The Night Is Darker Now

            "This must be the place," Phil said. "Zeldritch is supposed to meet us."
`           Ted looked around. The area was thick with tall skinny stick-like trees. "This place is gloomy. These trees look dead. What does Zeldritch look like?"

            "I dunno." Phil shook his head. "All I know is that she's the ooal troll. It's downright dismal here. I hate to leave you, buddy."

            Brojo gulped. "I'll b-be okay."

            "Of course you will," snarled a lumpy looking hag.

            "You must be Zeldritch," Ted gasped.

            "Yes, I am the Coal Troll." She looked Ted over with one green and one yellow eye. "Are you the culprit?"

            "That would be me," Brojo said with a false courage.

            "Follow me, then." The hag's knuckles dragged the ground and she was smudged with blackened ash.

            Brojo trembled as he followed her into the Coal Mine. Once inside, a great boulder rolled into the opening of the mine, shutting out the light.

            "I haven't had company in centuries." Zeldritch lit a small lantern and looked Brojo over carefully. Her eyes beamed an ambery-green. "You don't seem like a bad sort. Why are you here?"

            "To learn a lesson, I suppose." Brojo picked at his fingers. "Santa called it Brownstudy."

            "Of course. What's the nasty deed?"

            "Running away.  Eating too much.  I made the PIN drop, and  the Tin Man disappeared."

            "Indeed." Zeldritch waved her arms around the room. "Well, this is where you'll be living.  As you can see, you won't be comfortable here.  And, you will do all of the work.  I shall have a well-earned break."

            "Are you leaving?"

            "Oh no, I'll be watching you, even when you can't see me. I will be your shadow."

             Brojo gulped again. "So, where do I begin?"

            "Sit on that block of coal over there, and think.  Later, you will begin your physical labor.  For now you must sit in that corner, and think." 

            "What should I think about?"

            "Whatever comes into your mind." Zeldritch stared at Brojo.  "When I return, we shall begin."

***

            Brojo sat on the block of coal. After his eyes adjusted, he observed his surroundings.  Nothing but darkness as far as he could see.  It was dirty, too.  He studied his hands, now smutty, as well.  And he started to think. He wondered about his behavior, and why he wanted to leave the North Pole.  He thought about all of the sadness he had caused, and he considered the Tin Man shop, now gone.

            He knew he had done something very wrong.  His back side was sore from sitting.  He hoped Zeldritch would return soon. The silence was deafening.  He dozed now and then, but wasn’t comfortable enough to get any real sleep. And he thought some more. 

            What was so bad about my life? What was I running away from? What did I expect from the others? How can I make it up to everyone? What have I learned?

            "Now you're on the right track," Zeldritch said, causing Brojo to jump. "It's time to begin."

            Yippers! She really is my shadow!. "How long have I been sitting there?" Brojo was actually glad to see Zeldritch.

            "Two days. Now, why are you the most important?"

            "I'm not," Brojo said.

            "Do not tell me what you think I want to hear." Zeldritch pointed to a pickaxe.  "It's time to start working. Use the axe to break up the coal."

            Brojo grabbed the pickaxe and started to work.

            "Why are you more important than anyone or anything else?"

            Brojo opened his mouth to speak.

            "Don't answer now!  Think about it," Zeldritch ordered, and disappeared again.

            Brojo raised his pick and let it fall into the mound of coal. Several clumps of coal rolled away.  He raised the pick again.

            "Stop!" the Coal Troll shouted.

            "Why?" Brojo asked.

            "Pick up your pieces."

            "I will when I've finished breaking them."

            "Pick them up now, then break more."

             Brojo shook his head. "That's stupid."

            "Pick up the pieces before you make more. Why?"

            "This is silly," Brojo said.

            "Consider my question."

            "Well, maybe I'll get too tired."

            "Good answer, but not complete.  Consider," Zeldritch said.

            Brojo thought for a bit. "Um, if I have too many broken pieces, I might overlook some?"

            "Good, what else?" She asked patiently.

            Brojo exhaled.  "Gee, I dunno."

            "Think about it and we will talk again tomorrow." Zeldritch disappeared.

            Brojo dropped the pickaxe and grabbed a canvas bag.  He gathered the coal. Then he picked up the axe again. After breaking the next piece, he put the axe down and retrieved the pieces. He repeated this several times.

            He looked at his blackened, blistered hands.  He brushed them on his vest and picked  up the axe again. What is the answer?

            Brojo chopped at the coal, dislodging several small lumps. He put them in the bag. He leaned the axe against a wall and placed the bag beside it. He sat down, leaning against the bag of coal. "Ugh." He adjusted the sack, but it didn't matter, he was still miserable. He rubbed his hands together and blew on his aching fingers. I know! If I broke up all that coal, I wouldn't be able to pick it up.  I would be in too much pain, and the task would be overwhelming! He looked around, satisfied that he had tidied the area as he worked. If he hadn't, he would be knee-deep in lumps of coal. "And," he added out loud, "I would have way more than needed."

            "Excellent!" Zeldritch said, reappearing.  "Rest now, because your lessons continue tomorrow."

            "You startled me! Um, can I have a blanket?"

            "No, I need all of my blankets.  I'll be in my featherbed, nice and toasty. G'night."

           

          


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