Monday, July 16, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 69

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, after a philosophical diversion about truth and mythology, it turns out Klavdia Klangfarben is having trouble figuring out what will happen to her, now that she's stuck in 1985. Man Kaye, meanwhile, is listening to the all-night classical radio station, waiting for confirmation that Klangfarben's plot has succeeded. 

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Chapter 69
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By the clock, it was only a few seconds we were actually flying through the air, but it felt like several minutes, tumbling in slow motion, the reddish water going from floor to ceiling and back. There was a great roaring hiss, presumably from Fasolt the Squid, and a great rising scream, presumably from me, during these tense moments.

Within that brief span, I wondered if at any point in my life I ever thought I’d die being eaten by a giant squid or being dissolved in a polluted underground lake of foul-smelling mining residue.

So when I landed with a pain-searing thud without benefit of watery splash or crunch of squid mandibles, it took probably more seconds to figure out what had happened at the dynamic conclusion of that moment.

We had all landed on the shore, Fasolt’s leap having generated enough speed with sufficient trajectory to help us clear the water’s edge.

A few feet shorter, we would quickly become one with the toxic sludge that passed for a lake. A few feet further, numerous broken bones and serious concussions might have resulted in yet another fatal option.

And still, over those rocks, I saw Kent-Clarke scampering along, pushing Xaq in front of him, waving his pistol in our general direction.

They had just clambered out of their rickety cable-car when a great poisonous spume splashed over it, barely missing them by a foot. Struggling to our feet, we scrambled past the steaming car, already beginning to evaporate.

Across the rocks we scurried, frantically tearing after them in hot pursuit as much to just get the hell out of there.

Then Cameron yelled over, pointing back at Sebastian, still lying there on the shore.

I immediately ran back to him, Cameron joining me in a flash. A large tentacle started creeping up the beach toward Sebastian’s legs.

Zoe probably couldn’t hear us yelling in the din once Fasolt began shrieking furiously. She kept running, desperate to rescue her son.

Cameron and I reached Sebastian and pulled him back as fast as we could.

Fasolt’s tentacle, gray and slimy with a ghastly blood-shot eye at the tip of its paddle-like extremity, menacingly continued groping after us.

Cameron picked up a rock and threw it, smashing it down on the eye.

Fasolt hissed and shrieked, quickly withdrawing the wounded tentacle, arcs of blood spewing everywhere.

Sebastian came to, screamed and scrambled to his feet.

Without looking back, we raced after the others but could still hear Fasolt’s demonic yowling, churning up the water in his rage. Great drops of noxious acid splattered across the shore, hissing and steaming on contact.

From up ahead, echoing through the dimly lit tunnel, we could hear the unseen Kent-Clarke yelling for us not to come any closer.

Now looking completely frantic and totally disheveled, he’d grabbed Zoe around the neck by his arm, the gun waving behind his head. In the other arm, he was desperately hanging onto the tote-bag with Mahler’s score.

But he wasn’t yelling at us. Someone else was approaching from the other direction, just beyond a sharp bend in the mineshaft. Judging from Kent-Clarke’s less than terrified demeanor, chances were good it was probably human.

So now, villain or not, he was at a decided disadvantage: one man with two hostages being attacked on two fronts, clearly outnumbered.

Knocked to the ground with a nasty shove, the boy started yelling, “Leave my mother alone,” kicking him violently in the shins.

Blocking his only escape route, five more people couldn’t make things that much worse.

Kent-Clarke looked terrified, realizing everything was beyond his control.

Clearly this night was not turning out to be exactly what he’d expected, either.

He could have been easily overwhelmed – the man had problems dealing with bad reviews – so I was surprised Smighley’s team stood aside.

Leaving Xaq behind, Kent-Clarke, equally incredulous, crab-walked past them, his arm around Zoe’s neck.

Pushing her ahead of him, Kent-Clarke dashed through the steeply rising mineshaft till they came to an even more steeply ascending ramp, their way barred by the luminous presence of the Old Man of the Mines. Stepping aside, he showed him an elevator, well-camouflaged in the rocks, making their escape considerably easier. In seconds, they’d arrive at the surface.

We reached the base of the ramp just as the elevator door closed and the Old Man scurried off down another tunnel. Now free of his bonds, Xaq, banging around on the wall, found the call-button.

While we waited, Smighley explained the Gate had been closed and Kent-Clarke couldn’t escape. Besides, his policemen were there, waiting for him.

But when we reached the surface, we were met with a most unusual sight.

Kent-Clarke was being besieged by a rather large, unruly mob of decidedly hot-under-the-collar composers – including Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin, Berlioz – even Mahler himself.

They were chasing him right toward the Gate which Smighley calmly reminded us he’d ordered closed.

Unfortunately, it turned out it wasn’t.

The air turned blue and rippley as Kent-Clarke disappeared, the composers in hot pursuit.

