Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 56

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Klangfarben's latest plot has failed as  Mozart was rescued in the nick of time. 

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Chapter 56
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It had been a really tough summer, that year. It seemed so long ago, when Xaq felt his world turned upside down. Life was never the same after one of those “life-changing” disasters everybody talks about. Except the way people talked about them, weren’t they supposed to make you stronger? In his case, he felt it made him weak.

He assumed it took longer for adults to die, especially old people like Grampa. Children, he figured, must die quickly, by comparison. When you consider it, there’s not as much life to flash before their eyes.

That old man in the photographs, the man his mother remembered vividly from her childhood: they said he wasn’t around any longer, though he’d died, then – he’d overheard them talking about it late one night. His father, he kept telling himself, hadn’t actually died: he just wasn’t around any longer. But they treated them like basically the same thing.

Dad was there every day – well, almost every day – and then he was gone. Maybe he was just going away awhile? But it felt like forever and Mom just ignored him, like he never existed. So he began thinking – like the old man in the photograph when his mother was a little girl? – maybe his father’d died, after all…

They spent that summer at his grandfather’s farm. It was a vacation, she said, just him and his mom staying with his grandparents. At first, she’d add, “while your father’s away.” But later, she didn’t mention him.

He missed his dad. Every morning, he kept wondering if this would be the day Dad’d come back, even just to visit. Then, by lunch time when he hadn’t, it was just like every other day. After dinner, there was nothing to do but wait for the next day and hope it would be different, but it never was.

Weeks went by, then months. The routine never changed. Routine, he discovered, was boring.

His mother was always practicing. He enjoyed listening to her, even when she kept practicing the same thing over and over again.

He was seven years old with nothing to do, no one to play with, no need for routine. Life was beyond boring.

While his mom practiced, he was on his own or his grandparents “watched” him.
Most of the time, that would mean his grandmother who was always busy in the kitchen or cleaning or working in the garden.

His grandfather spent much of his time “in the city,” but never said anything about seeing his dad, telling him he’d said hello. On the weekends, Grampa walked him around the farm or down the woodland paths, teaching him the names of plants and trees, of the animals scurrying away from them. That was pretty cool, for a while.

Other days, though his mother said he shouldn’t, he liked to run around in the woods, pretending how he’d find his dad. They would sit quietly under a tree and talk for what seemed like hours.

His grandmother tried to get him to talk about this “imaginary friend” but what could he say? So he was very vague. She never questioned why this friend, a boy his own age, was so quiet.

After all, his dad “wasn’t around any longer,” right? Maybe he was dead. How could you have an imaginary friend who was dead?

He remembered how his mom had said she’d lost her grandfather when she was only six, younger than he was that summer. What he could never figure out was why she never managed to find him.

So sometimes when he’d be looking for his dad, he’d pretend he was looking for her grandfather, too: maybe he’d have better luck.

One day, he ran back to the house, thinking she’d be happy to know he’d found her grandfather down by the pond.

But she started crying and wouldn’t talk to him the rest of the day.

So he kept these friends of his a secret. After all, wasn’t that what imaginary friends were for? Any seven-year-old knew that.

It was lame, telling his mom about the old man. He called himself Sebastian.

He began to like Sebastian. He really didn’t know that much about him, so he could create him complete from his own mind.

He did know he was a musician and Grampa said he’d been a composer. But when he asked them if Sebastian knew Beethoven and Mozart, two composers he’d heard of, they just smiled and then laughed.

So that was what they’d talk about sitting down at the pond, what it was like writing music or talking to Beethoven. Sometimes they’d just listen to his mom practicing when she played in the backyard. But he thought it was odd – the boy did – that he never actually found his dad. Sebastian said he’d never seen him, either.

That was the weird thing. He had to imagine his dad because he never actually found him. Their conversations were all pretend. Sebastian struck him as being very real though no one else could see him. Either way, he was careful talking to them because, even whispering in the woods, he was afraid his mom could easily hear them.

So they developed this way of talking to each other, just through his mind, without ever really needing to say anything out loud. The adults couldn’t hear it, evidently – “I can’t read your mind,” they’d say.


Sebastian was also keen on teaching him the names of plants and trees, as well as the birds and animals they’d see. One day, they were looking at a large tree nearby, hanging over the pond. It was either a willow or an ash, so he asked Sebastian what its name was, and he said its name was Fred.

Once, when Grampa asked him what that same tree was called, the boy studied it carefully, then announced its name was Fred.

