Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

The Music of the Dark Time

I

The fear took him by the throat with the first chord. It was the violins and their high, piercing wail that caught him unaware, making the terror vibrate within him as the strings vibrated to their horsehair prod. Tortured, he thought. The bow tortured the strings to make them howl so.

The music grew in intensity and volume, and he knew he would have to leave before he could not leave, before the soaring, searing music immobilized him like a fly in amber, before the fear solidified and he was once more back in the years of darkness, where joy was a memory and music had become a cruel farce. His legs moved slowly, dream-thick, as he turned, and faces watched idly, uncaring, from the other side of the glass, where the red and orange lights shone like candles, the thousands of candles he had lit over the long years, the hundreds of times he had said Kaddish for those he had seen go to their deaths at Adlerkralle, while the Four Angels played and played on the strings that ground into his ears like gritty shards of glass.

Walk, Weissman, he told himself. Walk, Jude! And the feet rose and fell as he walked from the room, the vacuum cleaner lurching behind him like a balky dog. The music shrieked at him to stay, but he kept moving, and soon the sounds were lost behind the studio door. Karl Weissman remembered to breathe again, and leaned against the cool wall of the hall in exhaustion. He thanked God that he had escaped before he had heard more — the marching footsteps, the murmured remarks — before he had seen eyes that stared into his own with hatred and disgust, faces that had haunted him for over forty years.

He should find another job. One where there would be no music, none at all. He shook his head sadly. How could he? He knew no trade but one, and that one was out of the question. Unbearable. Unthinkable.

Unheard of.

II

Ron Talbot steepled his fingers, looked across the desk top, and shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Bobby. It’s so goddam downbeat.”

“Not if it’s packaged right,” Bobby Goodman replied.

“Brummel said it wouldn’t go in Germany.”

“They’re too close to it in Germany. Hell, the camps are still standing — they don’t need to be reminded of it anymore.” Goodman nervously fished his pack of cigarettes from a pocket.

“What I don’t get,” Talbot said, “is why Brummel offered it to you so cheap. He’s no dummy.”

“He is where this is concerned. They don’t realize the interest in it over here. Jesus, they sell coffee table books about the Holocaust now, and what about Shoah . . . and that miniseries a few years back . . . and what about that movie with what’s her name — Vanessa Redgrave? That’d tie right in.”

“Too many years back — people don’t remember TV movies.”

“There’s an audience, Ron, I swear there is.”

“It’s pretty sick.”

“It’s all in how you look at it,” Goodman countered. “We publicize it as a testament to survival, dedicate it to those who died.”

“Dedicate it?”

“Sure. Let me tell you how I see it — no quick and dirty pressing, no skinny album that gets lost in the documentary bin, but a two-record boxed set, with a nice booklet —”

“Two records?” Talbot interrupted. “Is there enough material?”

“I’ve got that figured out. On the wire recording that Brummel got from the SS guy’s widow, there are only two sides’ worth — one is the ‘Grosse Fugue,’ and the other is an earlier Beethoven quartet, one of the Rasumovskys. Now that’s the only stuff we have that was actually recorded in the camps. But — there are tons of German recordings from the forties that we know were played on camp P.A. systems for the SS. I see maybe one side of vintage Wagner and another side of piano and vocals — Walter Gieseking, maybe a couple of others who sucked up to the Nazis. The rights would be dirt cheap, and we could still use the title.”

“Music of the Holocaust,” Talbot said.

“Right. Very classy package. Black and white print — or gold and silver. A lot of dignity.”

Talbot smiled thinly. “The contents are sensational enough, huh?”

Goodman nodded. “I’ve listened to it three or four times, once last night with Sam. It’s effective as hell, obviously recorded outside — you can hear the wind whip the mike and at one pianissimo spot there’s this voice that yells, ‘Schnell, schnell, Juden!’”

“Jesus,” Talbot whispered.

“Strong stuff. Another weird thing is that the last dozen or so measures, the cello drops out.”

“Can Sam engineer it?”

“Oh yeah, no problem. He can take most of the crap out, but we’ll want to leave in all the background noises. I don’t think we’d want to dub in the cello at the end — adds a little mystery.”

Talbot leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Christmas release?”

Goodman permitted himself a small smile of triumph. “That’s what I had in mind. Late October. I already talked to John Samuels at Newsweek, and he promises a paragraph in their gift record column.”

