Living on a Song and a Prayer; Part 1
By Camospam, Wendy K. and Gabi.
A Non-Canon Second Generation Whateley Universe Adventure
“Chur, all good. But umm, where? I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”
Start at the beginning.
“The beginning of what?”
When did you first notice you were mutating?
“Suppose that would have been the last day of school back in December.”
“Tell me mate, have you ever had it full on guts? Nah? You seen them cartoons when a five ton weight is gonna drop outta the sky onto your mate’s head? Yeah, If I could go back I’d pull a Marty McFly and get me-self outta that pickle. But I don’t time travel, not even sure if that’s actually a thing? Before you think I’m a crack-up, I do know the difference between real life and make believe, trust me. I would have much preferred anything to the hornets nest I was stepping into.”
“I wish I had a danger sense though, something to warn a fulla when the hoopla was gonna hit the fan. Looking back, maybe I could have guessed what was going to happen, but not the heaps of it, who knew? Thinking about it now though, I probably wouldn’t have done anything differently, no matter how much I’m wanting it otherwise.”
“The situation was that a group of bullies had begun a terror campaign on me, not just me but my best friend Nigel, and some other fulla’s I knew at school as well. It had escalated to a point where it had become intolerable, so seeing a large cluster of jerks conniving together over near the school's bike stands, it was more than a subtle hint trouble was brewing.”
“It was no big surprise that those buggers had all congregated around Bruce, feeding off his reputation and seeking to share a moment in his spotlight. Bruce was easily the most popular fulla at school, and all the wannabe social climbers gravitated around him, stoking up his already over inflated ego.”
“To be fair, Bruce was the biggest and best player on the school's Rugby team. If you’re not familiar, or been living under a rock, New Zealand is fanatical about Rugby. The country as a whole becomes ecstatic whenever the national team wins. So by default, Bruce Morris is nigh on worshipped as an up and coming Rugby hero, to know him is to love him: yada yada - sis boom bah. Which is all well and good - unless of course you actually met the fulla; bad tempered, uncouth, nasty, and as already discussed: a bonafide Class A jerk - oh, and such a dunny he couldn’t rub two thoughts together to create a spark. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much brain power to run with a ball.”
“I stood just inside the school's door for a long time trying to build up my courage, it was only maybe a minute but it felt like hours. I watched the jerks crack-up amidst themselves, everyone posturing for a place near Bruce. The ear piece I had been given spoke, asking: 'You alright Jason?'”
“I said: ‘Testing, one, two, three.’ Who was I kidding? They’d given me a prompt to get moving, concerned I was getting cold feet. After all, I was the one who sent out invitations to this party.”
“‘You're five by five.’ Came a voice into my ear. No idea what that meant.”
It’s an indicator that a signal is strong and clear.
“Couldn’t they just say that?”
“Sure, whatever. Anyway, at that point I looked around to see if I could spot my best mate Nigel, he had already gotten his bike and was waiting for me a safe distance away. I noticed another classmate, Heather Thomas, sitting on the school's steps waiting for her parents to come pick her up. She was keeping her head down to avoid attention because she was another target of the bullies.”
“I checked my pocket to make sure the little electric microphone was still hidden.”
“It’s odd, my Biology teacher taught us the names for different groups of animals, like a flock of birds, or a pod of whales. Personally I liked the name 'a murder of crows'; it was highly descriptive and explained why they squawked so much. I really have no idea what the right name for a roaming pack of hostile imbecilic jerks is called, Do you know what a bunch of jerks are called?”
Sorry kid, no idea.
“Carbuncle sounds good by me, a cluster of pus filled infected abscesses that need to be removed. Well, it’s what I figure they should be called anyway.”
“I want you to know, that in any other situation I would have given trouble like this a wide berth. I had no need to antagonize them - not normally anyways. But recently I’d become the brunt of their ire, the animosity they held towards me had grown to intolerable heights. I’d been getting pushed into lockers, openly taunted, mocked, called names, had my stuff stolen. I was being targeted, me and my mates.”
“So it was like I’d figured, they’d gathered at the bike stand. It wasn’t a coincidence, I needed my bike to get home, and the buggers knew that. It’s why Bruce decided to hold his court in session there, he was waiting to pass judgement on me, and needed his serfs to support him.”
“I gently inserted myself between two of the less aggressive societal afflictions asking, ‘Excuse me.’ An opening parted in the carbuncle of jerks, allowing me access to my bike. After I’d knelt down to unlock the secure chain, a tight circle of bodies formed around me in the seconds it took me to remove the lock.”
“‘I was waiting for you,’ stated the aforementioned leader of the pack / jock / jerk: Bruce, captain of the rugby team and commander of twits. His only redeeming quality that I can speak to was he made everyone else’s grade point average look bloody awesome in comparison.”
“‘Last day,’ I needlessly informed him. 'Needed to empty out my locker,’ as I tugged at the straps of my full to overflowing backpack.”
“‘Your gonna be doing my homework,’ demanded Bruce giving me a push, sending me off balance and onto my knees.”
“‘Bruce, in case you didn’t notice, school’s out on break, we don’t come back till February.’”
“‘Bruce has to go to summer school,' piped in Ryan, one of Bruce’s cronies / best friend / leader of his cheering section / jerk in training. ‘Coach said if he doesn’t get his grades up he’s off the team.’ Ryan’s willingness to share earned him a glare from Bruce.”
“Wonderful, he wants to share his misery, with me of all people. ’I hope you pass,’ I casually said, it might not have been the complete truth, but I didn’t wish him ill.”
“'He’s gonna pass cause you’ll be doing his homework,’ trumpeted Ryan, giving me another push to emphasize the point. Undoubtedly an attempt to regain Bruces favour.”
“I regained my balance to finally unchain my bike and stood. ‘Nope, sorry. Not available. Maybe you should hire a tutor?’”
“‘You’ll do it dweeb, or I’ll tell everyone you’re a Jehovah,’ sneered Bruce.”
“‘Everyone already knows I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s not like it’s a secret. I mean, we pretty much call at everybody’s door in town.’”
