This is the first short story in a series of fairytale retellings, The Mirror-Hunter Chronicles, which I describe as Disney meets A Series of Unfortunate Events. Enjoy. :)
Hello there. I’m Solem Anders, but most likely you only know me as “the man who sold Jack the magic beans.” While this is true, it’s hardly all I did in regard to the incident, and I do, in fact, have a name. That I merely sold Jack a bag of magic beans is a common misconception at this point, and only the first of quite a few. Now I’d like to set the record straight, if only for your entertainment.
Feel free to believe or disbelieve anything you hear in the following story, but I assure you it is all one-hundred percent the truth.
Before we begin, allow me to clear up another common misconception. Jack’s name is not Jack; it’s Jason. He went by Jase, which I suppose got lost in translation and became Jack through numerous copies and adaptations.
Now, one day Jason was walking along in the forest with a cow. I rightly assumed he was taking it to the next city to sell it, but as I was going in the opposite direction, in desperate need of a cow, I decided to stop the young man.
“Excuse me,” I called. He immediately looked over and, upon seeing me, came over with the cow. Young people should really listen to their mothers when they’re told not to speak with strangers. Nothing good ever comes of it. But as you’ll see, we didn’t remain strangers for long.
“Good morning, lad,” I said. “Where are you off to?”
“I was just going to sell Myra here.” He gestured to the cow.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Jason. Most call me Jase. Yours?” He seemed irritated at me calling him ‘lad’ and ‘boy,’ but it merely amused me.
“Solem Anders. Nice to meet you, Jase.” I held out my hand and we shook. “How much do you want for the cow?”
“Mother said to sell her for no less than ten gold coins.”
“That’s a hefty sum,” said I, raiding my eyes brows, “and one I’m afraid I can’t pay. The best I have is ten of these magic beans.” I pulled a pouch from my pocket and handed it to the rightly-skeptical boy.
He poured them into his hand and looked them over before looking back at me. “These look just like any old kidney beans, sir.”
“That they do, but I assure you, they’re anything but ‘any old.’ See the black spots on the inside of the curve? Yes, there. That’s the distinguishing mark. It’ll grow a beanstalk to turn heads, that’s for sure.”
Now, you might wonder how I, normal old Solem Anders (I’m much more ordinary than those beans, as I’m sure you’ll see), came to be in possession of such an oddity as these. I’m afraid that’s a story for another time, but the short of it is that my uncle was a strange man well-acquainted with the witch who supposedly wanted to eat Hansel and Gretel (that’s another awful misconception) and I inherited his land – and the crops with it.
“And what use will a beanstalk be to me?”
“More than you might think. But even if it doesn’t do much, at least it’ll provide you with beans. Your family must be poor to be selling such a lovely cow.” I stroked the heifer’s nose.
“We are. But a beanstalk takes time to grow.”
I smiled, and I’m sure my eye twinkled. “Just try it out and see. If it doesn’t do any good, you’ll get full refund of your cow and you can sell her in the village.”
Jase looked at the beans again, turning them in his hand. “Fine.” He put them back in the pouch and extended a hand toward me. I shook it, of course.
“We have a deal, then.” I clapped Jase on the back and took Myra’s lead rope. “I don’t think you’ll regret it.”
We walked together back toward Jase’s village, since I was going that way already and young people shouldn’t walk in the woods alone, and parted ways in the town square. I headed to an inn, leaving Myra with the horses in a side corral and getting a room for myself. As I fell asleep that night I wondered how Jase would react when he saw the beanstalk.
First thing in the morning I looked out my window at the town and saw the telltale beanstalk growing up behind a house, twisting all the way up to the clouds. I grinned. It was exactly the size I’d expected.
I saw Jase go outside, and he handled the sight rather well, I thought. He stared at it a moment before turning and bolting back inside to bring his mother to see it. I’m honestly a bit surprised she didn’t pass out or have a heart attack when she came outside. She did seem to give him a rather harsh tongue-lashing.
Once they seemed to be finished, I decided to go over and say hello before I headed back on my way.
I knocked on the door and Jase’s mother opened up. She looked me over quickly before snapping at me. “Who are you?”
“And what are you doing at my house?” She looked quite indignant, one hand on the door and the other on her hip.
“I came to say hello to Jase.”
“How do you know my son?”
Believe it or not, that was not my first time getting a reaction like that. I suppose my merchant’s garb tends to make people distrustful of me, even though I’m only a part-time merchant.
