We had to write either two stories and one poem for my creative writing class, or one story and three poems. I've already turned in my three poems, so here came the one required story. I was at a complete loss... until I remembered my good friend Jack. We had to have plot with a complication that developed and was resolved, so that took me a little while... But here it is to share with you all...
When you hear his name was Jack, you will of course think you understand what that means. You'll have already become acquainted with everything that goes along with a young man named Jack: that he lives in a magical land not completely unlike our own, that he's rather unpopular, and that he must set out on a journey to find his fortune. You mustn't, however, assume you know too much about this young Jack or you'll do him and his journey a great disservice.
Jack's day began as it always had: mucking out stalls for his mother's master. Jack's mother had been born the slave of their master's father, and when that great patriarch had died he'd left everything, including Jack's entire family, to his son, who happened to be a pharaoh. This Pharaoh took particular pride in his horses, fine black Arabian steeds, some mares and some stallions but all exceedingly large. Jack gave these equines nicknames apart from the names the Pharaoh had given them, as they were all entirely too long. For example, He-who-runs-faster-than-th
"Merciful heavens!" exclaimed our mannerly hero, "Have I hurt you, miss?"
"Oh, woe!" moaned the beautiful flaxen-haired damsel, "Woe that I cannot be called Miss any longer! For when I awoke from my nap after spinning, I found myself married to the man who had woken me with absolutely no say in the matter! Now I am a reluctant Madam and have only just narrowly escaped from his castle as he himself was napping."
"What a shame," mused Jack, already weary of her ramblings. "Can I help you in some way, Madam…" he trailed off, searching for her name.
"Briar Rose," replied the beauty, "But my sisters have always called me Bri."
"Fabulous name," declared Jack, who indeed had a penchant for shortening names. "What brings you to my stall?"
"I know not," said Bri, "Only I know that in my weeping and wandering I found myself here and do not care to return to the man who made himself my husband. I should like to return to the kingdom of my father and mother and sisters, where I always was happy and might return to spinning flax and singing with the woodland creatures who lived there."
Jack rolled his eyes. He'd run across ladies like this before, as a slave, and his opinion of their shallowness and vanities was similar to his opinion of the material that dirtied the straw into which they had fallen. Thinking of this he realized they were still lying in the mess, so he hopped up and offered Bri his hand, realizing as he did so that even though his opinion of her might not be grand, his slave upbringing required that he help the princess. If she wished for Jack to return her to her native land, as she had so clearly just stated in her high-context Princess way, then Jack would surely have to get her there whether or not he was bound to work for the Pharaoh. He would have to consult his good friend John, and said as much aloud: "I'll have to talk to John."
After he had finished cleaning the stalls and hidden the Princess in with Frenchie, or as Pharaoh called her, Mare-who-prefers-to-dine-u
"John Henry!" shouted our handsome hero over the din, "John Henry, it's me!" Jack hated to distract his friend from his work – he usually loved to sit and watch the tall, strong man manipulating his metals, beads of sweat rolling down his perfect ebony skin. He'd spent many evenings listening to the music of the metals, smelling the different flavors of each one as they burned.
John looked up and laughed, "Jack, you should be in bed! What on earth has you up and about at this hour?"
"A girl," admitted Jack, reluctantly. "A princess needs my help to get home. I can't figure how to help her without getting my mother beaten or worse when I leave. And we'll need horses for the journey, of course, which I don't have, and food as well. I don't mean to burden you with my worries, friend. You're just such a great thinker, so I came to you for ideas."
"Well it's funny you should say," John chuckled. "It just so happens I've been working on a little something in case… well, just look!"
John Henry stepped over to a dark corner of the shop where a curtain hung. As he drew it back, Jack gasped at what he saw. He thought surely he was looking in a mirror, but saw neither glass nor frame. There stood a second Jack, a copy of himself, life-like and perfect!
