Read The Wish Giver Online

Authors: Bill Brittain

The Wish Giver

BOOK: The Wish Giver
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
The Wish Giver

Three Tales of Coven Tree

by Bill Brittain
Drawings by Andrew Glass

For Jim and Sue—
who make me proud

PROLOGUE

The Strange Little Man

 

 

H
ere in Coven Tree we’re no strangers to magic. I’m not talking about the rabbit-from-a-hat or coin-up-the-sleeve variety, either. I mean
real
magic.

Witches have abounded in this part of New England since colonial days, when Cotton Mather held his witch trials in Salem to be rid of them. The very name of our village comes from the huge, twisted tree down at the crossroads where groups of witches—
covens
, they’re called—used to meet. Imps and fiends and all the rest of Satan’s spawn have appeared here from time to time, taking their pleasure from plaguing and frightening us poor mortals. Some folks even tell of seeing the Devil himself, walking about and looking for souls to claim when the mists hang low on the mountains.

Usually, though, these creatures of darkness can be recognized at once. Their appearance. The sounds that issue from them. Their manner of movement. The dismal swamps where they abide. All these bespeak their evil nature.

That’s what was so odd about Thaddeus Blinn. There wasn’t anything spooky or scary about him—at least nothing you could put your finger on. He seemed like just a funny little man who came to Coven Tree from out of nowhere with a strange tale about being able to give people exactly what they asked for. It wasn’t until after the wishing started that…

But I’d best tell the story from front to back, the way it ought to be told. Polly and Rowena and Adam were each a part of what went on, to be sure. But it’s myself who knows the whole thing.

Stew Meat’s my name. I was christened Stewart Meade, but the nickname was hung on me as a boy, and it stuck. I own the Coven Tree General Store. The people for miles around shop here, and sooner or later everything they have to tell reaches my ears. So who better to relate the entire tale of Thaddeus Blinn and the awful trouble he brought to our peaceful little village?

The Coven Tree Church Social is always held the third Saturday in June on the church’s big side lawn. It’s like a party with everybody in town invited. Close to the church itself are booths run by the local people: Martha Peabody sells boxes of molasses cookies…LuElla Quinn raffles off the quilt she spent the whole winter stitching together…the Reverend Terwilliger sets up a scale and tries to guess people’s weight. That kind of thing.

But away off at the far end of the lawn, down by the clump of birch trees, is a space where “outsiders” can set up booths—if they pay the church ten dollars for the privilege. Sometimes there’s a woman selling hats with your name sewn onto the brim, or a couple who run a penny toss with balloons for prizes. And once there was a man who heated bits of glass and shaped them into animals you could buy for a dollar or two.

The story of The Wish Giver begins on one such Saturday, with me wandering about, sampling a piece of cake here, and admiring some homemade jewelry there, and taking a general delight in seeing all the villagers decked out in their best clothes.

At first the ragged, mildew-spotted tent down
under the birch trees seemed like nothing more than a mound of earth with canvas thrown over it. I must have walked by it two or three times before even noticing the little sign hanging out in front:

 

THADDEUS BLINN
I CAN GIVE YOU
WHAT EVER
YOU ASK FOR
ONLY 50 ¢

 

Impossible, I thought. Suppose I asked Thaddeus Blinn to cure my knee that got sore whenever the weather changed, or I wanted the hair to grow back on my bald spot. Fiddlesticks! I started to walk away.

“There are no limits, you know. Anything you could possibly imagine can be yours.”

I turned about. The man who’d drawn back the tent flaps was short and fat, like a big ball on two legs. He wore a white suit, and his vest was red, with a thick gold watch chain stretched across his belly. The huge mustache under his bulb of a nose bristled fiercely as his mouth curved into a toothy smile. He put me in mind
of Santa Claus, shaved and dressed for warm weather.

“Blinn’s the name, sir,” he said with a tip of his derby. “Thaddeus Blinn, at your service.”

Something happened then that might have been just my imagining or a trick of the light. Thaddeus Blinn’s eyes
glowed
for a brief moment, like those of a cat when lantern light reaches the dark corner where it’s sitting. Even after the glow died, Blinn’s eyes didn’t appear quite human. The pupils weren’t round, but long and narrow like the eyes of a snake.

