October 22, 2013

The Burger Bargain, By W. Klein


Editor's note: This story, which in part focuses on the mundane objects of our 21st-century world, is truly enchanting. It is delightfully twisty toward the end.
 
Once upon a time in a far-off land, there was a miller who defeated a dragon and outwitted three trolls to rescue a princess.  After these remarkable adventures, the couple married and settled down to live a quiet life in their enchanted castle.  The princess -- now a queen -- gave birth to a boy.  On his christening, three fairies gifted him with three magical objects which he was to keep with him at all times. 
 
The first was a stone which, when thrown into standing water, could reveal to him the answer to any question.  The second was a top with an arrow painted on it.  When spun, it would always land in such a way that, when it finally came to rest, the arrow would point the one who spun it towards his home.  The third was a shell which -- when held to his ear -- would allow him to hear beautiful music to soothe his soul.
 
As the prince grew, he continued to bring these objects with him in a special drawstring bag which he tied to his belt.  He'd skip along the edge of the castle's moat with his friends, and -- whenever they discovered a creature they didn't recognize -- the prince would throw his magical stone in the shallow water.  Words and images would appear on the surface of the water, telling the boy the name of the creature and what its magical properties were.
 
When the prince and his friends would go on adventures in the forest, they never had to worry about getting lost, for the boy would spin the magical top, and they'd stand over it with wide eyes until it came to a rest, the arrow pointing them in the direction of home.
 
And when the prince was alone in his room at night, he'd entertain himself by holding the magical shell up to his ear and listening to the beautiful music which echoed out from it.  So, through his gifts, the prince had everything that he needed, and then some, but he was not entirely content.
 
More than anything else, he longed to do something exciting.  Sure, he had outwitted a witch and threw her in an oven at the age of five.  When he was eight, he encountered a leprechaun who gave him a pot of gold.  At age ten, he had been briefly turned into a toad by the spiteful sister of the witch whom he had killed.  But by the time he turned twelve, he was tired of battling dragons,breaking spells and rescuing damsels in distress.
 
What he really wanted to do was to visit the magical world which he had only read about in books -- a world where children visited dentists, rode to school on fantastic yellow carriages called buses, and were lifted in mechanical boxes called elevators to the top of sky-scraping towers.  His parents scowled at his choice of literature.  They tried to replace his copies of Harriet the Spy and The Boxcar Children with more appropriate stories of "Rumplestiltskin" or J"ack and the Beanstalk," but the prince would not be deterred.
 
So, on his twelfth birthday, he packed up his drawstring bag with his stone, his top, and his shell, and set off to find the enchanted lands about which he had only read.
 
He wandered far and near, without catching a glimpse of any of the wonderful things he hoped to see.  His world was entirely devoid of trains or planes or automobiles.  Not a single bicycle crossed his path, and -- search as he might -- he couldn't find a single accountant or lawyer.
He sat down, discouraged, beside a well.  A bucket of water had been drawn and upon seeing his reflection in the clear water, he had an idea.  He threw his stone into the water and asked in a loud voice, "Oh, magical stone!  How do I get to that world I've read about in my books?"
The prince looked into the bucket, but all he could see was the reflection of the well on the surface of the water.  He shrugged, figuring it was worth a try.  Climbing upon the stony edge of the well, the boy leaned in and yelled, "Hello?"
 
From below, he could hear a tiny voice crying out for help.  Quickly, he attached the bucket to the pulley, and lowered it down.  "Hop in!" he called.  As he waited, the rope shifted and something fell --plop! -- into the bucket.  When the prince pulled it up, splashing in the bottom, gasping for air, was a mouse.
 
"Dear little mouse," the prince said.  "What were you doing in that well?"
 
The mouse squeaked at him, and in a rather bewildered voice said, "Oh, my!  I was just running through the sewers and I got lost.  I don't know how I ended up here, but this must certainly be a magical place, for I've never been able to speak to a human before!"
 
"How wonderful!" the prince said.  "You must come from precisely the place to which I wish to go!"
 
"Good luck," said the mouse.  "As for me, I shall see what I find here!"
 
The prince waved goodbye, hoping that the poor little mouse wouldn't find his world too terribly dull, and hand over hand lowered himself down to the bottom of the well.
 
