Music’s Price

Read this spooky tale here on my website, or grab it for free at BookFunnel or Smashwords (Code: KC39Q). Enjoy!


Music's Pricefinal

 

Sometimes, when Jeremy Cahill practiced the cello, he’d glimpse things out of the corner of his eye. Oddly-joined creatures scuttling along the dingy baseboard of their midtown Manhattan apartment, shimmers of brightness in the dark hallway where no stray sunbeam ever reached.
He was eight the first time he saw them, and tried to tell Ma, but she’d laughed and tousled his hair.
“Ah, Jemmy, you have the Irish gift of blarney. Your gran would be proud. Now, put the instrument away and help me with supper.”
As his skill on the cello grew, the uncanny visitors came more frequently. Twig-jointed creatures gathered like bare branches outside the window to listen, slight maidens in gossamer-pale gowns danced like moonbeams—one moment shadow, the next a flicker of light. No one else could see them, and the instant he stopped playing, they vanished.
The creatures were uncanny, but not frightening. Until the day a hollow-eyed banshee appeared, dipping a boy’s clothes in the sudden, blood-red stream cutting through his bedroom.
The next morning, his cousin was hit by a car while riding his bike to school, and died instantly. After that, Jeremy refused to practice, refused to even take his cello out of the case, a case that now resembled a coffin.
His dad called him into the living room after a month of sullen non-practicing.
“All the money we’ve spent over the years, for nothing?” Dad’s face reddened, anger thickening his brogue.
He paced around his tan recliner, yelling about the cost, the waste, the brilliance that already had a teacher from the renowned Juilliard School of Music giving Jeremy twice-a-month special lessons.
“Well?” he finally demanded, meaty arms crossed. “Give me one reason.”
Jeremy stared at the green carpeting, sick guilt sticking in his throat. He shook his head.
“Christ.” Dad let out a beer-scented gust of breath. “Get your coat, lad. Maybe your gran can make some sense of you. Don’t come home until she does. And you’re ready to practice the damn cello again.”
It was a slow bus ride uptown. Jeremy stared out the sleet-spattered windows the whole time, ignoring the other passengers.
When he showed up at her door, Gran took one look at Jeremy’s face and sat him down at her kitchen table. She poured him out a cup of strong black tea, using the good china with the gold rim. Without a word, she pushed the sugar and milk over, then waited quietly while he drank. It was the taste of safety.
Surrounded by the yellow warmth of her kitchen, the misery inside him finally uncoiled. He was thirteen, too old to cry, but he set his forehead on the table and wept like a little kid. The lace tablecloth pressed uncomfortably into his skin, but that was nothing compared to the shattering of his heart.
“There, there, mo chroi,” Gran said, rubbing his hunched-over shoulders. “Tell me.”
Her steel-grey hair was crimped in perfect waves, her dress—he’d never seen her in pants—printed with saggy blue flowers. She clomped around the kitchen in her thick black shoes, fixing a plate of sandwiches.
In between blowing his nose, and more tea, and devouring the sandwiches slathered with butter, he told her.
She nodded wisely. “Tis the Sight, love. A rare gift, to be able to see the fair folk.”
“I don’t want it.” He was weird enough, being the musical genius kid, but this—just, no.    “I can’t play Gran. It’s not fair. I can’t play ever again unless it goes away.”
His voice cracked on the words. Music was the air he breathed—the thing that carried him through the bitter halls of Taft Junior High, the shell protecting his soft, inner core. He couldn’t not play. But he couldn’t bear what the music brought.
Gran studied him, her thin lips pursed. “Well now. Bide here a moment.”
She stumped into the parlor, and he heard her opening drawers and rustling around. When she returned, she laid an odd assortment on the table in front of him: a small square of linen, a spool of red thread, a four-leaf clover leached to gray from decades of being pressed in her Bible, and a hard, dry berry the color of old blood.
Jeremy stared at the objects, trying to guess their use. They made no pattern he could see, especially when his grandmother added the tin of oatmeal and her prized crystal salt cellar.
“Um, Gran. What are you doing?”
It looked like a crazy recipe—one he had no intention of tasting. She sat across from him, the spindle-backed chair creaking when she leaned forward.
“You need a charm, my lad. A ward to banish the fair folk, to keep your own heart from breaking. I see how it is with you. Open this.” She handed him the smooth yellow tin.
He pried the top off, and she took a pinch of oats and dropped them in the center of the linen square.
“Wait, what? Is this some kind of magic spell or something?” Jeremy frowned, feeling his lips squeeze together. “That’s crazy.”
Gran gave him a stern look. “This, from the boy that sees the fair folk. Come now, Jemmy. Give me the rowan berry.”
That must be the dried bead of fruit. One by one he handed his grandmother each item she requested. She carefully placed them on the cloth, humming softly. At the end, she picked up her salt cellar and gave the entire concoction a thorough salting. Grains of salt drifted over the table like snow.
“Thread the needle, there’s a good lad. Double-strung.” She folded the edges of the linen square together.
Jeremy licked the end of the thread and managed to get it through the eye on the second try. Gran nodded at him and deftly began sewing precise red stitches against the white cloth, making a neat little packet. Her humming turned to words, the crush and wash of Gaelic like waves on a distant island shore, soughing and sighing up against stone. When she finished, she tied a firm knot at the end and snipped the thread with a small pair of scissors.
“Some string now,” she said. “Fetch it from the top drawer, there.”
Jeremy pulled the drawer open and studied the jumble inside. The catchall, the one place in Gran’s kitchen that wasn’t perfectly tidy and neat. A long curl of one of his old cello strings sprung up to tangle his fingers. Boy, Gran sure kept some useless bits around.
“Bring that,” she said.
“My old D? What for?”
“It’s string, isn’t it?” She gave him a level look.
No point in arguing, though technically it was made of nylon and steel, not string at all. Still, he wouldn’t argue with Gran—not when she put the eye on him like that. He handed the string to her and she affixed the linen packet halfway down with loops of red thread. Murmuring in Gaelic again, she took the needle and stabbed her index finger.
“Gran!”

