Short Reads: Jack, Some Cows, a Giant and, Oh, yeah…a Beanstalk

Last week, Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) posted a writing challenge where, if you so chose, you could randomly pick two sub-genres and write a story.  You should have seen these sub-genres!!!  Man…bodice-ripper, heist/caper, time travel, comic fantasy, fairy tale, etc.  You get the point right?  Not the easiest of topics to fit nicely into a story!  (If you want to see the post, here it is.)

Okay, sure.  I was supposed to post my story by NOON Fri, 8/12/16.  Clearly, I did not do that but I wanted to share my post with you guys anyway.  If you feel like it, leave me a comment below about what you think of it.

Thanks for running this challenge Chuck!


Jack, Some Cows, a Giant and, Oh yeah…a Beanstalk

By Rochelle Campbell

Jack and his mother lived on Mother Gaston Boulevard and Pitkin Avenue.  They had a blind cat named Milky-white and lived above a bakery.

One Wednesday after school, Jack was sitting at the kitchen table eating day-old donuts from the bakery below them.

“Man, Momma,” Jack said, between bites.  “We never catch a break!  We can’t even afford fresh donuts.”

Jack’s mother wrung her wrinkled hands and just looked at him.  She was older than most mothers as she had waited for better circumstances before conceiving a child.  When that didn’t happen, she and her husband adopted a teen-aged Jack.  Jack’s father didn’t like the instant family and left.

“Child, it will all get better soon,” his mother soothed.  She came to stand beside him.  She was barely four inches taller than Jack in his seated position.

“Momma, you say that every single time,” he shied away from her calloused hands as she reached for his woolly afro.  “Leave the ‘fro, Ma.  I just picked it out.”  He pulled out his cow dog whistle and flipped it around with one hand.

Stung, she drew her hand back quickly.  Her faded eyes had a light blue rim around the dark irises.  Her walnut colored face was compassionate but lined with age and hard labor.  “I was jus’ tryin’ ta help.  You playing with that damn whistle again.  Usually means you’re upset ‘bout something.”

Jack looked up at her eyes widened; he quickly put the whistle away.  “I know Momma.  I just get so frustrated, you know?  I want things to be better for us both but I’m afraid that – “

A loud noise drew their attention to the window.  Jack grabbed her arm and pulled her down to the floor.  Another loud CRACK filled the air.  They heard glass tinkle and fall to the floor.

They laid low for what seemed like ages when in reality it was only for seven minutes.  They heard the sirens of both the cops and an ambulance in the far distance racing towards them.  The closer the sirens came the better Jack felt.  The emergency vehicles stopped right below their third floor window.

Milky-white sauntered up to them and brushed his white and light grey head against their clenched fists.

“Not now, MW!  We’ll pet you later,” Jack shooed the cat away while helping his mother to her feet.

They tip-toed over to the living room window and peeked through the slit in the heavy maroon curtains both wondering what they would see.

Jack’s mouth dropped open as did her mother’s.  Down on the street below was full-sized pickup truck with a turned over trailer that had busted open.  On the street were four black and white cows lying motionless.  One cow had blood leaking from its head.  Another’s leg was at an unnatural angle to its body with a bloody snout.  The other two twitched and shivered near the mouth of the trailer with stakes of metal protruding from their flanks.

“Lord Sakes!  What in heaven’s name…”

The cops were across the street talking to a dazed looking man in denim overalls with a straw hat perched on his head.  The countrified dude was sitting on the curb staring at the cows with tears streaming down his face.  He was clearly ignoring the cop speaking to him.

“Momma…is you seeing this, too?”

“I see cows, Jack.  Dead cows.”

“They might not all be dead – yet.”

“Jack, didn’t I tell you never to lie?”


“I’ve been on a farm a time or two, so’s I know what a dead cow looks like. Jus’ like these here.”

As she was speaking, an uncomfortable feeling began to permeate Jack’s awareness.  He felt as if the man in the overalls was looking up at him.   Jack turned from her and looked down.  The man, indeed, was looking up directly at him.

Jack’s heart slammed against his chest.  He knew he needed to be downstairs somewhere close to the farmer dude.  Why?  He couldn’t fathom a why.  He just knew he needed to leave their cramped one bedroom apartment.

“Momma, I’ll be right back.  I need to check something real quick.”

“Child – no!  You git back here,” she hissed after him.

