(...) During his long walks on the land Bearson found three friends.
In the woods he found the Treeman. The Treeman was busy most of the day and sometimes even busy during the night. He walked the woods and made the curved trunks straight and the straight ones curved. He levelled out the growth of the oaks, raising the small ones and lowering the tall ones. He also bound together and shook the tree tops. And sometimes when wanderers approached from afar he shoved an entire wood out of their way.
In the mountains he found the Mountman. The Mountman was slow. It seemed one day for the Mountman was a long time for humans. He was stronger than any other companion Bearson met. The Mountman braced a city with his shoulder that stood on a cliff and when we walked away the city fell into the sea. The Mountman carried mountains into valleys and split mountains with a single blow of his hack for the wind to blow through. Under his mantle he carried two thousand goats. And sometimes when wanderers approached from afar he shoved a mountain or two out of their way so their journey was shorter.
In the valleys he found the Waterman. The Waterman was short tempered. With his long beard he tightened a river to dry out because he angered the miller. He also sealed up a broad stream with his mustache to protect a city which drowned when he walked away. The Waterman drank a whole lake and spit it out in a valley nearby. He walked over water without getting wet and with his large hands he bound rivers together that now flow in one. Then he turned into water himself and while watering the fields sweated so much that the streets were flooded. And sometimes when wanderers approached form afar he would build a bridge from his hair over the waters so their journey was less dangerous.
Bearson met many other people. He met the Listener who could hear a swarm of flies rise from a water a hundred miles away, the Taster who would lick a millstone and taste the waters that flew in the river a hundred years ago or the Runner who needed to bind his legs together so he wouldn’t overtake the rabbits on the fields. But only the Treeman, the Mountman and the Waterman became friends with Bearson. Rather than accompanying Bearson on his journey, the Listener would stay put at a meadow, pressing his ear on the grass. The Taster would be too slow as he licked all things in passing. And the Runner was swiftly disappearing again just after they had met him.
It happened that the Bearson and his companions got lost on their way at night. Following a ghost light they came across a deserted dwelling in the woods. They approached it and as they all liked it, they settled down. They ate their food at the table and slept warm in the beds. When it was time to hunt they decided one of them would stay in the hut preparing the kitchen. And so they did.
On the first day of hunting the Treeman stayed back in the hut. He was busy preparing the food and was just about to finish the soup, when suddenly the Earthman stood in the kitchen. The Earthman was very small, only three ells long and looked at him from the kitchen table. He was very old, and seemed to have shrunken even further over the years. Everything was grey and old about the Earthman, except for his white beard which was shiny and very long. Indeed his beard was so long that even though he carried it in three crown knots it still rolled up on the ground.
The Treeman paused and stepped closer to the Earthman. ‘I am cold and old and need a little of your soup.‘ the Earthman said. The Treeman looked at the soup, then he filled a thimble with steaming soup and put it down on the kitchen table. The Earthman drank it in one large gulp. He cleaned his shiny beard and said: ‘I am cold and old and need a little of your bread.’ The Treeman looked at the oven, then he pulled out a piece of sweet bread, broke of a piece not larger than a fingernail and put it down on the table. The Earthman grabbed the bread, yet his fingers were so weak that he dropped it on the floor. The Treeman shook his mossy head. How could someone with such a shiny beard grow so weak and awkward? He bend down to pick up the bread.
In that very moment the Earthman plugged a single hair from his beard. While the Treeman had turned his back to him, he threw the long hair over his back and enchained the Treeman. The earth demon was laughing and walked through the entire hut. He looked under every bed and chair and behind the curtains and opened every drawer. Then he returned to the Treeman who had grown all stiff and numb and couldn’t move a limb. With a knife the Earthman cut long streaks of skin from the back of the Treeman. He grabbed him by his dark, mossy hair and put his head into the oven. Then he carried him out into the clearance before the hut. He plugged another hair from his beard and hung the Treeman to the highest branch of a cottonwood tree.
When the fellows returned from the hunt, they found the maltreated Treeman lying unconsciously on the ground. The branch had broken off in the last moment and saved the Treeman from being hanged outside the hut. When he awoke he told his story to the fellows. They listened and then they laughed. The Treeman had been quite a fool to allow the Earthman to pay tricks on him. They went inside and drank the soup and broke the bread and ate the hunt.
The next day the Mountman stayed at home while the others went out to hunt. He was just pulling the sweet bread from the oven, when he found a small man standing on the kitchen table. When the others returned they found the Mountman motionless on the ground, a single white hair tying his rocky hands together, another one slung around his neck. Long lines of skin had been cout out of his back.
On the third day the Waterman stayed back when the others went out to hunt. On nightfall when they returned they found the same as on the days before: The Waterman lay bound and unconscious on the ground, open wounds covering his back, white hairs curling around his hands and neck.
On the fourth day Bearson stayed back. He was adding some salt to the soup when he saw the Earthman standing on the window board. The Earthman said: ‘I am old and I am cold and I want a little of your soup.’ Bearson looked at him, then he looked back at the soup and said: ‘The soup is not good. It needs more fire from the wood. Let’s go out and get some.’ They went out and walked around the hut to the place where the axe stuck in a large trunk. Bearson lifted the axe and said: ‘Help me small man and put a log on the trunk.’ The Earthman hesitated. Then he grabbed a log from the pile and placed it on the trunk. With a single blow Bearson split the log and said: ‘Give me another hand, small man.’ Earthman obeyed. But just as he wanted to turn around and step away Bearson brought down the heavy axe and wedged the Earthman’s knotted beard deeply into the trunk.
The Earthman changed his color from grey to pale white and started to kick and scream. He screamed so loud that all animals in the woods fell silent. Besides his screams the only noise came from the cluttering of the cups in the hut. Bearson laughed and slapped the little man. He slapped him again and again. And with each blow the trunk and the little Earthman flew through the woods, breaking trees and bushes and hills in their way.
Every time he lost sight of the Earthman Bearson just followed his screams until he found the trunk again and brought down another heavy blow on the small man. All morning Bearson beat the Earthman through the woods when finally the trunk had landed in front of a huge rock face. ‘This is a good place to leave the Earthman.’ Bearson thought. It was far enough from the hut and there was nowhere to go from here.
Bearson returned to the kitchen. He finished preparing the soup, preparing the bread and when his fellows returned he finished preparing the game. That night they had a wonderful meal. Finally, when their bellies ached and all bowls were empty Bearson took his friends out into the woods.
They walked through the forest, over the hills and to the dark rock face where he had left the Earthman behind. But when they approached the Earthman was gone. His white beard still hung wedged into the trunk. Yet in his anger the small man had ripped free from it. A trail of blood lead from the trunk to the rock face and disappeared into a dark crevice.
Night fell when Bearson’s friends returned to the crevice. They had peeled off bark of basswoods and the Treeman had created a long rope from it. Bearson had remained at the crevice and broken rocks of its face. Now a black hole gaped in front of them. Behind it the earth fell down into a pitch black shaft. They fixed the rope to a tree.
Then Bearson bid farewell and his three friends let him down on the rope into the shaft...