man wandered into town, back in the dust days (because thatís how people
remembered them, those who lived long enough into the next century of interstate
highways and high flying aeroplanes; in those times, back before there had
always seemed to be dust everywhere, along the beaten dirt tracks, in the open
fields, down under the first bones of the county courthouse, everywhere dust).
The town was called Eden, then, though everyone knew that wouldnít last; there was another
Eden, theyíd been told, with a post office of its own, and the State of Texas could not abide two
man came into town from the west, down out of the hills, on foot, alone and
without horse or wagon. It was not unheard of to travel thus, even in those
days, though to be honest it was common only among madmen and would-be prophets.
The plains to the west, beyond the hills, were vast, and barren, and a man afoot
could travel weeks, months, without once seeing another soul, even in those
days. So the people of the town, of Eden, took him for a madman, or a prophet, and were eager to see the back of him.
man, though, showed no immediate signs of lunacy, nor did he speak of divine
inspiration. He asked only for a bit to eat, and perhaps a place to sleep out of
the rain. The people of the town looked at him, threadbare and ragged, and asked
what he could have to give them in return. He had only the clothes on his back,
a battered old hat, a small satchel he wore slung over his shoulder, and a staff
for walking. He didnít look the type to keep riches secreted on his person,
and food and shelter from the rain did not come cheap, even in those days.
the people asked him what he had to give, he replied simply: I have wishes to
share. Now the people, who already suspected him a lunatic or a visionary, took
this as an ill sign. So, they asked him, you are a fairy, or some good witch
that you can grant wishes? The man shook his head, and smiled. No, he told them,
I have only wishes, no miracles.
the people of the town were divided, one half against the other, on just what
sort of undesirable the man was. And no one offered him food, or shelter. The
man seemed not to mind and sat himself on the dusty ground at the townís
center where he took from his satchel a bone flute that he began to play,
quietly, as though to himself. The people stepped around him then, acting as
though he didnít exist, and hoped in soft whispers that the sheriff would
return from his errand out of town and drive the man away.
morning passed to afternoon, and still the man sat, and still he played. The
afternoon was aging towards evening when the blacksmith, with his young wife,
returned from a visit to her cousins in the north of the county. The blacksmith
had been born a Slav (and while his family claimed to Gypsy blood, there was no
proof of it), and was a good man, and would have been a better blacksmith had he
the strength in his arms. As it was, he was a fair smith, and that was as much
as the town needed (and the town needed a smith, as all towns did, even in those
through the townís center with his wife, he heard the man playing his bone
flute, and stopped to ask a neighbor who the man was. A lunatic, the neighbor
answered, come out of the west. No, another replied, walking by, a prophet full
of snake venom and nonsense from over the hills.
does he want, the blacksmith asked. Food, the others answered, and a place to
bed. Now, the blacksmith remembered his first night in his new country, poor and
bone weary from his deck passage across the wide water. And he remembered the
family that had given him bread, and a few coins for a place to stay. So he left
his wife in the wagon, and walked to where the man sat and played.
the smith said, I have heard you need a place to rest yourself, and something to
is true, the man answered, but I have no money to pay. I have only wishes to
share, and nothing else.
ask nothing from you, the smith told him, but we will share whatever you have.
so the man smiled and stood, taking the smithís hand. They walked to the
wagon, and then the smith, his young wife, and the man who wandered into town
rode south to the smithís house.
dined simply that night. Cornbread, some beans, and a vegetable stew. They drank
the sweet water form the smithís well, and the three of them shared a pouch of
tobacco. Later, the cabin filled with smoke from the fireplace and their pipes,
and the three moved out to the porch and sat watching the stars.
was a fine meal, and my thanks, the man said. And for that I am in your debt.
Now, as I have said, I have no money, but I have the wishes.
smithís wife asked what he meant, that he had wished. Did he carry him with
him, like rare stones or pressed flowers?
the man said, but I do collect them. Thatís what I do, and itís my lifeís
work. I walk, and I wander, an I collect peopleís wishes.
smith now said that he didnít understand.
ask people to tell me their wishes, the man answered, and I keep them up here.
