Saturday, May 19, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 20
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Sebastian Crevecoeur is explaining how things (or at least, some things) work in Harmonia-IV, how those who "cross-over" appear invisible to living people and how composers must register their scores so they too become invisible. But Sebastian hadn't gotten around to registering his Piano Quintet yet which explains... well, not really. Everybody's having a little trouble sorting all this out...
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Until the past century, Sebastian explained as we hurried our pace through town, no one was ever concerned about being disturbed here in Harmonia-IV. Once the importance of Science started taking over the social consciousness back on Earth, they started worrying that someday someone would discover this place existed – or even could exist. With scientists like Einstein and Stephen Hawking talking about black holes and ideas like the possibility of parallel universes becoming part of one's daily entertainment – not just the romance of space travel – the residents of Myrios Kronos began worrying about their future.
What would happen when Harmonia-IV's existence was discovered, when scientists started arriving in droves to explore, when musicologists realized what was hidden here and plundered the place to take things back to Earth?
"But it wasn't scientific curiosity that led us here," I told him.
"No," Xaq added, "it was all because I peed on a tree stump."
"It's not you I'm worried about, really." Sebastian stopped, looking behind us as if he were afraid of being followed. "You're here by accident, as far as you're concerned; by design, as far as I am…"
"Basically. Oh, I admit, dropping the manuscript of my piano quintet on Victor's desk was one thing – and a very risky, even sloppy sort of thing to do, at that – but it was only today I found out about a very serious problem and that's when... well…"
"What sort of problem? What, exactly,” I asked, “are you talking about?"
Just then we came to a broad open area, a spacious park with gently rolling hills, its trees and gardens surrounded by wrought iron fencing, an ornate stone entranceway with tall, thin, abstract-looking statues on either side and, like a sanctuary, plenty of benches placed pleasantly along winding footpaths around the grass, all leading up to a fountain on the top of a small knoll.
Sebastian pushed us toward a side street and apologized that we couldn't walk through there and would have to take the long way around. Of course, though we could see no one, perhaps there was someone there he didn't want finding out about us. But didn't he say they couldn't see us, either?
His paranoia, if that's what it was, was catching. We silently skulked off down an alleyway as if any minute we expected the police to start shouting at us and we'd have to run for it.
Once we'd reached a smaller side street, similar to all the others we had walked through so far, Sebastian continued without explanation what had just happened, unless it was what didn't just happen. Were we in some kind of danger here, after all? Everything seemed so pleasant, the easiest word to come to mind whenever I looked around. But these evasive maneuvers had about them a decidedly unpleasant sensation.
"You see, first the scientists will come, physicists mostly," he resumed his thread, "and then – even worse than having them poking around here, trying to figure out how we exist – will be the musicologists! Before you know it, they'll be plundering the vaults at the Central Library like a gold mine, hurrying back to the Other Side thinking 'Aha, a newly discovered opera by Mozart,' only to have the score dissolve in their hands when they get back, and then it will be lost completely."
He shuddered at the thought of musical tourists arriving by the bus-load to take in the premiere of Beethoven's latest symphony, like the one everybody's gearing up for next week. Then next month it’ll be Wagner's newest opera, the conclusion of his cycle, "Die Todesstern."
“The Death Star?!"
"A cross between Parsifal and Star Wars – not his best, but they have some great music in them... Personally," he confided, "I'm more looking forward to William Kappell's recital a few weeks later. He's premiering the first piano sonata that Brahms has written in almost a century!"
"But if you're worried about tourists, why go tantalizing people like Victor with a score from the beyond and then bringing him – and us – here when we haven't even been looking for it?"
Xaq glanced up at his great-grandfather who looked exactly like he did in those old photographs on his grandpa's desk. "It wasn't that difficult to find – even if we don't know what it was we've found. Anyone could stumble through that entrance."
"Yes, I know," he said, smiling down at the boy, "we had more trouble with people ending up here when New Coalton was a thriving mining town. They were even more surprised than you were when they landed here! When that gate had been set up back in the early 19th Century, it was just woods and a handful of farmers. We'd get the occasional cow, now and then, so we'd just put her in the zoo, over there."
"Why not move the entrance somewhere else, if that's going to be a problem?"
"Or better yet," Cameron added, "close it off so no one could get in. If you have this fear of people getting in here, why have an entranceway at all?"
