Jacked-up Beansprout

I went to see a man by the name of Jack about a new bean crop. As an experienced officer in His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Magically Modified Crops, I like to arrive unannounced and catch people by surprise, but my bicycle has a squeaky wheel so Mr Jack heard me coming.

“Should have walked the last bit,” my talking hamster said from my shoulder.

I miss the days when I rode a talking horse.

“Can I help you, Mister?” Jack said, doing all those annoying yokel things, chewing on a piece of straw, leaning on a pitchfork and mopping his brow with a very grubby kerchief, against a background of a field of gently wafting wheat. Honestly, you have to watch these rural folks carefully because all of that stuff is just to distract the unwary Royal Inspector – that pitchfork could do me a lot of damage if Mr Jack was trying to hide illicit magical modification.

“I am Inspector Aculeos and I received reports of a magically modified bean, Mr Jack.”

“It’s Just Jack, Mister. No Mr at all.” He gave his straw a contemplative chew which convinced me that I was dealing with a sharp and dangerous character. “Don’t you fellas normally ride a talking horse?”

“Cut-backs,” I told him.

In my grandfather’s day, it was a winged chariot, but there were so many problems. I remember, when I was growing up, grandfather complaining about the feed shortages for the chariots and the child-tax, because one medium-sized chariot could eat three kids a month. That’s why they moved to unicorns in my father’s day, which was another poor choice. There was apparently no problem in finding young women who wanted to be unicorn wranglers, but then there was a sudden surge in the number of handsome young princes and before you know it the unicorn wranglers have been swept off their feet and the recruitment process has to start all over again.

Unicorns can turn nasty without an appropriate young woman to look after them.

“So, you’ll be wanting to see the beanstalk,” Jack said, shifting his weight off the pitchfork.

I tried not to tense up, and keep light on my feet, because these country-types can hurl a pitchfork with blinding speed and accuracy. Instead he propped it against a bush, causing a faint tinkle of magical bell-flowers. It’s best to overlook that sort of thing with a pitchfork still so close to hand.

“So it’s just the one beanstalk?”

“Yeah, yeah, Mister. I thought I’d start small. This way.”

I followed him on a winding track through fields of corn, perfectly ordinary corn, not the gold stuff that crashed the economy three years ago and led to the talking horses being phased out in favour of talking hamsters and a bicycle. The path brought us into the shade of a looming tree.

“Here it is, Mister.” Jack showed me his beanstalk, which honestly looked like a sickly carrot, growing in the shadow. “Not bad, eh?”

I stared at the carrotish bean sprout. “Seriously?”

“What?” Jack shook his head. “Sorry, fella, that’s just my rabbit who keeps planting carrots. I tell him they needs sunshine, but he keeps on putting them under here.” Jack pointed up. “Just look at them beans.”

I looked, up, and felt a chill in my bones. The beanstalk tree was tall, very tall, and hung with maturing seed pods as long as my arm, heavy enough to cause harm if they fell.

“How do you harvest?” I asked, picturing a man in armour.

“Work in progress, Mister,” Jack said. “Probably have to use a pitchfork.”

“Right. Of course. So what do these beans do? What’s the advantage over ordinary beans?”

“Glad you asked that, Mister, glad you asked. Just look at the size of them, right? One pod will feed a family for a day, but when they’re ripe, one bean will feed a family for a week.”

“What happens if a bean falls?” From the look of them, one bean dropping from the top of the beanstalk, or tree as I like to call it, would kill a whole family instantly.

“That’s not a problem, Mister. They just float down, soft as you like, with a bit of magic, or float away sometimes, which is where the pitchfork comes in handy.”

That, as we say in the business, is a problem. “Wait, you mean these are magic beans. Not just magically modified?”

“You got it, fella. Proper magic beans.”

“That people are supposed to eat?”

“Yeah, yeah, a bit of magic in every bite. It will put hairs on your chest.”

That’s the sort of thing I was afraid of. “Is it safe?”

Frankly, magically modified crops can have all sorts of surprising consequences, but actual magical crops are like the Wild West, which is far less wild now that all of those Handsome Princes have settled out that way with their former unicorn-wrangler princesses. It turns out that witches’ curses are a big concern in Royal circles, so they have field after field of dwarf ogre bushes since finely ground baby ogre bones are excellent for warding off curses, and fully grown dwarf ogres are both very loyal and excellent at law-enforcement.

For those of us in the know, there are problems ahead, because one day the dwarf ogres will notice how many young dwarf ogres are picked from the bush far too young and ground up to ward off curses. It will be just like the old High Kings of West Loathing who worked out how to bottle trouble in great glass jars and have an easy life, until that pesky earthquake.

Jack gave me a joyful smile. “Fella, I’ve been eating magic since I were a kid. Look at me now.” He opened his shirt to reveal a jungle of hair. “My dear widdered mother knits a new doormat from that every month. Fetch a pretty penny, they do. Jack’s Widdered Mother’s Famous Doormat. Nice little earner, fella. Magic just sucks the dirt off yer boots.”

“Mister Jack…” I hesitated as he gave me a look that said he could fetch his pitchfork in no time. “I mean Just Jack… do you have a magic licence?”

