|Jackie of the Beanstalks
Author: ASLee PM
[For NaNoWriMo] Jacqueline's village is hidden among huge smelly beanstalks that hide them from the giants that one hundred years ago hunted humans to near-extinction. But with food resources dwindling in their hideaway, Jackie only finds one decision capable of making her life worth something before she starves to death: to go out and kill a giant.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 8 - Words: 48,333 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 11-24-12 - Published: 11-03-12 - id: 3071209
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Having spent most of the day in practice, everyone gathered around the fires eating their food. Jackie stood among them, beaming. They hardly knew if a day's worth was enough to consider themselves skilled at archery but Jackie considered there scarcely enough time for continued dedication. They were more a militia than an army, their skills widely ranging, composed more for a collective goal than expertise.
"Tomorrow, there will be more of us going out than ever before," she said, her voice raised so that it would carry. "More to conquer our suppressors. More for our right of existence."
"For food," a voice said, causing a murmur of laughter.
"For food," Jackie agreed. "I'll take about ten archers to take down the giants. We'll aim from a safe distance. We need to stay out of range of both their feet and their clubs. Anyone who was there can testify to how huge they truly are. Everyone will pay attention in case I give the call for retreat. Others may gather in the woods as before in case we are successful and continue on to take down a behemoth. Let's stay safe. But above all, let's fight."
The crowd voiced their excitement and willingness, not all in cheers. Nonetheless, they felt this was important or they wouldn't be here. She suspected some might have come just for the hunt and taste of meat. But now, they would have to face the long-anticipated reality: that their lives were on the line. Because that number was so few, the crowd did not remain quiet, easily stirred into rambunctious conversation.
Jackie, herself, could hardly eat. She made her way from the group to their assembled pile of weapons for the attack. Everyone kept their personal weapons with them or in their tents, their swords, spears, daggers, and the like. This group was composed of bows and arrows, crude packs quickly put together to hold arrows, as well as tools to reassemble arrows although she doubted a battlefield had real time for such things. It was amazing how much more hopeful the rest of the group was that they had added it to the pile. Jackie shook her head and tried to take some of that hope to bed with her.
When everyone gathered at the forest's edge, it was hardly past sunrise. They would have been armed to the teeth if they had the equipment. As it was, all who were going into the fields carried all they could think to protect them. Swords, spears, hatchets, axes, all were tied to them in some way to provide a free hand to hold their bows and another to string them with arrows. The bowstrings were already fitted, curving the bows into the shape that gave them their name. Their faces were drawn into serious expressions, no longer carrying the excitement of the previous night. Even the air seemed somber.
Of the others who had witnessed the sight of the giants, only Curtis was not among them, remaining back at the camp, drawn into Hal's project. She had almost forbidden Hal from coming. He hadn't given as much faith to the bow and arrow as she had. He was in some ways still a part of that disagreement, willingly submitting to be part of the butchering crew rather than the main contingent. Clarke was there, finally glad to be a part of the group. Jackie couldn't see a reason to hold him back when he could draw a bow better than the rest of them even if his aim wasn't as on par. The archery group consisted of Jackie, Clarke, Naveen, Bruce, Sunshine, Percy, Duncan, Jesse, Calvin, Terrance, and Alton. She had picked them based on their skills they had displayed in training. Terrance was a veteran in the behemoth hunt who she had brought along for that particular rather than his skill with the bow, which was adequate. They were an interesting array, all beside each other in a variety of colors of hair and skin as well as an array of heights.
Across the field, they could see the behemoths in their slow grazing, rising so tall they blocked the rising sun. The light tried to rush around the creatures, making them black ominous figures against the horizon. Jackie searched amongst them for her fear and purpose. Then there he was, one giant. He stood up from a camp he had made. He threw down a horn he carried, easily three sizes larger than Jackie, abandoning it next to his dying fire. Had he seen the smoke from their fires? No, surely not. He tromped through the grasses in amongst the behemoths, checking on them like a diligent care-taker. Except she had never seen him but once before, knowing his diligence driven from the annihilation of almost half the visible herd. His loincloth was hard to study with the sun outlining him as it did but as he walked into the shadow of a behemoth, Jackie could tell with a squint that it was plain. She quickly scanned one… two… three times around the plains but could not spot the other giant. She had had her suspicions that the other decorated loincloth had indicated rank. With that giant's absence, she could only agree with her original assumption.
