This part’s a bit longer than the others, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!
The Harp Job: Part Four
Copyright (c) Amanda Cook 2016
Gabby gaped at the bald, pockmarked head, the yelp in her throat a feeble squeak compared to the harp’s muffled screeches.
“That not yours,” the giant repeated. Despite the implied threat, he made no move to stand or even reach for her. In fact, she couldn’t see his hands at all in the gloom surrounding the bed.
“I … I know,” she finally managed, desperate to run but too paralyzed by fear to move. Seeing the quizzical lift of his unibrow, Gabby’s heart lightened somewhat. Perhaps talking to the enormous, ugly man would keep him from growing enraged. He frowned at her, but otherwise seemed calm enough to listen, at least for the moment. After a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and firmed her grip on the harp hidden under her arm.
“I-it’s just … someone wants to borrow it. For only a little while,” she added hastily, as though that would make up for her getting caught in the act of actually stealing his precious harp.
“Borrow?” The giant scoffed, the wind of his foul breath almost knocking Gabby off her feet. “More like steal.”
“N-no! No, not steal. Steal’s such an ugly word.” She attempted nonchalance, but failed miserably as her voice shook and her knees threatened to buckle beneath her.
The giant rolled his eyes. “Hm. Who want harp, then?” he asked.
“Um, my boss,” Gabby said, deciding honesty was probably the best tactic when confronted with a vexed giant. “Top Hat, I mean.”
The giant grunted in surprised amusement. “Top Hat? Why little man need Harold’s harp?”
Gabby bit her lip as she tried to come up with a good answer, wondering the same thing. When nothing emerged from her blurred memories, she sighed and shrugged.
“I honestly don’t know, um, sir. He said he wanted to experiment with it.”
“But Top Hat has plenty coin. Could get own harp at market. Why take Harold’s?”
In whatever way Gabby had expected the giant to react, this was not it. He wasn’t furious with her or even mildly irritated, merely … interested. Shocked and more than a little curious about this new information, Gabby took an unconscious step toward the bed.
“You mean … there are other magic harps out there?”
“‘Course,” the giant said, as if everyone knew. “At market. All kinds of magic things there. Make music too.”
Gabby paused, considering. She was inclined to believe he was lying to keep her from taking his harp, but then she remembered her quick jaunt through the market with Jack. There had been so many marvelous tents, so many things being bought and sold: food, clothing, jewelry. She hadn’t had time to see it all, but it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility someone was selling musical instruments there too. And where else would a giant procure a magical harp but at a fairy tale market?
“Wow.” She glanced down at her bulging hoodie, simultaneously ashamed and no longer afraid of the gentle giant. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” She slunk back to the shelf and returned the harp to its dusty spot where it emitted a happy squeak.
“I’m sorry I bothered you,” Gabby mumbled over her shoulder as she rushed to the door. “I’ll just get outta here and leave you alone.”
“Before go, will little woman help Harold?”
She stopped on the threshold and turned, confused by the giant’s shy request. “Harold? Who’s Harold?” Then … “Oh, you’re Harold! But, why do you need help?”
“Come closer and see.”
Gabby narrowed her eyes, doubtful, before inching toward the bed, the footboard’s corner post towering above her like a branchless tree. As she neared it, her boot snagged on something snaking across the floorboards. She bent, groped around, and picked up a leafy vine reminiscent of the beanstalk hanging from the giant’s land. Squinting, she realized there were thousands of the green ropes piled on the floor in front of her, many of them slithering up the side of the bed and disappearing into the shadows.
“Climb foot of bed,” the giant encouraged. “Light lantern on post. You see then.”
Still nervous about his motives, Gabby hesitated, but her curiosity soon won out, and she scrambled up the footboard, climbing its rungs like a ladder. At the top, she tight-rope walked along the wide rail until she found the lantern hanging on the far post, low enough for her to reach its sofa-sized key. With all her strength, she turned the key until the tiny flame inside glowed bright white. The nearby shadows dispersed, revealing the giant’s colossal body anchored to his bed by the entangling vines.
