Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 30

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, we find out more about Harmonia-IV's chief detective, Milo Smighley who, after arresting Dr. Kerr and his fellow trespassers, continues his investigation by interviewing witnesses - like Hector Berlioz who didn't see anything but has some fantastic ideas. 

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Chapter 30
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"But why couldn't you have just made us invisible, again? It would've been so much easier!"

It hadn't made much sense to me in the first place but it sure would've come in handy in the second place. I was positive Sebastian had a logical explanation, not that it mattered, now that we were all waiting in the interrogation room of Harmonia-IV's Central Jail.

"I wish it were that easy," Sebastian sighed, "but I have a confession to make. You see, I couldn't actually do that, myself. Telling you was like a joke – I'm sorry..."

"But..." Zoe stammered, looking at him in open-mouthed disbelief.

"But we couldn't see anyone else," Cameron pointed out, "so, as far as we were concerned, they were invisible, too."

"Oh, you were invisible alright, and later you weren't, but I had nothing to do with it." Sebastian fidgeted in his chair as my learning curve got steeper and steeper.

"Okay, so, like, now I don't understand any of this." Xaq leaned heavily against the mirrored wall with a great sigh of disappointment.

I was pretty sure someone was standing on the other side of that mirror, watching and listening to us, probably that detective who arrested us at the library. We had to be careful what we said.

"Xaq, there's a lot we're not understanding," Zoe said, "not just what's going on here or how we even got here, but how we're going to get out of here."

The only logical response was thoughtful silence.

The room was not very large, just a low-ceilinged rectangular box, that large mirror at one end and a door at the other with a small window. There was a long table and a few basic chairs in the center and nothing else. The walls were a dull brownish-gray, the lights glaring, reflecting back at us in the glass.

"When you first arrive here, it's like walking into – oh, a cooler room, I guess. Eventually your body begins to adapt to it and you don't feel it's so chilly any more."

That did make sense…

"Basically, your senses became more receptive as your bodies warm up to the atmosphere, here – it is subtly different from what you're used to back home."

"On the 'Other Side,' as you call it," I said.

"Correct, and as you warm up, so to speak, you become visible and then you can also begin perceiving other people around you."

Cameron asked if this had anything to do with what he'd mentioned earlier, something he referred to as "plasma-source."

He described it as blood-like but it wasn't, technically, blood. Scientifically, it was called "plasma-source" because it had the same function as blood but it was made up of different components, things needed to keep a dead body... well, alive. They still ate and drank and did all those things they'd done before when they were living, but it's only possible because of this amazing fluid which keeps everything functioning so they can continue to exist.

"It does cause a bit of comic relief once in a while. For instance, when Shylock asks 'If you prick us, do we not bleed,' it tickles us and the audience finds itself chuckling a bit. You see, when we bleed, it's our plasma-source which, rather than being red, is a rather unfortunate dull green."

Xaq found this gross.

"But there was no blood of any color on Dad when we found him," Zoe said, "and yet here we are, sitting in jail, arrested for Dad's murder. Murder! He must have died of natural causes – a heart attack, maybe?"

Regardless, her father was dead. But then, so was her grandfather, and he's been talking to her all evening.

And of course, Sebastian cautiously mentioned, now Klangfarben and her companion had a green light to carry out the rest of their plan. As long as we were stuck here, it was clear sailing for Klangfarben.

It felt like an hour since Detective Milo Smighley deposited us in this room and then abandoned us. What was going on, I wondered; more importantly, how were we going to get out of this? Sitting here after being arrested for murder, we had no idea where Klangfarben was going next or who her target was going to be.

A moment later, the door opened and Smighley came in carrying a tray with several cups of coffee and two cans of soda. Silently, he put these on the table, motioning to us to help ourselves.

Zoe and I reached for the coffee while Xaq eyed the soda cautiously. He was pretty picky about things that didn't look reassuringly familiar. Fortunately, it didn't taste bad and he was, after all, very thirsty.

The coffee was pretty weak but then perhaps dead people didn't need that caffeine jolt any more. (Why'd they even bother making it?)

Smighley motioned for us to be seated, so we carefully distributed ourselves around the sides of the table. Sebastian, like a patriarch, sat down at one end and then the detective sat down at the other.

He dropped a folder on the table, clearing his throat. When he spoke, he sounded distant but focused, detached but clearly in control.

"So we might as well start with why you killed this man in Stravinsky's Tavern. I believe his name is Victor Creeve-crow and he is," nodding toward Sebastian, "your son and," then nodding toward Zoe, "your father."

Zoe spoke first. "We didn't kill him. We arrived at the tavern and found him there, slumped over in the one booth. He was already dead – judging from the lack of physical evidence, presumably of natural causes."

"How did he end up on the floor? When the police arrived," he said, glancing at Zoe, "he was on the floor."

"I started to move him there, thinking it would be better, trying to revive him, if possible, but we were too late."

Smighley slid the photographs out and placed them in the middle of the table.

The top photograph was a long shot taken from the front door. Curiously, the only one visible beside Victor's body was Sebastian. The rest of us weren't there even though I remembered being there, kneeling beside him, when the police arrived.

"On what basis," I asked, "are you charging us with murder? As you can see, we weren't there."

Smighley pulled the photos back toward him before the rest of us had a chance to look at them carefully. Shuffling them around, he quickly placed them back in the folder without ever changing his expression. Again, he cleared his throat and took a sip of coffee which didn't seem as distasteful to him as it did to me.

"We also have reason to believe that you are here with quite another purpose in mind." Smighley looked around us, focusing more on me, this time, than Zoe. His insinuating tone of voice was creepy enough.

"Look," Xaq blurted out, "all I did was go over to take a piss and – ZAP! – we got sucked through this weird portal or something and that's how we ended up here."

Smighley turned toward him.

"That may be how you got here but that doesn't explain what you're doing here, young man, but thank you all the same."

With that, the detective picked up the folder and excused himself without explanation. Was that it or was he coming back? Would we be released if we weren't being charged or was he going to detain us just because we're Trespassers? It wasn't like he was going to apologize and give us the keys to the city or anything.

Sebastian held a finger up to his lips, nodding slightly toward the mirror.

Right, I thought, they were now going to watch everything we said or did, hoping to see if we'd give anything away.

Like, what…?

I thought I'd mention how much I’d been enjoying the Piano Quintet, what we heard of it, but Sebastian shook his head and looked down. This also was not an acceptable topic of conversation. Then I remembered, posthumous works like that weren't allowed on the Other Side. In fact, his having "crossed over" probably put him in legal jeopardy.

Since we weren't on American soil, wherever we were, and the residents of Harmonia-IV were a polyglot of different cultures and even centuries, what kind of legal system did they have here, if they had any?

Then Zoe remembered her grandfather had started to explain what he meant by "as long as he's here, your father is dead," just as the police arrived at the Tavern.

It meant we'd need to get his body – him, in other words – back to the Time-Gate somehow and cross the barrier to New Coalton.

"Then, quite possibly, he'd revive."

Xaq fidgeted through the stuff in his pockets as he wandered over toward the door which, it turns out, Smighley had left unlatched. They weren't locked in. How lax was their security, here? They hadn't gone through his pockets and found his cool stink bomb and... Wait! That gave him an idea.

He peeked out into the hallway.


Zoe wondered how much time they'd have, if there were any limits how long Victor might survive in this suspended state.

"Maybe 24 hours, not much longer."

"The Time-Device would have recharged by now," I added.

Xaq saw there was an officer at the far end of the hall, off to the left, but down toward the right, it was clear, and a doorway was lit faintly with an exit sign.


"So we could still foil Klangfarben, get Dad to New Coalton in time...?"

"Assuming we could escape from here to do 'all-of-the-above,' yeah."

"Hey, Mom," Xaq said, "I need to go to the Little Boy's Room." nodding out into the hall.

"Wait. Let me see if there's an officer out there who can take you..."

"No – I have a better idea," and he held up the stink bomb he'd had hidden in his pocket.

"I'd told you to get rid of that!"

"I will, in just a minute."

We followed him out as he pulled the tab, then threw it toward the officer's desk.

And in a puff of rather obnoxious smoke, we disappeared in the opposite direction.

= = = = = = =

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, May 30, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 29

In the previous installment, the beginning of Part Two of The Doomsday Symphony, Dr. Kerr and Cameron have returned from 1705 and convincing Bach not to sign Buxtehude's contract, thus leaving him free to marry his sweetheart and eventually move to Leipzig rather than being stuck in Lübeck for the rest of his life. But now they have to face Klavdia Klangfarben's next plan. Instead, they are arrested by Detective Milo Smighley of the Harmonia-IV police and charged with murder. 

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Chapter 29
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The armed officers fanned out and quickly corralled everybody hiding in the 20th Century Room. It was easy to handcuff them, just as their boss had ordered. They moved with an efficiency not often seen in real life, the one thought, but then he considered they'd probably been doing this for a couple hundred years. On the other hand, given their precinct, how often would there have been the need for this much ruthless efficiency in a place where everybody's dead and the crime rate – at least the number of murders – would be fairly low?

Detective Smighley smiled cautiously beneath his gruff, typically frowning exterior. Really, this was pretty easy. A fearsome if short and rumpled presence on the force for the past 146 years, he'd been much respected in London for his keen insights into the criminal mind. Even Charles Dickens had befriended him, presumably using some of Smighley's observations in his novels.

