Did you know that if wishes were beggars, horses would fly?
Or some such thing I was told when I was young, and that to save myself from too much heartache and too much disappointment which was bound to fall on me like a piano from the clear blue sky, I should not wish for too much, and not too often.
Little girls and little boys who have more than a few measly items on the page for Father Christmas to deliver are greedy. They are bad children who no-one will like, and of course, they never get at all what they asked for. They'll get nothing. Nothing at all.
They should have been more reasonable. More humble. Not so spoiled.
We learn soon enough, don't we, that we must cut our cloth according to our means.
That there isn't any merit in asking for a better dress, a better kind of toy or a larger slice of a much, much better cake because it makes mummy sad, or daddy angry, or it leads to some diatribe about how grateful we should be to have half a boiled cabbage leaf which saves us from starvation.
Let the festival of suffering commence ...
Now, let the days and the times pass, roll on, move on, move further on over all these seconds, all these minutes, years and sometimes decades later, there sits a person and they don't know what they want, for only what they can be sure to get can they still want, and what they can be sure to get is worth no more right now than that old cabbage leaf was back then - nothing.
There they sit and there they try to visualise a house they would want to own, or a life they would want to lead, only there's nothing there at all, nothing comes and if it does, it wavers and never seems to be quite real, leaves you with a broken, sad feeling that there's something you're not getting, something you are missing out on, but you don't know what it is, only that it is as old as the ages themselves and it seems to have always been there ...
And here comes, to the rescue, a small orange elf.
Yes, the elf is orange. It is dressed in blue and green and wears no hat, there is no need, indoors it doesn't rain, didn't you know.
The elf says that it came to grant all your wishes, but what does the sad person say?
What do they think?
Do they jump for joy and shout, "At last! You're here! Where the HELL have you been! Ah, no matter, welcome, elf! I was beginning to think you'll never arrive at all! Well no matter, here, have some honey, get your thickest, biggest notebook out, sharpen your pencil and LET'S GET STARTED ON THIS LIST THAT SPANS A LIFETIME!"
No. They sigh.
They thought at first they can ask for better health or something, so they can work harder, make themselves more useful.
But then they thought that was too much, and far too selfish all around, and could only lead to severe and nasty repercussions, and they stop the thought of cessation of suffering and instead, try very hard to be enlightened, and all unconditional, and wish for something GOOD instead of something selfish, nasty, evil ...
"World peace? An end to hunger and starvation? Finally having someone find those goddamned weapons of mass destruction so we can all go home and get some dinner?"
The elf raises both eyebrows of an attractive copper gold that goes remarkably well with its orange complexion, shakes its head so that the little bell on the end of it's purple scarf makes a nice little tinkling sound, and we are lucky if it doesn't simply bugger off at this point in sheer frustration.
Luckily though, our person has a measure of Modern Energy training and can notice frustration and lack of rapport when they see it right in front of them, even in a small elf, and hastily they say, "Just a minute! I'm sorry, I probably misunderstood ... could you help me out and tell me what I'm supposed to do? I'm a confused individual, you see, being born and raised in this hellhole and I need all the help I can get ..."
Thus humbly addressed, the elf sighes again but noticeably softens. It even smiles, comes a little closer and sits down just near the person's right hand.
"Look," says the elf gently and as though it was talking to an idiot, "You are supposed to tell me what you want. Straight out, no lying. No thinking in circles and in great big knots, no excuses, no feeble attempts at being sociable, or honourable, or better than you really are.
"This doesn't work in magic, don't you know. Magic is always honest."
The person is surprised by this information but willing as they are, they try to take the good advice and think of something they would want.
But all they can think of is a small ball, with red spots on it, shiny and brand new and obviously never having been bounced, ever.
Oh shit, they think. Here's my one and only chance at magic and typical! I'm fucking it all up again with my own stupidity. Think, goddamn you you stupid piece of shit! For once in your miserable painriddled life, get it together for long enough to wish for something useful, something decent!
The elf watches in total non-understanding as the person's brow creases and crinkles even more, exactly along the lines of wrinkles that already sit so deep in their skin and face and prove that they have done this type of thing a million times before, so much so, it is right carved upon them now for all to see.
But all for all the frowning, wrinkling, thinking hard and harder still it is no use - the person sees the ball again, and nothing else at all, no matter how they try for statues made of purest gold or giant castles on the loneliest of mountain tops.
"Oh give it up!" exclaims the elf in frustration. "Give it up! I can see that ball, it is so real already, I'm surprised it doesn't pop straight out of mid air by now without me doing anything at all! What is WRONG with you people???? Why don't you just show me the ball and let's get on with this!"
The person, thus broken out of their internal bitter ancient war with a start, looks to the elf and nearly bursts out into tears as they declare with quaking voice, "But then I have a ball, and you might disappear, and I would have to kill myself for the monstrous fool I am to have such opportunity, and then to go and waste it so!"
