The Tale of Jack

Chapter 1

“Did it hurt?”

Jack paused in smoothing out his shirt and turned back to the bed. “’Scuse me?”

“Did it hurt? Because it was so big?”

“Oh! Yeah, it did.”

The man in the bed smiled smugly to himself and groped around on the sheets for his pants. Jack put on his shoes, then picked up the roll of bills from the card table in the corner and pocketed it. “I’m gonna go now okay?”

“Yeah sure,” the man replied through a yawn, and he swung his legs off the edge of the bed. Jack opened the door and headed for the motel lobby. Of course it hadn’t hurt; it’d been like getting stuck with a pencil stub. The girl behind the lobby desk looked warily at him as he left, as if she didn’t know what he’d been doing. That was the trouble with living in a small town; only one motel. Hell, only one prostitute as far as he was aware, at least there wasn’t anyone else doing this shit along with him.

What else was he supposed to do though? They needed the money. His mother was sick, he’d had to leave school early after his Dad died, and he had no time to get more education or work their little bit of land. Most of the jobs in the little town of Eastgate had been held by the same person for years. Nobody left, nobody new arrived, and there was nothing to do for one poor kid with no qualifications and a bad reputation.

When Dad had died, Jack and his mother had, at least, been left with their house and the two small fields behind it, both of which had belonged to the family for generations. But the stress of bereavement had taken its toll on his Mama, and a nasty case of pneumonia had developed into a lasting problem with her lungs, and she’d had to give up her job. They’d sold the fields to Mr McElgar, whose land bordered theirs, and that’d kept them going for a couple of years, but then the money had started to run out, the risk of losing their home started to loom, and Jack had gone to search for a job.

No school, no training, no experience…no luck.
In the end, the only thing he had that was worth anything was his body and his rep, which, surprisingly, hadn’t gotten that much worse since he’d started turning tricks. Thanks to a too-trusting confession of attraction to a classmate in high school, the whole town knew he was gay. The other student had been no problem; a happy, positive kind of guy, he’d just blithely thought Jack had been complementing him on his grades. But a teacher had overheard and decided to out him, in order to ‘allow other students to make informed decision about exposing themselves to unethical elements’, or some shit like that. And suddenly everyone was treating him like a sex offender. The excuse to leave school when Mama got ill was almost welcome.

The worst of it was, that same teacher was now one of his regular customers.

He walked through the quiet, dark streets towards home, the shadow of the forest rising up on the horizon beyond the edge of the farmland. The roads out this far had no streetlights, but he’d learned to make his way home in the pitch dark. Under his feet, the asphalt became gravel and the gravel became compacted earth, and then he was on the uneven flagstones of the little path that led to their front door.

Inside, the house was dark, except for a thin sliver of light coming from under the kitchen door. Jack checked his watch; 11.30, no way Mama would still be awake. He opened the door and saw a covered plate on the table, and just like that his day got better. Mama had not only felt well enough to eat, she’d felt well enough to make something so good she wanted him to have some. He lifted the cover; pasta in tomato sauce, with mushrooms and green peppers, which was one of their favourite dishes. They were practically vegetarian, as it was cheaper than eating meat. He picked up the plate to put it in the microwave, and did a little double take when he realised there was a folded piece of paper underneath it;

”Hello honey, welcome home.
I hope you like the food, I had a good day today and decided to throw it together. We can have it for dinner again tomorrow if you like, it was a big batch. Mr McElgar came and brought a bag of tomatoes for us.
I’ve been looking at our books again this afternoon honey, and I’m afraid it looks like we’re going to have to sell the car. But don’t worry, I’m sure everything will work out. Dr Atieno stopped by for my check up and said that I’m going along okay. We can talk about it another time.
I hope work went well. Eat up and have a good sleep my little darling, I’ll see you tomorrow.

Love Mama.”

Jack sighed. He’d told her he’d got a job at the packaging depot for a mail order store that was just outside of town. It broke his heart to lie to her, but he knew it would hurt her so much worse if she knew what he was really doing. She knew he was gay, but as far as she was concerned, he’d never had a proper boyfriend, so he was probably still a virgin. This way, at least she felt she could rest up and get better; otherwise she’d surely force herself to go back to work while she was still sick.

