The Fiddler's Wish


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Elwood Gray plays the piano, against his father's wishes. After being cut off by his family, Elwood ends up on the streets, unable to get a decent job until a strange man with a fiddle invites him to a meal. Elwood finds himself captivated by the man, Bluff Riddle, and agrees to join Bluff's group known as Fate's Few. This decision throws him into a world of music, magic and madness as he realizes his feelings for his benefactor and discovers that Bluff and his musicians are more than they seem.

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Track 1: Click Track

"The violin sings but the fiddle dances." - Unknown

Elwood Gray drew his jacket around himself, trying in vain to ward off the November chill in the air. Once, it had been an expensive article of clothing, part of a matching suit his mother had purchased for him a couple of years ago. That was before Elwood was out, on his own. Now the jacket was worn and frayed, the pockets filled with the butts of cigarettes he bummed on the streets.

He'd turned 21 two weeks earlier, but there had been no celebration. Elwood didn't have any friends to celebrate with, and no place proper to throw a party, let alone the money to do so. It had been six months since his family had cut him off, right after he'd flunked out of the third university he'd attended since he turned 18. School was no good for Elwood. He'd wasted thousands of his parents' dollars trying to make himself fit, but he never managed it. He'd been close last time. He'd been in a classical music program before he flunked out again.

Music was his passion. He'd taken up piano lessons as soon as he was old enough. This had pleased his parents for a while, until it became apparent that his interest in piano was more than a passing fancy. His father was a wealthy businessman, intent on grooming his son to take over the family company. Elwood didn't have a head for business. That was evident when he flunked out of his first university, where he'd been a business major, as per his father's wishes.

Two more failed attempts later, Elwood had worked up the courage to tell his father he wanted to pursue a career in music instead. He didn't explain why he couldn't handle university. He didn't talk about his inability to keep a relationship, or calm his nerves during exams or how he sometimes laid awake at night, unable to stop his mind from racing. Elwood knew there was something wrong with him but he wasn't going to tell his father. He didn't need to add one more disappointment to the list of problems the elder Gray already had with him.

Now he was on the streets, managing to get by on the pennies he could scrounge playing piano in bars. It wasn't enough, but Elwood couldn't hold a steady job for more than a couple of weeks. There were too many mornings when he couldn't make himself leave whatever shelter he'd slept in the night before. The crushing weight of despair never lifted long enough for him to make a good go of anything. It was worse than ever before now that he was on his own.

He envied some of the musicians on the street, able to peddle their abilities for change tossed into a guitar case, enough to buy them a cup of joe and maybe a warm meal. Elwood couldn't carry a piano around with him, but wouldn't have even if he'd been able to transport his chosen instrument. He was too proud to beg on the streets.

His piano was the thing he missed the most. It was a thing of beauty, an heirloom passed down to his mother from her mother and kept in pristine condition. The sound Elwood could pluck from those keys was unlike any music he'd made since. Still, he played piano whenever he was given the opportunity.

That day, he saw the fiddler by the bus station again. It was the third time in two weeks that he'd come across the curious young man, dressed in rags but jaunty as he made his violin sing, his foot tapping in time. Elwood stopped and watched him, as he had before.

The fiddler wore a long black coat patched with mismatched fabric. His dark hair was pulled into a short ponytail and he wore a cap that shadowed his eyes. From what Elwood could see of his face, the fiddler was always clean shaven. Elwood could shave at the shelter if he wanted to, but he'd long since stopped caring about such things and his own face was covered in stubble. At least the fiddler still had some respect left for himself, Elwood thought.

At the conclusion of a jig, the fiddler lowered his fiddle and bow and he bowed to his small audience. The five or six people listening clapped their hands, except for Elwood. He stepped back from the crowd, watching with jealousy as a woman dropped a twenty-dollar bill into the fiddle case. That was more money than he'd seen in days and his stomach cramped as he thought about the food he could have purchased with it.

He would have walked away as the crowd cleared out but the fiddler looked up and caught his gaze. Elwood stared back at him, hands stuffed into his pockets, suspicious of this person he'd never met before but unwilling to show weakness by turning away. They stared at each other for a few moments. Elwood realized that the eyes staring at him glittered an unnatural black.

“Did you enjoy the show?” The fiddler hopped down from the bench he'd been standing on while he played and Elwood noticed for the first time that the fiddler was not a man of great stature. He stood a little over five feet tall, dwarfed by Elwood's own six feet, but he'd seemed so much taller when he was playing.

“Could've thrown in some change, brother.” The fiddler's accent was a refined sort of British, and it struck Elwood as out of place. What was this fellow doing on the east coast?