The man tapped his temple with one dirtied fingernail.
the smithís wife asked.
that they donít get lost, the man told her. People lose their wishes too
early, too soon in these days, and if I didnít keep them theyíd be lost
do you do with them? asked the smith.
share them with those as will listen, to remind them.
them? the smith and his wife asked together.
remind them of this: A wish can never come true if itís forgotten, and
once lost can never be regained. Wishes arenít granted of a sudden, in the
blink of an eye. A wish is for life, and itís only at the end of that road
that you reach a goal. People forget that, and they look back on themselves as
children, and all the things they wanted, and craved, and sweated after. And
they say, I wanted that then, and I didnít get it, so I best be happy with
what I have. Things wonít change.
theyíre right, the man went on, things wonít change unless you want them to.
You have to keep on wanting, and keep on sweating, or youíll never move an
inch down that road. Youíll stay where you are forever.
as the stars winked overhead, the man told the smith and his wife wishes. He
shared with them the hopes and desires of the young and old (though much more of
the former than the latter, as he had explained). He told them of a young girl
in Kansas who wanted nothing more in this life than to be a doctor, and to heal,
and that as he sat listening to her story he could see the stern face of her
father, and the sad eyes of her mother, and that he could almost watch the wish
slipping away form the girl. He told them of a rancherís son in the
smith and his wife took to their bed near the fire, and gave the man a pallet of
blankets and quilts for himself on the other side of the room. They slept
peacefully that night, the three of them, in the dark warmth of the cabin, until
the morning light shone through the windows.
breakfasted together, there in the early morning light, heavy biscuits and pork
sausage and gravy and strong black coffee. They ate in silence, enjoying the
meal and the quiet company, and when they had done the man spoke again.
fine meal, and a clean dry place to sleep, he said, and I owe you again.
smith and his wife went to argue, to say he owed them nothing, but the man
wouldnít hear it.
told you some of the wishes, he said, such as I have to tell. Now, before I go,
Iíll ask you for your wishes, if you have any, and to repay you Iíll keep
them with me always.
smith and his young wife sat quietly for a time, each looking inside themselves,
seeing what they might have hidden there. It was the smithís wife who spoke
first, and shared what she had.
myself, she said, I wish for only what I have. For it not to go away. A
comfortable house, good neighbors, a faithful and loving husband. I donít care
for enchantments, or beauty, or the fancies of the world. I just want what I
have, and thatís all.
man sat, listening, and nodded. Then he turned to the smith.
have a wish, I suppose, the smith said, but itís a simple thing, and of little
consequence. I donít wish to hear other menís thoughts, or to have strength
to lift a horse, or any of those such things. I want only, someday, for my wife
and I to have a son, or a daughter, or both. I want for that child, or those
children, to grow up healthy, and to live until they are old. I want them here,
in this home, to share our lives. I want to pass things on to them, to raise
them right, to send them out into the world to make their own lives and to be
happy. Itís a simple wish I suppose, and not much for remembering, but
thatís what I want.
man smiled at them, and touched them each on the hand. Without a word he rose
from the table, put on his hat, slung his satchel over his shoulder, and took up
his staff. He walked to the door, where he paused and turned.
remember, he told them both, still sitting there at the table. Iíll never
then he turned, and walked out the door, and out of the town.
man never passed through the town or was heard from again. But the smith and his
wife remembered him, and would talk of him occasionally, out on the porch under
a starry sky. And when their children were born, a son and two daughters, they
told them about the man, and what heíd said about wishes. And when they grew
up, and moved away to live their own lives, they too would sometimes think of
the wandering man, and of wishes.
the smith and his wife lived long, into the days of radio and trans-Atlantic
flights, and they were comfortable and happy (when it was appropriate), until
the day they died (for they died together, of age, in the same bed, each holding
the otherís hand, with their children and their grandchildren and their
grandchildrenís children around them). And if anyone still living from those
dust days then remember the man sitting in the townís center playing his
flute, and that it had been the smith and his young wife whoíd taken him in,
they didnít say. The old and the young often forget about wishes, even in those
Copyright © Chris Roberson 2004
About the Author:
Roberson is the author of the novels Voices of Thunder, Cybermancy
Incorporated, Set the Seas on Fire, and Any Time at All, which have been reviewed favorably by
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov's, SF Site,
and Infinity Plus. His short stories
have appeared on Fantastic Metropolis, RevolutionSF, OPI8, and in the Roc
anthology Live Without a Net. In addition to
serving as associate editor for International Studio (Coppervale Press), he is
the publisher of MonkeyBrain,
Lone Star Stories * Fiction and Poetry with a Texas Twist * Webzine Copyright © 2003-2004