Never Trust A Crow

The sole surviving pirate from his ship laid listlessly in his row boat, waiting to die. He had been unsuccessful at fishing, having nothing on him or in his small boat with which to catch anything. The sun beat down on him relentlessly, and the poor man had understandably given up all hope when, much to his surprise, a crow landed on the edge of his boat.  Presuming the pirate to be dead, the crow bounced his way from the edge of the row boat to a seat and finally right onto the chest of the pirate, anticipating a tasty snack of pirate eyeballs, which just happened to be one of the crow’s favorite meals, a meal he had had several times over the last few days as many of the pirate’s shipmates bodies were strewn about the ocean about where the ship had sunk.

The bird’s mistake in assuming this was just another dead body made him very easy for the pirate to catch, and he did just that, wrapping the bird quickly in the bandana he wore on his head so the bird could not flop and struggle and ultimately get away. The pirate’s great delight in anticipation of his dinner quickly turned to surprise when the bird’s squawks grew gradually to sound like words to the pirate.

“Let me go!” screamed the crow in his harsh cawing voice.

“What?” The pirate, almost faint from hunger, said stupidly.

“Let me go and and…..” The crow looked wildly around. “I’ll give you one of my eggs.”

The pirate thought this was a stupid idea indeed and told the crow as much. “Why would I give up a lovely meal now for one measly egg?” He asked, incredulous.

“Because!” The crow was encouraged by the pirate’s obvious stupidity. “It is not just an ordinary egg. It is an egg that will hatch a wonder that you have never before seen. And it will have the power to rapidly change the circumstances that you find yourself currently in.”

The pirate thought this over, liking the sound of the prospect, even though something in the far back of his mind told him you should never trust a crow, especially one that’s trying not to become someone’s dinner.  But pirates are greedy creatures and always on the lookout for treasure. An egg that hatched something he had never seen before and had the power to change one’s circumstance must surely be a treasure. So the pirate agreed and released the crow.

True to his word, the crow left an egg on the bottom of the boat and quickly flew out of reach, cawing and cackling. The pirate was instantly doubtful that he had made the correct choice, in that the egg was rather small and unremarkable looking, and now that the crow was gone, his stomach was quite vocal about letting him know that it was still quite empty. But the pirate watched his little egg and soon enough the little egg started to stir, and then crack, and by and by the egg split apart to reveal a very tiny elephant.

“Huh.” thought the pirate. “The crow was right at least—a miniature elephant hatched from an egg is certainly something that I have never seen before. But I don’t rightly see how it will change my circumstances. If I ate that it twern’t be more than a mouthful.” Not knowing, and not caring to find out exactly how elephants taste, the pirate thought he had better not try it.

“If nothing else, I at least have company now,” thought the pirate.

Just then, a large wave pushed over the side and drenched the tiny elephant. “Oh!” exclaimed the pirate, rushing to pick up the tiny creature so it wouldn’t drown in the water that now collected in the bottom of the boat. “You poor little thing!” he picked it up, but almost dropped it when, in the blink of an eye, the tiny elephant was suddenly the size of his hand.

The pirate blinked again and had to rapidly put the elephant down because it was suddenly the size of a small dog.

“Wah?” the pirate said, trying to get as far back from the elephant as possible as it continued to grow rapidly in front of his eyes. His shock turned to panic as he realized that the elephant was growing so quickly and becoming so heavy, that his little row boat was beginning to sink.

“Get out! Get out!” the pirate screamed at the elephant, trying to push it out of the boat as it became completely submerged, but the elephant just looked at the pirate dumbly.

“Help! Help!” the pirate tried to scream as he too went under the water, not having the know how to swim nor the strength left to flail on the surface, the pirate sank quickly to the bottom of the ocean.

“What a strange way to end” was his last thought.

“What a strange beginning” was the first thought of the now fully grown elephant as he began his long swim to shore.


The Cactus

One day the king, feeling bored and tired of his servant’s company, came up with a preposterous request in order to make the servant go away for a long time and leave the king in peace.

“Go and find me a cactus, cut it down, bring it back to me and I shall be most pleased with you.” The king told the servant. “But, if you cannot find a cactus to bring back to me, don’t bother coming back at all.” The king added, meanly.

