Any illustrators out there who might be interested in collaborating on the following short story?
It’s a modern retelling of an old fable aimed at adolescents, (12-16). So I imagine something extremely contemporary or dark would be appropriate.
Drop me a line if you’re interested, or know of someone who might be.
BARRY AND THE BEANSTALK
A MODERN RETELLING OF AN OLD FABLE
© David Milligan-Croft
Barry lived with his Dad in a one bed flat on the top floor of a high-rise council flat in Moss Side. Dad slept in the bedroom, while Barry slept on the sofa in the living room. They didn’t have much to their name save for a Sky + Box and a clapped out Mark II Ford Capri, with a black vinyl roof and orange bodywork.
Barry’s Dad, Bernie, woke up one morning to find he’d run out of fags. He checked all the dimps in the ashtrays around the flat but they’d all been drawn down to the filters.
‘Barry!’ he shouted. ‘Have you got a fag? I’m gasping.’
‘I don’t smoke’, Barry said from under his Man City duvet.
‘Why not?’ Bernie retorted.
Barry ignored his Dad and rolled over to get the busted sofa spring out of his backside.
‘It’s no good,’ Bernie said. ‘We’re gunna have to sell the Capri.
‘You can’t sell Daisy!’ Barry said, sitting bolt upright.
‘It’s either that or I’m gunna have t’see GP about getting some patches and I’m not ready to give in yet.’
Barry walked out onto the balcony and looked down at Daisy, parked 15 floors below next to a burnt out Nissan Micra and a washing machine that had been disposed of using the ‘express elevator’. Bernie walked out beside him and put his arm round his son.
‘Tell you what, son. You take Daisy down to Bob’s Motormart and if you get a decent price for her I’ll treat you to a PSP.’ Bernie heard the front door slam behind him as Barry’s footsteps took the concrete stairs four at a time.
* * *
Daisy started on the fourth time of asking and a plume of blue-black smoke bellowed from the exhaust. Barry sat on an up-turned blue plastic milk crate so he could see out of the windscreen. He tied a shoe box to his right foot to depress the accelerator and used a knackered cricket bat to work the clutch.
Barry kangarooed out of the car park onto Princess Parkway narrowly avoiding a milkfloat. (The owner of which was missing one blue plastic milk crate.)
It wasn’t long before the blue-black smoke coming out of the back of the car was joined by rusty grey smoke coming out of the front. Soon after, the engine cut out all together, so Barry coasted into a bus stop where a funny looking old fella was sitting, presumably, waiting for a bus.
Barry stepped out of the car and almost fell into on-coming traffic as he tripped over the shoe box still tied to his foot. He jumped to his feet and kicked off the offending cause of embarrassment. The old man was smiling.
‘What you looking at?’ Barry said, gruffly.
‘Nice car you’ve got there,’ the old man beamed from behind sunglasses. Barry noticed the man was holding a white cane.
‘Would be if she worked,’ Barry huffed.
‘What do you want for her?’ The old man continued.
Barry tried to work out how much a PSP cost plus a packet of Lambert & Butler. ‘Two hundred and fifty five quid and 68 pence,’ he said after about eight minutes.
The old man stroked his chin with thumb and forefinger, then, after a while reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a fist. ‘How about these?’
Barry walked over to the old man to take a closer look. The old man curled open his gnarled nicotine stained fingers to reveal a handful of multi-coloured beans.
‘They’re magic beans,’ the old man said. ‘Worth much, much more than two hundred and fifty quid.’
‘How much more?’ Barry’s eyes narrowed.
‘Er, about a hundred times more.’
It was Barry’s turn to stroke his chin, pondering what they might be able to afford with what was left over. ‘Okay,’ Barry said. ‘The beans and your white stick. Final offer.’
‘You’d take a blind man’s cane? You drive a hard bargain, young man.’
‘Well, you won’t need it if you’ve got a car will you?’ Barry snatched the beans and the cane out of the old man’s grasp and deposited the keys to the Capri into his empty palm. ‘Bye, Daisy,’ he said giving the Daisy one last look.
Barry sprinted back to the flat his heart pounding and burst into the living room, where Bernie was smoking a banana skin and coughing up lungfuls of phlegm.
‘About bleeding time,’ Bernie coughed. ‘I was about to smoke your trainers. How much did you get? Where’s me fags?’
Barry proudly offered his outstretched palm. ‘I got these!’
Bernie looked at the handful of beans then at the cane. ‘Pass me the cane, lad.’ He said.
