, perhaps it was better not to promote incentives to start missing points. It was clear he wanted to win.

By the sixth round, some of us were rather tipsy, not caring we had so far failed to lose points at all. Mozart, meanwhile, was well ahead of the pack, the prince only slightly behind him.

The princess, slightly unsteady on her feet after having been disappointed to lose only one point, proclaimed Mozart the winner who, even without benefit of wine, professed to her she was the Queen of his Heart.

With great ceremony, Princess Caroline placed a small medallion around his neck, a gold-framed mirror honoring his victory in their game of “Backward-Ball.”

Prince William and Count van Wassanaer stood on either side of the young winner, holding their hands to their mouths and pretended to blast a trumpet fanfare in his honor which unnerved the boy at first.

I read somewhere that as a toddler, Mozart had been frightened by trumpets, so laughingly, I motioned for them to stop the fanfare.

The princess announced it was time for some food. Raising her glass, she saluted her guests: “Let them eat caca.”

Mozart giggled.

While many gathered around to admire his medallion, others left to investigate the buffet.

As Nepomuk and I stood with our backs to the ballroom’s grand entrance, I caught a glimpse in Mozart's medallion of a passing mass of platinum blond hair.

Grasping Sauerbraten’s arm, I whispered, “Klangfarben has arrived.”

Since she’d never seen Sauerbraten before, he wandered over toward her, hoping to catch whatever she and her companion, Abner Kedaver, were discussing.

Kedaver, leaning forward, was telling her he had the syringe prepped and ready to inject the boy if he could get close enough. As potent as the virus was, it would look like he had just come down with the same illness that was affecting his sister, only in his case, he would die in a matter of days.

She saw Mozart before realizing who’d moved in front of him to block her view. The look on her face – spitting rage – was worth all the day’s aggravation.

But now we had to leave – and quickly.

= = = = = = =

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.
© 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 52

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Rogers Kent-Clarke, after stealing the score for Mahler's new symphony, makes a bee-line escape through the woods but gets side-tracked in ways he would've never thought possible.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 52
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Zoe had spent many sleepless hours during that past week considering her various options, given Xaq’s complaints about being uprooted from their home in Brooklyn, first coming out to the farm, then going off to Chicago. She tried to convince him it was just a vacation while she went out and played this concert, a chance to get away. She felt guilty not explaining the real reason, auditioning for the Poulter-Zeitgeist Quartet and, if she got the job, moving out there. But only if Xaq liked it, she promised herself: if he didn’t, they’d stay.

But what reason was there to stay in New York City? It was becoming too competitive for her, and way too expensive. She never established herself as a successful free-lancer or earning some plum full-time gig. Plus, there were too many new arrivals every season – recent graduates, new hopefuls with big dreams – and, frankly, she wasn’t getting any younger.

Not that not getting the job was all that kept her awake at night: what if she actually did get the job? It wasn’t just Xaq who’s going to feel uprooted, removed from school and friends. She had her own friends, her connections, even the back-drop of strangers she saw all the time who seemed like friends, familiar faces. The whole idea of packing and moving wasn’t exactly an adventure, more like the nightmare side-effect that went along with the new territory. Would she find an apartment in a nice neighborhood with a good school nearby?

Playing the violin was all she ever dreamed of, once she’d gotten past that embarrassing ballerina princess stage when she was ten (she knew there was a box in the attic where Victor kept that costume). She’d see Itzhak Perlman on stage and imagine herself there, playing her favorite concerto (one year, Mendelssohn; a few years later, probably Brahms).

She’d worked hard, practiced much of her childhood away, hours that could have been spent playing with friends if she’d had any, yet she was never convinced it had gotten her where she’d dreamed of being.

Was it just a matter of practicing more? Now past 30, she could no longer motivate herself into adding even another hour. It hadn’t helped her marriage and she didn’t want to risk losing her son.

She knew she wasn’t an aggressive person (until someone started messing with her son). Was that why she didn’t go after better gigs?

Zoe Crevecoeur was respected around town as a good musician, a solid violinist, always reliable, a dependable player and an inspiring teacher. That “town,” however, was Brooklyn: her reputation got lost crossing the bridge into Manhattan. There were times, looking at that skyline, she thought she might as well be living hundreds of miles away, not just a few.

Was this what all those hours of practicing had been for, coming this close, only to gaze across this narrow little river, having sacrificed all that time she could’ve spent with her folks, with her friends?

Her day job turned out to be a good fit, compared to how many of her acquaintances worked as waiters or ushers. The local public library was very “old school” and had a great music collection. Running into an old friend, a pianist from school, she was surprised he’d given up music to pursue becoming a full-time librarian there.