“Haven't got any change,” he replied and turned out his jacket pockets, scattering cigarette butts. “Good music, though.”

“Thank you, I do try,” said the fiddler as he gathered the money from his case and tucked it into his pocket. He put his fiddle and bow into the case and closed it up tight. Then he stood and turned back to Elwood. “Looks like I've a bit extra today. What do you say, should we two get ourselves some brunch?”

Elwood was taken aback. He didn't know the man at all, aside from stopping to watch him play once or twice. He'd not thought the fiddler had ever taken notice of him before. Why this impromptu invitation to brunch? However, he did not have the luxury of turning down meals these days and his stomach was cramping again. He followed without comment as the fiddler led him down the street to a coffee shop.

“How do you take your coffee, old chap?” the fiddler asked, settling himself down at a table by the window. It was warmer in here and the sunlight shining through the glass was tempting. Elwood sat down across from the fiddler, though he felt ill at ease.

He cleared his throat and mumbled, “just black, please.”

Despite his own threadbare outfit, the fiddler looked rather at home, perched at the table like a dark bird. He watched Elwood overtop his menu, eyes still black and seemingly without pupils. Elwood wondered if anyone else noticed the fiddler's eyes and he wondered why he himself didn't find them strange.

“I don't know your name,” Elwood said, staring into those eyes again.

“Ah, that's true,” said the little man, nodding his head. “I'd all but forgotten. You can call me Bluff Riddle. And you are Elwood Gray, such a dignified name for a man living on the streets.”

Elwood felt a little panic seize him. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, I know a lot of things.” Bluff Riddle lowered his menu and smiled. “For instance, I know that you are quite the musician yourself. Piano, I believe. A bit refined for my tastes under normal circumstances but I must say that your music intrigues me.”

If Bluff noticed that Elwood was turning white as a sheet, he didn't comment on it. He kept talking, as though it was normal to tell someone you'd just met that you knew their name and their chosen profession, despite the fact that Elwood Gray was hardly a household name.

“I'm just wondering if you'd like to put your talents to use, Mr. Gray. To be honest, I don't recruit people such as yourself, as a general rule, but I've been in this business a long time and I know talent when I see it.”

People such as myself, thought Elwood? Was that in reference to his being homeless and destitute, or was Bluff talking about something else?

Elwood was fast discovering that the more Bluff said, the more questions arose in Elwood's mind. Bluff Riddle, indeed, he thought. Riddle was a fitting name for the little man watching him from across the table.

A waitress came over to take their orders, but Bluff ordered for the both of them, to Elwood's annoyance. He hadn't decided what he wanted in regards to a meal, but he supposed he would eat the continental breakfast Bluff had chosen for him. It was free, after all.

“You don't say much, do you, Mr. Gray?” asked the fiddler.

Elwood pursed his lips and tried not to fidget. He was feeling rather uncomfortable with the direction of this conversation, and wondering how he could escape it before the other man began spewing more facts about him that he shouldn't know.

“It didn't seem prudent to speak until you were finished,” he said, turning his gaze from the fiddler's at last and distracting himself with the selection of donuts in the case at the counter.

“Prudence hasn't a thing to do with it,” said Bluff. “I'm offering you a job.”

At first, Elwood's brain was shocked into silence. Then he wondered how a man could say that prudence had nothing to with a job offer. If anything, hearing out a job offer was the most prudent thing he could do, provided it didn't involve nude modeling or selling drugs.

“What sort of job?” he asked.

“The sort where you can have everything you've ever wanted.” The little man's voice had a sultry edge to it now and Elwood couldn't help looking back into those bottomless eyes.

He found himself wishing Bluff would take off the cap and coat so he could see the man beneath. What it was that intrigued him so much about this man, he couldn't have told anyone, though he supposed it was something to do with wondering what went on behind those eyes. He should have known, however, that from that moment on, his fate was sealed.

“I'm a simple man,” Elwood said, trying to clear his head of such thoughts. “All I want is a warm place to sleep and to be able to play my music.”

Bluff laughed, a little crackling sound that rather reminded Elwood of a crow. “You'll be easy to please, then. All you have to do is play your music.”

He passed a shiny business card across to Elwood, who took it and turned it over in his fingers, marveling at the gold-embossed words.

“Fate's Few,” Elwood read aloud from the card. “Sounds like a folk band. I don't play folk.”

“Really?” asked Bluff. “I'm afraid I play folk all of the time, but they do seem to enjoy it.”

The fiddler winked and Elwood felt his mouth going dry. He was grateful when the waitress arrived with their food, and the smell of a good meal was enough to break the spell Bluff seemed to have over him. Elwood shoveled the food into his mouth, savoring every bite.

