Jack is given a special gift from his grandfather.
|Grandpa was dying and the family was holding their breath while they waited for his last. It was whispered during the holidays, when the family got together for turkey on Thanksgiving or to sing yuletide songs in front of the Christmas tree, that Grandpa had money hidden away in various locations. When he finally kicked the bucket there would be riches raining down on them all. Until then, Grandpa kept his money to himself. ~1~
“Stingy ole fart,” Jack’s father grumbled. Jack rolled his eyes and turned back to the electronic device in his hand. He was close to making it to the next level in his game. A hand covered his screen and the tell-tale sound of his character’s life ending had him groaning in disbelief. He glared up at his father, who stood with arms crossed across his massive chest.
“Your grandfather wants to speak to you,” he grunted. “Alone.”
Jack stood and stuffed his phone into his pocket. There was a strange flutter in his belly. Gramps hadn’t asked to talk to anyone alone. He bit his bottom lip, wondering if a mound of treasure was about to be dumped into his lap. His father was practically shooting lasers from his eyes, leading Jack to believe the man was thinking the same thing.
“If he leaves you everything,” his father whispered, placing a meaty hand on his shoulder, “Just remember, your still under our authority until you’re eighteen.”
“Only six more months,” Jack said with a smirk. He regretted the smart remark when his dad squeezed his shoulder and gave him a little shake.
“Go see what the ole man wants.” ~2~
“Yes, sir.” Jack managed to keep a scowl from taking over his face and slipped into his grandfather’s room. A giant poster bed was the main feature in the room. And in it, lay Gramps. White-faced and thin, Jack couldn’t help but compare the patriarch to a skeleton. He flopped onto the oak chair next to the bed and crossed a leg over his knee.
The old man’s thin, dry lips stretched into a smile.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite grandson!”
Jack chuckled. “I’m your only grandson, Gramps.”
His grandfather’s murky blue eyes seemed to twinkle. “Which makes you all the more special. Now, I’m guessing you’re wondering why I wanted to talk to you, eh? I have something for you, Jackie.” He gestured toward a drawer in the nightstand next to the bed. Jack eyeballed it, hesitated, and leaned forward to open it. A single book was inside. A wave of disappointment flooded his heart. ~3~
“A book?” He found his lip curling in disgust. All his dreams of treasure...of escaping his father’s heavy hand and cutting words and traveling the world, were gone.
“Yes, boy. A book. People still read these days, despite all the technological gadgets, yes?”
“Of course, Gramps,” Jack sighed and pulled the book from its hiding spot. A faint sheen of dust rested on the red cover. When Jack wiped it away with his bare hand, he was able to read the title. His eyebrows shot up in the air.
“You’re giving me a book of fairy tales?” he snorted. “Gramps, you do realize I’m not a little kid anymore, right?”
Grandfather’s lips twitched in amusement. “Do you think fairy tales are just for the young?” His eyes flashed. “No, my boy. They are most certainly not. Now do your old Gramps a favor and read to me.” He closed his eyes, his face pinched and tired. ~4~
Jack cleared his throat. His first instinct was to throw the book into the drawer and stalk off in a huff. But after taking a second look at Gramps, lying so still under his heavy comforter, he sighed and flipped open the cover. He turned several blank pages before finding the first chapter. Placing his index finger along the first row of words, he began to read.
“Once upon a time, there was a sweet little girl. Everyone called her Little Red Riding Hood, because she always wore a red hood ...”
The page under Jack’s finger fluttered as if a strong gust of wind had blown. Jack frowned and looked up, searching for the fan that must be blowing across the pages. When his scan revealed nothing, he shrugged and returned to the story. ~5~
“The hood had been given to the girl by her grandmother, who loved her very much ...”
Jack found himself inwardly scoffing at such a love. In his family there was anger and fear. Love was a myth, in his mind. As his mouth worked to form the next sentence, the page gave another tug. He glanced up at his grandfather and found the old man grinning. ~6~
“What’s so funny?” Jack asked, leaving a finger on the page to mark his spot.
