All caught up? Good. Onward!
Copyright (c) Amanda Cook 2016
Hand over hand, boots clinging to the beanstalk and legs straining against gravity, Gabby finally cleared the clouds. To her astonishment, the giant’s land materialized twenty feet above her, blocking out the sky. The knotted roots of trees poked and snaked through dark, rich soil stretching for miles in all directions. She glanced down again but could see nothing of the world she had left behind, only acres of cotton puff clouds.
“Well, that’s some forced perspective for you,” she muttered and forced her aching limbs up the last several feet to a convenient hole in the ground.
Worming her way through a short tunnel in the earth, she flopped out onto a lawn of soft grass and sprawled there for a while, giving her thumping heartbeat a chance to slow. The sky was a marvelous Technicolor blue, and from either side of her, the emerald grass reached to the horizon, broken by an occasional hill or patch of wild flowers. A light breeze cooled her flushed face, bringing with it the soft scents of lilac and honeysuckle, while butterfly-like insects with feathery antennae flitted around her head, their translucent wings shimmering silver in the light of an unseen sun.
After a deep gulp of the cleansing air, Gabby sat up to get a better look at the landscape. An imposing wooden house surrounded by a stone fence loomed a quarter of a mile behind her, and behind it grew an orchard of the tallest trees she had ever seen. If she squinted, she could barely make out several birdlike creatures hopping and darting between the branches, their warbling voices carried to her ears on the breeze. She huffed out a resigned sigh, stood up, brushed the grass from her jeans, and began the short trek to what she presumed was the giant’s home.
“Although, don’t giants live in castles?” she murmured to herself. She spun in a slow circle to make certain she hadn’t missed anything, but the gigantic house was the only building she could see in that vast field of green. Shrugging, she continued on toward the stone fence. If the house didn’t belong to the giant, maybe whoever lived there could tell her where to find him.
From where she had drug herself up through the hole, the fence had looked about her height, but as she neared it, she realized the perspective of this place—like the beanstalk—was misleading. What she had thought were large river rocks balanced precariously on top of one another were actually huge, blocky boulders, similar to the limestone jutting at odd angles in the quarries near her home. The cracks between the boulders had been haphazardly grouted with something that looked like mud, and the entire thing stood well above Gabby’s head, obstructing her view of the house, except at the wooden gate about halfway down the fence’s meandering line. Realizing the gate was built from whole tree trunks, Gabby slowed. How was she going to open it without drawing attention to herself? And would she be able to open it at all? As she drew nearer, she was relieved to find it already ajar.
She slipped through the gap between gate and fence and crept down a neat brick path leading to mud steps and the front door of the house. The structure itself had to be at least twenty feet tall, constructed from wide, rustic planks chinked with the same substance as the fence, all topped with a heavily thatched roof. Really, it was little more than a hut with a single four-paned window and a rough wooden door for an entrance. A small garden (Well, small for the space, Gabby thought) took up the entirety of the front yard, bushes brimming with purple berries the size of her fists to her left and the leaves of new plants poking out of the black earth to her right.
Gabby’s stomach rumbled at the sight and tangy-sweet smell of the berries, reminding her it was probably breakfast time at home, or at the very least, time for a midnight snack. She almost left the path to pluck some of the ripe fruit but thought better of it. If the giant was reasonable—were they ever reasonable in the stories, though?—maybe he’d allow her a quick bite before she left. If she ran into him at all, that is, because at that moment the place felt utterly vacant.
Like the gate, the door of the hut had been left open a little, revealing a dim interior. Gabby stopped, waffling between knocking and walking right in. If this was the giant’s home, though, as the size of the building and its immediate surroundings suggested, shouldn’t she try to sneak in? Top Hat was adamant he wanted to borrow the harp, not steal it, but her gut told her a giant probably wouldn’t hand over something so precious, at least not without a fight. Then again, Top Hat might have been right about giants, which meant everything she learned from the stories was wrong. Maybe the giant was nice. Maybe she could convince him to let her take the harp with the promise of bringing it back in the future.
But didn’t Jack say something about watching the giant’s boots? That didn’t sound like a kind, reasonable giant at all. Also, would a giant leave his door and gate open if he wasn’t home? Was this a warm welcome to his next visitor, or was he still inside, waiting in the darkness for his next victim?
