Friday, May 25, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 25

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, we sampled a few different biographical approaches to the life of Klangfarben's first victim, Johann Sebastian Bach. 

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Chapter 25
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Uh oh.

Cameron and I were standing in the middle of a dusty street in a very old-looking part of town, everybody bustling about, looking like we'd landed in a movie set sometime in the 18th Century.

But wait a minute, wasn't that the plan? Was this Lübeck and was it, more importantly, December 12th, 1705?

On the other hand, what happened to everybody else? I expected Sebastian, Zoe and Xaq all to be transported with us. Judging from the way Cameron was looking around, I was pretty sure he'd thought the same.

The moment from leaving the library to arriving here was measurable in terms of blinks – two, at the most – whatever division of time was applicable in either location.

Cameron checked his Time-Device, before deciding to put it in his pocket, pointing to the one narrow window which blinked "Successful Arrival." That was good news, if nothing else.

But the others – did they end up in another part of town? Were we separated along the way and they ended up in another part of time? Should we have all been holding hands before Cameron pushed the "send" button? Without Sebastian, what would we do if something went wrong? Should we go back and get them? Where do we go from here?

So many questions, not the least of which was, "Where in Lübeck are we?" Not a really big town, it looked big enough. How would we even begin looking for a young man named Johann Sebastian Bach?

My German was pretty rusty after all these years, and Cameron had only one year in high school. We must look like a bunch of tourists, totally lost, not to mention the way we were dressed. Somehow, I began wishing we'd had, speaking of time, more time to figure this out and plan appropriately.

Judging from what Sebastian told us, though, Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben didn't allow us that luxury. How did she get involved in this, anyway? Could we negotiate with her or was she going to blast us to smithereens on sight?

An old pipe-smoking man bundled up in a worn blanket, carrying a bundle of rags, wandered past, watching us suspiciously. A better dressed young man stepped back to avoid walking too close to us. They were more cautious than concerned, perhaps being a port city used to oddly dressed foreigners. Could we be lucky enough to find anybody who spoke English?

"Maybe we should wander around a bit, get our bearings. What church is that?" Cameron pointed out the huge red-brick church nearby, its two towers topped by steep, greenish copper spires.

"Maybe that's Buxtehude's church. I think his was St. Mary's."

We ambled over, people milling about, most giving us a fairly wide berth, others totally unconcerned.

The sign said Lübeck Cathedral. Cameron wondered if that’s the same as St. Mary's?

A young man, well-dressed, maybe a merchant, stood near us and spoke up. "No, St. Mary's is over there," motioning to his left. We saw several churches along the street. "The big one – in the Market Square."

"Thanks," I said, hoping to sound cordial. "You speak English?"

"English? No, unfortunately – I speak French and Italian and I can read Greek and Latin, of course, but no English. Sorry, but I must be going." Then he smiled and walked away with a friendly nod.

Cameron looked at me, quizzically. "But I understood him perfectly and he was definitely speaking English..."

"And he clearly understood us, too. Well, there's something to ask Sebastian when we see him again."

"That can't be soon enough."

"First," I reminded him, "we have a job to do. Onward?" I added, pointing in the direction of the Market Square.

We walked along the street, gazing at the buildings on either side, watching the people milling around us, wondering what the hell we were trying to accomplish here.

Soon, we stood before another huge, red-brick church.

It was a teaming place whether it was officially Market Day or not. People were everywhere, coaches and wagons pulled by horses or mules, peddlers hawking their wares, an occasional cow or goat being led through the crowd by a straw-haired boy or two. Straw, in fact, was everywhere: I didn't have to remind Cameron to watch where he stepped.

It hadn't occurred to me before, but everybody was dressed for a cold day. It was, after all, mid-December and we were in a seaside town in Northern Germany. Yet despite the fact we were dressed for a hot summer day and Cameron was wearing shorts and sandals, no one looked at us like they were scandalized and, stranger still, we didn't feel the least bit cold.

Another topic for Sebastian when we got back, no doubt. I was beginning to think we should be jotting down a list of FAQs for the occasion.

Cameron found a side door slightly ajar from which we heard organ music and a chorus singing in the distance. We were met by a particularly foul-tempered middle-aged woman of considerable size and fearsome demeanor, holding a large array of long-stemmed flowers in her arms. She glared at us, expecting we’d turn tail and run at the sight of her.

