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Authors: Megan Whalen Turner

Instead of Three Wishes

BOOK: Instead of Three Wishes
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Instead of Three Wishes
Megan Whalen Turner

These stories
were written
for Mark Turner

T
uesday morning, the
North Twicking Times
of North Twicking, New Hampshire, ran a story on a leprechaun recently sighted by James Fairsidle on his way down to his south field. North Twicking was a town of Irish descent and Fairsidle was a man who'd always longed to see a leprechaun, certain that he could bully the little beggar into releasing his treasure. Now he had seen one, and he had the broken wrist to prove it, having fallen over a stone in his hurry to catch hold of the little green man. As a result, he'd be hiring Patrick Whelan to do his spring plowing for him. He came into Mrs. Malleaster's tavern very grumpy about the whole business and claimed that the leprechaun had magicked the stone under his feet. As this contravened the well-ordered rules of leprechauns, he found very little sympathy among the other midday tavern-goers.

“You'd have done better to keep you mouth shut about the whole business instead of letting the entire world in on what a fool you were,” said Mag Malleaster. “I don't know why you did such a silly thing.”

“Because Rob down at the paper gives a pretty good fee to anyone who brings in a story, that's why,” said Fairsidle. “That money is the only good thing to come out of this business.”

“Wouldn't surprise me if it was,” muttered Mag, wiping down the bar. “This time tomorrow we'll be overrun.”

“I thought you'd like the business, Mag.”

“I would if they would come one after another like decent tourists. I've only got six rooms in the inn, haven't I? Mark my words, they'll all be here together, and just as we've ordered in enough beer to keep 'em, they'll all be gone and leave nothing behind but the undrunk Guinness I have to pay for.”

North Twicking did its best to prepare, but by the next afternoon there were more leprechaun hunters than you could shake a stick at. They came from near and from far. A cowboy came all the way from Kingsville, Texas. There were old ones and young ones and single ones and ones that brought along their entire families. Mag's inn was filled. The only empty room she had was one that had been reserved several weeks earlier, and she'd been offered a great deal of money by a number of people if she would just cancel that reservation and let them have the room. Each time she'd said no, but it made her hot under the collar to turn down money, and as the day passed, she got more and more snappish. The regulars in the tavern looked carefully
into their beers and only spoke when ordering a new round.

“But, madam,” one of the visitors pointed out, “leprechauns are good luck.”

“No,” said Mag, “leprechauns are
lucky.
You don't get good luck without bad, and I'll tell you which kind those little men like to hand out.”

Right she was. By the end of the week, all the milk in the county was running sour. The cows closest to North Twicking were the worst. Saturday afternoon the water main in town burst, and folks had to carry their water from the town well. Sunday the Holbins' barn caught fire, and they were lucky to get the animals safely out before it burned to the ground. These were just the larger disasters. Marjorie Sities turned her ankle, Caleb Bates's car got flats in all its tires one right after the other, and Jamie Walsh woke up Monday morning to find that his prize black Angus were scattered all over the Twicking Hills. Mixed in with these events were the six or seven search parties that had to be organized to hunt down missing tourists and their children, all of whom claimed to have been led off by the leprechaun.

Monday afternoon, a young man with a knapsack and a black briefcase walked into the tavern and asked if Mrs. Malleaster was the proprietress of the hotel.

Mag finished pouring the pint she was working on and stared at the bar a moment before she
answered. She was, in general, fair-minded, congenial, and kind. Her customers liked her and she made a reasonable living with her tavern. Still, North Twicking got very few out-of-town visitors, it being much less accessible than South Twicking, located on the highway fifteen miles down the valley. It fairly made her blood boil to have so many potential customers and to have to turn them away. She reached for a slip of paper and slid it across the bar to the young man.

“We're all full up here. That's a list of families who will rent space to visitors, but I'll warn you that the town water main is burst and you won't be able to get a bath at any of 'em. You can use my phone to call around and see who's got room.” She turned back to the tap and began filling the next pint.

