Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 54

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, we return to the Hague in 1765 as Dr. Kerr and Sauerbraten take young Mozart into the palace to evade the newly arrived Klavdia Klangfarben. There, meeting the Princess and her younger brother, they become involved in a game similar to croquet but which, for novelty's sake, they play backwards. Then, at a reception, they run into Klangfarben and Kedaver. Meanwhile, we catch up with Rogers Kent-Clarke, Philosopher Schweinwerfer and the newly abducted Xaq. 

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Chapter 54 
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“And what, exactly, did that accomplish?”

Kent-Clarke not only had a cumbersome score to carry, now they were saddled with an eleven-year-old boy who was kicking and screaming as they left the library’s Posthumous Manuscript Collection.

“For one thing, now you know that score you’ve stolen won’t dissolve into thin air when you get back to the Other Side.”

Schweinwerfer trussed Xaq’s arms and feet behind him with binding twine after placing a gag over his mouth to shut him up.

“And this,” he said, “will be an insurance policy when the police find us.”

Grumbling about dragging a squirming sack of pre-teen angst around with them, Schweinwerfer hoisted the boy over his shoulder. Kent-Clarke decided the score, as large and ungainly as it was, was still easier to deal with. He tried wrapping it with some binding twine, then stuffing it into a barely big enough tote-bag he’d found near the circulation desk.

“But that doesn’t make sense – I mean, about the score just dissolving into thin air. I can see it plain as day,” he said, holding it out in front of him, “what would make it disappear?”

“For one thing,” Schweinwerfer said, trying not to lose his patience, “you can’t believe that everything you see is always what it is.”

All his talk of laws, technology and registration stamps to the contrary, nothing was getting through to this guy. “Such obstinacy,” Schweinwerfer thought.

“That’s the way it is – so just deal with it,” he groused, “or else...”

The “or else” made a pretty convincing argument, Kent-Clarke considered. There were enough oddities happening to make him question his normal perceptions, anyway: he was holding one of them, a new symphony by a dead composer. And not just any dead composer – one who’d died a century ago. That was pretty “odd,” he thought, one he’d just talked to.

He felt badly Xaq had recognized him when Schweinwerfer grabbed him, the boy discovering too late he wasn’t going to be rescued. Such things, he knew, weren’t supposed to bother him, but somehow they still did.

Things that tugged at the heart were things he’d been told would get in the way of his career. “You must be hard-hearted and ambitious,” his last teacher, Alessandro della Vecchelino, used to tell him repeatedly. He must overcome any concerns about whatever inconveniences he caused his musicians – or other people, too. Xaq was just another sign he’d failed.

With the woods up ahead, they took a break once they reached the edge of town, sitting down for a few minutes, the road to the field on their left. Xaq struggled and whimpered until Schweinwerfer could stand it no longer, conking him on the head to knock him unconscious.

“Children,” he intoned, “should be neither seen nor heard…”

Kent-Clarke hadn’t even flinched. Besides, the boy was beginning to get on his nerves, insurance policy or no insurance policy. Where were all these police Schweinwerfer worried about, anyway? There was no one else in sight.

Something else he was having trouble processing: a while ago, he was in the woods in broad daylight but they’d sneaked into town in the dark. Now, it was dark over the woods, too. He tried imagining the place maybe had two stars and he was, after all, only used to a place with one. “Just where are we?”

It seemed reasonable to think he’d fallen through a hole and landed somewhere at the other end of it. What he couldn’t wrap his mind around was where that hole had led him. This was hardly a place underground – it had sky, for one thing, and there was night and day, sometimes at the same time which was weird. There was a whole, big city down here, not just an abandoned rural mining town from years ago, surviving in another dimension. And where did all these composers come from? The place was crawling with them!

There was something else on Kent-Clarke’s mind, so he thought he’d mention it.

“I can understand why I’d want to steal this score, but why are you helping me? What are you getting out of this?” Everything in Kent-Clarke’s world had been based on the concept, hardly a philosophical one, of cause-and-effect – you do something, someone does something back. If you study hard and do well, I’ll give you a good grade; if you don’t, you get a bad one. You do something nice for me, I’ll do something nice for you, and so on.

But Schweinwerfer already said he couldn’t return with him to share in the glory – he’d automatically become invisible, crossing over. So Kent-Clarke couldn’t really see how the big guy was going to benefit from helping him. Was it a purely altruistic gesture, making sure Kent-Clarke returned safely to the Other Side, or was there some alternative plan in mind?

