Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 70

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Rogers Kent-Clarke, once mild-mannered assistant conductor, has escaped from Harmonia-IV with the score of Mahler's new symphony but not if a posse of highly irritated but otherwise dead composers has anything to say about it: ever think you'd be head-butted by Arnold Schoenberg? But from the Other Side, Officer Tennant is witnessing a very different and extremely strange phenomenon because, don't forget, the dead who cross over from the parallel universe are invisible to the Living Eye... 

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Chapter 70
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With a mysterious air, Smighley led Zoe, happy to be reunited with her son, and the others toward the edge of the field, opening a door to a police transport, then motioning for them to enter.

Before he could explain anything to them, they found themselves hovering outside Stravinsky’s Tavern.

Zoe suddenly remembered her father who’d died here earlier.

With no idea how late it was or why they were here now, they silently got out of the miraculous police transport – possibly the coolest thing he’d experienced so far, Xaq thought – and entered the tavern.

The room was quiet with only a few patrons but ones she instantly recognized: Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven and, in the corner, Bach.

Stepping forward, Bach handed Zoe a beat-up violin case. Inside, he said, was his second-best violin. “It has a really magnificent sound, though.”

Beethoven handed Cameron an old envelope, whispering something in his ear. “Use it wisely.”

Xaq’s eyes widened just as Zoe’s narrowed when Wagner presented him with a Time-Device.

“Sir, I don’t think that’s a very good idea…”

“Relax, my dear, it no longer works,” he said with a twinkle, “They’ve been discontinued – like a plastic car model: you could never drive one. Trust me.”

Zoe’s arched eyebrow indicated that perhaps she did not.

“But the reason we’re here,” Smighley interrupted, “since we have no need for morgues on Harmonia-IV, we’ve kept your father, as it were, on ice. Igor,” he said, turning to the bartender, “will you do the honors?”

From the back kitchen, Stravinsky rolled out a buffet table piled high with chipped ice topped with large leaves of brilliantly green lettuce.

“We didn’t know how long he might have,” Smighley continued, “since we have so few trespassers who come here and then die. So there’s no scientific body of evidence, so to speak…”

Zoe looked puzzled, confused.

“The lettuce was Vera’s idea,” Stravinsky said, smiling broadly at Zoe, then the table. “Who knows how much time someone has between when they die here and when they can no longer return to the living.”

Smighley pulled away some lettuce leaves, revealing Victor’s body on top of the ice. He looked like he was lying there asleep.

“We assume he had a heart attack but we’re pretty sure he’s not dead.”

“If he were really dead,” Stravinsky added, “he’d appear, like us, to be alive.”

“What’s that,” Zoe asked, “about ‘returning to the living’?”

Smighley explained if they’d get Victor back to New Coalton’s side of the Time-Gate, he’d have maybe a 60-40 chance of reviving.

“Reviving?” Zoe was still confused.

“Yes,” Sebastian said, “before the body completely breaks down.”

“But only a 60-40 chance of rejuvenation?” She didn’t think those were good odds.

“Okay, maybe 65-35,” Smighley reconsidered, “but better than nothing.”

“No, it’s just I remembered somebody earlier saying we’d have maybe 12 hours and he’d be fine once we’d gotten him… across.”

She took a long look at her father, lying there, and felt very sad.

“Oh, Zoe, it’s all my fault,” Sebastian whined, wiping away a tear. “I should never have considered bringing him here, even briefly.”

“But if we can get him back and he might revive… that is possible?”

Zoe’s hopefulness started cutting away at the gloom and the others became more enthusiastic.

“Well then,” Mozart said, “let’s roll!”

They all agreed.

“It’s not that I want to leave, no disrespect – you’ve all been wonderful and… well, it’s certainly been quite an experience, but if I can get my father home and maybe bring him back to life…?”

Smighley smiled, “and, no disrespect, since your presence here is technically illegal, being trespassers, we’d better hurry – or I’ll have to arrest you.”

Stravinsky and Mozart helped push the table out to the police transport as the others propped him up in the back seat.

After a group hug and one final farewell, they took off for the Gate.

Zoe felt a little cramped in the back seat of the car – what she thought of as a car since it looked like a car and felt like a car but didn’t drive like a car – sitting between her father who felt frozen but might still be alive and her grandfather whom she knew was dead but felt warm.

While they got Victor ready for the “crossing,” she figured it was time to say good-bye, the chance she never had before.

Zoe looked warmly at Sebastian.

“Will we ever be able to see you again?”

He decided he shouldn’t really make the crossing any more, since it’s frowned upon. “Besides, you won’t really see me,” he smiled.

“Hey, wait…” Xaq recalled a distant memory – at least for him, it was distant. “That summer, you… – in the woods – after Mom and Dad…?” Xaq smiled at him.

