Updated: Apr 21
Milo was not an overly greedy man, nor was he the sharpest pencil in the box. He owned a small estate inherited from his father. The land yielded olives and grapes, each in their season. Milo’s estate prospered in a moderate way. The surrounding countryside was very poor, as were its people. For his small wealth, Milo was reckoned as local royalty of a minor sort.
At the harvest, grapes were trodden, olives pressed, and workers paid. Milo tallied his profits and satisfied his wife and daughter with pretty trifles. He lavished what money remained on his magnificent rose garden.
Roses! Exquisite colors and magical fragrances! One fine day, as Milo strolled through his garden, he found an ugly troll of a man sleeping beneath a rosebush. The stranger was old, scruffy, and snoring. Looking down at the grotesque creature, Milo caught a whiff of something most certainly not floral.
Milo cleared his throat. Nothing. He harrumphed. No good. He shuffled his feet and kicked a shower of pebbles onto the snoring stranger.
The rasping snore ceased. The sleeper stirred, blinked, then let go a mighty belch. A thunderous emission rumbled from beneath his ample posterior. Then he smiled a bleary smile.
“Morning already? Sorry, smelled the roses last night and wandered in. Seemed like a fine spot for a nap.”
Civilized people coexist by means of law and custom. Milo and his neighbors were not barbarians. Of all their laws, none was more sacred than those governing hospitality. Milo knew his duties as a host, even if the guest was uninvited and in need of a bath.
Still, Milo hesitated before he spoke.
“I was just about to have breakfast. Would you care to join me?”
The old man sat up until his potbelly hung over his meaty thighs. He released another mighty belch and scratched himself.
“Sure, don’t mind if I do.”
Milo’s grubby guest was none other than Silas, notorious rabble-rouser and boon companion to Dion, chief of the party animals that haunted the groves in the surrounding hillsides. Dion’s crazed tribe was known to all. Milo might have guessed the identity of his belching guest, but as we have established, he was not the quickest of thinkers.
Thus, Silas became Milo’s guest. He drank Milo’s wine, ate Milo’s food, and generally made himself at home. He ate and drank deeply, all the while regaled Milo with bawdy songs, libidinous dancing, and outlandish tales. Silas delivered his entertainments without regard for the company, causing many a scarlet blush from Milo’s wife and daughter. The old goat took great pleasure in everything and everyone. The sole exception to this was bathing, of which Silas seemed not overly fond.
On the tenth night, Silas proclaimed that he must leave on the morrow.
“Dion will think I’ve fallen down a well. Time to be getting back. Hey, Milo, how about you come with me? Give me a chance to return the hospitality.”
Thinking he had no choice, Milo agreed.
The next morning, Silas and Milo journeyed across the rocky landscape. The day became sultry. Despite his age and girth, Silas clambered over the rough trails at a pace that left Milo panting and sweating in the old man’s wake.
As the sun neared noon, Milo staggered along feeling hot and bedraggled. Finally, Silas led them into a meadow surrounded by wooded hills. Gathered in the very center of the glade, a band of wild-looking folks sprawled across the lush grass. Noon it might be, but the party was as boisterous as a midnight bacchanalia.
“Here we are at last. And now, my good Milo, meet Dion and the tribe.”
A red-faced and bare-chested man detached himself from the ground with some difficulty and careened in their general direction.
“Silas, you rascal! Where the hell have you been? You’re missing a most bodacious revelry.”
“I got lost, Dion. This is my new buddy, Milo. He took me in and kept me in fine trim. A good lad.”
“Is that so? Pleased to meet ya, Milo. Put ‘er there.”
Dion stuck his paw into empty air, then turned himself more or less in Milo’s direction. The big man’s handshake almost wrenched Milo’s arm from its socket.
“So, you took good care of old Silas?”
“He did, Dion. I drank his wine, ate his food, flirted with his pretty daughter, and pissed in his fountain. Never a word of complaint from old Milo.”
Milo kept a smile on his face, despite having just learned of the flirting and pissing.
“Glad to hear it, Silas. The laws of hospitality and all that. Good on you, Milo. C’mon, let’s have a drink!”
Milo felt the stirrings of uncertainty. Better had he felt them more deeply. Ten days of hosting Silas had worn him thin, not to mention the long hike. And the return trek would be longer. A quick drink couldn’t hurt.
Alas, one drink led to another. The wine was good, the grass soft under his bum, and the sun made him sleepy. Without knowing quite how it happened, Milo found himself very drunk.
Dion drained his flagon. Waving his arms, he roared to the gathered revelers.
“Wine and song, my good friends! We partake of the grape under the dome of this wonderful sky. And we are blessed with Milo, a paragon of hospitality.”
Dion dug an elbow into Milo’s ribs. Cups raised, and the party animals shouted Milo’s name. Dion raised his hand.
“Yes, my lovelies, and such hospitality deserve a reward.” He turned to look at Milo and eventually succeeded. “Name your reward, good Milo.”
“You have succored our friend Silas. Name your reward, and I shall provide it.”
As we have said, Milo was not greedy, but like any family man, he had bills to pay. Workers always wanting raises, Dora bugging him for a new computer, and his wife had a bit of a shopping addiction. A little extra money wouldn’t hurt. He didn’t believe Dion could grant wishes, but would it hurt to ask?
“Very well, but only at your request. I wish that everything I touch be turned to gold.”
