The Good the Bad and the Tainted

Once upon a time there lived a humble woodchopper. All the working week he would chop lumber, and on the weekends he would go hunting in the forest beside his log cabin.

On one of these fine Saturdays Alex, the woodchopper, was relaxing against a trunk, quietly eating his lunch when he heard a scream in the distance. Alex quickly rose to his feet and headed off to find the source of the scream.

A minute later he arrived in a clearing, sporting the strangest construction he had ever seen, a house made entirely from candy! But that was not all there was to see, for a second later, a tall figure burst screaming from the back door, and flew up to the roof. The witch- he could see she was a witch now because of the pointed hat-faced away from Alex, and raised her hands to the heavens. Now was probably not the best time to speak up, but in that situation what is the right time? Anyway, this is when he did start to verbalize his thoughts.

"Now what's all this then," he said in a rather loud voice, half hoping that the witch wouldn't hear him. Flaming like a candle on Chanukah, the figure spun towards him and threw her scrawny arms at him…and they fell off. She tossed her head back and screeched at the sky for what she viewed as a mighty injustice. But at the same time Alex abruptly felt several darts of pain pierce him in his eyes, legs, stomach, and left shoulder. He grunted in surprised pain and anguish and then yelled, "Right, I'll do you for that!" He leveled the shotgun still gripped in his right hand and cracked off a shot into the witch, who, by now, was dead or almost dead anyway. The presently black, crispy witch toppled off the roof, leaving scorch marks on the sugary surface where it had caramelized. Squinting, stumbling, and favoring his right arm, the seriously disgruntled woodchopper staggered into the forest.

Unknown to Alex, on the other side of the house two little children stopped dead in their tracks at the edge of the tree line, and looked back.

"Wow. What was that, Hansel," one of the children quietly asked as the burnt witch tumbled down the roof.

"I don't know Gretel, but two things are for sure: the witch is dead, and we can go back and get more jewels!" And so the little "innocent" children ran back to the candy cottage to reap the benefits of the witch, who could now serve as a charcoal briquette at a Sunday barbeque.

All was not lost for Alex though, for as he stumbled through the woods almost blind, he came upon a small dwarf of a man. "Why, hellooooo! And whoooo might you be," inquired the small man who boasted the most peculiar accent.

"I'm sorry, for a foul witch has cast some vile hex on me and I cannot see you."

The small man pondered a moment before answering, "I can restore your sight, but on whooone condition. Yooou must do a task for me."

"Anything! I'll do anything, for I can't see my axe to chop the tree and I shall fall into poverty."

Upon these words Alex's eyesight returned and he rejoiced, and prepared to return to his life. "Wait," the little man said as Alex tried to leave, "Yooou have not performed the task yet, and if yooou do not perform it before this day is done yooour eyes will be hexed again!" And so, resigned to his task, the woodchopper went in search of an artifact known as the "Globe of Undying Light".

Surprisingly he found it an hour later lying on the ground on his way to the village closest to his home.

He made his way through the forest using the map the dwarf had given to him. When he arrived at the little house he was very tired and he had to favor his left arm, for it was growing increasingly painful. He knocked on the door and heard a voice inviting him in. Alex entered the squat, ugly little cottage, and when he saw what was on the dwarf's plate he nearly vomited.

"What's the matter," the midget said, slightly offended, "They're a delicacy, and at least I'm not eating someone's child…well at least not the parent itself." He stood up and popped the last prairie oyster into his mouth with a small grin.

Forcing back the bile in his throat, Alex gave the artifact to the disgusting little man, and prepared to leave. He hardly got two paces before the pain in his arm caused him to grimace and start to sweat. The dwarf ran up to him and started with, "You know, for whooone more task I would take away the pain in your arm as well."

"Alright," Alex acquiesced, "for I need both hands to hold the axe to chop the tree and I shall fall into poverty, but let this be the last exchange between us," he said hopefully, for he never wanted to see this vile creature again. Alex knew he was being racist, or sizist, or something, but this midget just seemed to emanate hate and distrust. He set out again, this time he sought after seeds from the elusive "Golden Apple Tree of Charnon", seeds that, if carefully tended, would grow into a beautiful a tree, and would sprout golden apples. Unfortunately, Alex didn't know of this, he also didn't have a clue where to start looking, and he told the dwarf this.

"Well, I don't expect you to know where it is, and I don't expect you to find it, for I already know where it is! The tree is in the sacred grove of Charnon, deep, deep inside this very forest, where it waits for you! The only problem are the guards and the tourists, for the guards know my face, and lets just say the tourists with young children tend to make a scene if I appear, my reputation you understand."

Alex looked at him quizzically and stated, "What reputation? I never even heard of you."

