In the darkest, dampest, foggiest, and smelliest part of the forest, there lived a tiny witch the size of the tip of a hair. She lived comfortably in the sap of a tree. She had experience in almost everything and enjoyed nagging her slaves into molding her sap palace.
But she was also an impressive scientist; these slaves were her own creation painstakingly prepared from raindrops. She gave them limbs made of ice and flower seeds, and forced them to do her housework. She was so powerful she could rally the wind and turn it into chariots or locomotives and spend months on vacation if that was what pleased her.
But this tiny witch didn’t like vacations; instead she worked day and night on her spells, each one nastier and more confusing than the one before. Everything she needed to cast her spells she could find in the swampy, steamy forest, except for perhaps the most important ingredient of all: normal people. In order for her spells to work she would have to cast them on normal people.
And so after many years of practice, one day she packed up all her pots and pans and spoons onto the wind and flew out of the forest forever.
When she came to the first town on her old map, she found a nice quiet place under a stream to unpack her things and set up a workshop. Then, after dinner she made herself as large as an overgrown baby, so all the normal people could see her and believe she was real.
After she was quite satisfied with the way she looked she went out to the road and set up a table with cups and spoons, and nailed a sign to a post that said: FREE SOUP. She did not have to wait long before a little man came to the table. He certainly looked normal enough, and this pleased the tiny witch very much.
‘Free soup, huh?’, the little man said cautiously.
‘Yes. Will you try some my sweet, delicious little potato?’ pitched the tiny witch with excitement. She had never cast a spell on a normal person before and her heart was quivering with anticipation.
‘What kind of soup is it?’ the little man asked as he put on his spectacles and peered into the pot.
‘It’s a special soup, made from metal, bark and secret whispers. It is said that the recipe was stolen from fairies in a far-away land. You could make it yourself, but it wouldn’t be as special as mine unless you used my special spoons and all my special thoughts. They give it the proper taste. Try it, I guarantee you will beg for more.’
‘Foo! Bark? Metal? Whispers? What nonsense! Who would dare try such a thing? Take it from me, baby-face, if you want to do a good business, try selling something everyone likes: Confusion pies, now that is some tasty licking! Anyway, goodbye and good luck!’ And the little man ran away holding his stomach up with his knees, as was his habit.
The witch was sad, but she had learned an important lesson. Next time someone asked about the soup, she would not say what it was made of, or if forced to talk she would lie.
Soon another little man came to the table and asked the same kind of questions, ‘Free soup? What’s in it?’ Well, no matter how hard the witch tried, she could not tell a lie. ‘Metal, bark, and whispers,’ she sighed.
‘Metal, bark and whispers? Who would dare try such silliness?’ And the little man ran away with his hands in the air and his tongue around his neck, as was the fashion of the time.
The tiny witch did not want to go to sleep disappointed. She decided to stay after dark and lit a candle. Soon another little man came to the table. ‘Free soup? It can’t be normal, what’s in it?’
The witch moaned as she slumped back in her chair. ‘Metal, bark and whispers.’
‘What! That certainly is not normal. No normal person would ever eat that.’ And the funny little man ran away so fast his chin got stuck in his mouth and his feet were scratching his back.
The tiny witch bit her teeth and decided to stay one more hour. Then another little man came to her table. ‘Free soup, sounds good. What’s in it?’
The witch didn’t even look up and mumbled, ‘Metal, bark and whispers.’
The little man fell to the ground bouncing on his tummy, ‘Wow that sounds just right and yummy. Come on woman, fill my tummy!’
The witch couldn’t believe herself and, being overjoyed, leaped out of her chair to fill up a large cup of the steaming broth.
The strange little man drank it down and demanded more right away. Soon the whole pot was empty. The witch calculated that if her spell were going to work the little man would start to howl and itch before starting to drip and crystallize into a diamond.
