It was one of those days that felt especially long, even if they probably were normally for everyone else. Isaac was at his desk at home, going through the budget and trying to make all the numbers add up correctly. Unfortunately, something had gone wrong somewhere in the process, and he couldn’t quite figure out where or how.
Marianne and Charlie were outside raking leaves. He’d offered to help, but Marianne told him no thank you, she missed their mother-son gardening time. So, he was inside listening to the giggles and crunching leaves, feeling a little jealous.
He looked back at the budget. He was missing something somewhere. It didn’t make sense that they were doing as well as they were. He sighed. “It’s like spinning straw into gold.”
“I could help you with that,” said a voice behind him.
Isaac spun around in his office chair. A short man with a long red beard stood on the rug behind him. He looked like a normal man, but he was only two feet tall. “Who are you?” he asked.
The man chuckled. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” He opened his arms wide. “I’m here to solve all your problems. I’m the man who can spin straw into gold, for a price.”
Isaac stared. “I don’t have any straw,” he said at last.
“Then I’ll just have to charge a little bit more,” the man said.
“I don’t really need any gold.” Isaac folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “Besides, I imagine the price is higher than the worth of the gold.”
“It depends on the worth you assign to things, of course,” the man said. “But I’m not here to discuss philosophy.”
“Then why are you here?” Isaac asked. “And who are you?”
The man shrugged. “I just like to help out. In fact, I’ll give you a freebie. If you guess my name in three guesses, I’ll help you out with whatever problem you’re struggling with, free of charge.”
“And if I guess wrong?”
“Then you get the normal deal.” The man smiled widely. “I assure you that I have many satisfied customers. Unfortunately, I happened to leave the booklet of testimonials at home.”
Isaac looked at the odd man. Just like with the numbers, he could sense something wasn’t quite right. “What exactly is the normal deal?”
“Oh, you know, I help you out. Problem solved, right away, quality work, all that. Then I get paid. It’s all perfectly fair, of course.”
Isaac nodded. “I’m sure. And what do you get as payment? If you can spin straw into gold, I assume you don’t need money.”
“It depends, of course. I use a sliding scale.” The man grinned again.
Isaac frowned. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Didn’t I? Hmmmm.”
Isaac shook his head. “I think I’ll fix my own problems. If I can’t see the price tags, I assume that I probably can’t afford it.”
“But you might guess my name, and then I’ll work for free,” the man said.
“But I might not, and then I’d be stuck,” Isaac replied.
The man stomped his foot. “Why won’t you just take the deal? If you can see and hear me, you must need my help. I can help you.”
“I’m sorry. I just don’t feel comfortable with hidden fees or making deals with people I know nothing about.” Isaac shrugged.
“You’ll be sorry.” The short man’s eyes narrowed and he pointed at Isaac. “Your numbers will never add up right, and you’ll never know why.” He stomped a second and then a third time and disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.
Isaac coughed and opened a window and breathed in the cool, crisp fall air. Well, that was certainly strange. He sat back down at his desk. He looked down at his budget and remembered what the man said. Was his budget cursed now?
Maybe it was only cursed if he was the only one working on it. He’d have to talk it over with Marianne and Charlie. Maybe they’d have some ideas on where things were going wrong.
He stood up. If he wasn’t going to make any more progress on it right now, he might as well do something useful. He looked out the window. Marianne and Charlie were almost done raking the leaves. Isaac went to start making cocoa. It was done by the time they came back inside.