His son handed it over and Bernie cracked it over his son’s head. ‘You dopey little twat.’ Berine picked up the beans and flung them out of the window then settled back down on the sofa to watch his favourite Cindy Crawford workout video.
‘Does this mean I don’t get a PSP?’ he said rubbing the top of his head.
Barry went to bed that night wondering what might of been had they kept the magic beans.
Fortunately, when Bernie threw the beans out of the window they had landed into Mrs Grogan’s window box on the floor below. There, in the dead of night, they sank into the rich, fertile compost and took root. Not before too long, the beans sprouted shoots and went spiraling far into the black starry sky.
The next morning, Barry woke with the usual hunger pangs. Bernie had pawned the sofa the previous day, so Barry had had to sleep on the floor. Still, at least they’d eaten. A bag of scraps from the chippy was mighty welcome after a week of tomatoes fished from Mrs Grogan’s window box.
It was the thought of doing a spot of tomato fishing that drew barry to the balcony. And to his astonishment, there before him was the most humungous beanstalk he had ever seen. In fact, it was the only bean stalk he had ever seen. And, to be truthful, the word ‘beanstalk’ had never even entered Barry’s head as a description for the plant now growing in Mrs Grogan’s window box. It was the biggest tree-like plant he had ever seen.
Barry craned his neck skyward and saw the beanstalk disappear into the heavy grey cloud that perpetually sat above Manchester. As you would imagine, the first thing that crossed Barry’s mind was to call the council and have the offending vegetation chopped down for blocking his view. Fortunately, his second thought was: I wonder where it goes?
Nervously, Barry stepped off the balcony and gripped the branches of the beanstalk unsure if it would hold his weight. Slowly, he lifted a foot onto the next branch.
After climbing for what seemed like hours, Barry emerged from the clouds to brilliant sunshine and what could only be described as a Wimpy Homes type castle. It had all the features of a castle: turrets, keep, ramparts, drawbridge – just in red brick with uPVC double glazed windows.
Barry tentatively dipped a toe into the fluffy grey cloud to check for a bit of resistance. Trusting that if the cloud could hold the weight of a castle, it could surely hold the weight of an eleven year old lad, he stepped out. It was like walking on a mattress. He boinged his way toward the castle. The closer he got the more he realised that this was no ordinary castle, (apart from the semi-d style brick work), it was absolutely ginormous. It was big enough for a giant.
Barry scanned the ground for something to knock on the door with. He settled on a bit of a branch, or twig, as it probably was up here. He tapped it on the palm of his hand to check for strength and swung it three times at the door. Unless the occupier was a bat, it was doubtful they would hear the tiny sound. He looked up for another means of entry. If only there was a drainpipe he could shin up to an open window. Better still, he spotted a long chain that could only be an old fashioned doorbell. He climbed up onto the metal hoop at the end and jumped up and down in an attempt to summon the owner of the house but it wouldn’t budge. So he decided to climb up the chain links to the keyhole and slither through to the other side.
Once through, he gazed upon a gigantic baronial hall with artex ceiling and a huge roaring coal-effect gas fire place adorned by gargoyles and figurines. Next to the fireplace was a reclining leather chair where an ogre the size of Nelson’s column was snoozing.
Barry tiptoed closer to get a better look at the brute when he noticed a leather purse lying on the ground. It was filled to the brim with gold coins. He tugged the purse strings closed and hauled it over his shoulder and was making his way back to the door when he heard a goose clucking away in its cage. He peered through the bars and spotted that a goose had laid a golden egg.
‘Crikey blimey,’ he said to himself. ‘Is that solid gold?’
‘24 carat,’ the goose answered.
Barry fell on his backside aghast that the bird had replied. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’ve seen it all. A talking bird.’
‘So it’s okay for me to lay pure gold eggs but not have the capacity of speech?’ The bird retorted.
‘S’pose you’ve got a point there,’ he said standing up and dusting himself down.
‘Listen,’ the bird continued. ‘If you get me out of here, I’ll help you escape. The ogre has had me locked up in here for two hundred years.’
Barry pondered the offer. ‘Can I have one of your golden eggs?’
‘You can have as many as you want. Heck, I’ll even come and live with you so long as you don’t put me in a cage.’
‘Deal.’ Barry said as he lifted the latch on the cage door.
The goose shuffled out of the cage. ‘Hop on my back, we’ll fly out through that open window over the door.’
As Barry climbed up the goose feathers he noticed something glimmering in the corner. ‘What’s that?’ he inquired.
‘I’d leave that harp well alone if I were you,’ the goose advised. ‘It’s pretty pally with the ogre.’