Grampa stood back, surprised, and grunted. “Huh! My dad always called it that, too.”

Once, when he’d been out in the woods, pretending he was a secret agent tracking down his dad – footprints, a broken twig: he’d gone this way – he’d gotten lost as huge storm clouds darkened the sky.

He knew nobody could hear him, so he just thought the word “Help.”

It wasn’t his dad who rescued him.

It was Sebastian.


They weren’t gone all that long. Sebastian had only escorted Zoe down the hall and to the left, taking her to the ladies’ room, waiting for her so she’d be able to find her way back. When they returned, Sebastian noticed the door to the vault was slightly ajar and he was pretty sure he’d closed it behind them.

Perhaps Xaq had this urge to explore the hallways. But he would know this could be dangerous, what with Klangfarben lurking about.

“What will he be like when he officially becomes a teen-ager?” Sebastian asked, chuckling.

There was nothing else down the hallway except more vaults, each on a different level – R-S, T-W, X-Z-Misc and then the Time-Device Room. He‘d have no reason to check out the others further down the ramp.

Suddenly, Sebastian’s uneasiness about this began to increase exponentially. Then Zoe panicked, hollering out her son’s name as she ran into the vault.

The room was dark, empty, just like it was when they first entered it. Where was Xaq? And where, incidentally, was Cameron? It was unlikely both of them would’ve just walked out and started wandering around.

Sebastian checked the door. No, they were in the right vault: M-Q, Vault #4. This was where Sauerbraten had told them to wait.

Then they heard muffled noises, a pounding against a wall and a voice unable to speak clearly with his mouth full of food. Hurrying to the sounds, they opened a bin to find Cameron, gagged and bound.

It took a considerable effort to lift him out of this cramped storage sarcophagus, a substantial filing cabinet considerably wider than standard but suitable for large scores or a normal-sized person scrunched in with bent knees. How Cameron got there, trussed up with twine and tape, they had no idea, but how ironic he was in the Mahler Bin.

Here were manuscripts of several symphonies Mahler had composed over the past few decades, forming a comfortably padded foundation for Cameron’s incarceration. Many people fell asleep listening to Mahler symphonies but Cameron clearly hadn’t been sleeping.

Zoe tried unknotting the twine around his feet while Sebastian worked carefully to peel the tape off his mouth without undue pain.

Perhaps this was Klangfarben’s clue, that Mahler was next on her Great Composers Hit-List?

“Not Klang-pffft!” Cameron spat out, trying to speak, choking on great gulps of air.

“Cameron,” Zoe said, “who did do this? Where’s Xaq?”

“Gone.” He pointed at the door. “They took him…”

“Not Klangfarben and Kedaver?” Sebastian had no luck trying to find a knife: the twine around Cameron’s wrists was knotted too tightly.

“Where did they take him?”

Before Cameron could answer, a flash of light – energy from across the time-space continuum – filled the room: Sauerbraten and Dr. Kerr had returned.

As the two newcomers high-fived each other to celebrate not only their safe return but also the successful completion of their mission, they realized not everything they’d returned to was in quite the same successful state.

Zoe and Sebastian spilled over each other bringing them up to speed – how Cameron got tied up, that Xaq had been abducted – while Sauerbraten pulled out something resembling a Swiss Army knife and cut Cameron free.

“Not Klangfarben,” Cameron said, rubbing life back into his lips. “That tape really hurt. No idea where – they left a few minutes ago.”

He told them how that conductor who’d come for dinner, Kent-Clarke, barged in behind this big burly man in a black trench-coat, the one who did the actual tying-up, the dumping-in-the-bin, not to mention the abducting.

The more Cameron described all the ugly details, the more Zoe knew this was no famous composer but someone else she’d recently seen.

The big guy was very interested in whether Mahler’s latest symphony was registered: since it wasn’t, they seemed confident they could “succeed.”

“We’d seen him with Wagner and Mahler. He’s got Mahler’s score – and Xaq, too.”


Xaq had been dragged and hoisted and carried and dropped more times than he cared to count. He’d been hauled around with an arm roughly wrapped around his waist or slung over this guy’s massive shoulder. There’d been so many turns along the way, he couldn’t imagine getting back to the library to see his mom and Sebastian again.

Ever since they tied him up with some kind of twine and strapped duct-tape across his mouth before they carried him off, he’d been worried about what lay ahead but he knew it wouldn’t be fun.

What had they done with his mother and her grandfather? Where were they taking him and what would they do to him? Besides, he was starving. Wasn’t there any way of stopping somewhere they could eat?

