When I read old folk tales, particularly ones with a nameless prince, I wonder if these are actually the same characters. Like, is it just the same prince going around rescuing all the distressed princesses? And he has them living in different castles so they don’t know about each other? With Jack and the Beanstalk, I have to think: Is this the same Jack who fell down and broke his crown? If Jill had been with him, she’d have talked some sense into him about not going back up the beanstalk once he stole the goose with the golden egg. You have a goose who lays golden, freakin’ eggs. What more could you want? They’re probably packed with super-protein!
Anyway, here’s my take on Jack and the Beanstalk, inspired by the picture prompt from A Writer’s Discrepant Memoirs and Other Tales. Enjoy!
Every year, as the head vine weaver of Green Bean Village Lionel was sent on yet another Trek. Every year he hated it. Getting eaten alive by horseflies that defied their name and left alone his raggedy mare, Ginger. Battling dehydration brought on by the intense summer sun that the canyon walls seemed to funnel down to him with glee. Wearing the soles of his shoes so thin that each pebble felt like a dagger between his toes. What a freakin’ honor.
This year, with his little sister Jill tagging along, the Trek was shaping up to be even more miserable.
“Okay, so what’s our game plan?” Jill asked, skipping alongside Ginger as if they didn’t have several hundred miles to walk and she didn’t need to conserve her energy.
“There’s no game plan,” Lionel sighed. “We walk to the next village. We listen to them jabber on about their tactics for growing beanstalks. We teach them ours. We leave the village, everyone knowing that no one has any intention of adopting the same weaving strategy they’ve heard before, and we walk to the next village. Rinse, lather, repeat.”
“Oh come on, that can’t be it,” Jill huffed. She was shuffling backward now, somehow managing to avoid every rock that Lionel clobbered over like a baby learning to walk. “Why go on the Trek if we’re not learning new techniques? Maybe you don’t have a good enough memory. You lecture them and I’ll take notes on their techniques.”
Lionel led Ginger close to the canyon wall where the trees offered small bursts of shade. He made sure to keep her from wandering to close to the jagged rocks. Ginger flicked a tail full of horseflies toward her human and altered her gait so her hooves did not clatter so loud on the overgrown path. Lionel had no need to keep her from wandering. She would hear the canyon crawlers long before he did.
“There’s nothing to take notes on,” Lionel grunted once Jill joined him in the shade. They shuffled over the mossy ground, both eyeing the canyon wall for any sign of movement. “Every village as their own technique for weaving together the vines, each one more ridiculous than the last.”
“You’re our head vine weaver! How can you say that?”
“I do what I have to do to put food on the table, but look around Jill.”
Lionel waved his hand up and down the canyon. What the mile-wide expanse lacked in width, it well made up for in length and height. The North and South ends of the canyon were the stuff of legends. Those who claimed to have reached them invariably carried the air of insanity. Every few miles a village had been founded by intrepid explorers moving farther from the Mother Stalk. Each village specialized in growing a different bean, their strongest, smartest, most creative recruited to cultivate their beans into Daughter Stalks that would grow high over the canyon walls so that one day those living below in the villages crowded by the East-West Walls could climb to freedom in the clouds above!
As for those who attempted to kiss the sky by climbing the infinite height of the walls, only death awaited. And not the kind of merciful death that comes from succumbing to old age or eating a tainted batch of green bean juice or climbing so high that altitude sickness loosened your grip and sent you tumbling to the unforgiving earth below. Death by cave crawlers, the stuff of nightmares. Their nighttime shrieks echoing down the canyon made Jill pray she’d never be unlucky enough to meet one. Those that had and lived also carried with them the air of insanity. As head vine weaver, Lionel was permitted to carry a machete for proper vine shaping. Jill looked that the sharpened, silver blade strapped over his back and gulped. Hopefully it would remain a horticultural tool and not be forced into the arena of weaponry.
“If all the villages put their heads together, we can build a bean stalk that’ll–”
“That’ll go no where!” Lionel snapped. “Look, I know how you feel. When I became head vine weaver, I thought I was going to learn amazing secrets in these other villages, but they never knew anything we didn’t already. There were no secrets to growing the beans any faster or any hardier.”
“But what about all those techniques you brought back?”
“Are the green beans growing better than when we were kids, Jill? No. I make stuff up and hope people don’t catch on and campaign for my dismissal. Although honestly, after I finish the Trek, sometimes I wish I’d get fired.”
“It’ll be different this year!”
“And why will this year be any different than the past ten?”
“Because,” Jill smiled, running ahead of him. “You have me!”
“Hey, not so loud and not so fast! You wanna attract crawlers!”
It was two days before they reached Black Bean Village. Lionel lectured on the Green Bean way. Jill took notes, gushing over how excited she’d be to welcome their head bean keeper again when he set out on his Trek in a month. Lionel rolled his eyes. They moved on.
Azuki Bean Village. Kidney Bean Village. Pinto Bean Village. Soybean Village. The Velvet Bean Outpost. Jill had filled up her notebook and was starting to worry that Lionel was right. None of the techniques she had collected sounded particularly revolutionary in terms of stalk cultivation.
They left the Velvet Bean Outpost scratching like the natives who had never been able to overcome the annoying side effect of their crop sufficiently enough to recruit more residents. Jill returned her notebook to Ginger’s saddle bag with a heart that crammed her chest like a boulder.
