Author’s note: This post is the fourth chapter of “Interrupted Podcast”, the fourth part of a series that began with the novelette, “Painful Realization“. Each chapter in this tale will be offered as a separate post. If you came directly here via a search, the story begins in Chapter 1.
(Part 4 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
Bert was bummed. He didn’t see Ermaline at all for the remainder of yesterday’s crossing, which he’d spent brooding in the darkened TV lounge on the lower deck. What was supposed to have been a touristy pedestrian stay-over in Manitowoc with a friend and collaborator had turned into a lonely string of movies he wasn’t interested in at a multiplex with stale popcorn. And the long hours of the morning, waiting for the two-o’clock return trip, were filled with far too much coffee. So when Captain Forrest stopped at the table where he was ignoring his dinner, and asked after Ermaline, he winced and avoided even the pretense of a response.
Mears State Park, which was about twenty minutes south of the ferry port, was the last stop on the route he’d charted for them before they set out. It was nearly eight now, a few hours before closing time, and Bert hadn’t found anywhere to secrete the final set of wind chimes in the park. He sat at a picnic table, staring out at the waves on Lake Michigan that reflected glints of the setting sun. The last two pods lay on the table in front of him, one of them opened, and he idly stroked the interior texture that he’d spent so much time and effort designing.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, the sensation of touching those Dremeled ridges evoked the memory of caressing the strings of his mother’s pedal harp in the family’s combination store and music studio. Music ran deep in his family, a subterranean stream that surfaced in various ways across the generations, but the theme that united all of those expressions, until recently, had been strings of one sort or another. The harp lessons that his mother and sister taught at the shop were the bait that landed sales of the instruments they had on display, but his nephew’s obvious talent on harp and keyboards were not where his own interests lay, and Bert was at least partly to blame for that.
The mystery of exactly how the movements of his hands, the way he held the instrument, and every aspect of their design affected not only the sounds he could make, but also their effects on others, mesmerized him. When he dove into the explanations, he emerged drenched in the gloriously complex simplicity of the math that undergirded it all. In order to understand it better, he taught himself to play other sorts of instruments, wind and tympani, synths and theramin. And then he started tinkering with ideas for improving what he saw as flaws in a number of them. It was in the midst of this effort that he discovered the relationship between Sacred Geometry and the production of music.
After sketching out plans for how this would apply to harps, the core of the family’s business, he returned again to the performance part of the problem, and sought an instrument which would pare the myriad complications of design and execution to its crystalline essence. That was the beginning of the rift he’d torn among the family, and the reason he ultimately left the business he’d only recently saved from falling into receivership. To Bert, solving the business’ problems was simply the mathematical proof of how to achieve a different balance. Once he’d done it, he lost interest and turned the performance of that new pattern over to his sister. But the pattern he sought in the other realm held far more alluring secrets, and once he realized that a simple horn was the quarry he was after, it became obvious to everyone that they were better off parting company.
It was also when he faced a much harder problem. Literally. The interior of woodwinds, like the bamboo pod he was stroking, could be tricked up with a Dremel if they were large enough and designed to be opened. But a cornet, the brass instrument he had set his sights on, seemed to present an intractable problem. Using the ideas behind Sacred Geometry to improve the sound or durability of a harp, for example, was straightforward compared to what he would have to do to improve the effect that a performance had on an audience. To accomplish that, Bert knew that he would have to manipulate, not the sounds produced by the instrument, but the Chi produced by the musician while playing the instrument. And because Chi was generated in a person’s metaphysical and manifestational core, there was no way to capture, much less focus or transform it, using any instrument that was played exclusively with your fingers. To do that required a wind instrument.
Sighing deeply, Bert closed the pod and balanced it across his two open palms. He adjusted his hands to roll it over and expose the mouthpiece built into the side like that of a flute. He looked solemnly around the park as the sun continued sinking towards the fresh-water horizon. A few people were milling around. Someone had come to walk their dog along the lake. ‘This was the final set of pods’, he silently lamented. ‘There had to be a solution.’
Focusing on the dog-walker, he wondered what was nearby. Elsewhere on this journey, they’d placed pods at a distance from the Nautilus curve, so there was certainly precedent. Ermaline had groused about the variance in Louisiana that pushed the placement clear into Texas, after all. And he wasn’t too concerned about the repetitive excursions caused by placing the previous set on the S.S. Badger. Even the one in Canada was an exception. But in every case, he’d seen a balancing advantage to that loss of precision. Looking again at the pod, he hoped there was a similar circumstance to be found here.
He realized that a few minutes must have passed while he was lost in reverie when he felt a wet nose jostle his hand. The dog was crowding him on the bench, the nails of its forepaws ticking and scratching against the redwood as it strained to reach the pod. Jerking to alertness, he stood and held the pod aloft with one hand while motioning for calm with the other. “Hey, hey,” he said, amused. “It’s not a throwing stick.”
The dog’s owner jogged up a moment later, caught his breath and said, “Sorry about that,” while herding the dog away from Bert.
Puzzled that the man would take his dog for a walk wearing a tuxedo, Bert smiled and said, “Aren’t you a bit over-dressed for this?”
Laughing, the man shrugged. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “I didn’t really intend to take the dog to a wedding, but whatever.”
“A wedding. So there’s a church nearby?”
“For the ceremony? Nah. That was done at a real unique Bed and Breakfast a few miles from here. Gorgeous place. The main building, where the party was held, is a six-sided thing. The ceremony itself was held at the gazebo on the grounds. That’s got seven sides.”
It took Bert a few seconds to reply. “Seriously? There’s a six-sided B&B with a seven-sided gazebo here in Pentwater?”