Or did Jack forget to close them after his own “visit” with the giant?
Her hand trembling, Gabby stretched as far as she could to pound on the door, her tentative wrap on the splintered surface like the drill of a woodpecker in a distant tree. Nothing happened. She knocked again, louder. Still nothing. Tiptoeing to the threshold, she leaned in and listened. A loud, steady whooshing followed by a rush of air like a strong wind through a forest ruffled her hair. Someone—a very large someone—was still inside, and from the sound of their breathing, they were asleep.
Gabby lifted a foot over the threshold, ready to walk into the giant’s home and take the harp right out from under his sleeping nose, when she suddenly stopped.
Wait a minute. What am I doing here? she thought with a little shake of her head. This is insane. Just a couple of hours ago, I was on my way home from the library, and now I’m standing outside a giant’s house, ready to steal a magic harp from him. I mean, is this even possible? I must be dreaming.
She pinched her forearm, waiting to wake up, but nothing changed. She was still standing at the door of a giant’s hut in a magic, floating land that she climbed to on a beanstalk from a completely different magic land.
Gabby shook her head again.
How can I not be dreaming? And if I’m not dreaming, why did I just go along with everything Top Hat said? He acted crazy down there. They all kinda do, and yet, they all totally believe in this place … er, these places. They believe every word they say. They believe everything they see.
So, does that mean I believe in it all too?
Back in Top Hat’s office, with the magic of his quill thrilling her veins, Gabby had believed in a heartbeat, but there on the threshold of possible danger, she was having second thoughts.
I should go back. Tell Top Hat he picked the wrong person for the job. I don’t really want to steal anything, especially from a giant. Maybe he’ll give Jack another chance. He seemed like he’d be better at this kind of thing. Better than me, anyway.
She turned to step back onto the path, but her foot froze in midair. Squeezing her leg muscles, she tried to force her boot to move, but it kept hovering, stopped by some invisible force. Another breeze blew through the garden, lifting her hair and filling her nose with forest and wildflowers and fresh, ripe berries. A whisper floated on the wind, an echoing missive that slid into her head and rushed through her veins like magic.
It belongs to no other but me.
Stunned, Gabby lowered her foot and turned back to the entrance. She walked—or rather, was pushed—as though on hidden marionette strings into the dark room. Lit only by sunbeams straining through a thick layer of grime on the window, the ceiling and corners were blanketed in shadow, making the room feel taller and wider than it probably was. Gabby waited for her eyes to adjust before wandering the room in search of the golden harp. The sound of snoring continued from one of the darker corners, where the footboard of a bed carved from tree trunks jutted into the faint sunlight. A hairy, calloused foot, as big as she was tall, twitched at the end of the bed.
Gabby tiptoed to the cold fireplace flanked by floor-to-ceiling shelves. The sun shifted, and a single ray of light, piercing the dirt on the window pane, fell on a shiny object set on a bottom shelf. Curious, she reached for it. Strings as insubstantial as the music they played answered her questioning touch with a sweet, haunting melody. The giant snorted and snuffled loudly, and Gabby jerked her hand back. She held her breath, listening. After a long, tense silence, the giant sputtered out a sigh that quickly changed to snoring again, giving Gabby the chance to grab the harp.
It was much smaller than she had feared it would be, more like a lap harp than the huge instruments she was used to at home. Fitting comfortably in her hand, it made the tiniest of squeaks when she lifted it from the shelf, like a terrified mouse. She unzipped her hoodie and stuffed the harp under her arm, further dampening any other noises it tried to make. She stood up to leave, and as she turned, a second glint of gold caught her eye.
At the end of the same shelf, a small gilt ball lay on a velvet cloth, its surface as polished and smooth as a mirror’s. Gabby raised it into the light and gazed at her blonde bob and blue eyes, both a shade of olive in the ball’s ochre skin. Shaking her head, she put it back on the shelf.
You’re here for the harp, she reminded herself and turned toward the door. A foot away from the threshold, she realized the room had gone much quieter. The snoring had stopped, replaced by breaths like rolling thunder on a distant horizon. Cringing, she slowly turned around. The sunlight had shifted again, this time revealing one ostrich egg-sized eye peering down at her from the edge of the mammoth bed.
“That not yours,” a voice rumbled from the bedclothes.
Come back in about a week for Part Five!
And, as always, thanks for reading.
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