The midget chortled deeply to himself and said laughingly, "Why, how often have you visited the village or market yourself in the past year? I assume gossip is abounding with tales of Serdi the child snatcher, or Serdi the cannibal. Never mind though, just sign here on this contract–," here the midget produced a large sheet of paper from beneath his cloak, which Alex proceeded to sign "-there! Now go find my seeds boy, and hopefully you will never hear of me again."

And so the lumberjack headed out again for the center of the forest. After an hour of painful walking he encountered a path, and the going was much easier. The woods around him grew steadily darker and darker until it was almost as black as pitch, and Alex was tripping over things every step even on this well kept path. After five more minutes of this Alex was ready to give up and try to find his miserable way back, when he heard "oohs" and "aahs" in the next clearing up ahead. He ran forth into a bright wash of light radiating from lanterns around the clearing. There were tourists everywhere, speckled all over the clearing, except for one spot in the middle, where a giant golden tree stood. He fought the crowd to get to the middle and when he did he quietly plucked a golden apple from an overhanging branch. As he was heading out again the guards caught him by the arm when they saw a glint of gold in his hands. Quickly taking the initiative, Alex bit the gilt apple deep and hid the seeds behind his teeth. Alex knew he was doomed then, for the sign at the edge of the clearing clearly stated that the price of theft was death or imprisonment for life by the thief's choice. This thief however, was brought up to hold on to whatever ray of hope presented itself, and choosing to die didn't count for much in the way of holding on to life. He chose the dungeons. Unfortunately for Alex, the guards weren't satisfied so they also cut off his left hand.

For ten awful years Alex barely survived off the black bread and bitter gruel he was served in the dank dungeons of the King's castle. One day while Alex was performing his weekly ritual of emptying his bladder of the foul water he was served, the door opened and, quickly finishing his business, Alex ran over to see who had opened the door, for the guards would usually slip the food through a flap in the door. And there standing framed in a bright light was the King's rebellious young daughter. "Hello, prisoner, I'm here to help you escape because most thieves are rebellious like me." Now Alex wasn't about to tell her the truth of the matter for fear she would leave, and also because he had fallen in love at first sight of the Princess and couldn't speak. He managed to nod and let himself be led by the hand- his right hand- to the back door of the castle through the kitchens. Later she helped him to be hired as the King's official woodcutter because that's what he was good at. Alex spent more years seeing the Princess off and on, cutting down trees, and going hunting on the weekends again, though he was forced to take a friend to reload his gun in a hurry. One day Alex watched through a window when the Princess bore a child. Alex knew that the Princess had been with a few men but he sincerely hoped this beautiful child was his. Out of the blue- literally a blue puff of smoke- the midget sprang into the room and danced around singing in a course voice, "Mine, mine a child of my own, I do not take him on as a loan, your lover signed a contract plain as could be, and now your infant belongs to me! Heeheehee," the little man giggled and snatched the baby from the Princess' arms. Before the guards could be summoned, the dwarf conjured another puff of smoke and disappeared into the air.

Not staying to comfort the Princess or even tell her that the child must be his, Alex ran off into the woods to find the midget's unsightly cabin. When he arrived, out of breath and disoriented, he saw that the clearing around the cabin was grossly overgrown, and it was obvious why the little man went into Satan's work instead of landscaping. He walked in the open door and inside he met a gaily humming, skipping, and grinning little devil. The dwarf frothed at the mouth as he giggled uncontrollably at the sight of the short-winded, one-handed man bursting in to a demon's home. Alex saw his little angel child lying quietly upon the table oblivious to everything around him. Alex grew very angry again, and roared, "What's thing I hear about me signing my baby over to you? I promised to bring you seeds to fix my arm, which, by the way, is feeling much better except for the missing hand."

"Oh, but you didn't read the fine print, now, did you?" He quickly brought out the paper and a magnifying glass and read clearly, "And also, upon the delivery of my first, healthy child, the custody of said child will be turned over to Serdi the Tainted." Alex reached for the paper, which the man gave to him. He crinkled the evil little document in his hand, threw it in the air, brought up his shotgun, and shot it through the center, tearing the paper beyond repair. "It's okay," said the little man calmly, "I have copies." Thinking quickly of a new and more effective plan, Alex swung his leg up and into the midget's crotch. He dropped like a stone, and wretched squealing broke forth from the little man's lips, as he clutched at his groin, and rolled into as much of the fetal position as he could manage. The squealing was so intensely abusive to the ears that even the infant on the table started to cry, and so Alex stepped around the writhing mass of midget on the floor and tenderly bore the child out of the house. When he arrived back at the castle the King named him hero, arranged a marriage for him with the Princess. He had other, more compliant daughters that would marry into big families, so why not try to settle this one down with a nice country lad, albeit and one-handed country lad. And so the two moved to his cabin near the forest, and they lived happily ever after.