“It wasn’t the response Bruce wanted to hear, he wanted me to cower at his threat, to beg for my life. Not getting satisfaction, he growled. Seriously, it was an honest to goodness growl. I almost felt sorry for him considering he couldn’t even muster a verbal response. His cronies had a conflicted look of - what do we do boss?”
“Bruce thought I’d cave, but no way! I needed him to commit, so I asked, ‘What? You figured you’d blackmail me because my Mom and I called at you’re home the other weekend?’”
“‘You’ll do it or I’ll make you wish you’d never been born,’ threatened Bruce, finally stringing a less than clever sentence together.”
“‘Answer's still no.’”
“‘Grab him!’ directed Bruce, two of his goons latched onto my arms and held me. ‘Today you die’ claimed Bruce, after which he proceeded to pummel me with his fists, he hit my face, chest, stomach all targeted. I hadn’t struggled, how could I? I tried to escape being restrained, but being outnumbered kinda made that pointless, I fell to the ground in a heap afterward.”
“Bruce ordered: ’Come to my place Fridays to pick up my homework, you know where I live.’ ”
“‘No,’ I wheezed after having gotten onto my hands and knees. I was kicked, hard - in the ribs, it hurt bad and I was winded. As I lay facedown on the ground, I went through another round of getting kicked, punched, and stomped on, everyone had joined in the fun by that time. All the jerks present contributing, but Bruce was the one orchestrating it, taking the lead.”
“‘Change your mind?’ shouted Bruce at my face, which he’d lifted up by pulling on my hair, while someone else had a boot in my back pinning me down.”
“‘Then I’m gonna beat up your friend: Nigger.’ Threatened Bruce.”
“'Nigel, his name’s Nigel. Leave him alone.’”
“'Oh, It’ll be fun turning his wimpy mug into mush. Besides, he shorted me on lunch money today. Ahh, didn’t you know? He’s my new bank. I’m gonna keep making daily withdrawals from ol’ Nigger boy all summer long,’ Gleefully taunted Bruce.”
“‘I sure hope that’s enough,’ I moaned. ‘Or do you need him to confess to killing Jimmy Hoffa too?’”
“‘Wha’d you say?’ Snarled Bruce, sticking his snout close to my battered face.”
“‘Just asking the police if they’ve gotten enough evidence.’”
“‘What?’ Spouted Bruce, reeling back in shock.”
“‘If you’re going to shake someone down, you shouldn’t do it in view of the school's security cameras. Oh, and check to make sure they aren’t wearing a microphone either.’ I managed to say between laboured breaths.”
“‘I’m gonna kill you!’ Snarled Bruce into my face.”
“”Bruce, you just don’t understand the concept of incriminating yourself, do you? Uttering death threats, on top of everything else, just isn’t going to go over well.’”
“Fortunately, that was when the two policemen and Principal Anderson came out through the school’s main door. Bruce was gearing up to lay another beating on me but stopped when he saw who was coming. From around the corner of the school stepped another policeman, joined by Coach Gruber. The police began taking pictures before anyone thought to scatter.”
“Bruce bent down and lifted me up, saying: ‘You should be more careful, you could get hurt falling off your bike like that.’”
“‘Mr. Morris, unhand Mr. Campbell.’ Ordered Principal Anderson. ‘All of you come with me, the police are going to want to speak with you.’”
“I watched as Bruce looked at Coach Gruber for support, like the man could offer him a lifeline and magically make all this go away. Mr. Gruber hung his head and shook it in disappointment, the man then walked away from the scene disappearing behind the school the way he’d come.”
“Two in the crowd attempted to run, but were quickly corralled by an unleashed police dog. After that, everyone involved was ushered into the school. I was taken to the school nurse, she checked me over, tending to my bleeding nose and put ice on my more serious aches. She only released me after making me promise that I’d go see our family doctor.”
“When I could finally leave school, after what felt like a very long debrief with the police and signing statements, I found Nigel and his dad: Mr. Duggan, waiting for me outside. Our bikes were loaded into his vehicle and I was given a lift home, not that I wanted to impose, but they lived next door, so I appreciated the ride. My ribs still hurt.”
Did getting beaten triggered your mutation?
“Kinda, sorta, the doctors figured it exacerbated my condition.”
“Well, yah see, it turns out that when I was really young, like seven or eight years old, It turns out I had an incredible talent for music. We didn’t know about it until one evening, it was when Mom and I were invited over to some friends’ place for dinner. On the drive over, Mom heard a song on the radio and turned it up and sang along. So, now, this couple had a piano which they allowed me to sit at. At first I just pressed the keys listening to each note one at a time, after that I played the song we had heard in the car.”
You memorized the song?
“I suppose that’s a way to describe it, my piano teacher said that music was like my first language.”
What was the song?
“Chiquitita by ABBA.”
Did you take music lessons after that?
“No, just three. Ms. Giovani said she couldn’t teach me anything more, I was already above her skill level. But she did show me how to read music, so that was good.”
You’re saying you’re some kind of mutant musician?
“I was called a prodigal.”
“What’s the difference?”
A prodigy has exceptional skill, being prodigal is someone who’s reckless and extravagant.
“Yeah nah, the first one - not the latter. Amazing how just a couple letters changes a word’s meaning around completely.”
The one tends to lead into the other.
“I hope not, not that it matters now anyway.”
“I can’t play music any longer.”
Because music is your superpower?
“That’s right, and I lost it.”
You asked to speak with someone?
“My son is next door, so I was here anyway. And, you need to hear my side of the story.”
Why is that?
“I have details my son doesn’t know about.”
Is it relevant?
“I believe so.”
Very well, proceed.
“Our conversation is being recorded?”
Yes, it will be transcribed later, both the audio and printed copy to become part of the case file. Is that a problem?
“No, it’s good actually. I’ve had enough of keeping secrets and hiding to last me a lifetime.”
Interesting, why don’t you start by telling me your name?
“Avonlea Campbell, I’m thirty years old and I’m an engineer. My son is Jason Campbell, he’s fifteen.”
That means …
“It means I was too young to be a mother, yes. It’s all part of what I need to tell you about Jason.”
By all means, continue.
“My first real inkling that Jason might manifest as a mutant was when he was seven. He was an active and curious boy, so when he asked if he could play the piano at some friends’ house one night. I didn’t think anything about it, and the couple was gracious enough to indulge a little boys request.”