But he was already out of their front door and heading downstairs holding his breath in the musty, pee-soaked dank stairwell.  He let the breath go as he opened the front door to the building right next to the bakery.

As soon as Jack opened the door, the denim-clad man raised his aquamarine eyes and met Jack’s dark stare.  Jack felt a zing of recognition but knew he had never met this man before.  The odd déjà vu continued as Jack’s feet took him inexorably closer and closer to the man and the cop.

The cop had turned around to see what had arrested the man’s attention.  Upon seeing the skinny tall Black kid in the ubiquitous uniform of jeans, T-shirt, fancy sneakers with a medium-sized uneven afro, the cop’s brow furrowed.  The cop turned back around, looked at the farmer’s pale sun-burned skin then back at the dark-skinned youth.  He took a step back as his head swiveled back and forth between the two.

Jack stopped five feet from the cop.  He didn’t look at the man in dark blue.  Jack only had eyes for the man he couldn’t help feeling he knew.

“S’up, man.  Sorry ‘bout your cows.  What you doing around here anyway?”

The man didn’t blink in surprise.  He didn’t move a muscle.  He answered simply, “I was coming to see you.”

“Excuse me, Sir.  Do you know this young man?” The cop asked, confusion coloring his tone and face.

“Indeed I do.  He’s Jack – Jack Mackenzie.  Isn’t that right, boy?”  The man’s eyes grew hard as flint and narrowed as he saw Jack’s reaction.

“Don’t call me that!  I don’t know you, Man!”

“So, how do I know you?  And your mother?  She’s still up there looking down at us.  Worrying about the cows.  You should tell her.  She’s wrong.  You’re right.  Only two are dead.  Bessie and LuLu.  They’re goners.  Lucy and Mavis are just stunned.  Good thing for you, too.”

Jack’s brow couldn’t get further into his hairline.  “What you talkin’ ‘bout?!  I ain’t never seen a cow in real life before let alone in the middle of the hood dead on the street!  You talking crazy talk, Mr. Knox!”

He stilled and so did the cop.

“Son, how did you know this man’s name?”

How had he known?

The older man got up and dusted off his bum.  “Officer, unless you need something else, I think I’m fine now.  If you and your fellow officers can help get the cows back in the truck…”

“But sir, your truck is still overturned.”

“Is it?”

They all turned around and the dusty beige truck was right side up and no longer dented.  The cows were still all lying in the street.

The cop’s eyes bulged and he passed a hand over his face.  He took out a white handkerchief from one of his many pockets, lifted his hat and mopped his bald head dried his forehead of the moisture he found there, as well.

“Mr. Knox, we’ll do our best to get the cows up on the flatbed but we may need to call the fire department and their lifting apparatus to help with that.  Those animals are massive.”

“You do whatever is necessary.  But, I think you, your fellow officers and the EMT gentlemen can get a few cows in the truck.  Don’t ya think?”

With a pointed stare, the cop turned on his heel and walked woodenly to his patrol car reached in for the radio and began speaking into it.  He made no moves towards the cows, nor did he turn back around and look at either Jack, or Knox.

Jack took this in without saying a word.  He looked around and noticed that there were very few people about.  In fact, he saw only two other people.  This surreal scene was not being witnessed!  Jack shook his head, rubbed his eyes and looked around again.  Even the two guys were no longer anywhere to be seen.  It was only him, Knox, the three cops and the two EMT guys.  He couldn’t stall anymore and he turned to the man he had been avoiding and the question he knew he needed to ask burned a hole in his mind.

“So what is this all about?  Who – no, what are you?”

“I’ve got a gift for you, Jack,” Knox began digging in his pockets.  “I’ve been looking for your kin for a long time.  Your folks had me promise to deliver this to you ages ago, but time slipped away from me and ‘fore you know it, it was 2016.  But, here I am anyway.  Better late than never right?”

Jack took a few steps back knowing he did not want whatever this man, who most likely was not mortal, had to give him.

“See, Jack.  You can backpedal all you want but I will make my delivery.  It’s what I came to do.”

Jack turned to run and the world slowed down and time slowed down like he was mired in molasses.

Knox reached out in extreme stop action-like motion and touched Jack’s shoulder lightly.