But the little man did nothing but burp. He did not turn into a diamond at all but instead remained his dirty old self. The witch was stunned. She had studied for many years; how could she have made a mistake?
She slumped back into her chair and began sulking when she remembered what one of the little men had said earlier: ‘No normal person would taste this soup.’ Therefore this little man wasn’t normal. It was hopeless: no normal person would ever drink soup made of metal, bark and whispers. And as this soup needed to be drunk by a normal person, whom this dirty little man clearly was not, the spell did not work on him.
When the tiny witch realized this she flew into a rage and dropped to the ground in a burst of tears. The little man, for his part, could not understand why the witch was so upset. As far as he could tell the soup was a bloated success.
In fact, he liked it so much he shyly invited her to spend the rest of her life with him. ‘I can chop the wood, collect the metal and whisper every word in the dictionary into your ears and you can make the soup and we will never fear hunger again. We will be happy long after we die!’
The witch could not believe what she was hearing. She explained what her evil intentions were but the strange little man did not seem to mind; in fact he found her profession quite interesting and wanted to know more about it.
The tiny witch had never been loved before. She didn’t even know it was possible for a witch to be loved, but she liked the idea, so she went home with him and they fell in love some more, so to speak.
Because the little man sort of loved the tiny witch, he wished her to be successful in her spell-casting business, and so, after he had collected a year’s supply of metal, bark and whispers, he set out to find her a normal person to cast her spells on. He knew that he had to find someone with either a weak will who could easily be persuaded or someone who was so preoccupied that they would not notice what was in the soup. He thought that it would be easier to find someone of the second persuasion.
He went up and down, left and right, back and forth, and even beyond himself, but every map he had stolen was inside out!
A lot of time had managed to slither out of the little man, when one day while trekking on a thin road he chanced upon a little giant who liked to cut the heads off of happy people. The little man thought that this was normal enough and greeted the little giant by saying, ‘I am a sad person, would you like to come to my house and have some soup? That would make me happy, then you can cut off my head, then you’d be happy which would make my wife happy, and once you’ve cut her head off, we’d all be happy. Would you like that?’
The little giant chuckled and thought it a splendid idea. On the way to the little man’s house, the little giant boasted about his many adventures with his two brothers, and how all three had beheaded many happy people in many fine places where the sun was always warm and welcome.
The little man loved tales, and this pleased him, but he didn’t let on so much for fear of losing his head.
After several bad storms they arrived at the little man’s house. Unfortunately, though, he had quite forgotten about the piece of sharp metal he had been storing over the front door. And because the door was smaller than the little giant, the sharp piece of metal cut the giant’s head clean away as he entered.
The tiny witch was very upset, because she had been waiting forever for her little man to return with a normal person. ‘We’ll never find a normal person! I’ll never get to try my spells. We might as well die!’
The little man was disturbed to hear his lovely wife talk like that and even more so to see her so distraught and desperate. She was biting her teeth and they were bleeding!
‘Just wait, my dear! The little giant said that he had two large brothers just like himself. I will go and find them and bring them here so you can test your spells. All you must do is wait.’ The witch’s loving little husband spoke so fast that she hardly understood a word he said. But she waited.
The tiny witch had never studied waiting but as she loved her husband she believed he would do as he said. With renewed hope she pulled out a book and started to study how to wait quietly.
The little man set out on the road again, looking for one or both of the little giant’s brothers. It did not take long, as their whole family came from a long line of braggers. Moreover they were known and feared over the entire land and sea.
The little man soon found one of them on a platform boasting of the deeds of his two brothers and himself, as he did not know one of them had quit life. The little man politely walked up to the little giant and greeted him by saying, ‘I am a sad person, would you like to come to my house and have some soup? That would make me happy, then you can cut my head off, then you’d be happy which would make my wife happy, and once you’ve cut her head off, then we’d all be happy. Would you like that?’