“As we talked in the kitchen, I heard Jason plunking away on the piano in the living room. Before long that stopped and what I heard next chilled me to the bones. He was playing a song, not random notes, but the exact same song we had listened to on the radio on our way over. It was a perfect rendition, he only spoke the words mind, but he had memorized the song exactly.”
What song was it?
“Chicuitita by ABBA. It’s a group my mother loved and would play their music often when I was little.”
What did you do?
“I’m ashamed to admit, but I stood there like a slack-jawed dunny, not knowing what to do or say. When he finished our friends applauded him, I checked his temperature - my doctor said it was a sign to look out for. Jason was fine, but I got him in to see Doc Simmons the next day.
“Doctor Simmons ran some tests, which he described as being inconclusive and told me not to worry. Are you a mother?”
“Let me tell you, to have heaps of ‘maybe’ hanging over your baby’s head, nothing is going to make a mother worry more. After that I probably checked Jason’s temperature everyday, I hope he took it to show how much I love him, instead of a sign of me going crazy - which I was but didn’t want him full on thinking it.”
“Doc Simmons suggested I encourage Jason’s musical talents, I arranged some piano lessons for him. Ms. Angelica Giovani was a local piano teacher, she had impeccable credentials, but I suspect she used a stage name, she struck me more as a Beatrice or Agnes than Angelica. She showed up three times and then refused to come back. Said I was wasting her time, that Jason was already being tutored by a professional and we were trying to insult her.”
“In a way, I was glad she quit. I couldn’t keep Jason safe if he became known.”
Were you in danger?
“Can we table that for the moment, and come back to it later?”
“Thanks, So, jumping over a few years. Jason continued to explore music, I’d gotten him an electric keyboard which he played whenever he could. He was the most amazing musician you’d ever heard … I’m sure every mother says that. I can’t help it if it’s true.”
“By this time we’d moved to Russel, a small community on the Bay of Islands. Mom had died of cancer when Jason was five, Dad passed away from a heart attack when Jason was ten. I still have my brother John who lives in Auckland - along with his wife and daughter. But at fourteen Jason was my everything.”
“I worked for a large engineering firm and was managing a government sponsored electrical project. I had obtained my engineering degree through remote learning, I was a new mother with a small baby so attending university classes in person was out of the question. It was difficult but I managed with my family’s help. Living in Russel was hard, since I needed to go to meetings in Auckland frequently. But Dad had left the property to me in his will, and it was a nice place for Jason to grow up.”
“I had set up a home office. I’ll be honest, at times I get buried in work, I can be so wrapped up in details that I forget everything and anything around me. Which means sometimes I didn’t give Jason the attention he needed.”
It happens to us all.
“No, not like this. One day I got a phone call from Jason’s school. The principal said Jason had been involved in an incident and could I come to bring him home? I was completely zoned out at the moment, we had a huge problem with the project I was looking after, I needed to scrutinize every detail for protection against liability issues. I was entirely focused on that right then.”
“I phoned our neighbours; the Duggan’s, and asked if they could go pick Jason up, since I was too busy. You must take me to be a terrible mother.”
I didn’t say anything. I imagine you did what you could.
“I try and tell myself that. But I let Jason down when he needed me most. I won’t let that happen again.”
“I heard Jason get home, he put a load of clothes into the washing machine, he played a few songs on his keyboard, then he stuck his head into my office and asked what I wanted for dinner. I told him I needed to go to Auckland for meetings, and we should use up leftovers to empty the fridge.”
“A few minutes later he brought me a plate of food, and I asked him how his last day of school for the year went. He told me he had an altercation with a group of bullies, it involved the school administration and the police.”
“‘Anyone we know?’ I inquired.”
“‘Bruce Morris. We called on his family a couple weeks back.’”
“You mentioned you went to school with the boy.”
“‘Yeah, he decided he could blackmail me for being a Witness.’”
“‘I notified the school what was going on, they decided to bring the police in. Bruce is facing a whole lot of trouble, and I don’t feel right about being a snitch.’ Explained my son.”
“Jason, the authorities; those like the principal and police, they are there to take care of us. Bullies and crooks and thieves depend upon people not telling on them, remember they are the ones calling you a snitch. Our keeping quiet is what lets them get away with crimes, so it’s people like us who need to stand up and say something when stuff isn’t right.”
“It doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“I suppose not, still; short term pain is worth long term gain.”
“I miss grandpa.”
“Me too honey, me too. He taught me that lesson when I was about your age, now you get the benefit of his counsel. So, are you hurt? Do you need anything?”
“The school nurse said I should get our family doctor to check me over. She was pretty forceful demanding that I go see the doc.”
“Alright, I’ll make an appointment, we’ll be in Auckland anyways.”
You’d better explain what happened.
“Okay, but it’s a pretty long yarn.”
It’s why you’re here.
“Alright, so, the very next day, Mom needed to attend meetings in Auckland about her work, so we drove into the city. I was still sore but functional, Mom had made an appointment with our family doctor later in the week.”
Hold up, I’ll need your mother’s and doctor’s names.
“Avonlea Campbell, most folks call her A-vee - don’t know why, I usually just call her Mom, or Mum, maybe Mother if she hits a nerve. She’s an engineer, and a real good one too. At the time she was working on a geothermal electrical generating project.”
“Our doctor is Umberto Simmons, he’s been Mom’s doctor for years, and he’s looked after me my whole life.”
“As I said, we needed to stay in Auckland, Mom’s work would keep her there for the better part of two weeks. Whenever we’re in Auckland we stay at the City Life Hotel, it’s near the office Mom worked at in downtown Auckland. We got a good rate, and the folks there were always happy to see us.”
“I suppose I should add that I have relly’s in Auckland, an Aunt and Uncle, we stay with them on occasions, but since this visit was work related we stayed at the Hotel, Uncle John is my Mom’s older brother, he’s a high school teacher. His daughter; Pamela, my cuzzy, she’s only a month older than me, but thinks it makes her so much more mature than me, as if.”
How old are you?
“I turned fifteen in June.”
Right, so at the time?”
