“Interrupted Podcast: Chapter 5”

Author’s note: This post is the fifth 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.

“Interrupted Podcast”
Chapter 5
(Part 4 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[10/11/2019]

Ermaline?” The murmured question hung for a moment in the echoing hallway, followed by the scratch of hurried footsteps on old linoleum.

It had been about an hour since she’d gotten to Anjela’s building near the Chicago lakefront, and the lack of seating had led her to get comfortable with her legs crossed and her back against the wall. She stowed her phone and rose to greet the woman with whom Bert had entrusted a set of wind chimes a few weeks earlier.

Where’s Bert?” the graying woman said as she extended a hand.

Ermaline’s troubled expression must have been enough of an answer, because she quickly unlocked her apartment door and ushered her guest inside.

While Anjela went to the kitchen and put some water up for tea, Ermaline drifted over towards a print in the living room that had caught Bert’s attention during their earlier visit. She gazed at the green flame that the Angel of Death held out before the gravedigger in Schwabe’s symbolist masterpiece, and then peered at that man’s stricken expression. “I think Bert’s been sucked into his own trap. But after what I’ve been feeling lately, I don’t know whether I’m more scared for him, or of him.”

Anjela handed her a cup, and got settled on the couch. “Whatever you’re worried about, it must be pretty important, or you wouldn’t have camped out in the hallway, waiting for me to get back from work. But don’t force it. There’s no rush.”

Ermaline sipped her tea, and, noticing her host’s hearing aid, said, “Now, I know that Bert’s first cornet gave you some ear pain from the distortion it caused. Have you had any more of that lately?”

She shook her head. “No. Nothing like that. Why?”

When we brought that set of wind chimes for you, Bert was satisfied with letting you decide where to place them.”

Sure. Down at the Lincoln Park Zoo. What about it?”

Well, for the rest of the trip, he got increasingly protective about exactly where they were hung. By the time he’d pitched a set to the captain of the Lake Michigan ferry, S.S. Badger, he’d gone from simple persuasion to full-on lying about them. That was the last straw for me.”

So you left?”

Ermaline nodded, and tried to shake off the agitation called back by her memory of that encounter. “I pretty much hid for the rest of the crossing, and booked a different hotel in Wisconsin for the night, just to make sure I didn’t cross paths with him until he headed back to Michigan. But I think he went way beyond that to place his final set.”

How do you know?”

She took a shaky breath. “I felt it. Do you remember how he got your noisy neighbors to go away? I think he used the effect of playing the pod to force whoever he’d targeted to accept them. And I think it was broadcast through the whole set of pods.”

Ermaline sipped her tea, and, noticing her host’s hearing aid, said, “Now, I know that Bert’s first cornet gave you some ear pain from the distortion it caused. Have you had any more of that lately?”

She shook her head. “No. Nothing like that. Why?”

“When we brought that set of wind chimes for you, Bert was satisfied with letting you decide where to place them.”

“Sure. Down at the Lincoln Park Zoo. What about it?”

“Well, for the rest of the trip, he got increasingly protective about exactly where they were hung. By the time he’d pitched a set to the captain of the Lake Michigan ferry, S.S. Badger, he’d gone from simple persuasion to full-on lying about them. That was the last straw for me.”

“So you left?”

Ermaline nodded, and tried to shake off the agitation called back by her memory of that encounter. “I pretty much hid for the rest of the crossing, and booked a different hotel in Wisconsin for the night, just to make sure I didn’t cross paths with him until he headed back to Michigan. But I think he went way beyond that to place his final set.”

“How do you know?”

She took a shaky breath. “I felt it. Do you remember how he got your noisy neighbors to go away? I think he used the effect of playing the pod to force whoever he’d targeted to accept them. And I think it was broadcast through the whole set of pods.”

Anjela raised her teacup for another sip, but stopped to gaze at it for a long moment. “I was busy,” she said at last, “when you two were dealing with that neighbor in the hallway. And to be perfectly honest about it, between his music and their carrying on, the noise really broke my train of thought.”