The young man looked a little stunned, as well he might. He lowered his briefcase to the floor and sidled closer to the bar. “Uh, I don't mean to be rude, but my name is Roger Otterly, and I think I have a room here. I did make a reservation and, uh, I did pay in advance.”

“Oh, good heavens!” Mag put the mug down on the bar half full. “What must you think of us? Yes, of course I have your room.” She called over her one waitress and said, “Jen, keep an eye on the bar. I'm going to take this young man up to his room. It's right this way, sir.”

As she preceded him up the narrow stairs to the second floor, she explained that it was the only room
left in the hotel since the leprechaun sighting had brought so many people to town, and she'd had such difficulties reserving it that she'd forgotten that there was a person she was reserving it for. “That little man has brought us more difficulties than blessings, and that's the truth,” she said. But Roger Otterly didn't seem much interested in the leprechaun. After pointing out the bath at the end of the hall and reassuring him that the inn pumped water from its own well and water supply was not a problem, Mag headed back to the tavern.

Just as she reached the stairs, however, Roger Otterly poked his head out of his room and asked, “I'm sorry, did you say that there were a lot of people visiting because of this, um, leprechaun person?”

“Yes. You might say they were thicker than currants in pudding. Is that a problem?” she asked when she saw the downcast expression on the young man's face.

Roger stepped around the edge of the doorway and stood with his hands in his pockets as he explained. “I'm an artist, you see. Anyway, I've just gotten out of art school, and I'm sure I'm at the beginning of a long and famous career.” He smiled at Mag, and she smiled back. “I've got no money, but I do have a commission to paint six pictures of some charming countryside for a dentist's office. They have to be finished by Friday, and North Twicking was supposed to be the charming countryside.”

“And you think it won't be so charming with hordes of picnickers hiking to and fro?”

“I'm afraid that's what the dentist will think. But we'll just have to hope for the best.”

The next morning, Roger took his briefcase with his paints and canvases and an easel fitted cleverly inside and hiked up a hill. He settled down to work and found everything even worse than he expected. It wasn't just that there were cars zooming up and down every road in view or that the treasure hunters had left scatterings of trash at every picnic site. These things could be carefully left out of a painting. No, Roger's biggest problem was the treasure hunters themselves, who insisted on stopping to look over his shoulder and distract him from his work with comments like “Gosh that's good, are you an artist?” or worse, “I'm a bit of an artist myself, and I think you've got the wrong color on that barn there.” He tried moving to more and more isolated places, but there was nowhere isolated enough with a leprechaun hunt going on. Finally he packed up his paints and went back to the Jaunty Fox for his lunch. He spent the rest of the afternoon in the tavern.

The regulars made room for him happily enough, but after an hour or two they sent Mag over with a beer and a question. She leaned over the table and asked quietly, “Rog, they want to know why you're staring at them.” When there was no response to her question, she nudged him sharply
with an elbow. “Have you never seen men drink beer before?”

Roger flushed cadmium red to his hairline and stammered, “I don't have a sketchbook with me. I'm always forgetting it. So I have to memorize what people look like in order to draw them later.”

Meg looked down at a number of rough sketches on a cocktail napkin. “Can you do that? Keep a picture in your head and draw it later?”

“Well, yes, like I said, I'm always forgetting my sketchpad, so I've had lots of practice. That man with the enormous mole, for instance, I could probably wait a year and still draw it.”

“Well, better leave James and his mole off your sketchpad. It might end a budding career. I will tell the other patrons that you're not trying to put the hex on any of them. I don't suppose they mind being models for a great artiste.” She winked and went away.

She was right. They were all quite flattered. They invited Roger over and asked him about the artist's life, and after that nobody minded if he got a little unfocused in the middle of a conversation. This was quite a good thing because Roger spent all of Wednesday in the tavern as well. He talked to the customers and sketched rough reminders on Mag's napkins until she supplied him with a telephone pad to work on. While he talked, Jamie Walsh was out looking for his cows again and the Boswells' pigs were running loose as well, mostly through the Sites'
cabbage. Two more search parties had to be organized, and everyone with an affliction brought it to the Jaunty Fox to be aired.

