In my occult mystery, Murderous Requiem, the main character, Jeremy Spencer, is attempting to transcribe the cryptic musical notation of a 500-year-old manuscript from the Italian Renaissance into modern notation. Despite his expertise, however, certain symbols continue to elude him. He knows that some of the libretto (the text accompanying the music) is written in ancient Greek, and these symbols do resemble the Greek alphabet. But they aren’t quite the alphabet he knows.
What they are, he discovers, after Rafe—the sultry European “boy-toy” of his friend Seth—takes him out to the Victorian chapel in the middle of the night, are letter-like symbols that the ancient Greeks used to represent musical notes. Furthermore, they used different symbols for notes played by instruments and notes that were sung.I’ve included a small sampling (from a somewhat blocky Unicode font) of the notation.
I was relieved to finally reach the chapel, but my relief was short-lived. After pushing the creaking metal door open—of course the hinges had to creak!—I was confronted by utter darkness. Or maybe not entirely “utter.” Just below the domed ceiling were seven stained glass windows, containing the alchemical symbols of the seven planets of astrology—the Sun, the Moon, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn. The anemic gray moonlight faintly illuminated these from outside.
I reached to my right, where the light switch had been years ago, but found nothing but smooth wall.
“Seth had the switch removed,” Rafe’s voice said out of the darkness, startling me.
He switched on a flashlight, sweeping the beam across me for a second, before diverting it away from my eyes. It was still annoying, because I couldn’t really see him at all. Just a spot of light in the center of the chamber.
“Why the hell would he do that?” I said, willing my voice not to sound nervous. I failed.
“There are fake gaslights, controlled by a switch hidden behind the altar. You know how he likes to give the illusion that we’re contemporaries of Crowley and the Golden Dawn.”
I did, but that didn’t explain why Rafe was toying with me. “Fine. Could you turn the lights on, please?”
The flashlight beam swept up to the ceiling while I debated whether I trusted Rafe enough to step inside. I was still standing in the doorway, so my exit wasn’t blocked. I could probably escape if I had to. That is, unless he had a gun. The idea was ludicrous, of course. Why would he have a gun? I was just letting the creepy setting get to me.
Still, I backed up a step, reaching out to hold onto the doorframe. Rafe remained oddly quiet for a long time, sweeping the light around, illuminating all the stained glass windows, one after another.
This was getting me nowhere fast, and my ass still had ice-cold wind blowing up it. “Look, Rafe, if you don’t have anything to tell me about the symbols in the manuscript, I’d just as soon get back inside where it’s warm.”
“I told you I would help you and I will.” The flashlight swung down to illuminate the floor between us, forming a path of light to where he was standing. “Come here.”
I was still nervous about being alone with him as long as he was playing this silly game. But I took a breath to calm my nerves and walked across the tile floor. When I reached him in the center, I felt his hand grip my shoulder. It was all I could do to keep from screaming as he pulled me close and slid his arm around both my shoulders. Our faces were suddenly so close that I could smell the faint scent of his cologne and feel the heat coming off his skin. When he spoke, his breath brushed my ear.
“What did the symbols look like?”
This annoyed me. If he was claiming to know what they were, he should know what they looked like. But I played along. “Like letters from the Greek alphabet. But I know the Greek alphabet—a little, anyway—and those symbols are different.”
“Different,” he said, softly, in affirmation. “But still Greek.”
He swung the light of the flashlight upward and I watched it climb one of the marble columns to the level of the ceiling, where the column joined a circular cornice. Above the cornice, smaller columns continued up to a second cornice, with the stained glass windows set in between the columns, and above that was the dome. The dome itself was beautiful, with a Renaissance-style painting of the fall of Prometheus. I’d been at the Temple when Seth commissioned it from an artist he knew in Boston, though I could no longer remember the woman’s name.
But what drew my attention, at this moment, were the symbols carved into the small column the flashlight was illuminating. Seven symbols in a vertical line. They were about forty feet above me, but there was no doubt in my mind. “That’s it!” I practically shouted while Rafe laughed gently in my ear. “Or some of it, anyway.”
Not all the symbols I remembered from the manuscript were on that column, but Rafe swung the light around to another column and said, “Is that it? Or is this it?”
The symbols on this column were different from those on the first—at least, some of them were.
Rafe swung the light again. “Or is this it?”
He laughed when I grabbed his arm in my excitement and began guiding the hand that held the flashlight from one column to the next, examining the entire circle above us. Each column had seven symbols, and as I moved around the circle, I could see that they were in a pattern. The first symbol of one column became the second of the one next to it, and the third of the one next to that. The order of symbols remained constant, so that, as I moved clockwise around the circle, I got the impression of a steady stream of symbols flowing upward.
One thing I was absolutely certain of—those carvings hadn’t been there eight years ago. Seth must have had them added. “What are they?”
“What do you think?” Rafe asked, infuriatingly. “Seven lines of seven symbols? Seven ancient Greek symbols?”
“Well, fourteen symbols,” I corrected. That was why no one column had all the symbols on it.
By this point, Rafe wasn’t even trying to be subtle about nuzzling my ear. As he nibbled my earlobe, I could feel my cock stiffening, but I ignored it. A nagging feeling in the back of my mind was telling me I should know exactly what the symbols were.
Then suddenly it hit me. Of course.
“Notes,” I said. “The symbols are notes. These,” I added, indicating the carvings on the columns, “are Greek musical scales—Lydian, Phrygian, Dorian, Hypolydian, Hypophrygian, Locrian, and Mixolydian.” Each scale consisted of seven notes, separated by a whole step or half step in the scale. Fourteen of them simply meant the scales were traversing two octaves, an average range for the human voice.
Rafe’s hand found my cock and began kneading it through my robe. “Good boy. Now let me give you a reward.”
Jeremy Spencer never imagined the occult order he and his boyfriend, Bowyn, started as a joke in college would become an international organization with hundreds of followers. Now a professor with expertise in Renaissance music, Jeremy finds himself drawn back into the world of free love and ceremonial magick he’d left behind, and the old jealousies and hurt that separated him from Bowyn eight years ago seem almost insignificant.
Then Jeremy begins to wonder if the centuries-old score he’s been asked to transcribe hides something sinister. With each stanza, local birds flock to the old mansion, a mysterious fog descends upon the grounds, and bats swarm the temple dome. During a séance, the group receives a cryptic warning from the spirit realm. And as the music’s performance draws nearer, Jeremy realizes it may hold the key to incredible power—power somebody is willing to kill for.