Writing

If It Ain’t Baroque

My first round story for NYCMidnight netted a very solid second place ranking in my heat. I couldn’t be more happy with my score. Well, I guess I could be more happy. I could have come in first. That said, I read the first place story, and it was pretty awesome. I can’t begrudge the judges’ choice one bit!

The 2nd place ranking basically means I moved through to the semifinals for the contest. We were given our prompt at midnight NY time on Thursday, and we had 72 hours to write 2000 words or less.

My prompt was:

Genre: Action/Adventure; Subject: Organ Donation; Character: A Hunter

Can I get a “groan” up in here? The first thing I thought of was that stupid urban legend that circulated the Internet in mid ’90s. That thought led to memories of Charlie the Unicorn. Yeah. No.

Then it hit me… “organ” doesn’t just mean hearts and lungs and kidneys.

Hehehe heheh… I said… organ.

No, not that kind of organ, either. Ahem… moving along….

Organ_BackI started researching pipe organs. I know that they get salvaged from old churches and repurposed, reused… you know, donated… to other, more differenter churches. Or something.

As you can tell, I know WORLDS about this topic. Or not. I had to do some research.

During my scouring of the great Interwebs, I came across a couple factoids. First off, the pipe organ was celebrated for its extreme grandeur in Baroque-era Germany, but England basically thumbed its nose at the instrument, favoring the choir instead. Okay… I had the start of an idea there.

Next, I found out that a man named Inigo Jones (I shit you not) was the architect who oversaw the reconstruction of the Old St. Paul Cathedral in London during the early 1600s. At that time, they decided not to include a pipe organ in the cathedral’s reconstruction. About five minutes after the construction process finished, the Great Fire of London broke out and destroyed much of the work they’d done.

With that information, I really had something to work with!

Finally, Old St. Paul got his first pipe organ installed in the 1680s, during the second reconstruction, after the fire. And he’s been happy ever since!

Why yes… this writer’s brain WAS able to wrap that together into an action/adventure piece. And no, it doesn’t take place in London… and it’s not set in the 1600s. But the backstory is kind of cool.

For my 2nd round, semifinal story for the NYCMidnight Short Story competition, I give you…..

If It Ain’t Baroque

 In the 1600s, England failed to recognize the magnificence of the pipe organ. In modern-day Costa Rica, Marnie learns a lesson in history – and in listening to her instincts.


Sunlight peeked through the triple-canopy forest in thin rays that dotted the shadowed road through the Braulio Carrillo. The only other passenger on the bus sat directly across from me. And stared.

I gave him a polite smile, hoping he’d recognize the consolation gesture and leave me alone. He didn’t take the hint.

“What’s in your box?” He adjusted his green outback hat.

I shoved the crate beneath me further under my seat with my heel. “Parts,” I said, “for an organ.”

“What, like a heart? Lung?” He leaned forward and extended his hand. “Inigo Jones.”

“Marnie,” I grasped his fingertips for as little time as was necessary. “And it’s a pipe organ.”

“You fit a whole pipe organ in a shipping crate?”

The bus bumped along our route as I scrutinized his expression. His playful smirk didn’t match his humorless charcoal eyes. Costa Rica was generally regarded as safe, but I’d been warned of treasure hunters who would happily take any amount of metal they could find.

The majority of the organ I was headed to work on was already installed, but our charity’s benefactor insisted I hand-carry this specific pipe. Its flawless, baroque-period copper etchings made it too risky to ship. Priceless, Mr. Dennery had called it.

Kidnap bait was more like it.

“It’s not the whole organ. Just a pipe.” I gulped and added, “A wooden one.”

“I’d guess you’re going to Iglesia Casa Cordillera?”

I felt the small hairs like daggers on the back of my neck. “How did you…”

“Not much else out that way that has a pipe organ. I’m headed there to talk to the bishop myself.” He patted the leather satchel slung over his shoulder and winked like I was part of his conspiracy.

*********

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Bishop José Francisco Obispo, but the man who greeted us wasn’t it. He wore a lime-green tank top with a B on the front, blue running shorts, and a heavy gold cross on a chain around his neck. His receding white hair clung damp with sweat around the crown of his head. His muscular arms and legs glistened like he’d just stepped out of the gym.