“I met him on the road yesterday. I bought your cow.”
“So you’re the one who gave him those beans.” She scowled. “A fine lot of trouble those have been already, and naught else.”
“They might prove more useful than you think. You never know.” I shrugged.
“I doubt it, Mr. Anders. Now if you’d kindly get off my property before you end up causing any more trouble, I’d quite appreciate it.”
“Of course, Mrs…”
“Mrs. Farthing. Good day, Mr. Anders.”
Mrs. Farthing closed the door and I headed back into the city square, but Jase stopped me before I got far.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the boy asked. “Come see what a mess you’ve made.” He dragged me into his backyard and gestured toward the beanstalk. “What is this?”
“It looks like a giant beanstalk to me.”
Jase frowned at me. “I can see that. Did you know this would happen?”
I looked up at the far end of the beanstalk, as I could see it, and stroked my chin. “I wonder what’s at the top.” Now, if the reader will notice, I did not suggest he climb the beanstalk, merely mused aloud a question I already knew the answer to, and I never meant for any tragedy to come of it. I am free of any responsibility in this matter, except for that of selling Jase the beans.
“Nothing but cloud, I’m sure.”
I shrugged. “I suppose that’s likely. Good day, Jase.”
“Hey! I want my refund.”
“You haven’t seen if it does anything or not. It’s still bare of beans.”
Jase scowled, but I just turned and headed back to the inn. I wouldn’t leave just yet, in case Jase did decide he wanted his cow back – which I doubted he would – but I’d have to contact someone back home to let them know I’d be late.
After writing out a letter and having it delivered, I decided to wander around town and get to know some people. On my way out of the bakery, I happened to glance at the beanstalk and saw Jase climbing it. I smiled. Of course he climbed it. What young man wouldn’t let his curiosity get the best of him if a giant beanstalk grew up in his backyard? Of course he didn’t truly believe there was nothing up there but cloud. There’s never nothing but cloud at the top of a beanstalk.
It was late that night before Jase came to the inn, and I was telling the true story of Hansel and Gretel (maybe I’ll share it with you someday). He tried to interrupt, but I ushered him toward a table so I could finish my tale. I was almost finished anyway.
I took a seat with the young man when my story was done, ordering an apple cider for each of us.
“Good evening, Jason. A little late to be out at the inn, isn’t it?”
“I’ve come for my refund. I’ve seen what’s at the top of that beanstalk.” He rolled up his sleeve to show a giant bruise around his entire upper arm. Once he thought I’d gotten a good look, he rolled the sleeve back down.
“But if you’ve met the giant, surely you’ve found his gold.”
“Yes, but it’s not worth it. I want my cow back.”
“She doesn’t even give milk. I tried milking her earlier this evening.”
“At the very least we’ll get something for giving her to the butcher. I won’t face those giants again.”
“Some hero you are. Don’t you see what a blessing it would be to people to kill those giants? They could come down the beanstalk after you.”
At this point it was, of course, too late to refund him his cow, and I needed that cow. Why? I had a deal to uphold with the witch from Hansel and Gretel, one put into place by my uncle, and it would do good to have those giants dealt with.
“And if you know so much about them, why don’t you kill them?”
“A deal I struck with them long ago. I’m not permitted to even pluck a hair from their feet.”
“And why would you strike a deal with a giant?”
“Does ‘so they wouldn’t kill me’ suit you? I wasn’t so very different from you once, lad.”
“Why would a giant be worried about a simple boy killing him?”
I leaned back in my chair with a sigh. “I had a weapon they feared.”
Jase’s eyes lit up. “Do you still have it?”
“Yes, but I won’t give it to you. And, believe it or not, it’s for your own good.”
Jase scowled. “Nothing you’ve done so far seems to have been for my own good. Only for your own gain and amusement, as far as I can tell. Why should I believe you?”
I shook my head. “The weapon is a magic mirror, and I wouldn’t even use it myself. I tried once, when I was a boy. It’s too dangerous, Jase. Trust me.”
“A magic mirror. I’ve only heard of a few of those, and none of them would help defeat a giant.”
I shook my head again. “No. There is only one, and it takes many forms and has many abilities. I inherited it from my uncle years ago, and I would not use it if it were the only thing that could save my life.”
“Why? What’s so awful about it?”
“It swallows people. And giants.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“The mirror never serves anyone. It bends everyone who wants to use it to its own will, whatever that may be, and it’s never without a cost.”
“How do you know? If it’s so awful you only used it once, how do you know all this?”