“Hush now, acushla.” A fat, bright drop of blood fell to the center of the linen, spread and wicked into the cloth, a crimson starburst. She held up the weird-looking necklace, the ends of the D string corkscrewing around her fingers. “Your charm of safekeeping. Wear it when you play, and the fair folk will stay their distance.”
He took it, weighing it in his palm. The doubt must have shown on his face, because she cupped her wrinkled hands around his.

“I promise,” she said.

“Okay.” He tucked the charm in his pocket. “Thanks, Gran. I should go home.”

She firmed her lips. “Believe.”

“I will.”

He’d try, anyway. And she was right; he’d seen way more strange things than he could explain. Maybe the charm would help save him. Jeremy kissed her dry, rose-scented cheek, and, hope catching in his throat, caught the bus back midtown.

When he got home, he didn’t say anything to his dad, just got his cello out, tuned it up, and started practicing.
Gran’s charm worked. At least, it did for the next seven years.
*~*~*~*
Inside the church, the dimly-lit air swirled with candle smoke and incense. After the priest finished saying the words he nodded to where Jeremy sat, to the left of Gran’s black coffin. Jeremy pulled his cello back against his body, the wood gleaming like rich toffee. The long scratch marring the finish was hidden by his black trouser leg—a small mercy in a day filled with too much misery.

He glanced at his parents sitting in the front pew, their hands tightly woven together. Dad was thinner now, his skin grayish from the chemo. He’d removed his ever-present cap, and the bare skin of his scalp shone with perspiration. Beside him, Jeremy’s mother looked smaller, the strain of the last year etched on her face in new lines.

The priest cleared his throat, and Jeremy began to play. He started with one of Gran’s favorites, Si Bheag, Si Mhor, the notes rising up to flutter like moths against the stained glass.

On the daylit side of the windows, he glimpsed twiggy creatures crouching. A distant siren sped through the city streets, and he heard the echo of his name in its high wailing.
No. Oh no.

The fair folk had returned. They couldn’t enter the church, but he felt them outside.

Waiting.

Fear thick in his throat, Jeremy kept playing. He’d promised Gran he’d play at her funeral.

“Not just the sad tunes, Jemmy,” she’d told him, her fingers frail in his grasp, her skin yellow against the too-white hospital pillows. “You must remember the good, as well. Play a reel for me. The angels will like that.”
She’d looked at him, the echo of her old self brightening in her eyes.

Don’t go, Gran. Grief had crushed his breath, but he’d managed a smile for her.
“I will,” he said.

But he’d never expected the cost. As the music spooled out from under his fingers, the charm that had held the fair folk at bay for so long faltered, its power fading. Still, he played.

