Dark Harp

The crowd at the Great Hall funked and grooved. They shook their bootys and whirled round and around. They were more dervishes than dancers, their souls lost in sound.

The Harpees didn’t play here too often. Ever since they won the World Fusion Championships, they were always touring. But this was their home town, and they didn’t forget their own. They were a twelve piece band with two basses, two sitars, bongo drums, tablas, two trumpets, keyboardist, harmonium, violinist, and lead harpist. Each instrument played its part beautifully, but the harp was what made their band really special. The vibrations of its strings climbed high, touching people’s hearts and dreams. And it was a unique instrument. While other instruments gave feedback – muddying the music – the harp never did. It produced only pure sound.

Rufus gave a final flourish, and set all of its strings vibrating. He dropped his head sharply to end the number, and the rest of the band followed his lead. There was huge cheering and applause. The band thanked their loyal fans who had set them on the road to stardom, and called it a night.

Before Rufus had even stopped sweating, the manager of Resonance – the recently completed apartment block in the centre of town – came to bug him. He wanted The Harpees to endorse his building, continuing its musical advertising campaign. This had included taglines like “Sounds good!”, “In tune with you!”, and “Live in harmony!” Rufus said he didn’t have time right now.

No matter how many times you’ve done it before, teardown is always a messy business. There’s always mounds of boxes, jumbles of plugs, and a jungle of wires. The building’s steps made it even more work than usual humping the gear. Finally everything was loaded, and Rufus drove home. They had to hit the road tomorrow, so he left his gear in the truck. He didn’t sleep well that night, which was unusual. He usually soared heavenward.

The next morning was the worst of his life. He checked and rechecked but the harp was gone. Had he misplaced it, he wondered? Or had someone taken it in error? After all, instrument cases were all dark and bulky; they could easily be confused. Yet he recalled placing it into the truck carefully. He really didn’t want to consider it, but the only real possibility was that someone had stolen it!

Rufus held his head in his hands and snarled like a dog. He was so angry, he could not think. He could only feel colours.

When his Grandpa gave him the harp, he’d said, “It’s been in the family for centuries, and I have been its guardian for fifty years. It’s now your turn, Rufus. But don’t lock it away somewhere. It is alive I tell you! Play it! Play it! Play it for the world!”

At first it had been hard to know what to do. It wasn’t the coolest instrument, or the easiest to master. Dull black wood with a hundred strings. But Rufus persevered and became proficient. He started out as a street-musician, then joined a chamber orchestra, and later a local experimental band. He played so well that he displaced the lead guitarist, and became “lead harpist”. Eventually they changed their name from The Spudees to The Harpees, and the stage was set.

“All instruments have souls, and they respond to others,” his Grandpa had said. “But this harp has seen too much in its lifetime. It braved two wars. Now it makes its own music, that is all, and doesn’t echo the sounds of other instruments. It is like a great person, who is sure of himself but wary of the crowd. And because he stands apart bravely, he attracts others.”

Rufus hadn’t known what to make of that, but the musical benefits were clear. There was no feedback, and thus clarity and force in performance. Its sound would rise above all others.

But now the harp was gone. He had lost it! Rufus snarled again. His hearing was so keen that he could detect the quiver of a nearby string. But he knew that even if he drove around the Village, house by house, playing other instruments, the harp would never answer back. It gave no feedback. Its special quality was now its loss.

Of course they cancelled the rest of the tour. Rufus stayed at home. He was mainly quiet, but sometimes found himself snarling.

That night there were strange occurrences in the Village. Dogs barked non-stop, and the glass in shop windows kept trembling. Reflections distorted and shook.

The next night everyones’ car alarms went off everywhere, and many streetlights shattered. Everybody in the coffee shop was talking about these strange events. Had there been a series of small earthquakes? Or maybe some kind of electrical-field reversal?

Only Rufus knew. The harp had broken its long silence. It was responding to his call.

The third night, the Village fire-trucks’ lights and sirens came on. Also those of the ambulances, and the police cruisers. The centre of town was like a fairground. Emergency personnel all turned out in response to the sirens, and it’s a good job they did.

The Resonance building crumbled into dust. It wobbled initially, and then fell flat. Fortunately the manager had noticed some cracks that evening, and evacuated the buildings’ few occupants before he disappeared. No one was hurt.

Some days later, among the rubble of Resonance, was found a large black instrument case. Inside was a dark harp.

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