With the constant sound of soldiers outside his window, it was hard for Peter to concentrate on his studies. His tutor, Abram, seemed to be getting even more annoyed with his lack of focus. Peter didn’t understand why he needed a tutor when most of his friends didn’t have one. After his school was closed, his parents insisted he continue his education. Currently they were learning about fairy tales, which to Peter was a waste of time. Fairy tales were for little kids and he was almost ten. “Why are all the main characters named Jack?” Peter inquired, while doodling a stick figure battling a giant in his notebook.
“Only English ones have a Jack,” Abram answered rolling his eyes, as he knew this was meant as a distraction from their lesson. “German ones have a Hans or Hansel and Jewish tales use names from the Torah.”
“Jewish folk tales are boring,” Peter whined. “They all have morals and happy endings. I like the English ones with giants better.”
“German ones have monsters and children usually get eaten,” Abram replied, opening to a rather gruesome picture in his old leather-bound Grimm book.
“Monsters aren’t real,” Peter announced in a voice that didn’t seem thoroughly convinced.
“No, I guess not,” Abram declared matter-of-factly, while looking out the window at a soldier interrogating an older woman. He reached over and shut the shade.
“Well, I like the name Jack better than Hans anyway.”
“I can call you Jack,” Abram offered, trying to appease Peter and continue on with their lesson.
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t like pretend and make believe. That is for babies,” Peter replied after briefly considering the name change.
Abram, who was only seventeen, had been staying with Peter’s family since his parents disappeared earlier that month. He felt indebted to Peter’s parents and wanted them to feel that Peter was receiving a good education. Abram saw Peter as a little brother, since he himself was an only child. They shared a room and Abram usually told Peter stories before bed.
“Peter, wake up,” Abram whispered.
“It’s not morning, already?” Peter sleepily inquired. Men’s voices in the other room answered his question. “What’s going on?”
“We need to hide,” Abram ordered with a look of panic. Peter understood the urgency and grabbed Abram’s arm.
“I know just the place, the cubby under my bed. I used to pretend it was a cave.”
“Go, quickly.” Abram could hear Peter’s parents pleading. The men’s voices were getting more agitated. Peter climbed into the space under the bed. Abram started to crawl in. “I can’t fit.”
“Yes, you can. I can move over. You can, you can.” Peter was beginning to cry. Abram tenderly held the frightened nine year-old by the shoulders.
“I’ll hide in the closet, Peter. Listen to me. If anything happens, you need to be strong.”
“Nothing will happen,” Peter whimpered.
“You need to be strong. You need to be brave like Jack in the fairy tale. I know you can.” Abram closed the door as tears began to roll freely down Peter’s face.
Jack waited in the cave. He could hear the giants outside. From the sound of it, the giants were close, real close. It sounded like three, maybe four. They were so close that Jack could smell them. Jack waited. His cave was tiny and musty. Dust seemed to be gathering around Jack’s nose. If he sneezed, he would give away his location. Jack closed his eyes and tried to muster up courage. He worried about his family and what the giants might be doing to them. Jack knew he had to be brave.
For a long time, Jack’s kingdom had lived in peace. However, a big, bad wolf had recently invaded his peaceful village. The big, bad wolf had brought large numbers of wolves and giants with him. They had kidnapped the King and Queen and had taken over the castle. Unfortunately, they seemed determined to take over the whole town. They were too powerful and had been rounding up villagers and putting them in the castle tower. There had been terrible rumors of unspeakable things happening to the town folk. Jack winced as he thought about some of his relatives, who had already been captured.
It seemed like hours had gone by since he had heard the giants, but Jack needed to be sure they were gone. He slowly peered out of his cave. Sunlight flooded his view. As his eyes adjusted, Jack could tell that this part of the village had been ruined. His family’s belongings were in shambles. Where were his parents? Where was his teacher, who was like an older brother to Jack? Jack examined what was left of his house. He picked up a tattered old book. He glanced down at a stick figure fighting a giant. If only Jack was that brave? Jack sat on the ground and pushed his knees up into his chest. Giants and wolves were too scary.