"It's just the one," Jackie officially declared.
She studied their faces and noticed that they were getting used to this idea, their previous acceptance shaken. Giants had always been an invisible, far-off threat. Now, here one was before them, threatening their existence.
"I don't need to find new archers, do I?" she asked. She meant no disrespect but meant to check them before continuing. She had done her acceptance last night. They could afford very little extra time for it this morning. Although it caused some of them pain, they choked back their fear and all nodded. "Good, let's move out."
She didn't bother to give a signal. She simply began the slow wading that would take them rather silently across the grass into range - and downwind, to her pleasure. She heard one of them curse as they stumbled over a clump. The culprit quickly hushed themselves and Jackie, shoulders tense, bit down, squaring her jaw to keep from speaking harshly. The slow wading took them quite a while to make it across the plains. Although the herd and the giant hardly seemed very far in, their size was the deceiving factor. If the giant was looking for them, he could easily spot them from his height as a blot against the grass that did not belong. Jackie hoped against hope that the giants would be expecting something other than humans slaughtering their herd. She hoped that maybe they would be written off as behemoth-sized insects and nothing more. More than that, she hoped they weren't seen at all. The closer they got, the more her nerves got to her. If she paused for too long, the shaking of her hands could readily be seen.
Jackie was grateful that they arrived into range as soon as they did. She felt as they traveled the slow shift of the wind. The wind hadn't reversed on them yet but it could and the longer it blew the smell of the giant to them rather than the other way around, the more satisfied she could be in regards to its sense of smell. If it could smell them this far away with the wind in their favor, she didn't want to pause too long to find out.
She signaled with her fist and they all spread out on either side of her. They all made ready with their bows, pulling arrows and putting them to string. The giant was in clear view, separate from the herd. He seemed to be pondering, or perhaps picking up their scent. Either way, his singular location was to their advantage and Jackie didn't want to give him time to move and ruin their plan.
"Remember the knees!" Jackie hissed at a whisper. Their first goal was to effective immobilize him so they couldn't be trampled or outrun if they needed to flee. With that, she judged the distance and angled her bow up higher than she thought she'd need and released. Eleven arrows soared through the air, not all quite in sync. Of the eleven, four hit their mark. The giant howled and began his scan of the plains to find the source. They didn't give him time to discover them, quickly putting another arrow to their bows.
She tried not to shake as she drew back her bow. She found herself releasing a little later than some of her fellows, having to loosen up and relax, her aim so poor with the shaking. Once under control, a quick claim of determination, she released the arrow. This time seven hit their mark and nine total hit the giant, although one bounced off, its tip ineffective. Again they drew as the giant started towards them, his cries making the behemoths antsy and seemingly ready to stampede although they had not perceived where the threat came from. The ground shook with every large step. Jackie tried to prevent her knees from turning to butter. She pulled back her bow and released. Finally, she drew her second to last arrow and let it fly.
With nearly a total of twenty arrows in his knees, the giant dropped to his knees. Many of her archers prepped to charge into melee. Jackie called them to attention. "Not yet! Shoot to kill!" They reeled themselves in, drawing their arrows. Already, Clarke was out of arrows along with Jesse. Sunshine, Percy, and Alton seemed to have had the presence of mind to grab more arrows than the others had. They had fired along with the rest of them arrow for arrow and had quite a few left. The remainder had only one like Jackie. The giant seemed perfectly willing to fight from where he lay.
Having spotted them, he tore up hunks of earth and chucked it at them. Dirt showered them and Jackie had to duck a clump larger than her that soared over her head, breaking up as it went. She squinted against the shower, her shoulders hunched, and put her last arrow to the string. The giant was a much closer and larger target but with the projectiles coming back at them, her concentration was harder to maintain. Arrows soared from Percy and Sunshine, undaunted as though they had been doing this their whole life. Alton, red in the face, seemed ready to tear at the giant. With a strong will, he managed to hold his arrow to the bow but hardly seemed ready to fire. Jackie couldn't afford much more observation, knowing she was wasting time. She took aim, drawing in a shaky breath and fired.
