The next morning Adrian woke up to the smell of fresh coffee and bacon that had slowly working his way first into the cramped storage tent were he had been sleeping. The smell had then invaded his dream where he was back in his home. Actually he was just sitting in front of an old but charming kitchen table surrounded by a dense fog created by his lost memories but he knew that he was home. In front of him a delicious breakfast that now matter how much he ate never manged to fill him. He was starting to get frustrated when he realised that he was dreaming. While he had slight reservations of getting up the thought of actually eating was stronger then his urge to turn around for a bit more shut-eye.
When he came out of the tent he was blinded by the bright light of the late morning sun that was pushing into the the forest with all its fusion powered dedication. Kim was sitting in front of the fire that was now down to a rather civilised burn. She was in the middle of preparing a scrambled egg, with a relaxed and peaceful expression that Turner had not seen in her face before. At that moment poking around in the pan in front of her, while keeping an eye of the other pots and pans and kettles hanging over the fire forming a cast iron wind-chime, she was in her happy place. The intensity that had been such an integral part of her personality was nowhere to be seen.
Adrian decided to stay in front of the tent for a moment and watch her, he did not want to disrupt her mood. It did not take long until Kim noticed him. To his surprise she did not change her behaviour at all, instead she smiled and waved him towards the fireplace.
“Goodmorning!” she said. “Come and grab some breakfast.”
Adrian walked over to were Kim now was distributing the scrambled egg onto two plates.
“Perfect timing too, food’s almost ready. Slept well?” she asked as she was counting out the strips of crisp beacon onto the plates.
“Surprisingly so yes.”
“It’s this place. Despite the occasional bear attack it is incredibly peaceful here, since we arrived here there has not been one night were I did not sleep like a baby. Do you like baked beans?”
“Sure. But not for breakfast, thanks.”
“Your loss.” she shrugged as she ladled some on her plate. She took slices of freshly toasted bread from a grill, throwing them quickly on the plates. “Coffee?”
“On its way. Sugar and cream are over there if you want.”
For a while the ate in silence. Adrian was perfectly happy listening to the quiet sounds of the forest, while eating his breakfast. While his memories did not show him what he had been eating on his way here his body was incredibly happy to have a real, decent breakfast again.
“D.C. still asleep?” Adrian asked after he was done eating.
Kim snorted with amusement. “I wish. No he got up around dawn shaming musicians throughout time and space. He is probably in his personal corner of the forest,” Kim nodded towards the east. “preparing for you.”
“So about this duel…”
Kim just looked at him.
“How exactly is this going to work. We’ll hardly are going to fight each other with swords.” Kim remained silent. “Right?”
“No no swords. I can’t help you with D.C. you have to go to him to find out what you need to do to best him. He’s a bit of an intellectual crank. That might help.”
“What about you?”
“My secret weakness are cinnamon rolls. Do you really expect me to tell you what you need to do to win against me?” slowly the sarcasm was returning to Kim. No that Adrian had seen her relaxed he noticed that her powerful personality was not really aggressive, just strong.
“I did tell you yesterday remember?” Kim asked. “You need to move me. You will not be able to sway me with words or nice arguments, because without backing them up they are just insignificant noise.” her deadpan face gave infused her words with menace. Again Turner noticed that what was pushing against him was not aggression but sheer force of personality. “If you should beat D.C. he will tell you were you can find me. You will need to impress me. Good luck with that.”
Turner kept calm, even if he had gritted his teeth a bit without noticing. “Fair enough. I will see you later then.”
Kim smiled the forceful part of her personality falling away from her. “That’s the spirit. Now shoo, shoo. Go and defeat D.C.”
“I’m on my way. And thanks for the breakfast.”
Turner walked into the forest. He was wondering how hard it would be to find D.C. without getting lost. He had left his giant monolithic backpack in the camp so if he should get lost he would be in deep trouble. Kim had tried to calm him down, telling him that he would not get lost. He just had to walk into the direction she had shown him. For much of the way he would be able to see where he was coming from. The ‘forest hall’, Kim liking that name had started to use it herself, had ample space between its tress making it possible to keep things in view for a long time. She pointed out to him some rather characteristic trees on his way that he would be able to use as markers. Once he left the hall it was not far to where D.C. was. She had also given him a small flare gun. Mostly to make him feel better but also as a protection against bears, which would be a greater problem for Turner than getting lost.