The real surprise was that they had a part-time opening for an educational docent, along with some duties at the circulation desk. The hours were flexible, twenty hours a week, and he needed to hire someone. The pay, not great, was at least steady. She could work her schedule around theirs so she thought, “Why not?” and said yes.

She gave talks, visited schools, worked on special music programs for the community and brought friends in to give the occasional recital. When funding was eliminated, they offered her a full-time mid-level job. She said no.

At the time, she wasn’t sure she’d want to give up her dream, packing the violin away along with the ballerina costume. But she’d take side-long glances at her pianist-friend and wonder if he was happy. The funny thing was, thinking about it now, wouldn’t she jump at the chance – a job, steady income, regular hours, even health-care benefits? But wasn’t it a coincidence she’d just happened to walk into the library and run into her friend at that very moment? It was also a coincidence her job was eliminated: it could happen again, no?

It may have been another coincidence she’d met Cameron Pierce through the library program, first through a presentation at his school and then when he’d come by to attend her talks or listen to the recitals. He said he was looking for something beyond what little his school program offered, his teacher concerned about challenging him, but unable to.

He had a promising talent, no more than what she’d had at his age, including sloppy technique and lots of bad habits. She took him on, got him straightened out and they’d even become good friends. But whether he could make it in the professional world, she had her doubts and reluctantly told him so, unless he’d work harder.

Speaking of small worlds, her husband had a science teacher in college named Mahmoud Shirazi who just happened to be Cameron Pierce’s grandfather – not that her ex-husband was something she wanted to lose sleep over, now, either.

Staring at the ceiling of the farmhouse bedroom she’d slept in as a child, she wondered if it wasn’t time for a new challenge, inventing herself a new career or at least finding a new nickname. There really wasn’t any argument to leaving Brooklyn but were there any to staying? Wasn’t this moment “as good a time as any”?

Victor’s contentions still rang fresh in her ear, arguments they’ve continued to have ever since she was a senior in high school, only lessening in their passion because, by now, he figured it was too late.

A new nickname would be easier, she thought, a place to start, a respite from the doubts and fears, misgivings and misconceptions. She’d been “Zo” as a hip teenager, Zoya when she was a ballerina princess. She even spelled it Zoë when she wanted to be elegantly professional about it. What personification would her son Xaq’s next nickname reflect?

Her husband, Stephen Falco – correction: ex-husband – was “Steve” all his life until he turned 30 and started getting weird about several things. Dropping the comfort of “Steve,” he suddenly started going by Stephen, pronouncing it “Steffen.” It was his name, she figured, he could do with it what he wanted, but his brusquely correcting anyone’s standard pronunciation was rude, not that he liked it when some wiseguy friends called him “Steph” for short. “A man’s name commemorates his sacredness of identity.” Listening to the rote-reading pompousness in his voice, she considered calling him “Asshole,” instead.

He never minded Zoe keeping her maiden name professionally but he disliked it when, around this time, she stopped using Zoe Falco socially, saying she found it spiritually unacceptable, having to give up her “sacred identity.” When he argued their son should become Zachary Falco-Crevecoeur, Zoe dismissed it because, should he marry Janet Smith-Jones, shouldn’t their children become Falco-Crevecoeur-Smith-Jones?

As familiarity grew from disbelief to outright contempt, Zoe frequently put herself through the futility of wondering what had first attracted them. No one had introduced them, no common cause brought them to the same place: she’d dropped her keys in the darkened lobby when Steve, arriving to visit a friend, helped her find them, their La Boheme moment.

Years later, love had turned into childish name-calling, however long the bickering had brewed over lesser irritations they had essentially put aside. Deeper issues soon fueled their ever-increasing falling-out, like tectonic plates rubbing inescapably against each other.

It had been a bitter divorce by the time everything was finalized, deciding their constant quarrelling was more abusive to their son, all the arguments she’d had with her father boiling up against her husband’s attacks. He hectored her about not having a “real” job to help support their son, that playing music was more fun than “real” work. She would accuse him of losing his dream, whatever “sacred identity” meant to him, sacrificing his scientific curiosity for the comfortable classroom, admitting he had, at first, only done this until he’d locate a research job.

If he’d done it for his love of teaching, that would have been acceptable, but he complained how he hated his job, his students, their sniveling lack of curiosity but mostly the meagerness of his paycheck. Did she want her son being raised by a man who viewed himself as a failure before he was 30? She said no.

Custody was arranged and approved: Xaq lived with her, he’d stay with Falco every other weekend which neither of them considered ideal. That first time she took Xaq over to his father’s apartment, no one answered. A neighbor said he’d already moved out, the superintendent showed her it was empty. The school said he’d resigned, found a new job.

She contacted her lawyer, the courts, then the police, filing a missing person’s report. Did he move, skip town or really “disappear”? His bank account was emptied, his credit cards cancelled. He had become a non-person.