The large man agreed and went with the little man, drooling and sharpening his blade the whole way. But when they arrived, the little man again forgot to warn the large man about the sharp metal that was above the doorway and as quick as it takes to die, the little giant lost his head when he entered.
Now the tiny witch was in tears. ‘That’s it, that’s it, that’s it!’ she screamed. ‘Let’s just kill ourselves. We are failures!’
‘Now, now dear, don’t speak like that. Have faith. We’ll find a normal person for you to cast your spells on. Please have patience.’ And he set off straight away to find the third little giant.
By lunchtime the little man had found him. He was cutting people’s heads off at a wedding. ‘Uhmm, excuse me, sir,’ the little man said to the drooling hairy little giant, ‘but I am a sad person, would you like to come to my house and have some soup? That would make me happy, then you can cut my head off, then you’d be happy which would make my wife happy and once you’ve cut her head off, we’d all be happy. Would you like that?’
‘Yes, how kind of you,’ the little giant with the bloodied axe cooed, ‘But first let me finish here, these people are so happy that they are losing their heads!’ The little giant laughed like thunder. The loving little man waited patiently by the sea and counted the waves till dusk.
After several storms they finally caught sight of the little man’s house. But damn forgetfulness! The little man, overwhelmed with his foolishness, again forgot to warn the third brother about the sharp metal over the front doorway. Never lowering his head for anything, the third giant had it promptly removed as he entered the little man’s house.
Fortunately for the little man, his wife was not home at the time; she was out collecting bad air for one of her spells. Quickly the little man took the three bodies and the three heads out to the road to be later picked up by the garbage men, then he raced back inside and tried to think up a good story, because he did not want his wife to kill herself.
Just as he was thinking up the climax to his tale there was a knock on the door. The little man was surprised to see a tiny man with a little beard standing on his doorstep. ‘What do you want,’ the little man asked the little stranger.
‘Umm… do you live here, sir?’
‘Yes, what do you want?’
The tiny man with the little beard looked not only nervous but a little scared, ‘Did you, sir, kill those three large men who cut the heads off of happy people?’
‘Yes but I didn’t mean to, I—’
But before the little man could finish hundreds of tiny people crawled out of the woods and bushes, jumping and singing for joy. They were all so happy to be able to be happy without worrying about losing their heads. They called the little man a hero, a king and an angel, and they demanded to have feasts and festivals in his name.
It was quite overwhelming but luckily the little man’s wife returned from the forest and wanted to know why all those people were dancing inside and outside and under and over her house. It was then the little man had an idea. He told his wife to start cooking her famous metal, bark and whispers soup. None of the townspeople would refuse, he thought, no matter what they were being served.
And he was right. Not one of the little townspeople wished to upset their hero, and they all sat down at the table and ate the soup. Before long they were all howling and itching and then dripping and crystallizing into diamonds.
More remarkable than this, though, was the tiny witch. The little man was astounded to see that his wife, too, started to howl and itch and drip and crystallize not into a diamond, but into a normal person. She was no longer a witch. Within an instant she was a mighty, muscular princess, the height of three husbands.
‘What is this?’ he exclaimed.
‘I was under a terrible spell for many years,’ she said, ‘and the only way to break the spell was to turn normal people into diamonds.’
The little man was amazed and loved the witch even more than before.
‘But what I don’t understand is who put you under such a dreadful spell?’ he asked over a steaming broth of metal, bark and whispers soup later that night after they had finished counting the diamonds.
‘I can’t say, for if I do I will be cursed all over again and the only way to break the curse a second time would be to kidnap three angels and a fairy and turn them into their opposites.’
‘Better to leave well enough alone then.’ He was happy in any case. To celebrate, he built a table for her and on it they ate tons of metal, bark and whispers soup because with a little salt and pepper it was really quite tasty.
The diamonds became famous for their opulence and pricelessness and everyone lived long, rich and happy lives with no fear of the three little giants ever taking their heads again.
But nothing lasts forever, just long enough to forget about.