Jeremy’s dad frowned, his way of holding back tears, and Jeremy slid into a different tune, The Broken Pledge, an old reel in a minor key. For Gran’s memory, for the scrap of linen and string tucked beneath his shirt—useless now.
He played the tune three times through, then lifted his bow from the strings, the cello still vibrating against his knees.

Nobody applauded—they wouldn’t at a funeral—but he could see how the power of the music touched them. His mother blew her nose discreetly into her linen kerchief. The priest gave a final blessing, and freed the congregation. The burial was later that afternoon.

Jeremy waited for the church to empty, fear and sorrow curdling in his stomach. He didn’t want to set foot outside those consecrated walls. Didn’t want to say goodbye to Gran, and the magic that had protected him for so long.
“Lovely playing,” his mother said, clutching her handkerchief. “I’m so sorry about…. Well. Your gran would be proud.”

His dad gripped his shoulder, with a hand that still had some strength to it.

“Well done,” he said, a gruff edge in his voice—pride and guilt tangled together.

It wasn’t Dad’s fault he’d gotten sick and the money had run out like water through a sieve. The scholarship Jeremy got from Juilliard wasn’t enough to bridge the sudden, yawning chasm in his family’s finances. The only option was to drop out of music school. They called it a “leave of absence,” but Jeremy knew he wouldn’t be back. Not unless things changed drastically—which wasn’t going to happen.

The back of his neck tightened as he trailed his parents out of the church. He couldn’t see the fair folk, but he sensed their presence. Watching him.

When Gran was buried and the last words said, Jeremy took the subway back to his apartment. He stuck his cello case in the corner, facing away from him. There was no reason to play—no teachers demanding concertos, no quartets depending on him—and every reason not to.

What if, the next time he played, the banshee came again, warning of his dad’s imminent death? No. He wouldn’t bear that guilt. To keep the fair folk at bay, he’d stop playing, though his soul might bleed dry from it.
Jeremy ignored his cello for three weeks, spent his days handing in job applications everywhere. But apparently a Juilliard drop-out wasn’t even qualified to wash dishes at the deli down the street. The smell of their pastrami sandwiches made his mouth water—he’d been living on ramen and canned peaches for a week—but he couldn’t afford anything more. He left, the doorbell jangling behind him. The winter wind slapped his cheeks, but colder still was the knowledge he’d run out of choices.

Pulling his wool pea coat tight, Jeremy trudged back to his unheated apartment. The tiny studio would no longer be his if he didn’t come up with rent within the next three days.

He could sell his cello—but the thought made his stomach churn. No. Gran had helped pay for it. Besides, he couldn’t get what the instrument was worth on such short notice, and he refused to pawn it.
Hands cold, trying not to dwell on what he was doing, he slung his cello over his shoulder and headed to the West Avenue subway station.

After he’d left school, he’d made a decent enough living—all right, a scraping-by—playing for tips in the subway. He’d found a perfect corner to busk in; close enough to the heater vents so his fingers didn’t stiffen from the cold, and enough out of the way that nobody tripped over his cello as they rushed by.

The station was grimed and oily, the tiled walls smeared with handprints, the concrete saturated with acres of ground-in dirt. Bright fluorescent lights cast jagged shadows over the station sign; WEST AVENUE printed in stark black letters.

A hollow wind whooshed from the train tunnel, stirring the discarded gum wrappers and paper cups that had collected in Jeremy’s corner. At least nobody had taken the spot. He scooted the trash out of the way with the side of his shoe, then set up his folding stool and unpacked his cello. The battered fedora on his head had a five-dollar bill glued inside. He’d almost ripped it out to buy that pastrami sandwich, but seed-money was crucial—a cue that people should throw real money into his hat, not just dimes and pennies.

He tethered the fedora to his shoelace with a strand of fishing line. When he’d first started busking, he’d learned the hard way how impossible it was to chase a thief while carrying a naked cello. He’d lost nearly thirty bucks that day. Even worse, he’d put a long, painful scrape down his cello’s side.

The rumble of the approaching train set his strings to vibrating.

Jeremy took a deep breath and tuned up. Nothing happened, and the tight knot under his ribs eased. Maybe Gran’s funeral service had been a fluke. Maybe he was still safe. He lifted one hand to his chest and pressed the charm through the cloth of his t-shirt; the stained linen still strung on a tarnished D around his neck.

With a screech, the train pulled to a stop and the doors hissed open. He pulled his bow across the strings, letting the sweet precision of a Bach sonata soar into the echoing space before it filled up with the clack of shoes, the blur of conversation.