After swimming down through the sewers, the prince washed up in a river in the wonderful world of his stories.  He climbed out of the river and as he wrung out his clothing, stared in awe at the cars and trucks whizzing past him.  He followed the river's edge until he came upon the most amazing discovery: a fast food restaurant with a giant hamburger standing before it.
 
"Marvelous!" he said, rushing to the door.  Inside, he waited in line and when it was his turn, he approached the counter and declared, "I would like a hamburger!"
 
"That'll be a dollar twenty-five."
 
The prince turned red and stuttered.  "I... I'm afraid I don't have any of your currency.  Might you take something in trade?"
 
The man across the counter just shook his head.  "Next."
 
The prince would not be deterred.  On a bench outside, two boys about his age were sharing a pile of hamburgers between themselves.  "Perhaps they would be willing to barter," the prince said to himself.
 
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said.  "I would like one of those delicious hamburgers, but I have no money with which to buy one.  Would you be willing to trade?"
 
"For what?" a red-headed boy asked.  "Your dopey hat?  What kind of costume is that, anyway?"
 
The prince was bewildered, but undeterred.  "It's not a costume at all.  I come from a place far, far away, and this is the type of garment everyone wears there.  I would be willing to trade the hat for a hamburger, though."
 
"Nah, we don't want your hat," the other boy, a blond-haired lad said.  "What's in your bag?"
 
The prince had a clever idea.  "This bag contains three items of the greatest magic.  I will show them to you... in exchange for one hamburger."
 
The boys wrinkled up their noses.  "We don't like magic tricks," the redhead said.  "They're for babies."
 
"Oh, you'll like these," the prince said confidently.  "You've never seen anything like this here."
 
"Fine," said the blond, nudging his friend.  "But if we have seen it before, we don't have to trade."
 
The prince smiled, confident that he would win.  "Excellent.  First, allow me to show you my magic stone."  Glancing around, he found a puddle of water and dropped it in.  "Now you may ask it any question, and it will give you an answer.  For instance...
 
"Oh, magical stone--"
 
"--what's the answer to six minus three?" the redhead asked.  The three boys leaned their heads in.
 
"There," the prince said.  "One, two, three boys are reflected in the puddle.  The answer is three."
"That's lame."
 
"My phone can do the same thing," the other said, pulling out his smart phone.  He opened up a calculator app and punched in '6 - 3'.  The number 3 lit up the screen.
 

 
The prince frowned.  "Well, your device certainly won't be able to do anything like this," he said, revealing his magical top.  He set it on the ground and flicked his wrist to set it spinning.  It spun and spun, and finally landed, its arrow pointing in the direction which the boy had come.
 
"I don't get it.  What's the magic part?"
 
"It is pointing me in the direction I need to take in order to find my home," the prince said.
 
"That's it?"  The blond boy pulled out his phone again.  He hit a button, and instantly a map appeared, with a route plotted in green from the restaurant to his home.  The prince just stared in amazement.
 
With a sigh, the prince held out his final object, the shell.  He turned it around in his hand and then held it out to the others.  "I realize now your magical device is far superior to any of mine.  All this one does is fill my head with the sounds of music.  I'm sure yours must do that as well, though perhaps even better.  I would bet you can hear all sorts of music on your device, instead of the same song over and over again.  I should have known that this fantastic land would be so much better than my own."
 
The two boys just stared at him, and then at one another.  The prince looked so sad, so tired, and so hungry that the boys felt a twinge of pity for this weird kid with the funny accent and strange clothes.  How sad it must be to come from a place where you couldn't text your friends or play Tetris or watch funny videos of cats falling off things!
 
"You know what?" the redhead said, winking at his friend.  "That is a pretty great shell.  You win, buddy."
 
The prince clapped his hands in delight.  The hamburger passed from the boy's hand to his own, and into his mouth, where the cheese oozed and meat patty juices ran down his throat.  With that first bite of greasy perfection, the prince knew without a doubt that this truly was the most magical place ever.

W.Klein lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons.  She is an avid reader and is currently seeking representation for her first novel.
 

3 comments

  1. Charming story. Fun to read.

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  2. A fun subversion! Greatly enjoyed :)

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  3. Well, magic is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose:)

    ReplyDelete