* * *
Bert stared at the favorites list on his phone for a long time the following morning before putting it back on the motel nightstand and somberly getting dressed. The second night without Ermaline’s company was no better than the first. He’d gotten used to her rigorously technical approach to everything, even though it grated against the jazz-inspired methodology which was reflected in both his designs and his decisions. After loading everything into the car and dropping the room key off at the front desk, he went to the attached restaurant for a late breakfast before heading over to the B&B to place the final set of pods.
With no-one to distract him, he sat nursing a third coffee refill after paying the bill. While he considered how to pitch the final set of wind chimes, he became aware of a wave of calm that swept over him. Looking around the restaurant, he noticed that the room had gotten a bit mellower as well: people’s voices had quieted, and the kids had stopped fidgeting. The effect lasted for nearly fifteen minutes, and then slowly faded, like a social eclipse of some sort. Fascinated by the turn of events, he quickly glanced around, looking for whatever might have been responsible. Finding nothing unusual, he pulled out his phone to get directions to the B&B, and noticed that it was a bit after eleven.
“Does the time…?” he muttered to himself, and then froze. “The time,” he repeated, “of course!”
The ferry would be half-way to Wisconsin. “She hung them,” he whispered as he pushed his chair back. “The Badger must have just crossed the curve.”
Ermaline had panicked about this, he recalled, but everything was fine, no damage done. He hastily returned to the car and pulled out the brochure. According to the schedule, the ferry made two round trips a day during the regular season, so it would cross the line at 11:00 and 5:00 during the day, and then again at 10:45 and 4:30 overnight. The field he’d created just had its first heartbeat, like a newborn taking its first breath. And now he needed to complete the process by placing the final set of pods.
It occurred to him during the short drive to the B&B that if the new pattern of beats was a performance by the ferry, the tablature would represent each day as a measure. The four-note rhythm would be punctuated with measures containing fewer beats on holidays, and the few weeks at the start of the season with only a single round trip would be like an introductory riff. The whole thing felt like a jazz cycle, a performance whose intent was filtered through his pods, mirroring the guidance he’d given Mark Laraby about inspiring soldiers to action through the Chi energy in his performance of bugle calls.
Excited by the confluence of ideas, he smiled broadly as the hexagon-shaped B&B came into view. While he looked for a parking space, a jazz riff by his idol, Cream drummer Ginger Baker, galloped through his imagination. Bert was psyched now. As he surrendered to the genius of the man’s rhythms, he began to envision his own impending performance, in which he convinces the manager to let him place the last two pods here.
The reality, however, turned out to be a bit more problematic. For one thing, he had to pitch to two people at once, but the kicker was that they didn’t seem to be getting along very well. After one of them apologized for their having to stand in for the owners, who were out of town, the other made a point of saying that they were nevertheless in full charge of the inn, and could make whatever decisions were needed. The first, an older gentleman named George, spoke with a faint New England accent. His partner-cum-adversary in the encounter looked to be a recent graduate, her body language dripping with suspicion.
Bert leaned in before he spoke. “I’m really glad you agreed to see me,” he said. “This time of year, I imagine you might be very busy, what with all the weddings and other special events you host, besides the regular stream of tourists who stay here.”
George nodded. “You’re right about that, sir. Now, you said that you had crafted something specifically for the inn?”
“Is that what’s in your case?” Iris asked, giving a bit of the side-eye to the utility box that usually housed his cornet. “If this is a ploy to try to sell us yet another branded piece of crap for the gift shop, you can just get out right now.”
Bert feigned a mortal wound. “Something for the gift shop? I wouldn’t cheapen this fine inn with such an abomination. I am an artist and a musician, ma’am, and what I have here,” he placed the case on the table and opened it, “is a one-of-a-kind item!”
They glanced at one another, and George hazarded, “Bamboo wind chimes?”
“Not mere wind chimes, sir,” Bert said, carefully cradling one in his hand as if it were crystal, and slowly opening it with the other. “These are musical instruments for the soul. Do you see the pattern of ridges on the interior?” He held it closer for each to see. “When people have strong emotions, as at the wedding you hosted last night, they project a special kind of energy. You must know that. I’m sure you have felt it?”
George nodded in agreement, but Iris sat back and crossed her arms. “And what,” she said icily, “do you contend that those scratches do with this alleged energy?”
Bert shifted slightly to favor George. “They focus and amplify that energy,” he said smoothly, “and project it to the gathering, making the ceremony so much more affecting.”
“Even if it could do what you claim—.”
Iris cut him off. “What utter bullshit! This isn’t the Dark Ages, you know.”
“No,” Bert said, slowly turning to meet her glare, “it isn’t. Tell me something, then. How much of the EM spectrum are you an expert in? What do you know about gravity waves? Quantum dipoles? Huh?” He took a breath and plowed on before she had a chance to react. “Do you know how many times artists depicted the essence of major breakthroughs in physics before any physicists had figured it out? Every. Single. Time. Maybe Arthur C. Clarke said it best: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’”
George looked lost, while Iris narrowed her eyes and shook her head slowly.
“Now. Do you want this inn to be world-famous for being the showplace for the most important advance in social engineering in centuries? Do you want people to book rooms here from all over the world just to experience the effects of these ‘bamboo wind chimes’?”
“What I want,” she said finally, “is proof. Either you demonstrate this alleged miracle of yours, right now, shut up and leave, or I’ll call the police and have you arrested.”
Bert smiled and picked up one of the pods.
(Continued in Chapter 5…)
Copyright 2019 by P. Orin Zack