Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 17
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Kerr and Cameron realizes they are, not surprisingly lost, but they find themselves, surprisingly, in New Coalton, the ghost-town Ms. Rowberson had said Sebastian Crevecoeur had mentioned in his strange message. Even stranger, Xaq makes an odd discovery during a necessary road-side stop.
*** ***** ******** ***** ***
*** ***** ******** ***** ***
It had been a strange evening at the Crevecoeur farm, between hearing a fascinating piece of music (and not badly played, considering the amount of rehearsal time, but then, as a conductor dealing with never-enough rehearsal time himself, he was used to that) and that histrionic outburst by the little old lady who imagined she was being touched by Evil. The real climax, though, was the absolutely inexplicable disappearance of their host, Victor Crevecoeur, vanished into thin air without a trace and whatever other clichés could be applied to it. What was supposed to be a pleasant dinner followed by a household concert, one of those old-fashioned musicales, ended up with the music left tantalizingly incomplete – what was the slow movement going to be like? considering the first movement, how was he going to end the piece? – climaxing with the arrival of the local police, as close to Mayberry as he'd ever come before.
No wonder, once he was out on White Crow Road, Rogers Kent-Clarke told himself he needed a beer! And he knew just the place.
He was glad to have had something to take that mind off the debacle he'd been forced to conduct that afternoon. Next week's concert was the last gig of the summer. Nice to have August off but given the recently court-mandated increase in his child-support payments, his ex-wife – speaking of being touched by evil – complaining the previous decision was insufficient in this economy, another summer gig would have been more than welcome.
He drove up to the intersection, waiting impatiently for the light to change before pulling into the parking lot for "O'Shaunnesy's Golden Shaft," a bar on the outskirts of town that had given up trying to be trendy, satisfied now with its usual clientele of balding middle-aged men, bikers and truckers and the women who hung out with them. Kent-Clarke wasted little time checking out the less than satisfactory ambiance, heading straight for the counter where he hurriedly ordered a Guiness, doing everything he could to hide whatever vestige of his English accent was left.
He no sooner sat down at an empty booth back in the far corner than he saw the rumpled detective from Crevecoeur's farm strut through the screen door, letting it slam behind her. She sauntered up to the bar, ordered her beer and, looking around for a place to sit, was caught by Kent-Clarke's eye and couldn't avoid him.
Reluctantly Detective Ste.-Croix decided to join him, even if it meant shortening her visit. She explained she'd just gotten off duty and figured after that last call of the night, she needed at least one drink. From here, she explained, it was home to her dog, McGuffin, and a chance to unwind with some old-fashioned Grade-B movie on cable.
"In answer to your implied question," she said, "no, there were no new developments since you left the Crevecoeurs', no call, no equally mysterious return, no new up-date from the Great Beyond courtesy of Madame Rowber-whatsit..."
Lacking anything that might develop into another topic of conversation, Kent-Clarke said he was curious about New Coalton. A summer visitor, he was fascinated by the local history – hoping to hide the fact that, clearly, he was not – but never heard anyone mention it before.
To begin, he was curious where it was, if there was anything to see.
Ste.-Croix, thinking for a moment, explained there wasn't much to see – some overgrown fields working their way back to being part of the forest. As for getting there, go back White Crow Road to 902, turn right like you're heading back to the Crevecoeur Place, but instead take the first sharp left: everyone calls it the Old Coalton Road.
"It's a straight shot into Tamaqua, no houses, no businesses, no turn-offs except one. Trust me, only an idiot could get lost on that road." She took a dramatically prolonged swig of beer, tantalizing the tension.
A middle-aged balding person of nondescript gender wearing a spattered apron came by the booth to see if they needed anything, then left before they responded.
"Just a little past the county line," the detective continued, "there's a fork in the road. Keep to the right – that's what all the politicians say around here, anyway – and suddenly you're climbing up into the hillside. Once it levels off, you'll see a clearing. That's New Coalton – or at least, that's where it was. Like I said, not much to see, unless you're one of those environmentalist types."
"But what did the old lady mean, just mentioning the name, New Coalton, like that?"
"You mean, what that dead guy was telling her?" She laughed. "Who fuckin' knows, with that nut-case! Oh, pardon my French," she apologized before returning her attention to the beer-at-hand.
"You mean there's no significance? Just a coincidence?" Kent-Clarke was beginning to get intrigued.