Bluff just smiled again and took a sip of his coffee.

“Would you provide a piano?” Elwood asked at length, between gulps of his own caffeine. The coffee here was good, nothing like the cheap stuff he drank on a normal day. Just the aroma tantalized him as it rose in a warm fog from his cup.

“Of course.” said Bluff. “The piano is waiting on you.”

“Okay. I'll do it.”

Elwood knew he was going to agree, but it still surprised him when it came out of his mouth. Bluff didn't seem surprised at all but he did look pleased, if his expression was anything to go by. Elwood couldn't read the emotions in those black eyes, if emotion was indeed there at all. They looked like glass marbles, reflecting the light from the window but nothing more.

At last, the little man slipped off his coat and cap. Elwood hand't realized how much he'd been anticipating it until he got a good look at his new employer. He took another long swallow of his cooling coffee.

Bluff Riddle was quite small, as Elwood had noted before. He wasn't just short, he was petite. His fingers seemed too big of the rest of him, graceful and long, perfect for the man's chosen instrument. His hands were attached to thin wrists, but the black button-up shirt he wore hugged a sturdy form. His neck pale,white and slender. His cheekbones were high, his nose a little longer than average. The black eyes were settled into an immaculate face, no longer overshadowed by the cap.

Most of all, physical appearance aside, the fiddler radiated an aura of complete mystery. There was nothing to read in any part of Bluff's body to suggest his mood or his intentions. It was impossible for Elwood to know whether or not he should trust Bluff. At last, he decided that he didn't trust the little man, but it didn't change their agreement.

“How long does this job last?” Elwood asked, watching at the fiddler rose to fish the twenty out of his pocket. Bluff's outfit, uncovered from the patched coat and hat, was quite sharp and clean. He dressed all in black, as if to wear another color was not allowed. It wouldn't have fit anyway, Elwood decided. Color did not belong on the fiddler. It would disturb the feeling one got when they looked at him, as if they were staring into a black hole instead of at a person.

Bluff pinned the twenty under a salt shaker. “Well, it remains to be seen, of course. Does it matter? It lasts as long as it can, and from there I think we can both say that we will have benifitted from it in the long run. You've nothing to lose, Elwood. The shelter will still be there when you've left my employment.”

There was no arguing that, thought Elwood. Besides, the deal was in place. He wasn't planning to break their agreement, though he couldn't explain why he found his mind made up. Later, perhaps, he would look back on this moment and see if for what it was. In that moment his fate was locked to the little fiddler's own, and they were not to part ways for a long time.

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Track 2: Follow Suite

Elwood was sorry to see the return of the overcoat and cap when they left the coffee shop, but the brisk walk Bluff led him on cleared his mind a little. He had to wonder what he was doing, following this strange man like a lost puppy. Despite his height, Bluff Riddle was not the most welcoming of figures. Elwood thought he might be dangerous, in fact, but found he liked that thought as much as anything else he'd noticed about the fiddler.

The fiddle case bounded against Bluff's hip as they walked and Elwood zeroed in on it, remembering the music he'd heard the man play. It wasn't much, not an entire song from start to finish, but he'd always stopped and turned to it when he heard it. It was as though the fiddle had beckoned to him and he couldn't refuse the invitation.

When it came to the piano, Elwood enjoyed playing it and it didn't matter what kind of music he played. This was one reason why he hadn't fit in with his classmates in his classical program. Nonetheless, his upbringing had taught Elwood that the pinnacle of music was classical and most times, he preferred listening to classical.

Bluff's style was not classical. He was nothing so refined as a violinist, and that was why Elwood thought of him as the fiddler in his mind. It didn't matter. Bluff was allowed to bend all the rules for some reason that Elwood couldn't quite put his finger on.

They arrived at an old building that Elwood had passed many times before. It was an old warehouse, a brick building that stood three stories tall and every window was bricked shut. As best Elwood could tell, the building was abandoned. There were lots of buildings in town owned by men who lived somewhere else, in cleaner neighborhoods, and didn't care if their minor investments fell to ruins. He couldn't see why Bluff would have brought him here. The building looked lifeless.

A man approached them from the alley, scratching his unkempt hair and holding onto a lit cigarette. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a jovial grin on his face.

“Hey, diddle, diddle, it's the cat with the fiddle,” said the man, addressing Bluff. “I see you brought the new meat with you.”

“This is Elwood Gray, he'll be joining us,” Bluff said without preamble. “Elwood, I'd like for you to meet Hektor Zabat. He thinks he's a songwriter. Looks like he's learned at last not to smoke in the house. Good boy, Hektor.”

