Choices

Choices

A Story by Leah Elisabeth
"

This is loosely based on the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. I wrote it for a contest. Enjoy!

"

He had been falling for a very long time. Sure, he looked normal on the outside, with curly black and bright blue eyes and an honest grin that gave his face an unassuming look, but each day, he watched and each day, he fell a little further into the blackness.

He lived with his mother, even now, at the age of twenty-three, and he didn’t intend to leave her any time soon. He knew there must be more, somewhere, but until then, he would just keep on falling.

On the morning of June 7, 2007, Jack lay quietly in his bed, staring at the ceiling, looking for pictures in the stucco. There in the left top corner was a rabbit with a beak and right over the head of his bed was an old lady, wreathed in wrinkles, glasses sliding down her nose. His favourite was a whimsical old gentlemen that crouched in the darkest corner opposite his bed. He almost seemed to leap from the ceiling, alive, breathing and cackling, a twinkle almost visible in his eye.

Jack knew he should stand and get out of his bed to prepare to face the day, but he could not bring himself to leave the warmth of the covers. As he stared, he felt his eyelids growing heavy once more and he drifted into a waking dream, still gazing at the pictures in the stucco. There, right above his head, the face of a woman began to take shape. She was so beautiful, he wondered why he had not seen her before. As he drifted back into sleep, she took on form, clear green eyes shimmered gently in a face the hue of alabaster and thick Auburn hair drifted across her face in a breeze he could not feel. Full lips curved into a smile that gave him shivers right down to his toes, simply because it was for him alone.

“You will have the right to choose.” Her voice hung in the air, gracing it with its presence. She held forth her hands and for the first time he noticed that they were glowing brightly. She held forth a golden orb, shining brightly. “You will choose to keep falling or to be reborn.”

Jack reached out to touch her and at that instant, his alarm sounded and she disappeared. He searched for her face once more, but it was gone and, disheartened and confused, he climbed out of his bed to get ready for the day.

His mother was already yelling as he walked down the stairs. “Jack you will be late for work.” She handed him two pieces of whole wheat toast, dripping with butter. “You will have to eat on the way. I made you some eggs too.”

“Shove them in here.” He pushed his two pieces of toast at her and, holding his egg sandwich, he raced out the door to catch the bus to work. He was too late and the next one did not come for another fifteen minutes. He considered getting his mother to give him a ride, then settled down on the bench to wait. He bit into his sandwich and noticed absentmindedly the huge glob of yellow yolk that dripped down the front of his brand-new sweater. He kept biting and his eggs kept dripping. The bus was five minutes late.

He stood and dispassionately ripped off his sweater, tossing it into the nearest garbage can, and he began to amble aimlessly down the street. The tire factory would do all right without him for a day. He was falling again.

He watched the people bustle about the streets, sending their children off for another day of school or heading out for work, housewives gardening or cleaning, their cheerful voices ringing out through their open windows. He was removed from it all, feeling he didn’t, couldn’t belong.

He finally wandered into the park, trudging through the lush grass, trampling the spring flowers and ignoring the twittering of birds, rejoicing in their freedom, rejoicing in life and rebirth. He felt heavy, old and weary, longing for escape and nothing but joy and life surrounded him.

“I was waiting for you,” a musical voice called from a bench nearby. He turned, too sluggish to be startled that the exquisite woman from his dreams sat there, her legs curled up beneath her, her silky green dress flowing over her body like water to where it pooled on the ground. “What do you choose?”

Jack stared stupidly at the ground. “I don’t know. I don’t even know if I want to know.” He looked at her, expecting her pleasant smile to turn to derision, but it only grew wider.

“No one ever knows at the beginning. It is not yet time for you to choose.” She stood. He swallowed hard, watching the way the fabric of the dress slid over her body, hugging every curve, yet flowing off it like a clear mountain stream.

“Here, take this in your hand.” She handed him the golden orb he had seen in her hand. It was rounded at one end and slightly pointed at the other.

“You are giving me a golden egg?”

“It is your right to choose, guard it well. I cannot tell you the day or the circumstance in which the choice will find you, but it will find you and when that moment comes, you will want to make your own choice.” Jack turned his head away, thinking, and when he turned to look at her again, she had disappeared, wondering if his crazy dream had followed him from his bedroom to this quiet cool place. Yet he held the golden egg in his hand and he knew he had really seen her.