Her arrow hit true but barely seemed to affect the giant. The giant gave up his attempts to hurl earth at them and placing his arms in front of him, he attempted to half-crawl, half-drag himself towards them. The pain in his crippled legs kept him from making much progress but Jackie, now out of arrows, could not shake the fear every inch he gained gave her. Finally they were all out of arrows and Jackie didn't think the giant could hold any more. Whether hardly affected or simply running on adrenaline, the giant continued onwards, his ugly face closer than she had ever hoped to see it.
She found there was little left to it than Clarke's way. She had often run over the debate of her original ideals verses the lives of all those under her care and done her best to choose options to save those people. But in the heat of the moment, out of fear, frustration, and determination, she set out to achieve that which she had promised herself before she died. She charged, sword drawn, bow abandoned in the grass. Whether out of loyalty, fear, or loss for thought, they were right behind her in the advance.
As she came upon the giant, he seemed to have picked her out as the primary target. He brought up his hand, nearly equal in size to Jackie. As he dropped it, attempting to flatten her like an ant, Jackie rolled backwards and lost her grip on her sword. His finger tips just missed her, the vibration from the force riding the ground like a ripple. She cast about for her sword as Calvin and Naveen slashed at his hand on either side of her. She scooped up her sword, finally laying eyes on it. The giant pulled back his hand with a roar of pain at their attacks. The others had distracted him as his other hand. He turned his hands sideways in an attempt to grab both groups in his fists and crush them.
This time when the giant put his hand back down as they stabbed, Jackie leapt up onto his hand and ran up his arm. The giant's eyes fixed on her, widened in anger. She could hear the shouts as he raised his other hand to swat her. She let out a call of her own and drove her sword into his shoulder at the joint, hoping it was long enough to do real damage. Seeing his hand coming, she grabbed the sword with both hands and let herself fall off his shoulder. The sword tore his skin with her weight until it dislodged and fell with her. While his bloody hands weren't much use, he rolled onto his side, his good shoulder down to spot where she fell. The rest of the group had surged closer under her inspiration and they scattered a bit from fear under his shadow.
Jackie had accepted her doom. With determination in the absence of fear - for which there was no time for - she charged his exposed chest while his eyes madly searched for her. The giant roared again and rolled onto his back to pull away from her. There was a scream almost simultaneously with a crunch that made Jackie cringe. She snapped back to attention. Caring could be the key to her failure. Then Calvin was there beside her, looking incredibly brace for how little she knew of him. He bent slightly and offered his hands cupped together. He nodded at her and she didn't take the time to consider. Together, they boosted her up, Calvin trying to figure a way to follow her. Naveen appeared beside him and Jackie didn't linger to see their solution.
As Jackie ran across the giant's chest to his horror, some of the others appeared from the other side. Like the giant was some rabid beast, as though they had gone hysterical, as perhaps as a distraction, it seemed everyone was stabbing wildly. The giant began to rock his body back and forth in what could be a very dangerous rhythm. Jackie picked where his heart should be and stabbed repeatedly. The giant wailed and began to gurgle. He stopped tossing as much and the ones who had joined her up top came to her location to help until he stopped moving. By the time they had come to help, he had already starting dying but none of them were quite willing to take the chance he might recover.
When it seemed to be over, Jackie allowed herself deep breathes, her lungs burning. Her hands and knees were shaking from adrenaline that she dropped her sword which Bruce picked up for her. Jackie made a gesture to Percy who came closer.
"Give… me… an… account," she said between breathes, trying desperately to stop heaving. She put her hands on her hips as though they could stop the cramps.
Percy circled back to her after peering over all the edges and helping the remainder up onto the giant's chest. "All accounted for except Duncan, crushed by the giant." Some of the others gave him a look. He turned back to Jackie, his face a little flushed. "And Clarke's…"
"We got you now!" Clarke exclaimed gleefully. He stood on the giant's clavicle, seemingly lording over the giant. Clarke knelt down and with his sword began to peel back the skin. Alton saw and in his excitement began to do the same where he stood.
"What are you doing?" Jackie exclaimed, her voice cracking.