Identifying the victim had so far proven elusive if unnecessary: he knew there would be little sympathy for the fate of another Trespasser. How convenient four more Trespassers appeared on the spot, discovered around the body. Too bad they'd gotten away so quickly: that, he promised, wouldn't happen again, once his men led them off to the downtown jail.

Lurking just beyond the corner were a shapely figure in a black leotard with a big floppy hat and billowing platinum blond hair and a tall figure in a black suit and cravat who couldn't stop giggling.

Granted, there wasn't much to do around here if you were a detective, the crime rate was so low, some years even non-existent. Most of what you had to deal with were people scalping concert tickets or cheating at Scrabble. Except for the Trespassers and those residents who crossed-over illegally, it was easy to get bored, sitting around, waiting. Once in a while, someone got drunk and started making lots of noise but you threw them in a cell and by morning, things were back to normal. It was "all very Mayberry" here on Harmonia-IV.

About forty years ago, it was pretty exciting getting an invitation from his old friend Dickens to visit Prosion-III. Things were always more lively when a bunch of authors started acting out what they were writing. Hanging out with those mystery writers had been a blast, but he liked it where he was. He'd gotten used to the quiet.

On the surface, this case smacked of a heinous family crime: three of the five suspects in custody claimed to be related to him. The one who said that was his son was himself a recent arrival to Harmonia-IV named Sebastian Crevecoeur. The woman said the victim was her father and her son's grandfather, which at least made sense. Here we had four generations of a family involved in what could easily be Harmonia-IV’s worst crime of the year, so far, even if it was only a Trespasser they murdered. Still, it was a crime.

Each suspect confirmed the victim's name was Victor Crevecoeur, not one showing up on any of their databases of likely future residents. The father explained he'd started out wanting to become a musician but "plans changed." It was sad he had exhibited minimal talent as a boy, the father sighed, and so in college he chose to switch majors.

"Yeah," Smighley thought to himself, "I can relate to that, really I can." He'd had fond hopes of becoming a violinist in his youth but figured he'd rather solve crimes than, after a fashion, commit them. Still, it had been enough he could be accepted here on Harmonia-IV. Unfortunately, Victor wasn’t going to be much more than a Zipple.

There was one problem: since Harmonia-IV had no need of coroners, they couldn't determine a Cause-of-Death. Without an autopsy, how could they determine if a crime had been committed? He really needed to talk to witnesses.

Berlioz saw no reason to be intimidated by this detective even if the rumpled overcoat was very cool, reminding him of his days hanging out in Italy, lugging his guitar around the hills outside of Rome. If anything, Detective Smighley looked a little like Napoleon Bonaparte, given his size and build, and that was enough to ignite his antagonism. He knew he'd need to control that: it wasn't his fault if this English detective closely resembled the Emperor of the French, but it brought back bad memories of growing up in those nasty, imperial days.

It had been an inordinately long wait, sitting alone in the conference room while the detective went about his duties, processing a handful of papers and getting cups of whatever this was he suggested was coffee. There wasn't much to say since he saw very little. It riled his spirit to think he was being treated like a suspect.

Smighley didn't bother to think about Berlioz' demeanor, so typically French like that smirk he’d made, sniffing at the coffee cup. It was easy to feel intimidated by a master like this, after all, one that had been all the rage, if you liked that kind of stuff, when he had been alive in London. But "c'est la vie."

Even Dickens was surprised a policeman with Smighley's experience didn't care for the blood-and-guts intensity of Berlioz' music. What he was writing now was a little more palatable, leaner and not nearly as messy. "C'est le mort."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, Detective, I didn't really see anything. I noticed the man – this man," Berlioz added, pointing at the photograph of the corpse lying on the tavern floor, "sitting at the back booth at Stravinsky's talking very excitedly, waving his hands around a lot, though he didn't strike me as being Italian."

"And who was he talking to, do you remember?"

"Mostly Mozart, but others came up and joined in. He seemed rather popular – I suspected he was an important visitor but never counted him for a Trespasser."

Like many Harmonians, he sneered whenever he said the word "Trespasser," but he admitted he also enjoyed talking with them, finding them breaths of fresh air from before the grave. He felt they kept him "up-to-date."

"But none of these did I see there," he said, pointing to the other photograph, four people he was told were also Trespassers.

He raised his brows and looked intently at them, as if he were trying to hypnotize the photos.

"Very odd," Smighley thought, "but at least he's not the raving lunatic he'd been when he wrote the Symphonie fantastique. That poor Irish actress... what was her name? Red-head, too – quite a beauty. They married, eventually, and lived miserably ever after."

"You know, I wonder, Detective, if you have something else entirely, here. Rather than four people out to kill this one person, are they not perhaps part of a conspiracy – a gang, if you will, hmm?"

Smighley hated it when people he interviewed, suspects or not, started theorizing about the case themselves. Mostly they were so far off-the-wall, it was all he could do to keep from screaming at them, "Stay focused!"

"And what sort of conspiracy would you have in mind, M. Berlioz?" He might as well play along with him, considering his alternatives.

"No," the composer said, shuffling the photos around like a game of penny-ante, "I think we can forget about these two," as if brushing the two young men aside. "These two, on the other hand, would be the leaders, sent to infiltrate Harmonia-IV from the Other Side. I think they bring bad news with them – like terrorists of sorts."

"Terrorists... really?" As easy at it was to dismiss the idea, it never paid to ignore something as serious as terrorism.

"Yes. Are you familiar with predictions about 2012?" Berlioz sat back, looking intently into his eyes.

"2012? Isn't that two years away, according to the Earth Calendar?" He rarely bothered keeping track of current events on the Other Side except when he had to intercept smugglers coming through the Time-Gates.

"According to many, December 21st, 2012, will mark the End of the World, since the Mayans' calendar abruptly comes to an end on that date."

"Doesn't the Earth Calendar abruptly come to an end every December? So what's the difference?"

"Ah, but this is a cosmic cycle of thousands of years which then suddenly – poof! – it stops. Dead. No more time!"

Berlioz explained the sun will rise on that Winter Solstice morning, aligning with a Black Hole whose energy will pour around the Earth, destroying it in a flash. He made an explosive gesture with his hands.

"Okay, that's just weird," Smighley thought.

"Yes," Berlioz said, "I read about it on the internets," proud to be keeping up with technology.

The closest thing Smighley had ever come to a "Black Hole" was going down into his apartment building's basement whenever the landlady complained about the rodents. What this man was talking about was beyond all scientific reason (the same could be said, he had to admit, for his landlady's basement).

"What," he wondered, "has this guy been smoking, lately?"

"Perhaps your concern should be less about the murder of an insignificant Trespasser – pfft! – and more about these four people who might be tying Harmonia-IV or the whole chain of parallel universes into Earth's imminent destruction."

"And how could that possibly happen?" Smighley couldn't disguise the sneer in his voice.

"Why, through all our interconnected Time-Gates, the way we can travel from one to the other to the next and the next. The energy that will destroy the earth will follow the same path the Trespassers take to reach us. We will all explode together!"

One thing Detective Smighley had to admit, however unwillingly, his case about this man's murder was looking pretty weak, especially if there was no clear cause of death he could blame on the other four Trespassers. Suppose they were actually espousing such unsettling theories or even setting up the inevitable calamity: the threat of terrorism was far more serious.

It was worth thinking about but that was all he'd do for now. He decided to conclude the interview without any further discussion.

"You have to admit, it'd make a great story for a new symphony."

= = = = = = =

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, May 29, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 28

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Bach decides he doesn't really want to accept Buxtehude's offer as his successor in Lübeck which also meant marrying his shrew of a daughter, thereby foiling Klangfarben's plan. Fortunately, she had been forced to leave before he changed his mind but Dr. Kerr and Cameron had to leave themselves before the battery on their time-device might run out and leave them stranded in 1705. Then, Rogers Kent-Clarke arrives at the empty field where New Coalton once stood, wondering how he would find how to cross over to whatever it was he was looking for. Satisfying a certain necessary physical need, he finds it...


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Chapter 28
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There was a sharp burst of bluish light and there we were, back in the 18th Century Room of Harmonia-IV's Central Library with Sebastian (Crevecoeur, not Bach), Zoe and Xaq standing right where we'd left them.

Xaq jumped back. "Whoa! Where'd you guys go for a second? You just disappeared and bang, you're back in a flash!"

"A flash – really?" I looked as surprised as they were. "But we must have spent at least a few hours in Lübeck."

"Yes, we talked to Bach and met Buxtehude and... wow, that daughter of his... Damn, my phone – I should've tried taking some pics: never occurred to me!"

"Oh, I don't think that would work, son. Things like that get erased in the time-shift. Besides, didn't you find your phone wasn't working here?"

"Right... Wait, what's this?" Cameron pulled a lace-trimmed napkin from his pocket. "I remember this – I must have taken it from Buxtehude's dinner!"

"Speaking of which," I said, changing the subject, "did you see a woman with platinum blond hair in a black leotard and a man with a goatee wearing a stiff-collared shirt and black cravat and vest go through here recently?"

Zoe looked surprised. "No, there was no one else here."

"Your return time-coordinates," Sebastian explained, "automatically set to the second just after your departure, so it's not like you're gone for the equivalent amount of real-time, you see. So since Klangfarben and her companion left before we got here, they no doubt returned before that, too."