Jack walked out of the park and his life fell apart. He found he really was dispensable at work. Even though he only skipped one shift, they got rid of him in a heartbeat. His mother was too old to work and even if she wasn’t, jobs were scarce. There weren’t any for strong young men, much less feeble old ladies.

His mother had been trying to put away some money for college in case he ever decided to go, but it slowly dwindled away to nothing. He earned a little money doing odd jobs for neighbours, but things were tight and they too were only just getting by.

Jack finally wished he could leave his mother’s house and get out on his own, but it was too late. She railed at him every day and night for being so stupid. He tried to hide, but her shrill voice cut through the wall, the blanket, the pillow and the cotton balls. He couldn’t leave. He had nowhere to go.

He would lie awake in bed for hours during the middle of the day, staring at his ceiling again. He often looked for her face, willing the random blobs of stucco to coalesce into the ethereal lines of her face. Her outline was illusive, sometimes she almost came clear, but he would lose it just as she began to look real again.

The old gentleman in the corner grew clearer everyday. Sometimes, if Jack squinted just right, he would come alive and leap towards him, opening his mouth to talk. Sometimes, Jack would speak to him, willing him to answer. He would think really hard, trying to send him telepathic nudges, telling him to live. His mother would have called him crazy if she had known, but Jack wasn’t crazy. He was just falling faster now.

June 7, 2008, Jack hit bottom. The money was gone. The food was gone and even the neighbours could only do so much. He left his home, his mother’s voice still ringing in his ears.

“Don’t come back unless you have some money or a job or something to help us live through another day!”

Jack wandered through the park again, meandering slowly past the bench, hoping against hope that she would be there again. He walked by twice, and then three times, but no clear voice called to him. Jack sat on the bench and held his head in his hands, wondering what he could do to change this life that was quickly going nowhere.

“I can turn your life around,” an ancient voice rasped from beside him. He turned and saw the old gentleman from the darkest corner of his bedroom ceiling. “I can help you escape.” He held out a glowing hand and opened it to reveal three beans. They looked like ordinary beans but for the fact that they glowed with blue fire. “These can change everything for you. You will never have to feel this way again.”

“Will you give them to me?” Jack asked quietly.

“Give them? No, I won’t, but you can have them for a price.”

“I have nothing to give you. It has been a long time since I possessed anything of value.” Jack turned away, his hopes dashed cruelly to the ground.

“I will trade you these beans for everything that is in your right hand pocket.” The man smiled and Jack felt inside his pocket.

Jack pulled out a piece of string. Next came an old pocket-knife his mother had given him for his thirteenth birthday. He pulled out a receipt from the grocery store and three nickels. Pocket lint joined the growing pile. Then he felt something smooth and hard in the corner of his pocket and pulled out the golden egg.

“I didn’t even realize I brought this with me today.” He rubbed his thumb over it, gazing calmly on its light and perfection. He moved to put it back in his pocket.

“Everything,” the old man spoke gently.

“But this is my right to choose.” Jack held onto it stubbornly.

“The deal was made for everything. That deal is not complete until that egg joins the pile.”

“I still want my right to choose.”

“You will. And this now is your choice. This is the big choice. Will you hold onto the egg that will be worthless once you make your choice, or do you give it up and truly change everything for yourself.”

Jack looked at the egg. Everything within him urged him to hang onto it, everything but his logic. He had never seen the girl again and he and his mother would die if something didn’t change. Slowly he stretched out his hand and released the egg, its shine diminished as it lay on top of the pile of his pocket garbage.

The old man placed the beans in Jack’s hands and gathering up the pile of odds and ends, vanished, leaving Jack wondering if he had chosen correctly.

Jack walked slowly home, clutching the beans tightly in his hands. He walked in the door. His mother greeted him with a smile.

“What did you find Jackie?”

“I got these beans. They will turn our lives around. I think they must be magic.”

“They are a pretty colour certainly, but they cannot be magic. I doubt they will make good soup. I hope you did not give up much to get these.”

“I gave him my choice, that is all.”

“That is all?” his mother wailed. “Jackie, that is everything. Now you can never get that back.”