He took a quick shower while the pasta was heating up, scrubbing the acrid smell of aftershave and sex off his skin, then sat in the kitchen in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and ate his dinner ravenously. It was good, as his Mama’s cooking always was. Then, tired and full, he headed off to bed.

His bedroom, his since infancy, was still like that of a child, despite the fact that he was now twenty-two. Posters of football players, uniformed and bare-chested alike, were pasted on the wall opposite the bed, the bookcase held a scattering of models and action figures. There was even an old mobile, still hanging in front of the window, the pale moonlight glinting sullenly off the glossy shapes of leaves.

Tonight, as most nights, his thoughts took a sombre turn, lying there in the dark. In school, he’d had such high hopes for his life. Graduate certainly, even college if he got the grades. A real job somewhere, maybe something to do with animals, because he’d always loved them. And…love. He wanted a lover.

A week before, he’d gone to the local pharmacy for one of his Mama’s medications, but they’d run out, so he got in the car and went over to the nearest town, Denebrook, to get it from there. Walking along the High Street, feeling self conscious as always even though nobody knew him there, he was suddenly stopped in his tracks by the sight of a group of people on the other side of the street.

A tall, broad, dark haired man, was walking arm-in-arm with a slight red-haired guy, who in turn was holding the hand of a sweet looking elderly lady. They looked happy together, a man and his boyfriend and probably one of their relatives, just out enjoying themselves. Jack wasn’t the kind of guy to be prone to jealousy, but he thought right then that he would have killed or died to spend just a day like that. His Mama, and a man who loved him, strolling along a sunlit street.

His last thought as he fell asleep was of love.


“Mama, are you sure about this?”

“Sweetie, it makes perfect sense. How often do we use that car now anyway? We never go any further than Denebrook or Green Meadow, and there are busses there all the time. We need the money.”

“I know, but…”

“But what, Jack? What if I need to be rushed to hospital or something? What if I need medicine in an emergency?”

Jack looked at her, briefly thought about saying yes, then decided against it.

“You never know when there’ll be an emergency,” he replied diplomatically.

“I know, and I know you worry about me. But really, there’s no good reason not to sell it.”

Jack nodded, feeling a little hopeless. One by one, they were selling off all their possessions of any worth.

“Oh yeah,” he asked, suddenly remembering her note. “What did Dr Atieno say, exactly?”

“Oh, you know. I’m no worse, but it’ll take time before I get better. Same as he always says. There’s still that procedure that he thinks would work, but…”

“We can’t afford it,” Jack finished, smiling despite himself. Dr Atieno was a good guy, he’d done his best to find ways to help Mama out, but there was only so much he could do.

“Okay Mama, I’ll take the car into town and see what the people at the second hand places say.”

“Thank you sweetheart. I know all this is tough on you, but it’ll turn out okay. You know that, right?”

Jack nodded, smiled, and leaned forward from his seat on the edge of her bed to hug her.


Six hours later, Jack pulled the car into a parking space in Main Street, got out, slammed the door, and kicked the kerbstone as hard as he could. A whole damned day spent going back and forth between car dealers, trying desperately to get anybody to take the fucking car! All the places in Eastgate would take at look at it and stick their nose in the air, or take a look at him and decide that the back of the car was unhygienic or something, because either they’d screwed him – in a bed! - or they knew somebody who had.

It was so fucking unfair!

So he’d gone further afield, but all the dealers in Denebrook and Green Meadow had no time for a twenty year old car with scratched paint.

Jack sat on the bonnet and put his head in his hands. If his Mama was so set on selling the car, it was surely because they had serious money problems, she wouldn’t do it lightly. So if he couldn’t sell it, that meant they were reliant on money from his ‘job’. There were only so many men in Eastgate who were interested in fucking him. So what, go further afield? One of his regulars said he would pay more if Jack didn’t make him use a condom…no, he couldn’t. But if it was the only way…

“Excuse me young man?”


