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The Magic Knapsack
By Henry Herz
An elderly tinker rode a cart laden with odds and ends. Townsfolk invariably found something irresistible, because neither the tinker nor his goods were in the least bit ordinary. The driver was the Devil and his wares hexed to abet his relentless efforts to corrupt souls. Seven deadly sins, one for each day of the week.
Monty lived on a small farm with his parents, a dog, and his only toy, a stuffed dragon sewed by his mother. The boy cherished them all like flowers love the sun.
Today’s deadly sin shall be sloth. The Devil dismounted and slapped the mare. Feigning infirmity, he hobbled after it, waving his hands. “Help. Help. My cart!”
His cloud-watching forgotten, Monty gave chase, grabbed the reins, and drew the mare to a stop with gentle hands and soothing words.
“Many thanks,” gasped the Devil. “This cart holds all I own.” He extended an arm at the sundries. “As thanks, please choose one item.”
Monty gasped at his unexpected good fortune, for impoverished boys rarely receive gifts. “Thank you, sir.” He bowed and chose a large knapsack. “This could come in handy.”
“Oh, you have no idea,” agreed the Devil. “It can be quite the labor saver.” And encourage sloth thereby. “Now, I must be on my way.”
What a lucky break, thought Monty. He slipped on the knapsack and climbed an apple tree. Picking apples, he plopped them in his pack. This is wonderful. After filling the pack, he scrambled down the trunk.
Monty had skipped breakfast, and his empty stomach rumbled. “I wish I had an apple pie.”
Huh? Monty peered inside the pack. His eyes widened. An apple pie! How can that be? It looked real and smelled real. He took a tentative taste. Delicious! He ate the rest, just to be sure.
The tinker’s pack must be magic! His shoulders slumped. But now I must pick apples a second time. A smile spread on his face. Or must I? “I wish this pack was filled with apples.” Nothing.
Hmmm. Maybe there are rules to magic. Monty sighed. Eventually, he hauled his harvest home. He played chase with the dog. Running past a table, Monty brushed against a glass vase passed down from his great-grandmother. The vase teetered and fell.
Oh, no! The pie in his stomach soured. He hurriedly put the pieces in his knapsack. Mom’s gonna be so sad. What can I do to make this right? Maybe the pack can help. “I wish for a repaired glass vase from great-grandma.” Nothing. His throat tightened. If I had money, I could buy another vase…
“Monty,” called his mother from the yard. “There’s corn in the bin by the barn. Please sell it in town. Every bagful is worth one copper.”
“Yes, Mom.” He stomped to the bin. I can only haul one bag at a time. A bunch of trips to town will take hours. Mom will surely notice the vase is missing before I finish. He sighed, dutifully filling his knapsack with ears of corn. When he reconsidered his mother’s words, he said, “I wish for one copper.”
Poof! A copper coin tumbled from the pack.
“Ha!” Monty jumped up and down. Soon, I’ll have money to buy Mom a new vase. His heart racing, he loaded and wished until twenty coppers clinked in his pocket. Monty scratched his head. Apples to pie, corn to its market price? Maybe I only get back something equal in value to what I put in.
He’d taken only one step toward town when his mother cried, “Monty, please chop up that birch tree that fell near the fence. Dad lopped the branches off yesterday, but the sun set before he could cut firewood.”
“Yes, Mom.” Monty bunched his fists. That’ll take hours. He sprinted to the heap of branches his father had piled next to the fallen tree. These boughs are longer than the pack, but maybe the magic will help. Monty seized a six-foot-long branch and shoved one end into the pack. He kept pushing, and the knapsack magically engulfed the entire branch. Monty’s heart raced. He loaded the branches, finishing by drawing the pack over one end of the fallen tree. The trunk gradually vanished as Monty dragged the magic knapsack parallel to the ground. Please work. “I wish for cut firewood.”
Poof! A stack of firewood appeared.
He’d taken only two steps toward town when his mother called. “Monty, please water the animals.”
“Yes, Mom.” Monty grimaced. I’ll never get to town before dark. His eyes glistened as he trudged toward the stream. Could the magic knapsack help?
He positioned the open end of the pack facing upstream to allow the inflow of water. After a few minutes, Monty yanked his pack out of the water and raced to the trough. “I wish for a trough full of water!”
Poof! Fresh water filled the trough.
“Ha!” Now if I could just—
He’d taken only three steps. “Monty, it’s time to wash for dinner.”
His shoulders slumped. He hurried inside. Should I put the twenty coppers in the pack and wish for a new vase? But we need the corn money for other things.
Monty raced through the house, hunting for something of value equal to the vase. But it can’t be something Mom and Dad will miss. His kind heart pounded in his chest.
Monty spied his beloved stuffed dragon. But… that’s my only toy… His throat tightened.
I don’t want Mom to be sad. Monty hugged his toy one last time, and placed it gently in the knapsack. “I wish for a repaired glass vase from great-grandma.”
“Be careful, dear,” said his mother, serving roast pork garnished with apple slices. “It’s irreplaceable.”
“Yes, Mom.” He wiped away a tear…
Apples? A smile dawned. I wonder how many apples a stuffed dragon toy is worth?
Far away, the Devil sighed. “You win some, you lose some.”
Henry Herz's speculative fiction short stories include Out, Damned Virus (Daily Science Fiction), Bar Mitzvah on Planet Latke (Coming of Age, Albert Whitman & Co.), The Crowe Family (Castle of Horror V, Castle Bridge Media), Demon Hunter Vashti (The Jewish Book of Horror, Denver Horror Collective), Alien with a Bad Attitude (Strangely Funny VIII, Mystery and Horror LLP), The Case of the Murderous Alien (Spirit Machine, Air and Nothingness Press), Maria & Maslow (Highlights for Children), A Proper Party (Ladybug Magazine). He's written ten picture books, including the critically acclaimed I Am Smoke.