Feeling honored that the king had trusted him with such a request, the servant set off immediately, determined to make the king proud. But the servant couldn’t help feeling a bit sad too, because he was very fond of his king and enjoyed being in his company. Nevertheless, he was determined to bring back the biggest, most prickly cactus he could and make his king very happy.

Now, this was no easy task as the kingdom that they lived in, in fact, had no cactus in it at all. The servant walked far and wide across mountains and valleys, even across an entire ocean (please don’t ask how he walked across the ocean for that is a different story). He walked in all sorts of weather, hunger, and dangers. At times, he despaired that he would ever be able to find a cactus for his beloved king.

One day, just as he was about to give up, the servant, who by now was very weary from his journey, looked up and there was a huge cactus, green and strong and even taller than the servant was. His heart filled with joy. He could finally return home to his king and kingdom and with the most beautiful cactus as a prize. The servant pulled out the axe he had carried with him all this time, and just as he was about to swing the first blow to the base of the cactus, a small window high up in one of the arms of the cactus opened and a little man looked out at the servant. Seeing what he was about to do, the tiny man let out a squeak of alarm.

“Oh, no please!” cried the tiny man. “Please do not do that! If you chop down our home, where will we go? How will we live?”

“I beg your pardon, “said the startled servant. “I had no idea that anyone lived inside this cactus.”

“Oh yes! There are two of us, at present. Myself, that lives in this arm, and my friend that lives in that arm over there.” The tiny man leaned out the window and pointed to the other arm of the cactus.

The servant studied the cactus for a moment, taking this in. “And the middle?” He inquired.

“Oh, that is unoccupied at the moment,” Said the tiny man. “In fact, if you are looking for a place to stay….” The tiny man trailed off, giving the servant a meaningful look.

“Oh,” laughed the servant. “I am much too big. I would never fit.”

“Not true,” answered the tiny man. “We have a potion that makes you just the right size to live here. There is just enough left for one person, and you may have it if you wish.”

The servant thought about it for a few moments. It had been so very long since he had had a home and he was very weary, and he hadn’t seen his king or his own home in so long that the once warm memories had faded and started to turn cold for him. “Is living in a cactus very comfortable?” asked the servant.

“Oh, so very!” Answered the tiny man with great enthusiasm. It is cool in the warm sun, warm in the cool evenings, and smells so very lovely all the time. Only the outside is prickly. Inside is soft and wonderful!”

“Well, all right. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble. It has been a very long time since I had a home or saw a friendly face.” The servant took the bottle that the tiny man offered him and the moment he drank the dark liquid he found himself to have shrunk quite small. “Oh!” Exclaimed the servant. “That was very easy!”

“Yes,” agreed the tiny man. “And I think that you will find that life is much easier for you now, as well. Come, let me show you your new home.”

And so, the two tiny men went into the cactus and the servant climbed into his new middle arm of the cactus, that was very much like a townhouse within the cactus. He had multiple floors all with windows he could open or close at his pleasure. The cactus did indeed smell lovely inside, and provided him with food and drink as well, and since he was so small, he didn’t need much to satisfy him. And so, the time passed pleasurably, the servant taking to his new life with relish, and was very happy.

One day, it happened that they were walking outside the cactus when they heard a faint yelling. Turing around, they saw the other tiny man running across the sand toward them, waving his arms.

“Oh! Here he is! My friend that lives in the other arm of our cactus, he’s been away on vacation. Now what is he about, I wonder?” The tiny friend was yelling something they couldn’t quite hear and waiving frantically, pointing at the sky behind them.

“Oh!” Cried the tiny man, glancing over his shoulder at the sky, and then suddenly whirling around and started quickly moving back to the cactus. “Run!” He called to the servant.

“But whatever for?” Asked the servant alarmed, looking around but not seeing any source for panic.

“Rain! It’s going to rain!” The tiny man cried as he reached the cactus and scurried inside.

“Hurry! Hurry!” Shouted the tiny friend as he ran by him, also frantically running for the cactus.

“But whatever for? I’ve always enjoyed a good rain shower. Very cleansing, you know.” Said the servant, looking up at the building clouds. He was rather pleased at this turn of events as he hadn’t felt the rain on his face in a long time.

