This is the story of a boy who was very clever but not at all wise. His name was Alfeo, and he lived in a little village in Italy many years ago. Alfeo was widely believed to be the smartest boy in the whole village. He could tell you what thirteen times thirteen equaled, and how many moons circled the planet Jupiter, and why the leaves change color in autumn. Yet there were many things Alfeo didn't understand that every good boy knew. He didn't know that it was wrong to play hooky, or steal apples from the fruit cart on the corner, or put tacks in his teacher's chair. No one knew what to make of him.
"That boy is destined for greatness!" said the mayor when Alfeo won the school spelling bee.
"That boy is destined for the gallows!" said his wife. Earlier that same day, she had caught Alfeo just as he was about to throw her cat out a second-story window.
"I only wanted to see if it was true that cats always land on their feet," he had said.
One day, Alfeo was walking to school when a strange man stopped him. The man was driving a coach packed with little boys.
"We're on our way to Pleasure Island," said the coachman. "There we will do nothing but have fun all day long. Want to join us?"
Alfeo had been warned all his life not to talk to strangers, but he rarely listened to warnings. Besides, the coachman didn't seem too bright. Alfeo felt certain he could outwit the man if need be. So he jumped into the coach without so much as a backward glance.
There was nothing on Pleasure Island but games and rides and rich food. It was very much like the carnival that came through Alfeo's village each summer, except better, because everything was free and there were no grownups telling him not to get carried away. The only grownup in sight was the coachman, and he actually encouraged the boys to eat and play more. He even gave them beer and cigars!
At first Alfeo was delighted. However, after a few days, he began to get bored. There are only so many times you can ride a Ferris wheel. Even the Roughhouse and the Model Home (open for destruction) stopped being so much fun once the novelty wore off. Alfeo tried talking to the other boys, but he found they had little in common. And there were no books on Pleasure Island. To Alfeo, this seemed like a grievous oversight. He began to wonder if it was time to go home.
Perhaps that is why, when the change that happens to everyone on Pleasure Island eventually happened to Alfeo, it was not quite a total transformation. He still retained his human voice. A few others could talk as well, but most became donkeys through and through.
The miserable creatures were herded down to the dock, where the coachman who had brought them there was shoving one donkey after another into wooden cages. Alfeo trembled when he saw what was stamped on the side of every cage: SOLD TO THE SALT MINES.
"And who do we have here?" the coachman asked the next donkey in line.
"T-T-Tony," he stammered.
"Oh, so you can still talk, eh?" The coachman's eyes narrowed. "Then you'll just have to stay here!" With those words, he shoved the poor brute into a corner, where half a dozen others stood, pleading for their freedom.
A brilliant, dangerous idea popped into Alfeo's head. And for once, a brilliant, dangerous idea was just what was needed.
One by one, the donkeys filed past the coachman. Two more talked and were sent to the corner, but the rest were caged and put on the boat. Finally, Alfeo found himself at the front of the line.
"What's your name?" the coachman asked him.
"Hee-HAW!" said Alfeo.
"Good, good," said the coachman. "Get in!"
And with that, Alfeo was off to the salt mines.
Imagine the shock on the miners' faces when their newest donkey started talking! It took some time, but eventually Alfeo convinced them all that they hadn't gone mad. The story of the boys who became donkeys spread like wildfire. Before you could say "Jiminy Cricket," the coachman was in prison, and all of the boys were back with their families. Of course, they were still donkeys, but the greatest minds in the world were soon hard at work on a cure. Many of them came to Alfeo's village to get his account of the incident firsthand.
Sometimes Alfeo grew tired of telling the same story over and over again. Then he would remember all of the little boys who couldn't tell their stories at all, and he would shudder and say a prayer of thanks. And that is how a clever boy became a wise one.