Excerpt from a New Story – ‘Jacob’s Giant’

“My grandfather, Jacob, learned an old fairy tale [circa 1060]  when he was a child in the late 1800’s. He told it to me over and over when I was a young Montana boy in the 1960’s. I’ve expanded his story into three novels. Book I is set in a time—long, long ago—when horses were the only means of ground transportation, other than your feet.

“One autumn evening in the mountains a ten-year-old boy, all alone, is cutting firewood for his family in a place called the Dark Forest. He is loading it into his father’s big farm wagon pulled by a team of Belgian draft horses named Duke and Dok. His plan is to sleep under the wagon tonight with his dog, Baldur, finish by noon tomorrow, and then return home. But something unexpected is about to happen that will delay his plans, not to mention change his life forever. Here follows a passage from the upcoming novel for young—and old—readers, alike.” JPS

Chapter 13

Better Left Unknown

Finally the woodcutter was ready to make firewood. He thought to get a good start on it this evening and then finish the job in the morning. With steel saw in hand he set to work cutting the small end of the first log. All other sounds receded behind the rhythmic, ‘whoo-haa . . . whoo-haa . . . whoo-haa’ of the shiny tool biting into the dry timber.

Resinous piles of sawdust, which smelled wonderfully fresh, marked the ground where each piece had been sawn off. In practically no time the first layer of firewood covered the wagon’s floor. Jacob enjoyed getting so much work done. He felt that his strength was enormous — that he could saw forever — and now attacked the larger cuts, thinking…

…At this rate, I’ll be done and heading down the mountain before noon the morrow. Won’t Papa be impressed?

He soon discovered that cutting through each of these bigger rounds took a lot longer than the smaller ends, and it tired him out much faster. While stopping for a breather he noticed his hunger nagging so he slipped his hand into his coat pocket for the packet of kiss-nip, but did not get a chance to bring it out. For suddenly, a remarkably loud snapping noise shattered the evening’s quiet.

Jacob spun quickly to his left, staring into the trees near the Foxfire roots — from where he thought the sound had come. He expected to see a big stag or maybe a bear. No large animals though; only rank upon rank of shadowy, tall trees, which reminded him of a disorganized army of gigantic soldiers marching off into the distance.

“That was odd,” he commented to the horses. “I’m sure I heard something.” He looked to his dog, who stood staring, bristling, and growling at the westward trees, pulling at his short rope. “Looks like you heard it too, Baldur.”

While glancing at Duke and Dok he observed how alert they had become. Most noticeably they were staring in the exact same direction as he and Baldur. They had stopped eating, their heads were held high, their eyes opened wide, their ears perked straight up. It is always smart to pay attention to horses’ warnings; they commonly sense that something is amiss before people do.

“What’s wrong boys, what is it?” he asked the fidgeting horses, forgetting about his hunger. “It could be a wild boar hiding under the roots. I might have woken him up when I was down there. If it is, I’ve got the razor-sharp axe in the back of the wagon to defend us with.”

Storm clouds had been brewing for the past hour and were now gathering thickly overhead. The lack of sunlight made it hard for him to see very clearly into the forest. An echoing peal of thunder captured his attention. Focusing his eyes upwards, and thinking he might need to find cover under the wagon if the clouds let loose, he nervously got back to the work at hand and lined up the tardy saw for another bite into the thick log. Just as he was about to push forward, ‘CRACK’ — there it was again — and not thunder, either. Now the horses started snorting; a sure caution. Baldur barked louder than ever.

Jacob’s pupils dilated as he stared in utter disbelief at what was revealed amidst the shaded trees. He softly rubbed his eyelids and craned his neck forward. Focusing as intently as he could beyond the Foxfire roots he whispered, “Oh my gosh!” His strength failed him at the sight. The forgotten saw slipped from his hand to the ground. “Sproing! Clunk!”

There is no mistaking a giant. Even the largest human is dwarfed in comparison. This one was dreadfully near and staring directly at him, displaying a gap-toothed grin behind parted lips. It appeared to be at least twelve feet tall and must have weighed well over forty stein[1] (nearly a thousand pounds).