In the face of his mother’s ire, Jack was strengthened. “I made my choice. These beans will make the difference. You will see.” He marched off to his room, not coming out until his mother called him out for supper.

Jack sat silently at the table as his mother brought a bowl to the table, filled with a strange bluish soup. “You cooked them?” he cried.

“A strange last meal, magic bean soup.” his mother mused. “It will have to do.” She sat down at the table and watched him eat.

“Do you not have your own bowl?” Jack asked.

“No, I am old and ready to die but you will need your strength, little as this will give you.” His mother smiled. “I know I yell sometimes, but I really would die for you.”

Jack ate two of the beans in his bowl. The were mushy and bland. The last one was so hard it chipped his tooth. He pulled it out of his mouth and put it in his pocket when his mother wasn’t looking. Then he stretched, pushed his bowl across the table and stood. “I am going back to my room.”

“I miss you Jackie. Stay out here and talk to me like we used to do.” His mother was wistful and her voice grew softer.

“Not tonight.” Jack turned and walked from the room and locked himself in his room again.

For the first time in a year, he saw the woman again. She looked at him, no longer smiling, sadness in every curve of her face, and tears streaming from her lovely eyes. He could not look at her and tore his face from gazing into her eyes to looking at the man who had helped him, the man who had given him the magic to change. He too was different. The twinkle in his eye had become malevolent and his cheerful mischievous mouth took on a cruel bent. He grew, crowding out the rest of the ceiling, filling the room with his presence. He pushed Jack and even though it seemed he had already fallen as far as he possibly could, he fell again and was swallowed by the darkness.

He could see nothing but darkness around him and could feel nothing but the hard ground beneath him. He opened his mouth to cry out but could not make a sound. Nothing could be heard and he longed for something, anything to break the loneliness.

He fell to the ground and sobbed, silent screams clawing at his throat and fighting for release. Though he cried out until his throat was raw, he could not hear himself crying. As he lay on the ground, he felt something hard in his pocket, the last bean.

He clawed at the hard soil where his tears had softened it and planted the bean, covering it over, watering it with more of his tears. A small sprout leapt from the ground and he heard her voice.

“All is not lost,” she sang. She kept singing those words over and over and Jack’s tears slowly dried. His ragged breathing slowed and his tense body relaxed as he slowly slipped into slumber.

Jack woke and there was light in the darkness. A huge beanstalk clung to the barren earth and spiralled its way into the dark clouds above him, breaking through and allowing heavenly light to spill down to where Jack lay, forsaken and desolate. He slowly pulled himself to his feet and placing his hands on the rough surface, he began to climb.

It wasn’t easy. The stalk was tough and cut his hands. His shoes slipped and many times, he almost fell. The light was so beautiful. He would not allow himself to stop. He knew she was waiting.

Finally, Jack reached the top and stepped onto the clouds. He had broken free of his prison. The light was so bright, he could hardly open his eyes, but what he saw was glorious. There she stood, wrapped in light and mist. Brilliant colours sparkled in her gown like the ephemeral rainbows, full of hope and promise.

“What must I do?” Jack was almost afraid to ask.

“You must regain your right to choose. And you mustn’t let him kill you first.”

“Who?” The lady turned and pointed. Jack turned to look and his blood ran cold. The old gentleman strode toward him, huge and imposing, easily twenty feet tall. He raised his arms to the clouds and the lightening crackled around him. He laughed and gloried in its destructive fury. Jack swallowed and gathered up every iota of courage.

“Where do I find it?”

“You must go into his home and find the cupboard where he holds it. Remove it and return to me. I will tell you what to do.  He has not seen you yet.  He comes to speak with me.  I will buy you some time.”

Afterward, when Jack tried to remember his journey and search, it was all a blur. He remembered the fear and how every heartbeat sounded like a bomb going off. He remembered that the giant’s home was filled with the stench of rotting flesh and the creeping of shadows. He remembered that the cupboard was under the stairs in the darkest place of all. He had to hold his breath.

He threw open the cupboard and saw hundreds of golden eggs, some pulsing with a feeble light, other dark and lifeless like ordinary gold. “Which is mine?” he moaned aloud. He reached out his hand and felt one answer him. It had very nearly gone dark but a faint light still shone. It grew stronger as he reached, grasped it and pulled it out. As he held it close to his heart, the light grew strong again and he knew that it was his own.

