There once was a man with a hand of gold. He was the pride of his town. When he walked down the street, all the people would stop and stare.
There goes the man with the hand of gold, they’d say.
And the man with the hand of gold would always see them seeing him, and he’d raise his golden hand and smile and wave.
And the people would wave back and smile at him, too.
And to think, he lives in our town, they’d say.
Now, because of his hand, the man led a charmed life. He didn’t even have to work. People bought him presents of clothing and food and drink and left them outside his house every night.
In the morning, the man would go and open the front door and bring in all the packages and the bags, and he’d lay out a spread on his dining room table and then eat a leisurely repast.
After that, he’d get dressed up and go out for a walk. He wouldn’t go anywhere in particular; he’d just wander around town, waving at people.
Then he’d stop home to have his lunch and dinner.
And things went on this way for many, many years, and everyone in town was happy with it. No one seemed to think it was a strange situation.
And then, one day, it ended.
On that day, the man with the hand of gold awoke to find that his golden hand was gone.
What the…? he said, staring down at the stump.
He gathered all the pillows and blankets up.
But his hand wasn’t there. He got down on his knees and searched under the bed, then in the closet.
Then he looked in the living room, the kitchen, the garden.
But his hand of gold was nowhere to be found.
Finally, the man went to tell the town about it.
My golden hand is gone! he said.
What? said the people. No! It can’t be!
It has to be somewhere! they said.
So they organized a search party—and they all joined in. They searched all over the place. They searched every house, every store, every church, every cupboard, every stable, every basement.
They even searched in the piggybanks of children.
But the hand of gold was nowhere to be found.
For weeks afterward, the whole town was in mourning.
They hardly spoke when they passed in the street.
Hello, they’d say, and then they’d keep walking.
No one knew how to act or what to say.
And the man who no longer had a hand of gold had it worse off than anybody else. He couldn’t even bring himself to leave his house.
How can I, without my golden hand? he said.
Instead, he stayed inside and closed the shutters and the doors. He lay in bed and cried and cried for days. Who was he when he couldn’t go and wave his golden hand? Who was he when he couldn’t make people smile?
And when the man did go outside—onto the porch, to bring in the food people left—he always hid his lack of a golden hand, by holding the stump behind his back.
Why is he hiding his lack of a gold hand? The townspeople started to say. It’s a sorrow for him to have lost it, of course, but not having a gold hand is not a shame.
Why, I haven’t had a hand of gold for fifty-seven years, said one fifty-seven-year-old man. You don’t see me being ashamed of it, do you? Does that man want me to be ashamed?
That man thinks he’s better than us! They all said. That one-handed man thinks he’s better!
And the feelings of the townspeople turned against the man.
And they stopped leaving food for him to eat.
The man tried to struggle along without it, so eventually, he did the only thing he could: he’d sneak out at night and scrounge through garbage cans.
But he never did it quietly enough.
There he goes, people’d say when they’d hear the lids scraping, and they’d spit out their windows into the dark.
And the man who had no longer had a hand of gold grew pale and tired and worn.
Until finally, one day, the man with no golden hand just couldn’t take it anymore.
Life just isn’t worth living without my hand of gold, he said.
So what did he do?
He went to see the sorcerer.
The sorcerer lived many, many, many miles away, atop an ancient mountain that nearly blotted out the sun. He’d lived there for years, for centuries, maybe—maybe even since the dawn of time.
And yet, in all that time, no one had ever seen him; the townspeople had only heard the tales. That is, of course, except for one man: the man who is the subject of this tale.
Yes, the man who no longer had a golden hand had met the sorcerer, once upon a time. He’d done it many years ago, when he was very young and had needed something enough to make the climb.
Because at that time, the man who no longer had a hand of gold had been a one-handed boy out on the streets. He’d been an orphan, an urchin, and his hand had been cut off in retribution one day for being a thief.
He’d stolen an apple—an old wormy thing—off a grocery store shelf, and he’d been caught. They’d cut off his hand, and then he’d been told that if he did it again, the next cut would be to his throat.
So what could the boy do? He couldn’t get a job—they wouldn’t hire him, wouldn’t even give him scraps. And he couldn’t leave the town—it was in the midst of a vast desert, which would take weeks of water and food to get across.
