Once upon a time there was a man named Rufus who lived alone. His only companion was his dog Scylla and the mice that lived in the pantry of his rickety old home. His grandfather built the house on the rocky hill overlooking the town. Over time the wind had loosened the planks allowing the dusty sunlight to filter in during the day and the damp cold each night. Every morning he would groan his way out of bed, eat a cold breakfast and head down the hill, through town to the field where he worked as a laborer. It was hard work, only paying enough for the occasional loaf of bread and puny potatoes he lived on. Scylla fended for himself most days. On rare occasions Rufus would help out the butcher and as payment he would bring Scylla a nice meaty bone.
This particular day was no different that the thousands of days that had preceded it. The sky was gray, the cool damp wind was blowing in from the North and the work was backbreaking. Rufus’s job was to carry bushels of rocks out of the field so the plow wouldn’t break when it turned the soil. He had a stout pole and on the ends of the pole were hooks that the bushels latched onto. He would walk the rows ahead of the plow looking for rocks. When he found the bigger rocks he would stoop over and place them in one of the bushels until full. Then he had to lug them out to the edge of the field where others were using the rocks to build a wall to keep the rabbits out.
This morning Rufus came upon a big flat rock almost as wide as the bushels themselves. He set down his load and heaved and strained and grunted until the stone finally gave way and flipped over. Under the stone was a cavity, a nest really and there cowering at the bottom of the nest was a pigmy gryphon. “Well, I’ll be. I’ve never seen a gryphon before” Rufus exclaimed and from a tiny voice at the bottom of the well the gryphon said “I’ve been trapped in this place for 1000 years. Thank you for releasing me from my prison. For your reward I will give you this bag of cookies. Make a wish then eat the cookie. When you awake the next morning your wish will come true. Choose wisely for you cannot undo what you have done.” With that the gryphon produced a small cloth bag and handed it to Rufus. Rufus just stood there slack jawed and took the bag from the gryphon’s claw then watched as the tiny creature unfolded its wings and flew off to the south. Rufus quickly glanced into the bag and saw two cookies inside but before he could eat one of the cookies the plowman began to yell at Rufus to get back to work. He stuffed the bag into his pocket and then lifted the round stone out of the field and up to the stone fence builders. All Rufus could think about for the rest of the day was what his first wish would be.
Lying in bed that night Rufus thought about the gryphon and the cookies and the future he could change. He thought about how weary he was from lugging all the rocks and how easy it was for those who owned the land. “My first wish is to own the field” Rufus said to the cold night air. He reached into the bag and took out the first cookie and ate it. He half thought that there would be a puff of smoke or clap of thunder to mark the change. All Rufus could hear was the wind straining against the house and the creaks and groans as the house braced against the wind. He could barely sleep that night.
The following morning Rufus started the day like all the others before. He ate some stale bread and cheese for breakfast and tossed the scraps to Scylla who ate with relish. He went down the hill toward the field. He could see all the workers gathered around someone speaking from the back of a buggy. None of the other workers would make eye contact with him, or anyone else for that matter. The man in the buggy was reading from a document. “…and in accordance with the last will of Thackeray Adams, Esquire , leaving no heir, a lottery was conducted this morning for the disposition of all property. The Adams estate in town is awarded to Rosemary Finkle; the summer home on the south coast is awarded to Herbert Murphy”. The list went on and on. The blood rushed from Rufus’s head. He knew he caused this with his wish. He didn’t exactly care for Master Adams, but Rufus was the kind of man who would never wish ill upon anyone. He was lost in his thoughts when he heard his name mentioned. Even though he did not hear what was awarded to him, he knew it was the field. The man in the buggy finished by saying that everyone would be contacted shortly by a solicitor regarding transfer of ownership of their new property.
When Rufus picked his gaze from off the ground he was greeted with dozens of questioning eyes. What were they all to do now, the eyes pleaded? Everyone looked to Rufus for answers. He was a simple man who carried stones for a living and now he had the responsibility of 10 other mouths to feed, 10 people to pay, seed to buy, plows to maintain, horses to house, food to get to market and so on. He hadn’t thought of all he was now responsible for and it overwhelmed him. All he wanted was to take it easy and have someone else carry rocks from now on. He slowly walked away from the others and headed into the field and started looking for rocks.
