Genre: Action/Adventure — Subject: overdue — Character: a party animal
TITLE – William McCallister, Bean Salesman
SYNOPSIS – While Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk is well known, not much is told of the man who sold him those beans. William McCallister was a creator of legends if only through his drunken escapades.
William McCallister felt horrible. He was pretty sure he had never felt this bad before, but alcohol does fog one’s memory. That must have been quite the knees-up at the pub last night. Reluctantly he opened his eyes.
Bright, orange, warm light overwhelmed him. His hands moved from his temples to block the light and massage his eyelids, tears leaking onto his stubbly cheeks. He ventured a peak through his fingers and saw a pig lying next to him. A rather large one at that. He chuckled, remembering the last time he had woken up next to a pig. He had overstayed his welcome at The Old Thatch Inn and had been remanded to the care of a large sow and her wee piglets. Unfailingly kind beasts.
William ran a hand through his curly red hair to pick out any straw or unwanted debris as his eyes, recovered from their initial shock, now saw that the bright, warm light was the sun. The great globe had moved so that the roof of the shelter he shared with the pig was no longer holding back the steady beams of light. He sat up, stretched the stiffness out of his arms and back, cracked his neck for good measure, and carefully stood to his feet. The pig was not just large, but gigantic. Even standing he could barely see over it’s prostrate form. William also noticed that the walls to the pen were rather on the tall side. In fact, everything seemed quite a bit larger than normal.
“Good Lord! I’ve shrunk! William McAllister, your mother said your drinking and debauchery would come to no good. Confound it if she wasn’t right.”
He was considering what bothered him more; the possibility that he would forever be wearing children’s clothes or his predilection for finding comfort in the company of swine when a voice said, “You didn’t shrink.”
William nearly jumped out of his skin. “The pig is not only great in size but can speak! This must be a dream.”
“It’s not a dream.” A young man walked around the south end of the swine, yawning. He was tall, sturdy, and modestly dressed. He looked familiar.
“Aha! It begins to come back to me! Your name is … Jack! We met on the road and … and you sold me your cow for, for … for some magic beans. Terribly sorry about that, by the way.” William looked as contrite as he was able and held out his hand. Jack shrugged and took it in a firm grip.
“Sorry? Why are you sorry? Those beans are the best thing that ever happened to my mother and I.” William stood dumbfounded. Jack continued, “You don’t know? Ha! I thought you had come for the meal I offered you and climbed up on your own. How did you get up here?”
“What do you mean ‘up here?’” William asked, still confused.
Jack pointed down at the ground and said, “England is down below us. Those beans grew into an enormous beanstalk. They grew right up to where the giants live. That was three days ago.”
“Three days! Good God man! I’m supposed to be in London tomorrow. I can’t be late. The taxes on my house are already overdue and…Did you say giants?” William began looking around as if one was going to appear any moment.
Jack nodded. “Don’t fret. They are terribly loud. We’ll know one is coming. If you need to be in London tomorrow, we best climb down today.” Jack walked away, picked up a small sack sitting next to the wall, and slung it over his shoulder. He turned back to William and said, “Meaning no offense William, but you smell rather foul and giants have very good noses. We should be going.”
William raised an arm to his nose and took a whiff. “Bloody hell! That is a stench!” William listed them off, “Definitely bad ale, notes of pig dung and a hint of mint.” The fog in his mind cleared and he remembered. Frantically he recalled his adventure.
“When we parted I took the cow to a pub to sell to the proprietor thereby appropriating the coin necessary to pay the king’s levy. He offered to buy her for a fair amount and we went inside to share a drink, and a few drinks more, and when he walked me out the door to see me on my way, your cow had absconded. We looked for a while, but the idea that I was pulling one over on the man seemed to be gaining ground. Since I had not paid for any of the drinks, I decided to make haste in my departure and remembered your offer, so I made my way along the road to your home. By the time I arrived I was exhausted. I discovered a soft patch of ground to lay down for the night near your cottage.”
William was going to finish his story when he felt a rumbling in his feet. Jack ran to the wall where the stone joined the post for the massive gate and climbed to the top. While Jack was climbing, William felt two more tremors under his feet. Jack peaked over the wall and looked around then made his way back down to the muddy ground of the sty.
“What did you see?” William asked already knowing the answer.
“The giant is coming. We must leave now!” Jack went to the wall opposite the gate and found a place to begin his ascent. William looked crestfallen.
“I don’t know how to climb. I wish you well and hope you escape the giant for I will not.” William sat down in the mud and moaned.
“Leave over you old sod. Of course you can climb. How do you think you got in here in the first place?” Jack shook his head and began to climb again.
“Good thinking lad!”
When they reached the top, William ventured a look back and saw the giant, as tall as a windmill, walking toward them. Gripped with fear, he froze.
“William! We must leave now!” Jack hissed from below. William forced his eyes from watching the giant and turned to see Jack nearly halfway down the wall of the pen.
On the ground, Jack motioned William to follow as he walked along the wall to a hedgerow perpendicular to the pen. Jack walked into the hedges, brushing branches aside. When William followed, he found that there were two rows of hedges parallel to each other making a thick barrier between the road and the farm. They began to make their way on the path between the hedges toward safety.
Several minutes later they were in a small clearing with a large stump. Jack set down his sack, sat down, and leaned against the rough bark of the trunk. William joined him and sighed with relief.
Jack slid a little further away from William as he plugged his nose. “I was worried to talk much while we were still near the farm. The giant’s hearing is bad, but his nose is keen as a wolf’s. That almost got me caught every time. Thank the Lord for his wife! She’s a corker! Saved my life! Every time. We can rest here for a bit and then we must move on. We don’t want to make the climb down in the dark.” William nodded.