“Mom would usually have to attend meetings at least once a month in Auckland. I would join her often, at least when it didn’t interfere with school. It was all smiles behind the reception counter as we entered the foyer.”
“Gregg Jackson, the concierge greeted us, saying; ‘Welcome home,’ as he placed a packet on the counter containing key cards.”
“‘Nice to be back Gregg,’ acknowledged Mom.”
“‘The City Life is almost completely full with tourists today, but we’ve saved a two bedroom suite on the eight floor for you,’ instructed Gregg.”
“‘We could have made do with a single,’ confessed Mom.”
“‘It’s bad for business to ask family to make do,’ assured Gregg.”
“‘Thank you Gregg, you always look after us so well,’ said Mom with a smile.”
“‘My pleasure. Now young Mr. Campbell, the grand piano was just tuned up last Wednesday. We’ll be opening the lounge doors at five - you can practice until then - as long as you promise not to hurt the poor thing, it’s an expensive instrument after all.’ The last was said with a wide grin on the man’s face.”
“‘Really!’ I said in disbelief, I was certain they wouldn’t let me near their piano ever again.”
“‘Really, really,’ humoured Gregg, gaining nods of agreement from his co-workers behind the desk. ‘But remember, nothing too Bohemian this time, we don’t want people dancing in the lobby - again.’”
“‘Do tell?’ Sought Mom, who had heard nothing of this before.”
“‘Sorry mate,’ back peddled Gregg for having let slip our little secret.”
“I must have looked downcast, cause Mom gave me a hug and a kiss on my forehead, followed up by her putting her hand across my forehead, she does that a lot. Anyway, I confessed: ‘I got carried away last time, and started playing boogie-woogie, and some jazz.’ Then added, as if it explained everything ‘It’s just that a grand piano has such an amazing sound to it.’”
“Mom and I have this unsaid agreement, she gets lost in her work, and I’m in another world when it comes to music. Still, I had crossed a line by making a public display, something Mom had forbade me to do. My head stayed held down awaiting a reprimand, Mom reached over and ruffled my hair, her way of saying she wished she had been there to hear me play.”
“We took the elevator up to the eighth floor, our room was a corner suite of the high rise, it had a small kitchen, a living room, and two bathrooms. Mom as usual took the master bedroom with its own washroom, while I got a smaller bedroom, after throwing my suitcase on the bed. I begged the inevitable: ‘Can I … ?’”
“‘Go.’ Granted Mom. ‘Don’t forget, Pam will be getting dropped off after her music lesson today, so don’t go too far. I’ll be back before six so be here and we’ll get dinner together.’”
“I heard her, but it was a near miss, I had places to be.”
“The Hotel’s lounge was set off from the main lobby behind a set of glass double doors, the doors separated the lounge area off from the lobby. The piano was situated in a darkened corner to a side of a small stage, the positioning allowed customers to sit in the open space along the bar and enjoy the view of the city in front of the windows facing the street.”
“The room was empty with only a short bank of lights dimly illuminated the midnight black grand piano, perfect! I started with some warm up exercises, stretching my fingers, and checking the piano’s newly tuned sound before settling in.”
“Our house back in Russel didn’t have the room to hold a grand piano, so I only had an electric keyboard which became my outlet. However, the huge midnight black marvel I sat behind - this was a slice of paradise, playing it was an itch that just had to be scratched.”
“The few professional musicians who’d heard me played remarked how I could intuitively grasp a song’s layers, so when a writer infused intent and emotion behind any musical score, I could discover it, embellish it, and make that music come alive.”
“Problem is; I get lost in the moment. My memory was overflowing with concerto’s specifically intended for piano. I don’t know if that is a mutant ability or a specific skill, but I can recall a song’s composition and lyrics verbatim after only hearing it once, same with reading sheet music. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry over to anything else; like math or history, much to Mom’s chagrin.”
“So there I was, recalling one song after another, my fingers dancing across the ivories as iconic masterpieces written by such talents as Faulkner, Bach, Chaimovich … each resonating beautifully from Big Black.”
“That’s my name for the piano, and she sounded amazing. I was completely immersed in the music, so many songs - each holding so much emotion. Big Black responded to my gentle loving ministrations. I was awash in pure joy, no wonder everyone calls it playing music, I was in ecstasy.”
At fourteen, did you actually know what ecstasy felt like?
“Nothing else mattered when the music played, time held no meaning for me, the piano and I were one, but as it so often happens I had need of a washroom. I wrapped up the last refrains of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with a final outpouring and flourish, I opened my eyes to release the spell I’d been under.”
“To my surprise what had been an empty room was now full to capacity, each table occupied by Hotel patrons, who unbeknownst to me had silently crept in and had been blissfully soaking up the music, caught up in it like I had been. The room broke into applause when I stopped. Bewilderment hit: ‘What the ?!?’ When did this happen?”
“Looking past Big Black, which hid most of the room from view, sitting at the closest table to me was a pair of young girls: ‘Pamela!’ But - she was looking at me with an expression I’d never seen before, to try and describe it, I’d say it was mixture of amazement and wonder. You know - the kind of expression reserved for a rock star … at least that was the only thing I could pin it as being. I’d only seen the like of it from pictures of starstruck girls at Beatle’s concerts.”
“Seeing Pam brought me a slim sense of relief at the situation, which quickly faded when I noticed the girl sitting beside my cuzzy. She was a vision of loveliness, my young heart skipped a beat - several actually, but who’s counting. Not that Pamela is a slouch by any means - in fact, she’s an extremely attractive girl, something which my mate Nigel reminds me about relentlessly. But she’s my cousin … so - no! At least Nigel has enough good sense to like her, she’s my cousin after all.”
“But, dear god above, the girl with Pam! She looked at me like a predator and I’m a slice of chocolate cake with sprinkles on top - or something like that. Our eyes met - and I think I smiled, I hope I smiled. I’m here so it means my heart started beating again, but honestly I don’t remember.”
“Thinking about it now, that was when I finally understood the expression: ‘deer in the headlights’. Not that I’d ever seen a deer - or driven at night for that matter. But I’m certain my eyes glazed over, I was getting into some new kind of trouble I never known before. My mind went blank, well not blank entirely, I was immersed into a set of pale green eyes that held me hostage and wouldn’t let me go. If I’m being honest, I was terrified.”