“No! You don’t understand!” Cried the two tiny men from the safety of their cactus home. “You’ll….” But what they had to say was drowned out by a large crack of thunder overhead.

Thinking the two tiny men to be very silly indeed in their fear of a little shower, the servant decided to humor them and started walking back toward his home just as the first drops began to fall. But as each raindrop hit him, he noticed that the ground seemed to be just a little further away.

“What’s this?” He wondered, confused until suddenly he found himself wet to the bone and restored to his old height as a regular man. “What’s this?” He cried again, much more alarmed.  “What has happened?”

A small window opened high up in the cactus above him. “We tried to warn you” said the two tiny men, peering out at him from the safety of their window. “The rain washes away the potion. That’s why we live in the dessert in a cactus where it hardly ever rains.” They told him sadly.

“Oh!” Said the servant, rather miffed that this important information hadn’t been conveyed earlier. “Well, give me another dose and I will know for the next time.” He held his hand out for the potion.

“We can’t” said the tiny men, sadly. “We used the last of it to make you small. There isn’t anymore.”

“Well, can’t you get more?” spluttered the servant.

The two little men shook their heads. “I’m sorry, dear friend. It was lovely while it lasted. Goodbye.” They said as they slowly shut the window, looking at him regretfully.

“What!” shouted the servant, rage building in him as he thought of the wonderful little life he had found, and now had lost, through no fault of his own he felt.

In a blind rage, he picked up the axe he found lying nearby and started to hack at the cactus home savagely until the whole thing toppled over in a loud crash. He grabbed the ravaged end and started dragging it behind him, cursing and muttering angrily at his misfortune and feeling very badly used. He dragged the cactus though mountains and valleys, even across an ocean, through all kinds of weather and hunger and dangers, and just as he was about to give up with despair, he saw the flags of the castle and very soon the whole castle came into view. Out came the king to greet his old servant heartily, for the king had missed his loyal servant very much and felt bad for sending him away in the first place. The king, seeing the bedraggled cactus that the servant pulled behind him was shocked at the condition the poor cactus was in, having been dragged over mountains and valleys, and even an ocean, through all kinds of weather, but being so pleased to see his faithful servant and determined to make amends for making him go away in the first place, the king pretended to be pleased with the cactus anyway, and made a big fanfare of his servant and ordered the servant receive his own little cottage for his trouble.

So, the servant wearily settled down in his very own little cottage, next to his very own cozy fire, and never thought about the two tiny men or what became of them ever again.

The Old Man and the Crab

An old man sat in his boat one day, feeling very sorry for himself indeed. He was feeling very old, tired, and haggard. His bones ached, his skin sagged with wrinkles, and his hands were gnarled and knotted from arthritis. He could barely steer the rudder on his boat anymore, much less pull in the nets he used to catch his fish. He feared he might starve to death soon.

He looked forlornly over the side of the boat at his reflection in the water, contemplating what had brought him to this point in his life, wondering if there were anything he could have done differently, and remembering the good old days as old men are prone to do. Gradually, he realized that his reflection had been replaced by a crab that was bobbing on the surface of the water, peering at the old man intently.

“You look very sad,” observed the crab.

The old man was surprised. “Do I?” He asked. “I think I look the way I always do.”

“Are you always sad then?” the crab asked.

The old man considered for a moment. “Well, yes, I suppose that I am. “

“That’s no good.” Scoffed the crab. “What do you have to be sad about all the time?

The old man told the crab all about his age and how tired he felt and how his hands no longer worked very well.  “I’m afraid I shall starve soon.” The old man concluded glumly.

“Well,” the crab said, appearing to be thinking hard. “I may know a way to help you.”

“How can it be?” the old man wondered.

“Just because I am a small creature does not mean I am a dumb creature.” The crab told him tartly.

“No, I guess not.” The old man agreed, uncertainly.

“I know something that not only will keep you from starving but it will make you feel young and energetic again.”

“What?” The old man gasped. “How can it be? That would be so wonderful!”

“But, if I tell you this secret,” the crab waved a warning claw at the old man, “you must make a promise to me.”

“If it is as you say it is, I would be so grateful, I would promise you just about anything!” The old man leaned closer to the crab eagerly.