There was no sign that the leprechaun frenzy was abating, so it came as something of a shock to Roger the next morning when he came downstairs and found the inn empty of all but Mag and her regulars.

“It's that leprechaun,” Mag explained when she met him in the breakfast room. “There's an article in the
Peskaworthy Times
that says it's been sighted there. They say two little girls on the way to school stopped and talked with it but didn't think to ask about any treasure.”

“And where is Peskaworthy?”

“Oh, it's a good fifty miles around the Twicking Hills and down the next valley,” said Mag, and she smiled as she put out a plate of scones and jam for him.

It was a beautiful day. The sun had burned off the morning softness, and Roger was able to see for several miles once he reached the upper slopes of a suitable hill. He laid out his paints and set up his easel and worked all morning. In the early afternoon his stomach suggested that maybe it was time for a little lunch, and rather than pack up and carry all his supplies down the hill, he decided to leave them where they were. Now that the leprechaun seekers were gone, the fields were empty and the supplies should be safe enough. He closed
the lid of the briefcase carefully and headed down to the Jaunty Fox.

It was three o'clock before Roger hiked back up the hill. He'd left the easel and briefcase just above a rock outcropping, and as he approached the rock, he saw something he hadn't noticed earlier. There was a very pretty drawing on the rock face of a black cow jumping over a small china white moon. It looked so much like one of the old cave paintings sometimes found in these parts that it only dawned slowly on Roger that the painting hadn't been there in the morning, that it was in fact painted with
his
ivory black and
his
china white paints. He hurried past the rocks, and just as he feared, his easel and his paints were in disastrous disarray. The canvases were scattered across the hillside. The one nearest him was lying faceup, and he could see that it was ruined. Someone had splashed paint across it and added a cartoon of a spaceship landing on top of one of the picturesque hills.

More angry than he could remember being in his life, Roger collected up the canvases and as many of the squashed paint tubes as he could find. He swept everything into the briefcase, slammed it shut. He brushed angry tears out of his eyes. Not only was his morning's work wasted, the supplies were gone. Without money to replace them, he couldn't complete his commission. He whirled around, ready to storm back down to the Jaunty Fox and ask Mag who ever would have done such a
thing, because he, Roger Otterly, was going to extract monetary reimbursement if he had to commit murder to do it.

Roger stopped his stampede with one foot raised in the air. Then he very slowly lowered that foot to the ground. His anger receded in the face of an artistic challenge. Standing on the rock outcropping below him, looking very pleased with himself, was the most extraordinary little man. His skin was a sort of Naples green, Roger thought, with maybe a touch of burnt sienna in the cheeks. The clothes were definitely cadmium green, but maybe it should be yellow ochre in the cheeks? And was that a snipe feather or a grouse feather in the hatband? Roger stared. The little man said something, but Roger couldn't be bothered to answer. He thought it was probably a snipe feather. He would describe it to the regulars at the Jaunty Fox; they'd be able to tell him what it was. The little man was shouting, but Roger was carefully noting the contrasting color of his boots and his belt. The little man gestured to something hidden behind the rocks, but Roger's eyes were glued to the leprechaun. Finally, with a look of grim disgust the little man pulled a bag from the air behind him and threw it at Roger's feet. He then disappeared, but Roger was happy. He'd had plenty of time to get all the details right. He looked down with a pleased smile on his face and saw the bag on the grass in the front of him. He
picked it up and looked inside. All the way back to the inn he daydreamed about the paints he was going to buy.

 

Roger had paid in advance for his room at the Jaunty Fox, so he slipped away in the morning before anyone was awake. Mag found a small change purse left in his room with a note for her pinned to its side. She tucked it into her apron pocket and only remembered it when a customer needed change for a dollar. She pulled out the purse and twisted open the note. “To cover the cost of a long-distance phone call,” she read aloud. She snapped open the purse cover and shook out not quarters and nickels and dimes but a single shining gold piece larger than a silver dollar and twice as heavy.

BOOK: Instead of Three Wishes
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