I’ve been married for six years now kid, it doesn’t get any easier, trust me.
“Our eye contact lasted for the longest couple seconds of my life, if not for the irrepressible need to blink it could have gone on forever, and you know, I’d have been okay with that. But she blinked too, it was a slow drop of long lashes over those bright eyes, when she opened them again that initial moment had passed. Her eyes were still trained intently on me, but now I could move beyond the pale green to see the flawless cream coloured skin, framed by long blond hair which glowed as it reflected the lights up above. She smiled, that’s when I melted.”
“‘What can I get you, Honey?’ The waitress took me by complete surprise, I hadn’t seen her coming.”
“Honestly, the waitress’s question broke me from the internal sinkhole I’d fallen into, I looked up at her with questioning eyes.”
“‘The Hotel simply couldn’t keep folks out when they heard you playing, they came in off the street and couldn’t be deterred. I was brought up from the restaurant to help out. Do you need something to drink? That was lovely by the way.’ The waitress gushed.”
“Someone described my reaction as a brain fart, when I could muster coherent thought again I asked: ‘Orange juice with ginger ale?’”
“‘All good, it’s on the house by the way.’ She said in passing as she went over to fill my order with the guy working the bar.”
“What’s that all about? Our hotel room didn’t come with freebies? I was perplexed and worried what Mom would think.”
“Movement drew my attention back to Pam, who had stood and was encouraging that living dream with her to come along. Watching them step up onto the raised platform and approach the piano was a mix of agony and ecstasy. I stood to greet Pam and gave her a hug - you know, one of those family type hugs, warm and happy, the ones relly’s can give that only mean your welcomed without strings attached.”
“The blond girl extended her hand and I froze, transfixed, uncertain if it was even allowed, I mean should I - could I shake her hand, is it even possible to touch a vision? I considered bending and kissing the offered hand like they did in the old-time movies. You know, be all suave and sophisticated like.
“Pam interjected and saved me from my hesitation: ‘Jason, this is my best friend Tammy Rose Alison Shore-Hauge, Tammy this is my cousin Jason ‘Doofus Maximus’ Campbell.’”
“Tammy giggled, my heart nearly stopped beating again. Like a robot I raised my hand, she took it in hers and gave it a gently shake. She didn’t let it go either, rather she turned it over and looked at it, slowly drawing a line down my palm with her other hand.”
“‘I’ve never felt music like how you play it,’ Tammy told me in a voice laced with awe.”
“‘I … You … Thanks,’ is what I was finally able to be utter. I know; really cool, right?”
“‘Careful Tammy, he’s a silver tongued devil.’ Teased Pam, eliciting giggles from them both and giving me enough emotional space to smile, as I looked around the crowded lounge people raised glasses to me to show appreciation.”
“‘I didn’t see you come in.’ I said in apology to Pam as I felt my cheeks begin to burn.”
“‘Don’t worry about it, you were busy. Besides we got dropped off early,’ admitted my cousin.”
“It was only then that I noticed Pamela’s violin case on her table, and a cello case occupying a spot at the table they had been seated at.”
“‘I’m to do a recital Monday,’ stated Pam. ‘I don’t know which song to perform, you just played so many lovely pieces, I can’t decide.’”
“‘I have to practice for weeks before I can even consider doing a performance,’ declared Tammy. ‘How do you do it?’”
“‘My cuzzy’s a freak, he only needs to listen to a song once and he’s got it memorized,’ verbally jabbed Pam, her idea of a compliment I suppose.”
“‘That’s uncanny! How does it work?’ Wondered Tammy.”
“‘I don’t know, music just speaks to me, it’s like I feel it in my core and it needs to escape.’”
“‘Inconceivable!’ Muttered Tammy.”
“‘I don’t think that means what you think it means.’ Both Pam and I mimicking Inigo Montoya's accent in a shared response.”
“‘Not another one!’ Moaned Tammy.”
“‘It’s a family thing, we like to watch old movies when we get together,’ explained Pamela.”
“'You guys seriously need to find something else, like playing cards,’ stated an exasperated Tammy.”
“‘We do that too, it keeps us in good practice for quoting films,’ assured Pam.”
“‘Remind me why we’re friends again,’ teased Tammy.”
“‘Because you need my help carrying your cello,’ snarked Pam.”
“I hoped this was just some light hearted jesting, like how Nigel and I carry on sometimes, otherwise it could denigrate into something worse quickly. I excused myself when the need to pee became too intense to ignore.”
“Upon my return I asked: ‘Was there something you guys wanted to do this afternoon?’ Mom had implied I was to keep Pam entertained today, so I needed to be a good host, even though I just wanted to keep playing.”
“‘It’s raining cats and dogs outside, and I need to practice for my audition next week,’ explained Pam. ‘Maybe we could …’”
“Her hint wasn’t anything akin to subtle, not when she was inclining her head towards the grand piano with raised eyebrows and tipping her head repeatedly in Big Blacks direction.”
“‘Good idea, if I’m going to win a scholarship, I need practice too,’ concurred Tammy.”
“‘What scholarship?’ I asked, returning to the bench behind the beautiful black piano I so loved, a surprising hush falling quickly over the people in the lounge in anticipation of more.”
“‘The music conservatory is holding auditions for who gets admitted into the next school year. There are scholarships still up for grabs … It’s been a dream of mine to attend. But, isn’t that why you’re here?’ Pondered Tammy.”
“‘I didn’t know anything about it,’ I admitted shrugging my shoulders, having a joint crack at the motion. Mom always worried about us you see, concerned that I would bring unwanted attention to ourselves. In part, it’s why I didn’t receive further musical training, besides making a name for myself didn’t interest me.”
“‘That means it’s just you and me blondie, to the death!’ Challenged Pam, Tammy’s rebuttal was sticking her tongue out.”
“Pam began to open up her violin case, but threw her hair back and raised her head in an exaggerated motion to say she wasn’t going to respond to such a childish display.”
“‘Oh, you’re going down sister.’ Taunted Tammy in the process of getting out her cello, she brought the finely crafted instrument over to the piano bench and sat down beside me, nudging me over to make room for her.”