“You think of everything, Bobby. You got the book all laid out too?”

“Roughly. Lots of photographs, nothing too graphic, no piles of bodies. The focus should be more on dignity, like I said. Photos of faces, women, children, maybe some defiant-looking men. And a bonus record.”

“Bonus record?”

“Yeah. A twenty-minute seven-incher. Spoken word reactions to the music.”

“By survivors?”

“Sure. It’ll be fantastic. What I’d like to do is track down some people who were really in Adlerkralle, see how much they remember about it, and record their reminiscences, then play them the tapes and tape their reactions.”

“Isn’t that a little thick?”

Goodman shrugged. “Since it’s a bonus record you don’t have to listen to it — but I know damn well anyone who buys the album in the first place will want to.”

Talbot’s frown deepened. “It could be perceived as insensitive.”

“Hardly.” Goodman shook his head. “Remember Bookends?”

“Simon and Garfunkel, sure.”

“Remember the band that went into ‘Old Friends’? Recordings of people whining in an old folks’ home. Two minutes of unrelieved misery, and everybody who heard it thought it was the most sensitive thing since Rod McKuen. Granted, that was the sixties, but they’ll still eat this up.”

“How would you find these people?”

“They’re around. Seems like every old Jew you meet was either in a death camp or had a relative there.” He smiled slightly. “I had an uncle at Bergen-Belsen.”

“No kidding.” Talbot’s eyes widened. “What would he have to say about this?”

“Nothing. He died there.”

Talbot pursed his lips as if he’d just tasted something sour. “And what do you think about it? Personally?”

“It’s history. It doesn’t bother me. I wasn’t even born then.”

Talbot sat silently for a moment. “Okay. Let me think about it. Couple of days.”

“Fine. I’ve got enough to keep me busy. Sam and I’ve been working on the Philharmonic tapes. Haydn’s done, but the Bartok still needs work.”

Talbot nodded dismissal. “I’ll get back to you.”

Sure you’ll get back to me, Goodman thought, after you try to sell it to Wildeboor, and he tries to sell it to Kearny, and when all three of you realize it’ll sell like crack on the boulevard.

• • • •

It took a full week, but at the end of it Talbot called Goodman back into his office and told him that it was a go, with one reservation. “The bonus record,” Talbot said. “It makes me edgy. We’ve got a lot of Jewish stockholders. If they think we’re exploiting this —”

“We’re not exploiting,” Goodman interrupted. “I promise you, this thing will be viewed as sympathetic and sensitive. Now we can do it without the bonus, but I really want it. I swear to God you won’t be sorry.”

Talbot sighed through flared nostrils. “Twenty minutes of whiny, crying people remembering all that shit would be awful. Like pulling wings off flies.”

“But it won’t be like that! Sure, a few of them may cry or get mad, but that’s real emotion, it’s sincere, it’s poignant. And besides, we can edit it so that we get exactly what we want.”

Talbot drummed his desk top with his fingers. “There’ll be extra expense involved — finding these people, the engineering, the vinyl cost . . .”

“And worth every penny. Marketing guesses thirty percent increase in unit sales with the bonus disc. And even if they’re only half right, figuring fifteen percent — on a nineteen dollar retail price, with expected sales of a hundred thousand units, that’s an extra three hundred grand gross. I’m sure the stockholders won’t fart at that.”

“Hmm. I don’t know.”

“And no extra vinyl cost on the CDs.”

Talbot swiveled his chair to look out at the spiky skyline. “All right,” he said finally, his back to Goodman. “How about a trial run?”

“Trial run?”

“Yeah. Take a Nakamichi and find some of these people. Get their reactions and let me have them. If I like, you can go ahead with the bonus. If not, we release the record without it.”

And if Wildeboor likes it and if Kearny likes it and . . . ”You’ve got a deal.”

“So how are you going to find these people?”

“Start calling rabbis, I guess.”

Which was exactly what he did. Rabbi Robert Sakowicz’s synagogue was only three blocks away from the Republic Records building. After setting up the appointment by phone, Goodman went to the rabbi’s office the following morning.

“It’s not something people talk about very much,” Rabbi Sakowicz said. “Certain members of the synagogue were incarcerated in the Nazi camps, but it’s not the kind of thing they want to remember. Why do you want to speak to them?”