"Well, aren't we going to eat?" Clarke said, his voice both annoyed and surprised.
"No!" Her nerves had her emotions wound up. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "No, we are not going to eat a giant, even if they eat us. They look enough like us that it'd be cannibalism. We killed the giant. We still have a behemoth to kill that I suggest you save your energy and rest a bit."
As she came to stand beside Clarke, she realized how silly the impulse to get physical would have been. She got a good look at the giant's neck. Clarke had made large gouges in the giant's neck, a large dark pool of blood in the grass. From the looks of Clarke's person, he had made himself hand and foot holds to climb up. As determined as Jackie had been to end it, she still found herself sick to her stomach at the sight.
"Clarke. Alton. You're sitting this next one out," she declared.
Clarke's whole body seemed to flush red with more than just giant's blood but he held his tongue. The terror living behind Alton's eyes appeared and then vanished as though purged from his body. As quickly as the terror left, so did the anger until he simply looked like a defeated, tired young man. Terrance patted him on the back sympathetically.
After she had her breathing under control and noticed healthy color returning to her comrades, she turned her attention to the herd. The behemoths had given a wide berth. It was clear to see that they could smell the blood; they could see the giant down. Jackie cursed her luck as the behemoths seemed antsy. At least some of them, the ones she could see, seemed to recognize that the giant, a caretaker, was down, was the source of the smell of blood. This could go very badly. As a result, she turned to the remaining eight and chose only three. Five had always been an odd number. A total of four was much safer. Her bias swayed her to pick Naveen. She also picked Calvin for how he had handled himself during the fight. Lastly she took Jesse who looked the least exhausted out of the remainder. She considered Sunshine but she only had a spear; she knew she'd feel guilty if she chose Terrance; and Bruce, along with many of the others, just seemed ragged.
It took a full thirty minutes to get across the field to the behemoth, the sun high in the sky. By the time they got there, the behemoth still did not seem completely at ease. As they scaled the behemoth, Jackie already had her doubts about the situation. The behemoth was more sensitive than they normally were, lashing its tail and turning to crush the nuisance with its teeth more than usual. Jackie tried to get them up as fast as she could, feeling more guilty for not taking Terrance than she had for considering him in the first place. They scrambled across the antsy beast, their skin itching with fear. They tried to make quick work of the behemoth but the real task became holding on, just as it often was.
This one's violent streak seemed deeper than the others. It seemed willing to do anything to get them off. It threw itself on the ground, rubbing its body to try and get them off. Naveen and Jesse lost their hold and crashed to the ground. Still conscious, it took all their energy to rise to their shaken feet and run away to keep from being crushed. Jackie wasn't sure how Calvin was still holding on. She wasn't quite sure how she was holding on. As the behemoth gave them the opportunity, stabilizing for a minute as it rose to its feet, Jackie grabbed her sword in one hand and another abandoned one in the other. With both, she stabbed downwards although it took more effort to drive them both to the hilt. The behemoth made one last effort as it let out a death scream, kneeling on its front legs, driving its head into the ground. The jolt caused Jackie to lose her footing until she was only holding on by one hand. Calvin was holding onto his sword and his feet were propped against another buried sword to hold himself up. He looked perfectly willing to help her but she was still sure he would fall to. She shook her head even as the strain in her arm became too much to bear, gritting her teeth against the pain. She could feel it pulling at the muscles and the bone. There was a soft pop that only she could hear as she tried to reach up with the other hand and pull herself up. Her hand slipped. Wide-eyed and letting out a cry, Jackie fell past the beast's snout. She tried to pull herself into a ball instinctively, not that the instinct would really save her life. Then, her body spun in the ball slightly and then she smacked into the ground.
When Jackie came to, she was still laying on the ground. She rolled onto her back from her side with a groan. They were all standing around her with concern as their faces came into focus.
"Did we…" her voiced croaked. She scrunched her brow and tried to ignore the pain in her arm overriding all the aches in the rest of her body. Clearing her throat, she tried again. "Did we take it down?"