That evening after sundown he began to think of how to fix the situation. He knew he couldn’t wish Master Adams back to life. He would hire a foreman to run the field but with what? Rufus had no gold or silver to do such a thing. With his last cookie Rufus wished for gold, lots of it and contentedly fell asleep. Rufus awoke to find that everything in his rickety house that wasn’t cloth was now gold or silver. His bed was gold, the wash basin silver, the cupboard was gold but the bread within the cupboard was still stale and moldy. He picked up the gold wash basin and headed down the path to the field. There he approached “Hard” Bill Lasky who was the foreman under Master Adams. Rufus was still afraid of Hard Bill who for the last eight years yelled at him to pick up more rocks or work faster. Rufus still didn’t understand that he was in charge. “Bill?” Rufus hoarsely whispered not getting Hard Bill’s attention. “Excuse me. Bill?” Rufus said with a bit more volume. Hard Bill slowly turned around and glared down at Rufus until he realized who was addressing him. “Sir?” was Bill’s reply. Rufus stammered out a few words about keeping the field running and needing Hard Bill to stay on as the foreman. All the while Hard Bill stared blankly back at Rufus as if he were speaking a foreign language. It wasn’t until Rufus pulled the gold wash basin out as Bill’s payment did Bill’s expression change. “Tell me kind sir, where did you get this magnificent basin?” Rufus was so excited that he had gotten through to Bill that he told him that there was more where this came from. Bill was more than agreeable to stay on and run the field as he had for Master Adams. The gold wash basin was the equivalent of 5 years payment under Master Adams so it seemed foolish not to accept the offer.
That night Rufus forgot all about making a wish for it seemed he had everything he needed or wanted. He drifted off to sleep with a contented smile on his lips. He dreamt that the pygmy gryphon was perched on his bedpost talking to him. “Be careful what you wish for kind sir, for your wish may be granted in a way that you did not expect.” Rufus tried to reply but discovered that his mouth was covered with a large hand. Startled, Rufus could see the silhouette of 3 men in his home. He recognized Hard Bill’s voice. “Yes, kind Master Rufus, my mates and I will relieve you of your burdens.” His hands and feet were then bound and he was gagged. He could hear Scylla outside loudly barking. Bill snapped to one of his cohorts “Go shut that dog up, we don’t want any company tonight”. With that a hulking shadow slipped outside and a moment later a hard thwack sound followed by a whelp and a second thwack echoed through the house and all was then silent except for the labored breathing of Bill and his cronies as they carried all the silver and gold they could find to a waiting wagon.
The night passed in near deathly silence. With every creak and moan of the house Rufus thought Hard Bill and his mates were coming back to kill him. He thought of Scylla somewhere outside in the cold laying dead or dying. Rufus wept. He thought that the gryphon had tricked him for he had not been rewarded at all but punished for his kind deed and he has been more content before the releasing the gryphon. Eventually Rufus was able to undue his bonds and free himself. Lighting a brand he went outside looking for Scylla and eventually found him lying still behind the house. Rufus lay there with the dog in his arms and once again fell asleep sobbing.
The gryphon appeared once more in his dreams. “Cookies have crumbs, dogs play possum, and kind hearts do get rewarded” said the gryphon. Rufus opened his eyes and there standing in the predawn light was the gryphon. The gryphon nodded to his left and Rufus followed his gaze and saw another cloth bag. The sprite then bowed, turned around and flew off to the south. Rufus reached over and took the bag. Inside was a single cookie. He didn’t hesitate and simply wished that Scylla was alive, closed his eyes and eventually fell asleep.
In what seemed an instant he awoke in his bed, his rickety flea ridden bed. Everything that was gold or silver – and stolen had reverted to its original form. There was the pottery wash basin; over there was the wooden cupboard. Inside the bread was still stale and still moldy. He ate in silence which was only disturbed by a knock on the door. Opening it slowly he stood in front of two finely dressed gentlemen. One he recognized as the man who read Master Adam’s will from the back of a buggy. He did not recognize the other man. “Master Rufus” The first man started. “I represent Bartholomew Adams, the nephew of Mater Adams. He would like to purchase the field from you at a fair and reasonable price.” Rufus was a bit stunned, and then a feeling of guilt came over him. “Bartholomew, I am very sorry about your uncles passing. I worked for…..” “Please”, the younger man interrupted. “I thank you for your kind words. My uncle knew he had a weak heart and not long to live. We were all prepared for his passing days in advance. I would like to purchase the field from you for one thousand gold coins.”
Rufus did not hesitate and accepted the offer. Forms were produced, signed and a sturdy strong box was brought into the house where the men sat patiently while Rufus counted out the one thousand coins. “Best to store that in the bank vault” the younger man cautioned. Rufus did not need the warning. After the men left Rufus started down the hill toward the bank when the eerie sensation of being followed over took him. Rufus whirled around and saw trailing a few yards behind him – Scylla. He shouted out in delight and dog and master embraced with reckless abandon. A quick examination showed no sign of injury or harm had befallen the beast and the two continued their journey without a care in the world. With one thousand gold coins Rufus knew he would be able to live out the rest of his life in comfort anywhere he pleased. He could now feed Scylla more than scraps of moldy bread and stale cheese and felt joyous that his companion was by his side once more. Rufus had everything he had ever really wished for. Somewhere out of sight the gryphon simply smiled.