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A sharp knock on the window woke Fred from his hazy sleep. "No, Fred, it's noon and you're still sleeping? Ah, I see; it’s your pianos that still haven't put the OPEN sign up, right?"
"The snarky tone again," Fred sat up in a daze in a chair less than a man's length in front of the counter, still drunk and not quite sober. He would have almost fallen over if he hadn't grasped the counter in time.
At the door, those annoying ones who always bullied him were still banging on the shop window. "Such a shame that you can't even play the most basic concerto at such an age, the family piano shop has been inherited by musical idiot！That's hilarious！
"None of your business, “he had in mind raising his stick and beating them violently ten thousand times, but he lay back. 'Indeed, it’s so awful that you can't even play the simplest of tunes at this age.' Thinking of the scene last night when he was forced to compete with someone and then lost and was doused with wine, he curled up and cried.
You might not understand why was it so important to play music well? Because this was a musical kingdom, the heaven of music, where music was the top priority. All musicians，composers and connoisseurs had a very high status. When you set foot on the land here, whether it was in the imperial courtyard or in the country lane, different styles of music would always impress you, hold you forward, and make you feel at ease.
After a while, Fred heard the noise at the door lessen; he peered out to see that they had left. He exhaled deeply, got up, and turned on the light.
Founded by Fred’s grandfather---a great musician, the musical instrument business had gone through three hundred years. In this country where music was paramount, a store made a lot of profit. In other words, whoever owned a musical instrument store had wealth. However, with the death of his father, the shop has gradually declined. After all, how could a man who couldn't play an instrument well run a shop that sold it?
“Maybe I have no talent at all,” he had thought to himself many times. For years he had lived under the shadow of his father and grandfather, who were great musicians who could conjure the sound of heaven while playing. It wasn't that his father hadn't taught him with great effort, but after so many years of study, he still hadn't improved at all; it seemed like the ability had been sealed up. But Dad never seemed to give up hope, always smiling at him and saying, "it’s okay Fred, you will be a musician someday." Every time he heard this, he would lower his head as if he had heard an reproach. You know, when you realize you were not going to make it, all the comforting words from others seem like sarcasm, not to mention that this wonderful wish seemed so far out of reach. The more people expected of him, the harder it was for him to believe in himself. Low self-esteem spread inside him like a monster, holding him down and paralyzing him.
Whenever he sat down at the piano, his hands seemed to go out of tune, his head turned dizzy, his ears were filled with squeaks and ghostly sounds, and before him appeared a dusty, shadowy ghost.
As usual, it was a perfectly ordinary day. The bell that greeted guests at the door only rang twice, and once by a lost sparrow. Since the death of his father, the family fortune was partitioned among his uncles and nephews. The lack of financial provisions, coupled with his poor management of the shop, made it difficult to make ends meet for a long time.
He didn't blame business for being bad, some of these pianos did literally have a slight problem. He thought to himself, he didn't know if he was hallucinating or not, but he could always hear the beautiful sound of the piano late at night, and it seemed to be the sound of these pianos. He had thought many times about selling the shop and doing something else, but unfortunately, no one was interested. Who wouldn't be afraid to hear the inexplicable sound of the piano? But whatever, the boy didn’t’t believe the so-called ghost. These imaginary creations did not exist, he thought.
Gazing at that calendar on the desk, one, two, three months... three months to go, the annual musician's competition was on! This was the most official competition of the country, where all the royalty and nobility were selected. Every year, thousands of performers came to the competition hoping to gain the highest honor. The streets were crowded; it was much more exciting than any Christmas or Halloween.
But no one ever entered his business; he knew that. Turning off the lights and locking the door, he fumbled and crawled onto the couch, as he did every day; closing his eyes, he gradually drifted into dreamland.
Faintly, a mysterious force drew him over to the piano. Out of the instrument, the beautiful sound seemed to flow like a gurgling waterfall, and he stared in stunned silence at the empty seat and the freely undulating keys before him. As if he sobered up all of a sudden, he took a few steps back.
“What the heck?” He ran desperately to the couch and hid underneath, his teeth fighting with each other, he wasshivering all over as if the devil had grabbed him by one foot.
“Hey Fred,”there came a clear, beautiful voice from up ahead. As the voice grew closer, he couldn't take it anymore and just plopped down.
Noticing his fear, that lovely voice continued to approach, “An elf possessing a piano can scare you into hiding under the table? Coward！’
Perhaps driven by curiosity, or perhaps being reluctant to be laughed at, he peeked out from under the table. He was fascinated by the small creature before him in an instant.
There was a glowing elf floating in the air, much nicer than any fictional forest elf: she had a delicate face, lovely outfit, and a pair of butterfly-like wings. As if realizing that something so small posed no threat to him, he eased out from under the table and fell backward onto the couch.
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” He casually grabbed the flashlight at his side and focused the beam of light as if interrogating a prisoner on this so-called elf.
“Och,” the elf was blindfolded by the bright light shining down hard on her.“Who treats their guests this way?”She gestured to him to turn off the flashlight.