“If you don’t come inside now, you’ll not sleep tonight from wondering about me, Stew Meat,” Blinn went on.

I forgot all about his eyes when I heard that. “How in tarnation did you know my name?” I asked him.

“Your curiosity will soon be satisfied,” said Blinn, pointing into the tent.

It was cool and shady inside, with the air full of the musty smell of old canvas. A bench ran across the rear of the tent, and three people were sitting on it.

Eleven-year-old Polly Kemp was at one end.
Polly lives with her widowed mother out where the footbridge crosses Spider Crick. If Polly’d lived closer to town where she ran into folks more often, there’s a real possibility that somebody in a fit of anger would have done her real bodily harm. Or at least put a muzzle on her.

Not that Polly was downright mean. She just said whatever popped into her head without a thought about whether the words she said hurt others. Honesty, Polly called it. But when honesty causes nothing but anger and hurt feelings, maybe there ought to be a limit. Polly, though, didn’t know what that limit was.

Next to Polly was Rowena Jervis. A giddy fifteen, Rowena was in love with love itself. She had her eye on Henry Piper, the young farm-machinery salesman who came to town twice a year. He’d make eyes at Rowena, and she’d go all soft inside and sigh deeply and write “Mrs. Henry Piper” in the dust on my store window. If Rowena had a wish granted by Thaddeus Blinn, then Henry Piper would be in it somewhere.

A little apart from the two girls was sixteen-year-old Adam Fiske. His pa’s farm was the driest in the county, and when there were spells
of no rain, Adam spent a lot of his time toting water all the way from Spider Crick in his wagon with the tubs in back. Just now, after three weeks without rain, Adam would probably have given everything he possessed for a single glass of water that he didn’t have to haul all the way from that durned crick.

I took a seat between Rowena and Adam. We all looked up at Blinn. The little man stood at the entrance of the tent, and he seemed to be hoping more customers would come along.

“I’ve been here nearly half an hour,” said Adam finally. “Can we get on with it, Mr. Blinn?”

“I should think so,” Polly added. “I ain’t planning on sitting in this smelly tent all day.”

Thaddeus Blinn let the tent flaps fall and turned toward us. The expression on his face showed he wasn’t too happy about having so few of us there. “Alas!” he said with a sigh. “So many people just cannot make themselves believe.”

“I’m not really sure I believe you myself,” said Rowena. “I read the sign and just came in because I was curious. What is it you’re selling, Mr. Blinn?”

“I’m selling wishes, child.” Blinn spread his hands as if it was the most obvious thing in the
world. “Anything you want—anything you could possibly imagine—can be yours!”

All of us on the bench looked at one another, and Polly kind of giggled. I wondered if Mr. Blinn was crazy in the head.

“I would love to get a wish,” Rowena said. “But it all sounds so…so incredible.”

“I deal in the incredible,” Blinn replied with a vast grin. “But before I go further, I must have my fee. Fifty cents from each of you, if you please.”

“And just what are we buying here?” I asked.

“You’ll see, Stew Meat,” Blinn answered. “It’ll be well worth your money, I promise you that.”

With some reluctance, we all dug down into pockets and purses. Blinn moved his hand along like a church collection plate, and when he’d finished, it was full of coins. He thrust the coins deep into his pocket. When his hand came out of the pocket again, it held four little white cards. Each card had a red spot on it. Blinn gave one of the cards to each of us.

“It doesn’t seem like I’m getting much for my fifty cents,” I said to Adam. He chuckled along with me.

“With that card, Stew Meat, you have all the
incredible forces of the universe at your command!” Blinn said the words like he was announcing the end of the world.

“Horsefeathers!” cried Polly. “My ma worked awful hard so I’d have fifty cents for the Church Social. Now you’ve got it, and all I have is this worthless card.”

“Worthless?” exclaimed Blinn. “How dare you say that, girl!”

“I’ve got a mind to fetch the sheriff and have you jailed,” Polly went on. “What use do I have for a dumb card with a spot on it?”