“It’s not much longer to the next town,” Lionel announced, “But the sun’ll be passing the canyon soon so if you’d like to make camp–”
“Let’s just keep going,” Jill murmured. They trudged into Rainbow Bean Village, even Ginger’s head hanging low.
“Welcome to our village!” A barefoot woman with wild, grey braids and patchwork clothes approached them with open arms. She was closely followed by a welcome party of similarly styled villages. As they embraced Jill and slid a lei of rainbow beans over her head, she gazed up at their Daughter Stalk. She could have sworn its multicolored bands were pulsing, like it was growing before her very eyes. Well, of course it was growing, but Jill had never seen a stalk progress before. Usually it took months to see a difference of even a few inches.
She allowed the villagers to lead her into its shadow. While marveling at their Stalk’s grand aura, she had forgotten to retrieve her notebook. Their head vine weaver was jabbering on about his technique and she was missing it! Jill flung open the saddle bag but Lionel prevented her from pulling out the notebook.
“Don’t bother,” he whispered through the side of his mouth. “Just smile and nod and we’ll be on our way. We’ll make camp once we get away from these loons.”
“Would you like to see a demonstration?” the Rainbow Bean head vine weaver asked. She motioned for her collective to address the Daughter Stalk. Jill watched with mouth agape as they each popped a different colored bean into their mouths and focused on the Stalk. There was a distinct humming in the air.
“So meditation?” Lionel yawned.
“No, not this year, oh great Green Bean Grower,” the head weaver smiled with a single, gnarled finger raised. “After years of loyal consumption, our rainbow beans have granted us with a most wondrous gift. We call it floratelekensis!”
“Flora…tele…?” Jill mumbled.
“When we eat the beans, we become one with the Daughter Stalk as if she were the Mother Stalk and we are her daughters! With our encouragement the Stalk grows at a rate far superior to all other cultivation methods. Look for yourself!”
Lionel squinted at the Stalk. Although his sister’s gap-mouthed, drool-dribbling awe was a bit excessive, he had to admit he was impressed. He could actually see the Stalk growing.
And he could feel the rumbling.
And hear the shrieking.
Ginger bucked and kicked herself free. Lionel let her run, abandoning his supplies in favor of grabbing his sister. The villagers were already fleeing to their homes as the East/West walls quaked from the coming onslaught of canyon crawlers. Lionel had to drag Jill, with her useless frozen legs, to the nearest house.
“No, sorry, no room!” the villager cried, shoving the sibling out.
“But they’re coming!” Lionel screamed.
“Sorry, we’re all full in here!”
“Get lost! You’re leading them right to us!”
“Lionel, let’s go up the Stalk!” Jill breathed.
She pulled herself away and ran to the kaleidoscope tangle surging into the sky. Lionel followed her more out of duty than actually faith in her plan. Their leis clattered against heaving chests as they scaled the vines. The Stalk bled rainbow chlorophyll each time their nails pierced its delicate flesh.
“This won’t work,” Lionel gulped. He found a spot on a larger vine, settled in and drew his machete. “They’ll climb after us.”
“The vine weavers,” Jill whispered as she pointed to the semi-circle of villagers below. She was gradually growing away from them while they continued their meditative stance, completely oblivious to the coming danger. The vines grew and twisted the siblings around the side of the stalk. The shrieks were intensifying.
When the vine wove them back around, Jill and Lionel could only watch in horror as the crawlers bared down on the transcended villagers below. Jill screamed in silence, her horror skipping over her voice box and plowing through her teeth. The crawlers were all hairy, brown legs and gnashing white teeth. They moved as one body, devouring the villagers who didn’t put up a fight.
“What do we do?” Jill wailed once the crawlers’ path turn up the stalk. Lionel and his thrashing machete could only keep them at bay for so long.
Jill felt the growth of the vines slowing. Then they stopped entirely. She pawed at the lei as the crawlers gathered below her. Lionel was loosing his footing. Knowing they had no other chance of surviving, Jill wrenched the lei from her neck and shoved as many beans as she could into her mouth. She focused her willpower on growing the vine, but only the vine that she and her brother stood on. The crawlers and their vines could suck it.
“What the–?” Lionel dropped his machete and wrapped his arm around the vine as it dislodged from the Stalk. He gawked at Jill, his little sister, riding the freed vine like she’d been born to command plants with her bean-induced telekinetic powers. The vine surged upward. It grew thicker with each passing second until it overtook the Stalk.
The siblings rocketed along. Lionel had tears in his eyes. This was it. The crazy villagers had done it. They had found the solution that would take the Stalks to the clouds. He and Jill would be the first vine weavers to walk among the clouds!
The vine did not slow as it pierced the fluffy white balls of cotton. Lionel and Jill had to shield their eyes from the blinding sun, free and unburdened in its atmospheric home. Jill huddled close to Lionel. She was becoming aware of how difficult it was to breath up in the sky.
“When do you think this’ll stop?” she gasped, and had she waited just a few seconds longer she would have seen there was no reason to waste her breath. The vine clunked into a solid surface above. Whatever they hit pushed against them, shoving the vine downward a few feet.
Lionel and Jill tumbled off only to be caught in a lower bend of the vine. They scrambled to a flat portion and look up, shielding their eyes to see what they hit. Though they couldn’t quite make sense of what they were looking at, both knew this find may be even greater than the discovery of the psychodelic beans.
“Is that a…?” Jill began.
“It’s a ladder.”