It was in the city of Lancaster, the capital of Lancashire and the lands of the Duchy of that place – who, since the Tudor kings, has always been the reigning monarch. Lancaster was the place of the Pendle Witch Trials, so it should have been little surprise to me that magical and strange things could occur in this most noble of counties.
I had alighted from the train, one summer afternoon, shortly after the death of my wife, and strolled leisurely into the ancient city. I had viewed the castle and the courts, strolled on the banks of the Lune, the river that gives the place its name – Lune Casta. I had then taken a jaunt along the canal and, considering the heat of the day, paused at a charming pub, where I was able to take respite, enjoy a refreshing ale and sit comfortably by the glittering waters.
I had only been sat there for about a third of a pint, which was my idiosyncratic measurement of time, but more traditionally came to about an hour. Suitably relaxed, I continued to take in my surroundings, when in the distance I saw a dishevelled and perceivably beleaguered man making his weary way along the towpath. His hair was wild and his coat heavy with muck and wear, rather more unkempt than Martin Kemp. I watched with some curiosity as he made his laboured journey along the path in the glaring heat. Soon enough he was close to my table and seemed to fix upon me. Then he spoke. His language was a strange unfamiliar one, despite the fact that northern dialects had been something of a hobby of mine over the years, his dialect was some ancient form that took me a moment to decode.
"Nathen auwlad? Asta getten a nicker? Ah've elleva thirst."
So intrigued was I, at this most singular of speeches, I readily handed over the money to the man.
"Yule be gladda that," he said and walked briskly into the pub.
That, I thought, was to be the end of it, so returned to my own drink and watched a rather pompous-looking swan puffing his chest out as he waddled along the bank. A moment later and the strange man had returned, he gestured to a chair, it seemed he was to be my companion for a time after all. I smiled and gestured to the chair.
"By all means. Such a lovely day. Better to sit outside."
In truth, I should have been wary of strangers latching onto me in pubs, especially ones who were short of money and dressed in a manner that didn't suggest gainful employment. However, on this occasion, I felt a disarming radiance from the man and one should never judge a book by its cover, as they say. This time when he spoke, his language seemed to have been tempered, or else my ear had become attuned to it.
"Reet. So as you've done me a kindness, so too shall I a kindness bestow on thee."
"Whatever do you mean?"
"What I means, is that I am gonna grant ye three wishes. Here an now."
"Three wishes? Like a genie?"
"No, not like a genie. Did I come out of a lamp? Am I blue with just a loincloth on? No. Three wishes, as only a mystical bein' such as missen can grant."
"Well really," I scoffed, in truth, beginning to doubt the man's sanity – there is an asylum in Lancaster also!
"Well, don't 'ave 'em then, if you don't want. But ye can't say I didn't offer."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. Do I have to wish for them now?"
"Aye, I'm a busy mon. I do have other things te'dee tha-knows."
I can't deny that I was amazed at the conversation I found myself having with this character. However, as I felt safe enough, and as time was not pressing upon me, I thought that I would play this fellow's game.
"Very well, I wish for another pint of ale," I said with aplomb and drank the remainder of my pint in one. The man smiled, a knowing smile.
"Everybody wastes first wish." He said and extracted a roll of notes from his pocket. He peeled off a five-pound note and handed it to me. "As you wish. Ere ye go. Avva bag a dry roasted an' all."
I sat agog, clearly, this man was some eccentric millionaire.
"That's not magic. Anyone could do that."
"I didn't say I were magic. Any'ow, what's ye second wish?"
At this point, I felt I should really test this man, as his delusions of grandeur were boundless it seemed.
"Very well. I would like to glimpse upon my wife's living face once more."
"As you wish," smiled the man.
It's true I have something of a Victorian turn of phrase, which comes from reading certain types of literature, and so my wish was granted word for word. At that very moment, a narrow boat sailed past us, and aboard that boat sat the very living image of my deceased wife. Our eyes met, she smiled, and then the boat continued up the canal. I was rooted to the spot. To this day I have mused over whether it was really her, or whether it was someone with a striking likeness, I have come to believe it was her and it has been something of a comfort to me since. The reason I believe it was her is in relation to my last wish.
At the time, I still doubted what had happened and was unwilling to give the vision the credit that it perhaps deserved. And so, asked my last wish of the strange man.
"As you wish. It'll 'appen soon enough," he said and with that, he stood up and strolled off down the towpath.
You see, I've always wanted to be a published writer. And given that you are reading this now, you can see that wishes can come true.