"Is this," I attempted as genially as possible, "St. Mary's Church?"

She glared down at us, standing a few steps beneath her metaphorically as well, scowling as if to say, "and what imbeciles have we here?"

The music become muddled, then stopped mid-phrase as an old voice, unintelligible in the resonance, corrected something cajolingly before beginning again with more assuredness.

I asked "are they rehearsing for the service?"

Her jaw dropped in disbelief. "Did you just plop down from the moon or something?"


"There's no music in the services during Advent!" She spoke with that disdain adults use when chastising children who should know they’re being stupid. After a long silence during which we attempted to hold our smiles until it became almost painful, she added, "the concert is tonight."

"Concert? With Buxtehude?"

"The Evening Music is tonight at 7:00." She sniffed and turned to go.

"Is that Maestro Buxtehude, now?"

"Of course, he's here," she huffed. "I suppose you want to 'see' him. Everybody wants to: they come from miles around and stare at him like an animal in the zoo. The rehearsal is closed to the public."

"Wait. Actually, we're here to meet a young man, a musician named Johann Sebastian Bach, and..."

With that, she turned and scowled even more deeply. "Why do you want to see him?"

Cameron started to say, "We're friends of his from Eisenach," just as I'd started to explain we were friends of his from Arnstadt.

"Oh, coming to fetch him, are you?" She looked around and then confided to us, looking us up and down suspiciously. "Well, he's not here, for a change."

She looked as if she was about to add something but wasn't sure if she should.

"Do you know where we could find him? It's rather important."

"He'll be at the concert tomorrow, I'm sure. He's always hanging around. But if you need to find him, he's staying at a house on Effingsgrube." Once again, it sounded like this would be the end of the interview.

"Effingsgrube? We're from..." well, I could hardly say from three hundred years in the future, so I explained we'd just arrived this afternoon.

She cocked her head and smiled for the first time, then pointing with the gladiolas back in the direction we'd come, said, "A block before you get to the Cathedral, turn right. It's just a few doors in from the corner – the Dingledorffs. It was time he left, anyway."

"Oh, you know him?" But this time she had turned and left, ignoring us as she stuffed some flowers into a large vase over in the corner. Apparently, she was one of those old maids who volunteered their lives to their church, having nothing better to do.

Cameron looked around, searching for something. Thinking he was just trying to get his bearings, I pointed out the street we'd just walked up.

"Perhaps we were in the right place after all."

"No, I was looking for a cab or whatever would pass for one in 1705..."

I laughed. “If Bach could walk 250 miles to get here, we could certainly manage to walk a few blocks to find him.”

Back where we had started, we realized Effingsgrube, a pleasant side street off the cathedral plaza, had been right in front of us.

"D'oh!" Cameron wondered how that would translate into 18th Century German.

"Yes? Did you not find St. Mary's?" The young man who had talked with us before was standing next to us as if we hadn't left him a half hour ago.

"Ah, yes," I stammered, "they told us there was a concert tonight – we heard Buxtehude rehearsing the choir."

"You are musicians? I’m having dinner with The Master beforehand, you should join us. There would be several dozen there,” he qualified, sensing our alarm. “Two more would not be noticed."

"Actually, we're looking for our friend, Johann Sebastian..." but we were interrupted by an old man stepping out of a house a few doors away.

"Bach, what's keeping you, boy! Don't be rude – I will not have rudeness in my house! Your friends are waiting!" He sounded jovial enough despite his words.

"But I've just found them."

"No,” he said, waving, “she's waiting in the parlor!"

“You don't know us,” I tried to alleviate his confusion, “but we know who you are. I am, er… Torvald Reichardt von Kahrlich... of the Leipzig von Kahrlichs," I added, stumbling over the improvisation as if to allay any confusion, before turning to the already astonished Cameron whom I introduced as Cameron Hyde-Pierce, my personal secretary, originally from England.

Bach bowed politely, almost as surprised as we were. Perhaps he thought we were going to offer him a well-paying job in Leipzig? If not, it was a good ploy, considering we had no plan to counteract whatever plan we didn't know Klangfarben had up her sleeve.

The old man waved us into the house, the friend from Weimar introduced to us as Countess Klavdia von Klangfarben-Schwarzgemünden.

We were almost as surprised as she was.

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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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