The day she ran into a friend of Falco’s, a guy everyone called Hawk, had not started out being a good one, but Hawk said he knew where her husband – her ex-husband, she corrected him – was. Hawk, citing quantum physics, described the possibility of being in two places at once. Falco, he was convinced, had accessed his parallel universe.

Every choice you made created a split in reality, he demonstrated with his hands. Hawk showed her how you are here, having made this decision, but yet you are also there, where you’ve made the other. When you combine these alternate selves (hands brought together), you realize your complete self, he explained, accessing endless knowledge of the universal experience.

Everything is an illusion, but every particle of matter vibrates at a certain frequency. The supremely intelligent mind can alter that frequency.

“Voilá – Falco has jumped from one to the other!”

(And people really believed this?)


It continued to annoy her how often thoughts about her ex-husband crept into her consciousness in the midst of a performance, running in some parallel mind-stream, Brahms on one channel, Steve the Dead-Beat on the other.

“Focus,” she heard herself yelling at herself, trying to drown out the intervening channel. Why couldn’t this happen when she watched television, instead?

It had been going well enough, everyone reading the program notes during the Mozart, tapping their feet during the first movement of Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music though they quickly lost interest once the second movement started.
This was another of those bread-and-butter Sunday afternoon “musicales,” one of a series bringing young artists and classical music into the neighborhoods, part of the larger churches’ cultural legacy seeking to benefit their communities and congregations. Most times, she knew, these programs were great, with large, attentive and appreciative audiences listening raptly to great music in a great location.

This, however, was not one of them, with its cramped space and untuned piano. While the audience was large, it was one that proved Zoe’s theory that handing people pieces of paper was a bad idea. She saw them turning the page, a single folded sheet, folding and then refolding them with nothing else to do while they listened.

During the Brahms C Major Trio on the second half, a woman in the front row, fascinated by her purse, inventoried its contents every time she reached in for a cough drop wrapped in stiff crinkly cellophane.

Remembering how idyllic Hawk’s description of parallel universes sounded, she wondered if there was someplace where this performance was actually going well. If she could only “adjust the frequency” of her cells and make the jump! One makes a choice and here you are, dealing with all its various consequences; but over there, the other choice unfolds – better? worse?

The difference between a live performance and a recording is players feed off the energy they sense from people in the audience. Zoe, playing her heart out, sensed her sound was dying before reaching the air.

They’d started the scurrying third movement as she began imagining what it would be like, turned into particles that vibrated, capable of moving from space to space like a beam of light, infinitely refracting between universes.

Then they reached the middle-section opening like a sudden sun-beam and Zoe could see the smiling faces of Xaq and her student Cameron.

These were the ones, if not herself or even Brahms, she was playing for – another young man over there was also involved – but these others (most of them, anyway) squandered the gift she was giving them.

But still you played your best out of respect for the music, for the art you believed in but, most especially, for yourself.

She looked over quickly at her colleagues, these friends of hers, and knew they also sensed the same thing, listening to their music soaring upward, particles of beauty that vibrated from one frequency to the next.

Back into the scurrying bit again, Zoe considered the possibility that maybe there wasn’t just one universe, perhaps several or even thousands, one for each of us, for each decision we had made, “billions and billions.”

The audience, applauding between every movement so far, didn’t notice this one had ended: merging with the cosmic flow, Brahms led the way.

Now they were into the home stretch, the gradual build-up to the end, when she suddenly imagined the sound of her violin swirling off like smoke into the distance, with squirrely intonation and puffs of scratchiness. This wretched violin – could she afford a better instrument if she could collect all the back alimony and child-support her ex owed her?

As they pushed toward the final chords, she saw people gathering up their things even though they had twenty-five measures to go.

On the last chord, everyone rushed into the lobby, eager to begin the reception.

Before, whenever a performance didn’t go well, even if only in her own mind, Zoe blamed herself for not being sufficiently focused, maybe not having prepared satisfactorily or warmed up enough – any number of possible excuses. Blaming intonation problems on her violin was one thing, but an instrument is like a relationship and sometimes it doesn’t always work out. It sounded fine in the store-room and in her living room when she practiced, but friends were telling her it didn’t project well in an auditorium, coming off dull in a resonant place like a church.

There had been that well-known violin teacher, hearing her audition, yelling at her for letting someone sell her an instrument “that bad.” It might, he explained, be okay for a beginner, but not for a professional. He suggested she fall on it or report it stolen, putting the insurance money toward buying a good one. Then he dismissed her.

Before that, she had always assumed what was holding her back was her technique which no amount of work seemed to improve. Yet there was no relief in discovering that the instrument was partly to blame. He’d been right, naturally – that’s why he was the well-known teacher, after all – she couldn’t pursue a decent career with an inadequate instrument.

