"The Grump Wizard"
by E.E. Rawls
The old wizard stared down at the village tucked in the valley. For years he’d been helping the villagers—increasing their crops, curing illness, bringing sunny skies, and much more. But what thanks had he gotten for it? Gossip—rumors that his beard was really a horse’s tail, that his ugly hat had fallen under a curse—and unease from the villagers who avoided him like the mosquito plague.
“I’ll show this ungrateful lot,” he growled on his doorstep overlooking the valley. Palms raised to the sky, the blue above turned gray as clouds rolled in. Darker and darker it became, with the boom of thunder and the patter of rain. The wizard chuckled evilly to himself, and shuffled back inside his lopsided abode.
It rained and it rained. Every day in the valley village was rain, from then on. Outdoors fun was drenched to a stop, gossipers couldn’t hang out and gossip, people grew gloomy and bitter. The sunshine had gone, and with it happiness, for months and months. The wizard grinned down from his abode, relishing the villagers’ miserable state. But little did he know that there was one boy who was unaffected by the curse of rain…
Mal stared out the window of the kitchen, watching the rain with a smile on his face. When he saw one of his friends appear with an umbrella, he bolted up. “I’m going out for a bit, Ma. Be right back!”
Mal dashed outdoors with his hood up, eager to play. “Is everybody at the pagoda?”
His friend Benny shook his head. “Most aren’t coming. I told you no one wants to play in soggy rain, anymore. We’re tired of it, man. Half of us caught colds last time!”
“Oh stop being so negative, Benny. Let’s have some fun!” Mal ran ahead, splashing through puddles. But only two others friends were under the pagoda when he reached it, and they didn’t look happy to be there. “What’s up guys? Up for a game of football tag?”
One glared, “Last time Josh twisted his ankle, and I fell and fractured my arm.”
The second said, “I brought a cool, new board game. Let’s just play that, instead.”
Mal threw up his hands. “Seriously? You guys are that scared of the rain, now?” Benny finally caught up, and shook out his umbrella beneath the overhang while Mal ranted. “We can’t let some weather rule our lives! Tom, you love football tag more than board games. This isn’t like you!”
Tom cut his gaze down at the floor. “The rain is cursed—everybody’s saying it. We outta be staying indoors where it’s safe…”
“Cursed? Rain is rain,” Mal argued.
Benny shook his head. “He’s right, Mal. I’ve heard the rumor about an old wizard on top the hill. He’s got strange powers. They’re saying all this is his doing.”
Mal stood akimbo. “Hm, why don’t we go ask him to put an end to it, then?”
Benny, Tom and Jen all stared at him, the pattering rain the only sound.
“Are you outta your head?” Benny blared. “T-talk to a wizard with evil powers? Who does that!”
Mal crossed his arms. “I’ll do it.”
Another moment of silence. “You’re crazy, man,” muttered Tom. “Just come back to my house and we’ll have plenty fun playing board games, where it’s safe.”
“Not fun enough for me. If my friends, and the whole village, are afraid to have real fun and live anymore, then I’m gonna set things right. Somebody has to do it.” Mal turned to face the rain, and took in a breath.
“Wow, you’re brave, Mal. Brave and stupid.”
Mal heard Benny’s voice, and waved back a hand as he bravely stepped out into the downpour. He could feel his friends watching from the pagoda as he trekked up the street that led out of the village, then turned onto the side path that weaved up the hills, where the wizard was rumored to live.
The village was a small toy the farther Mal climbed, shoes sloshing and sticking in the dirt of the path as it angled up and up and up. He shivered in his jacket, blinking away raindrops. A lopsided tower came slowly into view, reaching higher and wider the closer he got, until he stepped under an awning that depicted an angry fish and he pressed his finger to the doorbell button within a stone dragon’s open mouth.
The bell whistled, and Mal stepped back as a commotion of falling pans and then stomping feet approached the door. The purple-painted door screeched open. “What in tarnation? Did that darn mouse go chewing on the bell again? I ought to turn it into a frog—” The old man stopped speaking when his bearded head peered out the door to see Mal and not a mouse. He stared hard and his mouth bobbed like a fish, as if seeing a human had shocked him speechless.
“Excuse me, sir, but are you the old wizard said to live up in these hills?” asked Mal.
“Yes,” the wizard said after a while, “What’s it to you?”
“I came here to ask if you could put a stop to this rain. I’m sure you can do it! Please, it’d mean the world to me and my friends. We can’t play outside like we used to, and everybody’s miserable.”
“Ha! Do what?” The wizard laughed. “Why would I go and undo a curse that I went and made myself? You villagers deserve it! All those years I spent serving you, and all you did was make jokes about me and pay me scrap feed!”
