Status: Updates every Sunday

Twisted Tales

A Plan Worth a Hill of Beans

I didn’t.

I couldn’t come up with a single workable plan, not even the barest, vaguest hint of one to rescue the miller’s daughter.

And after having only had a few hours of fitful sleep on a hard wood floor, I ended up passing out at one of the tables after less than an hour of fruitless thinking.

I woke with a jolt by somebody shaking me vigorously by the shoulder.

“Wha? What is it? Who’s there?” I slurred groggily, wiping drool from my cheek and looking around with blurry eyes, momentarily confused as to where I was.

“Who do you think?” came the exasperated reply, and I was nearly knocked right off my chair as Erik threw my backpack at me. “Come on, it’s past noon. We’ll be lucky to reach Kingsbury by nightfall at this rate.”

Erik and Jack were bright eyed and bushy tailed, their own rucksacks slung over their shoulder, ready to go. I, on the other hand, was still struggling to wake up, and in my dazed state, I smacked my hip painfully into the corner of the table as I hastily staggered to my feet.

Erik just rolled his eyes and headed towards the door of the inn, while Jack offered me a helping hand as I wincingly prodded at the spot on my hip that will no doubt develop a nasty bruise within the hour.

We hurried after Erik, half running to catch up with him as he left the inn and started down the forest path.

In the light of a lovely, warm late summer’s afternoon, the forest was actually rather pretty. The dense foliage overhead gave the light filtering down through the branches a greenish hue, and colorful wildflowers grew in patches all along the dirt path. The occasional butterfly lazily bobbed past us, and I could hear the sweet trill of bind song in the air all around us. If I hadn’t known that some of those birds and butterflies were getting caught in the webs of giant, man-eating spiders, I might actually be tempted to linger here and enjoy the view.

But we had an unlucky girl to rescue, and so we hurried along without stopping to appreciate the scenery except in brief passing.

To my immense relief, we made it through the rest of the forest without a single incident, apart from me stubbing my toe and snapping a swear that made both Jack and Erik’s heads swivel around to face me, shock plastered across their faces.

And then the cool shade of the forest was behind us, and we were back in the carefully tended farmlands, which were nothing but beige expanses of flat fields, stretching on into the horizon as far as the eye could see, only broken by the occasionally cow that watched our progress curiously with large, soft eyes.

Erik had been wrong about not making it before nightfall—but just barely. The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon when the countryside became dotted with houses and mills, which gradually turned into more densely packed cottages, and the dirt path turned into a cobbled road.

The first real clue that we had arrived properly in the town of Kingsbury was the sign stuck in a grassy hill on the side of the road, slightly crooked, which read: “Welcome to Kingsbury. Have a lovely day, or else.”

“That’s… weird,” I remarked, frowning at the sign as we passed it. But then again, the king was the type of guy who was willing to execute a girl because her father lied about her having magical abilities, so perhaps it wasn’t all that unexpected.

People were evident now, hurrying around the outskirts of town on various errands like scattered ants. The further we progressed, the more I noticed we weren't the only ones on the road.

For that matter, this wasn't the only road anymore. We were fast approaching the heart of the kingdom, and there was a steady stream of traffic bustling on the intersecting streets. Fancy carriages rattled past, their wealthy occupants bouncing along invisibly inside. More common than the carriages were the merchant's caravans and carts.

But even as we walked deeper into the bustling town, the streets began to empty of people as darkness grew, forcing shoppers and merchants alike back into their homes, and out of the swiftly darkening streets.

I was distracted by everything I saw, every little shop, every passing pedestrian, every greasy looking man trying to sell questionable looking pies at dingy stands on street corners. Everywhere I turned was a bizarre mix of middle ages, medieval, and renaissance, about three centuries of fashion and architecture and technological development all combined into one giant anachronistic city scene, like the setting of a badly researched B movie.

It wasn’t until Erik stopped abruptly in the middle of the street to allow a trundling horse cart to pass in front of us, making me run into his back, that I was able to pull myself back to reality.

“Wait a minute, where are we going, exactly?” I asked him.

He turned to look disparagingly at me. “This is your quest. Shouldn’t you be the one telling me where to go?”

