Friday, May 18, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 19
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Kerr, Zoe, Xaq and Cameron have fallen through some kind of rabbit-hole and ended up... on the edge of a large city where they meet the guy with the violin who was going to be late for a rehearsal - of Beethoven's newest symphony, No. 39. If that's not weird enough, they are greeted by Sebastian Crevecoeur who welcomes them to Harmonia-IV, the parallel universe where dead composers go. It seems he's left Victor, Zoe's dad, back at Stravinsky's Tavern, talking to Mozart. Meanwhile, Klavdia Klangfarben and Abner Kedaver are on their way, discussing everything from perception to how time-travel works (but she still won't let him drive the car).
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We hurried along the pleasant sidewalks of Harmonia-IV, past building after building, most of them built of off-white or light gray bricks, all with very similar façades and none of them more than four stories tall. Some had a few steps leading up to a front door, others an old-fashioned stoop, still others none at all, but each building, whether it was a house or maybe an apartment building, had a little area out front where flowers bloomed and leafy ground-covers like ivy or something appropriately called "Dead Nancy" replaced the more familiar, ubiquitous grass.
That made sense, I thought, considering the yards, if you could call them that, weren't big enough to bother mowing. You could plant something colorful and pretty where you just need to get down and pull the occasional weed (not that I noticed any). In fact, every little flower-patch was in excellent condition. Obviously, everybody here had green thumbs.
"Actually, no," Sebastian countered, "it's just the conditions here are very good, very consistent – ideal, really."
Close to every entranceway was a plant with grayish-green, narrow leaves with tall spikes of showy white flowers, fuzzy looking from a distance with their sprays of stamens. I'd never seen them before, so I interrupted Sebastian to ask him what they were.
"Those? That's Asphodel – native to the Mediterranean and sort of like our chrysanthemum back home. Some cultures associate chrysanthemums with mourning and in Greece, they planted Asphodel on graves."
"Right," Zoe mumbled, "because everyone here is dead..."
Trees along the street kept the place surprisingly cool. How much more wonderful here, compared to the sweltering humidity back home, reaching a high around 95° in the afternoon and still in the mid-70s at midnight. Here, it was comfortably in the low-70s in the sunlight with very low humidity. I knew I could easily get used to this.
"Well," Sebastian said matter-of-factly, "remember, you're no longer in the Poconos. You keep thinking of this place as 'New Coalton,' but it's not: that's only how you got here. We're very far away from there, now."
This made absolutely no sense to us whatever. We all agreed we'd only fallen for a very short time, disagreeing whether it was a few seconds or a few minutes. How far away could we be?
Sebastian brushed that aside.
"The travelogue comes later. I’d love to show you around town but right now, there is much to do."
What that was – whatever we were supposed to do; in fact why, even, he was glad that I'd gotten his message and arrived here – he was doing a pretty good job of keeping a mystery. Silence helped him keep his focus, just as it did when he was younger – or, should I say, alive.
Younger? He looked younger than he did when he died and he certainly didn't look like he was, what... 92, now? I could barely keep up with him. If anything, I'd guess he was in his mid-50s.
Not to mention “alive.”
Why was it so difficult to believe he was in his mid-50s when the man was, after all, dead, and had been so for the last twenty-six years, unless I was seriously missing some basic facts? Tempting as it was to play catch-up – "so… what've you been up to since you died" – I didn’t even know where to begin.
Another thing I thought strange was how, despite all the buildings, streets and sidewalks around us, in what appeared to be a highly populated city in the middle of the day, there wasn't a person anywhere in sight.
"Dr. Kerr," Xaq said, with the matter-of-factness of an expert, "it's because everybody here's a ghost. They're all dead."
"That's only partly the reason: they can't see you either, because you're not dead – for the moment: I'd rather keep it that way."
"But you said Dad was talking to Mozart...?"
"Pffft, I can explain everything."
"Perhaps we could start back at the farmhouse. What exactly was going on, there? What happened to Victor? Why, actually, are we here?”
"Everything got out of hand," Sebastian sighed. "I wanted to let him know that things were okay, that he shouldn't feel guilty about my dying that way. He had nothing to do with it, you know."
"So you return from the Afterlife, the first time he's had any contact with you since 1984 and you drop a score finished just last year on his desk? What did you expect him to think?"
"I didn't think he’d run out and have it performed. When I realized he'd asked Zoe to play it, I couldn't just go stop him. I thought maybe it would be good for all of you. But posthumous works are not allowed to leave Harmonia-IV. We may be invisible, 'crossing over,' but it turned out my manuscript was not.”
"Wait," Zoe said, again stopping in her tracks, "you'd be invisible back there, so that means you could have been there all along but we just couldn't see you?"