Jack opened his mouth wide to yell but only thick oval waves of molasses-thickened sound came out.  In a moment, the world sped up and did a dizzying 360 turn.  Jack came back to regular reality with a jerk and whirled around to face Knox.  In the process, Jack noted the trees, the wide open fields, the low wooden fence, dozens of cows – brown, white and black ones – milling about the fields.  Far in the distance on his left he noticed a red barn and a windmill spinning idly in the light spring zephyr.  The yellow sundried wild grasses swayed in the wind as Jack stumbled forward falling to his knees as his eyes widened and he took in the pastoral rural scene before him.  He finally looked directly at Knox and said in a strangely calm tone, “Who are you?”

Knox looked away from Jack, plucked a piece of the grass and stuck it in his mouth.  “Funny thing about time; it’s maddeningly fluid, isn’t it?  One minute, you’re stealing a goose, a golden harp and a bag of gold, then the next you’re in a Brooklyn neighborhood hundreds of years later wondering what the heck just happened,” he paused, looked back at Jack and shined a mirthless toothy grin at him.  “Or, maybe it was the other way around. Right, Jack?  ‘Member that beanstalk over yonder?” Knox used his head to point towards the north.

Jack turned slowly, forcing himself to take more complete breaths that would not leave him so light headed.  He blinked rapidly against the glare of the late afternoon sun.  That’s when he saw it.  It was dark green and thick.  Thicker than anything he had ever seen.  It was as thick as a one hundred year old tree trunk.  Dried brown vines seemed to embed themselves into the trunk of the beanstalk.  It was massive, beautiful and terrifying.  It was an impossibility that somehow was a reality.

Picture on Brittany Jones-Cooper's website. Image from Yahoo Travel.

Picture on Brittany Jones-Cooper’s website. Image from Yahoo Travel.

Jack couldn’t help himself.  His eyes rose and continued to rise until they saw the beanstalk disappear amongst the clouds high up in the sky.  A shiver ran down his spine.  Knowingness came unbidden.  He dropped his head and refused to look at the man behind him.

“That’s right, Jack.  You know who I am now, doncha?”

“How long have you been chasing me?”

“The real question was how did you manage to steal my cow dog whistle?  It was so well hidden; so small.  How did you know what it was?  What it could do?”

Jack gulped hard.  There was no way he was going to tell Knox the Giant the harp had told him.  He just blinked hard a few times and tried not to sweat in the high noon sun.

Knox stepped closer to him; grabbed him by the arms and shook until Jack’s mind felt like scrambled eggs.  He shoved him away hard.

Jack fell backward and landed flat on his bum.

Knox went through Jack’s pockets and plucked out the whistle.  “There she is.  My sweet ticket back to my old home; the one you tossed me out of when I followed you.  Not sure why you brought us here but, you can have at it.  I ain’t taking you back.  I’m curious.  How did you travel here without blowing the whistle?”

Knox backed five feet away, put the slim silver whistle to his mouth and blew.  The air turned wavy and thick like molasses once more.  In a few seconds, Knox was gone.

Jack sat up and looked around him and smiled.  The harp had also taught him how to transfer the time walking properties directly into his body.  The whistle probably had only two or three travel jaunts left in it.

He got up slowly and walked to the barn with a smile on his face.  He was looking forward to seeing Milky-white, his prize-winning cow.  After selling the original Milky-white to get the magic beans, Jack had always kept a cow that looked similar.  Having an MW in his life was his lucky charm, or so he believed.  Furrowing his brow, Jack wondered if he should go back and get his mother now, or wait until the sun went down.  It would be easier to explain when it all when she couldn’t see that their surroundings had completely changed.  He would have the whole night to try and make her understand who he was, and what he could do.

Jack pulled open the barn doors and paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimness.  With a broad smile, he stepped inside and shrieked.  Knox was sitting on a bale of hay but he had transformed into his original form.  The Giant raised a hand in greeting.

“I was thinking about how we got here and why you would bring us here,” the Giant rasped in his deep gravel-filled voice.  “Then, I realized this damn harp musta told you all of my secrets, including about the whistle.”  The Giant put a hand behind the bale of hay and pulled out the golden harp.

“Noo!  Save me, Jack!  Save me!!”

Jack took a step forward and stopped short when he saw what was in the Giant’s other hand.”

“That’s right.  Look into her eyes.”

Jack stared into the double black iris-less eyes of a sawed off shot gun.

“Hasta la vista, baby.”  And, Knox pulled the trigger.

# # #


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