Goodman smiled reassuringly. “We’re looking into the possibility of a recorded oral history of the Holocaust. It’s not definite yet, and we’re trying to get a feel as to whether or not it’s workable.”

“Jumping on the bandwagon, then?” The rabbi did not smile.

“Rabbi,” Goodman said admonishingly, “of course we’re a profit-making outfit, but there are other reasons for doing this. As a Jew myself,” and he paused just a second too long, “I think it’s important that people not forget. Call it a pet project of my own.”

“I should hardly think the deaths of six million should be classified as a pet project.”

“Okay, an unfortunate choice of words. Let’s just say I think it’s important.”

“Other people want very much to forget, Mr. Goodman, and I don’t wish to intrude upon their privacy.”

“Well, could you contact them first, see if they’d be willing to talk to me? If not, no harm done.”

The rabbi thought for a moment, then opened a desk drawer and removed a Pendaflex file. “Give me a minute.” He flipped through a sheaf of papers, paused briefly at each one, then glanced away as if recording it mentally, his youthful fingers stroking his thick brown beard. Suddenly the door opened, and the rabbi’s secretary appeared.

“Excuse me, Rabbi. It’s Mr. Feldman calling. His grandson’s bar mitzvah?”

“I’ll call him back.”

“He’s just about to go out of town on business for a week. He seems pretty insistent.”

Rabbi Sakowicz shook his head impatiently, excused himself, and left the room, letting the door stand ajar. Goodman thought it odd until he noticed the phone jack disconnected at the wall, and remembered the difficulty the secretary had had connecting him with the rabbi the day before. Then he looked at the file on the desk top and licked his lips. He could hear the dull tones of the rabbi on the telephone in the outer office; the secretary seemed to have disappeared. Leaning across the desk, he turned the folder so that he could read it, and saw the name “Weissman, Karl” at the top of a page.

He gave an astonished laugh. It can’t be. Jesus, what luck. Goodman started to read on, but was only able to see “1943-44, Adlerkralle”, before the rabbi’s steely voice made him slap the folder shut guiltily.

“Find anything interesting?”

Goodman chuckled impotently, knowing full well that the rabbi would not be charmed out of his anger. “Yeah, I did.”

“Don’t impose on strangers, Mr. Goodman. Please.”

“Not a stranger, Rabbi. A coworker.”

A sadness crept into Rabbi Sakowicz’s eyes. “Weissman,” he said softly. “You know Weissman.”

“I know all the custodians at Republic. I work late a lot.”

“I can believe that. And probably very hard, too. Do you go through other people’s files as well?”

“I’m sorry about that, Rabbi.”

Sakowicz ignored the apology. “Leave Karl Weissman alone, Mr. Goodman. He can’t help you and I’m sure you can’t help him.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Karl Weissman is one of the few who still lives those days. Not only remembers them, but lives them. It would be . . . terribly cruel to ask him to tell you of those times.”

“Don’t worry, Rabbi. I’m not a cruel man. And remember, I’m a Jew myself.”

The rabbi’s smile was a thin line. “And Benedict Arnold was an American.”

• • • •

Bobby Goodman had told Rabbi Sakowicz that he would wait to hear from him, but once he was sitting behind his own desk in his own office, he realized he wouldn’t have the patience. Karl Weissman was a gift, a gift from the god of his fathers, Goodman thought wryly. If he cooled his heels waiting for Sakowicz, he could lose his momentum, Talbot could lose his interest, and Sakowicz might wind up a dead end anyway. No, Goodman wouldn’t, couldn’t wait. It was difficult enough to wait until the six o’clock shift, when old Karl came on.

Goodman had always thought of him as “old” Karl, although Weissman couldn’t have been over sixty-five, still the required retirement age for all Republic employees. Weissman looked far older, his brows crisscrossed with lines like a wartime map of Europe. His hair was a dirty yellow-white, and his eyes were constantly bloodshot, the whites appearing pinkish as a result. He looked, Goodman thought, like an albino with a hangover. He’d wondered more than once if Karl had a drinking problem. Now, knowing the man had been in Adlerkralle, he wondered how Karl could possibly have avoided one.

At 6:04 a soft knock sounded on the door of Goodman’s office. “Come in,” he said calmly.