An old saying, perhaps from Grampa’s horde of proverbs, slipped into Jacob’s mind…

…“Woe to the unfortunate one who strays into the realm of a giant. Few have returned to share the tale.”

Here was mountain magic he had never before witnessed, had never even dreamed of. To say he was stunned would be understating the depth of his surprise. This could not be happening! He was pretty sure that giants were supposed to be extinct. It seemed the ‘Professor’—that was Grandpa Gregor’s nickname for Jacob—it seemed the ‘Professor’ did not quite know everything, not just yet. Whether he wanted to or not, he was about to learn some things better left unknown.

The giant took another step sideways from behind the massive oak tree where it had been hiding. It was close enough for Jacob to make out the tattered, darkly-stained, coarsely-woven sackcloth[2] it wore for clothes. Those rustic garments covered all but its head and a huge pair of muscular, hairy arms, which looked poised for anything. He immediately thought of the scary ‘Belzenickl’ Yule-goblin that Grandpa described in his fireside tales. Only bigger, way bigger!

Knotted around its barrel-sized waist, a frayed rope held up loosely-fitting trousers and a knife. Enormous muddy boots, possibly made from some kind of tough plant fiber, were woven about its feet. The soles looked to be thick wooden slabs. A humongous rucksack, constructed of the same fiber, hung from a shoulder. It was absolutely, without a doubt, the shabbiest, foulest-dressed, two-legged creature he had ever seen.

The inconceivable situation forced Jacob to forget all about his dog, even though he barked nonstop. His mind was running furiously but getting him nowhere. In less than one second he thought…

…Should I yell? There’s no one to hear me this far up in the mountains.

…I could grab the axe. It’s still in the back of the wagon. But I don’t want to be close enough to take a swing at that horrid beast.

…Where can I hide? I’m out in the open, and I’ve already been seen.

It seemed the day’s good luck had deserted the young woodcutter. For the boy who typically had an answer to every question, Jacob had none for this one. Abject fear slowed his thinking to a standstill. Thought would not solve this problem, action offered the only solution. Fight — not being an option — left flight, and it took hold. Pivoting on his right foot he shot off like a rabbit with a hound on its fluffy tail, speeding right passed the wagon into the chest-high stalks of the grassy meadow as fast as his pumping legs would take him. The trees on the far edge became his target.

But a twelve foot giant takes long strides, and a short-legged boy of ten cannot stay ahead very long. He could hear the dreadful sounds of his pursuer crashing through the forest. Duke and Dok were trumpeting loudly, stomping in fear and panic, unable to run with hobbles fastened around their front legs. The beastly creature left them alone, for now. Baldur barked continually, his yaps and growls nearly lost in the commotion, suddenly reminding Jacob that he had forgotten all about his dog. That he had tied his loyal companion to the wagon, who consequently had no means of escape. Nothing could be done about that now. Jacob’s instincts demanded that he save his own skin first.

At the far edge of the meadow the sprinter spotted what he hoped would be the perfect pine tree; too narrow for the giant to climb but thick enough that it could not be forced over. Jacob was well-practiced at climbing, however, this would not be a leisurely scale up an apple tree at home. The one he was making a beeline for was covered in spindly, dried-out branches near the ground, which were apt to scratch deeply or poke an eye out. Higher up were sturdier looking green-needled limbs that could be used for climbing, then sitting. He vaguely hoped to perch near the top, then wait until the giant got bored and left. But this giant would not easily become bored, nor would it leave — not without its prize.

Monstrous footfalls thumped the earth directly behind him. Harsh breathing, louder than his own, energized his pace even more. Regrettably he could not maintain his lead, a lead that diminished with each stride. He was way too afraid to turn his head and look.

If fortune favored him, in a few more seconds he would be eight feet up that tree. Then he could scramble to the top, quick as a black squirrel. But he did not quite have the time nor get the chance. Just as he was about to leap, a huge filthy hand grabbed from behind and lifted him off his feet. His legs were still running but pushing only air.

The giant stopped in its tracks and turned the boy to get a good look at his face while clamping his arms tightly against his jacket. “What  be  this,  hmmm?” it muttered. Jacob had never heard a voice so course, so guttural. It sent a strong shiver that tingled down his spine, from the back of his head to the very bottom of his heels.

