One day, Michael Smith decided to go for a walk in the woods, but when he got there, he found that the woods had been cleared away to make room for a shopping center. All that was left of the beautiful forest was one scrubby, scraggly, skinned-up stick, standing in the midst of acres of freshly bulldozed earth.
“This is terrible,” said Michael. “All that’s left of the beautiful forest is this skinny stick.” And he gave it a disgusted kick.
“All right, that’s it!” said a voice that sounded as though it was coming from the stick. “That is the absolute end. I have had it with being shoved around! I’m not taking in any more!”
Michael Smith was undone. His world was wobbling out of orbit. He looked around trying to make sense of things, but there was no making sense of it. He looked at the stick. “Did you just say something?” he asked.
The stick was silent.
Michael raised his voice. “I said, did you say something?”
Not a word from the stick.
Michael walked closer to the stick and peered down at it. There was nothing special about it, except for its well-beaten appearance. It looked as though the road graders and bulldozers had been driving over it for weeks. Michael kicked it.
The stick didn’t move, but Michael did. End over end, with two loops and a one-and-a-half twist, and down on his rear in a cloud of dust. For a while, Michael just lay there, too stunned to move. Then he sat up slowly and looked over at the stick.
“I warned him,” the stick was saying. “I told him I was fed up.”
“Yes,” a voice answered from nowhere, “but you know the rules. You can’t let your feelings get the best of you. He found you, and you must treat him with the respect due a new master.”
“But he doesn’t respect me,” protested the stick.
“Never the less,” said the voice, “those are the rules.”
“Wait a second here,” said Michael. “Can somebody please tell me what is going on? I swear I hear voices, or have I just stepped over the line?”
“Apologize,” said the voice.
“What for?” asked Michael. “What have I done?”
“Not you,” said the voice.
“I’m sorry,” said the stick. “I shouldn’t have done that to you. You found me. I should have been more respectful, and kept my emotions under control.”
“That’s better,” said the voice.
“Look. If it’s not too much, I would really like to know what is happening here,” said Michael, picking himself up and walking to the stick.
“Oh, yes,” said the voice. “Well, it seems that you have stumbled upon a Magic Stick, sometimes called a Magic Wand, and it hasn’t taken too kindly to being found. It’s had a rough few weeks and is not in the best of spirits. It’s really not so bad once you get to know it.”
“But who are you?” asked Michael, “and why can’t I see you?”
“My name is Horace,” said Horace, “and you can’t see me because I’m invisible in this particular range of light frequencies.”
Michael sat there, trying to take it all in.
“You see,” said Horace, “I work with those in charge of overseeing the placement and practice of Magic Wands, or Sticks, Potions, Spells, Curses and Incantations. In the old days it wasn’t a problem, but with the population explosion, someone is constantly getting in trouble with magical paraphernalia. We are supposed to keep things straight.”
“You mean there really is such a thing as magic?” asked Michael.
“Why, certainly, my boy,” said Horace.
“And this thing is a Magic Stick?”
“Watch it, Bud,” said the stick.
“You watch it,” said Horace. “This lad is your new master. You must do whatever he says.”
“Is that true?” asked Michael. “Anything I say?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Horace. “All you have to do is pick up the stick, announce what you want to happen and wave it in the air. Anything you want is yours for the asking.”
“Is there any limit to the number of things I can ask for?” asked Michael, “you know, like getting only three wishes?”
“No limit whatsoever,” said Horace.
“And it’s mine forever?”
“For as long as you care to claim it.”
“Wow,” said Michael, grabbing up the stick. “I want the forest back, just as it was!” And he began to wave the stick in the air.
“Uh, not so fast there,” said Horace. “I’m afraid you can’t have the forest back.”
“What?” said Michael. “You said I could have anything I wanted.”
“You did say that,” said the stick. “Your very words.”
“Okay,” said Horace, “but I also said that I’m in charge of keeping things straight. Now, you can’t replace the forest because the contractor would just tear it up again; not to mention the local consternation it would cause. The government would get involved. There would be studies. Money spent. Resources and energy wasted. I can’t let you do it.”
“Then I’ll get rid of cancer and heart disease and all the illnesses there are,” said Michael, giving the stick a wave.
“Can’t do that either,” said the stick.
“What do you mean?”, said Michael.
“Sorry, again,” said Horace. “Too much rides on illness to get rid of it. Too many jobs, too many lives.”
“But illness takes lives,” said Michael.
“True enough,” said Horace, “but it also supports lives. Just think of the nurses and the doctors and the hospitals and the insurance companies that depend upon sick people for their own support. You can’t make things better for some without making things worse for others.”
“Well, just what can I do?” asked Michael.
“You could stir up a milk sake for yourself,” said the stick.
“What about ridding the world of war, and warts, and poison ivy, and mosquitoes?” asked Michael.
“Afraid not,” said Horace. “Things are so delicately balanced, these days. So inter-related, so interdependent, that it is difficult to do anything without undoing something else. And you must not tamper with the forces which hold life together.”
“What he’s saying,” said the stick, “is that you can’t do something that is good for some people without doing something that is bad for others. And doing something that is bad is against the rules.”
“Making any substantive changes,” said Horace, “would turn everything upside down. We would never get the mess in order.”
“But what good is a Magic Stick if you can’t do anything with it?” asked Michael.
“Well now,” said Horace, “they make excellent walking sticks for hiking.”
“And I’m good for conversation,” said the stick. “I’ve been around. We could talk. If you are going to change anything, I recommend starting with conversation that takes you to the heart of the matter.”
“Great idea,” said Horace. “I would like to be a part of something like that, myself.”
“And I will conjure up milkshakes for us all!” said Michael