"I've been hearing you think about leaving this place for some time, Jack. I don't reckon anything should stand in your way," explained John Henry, "not no Pharaoh, not nobody. I started working on this some time ago, melting my metals in just the right mixtures to make this here clockwork-Jack. He'll walk around and do your tasks and even reply when spoken to. No one has to know you're gone if you don't want them to, Jack. I'll wind him up in the morning and every morning until you return."
Jack couldn't speak. He jumped up and threw his arms around John Henry's neck, grinning like a kid with a frog, and hugged him as tight as he could. John just laughed in his deep, bronze-bell-ringing way, and when Jack let go he went on. "My cousin Foxy can help you, she lives just outside of town in a house you can't miss. But you'll have to give her something if you want her to help you; she's not the kind of woman you can just mess around." With this he handed Jack a small wrapped package.
Jack wasted no time. He scurried back to the stalls, grabbed Bri by the arm, and they set off, running as quickly as they could. Before long they found themselves outside a strange hut, illuminated by many funky colors, with music coming out sounding like nothing he'd ever heard. Jack, always a bright young man, deduced that this had to be Foxy's house, so he knocked loudly.
The door opened and there stood the most stunning black woman Jack had ever seen, with hair teased out as wide and tall as the doorframe. "Foxy," she said, extending her hand in a manner that indicated she didn't intend for it to be shaken, but rather kissed. "Foxy Brown. Whatchou want?"
Jack took the hand, bowed, kissed it, and said "I'm Jack, and this is Bri—"
"PRINCESS Briar Rose," interjected Bri, clearly threatened by the cool lady's badness and making no attempt to acknowledge the outstretched hand. "Charmed, I'm sure."
"John Henry sent us," explained Jack quickly, "He said you could help us get prepared for a journey it seems we must be on."
"Well y'all can come on in and sit down if he sent you," cooed Foxy, indicating a curiously fuzzy couch of no color Jack had ever seen. Foxy sat down across from them in a chair that looked more like a swing, staring at them in a way that reminded Jack of the way a panther stares at its prey. Jack remembered the package suddenly and jumped up.
"Oh, Ms. Brown, I do apologize for not remembering right away, but you see I was just so distracted by your amazing ways. John sent us with this gift for you." He handed Foxy the package which she gleefully tore open to reveal two large golden hoops.
"Ooo-wee!" she squealed as she threaded them into her earlobes. "I'll never take them off! Shoot, let me get y'all something to eat for the road!"
After she returned with a large basket full of food, she began to scratch the back of her beautiful hair. "Now I know I got something in here for ya if I can just… there." And with that, she pulled her hand back down, holding a small pistol. "You'll need this," she said. "There's some real bad characters out there, you know."
"I was wondering if you might know where we could get a horse," asked Jack politely. "I think we have a long way to go."
"Don't worry, baby," said Foxy, cool as a cucumber, "I got just the thing." She stood and beckoned for them to follow, which they did as if hypnotized. They were led to a back door which Foxy opened. Stepping out, she gestured proudly and announced, "1973 Dodge Charger, babies, the best car you could ever hope for, and she's got two-hundred-and-eighty horses up under her hood. Handles like a dream." Jack could distinctly see the love in her eyes as she said it. She tossed him the keys and said, "Now get going, you two, before I change my mind. Head north and look for my friend Alexander. He knows his way around all these parts, he'll be able to get you on the right path."
Jack and Bri climbed in the Charger (which Jack suspected the Pharaoh might call Steed-that-rushes-unceasin
"Oh, excuse me, good sir," she said, giggling unnecessarily. Jack started to roll his eyes and then caught himself. He'd never had a girl at his side before, so he decided to let her stay, if only to see how it felt. Before long she was asleep on his shoulder as he soldiered on.
By midday they rolled up on an intense battle scene. Not wanting to get mixed up in the fray, Jack parked under an olive tree for a nap of his own and passed out directly. He awoke to a tapping on his window, and Bri jerked awake as well. He rubbed his eyes and the tapper came into focus: a white man with a large nose and a metal cap with feathers on top stood before the window, brandishing a large shield and a sword which he used to tap on the window again.
"We're awake!" Jack shouted, starting to roll down the window. Then, as he took a second look at the sword being used to tap on the window, he thought better of it and opened the door wide, forcing the soldier back as he stepped out.
