Fortuneteller – An Eastern European Folktale


As adapted, retold and written by storyteller Grace Wolbrink; all rights reserved 2008

Hey donkey, “cries a man clinging to a branch on top of an aging fruit tree. I found it! I found some lunch if only I can reach it.

“Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” echoes donkey’s frantic cries.

Coming closer, walks a woman on her way to market. Looking up, shocked and stunned, she sees a young man creeping along a branch less than half the size of his wrist.

“Hey you!” cries the woman. “Seriously! Stop! Don’t move!  Breath only if you have to!”

Looking down, the young man waves. Turning his attention back to his still dangling meal, he creeps forward.

“Noooooooo!” she cries. “You won’t make it! Go back!”

“What,” he cries.

“Creek” groans the tree.

“Hurry! Get back! You’re going to fall!” screams the woman.

“Crrrra-a-a-ack!” snaps the tree. 

“Noooooo!” she cries.

Bam. He hits the ground.

“O00-0-0uch!” he cries.

“Are you ok?” she asks.

“Wow! You were right! I fell!”, he exclaims rubbing his elbows.

“How did you know?” he asks, returning to his feet.

She shakes her head. “Are you ok?” she asks.

Ignoring her, he continues; “I know, you are a fortuneteller! I’ve heard all about people like you! Please, please tell me my fortune! I want to hear another fortune!”

“No! I am not a fortuneteller,” she sputters. “Anyone could see that the branch was too thin for a man your size. Now please, go away. I have things to do.”

“No really, you are amazing. You are the best . . . and, well only. . .  but still the best fortuneteller I have ever met. Please! Please! Really, please, tell me my fortune!”

Realizing that he was not going away anytime soon, she devises a plan.

“Ok. When your donkey takes his third drink of water, you will die,” she replies.

Without saying good-bye, she turns. She leaves.

“Thank you . . . ” he calls after her.

Ignoring him, she walks on down the road.

“Oh my!” he cries. “I am going to die. That’s it. It’s all over with. As soon as my donkey takes three drinks of water, I’m dead.”

Realizing he now has microscopically little time he has left; he decides to enjoy it.

Then idea hits him, rather like the ground only minutes before.

“Wait!” he cries to himself. “She said I will die when my donkey takes his third drink of water.  She is brilliant! She just told me how I can live forever! I got it! If my donkey only takes two drinks of water, and not the third, I can do it! I can live forever!” he exclaims.

Smiling, he and his donkey walk on down the road.

“Ouch!” he cries, touching the back of his neck, “I’ve been stung by the sun.”

Seeing a small pond surrounded by a grove of trees, he challenges his donkey to a race.

“On your mark! Get set! Go!” cries the young man.

Splash! He and his donkey tumble into the water. Shaking themselves off, they find a soft pile of moss under a nearby shade tree. Lying down they fall asleep.

Waking up, the young man and the donkey take another drink of water.

“Oh no!” cries the young man. “He took another drink. This is his second one! There is no more water for either one of us. This means I am going to live forever!”

Walking along the road they come to the edge of a river. Thirsty from the afternoon’s walk, the young man and the donkey take another drink of water.

“Oh no!” cries the young man! “This is it! It’s all over with! This is his third drink of water. I’m dead. Only I’ve never died before. No one told me how to do it.”

Pausing, he scratches his head. Another idea hits him, much like the ground did earlier in the day.

“I know!” he cries. “I will lie down, fold my arms across my check and close my eyes. Rather like Aunt Merna did before they dropped her into the ground.”

The donkey shook his head.

Finding a soft spot alongside the road, he lies down. He folds his arms across his chest. He closes his eyes.

A short time later, two men come walking along. Seeing someone lying in the road they stop to see if they can be of assistance. Looking down, they see a young man lying down with his eyes closed, his arms folded.

Glancing at each other, one looks to the other. “He must be dead,” says one man.

“He has to be dead,” comments the other man.

“Of course he is dead. His arms are folded across his chest,” says the first.

“True,” comments the other man.

“A coffin! We need a coffin,” cries the first man.

“Who has a coffin?” asks the other man.

“It’s an emergency, we need a coffin!” they both cry.

Glancing nervously at each other, they realize no one is around to hear them.

“But wait,” cries the first man. “We can go back to the town we just passed and find a coffin there.”

“Yes!” agrees the other man.

It was decided. They turned around and headed for town. When they arrived, they got a coffin and returned to the young man alongside the road. Loading him in to the coffin they remembered a burial ground just before the next town. Lifting the coffin high upon their shoulders they traveled on down the road.

Coming to a fork in the road on man turned right while the other one turned left.

Traveling behind them the donkey stops. The donkey shakes his head.

“No, no! The graveyard is this way!” cried the first man.

“No! It’s that way,” cries the second man.

“No! I am sure it is this way!” cried the first man.

“No!” cried the second man.

With all the arguing, enough was enough; living or not.

Lifting the lid of the coffin, the young man sits up. “No! You’re both wrong. You already passed the road to the graveyard! It’s back there about a quarter of a mile,” he cries.

Having never encountered the talking dead, the two men, started and frightened, drop the coffin. Without a word or a glance between them or behind them, the two men race down the road.

While no one really knows, one often wonders if the second bump to his head helped straighten it out a bit. One can only hope he returned home a bit wiser than he was when his journey began.

Until next time . . . Let Your Storyographer’s Journey Begin!


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