“Me? Course I do, Mister.” He delved back inside his shirt and pulled out a battered scroll. “Here you go, fella, magic licence.”

I unrolled it.

“Jack, heretofore known as Just Jack, is hereby licensed and approved in the use, manipulation, promulgation and baking of magic in all crops, livestock, dairy products and other foodstuffs, by order of His Majesty’s Expectorate of Magical Practitioners.”

I examined the watermark, which sloshed exactly the way it’s supposed to, and the King’s Seal clapped its flippers before diving into the watermark exactly right, but it ought to say His Majesty’s Inspectorate, not Expectorate. So, it might be a fake, or it might be that the scribe was having an off-day.

I handed the licence back. “That’s fine.” Because one way of dealing with an inspector who spots a fake licence involves blinding speed and accuracy with a pitchfork. “How many beans are you expecting to produce?”

“Ah, now there I’ve got a problem, fella.” He nudged the bean tree a couple of times with his shoulder and half a bone dropped out of the air. A very human-looking leg bone in fact.

“HEY!” A thunderous shout echoed overhead. “Stop shaking the beanstalk. I’m trying to make my bread.”

Jack pointed up. “I’ve got a giant infestation. If I can’t get that sorted, I could lose the whole crop. When they can’t find people to eat they start on the beans.”

All giant infestations have to be reported, and then exterminated, which might shut Jack’s farm down completely. Or burn it down, depending on how bad the problem is.

“I can ask the new pest-control department to take a look,” I offered, my mind on getting away without pitchfork interaction. “They’ve got all sorts of new methods for getting rid of giant infestations.” Mostly, now, they use dragons, which are faster and hotter than traditional burning techniques. “Would that help?”

Just Jack gave me a huge smile. “Thanks fella. Say, could I interest you in a flying pitchfork? Better than that old bicycle of yours.”

“Flying pitchfork?” Flying towards me, perhaps? “I thought it was broomsticks.”

“Too many associations with witches, fella. Flying pitchforks are the thing, you just gotta be careful reversing.”

I was more certain than ever that Jack, like his pitchfork, was a sharp and dangerous character.

“Are they cheap to run?”

“Dead cheap.”

“Oh. Excellent. The Chief Inspector will drop by next week.” With backup, and dragons, and pitchfork-resistant armour. “He’s always looking for new opportunities. You could join the Inspectorate’s preferred supplier list.” Or, more likely, our recently detained list.

I bade farewell to Just Jack, after buying a new doormat from his mother, and pedalled as fast as my squeaky bicycle would go, only finally feeling safe when I was away from the growing shadow of the beanstalk tree.

Just as I like to arrive unannounced and catch people by surprise, I like to leave in a hurry before people can catch me by surprise. A whole fleet of flying pitchforks might be just what the Inspectorate needs if we can sort out traffic-safety during reversing.

My talking hamster whispered in my ear.

“Next job, is a man called Cousin Jack with a goose that lays golden eggs.”

Oh, please, not more gold. It was bad enough when it grew on trees.

# # #

This was inspired by the November #BlogBattle prompt of Cultivate, because it was the wrong time of year to talk about what’s growing in the greenhouse.

Images from pixabay,com.


18 thoughts on “Jacked-up Beansprout”

  1. This put me in mind of a Goodies episode where a similar magic bean created a beanstalk of myth and said gold egg laying goose. Another rich tapestry of mirth and doormats Mark.

    That said if the orating hamster continues how about running the bike via a gyroscopic hamster wheel. I know not if they sweat, but with a slight dab of magic it could be done to drip upon the wheel as a squeak silencing lubricant.

    Perhaps one of those annoying reversing klaxons on the pitch fork brooms too. You know the ones, specially designed to function loudly at about 6am when council bins are emptied just before they cause road mayhem by blocking rush hour road systems.


    1. I still have a smile at the mention of that mysterious Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump. 🙂
      (And, amazingly, I have actually eaten black pudding.)

      I do have plans for pitchfork safety, and plans are afoot for mass-formation flights, maintaining safe tine distances, accompanied by a loud rendition of that operatic favourite, The Flight Of The Gooseberries.
      Provided, of course, that I can stop the hamsters from stuffing their cheeks with the fruit.
      As they say, watch this airspace.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Almost forgotten the Ecky Thump one… although I do recall their take on Gunfight at the OK Corral with tomato ketchup!