She felt energized by this renewed push the past few weeks, getting her audition video ready to send into the quartet in Chicago. A friend recommended her, said he knew the first violinist, Galina Poulter, really well.

What a revelation it was playing Devon Cilnois’ violin during rehearsals this past week, made by an unknown Frenchman in the 1880s. She considered asking to borrow it for this audition but knew it was impossible. His partner Rafe knew someone in Baltimore looking to sell a similar French-made instrument, not as good as Devon’s but better than hers.

Meanwhile, there was the pressure of that audition. Would someone there loan her their violin, letting them know how she could sound?

Things like this just sent her into a tailspin until she could barely function.

How could she manage buying a good instrument, not to mention a good bow? They were just so expensive. It wasn’t like she was going to find a Strad somebody accidentally left behind in a bar.

Besides, moving to Chicago, she would need to buy a car, rent an apartment. A violin, she figured, would actually be more expensive.

= = = = = = =

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.
© 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 51

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, it's 1765 and Dr. Kerr and Johann Nepomuck Sauerbraten have just arrived in the Hague looking for a child named Mozart and keeping an eye out for a woman named Klavdia Klangfarben. They find both.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 51
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Kent-Clarke remembered standing by the table, listening to the conversation as he munched on more of those little sandwiches cut in the shapes of clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds, laid out upon the table like a spread of playing cards. He liked especially the heart-shaped ones with bits of pimento skewered to the top, held in place by tooth-picks.

“From the heart, may it return to the heart,” he said after a reasonable pause, raising his tea-cup as a toast to Mahler who smiled back at him, pleased by the dedication from Beethoven’s Missa solemnis.

Mahler and Schweinwerfer discussed, each with their considerable passions, their thoughts about the inevitable end of the universe – more, Schweinwerfer declared than the mere destruction of Earth. Mahler was disappointed it was not just a cleansing of the Earth, making way for a new world, a new and better society, starting over and this time, eventually, getting it right.

As the party progressed, others wandered by, unexpectedly, people out on a stroll stumbling across Mahler’s little reception quite by accident. Verdi was there, said a few kind but patronizing words, clearly bored with Mahler’s symphonic rhetoric, but spoke, as usual, about his plans for Lear which he continued to toy with more than a century after his death. He lamented how he’d not had great success in his posthumous career, so he often found himself glancing over at Puccini’s shop and envying him his retirement. But still, the idea of Lear gnawed at him unrelentingly.

Even Skryabin stopped by again, drawn by the smell of sardines on rye toast, delighted to find in the middle of his woods a table loaded with zakuski, the Russian repast similar to British “high tea.” All it needed, he said, was a samovar and perhaps a pretty young maid to be pouring out cups of steaming orange-flavored brew.

Schweinwerfer, doffing his battered top hat, greeted Skryabin cordially with dripping sarcasm, asking him how his ecstasy was today – “better than yesterday’s?” Briefly, they discussed their cosmic world-views but refrained from arguing beyond mere superficial statements.

“He’s mad, you know,” Skryabin whispered to Kent-Clarke, pointing at the philosopher with his toothpick.

“I thought that’s what philosophers always were,” the conductor responded, trying to appear as mild-mannered as humanly possible, hiding his excitement. It wasn’t often someone like him had a chance to stand around chatting with the likes of them. (Perhaps it was a dream…)

Kent-Clarke realized this would be his opportunity. Several guests were preparing to leave, offering their farewells. Verdi was long gone when Skryabin woke up poor Lyadov, so bored with the conversation he could barely remain conscious. Together, they wandered off down the path and Kent-Clarke, thanking Mahler once again, quietly followed them, disappearing into the bushes along the trail.

Schweinwerfer nodded after him with a wink and a wave, then warmly shook Mahler’s hand, thanking him for his time and pointing at the score, saying something under his breath, before he, too, turned and left.

Mahler, sipping the last of his tea, gazed out over the empty fields, wondering if anyone else would stop by. Skryabin, he thought, was whacky enough but this Schweinwerfer was a complete riddle all by himself. It was one thing to be passionate about your views and another to be close to incomprehensible not to mention so depressingly irredeemable.

There was a commotion in the distance, something he could barely see. There were several groups of people converging on a couple – hadn’t they stopped by to say hello? Yes, it was, but the police had suddenly charged them from the woods, yelling. The woman with the platinum hair and that cad, Kedaver, turned and ran into the forest.

What did that mean? Why were the police after those people?

When he turned back to get some more tea, he noticed a large blank space where the score had been.

It was gone!

Mahler screamed.