“Oh,” Ermaline said, looking at bit lost as she shook free of her own concerns. “Sorry, um, sorry about that. What had you been doing?”

Flinch. “That’s really not important right now. What do you mean, it was broadcast?”

“Well, remember the trip we said we were on?”

Anjela nodded. “Sure. Texas, wasn’t it? And Philly? I thought that was just where some of his friends lived, why?”

“It wasn’t friends. Or family, for that matter.” Ermaline set down her tea and pulled out her phone. After finding a serviceable map of North America, she held it up for Anjela to look at. “It was a pattern. Bert wanted to place a set of pods at the cardinal points of a Nautilus curve.” She pointed to western Washington, and traced the curve through each place where they left a set of wind chimes, noting each as she her finger reached it, until it ended near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Anjela stared at the map for a few seconds before turning to look at her guest. “Okay. But why? And how do bamboo wind chimes make a network? Are there cell phone chips in them or something?”

Ermaline took a deep breath and frowned. “Something. Look, do you know anything about energy fields?”

“I have a cutting-edge cochlear implant and a high-end hearing aid. What do you think?”

She nodded. “Great. Harder question: do you believe in ESP, that sort of thing?”

Anjela indicated the framed print of ‘Death and the Gravedigger’. “Does this have anything to do with the Schwabe you were looking at a few minutes ago?”

“In a way. Bert designed the striations on the inside surface of the wind chimes he gave you based on sacred geometry. So was the curve where we placed them. When the pods are closed and hung, those grooves catch and focus the chi energy generated by the Earth.”

Anjela held up a hand for pause. “Hold on,” she said, her eyes narrowed. “Chi? Like the meridians in acupuncture?”

“That’s the energy we generate. For the Earth, it travels along what’s called ‘ley lines’, but yeah, the same basic thing. Anyway, the geometry of the carvings inside the pods sets up a pattern that extends beyond them. It fades with distance, of course, but when the fields from two sets meet, they reinforce the pattern and make it stronger.”

Anjela glanced at the cable company box behind her TV. “What, like a wi-fi repeater?”

“Exactly, but with one extra kicker: when the ‘repeater’ pods are arranged along a Golden Spiral like the Nautilus curve, the whole thing acts like an antenna and broadcasts the signal even further.”

“Further. How much further?”

“The whole planet, essentially.”

Anjela stood and walked towards the window, which looked south, towards downtown Chicago. “So you’re saying that the set of bamboo wind chimes I had mounted in Lincoln Park are part of a transmitter that can affect the whole planet?”

Ermaline joined her. “That’s right.”

“Well, what is it broadcasting? You said you were afraid.”

“Nominally? The signal that Bert built into them is for encouraging peacefare.”

“Peacefare,” Anjela repeated blankly. “What’s that?”

“It’s hard to describe, but the general idea is to wean people off of whatever it is that feeds the dogs of war.”

Anjela stood, staring silently out the window, for what felt like several minutes. Then she turned, glanced at the door, and then fixed Ermaline with a thoroughly sobering glare. “Bert played one of those things to control my neighbor. What would happen if someone played a pod that was part of this network?”

Ermaline nodded slowly. “Now do you understand?”

*     *     *

When Ermaline walked through the entrance to the Alfred Calder Lily Pool in Chicago’s Lincoln Park the following morning, a wedding gathering had already arrived. She’d spent the night in a pricy downtown hotel, and over breakfast searched the Internet for photos of the area, wondering exactly where Anjela had hung her set of wind chimes. There was still an hour or so before Anjela’s lunch break, so she took the opportunity to explore the park’s zoo.

Judging from the number of people milling about, it was clearly a popular place, but there was something else. A lot of the park’s visitors weren’t just there for a pleasant stroll or to gawk at the animals. For some reason, a good percentage were stopped at one place or another, examining the animals in great detail, mostly through viewfinders, but a surprising number were busy sketching. The walkways swarmed with groups of artists and photographers exchanging observations and excitedly pointing this way and that. Ermaline had been to other zoos, but had never encountered a crowd quite like this one.