Jack was shocked out of his reverie by the voice coming from very close quarters, and was astonished, when he lifted his head, to see that a man was standing right at his elbow. Not a man he recognised, this guy was dressed in tidy, refined looking clothes, old fashioned and very neat. His suit was dark green and had a long-tailed jacket, like something from a historical movie. He was maybe middle aged, but trim and quite handsome.

“I understand you’re selling-”

Jack got to his feet, suddenly all too aware that he looked a mess, made an abortive attempt to look sexy, and ended up giving the man a rueful smile.

“Uh, yeah.”

“The car. I believe you’re selling your car,” the man clarified with a sympathetic, knowing expression. Jack immediately felt mortified and put one hand over his eyes.

“Don’t worry there. No harm done. Only, I was interested in buying it. What are you asking?”


Knowing half-smile again. “Really. I rather like old cars.”

“Umm…make me an offer, I guess,” Jack replied uncertainly.

The man ducked his head a moment to chuckle and Jack felt a fool. But still, “What would you say to, oh, two hundred dollars?”

“Sure!” He probably should have haggled, but that was about the most money he’d dared to hope for.

A shiny leather wallet was produced from inside that odd jacket, and the man took out two notes, and handed them over. Jack had never even seen a hundred dollar bill before, and now there were two of them, crisp and slightly rough in his hand. He pushed them into his own battered wallet, shoved it into his pocket and rushed to open the door, grabbing the card folder with all the papers inside. The man accepted the folder, went through it, signed what was necessary, handed the appropriate documents back to Jack and accepted the keys with a pleasant smile.

“Would you like me to drive you home?”

“Thanks, but I like to walk.”

“Quite admirably healthy, I’m sure,” replied the man, and he climbed into the car, looking completely out of place in his eccentric clothes, started the engine and drove away. And Jack was left in the darkening street, two hundred dollars filling out his wallet, and a now useless old key chain in the shape of a letter ‘J’ jingling in his pocket.

It was getting towards dusk now, the air getting cooler, and it was high time for him to get home and give Mama the good news. His feet felt lighter along the path tonight, and as he approached the house he saw light coming from the front door, could hear the radio playing inside. He felt like hugging himself. Standing on his own doorstep, trying to figure out the best way to tell her, the most fun way, the biggest surprise…he should have the money in hand, show it to her. He took out his wallet, slipped out the notes…

Not notes.

There was one sheet of paper, old and rough feeling, folded to about the size of a note. He couldn’t do anything but stare at it for a moment. It was…it was impossible. There was no way the man could have switched it. No way at all.

Dropping the folded paper, he pulled open his wallet and rooted through it. The money from the guy he’d gone with last night had mostly been given to Mama that morning, just five dollars left, and a receipt from the place he’d bought a sandwich for lunch…nothing.

No money.

No car.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing there, his mind numb with shock and misery, when the sound of Mama shutting off the radio and switching off the light snapped him out of it. It was fully dark outside, Mama was going to bed.

He picked up the paper and put it back into his jeans pocket, then opened the door.

“Jack?” came Mama’s worried voice from her bedroom.

“Yeah Mama, just me. No luck today.”

She opened the door of her room, wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown.

“Really? Well…never mind honey.”

“I’ll go try again tomorrow.”

“Okay. Goodnight. There’s some dinner on the table, ‘kay?”

“Okay Mama. Thanks.” He kissed her cheek and she went back in the room.

Why had he told her that? What the hell was he going to do? No car, no money, no way to get it back, and nothing else to sell. Jack went into his room and changed out of his clothes, put on old sweats and sat on the bed.

Cried for a while, quietly, so as not to wake Mama.

She’d worry even more if he didn’t eat, so he went in the kitchen and ate the food she’d left out for him, but it sat in his stomach like a brick.

Feeling hopeless and cold inside, he went to bed.