Jack looked at William and said, “You didn’t get to finish your story.”
William took a deep breath and started in. “When I awoke it was still dark with a hint of sunrise, but your cottage was nowhere to be found. I feared I had wandered somewhere in my sleep, but I see now that I was carried here by this fantastic beanstalk. I looked around and saw what looked like a road and made my way toward it.” William stood at this point, unable to share his story properly while sitting. “As the sun arose, I stayed in the shade of some trees, which I imagine are these very same hedges.” He motioned to the hedges dramatically. “I finally reached the farm and caught the scent of fresh bread and bacon coming from the barn. Once inside I found a great table with an enormous stool. It struck me as odd, but I was still a little muddled and hungry. I climbed up the stool to the table for some food.” William’s stomach growled, as if on cue.
“The food was delicious, if a little plain, but now I was thirsty. The mug was half full of ale, so I tried to scoop some out with my hand and fell in. That would explain a piece of my current bouquet. Admittedly, I imbibed a fair quantity of ale during my impromptu bath, but waste not, want not. In my attempt to exit the cup it tipped over and dumped me over the side of the table into a pile of straw. With no little effort, I made my way to the pen where the gate was open and the pen unoccupied. The ale was improving my mood but diminishing my ability to walk. As I made my way through the pen to find shelter, I fell in a prodigious pile of pig excrement. The finishing touch to my cologne. I tried to use some of the straw in the shelter to wipe it off, but to no avail. I must have passed out there and woken up today with my piggy companion and you. Now I, William Angus McCallister, stand before you still waiting to wake up from this fantastical dream.”
William made a flourish with his hand, bowed deeply, and sat down by the stump again. Jack applauded and whistled.
“Mr. McCallister, master storyteller at your service!” Jack was doing his best impression of William and ended with an exaggeration of his flourish and bow while still seated. It was quite the sight and William laughed for the first time in many, many days. A weight was lifted. He was glad to be on this adventure, overdue taxes be damned.
Jack reached into his sack and handed something to William. “Every good story deserves a reward. Hope this helps you with your house. I have plenty.”
William looked at the object in his hand and saw a perfect egg made from what seemed to be gold. Beautiful, heavy, and shining even in the shade of their little glade.
“Thank you, Jack. Truly! It is one of the nicest gifts I have ever received.” Jack nodded, grinned, and stood to his feet. William placed the egg in his inside breast pocket and stood as well.
Jack picked up his sack and motioned ahead, “Shall we continue good sir?”
The next hour they walked quickly through the hedges to a small creek which they followed to a ravine until they reached a cliff. The stark granite was crisp against the open blue sky beyond except for one small patch of green. William realized immediately that it was the patch of mint which he had slept on by Jack’s house, that he had been hoisted into the sky upon it, and that he had traversed all the way they had journeyed today in a drunken haze. He was seriously considering an end to his days of revelry and drunkenness.
“Good Lord! You slept right where my mother threw the seeds out the window! That explains the mint. You were lying in it all night. The beanstalk must have carried you up here. A miracle you didn’t fall to your death!” Jack slapped William on the back and immediately regretted it as a cloud of dried dung burst forth from his coat.
They were making their way to the patch of ground when they both heard a booming voice say, ” Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman! And he’s been wallowin’ with me piggy!”
Jack and William saw the giant at the head of the ravine. He would be on them in moments. They ran.
The climb down was frantic with close calls, near misses, and the impending threat of the giant. Their only hope was him not being able to find the beanstalk, but just before they reached the bottom, they felt the beanstalk shake and sway.
“My God, Jack! What can we do? He won’t just kill us, he’ll destroy England!” William was flushed red, panting, and wild eyed. Jack was ruddy and winded as well, but his eyes were focused and calm. He grabbed William’s coat, pulled him to the shed, and flung open the doors.
“Find anything that cuts!” Jack yelled as he started to sort through the tools stacked in the shed. He picked up a heavy axe and walked back toward the beanstalk. William, a jolt of comprehension pulling him out of his panic, reached for a large saw and ran to catch up. The next minutes were the most excruciating moments William had ever gone through. His body and mind pushed to their limits as he and Jack switched tools to cut one section at a time. They had nearly made it halfway through the main trunk and completely through some of the smaller ones when they heard the voice again.
“You can’t hide from me now, Englishman! I’ve got your stinky scent! I’m on your trail!”
They cut even faster and harder than before, muscles straining with each blow and cut.
Jack and William ran toward the cottage and watched. The weight of the beanstalk and the giant was too much. The side away from the cut they had made on the main trunk was splitting. Fractures appeared all over the skin of the massive plant.
CRACK! POP! CRACK!
A thunderous snap came from the beanstalk and the trunk exploded. Jack and William were both looking up to see where the giant was.
“There!” Jack yelled and pointed. William saw the giant hugging the beanstalk with all his might as it began to quiver and sway. There was a lurch and the beanstalk suddenly slackened and began to fall. The anchor it had on the cliff above had given way. William knew they could not outrun it, but only pray that it fell away from them and anyone nearby.
The beanstalk fell out into the field beside the road, the giant trailing along, bellowing and cursing. He hit the ground with a mighty boom that knocked Jack and William to the ground. The giant did not stir, nor would he again. William and Jack laughed where they lay, giant slayers celebrating their victory.
William stood outside the tax office, receipt in hand and finely dressed. The egg had fetched a pretty price and he was off to see Jack at the corner pub. They were meeting a man who was interested in their story. William was leery. Authors were notorious liars.