Straw

A very long time ago there was a boy named Jer­ry who had mag­ic. He lived in a brown house in a brown town between a brown riv­er and a snowy grey moun­tain. No one in the town knew that the Jer­ry had mag­ic; so he was raised like most boys. When he was hun­gry he was fed brown bread and but­ter, when he tore his brown cloak it was patched with patch­es and when he was dirty he was rinsed off with a brown buck­et filled with water from the cold grey well behind his house.

Jerry’s mag­ic was sim­ple and unre­fined. A boy’s mag­ic. He could change yel­low straw into things that were not yel­low straw. Jer­ry nev­er knew what the straw would become when he changed it, but change it he did.

One day Jer­ry was watch­ing his family’s flock of wool­ly brown sheep graze among the first grey rocks of the snowy grey moun­tain. Autumn was falling and so were the brown leaves on the brown trees at the foot of the snowy grey moun­tain. He had watched the leaves turn from green to red and to yel­low as yel­low as straw. Jer­ry, sit­ting on a rock and watch­ing the sheep, was turn­ing fresh yel­low straw into things. He made a bee­tle and he made a knife and he made a wood­en harp. He had one length of straw left when one of the brown sheep bleat­ed in fright. It was being car­ried up the grey moun­tain by a man in a grey cloak and grey boots.

Jer­ry fol­lowed the grey man up the stony moun­tain and into a black cave. He had left behind the brown town and brown riv­er and was soon very lost. He sat down on the damp cave floor to rest and pulled out the wood­en harp. Sad­ly, he plucked the first string and lis­tened to the brown echoes of the note come back from many direc­tions. He plucked the sec­ond string and the note was twice as brown and had twice as many echoes. The third string he plucked was so brown it was black, and there was no echo; a note deep as the earth came rolling back instead. The black note smote Jer­ry and he stood up. He plucked the third string again and fol­lowed the black note into the cave. Each time the deep black echo died, Jer­ry would pluck the string on his wood­en harp and fol­low it again.

The black echo led him deep­er into the moun­tain until he came up against smooth and seam­less stone. Despair over­took him. In the dust on the floor he found a bit of wool. It smelled brown like his sheep. He put the bit of wool into his pock­et and found the bee­tle. Jer­ry pulled the bee­tle out of his pock­et where it had been sleep­ing. It stretched its wings and flew out of his hand. Jer­ry was all alone. Even the sound of the beetle’s wings fad­ed into black. He slept.

Lat­er, he heard the faint wings of the bee­tle once more. How­ev­er, this time they were on the oth­er side of the smooth wall. Jer­ry cried out and hit the wall. It shud­dered and opened into a dim­ly lit room with a brown sheep and a man in grey cloak and boots in the cen­ter. Jer­ry ran toward his sheep but the man held up a grey gloved hand.

No,’ the grey said. ‘Ran­som.’

Brown brought out the knife and offered it to grey.

A weapon is no kind of ran­som.’

Brown cut his hand with the knife and offered red to grey.

Blood is use­less as ran­som.’

Brown brought out yel­low straw and changed it.

Into to yel­low straw.

Grey smiled and took the changed yel­low.

Your gift is ran­som. You may go.’

Jer­ry grabbed his brown sheep, wrapped it in his brown cloak and left the room. No soon­er had he tak­en a step into the black cave, he saw the exit to the snowy grey moun­tain. Jer­ry climbed down toward his brown house in the brown town between the brown riv­er and the snowy grey moun­tain and the brown sheep went back to graz­ing. And Jer­ry could only change yel­low into yel­low ever after.