Karl Weissman entered, drab to the point of invisibility in his janitor’s grays. “Mr. Russell told me to come up here.” The voice was quiet, the accent Midwestern with only a hint of a Mittel-European comic opera precision. “What needs to be done?” Weissman stood quietly, like a soldier awaiting orders.

“I need your help, Karl,” Goodman said. He didn’t smile. He had the feeling that Karl Weissman had forgotten what smiles were for. “We’re whipping together a project on the Second World War.”

“Yes,” Weissman said. “The rabbi told me of your visit to him.”

Goodman struggled to keep the angry surprise out of his face, but he felt his mouth twist nonetheless. “The rabbi told you?”

“He told me what you might want. And I’m sorry, Mr. Goodman, but I want nothing to do with it.”

“Karl, be fair,” Goodman said, damning the rabbi. “You hardly know what this is all about.”

“Oh, I know. I know exactly what it was about.”

Goodman shook his head. “That’s not what I mean, Karl.” He stood up. “Will you come with me? Just down the hall into Studio C. Let me explain the situation to you, that’s all. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. This is just between you and me. You don’t want to help, fine. Mr. Russell doesn’t have to know a thing.” The very use of Russell’s name was an unspoken threat. The janitors hated the building superintendent, who ruled them like a petty tyrant.

“I don’t care if Mr. Russell knows or not,” Weissman said, his weak chin thrusting forward, “but I . . .”

He hesitated, and Goodman dug into the silence. “That’s fine, fine,” he said, putting a hand on Weissman’s shoulder. “Five minutes. You don’t have to say a word.” Goodman went out the door, not looking back to see if Weissman was following, knowing his confidence would pull the older man along.

As he opened the door of Studio C’s control room, the awry chords of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra came lancing out, piercing the hall with sound. He turned, saw Weissman behind him, saw the wrinkled face pale to a pasty grayness while veins bulged blue beneath the paper-thin skin of the man’s temples. “Karl?”

Weissman feebly raised a hand, gesturing for Goodman to close the studio door. Goodman let the thick door drift shut, and silence settled over the hall once more, broken only by Weissman’s ragged, asthmatic breathing. “What is it?” Goodman asked, though he was starting to suspect.

“Nothing,” Weissman said. “I felt faint, that’s all.”

Goodman stared heavily at him, but the older man would not meet his eyes. “Wait here a minute, Karl,” he said, and stepped back into the control booth. When he reappeared, Sam Pearson, the sound engineer, was with him, and the room was now quiet, washed clean of music. Pearson glanced at Weissman, then walked away down the hall, while Goodman beckoned the janitor to join him inside. He did so obediently, and sat in one of the three high-backed padded chairs Goodman indicated.

“Karl,” Goodman said, still standing. “You were in Adlerkralle, weren’t you?”

“Yes.” The whisper was clear and distinct in the perfect aural environment of the shadowy control room.

“On this machine, Karl,” Goodman said, patting the gleaming surface of a Teac four-track, “is a tape I’d like you to listen to.”

“No, I . . .”

“I don’t want to tell you what it is,” Goodman went on, unheeding, “because I think you’ll know.”

Weissman looked up at the machine, from which the loaded reel and its take-up glared at him like sharp, pin-pointed eyes, the four VU-meters beneath shining like a row of yellow teeth. “I must know,” he said, “what it is. I must know before you play it.”

Goodman sat next to him, his mood swinging from stern disciplinarian to suddenly relaxed friend, his personality adapting itself chameleon-like to what he felt would affect Weissman most favorably. “Music, Karl,” he smiled. “Just some music.”

It would be unfair to Goodman not to say that something within him burned as he tried to persuade the janitor to do what he wanted, that no pain of betrayal gnawed at him even as he considered what his next method of coercion would be. But the sympathy he felt for the man before him was not so great as to smother the brighter urge, the demanding, overwhelming urge to fill a small cassette with memories of a hell where angels played, searing souvenirs so gripping that they would sell unit after unit forever and ever . . . and maybe even a spot on the Billboard chart and I’m goddamn made and . . .

“Just a little music.”

“No, no,” Weissman said, refusal giving his voice added strength. “No music. I don’t . . . want to listen to this music.”

Goodman pressed just a bit so as not to lose him. “You don’t like music, Karl? Everyone likes music.”

“No, I don’t listen to music.”

“This is a record company, Karl. You’ve got to hear music around here.”

“I . . . I don’t. I wait until it’s done . . .”

