Let Me Tell You a Story

Submitted into Contest #88 in response to: Write about an author famous for their fairy tale retellings.... view prompt

4 comments

Crime Suspense

I lay motionless on the firm and cold mattress staring up at the spotted ceiling. It was a revolting sight, full of mould and water-marks, a small crack near the far corner letting a few droplets of water seep through and hit the ground with a small plop! The foul and musty air would occasionally suffocate me, leading to an unpleasant coughing fit, and the lack of sunlight within the room was weakening.  

I rolled over and sighed, squeezing my eyes shut in despair. 

Though I had gotten used to the gloomy cell over the past few weeks, I could still feel my back ache in discomfort as the hairs on my arms stood up straight in the cold air. 

I thought back to home, then to my warm bed, and finally, to my beautiful wife, wishing I could somehow leave this place behind and safely return to them as if it were all a terrible nightmare. However, upon reopening my eyes, as always, I was met with the same metal bars and the same loathsome space.  

“Let me tell you a story,” I heard a feeble voice mumble from the other side of the room. 

I slowly rolled over to face the older man who leant up against the stone wall with a lit cigarette between his fingers. His dirty, orange jumpsuit hung loosely upon his frail frame and his lip twitched occasionally, revealing a set of stained and missing teeth.     

“Shut up, ol’ man!” Yelled a deeper voice from the mattress beneath me, but he continued nonetheless. 

“Once upon a time, there were three little pigs…”





Jack was a peculiar man. 

He had a head full of grey matted hair and a circular glass eye that seemed to be constantly penetrating your soul. He had always prided himself on this fact, often comparing himself to the old man from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ (despite this character’s tragic and final fate).

Nobody seemed to know how long he had been here nor did they know his crimes.

When I had first asked him, he had told me that he was in for impaired driving. Then, the story had changed to drugs. The third time, he had told me it was for assault.  

The guards said he was delusional and the inmates thought him mad. 

I didn’t know what to think of it all, just that he had a vivid imagination and a visible obsession with storytelling. 

He seemed to adore the classics: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, The Emperor's New Clothes... but his retellings were never quite accurate. 

As he had already explained, according to himself, Rapunzel’s hair was merely a wig used to lure the prince into the tower so that she could cut out his heart for a dark ritual; or rather, the seven dwarfs had used Snow White to steal her step-mother’s riches before murdering the young accomplice who had witnessed the scheme.  





“Hey, ol’ man, that’s not how the story goes!” Grumbled Eddie, our cellmate, “The pigs don’t get murdered in the end and the wolf doesn’t hang himself in guilt!”

“Jack!” I heard a guard call out from the other side of the bars “Keep it down!”

The old man flinched instantly and grumbled, repositioning himself on his mattress. 

He turned to face the wall and began mumbling some incomprehensible nonsense, as Eddie had called it, but I did not bother to further listen, knowing that this was one of his many curious habits.   

Instead, I returned to my original position, facing the ceiling, and sighed, hoping to gain some rest. 


***


The next morning, during our outdoor block, I walked carelessly through the small grassy field, kicking up dirt as I went. 

Though the warm sun was high in the sky and the birds were singing joyfully in the trees, I felt an overwhelming sense of darkness overtake me.  

‘I should be at home right now playing catch with my son in the park.’ I thought to myself in disappointment with a clenched fist as I remembered my precious child. ‘What’ll he think of me? All locked up and chained behind bars.’ 

I scowled in shame, shaking my head as I continued to walk steadily.

Suddenly, a familiar voice pulled me out of my profuse thoughts and I turned rapidly to see Jack who was sitting alone on an old wooden bench. 

“Got a lighter?” He asked, squinting his eyes in the sunlight.  

I shook my head but approached him nonetheless, taking a seat by his side. 

I felt a cool, refreshing breeze hit my face and took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the crisp air.

“Where do you come up with all of your stories?” I suddenly asked, having thought over the question for days.  

Jack only chuckled and shrugged, tapping his head with a finger before leaning back on the fence. “I used to write…” He trailed off without further elaboration. 

I smiled at the thought and picked up a stick, fiddling with its loose bark. 

“Your stories...they kind of remind me of my childhood.” I commented, then beginning to trace circles in the gravel, “Thought not as, y’know, grim.” I chuckled, turning back to the man who seemed to be staring off into the distance.  

He made no comment, leaving us in a comfortable silence.     

“Let me tell you a story,” He began, suddenly perking up after a few minutes.

I nodded and sat back, listening attentively. 

“Once upon a time, there was a prince who wanted to marry a real princess. However, when a young woman appeared one stormy night seeking shelter, nobody believed that she possessed any royal blood. So, when it was time for bed, the queen stacked twenty mattresses on top of each other and underneath them, she placed–”

“A pea!” I exclaimed, quite familiar with the tale. 

“Oh no, no, no.” He chuckled in response, shaking his head “You see, the family had inherited a curse that they were determined to lift. However, to do so, they had to obtain a pure soul. And so, they took a little bomb and they placed it carefully under those mattresses.”

I was perplexed. “That sounds...cruel.”

“They say I have a dark mind.” Laughed the man hysterically “They call me mad!” He exclaimed, shaking his head vigorously. 

I remained silent, watching as a group of men gathered together for a match of football in the distance.

“Y’know, you remind me of my son.” Began Jack, swiftly changing the topic.

“You have a son?” I exclaimed in surprise, having never considered the man’s personal life.  

