Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak... William Congreve 1670-1729
Whiling away the hours before the last episode with a fluffy story, by my standards.
I was listening to The Storm by Moving Hearts and the combination of Irish music and jazz made this little fic come into my head. I was intrigued in series 2 by the shot of Mitchell's room showing a stereo with turntable, a saxophone, an accordion and a guitar, and this is the result of the music and the snippet of his life coming together. It's set in the happier times of early series 1 at the pink house. I only seem to write lighter stuff if it's set in series 1.
Being Human is owned by Toby Whithouse and the BBC - I am just playing with it for a while.
Hope you like it. If you do, please leave a review. :-)
A stray curl fell across Mitchell's eyes as he sorted through the racks of music and he brushed it away impatiently with a gloved hand. The gesture was unconscious, habitual – as much a part of him as the dark eyes and brooding expression. All of his focus was on the records in front of him; he was completely unaware of anything, or anyone, else nearby.
The LPs went flick, flick, flick as Mitchell browsed quickly through the covers. He paused over one briefly to consider it then resumed his search, his hand moving rhythmically through the albums: some dog-eared, some with coffee mug rings or biro scrawls. He loved the second-hand record stall at the market. As often as not he came away empty-handed, but just the act of thumbing through boxes of old 33s took him to a better place.
"You looking for anything in particular, mate?" asked the chap perched on a stool at the back of the stall. Mitchell was shaken out of his reverie and looked up at him, blinking. He had forgotten the man was even there.
"Nah, just browsing," and he returned to his hypnotic scanning of the rack.
There was something special about vinyl, he thought. Something that a CD just couldn't replicate, far less that modern monstrosity – the digital download. The twelve by twelve cover art, the sleeve notes, the anticipation as you slid the record from the cover and scanned the grooves for damage. The feeling of satisfaction when you held that long sought-after gem in your hands. And then at last the slap of the vinyl onto the turntable and the little click as the stylus made contact - nothing could beat that.
Everyone these days seemed to be walking around with ipod headsets jammed into their ears; he preferred to wait till the house was quiet and then put his music on in his room. Maybe he was old-fashioned. He had good reason to be; he was a hundred and sixteen years old. He had been killed just short of twenty four.
One record made him pause longer than the others. He took it from the rack, turned it to look at the track listing on the reverse, and finally slid the vinyl out. It was in a white paper dust cover. Promising. Someone had looked after it. He shook out the black disc, holding it gingerly by the edges with the tips of his fingers, lifting it to the light to check for damage. Dusty, but that would come off with a good clean. He flipped it over to check side two and groaned softly with disappointment. A scratch across tracks two and three, maybe into track four as well. That would pop at the least – might even jump. He started to put the record back into its sleeve.
"That one no good?" His groan had got the stallholder's attention again.
"Scratch. Two tracks, maybe three."
"Lemme see," the chap took the record from Mitchell and repeated his ritual of holding it to the light. "Yeah, see what you mean. Must've missed that – I normally check them all out before I put them in the racks. I could do it for you cheap. Half price?"
Mitchell shook his shaggy head. "No, it was track two on the second side I was after particularly."
"Charlie Parker, eh? Wouldn't have had you down as a jazz buff, far less old stuff like that. You look more of a rocker with the leathers and the hair. Or maybe an emo." He grinned, "One day I'll learn not to judge a book by its cover." He grabbed his beaker of coffee and took a quick swig, sighing with appreciation. "Thank God there's a Starbucks over the way; I'd not get through the day without my coffee fix. Hang on, I think I remember..." He thumbed through the rack next to the one Mitchell had been scouring, and produced another album with a flourish. "There ya go. Thought I'd seen another Charlie Parker here somewhere. That got the track you were after on it?"
Mitchell checked the listing. Yes, indeed it had, and a careful check of both sides showed the album to be in decent nick. What a stroke of luck. "Cool, I'll take it, cheers."
"You want to have a listen first? I've got a platter here," the stallholder thumbed towards a turntable on the floor near his stool.
"No, I'm good. Thanks for your help." Mitchell handed over a grubby fiver from the bottom of his pocket and took the carrier bag by the handle.
"No problem, mate. You after any more jazz any time, you give me a shout, yes? I can put stuff aside for you if I know what you're looking for."
Mitchell leaned against a wall outside and took a roll up from the box in his pocket. He tapped the end, lit it and took a deep drag, closing his eyes in pleasure as the nicotine hit. He peeped into the carrier bag, a slow contented smile crossing his face. Yes, at last. The Bird playing "Blues for Alice". He started the long walk home.
"George? Annie?" He shrugged off his leather coat and stood and listened a moment. "Annie? George? You here?" The house was still: no hint of its other two occupants at all. He went into the kitchen where a jumble of mugs greeted him from the kitchen table. He felt them: all cold, a milky scum forming on the top. Annie hadn't been here for a while. His day had just got even better – he had the house to himself for a bit.
