A wizard bound to a mountain-top attempts to convince an ordinary man to take his place offering promises of riches, magic, and untold power.
“Man, if anything you could have,” the Wizard asked, waving his magic wand in the air, “what wish you for?”
“Anything?” I blinked.
“I said!” He tapped his wand against his pointed hat and stardust rained around him. “You say, now.”
“Why?” I asked, puzzled by his presence. “Are you going to give it to me?”
He laughed a funny little laugh and danced a funny little dance around me. “Ha, ha! You say, you see! Wish, wish!” he sang, bouncing up and down.
I pulled my ear and thought, though only for a moment. “Okay, then,” I agreed. “I wish there was no such thing as war, and peace reigned throughout the world. I wish there would never again be hunger, anywhere. Sickness and pain, no longer known! Right now, I would end hardships like loneliness and homelessness, and man’s inhumanity to man would change to loving kindness.”
“More, more!” The Wizard danced and sang. “Tell me more!”
“Well, I’d restore Earth’s forests and her streams and blot pollution out. Her oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds would teem with healthy coral, whales, shellfish, bass and trout! Enough?”
“Playing, not fair, you,” he fumed, his voice rising as he turned upon his heel. “Yourself, ask something for.”
“All right,” I complied, patting my bald pate. “If you insist! I could wish to make all women thin and give bald men heads of hair.”
“Oh, come,” he scoffed, ruffling his forehead. “Such things as these, you really care?”
“Oh, yes,” I smiled, “around our house, that’s all you’ll hear. ‘I’m too big here, and there, and there.’ ”
“Boring me, you are!” He tapped his wand upon his nose.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I didn’t ask to be here, wherever here is! I can’t see anything but this blasted fog — not up, nor down, nor roundabout; and I’ve no idea how I came.”
“Did, the same as I!” he said. “See. Point! Wish!” He sprinkled stardust all about and leapt into the air. “There.” He pointed his baton to where I stood. “Hand me stones, I’ll make you gems; some sand, I’ll make you gold. There lies a stick. Your scepter take, be king of this —behold!” With a wave of his wand, the swirling fog melted away. “See, see! Look yonder!”
I realized we were standing on a mountain’s crest. Looking down, I could see my own home town below, and see beyond, and farther still to the ocean far away. “What a wondrous feeling,” I said. “It spreads up and down and all through me. What do you suppose it is?”
“Power! How feels? See. See?” He lifted off the ground and gracefully flew above me. “Ask! Ask! And yours, it be.”
“Hold on. Not so fast! One thing I learned at my daddy’s knee is that nothing in this world is free! Uh-oh, hear what you’re doing to me. I made a rhyme that time.”
He settled again. “Hear! Hear! And here you’ll stay — just one of us goes away. Power, you take?” I thought I saw a hint of worry in his eyes. “Magic you make?” He stamped his slippered foot in anger. “You say! Now wish!”
Still, I rubbed my chin and considered my situation. “Give me ten wishes . . . and I’ll set you free.”
“Wish, not ten, nine!” he dickered.
I offered my hand before the bargained wishes shrank to eight. “Agreed.”
He laid the magic baton into my open hand. “Wish, wish! Say, say!”
Feeling its heft, I flipped the baton into the air and caught it. Light, as the proverbial feather.
The Wizard frowned and shook his head. “Foolish man, to play with power, so.”
“Sorry,” I said, gently waving the wand in the air as he had done. “Okay, let’s begin. One, I wish there was no such thing as war, and peace reigned throughout the world. Two, I wish there’d never again be hunger, anywhere. Three, sickness and pain, no longer known! Four, end hardships —loneliness, homelessness! Five, man’s inhumanity to man, now change to loving kindness! Six, restore the forests and the streams. And seven, blot out all pollution! Eight, oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds teem with healthy whales, fish, and shellfish — safe to eat! Wait!" I said, reeling with the headiness of power, "I’ve only one wish left.”
“Hurry, lest you falter.”
“Oh, look there,” I pointed with the wand down the mountain to my home town, nestled cozily beneath us. “My home is right there, near that steeple. Hear the church bells? See there — where all those people gather? And there’s my wife. How beautiful she is after all these years! But, look, she’s searching for me.”
He whirled round and round, and hisses, “One wish to seal our bargain. You say, now, then be I free!” So eager was he, he faded out, then back in. “Wish, wish!”
Holding him suspended, blinking in and out of view, while I quickly reviewed my options, I said, “My wish is . . .”
Our bargain had been for nine wishes. Eight of them, so far, were to rescue our ailing world, and therein lay my problem! Only one wish remained. If, by wishing, I must abandon my old life to become the Wizard’s successor; and at the same time make all women thin, my beautiful and then - thin wife - without me there beside her might conceivably choose another. I certainly wouldn’t want to be continuously looking down on that!
“My last wish is . . .” I hemmed and hawed.
If, instead, I chose for myself a head of hair, I’d never hear the end of it should I ever return home nor know the good of it if I stayed. And so! “My last wish is — I’m sure, now — to return home!”
I sent the Wizard’s magic stick sailing upward through the air.
He blinked back solidly into view, opened his hand, and the wand, light as a feather, came to rest there.
Shaking his finger, he reminded me impatiently, while turning very red, “Uh-uh, uh-uh! Already said ninth wish! Skinny women? Or hairy men? Choose!”
“I can’t!” I said, gazing down the mountain. “My wife, my kids and grandkids, my every reason for living is right down there. No wealth, no possession, no power, not even your awesome gift of wizardry, can compare to that. No, I guess I’m far too selfish to play God, and much too content to give up my life for yours, with all your riches.”
I looked up to see tears brimming in his weary eyes.
“War, hunger, hardships, all remain so! One wish, only, if home you go!” he said, finally.
“Oh, indeed, I go!” I grinned, relieved. “If you had lived such a long and happy life as mine, perhaps you’d understand.”
The Wizard, sighing and balancing on one toe, touched his wand to my shiny scalp and sent me riding down the mountainside on a glistening beam of stardust.
And echoing from the Wizard’s crest, I heard his sad reply, “And did I so. And do I, too! But, not, I fear, as well as you!”
--Published in Mature Years Magazine