She was wondering whether this was something peculiar to Chicago’s lake-front park when she bumped into a man sitting cross-legged in front of one of the habitats, gazing through the fence rails. “Oops. I’m sorry,” she said, catching her breath. “I didn’t see you down there.”

He smiled up at her for several seconds, and then began to laugh. “It’s okay, really,” he said, rising to his feet. “I probably shouldn’t be camped out like this, but lately, this place just gets me buzzed.”

She gave him a puzzled look. “Lately? Has something changed?”

The man shrugged, and glanced around. “Heck if I know. I’ve lived in this town most of my life, but until the past few weeks I almost never came down here. But now…?” He blinked a few times and looked her dead in the eyes. “Look, are you new around here?”

Just visiting someone, why?”

He seemed to grasp at words for a few seconds, and then said, “It’s something about your vibe. Like you’re fighting the chill this place gives off. I don’t want to pry, but is something bothering you?”

Ermaline bit her lip, anguishing over the bitter memory of her argument with Bert on the Badger, and wondering whether she’d over-reacted. Taken as a purely intellectual exercise, it had been easy to poke holes in his scheme. Spotting weaknesses in the procedural structures of software and firmware had been her stock-in-trade. That was what made it possible for her to design around the physical limitations of the 3D printer that had rendered Bert’s cornets, but she clearly hadn’t anticipated everything, or his first design would not have threatened to tear the printer apart. Sure, the intermittency in the field due to the Badger’s traversal of the curve might provide the opening for some hacker to dream up an exploit to take advantage of it, but Bert’s peacefare field apparently also had beneficial effects.

It’s, um…” she started, and then hesitated. “It’s hard to explain. But consider. If this feeling you’ve described is a recent thing, what if it’s transitory? What if it was caused by something?”

Caused by something? What do you mean? Like we’ve been exposed to some drug? I’m not sure I’d care. Come with me,” he said, indicating the McCormick Bird House, “I’d like to show you something.”

Her curiosity piqued, Ermaline made small talk along the way, introducing herself and learning that although Randall’s background was in mathematical physics, he ended up getting paid for his interest in biological structures. The contract work he did enabled him to set his own schedule, which was why he’d been able to spend the morning gawking at the Fairy Bluebird he led her to.

Striking contrast, right? But the bright blue feathers on the male aren’t that color because of any kind of pigment. It’s just a trick of the light: refraction based on the geometry of the feathers. But it’s still real, it’s still beautiful against the stark black of the bird’s other feathers, and it still attracts the females. So it doesn’t matter what causes those feathers to be blue, any more than it matters why so many people just fall into flow around this place and engage with the wildlife and with one another. All that matters is that it happens.”

But—,” Ermaline sputtered, “but what if that trick of the light suddenly stopped working? What if… what if the feathers were bluer at certain times of day, or they were only blue at certain times of the year?”

Randall laughed in delight. “Then the illusion would be all the more precious. Their mating rituals would adapt to the schedule, of course. Photographers would favor the bluest moments. Musicians and artists would find inspiration in discovering a new pattern in nature. And best of all, a bunch of long-held beliefs about how the world works would be overthrown, and a bit of mystery would be cast into the world. It would be glorious!”

Speechless, Ermaline nervously cast about for a way to recapture the fear, but was interrupted by the sound of her phone’s reminder alert. Silencing it, she composed herself enough to excuse herself, and headed back towards the Lily Pool.

Still shaken by her encounter with Randall, she paid a lot more attention to the people she passed on her way back north than she’d done earlier. What she saw were people who had, to one extent or another, surrendered to the siren song of peacefare that Bert had embodied, first in his revised cornet, and then in the wind chimes they’d planted along his Fibonacci curve. When he’d demonstrated the effect using the new cornet, the ‘payload’ was enfolded by the intent that he’d focussed on while playing, so his target engaged with the music and fulfilled Bert’s desire for him to leave them alone. Here, though, the sense of peacefare was pure, and those she passed were manifesting it each in their own way.