“Well,” Sebastian smiled back, “you didn’t really see me.”

“But can we come visit you, now that we know where you live – kinda…?” Hugging him, Xaq felt he couldn’t let go. The boy wanted to get to know him better. “Can’t we come visit, Mom?”

Zoe joined in the hug but said, “you know we can’t, Xaq – after all, it’s illegal, isn’t it…?” What else could she say?

By the time I got there, everybody was in tears, hugging and saying their good-byes, getting ready to carry Victor through the Time-Gate.

Arriving at the gate, I told them Mahler’d invited us to the symphony’s premiere.

When I went to say farewell to Sebastian, it occurred to me we’d never taken the time to talk about his quintet. True, we’d been kind of pre-occupied and now we didn’t have any more time.

“Imagine,” he laughed, “if there’d be no more time!”

Yet in the few remaining moments we had, I couldn’t find anything to say.

He admitted to “borrowing” a few things from that old string quartet of mine. (I wasn’t imagining it – that really was mine!)

“Well,” he said, poking me in the ribs, “you weren’t doing anything with it.”

“Would we ever have the chance to hear the rest of your quintet? I really want to know how it worked out.”

Sebastian shook his head. “No, I had Nepomuk register the score at the P.M.C., back while the trial was going on,” he figured.

This meant all copies and parts at the farmhouse would disappear.

Except one.


Three of us supported Victor’s body while Xaq clutched Bach’s violin to his chest. After entering the Time-Gate through a few seconds of swirling winds, we walked into the middle of the field in New Coalton.

It seemed so much easier to return than arrive.

Then someone shouted.

“Hey – look…!”

Soon everyone was running toward us from the cars.

Officer Tennant was the first to approach us.

“Okay, now… so, what – uhmm, where…?”

Zoe just smiled. “Look! We found my dad.”

“Yeah, but…” He looked at me as we gently placed Victor on the ground.

Cameron and I looked over at each other as Zoe tried patting her father’s cheeks – “Dad… hey, Daddy” – hoping to revive him.

So far, there’d been no response. Would it work? Maybe it took more time.

Ms. Rowberson hurried unsteadily over to Zoe’s side.

“Victor! You’re not dead, are you?”

Then she mentioned something about petals in Zoe’s pocket.

“Petals! Of course,” Zoe said, standing up. She remembered the handful of petals the mock orange had given her in the woods.

Zoe stared at her in loving disbelief. How could she have known about that?

What was it the flowers told her about them, all these magical talking flowers? Something about these petals helping to make everything right?

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a fistful of delicate white petals, sifting them in amazement from one hand to the other. She sprinkled them over her father, scrunching up her face while making a wish.

In a few seconds that seemed like minutes, Victor sat up and opened his eyes, looking right into his daughter’s beaming face.

“ZuZu,” he said, raising his arms to hug her. “Where am I? What happened…?”

“ZuZu? You haven’t called me that since I was five!” It was just one of many nicknames Zoe had had during her life.

“What a strange dream!” Victor stood up and dusted himself off. “It was like I was actually sitting there talking to Mozart.”

“Oh,” Ms. Rowberson said, nodding, patting his arm, “I do that all the time.”

Maybe that was it, I said to myself, watching the happy reunion as we all shook Victor’s hand and welcomed him back.

Maybe it really was just all a dream, the play of stuff and shadows. How else could any of us possibly explain it?

But Xaq was holding Bach’s violin, an old Time-Device sticking out of his pocket…

“Well, he’ll survive,” Detective Ste.-Croix said, pointing back toward the disheveled and bewildered Kent-Clarke. He was still glancing furtively around him, distinctly paranoid, as if expecting to get struck by some invisible force from any direction.

“He may need years of therapy before he’ll ever be able to conduct again,” she said, “at least anything by a dead composer.”

In a way, watching him duck and weave like that, I felt a little sorry for Kent-Clarke. He thought it would make his career but now it looks like it destroyed him. Who would have thought…?

Ste.-Croix dusted off her hands, glancing at each of us with a smile or a wink.

“Since it looks like Victor Crevecoeur, former missing person, has been found, I’d say this case is pretty much closed.”

Everybody began moving back to the cars, divided up who would ride with whom.

Everything had to look pretty nonchalant, returning to normal.

Officer Tennant would take poor Kent-Clarke – raving now about becoming “SuperConductor” – into the Collierville Hospital. Somebody could come get his car, later.

Ste.-Croix would drop Victor and Zoe off at the farmhouse, along with Ms. Rowberson.

We agreed that I would follow them with Xaq and Cameron, coming back for a celebratory breakfast and an obligatory chance to unwind.

Zoe decided she’d call Galina Poulter, canceling her Chicago trip, and spend the rest of the summer at the farm with Victor.

Plus, there was something Sebastian hid back at the farmhouse I needed to find.

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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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