Mitchell took the stairs two at a time up to his bedroom. His room was the smallest in the house and was a constant mess of discarded clothes and rumpled bedding. He thumbed the wall switch by his stereo and the amplifier lit up with a low hum of electricity, the LEDs flickering briefly as the power surged through the black boxes in the stack.
He tugged the record from the bag, pausing a moment to scan the sleeve notes once more. There it was: Blues for Alice. Not a rare track, strictly speaking, but one often missed off the compilations, and Mitchell's personal favourite. Plenty of memories attached to that track. The album hit the turntable and he checked the stylus. No dust to dull the sound or damage the precious grooves.
He lay on his bed and listened, eyes closed, foot tapping on the bedcovers. God, that man had been a genius. How the hell he had got those sounds out of a saxophone he would never understand.
His own saxophone sat at the end of his bed, the dust in its brass mouth a mute reproach to months of neglect. On a whim he picked it up and checked the reed, clicking his tongue in irritation at the split he found there. Did he even have any spares? He rifled the drawer most likely to hold them, finding a guitar E string and a long-lost mobile phone charger in the process, but no reeds. The next drawer was fruitful, though, and he dragged a packet of Vandorens out of its furthest reaches. This was going to sound crap, he thought: not only had he not played for months, but he had to break a reed in to boot. He hoped to God the neighbours were out – the walls weren't any too thick at the best of times and saxophonists were never popular in terraced houses.
With the new reed held lightly in his mouth to moisten it, he removed the split one and tossed it on the floor beside some discarded underwear, a couple of magazines and a chocolate wrapper. He placed the new reed in place in the mouthpiece, tightened the ligature and licked his lower lip. Strap comfortably around his neck, he gave a tentative blow and adjusted his embochure – he really should have kept this up, but other things had a tendency to occupy his mind. Like not killing people.
He attempted a few scales to warm up. Not good; he knew the fingering, but his hands weren't responding fast enough, and the fingerless gloves probably weren't helping. Had he really not played since he had adopted them as his signature? That was ages ago. He ran through another scale, stopping at the end to chew on his lip, which was already tingling with the promise of numbness to come.
"I've never heard you play before," a soft voice from the doorway startled him. "Can you play a tune, or are you just going to butcher that scale again?"
Annie! When had she got home? Maybe he'd had the stereo up so loud that he hadn't heard the door. Or maybe she'd done her rentaghost thing again. "Oh, there are a whole load more scales I could butcher for you, if you fancy something different. Haven't so much as picked it up for months. Years probably."
"You're better than me. I did recorder for a term at school. I never got past Baa Baa Black Sheep – they sent me out to play rounders instead. I was crap." She leaned against the doorframe and cast a critical gaze around the pandemonium that was Mitchell's room.
He wished he'd tidied his room; he knew he was a slob and so did she, but he could tell she was desperate to start clearing up. The common parts of the house were always spotless thanks to the OCD ghost and having seen the state of his room he suspected it would nag at her, like an itch she couldn't reach to scratch. He picked up some socks from the floor and shoved them in the open drawer with the guitar string and the phone charger, pushing the drawer shut hurriedly. It made depressingly little difference, but it was a start. They probably weren't even clean, but he'd sort that out another time. Who was he kidding – he'd forget they were even there and discover them in a couple of month's time when he was looking for a pair of nail scissors or a roll of sellotape or something.
"Yeah, well, back in the day we all wanted to be jazz musos. Can't believe I've been carrying this around with me for so long. Hang on." He moistened his lip again – talking had at least eased the numbness – then closed his eyes. God knew where his saxophone music was – probably in a box somewhere – so he'd have to do it by ear. Faltering, a few bum notes here and there, but the melody that came out was recognisably "Ain't Misbehavin'". Recognisable to him anyway, vaguely; he wasn't sure if Annie would know it. Had she even heard of Fats Waller? Louis Armstrong? Ella Fitzgerald? Moments like that reminded him just how young she was. He followed it up with a rather more accomplished Baa Baa Black Sheep and smirked and bowed as Annie clapped her hands in mock appreciation.
"So is that from Ireland? Can you play it?" When he looked round she was pointing at the accordion on the chest of drawers.
"God, no. Herrick made sure I didn't keep anything from... before... when he turned me. I picked it up in a junk shop a good few years ago. I keep meaning to get it fixed – there's a hole in it somewhere, I think." He picked it up and played a few notes; the wheeze and wail certainly suggested that more was wrong with it than just the person doing the playing.
"Sounds like someone's trodden on next door's cat." Annie laughed. Mitchell had made boot to tail contact with the animal only a couple of days before and the noise it had made in its mortification and pain had been remarkably like the sound the accordion had just produced.