He figured if he didn't know about the town, chances are Ms. Rowberson, another out-of-towner, didn't either. She wouldn't have pulled it out of thin air and besides, the police were the first ones to react when she did mention it. She could have said "Tamaqua," if it didn't matter.
Ste.-Croix nodded into her beer. "Nope – noooo-oooo significance what-so-ever."
A rowdy burst of cheers and laughter erupted from the opposite side of the bar, but Ste.-Croix didn't flinch. Despite her adamant denial of any significance, Kent-Clarke wasn't so sure something wasn't being kept under wraps.
A buzz of static on her radio turned into Officer Schickhaus, telling her about an accident with a beer truck that had closed down 902. As long as she and Tennant had it under control, a couple of tow-trucks on their way to clear the scene, Ste.-Croix figured she'd just head back to the station and abruptly signed off.
"Turn in my paperwork, you know."
She wiped her sleeve artlessly across her mouth, left without so much as a good-bye or a glance back.
"Strange," he thought, "I think she has the hots for me!"
But when he considered the details – how the old medium blurted out "New Coalton," all the mystery about how the town was abandoned and now this denial of any possible significance – Kent-Clarke admitted he was intrigued.
So when he left the bar, instead of heading east into Collierville, he found himself turning around, heading west down White Crow Road.
"Whoa! That was freakin' awesome!"
Xaq hurriedly pulled his fly back up after carefully readjusting himself, but by the time he called us over, the shimmering had gone.
"It was, like, just as I started to pee," he tried to explain, embarrassed to be talking about this in front of his mother, "everything in front of me just went all shimmery, like – like wavy and iridescent in the moonlight and everything…"
Zoe and I looked at each other and smiled: obviously, the boy was still groggy from having woken up in these admittedly strange surroundings.
I explained that protons in the air, already heavy with the day’s humidity and energized by the photons from the moonlight, had reacted to molecules of urine thereby, through some complex chemical process, creating new particles called peeons giving off energy in the form of waves of super-urinated light particles.
It sounded pretty convincing and Xaq was suitably impressed.
"Yeah," Cameron said, punching him jokingly in the shoulder, "you're lucky you didn't have any more piss in you, or it might’ve exploded!"
"Okay," Zoe said, pulling Xaq by the arm back toward the car, "that's enough." She was desperately trying not to laugh.
"Hey," Cameron shouted, pointing where the car was parked.
It seemed we were not alone.
Running toward us, just past the car, was a small man, perhaps middle-age (whatever that means, these days), carrying a violin case. Judging from the speed he was truckin' through the field, in quite a hurry.
Without acknowledging us, as if four people standing there were completely invisible to him, he headed past us toward the tree stump where Xaq had had his out-of-bladder experience. The man couldn't have been more than five feet from us, muttering all the way.
"I'm late, I just know I'm going to be late!" the little man mumbled on his way. "I hate being late!"
"Late for what?" Xaq asked as if it were completely natural to talk to a little man carrying a violin case running through the middle of the woods after midnight.
For a very brief moment, he stopped, turning to face us.
"It's a very important rehearsal!" he groaned, taking no notice of the rest of us.
"But it's past midnight," Xaq protested.
“Well, here – yes,” he said. The little man hugged his instrument case to his chest. "And we're reading through a brand new symphony by Beethoven, tonight, too!"
"Wait… what? How can that be!" I found myself talking to him with the same lack of concern Xaq had, though any sense of reason should've been enough to convince me this was anything but natural.
And with that, the little man looked like he would dash head-long into the tree-stump but instead disappeared completely from sight. The air began to shimmer, just like Xaq had described.
Zoe ran back to the car, not sure in the dim moonlight if he'd been carrying her violin case or not: had he stolen it from the backseat?
Where did this guy come from and, more importantly, where the hell did he go?
Running back up to the stump, Xaq reached out and the air began to shimmer again. When he pulled his hand back, it stopped.
As if from the other side of a closed door, we could hear the distant cry of someone saying, "Ewwwwww!"
We stood there, absolutely dazed and bewildered – if not exactly bothered and bewitched – when Zoe rushed up beside us, trying to catch her breath.
"No, my violin's still there," she puffed. "What happened?"
"Well, I'm not sure – he disappeared."
"Mom, he went right into the tree-stump!"
She grabbed Xaq by the shoulders to keep him from getting any closer.
When Cameron stepped forward, the air began to shimmer and he, too, disappeared! We heard a scream, as if someone were falling.
Without thinking, we all reached out, hoping to grab him, then disappeared as well.
= = = = = = =
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.