Wednesday, 23 January 2013

El and the Big Roon

In this, as a mental exercise, I set out to write a deliberately kiddie story. It was surprisingly difficult.

The title is inspired by Jerry Pinto's book, Em and the Big Hoom, which I have not read.



El had just come home from music practice and was fishing for her keys when she met the Big Roon.

El had her own house key since her mum worked till nine at the hotel downtown. Her dad had left so long ago that El could scarcely remember him. She couldn’t have any friends either because of this, since she had to come straight back after school and the tuitions of the day. Tuesday was music class.

El hated music class. She hated every single moment of it, but her mum said she’d paid for six months’ lessons and she couldn’t afford the money to be wasted. Besides, El might grow to like it.

El did not like it. Two months had passed and she hated it more than ever each day. Nor was her music teacher happy with her, and said so, frequently. But they had to tolerate each other for four more months, and that was all there was to it.

Well, El thought, as she did every Tuesday evening, that was over for another week. Tomorrow was mathematics, and that was another dreaded subject, but at least it wasn’t quite as bad as music.

El was fumbling in her pockets as she climbed the narrow concrete steps, past the scraggly bushes growing by the wall, a frown on her face as she suddenly discovered that she couldn’t find the key. It should have been in her right pants pocket. She was almost certain she’d put it in her right pants pocket. And she was equally almost certain that she’d had it in her pocket when she’d got off the bus just now.

But she wasn’t completely certain, and she didn’t seem to have it in her pocket now, that was for sure.

“Damn,” she swore, a little self-consciously, and then with a rising sense of frustration. “Damn! Where is the damned key?”

Something rustled in the scraggly bushes by the wall, as if a large object had suddenly been frightened by the sound of cursing and tried to hide itself out of sight. El, who was still fumbling for the key, turned and peered suspiciously into the dusk.

Something was there, squeezed down into the space between the bushes and the wall, and trembling so that the scraggly twigs quivered and shook. El frowned, and, forgetting the key for the moment, jumped down from the steps. It might be a dog, lonely and scared, and she had a soft spot for dogs, She’d always wanted a dog, but of course her mum would have hit the roof if she ever had dared ask for one.

“Hey dog,” she called. “Here, boy. Something the matter? Are you lost?” Still speaking, she pulled back the twigs and peered into the bush.

Two eyes stared back at her, huge and pale and watery, set in a mass of tangled hair so thick she couldn’t make out any features at all. El wasn’t even frightened. How could anyone be frightened of a mop of hair and a pair of colourless eyes?

“Hey!” she said. “Who are you?”

The...creature...squealed with fear and tried to shrink away. “Don’t hurt me, please,” it begged in a high treble. “I’ll go right away. Just don’t hurt me.”

“I’m not going to hurt you.” El stood back and crossed her arms across her chest. “So you can come right out of there.”

“Cross your heart?” The creature blinked cautiously at her. “Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“All right, all right,” El said. “Cross my heart. Now come on out.”

There was a rustle behind the bush, and the creature came out. And it came out and came out and came out.

El broke all kinds of records in the standing backwards long jump when all that endless length of hairy creature came crawling out from behind the bush, like a caterpillar which had  somehow grown to the size of a respectable whale. But then it began to push itself together, until it was a rounded lump about half as high as El herself, which meant it wasn’t particularly large at all.

“You aren’t a dog,” El informed it, feeling foolish.

Of course I’m not a dog,” the creature said, shaking itself. “I am the Big Roon.”

“Glad to meet you, I’m sure,” El said unsurely. “I’m El.”

“El?” the creature asked. “What kind of a name is El?”

 “What kind of a name is Big Roon, then?” El replied, indignantly.

“It’s the Big Roon,” the Big Roon explained. “Not just Big Roon.” 

“Oh.” El thought about that for a moment. “You mean there are other Roons?”

“Of course there are – ever so many others. Just among my brothers and sisters I have the Huge Roon, the Large Roon, the Middling Roon, the –“

“I got the idea,” El said hastily. “You’ll have to excuse me though – I never read about any Roons in our textbooks in school.”