He fled the giant’s castle and ran back toward the lady. “What do I do now?” he gasped.

“Climb back down the beanstalk.”

“I don’t want to go back to the dark.”

“When you reach the bottom, take this axe.” She pulled a golden axe from behind her back. “Chop down the beanstalk and you will be free.”

“I told you, I don’t want to go back there. It was dark and I was alone.”

“I tell you now. If you do as I say, everything will turn out right. Herein lies your choice and this is it. Will you trust me?” She looked into his eyes and her keen gaze pierced through his flesh and bone and peered right into his soul. “Will you believe that what I saw is true?”

Jack looked at her and saw truth in her eyes and as he gazed at her, the chance for a lengthy bout of soul searching was taken from him by a menacing howl from the direction of the castle.

“He will come for you now. You must decide.” She held out the axe and waited.

Jack had never been one for quick decisions but this time, in his heart, he knew the truth and he knew the woman before him was telling the truth. He grabbed the axe and, without a second thought, he began to climb down the beanstalk. It was much easier going down. He slid much of the way, going as quickly as possible. He could hear the sound of the giant climbing after him and he was gaining.

Finally, Jack reached the bottom and he immediately began hacking away at the tough stalk. The darkness was still just as complete but it did not frighten him the same way the giant did. He swung the axe until his arms were numb and finally he heard a beautiful sound, a creaking, groaning and crashing and the giant came tumbling down.

Jack looked at the dying beanstalk and the broken body of the giant and then looked around at the darkness around him. He was still there, trapped in the darkness, but he did not care, he was free.

A voice came from the heavens above him. “You made your choice. What will you do with the choice you been given?” Slowly, the darkness faded and he found himself lying in his bed again. He would have thought it was all a dream if he had not been clutching that beautiful golden egg once again. He glanced into his corner again and the face of the old gentlemen had dissolved into meaningless blobs and dots. He smiled and looked above his bed, almost seeing her face.

He heard her voice in his mind again. “What will you do with the choice you have been given?” Jack stood up and smiled broadly, feeling like a new man, and he ran out of the room calling for his mother. He knew where he would start.

© 2009 Leah Elisabeth


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Featured Review

Leah, you astound me. You really do. Your writing, as always has such a poetic, ephemeral quality, yet with such depth! The way you describe Jack's falling is brilliant. Oh, I hate using words like that. Brilliant is a cop out. What I'm trying to express is how you weave his choices. I'm finding myself at a loss for words because my response is at a gut level. It's not so much Jack's laziness that grabs me as his inertia. His lying in bed staring at the stucco, for instance. That's a choice that shows creative thinking, while at the same time it highlights the inertia that has him in grip. Dripping egg yolk. The picture that conjures! And then his careless throwing away of his sweater. Inertia and then waste. I was also caught by the cotton balls. He drowns out his mother's voice--walls, blanket and pillow are passive barriers. The cotton balls are active. He deliberately chose to place them in his ears for the sole purpose of escaping his mother. Leah, that's amazing! Two words turned the whole sentence into something bigger, more deliberate. Can you tell I love this story? You create such an atmosphere in this retelling of a fairy tale. You really need to be actively seeking a market for your work. I honestly believe it transcends most. And, sweetie, I don't say that lightly. I am, of course, predisposed to like what you do, but I am a critical reader. As a fellow-writer, I like to think that I know what I'm talking about!

Okay, now for the typos. Paragraph 1 "curly black" what? Should be hair. Why not insert it? :-). Also in the first paragraph, you say "each day" twice. I don't think the commas belong. Later on (I lost count of the paragraphs)--Auburn hair should not be capitalized. You've italicized "dwindled", "telepathic" and "lightening", and it seems out place each time. And shouldn't it be "lightning"?

Just be glad I read this off the monitor--I catch more typos when the copy is on paper!

I'm so glad I can read your work for another reason--it spurs me on to write more myself. And you, my dear, keep on writing! I fully expect you to enter the Word Guild book contest next year! This is your aunt speaking. Finish one of those books and market it!

I love you big time!

Posted 10 Years Ago


5 of 5 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Amazing version of this story.