Agent Babbitt reluctantly informed us, following standard protocol, yes, the governor had sent Smighley’s request to the Universal Security Council for official approval.

“That could take days!” Smighley cursed under his breath, then yelled for his men to follow them. “Don’t let that bastard get away!”

Detective Ste.Croix corrected him: “you mean, that alleged bastard.”

Fuming, Smighley led the charge.

They’d hardly been gone before they returned, the composers carrying Kent-Clarke like a battering ram then throwing him down on the ground. Hugging the tote-bag to his chest, he rolled over, avoiding sharp kicks from Debussy.

Deftly scrambling to his feet, he made another run for the gate, plowing into Ste.-Croix just as she returned, sending them both sprawling.

He barely made it through before Clara Schumann tripped him, Schubert and Berlioz dragging him back through the Gate by his heels.

Kicking and screaming, Kent-Clarke tried protecting his face from the pummeling he was receiving.

Rondo Sharrif and I jumped into the fray as Schoenberg lifted Kent-Clarke by the collar and gave his skull a resounding head-butt, sending the now terrified man spinning, buffeted from one to another like a top.

This made it easy for Rondo to grab hold of the tote-bag and tear it out of his clutches, regaining the stolen score.


Standing in the New Coalton field, Officer Tennant looked up to see the conductor, Rogers Kent-Clarke, appear out of thin (if blue and rippley) air, toss himself about, roll in the dirt, pick himself up and then charge headlong across the field only to disappear again, followed by Detective Ste.-Croix who turned and disappeared as quickly as she’d appeared.

He and the other policemen stood there in totally unmitigated shock, not sure what to make of this or what to do. They felt they’d been drawn into some computer game that suffered from faulty wiring.

Even stranger had been the momentary appearance of Kent-Clarke’s upper torso on the ground, his unnerving scream – as if being devoured – indelible in Tennant’s mind as he watched him being pulled back into the shimmering air.

He swore he heard shouts and screams like a large crowd in the distance with no idea where that could be coming from.

There was a far-off cheer as Kent-Clarke, battered and dirty, hurtled through this “environmental anomaly” (the only term Tennant could think of), landing in a heap by the old tree stump, face-down in a small mud-puddle.

“Ewww,” he screamed as Detective Ste.-Croix, from out of nowhere, bent down, handcuffing him.

Even weirder, she seemed to be talking to someone.

Dragged to his feet, Kent-Clarke, completely hysterical, looked around him wild-eyed, dodging imaginary blows.

All Tennant could hear was his paranoid, incoherent babbling.

Something about how could he possibly ever be able to conduct their music again.


It was the best Tennant could do, not knowing what else to say.

Ste.-Croix dusted herself off and straightened her hair.

“The suspect has been apprehended, but I’m not sure what to charge him with.”


“Oh, shit, I forgot! We have to get Victor Crevecoeur back before he…”

Then she froze, looking back and shrugged her shoulders.

“Okay, so…” Tennant scuffed his boot in the dirt. “Could you explain, perhaps… anything? Help me, a little… you know, humor me?”

She marched the still-babbling Kent-Clarke, muttering under his breath, back to her police car.

“Maybe you could start with where you just came from, how you got here?” Trying not to pry, Tennant still wanted explanations.

She looked down, momentarily pensive.

“Let’s just leave it at ‘undisclosed location,’ shall we?”

Tennant turned just in time to see Ms. Rowberson suddenly wandering around dazed in the middle of the field.

“Jeez Louise,” he muttered.


Once Kent-Clarke had been captured and expelled from Harmonia-IV after the score he’d stolen was retrieved and returned to its rightful owner, and once Klavdia Klangfarben’s plot had been totally foiled, my work here was done.

There was, however, one more thing, what drew us here in the first place: helping get Victor Crevecoeur back to the Other Side.

Smighley whispered something to Zoe and Sebastian, motioning for them to come with him while Mahler asked Rondo and I to follow him to the library, Nepomuk leading the procession, the other composers falling in behind.

With much pomp and ceremony, we arrived at the Posthumous Manuscript Collection, where Mahler turned over the score to his “Doomsday” Symphony.

Nepomuk, the PMC’s highest-ranking representative present, dutifully logged the huge score into the system.

Great cheers arose from the assembled composers now that Mahler’s score no longer posed a risk to the security of the Greater Universe.

Mahler mentioned he might still consider revising it – take out that final, cataclysmic chord? – but he already had ideas for something new.

“Something with many big horn solos for my friend, Rondo, here,” he added, beaming.

Rondo smiled from ear to ear as I wistfully glanced through this collection of symphonies, operas and quartets by the world’s best-loved composers.

These were all works they had written since they died, and which the world – at least, my world – would never get to hear.

“We play them all the time, here,” Mahler explained. “It’s good to keep busy.”

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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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