Thursday, May 17, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 18
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, conductor Rogers Kent-Clarke runs into Detective Jenna Ste.-Croix at the local watering hole and he questions her about New Coalton. Her evasiveness only increases his curiosity. Meanwhile, at New Coalton, Kerr and his friends meet an odd violinist who is complaining about being late for a rehearsal - after midnight? in the middle of the woods? He then disappeared into thin air. Cameron, checking it out, also disappears and the others, reaching out to grab him, disappear right along with him.
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Initially, it felt like we were careening down a water-slide, despite being totally dry and without the slide, twisting and turning at odd angles and at odd intervals, then without warning dropping through the air. Bunched together, we tried hanging on to each other in the darkness hoping that would keep us from flying off in all different directions.
During our freefall, I couldn’t figure it out: did we stumble into a mineshaft or some animal's burrow – and if so, how big and nasty was this animal going to be when we landed on it?
Just as suddenly, we arrived somewhere without injury, in fact without what I was afraid would to be the inevitable splat of hitting the ground after falling off a tall building. First of all, we were alive and still together. Cameron was standing not far off, smiling at us. We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and looked around.
To be quite honest, it seemed we'd landed just where we'd been standing moments before: there's the tree-stump in the middle of a field overgrown with weeds and bushes except our car was missing – this was not good news – it was daylight and, when we turned around, there was a huge city where before there had been empty fields.
"Okay, I give up..."
Zoe, holding on to Xaq's shoulders to keep him close to her, shrugged her shoulders in equal disbelief.
"We were falling for several minutes," she said, "and yet we're back we started from?"
"No, mom, it was only for a few seconds. I bet that was one of those worm-holes they use for flying between galaxies and stuff!"
Zoe, to put it mildly, looked skeptical.
Really, if this was a different planet, didn’t it look a lot like Earth? In fact, a whole lot like the field that was once New Coalton?
Xaq was dutifully awe-struck, pointing at the gleaming city that stretched for miles out toward the horizon. The rows of buildings were mostly white or light gray and not very tall, four storeys at the most.
There were no sky scrapers like you’d expect in the center of such a large city. The streets here were broad and clean, lined with trees, yet there were no cars and no people walking around.
"Wherever we ended up, here we are," Cameron said with a smile, shaking our hands as if he were the local welcoming committee.
He had no memory of falling, no idea how long it took, a few minutes or a few seconds. He'd been sucked through this doorway – the glimmering lights – and the next thing he knew he was a pile on the ground. When he heard us yell, he figured he'd better move before we ended up on top of him.
"Man, I hope there's someplace around here we can get something to eat, I'm starved."
Xaq fully agreed.
Without hesitation, the two of them headed toward the edge of the city until Zoe called out, "Wait!"
Peering at the buildings in the distance, she added, "We can't just go wandering off into some strange city. We have no idea where we are."
"But, mom, how are we going to find out where we are if we just keep standing here?"
She looked at me and said, "Okay, doctor, how do we argue with that logic?"
"I'm still trying to figure out how we got here, much less where we are!” I looked back where the car should've been and, for some reason, up into the brightly lit sky, to see if there was anything we might have falling through. "Wait," I thought, "it was definitely dark when we fell, right?" I shook my head.
"We can either explore where we've landed," Cameron argued, "or waste valuable time figuring out what happened between Points A and B."
"But, Cameron, we also have to figure out how to get out of here!"
None of us had noticed him until then but there he was again, the little man with the violin case, except now, in the daylight it was hard to tell, considering his size and their relative proportions. Maybe, in the daylight, he wasn't so "little," after all, but definitely short, maybe around five feet tall.
He was dressed in a white shirt with light gray slacks and white shoes that didn't quite look like sneakers, not to mention pearl gray suspenders. His hair was a silvery blond which made it hard to tell his age.
His beard, such as it was, was more a collection of whiskers in need of attention. His ears, while not disproportionate to his head, were larger than I would have expected. His eyes were steely gray and rather on the beady side.
Wiping his feet on the grass, he was muttering about having "trod" in a puddle of urine.
Despite having been in a rush before, he came right up to us and introduced himself.
"The name's Babbitt – Roger Babbitt – and this is my viola, by the way, not a violin. There was no reason to steal yours, ma'am," he said, turning to Zoe. "I have quite a fine instrument of my own. Better, I'd say, than yours."
The voice was oddly squeaky, almost child-like. He was the first denizen of our new location to confront us and I tried to study him as stealthily as possible. I wondered if everybody here was like this?
