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The Essay
Show #429
In the Fiefdom of Highmore
David Gunn

Lord Antrum of Highmore was in the conservatory tending to his prized Carmine Embarcadero bush when he heard the noise. At first faint, it steadily rose in both volume and pitch until it sounded like a hundred stallions undergoing simultaneous castration at the Guild of Pembroke Abattoir. The clamor did not fit with any activity of which he was aware, so he wiped the earwigs from his hands, grabbed his spyglass and raced up to the third floor parlor. Throwing open the sash, he leaned out the window and listened. The sound was much clearer here, and he soon traced it to what appeared to be a commotion near the baobab tree that marked the northern boundary to his manor grounds. He trained his spyglass on the area and focused the lens. Good grief! Were they crows? If so, they were the size of cattle--and not those puny pygmy cows, either. There were eight of them, each over five feet long, and they were engaged in some sort of birdlike dance. They pecked at the ground in unison seven times, turned around in a semicircle, flapped their wings, then cried out in a sustained upward glissando. The birds paused for a few seconds, then repeated their actions: peck, turn, flap, cry. The entire sequence took maybe thirty seconds. If that weren't odd enough, Lord Antrum noticed in the distance the normally dun-hued Demilunes of Heidenhain glowed aubergine in the late afternoon sun with a pulse that accurately mirrored the rhythm of the pecking crows. A solitary cloud directly above the baobab tree also seemed to rotate along with the turning birds. Abruptly, the lord realized that he, too, was breathing coincident with the avian cadence, and at once he turned away and closed the window.

But he could still hear the sound, the strangely rising glissando, and it unnerved him. He felt a tug on some memory that he'd long repressed, and he had to work to keep it buried deep in his subconscious. He dashed back to the conservatory and rang for his odalisque, Zendö. She appeared straightaway, wrapped in a gossamer robe and smelling of a heady mixture of lavender and slightly naughty pecans. He wanted to take her in his arms, make pie out of the pecans, but then he noticed that she, too, was responding to the crows, tapping her foot in time to their unfathomable pecking, then softly ululating. When her pitch reached its zenith, the Carmine Embarcadero twisted round on its stalk towards the sound and released hundreds of spores, which hung semicircularly in the air like gravity-challenged dust bunnies.

Leaving a transfixed Zendö behind in the conservatory, Lord Antrum descended two flights of stairs to the subterranean chamber where Hasner the Mystic kept house. Hasner was learned in all things eldritch, so he would surely know the meaning of the crows' actions. The room was unevenly illuminated by dozens of guttering tapers jammed into the walls at diverse angles. A pervading aroma of dry, brittle bones underscored the room's strangeness. Apprehensively, Lord Antrum glanced around but saw no sign of the magical man. A sudden loud squawk behind him startled the Highmore Manor mogul, and he jumped in fright. From out of the shadows of the room emerged Hasner playing his sackbut. He blew on it six more times, but haltingly, as if mocking the cadence of the crow dance. Then he smiled and bowed impertinently to his feudal superior.

"My liege has heard the crows, then?" he asked, in a voice as wizened as coal dust.

"I have," replied Lord Antrum, quickly collecting himself. "And I presume that you can explain what they mean?"

Hasner merely smirked again, put the sackbut to his lips, and blew another seven notes. But this time, the notes constituted a whole tone scale, a musical construct unfamiliar to Lord Antrum as well as everyone else in the fiefdom of Highmore in the year 1653. In the conservatory two flights above Hasner's chamber, Zendö responded to the mysterious tonal intervals by joining the spores in midair.

"The crows," explained Hasner, "are a distortion of a musical event that will occur in the year 2003." Lord Antrum stared blankly at Hasner, comprehending him even less than he did the actions of his friends who paid six florins each to witness the weekly castrations at the Pembroke Abattoir. "As you do not understand, so others shall similarly respond 350 years hence," continued Hasner. "The event shall be called the 'Electric Rainbow Festival,' although its colors shall be of a spectral nature you can never know."

"Enough!" retorted Lord Antrum. "To speak of things that have not yet happened is sacrilege, blasphemy, and I shall hear no more!" But just then, the sound of eight giant wings flapping in concert drifted down into the room. Lord Antrum covered his ears and ran helter-skelter from the chamber. In his haste, he failed to notice that Zendö had materialized in front of him. They collided, and exploded, though the resultant blast would not be heard for 350 years--at the event that Hasner the Mystic had correctly identified as the Electric Rainbow Festival ... which is occurring at this moment, coincident with this 429th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, itself caught in a kind of pecking, turning, flapping and yelping continuum, all under the bewildering baton of Kalvos.