When That Trumpet Sounds
A week before the school band was supposed to play at the school fete, someone pinched my trumpet.
It was kind of my fault for putting it down, I know; but it got heavy after a while, and I still had another ten minutes before the bus was due, and so I put it down for a minute.
It was only for a moment, but when I went to pick it up again the trumpet case was gone, the trumpet inside it.
So. I was a total moron, there were only four days before our performance, my trumpet was gone, and I couldn't really afford to buy a new one.
I did the usual 'oh-no-it's-gone-someone-stole-it-the-bastard-I'm-an-idiot-what-do-I-do-now?' routine, kicked the bus shelter a few times which didn't help but temper any but did hurt my toes, and caught the bus home in a really miserable and nasty mood.
Four days, and I couldn't afford to replace my trumpet with a new one. I was screwed.
Except that I'm kind of a resourceful little bastard, so pretty soon I had an idea.
Sure, I couldn't get a new trumpet, but what about an old one?
Which was how I ended up music and pawn shop-hopping, two days after my trumpet was stolen.
For the most part, I got nowhere. Either the shops had complete rubbish, or else it was practically like new and out of my price range.
After three hours I was ready to tear my hair out, but there was a place I hadn't gone to, a little nondescript place, one of those shops that could be a music store one week and a hairdresser the next, unremarkable and not particularly wanted. You know the kind, right?
Normally I wouldn't have bothered, but I was getting desperate – two days – so I figured I might as well check the place out, and reluctantly entered the store.
Inside it was kind of skeevy, and like I'd expected, most of the instruments were shit – guitars with broken strings, pianos missing keys, beaten-up violins, that sort of thing.
Some of the stuff at the back looked okay, though, so I wandered over to have a look.
The stuff there was different. There was a small harp just sitting on a stand. There was a fiddle that gleamed with care, and some sort of old-fashioned flute, odd-looking, but in good condition.
But I barely noticed any of them, next to the trumpet.
It wasn't just a trumpet. No way. It was like the Platonic Ideal of trumpets, sitting there on the back wall. It practically glowed, shiny and bright and golden, like some sort of modern art piece instead of a simple instrument.
Unable to help myself, I took the trumpet down, wiped the mouthpiece on my shirt out of habit, and blew.
The sound that came out was the sweetest note I'd ever heard, pure and strong.
It seemed to hang in the air for a moment, almost, before dying away.
Holy shit, I thought in wonder.
"Ha! A beautiful instrument, is it not?" a jovial African accent boomed in my ear, loud and laughing, and I damn near dropped the thing.
I spun around to see a man standing behind me, grinning broadly, with incredibly white teeth. He was a small man, but his limbs were longer and skinner than the rest of him, which made me think uncomfortably of spiders.
"U-uh, it's great," I stammered, catching the trumpet before I could drop it, and cringing slightly.
"That it is!" the African man said happily, beaming. "A truly wonderful instrument, and at such a reasonable price!"
"Yeah?" I asked, rather skeptical.
There was a dangling, discreet price tag, so I checked it in response to his encouraging nod – and couldn't believe it.
"Seriously?" I asked incredulously. "But this is – it's a work of art!"
"Ah yes," the proprietor nodded solemnly, "but I intend to close down the business, you know how it is, no custom in these little places, but I need to get rid of my stock. So…"
He gave a 'what can you do?' shrug, philosophical and resigned.
"Hence the excellent price." He winked at me. "You will buy it, yes?"
"Hells yeah," I said fervently.
Fast-forward to the concert – I didn't play the trumpet once before the big day, not a single practice, nothing. I couldn't have explained why; I just felt it wasn't necessary.
So, on the day of the fete I settled in with everyone else, holding my mostly untested trumpet, flipping through the music on my stand.
We started the first piece.
I've always liked 'California Dreamin' ' and I play it well, but I've never played it like that, and I never will again.
The music barrelled out, bright and thoughtful and deep, and took on a life of its own.
Even amid all the other sounds the trumpet stood out, soaring above them all, making the other instruments sound off-key by comparison.
We went through three more songs without a break, not that I wanted to stop; I felt gloriously intertwined with the music, more alive than I ever had. The rest of my life suddenly seemed dull and empty, a facsimile of some higher existence that I was only discovering now. It was like liquid light poured from the trumpet with each breath I gave it, and went twirling joyfully out into the world.
After a while we did take a break, though it wasn't exactly because we were tired of playing.
It was because that was when the zombies showed up.
I know, you're probably going, 'wait, what?' at the sudden intrusion of zombies into this tale, but that was how it was; one minute we were all playing beautifully, the next everyone around us started screaming, and when we looked around – because screams of terror are never a good sign – there were animated corpses dragging themselves towards us.