"This rehearsal you mentioned earlier," I asked him, since he seemed to be in a talkative mood, "what did you say about it?"
"It's a very important one, but now that I'm here, I find I am not as late as I had feared."
"But you said a ‘brand new’ Beethoven symphony – which one? One you haven't played before?"
"Nobody has played it before – it's to be a universal premiere next week. Everybody will be there!"
"Universal… Which one is it?"
"Have you lost count?" he threw back at me, incredulous. "No. 39, of course!"
"Okay," I thought to myself, "I fell asleep at the wheel and we're all lying there on the side of the road, after the accident, probably dead. Or is this just all a bad dream?"
"I'm sorry, but I really must run along. Oh, and young man," he said, glaring at Xaq, "please be more careful in the future?"
Just as our new acquaintance, Mr. Babbitt, was hurrying off in one direction, I looked around to notice someone walking across the field, heading directly toward us from the other side of the street and looking very determined.
"Uh oh," I warned, "another one approaching us from 3:00..."
Zoe turned to see who was coming and gasped.
I squinted to see if there would be some reason to recognize who our next greeter was going to be, whether he’d be friend or foe, and if the latter, what we could possibly do to defend ourselves.
Instinctively, we gathered into a tighter, more protective formation but a quick glance showed that the man approaching us with such a steady gate was definitely alone. He started to wave.
Zoe was definitely stunned speechless.
Taking her hand, he greeted her warmly. "And how good to see you, Zachary."
And then I recognized him: I was definitely confused.
"Okay," I thought, "now this was a dream"
She had just been playing a new piece of his twenty-six years after he'd died, he tried leaving a message for me with that ding-bat medium about New Coalton where we mysteriously ended up and even more mysteriously fell through some kind of shimmering hole-in-the-air to end up… well, here.
And here in front of me stood my friend Sebastian Crevecoeur, looking none the worse for twenty-six years of the afterlife.
Instead of saying hello as I shook his hand, I said, "Where the hell are we?"
Thoughts swirled for attention in Zoe’s brain. "How did you recognize me? How did you even know my son's name – that he even was my son – your great-grandson? How did you know we were here? And..."
"Oh shit…" Yes, there had been a car accident and we're all dead and he's here to welcome us to the Afterlife. Crap.
"Details, details," he chuckled. "Come on, I've left your father back at the tavern, talking to Mozart. We'd better get going."
"Dad's here, too?"
Once again, all I could say was, "Where the hell are we??"
"No, no, it's nothing like you're imagining, my friend. Yes, of course, I am dead but you are all still very much alive – at least, so far."
He certainly sounded like Sebastian Crevecoeur.
"Welcome to Harmonia-IV."
He explained it wasn't really the Underworld, neither Heaven nor Hell, but part of the Myrios Kronos system of parallel universes – a.k.a. Parallelia.
Looking around the meadow where we stood, I didn't think this was what the Elysian Fields would look like.
"Oh no," he added, pointing into the distance, "they're on the other side of town. Unfortunately, we're not responsible for what the locals do with the Entryways. We're lucky it hadn't been sold off to some developer, yet. What if that ended up being part of the men's room at Walmart?
Xaq, blushing, thought it almost was...
"But who lives here," I asked him. "You said Mozart...?"
"Yes. You see, this is where Dead Composers go."
"What?" Zoe stopped in her tracks.
"Well, many of them – not everybody, I admit. There are several locations like this, you see, but yes, many of them, as you put it, chose to 'live' here."
"Cool – you mean, like Zombies?"
"Now, Zachary, do I look like a zombie?" And with that he gave the boy's hair a good tousling.
"I'm glad you were able to come, Terrier," he said, turning his attention to me.
"Terrier?" Zoe sounded amused.
"Uh, that was an old nick-name he'd given me, out of my initials, Terry R."
"Yes, he always was like a little dog worrying at an issue till he came up with a solution."
"An annoying little dog," I scowled.
"Indeed." Smiling, Sebastian pointed to the street. "Come on, we haven't much time."
"Time? I would've thought, being dead, you'd have all the time in the world."
We had to hurry to catch up with him.
"But if I see a bird," Klavdia Klangfarben said, "the photons from the bird reach my eye, travel through the lens to hit the retina at the back of my eye and from there are translated into electrical impulses which then travel along various nerve fibers through the brain where they reach the very back of the brain where there's, like, this little screen on which these electrical impulses can then be translated further into the images we 'see' – or rather, we think we see." It wasn’t enough, these days, just to say “I see…”
All this, Kedaver noted, because he thought he'd help wile away the time playing a game of "I Spy with my Little Eye..." Look where it got him: a discussion on the physics of human perception.
