In a Time Far Away

No one got much rest that night. Tim entertained them with dancing lights, much like what Joan had seen at the sprite party. When the elves settled into their beds, Tim would wake them to ask what they were doing, or how a teapot worked.

Evidently wood sprites didn’t need sleep.

The next day Tim ran about amazed by all the new magic he discovered in camp: the baker had magically turned wheat into bread; the cook had turned a goose into a meal.

“Tim,” asked the King. “Can you make those things appear?”

Tim’s instant versions of the bread and goose were delicious. The cook and the baker shrugged their shoulders and threw their utensils to the ground.

The most magical discovery of all, however, occurred when the elves revealed the secrets of the pencil.

“Look,” said the wood smith. “It writes.” Taking a sheet of paper, he scratched the dark point of the pencil over it. Then he held up the paper so everyone could see the mark.

Tim was utterly amazed. Tossing his spoon aside, he took the pencil in hand and began marking up another piece of paper. And then another and another. He sat for days writing. It seemed his fascination with the item would never end.

“I think we know how to keep him here,” said Ned.

So the elves learned to make pencils. They interrupted Tim when they needed something—a meal or a toy or some other diversion. Tim was happy to comply, just as long as he could return quickly to his work.

One rainy day, an elf did not want to go out into the weather to empty his bowels. “Tim,” said the elf. “Can you make it so I never have to poop again?”

Tim waved his pencil and sent out sparkles. Two days later the elf suffered stomach pains. He asked Tim to make the pains go away. The wood sprite waved the wand again. A week later the elf exploded.

“He asked for something stupid,” the others said. “He deserved it.” No one seemed too concerned. After all, what was the life of one elf compared to the comfort of all the rest? Tim made their lives easier. He created softer beds, stronger cloth, metal spoons, and flying toys.

Another day, an argument broke out on how long the rain would last. “I bet it will stop tomorrow,” said one. “If it doesn’t, I hope to sprout fur and a bushy tail.”

“That’s a safe thing to say. How would that ever happen?”

“Tim can do it. It would be better than being wrong to you.”

The next day it continued to rain, so Tim granted his request. No one grumbled too much when the elf turned into a squirrel and ran off into the wet forest. After all, what was one more missing elf compared to the happiness of the rest.

One evening, after Tim had conjured a meal of glazed roast duck and asparagus tips over a bed of basil and butter orzo, the elves sat around with their feet up. They were all much too lazy to kindle a blaze for themselves, so Uncle Ned asked Tim for a fire they could sit around and stare into. Tim shook sparkles from his pencil lead. A beautiful golden fire sprang up in the pit, gracefully waving its flames in slow motion. The elves were astounded by the beauty, but they quickly noticed it did not give off any heat.

“Can you make it hot?” asked Ned.

“Hot?” asked Tim. He didn’t understand the need for such a thing.

“Yeah. Like the sun.”

The wood sprite waved his wand, and the entire grove exploded in flame. The elves scattered, screaming for Tim to take it away. By the time the panic ended, the birch grove was destroyed and twelve elves died.

“We just have to be careful what to ask for,” the king wisely proclaimed. Everyone nodded in agreement. After all, what were twelve lives compared to the contentment of the survivors.

Now their home had been destroyed, the king asked Tim for a castle to live in. Elves never before had need of a castle, but they got one anyway, right where the grove used to be.

The wood sprite had his own room to write in. Each elf received a private chamber and filled it with the treasures Tim created. The little elf kingdom became silent as everyone kept to their rooms and occupied themselves with whatever they wanted. When the elves did venture into the quiet corridors, they darted quickly, hoping not to bump into any of the others, impatient to get back to their own diversions.

Joan got bored. Her room sat empty; there was nothing in this new kingdom she needed. She continued to go outside, but always by herself. Things had certainly changed. One day she visited Tim. A stack of paper sat heavily on one end of his desk, the pages filled with strange symbols she didn’t recognize. She guessed it was fairy writing.

“What does it say,” she asked.

Tim looked at her in wonder. Then he put his ear next to the paper and listened for a moment. Worry slowly replaced the surprise on his face. “It doesn’t say anything. Is that bad?”

“Oh, it’s fine.”

“Good,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief.

“What I mean is,” she clarified. “Do these symbols relate a story? Do they represent ideas?”

“You can tell stories with writing?” he asked with growing interest. This sounded like more magic to him. “That’s what I want to do!” He shoved the huge stack of papers from his desk.

Joan watch the sheets tumble and flutter across the floor. How could he have spent so much time putting pencil to paper without knowing this?

“What have you been working on all this time?”

“That.” He pointed to the mess on the floor. “How do you make writing tell stories?”