I flushed, since I was all too aware that I had absolutely no idea where to go or what to do now that we had arrived in Kingsbury. “Get to Kingsbury” was where all of my plans so far began, and ended.

“Uh—yes. Of course. Now we go… to the… castle,” I told him.

“And what then?” he pressed.

I could feel the color in my cheeks darkening even more. “Okay, fine. I don’t know. Happy?”

“Ecstatic,” he replied without even a flicker of emotion. “I’ll tell you where we’re going. We’re going to a pub where everyone else will be too drunk to be suspicious of us, where we will try to think of a plan late into the night. Then, when it’s good and dark, we take action; inevitably fail; probably get caught; and be executed alongside the miller’s daughter tomorrow morning. How does that sound?”

“Look, you don’t have to help; I’m not forcing you to be a part of this,” I shot back heatedly at him, my hands clenching into fists at my sides. “You agreed to get me to Kingsbury, and you have. You can leave now if you want, go back to your house in the middle of the woods, and be all alone for the rest of your life, just the way you like it.”

“I can’t go back; my house still has a giant hole in the roof, remember?” he retorted with a glare. “I’m not done with you until you finish fixing it. And you still owe me money for the inn the day before yesterday. Don’t think I’m going to let your out of your debts that easily.” He hitched up the rucksack slung over his shoulder, turned on his heel, and began marching down the road again.

“What the—how does that make any sense at all?” I shouted after him, but he pretended not to hear me. I looked over at Jack, hoping that maybe he’ll back me up.

“You’re fixing Erik’s roof for him?” he asked questioningly.

“I… I fell through it, okay?” I snapped at him, and then I too marched away, following after Erik in a huff.


The pub was greasy, grimy, and gritty. It was half full of half drunk patrons, who were equally greasy, grimy, and gritty, and who all turned as one to cast us a collective suspicious glare as we came through the door. A tiny sliver of light from the oil lamps that had just been light out on the street cut into the room as we stood in the open doorway, and the room’s occupants all seemed to hiss and withdraw from it. Erik stepped breezily inside, and after exchanging a doubtful look, Jack and I followed him, letting the door swing shut heavily behind us once more.

Near darkness immediately enveloped the small room again, and even though it was nearly nightfall outside, it still took a few moments for my eyes to adjust. Erik crossed the pub, Jack and I so close on his heels that we nearly tripped him up more than once. A dozen pairs of eyes followed us as we went, not one of them friendly.

Well, one of them seemed a little friendly at first glance, but upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a glass eye, and its sighted neighbor was decidedly threatening.

“Three pints,” Erik said to the barman, leaning with his elbows on the bartop. The barman glowered, and for a moment I thought he was going to throw us out, but then he dropped the dirty mug and the even dirtier rag he was wiping it with onto the counter, and busied himself with pouring suspicious looking liquid into suspicious looking mugs.

I almost wanted to ask “pints of what?”, but then I figured if Erik hadn’t felt the need to specify, the answer couldn’t be all that great.

The barman turned back to us a few seconds later, dropping all three mugs on the counter in front of Erik. Erik reached out for them, but the barman held up a ham-like hand and grunted.

“Coin first. That’ll be six coppers.”

Erik fished around in his rucksack until he pulled out a small leather coin purse, and slid a handful of dirty coins across the counter. The barman snatched them up, inspected them intently, bit one of them, and then grunted again, this time apparently in satisfaction. He waved at Erik to take the mugs, which he did, handing one to me, and the other to Jack. Keeping the third for himself, he crossed the room again, this time leading the way to a small table in a far corner of the room, dimly lit and far from any listening ears.

We sat, and I took a hard look at the contents of my cup. It was dark brown and smelled like beer, but was disturbingly thick. I placed the cup down on the table and pushed it away from me, and then placed my elbows on the table so I could lean in closer to the boys.

“Okay, we’re here, now what?” I said in a hushed voice.

“Now we plan,” Erik replied, taking a deep swig of his… whatever it was. “What do we know?”

“We know she’s being held in the castle,” I said, not helpfully in the slightest.

“Any idea where in the castle?” Erik asked.