The elf shakes its head. "If you don't tell me that you want a ball with red spots on it in the next 2 seconds, my friend, I'm gonna simply go one way or the other, because you are driving me crazy. Then I'll be gone and you'll have nothing. Not even that ball you've been wanting since you were two years old!"
"Ok, ok," says the person hastily, "Give me the ball!"
"Thank ALL THE REALMS OF CREATION!" exclaims the elf, jumps to its little feet most daintily encased in snail tipped shoes; it snaps its little orange fingers and from nowhere, poof! the ball with red spots appears and bounces on the person's open laptop.
"Oh! Oh!" says the person as they struggle to catch the ball, save their laptop and as they fluff about, the elf starts to laugh and finally, the ball is safely held against the person's chest and they too, now really have to laugh.
Round it smooth it is, obviously never ever having been bounced for real. It is so new, it smells so new, and it is shiny, brilliant white and the red spots are so pretty.
The person strokes the ball and then they start to cry because it was quite true what the elf had said, that they remembered wanting this so much when they were just so little that you could quite easily think it was forgotten, or that a child that small can't want a thing as much as this.
"Hey," says the elf. "Nice that you're having a moment there with your ball, but can we get moving? What's next?"
The person looks all tearstained from their ball into the laughing gold flecked eyes of the small elf and before they know it, they say, "I want an ice cream. Strawberry. Big. A big strawberry ice cream."
The elf smiles, clicks its fingers and it's there, just as it should - in an old fashioned glass you might have found perhaps 40 years ago, perhaps maybe even more, in an old fashioned soda shop that would have sold such things.
"Now for the love of the creator, don't start the waterworks again," says the elf but they say it gently and they are smiling gently, too. "Here, eat some." And with considerable effort, the elf heaves the very large spoon upwards, thus encouraging the person to take it from them and to dip it into the ice cream, steamed up the old fashoned glass it has and it is starting to melt just a little.
It tastes divine and the person, still holding their ball in one hand and licking the ice cream off the spoon they hold in the other, is not crying anymore.
"Can I have a ring?" they ask, "A ring with a big round yellow stone, that when you look through it makes the world repeat itself?"
"Of course," the elf replies and makes the ring. The person now must leave the ball and so they make some room on their desk, move the laptop right aside and the ice cream too, for there might well be more to come, and they pick up the ring and turn it, look through it and they laugh. Because of this activity they miss the fact that the elf seems bigger now; in fact the bringing of the ring has definitely increased its size quite noticeably.
"Oh, oh!" cries the person, "I always wanted a caps gun! A really, REALLY loud one! One that will scare all the birds from the trees and flutter them like crazy!"
The gun arrives and when the person pulls the trigger, oh my! That is LOUD! The elf is laughing and pretending to fall over, and the person blows pretend smoke from the barrel of their gun.
And so it continued, all through the afternoon, until the room was full and way too full, and they went into the garden, and the person wished and the elf made it real, and with every thing they made, the elf grew bigger, and the wishes grew bigger, and when giant castles had been reached, herds of elephants and spaceships, they had moved on to a great desert plane where oceans could be made at a click of the elf's fingers.
When the sun began to set over the gigantic desert plane, strewn with all the items and existences you could only imagine, and a million that you probably couldn't, they stopped in delighted exhaustion and just lay down together on a terrace of a tower that overlooked it all and from where the sunset was a most spectacular and sweeping show.
They were both the same size now and the resemblance between the two had become quite noticeable.
"Wow," said the person, "Look at all that STUFF! I had just no idea I wanted so many things! I always thought I was not the type to ... well, to be wanting anything!"
The elf laughed and turned to lie more comfortably on its stomach.
"I haven't had such a good workout in years. Thank YOU!" it said and laughed. "And now? What do you want now?"
The person also turned over and looked into the elf's beautiful gold flecked eyes, that were so full of friendliness and simply joy that one just could not help but smile.
"What I want now? I want to not ever forget that I can want things. If you don't want anything, then there is nothing, is there. No reason to even be here."
The elf nodded and said, "Exactly. That's why I was so small when first I came to you. There is no reason for me at all and I was frankly getting scared that I would shrink down to the size of an ant, or a grain of sand, and then disappear altogether!"
"You know," said the person reflectively, "All I ever wanted was to hold the ball and play with it, to eat a bit of the ice cream to know what it was like. I never wanted any more than that. It wasn't much to ask, really, was it."
The elf said nothing and the person sat up and said, "Is there anything I can do for you in return? Anything at all? You have given me so much today, and to be sure, it wasn't the elephants or that giant ocean going clipper over there!"
The elf laughed in return. "Give me your promise that you will want what you want. I'll do what I can to get for you. Whatever it is. But you have to let me know. Promise?"
"Promise," said the person most wholeheartedly, and then they both smiled, cleaned up the mess they'd made in the desert and went home.
The Wishing Elf by SFX 2004