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.

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