Baker’s Practical Segue
by Matthew C. McLean
The pentagram was correct, the symbols along its border were perfect. Dee had double checked each facet of the summoning circle seven times, once with the computer’s scanner, making sure everything was in place. The salt made a mess on the Persian rug, but he’d clean it up later and, if he couldn’t, it was worth the price. The ritual had to be performed in the privacy that only his penthouse could afford. Otherwise, his public might find out his secret, and the ideal life he had carved out for himself would come to an end.
Satisfied with the fidelity of the protective circle he smiled and walked to the piano. Sitting on the bench he adjusted the small audio player on the grand’s top board, then pressed the play button. The ethereal voices of a cantata came forth from the box’s speakers and Dee took a moment to enjoy the high sweetness before he laid his fingers to the ivory of the keys. Like the voices, his accompaniment started out slow and light, but progressed at an increasing rhythm. His hands moving further and further down the bass keys of the piano as the voices became higher, strained and tortured, as if victim to the music itself. The dissonance between recorder and piano continued until it seemed to drain the light from the room itself, darkness enfolding player and piano, swirling out to occupy greater space until the crescendo mounted to its zenith. If anyone had been present there would have been nothing for them to see at the final notes, the room cloaked in blackness.
With a concluding, striking piano chord, the darkness dissipated with a quickness that belied its slow arrival. And standing in the pentagram, where no man had been before, stood a grey and tired figure: what might have been a young man, in tattered clothes and with a simple guitar, an itinerant in this life and the next. He kept his hat on, shading his eyes from the room’s central chandelier, and frowned a, “Hello Dee.”
“Hello Baker. Feeling rested I hope?”
The grey around the spirit called Baker darkened into a shadow that poured down his body from the brim of his hat. “What do you want, Dee?”
“Good news! I’ve been invited to the royal wedding. They’ve asked me to bring a new composition to the reception. I need something light and catchy.”
The shadows around Baker darkened until he appeared as an onyx figure. “You know the kind of pain it causes me when to bring me back into this space. And you only want me to make you some ear-candy?”
“As only you can.” Dee arched his thin fingers together. “Preferably with some lyrics about eternal love.”
Baker shifted, holding his guitar by the neck as if it were a club. “My take on eternity is a little different these days.”
Dee used the temple of his fingers to point at the spirit he had called upon, as if it were a petulant child. “Don’t be so grim.”
“You bring me back here to write songs for you, making yourself rich off a talent that never got me recognition in life.” Baker’s eyes burned through his shadow. “And your advice is to ‘lighten up’?”
Dee smiled, splaying out his fingers, indicating an obvious conclusion. “Indeed. It’s not as if you have a choice.”
Baker stood, moments passing and the dark shadow around him draining away. “Maybe you should try asking Michael. I heard he was working up tunes for the Heavenly Choir.”
Dee frowned his disapproval. “You know I can’t bring up anyone with a recognizable style.”
“So you need someone who died in anonymity.”
Clapping, Dee spoke fawningly. “But a genius who died in anonymity!”
The shadow and his resolve drained away, Baker slowly responded, “Thanks.” He shifted the guitar he carried into both hands, cradling it. “Could I at least get a stool?”
Dee gave a laugh that was famous among the media, a laugh some had privately thought carried a tone of menace. “That’s almost clever, Baker. You know I can’t break the circle.”
Baker gave the guitar a strum. “Or I’ll get out.”
Tilting his bald head, Dee smiled pityingly. “You escaping is not what I’m worried about. There’s always another unsung talent in the Great Beyond I can call on.”
“You’re worried about what I’d do to you if I got out,” Baker smiled.
Dee returned the grin. “I’m so glad we understand each other.”
“I’m not a killer Dee. Never have been.”
“Pardon me if I don’t take that chance.” Running a finger along his scalp, the necromancer turned to leave. “Now, get to work. The sooner you’re done, the sooner I’ll put you back.” Dee checked his watch, the anachronistic time piece so bejewelled it might have been the reason they invented the word bling. “How long will you need?”
Baker tuned his guitar, looking down the struts, pointing the instrument’s neck at his summoner like a gun sight. “Not long. I’ve got something I had been working on no one’s ever heard. I can rework it pretty quickly.”
Dee smiled with approval. “I’ll be back in an hour.” And in an hour he returned, sitting at the piano’s bench with a patient smile. “So what do you have for me.”
Baker didn’t reply, but instead began to play a song. It didn’t sound to Dee like what he had asked for, not some light pop tune, but had a familiar strain of notes. It so struck the necromancer that he began to play it out on the grand when Baker came back to the chorus a second time.
Dee felt the music move into a shifting etherealness that carried him through several more rounds of music. Accompanying the guitarist, he asked, “This is… unusual. Does it need percussion?”
“No.” The response caused Dee to jump, the music broken by the dissonance of his hands banging into the pianos keys. Baker hadn’t spoken. The voice came from behind Dee. Glaring over his shoulder, the necromancer saw another grey figure, a bearded and bald man in an ancient tunic with a flaring white ruff around the neck. His eyes burned with a fire not dissimilar to what Dee had seen in Baker not long ago. The man’s rigid posture held him taut like a string ready to snap.
“I’m happy to disappoint you Dee,” Baker spoke from what seemed a great distance away, “but that tune isn’t mine. I learned it from one of the Utom people on the other side. They’re South American forest dwellers who speak to their ancestors through music.” To put a finer point on it, Baker concluded, “to summon the dead, but without circles or any components.”
Dee eyed the man standing next to him. “This is…?”
“Oh no,” Dee could hear a laughter in Baker’s voice. “He’s not Utom. This is Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. He’s a count and composer from sixteenth-century Italy.” Baker paused, then added, “He also tortured and murdered his wife and her lover.”
“He’s got a thing about personal property. So I asked him to come up here and have a chat with you about stealing other peoples’ work.”
Matthew C. McLean is a writer living in North Carolina.
Our Reader said:
I enjoyed this story very much: not only is it focused on music throughout, but the ending was unexpected and amusing.