So what had the boy done? In truth, not very much. He’d hidden out and slept in alleyways. He’d nursed his bleeding stump and eaten from the trash.
And pretty soon, he’d begun to waste away.
But one night, as the boy lay weak and starving in the dark, he’d heard some local kids telling tales. They’d spoken of a rumor that each of them had heard. And the rumor had been of the sorcerer.
According to this rumor, the sorcerer lived in a cave on the very mountaintop. And the rumor also said that if you made the climb, the sorcerer would give you whatever you wanted most in the world.
Whatever you wanted most in the world, the boy whispered, lying in the dark.
He’d looked at the stump where his hand had once been.
And the very next morning, he’d set out.
He’d climbed the ancient mountain, and he had almost died. Climbing mountains isn’t easy—even with two hands. But he’d made it to the top and found the sorcerer’s cave, and he’d gone in.
So now he did it again.
This time, it was harder because the man was no longer young. His muscles and his lungs were not as strong. But still, he climbed and climbed, until finally, before dark, he reached the summit and found the cave, and went on in.
He stumbled through the gloom. In time, a light appeared. He went towards it, and the light became a fire. And then in the flickering firelight, he saw a figure, and the figure looked up. It was the sorcerer.
You’re back, said the sorcerer.
I am, the man replied.
And what do you want this time? The sorcerer said.
The same thing, the man said and held up his stump.
Ah, the sorcerer said, and he smiled.
Sit, sit, please, eat, the sorcerer said and motioned to an open spot beside him.
Thank you, said the man, and he lowered himself down.
A plate of food appeared and wine in a jug.
Do you mind if I talk a bit? the sorcerer said. Just a little while, while you eat?
Not at all, said the man.
So the sorcerer talked. And he told the man a great many things.
He started out by telling the man about his many travels. He told the man everywhere he’d been. He described to him a thousand places the man had never been—had never heard of, even in a dream.
He described to the man great forests, tundras, and seas. He described to him tall sailing ships. He described to him ornate towers that rose into the air and vessels which rode the currents in it.
And he told the man of other things—of beautiful statues. Of music and of art, and the works of science. He talked to him of heroes, explorers, kings and queens, the famous romances of noted human beings.
He talked of visionaries who might one day cross the voids between the many planets and the stars—those who might finally solve the riddles and the problems that had cursed the human race for all these eons.
The sorcerer talked and talked. He talked into the night. He talked until it was almost dawn.
Then finally, he stopped. He looked at the man.
And I could give you, he said, anything you want.
And the man sat and thought about the sorcerer’s words. He thought of all the various wonderful things. But even as he did, he was picturing something else. He was remembering one particular thing.
He was remembering the first time he’d returned from the sorcerer’s mountain, when he’d walked back to town with his hand of gold. How he’d strolled right down the main street, and the people had come to meet him, and their eyes had been so wide and wonder-filled.
They hadn’t even noticed that he was the same boy they’d almost killed a few weeks before. They hadn’t seen the orphan, the urchin he’d been—he was different, like a god who walked the world.
And the man sat there thinking back, picturing that day, trying to hold those feelings in his mind. And finally, he blinked and looked at the sorcerer.
All I want, he said, is my golden hand again.
And so, a few days later, the man returned to town.
He had his golden hand once again.
My hand is back! He called out, walking down the center of Main Street. My hand is back, everybody! Look at me!
His cries drew the attention of the people in the town, and they surrounded him in the square. They stared at his golden hand as he raised it up above his head. They squinted as the light of the sun glanced off and stabbed them in the eyes.
He’s back, they said, and he wants our love.
And they fell on him with sticks and knives.
And when they were done, there was nothing left of the man but his gleaming hand of gold. And the townspeople took it and raised it up and set it atop a pole. And then they paraded it all around town—waving at it and making it wave back—and then they planted it in the townsquare, and laughed and turned their backs on it.
And in the years that followed, the people never spoke of the man whose hand it had been. In time, they forgot it had come from anywhere; by then, they just called it The Town’s Hand.
You can go there to this day and see it if you want—it still waves there, in all its glory.
But as for the rumors of the sorcerer—those are gone.
And that mountaintop cave has long been empty.