The next morning, he got out of the house before Mama was awake, leaving a note to explain that he’d gone out to have another try at selling the car. Maybe if he got the bus out to Green Meadow, gauged the place to see if he could get a little more work around there. A lot of rich people lived there, and there was always somebody willing and ready to pay money for a decent looking young man…

He was trudging along the path into town, the fresh morning sun warming his back, when it occurred to him to look at the paper the guy had switched the money for. His fingers slid it out of the wallet, shook a little as he unfolded it and smoothed it out. It was thick, worn feeling paper of an uneven yellowish-brown colour. Jack, on some level, had maybe been hoping for a message, some kind of explanation… but no. It was a drawing. Trees and lines, a couple of buildings and a four-pointed star in the top corner…

Holy crap, it was a map!

He wasn’t so much of a kid to think it was a treasure map or anything, but still, it was interesting. He turned so that the compass at the top of the diagram was lined up with the true directions, glancing at the position of the sun to make sure he was accurate, and took a better look.

There, that was a road…and a pond, or maybe a lake…and these were fields. Not any fields though, those were Mr McElgar’s fields. Previously Jack’s parents fields. He was sure of it!

So then the road was the one that led through the woods towards Denebrook…and that path coming off was the one that led down towards the river…but then another path branched off from that. One that he’d never seen before. It appeared to end at a tree, a tree drawn far larger than the others on the map.

Jack had some serious thinking to do. May as well do it in the woods. If he did go over to Green Meadow it wouldn’t be until evening, after all, and by then he might have come up with a better idea.

As soon as his feet got him to the Denebrook road, he turned off the main street and headed off into the woods.


The path was…weird. Jack had walked along the path to the river hundreds of times over the course of his life and he’d never seen this new, narrow path branching off before. But there it was. The bare, compacted earth was red-brown and scattered with pale pebbles. Boughs of trees and branches of bracken hung over its edges, making it clear that it hadn’t been walked much recently.

The road less travelled indeed.

Jack took one last look at the map, made his mind up and set off.

The low branches swept against his shins as he walked, swinging back behind him as he brushed past them, the rattle of the leaves soothing to his ears. The sunlight dappled on the path in front of him, shifting and swooping like the surface of the sea. It was a beautiful day; if not for the weight of worry on his shoulders, Jack would have felt like he was in paradise.

On the map, it didn’t look like the path was particularly long; maybe a kilometre or so, certainly not much more. But what was at the end, that was the question on his mind. The huge tree pictured was drawn, not only on a different scale to the others, but to a different pattern. The other trees were jagged pines and lollipop oaks, scattered cheerfully like a children’s drawing. The one at the end of his path however was mostly a huge trunk, a little trail of dashes spiralling around it. A few leaf-bedecked branches stuck out from its top, but…it didn’t look that tree-like.

Then Jack looked up from the map…
and there it was.

It was so damn tall he could barely believe it. All he could see of the branches was the vague shape of them against the sky when he looked up. He couldn’t even conceive of how tall it must be. And the trunk…

He looked again at the map. Yes, that little trail of dashes did look kind of like a staircase.

He looked again at the tree. Yep. Stairs. All the way up, as far as Jack could see.

“Fucking weird,” Jack murmured to himself. But still, his feet carried him forward. The bottom step was narrow, barely the width of Jack’s own body, and so shallow he wouldn’t be able to fit his whole foot on it without turning it side on. There was no hand rail – well of course not, it was a tree – nothing at all to hold on to. Pretty scary prospect, given how high the spiralling steps went.

Jack began to climb.


After the first few circuits of the tree’s vast trunk, which Jack figured equal to around three stories up, he was just finding his pace, lightly trailing the palm of his left hand against the trunk as he went.

After a few dozen such circuits he was getting a little out of breath. Pleasantly so though; it felt cleansing, like going jogging after a shitty day.

After around half an hour of walking, he glanced to his right and saw treetops, from above, all around him. It occurred to him on some level that he shouldn’t actually be able to see treetops from that angle, ever, as they should always be above him, and also that there wasn’t enough room on the steps for him to be able to turn around should he wish. But somehow neither of these problems troubled him. He kept climbing.

