Friday, July 13, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 67
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Milo Smighley, wondering about Harmonia-IV's open border policy, and his team prepare to enter the mine from their end in order to capture Kent-Clarke before he escapes. Having survived the rolling boulder, Dr. Kerr and his team have discovered a new threat: dinosaurs. And, even stranger, a lost tribe of underground blue pygmies who sing. Meanwhile, Klavdia Klangfarben, arriving in her hometown in 1980, has succeeded in saving her mother from being killed in a car accident but now finds herself stranded. In New Jersey...
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The descent was dark and steep, a tightly spiraling ramp rather than a staircase.
“One false step, it’s all over,” she thought. “A banana peel right about now could make this one hell of a disaster.”
Bringing up the rear, Detective Jenna Ste.-Croix walked gingerly, something she was unaccustomed to, while her eyes slowly adjusted to the faint glow.
The two agents from BHUIA cautiously led the way, their weapons drawn and ready. They hadn’t said a word, yet – robots, maybe? She wasn’t sure what kind of weapons they had, nothing regulation from her catalogue.
The deeper they went, the weirder it got, but why should this be any less weird than anything else she’d experienced, right? Being on familiar ground was one thing but being under unfamiliar ground was another.
Perhaps she’d spoken too soon, volunteering for this mission. Too late for reservations, now – besides, what would he think if she chickened out?
“I’m really glad you decided to come along,” Detective Smighley whispered back to her, his tone of voice less gruff than usual.
She smiled to herself. That’s the most romantic thing anyone’d ever said to her.
“At least, with you here,” he confided, “I don’t feel quite as outnumbered, now – it’s two to three, police officers versus universal agents.”
“Okay,” she reconsidered, “maybe I should take that back.”
She told him she’s a bit out of her league, not just her jurisdiction.
She was supposed to be tracking down Victor Crevecoeur: how was this helping her?
Starting out as a possible missing persons case, she’d heard that Crevecoeur turned up dead and Smighley had already arrested the suspects.
But so far, she hadn’t seen the body or inspected the alleged crime scene.
Her forensics guys hadn’t determined cause of death, yet he’s telling her it’s murder?
That’s a pretty slipshod way of dealing with death.
But then she remembered, after all, supposedly everyone here’s already dead (speaking of weird) so it’s not like they have a lot of experience with somebody, a trespasser, just showing up on their doorstep and dying.
So what she really needed to do was get over to the crime scene as fast as possible and interview the witnesses before the trail went cold, leaving nothing behind to help her close the case.
If that short agent – the unintelligible one – was right, then those supposed “suspects” are heading this way, too, chasing after the alleged thief.
And what the heck was that conductor up to – Roger Kent-Clarke, whatever he’s called? These musicians were always such a damned nuisance during the summer, as if the normal out-of-towners weren’t already a big enough pain.
She felt partly responsible for his being here – she was the one who told him where New Coalton was, in the first place.
Reaching the bottom of the spiral ramp, they were finally standing on flat ground. Everything glowed faintly but her eyes weren’t adjusting.
They stood at the end of a long tunnel branching off in the distance.
The agents discussed two possibilities: waiting for them and ambushing them here or going in after them in a surprise pre-emptive strike.
Smighley suggested a stake-out when the two robot-like agents stalked off down the tunnel.
That’s when they heard distant gunshots – dozens of them.
There was no time to lose: she knew her witnesses’ lives were in danger.
The tunnel they were in branched out into three mineshafts with no way of knowing which direction the shots had come from.
None of the reports indicated these trespassers were to be considered armed and dangerous.
Taupner said one report indicated the boy’s abductors included the notorious cult-leader, Siegfried Schweinwerfer. Perhaps, whatever his role was, he had a gun?
Then, another barrage of shots rang out – more like one shot with several repercussions. Waccamole led the charge down the middle tunnel.
Looking at Smighley, Ste.-Croix realized she had no choice but to follow the others.
Without Schweinwerfer to control the boy, Kent-Clarke was getting very weary, carrying the heavy score and pushing Xaq in front of him. They had cut the bonds around his feet so he could at least walk. But there was no way he was going to risk freeing the boy’s hands or pulling off the gag: he’d only run away.
It was awful, watching dinosaurs toss his partner around like a game of hackey-sack. He’d never said anything about underground monsters, before. What other kinds of crap were they likely to run into, now, without him?
And whatever happened to that ghostly old guy who glowed from the photonmium dust? He’d be handy, as the tunnel got dimmer. Kent-Clarke picked up a medium-sized rock and held it aloft for a better view.
There’s something strange up ahead, judging from the smell. Rounding another bend in this zigzagging tunnel, he told the boy to slow down.
