An unprecedented look behind the creative process. A first draft chapter teaser.
Sven pulled back the heavy blankets. The springtime mornings chill flowed in through the opening. No, not yet; the morning sun that now illuminated the floor below would soon climb the wooden stairs marching step by step to warm his bed. 8:16. He calculated the exact instant the warming light would breach the railing and allow the photonic warming to free him from his woolen cave. 8:16, the rapid-fire cling and clang of an antique wind-up alarm clock shattered the dreams of peaceful mountains and quiet streams.
“By the gods, it’s cold.” It wasn’t that cold.
The floorboards creaked as he hefted himself upright.
“Life, huh? The promise of a brand new day. All the possibilities. Anything can happen today.” He woke the same way every day. The same things happened every day. Nothing much changed much. Humdrum. Even the silence of his guitar mocked him.
Like every day, he promised to walk to work, get some exercise, and start the day right. He rushed out the door last minute, grabbing his unseasonally heavy jacket. The screech of the door as the rusty rollers protested, bearing the weight of the cold steel. The sound was always the final reminder, one last thing to do before heading out. The contents of the bowl by the door tumbled, jingling. Coins, keys, and a couple of keepsake shells found on dads boat made their unique sound waves. He heard it before he felt it—the scrape of gold chain on the brass bowl.
“By the gods.” The light glinted off the all too familiar symbol—the symbol he had worn like camouflage.
Sven hung the trinket around his neck, tucking it into his shirt and out of sight. The heavy door slammed tight, sending echoes reverberating down empty hallways. The faint whoosh of warmed air passed overhead en route to other lofts remained. Shuffling feet echoed off cold cement walls.
At the end of the hallway, the narrow elevator door slid open with a groan.
Of course, it had to be her stepping out of the dark steel cage.
“Hey, blondie, you got your rent today? You keep that noise down. People are complaining again.” His calloused fingers hadn’t stroked the strings in over two weeks.
It was a long slow, rattling ride to the ground floor. Three steps at an accelerated pace brought Sven to the bus stop just in time to board.
Maybe he will call again. Plopping down heavily between two chattering old ladies, he considered the ramifications. The perplexities of his proposition were just too enticing.
If half of what he theorized were proven factual, it would change everything.
The bus wreaked of cheap perfume, and he had sat right between the source of the choking fumes. His thick leg twitched as the cheap flip phone started vibrating deep in his pocket. Thank the Gods for an excuse.
The extraction towards cleaner air involved weaving his way through a thickening crowd. Like himself, the early morning commuters take the bus only a few short blocks.
He waited for the passing trolley, now empty of the typical tourists, to pass on its way towards the garden district. A riverboat captain sounded the deep booming horn as he navigated the swift currents around the bend near the square. The phone flipped open with a click, and an overexcited voice pierced the mumbling crowd sounds.
“Sven, oh my dear Sven, I need you today more than ever.” It was him—the professor of experimental physics at UNO.
“I was hoping you would call. I’m on my way to work. You can come by the shop, or I get off at two and can come to you.” As the bus navigated the early rush hour traffic, the jostling to and fro became the rapid deceleration with screeching brakes. Except for the constant chittering of the old women, a collective groan arose, along with a ‘This is my stop, asshole’ exclamation from near back doors. It was Sven’s stop too. Through the fingerprint-painted windows, he saw the glow of the uitar shop. The G was found five blocks away, in the park across from Sven’s loft.
Glenn, the tone-deaf owner, was hefting box after box through the door. Each box sang out with its unique discordance. “Sven, just in time. Grab this junk. Help me get it inside.”
“Sure, boss, what is all this? I thought you couldn’t get new stock ’til next month.” Then Sven heard it. The long box he lifted reverberated with a sound out of ancestral memory. “Boss? What is this? Where did it come from?”
“It was that oaf—the one who probably took the G. The drug-addict rock-star wannabe. Remember that cheap knockoff electric he’s been after for months? Well, it’s his now, and this junk, think anything in here might sell?” Glenn knew business; he knew absolutely nothing about music.
Sven’s box sang out again with a gentle shake to confirm his suspicions. It was. Yes, it was what he thought. A langeleik!
Sven knelt relatively lightly for such a heavy man. The damp, musty cardboard lid peeled back and exposed the head of the langeleik’s elegant curves and graceful accents, simultaneously enhanced and engraved with the ravishes of age and neglect.
Sven might’ve fallen if he hadn’t knelt. Transfixed, he studied every notch and scratch in the wood. Behind him, Glenn shuffled through boxes, muttering “junk, junk, junk” with each box he opened.
“Boss, have you found the plectrum? I need to hear something.” Ignored, the string of junk chants went on. “Plectrum, plectrum, come on, man, have you seen it? It’s like a long guitar pick. You sell them by the handful; how can you not know that?” Sven groaned, rubbing his thick sweaty neck.