“It’s working!” Gramps’ voice was full of delight and awe.
“What’s working?” A twinge of worry for his grandfather had him slapping the book shut. “Gramps, are you okay?
“Perfectly,” Gramps assured him. But then the old man’s lips puckered. “Did you know you were named after me?”
Jack shrugged. “Mom said something like that, a long time ago.”
“And do you know where I got my name?” Gramps asked.
“From your father?”
Gramps’ grin widened. He reached out an arthritic hand and tapped the cover of the book. “Nope, from here.”
Jack laughed. “You were named after a character in a fairy tale?”
Gramps shook his head. “No, Jackie. I was the character in the fairy tale. Jack, from Jack and the Beanstalk.” Gramps chuckled to himself. “That always was your favorite story. Every time you came to visit you’d beg me to read you all about the giant and the golden goose ...” He trailed off, seemingly lost in the memory. ~7~
Jack stood, alarmed. “I think I should go get dad,” his voice cracked on the last word.
Gramps reached out a hand. His wrinkled fingers landed gently on Jack’s arm. “You think I’m crazy,” Gramps whispered. “You think that because I’m old and dying, that I’m losing my marbles.” His grip grew stronger. He sat up in bed and leaned closer to Jack. “Where do you think I got my fortune, Jackie?”
“Um, from w-working hard?” Jack stuttered.
“No.” Jack felt himself lost in his grandfather’s gaze. “It was from the golden goose.” He fell back against his pillows, releasing Jack from his clutches. “But after a few years the goose got old and died. I managed to put away some of the golden eggs. Hid them, as an inheritance, you know. It’ll be enough for your father and sisters. But you? I wanted you to have something better.” He pointed at the book. “All you have to do is read, Jackie. This book will take you all the places you ever wished to go.” ~8~
When Jack shook his head the old man lurched forward, grabbed the book, and thrust it into Jack’s hands.
“You saw the beginnings of it, boy. The pages moving weren’t just a figment of your imagination. Continue your story and … and you’ll find … find yourself ...”
“Gramps?” Jack hugged the book to his chest, watching in horror as his grandfather’s breath grew shallow.
“Don’t let anyone else read the book!” Gramps turned his head. “Read!”
As if in a trance, Jack opened the book and lowered his eyes to the page.
“One day Little Red Riding Hood’s mother said, ‘Here, child, take this basket to your grandmother. It’s got bread, butter, cake, and berries in it. She’s feeling sick and ...”
Jack swallowed back a lump in his throat. He refused to look up at his grandfather.
“...and I hope it will make her feel better...”
There was a knock at the door.
“Son, is everything all right in there?”
The page under his hand fluttered wildly. Jack felt himself trip over his tongue as he read faster. “...Don’t talk to strangers, don’t leave the path, and walk straight to your grandmother’s house...’”
“Stay on the path,” Gramps’ last words were a wheeze that blew over Jack. He felt the book shudder under his touch before he tumbled into the page. A whirlwind of black and white swirled like a tornado. He closed his eyes, felt a jarring thump, and heard a cry of shock. He peeked open an eye to find a girl staring at him.~9~
“Little Red Riding Hood?” he gasped.
The girl shrunk away. It looked as if she were trying to hide behind her large, wicker basket. “I’m not to talk to strangers, mama said.”
Jack found his grandfather’s book still in his hand. His grip was white as he held on to the spine for dear life. He glanced at the story of the little hooded girl and then back at the very real child in front of him. A smile slowly took over his face as he turned from the confused girl and started walking down the dirt path.
His grandfather had given him the best gift he could ever imagine. The ability to escape his father. To travel and, he glanced at the book, all the secrets he needed to create his own wealth in a world of magic.
“Thank you, Gramps,” he shouted and quickened his pace toward the adventures waiting around the bend. ~10~
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