This adventure was turning out to be one crazy trip through Wonderland. And he hadn’t even gotten on any of the cool rides…

Of course, he was trying not to admit being afraid, just as he didn’t want to think about how much he ached or what that duct-tape was going to feel like when they ripped it off.

It was bad enough their chasing a villain he’d never seen, yet. And only the Big People got to travel back in time.

What about the man running along with this Really Big Person: wasn’t he the conductor who’d come back to the farmhouse for dinner?

“Why won’t he help me?” Xaq thought. “What’s wrong?”

What could possibly happen next?

Xaq felt like he’d gotten caught up in a sick game, some 3-D thriller where you think you’re sucked into the action. Was this some new interactive technology he didn’t know he’d downloaded on his X-Box? Maybe he was really sitting happily in the back seat of Dr. Kerr’s car, entirely oblivious of the long drive to the airport.

But there were great stretches where nothing happened except he was bouncing uncomfortably like a sack of potatoes over this guy’s shoulder. Did he need to be doing something, making wii-like moves to speed things up?

When you got right down to it, this game was more than lame. It was his mom who went time-traveling, not him! It was like he’d gotten into some PG-13 movie with nothing gross worth watching.

Would someone market a game this bad to kids?

There’s always the option it could be a dream.

But what if it’s real?

Then he saw this guy with a scraggly beard dressed in white like he’d been rolling around in a pan of flour. Now, that was beginning to creep him out. CGI aside, this guy was scary. Considering the goons who’d abducted him from the library, this new character made them both look like something from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.


Dumped too far away from them while they talked about reconnoitering around the Time-Gate, Xaq couldn’t really hear the conversation that well. He caught fragments about “Old Man of the Mines” and “enslaving them to work.”

That last bit didn’t strike him as particularly enticing. Once they’d picked him up and started off again, it wasn’t about enticement. So he began thinking less of making an escape and more about being rescued.

The problem was, escape becoming less realistic, how was anyone going to find him?

And for that matter, who would figure it out?

By now, Xaq realized none of these characters could read his mind unless they were simply ignoring him – that was always possible. Maybe, if he really concentrated on his predicament, a message could reach his mom? But since he had no idea where he was or where they were going, how could he possibly direct anyone to reach him?

Then he remembered being lost in the woods when he was seven, calling out to his “imaginary friend” Sebastian to help him.

But he’d met Sebastian – he was real – so he focused on him once again.


Our immediate problem was how to further subdivide our limited resources to pursue what has turned into a more substantial “double front.” We couldn’t very well just give up on Klangfarben, not after everything so far. Allowing even a partial success was simply not acceptable. But we couldn’t let Xaq remain in the hands of this newly emergent villain.

Since the time-traveling device accommodated only two passengers, Sauerbraten and I should continue pursuing Klangfarben, leaving the other three to join the chase for Kent-Clarke and his new-found cohort who couldn’t have gotten very far, yet.

We raced down the hallway back to the Time-Device Room, mindful that Klangfarben and Kedaver could still be there. They will no doubt have returned moments before we had and no doubt will be hopping mad. They might even be waiting for us, hoping to steal back the other devices to keep us from screwing up their last adventure.

Unfortunately, the library’s devices weren’t designed for such hard, continuous use, thus the librarian’s policy of limiting them to only one trip in any given 24-hour period. This, Sauerbraten explained, would make them become increasingly unstable. How this might affect the devices, he wasn’t sure: would they fall short of their destinations or lessen the amount of available time?

Holding up his device, Sauerbraten said while it hadn’t been tested to that extent, he knew it was in every way the equal of the library’s except what tweakings he’d made to the technology only improved it.

More importantly, his had only taken one trip, our return determined by choice, not by the deterioration of the battery. With its built-in automatic recharging unit, we were ready to go with no need to wait. Meanwhile, the library’s out-moded, long obsolete versions had been on three trips already and they barely made it out of 1765 in time.

Rather than buying into Sauerbraten’s up-grade, replacing their present system with something more efficient, the library council, preferring to limit public access to the past, would secretly “retire” the technology once it was no longer reliable.

Just then, clumping down the hallway came an extremely angry, bedraggled Klangfarben, hobbling on one shoe, followed by an equally wet Kedaver. Apparently, their time-device had dropped them in the middle of the plaza’s grand fountain.

But it was too late – seeing us, she knew they had to stop us before we spoiled her chance for a “last hurrah.”

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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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