An adaptation of a Swedish folktale

Once there was a boy who was always wishing for things. A bike, a sled, a house with a yard, even a cheap clasp knife. His father had died, and the farm foreclosed on by the bank. His mother was a poor woman, living in a run-down rooming house, making brooms for a living at minimum wage. So none of his wishes ever came true.

One day as he was busy wishing out loud for this and that -- nothing extravagant, mind you, just the sort of things most boys want -- an old man resting on a bench gave him some good advice. He told him to go to the woods and sprinkle some salt on the tail of a magpie, and then he would get whatever he wished for. But he would have to wish quickly, while the salt was still on the bird's tail, else it would be no use.

So the boy began spending a lot of time in the woods, with a handful of salt in his pocket, looking for magpies. Now magpies are smart birds, not above mischief or theft. It is not easy to sprinkle salt on their tails.

Though he saw many magpies, he never got very close to any of them. The magpies kept a wary eye out for him, but one day mischief overcame fear and one magpie started teasing him, letting him get closer and closer before flying off laughing. After a long day chasing the magpie the boy finally just sat down to rest. He could hear the magpie in the bushes, but had given up on catching him.

Then he heard the magpie calling his name: "Olle! Olle!"

The boy looked up and there it was looking at him. "You talk?" exclaimed the boy.

"Yes," answered the magpie. "I am an enchanted prince, and I will grant your wish if you help me. Get me a really fine knife to clean my beak and claws and I will sit still so you can sprinkle salt on my tail."

The boy thought this was a good deal, so he started picking berries and taking them into town, selling them for pennies. He finally sold enough to go to the five and dime and buy a cheap pocket knife. Then he filled his pocket with salt and went back to the woods to find the magpie.

The magpie came hopping right up, looking over the knife with one eye and then the other. "That won't do," the magpie said. "For a prince like me it ought to be a stainless steel switchblade with a golden handle." And the magpie flew off.

Olle was so sad. "I will get you one," he called after the magpie.

"Don't bother!" the magpie called back. "What I want now is a really fine bike."

So Olle set to work with his pocket knife whittling. He whittled wooden spoons and breadboards and some wooden toys, and sold them in town. He saved up enough nickels and dimes and bought a nice used mountain bike. He filled his pocket with salt and rode the bike to the woods.

The magpie flew down and strutted around it looking it over. "That's a nice bike -- but what I wanted was a Harley!" And off he flew.

Olle was so sad. "I will get you one," he called after the magpie.

"Don't bother!" the magpie called back. "What I want now is a really fine sled."

Strange for a bird to want that, but Olle continued his whittling and he started using the bike to make deliveries for local merchants. He saved his quarters and dollar bills and finally bought the nicest sled the hardware store had on hand, even though it was last year's model. That snowy afternoon he filled his pocket with salt, tied the sled to his bike and pulled it out to the woods.

The magpie and a few of his buddies flew down from the roost and strutted around it. It said "American Flyer" in faded red letters and had only a little rust on its runners. "That's a sled?" said the magpie. "I wanted an Olympic bobsled!" And the magpies flew off.

Olle was so sad. "I will get you one," he called after the magpie.

"Don't bother!" the magpie called back. "What I want now is a really fine set of wheels."

What would a bird do with that? Still, Olle continued his whittling and his deliveries and he used the sled to haul firewood for people that winter. He saved his fives and tens and finally bought a beat up old pickup truck. By now he was old enough to drive and he filled his pocket with salt and puttered out to the woods with the pickup.

The magpies flew down and strutted around and the magpie prince said, "That's a practical set of wheels, but I really wanted a Rolls-Royce." And off they flew.

Olle was so sad. "I will get you one," he called after the magpie.

"Don't bother!" the magpie called back. "What I want now is a really fine house."

By now Olle was rolling. He went back to work, and his carving and delivery business had grown so much he now employed a number of other boys, and the pickup made delivery of heavier items easier. By now he was making furniture as well. He saved his twenties and fifties and hundreds and bought a nice house on the edge of town near the woods. Then he filled his pocket with salt, went out in the yard and called the magpie.

He flew down and looked around, pecking at the windows, and eyeing it all. "You call this cracker box a place to live? Not for the likes of me. It doesn't have a pool or a satellite dish!" And he flew off.

Olle was so sad. "I will get you one," he called after the magpie.

"Don't bother!" the magpie called back. "What I want now is a lot of money."

Nothing was going to stop Olle now. He worked hard, he speculated and diversified and invested. He went public and built up his capital. Finally one day his accountant told him his net worth was ten million dollars. He put on his best suit, the pocket full of salt and headed for the woods, which he now owned.

The magpie flew down, and looked him over. He inspected his Rolex. He quizzed him about his investments and holdings. "Yes," he said. "That will do! You may sprinkle the salt on my tale and make your wish."

The moment had come at last. Olle dug into his pocket and dropped a pinch of salt on the bird's tail.

"Well, what is your wish?" the magpie asked.

And Olle was tongue-tied. Indeed, what should he wish for? He had been so busy working, he had completely forgotten what he wanted to wish for.

"One..." said the magpie.

"Just a moment, just a moment, let me think." Olle said. But for the life of him, he could not think of what he wanted to have.



"Three! Too late!" said the magpie and flipped his tail feathers, flying off so the salt fell off. Then the magpie laughed and laughed.

Olle glared at the bird. "I think I will buy myself a gun and shoot you" Olle said.

"That wouldn't be nice, would it?" said the magpie. "Don't you have everything you ever wanted, and all this without having to make a single wish?"

Olle stood there with his mouth and eyes wide open. It was true. He already had everything he could wish for, and he hadn't even noticed. "Well I declare," he said. "I worked so hard just to be able to sprinkle some salt on your tail feathers and it was all quite unnecessary."

"Yes," laughed the magpie. "How do you explain that?" And he flew off and was gone.

Olle never did try to explain it. He settled down in his house, married his college sweetheart, and raised several fine children, who -- sorry to say -- never learned the value of salt on a magpie's tail.

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