Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 65

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Officer Lew Tennant, back in Pennsylvania, goes to investigate the seeming disappearance of Detective Jenna Ste.-Croix and, against his better judgment, takes the eccentric medium Mary Rowberson with him to New Coalton where she too ends up disappearing (arriving safely on Harmonia-IV, prompting Detective Milo Smighley to call the governor to close the Time-Gate); the Rescue Party enters the mine and the All-Composer Posse takes off to capture Kent-Clarke.

*** ***** ******** ***** *** Chapter 65 *** ***** ******** ***** ***

Who could really blame Nepomuk if he’d chickened out? It wasn’t hard to understand the argument he offered: if everyone disappeared into a mineshaft, how’d anybody know where to look for us if anything should happen? But then, what could happen, I wondered? We’d run into Kent-Clarke, rescue Xaq and get Mahler’s score back. What’s so difficult about that?

Even with Sebastian holding two rocks of photonmium, it wasn’t the brightest light I’d imagined, guiding our way deeper into the earth. The ceiling was too low for comfort, the floor littered with rocks and debris.

But he couldn’t very easily hold one up high enough so we weren’t conking our heads against rocks sticking from the ceiling and also low enough to light the path our feet were constantly stumbling over.

We also couldn’t be sure Xaq and the others had come down this way. Nagging doubts persisted: were we in the right tunnel?

Sebastian tried explaining again how he’d been receiving several of these messages from Xaq not by identifying any precise route or location but by giving him some kind of emotional directional signal to home in on. He described it, in a way, as following the most open, most direct route, not exactly like a GPS-device but almost as precise.

It’s possible this may not have been the exact same tunnel Xaq had taken but it would get us to wherever he was. By following the direction the messages were coming from, we should find him, eventually.

“It’s not like it’s going right through all this rock and he’s over there, somewhere,” Sebastian indicated, waving in a generalized direction. “Well-focused brain waves like these messages between empathic individuals travel the least complicated distance.“

He’d begun panting, tired from carrying the rocks down this steep descent into the tunnel. I suggested saving the scientific explanation for later.

“Good idea,” he said, taking a deep breath. “We should probably be quiet, anyway. Who knows what you might startle down here.”

“Uhm, Sebastian,” I said with mounting hesitation, “is there something you’re not telling us?”

“No, no,” he insisted, “it’s just they could have taken a different route and we might actually be taking a short cut. We could just turn a corner and find them there, right ahead of us!”

“It’d be difficult catching up to them,” Cameron noted. “How much of a head start did they get on us, does anyone know?”

My concept of the passing of time had been so screwed up, I had no idea if they’d had five minutes’ or five hours’ lead time, having spent however much time we spent back in 1802.

But as we descended further into the mine, I noticed it was becoming lighter with ribbons of photonmium weaving luminously through the walls.

Among the debris shunted to the tunnel’s side, we noticed more small rocks glowing with photonmium, some no bigger than an apple. If the mine hadn’t been exhausted over the years, why had it been abandoned?

Sebastian realized he no longer needed to lug around both rocks in his hands, a burden he’d found to be increasingly irritating. So with a grateful laugh, he tossed one of them carelessly to the side.

Once we’d stopped talking, though, the place wasn’t as silent as I would’ve guessed. It didn’t help I couldn’t identify what it was.

Whatever Harmonia-IV was, parallel universe or not, it wasn’t an exact duplicate of Earth. This looked like dirt and rock: was it? There were many similarities but too many differences to be comfortable with making assumptions.

Any experience I’d had wandering through coal mines was severely limited – in fact, nil – but what on Earth could’ve caused this low-grade frequency?

Especially after the tunnel began to descend more steeply, turning almost into a ramp, I began to feel a very faint rumbling coming from behind us, a pause like a slight breath and then, well… bouncing.

Cameron had been the first to see it, something careening toward us from a not very great distance – certainly not great enough. It flashed and flickered as it bounced along, a rock definitely on a roll – a very large rock, filling nearly the whole width and height of the tunnel, a huge boulder marbleized with ribbons of glowing photonmium.

Where it might’ve come from was anybody’s guess but no one wanted to take the time to theorize about its sudden appearance.

Occasionally, it would hit some debris and bounce, slightly, landing with a nauseating crunch.

Would the boulder be able to bounce high enough to clear us even if we could lie flat enough on the ground? Or if we miscalculated, would it land right on us, scrunching us to smithereens?

It was like that famous “follow-the-bouncing-ball” scene in the greatest music appreciation thriller of all time, Dr. Dick and the Tempo of Doom.

How could we possibly avoid being horribly crushed, our bones eventually indistinguishable from the pulverized rock and other debris all around us?

With seconds to spare, I gathered loose rocks to create a very low wall.

“That won’t be enough to stop it,” Zoe shouted.

“No – but maybe it’s enough to make it bounce over us,” I shouted back.

As we started hunkering down, I began worrying whether this rock was our biggest worry: what if all this bouncing caused an earthquake? Of course, the big question was, do they even have earthquakes here on Harmonia-IV?

There was a narrower off-shoot not far away. Could we outrun the boulder in time, reaching it a few hundred yards away? Or would we risk being run over and left behind like so much road-kill?

Now or never, we flattened ourselves as tight against the sides as low to the ground as possible, just beyond our makeshift ‘wall.’

In those excruciatingly drawn-out seconds as we watched, the boulder finally reached us. Sitting there hopelessly waiting, we wondered if we’d survive.

Then it slammed into our low wall, scattering everything, bouncing hard against the ceiling.

After a blizzard of debris, there was a deeply reverberant jolt as it landed, cracking open a hole in the tunnel floor.

When the dust cleared, a huge pit barred our way.

A very deep pit.

In the ensuing stillness, I heard an ominous sound coming from the other tunnel.

“No, not snakes – please, not snakes.”

“No, something – bigger…”

= = = = = = =

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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