“But I’ve never made jokes about you. I didn’t even know you existed for real before today,” Mal protested.
The wizard’s eyes narrowed. “You may not, but your parents certainly do.”
“Why should I suffer for what they’ve done? C’mon, wizard sir, bring back the blue sky.”
“No! They deserve it!”
“Even parents don’t punish a naughty child forever. You’ve gotta bring back the sky!”
“No is no is no!” The wizard perched his fists on his hips. “Now scram, before I decide to turn you into a toad instead of that mouse.”
Mal folded his arms. “It must be lonely living way high up here.”
The wizard’s angry forehead rose a fraction. “W-what are you trying to say?”
“Well, it’s no wonder villagers didn’t befriend you. How could they, when you live so far away? Did you even hang out with people while you were in the village working? You can’t make friends if you don’t spend time with anybody.”
The wizard’s jaw and beard wobbled up and down. “Well I…sort of…now and then I’d…” He gripped the doorknob. “Shut it, kid, and stop dirtying my doorstep with your shoes!”
Mal caught the door before it could slam shut. “I’ll be your friend. We can start now! What card games do you like?”
Later that day, Mal returned with a deck of cards and freshly baked calzones from his home, and didn’t wait but yanked open the purple door. The wizard was about to growl when he showed him the food, and the aroma must have appealed to the old man’s stomach.
That evening they ate and played cards, and the man, though grumpy, wasn’t as bad as the rumors had said. If anything, he just seemed socially flawed and a misfit. Mal decided not to press the rain issue yet, but to wait.
Mal came back with dinner the next day, and then the day after that, until the old wizard had given up on trying to frighten him off and accepted that the annoying boy was there to stay. And it was then that Mal dared to bring up the rain, once more. “Could you bring out some sky tomorrow? Doesn’t have to be much. My friend’s having a birthday, and it’d be great to spend it outdoors.”
The wizard combed his hand down his beard. “Some sky?”
“Just a tiny bit.”
“Well…I suppose a tiny bit wouldn’t hurt anything, for a brief while. It’d still be cloudy and gloomy for the most part.”
Mal beamed a smile.
“Very well. Just a bit.”
The next day came, and the wizard spread his hands to the grim clouds. Wind picked up and battered the clouds until a patch of sky broke through. Ah, the sky. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed seeing it, himself. The curse had affected him along with the village.
The clouds swirled around the blue gap, before spiraling back into place and darkening the landscape. “What?” The wizard thrust his palms again, but the clouds only darkened and the wind picked up with the rain. “It’s not listening to me? How can it not listen!” But no matter what he tried, the storm grew worse, and he fled indoors.
An hour passed and a loud knock at the door made him rise. The boy Mal dashed inside, soaking wet. “You’ve got to stop the weather!” he shouted.
“Now, see here you rascal—” the wizard began.
“It’s flooding! The village will be swept away!” The wizard stilled as Mal looked near to tears and desperate. “Please, you’ve gotta save everybody.”
He was about to admit that he couldn’t, and just leave it at that, but the village meant the world to Mal, it was his home. He should at least try something before giving up.
“Alright, alright! I’ll see what I can do.” Mal dashed back out into the rain, and the wizard followed, donning his wide hat. The scene of the village below showed water rising, the river swelling as villagers crowded onto their rooftops. What could he do when the clouds refused to listen to him?
A wall of water broke from the river and rushed toward the homes. “You have to save them!” cried Mal.
The old wizard sucked in a full breath of air, and shot out his hands, lifting palms upward, fingers curled. He lifted and lifted, until Mal yelped in surprise as the village houses began to move and lift up as a giant raft expanded underneath them. Water drained from the raft and the houses were lifted clear, bobbing together like rafters on a massive float. The villagers screamed at first, then realized they’d been saved from the river flooding the entire area around them.
The wizard concentrated on maintaining the spell, until the rain slowed to a stop, and finally bits of sky peeked out. The water receded, and he withdrew the raft—plopping the houses back on dry ground. He sat down, exhausted, and Mal cheered and gave him an unexpected hug. “You did it! And look, the sky is back!” Mal grabbed his hand and began pulling him along with him to the village.
The wizard was hesitant to show his face to the villagers again, but couldn’t tell Mal no. When they reached the houses, he braced himself for a tongue lashing, but instead Mal’s friends cheered and gathered round him. Other villagers then, too, thanked him for saving them, and even offered hot supper.
“Finally getting appreciated,” he mumbled, and grinned.
“He’s a good wizard, see? Don’t believe every bad rumor you hear,” Mal told his friends. “Come on, have supper at my house, sir wizard!” He took his hand. “It’s time you started making friends and stopped being cooped up in that house high on the hill.”
Copyright 2017 by E.E. Rawls