"Which means we'll always be playing tag?" I said. "They left Lübeck several minutes before we did, but if they've come back, couldn't they be off to their next destination before we returned?"

Sebastian shook his head. "They need to recharge the unit, first, and that takes at least an hour."

"So that means,' Cameron whispered, "she could be out in the main Device Room right now?"

"Except, if we haven't arrived yet when she returned, wouldn't our time-unit still be out there?"

Cameron took the device out of his pocket, which flashed “Successful Return.”

"It's good she didn't take the other device with her," Xaq pointed out.

"But we had it."

"Not before you got here, you didn't: if she got back, knowing you'd been there, she could have taken the second unit which means you would be left in limbo without a way to return home. Maybe she hadn’t thought about that.

"More importantly, did you accomplish what you set out to do?" Sebastian wanted a full report.

Cameron and I stumbled over each other, filling in the details, how Bach just walked up to us on the street to how I'd told him about Kuhnau, the new organist in Leipzig, not sure how long he'd stay there – that seemed to give him hope for the future.

"I hope he's not mad when he finds out it'll take seventeen years for that position to become vacant..."

"At least he won't be spending it married to Ms. Buxtehude..."

Giving us the thumbs-up sign, Sebastian stood listening at the door. Was there any sound coming from the main device room? Were Klangfarben and her companion waiting out there? Did they suspect we were here? Did she have any idea how we ended up in Lübeck or that we succeeded in scuttling her plans to derail Bach's historical career?

There were many other questions I had which Sebastian tried to explain. Because we're essentially transported back in time as holographic images of ourselves, the people there would not perceive us as we saw ourselves, explaining the easy acceptance of our dress-code. We'd think everybody's speaking English but with the common-language auto-translation filter activated, they heard us speaking German.

"But why didn't you come with us? It was a total surprise when Cameron and I ended up there by ourselves."

"Too many people could make it more difficult for the transport beam to function accurately."

Sebastian proceeded to tell us that, though the technology is extremely advanced compared to what we're used to back home, these devices have a slight bug in them that they haven't bothered to work out.

"You mean like a manufacturer's re-call?"

If we're delayed leaving the past, a weakened battery could mean the automatic return-locater could get a little wonky and we wouldn't end up exactly at the same place.

"The timing should be okay," Sebastian warned, "but you might find yourselves in another part of the building or even a different part of town."

"But we don't know our way around town. How would we find our way back here in time?"

"That's one reason it's good to have someone remain here. If you're not back in a few seconds, as it would seem to us, then we know you've landed somewhere else."

"Then you can come get us?"

"Not exactly," he sighed.

Sebastian showed me two small discs the size of half-dollars.

"Keep this one in your pocket – don’t lose it," he emphasized. "It could be just as important as the time-traveling device."

"Okay, what does this one do?"

"It's a geographic positioning device: just press it and you'll find your way back to me." He pocketed the other one himself.

There was one problem we had to keep in mind. If the time-device’s battery ran out completely before we'd leave, it could mean we'd get stuck forever in the past.


Then he carefully opened the door.

The room was silent but also dark. Someone had been here and turned off the light.

"Maybe it's on a timer."

"No, no, I'm sure Klangfarben turned it off. She's been here," Sebastian whispered, "or at least somebody was."

"Maybe the cleaning crew came in..."

The question, of course, was not so much who but where were they now?

The door-frame was outlined in a faint glow – a small amount of photonmium mixed into the paint – and the light switch, a small panel, glowed visibly beside it. Getting there was going to be another issue.

Would we knock over the counter housing the devices or stumble into the waiting arms of Klavdia Klangfarben and her princely companion? Where they hiding behind the sign-out counter ready to pounce?

Sebastian gave the all-clear.

"We can't wait any longer. You need to start re-charging the unit. I'll go for the light switch."

With that, he was off.

Sebastian hit the switch and the lights slowly glowed into a presence, even slower than those compact fluorescent bulbs did back home. In a few minutes, they reached full brightness.

Fortunately, there was no one else in the room. Cameron checked behind the desk and Zoe, holding Xaq by the shoulders close to her, positioned herself close to the door.

"Look," Xaq said, "that one case is closed."

“And locked.” She'd returned her unit and it was currently recharging. Sebastian took the one Cameron gave him, carefully placing it safely back in the unit's holder.

The question now was, do we wait for her to come back and wrestle her into submission in true spy-thriller fashion, thereby foiling her plan, or do we wait to see where she goes next, chasing her through the past to foil that segment of her plan?

Neither way was how I'd originally planned on spending my Saturday night.

I casually checked the sign-out book after peering behind the desk, but Sebastian figured she wouldn't have bothered signing it out yet. The act of signing the book was what unlocked the case and then the other pad to be signed – the location-destination – released the unit and activated the dimensional-transport processor. Therefore, it was impossible to simply steal it.

"No," he assumed, "she probably went somewhere, maybe to get some coffee and a donut, then come back here in an hour to start the process all over again. I wonder where she's planning on going, next?"

"So we're not going to wrestle her into submission and capture her?" Cameron sounded disappointed, but I wasn't even interested in arm-wrestling anybody into submission, convinced she, a verified femme fatale, would win hands down, regardless.

"I'm thinking it's best to let her go on her escapades, think she's succeeding and then," Sebastian gloated, "find out later she's failed."

“Wouldn’t it,” I argued, “just be easier to take her and her accomplice out, keep them from doing anything like, possibly, succeeding?”

“Not necessarily,” he said. “We wait till Klangfarben does something – then, it’s our turn.”

But that name… "Klangfarben" referred to an early-20th Century orchestrational technique where pitch-units were scored pointillistically rather than linearly, a melody played not by a single instrumental tone-color, but by a kaleidescope of them: hence, "sound-colors."

But something kept gnawing faintly in a remote corner of my brain: it wasn't a name or sound-color, though – it was a face.

"Another thing I don't really understand," Cameron mentioned to Sebastian after the device's case had locked and started making gentle whirring and buzzing sounds. "What's to keep this Klangfarben person from going back to re-do what we've undone? Couldn't this just keep going 'round and 'round, if not at this point in time, to some other time and place?"

He admitted there was always that chance: short of destroying her or the time-traveling device, it was possible (and not reassuring) we could be caught in this great cosmic loop, repeating it every day for eternity.

But these were not heavy-duty dimensional transporters which is probably why the security system was so lax. People here rarely bothered using them – there was no great need for them – since the devices were fairly limiting. Unlike the gateways to the Other Side, these devices weren’t really that serious a problem even though they’re still too easy to mis-use.

"So, now what?" Xaq was impatient with the idea of just standing there, waiting for the device to recharge. And clearly, he wanted to go on this next one, a plan immediately quashed by his mother.

"If we wait here," she said, "they'll be back before we're ready to leave." She was not keen on the idea of confrontation.

"But if we're waiting for them," Cameron wondered, "would they be afraid to come in knowing we're here, ready to confront them?"

"Dear God," I blurted out, "now I remember: she was a student of mine!"

It was difficult for me to recognize Klavdia Klangfarben in all this. She had been a graduate student during my last couple of years at Klaxon College, not someone I'd worked with beyond one of my graduate courses. She distinguished herself, as I recall, more for her acerbic curiosity than for any academic accomplishments. One protracted argument in particular involved the possibility of "Quantum Music Theory," applying the rules of quantum mechanics to the laws of musical harmony and what possible outcome this might have on our perception of the great masterworks of the past.

After all these years, my memory of her would naturally be a little hazy, considering the number and variety of students I'd had. Wasn't she working on a degree in Forensic Musicology? That was one of those fringe areas, as far as many colleagues were concerned, pseudo-music with a catchy title hoping to bag some fancier, better-paying teaching position.

I recalled she worked primarily with the great Danish scholar, Frøkken Bohr, part-legend, part-eccentric in his own right. Beyond that, I have no recollection of her thesis or even how she'd fared with it since I had not been, mercifully, invited to serve on her committee. It would surprise me if she even remembered me, much less recognized me.

"Yeah, well, I think I'd remember a student like that in one of my classes," Cameron joked, poking my ribs as he shook his hand in front of him, a time-honored gesture with any number of connotations.

"Geez, it's not like she dressed that way when she took my graduate theory course or anything," I protested. "In those days, she had been a very prim and totally proper student, looking more like the stereotypical librarian." Seeing her in this fantastical get-up, whether it was a disguise or not, no wonder my memory was thrown off track.

"Well, you were already an Absent-Minded Professor when you were in your 20s, T.R.," Sebastian said, patting me on the shoulder.

It was good we were able to laugh but soon it was back to business.

"It's a small world, but here I am in the After-Life and I run into someone I knew years ago – two, actually," I said, correcting myself.

"Yes," Sebastian smiled, "but one of them is still alive."

And, as Cameron pointed out, apparently the live one's going to be an adversary.

"Anything you remember about her might come in handy."

That was the problem – there was nothing else I could remember. We didn't have personal contact outside the classroom where I'd know what her favorite color was or if there were childhood traumas fueling her fly-in-the-ointment persona.

"But do you remember what she wore, what kind of styles she liked, what color her wardrobe was?"

"And this is important, how?"

Sebastian interrupted, asking about this otherwise unmentioned companion of hers. I had no idea who he was and, I would bet large amounts of money on it, the name he introduced himself by was totally fictitious.

Describing him, I guessed he was late-19th Century from his looks, if that was his normal mode of dress, but who knew what either of them were really wearing versus what our brains had processed.

"What I can't get out of my mind was that voice, like something I'd heard in an old horror movie from years ago."

"You mean evil-sounding while being suave with an exotic accent," Zoe suggested, "yet capable of inducing fear? Like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff?"

"Or like Frankenstein or Godzilla?" Xaq imitated a stiff-legged monster-walk, growling and roaring.

"I was thinking more like Peter Lorre, a comic foil insinuating innocence and evil, but it didn't fit the guy's appearance."

Everybody laughed.

"However, we can't stay here, waiting for them, as much fun as we're having. Let's go someplace else to hang out, first, then we'll come back after they've left so we don't have to confront them."

Zoe, suddenly aware of something, started waving her hands frantically to get our attention. Xaq covered his mouth in fear.

I heard it, too, the sound of several people moving stealthily toward us, like hunters closing in on their prey. We were, I was pretty certain, going to find ourselves being the prey.

Was there no place to hide?

Cameron asked Sebastian if any of these rooms led anywhere else, someplace we could escape to, but the one we'd been in had no other doors, so I assumed the Device Room was its own cul-de-sac.

I pointed at the time-devices – what a perfect solution! – but unfortunately they hadn't recharged enough to facilitate our disappearance: could we all go back just ten minutes and then run down the hall into the vaults?

There wasn't enough time to sign them out and activate them, either.

This, apparently, was what fish in a barrel must feel like.

The noise stopped in mid-air. They were waiting, but why, who could say?

Our breathing suspended, we took each others hands and followed Cameron into the closest side-room just as Zoe flipped off the light switch.

What were they going to do, shoot us? Or drag us off and lock us up while they continued on their nefarious plot?

But there were too many people in the hallway: this was probably not Klangfarben and her travel companion unless they'd gone for reinforcements.

Whoever it would be, it wasn't going to be long until we'd find out.

No sooner had Zoe closed the side-room's door behind us than we heard a yell, somebody kicking down the outside door, then the rush of several heavy-booted men pouring into the room. Someone tripped and fell.

Even in the dimness, Sebastian looked as white as a ghost. I didn't think this was the sort of thing he'd experienced before. We'd somehow gotten caught up in one of those reality TV police dramas: you could tell this wasn't going to be pretty. I had no doubt they'd be coming through that door in (three... two... one...)...


There was some faintly distant cursing but was that coming from them or from me in some far-away state-of-mind.

The door was kicked open – BANG! – and the room filled with gun-toting policemen glaring like storm-troopers.

Ordering his officers to handcuff us, Detective Milo Smighley announced he was placing us under arrest for the murder of John Doe, Trespasser.

= = = = = = =

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, May 28, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 27

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, conductor Rogers Kent-Clarke decides to check out this New Coalton place and runs into the site of that accident on White Crow Road with Officers Tennant and Schickhaus, driving into a ditch. After his car is pulled out, he is, at long last, on his way. In this chapter, we return to Lübeck in 1705 where Bach has just discovered he has not one but two pairs of unexpected visitors.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 27
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Did Klavdia Klangfarben really think 18th Century German countesses wore black leotards, big floppy hats, dyed their hair platinum blond and wore stiletto heels like that? Whether the good citizens of Lübeck could see her as we saw her – far more scandalously dressed than Cameron's shorts and sandals, I'd imagine – or her attire was, like our language barrier, assimilated into their everyday reality, I had no idea.

I also had no idea who her companion was, a tall, handsome man in his forties with a full head of dark hair, an opulent mustache and trim goatee. Clicking his heels, he said in a surprisingly nasal voice with a slight lisp, "I am Prince Leopold August von Anhieb-Waklsänger-Luxusjachtmann, the countess' fiancé. I'm just along for the ride."

His annoyingly artificial smile made me immediately suspect he was probably a lawyer.

Klangfarben's smoldering glower could have lit the candles on the far side of the room.

Bach apologized for his tardiness as he had not been expecting any visitors at all, being a visitor himself in Lübeck. He was also momentarily expected for dinner at Buxtehude's house, so, having already invited Cameron and me, he extended the invitation to the countess and her fiancé, as well. There was little she could do but graciously accept.

We must have made an impressive show, parading back to St. Mary's, Klangfarben and her 'prince' on Bach's left, Cameron and I on his right. He mentioned Buxtehude's tempting offer to succeed him as the organist, here.

When Klangfarben began impressing on him how important this position could be, starting so early in his career – think what fame he might acquire in even a decade's time – I saw immediately what she was up to: by convincing him to stay in Lübeck, she would alter the course of history so there would be no Bach at Leipzig instead, meaning no marriage to Maria Barbara, no sons like Carl Philip Emanuel, quite possibly no need to write the violin sonatas and partitas or the Brandenburg Concertos. Nasty business, this was going to turn into.

I told him, by the way, his cousin Maria Barbara sent her regards.

"That's one of the problems, you see," Bach sighed as he knocked at Buxtehude's door.

The woman who opened it was the same woman, now richly dressed without the apron, we’d met earlier at the church.

"Idiot! How typical of you to bring four uninvited guests."

The dinner proceeded smoothly, Bach discussing the big oratorio that was the major work at tonight’s concert, "The All-Terrifying, All-Joyful End of Time and the Beginning of Eternity," which Buxtehude told us hadn't been performed in over a decade. (Cameron whispered this hardly sounded like Christmas music but I told him Advent, then, was different than it is today.)

Klangfarben mentioned how wonderful it would be to live in Lübeck, much more cosmopolitan than a back-water like Arnstadt. Bach agreed, but maybe not as nice, perhaps, as living in Leipzig, turning and smiling toward me.

Then she started in on how Arnstadt was all abuzz over his recent run-in with that bassoonist. The "prince" smiled, nodding enthusiastically.

"Ach! I cannot tolerate going back there again!" Bach angrily chewed on a roll.

"Instead," she said, as Buxtehude beamed at her, "you could become the most important musician in Northern Germany as the Master's successor, here."

"Yes, of course, you're absolutely right. Master," Bach said, standing up, "I accept your offer. Let's sign the contract tonight!"

"So be it, my son. Great day, great news!" The old man went to shake Bach's hand, clinching the deal.

But before he could, the "prince" motioned frantically to Klangfarben: the watch-like device he held up was flashing red.

Klangfarben rose, congratulating him on his decision but apologized for needing to leave so hurriedly. She and the "prince" left the room and quickly disappeared from sight, starting a great round of confusion among the guests.

Meanwhile, another guest, a young organist from Hamburg named Schieferdecker, found the contract Buxtehude had offered numerous musicians in the past, including George Frederick Handel who declined it and left town rather suddenly the next day.

Buxtehude beckoned for his daughter to rise so he could present his future successor to his future bride. Anna Margarethe rolled her eyes.

Suddenly – this being my last, most desperate chance to undermine Klangfarben's plan, knowing she would be unable to return to change it back – I ‘accidentally’ spilled wine on Anna Margarethe’s gown and all hell broke loose.

Buxtehude's daughter, throwing plates of food at me, let fly with such vituperation – how I should be chained to the bed-post, my ass whipped with leather thongs until I bled – Bach, aghast, stood back in horror.

With deep regret, he handed the Master his contract – unsigned. As we left, Anna Margarethe yelled at her maid to get the mop.

Walking down the street, Bach promised he would never consider Buxtehude's offer again, thanking me for saving him from a marriage to the unfortunate Anna Margarethe. Though he would delay his return – there was still much great music to hear over the next few weeks – he asked us to please give his cousin his best wishes for the holiday.

He promised to start looking for another position, leaving Arnstadt behind, but asked me to kindly express his regards also to the good churchmen in Leipzig.

Cameron, meanwhile, pointed at the Time-Device: it had started flashing red.


Rogers Kent-Clarke found the fork on the Old Coalton Road easily enough and, after a steep climb, found the turn-off for what Detective Ste.-Croix said would be New Coalton, or where it had once stood.

Curiously, two cars were parked there, already. One, he was pretty sure, was Dr. Kerr's.

"Looks like I'm not the first one to arrive at the party."

Since his kidneys had finished processing the beer, he needed to find some convenient bush and quickly – like that tree stump in the center of the field where he sighed the sigh of relief.

Next, he wondered how he was going to discover where all the others were. There was nobody around: where had they gone?

Looking down, he noticed the air in front of him turned into rippling bluish white lights. Reaching forward, he felt himself sucked in.

From the distance, the only thing one could hear was a loud "Ewwww!"

= = = = = = =

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, May 26, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 26

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Dr. Kerr and Cameron find themselves looking for Bach in Lübeck in 1705 and, after a bit of a red herring, run into him on Effingsgrube Street, in a hurry to return home. It seems he has other unexpected company, as well - a woman named Klangfarben.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 26
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Rogers Kent-Clarke, his brow deeply furrowed, was speeding down White Crow Road, away from his original destination, his pleasant little apartment in beautiful downtown Collierville. Tonight, all he could think about was the strange goings-on at Crevecoeur's farmhouse and now the tantalizingly odd conversation at the bar with that tantalizingly odd detective, piquing his curiosity enough, he had to check it out. Besides, a night owl of long standing, he was wide awake – and what better place for an owl than to be at some mysterious place in the woods during the dark of night?

He admitted the one thing you could expect whenever you picked up your baton and started shaking it in front of a bunch of musicians, whether you knew them or not, was the unexpected. Sometimes, he realized, the unexpected was quite pleasant, even exciting. And then there were experiences like this afternoon's concert with the Chopin and best forgotten.

After the way the soloist had played and then with that crazy old dame going off her rocker at the farmhouse, could anything he'd find at this remote place called New Coalton be any scarier? He just had to know: one thing his teacher, Dr. Lane, had impressed upon him was to rely on his hunches, whatever he expected.

Playing these hunches might be different than selecting a tempo or anticipating a player's phrasing, but was it very different from his usual conducting experience? Facing one group, your back to another, which might be more hostile?

The more he dwelt on it, the easier he found it was to become depressed by it. It was like an undying mantra, especially after a bad concert like the one he'd gotten stuck with today. "Go away, you bitches" he wanted to scream, holding his hands over his ears, "how dare you all destroy my concert like that!?"

Of course, it'll always be viewed as his fault. You can never turn a bunch of sows' ears into a respectable collection of fabulous purses, enough to make the runway light up with everybody's clamorous approval.

What he needed was more beer, but another night alone in that apartment, drunk, wasn't going to help, either. He'd slept with two of the musicians in the orchestra, plus that soprano who'd sung the Schumann recital last week that hardly anybody attended. That detective was beginning to look appetizing but he also knew more beer meant more desperate.

He was tired of always being the mild-mannered assistant conductor, the promising young maestro, the guy stuck doing the run-out concerts or the summer festivals up and down the East Coast. Hell, he couldn't even get a decent gig on the West Coast and instead ended up in freakin' Wisconsin somewhere during a cold snap in August last year.

He was 37, though he kept telling people he was 32 because he thought he could get away with it, too old for subsidiary roles and constantly told he was too young for a major orchestra.

It annoyed him, too, how his teachers were all reluctant to champion him whenever he wanted to audition. Lane, for instance, said he had hundreds of students who expected the same of him. Why, he joked, there was always the chance everyone auditioning for this one job could all be his former students: then where would his allegiances lie?

He knew he needed a special vehicle to help him make a big splash: it wasn't going to be just another Beethoven symphony or a summer festival out in the middle of nowhere. He needed something nobody had ever heard before, but everyone would be excited about hearing without being turned off by the fact they didn't know it. There shouldn't be any available recordings of it so people could go comparing his performance to it and find his interpretation lacking. It had to have a certain celebrity and even more importantly, a verifiable notoriety.

Just then, he swerved coming around the bend, turning right onto Hill Top Road. There was a police car with its lights flashing, apparently the scene of an accident.

His car screeched off the road and landed in a mud puddle left over from yesterday's passing rain storm. This wasn't the kind of splash he wanted a vehicle to make.

"Hadn't they put out a sign to warn drivers? Stupid yokels... That's probably how the accident happened in the first place."

Crawling out of the car, he looked up as the two officers he'd met earlier at the farm hurried over to him.

"Is everything okay?" It was the woman, Schickhaus, the stacked one.

"No, everything's not okay," he bitched. "You should've put flares out to warn drivers – that's a bad bend in the road, there." Kent-Clarke was close to fuming.

"Sorry, sir. You didn't see the big orange sign that said 'Road closed'?"


She and the other officer, the black guy, Tennant, held him up to steady him. He tried to shake them off as he was trying to straighten out his shirt and pants which had gotten humorously skewed when he tumbled about in the car.

"No seat-belt," the two officers thought as Kent-Clarke realized he hadn't put on his seat-belt.

"What's going here? Why is the road closed?" He was no less combative despite having been at fault, missing that sign.

"There was an accident," Schickhaus explained, "a truck swerved to miss a deer in the road."

The two officers glanced at each other. All the beer cans had been cleaned up by now so they didn't feel the need to mention that.

The truck was just being righted, so Tennant informed him, "fortunately, the tow-truck is still here, so he can help you out of the ditch."

Kent-Clarke grumbled, thoroughly annoyed, "Damn right, he'd better."

The two officers took a subtle whiff around him before asking if he'd step out onto the road a moment. They asked him if he’d walk a straight line between them which made him stiffen up.

"I am not drunk!" But he did as they said and pulled it off.

That was something else he'd learned at the conservatory: how to hold your liquor and get through a concert regardless how much you'd had to drink beforehand.

They said he'd need to wait a few minutes, if he didn't mind. Of course, he did.

Even with only one beer under his belt, Kent-Clarke's mind was a-whir with thoughts and ideas tumbling around in his head like a load of old towels in a dryer. Unbidden recollections of being "terrorized" as an assistant conductor – like the German maestro, the orchestra's guest conductor for a couple of concerts who loved passing on messages like "Please to tell Herr Roger that I have one more degree of temperature" (and my name's RogerS, du grosse Mehlsack) – bounced around with memories of playground bullies from when he was a child – taunted by the sixth grade class's alpha male who'd heard one too many times Little Rogers' talk about becoming a conductor one day, then pulled down the boy's pants in front of a group of girls, hissing at him "you'll never conduct a major orchestra with a baton like that, Rogersssss" – hurtful stuff that sears itself into the brain and never goes away.

But then he recalled a back-stage conversation from just last year with a big-wig Wall Street executive whose company bought out his manager. Meeting N. Ron Steele at a reception, the man casually mentioned looking for something to help his wife Rosa Budd's operatic career. If Rogers could unearth some previously unknown opera by Verdi or Puccini she could handle, it would be the making of his career, too – all the publicity, not to mention the nice fat bonus. People are always discovering early Mozart symphonies in attics, but a whole opera by Verdi? Not likely...

But this whacked-out medium back at Crevecoeur's party might just have some line of communication open with dead composers, maybe even know where they hang out – would that slang term even possibly apply to names like Beethoven, Mahler and Puccini? But maybe she's on to something, crazy as she appears, whether she knows it or not (most likely, "not!"). What was that about New Coalton? Surely, this was no coincidence, Sebastian Crevecoeur's message for that Dr. Kerr guy that just happens to be from not only an abandoned coal town but a haunted one, too?

Maybe he could connect with Puccini, somehow, ask him about anything he'd once put aside without publishing or never quite finished, where he might be able to find it. Would Puccini even want that to happen? Weirder things have happened: wasn't that how they found Schumann's Violin Concerto, through a violinist's séance and the help of a ouija board?

Standing there deep in thought and leaning against his muddy car, Kent-Clarke didn't realize when the policemen and the tow-truck driver came over to help get his car out of the ditch. It didn't take long: in a few short minutes, Kent-Clarke found himself back on the road again, everything opened up and clear of all vehicles and debris.

Without much sense of gratitude, he tossed a cursory word of thanks in their direction – enough, he figured, to impress them with his superiority – before he started up the engine. Time to resume the interrupted plan.

He was thinking how, if that coot Rowberson could in fact get him in touch with Puccini, perhaps she could get him in contact with other great composers. She only ever talked about Chopin and Liszt, but perhaps, if she could channel a message from a nobody like Sebastian Crevecoeur, she'd have access to others, maybe Beethoven or Brahms.

Had Beethoven managed to complete his sketches for that Tenth Symphony they found on his desk when he died and Schindler was such a loser, he had no idea what he had and misplaced it? It's fairly well known Brahms had sketched if not completed a second violin concerto and a fifth symphony. What if he hadn't burned everything?

Looking back, Officer Tennant noticed the maestro turned left onto the Old Coalton Road.

"Thought he was headed to the Crevecoeurs – wonder if he knows where he's going?"

Schickhaus, putting her clipboard away, said, "I doubt it."

= = = = = = =

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, May 25, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 25

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, we sampled a few different biographical approaches to the life of Klangfarben's first victim, Johann Sebastian Bach. 

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 25
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Uh oh.

Cameron and I were standing in the middle of a dusty street in a very old-looking part of town, everybody bustling about, looking like we'd landed in a movie set sometime in the 18th Century.

But wait a minute, wasn't that the plan? Was this Lübeck and was it, more importantly, December 12th, 1705?

On the other hand, what happened to everybody else? I expected Sebastian, Zoe and Xaq all to be transported with us. Judging from the way Cameron was looking around, I was pretty sure he'd thought the same.

The moment from leaving the library to arriving here was measurable in terms of blinks – two, at the most – whatever division of time was applicable in either location.

Cameron checked his Time-Device, before deciding to put it in his pocket, pointing to the one narrow window which blinked "Successful Arrival." That was good news, if nothing else.

But the others – did they end up in another part of town? Were we separated along the way and they ended up in another part of time? Should we have all been holding hands before Cameron pushed the "send" button? Without Sebastian, what would we do if something went wrong? Should we go back and get them? Where do we go from here?

So many questions, not the least of which was, "Where in Lübeck are we?" Not a really big town, it looked big enough. How would we even begin looking for a young man named Johann Sebastian Bach?

My German was pretty rusty after all these years, and Cameron had only one year in high school. We must look like a bunch of tourists, totally lost, not to mention the way we were dressed. Somehow, I began wishing we'd had, speaking of time, more time to figure this out and plan appropriately.

Judging from what Sebastian told us, though, Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben didn't allow us that luxury. How did she get involved in this, anyway? Could we negotiate with her or was she going to blast us to smithereens on sight?

An old pipe-smoking man bundled up in a worn blanket, carrying a bundle of rags, wandered past, watching us suspiciously. A better dressed young man stepped back to avoid walking too close to us. They were more cautious than concerned, perhaps being a port city used to oddly dressed foreigners. Could we be lucky enough to find anybody who spoke English?