He looked back every once in a while to make sure that he had not strayed from his path. Every once in a while felling a flash of panic when all he saw behind him was pure forest. It only took a few moments of hurriedly moving somewhat to his left or right to clear the view back to the camp again. After a while he started finally to relax again opening himself up to the atmosphere of the forest again. It was nearly noon, dreams of a hot summer day were slowly drifting from the canopy high above to the cool slightly humid forest floor. Every once in a while he could hear some kind of bird calling. Maybe to claim its territory, or complaining about Turner walking through her home or maybe the bird were just bored.
Adrian was surprised how easy it was to recognised the marker trees. He had been a city boy all his life with his botanical expertise culminating in insights as profound like: ‘trees are the brown narrow brown things that have that big leafy afro on top’. You did not have to be an expert to recognise ‘the pillar of heaven’. A tree almost perfectly straight with a perfectly smooth shinning bark which alone stood out against the rough weathered barks of all the other trees surrounding it. It was also impossibly tall its crown far above all other trees hidden from view to all of those who were bound to walk the earth.
The ‘emerald tree’ was completely covered in moss turning into a column of perfect green. And there was of course the ‘Fuck You’ tree. Kim had just told him that he’d know when he saw it. He did. Were all other trees were tall with their treetops far above, this one was much smaller, not reaching half as high as all the others. Its trunk was massive implying that it was probably the oldest tree around a survier of some ancient long past age. It had not many leaves to work with left as the surrounding trees had slowly covered the sky above, leaving only an open patch directly above the fuck you tree. It was there where the tree was stretching the most towards what little sun it had left for itself. From where the direction Turner was coming from the almost bare branches of its crown and the peculiar way it had grown made the tree look like it was giving the world the finger.
Not long after Turner had reached the edge of the forest hall. The trees started to become more diverse. There perfect ceiling like canopy started breaking up giving rise to some spectacular patches of undergrowth and to his left a see of ferns was growing in the dim forest light. Also the ground here was not perfectly flat anymore but was now rising and falling with increasing enthusiasm.
* * *
Turner had just climbed a rather steep slope which he had chosen because he hoped that it would give him at least some kind of overview. His fear of getting lost was starting to return again. At least from up there he would be able to have an eye on the sea of fern, giving him at least one point for him to orient himself and if he was lucky he might even be able to see something that would tell him where he would be finding D.C.
When he arrived at the top he was surprised to find that beyond it was a rather large plateau. It lay a few feet blow the point where Turner was now standing making it impossible to see from any point below. The growth here was much ore sparse again, with many squat wide crowned trees dominating the ground. Because every tree took so much space for itself there were shafts of golden sunlight everywhere. For a moment it looked to Turner as if the light was coming from the ground drifting slowly towards the sky.
He was still marvelling at the sights when he saw D.C. He was standing with the back to him in one of the shafts of light. D.C. was leaning slightly back ward, his arms held out to his sides, palms facing forward. It looked like he was daring the world to have a go at him. The world did not move though. Neither did D.C.
Turner made his way towards him making sure that he was making sufficient noise with every foot step, rustling through the leaves more than he needed to, stepping on large dry looking twigs. The way D.C. looked Turner suspected that he might not hear him approach otherwise. He was sure that frightening the life out of D.C. was not a valid way to win his duel.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” D.C. said almost frightening the life out of Turner.
“So how are we going to do this?”
D.C. relaxed his stance turning towards Adrian. “That depends on you really. In the end you want me to join you, go out there and move the world with the power of music alone. I like the idea. But everyone has great ideas. Sadly most are not able to realise them. If you want me to join yours cause” as he said this D.C. stepped forward out of the sunlight into the gloom of the forest, “you will have to make me.”
Out of nowhere D.C. had pulled out two guitars, handing one to Turner. The instruments were attached to small portable amps which probably would have trouble pacifying a crowd of six. But here in the quiet of the wilderness, with just two people they were more than enough. Tuner gave he guitar a few twangs, tuning it by ear and overtones, tweaking its settings and that of the mini-amp until he could produce a bonsai version of what he liked to hear when playing on stage. D.C. went through a systematic sound-check his fingers moving fast but with frightening accuracy that would have impressed industry robots and Germans.
“Make your move.” Turner said when he was satisfied with his settings and D.C. had stopped working on his.
D.C. Plucked the deep string of his guitar. “I like silence and being alone.” he said adding a few tones to melody to the bass note he had produced. “When I am out here, all people far, far away, just me and” he repeated the base sound adding more notes to his simple melody making a gesture with the neck of his guitar encompassing the forest “this kind of nature around me. I’m happy.” D.C. closed his eyes his music slowly growing more complex. His technique was flawless, his delivery to the point. All of that was unimportant though, because the music he played touched Adrian. The music carried the soul of D.C.s words. It carried the peace he felt when he was alone, the solace it gave him to be far away from everyone else. Just the words were flat and cheesy. Guy wants to be alone and commune with nature. But the music carried the subtext. D.C. was not a hippie that had been born decades late, there was no drive to go and hug trees. Nature for him was wild and dangerous as well as beautiful. It simply felt right an natural to him. Nor was he shying away from social encounters, he just felt more like himself when he was alone.
