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Many years ago in a humble but dirty cottage deep in the forest, there lived a dirty but humble mudmaker. He labored from sunup to sundown making mud, but was very poor, for then as now, the mud market was rather weak. When his day was done, he left the mud puddle and returned to the cottage, where his wife always met him with a hot meal. Which she always threw directly at his forehead.
"Why must you throw my dinner at me, dearest?" asked the mudmaker.
"Because, good husband, I am unhappy," said his wife.
So saying, she served him his apple pie -- which she always aimed directly at his left cheek -- and shuffled off to bed.
Now, being a mudmaker is bad enough, but being a mudmaker with an unhappy wife is too much to bear. So early the next morning, the mudmaker awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing. Unfortunately, he mistook the rooster for an alarm clock and tried to turn it off, which resulted in one unhappy rooster. In any case, he awoke and quietly stole from the house and crossed the woods to a tiny house made of cheese where it was said a good fairy lived. He knocked.
In no time at all, the good fairy opened the door. "For crying out loud, what do you want," she shouted. "If you're here to try to sell Amway, I'll --"
"Um, are you the good fairy?" asked the mudmaker.
"Of course I'm the good fairy! What kind of a stupid question is that?"
"Yes, well, you see, my wife is unhappy."
"Big deal," said the good fairy.
"If we could have a son to keep her company..."
"All right, all right. I get the picture. With a tap of my wand, I grant you your wish."
So saying, the good fairy tapped the mudmaker on the head with her wand. Fortunately for him, the good fairy didn't get a proper windup, and he suffered only a mild concussion. The mudmaker staggered home as fast as he could.
"Oh, darling," said his wife when he got there. "You'll never guess what happened! I found a baby boy on the doorstep!"
"Hooray! It worked! Where is he!"
"I put him to thimble."
And indeed, instead of going to bed, the baby boy had crawled into a thimble. For he was about as small as you can get. He couldn't even get into Little League. He had to play in Really Little League. Now that's small.
In any case, strangely enough, the little boy just never seemed to grow. And thirty years later, the mudmaker went back to the good fairy.
"Is there anything we can do to make this boy grow that's within the FDA regulations?" asked the mudmaker.
The good fairy rolled her eyes. "Take this magic chickpea and put it under his bed -- or, in his case, under his thimble. Now get out of here."
The mudmaker followed the good fairy's instructions to a "P" and sure enough, within twenty-four hours, his son had shot up to a height that would rival any member of the local basketball team, the Village 1476'ers.
"Why, he's seven feet tall!" exclaimed the mudmaker's wife.
"And his stomach isn't anything to sneeze at either," added the mudmaker.
And so, they called their boy Thom Tum and needless to say, the boy lived up to his name. He ate and ate and ate. He joined the Clean Plate Club. And then he ate his plate and joined the lesser-known Clean Table Club.
Then, when he'd eaten all there was in the house, he set off through the woods, gobbling up everything in his path. His concerned father decided he'd better go see the good fairy to see what she could about this.
He found her standing in a clearing in the woods.
"Good fairy, what happened to your house made of cheese?" he asked.
"Some big fat kid ate it, then ran off down the road yelling 'Food! Food!'"
"Oh, that's what I wanted to ask you about," said the mudmaker.
"Well, if I ever find out who that brat's father is, I'll turn him into a toad!"
"Um...a toad?" asked the mudmaker, a lump the size of an adult poodle forming in his throat.
"Now, what was it you wanted to ask me?" demanded the fairy.
"Think it'll rain?"
"No," said the fairy.
"Me either. See ya," said the mudmaker, waving good-bye.
Now, it so happened, a few miles away, on this very day, the king was celebrating his birthday and among the many fine presents he received was a beautiful fat duck.
"This better be an enchanted duck," said the king. "'Cause if it ain't it's a pretty lame gift."
It was an enchanted duck, although it didn't lay golden eggs. (That's another story.) But it did lay eggs, by the dozens. By the hundreds. By the thousands. This duck would not stop laying eggs, and before long the castle was filled to overflowing with white, flawless eggs. The king, who had high cholesterol to begin with, was very unhappy with the situation, and became so desperate that he sent out a proclamation, offering a thousand palooza to anyone who could rid the castle of eggs.
Hearing this, the old mudmaker realized he had an answer to his problems. He brought the boy to the castle.
"You say your boy Thom Tum will get rid of the eggs?"
"Yes sir, sire," said the mudmaker.
And with that, the mudmaker let his son loose and the boy dove into the palace of eggs and ate like he never ate before. He ate them scrambled and deviled, over easy and over hard, sunny side up and dark side out. But those jaws didn't stop there. The boy also ate the duck. He ate the tables, the chairs, the walls, the floor. And then the situation got really bad.
The king, calling for his fastest horse, sped to the cottage of the mudmaker.
"You have got to take him back," pleaded the king.
"Oh, no. I couldn't do that."
"Humor me. I'm the king."
"Sorry," said the mudmaker.
"Take him back and I'll give you a kingdom of your own."
The mudmaker didn't need to consult his financial planner about that one. That was a deal. The king returned Thom Tum to the old mudmaker and the mudmaking family moved to a far-off land to rule over it. The mudmaker's wife solved their son's eating disorder by giving him mud pies, which as we all know is enough to kill anyone's appetite. And to make certain they would never be troubled again, no food was allowed in the kingdom. The people were always famished and so the tiny country was called Hungary. And they all lived happily, if thinly, ever after.
Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Copyright © 1997 by Ward Productions, Inc.