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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #522
Harpy Marks
David Gunn

Sitting in Row MM, seat 668, Lark A. Clobberworm occupied the geographical center of the huge auditorium. He was equidistant from the front of the hall, where a speaker droned from the lectern, the sides, which were enigmatically lined with dozens of harps, and the back, where some sort of carnival was in progress. The building's sound system, which dated from the Paleotechnic Era, was malfunctioning, and the clot of words that washed over him was no more comprehensible than the signals he sporadically received from the alien implant in his molar. The speaker occasionally pointed to a giant screen to his left onto which fuzzy images were projected. They were worse than unfocused; they were the visual equivalent of tinnitus, and his eyes buzzed whenever he tried to look at them. Now the speaker gestured towards a new slide, and the resultant hand shadow bore an uncanny resemblance to a Rorschach test for whales. Clobberworm's attention span, never long in the first place, began to flag, and he rummaged through his pockets for his dextroamphetamine gum. Instead, he pulled out a chuckwalla that had been warming itself next to his miniature sunlamp. The lizard stared at him, and Clobberworm felt powerless to resist the reptilian thoughts that flooded his mind. Strange they were, yes, but not entirely impractical. He started to subvocalize his assent to the lizard's request when a ripple of laughter undulated through the hall, and his attention was abruptly drawn back to the speaker. Speakers--there were now two of them. They spoke simultaneously, though each seemed to be addressing a specific part of the audience. The implant in his tooth was resonating with the words from the one on the right, and Clobberworm felt a certain unearthly power well up in him.

No, it was just another bout of borborygmus, but one loud enough to startle the chuckwalla, which wriggled out of Clobberworm's grasp and disappeared under the seats.

Losing his concentration again, Clobberworm glanced around the room, trying to estimate the number of attendees. But, like the noises emanating from the sound system, the images of the spectators merged into an intangible blur. He thought he noticed rather a lot of chuckwallas, however.

A commotion arose from the carnival in the back of the auditorium. A funambulist was attempting to walk up a rope that was suspended from the ceiling. She was arguing vociferously with Gravity, which, citing a Fundamental Law of Physics, had declared the feat impossible. It appeared to be a stand-off: she was already a third of the way up the rope, but Gravity was determined to impede any further progress until she produced an exception to the Rule. Meanwhile, the carnival's Rubber Man, as he'd done all his life, casually floated two feet above the ground, flouting that very Law of Physics.

"Harp." The clearly understandable word grabbed Clobberworm's attention. And, apparently, those of the harps in the auditorium, too, for they all seemed to lean forward towards the word's speaker. (Speaker, singular--there was only one at the podium again.) The corresponding picture that appeared on the projection screen, however, was of a decidedly non-musical Harpy, one of the less fashionable critters of Greek Mythology. The speaker uttered another word, one not heard since those days atop Mount Olympus. In response, all of the harps arpeggiated madly as the image burst from the screen, assumed physical form and flew through the auditorium. The Harpies were originally storm goddesses, and this one left cumulonimbi in its wake as it soared into the hall's upper reaches. Then, much to Clobberworm's dismay, the half hag-half vulture stopped directly above him. The lower it hovered, the higher his hackles rose. He yanked his coat over his head, and when the creature's leathern wings briefly grazed it, two more chuckwallas leapt from the pocket and dived underneath the seats.

Fortunately for Clobberworm, another attack of borborygmus startled the Harpy. Screeching, it flew away, leaving marks in the air where its claws scrabbled against the occasional helium radical.

Clobberworm noticed that his neighbor to the north, a ruddy-complexioned man in seat 666, was utterly unconcerned by the appearance of the mythological creature. In fact, everyone else in the auditorium seemed intent only on the speaker at the lectern and his slide show. Nearly everyone else--the chuckwallas had all sought refuge elsewhere.

The Harpy had gravitated to the back of the auditorium, where it blended in with many of the carnival denizens. Charybdis Girl, Centaur Man, Émile and Gorgon Zola--they all were imbued with a kind of monstrousness that made them attractive to curiosity seekers. As it alighted upon the top of Serpentina's cage, the harps tentatively settled back into more traditional tonalities. The Harpy, however, had not forsaken its wicked ways, and it forthwith snatched Rubber Man and scratched out his eyes. In like fashion, it seized and de-orbed Seal Boy, Pinhead, Miss Acephales and the Sirenomelus Twins. It tried to grab Gravity, too, but couldn't hold on.

Then Clobberworm watched in horror as Geiger the Geek approached the Harpy, holding a chuckwalla out to it. The monster eagerly snatched the animal. But, you know the old saying: "beware a geek bearing gifts."

For it was a chuckwalla piñata, and it was filled with the most noxious ingredients imaginable. The moment the Harpy bit into it, flames erupted from its mouth. It wailed in torment, flew unsteadily back to the front of the auditorium, and plunged through the projection screen whence it had come. The speaker paused only briefly to refocus the image on the screen, then continued with his presentation.

The continuation of this presentation leads us to the nub of Kalvos & Damian's 522nd New Music Bazaar, a radiophonic interview with one who hails and, indeed, farewells from an entirely different country whose name, if I mentioned it, you'd recognize in an instant. That instant follows the conclusion of this music and the initially incorporeal appearance of Kalvos.