“Your Excellency,” Inigo stepped in front of me, took the bishop’s hand, and kissed his fingers. “Grace be to God that we meet again.”

“I didn’t expect to see you today, Inigo. Is your friend here to finish installing my organ?”

I started to answer, but Inigo interrupted. “Yes, she is.”

“Lovely!” The bishop clasped his hands together and smiled. “Inigo, can you help the señorita?”

“I’d rather you be there, Bishop,” I said. Inigo was, at the very least, an annoyance.

“I’d love to help, but as you can see by my attire,” he pulled at his tank top, “I’m working in the garden today. I need to finish what I’ve started there.”

The bishop clapped Inigo on the shoulder. I suppose the gesture was to make me feel better about accepting his help. It didn’t.

*********

The pipe organ stood out against the plain white walls and modest stained glass of the chapel. Flourishes of carved rosettes framed the pipe cabinet. Crown molding flared from the cabinet peaks, and a massive mahogany crucifix reached toward the rafters from above the center pipe.

I found the empty spot that belonged to the pipe in my possession and opened the fastenings on the crate. I was eager to be finished with my task; I was free to explore the region once I was done.

Inigo brushed his fingers over the pipe’s etchings. “Exquisite. It’s exactly as I expected.”

“Excuse me?” I looked through the windows, trying to see where the bishop had gone.

“Marnie, this isn’t just an ordinary pipe.” Inigo placed both hands over the artifact. “It’s the pipe. The one that started the Great Fire of London. It’s rumored to have destroyed China’s Ningbo cathedral.” He grasped both my shoulders. Our eyes locked, and I sucked in a breath at the sudden contact.

“If this pipe finds its right and proper home,” he continued, “it will produce the greatest voice ever offered to God. And you’re about to install it here.”

I couldn’t tell if he was just a menace, or if he might be dangerous. I settled on the former. It was clear that he seemed to believe his own story.

“I don’t know what you’re playing at,” I pulled out of his grasp, “but I really need to get to work.” I reached for my tool satchel but kept one eye on Inigo.

He hefted a hammer from my tool bag and flipped it in the air, catching it by the handle. “Pipe organs are intended to be a voice so holy that it pleases God Himself.” He ran a finger along the edge of the cabinet. “But in 1600s England, they didn’t buy it. This pipe sat unused in St. Paul Cathedral for over eighty years. The British diocese felt the choir served God just fine.”

“So you’re an expert on the baroque era?” I resumed focus on my task, hoping he’d stop talking.

To my annoyance, he continued. “Stupid choir. Probably some tenor who had to have his way. So it got pissed and burned down all of London.”

I didn’t look up, but had to ask: “You’re saying a disgruntled tenor burned down London?”

Inigo barked a laugh. “No, this disgruntled pipe burned down London. Took the whole city to the ground and they pegged it on a bakery.”

I scrunched my nose.

“Disgusting, I know,” he said. “They still wouldn’t respect the organ. After that, the pipe traveled from cathedral to chapel to dignitary, leaving fiery destruction in its wake.”

I shook my head and fastened a bracket to the blank space in the cabinet. The sooner I could be done with the organ and Inigo, the better. When I turned, Inigo held the pipe, sighting down it like it was a shotgun.

“Careful,” I said, “that thing might go off.”

“You bet your ass it will!” He pointed at my installed bracket. “You put this piece in, well, I hope you don’t mind being responsible for what happens next.”

I snatched the pipe from his hands and slipped it into the cabinet, wrapped the bracket around the copper shaft, and clamped the mechanism in place.

As I stashed my tools, a wave of heat rolled off the wall like a furnace blast. I reached out and tentatively touched the pipe.

“Yeouch!” I jerked my hand back and stuck my burned finger in my mouth.

The ground rocked beneath our feet as emergency sirens wailed outside.

“You see?” Inigo shouted over the alarm. “You should have listened.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I steadied myself on a pew as the shaking stopped. “It’s just an earthquake.”

“And your hand?” Inigo asked.

“It’s nothing.”

The door swung open and the bishop ran inside, his eyes wide. “Fire! Behind the organ! You need to get out!”

My breath caught in my throat as Inigo’s tale replayed itself in my mind. The fire. My finger. I turned to Inigo and my blood ran cold.