        Good to see you have a Ministry of Safety working in the background too haha

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think that the sort of stuff I watched/read when I was younger, and then the influence of working in hierarchical organisations has given me a very cynical outlook that means things like a dubious Ministry of Safety naturally emerges in my writing. I like to think of it as working at the cutting edge of sarcasm. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Same page Mark. Working under an idiot in a managerial position certainly taints one’s outlook. Three steps to kill a successful business. 1. Hard worker starts and builds it up from nothing. 2. Next phase CEO reaps rewards but won’t employ anyone in leadership cleverer than them. 3. The idiot arrives and destroys all that went before. Three passages of CEO and many smaller businesses are in deep doodah

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I think I joined my second employer at something like stage 3. The company was successful and the management team attracted investors with promise of 10% year-on-year growth, which sounded amazing, but so far as my science-and-programming oriented brain can understand, this was achieved by not wasting money on development or innovation, and doing nothing to prepare for the possibilities that the good times might stop rolling.
              The company does still exist, but after 9/11 it was a close-run thing as the good times ground to a halt. Oddly enough, my next employer was in risk management and flourished post-9/11. They also had this weird philosophy of hiring really bright people and giving them the opportunity to rise.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Hiring bright people? A most unusual tactic these days. Are you certain 😂

                I was following up to the wasting money on development and/or innovation… that part seems much more familiar. My local pub decided not paying for beer so the brewery stopped delivering was a really good tactic. Then employ folk on no wages to claim everything’s going swimmingly. And there was me almost buying into improving educational standards 🤔

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Bright people… after I got the job I got into a conversation with the guy who hired me. The “policy” was either a 1st from Cambridge/Oxford or a PhD, and then fire anyone who didn’t measure up during the six month probationary period. In the time I only saw that happen once, a couple of months after the guy started, which reinforced the boss’s comment that the six month point was irrelevant because anyone not up to the job would be long gone by then.

                  Some years later there was also the conversation about the problem with hiring bright people – a chunk of the job was to keep the system running, which was boring but too complex for easy automation, but bored bright people tend to leave.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Seen that last bit in action. Bright folk need constant challenges to test their brains. Boredom settles way too quick for the mundane. They also don’t suffer idiots in charge too. Might be why bright people don’t enter politics haha… which is a shame as they are the ones that find solutions rather than gibberish jabber about problems or how crap the opposition is 🤔

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. One of my experiences of working for the scientific civil service was watching very smart people applying themselves to circumventing the system to get the job done. A large part of the reason I left was boredom as yet another year rolled around and my job was basically “repeat the analysis you did last year but with these new parameters”. The first year or two is fun and challenging, but after that it’s some very high-tech handle-turning and my inclination is to be designing the next handle, not turning the old one.

                      In the last job, the two main departures that I recall were both to go off and do something more interesting – one made a move into scientific computational software, and the other (my partner in crime for the first 12 months I was there) decided to follow up on his love of flying and become an air-safety inspector as well as building his own aircraft. 🙂

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. The bane of the intelligent. Fun at first then the challenge becomes repetitive. I did science to push boundaries, solve problems and go where no scientist had before. Alas many setups chase cash with management systems unable to consider a multi disciplinary approach. I recall a chemist professor and physics on talking about red and blue shift. Both subjects used different words describing the effect. I sat and listened until my brain was about to explode before pointing out the words might be different but you are both talking about exactly the same effect. Drop the nomenclature purism and just say red or blue shift when you are in the same room.

                      Alas that sort of behaviour along with must chase grant research at all cost while publishing the same things with a tweak in dilution meant I was destined to end up with a mind that was rusting. Shame really as I do find science tremendously fascinating. Just not the intellectual property barriers that mean 10 groups are all working on reinventing the wheel but sworn to secrecy rather than share information sensibly.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. It all makes me very grateful that my partner and I made some brilliant (ok, totally accidental) financial decisions over the last 25+ years that meant we’ve been able to do this downsize/retirement thing. I get to pursue things that interest me (as well as errant livestock in the wrong field 🙂 ) and have no management to answer to.
                      (All provided that I don’t want to pursue anything expensive because that early retirement package of ours is liveable not luxury.)

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. The topic of magically modified beans made me think not only of Jack and his beanstalk, but of your previous story when they were used for time travel. Sure are lots of uses for beans! The narrator’s recurring concern about rural folk and their pitchforks had a ring of truth that was quite amusing, and the talking hamster was an unorthodox touch. I was glad he came into the story again at the end, because somewhere in the middle I did start to wonder why he wasn’t saying anything else. Maybe he’s even more wary of pitchforks. Jack’s comment about working out the details in his bean management reminded me of the joke about a fellow that saw a chicken outrun the car he was driving. He followed the chicken to the farm, and the farmer told him his chickens were so fast because he’d bred them to have three legs – since people like to eat drumsticks. When the traveler asked how they tasted, the farmer replied he didn’t know because he hadn’t been able to catch one yet (you’ve probably already heard that one). The whole giant infestation was a nice touch!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t really register the repeating beans until after I wrote it, but since beans have a reputation for repeating, I suppose it’s OK. 🙂

      The hamster… I can see so much potential in the hamster if I ever turn this into a bigger story.

      The high-speed three-legged chicken… 😂
      Although it has to be said that even ordinary chickens are pretty fast, unless our peculiar mongrel birds are unusual. Some of them have been known to indulge in properly-airborne long-distance flight, rather than wing-assisted leaps.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a witty, clever and donwright funny trip, living up part of a familiar tale.
    The landscape was so full of imagery, asides and little gems it reminded me of reading MAD in my youth back in the early 1960s when Jack Davis, Will Edler and Mort Drucker filled up their cartoon panels with so much mirth.
    The idea of Jack supplying hair for his mother to knit door mats along with the watermark & royal seal were brilliant.
    Thanks for the chuckles.

    Liked by 1 person

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