Joan spent the next few days teaching Tim the elfish alphabet and how they related to the sounds they used when speaking. Tim thought it magic and was thrilled when he learned to do it.
During a break in one of their lessons, Joan finally asked the question that had been on her mind. “How long are you planning to stay here?”
He eyed her suspiciously and smiled. “This long?” He held his hands about three feet apart.
“Oh, I forgot.” She changed her question. “Will you leave some day?”
“Oh yes. Now.”
Joan knew that didn’t mean the same thing to Tim as it meant to everyone else. In fact, it meant nothing at all. Frustrated, Joan went outside. She had to get away from the castle, so she walked toward her favorite spot and stared out over the river valley. It was beautiful, of course. Small puffy clouds speckled the treetops with shadows. Here and there, a glimpse of the river reflected the bright sky. She seemed to be the only elf who still cared about such things.
All anyone cared about now were the prizes they hoarded in their rooms. The trinkets and toys Tim made were fascinating, but Joan missed the way things used to be. She missed running through the forest with her friends; she missed sitting down to meals with her family. She missed the laughter and the activity at the center of the camp that no longer existed.
How much longer did Tim plan to stay? Though he was her friend, she hoped he would leave soon. He meant well, but everything had been ruined. He granted every stupid, petty, greedy wish anyone asked for. Everyone had grown lazy and numb.
As Tim lingered at the castle, the elves continued to ask for things. Some wanted gold, some wanted jewels. Some wanted more gold or jewels than another. Some wanted something no one else had. They requested bigger and bigger rooms as they collected more and more stuff.
One day, Ned said to Tim, “I want power over my brother. Make me king.”
Tim waved his wand and made it so.
Joan’s father became furious. Ned had never done anything to deserve the kingship.
“Tim,” said Joan’s father. “I need you to kill Ned.”
Tim waved his wand. Nobody cared; they were locked away in their rooms.
Joan had enough. Despite everyone getting whatever they wanted, which would seem wonderful, the elf community had been destroyed, and it was only getting worse. She went to see Tim, who was very happy to see her.
“Read this,” he said, thrusting a story into her hands.
She read it but it made no sense. There were things in it she didn’t recognize: a turtle, a storm cloud, a jackhammer—whatever that was—and another thing called a nuclear propulsion. None of it seemed connected, but Tim was very proud of it.
“I have another,” he added excitedly.
“I’ll read it later.” There were other things Joan wanted to talk about. These stories were just a distraction now.
“Great. How about now?” He thrust the story at her.
“I’ll tell you when.”
“Okay. I’m leaving.”
Joan was surprised at his response. “Because I won’t read your story?”
“You can always read it. I hope you read them all.”
She looked around the room but saw no other stories. Joan wasn’t sure how she could read stories he hadn’t written yet after his departure, but she stopped trying to figure out Tim’s concept of time.
“I’m leaving because it’s boring around here,” Tim stated. “No one does any magic anymore.”
“Nobody does anything anymore,” Joan agreed. She considered asking to go with him but knew that would probably turn out badly. “When are you going?”
Joan became disheartened. She knew his idea of now did not match anyone else’s. He probably meant he’d leave right after finishing all the stories he intended for her to read. But Joan wanted to encourage him to leave sooner than that. She was just about to speak up when he abruptly walked out of the room.
“Where are you going?” she called after him, surprised at this sudden action.
“Oh, right.” Joan almost smiled.