Thursday, December 29, 2005

Jack and the Beanstalk Scrabble Story

This is another Scrabble story from 1998. It's unfinished - well, the story is unfinished, but I did use all of the Scrabble words (they're underlined this time) and it's much shorter than the one I blogged yesterday. I think parts of this one are even funny.

Oh, background - I wanted to write a story that explained WHY the man in the Jack & the Beanstalk story would trade magic beans for a cow. What was it about that cow that was so special that the stranger would give up beans that would provide a way to the giant's riches? Most likely the stranger didn't know they were really magical beans and was attempting to pull a fast one on Jack, but what if it was more that the cow had some kind of ...something to it that made it more valuable than the beans? With that as a premise for the story, I wrote the following... Enjoy!

Long, long ago in a land far away – perhaps it was Germany – lived a man without a name. He was a mysterious man who lived on the outskirts of the main village, tending to his garden.

 When he did make his way into the town, he was ignored, or laughed at, or feared, on account of how he would utter strange sayings to everyone he met.

 The townsfolk thought the man was a little bit crazy, but mostly harmless. He had never hurt anyone, so he was more of an annoyance than a real threat. Still, most parents warned their children not to speak to him.

 Then one day, when the man without a name was walking through the streets, approaching strangers with such unusual greetings as, “Tomato for an ox,” and “Grape for a hare,” he came across a kid named Jack.

 Jack had been warned by his mother and father to avoid the man without a name, so of course, he was curious to find out what the fuss was all about. However, Jack was a good kid, and had been raised to respect his parents, (the fact that TV hadn’t been invented yet helped matters, also) so he made his way to the other side of the street.

 The man without a name seemed to look directly at Jack and said, “Men will one day turn you into a myth… if you dare deal with me.” Jack thought the man was talking directly to him, but that was foolishness. He lowered his eyes and hurried home.

 That night, Jack dreamt of the man without a name. In his dream, Jack was in the land of the Gods, everything was much larger than usual. Jack was in a long hallway, and the man without a name was at the other end. A cow was standing in the middle, happy just to graze on a patch of grass growing there.

 The man without a name seemed to notice Jack and shouted, “She’s mine! The cow goes with me!” and began to run toward the animal.

 Jack began to run toward the cow also, knowing that he must get the cow before the man without a name did, but unsure why. Jack was running as fast as he could, but stopped short when a thundering crash came from the ceiling. A huge hand crashed through the roof of the building, scooped the cow in its fist, and lifted the animal through the newly-formed hole. Both Jack and the man without a name peered up, trying in vain to see who could have done this. The man without a name looked at Jack and opened his mouth as if to say something, but Jack woke up at that moment.

 Despite his telling himself that it was just a dream, Jack still had a qualm from the nightmare. He decided to check on the cows. Quietly, Jack grabbed a candle, lit it, put on his slippers, and headed toward the barn. The flames of the candle did little to aid Jack’s vision, and he almost went to bed, but the dream nagged at him again, and he continued.

 Jack had to lug the barn door open. He stepped through the door and used the candle to light the lanterns.

 He saw the pigs, sleeping soundly, snoring, in the first pen. He made his way to the next and nearly jumped out of his skin when an owl hooted. The chickens were all safe and accounted for, so he moved to the far back, where the two cows should be.

 And they were.

They were awake, which Jack thought was odd, and he briefly wondered if they had had bad dreams, too, then dismissed it as foolishness. The lights from the candle, and Jack himself had been what had stirred them from slumber.

 “Sorry, girls,” Jack whispered to the cattle. A flip of the tail was Jack’s only sign of forgiveness from the animals.

 Convinced that everything was fine, and suddenly very tired, Jack put out the lights and went back to bed. He slept soundly and dreamlessly the rest of the night.

 Several weeks went by, and Jack eventually forgot about his dream. He hadn’t seen the man without a name in a long time and had put the whole event out of his mind.


 Jack didn’t see the man without a name for three years. He had completely forgotten about his dream and his earlier encounter with the stranger.

 Much had happened in Jack’s life in those years. Very little of it had had a positive effect on him. Two years previous, Jack’s father had gone across the bridge to the other village to purchase a goat. On the way home, both the goat and Jack’s father had been attacked and killed. Rumor had it that the assailant was a troll, but that was never proven.

 His father’s death had a devastating impact on Jack, and he began to drink. (The drinking age had yet to be established, so if one had money, one could purchase mead, gin, ale, or what-have-you.)