"Maybe we should wander around a bit, get our bearings. What church is that?" Cameron pointed out the huge red-brick church nearby, its two towers topped by steep, greenish copper spires.

"Maybe that's Buxtehude's church. I think his was St. Mary's."

We ambled over, people milling about, most giving us a fairly wide berth, others totally unconcerned.

The sign said Lübeck Cathedral. Cameron wondered if that’s the same as St. Mary's?

A young man, well-dressed, maybe a merchant, stood near us and spoke up. "No, St. Mary's is over there," motioning to his left. We saw several churches along the street. "The big one – in the Market Square."

"Thanks," I said, hoping to sound cordial. "You speak English?"

"English? No, unfortunately – I speak French and Italian and I can read Greek and Latin, of course, but no English. Sorry, but I must be going." Then he smiled and walked away with a friendly nod.

Cameron looked at me, quizzically. "But I understood him perfectly and he was definitely speaking English..."

"And he clearly understood us, too. Well, there's something to ask Sebastian when we see him again."

"That can't be soon enough."

"First," I reminded him, "we have a job to do. Onward?" I added, pointing in the direction of the Market Square.

We walked along the street, gazing at the buildings on either side, watching the people milling around us, wondering what the hell we were trying to accomplish here.

Soon, we stood before another huge, red-brick church.

It was a teaming place whether it was officially Market Day or not. People were everywhere, coaches and wagons pulled by horses or mules, peddlers hawking their wares, an occasional cow or goat being led through the crowd by a straw-haired boy or two. Straw, in fact, was everywhere: I didn't have to remind Cameron to watch where he stepped.

It hadn't occurred to me before, but everybody was dressed for a cold day. It was, after all, mid-December and we were in a seaside town in Northern Germany. Yet despite the fact we were dressed for a hot summer day and Cameron was wearing shorts and sandals, no one looked at us like they were scandalized and, stranger still, we didn't feel the least bit cold.

Another topic for Sebastian when we got back, no doubt. I was beginning to think we should be jotting down a list of FAQs for the occasion.

Cameron found a side door slightly ajar from which we heard organ music and a chorus singing in the distance. We were met by a particularly foul-tempered middle-aged woman of considerable size and fearsome demeanor, holding a large array of long-stemmed flowers in her arms. She glared at us, expecting we’d turn tail and run at the sight of her.

"Is this," I attempted as genially as possible, "St. Mary's Church?"

She glared down at us, standing a few steps beneath her metaphorically as well, scowling as if to say, "and what imbeciles have we here?"

The music become muddled, then stopped mid-phrase as an old voice, unintelligible in the resonance, corrected something cajolingly before beginning again with more assuredness.

I asked "are they rehearsing for the service?"

Her jaw dropped in disbelief. "Did you just plop down from the moon or something?"


"There's no music in the services during Advent!" She spoke with that disdain adults use when chastising children who should know they’re being stupid. After a long silence during which we attempted to hold our smiles until it became almost painful, she added, "the concert is tonight."

"Concert? With Buxtehude?"

"The Evening Music is tonight at 7:00." She sniffed and turned to go.

"Is that Maestro Buxtehude, now?"

"Of course, he's here," she huffed. "I suppose you want to 'see' him. Everybody wants to: they come from miles around and stare at him like an animal in the zoo. The rehearsal is closed to the public."

"Wait. Actually, we're here to meet a young man, a musician named Johann Sebastian Bach, and..."

With that, she turned and scowled even more deeply. "Why do you want to see him?"

Cameron started to say, "We're friends of his from Eisenach," just as I'd started to explain we were friends of his from Arnstadt.

"Oh, coming to fetch him, are you?" She looked around and then confided to us, looking us up and down suspiciously. "Well, he's not here, for a change."

She looked as if she was about to add something but wasn't sure if she should.

"Do you know where we could find him? It's rather important."

"He'll be at the concert tomorrow, I'm sure. He's always hanging around. But if you need to find him, he's staying at a house on Effingsgrube." Once again, it sounded like this would be the end of the interview.

"Effingsgrube? We're from..." well, I could hardly say from three hundred years in the future, so I explained we'd just arrived this afternoon.

She cocked her head and smiled for the first time, then pointing with the gladiolas back in the direction we'd come, said, "A block before you get to the Cathedral, turn right. It's just a few doors in from the corner – the Dingledorffs. It was time he left, anyway."

"Oh, you know him?" But this time she had turned and left, ignoring us as she stuffed some flowers into a large vase over in the corner. Apparently, she was one of those old maids who volunteered their lives to their church, having nothing better to do.

Cameron looked around, searching for something. Thinking he was just trying to get his bearings, I pointed out the street we'd just walked up.

"Perhaps we were in the right place after all."

"No, I was looking for a cab or whatever would pass for one in 1705..."

I laughed. “If Bach could walk 250 miles to get here, we could certainly manage to walk a few blocks to find him.”

Back where we had started, we realized Effingsgrube, a pleasant side street off the cathedral plaza, had been right in front of us.

"D'oh!" Cameron wondered how that would translate into 18th Century German.

"Yes? Did you not find St. Mary's?" The young man who had talked with us before was standing next to us as if we hadn't left him a half hour ago.

"Ah, yes," I stammered, "they told us there was a concert tonight – we heard Buxtehude rehearsing the choir."

"You are musicians? I’m having dinner with The Master beforehand, you should join us. There would be several dozen there,” he qualified, sensing our alarm. “Two more would not be noticed."

"Actually, we're looking for our friend, Johann Sebastian..." but we were interrupted by an old man stepping out of a house a few doors away.

"Bach, what's keeping you, boy! Don't be rude – I will not have rudeness in my house! Your friends are waiting!" He sounded jovial enough despite his words.

"But I've just found them."

"No,” he said, waving, “she's waiting in the parlor!"

“You don't know us,” I tried to alleviate his confusion, “but we know who you are. I am, er… Torvald Reichardt von Kahrlich... of the Leipzig von Kahrlichs," I added, stumbling over the improvisation as if to allay any confusion, before turning to the already astonished Cameron whom I introduced as Cameron Hyde-Pierce, my personal secretary, originally from England.

Bach bowed politely, almost as surprised as we were. Perhaps he thought we were going to offer him a well-paying job in Leipzig? If not, it was a good ploy, considering we had no plan to counteract whatever plan we didn't know Klangfarben had up her sleeve.

The old man waved us into the house, the friend from Weimar introduced to us as Countess Klavdia von Klangfarben-Schwarzgemünden.

We were almost as surprised as she was.

= = = = = = =

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, May 24, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 24

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Sebastian and his guests reach the "Device Room" in Harmonia-IV's Central Library and find that Klangfarben has already left for her first destination, leaving behind a limerick as a clue. Sebastian explains how the hand-held devices work and then, suddenly, they're off to rescue Bach. 

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 24
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Johann Sebastian Bach is, of course, one of the Greatest Composers Who Ever Lived – as any classical music aficionado will tell you, with that condescendingly automatic "of course," even though they don't mean to show off their superiority in case you weren't already aware of what they view as the obvious.

It's not that it was always that way – I mean, that Bach was regarded as one of the Greatest Composers Who Ever Lived, not that classical music aficionados didn't always like to show off their knowledge about things other people may not care about.

Of course – ah, that pesky "of course," again – anybody who has a specialized interest in any particular field of knowledge, professional or personal, automatically assumes either you're aware of the importance of what they know or you'd need that reinforcement in order to believe you should view this information as important in the world and therefore to you, also.

As I was saying, Bach is, as everybody knows, one... wait, can we start this again?

Thank you.

It's true Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the best loved composers in the world today – well, in the world of classical music which is a very small per centage of the recording industry's sales (regardless of format) – was named the first of the Three B's back in 1877 when conductor Hans von Bülow first coined the conceit about "Bach, Beethoven and Brahms" to honor his friend Brahms whose First Symphony had just bowled him over, but I digress...

Now, fifty years before that, not too many people would have cared who Johann Sebastian Bach was. In Haydn's day, only a few years after old Johann Sebastian's death, the name "Bach" meant Carl Philip Emanuel Bach who was the second son of the old-fashioned cantor in Leipzig. Oh, he was reputed to be a fine organist and an incredible improviser, but really, as a composer, he was so last generation, it was pathetic.

Those fugues he wrote for his sons to play, back when they were kids learning the ropes on the harpsichord, were considered dry as dust by any but the most learnéd musicians (don't you just love that accent on learned – so pompous, isn't it?). Good exercises and good to help untangle those fingers but as far as music was concerned, way too intellectual for listeners who loved a good tune, simple harmonies and rhythms you could tap you foot to.

Today, it's Bach this and Bach that, he's everywhere – the Brandenburg Concertos and lots of CDs called "Bach's Greatest Hits" – though when you turn on the radio you're more likely to hear more Vivaldi or even Heinichen, whoever he is (the composer, not the beer). And of course lots of people who love classical music can't get enough of those fabulous hits like Pachelbel's Canon or Albinoni's Adagio (even if Albinoni had very little to do with it).

What is it about Baroque Music that's turned it into a staple of the modern listening habit?

Well, for one thing, it's great stuff to do things by. You know, read the paper, sit at the desk in your cubicle while you work on that report due tomorrow, drive around town ("studies show that music from the Baroque Era helps defuse the stress of being stuck in traffic"), cook dinner, eat it, and do your homework.