"Me da' used to play." Mitchell continued, his voice suddenly faraway and wistful, "He and me Uncle Rab would play round the bars for drinks and tips of an evening. Rab played the fiddle; he was bloody good, actually. I'd go along to listen sometimes, when I was a kid of ten or twelve. I'd get the occasional sip of someone's stout and the old boys would slip me cigarettes when me da' wasn't looking. He must have known, when I came home reeking of them, but he never said anything or me mam wouldn't have let me come out with him again." His voice trailed away. The ache in his chest when he thought about his life Before didn't get any less, even after nearly a hundred years. He had been normal then. Human. When he looked up Annie's eyes were filled with sympathy; he would swear she could read his mind sometimes.
"Your accent gets thicker you know, when you talk like that."
"Yeah, that's why I never talk about it. Bad enough being a mick without being an incomprehensible mick." He was gruffer than he'd intended and Annie looked uncomfortable. He felt bad about that, but they all had their skeletons in their cupboards – things they didn't even talk about amongst themselves.
"Do you play the guitar too, or is that a junk shop find as well?"
The guitar propped up beside the wardrobe was as dusty as the saxophone had been.
"That's from the sixties. Probably a bloody antique now." He ran his fingers fondly down the fretboard. The strings showed signs of rust, but still rang out when he grazed his nails across them. "Everyone played the guitar in the sixties. At least, everyone made out they did. If you had a guitar slung across your back the girls noticed you – it was an essential accessory for any bloke on the pull in those days."
"So, did it work?"
"Until they heard me play," he grinned, "My musical career hasn't exactly been covered in glory. Let's say The Beatles weren't bricking it worrying about me." Surely she had at least heard of The Beatles. God, she was young.
"I bet you charmed the girls so completely they didn't care if you could play the guitar or not." Annie knew Mitchell well enough to know that he was no saint and that if he turned on the charm he usually got his own way.
"Well, yeah, sometimes," he had the decency to blush a little when he said it.
"And did you kill all of them?"
"Annie..." his eyes pleaded with her not to go there. He plucked the G string and fiddled with the tuner – plucked the G string again. Better. "I was trying to give it up by then." He picked up the guitar from its place and blew the dust from the polished wood. It had been a decent instrument, bought back when he had money to chuck around, courtesy of the vampire network. He'd never asked where it came from, how he and Herrick managed to live the high life for so long – had just accepted it as his due as Herrick's right hand man.
"Say, how about you go and make us a nice cup of tea? I'll be down in a minute. We can watch a bit of telly – snuggle up, catch up a bit."
She brightened, the smile that he loved lighting up her face. "I'd like that. Give me a couple of minutes."
He listened as she went downstairs; then came the noise of the kettle being filled and the familiar hammering of the pipes. The plumbing in this place really was crap.
Mitchell sat on the end of his bed, guitar on his knee and tuned it up. The strings could do with replacing, but the instrument had a lovely mellow tone – it had even made his playing sound half decent. Back in the day.
Should he have kept this stuff? Herrick had made him burn all his human stuff: his letters from his mam and dad, his family photographs. Most especially the pocket Bible he had carried with him from the start of the war. When he took it out of his pocket it made his eyes smart and his fingers burn – he'd been glad to be shot of it. So when he tried to renounce the vampire side of him – try being human again as best he might – should he have got rid of the paraphernalia of his vampire life? Was a bonfire in the garden of the pink house the order of the day?
He strummed a little on the newly in tune guitar, humming under his breath as he tried to remember the chords, feeling the metal of the strings cut into finger pads unused to playing.
Maybe that's what he had been trying to do all along as he had acquired his "stuff": the musical instruments, the record collection, the movies. Maybe he'd been trying to stay in touch with the humans – to like what they liked, move with the times. Not just to maintain his cover and fit in – Herrick had done that, after all – but to feel the pulse of humankind as it grew and changed around him. He'd been taken for a rocker or an emo earlier, not someone who was old enough to be the chap's great great grandfather. Was that why the Old Ones lived in South America? Did they get to the point where they couldn't move with the times? When civilisation just became too strange for them to understand or to tolerate any more? Did they leave for a simpler life – one that they would recognise more readily?
"Tea's up," called Annie from downstairs, "and there's a rerun of Midsomer Murders starting if you're quick."
"I'll be right down."
As he went out of the door he cast a quick look around at his room, seeing what Annie had seen. God, yes, it was a disgrace. A total mess. But a mess that kept him grounded, in the moment, taking each day as it came. It could be worse – at least he had restricted himself to what would fit in the back of his Volvo, culling his clutter every time he'd moved. If he'd kept everything he'd acquired over the last ninety years he'd need a bloody Transit by now.
Mitchell closed the door on his chaos and surrendered himself to an afternoon of tea, biscuits and reruns. Good job he wasn't planning on moving anytime soon.