Thursday, March 19, 2009

Twelve Beans and the Shining Man (Part IV)

And then four things happened all at once. Colette suddenly felt exhausted; the sky grew ominously black; the weeping willow tree withered; and a beautiful woman dressed in white and carrying a small black box stood before her.

The woman was stunning. More beautiful than any woman Colette had ever seen, even among princesses and queens. And yet she was old. Old and wrinkled, with white hair and sparkling eyes and skin that seemed to be ablaze. Which made her beauty almost terrifying to Colette.

The sky was so low and dark that Colette felt she could reach up and touch the storm clouds with her hands. And she would have done just that, had she not been so very, very exhausted.

The beautiful woman took a step closer to Colette and looked at her with those eyes that sparkled. Like the diamond bean sparkled, thought Colette.

“You ate the beans?”

It wasn’t really a question. The woman was both accusatory and compassionate, disappointed and hopeful. Either because of her fatigue or fear, Colette could not answer.

“You ate them?” she pressed.

A long silence. The sparkling eyes would not let go of Colette’s heavy ones. Finally, Colette mumbled, “I heard a voice.”

The black clouds seemed eager to swallow Colette.

“A voice?”

“Yes. No, no—a hiss,” Colette stammered. “It told me to eat the beans.”

The beauty leaned close, cupped Colette’s face in her aged hands, and whispered with diamond tears in her eyes, “And for that, you will lose everything.”

Then in one graceful movement, she beckoned the weeping willow come back to life, removed from her neck a silver chain that held a small silver spade, and placed the black box and spade necklace into Colette’s right hand.

To be continued...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Twelve Beans and the Shining Man (Parts I, II, III)

It was once believed that deep, deep in the wooded hills of Camberly, grew twelve magical beans—beans that would instantly grant ultimate happiness to the one who discovered them.

Many a man, woman, and child had searched tirelessly for the coveted beans, but to no avail. After hundreds of years of futile searching, the beans finally became legend and the hills in turn became lonely and forgotten, overgrown with vegetation and populated by a handful of strange folk.

Once upon a time, the Lord and Lady Locklear of Camberly gave birth to a baby girl, bestowing upon her the name Colette. She was a headstrong and willful child, given to passionate bouts and tantrums, creative deceptions, and strong desires. Nothing could satisfy her, no one could please her, and she grew into a spoiled young woman of sixteen. In their utter exasperation, the Lord and Lady sent Colette away to live in the hills of Camberly with an old aunt who cared nothing at all for the child but who promised to cure her of all vain and selfish ambition.

Colette hated the aunt, her humble home and simple lifestyle, and the wooded hills—which seemed to her the worst of prisons. Gone were the days of galas and gallantry, suitors and society. Here in the hills were hard work and tedious hours of listening to the strange aunt talk and sing—mostly about beans. Twelve stupid beans, thought Colette. Beans that would grant happiness to lonely, quirky, old deluded ladies who had nothing else to dream about.

It was only on her long walks after supper each day that Colette felt free from the aunt’s strangeness and chores and suffocating little house and—beans. Her daily walks took her deeper and deeper into the wooded hills, and Colette hoped with all her might to find an opening in the dense brush—an opening that would lead her back home, or perhaps to another lovely place full of princes and pampering, leaving this prison far behind her.

One day, on one of these walks, Colette stumbled upon a little clearing and a perfectly stone-paved path that ran up the side of a very steep hill. The path was as treacherous as it was steep, but it was beautiful—over-canopied with white trees and lined with ivy and daffodils, honeysuckles and tulips. Beside it ran a clear stream that tinkled like a million tiny bells. Colette had never seen anything so lovely. Surely she had stepped into the pages of a storybook.

She decided to make the climb, but as she took her first step, a sparkling object at her feet caught her attention. There before her grew a plant with heart-shaped leaves and—Colette sucked in her breath as she counted—one… four… seven… yes, twelve beans dangling in webby pods of silver.

(Now at this point in most fairytales, Colette’s character would undoubtedly have experienced great joy over finding the legendary magical beans and immediately reached out to retrieve them. But in Colette’s case, as she had never known anything outside of the realm of the explainable, the reasonable, the material, the spoiled, she was really quite terrified at her first introduction to magic.)

Colette’s heart beat fast as she knelt down beside the plant, and her hands trembled as she reached a finger out to touch the silvery, webby pod. It would have felt slightly sticky to the touch, but it dissolved too quickly for Colette to notice. The pod disappeared and the first bean fell to the ground.

Colette blinked at its brilliant color. Then she looked around, half-expecting the color to have awakened the beans’ long-lost treasure-seekers. Nothing happened, and no one appeared; yet Colette was keenly aware of another presence; she had sensed it immediately upon her discovery of the bean plant. A chill ran up her spine. But the beans beckoned, and she reached again to grasp a second. The pod again dissolved, but this time Colette was ready—and she caught a radiantly white bean in her still-trembling hand. The third bean was black; the fourth and fifth candescently orange; the sixth was as a mirror; the seventh, eighth and ninth constantly changed colors; the tenth was deep purple; the eleventh was a red so red it hurt her eyes; and the twelfth was as a diamond.

Perhaps this was the first time Colette had ever found herself at a loss for words. And it was certainly the first time she had ever felt terrified, fearful for her very life. She knew she had stumbled upon the aunt’s twelve magic beans—and the greatest hidden treasure of all time. But being the vain and self-absorbed girl she was, Colette found comfort in her fear by the conviction that she, of all people, was the only rightful, worthy finder of such a treasure.

Again she looked around, and then tiptoeing—as if to elude an unseen predator—Colette took refuge under a white weeping willow tree that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The branches hung large and low, and Colette felt a small sense of security in its cover. Now what? she pondered as she stared unflinchingly at her coveted beans.

And then a small tune, a tune she had considered irritating and ridiculous only hours before, began to play in her head. It was the voice of the aunt singing…

Indescribable and white,
These beans will grant you fullest life.
Black protects you from all harm,
Orange brings wealth; purple charm.
Mirror, mirror in a bean:
Beauty rarely to be seen.
Multicolored boldest beans
Fulfill your deepest lifelong dreams.
Red brings honor, value, worth.
Diamonds are true love on earth.

Colette had forgotten all fears now, and in uncontained excitement, she jumped to her feet and began to dance and sing the song of the beans.

And then, just as suddenly, she stopped to hear another tune play in her head—a tune the aunt had sung in a low, foreboding tone.

Twelve beans, once found
Bury deeply in the ground.
Climb the path, watch and wait.
A guide, a guard, a gift of fate.
Go in haste; don’t hesitate!

Colette’s countenance clouded over as a storm, and she proudly declared aloud to willow and stream that she would never dream of burying such beans. What a waste! The writer of that song was bitter and jealous because she couldn’t find the beans herself! Bury the beans! What utter nonsense! However, despite her confident rejection of the song’s directive, Colette felt unsure of what to do. How should she enact the beans’ magical powers?

As she sat staring and contemplating, a small voice hissed at her from deep within the willow tree: “Eat the beans.”

“Eat the beans?” she asked in trepidation.

There was no answer to her question. Colette looked from willowy branch to weeping limb, but no voice nor body was to be found.

Eat the beans… It was true that eating them made much more sense than burying them. But how could she be sure? She held a bean to her nose and smelled it.

It smelled better than the best palatial meal she had ever been served as a child. Why, of course she should eat them! Impulsively she stuffed all twelve beans in her mouth, chewed and swallowed in great pleasure and anticipation, and then waited…