Monday, May 14, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 15

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Klavdia Klangfarben and Abner Kedaver were on their way to find wherever it was they were going, some place that allowed them access to the great (and, not coincidentally, dead) composers of the past. Earlier, Dr. Kerr was driving Zoe, her son Xaq and their friend Cameron to their destination, since Zoe's car had died on them (not a good omen). Only a few miles from the farmhouse, Kerr already missed a turn...

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Chapter 15
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The road was dark and lonely, conducive to contemplation. Cameron sat in the back seat, looking blankly out at nothing in particular. Not wanting to interrupt the adults’ conversation, he didn’t want to hear it, either. The driver, he realized, turned out to be a disappointment. The guy should’ve been more impressive than he was but seemed so ordinary. At least Dr. Kerr wasn't saying much, listening thoughtfully, perhaps, while Zoe did much of the talking. It was nothing he hadn't heard before, either directly from her or, in a round-about way, from her son.

Xaq leaned his head against his shoulder and slept soundly, unaware of his mother's conversation or bored enough with it, it helped put him to sleep, droning on in the background like an old familiar fairy-tale. Cameron was pretty bored with it himself, adults and their arguments. Between Zoe and his parents, he was stuck in a "broken record."

One of the things Cameron hoped would happen on this trip to Chicago, job interview or not, was that Zoe would spend more time with the boy – much longed-for, much-needed "quality time" for her 11-year-old son – and he was glad she remained adamant about not leaving him behind on her parents’ farm while she went "on the road" again.

A boy needed a father, Cameron felt, but since her divorce, Zoe was staying clear of "other men" which may explain why he’d started feeling so protective of Xaq, a big brother rather than a frequent baby-sitter.

One thing that made him chuckle was the boy's deciding to call himself Xaq now, instead of just Zach, finding some odd spelling, the latest fad, just to appear a little different, a grasp at uniqueness. But then his name was Cameron, just as odd and unconventional a spelling to his grandparents, at least before they arrived in America. He had been named after his late Uncle Kamran, Persian for "successful" or "fortunate." If he'd chosen to honor his ancestors, reverting to this traditional spelling, most people would just assume it, too, was a fad.

But then, "Kamran Pierce" looked so ridiculous. When he began his senior year, he decided to use his full middle name, not just the initial. “Shirazi” may have been a cop-out for his great-grandfather in early 20th Century Iran – it only meant his family was from the city of Shiraz – but for him, it became a declaration of awareness.

People seeing "Kamran Shirazi Pierce" would ask him, "so, where are you from?" expecting he would mention some exotic foreign country they couldn't find on a map. Looking at them quizzically, he’d simply say, "Brooklyn – why?" They were confused by the blend of his mother’s exotic darkness in his hair and eyes combined with his father’s pale Irish complexion.

But Cameron S. Pierce was so thoroughly American – his parents had seen to that – he felt totally strange whenever some of their friends came over and started speaking Farsi over a dinner with gheimeh and faloodeh.

It was strange how important this question of identity was starting to become for him, who he was and how – considering his relatives – he related to the past, what bearing that might have on his future. Getting ready to leave home, moving out on his own, there would be so many other questions and responsibilities he’d soon be facing.

He’d never had many close friends, partly by choice and partly because he was by nature aloof which always worried his family. No one accused him of arrogance but it wasn’t a matter of shyness, either. There were many acquaintances, even those seen every day, who were very friendly but he never considered them “friends,” more like amiable strangers.

He thought about losing Zoe and her son if they moved to Chicago. Even Dylan, his new friend and soon-to-be college roommate, would eventually move on, too. Perhaps it was best not to get too attached.

The car was slowing toward a stop when Cameron became aware of the flashing red and blue lights of a police car, right in the middle of the road as they coasted around a sharp bend. He had no idea where they were or how long they’d been driving. Everything was dark, ominously surrounded by trees on either side. They couldn't really see much beyond the police car except to notice another bend disappearing off to the right. Had there been an accident? It seemed like an odd location for some routine sobriety check point.

Dr. Kerr asked what the problem was when the familiar face of Officer Tennant peered in. He recognized them and gave them a friendly hello. Cameron noticed he was more comfortable here on the road than he'd been at the farmhouse.

Yes, he told them, there had been an accident but, no, it didn't involve anyone from the Crevecoeurs.