The crowd thickened, streaming past. He’d gotten there just before the commuter hour, the best time to busk. Jeremy didn’t openly look at his hat. Another lesson learned. Even though money was the whole point, it was bad form for the performer to pay attention to his take, at least where people could see. They preferred the illusion that musicians played only for love.

Still, watching from the corner of his eye, it looked like nothing was going into his hat. No bright flash of coins, no flutter of bills. He switched to a faster movement of the Bach.

When the last passengers trailed past, Jeremy pulled the hat over. It held the three quarters and five-spot he’d salted the hat with—and nothing else. Not even a dime.

“Oh, come on,” he said to the empty station.

He’d always gotten something when he played—a few bucks at least, some pennies. This wasn’t just unfair, it was wrong in a way that set his teeth on edge.

For the next wave of commuters, he played Brahms, then Saint-Saens. Nothing.
Anger warmed him through.

“I know what you’re doing,” he said to the shadows lurking at the edge of the tunnel.

He almost, almost, packed up his cello. But he couldn’t leave the station with pockets as empty as he’d come in.
The train whooshed up, disgorging people. Jeremy played Bartok, Bloch, the most modern pieces he knew. His hat stayed empty. Rush hour was almost over, and his chance of making any worthwhile money slipping away.

Damn them.

He was finally there, playing, and it wasn’t enough.

Fingers tight around his bow, Jeremy waited until the crowd was upon him. Then he launched into Gran’s favorite jig; The Lark in the Morning.

Beyond the emptying platform, the shadows crept closer on spindle-shanks and goblin feet. He swallowed, hard, and kept playing. Eyes watched him from the edges. Things moved where they shouldn’t.

But his hat filled with uncanny speed.

As the station emptied, Jeremy stilled his cello strings. He pulled his hat over, and caught his breath. Money filled the battered fedora. Carefully smoothing each bill, he counted his take. Forty-two dollars and seventy-three cents.

So, that’s how it was going to be. Play the old tunes, or end up homeless on the bitter winter streets.
“Fine,” he said, though it was so far from fine he wanted to weep.

One more wave of commuters left. If he was going to do this, he’d do it all the way. Just once.
This time he played from his heart, the way he hadn’t let himself before. The sweet notes unfurled from beneath his fingers, the body of his cello resonating against his chest as he played one of his best tunes; Farewell to Ireland. The crowd flowed past, fingers drumming in time against legs, against briefcases. One lady held her phone out toward him for a moment before moving on. Though nobody lingered—they almost never did—it took longer than usual for the station to clear.

When the last set of heels disappeared up the stairs, Jeremy looked in his hat. Blinked, heartbeat pounding in his throat. The fedora was overflowing with bills, and not just singles.

“Damn,” he breathed.

He counted the money out into a neat stack. One-hundred-sixty-five dollars and twenty-two cents. Unbelievable.
An unearthly giggle from the far platform, the glitter of a fey eye—it was past time for him to leave. Shivering, Jeremy shoved the money in his pocket and jammed his fedora on his head.

He closed his cello case, snicking the latches shut. The sound echoed, louder than it should, and a chill clutched the back of his neck. Something was watching from deep in the subway tunnel. A murmur built, like the sound of untamed waves. Keeping his gaze averted, Jeremy shouldered his cello and dashed up the stairs into the neon-broken night above.

But the next afternoon he reluctantly hauled his cello back to the grubby corner of the West Avenue Station. He was still short on the rent, though another few hours’ playing should do it. Then he could stop; for good.
What if he didn’t stop?

He tried to push the thought to the back of his mind, but it kept surfacing. The possibilities froze him with terror, burned him with hope.

If he played another day or two, gritted his teeth and tried not to see the creatures the music brought, he could make enough to help with Dad’s next treatment. The fair folk already haunted his nightmares, after all. He could bear it a little longer.

Maybe.

Jeremy rosined his bow, the faint scent of old sap tickling his nose as he pulled the horsehair back and forth across the dark rectangle of rosin. Even before he started playing, he glimpsed them lurking in the shadows—misshapen bodies and legs that bent the wrong way, the starlit sheen of wings.

“I don’t believe in you,” he told them. The lie grated in his throat.

He waited to play until the trains disgorged their passengers, and stopped his music the instant the last person passed. Then began again at the next wave of commuters. Jaw tight, he played the hardest tunes he knew: complex five part slip-jigs, rambunctious reels pulsing in duple-beat rhythms, polkas that ratcheted his bow from string to string.