“Come now, Mr. Blinn,” said Adam. “You can’t expect us to believe…”

“I
do
expect you to believe,” said Blinn. “You see, I am—for lack of a better term—a giver of wishes. To be more accurate, I am
The
Wish Giver, as to my knowledge there is no other.”

“And these cards are supposed to make our wishes come true?” asked Rowena. “That’s mighty hard to swallow.”

“The card will bring you anything your heart could desire,” said Blinn peevishly. The fact that none of us believed or trusted him seemed to drive the little man frantic. “Anything. Wealth…beauty…fame. Just wish, and it
will be yours. But each card can grant only a single wish, so think carefully before making it.”

“I’ll tell you what I’m thinking,” Polly piped up. “I think we’ve been cheated. If you can grant all kinds of wishes, how come you’re selling these cards for fifty cents? All you’d have to do is wish for—”

“I have no need for money,” Blinn replied, “except as a sign of the good faith of my customers. What I crave is respect…appreciation…recognition. Look about you and consider. Of all the people at the Social today, only you four were curious enough…imaginative enough…yes, even courageous enough…to hear me out. Oh, the shame, that my talents should be taken so lightly.” The words tumbled out of Thaddeus Blinn’s mouth like wasps from a burning nest. He finally pulled himself together, though, and spoke a bit more slowly.

“You four shall be rewarded for your trust in me. When you’re ready, you have only to press your thumb against the red spot on the card and utter your wish aloud. The wish—one wish only, for each of you—will be granted.”

“Then I wish for…” Adam Fiske began.

“Wait, lad! Wait!” Blinn warned him. “Take your time. Give it plenty of thought.”

Polly glared at Blinn and muttered something about wanting her money back. Rowena stared doubtfully at the red spot, and Adam shook his head as he slipped the card into his pocket. For a moment Blinn stared down at us. A toothy smile drifted across his face. Then he rushed to the end of the tent and threw open the flaps.

“Now you have what you came for,” he announced in a singsong voice. “It’s time for me to be on my way. Outside, please. Everybody out.”

I guess all four of us were thinking the same thing—that Thaddeus Blinn was a fast-talking fraud who wanted to be far away from Coven Tree when we found out the wish cards didn’t work.

We shuffled out into the warm sunlight. “Take great care when you wish,” Blinn called after us. “For it will be granted exactly as you ask for it.”

“You can bet one thing, Mr. Blinn,” said Adam Fiske. “If this wishing business really works, I’ll be coming back for another card the next time you’re in town.”

“Alas!” Blinn replied. “I travel each road but once. Always I must seek out new places and new faces. Once we part, we will never meet again.”

Once more I thought I saw that glow in Blinn’s eyes, just before he snapped the tent flaps tight shut like a magician doing a disappearing act. That was the last we ever saw of the strange little man, Thaddeus Blinn.

 

Rowena and Polly and Adam and I went our separate ways after that. I returned to the store and slipped my card into the back of the cash register as a souvenir of fifty cents foolishly spent.

Once back in familiar surroundings, I couldn’t help chuckling at myself and the awe I’d felt when I first met Thaddeus Blinn. Perhaps he’d heard someone greet me on the church lawn, and that’s how he’d learned my name. His glowing eyes had been only a trick played by the bright sunshine, and their odd shape just showed I needed glasses.

By the time I’d prepared my supper, I was certain that fat, eager-to-please Thaddeus Blinn was nothing more than a crafty humbug. He
earned his livelihood by selling little white cards and incredible dreams. And if the dreams didn’t come true, that sly buzzard would be long gone by the time folks found out.

But what a story ol’ Thaddeus Blinn had told us! He must have convinced those three young folks that at least a part of the things he said were true. For a while there in the tent, he’d almost had me believing it myself….

BOOK: The Wish Giver
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Crane by Rourke, Stacey
Henrietta by M.C. Beaton
The Prey by Allison Brennan
Souls ReAligned by Tricia Daniels
The Missing Monarch by Rachelle McCalla
The BFF Bride by Allison Leigh
The Complete Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague deCamp, Fletcher Pratt
WHITE WALLS by Hammond, Lauren