“That’s all right,” the Big Roon said magnanimously. “You’ll learn about us eventually, I suppose. Why, we’re famous. Everyone knows all about us.”

“If that’s so,” El challenged, “why aren’t you on TV?”

“But we are on TV,” the Big Roon said. “We’re on TV all over back in Dzschingiskhan. There’s hardly a day goes by that there isn’t a programme on us.”

“Dschingiskhan?” El asked. “What’s that, another country? Somewhere near Pakistan?”

“Pakistan?” the Big Roon asked right back. “I don’t know where that is. Is it somewhere they have green skies and three suns, like back at home?”

El’s mouth fell open. “Are you telling me you’re from another planet?” she demanded.

“Which planet is this?” the Big Roon asked, peering around. “I haven’t been here long enough to find out, so I can’t answer your question.”

“It’s Earth.” El stared at the Big Roon. It was getting very dark, so she had to stare hard. “Do  you know where that is?”

“Earth?” the Big Roon yelped in consternation. “Isn’t that the planet run by monkeys? Ugly, dirty, noisy place where everyone thinks he or she is better than everyone else?”

“What,” El replied. “You mean to tell me you don’t think you’re better than everyone else?”

“That’s different,” the Big Roon replied loftily. “I know I’m better than everyone else. It’s not a matter of opinion.”

El thought about that and decided not to follow down that particular track. “Just how did you get here anyway?”

“I don’t know.” The Big Roon was looking around, a dazed expression in its pale eyes. “I was scroobling home from my school, when all of a sudden there was this flash, and I found myself standing among these bushes while a horrible monster made noises at me and tried to murder me with its claws.”

“Horrible monster? What horrible monster?”

“It was orange and white, and it had a long tail. I hid in the bushes and it jumped over this wall and disappeared.”

El smothered a laugh. “That was Pooshee, the neighbours’ cat.”

“Is it likely to come back?” The Big Roon looked around apprehensively. “Because if it does, we’d better get away from here.”

“Pooshee won’t hurt you,” El said. “You just scared her, that’s all.”

“You weren’t there while it was snarling and clawing.” The Big Roon looked around. “Does it always get so dark round here? When is your second sun coming up?”

“Second sun? We only have the one.”

“You mean – you have to live half your life in complete darkness?” The Big Roon sounded terrified. “How can you find your way about? Don’t you fall off cliffs and things?”

“We have lights.” El looked around. “But now you mention it, it’s night already. We’d better go inside and – oh, damn.”

“What happened?” the Big Roon asked.

“My key. I lost the key. I was looking for it when I met you.”

“Key.” The Big Roon grew an arm from its midsection with which it rooted around at the foot of the stairs for a few seconds. “Is this it?”

El stared and took the key from its hand. “How did you do that? You knew just where it was!”

The Big Roon looked as surprised as it was possible for a mass of hair and a pair of eyes to look. “Of course I did,” it said. “That’s what we Roons do – we’re Finders. Everyone who ever loses anything on Dschingiskhan – and on Folleroo, too, and even on Ubgnair, though that’s a nasty place – comes to us. Why shouldn’t I be able to find it?”

“Um,,,I never heard of a Roon before, you see.” The Big Roon followed her up the stairs, humping itself along slowly like a ball trying to roll uphill. “Come in,” El said impatiently, holding the door open. “Quick, before someone sees you.”

When she looked at the Big Roon for the first time in the light, El realised that it looked rather better than she had thought. Its long, shaggy hair was a deep shade of purple, fading to mauve at the tips, and its eyes were a very, very light blue-green colour that was almost beautiful. “Won’t you sit down?” she said, remembering her mum’s politeness lessons.

“Thanks,” the Big Roon replied, equally politely, and promptly puddled itself into a conical mass on the floor. “Much obliged.”

El sat down opposite it. “So – you said you go to school, didn’t you?”

“Yes, of course I go to school.” The Bog Roon blinked a couple of times. “After all, I’m only three hundred and ninety-three years old.”

