Homeless Hank woke up with a shrieking, blinding headache which wasn't at all unusual. He also discovered that a thorny twig had cut a new hole in his ragged, reeking jeans and penetrated all the way to the skin of his thigh. "Shee-ut," said Homeless Hank as he spat on his fingers and rubbed the blood off the wound. Then he said it again. "Shee-ut."
He looked around at the discarded empty bottles to see if maybe it might be possible to soothe his aching head with a hair of the dog but every damn one of them was empty. Homeless Hank merely shrugged his shoulders because empty was what he'd expected and he'd have been shocked senseless if he or any of his drinking buddies had allowed a single drop to remain. About three feet away from him, Bourbon-faced Bob was snoring louder than a hog with a megaphone and, further on, Willy, the Loon lay so quiet he might have been dead and maybe was which would be a blessing since Willy's neurons were so tangled even Harry Houdini couldn't have undone them.
After several attempts, Homeless Hank rose to his feet. His eyes ached horribly but he used them, nonetheless, to take stock of his surroundings. He was pretty sure he'd ended up last night in one of the inner-city parks but there weren't any benches anywhere around or statues of famous people or picnic tables or paths to walk on. In fact, the grass as far as he could see was wild and uncut, swaying gently in a light breeze. "Must be some type of wildlife preserve," Hank thought but he couldn't imagine how he'd gotten there without a bus token, much less cab fare.
In the far distance, Hank thought he could detect the sound of running water. It could, of course, be one of those auditory hallucinations but it wouldn't hurt any to check it out.
He lumbered and stumbled through the tall grass, making dents, snapping twigs and flushing out birds and bush rabbits. The sound of rushing water grew louder and finally Hank arrived at the bank of a narrow swift stream, clear as glass and twisty as a roller coaster track. On impulse, Hank stripped off his tattered, filthy clothes and plunged into the water. The cold shock zapped him like an electric current all through his body and right up into his sorry excuse for a brain. Hank dug his toes into the pebbly stream bed so the current wouldn't knock him down but it did anyway and Hank found himself flailing and struggling until he remembered he could swim and, summoning all his alcohol-depleted strength, pulled himself up onto the bank.
Exhausted by his struggle, Hank lay down next to a clump of maidenhair ferns. Dappled sunlight, filtered gently through the branches of a broad leaf oak, warmed his body and pretty soon Homeless Hank was fast asleep, buck naked in a strange land.
The first thing Hank noticed when he woke was that he was wearing a costume. It had to be a costume because nobody -- except maybe hippies -- dressed that way. What he wore was a dark green tunic over a pair of loose-fitting brown trousers. Kind of like martial arts pants, only lighter. In fact, the feel of the cloth was unlike any fabric Hank had ever touched before, much less worn. Too cottony to be silk and to silky to be cotton. Meanwhile the rank-smelling clothes he'd been wearing were now dripping wet and draped carefully over a nearby branch. "What the hell?" muttered Hank.
Then he saw the tiny man with the pointy ears and iridescent wings. "Bound to happen sooner or later," Hank mumbled.
"What?" the little man asked. "What was bound to happen?"
"Well...you know...the DTs," Hank said irritably.
The little man's laughter sounded sort of like the rushing waters of the stream. "You think I'm not real then."
Hank was about to say "Hell no!" but then he stopped himself. He thought of something one of his foster mothers had said to him, over and over, when he was very young. The memory of that gullible little boy caused Hank's eyes to fill with tears. "You here to grant me three wishes?" he asked the little man.
"Of course. What else?"
"Not that I'm objecting, you understand but why me?"
The little man laughed again and this time there was a note of scorn in his laughter. "Silly human -- there is no why? There is never any why?"
Homeless Hank pinched himself on the arm, then closed his eyes and counted to sixty. When he looked again the little man was still there, waiting. The skin of his face was like cold porcelain and there was no trace of warmth in the expression of his vermilion eyes.
"Okay," said Hank, "I'm ready."
And now, dear reader, I'm sure you are preparing to have Hank, incorrigible loser that he is, wish for a magic whisky bottle that can never be emptied, followed by a lake of vodka and a marble fountain spouting red and white wine. If so, you are about to be disappointed.
"I'll have a horse," Hank said, "a good one, thoroughbred stallion, fast, strong and no more than two years old."
The little man snapped his fingers and a beautiful roan horse appeared. "And your second wish?"
"Another horse, a mare this time, same type, same condition as the stallion."
Again the little man snapped his fingers and instantly a chestnut mare appeared. "And your third wish?"
"All the gear I'll need for riding -- saddle with stirrups, reins and whatever else a horseman's supposed to have and make everything of the best quality." The little man snapped his fingers again and a pile of top-quality riding gear lay at Hank's feet.
"Thank you kindly," said Hank but the little man had already vanished.
When Homeless Hank was seen riding a thoroughbred stallion and leading a comely mare out of what had, once again, become a city park, people who knew him could scarcely believe their eyes.
"You wanna tell me where you got those horses?" a city cop demanded.
Hank smiled. "You heard that old saying, haven't you? One of my foster mothers used to say it all the time -- If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
"What the...but...that's not what it's 'sposed to mean," the policeman fumed.
"No," Hank agreed, "but that's how it is," and he rode away into the sunset.