The Wish Giver
Three Tales of Coven Tree
Here 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 hungon 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:
I can give You
You ask for
only 50 c
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. The Wish Giver
Three Tales of Coven Tree
. Copyright © by Bill Brittain. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.