They nodded and all tried to talk at once. She got the general consensus. The behemoth was dead. She sat up and noticed the ineffective use of her painful arm. The pain was like a buzz in the back of her mind that she couldn't understand why it didn't work. Looking at her shoulder, she saw the bone jutting out but still beneath the skin. Like a switch, the pain rushed to the forefront and became hard to bear. She fought back tears but not before one escaped from each eye. She used her good arm to wipe her face and held it out for help to rise. Jesse helped her up. She saw that Clarke and Alvin had joined them and Hal arrived just then, pushing through the group. Now that she was on her feet, she could see between them to the behemoth, very near and very dead. The butcher crew had made its way across the field and were already starting on the behemoth.
Hal's face was flushed and red. He seemed both angry and concerned as though there was some way he could have prevented the situation. Jackie scrunched her brows, put off by the emotions she read there. She wasn't some foolish child.
"Jackie, what happened? Are you alright?" The way he asked - demanded, really - was enough to get under her skin and give her the strength to do what she did next.
"Clarke, hold this, will you?" She asked, offering her dislocated arm with great difficulty, pain, and assistance from her good arm. Confused, he did as she asked, grasping it in his firm grip. "Now don't let go."
Without giving him time to ask why, what she was doing, she pulled against his grip. He at least had enough piece of mind and respect to do as she asked. Letting out a sharp cry, tears freely pouring down her face, she pulled until the bones in her arm realigned with the joint and popped back in. She wiggled her fingers and found that it still hurt in her shoulder, much of the muscle and tissue torn and swelling. Her arm wouldn't be of much use, she realized with a grimace. The group looked at her in a sort of shocked horror. Only Hal seemed to be processing, most likely from the fact he had spent a lot of time with her and less likely to be shocked.
"I don't understand why you have to put yourself in so much danger," Hal complained as he removed his shirt. He stepped forward and made a sling for her arm, pinning it against her chest. Jackie tried to keep her anger contained. She felt so tired. And it would be so much more tiring to argue with him about why she put herself in danger. It was only her life's work, her mission until she died.
"Thank you," she said plainly, trying to keep her emotions buried. "If you don't mind, I'm going to sit the rest of this out."
"I would have it no other way," Hal agreed.
When he went to escort her back, she waved him off. "Oversee all that," she said with a gesture towards the behemoth. He allowed himself to be dismissed, leaving her to trudge back to the camp. Jackie hated all these feelings and emotions that bubbled while she walked. She cursed herself and rubbed her face with her good hand. Even with just herself for company, she knew the walk back to camp would be a long one, tortured by her thoughts.
Jackie stood in the middle of Harvey's tent. She wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it was because Mama was often found here. She probably needed to get her arm looked at. But then there was Harvey standing across from her, staring at her bewildered look with concern. There he was, hand on her shoulder, the thumb rubbing up and down in an attempt to be comforting, his lips moved and from somewhere far away came words of concern. Then there were all the thoughts swimming in her head. She wanted to turn it all back off. She wanted to escape. There was one thing she knew that had made her stomach to flips, made it hard to breathe, made her heart race, and her mind fog.
She brought her good arm around his neck, pulling herself closer, feeding the fire with her lips pressed against his. He hardly gave himself time to be surprise, opening up against her, his arms sliding over her back. Her bad arm found itself pinned between them, grabbing a fist full of shirt. There was a wild and exciting fire to the abandon that even though it was hard to breathe, air hardly seemed necessary. She tried to move her bad arm out of the way and fought against a grimace. Kissing him made her feel weightless and dizzy at the same time, made her ribcage seem to constrict over her heart, which wanted to beat its way right out. He drew away from her mouth, kissing her on the cheek, on the curve of her jaw, on her neck, coming to rest his head on her shoulder.
"We should stop," he breathed.
The disappointment of his words tried to push the wheels of her brain. But she didn't want to think yet. He picked up his head to meet her gaze, both his hands on her shoulders, keeping her from drawing any closer. She tried anyway, not sure why he was preventing her from doing what she wanted. Why was he stopping? They didn't need to stop…
"You need to rest. You're hurt and potentially delirious. I won't take advantage of you," he said. She hardly thought he was the one doing the taking.
"I don't want to go," she replied quietly.