“If I tell you, you must promise me to never fish again. You must leave all the sea creatures, crabs, fish and the like in peace and never again cast your net into the water.”

The old man considered for a moment starring down at his gnarled hands. “Yes, I think that’s fair.” The old man agreed. “I promise that if you tell me the secret, and it is as you say, that it makes me feel young again, I will hang up my fishing nets for good.”

“Very well,” said the crab, regarding him steadily. “I will tell you. But beware if you should ever break your promise.”

So, the crab told the man of a hidden spot, tucked out of sight of men, where rice grew wild and unhindered. But this was no ordinary rice. This rice would always make you full of energy and life as long as you ate it. You would never be hungry, old, or sick again.

The old man was amazed, right from the very first bite of his very first bowl. He instantly felt younger. The wrinkles on his face tightened, his eyes brightened, the stoop in his back started to straighten and best of all, his fingers straightened and moved easily again as they hadn’t for years. The man was overjoyed. In his joy, he immediately forgot all about the crab. His first thought was to go and tell all the other villagers about the wonderful rice he had found, but on the walk back to the village, he decided he’d better not tell anyone. After all, there were many people in the village and they might eat all the rice up, and then the man wouldn’t have any and might get old again.  So, he decided it would be his rice, and his alone.

During the weeks that followed, all the village notice how changed the man was, but he never said a word about the rice to anyone, not even to his closest friends. As more time passed, the man would even scoff and be disgusted by his former friends. They were so old, and their hands were bent and gnarled. The man had completely forgotten how, not very long ago, he was just like these old men. By now, the man felt so good, and never felt the tiredness or the hunger that plagued him before, that his mind turned to making his fortune.

“The fish are very plentiful” His new young friends told him. “Come and share the sea’s bounty.”

“Yes! That’s a wonderful idea!” thought the man, “I could make a lot of money” So into his boat he jumped, and out to sea he went.

He stopped at a spot he was familiar with and was overjoyed to see hundreds of fish jumping and playing in the warm sea. The man spread his nets and immediately they were filled. As he started pulling the nets, full to splitting, with the fish he noticed the crab holding on to the net.

“What are you doing?” cried the crab.

“What does it look like? I am fishing.” He replied, busily pulling in the net.

“Are you hungry?” asked the crab.

“Of course not.” The man scoffed.

“Then why are you breaking your promise?” asked the crab.

“Because I want to make my fortune.” Answered the man.

“But we had a deal.” The crab said, sadly.

“That was then, this is now.” Retorted the man, and then he cried out in pain, dropping the net. He looked at his hands in confusion as the once strong fingers crumpled and twisted before his eyes. His strong back weakened and curved. A glance at his reflection in the water confirmed what the old man feared—he was once again old.

“What!” he cried. “Why? How?”

“You went back on your promise,” the crab answered matter-of-factly.

The old man felt a rage like he had never felt before rise up within him. He grabbed the crab and crushed its claws so it could not pinch him and threw it in a bucket.

“I’ll show you!” he screamed at the crab. “you shall be my dinner tonight and then tomorrow, I shall go back to the secret spot and eat more rice and be young again!”

Once back on shore, the man grabbed the bucket, swinging it savagely as he marched back to his home. He threw the crab into a boiling pot of water and watched, laughing gleefully as the crab turned a bright red, boiling to its death. When the crab was cooked to the old man’s satisfaction, the man laid it on a plate with fresh melted butter on the side and sat down to his feast, still muttering angrily to himself. He pulled off the first claw viciously, pulling the meat out and popped a large portion into his mouth, already preparing to shove another piece in his mouth before he had even swallowed.

In his hast and anger, the old man hadn’t been very careful. He failed to see the piece of shell that was still attached to the meat, but he felt it when it became lodged in his throat. He gasped out what little air could get around the crab meat that was now firmly lodged in his throat, panicking when he realized he would not be able to remove it himself. He looked around frantically for someone to help him, but there was no one. He was all alone, just him and what was left of the crab. After struggling a bit, his head fell to the table, where he gasped like a dying fish until he could gasp no more. And that’s where he was found, days later, when his landlady came to fetch her rent. His dead eyes reflecting the dead crab starring back.