A former college professor turned bartender, Doc finds himself trying to save his friends from a ghost under a lake in the wilderness of Idaho.
From diving into a ghost town buried under a lake to trying to stay alive on the sinking deck of the Titanic, this time-travel science fiction novel reads like a rollercoaster ride with all the twists and turns.
First published in paperback in 1989 from Warner Questar Books, Dean Wesley Smith's first published novel gives a lot of hints of his future series and his bestselling career spanning over a hundred and fifty novels.
Published here in its original form, without any changes, just as Dean wrote it almost thirty years ago.
Laying the Music to Rest was Dean's first published novel (that was more than a hundred and fifty novels ago) and it's no wonder he's had the career he has. This time travel novel will take you on a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns. – Allyson Longueira
THE BITING, COLD water of flooded Monumental Creek twisted Gretchen's dress around her legs as she fought to open the front door of the Roosevelt Inn.
"Alex!" she shouted at the wood. "Alex! Open the door."
The black night, the steady drumming of the rain, and the sadistic rustle of the swirling water swallowed her shout as if it hadn't existed. She banged her fist against the wood, but even that was muffled as the dark, empty town seemed to laugh at her.
She took a deep breath, yanked her dress up so that the hem rode around her knees, and braced her left foot against the edge of a board in the sidewalk. She pushed slowly. The door wouldn't move. Frustrated, she rammed her shoulder into the door. Her foot slid on the wood and she went to her knees in the icy water.
"Alex," she called again as the current pulled at her. Her cold fingers found the doorframe and she held on. Alex was waiting for her. She had to get to him. She levered herself back to her feet, then carefully tested the door one last time. Solid.
She took a deep, shuddering breath and tried to make herself relax against the cold. She'd only been wading in the water a few minutes. The sharp, jabbing pain she had felt when she first stepped into the water had faded to a constant dull ache.
She took another breath and forced herself to think. Frank. That was the problem. He must have bolted the front door after they took the last of the supplies up to the tent. He probably figured it would help keep the water away from the piano. The back door was two steps higher and she had been one of the last out that way. She was sure it was open.
She quickly splashed her way along the covered front of the Inn, down the two steps, and into the rain and deeper water. Thick mud from the street oozed up and over her shoes and sucked at her feet, trying to pull her into the muck. Moving carefully so that the mud wouldn't yank her shoes off, she turned into the narrow alley that ran between the south side of the Inn and the next building.
In the summer months, miners too drunk to make it back to their diggings slept along this wall, sometimes four or five at a time. Now the icy water swirling around her thighs tried to push her from between the buildings, billowing her skirt and slips in front of her like sails in a strong wind.
Ahead she could faintly see the dark edges of the two buildings and beyond that the black mass of the steep mountainside. The roar of the swollen creek echoed down the narrow alley, warning her to turn back. But she couldn't. She had to find Alex. Using both hands, one on each building to steady herself, she pushed slowly forward.
As she neared the back of the Inn, a chunk of wood banged hard against her knees and tangled in her skirt. She reached down to free it, lost her balance, and fell. The cold water closed over her and crushed the breath from her lungs. Her mouth filled with muddy water. The current shoved her back toward Main Street. She jammed one foot down into the mud and pushed herself out of the water.
She pressed both numbed hands against the rough logs of the two buildings and forced herself to wait for her breath to return. She wasn't going to let the water stop her. Not now.
Bracing herself with one hand, she leaned against the Inn, brushed her hair from her face, and then felt for the hand mirror strapped under her soaking dress. Alex's mirror. She had tied it inside her corset against her stomach. It was lucky she had. If she dropped it now, she'd never find it in the black water.
She did a careful check to make sure the mirror was still solidly pressed against her, almost warm inside her soaking dress. Only six hours ago she had seen the mirror for the first time. Six long hours since Alex first pulled out the carved, ivory-framed glass and held it up proudly for her to see. The day might have turned out to be the best day of her life if she hadn't been such a fool.
The cold, rainy morning had started with the entire town wild with the rumor that one of the packing outfits had finally made it over the Dewey Summit with supplies from Idaho City. After seven months of being snowbound in the narrow Monumental Valley, that was celebration news.
Gretchen had decided to wear her finest dress for that special night. Alex also dressed for dinner in his finest, coming down to town wearing a Boston lawyer's suit. She thought he looked more handsome than ever, if that was possible.
All the girls said Alex was the best catch in the valley. With his suits, fancy English, and smoky blue eyes, he could have any free woman he chose. But in seven months he had paid attention only to Gretchen. He had been perfectly polite and honorable. And even though she was a saloon piano player, he treated her as if she were a Boston lady.
That night he had come into the Inn at his normal dinner hour and asked if he might have a moment with her after everything had quieted down.