At a certain height, the air became strangely misty and water started to bead and gather on his skin, soaking into his clothes. It occurred to him that he was walking up through the clouds. Again, the situation didn’t quite penetrate further into his brain than the shallowest level, and he kept climbing.

As cloudy and vague as his consciousness had become over the course of his journey, it took him a few moments to realise that he had reached the top. Looking around, it registered in his mind that he had no idea how long he’d been climbing. The sunlight around him was as bright and clear as it had been when he’d left the house, but the misty air hid the position of the sun strangely. Looking down he couldn’t quite make out where his shadow lay. All around him was a thick sheet of cloud, laying level…almost as if it lay on the ground. In fact, that was exactly what it looked like. Despite it being entirely impossible, Jack almost felt that, if he were to put out his foot and step off the stair on which he now stood, he would find himself on a solid surface.

This strange impression was only strengthened when he noticed the house.

Or, perhaps, cottage would be a better term for it. An old-fashioned looking little one-storey building, battered and old but seemingly sturdy. The light was having the strangest effect on Jack’s eyes; it appeared that the building was some distance away, and yet it had to be nearby, considering how large it appeared. And damn it, how in hell was a house up here in the sky anyway? Jack shook his head to try and clear his thoughts, and as he did a cool drift of a breeze swept past him and ruffled away the cloud from around his feet, revealing…ground.

Fresh soil, scattered with grass here and there. As he stood and watched, the wind cleared the cloud, little by little, until Jack could see the path worn to the front of the house between what looked like recently planted fields. Looking down, it seemed that he now stood on a protrusion from the trunk of some kind of stunted, thick-trunked tree that could have been growing from that spot for a hundred years. Gathering his nerve, he stepped down and…found his foot firmly on solid ground.


Looking back at the tree he’d climbed, he saw the cloud seemed to have gathered thickly around the tree, making it impossible to see the gap he must have come up through. So, that left him with onwards and upwards. Or onwards rather, as it seemed he’d done upwards as much as he could.

The house appeared to be quiet, no lights on, but then it was a bright day. The place seemed to be in fairly good repair though, and there was no harm in knocking on the door. So Jack set his feet to the path.

The fields he walked past were just showing sprouts of green above the surface of the soil. On one side, Jack recognised the leaves of carrots and cabbages, on the other were the beginnings of what he thought might be corn. They were growing pretty big though, bigger than anything Jack and his Dad had ever gotten out of their land. The house seemed to be further away than he’d first thought; maybe it was bigger than he’d believed. But how big would anyone ever build a one story cottage?

He got his answer when he finally got as far as the front door. It was several times his own height; he couldn’t have reached the handle with a ladder.

It was…strange. But at that point, for Jack, it was just the latest strange thing in a long list, and he was really more curious than anything else. What the hell was with this house!?!

“Hello?” he yelled, as loud as he could. There was no response. As far as Jack could perceive, the building was empty.

He felt pretty dumb to be doing it, but he knocked on the door; the wood was so heavy it barely made a sound. So, how to get into a giant house.

The letter box? Jack pushed aside the question of why there was a letter box, given how…out of the way the house was. But it was there, a little old-fashioned, verdigris-covered brass one, near the floor. Jack gave it a push; no spring or anything, it just swung open.

Jack clambered in; perfect fit. Well, a little small. He was out of breath by the time he tumbled into the room. Inside, the cottage was rustic to the point of being…medieval. Or something like that.

A cast iron stove stood in one corner with a scarred wooden table next to it, a wooden framed bed in another corner and a large wardrobe next to it. There was a big bathtub, also cast iron and a water pump was visible outside one of the small windows. And everything, absolutely everything, was on the same scale; fucking massive.

It didn’t make any sense. He climbed a tree, found a house in the clouds, and everything was…giant.

Or could it be…was he smaller? Had he shrunk? How in hell was he going to get back to normal?

And then the door opened, and the resident of the house walked in. And suddenly, all of Jack’s worries seemed like nothing. 


                 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Jack and the Beanstalk ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 2


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