Dion gave him a leer. He turned to his acolytes, who grinned like baboons.
“You’re sure about this, are you?”
Milo just wanted to leave. It would be dark by the time he reached home. Besides, he didn’t believe a word of this drunken nonsense.
“That’s my wish.”
Dion spread his arms and looked to the heavens.
“It is done. Here’s what you do. Get yourself home. Tonight, dump a bottle of wine into your bathwater. Give yourself a good scrubbing. In the morning, Robert will be your mother’s brother.”
The animals laughed long and hard at the jest.
By the time Milo reached home, his head ached as much as his feet. A long bath was just the ticket. He hesitated to waste a bottle of wine from his pillaging cellars, but he did as Dion bade. The bath felt wonderful.
The golden sunrise found Milo nursing a nasty hangover. After washing down two aspirin with several glasses of water, he took himself down to his rose garden.
Blinking against the sunlight, he could not believe his bloodshot eyes. Each rosebud on every bush blushed golden. His wish had come true. Golden roses! He was rich, wildly rich!
He ran to the kitchen, shouting as he went. His poor wife Myra was so startled that she dropped his breakfast to the floor. What Milo saw stopped him in his tracks.
The eggs were gold, yolks and whites both. The floor tiles were gold. Amazing!
He looked at his beautiful bride and his jaw dropped open. Myra had turned to solid gold from her hair to her toenails. She was staring at him, her eyes wide in alarm.
“Milo, what’s happened? Why are you shouting?”
“You can speak! Thank goodness. Does it hurt to move your lips?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Can you believe it? Everything has turned to gold. We’re rich, so bloody rich! We can pay off the credit cards, I can buy Dora that new computer. All our troubles are over.”
Myra stepped over the congealing eggs. She clutched Milo’s shoulders and stared into his eyes.
“You need to sit down, dear.”
The weeks that followed were not good ones for Milo. Every single thing had turned to gold, yet no one believed him. He couldn’t chew metal food nor drink golden wine. His wife and daughter forced soup down his throat. To his amazement, he did not die.
The local doctor was no help. The old quack waved objects in front of Milo’s face.
“What color is this?”
“Gold. That, too. And that as well. Gold.”
The old man shook his head and told Myra there was nothing he could do. They must consult specialist doctors in the capitol. Perhaps the experts could restore Milo to his former self.
Milo’s wish had become a curse, but no one seemed to have a remedy. Myra and Dora dragged him from one specialist to another. The doctors poked Milo, prodded him, and hooked electrodes to his skull. They offered wild, contradictory hypotheses. A stroke or possibly a brain tumor. No, it was clearly a case of apperceptive agnosia. Nonsense, the patient suffers from achromatopsia.
After a week in the city, they were more confused than when they’d arrived. And still, Milo insisted everything was golden. Despairing of a cure, mother and daughter dragged Milo back to the estate.
A forlorn Milo sat in his rose garden. Every blossom gleamed gold, but his heart was black as Hades. The blackness spread through him, blanketing him with despair. But his eyes taunted him. Gold, gold, everywhere he looked. Now, Milo had a new wish. He wanted to die.
Here was a wish he himself could grant. If the curse could not be lifted, he would be rid of it by his own hand. Come dawn, he would hang himself from a golden noose.
That night, Milo tossed and turned under his uncomfortable metal sheets. Sleep finally took him, and he slipped into a feverish dream. He dreamed the reds and pinks and whites of his beloved roses. He beheld Dora’s auburn hair, saw Myra’s raven tresses. And in his dream, Milo begged forgiveness for his ridiculous wish.
Then he saw Dion with pot-bellied Silas standing beside him. Silas spoke, and Milo strained to hear his words.
“Dion, time to lighten up. Look at the poor bastard. He’s only human. This thing is harshing my mellow. C’mon, you’ve had your fun.”
“Milo, you’re an idiot. Lucky for you, Silas likes you. Okay, lesson learned, right? Tomorrow morning, take your ass down to the river. Have a swim, and everything will be normal. C’mon, Silas. Let’s go smoke a fatty.”
Midas was up with the dawn, herding Myra and Dora to the banks of the river. They humored him, poor madman. Without warning, Milo pushed Myra into the water, then grabbed Dora and tossed her in as well. The two women surfaced like angry naiads. But when they saw Milo’s face, their anger was swept away. He was grinning like a child.
“I see you in color! Beautiful, normal color!”
Without another word, Milo dove into the river. When his head broke the sun-dappled surface, he saw blue sky, green hills, and brown riverbanks.
Milo splashed to his wife and daughter, catching them both in a dripping embrace. They danced in the water, laughing like children. Then, climbing the riverbank arm-in-arm, they walked home.
There were some changes at the estate. Dora learned to love her new reconditioned laptop. Myra hid her credit cards. The word gold was never spoken aloud.
Milo returned to the simple joy of his family and his garden. No amount of riches could match the simple color of a budding rose blossom. He wished for nothing, except to be spared from drinking with strangers. His wish was granted.
Marco Etheridge is a writer of prose, an occasional playwright, and a part-time poet. He lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His work has been featured in more than eighty reviews and journals across Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA.“U6 Stories: Vienna Underground Tales” is Marco’s latest collection of short fiction. When he isn’t crafting stories, Marco is a contributing editor and layout grunt for a new zine called Hotch Potch. You can find his work on marcoetheridgefiction.com.