So, where did this universality of the Baroque Era – that half-century of classical music with Bach and Handel at its apex – come from? I mean, if you figure most people weren't listening to it that regularly until fairly recently, when even in the early 20th Century this old music was still considered a novelty, why the big change, now?

Most of it came about because of new technology, making it a lot more accessible to people than those going to concert halls. When they started selling records, more people could hear it than ever before.

Take Vivaldi, for instance: for almost two centuries, only a handful of specialists knew about him until the 1930s when a huge collection of his manuscripts was uncovered. After World War II, especially by the time a 1950 recording of a set of four violin concertos called "The Four Seasons" was released, the Vivaldi Renaissance was in full swing.

Making recordings began to fill a musical void: since companies needed more repertoire, if the standard familiar works weren't enough, this relatively new era of older, unfamiliar music began to attract a lot of new buyers.

It was attractive and different, pleasant and uncomplicated, fresh and refreshing. It was like "new" music but without sounding like anything being written today that actually was new. Even some living composers decided to embrace the "new" Old Music, writing "in the style of," or borrowing some pieces to do them their own way, cashing in on the novelty.

A whole new musical sound branched off from the stylistic tree of classical music and it was dubbed "Neo-Classical," where composers like Poulenc and even Stravinsky who'd recently terrified people with his "Rite of Spring" saw the light and started what was dubbed the "Back to Bach" Movement. It became creative to be re-creative. And audiences ate it up.

Before, audiences only wanted to hear new music – the latest opera, the latest symphony, the newest string quartet. They didn't want to hear old stuff. But with the advent of recordings and then radio, all that changed.

It had happened similarly for Bach, though it took longer because technology then was more old-fashioned.

Like I said, only the "learnéd" music lovers knew much about Bach and his music: as an example, they liked the Fugues but not the Preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier, probably because they were too inconsequential, too easy to listen to, intellectually inferior.

Fugues were high-fiber music, something you could sink your brain into. That wasn't what most of the listening public wanted to hear in the decades after Bach's death, and so his music basically died with him.

Then in 1829 a young man named Mendelssohn, who loved Bach's fugues, conducted a performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" and it – along with some Handel oratorios – became all the rage. The Baroque Renaissance had begun.

This is Man Kaye, from the Headquarters of SHMRG, where Classical Music isn't just for smart people, anymore.

Well, that's enough of that...


Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, March 21st, 1685.

Must we start there?

Okay, well, what if I said he was a member of a family that supplied so many musicians for towns all across Central Germany, the name "Bach" had become a synonym for a quality town musician?

There are lots of interesting stories about his education, many probably apocryphal; he was employed here and there as a court musician or a church organist; and spent the last twenty-seven years of his life as the 'cantor' of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, responsible for most of the music-making in the city – oh, and teaching the choirboys their lessons.

He was also one of the most respected organists in Germany, famous for his skills at making things up on the spot. Considering he was supposedly able to play the partitas he wrote for the violin, he was obviously a very accomplished violinist, too.

Yes, Bach married twice and, yes, there were lots of children. As my junior high music teacher told us, "Bach was very prolific and had twenty children," so everybody else laughed; I guess I was the only one who thought "prolific" referred to the amount of music he composed. Someone else told me it would take a lifetime just to copy the music Bach composed during his lifetime, though how you'd prove it, I have no idea. In other words, not only was he prolific, he wrote very quickly. He had to: that was his job.

In those days, the demand was always for new music, so while he wrote hundreds of cantatas for the weekly church services, he rarely repeated many of them. Even a huge work like the "St. Matthew Passion" was only performed three times.

But he had a system: he'd write the arias first, the chorales more or less took care of themselves, and he could dash off the recitatives at the last minute. When he was done with one bit, he'd pass it down the line to one of his sons or his wife or some of his better students, and they'd make the necessary copies. Since they didn't have photocopiers in those days, each part had to be separately hand-written, whether it was for a violinist in the orchestra or a singer in the choir. Fortunately, these ensembles weren't very big, usually one person to a part, but still, it involved lots of copying.

Something that often intrigues listeners, if they think about anything beyond simple enjoyment, is where this creative talent comes from: what is it about this composer that makes him (and these days, we can more often say, "makes her") different from us that he should be able to compose music like this, whether it's beautiful or inspiring or amazing? We consider education and the role of teachers, the learning of skills and their application, but isn't it more than that? What shaped the personality behind the music we recognize as Bach's or Beethoven's or Stravinsky's?

Did Bach's musical style or his creative aptitudes have anything to do with his becoming an orphan at the age of ten and being taken into the family of his eldest brother (14 years his senior)? It might have had some influence on his single-minded purpose as part of a musical family, his tenacity and resilience, his personal convictions.

His brother, who had studied with Pachelbel, taught young Bach "the foundation of keyboard playing" but more famously denied him access to a collection of compositions the boy wanted to study. So he pried it out of its hiding place at night and copied it by moonlight. It took six months, but still his copy was confiscated upon discovery.

When he was 14, Bach and a friend walked across Germany to attend a school near Hamburg for two years where he studied choral singing while getting a good grounding in languages, theology, history and physics.

It would be easy to assume that classical music begins with Bach. There aren't many composers before him who have entered the standard, popular repertoire, much less the level that Bach achieved in the Pantheon of Great Composers – what we could call "Classical Music's Hall of Fame." Of course, there are certainly other great composers – like Palestrina, Josquin, Machaut – but over a period of three centuries, there's not as much to show for it as there is since 1700. And in today's society, isn't the most important thing quantity – box-office success, for instance – over quality?

One of these Other Great Composers in the generations before Bach was the Danish-born composer and organist, Dietrich Buxtehude. Most of his career is associated with the North German port city of Lübeck, the major city of the Hanseatic League on the Baltic Sea where he spent almost forty years as the organist and music director at St. Mary's.

Best known in his day and, until recently, in ours for his organ music, Buxtehude also composed a great deal of choral music, some on quite a large scale, much of which disappeared, compositions never published and manuscripts lost for works written specifically for church services or those Advent concert series when music was prohibited during the actual services.

Had the printing industry been more useful to composers then, more of Buxtehude's music might have survived. Still, the church probably wondered why keep all this old stuff around and very likely threw most of it out.

So, for some reason, 20-year-old Bach, dealing with a not very pleasant, go-nowhere job in Arnstadt, decided he should go to Lübeck to meet Buxtehude, then in his late-60s, hear his music and, with any luck, study with him.

He applied for four weeks' leave, hiring his cousin Johann Ernst Bach as his capable replacement as organist at Arnstadt's New Church.

Before railroads, the only way to get around was by stage-coach, too expensive for Bach's budget, and so he walked.

All 250 miles of it – which must have taken him at least ten days.

But if you consider twenty days spent walking to and from the destination, that only left about a week there, once he'd arrived, not to mention dealing with foot-lag. Clearly, this had not been well planned. Besides, Buxtehude was performing a lot of his music during Advent, well after Bach should have already left, so he decided to stay.

Here was a cosmopolitan city, far removed (not just geographically) from provincial Arnhalt, where Bach "fought the good fight" not only against the ultra-conservative church council but also against the arrogance of some of his students, generally older than he was and nowhere near the level of professionalism he had already attained.

His temper recently got him in trouble with one Geyersbach whom he called “ein zippel Faggotist," whatever that meant.

Whatever it meant, it wasn't taken kindly by Geyersbach and his friends before their street brawl ended up bringing them before the town magistrates.

Was it any wonder Bach, three months after this "incident," chose to cool his heels in a place like Lübeck, a free city not dominated by an aristocratic court or its snobbish attitudes?

Buxtenhude may have been the real attraction, the chance to learn "one thing and another" about his art, but still, who could blame the young man?

Old Buxtehude was also looking for a successor: his fame made it a reasonable position for young musicians to consider. When George Frederick Handel, only a month older than Bach, visited two years earlier, Buxtehude had offered him the job. But the stipulation he would have to marry Buxtehude's oldest daughter prompted Handel to leave town the next day.

Bach received the same offer but didn't leave immediately. Ultimately, he declined the offer, making his delayed return to Arnstadt where, the following year, he married his second cousin.

That's how the history books tell it.

It would be difficult to calculate the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Mozart knew many of his works through Baron von Swieten, an avid collector of old manuscripts, but hearing Bach's motets made the greatest impact on Mozart's contrapuntal style and choral writing in the final years of his life: imagine the complex choruses of his Requiem without Bach.

Beethoven played the Well-Tempered Clavier as a child and also knew the Goldberg Variations whose ghost hovers above his own Diabelli Variations. Beethoven's free approach to counterpoint was as lofty as the greatest examples of Bach's.

Robert Schumann, when he wanted to study counterpoint, maybe not an integral part of his natural style, turned to Bach's music to help him "unlock secrets" about the linear craft discovered in the writing of fugues.

Even Schubert, at the end of his short life, felt the need to understand the intricacies of counterpoint to help "improve" his art.

In most cases, composers of these first generations after Bach's death were less concerned about "polyphonic art," yet at some point in their lives many felt their more lyrical styles lacked something – perhaps in the direction linear counterpoint could offer a more involved and expansive structural scheme or at least as another textural detail to add variety and intensity.