Schweinwerfer didn’t flinch. “It’s because I believe this symphony has an important message for people on Earth about the End of Time.” He didn’t bother to elaborate how it would realize his dream of apocalyptic destruction. Pegging Kent-Clarke as an ambitious, publicity-seeking conductor, with or without talent, the philosopher was convinced Kent-Clarke could help him realize his own dream.

He could feel the vindication at hand, even if he’d have to wait another two years, four months and twenty-seven days. He’d been waiting for it for 165 years as it was – what was a couple more?

“Funny thing about eternity,” he thought, watching Kent-Clarke. “You wait so long, you become impatient. Then, when it’s almost in your grasp that you can practically taste it, you’re less concerned about waiting a little longer.” He thought that was being very philosophical and hoped he could remember to jot that down in his notebook once he got home.

Home, of course, was deep in one of the abandoned mines north of town. In life, he’d spent years living in mountain caves south of Dresden and found that, all told, he rather liked it there.

Schweinwerfer nudged his new friend – his newest ally – and pointed to the left.

“The Time-Gate you want is that way. Should something happen and you can’t get back immediately, I live that way,” he pointed toward the woods a little to the right of center, “and we can hide there till the road is clear. It is not far.”

That “we” sounded mildly comforting.

Kent-Clarke hadn’t thought beyond grabbing the score. Getting back safely, even how far he had to carry the score, much less avoiding the police or border guards or anything else that affected his safety, hadn’t occurred to him. He was going to run back to the gate by himself, find his way home: simple. But once there, how did he find this gate? The first time, it was an accident, a blur. And now? Would falling through another one automatically take him back or somewhere else? Did he fall up?

And now the police were looking for him – the fact they’d be after him so quickly surprised him. With the score in his hands, there wasn’t much reason to have a trial if they arrested him. Would they just throw him in jail? Did they have courts and lawyers in this place? But he was guilty, wasn’t he? Guilty!

“Here it is,” Schweinwerfer said, pointing to the wide-open field at the edge of town.

From there, it looked like clear sailing.

“That’s it? The gate’s out there?” Kent-Clarke sounded dubious.

“Yes. You can’t see it,” Schweinwerfer said, “but to find it, you must trust in your faith that you will. You have to believe.”

“Well, okay. Here goes.”

Hoisting the score up against his chest, he prepared to make a dash for it.

“Down!” Schweinwerfer grabbed him by the shoulder. “You can’t just run out there like a fool! The police are watching for you.”

Great! He couldn’t see them, either: how about he just believed they weren’t there?

They sat still for a few minutes that seemed like an hour, waiting for something but for what, he had no idea. What if the police weren’t there but then arrived while they sat there waiting?

Then he heard it. The crack of a twig.

But it had come from right behind them. When he turned and saw it – him – he practically screamed: a pale old man in rags, white from head to foot, a long beard, his hair wildly unkempt.

It hadn’t occurred to him, in a place where everybody was already dead, that there would be anything even remotely resembling ghosts.

He was more amazed than alarmed.

“As I die and exhale,” Schweinwerfer said breathlessly.

The figure quickly disappeared, an apparition in the mist.

“That’s a policeman?”

“No.” Schweinwerfer bowed with considerable awe. “One of the local legends.”

He explained how he’d lived in the mines for many years since he first arrived here, but had never seen him face-to-face.

“That was the one they call ‘The Old Man of the Mines.’ He exists!”

Afraid the apparition was coming to claim his soul, Kent-Clarke, now preferring arrest, hunkered down to await the explanation he hoped was coming.

Was this man or spirit, something evil like the Troll King in Peer Gynt? If anything, Kent-Clarke felt he could run even faster, now, hoping to find his way home before anything worse happened to him.

“I don’t know – there are many different legends about him.” Schweinwerfer wasn’t very reassuring. “Some tell stories of his rescuing the lost; others, that he kidnapped and enslaved them in the mines.” Neither really bothered him.

Suddenly, Kent-Clarke was a child again, sitting around a camp-fire in the woods on a moonless night, the older boys telling scary tales.

The old man soon returned, looking less apparitional, perhaps, but that didn’t stop Kent-Clarke from jumping nearly a foot in the air. As it turned out, the man wasn’t so much white and ghostly as dusty.

“You are trying to find your way to the gate through which you pass to Earth?” The voice sounded hollow, not especially spirit-like.

Kent-Clarke was not sure his head nodded or shook in fear.

“Come, then, I will show you, but you must… beware, eh?”

Schweinwerfer prodded him to follow the old man, leading them deeper into the woods.

= = = = = = =

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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