Authors: Chet Williamson
By Chet Williamson
Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital Edition
Copyright 2010 by Chet Williamson & Macabre Ink Digital Publications
Copy-edited, formatted, and checked for accuracy against the original paperback edition by David Dodd
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OTHER CROSSROAD PRESS BOOKS BY CHET WILLIAMSON
Ash Wednesday – Unabridged
– narrated by the author
Lowland Rider – Unabridged
– narrated by the author
– narrated by the author.
To the memory of my father, Chester Grover Williamson, and to all who, like him, love the land.
The quotations from Basil Creighton's English language translation of Herman
are reprinted here with the kind permission of Henry Holt and Company.
The author would also like to thank Paul Bea, Jr. for information on the machinations of lobbying and the Congress, and a Mayo Clinic physician, who wishes to remain anonymous, for information on airborne viruses.
The discovery would be made . . . that there were floating round us not only the pictures and events of the transient present . . . but that all that had ever happened in the past could be registered and brought back likewise.
The beam of light was as thin as the edge of a razor. Only by constantly moving the taped-over flashlight back and forth could she form any idea of what the hallway was like.
She had an impression of worn floorboards, of institutional green trim framing the doorways on either side. But the boy ahead of her did not stop at any of them. He just kept walking slowly, and so softly that she did not hear a footfall, only the occasional creak of a tired board.
Tired. The whole building was old and tired. It would die easily, come down like the mess of ancient boards and shingles that it was. She imagined the explosion, and the building groaning, giving a massive sigh of wood, a yawn of rusty nails, and then dying, so happy to rest, to cease from holding so much ignorance and cruelty in its walls.
We had to destroy the building to save it.
She snickered at the thought, and Keith stopped.
"What?" he said. His voice was tense and brusque.
"Then be quiet. We're here."
She heard the knob of a door turn, and waggled her light ahead of her so she could see him push it open.
Jesus. They were there.
For a moment she thought about Woody, thought that she should have listened to him, stayed in her dorm, tried to talk Keith out of this, even turned him in before he could do it. But she hadn't done any of those things.
Instead she was here in the dark with a boy whose sanity she sometimes questioned, and, as a result, she now questioned her own.
for a good cause, a violent means justified by a desired end. And no one would be hurt.
That was what she had to remember. No one would be hurt.
"Come on," he said. "Right in the middle . . ."
She followed him to the center of the largest classroom, shining the sliver of light around the room. She saw an American flag, a blackboard with
and arrows on it, another flag that she thought might be the flag of the Army.
"Drop your light, Tracy!"
Keith's hiss echoed through the room like the burning gunpowder she had seen and heard in movies. But they weren't using gunpowder. There would be no sizzling fuse. Just a clock. A clock and some wires and sticks of dynamite. She hadn't asked where he had gotten it, nor where he had learned to make a bomb. She just hoped that he had learned well.
She dropped her light at his command, but the harsh order annoyed her. "You going to put it in the center?" she whispered.
"Put it against a wall, and it'll at least take that wall out. This way you might end up with just a hole in the roof."
"Shit, there's enough dynamite in here to take the whole roof off. When that's gone, the
fall down, don't worry. Now come here."
She went grudgingly, bothered more by his attitude than by what they were about to do. "What?"
"Hold these two wires." He held his own flashlight under his arm, shining its line of light onto a section of the crude device. "And don't let them touch."
She wedged her own flashlight under her arm, and took the wires in her gloved hands. "You mean like this?" she said.
She brought the wires close together, but one over the top of the other, so that they were still an inch apart. From Keith's position, however, it looked as though they were actually touching. This, she thought, will wipe that smartass smirk from his face.
She expected him to leap back, or to gasp, or to freeze. What she didn't expect was that he would bring up his hand between hers in an attempt to separate the wires, bring up his hand so that she accidentally and actually let the thin lines of metal make contact with one another.
"N . . .” he started to say as he moved, but he never finished saying
, and she thought that was so strange, since she had time to think about so many things as the bomb exploded in their hands, to think about fire and pain and dying, and most of all, before the blast tore into her arms, her chest, her brain, to think about Woody, God, Woody, and how much she loved him and how she would love him
It couldn't last forever. He had known this time would come. Time for something different.