“Once settled Tammy held up her bow in a salute like a duelist.”
“‘You call that a knife, now this is a knife’ said Pam with a terrible Australian accent, as she got herself positioned on the other side of me with her violin, she also held her bow like a rapier accepting the challenge.”
“‘What song do you have in mind?’I asked to gauge what they wanted to play.”
“‘Tchaikovsky I think, Trio in A minor.’ Called out Pam.”
“I began the piece to set the tone for the ensemble, getting a feel and setting the mood for the song and gauging what the girls were capable of. And it began, again the audience was enraptured for the next couple hours by a series of classical songs interpreted by us. Some pieces favoured the violin while others lent to the cello, some even excluded the piano. What it did was highlight the love we all shared for our respective instruments, giving touching renditions of old and newer songs.”
“The set concluded with a moving performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, one of my favourite songs and a delight to play, even more so with accompaniment. As the song finished the trance the crowd had been enraptured in broke, and the quiet which was holding them fast until now erupted into resounding applause.”
“The room was over capacity with people listening, every chair occupied, and people standing in every nook and cranny, even the hotel’s lobby had become a secondary auditorium with people staying close to the doors so as to catch every sound we three produced.”
“‘I’m exhausted,’ proclaimed Pam who scanned the room looking for a chair. ‘I need to sit down.’”
“My cousin’s plight became obvious, she had been standing the whole time while Tammy and I had been seated. I pulled out my bench towards her and bumped Tammy a little closer to the edge, it was the least I could do to offer her someplace to rest. Pam lowered herself down letting out a sigh of relief, giving me a nudge to show her thanks.”
“One of the three wait staff brought us all tall glasses of water, and we each got another glass of orange juice with ginger ale. I hated to put anything down on the Big Black’s high gloss finish, but little coasters came with the drinks.”
“Tammy gratefully accepted her drinks and quickly downing half the glass of water, then asked pointedly about the other glass: ‘Alcohol?’”
“‘Nah! Just OJ and ginger ale, it keeps your energy up,’ I advised.”
“Taking a sip Tammy nodded acceptance, with Pam adding ‘Nice’ in confirmation.”
“‘Did you want to stop?’ I asked, I was willing to stop, ensure my guests were entertained, but deep down - I still wanted to keep playing.”
“‘I’m going to need to rest awhile,’ Pam admitted.”
“‘I can keep going,’ jested Tammy, a not so subtle hint but still a friendly jab that she was the better of the two.”
“‘That’s only because you get to play sitting down,’ chided Pam, who had taken off her shoes and begun wiggling her toes.”
“‘I’ve only got access to this piano until 4:30, so if it’s okay I’d like to keep playing.’ I asked, running a hand down the piano’s surface caressing it.”
“Those seated nearby in the lounge who heard my comment expressed their approval and stopped their conversations.”
“I decided upon some more recent melodies to play, almost immediately I felt the mood in the room pick up, as if the contemporary beat lifted people’s emotions. I led the people down a musical journey as I dug from memory some of the songs Mom always enjoyed listening to, my choices didn’t hold to any kind of rhyme or reason.”
“Songs from artists like Billy Joel, and Elton John, and any other contemporary songs that lent itself to piano. My playing peaked the audience’s attention, and I fed off that energy.”
“Soon people began to come up and put small pieces of paper on the piano, each of them a printed request. From the growing pile I would quickly scan one to see if it was a song I’d heard, sometimes Pamela and Tammy would accompany me if it was a song they knew.”
“I felt when Tammy leaned up against me, gently resting her head on my shoulder. From out of the corner of my eye I noticed she was watching my hands float across the keyboard, it was silly of me but I tried even harder to impress her - without knocking her off the bench from the effort it took … she was mesmerized and I loved it.”
“I spotted the request: More Than a Feeling. Sure I knew it, a rather rollicking rock song from the band Boston. Curious, I showed the request to Pam and Tammy, both of them agreeing to take part, Tammy provided a solid bass line on her cello, Pam handled the high soaring rifts on her violin, while I pushed the piano hard to wrap up the package into a neat bundle, I had already sung along to a few songs and so far nobody had complained about my vocals.”
“I kept pounding out song after song, I’d forgotten about the warning Gregg had given me early, but it hit me when I noticed that dancing had broke out. I hadn’t seen when exactly people had begun dancing since I was so in the groove behind Big Black.”
“Time had slipped away, and as the saying goes ‘all good things must come to an end.’ Gregg approached the piano giving me a five minute warning by looking at his watch and tapping its surface. Plus his giving me a warning look.”
“I settled in for one last song. I really liked the tune, it spoke to me in a way that few could, since it told a story and the melody shifted to match as the lyrics unfolded. It was ‘Roll Me Away’ by Bob Seger. Do you know it?”
“It came fluidly to my fingertips, and I tried my best to do the lyrics justice. I let loose and held nothing back, it’s a song that just demands 100% effort.”
“Beads of sweat dribbled down my brow by the songs end. Sound still echoing off the room’s walls, I almost believed I might have ignited Big Black given the deep enrapturing sounds that I had forced from her. But she stayed as ever, a big black shining testament to musical purity. I dropped my head down onto my chest, completely spent.”
“To say the crowd’s reaction was a roar is an injustice, the ensuing clapping, whistling, cheers and shouts barely registered to me, I just couldn’t do more than try to catch my breath just then.”
“From behind, Pamela wrapped me up into an embrace, two arms clasping around my neck which nearly squeezed the life out of me and had bones popping and creaking.”
“I looked up into Tammy’s face, she gently reached towards me with one of her hands moving an errant stand of hair behind my ear, then she kissed my cheek ever so tenderly. I’m not sure who hit the pause button, but I swear the world stopped moving for a minute there.”
“Then all of a suddenly the room came back into focus, and I wilted under the outpouring of appreciation from those who had taken time out of their day to listen.”
“I have no other way of showing you how I could impact others with music, than to try describing it to you.”
I don’t get it?
“I can’t play any longer, I’m trying to explain to you what effect my playing music had on people, it wasn’t normal. It’s like if I was super strong and could lift a bus, but I could touch people’s emotions with music.”
That’s not unheard of, songs often express intense emotions.