“Your father entrusted me to look after you.” The elf slowly landed on the table and closed her wings.“He had saved my life once.”
“I can take care of myself.” Fred looked at the little thing in front of him with a look of disdain in his eyes.
“You don't know how to play the piano, do you, Fred?” Fred looked as if he had been caught in the act and was stunned immediately.“I've lived here for so many year; you've barely touched the piano, haven't you？I can help you. you’ve heard the piano playing at night; that was me who was playing.”The elf seemed to be proud, spinning in the air a couple of times.
“I won't and don't care to play the piano; I don't need your help, so get out of here”. He seemed to be completely disappointed in himself, gazing at the piano in front of him
Suddenly, the mysterious force that had just pulled it forward wrapped around him again, as if a huge thing had pushed him to the piano side. After being pressed into the seat, his hand unconsciously rested on the keys. "Try it." The elf over flew over next to him and landed slowly on the music rack.
Fred's hands played on their own suddenly, with the sound of the instrument running out like a tidal wave and the divine melody echoing across the room. He had never heard such beautiful music; it was much better than what his father and grandfather had played, and he was thrilled to see that his hands that didn't seem to be his own.
“Not bad, huh? If I hadn't come here to repay my debt, I'd be in the palace with my superb playing skills. Your father meant that you should participate in this contest so as to make others think better of you, and you might even be able to pull ahead.”
Hearing this, he withdrew his piano-playing hands with such force that the sound of the instrument stopped abruptly.“With my abilities, I don't deserve to participate in a competition like that; it's for masters.”
“What are you afraid of? I'm a great tuner. I can make everyone hear the best music, no matter how badly you play.”The boy was wavering inside, knowing that with the elf's power, he could very likely win the contest, and that it would make a difference in his life.
“But there was one condition.”Fred, who was about to nod his head, looked up, “You must play the piano every day so that you can better integrate with my technique; I promised your father that you'll do well in the competition.”
For the next three months, the young man practiced playing the piano with the elf every day. Every morning before dawn, you could see the them through the window of the shop, his delicate fingers flying over the keys, the clear sound of the piano echoing around him, to never go away and to never be forgotten. Gradually the boy wondered how the sound of the lyre had come to be, as if it had become one with the elf.
Soon, the day of the competition arrived. On this day, a constant stream of people came and went. Men, women, and children of all ages poured out into the streets in crowds, and everyone was smiling. Young people in groups of three or five walked down the street, listening to music, and couldn't help but sing along with it. Some young people were also joking and laughing, and the street kept echoing with their laughter. The old people were leaning on their crutches and sitting quietly on the long chairs, soaking up the warm sunshine! The children were bouncing around and especially playful!
Fred, with his elf, weaved his way through the packed crowd and finally made it to the competition in time. The contest still followed the same rules as before, with each person playing a song, and the person with the most votes being the eventual winner.
He quietly listened to the others playing on stage, with his hands trembling. Having come to the competition when he was still young, he only remembered the beautiful sound of the piano, and the audience that went crazy for it. And this time, it was his turn to perform, "What if I mess it up?" "We've been practicing for so long and you still don't believe in me?”The elf in his clothes replied.
" Fred," finally, it was his turn, and he held his breath, trying not to shake his legs, and took the stage two steps at a time. Looking at the crowd of people from the stage, he couldn't take a single step towards the piano and didn't even know where to put his hands. Some of the people in the audience seemed to recognize him,“Isn't that Fred? How dare he come to the competition with that poor skill?” Some of them even urged him to get off the stage, "Don't keep us from watching the competition, tone deaf!"
He didn't say anything but walked slowly to the piano. The moment his hand touched the keys, the joyous rhythm of the music immersed him in the music, trying to play a beautiful story with his leaping fingers. Gradually, the climax of the piece, which had been cheerful, soft, and lyrical, suddenly became very exciting with the smooth accompaniment of his left hand. And he played with ease, slowly closing his eyes and listening to his own music. Silence, the audience who had just made fun of him, stretched their necks and opened their mouths: they were intoxicated by the performance!
The music stopped abruptly, and then the applause came like a tidal wave, people were cheering, and clapping for this passionate and uplifting performance; everyone clapped so vigorously that the applause was long-lasting and echoed in the air of the venue!
He sat in his seat as if he was so enthralled by his performance that it took him a long time to react. He succeeded, and with the help of the elf, he finally finished his beautiful performance. “Thank you, little one,”he said to the elf hidden in his clothes, but the elf responded, "You should be thankful for yourself."
In the years that came after, Fred followed the same path as his father and grandfather, becoming a renowned musician and receiving support from the royal family. He also transformed his piano shop into one of the most famous piano bases in the country. And the elf, as his good friend, accompanied him every day.
The days flew by, and many years later, he was bedridden with old age, and his life was about to be over. He called his elf, who had accompanied him for many years to his side and said to him, "Thank you for your help all these years, without your magic, I wouldn't have become famous in that competition, and I wouldn't be where I am today.”
“You should be thanking yourself, for all your effort, she said, “I haven't used magic since the first time we had met.”