Turner listened to all of it. He was moved by it. The question that emerged from the music he was hearing was ‘Who are you to take me out of here? What is so important that you enter my sanctuary trying to coax me out of it?’. Words failed him.
He counted in his head until he found the right point and entered D.C.s melody. At first it was hard, he had not jammed in ages. Playing sets on little cramped stages now mercifully shrouded by his failing memory. In his core though he was a musician, he felt his way into the song. Careful, slow, taking care not to ruin the harmony by adding a disruptive note. Soon Turner was back in the flow. First the melody was the same but it did not take long to play with the melody.
Turner was growing, telling of his love of music. His playful approach to composing, The simple joy of just making music happen. Like magic. Here he and D.C. were in synchrony. Here he started to deviate. Being alone, is nice but what then. His melody attacked D.C.s. ‘There you are playing for yourself’ it said ‘But where does all that music go? What does it move? No one but yourself. Remember! Your music did not come from nowhere. You listened to other peoples music and became enchanted by it. Yet here you are all alone.’
D.C.s answer were a few sharp notes contrasting to Turners new tune. ‘So what.’ they interrupted ‘There is time. I have still a along way to go. Here I can grow.’
‘You can’t live forever.’ Turner brought the melody down into the minor scale.
‘You are the old one here. I have time.’ D.C. mocked him staying in the minor scale.
‘You. Little. Bastard.’ Turner interrupted the simple melody with angry chords.
‘Hee. Hee. Hee.’ giggled on the high E string.
Turner played a little harmony thinking about how to convince D.C. As he did so D.C. slowly faded out of it leaving him space to make his point.
Where to begin? Well at the start. So Turner played. He played his youth. His sense of wonder. His attemtps to emulate the greats, stumbling over greatness of his own. First only by mistake or luck. Then more regularly. A slow build towards a point where he got music. Not as a listener. As a creator. The greed that followed. Never getting enough, always chasing the next high that came when everything he played, all the lose ends came together, transcending the sum of their parts.
The deal with the devil.
Burning with new found power. Blazing through the sky. Unstoppable. Out of control.
His music was now raw, load, fast, full of power but slowly breaking apart at the seams. D.C. by instinct started to play some little notes at the edges were the melody frayed. Warning Turner that he was in danger.
Adrian smiled. It was far to late for a warning but he appreciated the sentiment.
Fraying but still out of control he attempted to keep on track. He found the note that was to save him. That one last hope. He went back to the Devil and they played. They played for hours, for days. Duelling. The Devil daring Adrian to be better then him. Not unlike the situation he was in yet. The music suddenly stopped.
There was a moment of silence. D.C. looked uncomfortable. He opened his mouth, but decided to not to speak. Instead he played little notes, tiny sonic question marks wanting to know how it ended.
From silence sound. A jaunty little tune. A bit silly, a bit aggressive, a bit funny, but also serious, different to all what came before. There was no resistance anymore. The Devil had lost. And the little melody surged. It began to rise outshining everything that had come before. A fire under control.
This was the point where Adrian got stuck. That had been his finest hour. So now years and years later there was not much he could add. He could only keep on playing the initial brilliance slowly fading. Leaving behind just a diminishing tune, spluttering in the growing dark… until it was gone.
He hesitated. Between playing another note, or saying something.
Finally he spoke. “And?”
“Nothing ‘and’. That’s it. This is why I need you because if I can’t convince you and Kim to come with me, this is exactly what will happen to all of us. Not now and not tomorrow. If that were the case we’d already be fucked. Something needs to be done and I sure as shit not going to wait for someone else to take the responsibility.” Turner looked D.C. straight in the eyes as he said this.
It took some self control at first for D.C. not to look away. In the end he held Turners gaze.
* * *
Adrian returned to the base camp with the guitar D.C. had lent him.
“When she sees you with this she will know that you won.” D.C. had told him.
Now he was wondering how he was going to find Kim. He had not got any directions this time. D.C. had said that he’d the path once he’d found it.
The first sign he discovered using his superior observational skills was the noise. At first he could not place it because it was so alien to this place. An angry rumble of sorts. Was that a tremor or something?
It turned out to be a little diesel generator hidden out of sight behind a tree not far from the camp. From it led a thick black cable into the forest depths. The path had become clear.
