Below, you will find the first short story that I wrote just for this website. It is one of those things that started off with a self-made prompt: What if you gave three wishes to a crabby old man?
I’d like to share a story with you. This story isn’t very long, some would say that it isn’t very good, and most would say that it isn’t even true.
But I’m going to tell it anyway.
It all started on a muggy spring day. The humidity was sweltering. Fish were jumping upstream to get away from the humidity, it was that bad. My story starts off with… let’s call him Eustis, because I hate that name and I’m not too fond of him either. He’s a pillock. Anyway, Eustis was in a bad mood, as usual, but at least this time, he had a good reason. It was pretty darn hot outside. It made the hair of his toupee fall flat and sweaty against his bulbous head and the elastic of his pants chafe his overly rotund midsection. He was also late for his usual park trolling appointment.
Every day, around 4pm, Eustis would make his way to the nearby park. He’d take a sack lunch of tuna sandwich and pickles, and a bottle of water. He needed the vinegar in the pickles to keep his blood at the right acidity level, and the water to keep him hydrated. Being the local cantankerous grouch was hard work. That was my theory, anyway.
His watch told him that it was 4:25, and he was just now passing over the covered bridge that cut through the park on the way to his favored trolling bench. Nothing made his day better than telling off kids as they made a ruckus and acted recklessly. He considered what he did a public service. Kids these days were too inconsiderate to their elders, and didn’t know how to behave without a firm hand on their backsides. They were a public menace that, left unchecked, threatened to overrun the world. Well, he is right about that, but that’s beside the point.
The point is that Eustis was late. Things were sure to be going awry without him there to scowl and complain. He hobbled across the bridge, making a clomp-shomp, clomp-shomp sound as he stepped heavy with his right foot and partially dragged the left. That didn’t bother him much anymore, unlike everything else. It was an old battle injury, sustained when he won the fight with a fifty pound bag of bones named Marjorie, who at the time was older than dirt and insistent that her cats’ many toys couldn’t possibly be escaping her apartment and littering their shared staircase.
That was ten years ago, and Marjorie was now passed on, taking her many cats with her. Either that or they went to the animal shelter. They could have eaten her and then vanished to the four corners of the earth, for all Eustis cared. At least there weren’t any cat toys on the stairwell for him to trip on anymore.
He made it halfway over the bridge before a trio of cyclists came barreling across. He stumbled and caught himself on the rails of the bridge, shaking his fist and gnashing his teeth at the careless careeners. Unfortunately, his lunch sack had fallen over the edge of the bridge in the process. He mumbled and grumbled, limping his way down the hill to the edge of the underlying stream to fetch his food. If it could be saved, he’d save it, and save himself the trek back to his apartment and more hours of his time wasted.
He slipped only once, causing his toupee to slide uncouthly over his face. He reached to catch it, managing only to flip it over and send it barreling down the hill and into the stream. Now on a double rescue mission, he slid his way down the rest of the hill. It’s a wonder he didn’t roll, if you ask me.
Now, when he finally reached the bottom of the hill, he found the nearest stick and retrieved his head fur. He shook it off a bit and then plunked the wet, sopping mass on top of his head. I guess the wet hairpiece cooled his temper a bit, because he whistled a few bars, looking for his lunch sack. It wasn’t long after that when he finally caught sight of me.
I was sitting under the bridge, eating a very soggy, but still rather tasty tuna sandwich. Fish is supposed to be wet, if you ask me.
“Hey!” He bellowed at me tromping through the bank of the stream. “That’s my lunch!”
I shrugged and took another bite. “Finders keepers,” I garbled with my mouth full. “Who are you?” I asked, trying to be polite and civil-like. At this point, I hadn’t met Eustis yet. It took me a few moments to figure out what a stinking blighter he was.
“I’m the owner of that lunch sack. Who are you?” he asked back, though he didn’t sound as nice about it as I did.
“I’m a Shnopling Boggle, nice to meet ‘cha.”