“Uuuhhh…” The truth was, I didn’t have any actual idea where she might be being held, and I didn’t even think of that until just then.

Actually, I might have an idea.

“Uh… the tallest tower, maybe?” I suggested.

“Why do you think that?” Jack asked eagerly.

“It’s just…” I shrugged. “It’s just the usual thing. That’s where I’d keep a damsel if I had one.” Princesses and damsels in distress were always kept locked up in the highest room of the tallest tower, weren’t they? “And if she isn’t, then we can just start working out way down from there, I guess.”

Erik groaned. “Oh great, I feel so much more confident now. We’ll just ‘work our way down’, what a masterful plan, you really are a tactical genius, Rikki.”

I flushed. “You can’t be critical if you’re not going to offer any suggestions. What do you think we should do then?”

Erik leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. He thought hard for while, while Jack and I stared expectantly at him. I leaned back myself, and found that I had to pry my elbows off the table, where they had been nearly glued by decades’ worth of accumulated sticky spills and filth.

Erik finally spoke up while I was trying not to retch. “Well, if it’s the highest room of the tallest tower you think we ought to start in, then we will. But getting up there is going to be a problem.”

“We could… sneak in through one of the servant entrances?” Jack suggested.

“Maybe dress up like servants and bluff our way in?” I added, perking up at the idea.

But Erik shook his head. “Won’t work. New servants will start at the lowest status, and will be confined only solely to the kitchens and the stables. They won’t be allowed to have free reign of the castle, and the other servants will immediately be suspicious if they see the supposed new guys creeping around where they aren’t supposed to be. Odds are, they’ll just alert the guards, and we’ll all be executed as presumed assassins or something.”

“Oh,” I said, disheartened. My mind raced, but all I could think of were other flimsy ideas involving dressing up is costumes—pretending to be foreign courtiers; pretending to be traveling minstrels; pretending to be door-to-door cloth merchants. But since we didn’t have access to any of these costumes, nor any guarantee that the king would be impressed enough to let us into the castle, I didn’t even bother suggesting them.

“So we’ve got nothing then,” Jack said, frowning.

“Not nothing,” replied Erik, and the way he said it made both Jack and I look hard at him. He in turn was staring at Jack, one of his eyebrows raised thoughtfully. “Let’s see those beans of your, Jack.”


It was well after midnight when we finally left the pub and began creeping through the dark, empty streets of the city, alternating between skulking in an obviously nefarious manner, and strolling casually as if it wasn’t weird at all for two young men and a girl to be doing some midnight sightseeing.

We passed only a few people on the way, and none of them seemed particularly friendly. A few rough looking women, their blouses pulled low and their skirts pulled high, who called out to Jack and Erik as we passed. A scrawny man who eyed us hard from the other side of the street, who I suspect only refrained from trying to mug us because there were three of us and only one of him. A red-nosed drunk, sleeping it off in the gutter with an empty bottle clutched to his chest like a teddy bear.

It took another half hour to make it to the castle itself, but we did.

It was walled, but so large that its turrets and towers dwarfed the fifteen foot wall surrounding it. It wasn’t like Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland, all spindly spires and gently sloping peaks, made of glittering white bricks. This was a fortress, this was huge and square and built to withstand an army, with tall, thin windows that would let in hardly any light, but would allow an archer’s arrows to fly through over the wall, and into the advancing army of an enemy. This castle scared me a little, because it looked a lot tougher than I knew I was.

The gate that led through the outer wall was closed for the night, but that didn’t matter. We had a ladder we’d stolen from one of the shops, which some careless worker had left out, leaning against the side wall when they had finished doing repairs on the roof for the night. We’d turned a few heads as the three of us had carried it awkwardly down the streets, Erik holding the front, Jack the back, and me somewhere in the middle, but the prostitutes and the muggers weren’t about to raise the alarm on us for suspicious behavior.

The ladder wasn’t quite tall enough to get us easily over the wall. It was maybe ten feet tall, which meant that you had to climb all the way to the very top rung, and then haul yourself up over the remaining five or so feet of wall. It was simply for Jack, he had to have been over six feet tall, but definitely more of a struggle for Erik and me.