He had pulled a handgun from his satchel and leveled it at the bishop.

“Into the sacristy,” he ordered.

Bishop José held up his hands and backed into the small room at the rear of the sanctuary. Inigo turned toward me. My hands trembled as I realized that the townspeople wouldn’t see the fire through the thick canopy forest. I was cut off from help with a gun barrel pointing at my chest.

“Whatever it is you want, Inigo, just take it,” I said.

He cut off my path to the door. “Dislodge that pipe and hand it over.”

“You are a thief!” I silently chastised myself for not heeding the warnings as I pulled a screwdriver from my tool satchel.

“Relic hunter, not thief. And this one’s a beauty. 1600s, hand-etched organ pipe.” He whistled through his teeth. “It even has a corny legend attached. Better hurry love. I don’t want that pipe damaged.” He nodded toward the organ. “Don’t care about the rest of ‘em. Just get me the one you brought.”

As I reached for the pipe, the bishop emerged from the sacristy with an assault rifle pointed at the ceiling. My heart leapt and I turned on Inigo, ready to fight back.

Inigo cocked an eyebrow. “Perfect timing on the fire, José. It’ll cover our tracks beautifully.”

José grinned as his aim took a lazy arc to settle on me. Reality sank in. The bishop wasn’t on my side.

“You set fire to your own church?” I asked.

He shrugged around his rifle. “Do I really look like a bishop, Miss Marnie? Was it the giant ‘B’ on my shirt that convinced you?”

“But the pipe. The legend…”

“She bought it!” Inigo whooped, and José added his laughter.

I felt like a child being mocked for my ignorance.

“That earthquake was quite the coincidence,” José said.

“Couldn’t have timed it better,” Inigo agreed.

“Now, about our organ pipe, Marnie?” Inigo waved me toward the organ with his gun.

I nodded, hoping I could dislodge the pipe with my screwdriver to avoid more burns. The temperature rose around me as flames licked through the wall.

I felt the barrel of José’s rifle against my back. “Hurry it up, girl. We don’t want to die in a fire waiting on you.”

My hand shook as I worked at the latch. “I think it’s warped,” I said.

“You’d better figure something out fast.” Inigo cocked his gun.

I pulled out my hammer and tried to pry the pipe out of its casing. Nothing. Both men watched me like wolves circling their prey.

In a last-ditch effort, I steeled my jaw and grasped the latch with my bare hand. Pain erupted through my palm, but the mechanism held firmly in place.

“I’m sorry, I can’t get it open!” I turned and faced two loaded guns and the hardened men who held them. The blaze tore through the wall behind me.

Inigo tipped his head to one side, “That’s too bad – for you.”

He leveled his weapon, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

The ground bucked hard under our feet again, and the building rattled. José’s rifle sprayed a wild arc of bullets that peppered the ceiling and shattered stained glass.

Fear gave way to anger as I fell on top of Inigo. I pinned his gun hand to the floor and shoved my elbow into his throat.

From behind me, I heard a tsk-tsk-tsk. The barrel of José’s rifle brushed my neck.

“None of that, Miss Marnie,” José said.

I wasn’t sure if he’d burned through all of his ammo during his fall, but I wasn’t about to risk it. I released Inigo and held up my hands.

The pipe organ stood engulfed in flame. My heart sank at the loss of such an exquisite instrument. I froze in terror, realizing this pair had no more use for me.

Inigo raised his gun toward my head.

An explosion ripped through the air.

Both men turned toward the door, where a man in black robes stood holding a shotgun, flanked by an older gentleman, and half a dozen armed militia. Outside, men barked orders to douse the flames.

“Mr. Dennery?” I asked, recognizing my charity’s benefactor.

The older man stepped forward. “It’s a good thing I decided to oversee this missionary effort myself. I found the bishop in town, knew you’d already be here, and was worried, considering the earthquakes.”

He glanced over at the organ, where the ornate pipe stood unmolested by the flames that had destroyed the rest of the instrument.

“Thankfully, only hellfire can damage that particular artifact. Once we clean up this lot,” he motioned at the men who stood beside me, mouths open, weapons at their sides, “we can see about finding a new organ to please God Himself.”

 

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