“No music at night, huh?” Goodman pushed now, hard and fast.

“Not at night. It’s quiet.”

“You scared of music, Karl?”

“Not . . . scared, I just don’t —”

“You looked scared just now, when the music came out of here. You looked scared as hell. What kind of music scares you, Karl?”

“I’m not . . .”

“I don’t think rock scares you, does it? Or jazz? Maybe you don’t like them, but there’s one kind of music that really scares you, isn’t there, Karl?”

“No . . .” There were tears in the voice. The jaw trembled, like a long-held tower about to fall.

“Classical music, right, Karl? That’s what scares you shitless, isn’t it? Huh?”

“Don’t . . . talk to me like that . . .” The accent was becoming more pronounced, guttural, and thick.

“Where did that happen, Karl? And when? I can guess. You want me to take a guess? Someplace you were locked up, wasn’t it?”

“You have no right —”

“And you’re still there, aren’t you, Karl? You’ve kept yourself locked up for over forty years —”

“No!” Even in the perfect acoustics of the room, the voice echoed like a trumpet as the man leaped to his feet, his gaunt face towering above Goodman, who drew back involuntarily. “Who are you?” he cried. “Who are you to talk to me this way, to pry into my life?”

“Hey, relax! Just relax now.” He’d pushed too far. He realized he’d been clumsy, careless, misreading the man, and he could have kicked himself. “I’m sorry, Karl. I just got sort of carried away, you know?”

The older man went on as though he had never heard. “You want to make your guesses? Then guess! Yes, I hate music. I cannot listen to it, it makes me sick!” Weissman’s face twisted in trembling rage.

“Because of the camps . . .”

“Because of Adlerkralle, yes! But you knew that, didn’t you? Oh yes, you’re so smart, you knew that.”

“Well, the way you acted when you heard the music,” Goodman said smiling, trying to look open and careless. “And then I remembered a couple of times before . . .”

“Before, when I would go elsewhere when you were playing your music, when I would clean a toilet rather than hear this music.”

“Karl, I’m sorry, really. All I want is —”

“What do to want me to listen to? Screams? People screaming? Isn’t that what they call music now?”

“No, Karl. A string quartet.”

Weissman seemed to freeze in place. Then the set anger of his face melted into a kind of wondering fear. “A string quartet?” The voice was far away, haunted, disembodied in the dimly lit room.

“Yes.” Oh my God, I’ve got him now, will you just look at him.

“What . . . is this quartet?”

“It played there, Karl. Where you were. At Adlerkralle.”

“The . . . the Angels?”

“That’s what Commandant Hossler called them, wasn’t it? The Angels that played the heavenly music while the condemned went to their deaths.”

“You have a recording of . . . the Angels?”

Goodman nodded slowly. “A wire recording transferred to tape. It’s on that machine right now.” He gestured around the room, at the hundreds of sliders and knobs and dials and meters. “Everything is set to play it. All somebody has to do is push the play button on that machine.” Weissman, Goodman observed gratefully, was once more watching the Teac as he would a cobra, its hood spread, ready to strike. “All it takes is a push, Karl. It’s so easy. But I won’t do it. I’d like you to hear it, I’d like you to tell me what you think of it, how it makes you feel. If you want to do it, Karl, all you have to do is press the play and record buttons on this smaller machine here, right next to the big one.”

Goodman felt vaguely absurd as he gave the instructions, as though he were advising a statue. But he had to make sure Weissman knew, knew and remembered. “Just press both buttons at once and talk into the microphone, that’s all there is to it. You understand me, Karl?”

He didn’t answer right away, but finally a whispered “Yes” came out.

Goodman leaned toward the unwillingly fascinated man, and used all his wiles to sound like friend, brother, priest, father-confessor. “All these years, Karl, you’ve kept yourself bound. Now, finally, you can be free. But it’s got to be your choice, your decision.”

Goodman stood and went to the door. “Nobody will come in here tonight. I’m leaving, and everyone else is gone. If you want to walk out, fine. Just leave things as they are, and we won’t talk about it again. But if you want to listen, it’s here. It’s waiting for you, Karl. It’s been waiting for a long time.”

He opened the door and stepped into the hall, his last glimpse of Weissman an unmoving, huddled figure whose head seemed buried halfway between his shoulders.