Curiously, late in his life, Bach saw the need to codify these skills he had learned which he realized were already becoming passé, and it was these works that most significantly influenced the composers of the future.

True, all students studied counterpoint and many approached it the way writers might study cross-word puzzles as a way of developing their story-telling skills. There is no worse a fly in the musical ointment than hearing a few measures' intrusion of dry academic passage-work that exists solely for a composer to announce, "Hey, look – I can write a fugue!"

For the best composers, however, those who understood the need to absorb these old-fashioned techniques and make them their own, it was Bach who unlocked the secret distinction between what is craft and what is art.

Brahms and Schoenberg – for that matter, composers of jazz, too – integrated Bach's concepts directly into their most basic levels, how one line could move against another across a fabric of harmonic tension.

Two of Bach's sons – Carl Philip and Johann Christian – provided major inspiration for Mozart, Haydn and Mendelssohn: certainly the old man could take some credit for them?

= = = = = = =

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, May 23, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 23

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Kerr and the others leave Victor's body back at Stravinsky's Tavern while Sebastian tries to explain their mission: to foil a recently discovered plot by the insidious Klavdia Klangfarben which will involve a certain amount of time traveling. Meanwhile, Man Kaye, director of SHMRG's "Operation Fate Knocks at the Door" receives a text from Klangfarben which he relays to his easily irritated CEO, N. Ron Steele.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 23 
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

I had no idea how far we might be beneath the surface of the... well, whatever you called small-e "earth" here in Harmonia-IV, but It felt like we'd been walking down some big inner-city parking garage, one with those never-ending spiraling driving lanes. Xaq wondered what it’d be like in a wheel-chair when the person pushing you let go.

If this wasn't disorienting enough, getting out of here was going to be even more exhuasting. These people had the technology to travel back in time, but didn't they ever hear of anything like an elevator?

With every concentric spiral, the more intense the light from the walls' glowing photonmium became. What originally was pale blue had become more greenish, then pinkish, the lower we got. Reaching the bottom of the spiral, where things finally flattened out, the light was more a distinctly darker amber color, making it a little harder to see as clearly.

Sebastian wasn't sure why, whether it had anything to do with the way air pressure affected the photonmium, as Cameron suggested, or if they just used different rocks with different colored crystals in them, which is what Xaq was thinking. No other building he was aware of went this deep, so he really had nothing to compare it to.

Zoe realized she wasn't as tired as she might have expected, either. Despite looking like it was made out of stone, this flooring was a lot more ductile than she at first assumed, easier on the feet.

We weren't done descending, however. The unmarked side-hall Sebastian led us into turned out to be a long, gently sloping ramp uncomfortably disappearing into distant infinity. How much further before the photonmium turned so dark we couldn't see at all? Would it become a kind of black light where anything white we were wearing glowed eerily in the dark?

More to my concern was the impact of our being this deep. Sebastian didn't think it was anything to worry about but then he'd never heard about any other Living Person who'd been down this far.

Considering deep-sea divers wore pressurized suits to protect themselves, my unscientific mind was wondering whether we would explode or collapse into the human equivalent of a black hole, a grain of sand that weighed a ton.

Sebastian laughed but told us not to worry, even though his corporeality would be different enough from ours to leave me feeling dubious.

"Here we are," he said, stopping us short.

It was a simple door labeled "The Device Room." It could've said "Boiler Room" and we might just as easily have walked past it. Looking around, Sebastian tried the door – it, too, was unlocked – and we went inside.

A hexagonally shaped room, it was already lit which was odd for some place that was usually off-limits.

"What is this room," I asked him.

It wasn't very fancy. A couple of free-standing shelf units stood in the center, shaped like a speaker's podium, one of them with a door left hanging open. There was also a counter-top with a large open book on it. Three of the room’s walls had doors in them, each marked with the name of a century, one for the 18th Century, for the 19th Century, and for the 20th Century, each painted in a stylistically appropriate script. The other walls were blank.

Sebastian checked the book.

"She's already been here."

"Who?" Zoe peered over his shoulder.

"Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben."

That name sounded familiar, somehow, but I couldn’t figure out where I knew it from – perhaps a performer I’d covered for the magazine, or a student at one of the universities?

"Well," he said, pointing at the last line of the book, "she's going back to December 12th, according to this, but it doesn't say where or what year."

"So, what do we do now?"

"What's this?" Cameron found a post-it note inside the open desk's console unit.

- - - - - - -
The cousin back home, he forgot her
But figured, come hell or high water,
     to turn down this gig
     he would feel like a prig
Not to marry the Old Master's daughter.
- - - - - - -

Xaq thought it looked like a limerick, though not like any he'd ever seen before.

"And you know about limericks how, young man?" Zoe peered down at him.

"Not very helpful to leave us only the day... and then this..." Cameron handed it to me.

I wondered why she put anything in the sign-out book at all and didn’t just steal the device, but Sebastian explained you had to sign it out because it was the book that unlocked the console on the device desk.

"Technically," he said, "if you screw up, then somebody can come back and look for you, That's why there are two units."

"Great. That means we don't have any back-up."

This wasn't beginning to sound very promising.

"Then who'll sign out the other one: you?"

"Oh, not me, I'd get into trouble."

"And I won't?"

"You're already in trouble, Trespasser," Sebastian smiled, "a little more isn't going to matter, much."


"But how do you know what to set it for?" Xaq's voice dripped with uncertainty.

Sebastian explained in order to release the unit from the console, you have to write on the pad where you're going. "This was Klangfarben's humorous way of following the instructions without being obvious."

"Oh, come on, Sebastian, you know as well as I do that's pretty obvious..."

"But she'd have no idea she's being followed. Why bother being cryptic?"

"Is there a possibility the police here would have gotten wind of this?"

True, Sebastian thought, the police – all of them, Zipples – would never have a clue: by the time they'd figure it out, it'd be too late.

"Is this why you sent me a message, Sebastian, not to let us know where Victor was but to foil Klangfarben's plot?" (Did I sound annoyed?) "But you've got the composer himself, here: couldn't Bach and a few policemen go back and rescue himself, himself?"

"You know how composers are with technology, T.R. You could hardly expect Bach to pull this off. Besides, if she succeeded, he would cease to exist."

Like this was going to be any easier for me.

"Well," I said, "here goes..."

Cameron and Zoe watched me as I signed the book: Dr. T. Richard Kerr – December 12th, 1705, Lübeck.

"Now what?"

The front of the other shelf-unit popped open. Sebastian reached in and retrieved a small black box with gold trim the size of something you could keep a cell-phone in.

"That's it, that's the Time Machine?"

Xaq wasn't the only one disappointed. I assumed it would be big enough for five people and contain a bunch of wires and electrodes, dials and meters which, after a lot of fancy crackling and sizzling, would transport us through Time and Space.


On the lid was a gold-embossed letter B. Of course, Klangfarben took the A Unit.

"So, you know how to use this, Sebastian?"

"Oh, yes – they're very basic." He didn't seem at all concerned which I found mildly reassuring, considering my own technophobia.

He carefully opened the box and held it out toward us.

In fact, it was more like a cell-phone, only a little bigger, with an old-fashioned clock-face on it.

"It's not called a 'Time Machine,' like you say," he explained to the boy. "We call it merely 'the Device.' To be specific, it’s a Time-Device."

"Even a pocket watch would, incidentally, be a time device, so... how does it work?"

"Let's say you drive up to Bach's house to take him out for dinner. Bach sees your car and asks you, 'How does it work?' So you're going to explain the physics behind energy and motion and the combustion engine? I don't think so..."

"Alright, alright – how do you operate it?" So much for reassuring...

Sebastian took it out of the box, turning it around as he spoke. It didn't look much more complicated than some phones I've seen recently, some little knobby things on the side, some read-out screens on the front. There were no numbers and no hands and though it looked like a watch from the 1800s, it was new enough to look completely digital. Where the 11 and the 1 should be were little colored lights, one green and one red. Simple enough, you hit the green one to go and the red one to stop.

"It's battery-operated but the charge is limited – that's why you could only go to one place at a time. You'll have to come back here to recharge the unit – but then an hour is enough to do that. Unfortunately, after a certain number of trips, the charge doesn't hold as long. These units are not designed for frequent use."

The problem with the battery was, while most of its energy was expended during actual travel time, if you overstayed at your location, you might not have enough juice to get back correctly. While the uncertainties of quantum physics made such time-travel possible, the operator is also at its mercy: a weak battery on the return trip could mean you'd end up somewhere else rather than your return destination, maybe even a different era.

"So when the red light begins to flash, check the home field in the electro-parameters window and hit the green light."

He handed it to me and continued, "Oh, right – it attaches to your skin by a special magnetic force, so as long as your plasma-source is circulating, it shouldn't fall off."


"For you, it's blood. Ours is a little different, but basically works on the same principles."

"Uh huh..." There was another topic of conversation, I could tell.

Cameron looked at it closely, clearly fascinated. For him, it was the ultimate iPhone, unlike me, who saw it as a formidable adversary.

"How do you set the destination and return parameters?"

Good question: I'd been wandering that myself.

"That's why there's supposed to be someone to monitor the control room."

"Hah... So, then, how do we do this?"

Sebastian, fidgeting with the date-time-location dials, handed it to me.

"Come on then," I said, handing it to Cameron, "it's Back to Bach!"

Cameron pressed the green button: a few electrical impulses later, we were gone.

= = = = = = =

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