Kent-Clarke heard him all the way down the path: the theft had already been discovered and he’d barely run a few hundred yards. Had Mahler heard him dashing off through the brush, turning around in time to see who it was? No, he probably would have screamed sooner. And who was there nearby who’d answer him and offer help?

The score was large and cumbersome. Hugging it to his chest, he wished he had something to carry it in, something to protect it. What if he dropped it, or tripped and fell in a stream?

But of course he’d had no idea what he was getting himself into when he decided to drive out to New Coalton. There was certainly nothing he’d experienced so far he could have remotely planned for.

Explaining where he found the score and how it had only just been completed – who would believe him? They’d certainly think he’s crazy!

And in a way, maybe he was. How was he going to pull this off? If anything, Rogers Kent-Clarke was certainly not the adventuresome type, regardless how many times he’d watched all the Indiana Jones movies. How far could he run? Considering where he was, did he even know he could out-run a composer dead the past hundred years?


He heard someone shout – a high-pitched voice, then several others.

“Hey, you!”

Great, there was a posse after him. He ducked his head down and just kept running.

“What are you doing?”

It sounded pretty insistent.

He realized it was a large hollyhock by the path, glaring down at him.

Now he was pretty sure he was crazy – the flowers were yelling at him! Maybe they were chasing him, too.

“Stop, thief!”

What if he ran into a giant Venus Fly-Trap or something – would it be able to catch him? How would he ever escape?

Suddenly it occurred to him he had no idea what direction he’d been running in. Was he on the right path to get back to the field that would get him safely home?

What was that?

Something was rushing toward him, getting ready to cut him off not far ahead of him, something large and very dark – a bear? – but he was so out of breath he could barely focus on it. With no time to stop and nowhere to turn, he hardly got his legs to slow down before he ran right into it.

You’re in a hurry,” the figure said, barely out-of-breath but apparently human – unless bears around here also talk. He effortlessly grabbed Kent-Clarke by the collar, lifting him up in the air while his legs continued running.

It was Schweinwerfer.

Holding his top hat in his other hand, he looked the conductor clear in the face before putting him down.

“What’s that you’re holding so close to your chest, there, hmmm?” Schweinwerfer leaned even closer to his face, snarling malevolently. “A score?”

Despite all the tea he’d had, Schweinwerfer’s breath stank of sardines and goat cheese.

Kent-Clarke gulped and tried hard not to faint.

“Uhm… well, in fact…” His mind was racing while his chest continued heaving, his breath gradually returning until he felt his lungs probably would not explode after all.

He said he’d borrowed it from Mahler and was taking it back with him to premiere it in New York City next season.

“In 2011-2012? No, no, no,” Schweinwerfer protested as he straightened himself to his full height. “No, you can’t possibly do it that soon. Really, there’s so much to prepare. Why would you want to rush it?”

“Because…” Kent-Clarke tried to think of a reason, then said “because I couldn’t imaging waiting any longer to share it with the world!”

“No, my friend,” Schweinwerfer continued, cajolingly. “You must do it in December, 2012, not a month sooner!”

“But, why?”

“Surely, you’ve heard about the Mayan Calendar and the end of the world?”

“Ha! Yes, very clever marketing!”

But Schweinwerfer explained that, before he could leave, Kent-Clarke needed to verify that this was the only copy of the manuscript. If it was already registered at the Central Library’s PMC – their Posthumous Manuscript Collection – then once he made it through the Time-Gate and back to Earth, the score would become invisible and dissolve.

“We must check that, first!”

“But the delay? What if I get caught?”

There were too many reasons to say no, but Schweinwerfer dragged him back into the city where, under cover of darkness, they soon arrived at their destination unnoticed.

Some commotion in front of the courthouse was already subsiding when Schweinwerfer overheard two policemen talking about being called to the Coalton Gate – some thief nabbed Mahler’s score, but they’d catch the Trespasser before he’d return.

If they were looking for Kent-Clarke, they weren’t looking for somebody as large as Schweinwerfer. He told Kent-Clarke to stay within his shadow.

Crossing the square to the library was not easy. One of the policemen looked over, saw them and nodded, but they kept on their way and were soon out of sight. The way was now clear.

Hiding behind Schweinwerfer, they lurked around the side of the library and found one of the doors carelessly ajar.

“This is almost too easy…”

Once inside, it was just a matter of getting into the processing room – no, nothing on the desk, not even in the librarian’s in-box – so now they only had to check the vault to make sure.

Kent-Clarke, wondering what the Emcue Vault was, thought these spiraling hallways would be murder on someone in a wheel-chair. Soon, they found themselves standing in front of Vault #4, labeled “M-Q.”

But someone was already inside.

They could hear people talking – a woman saying something about needing to visit the ladies’ room, a man saying they’ll be right back.