Goodman felt jubilant. He would have his tape now, he had no doubt, if there was enough left in Karl Weissman after listening to the Angels for him to articulate his thoughts and emotions. But after so many years of being bottled up, Goodman thought, they should flow out of him like blood in a slaughterhouse.

Goodman could have stood there all night waiting to hear the music from inside, waiting for Weissman to come out the door. But as much as he wanted to know whether or not Weissman would take the bait, he was hesitant about confronting the man again. Goodman generously interpreted it as decency on his part, and decided to go home and try to sleep. It was hard to turn and walk down the hall, but it would have been harder to face Weissman after that music had blasted his soul. Morning would come soon enough, and he honestly hoped it would come for Weissman too, that hearing the music might somewhat cleanse him of the terrors he’d borne for decades.

But only after he’d put those terrors on tape.

III

The eyes of the reels stared at Weissman. Time had stopped for him. 1988 was 1944 was 1988, and those years of horror and the empty years in between were all compressed into this hour, this moment in the dim room with the little lights like stars that expanded the time back into all the years again.

He felt as though he would sit there forever, waiting for his finger to push the button and see what happened, see what he would do when the dark time came again. The past forty-four years he had been waiting, been pressing it away from him like some black, cold gelatin that seeped through his fingers and around his wrists, forcing him backward into a shadowy corner, where at last it would envelop him.

And now the time was here, was all dark time, and the shadowy corner was this warm, softly glowing room where he sat and stared into the eyes and teeth of yesterday. An unexpected peace touched him then, and a sense of inevitability guided him forward, pushed the button so that the wheels began to turn.

There was no sound at first, and Weissman leaned back, taking his gaze away from the rolling eyes, looking upward to where the twin speakers hung. Then a hissing filled the room, and he stiffened, knowing what it was. Not the hiss of a speaker or of old tape, but the sly, teasing hiss of wind, the wind whose special voice had blown into his spirit. The wind that mocked them with its freedom, entering and escaping the camp a thousand times a day. The wind that tortured them with the odors of the burning, the olfactory evidence that their only escape would be on that same wind that would snatch them up as their smoke-wraiths fled from the pits.

Then he heard voices, faraway, low barks of orders that he wondered if he imagined rather than heard through the speakers. But no, they were there, followed by a harshly whispered imprecation that quieted them.

And the music began.

It nailed him to the chair as though a thick spike of ice had been driven through his heart and into the seat back. The volume was moderate, the tone was mellow, but the unison notes captured him between the octaves as though there were not nor had there ever been any other sound in the world. He would have screamed had he had the breath.

The music split into harmonies then, rocking and bouncing madly from the violins to viola to cello and back, while Weissman thought, the Fugue, mein liebe Gott, die Grosse Fugue, die Engels, die verdammte Engels! The wind added a fifth voice to the quartet, ethereal, pure, and taunting, higher than Saperstein could ever have played, Saperstein with his hollow eyes and bald, yellow head, scraping weakly at his violin with the split back, the violin Sturmbannfuhrer Hossler had batted from his hands after Saperstein had mangled a run in the Schumann.

Now the brief overtura was ended, and as the music grew more frenzied, he saw Saperstein in the gem-clear theater of memory the control room had become, Saperstein’s bald head bouncing like a great, shapeless ball, trying to hold die Engels together in the chaotic labyrinth of the double fugue section. And there was Brendel sawing away on second, the poorest player of the four, a constant frown of fear on her cracked, gray lips. Dessauer on viola, consumptive, withered, brilliant, fingers clawed with cold and arthritis so that the simplest run became agony, and an extended trill a horror.

Oh, how they played, even with their infirmities and terrors, with the acrid wind in counterpoint and the moans of the dying as a constant continuo! playing because not to play was to die. And as the others passed by, the ones who would leave as smoke, whose dying music would turn to muffled cries of anguish as the gas stole all they had left, it was their eyes that burned, their sneers that accused, not the cruel eyes of the masters, the Sturm und Drang-headed fools who kept die Engels alive for their music, for the serenade sung to their master, Death.

The rollicking double fugue, clattering along like dead men’s bones, slowed and shifted to the G-flat section, startlingly lyrical after the previous madness, and the slow, somber chords took Weissman back fully, adding to sight and sound and scent the sense of touch as well, so that he held the long horsehair bow in his right hand while his left palm pressed the sweat-polished smoothness of his cello’s neck and his fingers trembled on the fingerboard. Oh, the faces were there, so real, so vivid, so full of pain and battered hope and envy as they looked at die Engels, and the thoughts were so loud he could hear them, saying  —

— If I could play I would not be walking to death.