At first the request had excited her. But then, as the evening wore on and she watched him eat his dinner and sip his brandy, she began to worry. What did he want? Was he leaving town now that the pass was open? Why did he seem so serious? Unanswered questions from the winter came flooding back. What was he doing in Roosevelt? What did he see in her? What did he want from her? She was just a saloon girl and he was a Boston gentleman. They could never be together. She was sure he must know that.
But he thought otherwise. He used his grandmother's beautiful mirror to ask her to marry him.
She had said no.
She banged her fist against the wall of the Inn and moved carefully toward the back door. Why hadn't she said yes? She had been so afraid and so stupid.
But Alex would not give up. He would come back for her. She knew it. He would be inside the Inn, waiting. This time she would tell him yes.
She reached the back door of the Inn. It stood wide open and the water level was at her knees. The men had better get that mudslide cleared. The water was filling the narrow valley faster than she had imagined possible.
She moved inside the black room and along the wall toward the sink. Jim had left one lantern hanging there in case someone had to come back. She reached the sink and leaned against it for a moment, trying to catch her breath. The cold water had forced a throbbing ache up into her stomach, radiating out under her arms and across her chest in a dull web of pain. She could hardly breathe. She needed to get out of the water and into dry clothes soon. Alex had to be there.
"Alex!" she shouted into the dark, water-filled room. Her voice sounded funny, as if she were in a deep mine shaft. He didn't answer.
He hadn't been in his cabin or down with the men working to clear the mudslide. He had to be at the Inn, waiting for her. That was where he had disappeared, vanished like a wisp of smoke right before her eyes. One minute he had asked her to marry him and the next he had simply faded away, as if he had only been a dream and she was waking up.
But she had not been asleep. He would come back, that she was sure of. She could feel it. He would come back to the Inn, to the very place where he had disappeared. She knew that, too. She didn't know why. She just knew. She touched the hard surface of the mirror. She would have his grandmother's mirror for him when he did. She would wait.
She found the lantern and pulled it from the hook. It seemed unusually heavy in her numb fingers. She held it and felt carefully on the ledge over the sink for the block of matches. They were still dry, so she broke off one match and scraped it against the rough wood of the wall.
The match caught on the second try and the sudden blues and yellows outlined against the darkness blinded her. She lit the lantern, her fingers like logs against the thin chimney glass. After the wick caught, she held her hands over the warmth and looked around the room she had worked and lived in for the past seven months.
In six hours it had become so different. Black water filled the room, with small twigs and leaves floating in quick currents. The four beds that usually stood against the south wall had floated over into the back corner. A blanket lay half on, half off one bed and a black stain showed where the water had soaked up into the cotton.
She lifted the lantern off the counter and waded toward the door leading into the main room. The pain in her legs made her feel as if she were walking on stumps. Only the jarring in her groin told her when her feet touched the floor.
The door to the main room was closed and latched. She fumbled with the bolt before she got it open and stepped up onto the platform that held her piano.
The pale light from the single lantern cast dark shadows across the flooded main room of the Inn. Tables still occupied their correct positions, but every so often the water shifted one of the chairs as if some unseen patron still sat on it.
The potbellied stove against the stairs looked cold and black, its door open, its fire out. The long liquor shelves behind the bar were ugly, empty scars on the face of the north wall. The room was no longer the warm, lively place she had filled with music all winter long.
The table closest to the piano was where Alex had sat. Where he had asked her to marry him. Where he had disappeared. When he had started to fade away, she'd screamed and tried to hold him. But he had been like a ghost. She could see the front wall through his chest and her hands passed through him like a cold draft through an open window.
Frank had been upstairs to allow her and Alex some privacy. The rest of the girls had already gone to bed in the back. Her screams as Alex vanished had brought everyone running. No one believed that he had disappeared. No one.
They had put her in bed by the time the alarm came about the mudslide. Frank had gone to take a look, and when he got back he looked white and scared. There was a huge mudslide coming down Mule Creek from the direction of the Dewey Mine. It was traveling almost as fast as a man could walk.
He had everyone take all they could carry and follow him. They put up a tent about a half mile upstream on higher ground, then made three trips to get the liquor, plates, silverware, clothes, and valuables. By the time they made the last trip, the flowing wall of mud and rock had dammed the main valley a hundred yards below the town and the water from the heavy rains and the spring melt was already a foot deep on Main Street.
Gretchen had wanted Frank to move the piano to higher ground, too. But Frank had decided that it was a better gamble to put all their efforts into trying to clear a channel around the slide. The next few hours had echoed with the sound of dynamite explosions as the men fought the moving mud and rock. Now, except for the rain and the constant roar of Monumental Creek, the valley was still.
