By: The Earthotic Way
A long time ago in a small town, there was a legend that if you went down to the river at midnight during a full moon and knelt on the bank, you were supposed to look for a little whirlpool—the kind that you often see swirling lazily next to the edge. If you found one, you had to say “Old Nick” three times fast. The legend said if you could do this, a mysterious ghost named Old Nick would appear and he would grant you one wish.
Nobody knew anyone who had successfully summoned Old Nick, but that didn’t stop people from trying. One moonlit night, a young boy tried his luck. He thought himself brave, but in the middle of the night as he tramped through the tall grasses and reeds along the bank of the river, he felt his fear rise in him. His palms were cold and sweaty. His heart raced in his chest. When he finally knelt in the soft earth of the bank to look into the rippled surface of the black river, his knees shook and wobbled.
He waited for a whirlpool to appear. Finally, one did and he said as fast and as loud as he could, “Old Nick! Old Nick! Old Nick!” The boy wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t silence. And silence was all he heard. Disappointed, he stood and brushed off his muddy knees. When he turned around, he found a man no bigger than a small child crouched on the ground.
“You called my name,” he said, turning his head to face the boy.
“Yes. That is . . . if you’re Old Nick.” The boy’s tongue felt like it was sticking to the roof of his mouth with fear, making it difficult to speak.
“Old Nick I am. What do you seek?”
“What is it you want from me, boy?” His voice was deep and gravelly despite his size.
“I, uh . . .” The boy tried to remember what he had wanted, but honestly didn’t expect to get this far.
“I can make you rich. I can give you gold. I can make you taller or so that you never grow old. I can give you the hand of your lady love or give your enemy a shove. Off a bridge. So, what will it be, boy? What do you seek from me?”
The boy searched his mind for things he wanted. He had read enough fairy tales to know that you had to use your wish very carefully. You didn’t want to accidently wish for the wrong thing.
“I’ll tell you what, boy. I’ll give you a year to think on it. One year. Then I’ll come to you again and we’ll talk.”
“How do I know you’ll come back? That you won’t just leave?”
Old Nick grew very angry and seemed to swell with each word. “Calling me a liar are you?! You called my name three times! I am bound by magic much older than you, boy! It’s to that I answer and not to you! I’ll be here to fulfill my vow.”
Then, he was gone and the boy stood alone on the banks of the river at midnight during a full moon, water bubbling behind him.
The boy thought for a whole year on what he wanted. Gold? Fame? He had no enemies. One night, he lay sleeping in bed and awoke suddenly. The window was open and all he could see was the curtain gently blowing in the soft wind as the full moon shone outside. Old Nick crouched on his windowsill smiling wickedly.
“A year you’ve had. A year’s passed by. What’ll it be boy? What desire has caught your eye?” He smiled, showing two rows of sharp tiny teeth. The expression on his face was sweet poison.
“I’ll need another year,” the boy said bravely as he sat up in bed. “I’ve not thought of anything yet.”
The smile withered on the old ghost’s face and turned to anger. “Wishes don’t keep. They turn to poison. A year you’ve had! And nothing comes to your mind? Is your skull empty, boy?!”
“Just another year. No more.” His voice was calm but inside he was a raging storm.
“Two years you want. So, another you’ll get. Think long and hard, boy. I’m not you’re little pet.” With that, he was gone.
Truth be told, somehow the boy nearly forgot about Old Nick that year. And he was less of a boy and more of a man. That’s why his heart was hooked by Luanna Abbott, the prettiest girl in the town. Along with every other boy his age. Amongst the parade of other suitors, he always fell to the back unnoticed and unloved.
And so, during a full moon he waited for Old Nick to come once again. Arrive he did.
“I can hear your heart beating up a storm in your chest, boy. Have you thought of something that you could ask of me?”
The ghost’s smile made the boy feel like a rabbit just before a wolf makes his pounce.
“Yes, Old Nick, I have. There’s this girl.”
“Girls and gold are the bread and butter of my trade, boy. Have you her name?”
“I do. Luanna Abbott,” he felt as though a weight was finally taken off his chest as he made his wish.
“It is done, boy. Go claim your prize. Go and eat up your fair, pretty lass and look on her with a lover’s eyes.” Then he was gone.
The next day, he strode right up to Luanna Abbott, held out his hand and invited her for a walk. The other boys laughed until she took his hand and they strode off arm in arm.
They were inseparable and doted on each other every day. One fall evening he took her up high on the hill that overlooked their town so they could talk, take in the beauty of the waterfall there, and see the mouth of the cave and wonder what was inside.
There were rain clouds on the horizon. The sky turned green as an old bruise and a terrible storm crashed down on the high hill. The couple ran for the mouth of the cave—the only shelter around. The storm drew them farther and farther inside. They could see whole trees lifted from the ground like weeds and tossed into piles like firewood. The raging storm’s fury soon became eerie quiet as the entrance was covered mysteriously by neatly stacked trees as if by an invisible hand. They heard a voice in the dark:
“Trapped you are and trapped you’ll be. Never again will you be free. My wishes all come poisoned, see? Water to drink? There’s plenty here. And worry not about the air. It’s the hunger that will soon take hold. The hunger will make one bold. You can drink until your stomachs burst. But which of you will be the hungriest first?”
The boy heard water dripping and the frightened breathing of Luanna in the dark. The air was still and quiet. And his stomach rumbled.