The fair folk watched. And listened. And came closer, their numbers growing.

Tens, twenties poured into his hat. Even a fifty, from a man who wore a suit worth ten times that amount. Jeremy didn’t feel too guilty. People only put in what they could spare.    A single bill, multiplied by a few hundred, added up.

He went home with over a thousand dollars, aching shoulders—and an unearthly escort.

A chime of fey laughter in a dark alleyway, something flitting between parked cars, a black dog trotting down the sidewalk half a block behind, tongue lolling.

Jeremy whirled. “Leave me alone!”

Just another crazy yelling on the Manhattan streets. Nobody even looked his way.
Bitter knowledge sifted through his body, speeding his heart, drying his mouth. In all the old stories Gran had told him, there was no escape from the fair folk.

Not when they wanted you.

*~*~*~*

The next day, Jeremy paused at the top of the West Avenue Station stairs. Cello case straps digging into his shoulders, he tilted his face up to the wan winter sun, trying to memorize the feeling of sunlight against his skin.

Chill fingers combed through his hair, icy wind-borne maidens invisible to the passers-by on the street. Creatures leaned out from the bare-twigged bushes to clutch at his jeans with long, crooked nails.

Jemmy Cahill. The syllables of his name in the squeal of brakes, the cries of children, the sudden thrum of pigeon wings as a flock arose from the stained sidewalk.

Whether he returned to the light of the human world, or disappeared forever into the shadows, this had to end.
With a deep breath, Jeremy headed down into the closed-in dimness of the station. The air changed as he descended. The haze of oil and exhaust stayed up on the streets, but a different smell wound up from the platform below—something wild, tinged with the salt of the sea.

He didn’t look at the metal rails of the tracks, tried not to think about the darkness they disappeared into.
That morning, he’d woken up knowing what he had to play. The oldest tunes, the eerie modal ones that wept and sang through his cello. The ones that spoke of loss and heartbreak and magics disappearing forever from the world.

He walked past his corner and went right up to the edge of the platform. Quickly, he unfolded his stool, unpacked his cello, and began. An ancient, nameless air to start, the notes vibrating low, soaring up into the high part like a woman weeping. When that tune ended, he moved into a dark, twisty jig called The Orphan.

The air in the station stilled. The light shifted, shading to amber. Jeremy looked up at the station sign and his fingers trembled, nearly dropping his bow. Instead of WEST AVENUE the sign now read WIDDERSHINS.

He finished the tune, the last note fading away into a world that was no longer his own.

Gran would tell him to have courage. Jeremy stood, his cello balanced beside him on the slender silver endpin, the embodiment of all his hopes. All his fears. He didn’t want to be sitting down when he faced whatever was coming.

A sound issued from the dark tunnel, a high keening that had nothing to do with machinery. Jeremy’s pulse throbbed queasily at the back of his throat. Whispering a desperate, useless Hail Mary, he squeezed his eyes closed.
When he opened them again, a train sat at the platform. He hadn’t heard it arrive. It resembled the usual A-line cars—white and red, and filled with passengers—but the differences were enough to make his breath tighten in narrowing circles of fear.

He clutched the neck of his cello as if it was the only solid thing in the universe. Oh, he’d set things in motion he had no idea how to end. All he knew was that the fair folk must be faced, or they would drive him to madness.
The train doors silently opened, and the riders stepped out.

Pale maidens with moth-tangled hair, gowned in cobwebs. Twig-jointed creatures with staring eyes. Goblins wearing caps of blood. Sharp-fanged, sinuous hounds. The hollow-eyed banshee. The shambling bog horse.
All the lovely, horrible creatures he had tried not to see his whole life.

And behind them…

Behind them strode a figure clad in midnight. A band of silver encircled his moon-pale hair, and his face was sharp-planed and merciless. Nothing human shone in those starlit eyes.

A shudder crimped Jeremy’s spine, and he looked away, wishing he’d brought something—an iron cross, even a handful of salt—to defend himself.

Gran had whispered stories to him once, of the Sidhe lords and ladies gone far to the west, taking their magic with them. The knowledge of what he now faced lodged deep in Jeremy’s lungs. He breathed through the stabbing truth of it.

“Jemmy Cahill,” the elf-lord said, his voice like frost and famine. “Do you think you can deny us the taste of your music for seven long years without paying a price?”

Swallowing back the sharp tang of fear, Jeremy dug in his pocket and brought out the roll of bills he’d earned busking in the station.

