Another Magpie Tale
I picked my way along the beach gingerly. I loved the sound of the waves and the brief glints of sunshine reflecting from the water. Even the seagulls' raucous calls evoked a feeling of nostalgia. But the rocky beach hurt my feet. The smooth sandy shores of my childhood were far away. Sighing, I tried to make the best of this new coast. I saw some quite attractive rocks as I tiptoed along. Driftwood stacked itself in twisted fortresses higher up the beach. The giant kelp splayed on the shore was, well, interesting.
I was walking closer to the water's edge, looking for smoother ground, when a vigorous wave caught me by surprise. The frigid water swirled around my ankles, then retreated. I looked down and saw a shell between my feet, half buried in the gritty sand. It looked like a beauty. I picked it up, found a dry log to perch on, and tried to rub the sand off the shell for a better look. Washing it in the surf would have been more efficient, but I was not about to touch that cold water again.
The shell was unbroken, with more color in it than any I had seen so far that day. After I had removed most of the dirt, I started to polish it with the edge of my shirt. The shell grew warmer and warmer until I had to put it down, sucking on my fingertips. Maybe the cold water would be useful. But before I could stand up, a plume of steam burst from the end of the shell. When the steam blew away, it revealed a small, scaly creature standing pompously on the driftwood.
"What is your will, oh . . ." He coughed out a series of bubbles.
I forgot all about my burned fingers. "Are you a genie?" I asked.
"A genie? Hardly. I am," he said, making a complicated bow, "a sea sprite."
"Do you grant wishes?"
The sprite sighed. "You get straight to the point, don't you? Yes, I must grant you one wish before I can return to my shell." He shivered in the breeze. "Perhaps you had better hurry and ask."
"Can you give me anything I want?"
He preened a bit. "I generally provide satisfaction."
"Could you introduce me to my true love?"
"What's your type? Fins, flippers, or tentacles?"
"Never mind. Would world peace be within your power?"
He looked confused.
"Okay, how about lower gasoline prices?"
He raised a slimy eyebrow. "Would that involve more offshore drilling?"
"Sorry. How about gold? I've heard there's lots of gold in seawater."
"In molecular form."
"I can't spend that. Maybe a year's supply of salt?"
"It would be heavy without the water to carry it."
I thought about it for a minute. "What sort of wishes do you usually grant?"
"The wishes of sea creatures, of course."
"And what do the denizens of the deep desire?"
"Most have simple wants. Chain dogfish usually want to go for a walk. Nurse sharks ask for more patience. Anglerfish are generally happy to have someone to listen to their stories. The sea squirts will sing 'If I only had a brain' all day, but I can always distract them with a good gill cleaning."
"And the less simple wishes?"
"Squid just want to be published. They squirt ink everywhere in their excitement. What a mess! And don't get me started on dolphins."
"So, you prefer simple, sea-related wishes?"
The sprite nodded vigorously, and shivered again. "Yes, and I'll grant you yours if you grant me mine."
"I'm not a sprite!"
"No, but you have hands. I wish you would toss my shell back into the water. It's too dry up here."
"Oh, I think I can handle that."
"Then, what is your will, oh friend of the sea?"
"I'd like a nice salmon dinner. Um, cooked, please."
He looked at me quizzically, then shrugged. "Very well. You shall receive it after returning me to my home."
Steam appeared again, sucking him back into the shell. When I heard a small pop, I knew it was sealed, just like one of my mother's canning jars. I did my best softball windup, and threw the shell as far as I could. "Good luck with the dolphins," I called.
Looking down, I saw another small cloud. When it cleared, I saw a mother-of-pearl plate, piled with steamed herring and krill, covered in a light sauce of zooplankton.
"Thanks," I called, and sighed again.