They ducked into the H-L Vault further down and waited for them to pass – a woman and an older man. Kent-Clarke recognized Zoe Crevecoeur, wondering what she was doing here, also. How many more were there?

Schweinwerfer opened the M-Q Vault’s door cautiously and found only two young men, quickly grabbed and overpowered before they screamed.

“Piece of cake!”

Kent-Clarke held onto Xaq while Schweinwerfer tied Cameron up with binding twine and duct-tape.

Finding no new symphony listed in Mahler’s file, he dumped the struggling Cameron into the bin.

Then, taking the boy, they fled.

= = = = = = =

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.
© 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 50

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, SHMRG's Man Kaye prepared his biographical feature on Mozart with a none-too-biased eye. Meanwhile, Dr. Kerr and Johann Nepomuck Sauerbraten have arrived - somewhere...

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 50 
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"So I set the time-coordinates for a little bit earlier than Klangfarben's to give us more time to figure out where we are and who we're looking for," Sauebraten explained as we found ourselves standing in the middle of a busy street somewhere in 1765. "We'd have to arrive before she killed him, otherwise it'd be too late, right?"

"Wait, if we're looking for Mozart, that wouldn't be a problem: I mean, he's Mozart," I said, looking around trying to get my bearings. "We should be able to track him down without too much trouble."

"So, if we can remember him, now, that means we're in time." Sauerbraten gave me a high-five which must have looked strange to the good people of wherever we were, assuming anyone might have noticed us.

"Incidentally, there was a little more turbulence than I remember from the other times – you may want to make some adjustments for that."

Wherever we were, it was a chilly autumn day in 1765, judging from the feel of things in the air, looking at the way people were dressed. That meant Mozart was not yet ten and the family was somewhere in the northwest corner of Europe, between their trips to London, Paris and Amsterdam before heading back home to Salzburg.

"Let's just look around," I suggested, "and see where the Mozarts are giving concerts."

"There has to be some buzz happening..." Sauerbraten sighed.

Odd expression, coming from someone born only twenty years from where we stood now.

Given the time-device's instant translation technology, I could understand everybody around me, so we couldn't figure out our location just by listening to what the locals were speaking. Some of the signs were in German, French and Flemish, so we were probably somewhere in the Netherlands – let’s see, were they Spanish, Austrian or independent in 1765? I couldn't remember.

We stood in some kind of square not far from what looked like a large palace. Most of the people looked aristocratic – there were also a few soldiers standing around, making me feel a bit uneasy.

"We're not going to be in the midst of any battles, here, are we?" I wasn't keen on another adventure like Dresden in Wagner's day.

"No," he said, looking around, "things seem pretty peaceful, today, considering how violent the history'd been for centuries, here."

"Let's ask these guys over here: they look like they'd probably be interested in music."


Four gentlemen, all comfortably dressed, peered at us with some amazement.

"You haven't heard?"

"Heard what? We just arrived in town," I explained, "heard they might be here."

"Sad story, that," the older one nodded.

We were still too late? How could that be, if Nepomuk got the coordinates right?

Another one explained that he was a friend of the countess' physician who'd been called in to treat the daughter.

"Intestinal typhus," another said, shaking his head sagely.

“As soon as they arrived, the sister became terribly sick, right to the brink of death.”

The concerts they were planning had all been canceled. Even the private audiences they were to have with the prince were postponed.

"I'm afraid you've come to town for nothing, my friends." And with that they started to move away from us.

"Wait, please" I asked, perhaps a little too desperately, "does anyone know where we could find them?"

They seemed to buy my excuse that we were friends of their landlord's back in Salzburg, just wanting to pay our respects – maybe offer some help – as long as we were stopping by in the neighborhood.

Some horses clattered past, a little close for my comfort, making it difficult to hear what they'd said, but one pointed the way.

"Here comes my friend Johan van Gyllenhaal," the youngest of the four said. "He's with Count van Wassenaer's household – he’d know." And with that they introduced us to a personable young man with piercing blue eyes.

He bowed deferentially – did we look that foreign or that distinguished? – and explained he was just going to where the Mozarts were staying. The Count, a personal friend of the Princess Caroline's, had volunteered his best townhouse, closest to the palace, for their use while they're in town, though in one sense they'd already long overstayed their welcome. The count was impatient, hoping to occupy the place himself before the winter set in. If he were needed at court, young Gyllenhaal whispered, the last thing Count Henrik wanted was to be stranded in the country.

"This whole trip for them," he explained, referring to the Mozarts, "has been a disaster. First they leave London and arrive on the Continent to bad news their Emperor has died – he had been very kind to them in Vienna. The father had been ill in London and then the boy was sick with something – tonsils? I don't recall..."