Something flashed in Hektor Zabat's eyes then and it didn't look like humor or fondness to Elwood. No, for just a moment, he imagined he could see a deep hatred in those eyes.

Hektor laughed it off, though his smile didn't reach his eyes. He turned to Elwood, as though relieved to be able to look away from Bluff.

“Greetings, Mr. Gray,” he said. “Or can I call you Ellie? Woody?”

“Just Elwood, thanks,” said Elwood, and he held his hand out to the man. “It's nice to meet you, Mr. Zabat.”

His hand was gripped in a firm hold by the other man, who nodded. “Well, come on in out of the cold. Meet the rest of Fate's Few and make yourself comfortable. I imagine you're going to be with us for quite a while.”

The inside of the warehouse wasn't anything like Elwood had been imagining it would be. It wasn't dark, despite the bricked up windows. It was illuminated by overheard lights. The two extra stories were in fact platforms that could be reached by metal stairs and an old glass window at the very top of the building let in some light from the outside.

Although the space was wide open, without dividers or curtains to separate one area from another, it looked and felt homey. The bottom floor had a large seating area with several old couches and chairs, adorned by brightly colored blankets and throw pillows, and a kitchen are off to the side. The kitchen fascinated him for a moment. He'd never seen a kitchen in a warehouse before, or thought of turning a warehouse into a home, but this place had it all. It even had two refrigerators, one of which, Elwood discovered when Hektor opened it up, contained only alcohol.

Hektor offered him a bottle of beer and Elwood took it, popping the cap with the lighter he kept in his back pocket. Bluff made a little noise of disdain and then put down his fiddle case and shrugged off his coat and hat. He made his way to the kitchen counter and set about pouring himself a glass of wine.

“This is quite the place,” Elwood remarked, walking around the open floor to get a good look at everything. On the platforms above, he could see more personal spaces set up almost like bedrooms. Some of these spaces did have curtains marking where one “room” began and another ended. It was all beautiful in a Bohemian kind of way, but it reminded him of the shelter. “You live here, Mr. Riddle?”

“We all do,” Hektor said, coming to stand beside Elwood. He nodded to a room in the far corner. “The boss likes a little private space, though. He's got the old office all to himself.”

The idea of sharing this space with other people didn't much appeal to Elwood, though it was certainly big enough. Maybe it was the thought of sharing Bluff Riddle with others that he didn't like.

Above them, a curtain was drawn back on the third floor and Elwood made out the figure of a woman peering down at them. She was dressed in a tanktop and shorts, despite the cold outside. Her hair hung down in thick dreadlocks over her shoulders.

A moment later, the woman was stomping down the stairs in an old pair of clogs. She looked Elwood up and down, touching her fingers to her chin as though she was puzzled.

“You have weird taste, Bluff,” she announced. She looked Elwood in the eyes. Then she took his beer from him and took a long drink from it before handing it back. “Adelaide Doyle, by the way. And you are...?”

“Elwood Gray,” said Elwood, still a little shocked that he'd let her take his drink like that. She'd caught him off guard. “It's nice to meet you, Miss Doyle.”

“Just call me Doyle,” said the woman. “You play piano?”

She directed Elwood's attention the piano in the room, which he'd failed to notice before. It was a beautiful instrument, if a little worn. He approached it, running his hand along the top of it. It felt good to touch a piano. He hadn't played a good one since the last time he was home, almost a year ago now.

“May I?” he asked, looking up to find that Bluff had followed him over, sipping from his glass. The fiddler nodded, giving permission, and Elwood couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. He sat down at the piano and touched the keys with his fingers, feeling their smooth surfaces, too light to draw sound from them. He took a deep breath and imagined what he wanted to play.

He began to play Fur Elise.

Bluff was watching him over the rim of his wine glass and Elwood bit his lip when he saw how bored the other man looked. He supposed Fur Elise was a rather obvious choice. It wasn't his favorite tune but it had been a while since he got to play anything but the standards.

Abandoning Fur Elise, he began to pick out the notes of Humoresque instead, watching for a change in Bluff's expression. He wanted the man's approval. After all, Bluff had hired him to play the piano. Didn't his job depend on how well Bluff liked Elwood's music?

“Sorry,” he murmured, realizing that none of his audience were much impressed with Humoresque either. He was starting to wonder what he was doing here. Bluff had been nothing but cold since they'd arrived, though Elwood suspected this had something to do with Hektor. “I'm out of practice and I was never very good to begin with.”

He started to stand up but Bluff touched his shoulder. The other man put his wine down atop the piano and motioned for Elwood to move over on the piano bench. Elwood scooted over without protest and Bluff sat down next to him. He looked smaller now that Elwood had to look down at him, maybe a little softer.

