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Old Rootling

Old Rootling
by Trevor Shikaze

Once on a time a poor boy was out collecting nuts when he went into the bog where they'd warned him not to go. And why not, he thought, and he skipped along.

Then from under a log he heard a moan and he lifted the log to see what it was. He found a little person as shriveled up and ugly as an old dead root, and a snake was curled around the person and sleeping there.

"If I save you," said the poor boy, whose name was Tom, "what will you do for me?"

Then the little shriveled person sang, "My grief is deep, my will is weak, and just like him I'll eat time, just like him I'll eat time."

Tom thought it was the strangest thing he'd seen, so he killed the snake and put the little person in his pocket, and he took the little person home and he called him Old Rootling.

When Tom got home his mother asked for some nuts for her pot, but you see Tom had none. Instead of collecting nuts, he'd gone off into the bog where they'd warned him not to go, so his mother thrashed him good and sent him out to clean the chicken coop.

Well Tom went out there with Old Rootling in his pocket, and he'd just picked up the shovel to clean the coop when all at once it was night and his mother and father were calling him.

"Where have you been, Tom?"

"Just out in back by the chicken coop!"

"For all these hours? Come here, and you'll get a thrashing now!"

They made him sleep outside for being bad, so he went out and found a tree and sat against it in the cold.

Old Rootling was with him, and Tom asked, "Did you eat up that time, Old Rootling?"

But Old Rootling would only sing, "My grief is deep, my will is weak, and just like him I'll eat time, just like him I'll eat time."

"Well, don't go eating my time like that," said Tom. "If you must eat my time, do it while I'm asleep. That way I won't miss it. But just don't eat my dreams, that's all I ask."

So that's what happened. Old Rootling waited till Tom was asleep, and he nipped a minute here and a minute there, and he was careful not to eat up any dreams. And Tom dreamt of a palace to live in and good food to eat and a pretty wife, and he was joyful in those dreams.

Well it happened one day that the King was out hunting boar, and Tom's father was also out hunting, and Tom's father was rustling around in the bushes with a hairy coat on his back for warmth. The King saw Tom's father and shot him with an arrow, and he died. It was all an accident, and the King let Tom and his mother live in the palace because he felt ashamed for killing the father and he felt sad for the boy. He made sure that Tom had a tutor and good food to eat. He took Tom on his hunts, and Tom often rode next to the King. And all this time, Tom carried Old Rootling in his pocket, and every night Old Rootling ate some of his time, and no one knew about it. He kept him hidden, because Old Rootling was a strange thing and maybe even a curse.

Well the King had a daughter and she was the fairest maiden of all, and everyone knew that she fancied Tom, who'd grown into a handsome young man. Tom fancied the daughter too, but he would not ask for her hand because he had a secret, and the secret was Old Rootling. Sometimes he thought about carrying Old Rootling back out to the bog and leaving him there, but he'd look at his sad shriveled face and he'd hear his sad song and he just knew it wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be right to leave Old Rootling all alone, because Old Rootling had nothing without Tom, and he'd starve, or some snake would eat him.

So the King's daughter married someone else, and Tom's mother died, and Tom couldn't stand to live in the palace anymore because it reminded him of the good things he'd lost. So he left the palace and went to live in a tiny house in the woods, and he grew a long beard. He kept Old Rootling hidden away in that tiny house, just the two of them, but then one day a crone came to the palace to tell the King's fortune, and after she'd done that the King sent her to see Tom. When she did, she said, "I know you have a secret."

So he told her about Old Rootling.

"Take a hatchet," said the crone, "and cut that devil to pieces. Otherwise, you will never be free of him. He has taken so much time from you, and now your beard is long. You've lost the princess and your home in the palace. What more do you have to lose?"

So when she left he took a hatchet and he found Old Rootling asleep under a pillow, and he cut Old Rootling to pieces and burned the pieces in the fireplace.

But when Tom saw himself in a mirror, what he saw was a person as shriveled up and ugly as an old dead root. For you see, Old Rootling had eaten the time right out of him. Tom had kept it all a secret, and because of his secret he'd lost everything. And now he'd lost Old Rootling too.

"My grief is deep, my will is weak, and just like him I'll eat time," sang Tom, "just like him I'll eat time."

Then he went out to the bog to see what might happen.

* * *

Trevor Shikaze lives on Earth, which he shares with billions of wives and cats.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

An aggressively creative tapeworm.