By the time she returned to the entrance to the Lily Pool, the tenor of the place had changed. Earlier, with the wedding party spread across the area, the gut feeling she knew was being generated by Bert’s pods, wherever it was they were hidden, gave the place a soothing, inclusionary feel. It was no wonder that the popularity of the place had soared since they were installed. But now the wedding ceremony was finished, and a second sensation was gnawing at her gut. Looking around, she noticed that the gathering had fragmented, and the agitated sound of one group’s discussion made it clear that not everyone was happy with the enforced peaceableness of the field. As she slowly approached, she recognized one of the voices.

Anjela’s back was to her, but her voice was unmistakeable, even though she’d never heard it used with such vehemence before. “That doesn’t change anything,” she said in clipped cadence. “This is a public park, not your private event space.”

The man she was facing, perhaps a bit too closely, was a few decades her junior. “Okay, boomer,” he said dismissively. “You can have your park back when we’re done. I reserved this area months ago, and we have it until two.”

Anjela stood her ground. “Reserved, perhaps, but not for your exclusive use. All that means is that this is the only event being staged here right now. You do not have the right to eject me or anyone else from the Lily Pool.”

The man exchanged exasperated glances with the woman to his right before turning his attention back to Anjela. “That’s not for you to say, gramma. If you want to disrupt our party, then go find the park manager and complain to him. In the meantime, get the hell out of here and let us party in peace!”

Anjela had just opened her mouth to parry when Ermaline’s frantic gesturing finally got her attention. Once they were safely out of earshot, she asked what the argument was about.

In a word, turf.” Anjela gestured towards the covered picnic area beside the pool. “This is a public park. You can reserve certain spots for things like weddings or company events, but that doesn’t make them private. All you can really expect is that other park visitors won’t disrupt your event. That’s just common courtesy. But those people were actively protective of this space. I was just trying to walk through to where the wind chimes were hung when they blocked me.” She paused. “How much of that did you see?”

Enough. What I don’t understand is how they can be so abrasive this close to those pods. I was just talking to a guy at the Bird House. He told me that in the past few weeks — since you had them hung, I guess, — he’s found himself coming down here to soak in the vibe. And from what he told me, he’s not alone in that. The park has apparently gotten a lot more crowded, like Bert’s field is drawing people in.”

Anjela shrugged. “Well, if they’re projecting peace, wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

For him it is. And probably for all the people I saw sketching, taking pictures, chatting with one another or just zoned out as well. But it doesn’t explain that fight you just had.”

Maybe not, but it also doesn’t explain the flare-up in the international arrivals areas at both of our airports last week. Who knows? Maybe not everyone is affected by that field the same way.”

Perhaps,” Ermaline said, “but I still think there’s something wrong about it, something dangerous.”

Anjela scanned the area, which had started to clear, and shifted her stance. “Come on,” she said, “it looks like they’re too busy partying to notice us now. I’ll show you where the pods are hung.”

Something about the edge in Anjela’s voice reminded her of the woman at the Moonbeam welcome center in Ontario. Bert had reeled off a thick layer of bull connecting invisible rays from the UFO that the town’s founders saw and the waveguides carved into the interior of the pods he was doing his best to force on her. Distracted for a surreal moment by a flashback to the center’s outsize flying saucer, and the pods that now hung high above it, Ermaline suddenly realized that Anjela was no longer standing in front of her. Having spotted her host striding down the curving walkway, she rushed to catch up. “I don’t understand,” she said when she drew up along side the older woman.

Anjela looked her a question.

This is a public park. How did you get permission?”

I didn’t. A friend of mine was doing some arbor work here at the time, and I asked him to hide it in the trees somewhere. There’s enough other noise from the wildlife, the trees and the city to cover the sound. If you don’t know it’s there, if you don’t know where to look, you’d never know it was there.” She stopped at what looked like a gathering place of some sort. There was a low circular wall of stacked slate slabs, about fifteen feet across. In the center was a low table of the same material.