There was a strong whiff of beer in the air and Cameron wondered if Officer Tennant hadn’t stopped off for a drink. After all, considering that investigation back at the farm, he couldn’t really blame him. What kind of excitement did they usually get out here in the sticks, anyway? Especially with moaning mediums and talk of alien abductions…

Zoe worried if the truck had hit her father: could he have been wandering around on this road? They weren’t that many miles from the farm, but it had also been a few hours since he'd disappeared.

Officer Tennant heard the alarm in her voice and mentioned the driver said he’d swerved to avoid a deer standing in the middle of the road, then lost control of the truck and hit a tree. Aside from some scratches, he was okay but the truck jack-knifed, spilling its cargo all over the road – "thousands of beer cans, everywhere..."

So it might be a while till they'd be able to clean things up and open to traffic. Looking around, he also mentioned there was no sign of the deer or anything else (implying her father).

Interrupted by a loud squawk, Officer Tennant started speaking into his radio, passing along pertinent information about the accident but saying he and Schickhaus had everything under control. Through the static, Cameron could recognize the raspy voice of Detective Ste.-Croix who said they'll need to set up the detour signs. Otherwise, she'd be heading back into the station, then.

Dr. Kerr opened all the windows before shutting off the car, getting out to look around. "We were on our way to Allentown," he began to explain, "so how do we find Route 443 to Lehighton from here? We’re supposed to take 902 south..."

"Hang on a minute." Officer Tennant cut him off and sauntered back to his car.

He saw Officer Schickhaus walking up from the other side of the car along with the guy who apparently was the unlucky truck-driver, both pointing in different directions. Cameron had to admit it looked pretty comical.

Zoe was tempted to run over and ask him if he'd seen anybody walking along the road but then joked she might get more information if she asked Ms. Rowberson.

"I imagine she last saw him on the road to New Coalton, remember?" Kerr didn't sound very helpful. "At least that's what your grandfather was trying to tell her."

"Yeah..." Zoe said, getting out of the car to stretch her legs a bit, looking in the back seat to make sure Xaq was comfortable, then also checking her violin case. Cameron noted she’d looked at her son, first: that’s what he would’ve expected.

"Hey," he said, smiling at her, "as long as you're up, get me a beer."

“Yeah, right, “ she smiled back at him. It had crossed her mind, too.

Xaq stirred, looking around sleepily. "Are we there yet?" When Cameron said they'd just stopped for a moment, he went back to sleep.

The air was still uncomfortably humid, one of those sultry summer nights without a hint of breeze. He couldn’t wait for them to get back in the car, close the windows and crank up the a/c. Cameron wondered what it would be like, living out here: after a few weeks, he'd go nuts without the city to distract him. Not that he had to go out partying every weekend, but it was reassuring knowing it was there. Here, you'd have to wait for a truck to crash on a winding road to get some beer.

More lights came from the other side of the police car and the officers disappeared from view. Officer Tennant came back with a couple signs – "Road Closed" and "Detour," with arrows pointing off to the right.

"These are for the last intersection," he said, pointing behind them, "but unfortunately it's a long way around to get where you're going."

Demonstrating with his hands, he explained the first stretch was a long straight road, like White Crow Road. South of Tamaqua, we'd intersect with Route 309, which was going to be not so straight. Once we got on Route 443, it was more or less a straight shot from there to Lehighton, the Northeast Extension just across the river.

"But it's fairly direct," Officer Tennant concluded. "It'd be worse for anyone trying to get to Hill Top from White Crow, though."

"And we have all night to get there," Cameron sighed, a little too loudly.

Of course, wouldn't you know it, Dr. Kerr's car not only wasn't equipped with GPS, the guy didn't even have a cell phone. Cameron thought he’d get his phone out and check out what some of his friends were doing on Facebook, but he figured digging around in his pocket would wake Xaq up, so he let it be.

Dr. Kerr got the car turned around and waved at the officer as if he were leaving a church social. Zoe kept her eyes focused out the side window and Cameron soon found himself nodding off. When Kerr looked in the rear-view mirror, he could see the kids were both falling asleep, now, their heads resting against each other.

Cameron realized the road was lined by trees and steep embankments in the middle of nowhere, barely any moonlight breaking through the canopy. One thing was painfully obvious: this was not a good place to get lost.

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To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

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