Music plays a huge role in my writing process. I can’t write without it. One of my favorite parts of projects are when I develop a soundtrack for them, certain genres and bands becoming the backdrop for what I’m working on. I’ll sometimes seek these out, trying to match music to a project, and sometimes it’ll happen naturally.
Other times, music itself can inspire a project. A 30 Seconds To Mars lyric once inspired me to write a long short story about one explorer’s battle with the devil. The symphony Pictures at an Exhibition inspired me to write my first ever full-length novel of the same name. I interpreted each movement of the symphony into an epic universe crossing sci-fi tale.
This morning, I was listening to some low-key music when a trumpet sounded out from nowhere. It was this blast of sound that felt like it came from out of nowhere, almost like a desperate voice crying in the night. A lone trumpet in the darkness.
And so I started writing, and came up with not only a character that I love, but a concept that I think I’ll most definitely be writing more about in the future.
A LONE TRUMPET IN THE DARK
He crawled on his belly, a snake slithering down the wet cobblestone streets of New Orleans. Rain poured heavy from the black sky, washing away his blood just as quickly as it poured from his many wounds. It was cold and miserable. The weather, and his heart.
His name was Melvin Bly. He’d had many names since he came to this town at the ripe young age of thirteen. “Bly the guy” gave way to the Mario Brothers reference “Shy Guy”. As he’d aged and his legend in these parts had grown, that evolved to the name he currently carried, the one that most everyone knew.
They knew the name but not the man. The music but not the musician. He thought about this as he felt Death gently knocking, inquiring if he’d like to open the door and let him inside. He ignored the visitor standing at the door of his soul for a moment, turning over onto his back and staring up into nothing and letting deep thoughts about his life flood him.
Doubt spoke to him. This visitor wasn’t one waiting to come inside. Mr. Shy had been living with Doubt for a long time now.
“They’ll forget you in no time,” Doubt said.
He’d been beaten, stabbed, and at the end of it all, shot in the back. Yet this was the moment when a tear finally escaped from his eye.
“I know,” Mr. Shy whispered. “I know.”
He didn’t blame them, really. They’d appreciate the music for a time, but never the man. Nobody knew him, after all. Mr. Shy had always told himself it was part of the mystique, one of the things that made him such a draw. He performed in the dark, minimal lights, and rarely advertised an appearance. At first it was a way to fight his severe stage fright, but people loved it. It’d become one of the best-known and most beloved mysteries of this town. Jazz fans visiting New Orleans went from club to club, asking around for clues that might lead them to a Mr. Shy performance. Those who’d found and heard him wore it like a badge of honor.
They knew Mr. Shy, but few knew Melvin. He moved about rather freely, rarely recognized. A few club owners, the occasional fellow musician, the one or two lovers he’d taken and subsequently left over the years, they knew him. They knew the parts of him he’d shown.
It left him a stranger. Free to be anything. Free to pursue whatever caught his attention, whatever captured his imagination. Melvin fancied himself a midnight renaissance man, an expert on all that went on after dark. An accomplished urban explorer, a graffiti artist, a private investigator, a writer, a photographer, he filled the nights with activity. Danger wasn’t a concern for him. He felt plenty of fear on his adventures in the darkness, but he welcomed it. It was a friend.
One that had led him too far from the light.
He chuckled as the rain hit his face. Fear brought him to where he was tonight. He knew what he was going to find when he followed the Mayor tonight. He’d heard the whispers about the darkness that gripped this town, had felt its icy sharp fingernails rake against the back of his neck as he ventured through the City’s ancient places. From the first moment he’d seen the new Mayor’s campaign poster he’d just known. He knew this man was touched by the dark, that he served it in some form or fashion.
And so he followed him down roads that were known, then those that weren’t. Saw things he’d glimpsed briefly on his adventures, waded into the black waters that he’d never dared do more than just observe. The mayor and his men had eventually stopped, met by the shadows themselves in that place.
That damn desperate place.
It robbed him of his goodness and it stole any memory he had of what warmth and light felt like. He knew God at one point in his youth and this place took that from him, made him forget. Everything inside of him told him to run. Melvin would’ve run, probably, but in that moment he felt like something more than just Melvin. He felt like Mr. Shy. Cloaked in darkness, just like when he performed, which meant nothing could touch him. So instead of listening to Melvin’s cries to run and never return, Mr. Shy reached for his camera. The camera that still had the flash turned on.
Death knocked. His bony fist against the door of Melvin’s soul told the rest of the story. The blood mixing with the rain and flowing down the street sang of it. Death hit again, this time with the edge of his fist, like the police who are done being polite as they bark commands to open up the door.
“I’m coming,” Mr. Shy said.
He knew all it took was a thought. An internal decision that it was over and it would be over. He was soaked to the bone, freezing cold and miserable. Lying there in the dark, where he’d been far longer than he really cared to admit. Long before this night. This night was just the physical representation, his body catching up to his spirit.
Closing his eyes, he let out a long, deep breath. Maybe letting go would finally bring him the things he’d long desired but been unable to attain in life.
That’s when he heard it.
A lone trumpet in the dark. The high, tinny tone of it cut through the night. It bounced off the buildings and off of the street. The player was incredible. Mr. Shy focused, trying to discern who the player was by their style and note choices. He knew just about every player in New Orleans, but he didn’t know this one. All he knew was that this music was doing something. It reached out to him. A sliver of light in the darkness.
A memory returned to him. Just one. It was obscured, still tainted by that evil he’d seen earlier in the night. But he could glimpse just enough of it. It was the first night he’d spent in New Orleans, a thirteen-year-old runaway, wandering the streets, no money, nowhere to go, nothing but his instrument and a dream. And on that night he’d heard a song, played like very few could play it. When the Saints Go Marching In. The song had history and spiritual meaning. It also had plenty of wide open spaces for jazz musicians to improvise and show their skill. But what Mr. Shy remembered most was the warmth of it. The way it connected him to the idea of God and goodness.
And in this moment he felt that again.
Mr. Shy slid his hand into his pocket. The memory card from his camera was still there. He’d managed to slip it out as they beat him, furious that their dealings in that darkest of places had for a moment been bathed in light.
He rolled over onto his belly. The lone trumpet called to him and he answered, slithering like a snake. It was his map and he followed it.
Death slammed against the door of his soul. His patience was worn thin. He was threatening to come in, invitation or not.
Mr. Shy gritted his teeth and pushed himself forward. Through the water and through the pain.
Death was going to have to wait.