The shock was enough to pull the air from my lungs, and I stopped playing abruptly.
The moment the music ceased the zombies stopped, and just stood there expectantly for a minute, each and every one of them staring in the band's direction.
No, I suddenly realised, with a sick swooping sensation in my stomach. Not at the band.
"Holy Hannah Montana!" Jess Davis screamed right in my ear. "It's the zombie apocalypse!"
Whatever the zombies were waiting for, it apparently didn't come; their attention broke, and they started lurching towards the nearest people, with eerie groans and burbling noises.
From the moment I'd spotted the zombies I'd been frozen in shock, but at this point uncomfortable heat beneath my fingers snapped me out of it.
The trumpet had grown warm, then hot, and when I looked down the thing was glowing slightly, like a dim nightlight.
You've probably worked it out already, of course, but it was right then that it clicked: my wonderful, amazing – maybe even unearthly? – trumpet was somehow summoning zombies.
Fuck my life.
So. There I was, with zombies chasing fleeing people – not that well, because a zombie goes like 5 miles an hour, tops, and the living can run way faster than that, but who the hell cares when a rotting dead guy is on your heels? – the band panicking all around me, and some weird mystical zombie-calling trumpet in my hands.
Now, I'm not the bravest guy, okay? I'm not that self-sacrificing; I always use the last of the cereal, and no one gets to use the Xbox if I'm there because I'm practically attached to it.
But it was pretty clear that this was kind of my fault, even if I hadn't meant to do it, and the last thing I wanted was some little kid to get eaten or something. That would suck, right?
So I lifted the trumpet and kept on playing, and once again had the attention of every zombie in sight.
They started towards me.
Fuck, I thought. It was a pretty good thing that they were so slow, because running for your life while blowing a trumpet? Not the easiest. The best I could manage was a kind of sedate walk away from everyone, a trail of zombies behind me like some freakish parade.
I'd gone twelve steps when a guy suddenly popped into existence next to me, looking all surprised.
He was nothing special, about average height with kind of blondish hair and wearing a slouchy green jacket over a flannel shirt, but he'd just appeared out of thin air like Q of the Continuum or Harry Potter.
The moment he appeared his eyes were already fixed on the trumpet, like he was really surprised it was there and he hadn't expected it at all.
"Huh, I wondered what happened to that," he observed, like he was talking about his spare set of keys or whatever and not a magic trumpet that summoned zombies. "Guess I should have hid it better."
"Zombies," I squealed.
He made a 'what?' face and looked around to see the zombies slowly converging on us.
He gave me a look, like I'd done something stupid.
"Yeah, that's why you don't play the awesome miraculous trumpet," he said dryly. "If I played that thing, it'd be the freaking Apocalypse all over again. You're lucky you just got zombies."
He reached out and plucked the trumpet from my grasp.
The world went white.
When I'd blinked the spots away a couple of seconds later the trumpet was nowhere to be seen and the mysterious guy was just standing there, his hands in his pockets, looking at me.
I whipped around to look at the zombies but all that was left was a bunch of decaying bodies lying in heaps on the grass, properly dead. I gave a long, dizzy sigh of relief.
The guy was still standing there when I looked back at him, just watching me with strangely bright eyes. It was seriously unnerving, like something I couldn't actually see was looming over me massively.
"You're perceptive," the guy commented. "Don't worry about the dead people, they're not going to do anything."
After a beat, he added, "probably," with a quirked eyebrow, like he'd tried to resist the temptation to say it but hadn't quite managed it.
"Who are you?" I asked, because when an enigmatic guy turns up to claim a magic zombie-calling trumpet, you kind of want to know.
This time the eyebrow was accompanied by a devilish smirk.
"Gabriel," he said simply, his eyes full of mischief. "They call me Gabriel." He winked. "Have fun with the conspiracy theories."
That's basically the end of the story: sure, the school fete didn't recover, and they were dead bodies everywhere and the school couldn't explain why and The Day The Zombies Attacked (And It Was Awesome) became a permanent piece of urban legend at Kenmore high for years to come, but there isn't really much else to tell, except for one thing.
A week and a half after the zombies, I came home to find a large Fed Ex package waiting for me.
There was no sender's address, just the name 'G. Messenger,' so I opened the box cautiously, but with a lot of curiosity.
It was a trumpet case, and inside that an expensive, high-quality, brand-new trumpet.
'Hey kid,' said the post-it stuck to the outside of the case, 'since I got my trumpet back thanks to you, I figured the least I could do was send you a replacement. Have fun, and don't go raising any more zombies, okay?'
There was no signature; only a carelessly scrawled ' ;) '.