Woody felt it as he listened to the playback, his long, supple fingers tightening around his
oboe. There was nothing wrong with the music, but it was just more of the same that he had composed and played for the last few years, sprightly, flowing patterns of melody interweaving with the other instruments in a latticework fugue, but with a tone that cut the soul like a scalpel. Finally, they had all listened. They came to concerts, bought his records, made him more money than he thought he would ever have.
And now that he was as successful as he ever hoped to be, a glitch in his soul told him he had to change. People had caught up with him, and that meant he had been running too slowly.
Time for something different.
Woody Robinson had grown up in the sixties, and his first songs were of those years. He still remembered the lessons the decade had taught him, of the need to speak in your own voice, sing your own song. And despite the transformation of that ideal into pop songs and slogans, he had held to those tenets, and as the years passed, things came around.
For over twenty years he had played "something different," whether it was called world music, avant-garde, or New Age, a term he loathed. And the audience had caught on. Their ears had become attuned.
So it was time to rattle their ears again.
Yet he didn't want to go any farther over the edge. He loved improvising, experimenting, exploring, but he loved melody too. He loved to make his instruments sing, and he would not trade in his songs for noises.
But then what? For God's sake, what?
Ron Dewey sat on a bare space on the recording console. His head bobbed in rhythm, stopped when his solos on the Kawai K-3 kicked in. Then he listened without pleasure, concentrating only on imperfections, responding with grudging satisfaction when, as usual, there were none, or with fury when there were. Jim Columbo sat on the floor next to Ron, his hands flashing as they did on his percussion set, playing ghost drums, his eyes closed. Michael Lester, the final member of Woody's group, sat quietly in a chair, his arms folded, his face calm, his acoustic bass which he treated like a lover in the corner next to him.
The music was fine, the playing was brilliant. Then why did it all sound so empty, so hollow?
It wasn't the engineer's fault. Woody had used Drake
for his two previous albums, and the recording and mix had been flawless. He held back a sigh as he watched Drake fumble in the deep pocket of his khaki work shirt for matches. Drake was the only sound man he knew who smoked in his studio. Though purists claimed that the smoke would degrade the equipment over a period of time, he continued, though now he was smoking a pipe rather than cigarettes. Better for the lungs, worse for the equipment.
Woody listened to the take and watched as Drake picked up his pipe, a straight-stemmed briar darkened from smoking, reached beneath the console and took a tin that looked vaguely familiar to Woody, opened it quietly, reached in, took
of flake, and tamped them carefully into the bowl. Then he closed the tin, set it on the console so that a startled Woody could see its familiar label of
Virginia Blend No. 1, and lit a match.
Woody smelled the aroma of the burning tobacco immediately, and at the same time heard himself on the tape improvising a four note riff that repeated several times—three minor descending eighth-notes, the fourth note a minor third below. At once he knew the derivation of the riff, something he had not realized during the recording. They were the first notes of the Doors' "People Are Strange."
And the notes from the song he had not heard for over twenty years, the aroma from the tobacco he had not smoked for even longer, turned back those years, raised the curtain of memory on an evening in 1969, his friends around him, Tracy sitting next to him on the worn gray sofa, the sounds of dark and glorious menace coming from the speakers, the warmth of her against his arm.
And now the thought of looking back, a thought he had so long refused to consider, became a desire, a demand, an irresistible impulse, and he closed his eyes, his own music faded away, and he went back, remembered . . .
. . . the fall of 1969, and he was twenty-one and a senior, and in love.
His inner eyes opened on the apartment, on a pair of legs next to him, revealed by a denim mini-skirt, and he turned and looked at Tracy's face, thinking how remarkable it was that a woman should have a face that smooth, the face of a child. Her hair, a lustrous brown, fell to her waist, covering her small breasts. The hair looked black under the light from the red bulb in the corner lamp that tinted the room the shade of blood.
Woody remembered it all, saw it all. The sofa on which he sat looked across the room at another sofa, even more worn, if such a thing was possible. A window behind it was open, but did little to disperse the thick haze born of cigarettes, incense, and the occasional joint. Frank, his roommate, sat on that sofa with Judy, and they both looked decades younger than when he had last seen them in Atlanta. Frank held a can of Iron City Beer, Judy a cigarette. They were both nodding, eyes half-closed, listening to the music.