"What business do you have in these parts?" asked the soldier loudly. "What brings you to the battlefield of the Great Alexander?"
Bri pushed forward and out of the Charger. "I am the Princess Briar Rose, and this is my servant-boy Jack." Jack suddenly felt quite cool toward the girl who had been warming his shoulder so recently, but kept quiet. "I demand an audience with your Great Alexander."
The soldier kneeled briefly before standing to bark, "Follow me," then turned and began to march briskly away. Jack and Bri nearly tripped over themselves trying to keep up as he weaved in and out of the many pitched tents. The two youths had never seen anything like the camp before: in this tent, a man sharpened his sword, at the next, one polished his shield. One tent had amazing smells coming out of it as a soldier cooked his dinner of lamb, while at the next they could already hear snores. Before long they found themselves standing outside the largest of the tents. Their guide pulled back a curtain and announced, "The Princess Briar Rose requests an audience of your Greatness, Alexander, King of Asia!"
The handsome blond man on the throne beckoned for them to enter and they did, trying not to stare at the amazing sights around them. Beautiful women played stringed instruments, sang, and danced around the man on the throne. Warriors sat, grunting and planning the next day's battle. Servants cooked food for the king, who sat in the midst of it all seeming not to care one bit about any of it. Unphased, the princess walked right up to him and curtseyed. "I am the Princess Briar Rose," she said proudly, "of the kingdom of Perrault, noble in lineage of my father and my mother. I require assistance in the form of guidance to return to my home and my people who are no doubt missing me at this very moment."
The young king seemed unimpressed. "And I," he replied lazily, "am Alexander. The Great. I require assistance in slaying a horrible monster that appears to have no weakness. Help me with that, noble Princess, and I shall tell you exactly where to find your kingdom, as I have knowledge of all of these lands."
The princess blinked once, then twice, and seemed to be entirely speechless. Jack, knowing her type well, understood: she simply wasn't used to being bargained with, or having demands made of her. He stepped forward. "Noble King, perhaps I can help also. Could you tell us more of this monster?"
Alexander sighed and allowed his crown to slip from his head. "It's big," he stated, "and slimy, and terrorizes locals, and doesn't seem to want to leave the lake it's in, Loch Ness. The oracles have told us to entice it with food, but it's uninterested in any food we have to offer."
"Aha!" exclaimed Jack. "It just so happens that we come bearing food from a foreign land, cooked by a woman of great skill and badness! Perhaps we could try it and see what happens?"
Alexander sat up straight for once. "Foreign food? Yes… foreign food. It could just do the trick. You call that monster up out of the depths with your foreign food and I'll tell you how to get home, Princes. Kill it and I'll take you there myself. Now go from my tent and do not come back if you bear bad news."
They quickly backed out of the tent, bowing nonstop. As soon as they were out, Bri popped Jack in the back of the head with her open palm. "Foreign food? That's your bright idea?" The level of mockery in her voice was impossible to ignore. "You're going to conjure up some stinky, slimy, evil monster and kill it with Foxy's food?"
"No," Jack patiently replied, "you're going to conjure it up with Foxy's food. Then I'm going to shoot it."
Bri didn't take to the idea initially, but as Jack explained it was their only hope of finding her home, she eventually came around. They went back to the Charger, got the picnic basket, and edged up to the lake. Jack positioned himself and his shooter just out of sight while Bri laid the food out, talking all the while.
"Mmm, ham salad sandwiches! How delicious! And with pimento, too!" She was doing a pretty good job of hiding the fear in her voice. "And deviled eggs, my favorite! Ooh, pineapple salad, how lovely! Mmm, smell that sweet tea!" Bubbles were starting to appear in the lake. "Pickles, too, homemade and crispy! Wow, get a load of these thick kettle potato chips!" A snout peeked up over the water, followed by two murky eyes. "Golly, is that … it is! A whole tray of fudge brownies!" That was enough for the monster, which reared up and came charging up the bank of the lake. Bri stood fast, uncharacteristically brave, and Jack jumped up to fire three shots perfectly into the monster's skull. It collapsed on the beach just short of the picnic.