“You don’t understand, and I wish I could show you, but I can’t. Someone in the audience did record me on their phone and posted it on YouTube, it was a sensation with millions of hits and folks raving over it for a time. Until it got removed.”
Come to think of it, I might have seen it online. It was a while ago now, but I remember something like what you said. That was you?
“How did it make you feel?”
I couldn’t believe how amazing it sounded. I was overjoyed listening to it.
“Exactly, that’s what I’m talking about. I can’t explain it any differently, it’s what we think my mutant ability was.”
And you can’t do it anymore?
So what happened to you?
“Do you want the long or short version?”
Give it to me straight, I can take whatever your dishing out.
So what did the doctor say?
“There’s something else I should explain first.”
Alright, go ahead.
“We like staying at a hotel in downtown Auckland, it was close to my office, near to bus routes, and the staff was friendly. Most importantly, they kept an eye on Jason when I was at meetings.
The hotel has a grand piano, which Jason is in love with. He pesters me constantly to play it, I hadn’t though too much of it until I found out he had been drawing a crowd.”
“I came back from work to find Jason, Pam and another girl in our room waiting for me to take them to dinner.”
“Pamela Louise Campbell, she’s my niece. And Tammy Rose Alison Shore-Hauge.”
That’s a mouthful.
“A handful too, she was all over Jason like melted cheese on a pizza. I think Jason liked her, which just made it that much harder for him later.”
I won’t ask.
“Thanks. Turns out they had been practicing together downstairs in the lounge, they’d created quite a stir, dancing in the streets as it were. People coming in later asking when the next performance was - that sort of thing. A reporter had even approached me to ask if he could interview my son, he had been one of those who heard him play.”
“Pam and Tammy where delighted at all the attention, Jason was severely downcast and didn’t stop apologizing to me all night long. When we dropped Pamela off at her house, she invited us to her conservatory audition. I could see Jason wanted to support his cousin, they'd grown up together - they were like brother and sister. I agreed, reluctantly.”
“Pam was scheduled to perform in the late afternoon, we arrived at the conservatory ahead of time to find seats with my brother. Pam was a nervous wreck, her music teacher was going to provide piano accompaniment, but she wasn’t going to make it on time. I had a bad feeling about it, but I couldn’t bear to see Pam’s hopes crushed, so I let Jason play.”
So it was a song he knew.
“Yeah nah, he read the sheet music on their way up onto the stage. That’s how it is for him, once he hears or see’s a song, he’s memorized it, then he can recite it perfectly, the lyrics too. He plays it as good as, if not better than the original.”
Aren’t you exaggerating a little?
“It’s true. I have a recording of it on my phone. After Pam’s audition the judges forced Jason to play another song, they thought they’d faked the audition. But here, listen to this, it’s Jason’s rendition of a movie theme.”
I’ve heard this before, it’s from a spaghetti western, but it sounds different.
“Yes, music is open to an artists interpretation. Jason decided to tell his own story since he wasn’t tied to the movies ambience. Each time I listen to it I can see a bird fighting a storm to save it’s family and survive.”
It’s beautiful, is that him whistling?
“It’s a nice touch isn’t it. I didn’t know he could whistle before then either. It was emotionally draining, everyone was crying like babies when it ended, I was handing out tissues left, right, and center.”
You wouldn’t happen to have a tissue with you now?
“Here, it’s still impactful, I’ve learned to keep tissue’s with me wherever I go. Now, where was I?”
Jason’s musical prowess.
“Right. It was a day or so later that we had the appointment with Doctor Umberto Simmons. He had been my physician since I was around Jason’s age, and the only doctor I trusted with Jason’s care.”
Why is that?
“Doc Simmons was brought in to look after me, after I was involved in an unfortunate incident.”
“I’m getting to that mate, but first let me tell you what happened next. Pamela invited Mom and me to her recital at the music conservatory, it was a fancy do, you know, people get all dolled up to add importance to an event. Anyway, it meant we needed to be dressed up nicely, one of those suit and tie situations. Mom and I sat with Pam and her parents, to give moral support until it was Pam’s turn to play.”
“Pam had decided upon a nice musical piece I wasn’t familiar with, it highlighted violin which made sense. She was distraught to find out her piano accompaniment wasn’t going to make it in time to perform with her, so she began to plead with me to fill in. It took some coercion but Mom eventually relented, Pam had set her heart on attending the conservatory, she wanted to teach music and needed a conservator certificate.”
“I read the sheet music she had chosen minutes before we took the stage. Sitting on the conservatories piano bench, my back felt tense so I rotated my shoulders and neck and stretched out my arms. Everything snapped and popped as I tried to get my body moving freely.”
“Pam nodded at me, and she began.”
“She is really very good, I wanted to showcase her skill, so I was playing second fiddle to her lead, I tried to not be noticed behind the piano’s large frame. But if you’ve ever heard ELO’s song ‘Livin' Thing’ it has a whole lot of other sounds going on behind the violin, so I had to make the piano work hard to back her up. The judges praised Pam, she deserved it too. She was told she was a frontrunner for a position at the school and was in line for consideration for a scholarship. I hated what happened next.”
“‘Young man, please step away from the piano.’ Asked the central judge in the row of people sitting up front. I did as requested.”
“‘What is your name?’ Questioned that same judge”
“‘Jason Campbell, sir.’”
“‘Campbell, does that mean you are Miss Campbell's brother?’”
“‘No sir, her cousin.'”
“‘I see. Tell me young man, how long did you practice before hand?’”
“‘Practice, sir? I just finished reading the piece before coming on stage, I’d never played it before.’”
“‘Preposterous, Do you take me for a fool?’”
“‘Yet you hold to your story that you were unfamiliar with the piece you just played?’”
“‘Let’s just see about that.’ Turning his attention to another judge he yelled: ‘Docksteader! Do you have a copy of that score you plan to have the fourth year students learn?’”
“Pages of sheet music were handed down to the perturbed judge, he in turn handed them to a stage hand, who then gave them to me.”
“‘Are you familiar with this piece?’ Sought the originator of the sheet music, Mr. Docksteader.”
“Reading the title I replied: ‘No sir, I’ve never heard it before.’”