“Play like this,” said Bluff. His fingers began to coax out a melody that Elwood had never heard before. At first, he wasn't sure what he was listening to, but he watched Bluff's fingers as the picked up speed, moving across the keys. The tune grew from something low and understated into a billowing sound that seemed to fill up the room. It was sweet and wild at the same time. It reminded Elwood of hearing Bluff play his fiddle. Nothing held the smaller man back as he drew forth the music, his shoulders tightening with the force of it. His face creased into a frown and then smoothed out again.

A low hum joined the piano with such ease that Elwood almost didn't notice that the sound was coming from someone else. He glanced behind them to see Hektor and Doyle watching them, as though they were both caught up in the music. The humming came from Hektor. Doyle was swaying gently back and forth.

“They can't resist good music,” said Bluff as the piano began to quiet again. He looked up at Elwood, the corners of his lips turning up into a little smile. “Play like this and they won't be able to resist you, either.”

“I don't think I can,” Elwood admitted, though it pained him. He wanted to play like this. It was the music of dreams, the sort of thing that wasn't often heard in the waking world. Was this all a dream after all? It felt a bit like one but the body beside him on the bench felt real. His eyes trailed down the expanse of Bluff's bare neck to the color of his shirt.

Bluff nudged him with an elbow. “Follow my lead.”

Elwood didn't know why, but the music came to him with ease when he was following Bluff. He didn't even have to watch the other man's fingers to keep up with him, playing harmony to this tune he'd never heard before today as though he'd been playing it his whole life.

Then Bluff began to sing and his voice was as sweet and as unexplainable as the piano. Elwood closed his eyes and kept playing, listening to the words Bluff sang, captivated by the sound.

Oh, Mercury, you'll have to explain.

Are you happy in the sunshine or the rain?

You know that this life changes and nothing stays the same.

Mercury, you live up to your name.


My love, I got the feeling that the stars aligned

in the turning of the years that you were mine.

A deity of mystery, your love, it was divine,

but you and I were born beneath two very different signs.


Oh, Mercury, you'll have to explain.

Are you happy in the sunshine or the rain?

You know that this life changes and nothing stays the same.

Mercury, you live up to your name.


I will stand on this side of the Milky Way

and watch your burning beauty day by day.

If the flock flies here and shows us, dear, our love for one more day,

I'll weather storms and loneliness forever here in faith.


Oh, Mercury, you'll have to explain.

Are you happy in the sunshine or the rain?

You know that this life changes and nothing stays the same.

Mercury, you live up to your name.

Mercury, you live up to your name.”

The last notes of the song faded away and Elwood opened his eyes again. He and Bluff were alone now. He supposed Doyle and Hektor had left while he was too wrapped up in the song to notice. Glancing to the side, he saw that Bluff's eyes were closed now and the smaller man had a smile on his face.

“Very good, Elwood, I told you that you had the talent.” Bluff rose from the piano bench and took back his glass of wine. “All you have to do is learn to master it without my help. I can't always show you the way, after all.”

Elwood was silent for a moment, absorbing everything that had just happened. The song stayed with him, the words burned into his mind. He'd never heard its like before and he couldn't quite puzzle out what the lyrics were about, but they were beautiful. Bluff's voice was beautiful. There was something eerie about it, like it wasn't meant for people like Elwood to hear.

“Did you write that song?” he asked.

Bluff looked surprised by the question for some reason. He shrugged and took a sip of his wine.

“I suppose I did, as much as anyone can really take credit for a song. Music is all out there in the endless void of existence and some of us are lucky enough to reach out and pull a little of it out and into the tangible world. That's all we do as musicians. We reach past the limitations of this existence into that which has no limits and we steal some of its magic to play with for a while. Did you like it?”

“I did,” said Elwood, but he was frowning because he wasn't sure he understood a word of what Bluff had just said. It was a rather fanciful way to think of music. It was just like anything, really. You learned the rules, went through the motions, and you made music. Except that just now, the rules had been the furthest thing from his mind while he'd played with Bluff.

The other man drained the rest of the wine from his glass and returned it to the kitchen area. “Might as well find yourself a spot and settle in, boy. Doyle and Hektor have gone out. There's some space free on the third floor but do your best not to disturb Freya. She's not as forgiving as the rest of us.”

Who was Freya? Elwood looked up above him to the platforms decorated in curtains and mismatched furniture. The third floor did seem to be less cluttered, but a large portion of it was walled off in thick velvet.

Elwood stood from the piano and made his way to the stairs. At the bottom, he steeled himself and then began to climb.


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