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The Ten Most Common Trickster Scams

Liam Hogan is an award winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction and in Best of British Fantasy (NewCon Press). He's been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars' League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. More details at http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk.

We live in a time of Tricksters, both in our encounters with the fae, and in ill-advised deals with the devil. The wise should always guard against hidden terms and conditions. For a full and updated list of Trickster* Scams, follow the link to Witch? Below are the perennial cons, as seen most often by our readers.
1. An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away:
The classic Trickster deal; everyone knows someone who has fallen for this! Like many deals, it appears to work perfectly well, until that one day you forget, or neglect, to eat an apple. At which point, every illness known to man and a few new ones invented for the occasion will be visited upon you. For this, and for other reasons, it is always best to avoid crones bearing rosy, red apples, and to build up a history with your health care professional instead.
2. All Roads Lead To Rome:
NEVER take directions from a Trickster. Not even if you DO actually want to go to Rome. Ask yourself: will you ever want to leave?
3. If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again:
There has to be a point at which you stop trying. To eat, to sleep, to live whatever pitiful portion of your life remains. Even Tricksters get tricked by this one; just ask Sisyphus.
4. If God Had Meant Us To Fly, She Would Have Given Us Wings:
She would also have made us a lot, lot lighter. The Great Bustard weighs, at most, about a quarter that of a grown man. Larger beasts have flown in the distant past, with wingspans up to fifty feet, but they're all extinct, or in hiding. Which ought to serve as a warning: think very carefully before asking for things that humans can't usually do.
5. Laughter Is The Best Medicine:
Not only is prolonged maniacal laughter likely to deposit you in a padded cell, there has not been a single, reproducible scientific study that has shown laughter to be half as efficacious as the current medically recommended treatment, let alone more. While those who fall for this particularly cruel con tend to be incurables, who might think they have nothing to lose, a 24/7/52 fit of even the lightest of giggles will quickly have you--and everyone else in earshot--wishing that you were incurably ill again.
6. Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right:
Post-hex remorse can lead even the most prudent of folk to return to the Trickster, to remove or to fix whatever it is that is now broken. DO NOT DO THIS. The Trickster is ready and waiting, and things are not going to improve. Doubling down merely doubles your downside. You're not going to catch a break, ever, because:
7. Never Give A Sucker An Even Break:
Tricksters trick, that's what they do. This may be considered a catch-all for all Trickster interactions. You might think that what they're offering is indispensable, or harmless, or just fun--the future subject of a good bedtime story. But Caveat Emptor: the game is rigged, and it's not in your favor.
8. Once Bitten, Twice Shy:
It is always important to ask for clarification of any terms that might be a little, often deliberately, vague. Shy of what? The obvious answer is very rarely the one that applies, in Trickster dealings. Or never in the way that you expect. So you could end up shy of sunlight and garlic. Or moonlight and silver. Or running water and highly combustible material piled around a stake. Think very carefully before approaching anything with pointy teeth. Or pointy shoes, or pointy hats.... Point taken?
9. Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover:
You might, in retrospect, claim that you didn't know you were dealing with a Trickster. But what did you imagine? A floating warning sign saying do not trust this fairy / horned demon / suspiciously ugly looking but kindly old woman? Ignorance is not a valid excuse. It is up to you to verify the magical or otherwise status of anyone you're conducting a deal with. You can usually tell quite easily, even if they're not oddly shaped, or attired, or limbed: see our previous articles on "How To Spot A Trickster". Even if it's not obvious, the play, when it is made, will appear overtly casual, such that you might be tempted to reply "sure" and "who wouldn't?" without a second thought. Closer scrutiny will show that only magic could achieve what is on offer, and closer scrutiny still should reveal the side of the bargain you hadn't even been aware you were making.
Of course, the most tricky and dangerous of all Tricksters are entirely upfront that you're about to get scammed. They might even ask you to sign a contract to that effect, sometimes in blood. No amount of reading of the small print is likely to save your soul in that dire situation. Back away, very, very carefully.
10. Better Late Than Never:
This covers a whole class of cons, usually offered to extremely elderly or imperiled folk, who think they have tricked the Trickster, simply by shuffling off this mortal coil. Disturbingly often, Trickster payment comes due even after you die. And once you are "late," you are always late, and always is a very long time to pay for something you really should have paid for while alive. You might think that you can "win," but you never do, and you never will, not even if you are a Trickster yourself.
The moral of the story, as ever, is if it looks too good to be true, if it looks like you have found a loophole or some other way to turn the tables on the Trickster, rest assured, you're not the first to think so, and no, you haven't.
Some debts even come due upon your children, or your children's children, and your indebted offspring will not look kindly on an unexpected visitation of one seriously pissed-off magical entity, long after you are nothing but a faded memory.
* Tricksters do NOT take kindly to the generous deals they offer being referred to as "scams" or "cons." It is best not to argue this point. Just Say No.**
** It pays to be polite. Best amend that to "No, thank you."***
*** We are currently in the process of looking for new offices. We're also looking for a new chief editor, as we can't find the old ones, of either. If you know of a suitable hex-proof space, or someone brave who matches the job description on the Employment Opportunities page, please get in touch!
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 17th, 2022

Author Comments

The Trickster is often the most interesting character. A mischievous, malevolent force, strictly neither purely good nor purely bad, just someone who is far too eager for you to play their little games. It's a shame those games are rigged, and sometimes incomprehensible. Perhaps someone should come up with a set of warnings...? Now, who would be brave enough to do such a thing?

- Liam Hogan
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