Jack decided to leave his kingdom. Many villagers had been secretly leaving. Jack’s parents had been talking to some other people in town. He had heard whispers and plans when no one thought he was listening. One of the local butchers in the next village had met with Jack’s dad several times about a possible path out to a distant land where no giants or wolves were allowed. Jack needed to talk to that butcher. How could he leave his village without being seen? His teacher had taught him an invisibility spell, but Jack hadn’t quite made it work yet. Jack looked around the room and found his teacher’s knapsack, which had a book about monsters, a slingshot and some marbles. Before leaving, Jack tried to dress like some of the other villagers who were still allowed out and about in town. He even took off the flower that he was supposed to wear when travelling. He could get into trouble without it, but he was going to be invisible, so it didn’t matter.
Jack climbed down the tree outside his window. His movements were awkward and he awoke the old willow. “Where are you going Jack?” The ancient tree inquired.
“Away from here, Tree. Things are bad here,” Jack answered as he continued to climb downward branch by branch.
“Things are bad everywhere,” the tree responded. “I’m afraid the wolves and the giants have taken over for good. Our kingdom will never be the same.”
“Well, I’m off to see the butcher. I’m hoping he can help me find a way to rescue my parents and my teacher,” Jack said with an air of defiance in his voice.
“I’m afraid there is nothing you can do to save them Jack,” the tree replied as a tear rolled down its bark.
“You need to save yourself and make your way to the Land of Freedom.”
“I can still save them. I know I can,” Jack snapped back. “You’re just an old tree, what do you know?” Deep down Jack knew that the tree always told the truth. “The butcher will help me. I’m sure of it.”
“Good luck Jack,” the tree whispered. “You will need it.”
Before Jack leapt off of the final bough of the ancient tree, he muttered his invisibility spell. He had never been able to make it work with his teacher and it didn’t work this time, either. Immediately, Jack caught the attention of a wolf marching near his family’s village. The wolf turned abruptly and began to advance. “Hey, boy!” The wolf growled. Jack didn’t hesitate and immediately began to run. The wolf looked confused. Normally a wolf would have been able to outrun Jack, but this particular wolf was wearing a uniform weighed down with some sort of weapon. He raised it and yelled, “Stop, come back here boy!” Jack continued to run out of sight and the wolf, looking around to make sure nobody witnessed it, lowered his weapon and let the boy go.
Jack stayed near the edge of the main road and, whenever he heard someone coming, zipped into the woods. The butcher was an old friend of Jack’s father and was sure to help him. Jack worried that he was too late and that the butcher had been taken too. As he got closer, he realized that things were worse than he had feared. The butcher’s shop was well guarded by giants. Jack had his teacher’s slingshot and ten magic marbles to help him. He pulled back on the slingshot and let go. The marble hit a giant right in the temple. However, this only seemed to agitate the ten-foot man.
“Hey,” roared the giant, looking around wildly. Jack used this opportunity to sneak up to the butcher’s house. He hid in the bushes as the giant continued to search for whatever had attacked him. Jack snuck in through a window and collapsed in front of the surprised butcher.
“Jack, what are you doing here? Stay down. They might see you. Where are your parents? I’ve been hearing terrible things,” the butcher wiped his hands on his apron. “Are you hungry? You look terrible. Let me get you something to eat.” As the butcher prepared a sandwich for him, Jack explained what had happened to his family. The butcher, kept shaking his head, waiting until Jack who was still sitting on the floor eating his sandwich, was done talking and then slowly said, “I think I might be able to help you.” He wrote down an address. “You need to go here. I know some folks who may be able to help you.” The butcher wrote a note, and pulled some gold coins out of his pocket. “Take these, hand over the note and half the gold. Keep the rest and be careful.”
“Do you want to come with me? The tree says things are only going to get worse.”
“I can’t go anywhere Jack. This is my home,” the butcher replied gazing out the window at the Giants.