He mumbled something about crazy vagrants and municipal laws and something else that I didn’t quite catch but seemed rather nasty of him. He looked at me with that crooked scowl of his and held up a crooked finger at my crooked nose.
“You are a sack thief!” he accused me very wrongly.
“I did not thief it! What’s a bloke supposed to think when he sees a lunch sack sinking into the creek? He’s supposed to think ‘free lunch!’, that’s what he’s supposed to think,” I justified quite rightly.
I could see the creaky wheels turning in the old blighter’s head, so I did the best I could to make amends before he blew a sprocket over this topsy-turvy misunderstanding. “Tell you what, my friend, I’ll give you three wishes since you gave me lunch,” I offered, being the magnanimous bloke that I am.
“I’ll tell you where you can stuff your three wishes. I’d wish for my lunch back, I don’t want it back now that you’ve eaten it.” And then he just stood there and scratched his head, mumbling about how unlucky it was that his lunch had been kippered by a crazy person. I resembled that remark, but decided to let it go. The wet dog on top of his head slithered back down in front of his face. “Wish I could just grow some real hair instead of dealing with this hopeless piece of rat!” He yanked it off with and tossed it rudely into the stream.
I heard the man. I did give him three wishes, so I made with the magic fingers and helped him grow some hair. He flopped about in the stream and yelped a bit, and made a fuss, but I gave him the head of hair he always wanted. Well, almost always wanted. I wasn’t entirely sure how much he fancied mullets and beards as a set. He didn’t have a mirror, so I guess he wasn’t in much of a judging mood at the moment.
He yanked and tugged and made a right spectacle of himself. I guess he wanted to make sure that it was going to stay on. It just isn’t like the old days. Use to be, you could tell someone they got three wishes coming and they’d take it at face value. Nowadays, everybody’s a skeptic.
He gave me that look of surprise and then whooped. “I’ve got hair again! It’s my hair! I haven’t had hair like this since… well, never,” he told me. I was glad I made him happy. It’s nice to have good references in the Boggle business. “This means that I’ve got two more wishes coming,” he stated the obvious. I can add, too, you know. Or was that subtraction?
Anyway, I gave him the whole wish spiel. “Yeah, no wishing for eternal life, more wishes, gads of money, or love, though. Those never end well,” I told him. It wasn’t that he couldn’t wish for those things, but I had my personal rules. A magical being’s got to have standards, you know.
He nodded sagely at me as if he really understood what I said. Pulled it off well with that beard. “Let’s see… I’m not getting any younger, so no use in saving them for a rainy day. I’d ask to be young again, but you’d probably turn me into a baby or something.”
I couldn’t fault his logic. I’ve had capricious counterparts do just that.
“I know,” he said excitedly, the evil little grin peaking out of his beard. “I wish I was fit again. Enough to give these kids a run for their money.”
Not as bad as some of the other wishes I’d heard, but probably not the best either. I granted it anyway.
His round belly grumbled and lumps of man-jelly moved about to bulk up his less substantial limbs. He hollered and jumped around in the stream, kicking and shouting. And he had called me crazy.
By this time, some lookers-on had started gathering around the bridge and looking down at the unhinged mountain man. Not sure he would have cared, either way, but three of the ooglers were the same three cyclists that had come back for a second pass. I felt sorry for them, but Eustis caught sight of them and got real happy real fast.
“Hey! You miscreants owe me lunch!” he yelled at them and sprinted up the riverbank like it was a piece of cake. There were a few screams and lots of running. Several members of the mob threw money on the ground before running off in terror. “That’s right! You better keep running!” he chuckled in glee, and then pocketed the cash. Eustis wasn’t one to let a good dollar go to waste.
So far, he had wished to be hairy and to scare the cash out of kids. I cannot be held responsible for what happened next, as I make of point of telling Eustis every time I visit him under that bridge. He looked at me and said gleefully, without thinking it through, “Man, I wish I could do this every day.”
People tend to avoid the t(r)oll bridge these days.