Jack strutted up like a true hero. "You know," he said just as cool as you please, "seems a shame to let all this good food go to waste, and I know I haven't eaten all day. Lady, would you deign to dine with me?"
"Oh, Jack! I'd love to!" squealed Bri, and together they sat down to devour the goodies Foxy had prepared for them.
Just as the moon was high overhead they strolled back to Alexander's tent. Jack threw back the tent-flap and said proudly, "Hey, Alex, I got your monster. I got your monster good."
Alexander couldn't believe it. He leapt off his throne and came running to the tent-flap. "There," said Jack, and pointed to the large dark lump in the distance.
"Well I'll be," said Alexander. "Please, please, stay here in my tent tonight, and in the morning I'll happily deliver you to the kingdom of Perrault." The two found beds in the large tent and fell fast asleep, worn out from the excitement. When day broke, Alexander awoke them with breakfast and a crowd of soldiers and locals singing their praises.
"Perrault," said Alexander, "is a day's journey northwest by foot, but I daresay in your chariot you'll get there before high noon."
"Really?" shrieked Bri. "I'm that close to daddy and mommy and all of my sisters? Jack! Let's go now!" She grabbed his arm and took off toward their Charger and he was helpless to do anything but follow.
The beautiful red car glided effortlessly over the plains and before long Bri was bouncing in her seat, cheering and clapping as she recognized landmarks. Soon the castle itself appeared on the horizon and Jack felt strange to notice he wasn't anywhere as happy to see it as his companion. This would mean their journey was at an end, and while he would have succeeded in returning the princess like he'd promised, he'd still have to go back to work for the Pharaoh, back to his life as a slave, watching his poor mother toil all day long. Nevertheless, he was a man on a mission, and he kept the pedal to the floor until they arrived at the moat.
"Who goes there?" hollered a guard from a parapet.
"It's me!" chirped Bri. "Bri! I'm back!"
The drawbridge dropped with a thud and a commotion could be heard inside the castle. Just as Bri was bounding across it, Jack trailing behind, her father the King appeared inside the archway with his arms spread wide.
"Briar Rose, my darling! Welcome home!" he boomed in his kingly voice. "And who is this young man with you?"
"Oh, that's Jack. I found him on my way here, he helped a little."
"Son," said the king, "if I know my daughter, then I'm quite sure she's underestimating what you did. Why don't you tell me about it?"
Jack had made it across the drawbridge by then, and told the king about everything: hiding the Princess away from the Pharaoh, John Henry's clockwork-switcheroo, Foxy Brown's gifts, Alexander's orders, and his own valiant conquest of the monster of Ness. He told it humbly, but he told the truth, and the king was quite impressed.
"It's my kingly duty," he said, "to offer you half my kingdom, my daughter as your bride, and as much fortune as you can carry with you!" At this, Bri batted her eyes coyly at Jack.
Jack paused and thought. He reflected on how it had felt to have Bri at his side in the seat of the charger. He thought about their dinner date on the edge of the lake after he'd saved her from the monster. Then he thought about her ramblings, her airs, and her silliness.
"If it's all the same to you," he said, bowing, "I'll just take the fortune."
Bri actually gasped out loud. The king was startled but quickly hid it. "Well," he said, trying to save some face, "it just so happens that we have a family of spinsters here. Bri's sister has learned to spin straw into gold here lately, and you can take as much of that as you can carry with you. Do try and be quick now." He gestured to a guard and said, "Lead him to the rooms!"
Jack was led to three rooms filled with golden thread. He carried load after load until his 1973 Dodge Charger was filled with the stuff, bowed in thanks to the king, gave the princess a quick peck on the cheek, then climbed in and drove off into the sunset. He was going to buy his freedom, his mother's freedom, his family's freedom, and John Henry's freedom and build them all houses in the woods next to Foxy's, the baddest lady he'd ever met and to whom he intended to propose, and they could all live happily ever after.