 Jack spent most of the family’s savings on gin, and drove the family slowly to the poorhouse. His mother attempted to keep the farm going, but had a difficult time without Jack’s help. Jack did get a job as a scribe, but was laid off after six months on account of his drinking.

 Eventually, they had to sell most of the animals to keep going. It was generally Jack’s responsibility to trade the animals for gold or silver or clothing.

 Once, Jack got into a fight at a bar and wound up in jail. His mother had to sell one of the cows to bail him out.

 It was a hard time for Jack and his mother. They were lucky to have one meal a day and they had very little ware left to sell.

 Jack’s mother said to Jack, “We have nothing left. You must sell our last items and we’ll have to pray that the grace of the gods will help us.” She gave him the final valuables (word used loosely) the family had: a tin mug, his father’s gun, and an axe.

 “This is it?” Jack asked indignitantly.

 Jack’s mother replied sheepishly, “I’m afraid it is. Well, that, and our other cow. She’s all harnessed up out back. Perhaps the kind sirs at the local K-mart will be interested in her.”

 Jack muttered “Doubtful” under his breath, but he took the family’s belongings and the cow and made his way into the town.

 It was on this day that Jack encountered the man without a name again. Jack was not quite in the town yet. He was walking past a cavern when the strange man came out of the hold, surprising Jack and causing the cow to let out a startled moo.

 Not recognizing the man at first, Jack was angry at being scared. “What the … hey, I know you, don’t I?”

 The man lowered his head and removed his hat. “Good day, sir. I see that you are on your way to town to do some trading. I can save you a trip. I’m always eager to do deals.”

 Jack’s interest was piqued. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

 “Just last week I gave a young lady from a circus some porridge for three bears. Goldy, I believe her name was. Or I could give you a kiwi for a cat. Or a bunch of bananas for a young piglet. Or perhaps an apple for a donkey. Or…” the man’s eyes narrowed, “some beans for that cow of yours. Whaddya say?”

 The cow looked bored and whisked some flies away with her tail.

 Jack thought the man was a bit crazed, and briefly considered using the gun, but he hadn’t harmed him yet, and didn’t seem to be a threat, so Jack decided to just walk past the man.

 The odd fellow gazed at Jack studiously, and then offered, “I could throw in a drink or two.”

 Jack looked at the man, considering his options. He could always try to bribe the weapon shop owner into paying more for the axe and the gun then they were worth. (Jack had discovered the owner was tapping the tavern’s liquor supply for himself. The two were good drinking buddies, naturally.) His mother would never have to know that he traded the cow for beans… and beer.

 Jack handed the mug to the man and said, “Fill ‘er up.”

 The man smiled widely and said, “So you’re taking the deal, are ya? Good man.” He snatched the mug from Jack and went into the cave. He returned after several minutes, carrying a full mug, a couple beans, a document, and a pen.

 Handing the ale to Jack, he said, “This is yours. As are the beans – just sign this here and give me la vaca.”

 Jack didn’t understand what the man meant at first, then he realized he was talking about the cow.

 Jack gulped his drink, the best he had had in a long time, and set down his mug.

 He took the document from the man and looked it over. “What’s all this say?” he asked. The print was very small and the words Jack could read didn’t make much sense to him. Words such as ipso facto, precontractual, and et cetera seemed like a foreign language to Jack.

 “I use it to seal all my deals. It’s just saying that you are giving me the cow in exchange for the beans. And that I’m not responsible for whatever happens because of the beans. Just as you won’t be responsible to me for anything the cow does to me. Standard trade agreement papers, so nobody blames anybody else. Just sign on the line next to the X.”

 Jack didn’t quite understand everything the man had said, but since he didn’t have a lawyer with him, he signed the papers. The man gave Jack a duplicate of the paper, then took the cow and headed down the road.

 Jack was going to call the man back, thinking he’d just made a huge mistake – and also he hadn’t given him his second glass of beer – but then noticed that the mug was full again.

 After finishing the drink, Jack proceeded into town.

 The weapon shop, however, was closed. Jack considered the pawn shop, but they always offered only a dollar, no matter how much the item was worth. Jack thought about, briefly, using the gun and/or the axe to commit a robbery, but he didn’t for fear of ending up in jail again. If that happened, his mother would have no means of bailing him out.

 Depressed, Jack looked at the beans. “How could I have been so stupid?” he thought. The cow was not much, but it had been the family’s final hope. And Jack had blown it.

 Not looking forward to what awaited him at home, but wanting to get it over with, Jack was soon homeward bound.

No comments: