Tall Tale One: Horses Sweeter Than Wine

(written 4/1/90; Webbed 10/11/95)

This is the first in an extremely irregular series of three original Tall Tales I posted to the alt.callahans newsgroup in the early ’90s. If you’re not familiar with the way alt.callahans works, read the FAQ for background; if you’re not familiar with the Tall Tale concept, read Spider Robinson’s stories of Callahan’s Bar.

A lightly-bearded young man in a red t-shirt and bright blue pants steps through the door and nearly drops one of the three gold-and-white pins he’s juggling, but lunges forward and keeps them going. He makes it almost all the way to the bar before completely losing control and dropping all three at once. He picks them up, sheepishly.

“I’m a little out of practice—haven’t kept up with my juggling. Either literally or metaphorically. Could I have a glass of water, please, Mike?”

Mike hands him a glass and takes the proffered dollar bill without comment, although it’s folded into the shape of a ring. “A dollar for a glass of water,” muses the newcomer. “Good thing it’s only virtual money.”

He sits and sips his water while catching up on events. Finally, he steps to the chalk line to speak.

“Hi, all,” he begins. "My name’s Jed; people call me anything from Jedediah (which is my full name) to Jedrian. A couple of you know me, either virtually or in ‘real’ life. I hung out here for a while, back when this place started, but haven’t had time lately. I probably won’t have time again anytime soon, either, but it is nice to stop in and visit occasionally.

"The tone of recent conversations here has been pretty serious. In the past ten minutes I’ve heard things from some of you which I probably wouldn’t have heard for weeks outside of here, if at all. In particular, sorry to hear about your mono, Hildebaby; hope you get better.

“But that’s not what I came here to talk about. I hope this won’t offend anyone who wants to be serious. There was a recent spate of grape puns on our local bulletin boards, and they inspired the following story. I thought I’d share it with y’all.”

He takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and reads aloud:

Once upon a time, in a small English town called Rath, there lived a vintner, a man of Cockney extraction who’d done well for himself, by the name of Corky. He was known far and wide for both his and his wines’ good taste. He had wines for every occasion and to suit every pocketbook; his port wine was as renowned at the nearby “’arbor” (as he called it) as his special starboard wine was (in all the right circles).

But one day, just before harvest, a killer frost hit his vines. His crop was utterly destroyed. The mayor was to come to dinner that night, but he had no wine laid by to serve with the meal. He was sitting out on the front stoop, bemoaning his lot, when a traveler chanced to pass by on a dappled grey mare.

“What is the matter, friend? What makes thee weep so?” the traveler inquired. When Corky finished recounting his tale, the man thought for a moment, and then said, “My horse has magical powers. For a small fee, I will supply you with a good wine.”

“Anythin’ you ask!” said Corky. “But ’ow can a ’orse ’elp?”

“The sounds my horse makes are so melodious that they can be caught and distilled into the very finest wine available. Let me demonstrate.” And so saying, the traveler stroked the horse’s neck thrice.

At once, the mare leaned back her head and whinnied beautifully. But the air was so cold that the sound froze solid, dropped to the ground, and shattered with a crystalline crash.

“Quickly!” exclaimed the traveler, picking up the largest splinter he could find. “Take this piece and put it into an empty wine bottle! It will supply you with enough wine to last through dinner.”

“’ere, then,” said Corky, after he’d put the frozen sound safely away. “’ere’s a piece o’ gold now, and I’ll give you another if you’ll come back after I dine tonight, if the mayor’s sympathetic.”

It was hours later when the traveler returned to Corky’s house. “Hello!” he called out. “And how did milord mayor like my Bessy’s wine?”

Corky came to the porch and cursed, and threw a bottle at the traveler. It hit the road and shattered. Liquid seeped out onto the ground. “You bleedin’ idiot!” he yelled. “The mayor said it was a good thing my bleedin’ crop failed, and he’s never comin’ back!”

The traveler, surprised, replied, “Why, whatever is the matter? I supplied you with the wine you wanted, did I not?”

“Oh, you supplied me with wine, all right,” Corky said. “But it was the wrong bleedin’ kind! We had pasta for dinner, so it should’ve been a red wine—but what you gave me was a shard o’ neigh!”

Jed finishes off his water and tucks the paper back in his pocket, surreptitiously preparing to duck if anyone starts throwing things. He says, “And no, I’m not going to try juggling these glasses. My roommate does glasses and eggs and such—says its easier if you know you’d better not drop them—but not me.” He tosses the glass toward the fireplace, where it shatters.

“To . . . Well, I don’t think I’ll say. But a toast anyway.”

He walks back to the bar, where he’d left his clubs lying on the floor. With his right foot, he flips each one into the air, catching the first two and starting to juggle as the third drops toward his hand. He seems pleased that that worked. “Nice to see you all again,” he says. “I’ll stop by again soon if I can find the time. ’Bye, all.” Whistling “Roseville Fair,” and still juggling, he walks out the door.