Ermaline glanced around, trying unsuccessfully to locate the pods. She was about to ask for a hint when Anjela turned to face her.

This is a protected space now. You saw how those people acted, and they have no idea why they did that. It’s only been been like that for the past few days. The peacefare stuff — people getting drawn here to chill and getting sucked into flow — that started right after my friend hung the pods. But then something changed, and I think it has to do with whatever Bert did to get his final set placed. You told me you felt something, and that it frightened you. Do you have any idea what he did?”

Not really. When he used his cornet or the pods to project his intent, I could feel it in my gut, but unless it was directed at me, all I could tell was that it was happening. I’ve never been near one, but I think it may feel something like being close to a Tesla coil.”

And if it was directed at you?”

Ermaline shrugged. “Well, then you’d be too caught up in responding to his intent to realize it wasn’t your own idea. Like your noisy neighbors, for instance.”

Anjela pivoted slowly and glanced around at the trees surrounding the circular wall. ‘Hmmm,” she mused aloud, “like my noisy neighbors…” She stood very still for a long moment, and then turned back towards Ermaline. “Then explain this: if my neighbors reacted to the intent he was projecting at them, was he projecting some intent at those partiers just now? Otherwise, why would they do that? What’s the connection?”

A shiver ran up Ermaline’s back. “Are you suggesting that he’s here? That he’s watching us right now?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. How else could you explain it?”

The question triggered a cascade of memories. Bert was a veritable fountain of alternative explanations. After all, that was how he’d pitched the pods at every stop along their circuitous path: UFO emanations; Lake Michigan wave patterns… It was like the man lived in a tangle of probabilities, and manifested through one lie or another when anyone tried to pin him down. “Geez,” Ermaline breathed. “Trying to figure him out is like staring at a handful of green flame in that picture of yours.”

Anjela sat on the edge of the central table and looked up at her guest. “You were studying it last night. And Bert was fascinated by it when you two brought me the wind chimes.”

Ermaline pulled her head back and tilted it, craning to hear whatever sound they might be making, and sighed when she realized that there wasn’t a breath of wind to jostle them or a rogue bit of turbulence to whistle the reeds.

What was that about, then?”

I think it’s the ambiguity. What’s really happening there? I mean, between the gravedigger standing in that hole and the Angel of Death holding that flame in front of him. I’m pretty sure Bert sees it as the Angel offering immortality, or at least a vision of it, to the poor man, but I’m not so sure. I think that green flame is the old guy’s essence, like she just released him from his time on Earth, and to her it’s precious, something to protect.”

Okay,” Anjela said, letting the word linger for a bit before moving on. “Is there some connection here? Some tie-in between that and whatever is going on with the wind chimes?”

Resonance, perhaps. Metaphorically. Musically. The meaning you draw from a picture like that says more about you than about the artist. And the way the intent he’s projecting affects people says more about them than about him. Like it only affects people who resonate with it in some way.”

Anjela laughed briefly. “It’s funny you should put it that way.”

Oh?”

After you two played my neighbors out of the hallway, he asked me what it felt like to me. Do you remember what I said?”

Sure, but I still don’t know what you meant. ‘Thou art that’, wasn’t it?”

Don’t you see?” Anjela said, grinning. “It’s just another kind of resonance. It’s how empathy works, for example: once you accept that there is something shared between you and some other person, you can feel what it’s like to be them. You know, ‘love they neighbor as thyself’, or, and forgive me for paraphrasing a favorite book of mine, ‘when I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, then in that moment I also love him’.”

Okay, but what does all that have to do with the pods and why that guy was so intent on protecting them?”

That’s the resonance. Whatever the intent was that Bert projected, if in fact that’s what actually happened, it only affects people who resonate with it. The peacefare vibe affects lots of people, just not everyone. However he crafted what amounts to a protection spell, that resonates with a much smaller number of people, like that guy I ran into.” She paused and looked directly into Ermaline’s eyes. “And, for that matter, me.”


(Continued in Chapter 6…)

Copyright 2019 by P. Orin Zack


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