Take a story or folk tale your own parents told you as a child—and make it new.
“The Old Dead Horse” is just such a story from my family. My mother claimed she adapted the story from a joke she heard at a holiday cocktail party. Over the years, she must have told it to me a hundred times, embellishing it a little with each telling. I never got tired of hearing it, and it still makes me laugh each time I tell it to my own children.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Charley. Charley was a good fellow, but folks didn’t consider him too smart. Everyone in his hometown knew this about Charley. In fact, some people called him downright simple. But Charley didn’t care what people said. He always treated others kindly, and greeted everyone he met with a smile or a friendly word.
One day, as Charley was walking down Main Street, he saw two men loading a dead horse into the back of their truck. The horse had been very old and had apparently died right there.
Charley called out to the two men, whose names were Butch and Calvin. “Say fellas, watcha doin’?” Charley had a very nasal voice. When he spoke, he always sounded like his nose was stopped up.
“Well, Charley,” said Butch. “What does it look like we’re doing?”
“I don’t know,” said Charley. “That’s why I asked.”
“Charley,” said Calvin (the more patient of the two), “this old horse died right here in the middle of the street. We’re gonna take him in our truck to the town dump.”
“You don’t say,” said Charley.
Butch rolled his eyes. Calvin smiled.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Charley. “Would you both like to make some money?”
“Sure,” said Butch. “How much?”
“Fifty dollars for the two of you,” said Charley.
“Wait,” said Calvin, “what do you want us to do?”
“That’s the good part,” replied Charley. “I want you to take that old dead horse to my house.”
“What would you want with an old dead horse?” asked Calvin.
“It’s my business.” Charley winked his eye. “Besides, fifty dollars is fifty dollars. What do you say, fellas?”
“Yeah,” said Butch, “fifty dollars is fifty dollars.”
“Well, okay,” said Calvin, a little reluctantly. “If that’s what you want.”
Charley jumped into the cab of their truck, and together they drove to Charley’s house, just outside of town.
“We’re here, Charley,” said Calvin. “What do you want us to do with this old dead horse?”
“Thanks for askin’, fellas. Would you mind takin’ it up to my second floor bathroom and dumpin’ it in my bathtub?”
“Huh?” said Butch.
“Say again?” said Calvin. Calvin took off his cap and scratched his head.
“That’s right, fellas,” Charley said with a grin. “I want you to put that old dead horse in my bathtub.”
“Wait just a minute here,” said Calvin. “We are NOT going to put an old dead horse into your bathtub. Charley, have you lost your wits?”
“Nope,” said Charley. “I know just what I’m doin’. If you’ll do this for me, there’s an extra fifty bucks in it for you.” Charley took a hundred dollars from this pocket. He held it up in front of their noses.
Both men stared. One hundred dollars was a lot of money. And if some old kook wanted to spend his money this way, who were they to question his reasons. Or his sanity, for that matter.
The two men picked up the old dead horse. They carried it through Charley’s front door, up the stairs, and into Charley’s bathroom. There, they managed to lay the horse into Charley’s bathtub, legs draping over the sides.
When they came outside, Charley was waiting. He counted out fifty dollars for each man. “Thirty, forty, fifty,” said Charley. “It looks like we’re all even now, fellas. Thank ya kindly.”
“Thanks Charley,” said Butch. “Fifty dollars a piece is a lot of money.”
“Yeah, thank you Charley,” said Calvin. “The money is very good, but . . .”
“But what?” asked Charley.
“Charley, I just can’t leave here until I find out why you wanted us to put that old dead horse in your bathtub.”
Charley chuckled. “I’d be glad to tell you.”
“This I gotta hear,” said Butch. The two men relaxed against the hood of their truck as Charley explained.
“Fellas? See that house right yonder next to mine?”
The men nodded.
“Mr. Smith lives there. He has been my neighbor for fifteen years. He’s a real nice man. But if he has one fault, it’s that he’s so stingy. He won’t buy a thing with his money. Cheap is what he is.”
“How cheap is he?” asked Butch.
“He’s so cheap,” said Charley, “that he won’t even put a real flush toilet in his home. Look out there in his backyard. That’s an outhouse. In this day and age, Mr. Smith still uses an outdoor Johnny!”
“Go on,” said Butch.
“It’s the truth,” said Charley. “Now, it’s okay to use the outhouse in summer. But now it’s winter and Mr. Smith doesn’t like to use his Johnny when it’s cold outside. Do you know what he does then?”
Both men shook their heads.
“He comes to my house about eight o’clock every night. He’ll say, ‘Charley? Can I use your bathroom?’ And I’ll say, ‘Sure, Mr. Smith. Go right on up and help yourself.’”
Charley leaned closer to the men. “It wouldn’t be so bad,” he said, “if Mr. Smith just went upstairs and used my bathroom. But do you know what he does there that’s so annoying?”
“What, Charley?” asked Calvin.
“He sits on that comfy toilet seat in my nice warm bathroom and thinks of real hard questions to ask me, just for the fun of seeing how dumb I am.”
The men just stared at Charley, mouths open, not saying a word.
“It’s the truth,” said Charley. “Just the other night, he came down my stairs after using my nice warm bathroom. He asked me, ‘Charley, who was the first President of the United States?’ And I said, ‘Oh, Mr. Smith. It makes my head hurt when you ask me such hard questions. You know I’m not smart. I don’t know, Mr. Smith. Who was the first President of the United States?’ He then said to me, ‘Charley, you old dumb fool; it was George Washington.’ Then he walked out of my house laughing.”
“You don’t say,” said Butch.
“I do,” said Charley. “Then a couple of nights later, Mr. Smith came down my steps after using my nice warm bathroom and said, ‘Charley, what’s the capital of France?’ And I said, ‘Oh Mr. Smith, you know I can’t answer these hard questions, they make my head hurt. I don’t know. What is the capital of France?’ He said, ‘Charley, you old dumb fool; it’s Paris.’ Again, he walked out of the house laughing, having made a nice joke on me.”
“But, Charley” asked Calvin, “what does the old dead horse have to do with this?”
Charley pointed his finger up at the late afternoon skies. “See those dark clouds up there?” The men looked up.
“Feel that cold wind startin’ to blow?” Both nodded.
“Well,” said Charley, “it’s gonna snow tonight. The wind’s gonna blow, and the temperature will drop.”
“If you say so, Charley,” replied Butch.
“I guarantee it,” said Charley. “I’ll also betcha that around eight o’clock tonight Mr. Smith’s gonna come over to my house. He’ll ask, ‘Charley, can I use your bathroom?’ And I’ll say, ‘Of course, Mr. Smith. Just help yourself.’”
“So?” asked Butch.
“So,” continued Charley, “while Mr. Smith is upstairs using my nice warm bathroom, I’m gonna wait right down here by the foot of my stairs. Do you know why?”
Butch and Calvin shrugged their shoulders.
“Cuz after a few seconds, Mr. Smith’s gonna come stomping down those stairs just fit to be tied. And he’s gonna ask me, ‘CHARLEY! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT IN YOUR BATHTUB?’”
The two men said not a word. They just looked at Charley with their mouths open.
“And I’m gonna say, ‘Mr. Smith, you OLD DUMB FOOL, that’s an OLD DEAD HORSE!’”