It's November again, and while some people are doing NaNoWriMo, I'm judging my wordcount by the less intensive picowrimo. So far I seem to be on target to get my current short story written within the months. Excerpts on the community by day, and gathered here for reference:
Michael straightened up, flexing the fingers on his right hand, then wiggling each one in turn. Good as new, even after the comparatively long cycle ride from Diss; it was the first time he'd visited under his own power, and he'd worried the cold, and the damp might seep into his joints, setting his progress back weeks, or even longer.
After the weekend, he'd start playing again. Tonight being Friday, he'd sink a few pints of whatever guest beer the Eagle had on, with a Jack Daniels chaser for each of his dead bandmates. Tomorrow, he'd check out whoever was playing down at the Castle. Maybe he'd even enquire about picking up a midweek slot in a month or so. A few low-key gigs without publicity; if they worked out, if his hand could wield a bow for two hours without cramping up, and if the audience accepted him as a performer in his own right, then he'd contact their old manager. Get some tracks recorded, and maybe book a guest slot on someone's tour.
She'd been a draw for another group of punters too: those that appreciated her perfect pitch, but weren't put off by Chris' slightly off-key growling. A total waste that she wanted to go back to uni after her year off, though it was a far greater waste that she'd died so young as a result of Roger's reckless stupidity.
You always fancied her.
Michael spun round, almost overbalancing, then wincing as his right hand hit the ground at precisely the correct angle to both break his fall and jar his still-healing bones. Roger wasn't there of course; the voice had been entirely in Michael's head, but the words continued to echo around his skull.
Could he have prevented the accident? Should he have got up from his seat at the back of the Winnebago and wrested the joint from Roger's fingers? Should he have protested long before that? They'd all been too tired, too hyped up, too wasted to drive back from London that night, and it wasn't as if any of them had mundane work to get up for the next morning.
"Where you headed, son?" The driver grinned, showing a mouth full of crooked teeth, gaps, and one gold upper incisor. He wore a battered brown suit, and an even more battered brown hat, reminding Michael very much of his late grandfather.
Heaving a sigh of relief: old black dudes were far less likely to be maniacs, serial killers or run-of-the-mill thugs than young or middle-aged white guys, Michael told him.
"That's right on my route." The old guy leaned across to open the door, releasing a waft of damp-tinged mothballs. "Hop in."
"I've got a bike with me." Michael gave it a longing glance, and sent up a prayer to the gods of lost wheels.
"It can go on the roof rack." There was a click, and the hatchback popped open. "You'll find bungees in there."
"What if I told you that you could have the one thing you really wanted?" The car slowed and they were heading off the roundabout and into Diss itself. "Only one thing, mind. You can't have things as they were and the chance of a solo career later, should the band not work out."
The conversation was turning freakier by the moment. "You can drop me off here. No need to go any further out of your way."
"It's hardly out of my way." Now they were turning into the side street where Michael lived in his tiny flat over the newsagent's shop. "Not even an extra mile on my journey. We're there anyway."
Michael had his seatbelt unclipped and was scrambling out of the car even before it had completely stopped. He released his bike from the roofrack, throwing the bungees onto the back seat and then dragging his coat and bag off it.
"Am I late?" Michael glanced at his watch. They'd agreed to meet at Jimmy's house for a bite to eat before heading to the pub. That ought to have been half an hour ago. "Shit, man, I'm sorry. I've not even had a shower yet."
"Want to use mine? The food'll keep, and I can always make a start on writing my sermon now rather than tomorrow." Jimmy'd always been a good friend, even if he and Michael did agree to disagree on the whole 'God vs gods' thing.
"You get writing. I'll be over as soon as I can." Michael ended the call, and laid the phone down next to his wallet and his keys. He could ask Jimmy about the old man; Jimmy had a bit of a thing for local myths and legends. Then again, most of those involved ghostly carriages or headless horsemen, rather than grandads in suits driving Volvos.
... in spite of the sensibly short blond hair, the sombre dark suit, and the ever-present dog-collar, Jimmy somehow always managed to look like the goth he'd once been.
"Here we go." Jimmy also always managed to get served remarkably quickly. "Two pints of Fire and Brimblywood, and two whiskey chasers."
"Perfect." Michael took a long swallow from his pint, which certainly had a good kick to it. "I've been thinking about what you said last week. Would it really be okay for me to practice in the church?"
"Not a problem at all." Jimmy sat down opposite him, and began to carefully peel the label from his beer bottle. "So long as you keep out of the way of the cleaners, the flower arrangers and the brass-rubbing groups, the place is all yours whenever you want during the week."
"So you don't think..." Michael made a start on his pint. "You don't think he was the devil?"
"What? Like the old Robert Johnson story? That never happened, you know. It was just spread around by reporters who couldn't understand how he could play so well."
"But surely you believe in the devil?"
"Not like that. The devil is the evil that lurks in people's hearts, preventing them from reaching their true potential for good. Not some bloke driving around East Anglia tempting injured musicians to throw away their life's savings."
"And if he approaches me again?"
"Tell the police. No, tell me. I'll sort him out." Jimmy placed the beer bottle's label carefully on top of the other three he'd removed. "I'll make sure he doesn't bother you again."
[Michael] flexed his hands the way his physio taught him, bending each finger in turn, and rotating his wrists. No pain. He tuned the bass; took a breath; picked up the bow. A slow, not too complex classical piece to begin with. He caressed the instrument like a long-lost love, flattering her, encouraging her to produce the very first pieces he had learned note-perfect.
He was reborn. Reunited with his music in an emotion he could never express. Only the music mattered, carrying him away from his grief in a way that simply listening never could. Moving on to faster pieces, and then folk tunes, it was as if Michael had never been injured. Then he glanced down at his arms, and saw the raised red-purple scars that sliced through his tattoos.
Picking the bow up off the floor, and then setting it on the shelf where choristers stowed their hymn books, he willed his hands to stop shaking. Maybe he wasn't as over everything as he'd like the world to think, but at least he could play. He pushed himself back onto his feet from the wooden stall he'd been leaning against, and stroked the curves of his bass. She wouldn't desert him, no matter what.
Michael hummed the first few bars of Tombstone Tangle, and his fingers took up position on the strings with no conscious input from his brain. He was back in the zone again, and maybe that solo career wasn't such an impossible dream after all.
And for those wondering what Michael looks like, here's a bonus sentence from Day One:
He was Mikey Phantom, named because his own particular combination of skin colour and facial features made him look like the ghost of Jimi Hendrix, even without his stage paint.