“How will I get out of here?” Jack asked, beginning to realize that he had quite a journey ahead.
“I’ll create a distraction. You go out the back.” The butcher waited until Jack was ready and then walked out the front door with a link of sausages. “Hey giants, are you hungry?”
Jack ran the whole time. The pain he felt in his chest, was nothing compared to the growing ache he felt in his heart. Jack had to hide several times to stay out of sight of the wolves who were patrolling the area thoroughly. He arrived at the address, which was a dock. He was surprised to see a pirate ship. He slowly approached a pirate who was sharpening his hook on a stone post. “Get lost ye liver-bellied wee nip,” the pirate snapped at him. Jack handed the pirate the note.
“I am not liver-bellied,” Jack muttered, mostly to himself. The pirate was elated to hear from the butcher who had once been a member of the crew. The captain was equally thrilled to take the gold and they quickly found a livable crevice for Jack to stow away in.
It was a long, difficult journey. The pirate ship was at sea for days upon days upon days. During that time, Jack learned the way of the pirates. Being the youngest member on board, Jack seemed to get the most tedious responsibilities, like swabbing the deck. He loved every minute of it, but, like the rest of the crew, truly looked forward to a new life in a new land. The pirates were surprisingly optimistic, although they still flew the Jolly Roger with pride.
“Jack, climb to the crow’s nest. Land Ho!” the captain’s first mate yelled. Jack climbed to the top and saw the most magnificent sight, The Land of Freedom.
He also saw a giant lady out in the ocean and panicked. “They have giants too?” Jack questioned.
“That be a statue Jack! She’s sayin’ welcome to yonder land,” The first mate replied. Jack waved at the green lady and was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of relief.
“I made it,” he whispered to himself.
The boat docked and the captain went ashore, while the crew and Jack stayed on the vessel. When the captain returned, his face was grim. “New laws be in place. We are not welcome,” the captain sadly declared. “We have to go elsewhere.”
“Argh, it’s because we’re pirates,” the first mate commented. The crew reluctantly returned to their duties and the boat began to slowly pull away.
“I’m not leaving,” Jack said firmly.
“We’ll find another place Jack,” the captain assured him. “Full speed ahead,” he bellowed to the crew. Jack didn’t budge.
“No, this is where I need to be. I’ll swim if I have to,” commanded Jack with tears streaming down his face. The captain understood.
“Slow the boat! Jack here is going to walk the plank,” the captain said with a wink. Jack stepped up onto the plank like it was a diving board. He turned first and thanked the crew. “You are a brave lad, Jack! We’ll miss you!” the captain bellowed.
Jack wished them well and jumped. The coldness of the water overwhelmed him. Even though he was a fine swimmer, he began to sink. His legs kicked in a panic and his arms grasped out. Jack’s head was numb and he lost the ability to reason. He managed to come up once sputtering for air, and then he sank down again. He was convinced he was going to drown. Out of the deep blue, three angelic forms appeared. Jack thought he was dreaming. Three beautiful mermaids latched onto Jack and pulled him onto the shore. Quickly they returned to the sea, leaving Jack sprawled out, spitting water all over the place. He was wet and cold, but on land.
“Hey you, boy! How did you get here?” an immigration officer yelled to him. Peter was too tired to answer. He just lay there, freezing and soaked to the bone. “Did you jump off that boat?” Peter nodded. The man called over another officer for help, “Bring a blanket, this boy is freezing.”
“What happened to you?” the second officer asked.
Peter took a deep breath and began to explain, “Wolves took over my village. The ancient tree told me things would only get worse. I had to fight giants. The butcher sent me to the pirates. They brought me here.” The officers exchanged quizzical looks.
“That’s sounds like quite a tale,” mused the first officer.
“Let’s get you warmed up and find a place for you to stay. We’ll take good care of you,” the other officer promised. “What’s your name?”
“Jack Abram” he answered without hesitation and smiled. Jack hoped this was the beginning of his happily ever after.