Sven gently lifted the instrument holding it up to the light, turning it slowly, studying its every detail. He caressed the strings, which hummed. No, not strings. Sinews. Whale tail sinews.
“This stick thing? Is this the pendulum?”
“Plectrum, yes, and none of this is junk. This langeleik might even be priceless. Give me, please.”
The plectrum was no simple pick; it was ornately hand-carved ivory, yellowed from age. Sven touched the melody string with his index finger and strummed the ligaments with the plectrum.
Ancient vibrations filled the room—Pythagorean tuning. “Boss-man, we have a find here. This langeleik is at least five hundred years old and still in perfect tune.”
Sven rolled the speculum between his finger and thumb, reading an unknown story etched in runes on its surface. He strummed again, fret after fret scales transformed into melodies.
Glenn stopped sifting through box after box. Uncharacteristically he listened intently to the soft melody. “What is that tone? The range, the undertones, and the overtones. The low buzz and sharp twangs and twiddles.” Glenn began a circular shuffling dance. His dance took on a formality once found in the high courts and halls behind heavy castle walls. Joviality filled the empty shop.
Glenn picked up a large black bukkehorne and blew a mighty blast of sound. They both erupted in laughter.
Sven showed Glenn the fingering and explained the basics of playing the goat horn. He played; they played, harmonizing together flawlessly. Tone-deafness was no match for the tones from the past.
The bell above the door jingled, a sweet sound compared to the redundant electronic beep to alert you of customers’ comings and goings. “I like that; what is that? More importantly, how much?”
“It’s not for sale.” Glenn and Sven blurted out abruptly. The pretty little woman in the door took no offense. She quietly sat down cross-legged and listened silently. Her eyes drifted closed as she relaxed into a meditative state.
The song faded to silence. Sven still felt the vibration running through the strings, which hummed silently. Vibrating strings vibrate the air around them. The vibrations produce sounds. If we hear nothing, the octave is outside the audible range, or the decibels are too faint to be perceived in silence.
Sven had set his phone on a drum head that now amplified the incoming call vibration into a rumbling thunder. Two o’clock had arrived, and the work day was over after unpacking one box and playing one long song.
Sven snatched up the phone, interrupting the second rumble. “Professor? Harry, can you pick me up at the shop? Yes, I’m free now.” He started to fold the phone and disconnect the call but flipped it back open with a wrist jerk. “Wait, Harry, what equipment do you have access to for analyzing soundwaves and micro vibrations? Follow-up question; is it portable?”
Returning the phone to his pocket, Sven swung his head to face Glenn. “Is it okay if we take these? Can the university help identify them? I may have an inkling, but an inkling is hardly a clue.” Sven was already collecting the flutes and smaller instruments. Before Glenn could object, Sven sweetened the pot, “and I’ll try to get them appraised. Just not the langeleik, right? We agreed on that, didn’t we?”
Glenn’s head wobbled in agreement, like a bobblehead activated by the sound of dollar signs. “Yeah, yeah, umm, oh yea, sure! So, you think this junk, I mean stuff, really has value?”
All eyes swung towards the door, shocked by the sudden interruption of the discordant mix of tinkling bell and harsh electronic buzz.
“Harry, do you have room in your trunk for a box or two? We got the strangest collection I want to check out.” Sven gingerly handed Harry the bukkehorne.
Music. It was in the air. It was the heartbeat of the city. This city represents music more than any other, arguably. Jazz. Blues. The talent overflowed every venue, spilling out onto every street corner. Glenn passed box after box through the open door. Tinkling and buzzing mixed with a muffled trombone drone.
Sven met Harry by the open trunk with the final box cradled in his arms. Harry had been leaning against the fender, kicking the tire and mumbling.
“Can we go? I mean, yeah, it looks like you found some antiques, but– I discovered everything. Didn’t you hear me? Nothing has been the same since. Nothing will ever be the same again. Get in. Let’s go.”
Sven quickly discarded his jacket tossing it in the back seat. He rolled the window down and gathered up the piles of printouts. Harry slid into the driver’s seat, reclining it with a clunk. While the chair leaned back, he leaned forward, resting his sweaty forearms on the wheel.
“Harry, are you okay to drive? When was the last time you slept?” The crash of a cymbal stirred Harry out of his momentary daze. The keys jingled as the engine came to life. A lone drummer wrestled his rickety drum set into the shade. Mediocrity, the streets were full of drummers who hadn’t learned; louder and faster doesn’t mean better when you can’t keep a simple count.
With a click, cool air flooded the cabin. “This heat is brutal. Come on, do we have to catch every light? Sven, look in the burgundy folder.” Outside the window, the opera’s octaves drowned out the drum’s drone.