He made a face, some sort of parent-like mix of kindness and sternness. "Lay down here, then." He gestured to his bed and, with slight bullying, she obediently laid down on her side, facing him so that her bad arm was up and tried not to pout. Her heart was still racing. There was no way she was going to get much sleep. She focused her eyes on him, as though trying to communicate that thought. He dutifully sat down next her. "You want to tell me what happened?"
She blinked and tried hard to fight the urge to ask him why he was acting like a parent. "I fell off a behemoth," she replied meekly.
"But everything else went well I take it? You're the only one back that I know of."
She nodded. "Yes …well, somewhat. We lost Duncan. He was crushed by the giant."
Harvey gave his head a bit of a shake. He didn't know who Duncan was. "But for all your misery, you killed both the behemoth and the giant?"
She nodded in agreement, not meeting his gaze as her thoughts caught up with her. "It took quite a lot of effort. I'm afraid we're going to have to go with Hal's idea. But it's dangerous."
"We all know the risks. I know part of the reason you're hesitant is because with your arm, you're going to have to take it easy. No more scaling beasts for a while." He smiled but she glared and would have hit him if her good arm wasn't pinned beneath her.
"That's not funny." She drew a deep breath. "Harvey says a guy named Gideon who's come here can build a forge to remake our weapons. But it'll give off our location. At the field, only one of the two giants was there. We'll be found out soon enough as it is. But with the forge, it might be sooner than we'd prefer."
"You'll choose what's best. And you know, I'll give you whatever help you need," Harvey said, stroking her hair.
Jackie closed her eyes and tried not to think about how she had once done that for him. It was an oddly consoling action, calming enough to slow her manic heart. Harvey climbed onto the mattress behind her and without being bid, slid an arm over her waist until his body was against her, providing more warmth than the thin blanket offered. Somehow, it worked much like the kissing. A part of her brain just seemed to fog over and prevent her from thinking. Somehow, the fog brought on sleep, finding and consuming her until she surrendered.
A/N: perhaps I like to talk about my stories too much but I feel the need for character divulge-tion. Hopefully, there's a big enough picture in the story to get the characters, if not, I would appreciate it pointed out to me what connection didn't make it into the story. Sometimes, there's so much in my head, I forget I didn't put it to paper.
The relationships between Jackie, Hal, and Harvey kind of work as such: Jackie comes from a village where romance is encouraged and considered the fundamentals for marriage. This is often encouraged by the pining of men away on the hunt, emotions heightened on their return. Men equal food and prosperity and thus are created as an object for a woman's lust. Similarly, the pinning after of a man's left-behind woman is encouragement to be successful and return with food. Jackie, however, does not agree with their system of farming and hunting that has proved more and more unsuccessful. She has created an outcast of herself and by extension, denied herself the romantic tendencies of her fellows. Having created that disconnect for herself, Jackie considers her lack of romantic feelings for Hal acceptable until Harvey convinces her she could feel something more - just not with Hal. Obviously, I have to work on the romantic buildings between Harvey and Jackie since atm, I'm sure it reads as he pesters her and should be annoying and she only caves in due to a kiss.
Hal lives in a village where romance is expected to come after marriage/procreation. He denied it by making sure his brothers lived with him instead of a girl. So in the same way, he denied himself romance. Of all the things wrong with his village, he left because his elders would prefer he live with a girl and start a new family rather than cling to his old one. And because of his influence, his brothers followed him. For all his lack of ambition, he finds himself drawn to Jackie who left her village for a much greater purpose than his, which left him wandering and searching for food. In a way, it is lust because he wants to be like her. If he can't be her, he'd like to possess her. So as Harvey said, he doesn't really love her. It's kind of an envy/lust situation.
Harvey simply falls under the category some people pressured under the idea of arranged marriage (I say some because some people, especially nowadays, do choose to have their marriages arranged) where romance is his ideal. He is drawn to Jackie because she is a strong, determined character but he also sees the compassion simmering underneath and loves that. His greatest goal, if any, is to draw that out of her so that everyone can see it. But truly he loves her not just for what she stands for and what she could be, but for who she is, flaws and all. Of course, that last bit is something I plan to build up and make more obvious as the story progresses.
Thanks for reading my author's note. I hope I didn't bore you :) And thanks for reading in general!