Our new friend was a fount of information, explaining how the father became sick again, complaining of dizzy spells or something, but that despite a cold, the son must have played on every church organ from Lille to Antwerp and Rotterdam. Then no sooner did they arrive in The Hague than the daughter, now, comes down with a cold.

"What bad luck" he said, since she could not be presented at court. "It hurt her deeply, such a pretty girl, just becoming a woman..."

By this time, we'd arrived at the house: quite an imposing façade.

"And that's only the start of it," he concluded, indicating he would leave us now. "The Mozarts are on the second floor," he said quietly, pointing up the steps. "Despina can introduce you – she’s one of our maids, looking after the Mozarts."

A young dark-haired woman, plainly dressed and full of curiosity, appeared at the top of the steps.

"Excuse me," I said, hating to be such a bother, "but I was wondering if you could... well, tell us: what is the date, today?"

"Why, I believe it's the 14th," his brow furrowing in curiosity.

"I'm sorry," I laughed, "we've been so long on the road on our way to Amsterdam, I can't remember if this is October or November!"

"Trust me, it's already November," he smiled and turned to leave.

I thanked him for his generosity and all his news, bringing us up to date on our friends – well, friends-by-way-of-friends, I corrected myself.

"Ah, one more thing," I said, placing my hand on his arm, "you haven't by chance noticed a rather handsome woman, young despite her silvery hair...?"

He looked confused considering any respectable young women would be wearing the fashionable white powdered wigs.

"No, this," I emphasized, "would be unlike any wig. Well, if you do see her, uhm... how do I put this," trying to make it sound even more mysterious, "she is a secret emissary from Leopold's mother in Augsburg and there's some nasty business I've heard about, though I'm not sure what, exactly."

He looked shocked.

"Oh no, please, nothing like that," I assured him, whatever he thought "that" may have been. "But still, would you try to delay her from going up to see them? It could be very uncomfortable for the family to have to deal with, at a time like this? And she might be here any minute, now."

Looking worried, van Gyllenhaal said he would alert the footman not to let her in, since the child was too sick for the family to have more visitors today."

I smiled and thanked him profusely.

"What exactly was that all about," Sauerbraten wanted to know as we climbed the stairs to the waiting maid.

"Buying us time," I whispered.

I remembered it was in The Hague that Nannerl had fallen sick and nearly died but as she began to recover, then Wolfgang fell ill – and that was on November 15th. We were barely just in time.

“Are you the maid, Despina?” I asked.

The young girl curtsied, telling us that both parents were in with their daughter. Their son, meanwhile, could be heard practicing on the harpsichord in a room further down the hall.

Sauerbraten was clearly smitten. Despina stood about his same height and had thick auburn hair pulled back tightly under her cap.

“Are you from the Court,” she asked politely, eying up Nepomuk in particular.

“Actually, we’re friends of a friend of the Mozarts in Salzburg, Johann Hagenauer.”

“Yes,” Nepomuk added, “we’re just passing through and thought maybe…”

Leopold Mozart stuck his head through the door, looking somewhat annoyed.

“I was going to complain about the noise but then I heard Hagenauer’s name. You say you are friends of his?”

“Through business,” I nodded.

Introducing my companion as Herr Suaerbraten and myself as Herr Kränlich, I explained we were merchants employed by the Imperial Court in Vienna.

Leopold beamed at my mention of the Imperial Court, then immediately expressed his sadness over the recent death of the Emperor Franz, leaving Maria Theresa a widow. He had fond recollections of their friendship and support.

I explained how we were traveling to Amsterdam on court business and just happened to hear the Mozarts had arrived in The Hague.

With that, he ceremoniously ushered us into the room where his wife, Maria Anna, was sitting by the bed, holding the hand of their daughter who was still recuperating from a very serious case of typhus.

Both parents looked extremely worn-out from the constant vigil they’d been keeping day and night over their daughter’s sick-bed. Maria Anna patted the girl’s hand as her daughter looked up at her weakly, trying to smile.

“Poor Nannerl,” her mother sighed, “we even had the priest in for Last Rites three weeks ago but slowly she started to recover.”

“And your son – is he well,” I asked them. “We heard him practicing from the hall.”

Leopold quickly ushered us into the next room, proudly introducing us to his son, Wolfgang, who, by the grace of God, despite recent illnesses has been in good if not excellent health, he said while looking around for a wooden table to touch.

A small boy, looking younger than his nine years, glanced up briefly from the harpsichord, nodding to us as he turned boring scale passages into an improvisation of great dexterity even for someone twice his age.

We applauded enthusiastically when he finished his performance, standing up to take a formal bow despite the informality of our surroundings. It astounded me to know I was listening to a living, breathing Mozart, a true wunderkind. Sauerbraten, himself a wunderkind, looked equally astounded, realizing that he, given the time he had died, was exactly twice the boy’s age.