— I had my body to keep me alive, but it failed me at last.

— When your hands fail you, you will join us.

— Play your tunes, whores for the Nazis. You will play another soon enough.

They were the voices Karl Weissman had heard for over four decades, the voices that yammered at him in dreams, that spoke just below the surface of melody that lay in wait everywhere he turned, that made it impossible for him to have a radio, a television set, to go to movies or stores where always the music played, the remindful, omnipresent music that inflated the guilt within him like the bloated stomach of a corpse, until there was only one statement, one great truth:

You should have died.

It was what all the faces had told him as they passed, every day, every single face, even . . .

Anna.

Allegro molto! Now they were into it again, the notes galloping like war-maddened furies, weaving in and out of each other as Saperstein’s head bobbed frantically, the fear of losing the beat clear in his eyes as the tempo increased, and now they were nearing the measure he had never forgotten, would never forget, when Anna . . .

There! His heart stopped, the shock was so great. Stopped, then started again in a frenzy as if to make up for its failure. The error, the false note he had played when he had seen her, the B-flat that had shrieked and twisted into a gratingly off-key natural before he could find his place in the fugue again. He had heard it on the tape, and its presence told him precisely what day it was, what day it had been ever since.

March 17, 1944.

The day when Anna, his Anna, Anna of the long, tapered fingers that had caressed a piano’s keys like a baby’s brows, had walked into the yard with the others, had turned to the left at the flick of the commandant’s whip; Anna, whose fingers had been crushed by the cattle car’s doors, whose music had been crushed by a young and careless Army guard too anxious to shut away the Jews from his sight; Anna who at last turned toward the path of death, of escape on the cruel wind.

His fingers had slipped then, the one time, the only time he had drawn disharmony into the air of Adlerkralle. But he had re-entered the tapestry of the fugue, playing as though sound alone could halt time, and reverse it, savaging the strings with the intensity of his grief. No! he had thought. No! It is a mistake! Every time, every time she returns alive! They have made a mistake! They will see, she is still strong! They will see!

And now the fifth and final sub-movement began, a trembling, rapid pulse as he sawed and sawed, biting the notes off, back and forth, back and forth, while the melody soared leisurely above him as if two differing tempi warred above sublimely for predominance, he and Dessauer’s unbridled ferocity against Brendel and Saperstein’s patient and unhurried calm. The end approached, and he saw an SS Obersturmfuhrer cross to the women and look at Anna and he thought Now! Now! They will see! even though he knew that what had happened had happened and could never be changed. Nothing could ever be changed.

As the Obersturmfuhrer regarded the women coldly and turned from them, young Karl Weissman’s last hope vanished like a pianissimo phrase on the wind, and all thoughts of music fled from him. His left hand slipped down the neck of the cello, and his right lowered the bow to his side while Saperstein’s old eyes flared and blinked a panicked signal. But Weissman’s full attention was on the young, fatally slim woman who walked past the quartet’s platform with the others, others who looked at the musicians with a loathing that would survive them by a lifetime. And in the young Karl’s eyes, the young woman stared at him with envy mixed with anguish, while her mouth opened pleadingly and formed words he took to be the muttered curses the others had voiced, and, perhaps worse, a call for help that he could not give.

But years later, in the old man’s mind that looked in memory through the young man’s eyes, Karl Weissman saw something else. To his surprise, and to the accompaniment of a startling joy that he told himself he must not feel even as it overwhelmed him, he saw not hate but love in the eyes, and hope. And he knew at last what she was saying, knew, not guessed or wished, for he heard her now above the whining, suddenly impotent wind and the other three trying to sound like four.

“Play,” she said. “Play for me.”

And while the young man in 1944 sat ignorant and powerless, deafened by guilt and grief and distance, Karl Weissman, hearing, grasped an unseen cello and an invisible bow, and, in a cracked voice that filled the darkened control room, sang for Anna, sang to its glorious end the great fugue he had begun so many years before.

As the notes poured out of him, so too did something else, something that eyes younger than Karl Weissman’s might have detected as a veil of shadow, a sheet of darkness that unfolded from around Weissman like a cloak of the thinnest gossamer to hover just below the ceiling, into which it seemed to fade as the music ended.