“‘Play it.’ Demanded the annoying judge sitting in the middle, sneering at me.”
“‘Sir, I’m not auditioning to attend your school. So I don’t see why I should?’”
“‘Your appearance before us calls into question your cousins performance, we will annul her audition if we determine you’ve tried to deceive us.’”
“I sighed at being placed in a no win situation, and I walked back to the piano and sat adjusting the bench’s positioning to get comfortable.”
“Ennio Morricone was not a composer I’d ever experienced before, nor had I seen the film; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. But it was the movie’s theme music that I’d been given to play, it wasn’t even written for piano, it was intended for a full orchestra and choir. Just what did they expect of me?”
“I quickly scanned the pages to get a feel for it, interrupted by the judge saying: 'Anytime you’re ready Mr. Campbell.’”
“To me, I envisioned the song as a story of a soaring bird calling out to its family as a tempestuous storm grows, tossing the bird about as it seeks to return to its nest. The storm rolls in and batters the nest, with strong winds lashing the meagre tree as the storm unleashes its wild fury. But the bird persists, fighting for its life and the lives of its fledglings protected under its wings.”
“It could be argued that I cheated by whistling the birds shrill cry’s, but a piano can’t rightly portray the sound I felt the song needed. For better or worse, I could only play the song as I interpreted it. Although not written as such, I gave for a finally one last whistle, as if the bird mocked the storm by saying: ‘I survived your worst.’”
I’d like to hear it some time. That was my dad’s favourite movie, we watched it together on many occasions.
“I think Mom still has a recording of it on her phone, I don’t think it was very good quality sound, but you know Mom’s.”
What happened next?
“Well, my back had been towards the auditorium, so I turned on the bench to face the judges, and the small audience who sat behind them. The auditorium wasn’t full, just clusters of families sitting together to await their little ‘pride and joy’s’ turn at impressing the judges. Which included Tammy and her parents, who I’d spotted earlier.”
“I couldn’t clearly see the people sitting in the darkened hall, and considering the bright lights shining on me it blinded me to the audience. But I could hear the subtle sound of people crying and blowing their noses. Did you know, there’s a story about how Buddy Holly had a cricket hiding in the recording studio, and you’re supposed to be able to hear it on his record. I would have given money to have heard a cricket at that moment.”
Didn’t the judges say anything?
“Yeah, they said I was stupid for not coming to their school.”
Why didn’t you?
“I always wanted to be a minister, being a musician wasn’t a vocation I was interested in. Besides…”
“If an athlete is found out to be a mutant, he can’t compete in sports. Doesn’t the same hold true for singing, and music, an such?”
I don’t know. But, at the time, did you know you were a mutant?
“Do you recall a situation in New Zealand some fifteen years ago? The media called it the Assault on Auckland, or they used headlines like ‘the Auckland Assassin!’”
I recall it, it was New Zealand’s worst serial killer, seven girls had been killed.
“I was victim number five, but I managed to escape before… That monster killed three more girls afterwards, one within hours of my escape.”
“He beat me, raped me, cut symbols into my body and used my blood in some sadistic ritual. I was held in a basement but managed to slip out of the restraints. I jumped into the backseat of a police car patrolling the neighbourhood. Scared those officers badly; a blood-soaked naked fourteen year old girl climbing into the back of their car, begging for help. They took me to a hospital, that’s how I met Doc Simmons.”
“The police raided the basement I’d been held in, that sicko had already moved elsewhere, but had left behind plenty of evidence. The police didn’t want the public know half of what was happening, my story was never in the news. I was put into witness protection.”
“This is why, at least in part, why I don’t want Jason to be in the public eye, that menace was never caught. I was kept in hospital for a long time, I had multiple surgeries to try and hide my scars, some of the cuts are still visible. It was while in hospital that I manifested, that much anguish was bound to trigger something, and I became a mutant. That’s also when I found out I was pregnant.”
“No, I didn’t even suspect I was a mutant yet. I mean we had talked about mutations in class at school; what signs to look for an all, you know, high fever, radical physical changes, that sort of stuff. I only had some aches and pains, nothing to worry about, eh?”
“Yeah nah, it was later, once I got checked out by Doc Simmons. The first visit was pretty routine, stuff like checking my temperature, blood pressure and such. But afterward I needed to go and get some x-rays taken and pee in a bottle. Oh, and they jabbed me with a needle to draw blood, I hate needles, they freak me out, and the nurse must have filled like a dozen vials too.”
So what did they find?
“Doc Simmons called Mom a couple days later, he’d arranged for an MRI for me at the hospital. Mom was scared, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, or expect, but I didn’t want Mom to worry.”
“It wasn’t until a couple hours after the MRI that we spoke with Doc Simmons, he told us I’d tested positive for the Meta-Gene, how that my aches and pains were the first real indicators that I was mutating.”
“I’d never heard Mom cry like that before, for my part I just sat there like a dunny, and I stayed like that even after Mom had wrapped me in her arms and was trying to console me. I was at a loss - can you even imagine what it’s like?”
I don’t think I can. I was told a few months ago that I’m going to be a dad, but that was good news. Bad news is always harder to take.
“I’ll say, and it just kept coming. From the X-rays and MRI they determined my bones were disintegrating, fast! From that day forward I had to stay at the hospital, and was given pain killers. Almost daily they’d take scans of my body to monitor the changes.”
How long did that last for?
“That’s just it, the mutation is still happening. Yah see, as it was explained to me: most mutations take place fairly quickly, usually in a few hours or perhaps a few days. High temperature are indicative of rapid physical alterations, which can lead to a burnout. Those occur when a mutation is happening too quickly. I have what the doctors called a slow burn, I have a mildly increased temperature - hardly noticeable really. But it’s expected that my mutation is going to take years, maybe as long as it would take for a fulla to become an adult. Which is a problem, so far, nobody’s successfully survived a slow burn mutation with the extent of GSD I have, to date I’ve lived longer than most anybody else on record.”
“I said the bad news just kept coming. It’s why I’ve chosen the name Tempo. Mom thinks it’s because of my music. In truth, it’s because I’m a temporary resident, nobody’s expecting me to live for very long, except maybe Mom.”
End Part 1