Kim was waiting for him. She was leaning with a shoulder against the trunk of large majestic tree. The trunk had a large oval hole cut into its side. The edges carefully sealed with some kind of resin. There was a lamp deep inside the hollow turning the hole into a strange shining eye.
“I was hoping you’d make it this far.” Kim said instead of a greeting.
“Yeah. I was not convinced, but you beat D.C., so you have to have some kind of skill.”
“I’m not sure if I feel more offended for myself or for D.C.”
“How about not being offended at all. At least we challenged you. I was also convinced enough to have hope for you. And there you are with one of D.C.s favourites and here I am pleasantly surprised.”
“What exactly is this place anyway?” Turner asked nodding towards the hollowed out tree.
“I did tell you. Remember? I am here to find a tree, old and strong. Like this one.” she said patting the tree she was leaning against. “I will cut into its heartwood at its very centre and cut out the material I need to make myself a bass. The bass will have the power of the tree and it will be linked to me through my work.”
“Some kind of sympathetic link?”
“In a way yes. This is a strong symbol and through the work, the hard fucking work me and the instrument become attached. Through the ritual I imbue it with meaning. You can see it as a spiritual thing or a psychological trick. But it works. For me. Also its awesome.” she said with a wide grin.
“How do you want to do this? You’re a bassist. I’m on the guitar. Are we going to match rhythms or something?”
“Adrian Turner do not take me for some conjurer of cheap licks!” as she said that she reached into the tree pulling out an unvarnished six string bass. It looked very much like an electric guitar, only that its body was more massive, the neck longer and as wide as a chopping board. Compared to it the guitar Turner had brought looked like a child’s toy.
“This,” Kim said “is Themis. She is not finished yet of course, but for now she will do. She has got the normal bass strings and two higher tuned ones. So basically she is tuned like your guitar. If you can play it so can I. You need to be able to groove and have a melody going. It will be hard to impress me Turner. I maybe not as old as you are but I have listened to a lot of music. I have even made my homework and know the theory behind it. For several different cultures. In a way that’s a bit shit. Most of the time I listen to something new I hear something cobbled together by some ignorant amateurs who don’t even realise how far of the mark they are. My heart is a rock Adrian. Try to move it.”
Turner switched on his little Amp working hard not to let Kim’s words get to him. D.C. had started with a bit of music, invited him into his world. In a way he had opened up to Turner. Kim had pretty much greeted him with a punch to his face and they had not played a single note yet.
He started with a good rhythm. He may be a guitarist but he did could groove with the best of them. Then he layered an infectious melody on top of it. It worked well together. Turner was pleasantly surprised, he had not expected to be able to pull something so slick out of his ass.
Kim destroyed him. She took up his beat, her bass thundering, shaking Turner down to the marrow, the like him she layered the melody on top. Where Turners guitar was a high pitched song, what Kim played was a thick mellow rumbling. From here Kim worked on the beat and injected some embellishment into the melody.
The guitar now sounded like a talented child trying to out-sing a trained baritone.
Turner stopped playing. Kim followed suit showing him her deadpan expression that held an infuriating hint of a smile.
“What the fuck?” Adrian asked.
Kim just puled up her eye brows.
“That sound? Where does it even come from?” Adrian looked around noticing that there wasn’t and amp to be seen anywhere. He had not noticed it at first. When he arrived Kim had not yet had her bass in hand. She certainly had not a small amp clipped to her belt as Adrian had. The little things would work for guitars but would fail miserably on a bass.
“My amp.” Kim’s answer did not help at all.
“Right here.” she said leaning with one hand against the tree that she had cut her bass out of.
“Yep. I did not want to fuck up so I did some test carvings. While I was doing that, I thought that it would be quite a waste, a lack of respect not to do something constructive with them. So I worked some speakers into them. It is only fitting. It worked better then expected so I added a few into the trees around the mother tree here.” Kim smiled her toothy smile “You are surrounded.”
Adrian wanted to complain. Tell her that she was cheating. He resisted though. Starting to whine would only result in him getting beaten. Kim had not sent him away. True she was having fun at his expense but that was part of the challenge.
Turner played rhythms.
And he was destroyed.
He played chords.
And he was destroyed.
He tried melodies.
And, now it wasn’t even depressing anymore, he was destroyed.
Whatever he threw at Kim she took, turned into a Pretzel and threw it back at him. Without breaking a sweat. Before she answered she listened to him play for a while, head tilted to one side, then she’d start to play following Adrian’s lead, taking it and strangle him with it. If he was especially good she’d even nod before starting to play.