Posted 9 Years Ago


I totally almost forgot where I was as I was reading this. This is an inspiring story, and very well written. Great job!

Posted 9 Years Ago


What an amazing, creative twist on an old favorite! You entered my daughter's contest and I found this as I looked through her submissions (she's only eleven, I can be a little protective). So glad to find this brilliant piece of work!

Posted 10 Years Ago


This is a great retelling of Jack and the beanstalk. You have given it such detail and warmth that it has brought this story back anew. This is an amazing tell and is wonderfully written. I really enjoyed how you did not give too many details about the giants castle. This is one thing that really stood out to me and I greatly enjoy not knowing much about his journey into the castle.

One thing that did distract me was the italizing of some words. I feel as if it is not needed and could possibly just be returned to normal font like the rest of your story.

Overall, I love the way that you put images and concepts together, making every decision an important one.

Thank you for writing.

Posted 10 Years Ago


"Choices" is already a critically-acclaimed masterpiece, yet I feel the need to express my love for this story. First, let me thank Ruth Carter for leaving no one with any English words left to use in our reviews; that sums it up. Second, this story is great. I am far too competitive; however, my own ego would not let something like this slip by me. You certainly could market this for the literary art that it is. Great!

Posted 10 Years Ago


This is amazing! Ruth Carter already said much of what I was going to say, so that's all I can really add.

Posted 10 Years Ago


I don't have much to add to Ruth Carters review. There is real talent radiating from this piece. Bring back the fairy tale for us. I can't wait to see this everywhere. Thanks for bringing excellence to Cloak and Dagger!


Posted 10 Years Ago


Absolutely amazing, Leah. You've left me speechless (once again). So beautifully written, so intricately weaved...you make me so jealous. *smile* I never really liked Jack and the Beanstalk, but this story gave it so much more light. I was so entranced. Wonderful. I have no more to say. Continue to amaze me!

Posted 10 Years Ago


I don't know you well or Ruth Carter but I wholeheartedly second her review in its entirety. Something must be done of this work. It will be recognized. There is no doubt in my mind.

Posted 10 Years Ago


Leah, you astound me. You really do. Your writing, as always has such a poetic, ephemeral quality, yet with such depth! The way you describe Jack's falling is brilliant. Oh, I hate using words like that. Brilliant is a cop out. What I'm trying to express is how you weave his choices. I'm finding myself at a loss for words because my response is at a gut level. It's not so much Jack's laziness that grabs me as his inertia. His lying in bed staring at the stucco, for instance. That's a choice that shows creative thinking, while at the same time it highlights the inertia that has him in grip. Dripping egg yolk. The picture that conjures! And then his careless throwing away of his sweater. Inertia and then waste. I was also caught by the cotton balls. He drowns out his mother's voice--walls, blanket and pillow are passive barriers. The cotton balls are active. He deliberately chose to place them in his ears for the sole purpose of escaping his mother. Leah, that's amazing! Two words turned the whole sentence into something bigger, more deliberate. Can you tell I love this story? You create such an atmosphere in this retelling of a fairy tale. You really need to be actively seeking a market for your work. I honestly believe it transcends most. And, sweetie, I don't say that lightly. I am, of course, predisposed to like what you do, but I am a critical reader. As a fellow-writer, I like to think that I know what I'm talking about!

Okay, now for the typos. Paragraph 1 "curly black" what? Should be hair. Why not insert it? :-). Also in the first paragraph, you say "each day" twice. I don't think the commas belong. Later on (I lost count of the paragraphs)--Auburn hair should not be capitalized. You've italicized "dwindled", "telepathic" and "lightening", and it seems out place each time. And shouldn't it be "lightning"?

Just be glad I read this off the monitor--I catch more typos when the copy is on paper!

I'm so glad I can read your work for another reason--it spurs me on to write more myself. And you, my dear, keep on writing! I fully expect you to enter the Word Guild book contest next year! This is your aunt speaking. Finish one of those books and market it!

I love you big time!

Posted 10 Years Ago


5 of 5 people found this review constructive.


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Added on January 11, 2009

Author

Leah Elisabeth
Leah Elisabeth

About
I am a young woman who keenly enjoys the beauty of a well-turned phrase. I believe that life without the spoken or the written word would be very empty indeed. My life is filled with song and story .. more..

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