‘You’re having a giraffe if you think I’m leaving that behind. That’s got to be worth at least an XBox.’
‘Never mind,’ Barry said. ‘Just fly over there and I’ll grab it as we’re passing.’
‘It’s your funeral,’ the bird said flapping its wings.
Barry clung onto the bird with his left hand and reached down with his right.
The harp suddenly woke and let out a shriek. ‘Help! I’m being harpnapped!’
The ogre sat bolt upright with a start. ‘Whatthefu!’
‘Help!’ The harp screamed.
‘Can’t you fly any higher!’ Barry shouted to the goose.
‘I could if you let go of that sack of gold coins and a solid gold bleeding harp!’
The ogre jumped to his feet and ran toward the goose. ‘Fe-fi-fo-fum, look out Harpo here I come.’ The ogre launched himself into the air to grab the fleeing bird but his flailing fingers could only grasp thin air.
The goose soared up and out through the window.
‘We did it!’ Barry shouted.
Just then, the castle door swung open and the ogre came sprinting after them. ‘Come back ‘ere with my booty yer thievin’ little shite.’
‘He’s gaining on us!’ Barry panicked.
‘He’ll use your legs for toothpicks,’ the harp taunted.
Barry looked down at the Harp and began twiddling with the tuning pegs. ‘No! not the tuning pegs!’ he wailed in several octaves.
‘Quick, goosey! Head toward that beanstalk.’
‘I’ll thank you not to call me goosey. My name’s Steve.’
‘Okay… Steve. Head towards the beanstalk, then fly down and don’t stop ‘til I tell you.’
Steve did as he was told and went into a vertical beakdive as soon as he reached the beanstalk. Barry’s cheeks were covering his ears such was the g-force. He strained to look back over his shoulder only to see the ogre clambering down the beanstalk four branches at a time.
‘You’re FOR it now!’ droned the Harp.
‘Land on the balcony with the BBQ on it,’ Barry shouted through the wind.
As the bird landed Barry slid off its back and bolted into the flat. He flung the harp and the sack of gold coins into Bernie’s bedroom and began rummaging through his wardrobe. Beneath a pile of Bernie’s soiled underwear Barry found what he was looking for – the chainsaw he’d pinched from his last job at the sawmill. Not that he’d worked at the sawmill. He was burglarizing the place when he came across it and thought it might come in handy one day. And that day was today.
Barry ran back out onto the balcony only to see Steve flapping his great wings and taking off into the drizzly Manchester sky.
‘I thought you wanted to live here with me?’ Barry called after him.
‘What? Live in this shit hole. I’ll take my chances out there.’ With that, Steve soared into a rain cloud and was gone.
Barry had no time to lose. The ogre was almost on top of him. ‘Not so big now, are you!’ he shouted up at the lumbering brute whilst simultaneously pulling on the starter chord. Nothing. Barry looked the chainsaw then up at the ogre. He yanked it again. Still nothing.
‘Not so tough now, are ye, yer little slug?’ Said the ogre.
Quick as a flash, Barry leapt over the balcony onto Mrs Grogan’s below and began scooping trowelfuls of earth out of the windowbox. The more he scooped, the more the beanstalk teetered. Until finally, there wasn’t enough soil to hold it steady and it toppled down into the deserted carpark below killing the ogre instantly.
* * *
Barry and Bernie were reclining in their ‘Lazy-boys’ playing Call of Duty on their new X-Box 361 when their was a knock at the door.
‘You expecting someone?’ Barry asked his dad.
‘A couple of prozzies. But they’re not due ‘til half ten.’
Barry paused the game and looked through the spyhole. ‘Shit! It’s the rozzers!’
Bernie flicked his spliff over the balcony and brushed the ash off his shirt. ‘S’alright, son. Let ‘em in. We haven’t done owt wrong.’
Barry slowly opened the door.
‘Who wants to know?’
‘Who do you think?’ the officers said in unison.
‘If it’s about the outstanding tickets on the Capri, we sold it. It’s nowt to do with us anymore.’
‘Barry Sheehan, I’m arresting you for breaking and entering, theft, kidnap and murder. You do not have to say anything…’
‘Murder, thieving, kidnap?’ Bernie stood up protesting. ‘Just who’s he supposed to have kidnapped?’
‘HELP! I’m in here,’ yelled the Harp from the bedroom.
The two officers glanced at each other. ‘Anything you do say will be taken down and could be used as evidence against you.’
And the moral of this tale?
Just because you’re poor, and life’s served you a bowl of watery warm poodle poo, it doesn’t give you the right to pinch someone else’s gear. Even if they are a mean ugly ogre.