“Oh...right.” El tried to decide if the Big Roon was trying to make fun of her, and decided it didn’t have any idea of the concept. “Are you a boy or a girl, then?”

“I’m neither.” The Big Roon sounded shocked. “We Roons aren’t like Grils or Quorgs that we have boy and girl Roons. We’re Roons, and that’s all. Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing,” El said hastily. “It’s just that, as I told you, I never heard of a Roon before, so I don’t know anything about you.”

“What about you – you said your name was El. I’m sorry if I sounded rude out there asking what kind of name it was.”

“That’s all right,” El responded magnanimously. “My real name is Lopamudra.”

“Then why in the name of the seven suns of Shnorkavagun do you call yourself El?”

“Why? Isn’t it obvious? Just try and go through life with a name like Lopamudra and see how you like it.”

“We have worse names than that,” the Big Roon replied morosely. “My birth name was Eslirukivimitmiznachitrukivimiti.”

“My word,” El replied, horrified. “No wonder you call yourself the Bog Roon.” She was struck by a thought. “Just how far is your...Dschingiskhan...from here? How are you ever going to get back?”

“As far as your first question goes,” the Big Roon replied, sighing so sadly that its hair drooped. “I have absolutely no idea. And the response to your second question is precisely the same.”

There was a brief silence, in which El suddenly recalled other maternal politeness lessons.

“Could I get you something to eat...” she looked the Big Roon over doubtfully. There was no sign of a mouth that she could see, though there must have been some kind of speaking aperture under all the hair. “Or something to drink?”

“I could just do with a nice slice of blenideyton,” the Big Roon said. “Do you have any?”

“Blenideyton? I don’t even know what that is.”

“It’s...a food. I don’t know how to explain it to you. We get it from the Super Duper Mega Astro Mart on Dschingiskhan. We all eat it.”

“Well,” El said firmly, “we don’t have any of it here.”

“Oh dear. And I’m hungry.”

“Well,” El said, “we’ll look in the fridge. There might be something there. At least,” she added to herself, “my dinner will be there.”

“Let’s see what this tastes like,” the Big Roon said, reaching out for a lettuce. The entire bottom half of its body seemed to suddenly split into two. El jumped at the sight of that gigantic mouth, so huge that without the slightest effort the Big Roon popped the entire lettuce in. A moment later it yawped miserably and the lettuce, somewhat the worse for wear, popped out again.

That was no good,” the Big Roon replied. “Maybe this?” It tried a carton of milk, with the same result, and then a frozen chicken leg, a raw egg, and a couple of potatoes, a box of biscuits, and a bottle of Pepsi. Everything was promptly deposited outside again. El began to watch the growing pile on the kitchen floor with alarm.

“Isn’t there anything here that I can eat?” the poor Big Roon sounded almost tearful. “I’m a growing Roon and I need food.”

“What do I tell my mum about the spoiled food?”

“Tell her a Roon from Dschingiskhan tried it, of course,” the Bog Roon said immediately. “Why lie when you can tell the truth?”

“You don’t know my mum,” El said. “Here. Have my dinner.” She watched as the creature emptied the entire bowl of noodles into its mouth. For a moment there was silence, and then the noodles came out again, covering the top of the pile of rejected food like an ice cap on a mountain.

That didn’t work,” the Big Roon pointed out.

“Now I don’t have anything to eat either,” El replied. “So we’ll starve together, because there’s nothing left. And when my mum comes home, I’m going to catch it.” She turned to the Big Roon with sudden alarm. “Whatever are we going to do when my mum comes home? She can’t find you here!”

“Why not?” The Big Roon looked ready to bolt. “Is she going to hurt me?”

“You don’t know the grown-ups. They’d probably think you’re a dangerous animal and put you in a cage for study or something.”

“Well, never mind,” the Big Roon muttered morosely. “Maybe by the time she comes back I’ll have starved to death anyway.”