Then the three of us were left teetering on top of the wall while we clumsily hauled the ladder up and over so we could climb safely down the other side, trying to move as quickly and quietly as possible, constantly looking around in fear that a castle guard or someone could come around the corner and spot us at any moment.

But we made it back down on the other side without being seen, and the ladder was lain down beside the edge of the wall so it would be harder for anyone but us to notice. Then, crouching low, we scurried across the courtyard until we stood huddled in the relative safety of the shadows of the castle itself.

“Is this it?” I whispered, looking around nervously, filled with a curious mixture of anxiety and a sense of illicit thrill.

“This tower looks pretty tall to me,” Erik replied, shrugging. “But it isn’t as though I can measure it to be sure.”

“There’s a window up there, and it looks as though there’s a light in the room beyond.”

“That could just be a torch in a stairwell.”

“Why would they bother to keep the torches lit in the stairwells at this time of night?”

“I don’t know—look, I’m just warning you not to expect too much from the first tower we try.”

“Do you guys here that?” Jack interrupted, cocking his head slightly to one side and screwing up his expression as he listened hard.

“Here what?” I asked.

“Shhh, listen.”

Erik and I fell silent, our ears pricked for any sound.

It was almost inaudible, but the distant, soft sound of weeping could just barely be heard above the ambient sounds of the night. It was coming from somewhere above us, presumably from the window set high near the top of the looming tower.

“I think we’ve got the right one,” I said grimly.

Erik held out his hand. “Give me a bean, Jack.”

Jack fished in his pocket and passed Erik a green bean nearly the size of my whole thumb. Erik stooped to the ground and pulled out a short knife he kept strapped to his hip, using the tip to loosen some of the dirt between the stone slabs that made up the courtyard.

“Will that be enough dirt for the bean to take root in?” I asked.

“How should I know? I’ve never grown magic beans before.”

I looked at Jack, who only shrugged in response, equally clueless. In another minute, the bean was buried, and Erik stood up and stepped back.

“And now, we wait.”

But we didn’t have to wait long.

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack awakes in the morning to find the beanstalk has grown tall enough to reach the clouds in only eight or so hours. We didn’t need to wait for the beanstalk to grow quite that tall, but the window in the tower still had to be at least eighty feet above our heads, maybe more. I had done some mental math back at the pub during our planning session: if clouds were about 20,000 in the air—a tidbit of information I knew from the weekly pub trivia group I’d been a part of in my first year of college—then the beanstalk in the story had grown at a rate of about 2,500 feet and hour, or 41 feet per minute.

That statistic was terrifying—especially since I had no reference for how wide the beanstalk had been, and therefor we didn’t know how close to the tower to plant the bean. Too far, and we wouldn’t be able to reach the window from the stalk. Too close, and we could risk knocking the entire tower down as the beanstalk grew right into it. And with it growing at a rate of forty feet a minute, there would be shit all we could do to stop it once it started. We just had to guess, and to pray that luck was on our side.

The three of us watched the little patch of turned earth where Erik had buried the bean with bated breath.

For a full minute—I counted out the seconds—nothing happened. I was just starting to worry if we had done it wrong somehow when the dirt between the paving stones began to quiver.

Six second later, a tiny green sprout pushed its was out and into the air, a little green leaf no bigger than the nail on my pinky uncurling, like a sped up time lapse video. And then it was as if someone had suddenly turned up the speed by a factor of ten. Two seconds later, literally two seconds later, it had grown a full foot in height and was sprouting half a dozen glossy, green leaves. By fifteen seconds, it was ten feet tall, towering over the three of. We hardly had time to scramble back from its alarmingly expanding stalk. By thirty seconds, it was twenty feet tall and as thick around as the trunk of a fir tree of the same size. Beneath our feet, the stone slabs were being pushed up out of place by the roots of the beanstalk and they plunged deeper into the earth, making the ground ripple in waves that nearly knocked us off our feet. In a minute the beanstalk reached halfway up the tower, and we had to crane our heads all the way back to keep following its progress. Up, up, up it went; and by minute number two, it reached level with the window.