“My God! What happened to you?”
“Little man,” the giant grumbled through clenched teeth. His puffed cheeks and knobby nose flushed with fury. “Came in house when Harold asleep. Put beans in Harold’s nose. Harold wake up like this.”
“Little man?” Gabby’s mind flashed to a pile of beans in a young man’s fist. “Jack,” she murmured. “You saw Jack?”
Harold tried to nod, but the vines swarmed and encircled his head, forcing it back onto a feather-filled pillow the length of a football field. “Dog chase little man out back door,” he said. “Little woman see Dog outside?”
Gabby shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t see any dogs. But maybe I can help you.” She dropped down onto the bed and pulled at the vines, breaking them when she could. Where they tore away, new vines grew back in their place, thicker than ever. After only a few minutes of struggle, she knew she was wasting her time.
“Well, that’s not going to work,” she growled under her breath. “I’m sorry. I don’t have much experience with magic. Do you know how to get rid of these things?”
“Beans my specialty.” The giant smiled proudly, revealing yellow teeth behind his wide lips. “Little man’s beans dark magic. Vines only shrink in sun.”
“And your window was too dirty to let enough light in.”
Gabby slid down the footboard to the floor and, without a second thought about what she was doing, went to work. She found a chair under the window and climbed its back rungs, then shed her hoodie and stretched on her tiptoes to wipe the grime off the glass with her thick sweatshirt. The panes were huge, and she could only reach the lower ones, but as she cleaned, sunlight streamed into the room. The instant the sun’s rays touched the bed, the vines shriveled and browned. Gabby jumped off the chair and raced to the door. With her back to its rough outer surface, she pushed and pushed until it slowly swung inward. More light spilled into the room, causing dust motes disturbed by the door’s movement to dance and sparkle like swirling snowflakes.
Harold’s huge blue eyes squinted against the sun. He jerked his head away as the vines shrunk toward the middle of the bed. Elated, Gabby climbed back up onto the footboard to watch the last of the blackened ropes disappear into the giant’s navel, which was protruding below the hem of a tunic that couldn’t contain his round, hill-like paunch.
Harold sat up and stretched his apish arms. “Thank you,” he said, arching his back until it cracked loudly. “Harold owe little woman favor.”
“Oh, no, really. I was happy to help.” While it was fascinating the stories in her world allowed such lies to persist, she was only too relieved to know she wasn’t going to become the giant’s dinner. Hopefully.
“No,” the giant said, his resonant voice quiet, but firm. “Harold must give little woman favor. Only fair. What would little woman like?”
Gabby spun on the footboard slowly, gazing around the giant’s home. The single long room was the extent of it, and with the sun streaming through the door now, Gabby could see a well-kept iron stove next to a cupboard full of pies, sausages, and of course, jars of beans. Her eyes roamed over the high wooden table and chair on the other side of the stove; a round, thick cushion the size of a swimming pool on the floor (she assumed it was Dog’s bed); and the shelves next to the expansive hearth. The golden ball glittered from the lowest shelf, catching her eye again. She climbed down and jogged over to it.
She didn’t know why, but she was drawn to the sphere, maybe because it was so shiny and flawless. When she picked it up, appreciating its heft in her hand, how it filled the hollow of her palm, she had an intense moment of déjà vu, the shadow of a memory tickling her mind, there and gone in an instant.
And she wanted the ball even more.
“Can I have this?”
Harold’s sloped forehead wrinkled as his unibrow lifted high. “Gold bead?”
“This is a bead?” Gabby gawked at it with newfound awe. The golden sphere was at least twice as big as a baseball, and definitely much heavier than one.
“Harold broke necklace, found only one bead.” He shrugged his lumpy shoulder. “If little woman want bead, she can have bead.”
“Thank you, Harold. I’ll take good care of it.” Gabby slipped on her now grungy hoodie and stuffed the bead into one of its pockets as best she could.
“Stay for dinner?” Harold asked, waving at his overflowing cupboard.
