Of Dead Composers, Dead drops, and That Restaurant That Isn't as Good as It Used to Be
You know that club that used to be cool, that restaurant that isn't as good as it used to be, that show you tune into after it's hopelessly past its prime? Yeah, sure, I liked the Beatles, too, before they became popular. Keep those in mind. But before we get to the dead drop, we need to visit a parlour concert given by my wife, featuring songs that have not been sung. possibly, since the nineteenth century. Occasionally, things forgotten can be rediscovered.
Elizabeth Turner (?-1756) was a soprano and a baroque composer. We have few historical references to her and less scholarship. One academic paper appeared in 2005. A few articles followed, most of which crib that academic paper. Turner published a collection of her music, Songs with Symphonies and a Thorough Bass with Six Lessons for the Harpsichord and a second collection or edition published later in her life. Subscribers supporting her efforts included George Frideric Handel. Among her original compositions are songs with lyrics, some of them likely hers. The music has been performed sporadically; we can find no reference to the songs being sung anywhere since the 1800s.
The event, sponsored by the local Jane Austen Society, took place in a small chapel. The collaboration between my wife and a local musician consisted of just five pieces, four by Turner and one by Henry Purcell-- their styles are comparable. The performance, a workshop, was followed by the obligatory questions and tea. Afterwards we drove home a nonagenarian acquaintance. While she retains her license, an injury has rendered her temporarily unable to drive. That temporary inability has stretched into months and she's pondering selling her car. Ageing comes with challenges. Gods know how the Galapagos Giant Tortoises manage.
Everything passes its time, even pastimes.
Back in October, when Barrick and I drove through rural, underlit Ontario to check out the Fear Farm, I made note of the first small town we passed through. A Family Restaurant worthy of Rockwell operates just over the bridge past St. George's Anglican Church, and a grain mill rises in the centre of town, the tallest structure around. Look left as you cross the eastern boundary to see the regional fire department, just before the next farmhouse. Good template, thought I, for a short story in need of a small town. The next village we passed through had similar potential, though it was trying too hard, with its relic of a cemetery and a vaguely sinister-looking antique shop, the sort of place where one finds a cursed painting or haunted doll. With a story to complete that needed a small town and an interest in finally seeing inside that nearby antique place, I headed out.
Brunch in the Family Restaurant served up and tasted as expected, and the town itself mapped out nicely. The tracks cut through the town with parkland along one side that links to a nearby woods. No cursed object-- I am playing with a different cliché, the local legend. It dovetails nicely with the non-fic book I'm working on with Barrick, obscure cryptids and small town mysteries, told and illustrated with ear and eye to the campfire.
The local librarian proved helpful as they do, but the library was the wrong building in the wrong part of town. For that, I thought of another community, one sitting near the county border along another rural route. I have a library card for the next county, and that's where I pick up books I cannot find or have to wait for here. That familiar library needs to be transplanted to the locale of the post office in the template town. I searched it up that night on Googlemaps. An odd little building turned up in a local park, one I'd taken no notice of before. I wanted a closer look and clicked on streetview. The trees of the park blocked it. I sought out online images.
In addition to a few local photos, I found some posted at a "Deaddrop" site. Into what rabbit hole had I fallen?
A decade or so ago, someone started a trend of embedding USB devices in obscure walls, knotholes in trees, caves, and other overlooked places. These could be used to pass along whatever data people felt like loading into them. A handy map shows locations across the globe, with the date each drop is last known to be active. Someone elsewhere compares it to Geocaching or treasure hunting, but with greater probability of picking up a virus or questionable porn. I also uncovered some jocular commentary about an unknown person who leaves files of bad movies. Cursed objects, all. Leave us face it: like the Haight after the summer of love or the PLUR at a 90s rave, this sort of thing has a short countdown to slum and abuse.
Three photos, then: the building, the target wall, and the embedded USB, identified active as of January, '23. And, as a matter of fact, I had a book coming in.
Barrick found the concept fascinating and so he joined me for the drive. On an overcast day, we walked from my car through the muddy park near the railway tracks. We did not bring a device and cord-- figured that, if the drop was still there, we'd consider returning with one we could afford to lose to infection.
The building looked as pictured. While the location was evident from the online image, we nevertheless checked all four walls, just to be certain.
The USB was gone, stolen, removed, or impounded.
I did get my book, however, and the library was distributing free of charge another, written and printed up by a local woman. It's an illustrated journal of local happenings, looking back, day by day, to the year 2000.