Piles of papers fluttering in the wind ruffled and shuffled, revealing a purple portfolio. “This? I’d call that grape. Wait. What? Are you serious? I knew it was big, but this is bigger than big; this is everything times,” Sven’s forehead tightened, “what’s your estimate? It has to be everything times a few thousand!”
“Not my department. That’s theology. The physics alone is mindboggling.”
“Honestly, I don’t think I understand the physics nor the theology.” Sven touched his chest, and inside his sweater, a small brass ring strummed the links of a golden chain.
The riverboat blasted its horn rudely, simultaneously ending the music left behind in the quarter and interrupting the students, announcing its entrance into the bay.
“This is a lot to go through. The binder, let alone the pile. Is it even safe not to have this under lock and key?” Sven thumbed through the pages to the last few. “Significant evidence exists that can only lead to one conclusion. The universe is incomplete. Something is missing. There is a mathematical flaw that a multiverse can only explain. For a universe to be missing a piece and still exist, that missing piece, too, must exist. For it to exist and still be missing from this universe, it must be in another.” Sven stretched out a quickly stiffening neck. “This is all beyond me. So– what does it all mean?”
“The ink’s still fresh on that. What it means is still unknown. I’m feeling cocky; how about we park in the dean’s spot? When they see this, they will surely give me tenure.”
“You may be sainted, and then again, some beheadings were for less.”
The sudden silence felt heavy in the salty air.
The click and creak of the trunk set them into motion. Harry huffing and puffing, gathering box after box by the passenger door. Sven stuffed handfuls of loose papers and dozens of manila folders in random containers. He placed the grape wine one–the cabernet of mystery, reverently alone with the langeleik.
“Gods sake, you are a sweaty mess, Harry. Let’s get you inside.” Sven raised a hand, casting a shadow across his eyes. “Looks like 3:20 already. Where did the time go?”
Harry winced as he twisted his wrist and his pupils narrowed. “I got 3:10, oh, no, wait. This thing says it’s tomorrow.”
“Where are we going, Harry? How tired are you?” Sven glanced down the corridor towards the lecture hall, and Harry’s office followed him down the dimly lit marble stairs.
In the basement, the humm of academic activity faded to a tomb-like muffled silence. Only the instruments interrupted when they gently placed the boxes by the only door. Harry entered the dark room and brought the room to life with a clunk. Machines whirred, and light spilled out onto the cement floor. The lab revealed filled the entire subterranean floor.
“By the Gods, professor. Where did you get the budget for this?”
“Impressive, isn’t it? People notice when you put it out there that you are on the verge of a groundbreaking discovery but first need more processing power than currently exists. The details, of course, had to be secret. Industry, military, medicine, everyone from NASA to DOD and FBI threw in. Without knowing what could be adapted or exploited to their specific specialties, a big discovery was a big discovery, whether it helped in the killing or the curing.”
“Morally, that’s a bit cringeworthy. Could your discovery be used destructively?”
“The hammer that provided shelter crushed skulls. The cross that guided souls inspired the Iron Maiden. I am not certain humanity can discover anything without finding a way to use it destructively.”
“Sonic weaponry, yes indeed.”
With a click, a wall of screens bathed them in a cool blue glow. Raw data streamed too fast to read on over a third of them. The central few displayed complex equations. “The big screen, what am I seeing? What am I missing? It looks blank. It isn’t, is it?”
“Impressive. You saw that, did you? Here this will help.” Harry clickity-clacked the keyboard at remarkable speed, and a single white line replaced the box on the screen. “There, now, if I add another, you should start to see. It’s what you asked me for, and no, it’s far from portable.”
“Waveforms? Vibrations? Sounds? Was it the vibration of everything?” Sven lowered his voice. “Was there anything.. well, anything more? Anything you know, divine?”
“Scientifically, I am not sure what there is; what’s far more important is what isn’t. Something is missing. Call it a missing octave. A frequency range that doesn’t exist but needs to exist to create harmony.”
“Audible range? Please don’t tell me we need to chant Hare Krishna to achieve harmony.”
“Humph, surely not, no, here,” clickity-clack, ” so this is the entire audible range.” A thin bar appeared left to right, off-center vertically. Clickity-clack, “Supernovas to black holes.” The screen erupted in chaotic static: Clickity-clack, the static filled into the white box. “I give you the unknown. Vibrations that exist with no known source. Do you see divinity in the unknown? I see completeness. Well, almost.” Click—a single button press. The screen danced. “And now you see it, maybe feel it. When you look at only unknown sources, there is a delicate tapestry of frequencies that weave all things together. Except. There. Do you feel it? It makes me sick to leave it on too long.”
“Yeah, it’s like sea sickness. Turn it off.” Sven gagged on acid bubbling in his throat. “This is going to take a while to understand.”
“I’m not sure how long we have, so call Glenn. Tell him you aren’t coming in tomorrow. Then call that nasty little landlord and tell her–well, I guess you should tell her you moved.”
Want to know how this ends?