“Here.”

The lord laughed, a sound like metal scraping bone. “What use have I for such? You must offer better coin than that.”

What else did he have to give? Fingers numb, Jeremy reached beneath his shirt and pulled out Gran’s charm. He tugged it from his neck and held it out.

One of the twiggy creatures crept over and snatched it from his hand, and Jeremy flinched back. The watching fair folk laughed, their voices chiming and barking, a cacophony echoed back from the curved ceiling overhead.
The creature delivered the charm to his liege, and the elf-lord held it up, a pathetic scrap of soiled linen and tarnished string.

“A spent ward?” The lord’s voice was hollow with fey mirth. “This counts for less than nothing.”

He tossed it into the air. A bright flash, the afterimage seared on the inside of Jeremy’s eyelids, and Gran’s charm was gone.

“Hey! That wasn’t fair.” Anger made Jeremy straighten, though he couldn’t quite look upon the beautiful, terrible face of the elf-lord.

“Do not speak to us of fairness. Is it fair to deny the Sight that runs through your blood? Is it fair to bind your music so tightly it withers to nothing, when we starve to hear it?” At his words, the watching fair folk nodded and murmured. “Your time has run, mortal child. Choose your path.”

Jeremy held his cello in front of him like a shield. For a stark moment he considered setting the instrument down and walking away.

Far away, to a place where music didn’t matter. Where his soul could shrink and shrivel into normalcy. Where the stuff of nightmares didn’t stalk through the shadows of the subway tunnels, or whisper from the corners of alleyways.

The stuff of nightmares.

And dreams. Dark and light entwined, like the night-brilliant lord standing before him, and all his dancing, dreadful court.

Jeremy took a shuddering breath flavored with the scent of the sea. Gran would have wanted him to choose the magic that ran in their shared blood. This was his heritage, his very soul. Clamping his fingers hard around his cello, he met the elf-lord’s fathomless gaze.

“I will play for you,” Jeremy said. “I will give you my music. Just—don’t kill me.”

He couldn’t simply disappear on his parents. It would break them beyond repair.

Something shivered over the assembled fair folk, triumph and avarice mixed together in the sweet, feral eyes turned upon him.

The lord laughed, his voice resonant with victory. “We have no intentions of ending your mortal life.”

Jeremy let out a ragged sigh of relief, but the lord was not finished speaking.

“But when next the moon is full,” he said, a fierce light in his eldritch eyes, “you will come join us. Seven years you owe us, mortal, and seven years you shall remain as a bard within our courts. We shall come for you in a fortnight. Be ready.”

Seven years? A chill swept over him. Dad could be dead by then, Mom wasted away by grief. His few friends would forget him, and his career at Juilliard would be completely finished.

Yet the choice had already been made. Gran had always said beware the bargains of the fair folk.

Despite the terror flickering through his veins, something else stirred—a wild and secret joy. He had his music back, and would see magic beyond mortal ken. It was almost worth the price.

The elf-lord turned to leave, and Jeremy lifted his hand.

“Wait!” he cried. “One more thing.”

The lord narrowed his bright eyes. “Our business here is done.”

“My dad is sick.” Jeremy thought furiously. “I’d only play melancholy tunes for you, if I knew he was dying and me not by his side. Can you save him?”

The lord did not reply for a long moment, and Jeremy’s heart beat desperately. Please. Please.

“We cannot cure him,” the elf-lord said. “But we will ensure he lives until you return to the human world.”
It was enough. Jeremy bowed his head.

When he looked up again, the fair folk were gone. Cold air pressed his skin, then heat. Sound returned—the screech of train brakes nearly deafening in the brightly-lit station. He swayed, the taste of starlight and ashes on his tongue.

The crowd, the blessedly human crowd, surged out of the train and headed for the stairs. They brushed past Jeremy, heads bent to screens and phones, heedless.

“You okay, man?” A guy about his age paused and caught his elbow. “You might want to get your instrument out of the way.”

Blinking hard, Jeremy scooted back into the shelter of his corner. He settled on his stool, then toed his upside-down fedora a few inches out. Glancing down at his cello, he caught his breath at the smooth, unmarred surface.
Not everything could be mended by magic, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying.

Setting his bow on the strings, he began to play.

~*~

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons is purely coincidental.

Copyright 2013 Anthea Sharp. All rights reserved. Originally published 12/13 in Fiction River’s Hex in the City Anthology.