"I'll Give You Three Wishes...."
Copyright 1995, Kevin Andrew Murphy
"Good morrow, young man, and pleasant journeys," said a
voice from the roadside. "What brings you so far, this
sunny morn, and why so dour a face? It doesn't suit you by
half, and the look in your eyes suits you even less. So
take off that tired and world-weary look and tell me how you
came to be wearing it."
Conrad looked to the roadside, and there, between the
dandelions and the boundary stone, sat a witch.
Conrad knew she was a witch. The rats' nest hair was
one sign, artfully arranged with just the right number of
dead leaves and twigs, as if the old woman had once been a
young maid who put flowers in her hair, then had forgotten
to ever take them out.
Then there were the clothes: layers of skirts and shawls
patched over and over again, stained with berry juice and
with mice peeking out of the pockets--making him wonder if
the woman's hair actually had been done by
rats, instead of just looking that way. If a couple popped
their noses out then and there, he wouldn't have been
The dead giveaway, however, was the dialogue. No
peasant woman spoke like that. Being a peasant himself,
Conrad had been around enough to know. Peasant women just
said, "Mornin', boy. What's the problem?" then spat on the
ground for punctuation.
He tried to remember his grandmother's tales and recall
the proper form of address for a witch: "Prithee, good
dame . . ."
The witch looked at him expectantly.
"Grandame . . ." he tried.
The witch continued to look at him, smiling.
Conrad kicked a rock off into the grass at the side of
the road. "Listen, lady, why don't you just turn me into
toad and get it over with, okay? I'm in no mood for this."
The witch smiled. "My, the world has shat upon you,
young sir. Shat upon you most mightily. Tell me, child,
what has transpired, and howfor did you come to this sorry
pass of circumstance."
Conrad looked at her and sighed. "You obviously don't
listen to the Royal Proclamations, grandma. I'm a
woodcutter. This," he said, taking the axe from his belt
and flourishing it, "is a woodcutter's axe. Except the King
decided that everyone who cuts wood in the Royal Woods needs
a woodcutter's permit. Except the permit costs more than I
make in a year. So the only choice I have is to starve, or
to poach wood from the Royal Woods. And if I get caught
poaching--and that's an easy thing to do, since its easy for
the King's bailiffs to find a woodcutter who's selling wood
without a permit--then I get arrested and have to work off
my sentence doing guess what? Chopping wood in the Royal
Woods. And once I'm paroled, I'll have no trade, and a
criminal record, so I'll have no choice but to get arrested
again so I won't starve." Conrad spat on the ground. "The
King's slick as a slug in a grease pit."
The witch leered. "Slicker, in fact. That plot is
worthy of the Prince of Darkness himself."
Conrad shrugged. "I guess so. Doesn't matter. The
only place I can cut wood legally is Wild Wood over there."
Conrad pointed to the forest just across the meadow.
"Except everyone knows it's haunted, and filled with fairies
and goblins." He paused, looking at her. She was obviously
enjoying this. "And witches. And everyone told me the wood
nymphs would turn me into a tree if I dared to cut their
woods, but I'd rather be a tree than chop wood for the King.
And there it is."
The witch chuckled and snorted. "Oh my," she said. "Oh
dear. I haven't heard anything so funny in quite a long
time. You! A tree!" She laughed until tears ran down her
face, mice from her skirts, rats from her hair, and what
Conrad had taken for a tatty black stole was revealed to be
an even tattier black cat. "A tree! You! Turned into a
tree! By the wood nymphs!" The witch laughed and pounded
the ground, giggling like a village girl who'd just seen a
naked man for the first time.
Conrad exchanged glances with the mice and rats and the
cat and the pair of toads who had crawled out of her shoes.
They all looked embarrassed. The cat began washing one ear,
pretending not to notice her mistress's conniption fit.
Conrad decided to take the cat's attitude, because now
that he was actually looking at a toad, being one didn't
seem quite so preferable to just being an unemployed
The witch at last recovered, wiping the tears from her
eyes and collecting her retinue back into her skirts. "Oh
my, young sir. I haven't had so fine a laugh since my
youth, and for that I will reward you." She looked at him
again, leering. "You don't get the jest, do you?"
Conrad shrugged. "No."
"The wood nymphs," the witch explained, "only take the
handsomest young men. And you-- That nose! Those teeth!"
The witch burst into renewed peals of laughter.
Conrad considered his axe and the helpless witch on the
ground, but the cat looked at him and her expression was
clear: Don't even think it, buster.
Conrad shrugged again. The witch reminded him even more
of the village girls, who had been the first to laugh at his
nose and his teeth. "So what would the wood nymphs do with
"Oh, they'd probably just drop a branch on your head and
have done with it. But you've made me laugh, young sir, so
I'll help you." She rubbed her hands with glee. "Oh yes, I
think this may be quite profitable for the both of us."
And as Sheherezayd said, "Yet that is not the end of my tale...."