“Don’t be silly,” El said. “There must be something you can eat, if we only look long enough. But we have to hide you when my mum comes home.” She thought a moment. “Let’s go to my room. Maybe you can hide under my bed or something.”

The Big Roon humped itself behind her along the corridor to her bedroom. At the door, however, it gasped with horror. “Don’t go in there! It’s the nest of a predatory Yrml bird from Groxthnorr.”

“What you talking about?”

“Look at all those things,” the Big Roon replied, gibbering with terror, nodding with an extruded arm at the piles of El’s clothes on the bed and chair. “It eats its prey and decorates its nest with their skins. It’s decorated this nest with the skins of earth creatures like you!”

“Those are just my clothes,” El replied impatiently. “My goodness, you make more of a fuss than my mum about them.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” The Big Roon entered the room cautiously, its huge eyes roving around. “Nothing’s going to eat us here?”

“I said so, didn’t I?” El threw her school bag on the bed. It hadn’t been very well-secured, and the flap dropped open, spilling her things on top of a pile of clothes. Her pencil box fell on to the floor and burst open. “Blast!”

“Is something wrong?” the Big Roon asked apprehensively.

“No, just stay where you are for a moment.” El knelt and began to scoop up the spilled things hastily, and jabbed herself in the finger with the tip of her divider. Blood welled up, running down her fingernail towards her palm. “Blast!” she repeated, deciding on the spot that she needed to increase her vocabulary. A repertoire of two swear words wasn’t nearly enough.

“Are you all right?” the Big Roon asked anxiously.

“No, I am not all right,” El wanted to say, but because she was busily sucking her bleeding finger like a vampire, the words came out too muffled to make any sense. “You wait though, I’ll be fine in a moment.”

The Big Roon was sniffing cautiously. “Are you quite sure you don’t have blenideyton here?” it asked. “I can smell it somewhere.”

“Feel free to check,” El replied, waving with her unwounded hand at the mess. “If you find it, have it and welcome.” She was about to add that she would go to the bathroom and put some disinfectant on her wound when there was a flash of light bright as lightning and the room suddenly seemed too small.

The gigantic Roon which had appeared in the middle of the floor glared at the Big Roon. “So there you are,” it thundered in a voice like thunder. “How long were you planning to hide from me?”

“I wasn’t hiding,” the Big Roon replied. “I was scroobling home from school when I suddenly came here to earth and I don’t know how.”

“A likely story,” the gigantic Roon rumbled. “After what your teacher said to me about your grades...” it paused. “I’ve been worried sick, looking up and down all over for you, even to the ninetweenth dimension. If I weren’t a Roon I wouldn’t ever have found you. And here you are eating blenideyeton without a care in all the worlds.”

“Blenideyeton?” the Big Roon squealed. “I haven’t had a morsel. I’ve been starving since I came here, I swear in the name of the High Roonmaster himself!

“No blenideyeton, huh?” the giant Roon stuck out an arm, pointing at El. “Then what do you call that?”

“That?” The Big Roon stared incredulously at El, whose mouth had gone dry with shock. “That’s...blenideyeton?”

“What else? Don’t tell me you didn’t know.” The giant Roon seemed to soften a little. “Well, if you’re that hungry, eat up and let’s go home.”

The Bog Roon cast another horrified glance at El. “No,” it said. “Suddenly I’m not so hungry any longer. Especially for blenideyeton. In fact, I’m never going to eat it again.”

“As you like,” the enormous Roon said. “But I warn you that all we have to eat at home is blenideyeton, so if you don’t want it, you’ll have to go to bed without your supper.”

“That’s all right,” the Big Roon said. “You did always tell me not to play with my food. Let’s go home, please.”

The giant Roon did something with an extruded finger, Bright light began to fill the room.

“Wait!” El called desperately. “Shall I see you again?”

“When the moons of Randor Six are in conjunction,” the Big Roon called back, from the middle of the light, which was now quite blinding. “That’s when I have my vacation. I’ll be back.”

“When –“ El began, but she was talking to an empty room.

Down below, she heard her mother turn her key in the door.

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

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