'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Musical Day

December has begun and the final defence against the flood of Christmas has been washed away. The garden has been covered in frost in the morning over the past few days. It seems a shame to ruin this natural decoration by putting up Christmas lights. I've been reading more of my great-grandfather's guide book. He wrote about people listening to the frost in the fields to hear voices from the Otherworld. His theory was that this tradition started with people trying to find where they'd buried their dynamite.

My cousin Charlie once joined a band called Ballooning Spinsters. The lead singer was Jamie, one of Charlie's friends. Jamie had started the band because of his belief that each day was like a musical. Most days had a happy ending. In winter the musicals were very dramatic. The blizzards had eyes that could transfix him.

He could create a narrative for the day and choose what characters to include by choosing who he'd visit. Some days would require the inclusion of a woman who wept songs instead of singing them, but on most days he'd try to avoid her. Some things were beyond his control. There was always an element of improvisation.

He started to see his friends as backing singers, so it was only natural that he'd form a band. Hearing people sing sounded as normal as the song of the birds. When he heard people talk he was often reminded of colours. The babble of his backing singers in the back of his van sounded red sometimes, and sometimes it was green, or even blue.

Peter, Jamie's brother, loved books. They provided the perfect escape from the worries and fears of daily life. Whenever he saw a tree he imagined the book it could be. He believed that all of his dreams were recorded in books somewhere out in the world, even though he hadn't found any of them. He didn't need to read at night because dreams provided his escape.

Then one day he found a book that was like one of his days and he started to question his conception of reality. He remembered the advice of his grandfather: Be like a dart through the night to the blue of the morning. Get there as quickly as possible and don't get lost in the wilderness of a dream.

He wondered if days were really like dreams, full of unreal events that couldn't hurt him. His grandfather could have been suggesting that the dream world was real, a place he should fear.

He stopped reading and started exploring the world around him, and his fears faded away. He saw evidence of his theory that the world around him wasn't real. His brother asked him to be in a band that would perform a musical every day. The old Peter would have been terrified of performing in front of other people, but the new one saw no reason to worry, and he joined the band.

He enjoyed being part of Jamie's musicals. Some days were mysteries. Most days ended with a gig and a party. On summer nights the band often ended up in the fields around the town, where people sat on deck chairs and looked up at Bertrand flying his fighter plane. Almost everyone thought that this was more entertaining than going to the cinema. Not that Bertrand and his plane were exciting, but the films in the cinema were terrible.

The local cinema was owned by a man called Clarence. Business was terrible because of Bertrand and his plane, and Clarence decided that he'd need to make his own film to win back his customers. He came up with the idea of filming one of Jamie's musicals. Jamie and his band were all in favour of the idea, but Clarence was worried that people wouldn't pay to see a simple musical. He thought he needed to spice up the action a bit, so he hired actors to appear in Jamie's day, and he didn't tell Jamie about this.

The film crew began filming the band at ten o' clock in the morning. By midday Charlie was starting to suspect that something funny was going on. They'd already met two beautiful young women who looked like models. The women said they were tourists and they asked Jamie if he'd show them the best sights in the locality. When they were walking through the woods they were attacked by Ninjas, right in the middle of Jamie's song about the trees, and just after they left the woods Bertrand's fighter plane flew low over their heads. Peter remained calm in all of these situations. Even when the Ninjas appeared he wasn't in the least bit surprised. He fought them off with a stick while the others ran away.

Jamie still didn't see anything odd about this, and Peter was seeing everything in a dreamlike way. He didn't see any real danger. Charlie and the rest of the band were starting to suspect that something was going on.

They took the women to see the ruins of a castle, but two men with handguns emerged from the castle and told them to put their hands up. Peter took no notice of them. He was more interested in the litter on the ground. It was blowing around in circles. "I get the feeling that the litter isn't as inanimate as it should be," Peter said, "as if it's alive."

He examined the ground where the litter was, and he found a concrete manhole cover. He lifted the cover and climbed down into the manhole.

The actors wondered if this was meant to be part of the plot, something that Clarence hadn't told them about so their reactions would be real. They decided to remain in character. One of the men with the guns said, "Right, everyone down the manhole."

The two women went down first, followed by Jamie and his band, then the other two actors, and finally the film crew.

Peter had a small torch in his pocket. He turned it on, and they could see that they were in a tunnel. There were murals on the walls, images of violence, of beings that were half human, half machine. In one of the murals there was a man attached to a car battery.

Peter walked down the tunnel and the others followed. They came to a stone staircase. Peter climbed it. There was a wooden trapdoor at the top of the stairs and he knocked on this. He could hear footsteps above him, and the trapdoor was opened by a man who smiled and said, "Come on up and join the party."

Peter, his band-mates, the actors and the film crew climbed into a room. There were only five other people at this party. They were all holding drinks. The atmosphere seemed tense. The man who had opened the trapdoor was a tailor who was impeccably dressed. He said, "We always have a party after our official meetings. One member of our club has to be standing outside at all times during the meeting and during the party after it. This has been in the rule book for over a century. That's why Jerome is standing outside the window." They looked towards the window and they saw a man outside. He waved at them. "Jerome often volunteers to go outside because he's been standing for four years."

The tailor turned to a priest and asked if he had a contribution to make. "Not at this time," the priest said.

"When is the time?" the tailor said. "That's what I'd like to know. There never has been a time."

Charlie asked the tailor how they'd get out of the house. The tailor pointed towards a door near the fireplace and he said, "Ye can leave through that door or else ye can go back the way he came. Before ye decide, it's worth considering the fact that death is a depressing matter, but death has bad eye-sight. As long as the lights are low you don't need to worry too much."

Charlie wanted to ask if he was he speaking metaphorically, but before he could say anything Peter was walking towards the door. He opened it and entered a dimly-lit corridor. The others followed him.

There were paintings on the walls on either side. They looked very real, but it was hard to see them clearly in the dim light. Then Charlie saw one of the paintings move and he realised that there was a real person behind the glass.

A door opened at the end of the corridor. A man emerged from a room. There was a light on in the room behind him, and he seemed to have trouble adjusting to the dim light. He was wearing a black suit, a white shirt and a black tie. He had thick glasses and he was holding a handgun. He fired over their heads.

The actors didn't know if this was real or just a set-up. They decided to play it safe and they ran away screaming. So did everyone else, apart from Peter. The cameraman pointed his camera backwards as he ran away, and the last shots on the tape were of Peter talking to the man in the black suit.

The club members laughed at the stream of people disappearing down into the tunnel. They stopped laughing when Peter calmly entered the room shortly afterwards. He said goodbye to them as he climbed down the stone steps.

When the actors and the film crew met Clarence that evening they asked him if he set the whole thing up. He said he did, but he didn't sound too sure about that.

Peter ended up being the hero of the film. At the end they made it look as if he'd killed the man in the black suit. They filmed another scene of Peter with a gun, and a man in a black suit lying on the ground in front of him, and then one of the women, who was a model, ran to him, kissed him and said, "You killed the man who killed my family and made me become his bride. How can I ever thank you?"

Peter saw this as further evidence that real life was much better than dreams.

The moose's head over the fireplace had his fortune told by one of our neighbours. She told him he'd travel the world and make a fortune selling camels. She said she could see his future clearly, but she failed to spot the dubious expression on his face.