Gabby’s mouth watered at the sight of the glistening pies and sausages. There was enough glorious food in Harold’s larder to feed a human army, and as a breeze blew through the door, the sweet tang of the berries outside hit her nose. She was on the verge of saying yes when she looked back up at the giant, and her heart skipped. As gentle and gracious as he’d been with her, the old fears remained. Would he turn her into his main course the moment she sat down at his table? Because who knew how long he’d been strapped to his bed and how hungry he might be.
“Oh, no,” she said with a jittery laugh. “I really should be going. But, thank you.”
Harold nodded and smiled. “Come again,” he said as he walked her to his door.
“Sure. I’ll try.”
Gabby waved good-bye on the threshold and practically skipped to the front gate, the golden ball bouncing against her hip. As soon as she was through the gate, she broke into a run across the grassy field and leaped down the hole with her hands barely touching the beanstalk. She slid through the clouds and the portal and landed on her butt in a mass of tree roots.
“Did ya ge’ it?” Jack asked from where he leaned against a nearby tree, looking extremely bored.
“Um, not exactly.” Gabby stood up and rubbed her sore hips. She was going to have a few bruises in the morning, but she didn’t care one bit. Sidestepping Jack, she headed in the direction of the fairy tale market.
“Wai’. Whut do ya mean ‘no exac’ly’?”
Gabby glanced at the sky. The light was growing dim. She hurried through the forest, Jack crashing through underbrush and cursing behind her. When they finally broke through the trees, they found the market disintegrating. The crowd had thinned, and vendors on either side of the road were packing up their wares, taking down their tents and booths, and disappearing into the shadows of the forest.
Gabby groaned. “I hope I’m not too late. Do they take American money?” she asked Jack, who was wiping his sweaty forehead with a grubby handkerchief.
He stopped and eyed her for a moment before answering. “Yeh. Whut of it?”
“Good, because I need you to help me find someone who sells magic harps.”
Gabby blinked. Once again, she was standing on a narrow porch, but this time, the sky was dark and pricked with stars, and she was wearing her winter parka.
How long was I out? she wondered. Unzipping her coat, she shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. She remembered something heavy had been stuffed inside one of them once, but she couldn’t remember what it was, and now it was gone.
She did, however, find a small leather pouch that jingled with the clink of coins when she shook it. Her memory of the day was foggy, but bright bits gleamed here and there. The yellow-toothed smile of a grateful giant. The smell of berries and honeysuckle. The burn of a tattoo.
Pushing up her coat sleeve, she ran a finger over the rose blossoming on her skin. The tingle of the beanstalk portal lingered within its lines, an echo of a journey far away into the clouds.
“C’mon,” Jack said from the bottom of the marble steps. “I’m suppose’ to take ya to the Earthplane portal.”
She looked up, seeing him for the first time.
“Hey, what color’s my hair?”
His green eyes narrowed. “Like it was before. Blonde. Why?”
“Never mind.” She gave him a small smile. “Just checking.”
Jack glared at her, annoyed. “Yer an odd one, ya know tha’?” With a huff and a shake of his shaggy head, he turned on his heel. “C’mon, then. It’s gettin’ late. Don’ wanna make the Minotaur cross.”
Gabby grinned at his back and followed him down the road, away from Top Hat’s mansion. Despite a bruised hip and sore muscles, she felt good, like it had been a job well done … whatever the job had been. Regardless, she had apparently been useful to her new boss, because he had paid her well. The heavy coin purse bounced against her thigh with every step, reminding her of her apparent usefulness.
When they reached the end of the road, where a menacing Minotaur stood on guard, she smiled again, this time to herself.
I think I’m going to like it here, she thought, taking one last glimpse of the empty market road before crossing the portal to home.
That’s it for Gabby’s adventure up the beanstalk. If you liked this short story, you can read more about Gabby and her journey through the Fae Realms in my novel, The Golden Orb. This was but the first of six short stories I wrote as prequels to the novel. The next short story, “The Road to Granny’s,” will be up on the blog as soon as I finish revising it.
As always, thanks for reading.