It didn’t stop there, of course. By the time another few minutes had passed, it had grown so tall that it literally disappeared into the darkness of the night sky. But that didn’t concern us. It was growing from the top of the stalk, not the base, which meant that we could now safely—or as safely as possible, considering the circumstances—climb the stalk and reach the tower window. The diameter of the stalk seemed to have stabilized for the most part; it was now as thick around as a medium sized above ground pool, but didn’t seem to be getting much wider, at least not yet. The edge of the beanstalk was still about three feet away from the tower, but that distance wouldn’t be too hard to jump. I could probably manage it without having to actually jump at all.

Of course, if I flubbed it, I’d fall eighty feet to my certain death, and unlike when I messed up the jump from tree to tree while being chased by those wolves, I wouldn’t have Erik’s nice, soft, thatched roof to break my fall this time.

I swallowed hard. I’d just have to try to avoid thinking about that.

“Alright,” Erik said, pulling me away from these less-than-pleasant thoughts. “Time to go. I don’t think anyone noticed anything unusual yet, but this beanstalk will be impossible to miss if anyone looks out their window. No time to waste now.”

“I’m a good climber, I’ll go first and try to scout out the easiest route up,” Jack offered. He reached out to grab the base of the one of the leaves that stuck out the side of the beanstalk—it was as big as a Volkswagon beetle—and tested his weight on it. It seemed strong and sturdy, so he pulled himself up. In a few short moments, he had scaled about eight feet off the ground using the twisting vines and the leaf stems as hand and footholds.

“It’s not hard,” he said down to us. “There’s plenty to hold onto. Just follow the path I take.”

I looked at Erik, who gestured for me to go ahead of him. “You go next. I’ll take up the rear.”

“I don’t know if that’s the best idea,” I warned him. “I’m not exactly an expert climber, and if I slip and fall, I’ll probably hit you on the way down, knock you off, and we’ll both fall to our deaths.”

“Just go, and don’t think about falling,” Erik told me sternly. “You won’t fall. You heard Jack, it’s an easy climb, there are plenty of handholds. Just go, and don’t look down.”

I took a deep breath to steady my nerves, and stepped towards the beanstalk.

“But if you do happen to fall,” Erik added, “try to sort of fall to the side, so that you don’t hit me on the way down.”

“Lord give me strength,” I muttered bitterly under my breath, and I reached out with suddenly trembling hands to starting hauling myself up the beanstalk after Jack.
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Aaaand yikes, I'm in trouble. I only have one more edited chapter after this. I have seriously dropped the ball, and now I'll need to edit a chapter a week. Which sounds like it should be super easy, but I'm a lazy SOB. Ah well. I've got some plans, and if I follow through, this will be a REALLY productive few months for me. I'm writing the Library at the Edge of Dreams for NaNoWriMo, so I'll be able to crank out about 50k of that if all goes well. I have 24 chapters written of Breaking Magic, and I feel like I'm probably more than halfway done with it (it won't be a terribly long novel, I think), so I think I'll start posting that once I'm a bit nearer to the end.

Plus, I'm (hopefully, keep your fingers crossed for me) going to be applying to a teacher credentialing program with the goal of becoming a high school English teacher. Which means I don't have to worry about applying for and getting a full time job in the next couple months. I'll work a little more at my part time gigs, but focus on writing another novel--a big time serious one that I'll try to get traditionally published. I've already got my other one, Bros Kohl, but I figure I'll have a little better luck finding an agent if I'm sending out queries for two different novels. Doubles my chances of finding someone who likes what I've got? Maybe, I don't know if that's true or not, but I don't want to be putting all my eggs into the Bros Kohl basket. Maybe Bros Kohl is a dud, who knows. I just have to decide what to write. The-Gods-Are-Real contemporary epic fantasy romance? Sci Fi Alien Detective Agency murder mystery novel? The heroic high fantasy Gods-Are-Real-And-They-Are-Kinda-Jerks novel? Sci Fi post-apocalyptic bio-soldiers on a mission to survive novel? So many options. Too many options. Not sure which is the most marketable--and that's what I need, marketable. I need something that seems really sellable, so I can trick some poor agent into representing all the other ridiculously niche crap I write.

Anyway, I'm rambling again. Thank you for reading, dear readers, and don't forget to tune in next week.

Warm regards,