NZ Forest Native Birds
The One Marked by Willow

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The One Marked by Willow
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Chapter 4
The Sleeping Beauty


 Mark opened his eyes to complete blackness. He looked at the luminous numbers on his digital watch and realised, with dismay, that he must have fallen asleep in spite of his efforts to stay awake. Sleeping wasn’t going to get him out of there and free Esmé from Ignarius’s clutches, he told himself. He sat up, wondering what had woken him.

   It was only when he looked up in the darkness where he knew the purple glass was spread that he understood what had disturbed him. The very air seemed to be vibrating. The sound was too lowsomewhere close to twenty cycles per second, Mark guessedfor him to really hear it. But he could definitely feel it. And it seemed to Mark he had heard the soundor something very like itbefore. He remembered it hadn’t felt threatening then. But it did now. For not only had he no idea what was making the sound: he might as well have been totally blind.

   Panic rose in his throat. He battened it down, telling himself how stupid it was to allow himself to be frightened by something that was, after all, only a noise. Except noises were usually made by something, even if it was only the wind.

   Thrum! Thrum! Thrum! Thrum! Where had he heardor rather feltthat sonorous, almost grinding sound before? And why had it not called up terror as it did now? Had it been the church organ on which he’d often practised over the past two years? The notes from the largest pipes in a church organ were quite capable, he knew, of making the very walls of a church vibrate. But this noise was for some reason differentnot really musical. And yet he was still sure he’d heard it before. He remembered his father saying that a pipe organ was the only instrument capable of playing down to the very edge of audibility. So what else could it be? An electronic gadget?

   He groped around trying to work out where he was in relation to his surroundings. When his fingers felt the floor come to an abrupt end he knew he had found the steps. With care he followed the edge of the first step to the right until he felt the smooth curve of the marble pillar at the centre of the tower. Then his heart felt as though it jumped into his throat. For he was sure the polished surface under his fingers moved. And at the same time the low-frequency sound seemed to get louder. As though, Mark thought, someone had turned up the bass or volume control.

   That was when he knew where he’d heard the sound beforeon a recording his father had played to test a new pair of speakers. And he even remembered the recording’s somewhat odd title: How to Give Yourself a Stereo Checkout. Mr Willoughby had called the sounds “pink noise”. And many of the high and mid-range frequencies had sounded to Mark like the chirping of weird insects, causing his imagination to conjure up line upon line of huge creatures that looked more like giant cave wetaswhich he’d recently seen on televisionthan any noise-producing insects such as crickets or cicadas. The lower frequencies had filled his mind with pictures of places underground because they had been the sort of sound he imagined would be heard in caves deep in the earth.

   But the marble pillarfour metres thick, taller than an eight-storey building and weighing many thousands of tonneswasn’t an underground cave. Nor was it an insect. And yet it was revolving like a turntablerotating on its axis with such apparent accuracy that it didn’t even shake the stairs that wound around it. And didn’t crack the glass ceiling, let alone shatter it.

   What, Mark asked himself, could be the purpose of a precision engineering that on Earth was probably not possible and if it was would cost many billions of dollars to developapart from terrifying the very life out of him?

© Laraine Anne Barker, 1992
All rights reserved

Further extract from The One Marked By Willow

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By the way, the recording mentioned here does exist. The bands of pink noise are the most fascinating things on the whole LP. However, I doubt that it would be available on CD since a good half of it is devoted to things to help you set up your turntable and pick-up arm correctly.