Hours passed. It was getting dark as the night slowly rose into the forest turning Kim into a dark figure wreathed in the shining light coming from the tree. Turner was slowly reaching the point where he didn’t bother anymore, he was starting to play what ever, just to see what Kim would turn that into. What kept him going at that point was that Kim never declared herself the winner. She was fighting a war of attrition simply waiting for Turner to give up himself.
‘For fucks sake’ Turner thought, ‘that girl could go to the crossroads and come back with the Devil’s soul…’
The devil… Adrian laughed.
“Are you starting to enjoy being beaten or have you gone crazy?” Kim asked, slightly puzzled.
“I’m laughing because you have already lost. You have just not noticed yet. To be fair neither did I.”
“Definitely crazy.” Kim said mostly to herself.
Turner started playing. A groovy rhythm, with a layer of a tight melody. Nothing to complicated but catchy. While he played he watched Kim. Her dark silhouette shook her head before plodding right in with her monster base, drowning out Turners guitar, laying down a wall of sound.
In that instant Turner attacked.
While Kim was still playing he changed the way he was playing, moving high. Far higher than the monster bass could ever hope to reach. But instead to try to run away or change the melody, he now played something complementing what Kim was playing. Now there was a new higher harmony where before there were two voices fighting to their way to the top. Kim tried to follow Turner. It did not take her two notes to notice that if she did that she’d ruin the new polyphonic melody. Now Kim had to find her own way out of that problem, while Turner was putting his own embellishments on top.
Kim slowly worked her way around Turner’s melody. However when ever she did that Turner changed tack weaving Kim’s lead into another complex piece. They struggled with each other for a while. It was incredibly hard to do. Turner had to stay hyper focused every second. It did not help Kim was slowly getting a feel for how Turner waved his counter harmonies so that now she started to feint or worse change into esoteric scales. Turner was sweating profusely now but smiling. Kim laughed out loud when Turner pulled of an especially sneaky stunt adding for a moment the theme of a children's show into their piece.
The neck of Turners guitar was turning slippery and sticky. His fingers had started to bleed. It took him a while to realise that because his hand long since turned into a throbbing lump of unlocalised pain.
“How about calling it a draw?” Adrian asked.
“Or” Kim had to concentrate so much on playing that her words came out in bursts “if we just… play for ten more… minutes. Until you give up?”
“Give up? I am actually handing your the olive branch here young lady. I am playing with bleeding fingers here and I don’t want you to be beaten by a cripple. You know I want to be able to keep your dignity.”
Kim laughed. “You motherfucker. But OK. Deal. It’s a deadlock.”
The silence that followed was soothing.
“Grrrgmnnghhhnn.” said Adrian. “My hand.”
“Ow. Ow. Ow Ow Ow. Mine too.” Kim agreed.
“Can you move yours?”
“Not at all. I’m not even sure if I still have one. My arm suddenly ends in a ball of pain.” Turner pressed through his clenched teeth. Relaxing somehow made the pain worse.
“Maybe we should go back to the camp and you know. Call it a night” Kim suggested.
“I totally agree.” They walked back towards the camp.
After they had walked in silence for a while Kim said: “You know what?”
“I hope D.C. cooks dinner tonight.”
“Yeah me too. And I hope its something you can eat through a straw.”
* * *
As they arrived at the camp D.C. was first relieved that they had finally returned. It had taken Turner and Kim forever to settle things. Despite hearing the growl of Kim’s bass he had started to worry that they may have taken the whole duel thing to literally. Especially Kim.
Then D.C. noticed their hands going ballistic. Turner was surprised at how much outrage that quite young man could vent in any given second. D.C. went on cussing all they way through bandaging their ruined hands and through making dinner.
He only calmed down when dinner was served. Sitting around the fire they ate in silence for a while.
D.C. was the first to break the silence. Kim and Turner were still drifting back to the music they had played today.
“You convinced me and did what ever the fuck it was what you did with Kim. So I guess that means that we’re a team now.”
“Yes. We are.” Adrian felt joy rushing through him. He had been so busy the whole day that he had somehow lost sight of what he was here for. Now that he realised that he’d done it he felt incredibly relieved, flush with energy. It took some self-control not to jump up to do a little victory dance. “We totally are.” he said smiling.
“This is all groovy and shit.” said Kim back to her usual behaviour, “But where do we go from here?”
“Good question. I think we should get the basics together before we go wild…”
“Net stop Drummerburgh.” Kim declared.
“No. Not a drummer. First we need someone else.”
“Whu…?” asked Kim
D.C. just let his face ask the questions.
“First we need a keyboarder!”