"You could set up some kind of security system," Xaq suggested. "You know, with a heat sensor that'd only let in dead people." Xaq took a hold of Sebastian's hand and then stepped back. "Wait, if you're dead, how come your hand's not cold?"
"Ah, grasshopper, it's not always what you'd expect."
He led us off down another side-street. I was hoping we wouldn't have to find our way back to New Coalton on our own. It’s like we'd been walking forever. I began wondering if we could see the good residents of Harmonia-IV, would we be able to see buses or taxis, too? Was that trade-off such a serious problem?
In my reverie, I hadn’t realized Sebastian started telling us about this 'problem' he had mentioned. There was this woman – someone named Klangfarben or something – who was a musicologist and she was on her way here.
"But she knows what she's looking for, which is the real concern. She's coming here for a purpose and we've only just figured that out." Sebastian was almost whispering, now.
"Can't you just wait at the entrance there and stop her?"
"It's not that easy."
"What is she here for, then?"
"No good, I'm afraid. Ah, here we are."
We had wandered into a shabbier part of town, though not nearly as derelict as you'd expect in a modern city in the real world – or whatever we should be calling it, now that we're here. Turning the corner, we saw the sign halfway down the block – STRAVINSKY S TAVERN. The apostrophe, Sebastian explained, has been missing for decades.
“It’s quite late, I hope they’re still open.”
“Open? It looks like the middle of the day!”
“Ah, you’re forgetting where you’re not.”
“Where I’m… not?” Of course, I’m not at home where everything is normal.
"It's a shame," he continued, "but Stravinsky is one of those who rarely composes any more. He said he was tired of serving up music to people who didn't like his music, so he's serving up beer and pretzels instead. Seems quite happy, now – far more jovial than I remember him during the last years of his life."
Sebastian explained it wasn’t, really. Many composers quit composing after they arrived here. Following a busy life of hard work and difficult challenges, sometimes the idea loses its luster: they prefer resting on their laurels, instead. And others are just glad to be free of the constant pressure to create masterpiece after masterpiece, something that’s always new and original.
“Like Puccini, who never had a real day job in his life – he runs the best haberdashery in town and apparently loves it. It’s on the square,” Sebastian said, pointing indifferently over his shoulder, “near the fountain.”
Outside the tavern, Sebastian announced it was time he adjusted our “electrophotronic image-perceptors,” allowing us to see – and be seen by – everyone.
“Back home, you can’t see us, but here, we can control that – with this.”
After carefully reaching into his pocket and taking out a small white egg-shaped object, Sebastian held the door open and ushered us inside.
This time it was Sebastian who thought something was strange.
"What? The only person I can see," I pointed out to him, looking around, "is that drunk slumped over his beer in the corner booth."
"Victor – wake up, son,” Sebastian called out, “you have company! I guess the local beer is too heady for him..."
"Dad!" Zoe, happy to see him, ran toward the slouched figure but there was no response.
When she shook him vigorously by the shoulder, he slowly toppled over into the corner.
Something was terribly wrong: Victor was dead.
Everything at the farmhouse was not exactly quiet. Well past midnight, now, several rooms downstairs were ablaze with lights, most of the activity out in the kitchen. No one would admit to being able to sleep. Mary, trying to be patient, cleaned up after dinner and was ready to go back and clean everything again, if it would help.
She made some fresh coffee for the others and had gotten out the peach pie she'd baked for tomorrow's dinner, passing around slices to the other women who had all volunteered to sit up with her.
Even that nice policeman, Officer Tennant, stopped by to let them know he hadn't heard anything yet and that they should be aware there'd been an accident down the road, closing off Route 902 and the road to Collierville, in case anybody would be traveling tonight. He gladly accepted a slice of peach pie and a cup of coffee.
He also wanted to assure them that Victor hadn't been involved in that accident: the truck-driver, swerving to miss a deer in the road, swore he had seen no one walking along the side the road.
Without warning, Ms. Rowberson groaned, dropping her plate, the fork clattering to the floor. She pointed unsteadily toward the side porch, due west.
"There's been a riff in the time-continuum, somewhere."
Dr. Highwater asked her what that meant, but her friend could only say, "I have no idea."
Still, Officer Tennant thought he'd better call Ste.-Croix, just in case.
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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.