Kedaver, rarely encountering living people, liked talking, possibly even arguing but unfortunately, this one wasn't turning out nearly as entertaining as he'd hoped.
"There's no guarantee the bird I would see is exactly the same as the one you would see. Yes, I could recognize it from a bird guide's illustration because the patterns in the feathers and its shape and so on emit photons just like the real bird does, but the patterns both the illustration and the bird emit as you perceive them could be subtly different, possibly even vastly different, from my perception."
Fortunately, as they sped down the highway, it was getting dark. Soon they wouldn't be able to see anything – well, much of anything.
"So what we're actually 'seeing,'" she continued, "is not outside our brains but something deep inside our brains – basically, only the brain's interpretation of certain electrical impulses, not the physical object itself. Now, add to that the uncertainties of quantum mechanics as applied to light images, suddenly you have moment-to-moment fluctuations that create all kinds of possible variables from one perception to another. Is your bird the same color as mine? Is your brown the same as my orangey-grayish-brown?"
He was finding this infinitely boring. The argument, like this highway, appeared to be leading nowhere.
"Besides, how could we even be sure their shapes are the same: wouldn’t our tactile senses be just as open to quantal fluctuations?"
Kedaver hadn't felt such a headache coming on since the Brahms-Hans Rott harassment case. If lawyers used arguments like this today, how was anybody ever convicted of a crime based on the sworn evidence of witnesses?
He was still trying to figure out what she’d mentioned earlier, Einstein saying how time slowed down a moving clock. Taking out his pocket watch again, here they were, moving through space at unimaginably high speeds down a highway in something called an automobile or car. How could he tell if his watch was slowing down or speeding up? As fast as they were going, wouldn't it make sense that time also was moving faster, that they would get their sooner, not later? As a lawyer, he thought this, too, could come in very handy.
Now she was bringing up time-traveling again. This, of course, was something he was used to, at least to an extent, and it was no doubt the real reason he’d been contacted to work with her. If she was supposed to be working on a case dealing with composers, why would she have contacted a lawyer as her liaison?
The problem, she explained, was that no one had yet perfected anything like a time-machine, at least in the real world – well, in her world. Whenever anybody talked about its potential, everybody else laughed because that was the stuff of science fiction, entertaining but hardly realistic. But in this invisible lawyer's world, someone had perfected a functioning time-travel device.
Kedaver soon realized, since most composers, infamously impractical when it came to technology, would have no idea how to operate a time-traveling device, his role in her plan had nothing to do with his legal expertise.
Now she started on how they were driving over the Delaware River which, from where they were, given the darkness that was beginning to set in, you couldn't actually see it, but she could see it in what everybody called "your mind's eye."
"And why is that? Because I've seen it before, or maybe seen photographs of it?"
For the first time in what seemed like ages, Kedaver decided to speak up.
"But you can't see me and you've never seen me before, yet you know I'm here," Kedaver stated simply. "How is that possible?"
"I know you're there because I can hear you," she said quickly, “even though, yes, you’ve been very quiet for the last fifty miles or so.”
"How did you know I hadn't crawled into the back seat and fallen asleep?" Or, he thought, jumped out the window to avoid listening to her constant nattering about quantum mechanics and time-travel?
It's true, she had no idea what he looked like. She had hoped he would be tall, dark and handsome, a suitable escort for a femme fatale like herself, but judging from his squeaky, nasal little voice and its slightly lisping quality, she figured with her luck he was more likely short, slightly overweight and balding, speaking of perceptions.
Maybe it was because the voice reminded her of a character on the cartoon show, "Family Guy," the baby with the football-shaped head who spoke like an intelligent adult? No doubt, invisibility might have its advantages.
"Do you understand the physics forming the basic principles behind the combustion engine," he asked her, "how it works and how it makes this automobile-thing you're driving work so you could, if necessary, build one yourself?"
"Well,” she hesitated, “not in so many words, but..."
"In other words, no. Neither do I. So then, let me drive the car!"
"No!" There’s more to it than just understanding the physics of how something worked.
"It's the same thing," he continued in his defense, "with a time-device: you follow the instructions and you move through time. Simple."
Yes, it sounded very simple and she was becoming more excited realizing they were getting closer to that point in her plan.
"But it's not. That's why you've contacted me. So," he concluded smugly, "I will drive the time-device and you will be my passenger."
She stepped on the gas and remained quiet until they arrived at their destination.
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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.