Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

THREE SNEEZES (an Estonian folktale)

Once upon a time, in a little village not far from Tallinn, on the Gulf of Finland, there lived a farmer whose name was Kalev. Kalev and his wife, Johanna, had many children. As time passed, their children married and had children of their own. After some time, the children began to ask their father who would inherit his farm.

The eldest child was Kati, and she thought the farm would be hers. But Paavo, the oldest son, said, "Shouldn't you pass your farm to me, your oldest son?"

The children began to bicker, particularly at the holidays when they visited. Over the meal, they talked as if Kalev was no longer there:

"It will be mine, won't it, Father?" asked Kati.

"No, mine," pleaded Paavo.

Kalev and Johanna listened closely, and late at night they talked about what would become of their farm and their children. Kalev was worried, for he did not know when he would die, and he had made no decision.

"I'll go see the Sage of Finland," he announced to his wife. "I'll ask him how many years I have to live, and then I will know when to decide."

"A wise idea," Johanna agreed, and so Kalev set off to see the sage.

The sage looked just once at Kalev, and he solemnly said, "You will know death has come when you have sneezed three times."

And as Kalev traveled back home, he was deeply saddened, for he could not stop thinking about sneezing. Just as he walked into his own yard, he froze. There was the honeysuckle vine, and the scent always tickled his nose. Sure enough, before he could stop himself, he sneezed.

"Oh no!" he cried. "Just two more left."

He dared not tell Johanna the news, and so that night he avoided her questions, and early the next morning he set off for the mill to grind some grain. While he was there, working away, the dust from the mill tickled his nose, and he sneezed once again.

He sighed deeply. "Just one more left," he said under his breath, and he ran out of the mill as fast as he could.

Alas, the next morning he realized he had to pick up the sacks of flour he had left behind, and so he walked back to the mill. He walked carefully inside, lifted a sack, threw it over his shoulder and raced for the door.

He rushed out into the warm summer air, but his nose was full of dust. He knew he was going to sneeze. He tried to stop himself.

He inhaled and cried, "No!"

But it was too late. He let out an enormous sneeze.

He placed the sack upon the ground and groaned, "My time has come too soon!"

But he knew he must accept his fate, and so he lay upon the ground and stretched out. He closed his eyes.

The miller's hogs noticed the sack of flour upon the ground, and they rushed through the open gate to the sack and began to rip it open.

When Kalev heard their grunting, he turned his head, opened his eyes and looked at them.

He sighed deeply. "If I were alive, I'd punish you for this, you scoundrels!" he shouted. "Alas, I am dead."

And he closed his eyes.

The miller heard the grunting of his hogs, and he rushed outside to investigate. There he saw Kalev on the ground. He stood over him.

"Why are you lying here?" he asked. "How could you let the hogs go wild?"

Kalev opened his eyes once more. "What can I do?" he sighed. "I'm dead. If I were alive, of course, I'd drive away your hogs, but a dead man can only rely on those who are alive to do his will."

"Ah," said the miller, grinning ear to ear. "So you are dead. That's very sad."

The miller reached for his whip and raised it over his head, preparing to flog his hogs, but when they heard the crack of the whip, they ran away.

The miller whirled that whip to the ground, and it grazed Kalev's arm. The jolt rushed through his body, and he sat up fast.

"Oh my!" he cried with joy. "You've brought me back to life! What a friend you are! If not for you, I'd still be dead."

And feeling happier than he ever had, he heaved what was left of the flour onto his back and hurried home.

From that day on, whenever his children began to argue, he stood up and roared, "I'll hear no talk of death in my presence!"

Kalev and Johanna lived happily ever after for many more years.