Leopold beamed, nodding his approval and appreciation, though considering how tired he was, it all appeared a bit forced, especially once he held his hand out behind his back in a familiar gesture that transcended centuries.

Rummaging through my wallet, I found nothing smaller than a twenty dollar bill and slipped one carefully into his hand, having no idea how it would translate through the time-space continuum like our language and dress. With considerable surprise and effusive thanks, Leopold crinkled it as if testing it, bowing deeply as he placed it ceremoniously in his pocket.

While Leopold explained to the boy how we knew the Hagenauers and whispered something else, Nepomuk whispered to me that a $20 bill fresh from an American MAC-machine translated into a healthy sum in 18th Century Vienna: considering Mozart earned about 225 florins for writing Don Giovanni, my little tip was then perhaps the equivalent of 1/8th of that. The Euro aside, different European currencies were as confusing to me then as now: I almost swooned to imagine going back to Vienna in 1788 and asking Mozart to write me an opera for a mere $160!

Sauerbraten was the first to remember we had a very serious project on our hands and no plan to implement it. We needed to get Wolfgang out of the house before Klangfarben would arrive. While the boy was showing me manuscripts of some violin sonatas he was composing the day before, Nepomuk chatted confidentially with Leopold in the corner.

He began his improvisation simply.

“I’m sorry you have had such a trying time with your daughter’s health. Perhaps we could help you out a little, since both you and your wife must be very tired.”

Raising his voice enough Wolfgang and I could hear him, Nepomuk offered to give the boy a chance to get out of the house and see a bit of the city, get some fresh air, take a walk in the square outside the palace, maybe indulge in a few of the city’s fine pastries, with his father’s permission, naturally.

Picking up on Sauerbraten’s generous suggestion, I immediately echoed the idea with an enthusiastic flourish, since we were planning on doing nothing more ourselves before leaving the next day, bound for the cheese markets of Amsterdam. No doubt the boy, looking pale enough and bored these long days of his sister’s illness, must be longing for some fresh air?

The boy ran over and tugged at his father’s coat, begging to be allowed to go out with us, especially for the pastries he’d heard everyone talking about, but adding in hind-sight, also the fresh air.

Leopold admitted they were all very tired after Nannerl’s illness – “two long months, poor little thing” – and how Wolfgang was bored with no one to play with.

“Yes,” he said, patting the boy on his head, “you may go, but,” he added, turning to us, “please be very careful with my son: he is very, very precious to us!”

With a great whoop that brought his mother running over to see what the fuss was, Wolfgang – a nine-year-old boy who would grow up to become one of the world’s greatest composers – ran to get his coat and cap like any nine-year-old would do, offered the chance to escape from the house he’d been cooped up in so long.

We dutifully promised both the parents we would look after their son’s safety – Maria Anna looked quizzically at us as we said that – and have him back safe and sound in time for their evening meal.

And with that, Despina happily led the little expedition down the back steps to the kitchen.

“You have no idea how good this is for the child. He’s had nothing to do but practice and compose. That’s no life for a little boy of seven!”

Sauerbraten was about to correct her when I waved at him to ignore it.

We each downed a hearty mug of warm punch before heading out into the maze of streets behind the count’s townhouse, asking Despina for directions to the nearest pastry shop.

Wolfgang clapped his hands in delight.

The boy was wonderful company, easy to talk to and full of tales about their travels, playing down his own role in the events but rich in detail about the kings and queens they met and that wonderful man, Johann Christian Bach in London, a man so very warm who treated him like an equal, not like a boy.

There had been many concerts and lots of time spent sitting in their coach, but there had been so much to see, also. He described Paris in not quite flattering terms – the women there wore too much make-up and his father thought they looked like over-painted dolls – and London, though vast, was quite different, not as grand as Vienna.

If there had been any complaints about his feeling like a “circus act” as many people would later say, it didn’t bother him. He enjoyed showing off but it did get a little tiresome after a while.

After downing a large croissant filled with vanilla custard that earned high praise from our new friend, we got directions to the palace square – the Plein, the proprietor called it – and walked through streets crowded with people and carts with horses heading in every direction.

Wolfgang laughed when Sauerbraten tried scraping off the horse-dung he had just stepped in.

In the Kingdom of Back, he explained, you would just walk backwards and your shoes would automatically become clean. Marveling at this unfortunately imaginary place, Nepomuk noticed van Gyllenhaal walking up behind us, waving his arms.

After greeting Mozart with a warm hug, the count’s secretary told us that woman we had mentioned had arrived, furious at being detained.

When I saw this great mass of platinum blond hair bouncing toward us, I urgently suggested perhaps we could drop in on the Princess. Gyllenhaal understood, agreeing that it was entirely possible and led the way.

= = = = = = =

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.
© 2012