IV

The halls were empty at five in the morning when an impatient Bobby Goodman arrived at the Republic Records building. The night janitors had finished their shifts hours ago, and it would be another three hours before anyone else showed up. Goodman wondered where Karl Wiessman was. He paused before opening the control room door, not knowing what his usually glib tongue would say if the old man were still there. But the room was vacant, at least of Karl Weissman.

From the instant he entered, Goodman felt oddly unalone, as if someone were watching from the shadows in the room’s corners. He threw off the unexpected sensation long enough to look at the Teac, and grinned at what he saw. The take-up reel was full.

“He listened!” Goodman said, laughter in his voice. “He heard it!” He shot his gaze to the Nakamichi’s counter, which stood at 127. It had been at 000 when he’d left Weissman alone in the room. “Oh, goddamn, goddamn!” he cried gleefully, rewinding the cassette on which Karl Weissman had offered up his reactions. “Okay, baby,” he said, pushing the play button. “Let’s hear it.”

It seemed as though the voice belonged to a much younger man, as if years had been lifted from it and tossed away.

“Thank you, Mr. Goodman. I don’t know what you want to hear me say, I don’t know why you wanted me to hear the music, but I thank you for driving me to the point where I listened.” The voice paused, then want on. “I did not believe before. In anything. But now I do. I believe in God again, for how else can I explain how this has come back to me across all the miles and the years? Yet it has somehow. To give me peace. To give me back my music. Thank you for the part you played in this, whatever your reasons. I wish I could give you something in return.”

Another pause, so long that Goodman looked at the machine to make sure it was still running. Only one word followed —”Perhaps . . .” and then silence.

Goodman sat back, thinking. What the hell had Weissman meant? Goodman had expected almost anything but the cool, confident words that had come from the speakers. He rewound the tape and listened to Weissman again, but still could not unravel the mystery he had convinced himself must exist. Maybe the music would give him a clue, something he’d missed on previous listenings.

He rewound the tape on the Teac, started to play it, and listened as the cold wind swept into the room, chilling him through the heavy sweater he wore. As the first unison notes of music sounded, the lights of the room started to dim, and the darkness began to grow, creeping from the corners, melting from the ceiling until it encased him in a black, gelatinous shell of fear. And in the back of his mind he realized that some emotions do not die when their bearer deserts them, that when the nurturing of pain is strong and lifelong, then the pain, and the guilt and terror that feed it, live on, not destroyed, but waiting.

The music played on, rushing about his mind like waves on a blood-red sea, drowning him as he tried to float above the surface, pressing down upon him with gaunt, hate-filled faces, envious eyes, hands brittle and thin as sticks. The music cut and tore and burned and froze, every phrase more cruel than the last until he knew he could bear no more. But he did, unable to move, unable to retreat into unconsciousness, until the last few measures were ended, the final measures in which the cello, deep and sonorous, sang in triumph over its stringed fellows.

The fugue was ended.

Goodman sat in the chair, sick and shaking, his sole desire to run from the room when his legs would finally obey him. To run and run until he was far away from where the agonies of the music seared him.

He did not want to hear it ever again.

He did not want to hear the music.

Chet Williamson

Chet WilliamsonChet Williamson has written in the field of horror, science fiction, and suspense since 1981. Among his many novels are Second Chance, Hunters, Defenders of the Faith, Ash Wednesday, Reign, and Dreamthorp. Upcoming in 2015 are The Night Listener and Others (a story collection from PS Publishing), A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy (Borderlands Press), and Psycho: Sanitarium, an authorized sequel to Robert Bloch’s classic Psycho (St. Martin’s Press).

Over a hundred of his short stories have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and many other magazines and anthologies. He has won the International Horror Guild Award, and has been shortlisted twice for the World Fantasy Award, six times for the Horror Writers Association’s Stoker Award, and once for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award. Nearly all of his works are available in ebook format at the Kindle Store and through Crossroad Press (http://macabreink.com/) .

A stage and film actor (his most recent appearance is in Joe R. Lansdale’s film, Christmas With the Dead), he has recorded over 40 unabridged audiobooks, both of his own work and that of many other writers, available at www.audible.com. Follow him on Twitter (@chetwill) or at www.chetwilliamson.com.