There was a large underground lake and, judging from the glow of the photonmium, more red in color than blue or green. Kent-Clarke could see nothing safe-looking about it and no way of judging its depth.
A small ledge outlined the one side but it was very narrow and close to the surface, seeming to crumble away in spots.
Standing close to the shore, Xaq stumbled on something that turned out to be part of a skull, knocking it into the water. Jumping back, he could hear it hiss and bubble before it dissolved and sank.
Further down the shore, Kent-Clarke saw two rusted hulks suspended from a thick cable stretching across the lake, disappearing into the dimness. These turned out to be long-abandoned cable-cars which could be operated by hand-pulled winches.
Perhaps this would be their only method of escape.
Xaq was holding back, ready to run as soon as Kent-Clarke dropped his guard.
On the first car’s back seat was a pistol which, even if it proved too rusted to fire, at least looked convincing. He waved it at Xaq, telling him to get into the car – or else.
Knowing it was only a matter of time before Professor Kerr and the others managed to get past the singing blue pygmies, Kent-Clarke squeezed the trigger, surprised it went off, its blast reverberating through the cavern.
Clambering in after the boy, he saw an ugly sea-monster rising to the surface. Another shot either dispatched it or scared it away.
Zoe and I froze in our tracks.
Sebastian turned with a fearful look.
Cameron asked, “Where did Kent-Clarke get a gun?”
“Maybe it was the police,” I offered. Had they already caught him, rescuing Xaq?
The second round was not reassuring.
Not knowing what to expect, we hurried forward. We didn’t want to assume it was the police.
Hmmm, how did Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth turn out? But then, technically, this wasn’t Earth, was it? If I’d paid more attention to those science-fiction movies when I was a kid…
We’d already discovered it’s not necessarily a deserted mine, so what else was there? If these mines had herds of counterpoint-hating dinosaurs and choirs of chanting blue pygmies, what other surprises did it have in store?
But what if we got to the Gate and these things followed us through? What would do more damage: them or Mahler’s symphony?
Rushing toward what appeared to be a lake, we realized our path was blocked by an old man glowing in the dimness.
“Dear God!” Sebastian screeched to a halt. “It’s the Old Man of the Mines!”
If this was the Ghost of Christmas Future, I thought, I’m not going to worry about spending a lot on presents this year.
In the distance, we could hear a squeaking, raspy noise that reverberated across the lake and echoed back and forth around the cavern.
“Bats! Oh God, please, no – not bats,” Cameron whimpered.
“No, look – there!”
He was getting away. And Xaq was with him.
Rogers Kent-Clarke, his pristine hair now damp with sweat, was furiously pumping the handle on the winch, pulling the rusted hulk of a cable-car along a length of rusted chain, jerking slowly toward the opposite shore.
Xaq recognized his mother in that anguished scream but was unable to turn around.
The Old Man of the Mines held a broken femur over the rank water. Dipping it in, he quickly pulled it out, already melting, dripping back into the water which had begun to steam and spit.
Stepping aside, he told us to beware, most of all, a fish named Fasolt.
His warning, whatever it meant, was perfectly clear.
Diving for the cable-car, Sebastian found a pistol. “Hah! Blanks – for scaring the fish.”
Just as we heaved up over the water, a reptile-like shark lunged for us, grabbing the gun right out of Sebastian’s hand.
“Agent Babbitt, I think we may have a problem,” Officer Schleppenfuss said to Roger.
“I know.” He was trying to make contact with Sharrif underground, something about hearing gunshots and then, naturally, the radio went dead.
“No, I mean entering the field to our left.”
“Hmm?” Roger looked up from thwacking his radio and groaned. “Oh, no – now what…?”
Hurrying in from the street was a large and rather unruly bunch of composers.
Agent Babbitt greeted them by saying, “We’re in the midst of an operation. This is not the time for a news conference.”
“But you don’t understand,” Sauerbraten, as their leader, told him. “We’re here to help.”
Babbitt wondered, “Great. Now, give me the good news…”
Mary Rowberson greeted several of them by name – “Oh, I talk to you all the time!” – then swooned again.
Liszt turned to Brahms and asked, “Who is this woman?”
“I’ve never seen her in my life!”
To say we were narrowing the gap between our cable-car and Kent-Clarke’s was delusional. Yet we had to get to the other shore before he’d cut the chain, dropping us into this acid-bath of a lake.
Ominous bubbles, then even more ominous ripples announced the surfacing of some gigantic creature.
Rising from the waves was a great white squid.
No doubt Fasolt the Squid was no slouch when compared to Fafner the Dragon. One of his mighty tentacles struck our cable-car.
With a terrific jolt, we suddenly found ourselves airborne.
I screamed, “Release the bladder!”
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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.