The Magic Paintbrush

A young man finds that the joke is on him as his tales of woe are overshadowed by the imaginations of his new friends. Click the "Read More" link below for the full story.



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The Magic Paintbrush

A tale of Taloria



Samuel J. Plum

Cover Illustration by

Marcie Norried


Copyright 2013 Samuel Plum

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.


A priest, a cobbler, and a fletcher walk into a bar. No joke. The three men go to their usual table to start a game of Gather, but find a seemingly depressed young man with unkempt hair and rumpled clothes sitting there lost in his drink.

Rather than asking him to move, Horace, the priest, says to the fellow, “Son, I realize that you were here first, and we wouldn't dream of kicking you out, but you see, this is where we usually have our game. We could use a fourth player, if you are willing to let us join you.”

The man looks up at the priest, and then back down at his drink. “Well,” he starts, “I suppose I have nothing better to do at the moment. Either I lose my money to you or to the bartender, and at least this way there is a small chance that I’ll come out ahead for once. A game could lift my spirits.”

With that, the men convivially welcome the young fellow, who introduces himself as Jack, and they spread out around the table. They prepare the cards, deal out the first hand, and as they begin the round, the fletcher, a man named Carl, turns and asks, “So, Jack, what is it that you do?”

“Well,” Jack replies, sadly, “I used to be a painter. Not any more, though. I was really starting to get somewhere with it, too.”

“Is that what’s got you down, lad?” asks Frankie, the cobbler. His real name is Francesco, but he never lets anyone call him that. “By the way, metal trumps this round, fellas. So what happened? Why did you stop being a painter.”

“Well, if you really want to know,” Jack replies, “it all started when I found a magic paintbrush.” He looks around expecting to see looks of astonishment or disbelief but is met with nothing but blank stares. “No, really,” he continues, “I did!”

“Please lad,” Horace interjects, “it’s not that. We believe you. It’s not exactly uncommon though, is it? I mean there are tons of stories about magic this, that, and the other running around.”

“Yeah,” says Frankie, “let me guess. It’s the kind of brush that makes whatever you paint turn to life, right? Like, you were just minding your own business one day and you found this nice old brush in some shop, took it home, and painted up a nice piece of fruit. When you finished, it fell right off the canvas, and it was the best fruit you’d ever eaten. Or you painted the girl of your dreams and married her. I take the trick by the way. Sorry, Horace, mind high.” Horace grimaces at his cards. “But then,” he continues, “she uses the brush to paint someone better and runs off, leaving you all alone.”

“Probably stole the brush too, the strumpet.” Carl throws in. “New round. Water trumps.”

“Or maybe,” Horace adds, “maybe you did a painting of a whimsical rabbit in a waistcoat with a watch and he came to life, but had the intelligence of a man because that was the way you painted him. And he runs off and spends his days convincing young ladies to get stuck in his warrens until they starve, having nothing to survive on but mushrooms. And now you sit here trying to drink away the pain.”

“Good one, Horace,” Carl says. “Or, maybe its one of those other kinds. Oh, I think I’ll pass on this bet, thank you. The kind that doesn't really bring things to life in the real world but lets you go into the painting like it was a real place. You heard about those?”

“Yeah, I think there was one of them floating around Corsair a couple years back wasn’t there?” Frankie asks.

“Somewhere like that,” Carl continues. “Say you make a painting of a group of dogs playing Gather and go into it thinking that you’ll rake in the money because, after all, what do dogs know about how to play at cards, am I right? Only the dogs were painted specifically to play Gather, so they are really good at it, and you lose everything. And then you bet your wife’s fine silver to try one more time just to see if you can catch them cheating, but the bitches win again, and you can’t prove anything. Then your wife yells at you for a week straight, and it drives you to drink. More.”

“That story sounds awfully specific, Carl.”

“Shut up, Horace. Look, just don’t play games with the Delaney sisters. That’s all I’m saying,” Carl says bitterly as Horace and Frankie laugh heartily.

“So, Jack,” Horace starts. “Oh? Bet’s to me? Hm. Three sovereign. So, Jack, what is it? Are we anywhere close?”

“Nothing nearly so grand,” he admits. “Actually I would have loved if my paintbrush did anything like that. No, this one is very different. This one is terrible. Basically, it makes everything that I paint turn out rubbish.”

“What?” says Carl, “Like, it ruins your paintings?”

“Yes!” Jack says, “No matter what it is I try to paint, it always comes out awful. It’s never anything close to what I plan it to be.”

“I don’t get it,” says Frankie. “Why not just stop using the paintbrush then? Surely you have others that don’t impede your skill.”

“That’s just it! It’s cursed me!” Jack confesses. “Since I touched it, it doesn’t matter which brush I use, the work is always terrible. I thought it would make me this magnificent artist, but instead it has ruined my career. Now I will never be a painter.”

“Jack, lad, that is the saddest thing I’ve heard in a long while,” Horace sighs. “Tell me, how long had you been a painter?”

“About three months. All wasted now!”

“Three months!” Frankie exclaims. “You were only a painter for three months? Were you any good to begin with?”

“Well, I was told that my early works showed a lot of promise,” Jack says, defensively.

“By who exactly?” Carl snickers. “Your mother?”

“I will have you know that my mum has excellent taste in color.”

“Lad,” Horace says, “have you considered the possibility that your paintbrush is not, in fact, magic? It seems very likely that you are not, in actuality, a good painter.”

“Of course I’m not a good painter! I was cursed by that stupid brush!”

“Bartender!” Frankie bellows, as his friends roll in laughter. “Another drink for my friend here! That was the best joke I’ve heard all week!”


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