Once upon a time, in a small village nestled in a picturesque valley, lived two brothers — woodcutters by profession. The elder brother was lazy, selfish and greedy, while the younger one was hard-working, kind and generous. Most of the household work and expenses fell on the shoulders of Younger. And he suffered mistreatment at the hands of Elder. Such mistreatment that it is beyond words.

After many years of gritting his teeth, Younger left the village, and most of his possessions. He moved two hills over, and started anew. Life was peaceful, and Younger’s teeth hurt less.

A few weeks later, while addressing a particularly tough tree with his freshly sharpened axe, he heard a dull ‘clink’. Curious, he dug in and found a small metal flask. A few well-placed blows with the haft of his axe dislodged the flask’s cap. Unscrewing it may been easier, but Younger never shied away from hard work. A tarry haze oozed out of the flask, and rapidly darkened the glade — even as the noonday sun blazed overhead.

Slowly, the darkness took shape. It spoke to Younger in a gravelly drawl, much like Marlon Brando with a bottle cap lodged in back of his throat. Unfortunately, this excellent bit of voice acting was lost on Younger. His pop culture education was sorely lacking.

The Voice said, “Who commands my presence?”

Fortunately, Younger was quite familiar with fables, parables and multiplication tables. “It is I, your master!”, he squeaked.

“You have set me free after 10,000 years of captivity,” said the Voice. “For that, I shall grant you four boons. Not three. Four. Because I can.”

“Oh!”, said Younger.

“There is but one condition. Whatever I grant, your living relatives shall receive twice over.”

Younger started with the usual — hard currency. There was a muffled pop, a heap of gold coins appeared before him. After checking a few coins by biting them — “Hmmm,”, he thought, “They do taste like metal,” — he hid the majority in the glade, and tucked the rest in his belt. The coins were soon joined by the flask. He wore one of those Batman-style belts that seem to hold everything from a toothpick to a fire hose.

Whistling merrily, he trudged back to the village whence1 he had come. As he drew closer, he heard sounds of celebration and laughter. He followed the noise to the village headman’s house, and peeked in though the window. It was good that curtains had not yet become popular in his village. Many young men, and few old ones, would have nodded in agreement.

Inside, grinning from ear-to-ear, in a place of pride next to the headman, sat Elder. A gold coin danced across his knuckles. The headman’s eyes flickered between Elder’s smirk and the amber gleam in his hand.

Younger retreated, and walked over a nearby provision store. He had been looking forward to stocking up for a hearty meal or three — his usual fare of oaken soup with a side of oak leaves left something to be desired. But his appetite was gone now. He greeted the store owner’s daughter timidly, too distracted to see the sapphire smile that she bestowed on him.

Late that night, Younger returned to his hut. His cookpot was bubbling merrily — grateful for some real food for a change. The cookpot, that is, not Younger. Pots have feeling too.

Youger’s sat frowning and hunched, muttering to himself, “Double… Half… Square root of two… Hmmm…” This went on until even the cookpot lost interest. Suddenly, his brow cleared, and a smile played on his lips. It made him look quite dashing — a cross between Charlie Sheen and Errol Flynn — though the similie would be lost on him.

The next morning, he opened the Flask. Immediately, tarry smoke issued forth, and a voice said “WHO DARES DISTURB… Oh, it is you. Good morning.”

Younger took a deep breath, and said, “Good morning. I want you to beat me half to death.”



  1. There is a good deal of Internet debate about the use of whence. Literally, it means “from where”. However, “from whence” is used quite as often as “whence” — that is to say, neither of them are used much at all.