Gretchen had been unable to stay in the tent. She knew Alex was out there somewhere. All she had to do was find him and tell him she had changed her mind. She would ask him to forgive her. She would tell him that she would be honored to be his wife and go to Boston with him.
But he hadn't been at his cabin or working at the slide. He had disappeared from the Inn. That was where he would return. She knew it.
She set the lantern down on the piano and held her hands over the flame to get whatever warmth she could. Then she opened three buttons of her dress, carefully untied the corset strings she had used to hold the mirror tight against her stomach, and pulled the mirror into the lamp light.
The ornately carved patterns in the ivory handle and frame seemed to dance in the flickering light as she held the mirror up. It was like nothing Gretchen had ever seen. Alex had mentioned that the mirror had been in his family for generations. His grandfather had used it to propose to Alex's grandmother, and Alex's father had used it to propose to Alex's mother. Tonight, Alex had used it to ask her to join his image in the mirror and be his wife. She had turned the mirror face down on the table. Refused his offer.
"I'm sorry, Alex," she said softly. The room didn't even allow an echo of an answer.
"Please, Alex. Come back."
A fit of shivering caught her. A chair near the front door swung a half turn around, startling her. The building groaned, as if it too wanted to move. She shivered again. If Alex came, he could help her back to the tent and she could get into some dry clothes. Maybe if she played for him, he would hear her.
Using both hands, she slid the mirror face up onto the top of the piano. Then she pulled the bench out. It floated free and started to tip over. She held it against the floor while she moved between it and the piano and sat down.
Carefully she moved the mirror down onto the music rack in front of her, then slid the bench to get into her normal position. Water splashed up on the keyboard. She tried to wipe the drops of water off with the lace on her sleeve. When Alex got back, she would talk to him about getting some men and saving the piano. She couldn't let it get ruined. Not after all the work of getting it over the pass. She had kept such good care of it all winter.
She tried a sample chord with her shaking hands. The sound felt much fuller, louder, as if the watery room wanted to keep the music alive and holding its tone long after she released the keys.
She hit another chord and then tried to run a simple scale. Her fingers were so numb, they got in each other's way. She felt as if they weren't even a part of her body. She couldn't feel her feet and legs.
She pulled the lamp on the piano directly in front of her and held her hands over the chimney. After a moment she could feel the heat biting into her skin. She rubbed her fingers together, then held them over the lamp again. She repeated the process until she could feel tingling in her fingertips. She wished she could do the same for her legs. They were nothing more than logs hanging off her body in the water. She'd have to play without using the pedals.
She sat up straight on the bench, arched her back, and tried to clear the thick fog from her mind. She placed both hands lightly on the keyboard and looked down at the table where Alex had last sat. She tried to imagine him reappearing there, fading back into the room just as slowly as he had faded out. She would play his favorite song for him. Then he would return.
The first note filled the room and the song flowed perfectly. Not once during the entire piece did she look away from the table. And when the last note died in the black of the water, she felt empty. Lost.
She slumped against the piano and looked around. She could feel that Alex was there. She didn't know how, but she knew he was close.
She held the mirror up. He was there, with her, and yet he wasn't. She stared into the mirror until she felt dizzy and had to lean her head against the hard wood of the piano to get the spinning to stop.
The water lapped over the top of the bench. She felt as if her entire body were draining out of her legs. Alex was close. If she played his favorite song once more, he would return and take her to someplace warm and hold her and tell her he wanted her for his wife. She needed to play his song again so he could hear her.
She took a few quick breaths to try to calm the shuddering that racked her shoulders before warming her shaking fingers over the lamp. Then she started the song once more, only this time she looked into the mirror, seeing Alex's face in it.
She played the song. His song. And when she was finished, she started over, playing it again. And then again, until finally her hands would work no more.
She tried to warm her fingers over the lamp, but her head was spinning so much that she misjudged and knocked the lamp sideways, out of reach. She tried to stand and grab for it before it fell, but her legs were nothing more than weights attached to her body. Her sudden lunge shifted the bench and tipped her sideways.
The lamp rolled off the piano, hit the water, and with a hiss plunged the room into total blackness. Thrashing wildly to regain her footing, Gretchen too slipped under.
Her mind screamed for her to find a handhold, get her breath. The cold crushed what little air she had left out of her chest and she tasted the muddy water.
Finally she caught the edge of the keyboard and pulled herself up into the air. But her legs refused to move under her and her fingers were too weak to hold on.
She slipped a second time. The room held the sound of her struggle like it had held the music moments before, kicking it from wall to wall, savoring it, holding it out for the empty tables and the cold stove to inspect.
She grasped the side of the piano and slowly pulled her head back above the black surface.
"Alex?" she whispered.
But the room refused her, killing even the faintest echo of her plea. Her fingers could not hold on to the polished wood long. After a moment she dropped into the black cold.
Silence again took over the room.