“Because I looked in the records of all the magic mirrors in Emelle and it’s always the same. Someone always dies when the mirror is in use.”
“How many people have used it?”
“Far too many.” I thought about the mirror, tucked away in my basement, covered in a sheet, and desperately hoped it would never be used again.
Jase was silent for a long moment before he spoke again. “Then how do we kill the giants?”
I shrugged. “I never thought of another way, though I’m sure there are plenty.”
There was another lengthy silence. “What if I lured him down the beanstalk and cut it down while he was still on it?”
“That could work. If you’re fast enough.”
“I doubt I am. You’d have to cut it.”
“With you still on it? Of course not.”
“I could jump off at the last minute. I’d be fine. I’m young.”
I shook my head. “It’s too risky.”
“I don’t have any better ideas, and I doubt you do, either.”
“Can you sneak poison into his drink? I remember him napping quite a lot.”
Jase shook his head. “He’d smell it. He smelled me as soon as I came in, and it was only thanks to his wife that I didn’t get caught.”
“Try it once?”
“If you say so. I don’t think it’ll work.”
Neither did I, to be completely honest. I remembered the giant always smelling me when I came in. I didn’t know why his wife was so tolerant of humans. But it was better than Jase being smashed by a giant beanstalk.
“I’ll try it in the morning,” Jase said, “but if it doesn’t work we’re trying my idea.”
If we try your idea you may never have a chance to try anything else. I took a deep breath, trying to dispel my doubts, forced a smile, and nodded. “Deal. And hopefully a better deal than a milkless cow for a few magic beans.”
“Hopefully.” Jase grinned, and I wondered if it was really out of mirth or from nerves. “I’ll talk to you in the morning, Mr. Anders.” He rose and headed home, and I remained in the inn to mull over my thoughts, waving off any who asked me to tell another story.
When Jase came in the morning, I was waiting at the same table as the night before. He walked straight to me and immediately said, “We’re using my plan.”
My heart sank.
I slowly stirred my apple cider. “It didn’t work, then.” I knew it wouldn’t.
“No. And he smelled me again. He knows who poisoned him and we need to act immediately.”
I nodded, continuing to stare into my stirring cider.
“Didn’t you hear me? We have to do this now!”
I sighed and took a sip of my cider before looking at the boy, forcing a smile for only an instant as I stood. “Let’s go, then.”
I followed Jase to his backyard and he grabbed an axe from the shed, handing it to me. “As soon as I say the word, cut the stalk.”
I nodded, already predicting my hesitation.
Jase scrambled up the stalk and I stood beside it with the axe, a million thoughts and images swirling through my head, all involving Jase’s untimely demise. I had no interest in being the reason for another death.
It seemed like an eon before Jase came scrambling back down, the giant cumbersome behind him. My heart began to pound like a horse’s hoofs on cobblestone.
When Jase had neared the bottom, the giant all-too-close behind him, he screamed at me. “Now!”
I hesitated. He was still several feet up.
I took a deep breath and took the first chop at the stalk. It wobbled and Jase faltered in his climb, sliding several inches. If he fell… I took another chop.
When the last stroke fell, Jase jumped, but he was too slow. The stalk fell and I leaped out of the way. When I looked back, I saw both of them crushed, Jase’s feet the only part exposed.
I threw the axe away, rooted to the spot. I considered walking away, taking my cow and going to fill my deal with Hansel and Gretel’s witch, leaving it all behind, but I knew I couldn’t. I’m not that irresponsible. And I lied when I told you I wasn’t responsible for anything but selling the beans, as you’ve now seen. I suppose I wanted to lessen the pain of the story, but I know now there’s no way to do that. I will never forget how I was the reason for Jason Farthing’s death. I and that blasted mirror.
Once I finally regained my wits, I headed to the front door to break the terrible news to Jase’s mother. I won’t recount the heartbreaking scene, but you’ll know there were lots of tears and she reprimanded me for nearly an hour, which I entirely deserved. After she was quite exhausted, she softly shooed me out and I headed back to retrieve my cow.
The road home was quiet and somber, as if the very landscape knew something terrible had occurred. I gave the cow to the witch, as promised, and then headed home. I don’t know what possessed me to go into the basement, but when I did I saw that the mirror was gone, and it was then that I realized how cunning it truly was. I had used it by refusing to, and Jase had died because of it.
It was then that I gave myself the title of Mirror-Hunter and began my lifelong quest to find the mirror and destroy it