"Awesome!" Cameron had to agree with Xaq.
"So that was your hand on Ms. Rowberson's shoulder."
"Oh, I had to have a little fun with that old bag," he smiled.
The real reason he’d gone back was to retrieve the manuscript before anyone here realized it was missing. Victor must have heard him unlocking the desk drawer. “I guess that's when he figured out I was there."
When they finished a new piece, they’re supposed to register it with the Chief Librarian who deposited it in a vault. But this time he’d decided to show it to Victor first.
Once again, we had all stopped, our mouths open in collective amazement.
“Oh, you see,” he explained, “anything that’s registered is rendered invisible, crossing over – like us.”
"Pardon me if I'm having a little trouble wrapping my brain around this one," Zoe said.
I had to admit I agreed with her – dead people you can’t see posthumously composing manuscripts you can’t see, either.
"I wasn’t just taking an unregistered score out of Harmonia-IV," he continued, very matter-of-factly, "Technically, it’s illegal for residents to cross-over without proper paperwork.” It was okay for business purposes but this didn’t fit the category.
“And now I've brought back Zoombies..."
"Sorry – slang for “not dead” – from the Greek, 'zoo' meaning 'life.' Ironically, like your name: Zoë."
While the rest of us were dealing with things getting stranger and stranger, Cameron realized, even though Sebastian had retrieved his score, there were still copies of the parts that had been left with the musicians.
"And Dima has a photocopy of the score, plus a copy in his computer. So it still exists... over there," Zoe pointed indirectly.
"Damn. Oh, pardon me," Sebastian apologized. "So I'm still going to have to go back and retrieve those – or destroy them, somehow..."
"But we have to get Victor and get back home before we're declared missing."
"Right, that's why we're headed to Stravinsky's Tavern."
A tavern sounded pretty good, right now, amusing as it was to consider one named after a Russian composer like Igor Stravinsky – was he its most famous regular?
“No, actually – it’s Stravinsky’s tavern, he’s the owner. Good place,” Sebastian said almost nonchalantly, “very friendly. Lots of great composers hang out there.”
Sebastian beckoned us on, stopping to greet someone he knew, someone we couldn't see or, fortunately, who couldn't see us.
"So you're saying there's a vault here with thirty new symphonies Beethoven wrote since he died over 180 years ago?" The thought was even more staggering than the realization I was talking to a man dead only 26 years.
"Oh yes," he said, "and new operas by Wagner and string quartets by Schubert. And in other parts of Myrios Kronos, new poems by Goethe, plays by Shakespeare… You thought we'd stop creating just because we're dead?"
The thought had never occurred to me. I mean, if you consider all the attitudes about death we deal with in our societies, regardless of your religion or your view of the so-called rational sciences, when anybody died it was just assumed, somehow, that was it. Even with souls going to heaven, signing in at the Pearly Gates, no one ever suggested St. Peter would usher Beethoven over to his own private studio where he could continue composing new symphonies and an orchestra of the greatest musicians the world had ever known would play them.
Zoe had just played a piece her grandfather had composed since he died and had dedicated to her. I had seen the manuscript, held it in my hands, saw that mysterious end-date on the final page. Now it was making sense, if that's what you'd call 'sense,' though it tended to challenge the usual perception of what 'sense' meant.
There were more shops and public spaces, now, a couple of nice looking restaurants and even a sidewalk cafe that looked quite refreshing. Cameron and Xaq were looking longingly at the food before we realized everything was empty. Zoe and I thought how nice it would be to sit down and rest a moment, over a cup of coffee.
When Sebastian dismissed this by saying there was no time for that, I asked, "What's the hurry?" Perhaps I sounded too confrontational.
"We must reach the tavern before closing time – if anyone discovers Victor's not dead..."
"But it's the middle of the day, isn't it?" Cameron pointed up at the brightly lit sky, a few passing clouds of infinite fluffiness passing overhead. "How can it already be closing time for a tavern?"
"Time is very different, here, young man," Sebastian said, sounding like he was losing his patience. He didn’t attempt to explain it further.
Cameron looked over at me, shrugging his shoulders in disbelief, like that was any more unbelievable than anything else we'd experienced so far.
"It's not just that it’s either daytime or nighttime. You see, that light is not from your sun," Sebastian pointed out.
"It's not?" Xaq was now confused.
"No, it's not," Sebastian said, smiling at his great-grandson.
"We're a parallel universe, not just a parallel Earth."
Zoe put a hand on her son's shoulder. "Maybe we can talk about that later."
"Besides," Sebastian said, forging ahead, "that's the least of our worries tonight."
= = = = = = =
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.