The reek of its breath was as bad a stink as Jacob could remember, yet he was unable to look away. Immediately he recognized the odor; the same foul smell he had noticed earlier while standing alongside the Foxfire roots. It had to have come from this giant, who must have been near, alarmingly near.

In an instant its facial features were permanently etched into Jacob’s memory, in vivid detail. Enormous, bushy eyebrows — one of which had flakes of tree bark and a chunk of gray-green lichen ensnared within — shaded deep-set eyes that Jacob could not read into. Eyes as large as Duke’s or Dok’s. Long, mangy, charcoal-tinted hair framed its squat face. Bits of rubbish were matted in. Several dark skin spots — or was it filth? — dotted its forehead, barely visible under tangled tresses.

A wart grew on the bridge of its beet-red nose, was dripping wet and caked with . . . boogers. Cracked and scaly lips revealed jaggedly worn teeth of a yellowish hue, several with chipped corners. And how dirty! It could not have washed in months, if ever. Never had Jacob encountered such an unsightly brute. He twisted and squirmed but it was of little use.

The giant squeezed its prize a little tighter, a squeeze that produced a high-pitched squeak from the captive’s lips. It rotated its head, focusing one shrouded eyeball on him, then its other. Mumbling indistinctly it looked off into the woods, perhaps debating what it would do next.

Jacob stared back, asking himself…

…Why is it hesitating? Is it trying to scare me to death? If you’re going to eat me, just do it!

When he could not stand another second of being ogled he found his voice and bravely forced out three stern words; “LET – ME – GO!”

“Haarg.  No!” gurgled his captor. “U’re  comin’  wits  me.” And at that, the giant seemed to have made up its mind. Wedged in the crook of a smelly, bristly arm Jacob was carried off at a brisk pace into the Dark Forest. They dodged around trees but crashed right through clumps of bushes, destined for a faraway place whose location was unknown to this hostage.

Horrified at being captured by a giant, Jacob’s mind searched how this could have happened…

…Maybe it toppled those two trees back on the road to trap someone. Well, if so, it sure worked. It trapped me!

He was getting scratched and stabbed by the brambles and hawthorns, sometimes deeply enough to draw blood. It made him grimace and utter, “Oooh! Ouch!” On top of that, the dark clouds had opened up and began delivering a downpour. Rainwater dripped off his nose, his chin, his ear lobes. Baldur’s protestations faded in the distance.

Feeling sorely pinched in the behemoth’s mighty hold, and being jerked up and down with every jarring stride, Jacob was aching, nearly in a swoon. He ceased struggling to free himself. It was useless to try and only pinched as hard somewhere else. Instead, he focused on memorizing landmarks as his tormentor bushwhacked through the forest. If ever he escaped, he would need to find his way back. Unfortunately, the dense undergrowth provided nothing notable to remember. Completely frustrated, he gave up trying, lamenting…

…Hansel and Gretel marked their path but I can’t.

Having no other choice, Jacob resigned himself to the present circumstance. Slowly his mind began dismissing the pain. In due course it wandered back to his home and family…

…He pictured their moss-covered stone cottage, a wisp of wood smoke curling above the chimney.

…He smelled the scent of freshly-tanned leather in the cobbler’s shop, the sounds of a tapping hammer, the whetting of steel.

…There was the corral where Duke and Dok munched hay from the manger, swishing their long blond tails. Baldur came running up to greet him, his one good eye so bright.

…His younger brothers, Ambros and Josef, and his little sisters, Katrin and Baby Tresa, whom he loved to play and laugh with; all four appeared.

…His wise Grampa who teased him so often, and his sweet Gramma who cooked such delicious treats — especially at birthdays and Christmas and Easter — they were both smiling at him.

…And how he needed his strong Papa, and longed to hug his gentle Momma!

He loved them all so dearly and now, he would never see them again. A sob arose in his throat. Instantly he swallowed his self-pity, warning himself…

…Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Jacob! You’re not eaten yet. But you’re captured. You’ve got to think of a way to escape.

[1] Old weight measurement:  One stein (stone) equals approx. 22 pounds.

[2] Unbleached burlap material; usually jute.