Katie and Freddy were a pair of fools, or so the people of the village thought. They seemed to have fool’s luck, the kind of luck that only a fool would have. Their worthless piece of farm land became fertile when the river changed its course, never mind that Freddy dammed up and diverted the river himself. And when there was record rainfall one season all the other homes in the village sprang leaks in their roofs while the fools stayed dry, no doubt the copper lining to their shingled roof helped.
So when Freddy and Katie came into town with a sack full of gold the people of the village assumed the fools had once again found their luck. As the spent the night in a tavern, buying drinks for all, they refused to tell a soul how they came upon their money until they were good and drunk. That is, they pretended to be drunk and then chose one person in whom they felt the could confide.
“In the woods there is a tree marked with an X carved into its trunk. At the base of the tree is a hollow and inside that hollow is where a band of local robbers stash their loot. As they have just left for another round of looting it is probably safe to go and help yourself to a sack or two of coins. But tell no one else! If too many were to know of this then surely the robbers will notice and look elsewhere for a hiding place!”
The villager, usually overcome with greed or desiring to stake their claim before the fools sobered up and came to their senses, would make their haste in finding the tree almost immediately. Into the dark woods they went, in search of the marked tree, usually finding it within the course of an hour.
And they were never heard from again.
Katie and Freddy never worried when the villagers would take their leave, they never hurried themselves out of the tavern, and often they spent the night in town and returned home the next day. It was with a secret smile that Freddy and Katie would wake up the next day and go to the home of the villager before returning to their own cottage. They knew they would not be disturbed, or caught, as they ransacked the homes of those who they tempted away with the lure of easy money.
Because they knew that person was dead, at the bottom of a dead-fall trap, impaled by sharpened spikes. This was what Katie and Freddy did.
After finding a suitable spot in the woods they would carve an X in a tree and dig a large pit in front of it. The bottom of the pit with fitted with sharpened rods of steel and spikes of the hardest wood. Then over the pit would be stretched a linen cloth which was covered with a thin layer of earth from the forest so that it looked natural. As the unsuspecting villagers saw the X in the tree they would quicken their pace, tumbling with their full weight into the pit and onto the spikes. After ransacking the villager’s home of all their valuables Katie and Freddy would travel to distant towns and sell off the valuables for more gold. In the time they spent away from the trap wolves and other animals would come and clean the bones of the fallen villager. All that remained for Freddy to do when they returned home was collect whatever valuable rings or gold hadn’t been eaten by the animals and to burn the clothing before rebuilding the trap.
Month after month the fools would come into town, arousing the greed and suspicion of villagers, and month after month another citizen of the village would mysteriously disappear. Because Freddy and Katie were careful in choosing their victims – telling only those who lived alone, or sending family members a day apart after resetting the dead-fall – few in the village saw the connection between the two incidents.
Soon the remaining villagers became spooked. People were disappearing and without a word, without a sound. Families would move away in the dead of night without warning, sometimes leaving behind their possessions. And with fewer and fewer people around the artisans and craftsmen and guildsmen left to ply their trades elsewhere. The last remaining villager was the owner of the inn connected to the tavern. The fools, taking pity on him, offered him all the money they had plus what the robber had hidden in the tree in exchange for the inn and tavern. It would be money enough to start anew in another town and the innkeeper jumped at the opportunity… and fell to his death just like all the others.
But the fools, they made sure the inn that had been formally signed over to them before they told the innkeeper where to go, and with no one else around to contradict or lay claim, they assumed ownership of all the buildings in the village and the surrounding land. From their dealings with the far away villages where the sold their pillaged goods, the fools spread word that they had inherited an empty village and were looking to populate it with good people. They sold the homes and business stalls for a good price and ran the inn for themselves. Freddy and Katie often entertained their new neighbors with fables, including one about a couple who had allegedly lured unsuspecting villagers to their death in the woods. In turn the villagers told the story to their children to keep them from going there, and when those children grew up they told a pair of brothers the tale for a collection they were compiling. The new occupants of the village were all warmly received by Freddy and Katie, thought they were two of the nicest people they’d ever met, and none ever thought them fools.
Though there was a pit in the forest waiting, just in case these new neighbors turned out to be as rude as the old ones.
“Fool’s Gold” can be found in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. It’s story #247 and if you’re having a sense of deja vu the way I did, this is a varaition of the story that I reimagined as “Dumb Luck: A Rube Goldberg Grimmoire” which was story #265. Oh, and also, both of these are variants of story #59 called “Freddy and Katie” which, at the rate of one story a week, I’ll probably hit around this time in 2015.