“Oh yes, and a beautiful granddaughter too.” He smiled fondly.

I opened my mouth to add more, but the loud and irksome bell suddenly rang and we were soon separated by the heavy crowd on our way inside. 


***


That night, as I slept in an uncomfortable slumber, a sudden noise awoke me and I shot up instantly, my heart racing rapidly.  

“Get off me!” I heard Eddie yell in a panic. 

I immediately turned to Jack's mattress but saw that it was vacant, only a few sheets of shrivelled paper scattered upon it. 

I could hear grunting and yells from below, the occasional fist or leg appearing within my vision, but I did not dare get involved.

So, I sat still with my legs pulled up to my chest in the far corner of my mattress, praying for the conflict to soon be over. 

It vaguely reminded me of a distant incident from my childhood when my parents had viciously fought, hurling curses and insults at the other in a wild hysteria of rage.   

The memory only heightened my anxiety and my heart continued to pound rapidly.  

Other inmates soon began to complain as well, banging on the metal bars or yelling out in anger, urging us to keep it down. 

I then heard loud and rapid footsteps approach the cell before a pair of large guards entered the room, struggling to restrain Jack. 

In a rapid instant, he was brutally pushed to the ground and then cuffed.

I watched in horror as they lifted him back to his feet and rapidly dragged him away despite his fierce resistance. 

“I just wanted a pen!” He yelled repeatedly, kicking viciously at the guards.

“Solitary confinement.” I heard one of the officers mumble to the other just as they were leaving the cell, my heart aching in pity for the old man. 

The incident was over almost as fast as it had started, the inmates gradually calming down as I returned to my original position, listening to the low shuffling below me.   

“Eddie?” I called out to my cellmate after a few minutes of silence. 

He grunted in acknowledgement.

“What happened?” I wondered, staring back up at the ceiling. 

“The bastard jumped me in my sleep.” He mumbled in obvious resentment. 

There were a few more moments of silence.

“When’s Jack getting out of here?” I then asked suddenly. 

The other man chuckled. “Who knows…” He trailed off quietly. 

I sighed but didn’t pursue any further, knowing that with Jack, nobody could ever tell. 


***


Jack didn’t return for two days, but he seemed rather distraught when he reentered our cell that late afternoon.

Once the guards had departed, I cautiously approached the man who was trembling lightly on his mattress, his skin appearing unusually pale.

“Jack? Are you alright?”

He immediately looked up at me and shook his head vigorously, clenching and unclenching his fists nervously. “They’re back!” He suddenly cried out, pulling at his hair viciously. 

I jumped back in surprise but remained calm nonetheless.

“Who’s back?” I hesitated.

“The demons!” He yelled in despair, beginning to sob.

I stood still at a safe distance, contemplating whether I should call for help, but was soon pulled out of my thoughts when the crying ceased abruptly. 

“Tell me, young man, what are you in for?” He suddenly asked, turning towards me. 

I hung my head in shame “Theft.” I replied, not wishing to elaborate any further. 

“Oh, that’s nothing to be worried about.” He chuckled, gesturing for me to approach him. “You see, I murdered a man.” He confessed in a low tone. “The voices, they told me to!” 

I frowned in confusion, unsure of what to believe anymore. “Have you ever consulted a doctor, or maybe a psychologist?” I wondered, knowing the man must have been suffering from a certain disorder as I took a seat on his mattress.

“You think me mad!” He exclaimed hysterically with a laugh. 

“What about your family? Have you ever told them about these...voices? Your son, perhaps?” I inquired in desperation and concern.

“My son? I do not have a son! I have no family!” He suddenly snarled, a sense of hostility rising within him. 

I sat in silence as he took a few deep breaths. 

“I’m going to escape.” Whispered Jack in a sudden excitement, catching me by surprise.

I stared at him, dumbfounded, muttering only a single word. “How?” 

He simply shrugged and scratched his matted hair strenuously. 

I frowned, waiting for him to elaborate, but with no such luck.

“Let me tell you a story,” He began, resting his head on the cement wall before diving into a gruesome tale of how Pinocchio’s dishonestly led to him being burnt alive as firewood.  


***


That night, I lay barely awake on my mattress, thoughts swirling around incessantly in my mind. I thought about my wife...my son...my mother and my father...but most of all, I thought of Jack. The man was obviously suffering from some type of mental disarray, but nobody seemed to have the slightest bit of empathy. What could have happened for him to have ended up here? When would he get out? Was there somebody that could help him?

As if on queue, the old man suddenly began to speak. “Let me tell you a story,"

I heard a few irritated grumbles, but ignored them, feeling my eyes grow gradually heavier as the minutes passed by.

“There once was a little girl who lived near the woods. And, whenever she went out, this little girl wore a red riding cloak, so everybody in the village called her Little Red Riding…”


***


The next morning, I woke up in a panic, having dreamt of an unpleasant catastrophe. My head was pounding and my ears were ringing, obscure gunshots and sirens slowly fading into the distance.  

With a deep breath, I squinted my eyes toward Jack’s mattress, wondering whether he would appreciate hearing my story, but was startled to find it completely vacant and abandoned. 

I frowned, an anxious feeling overwhelming me as I scanned the small cell, seeking some form of answers. 

“Eddie?” I asked calmly, turning to the blond man who was washing his face by the small bassin. 

My cellmate shook his head solemnly and sighed heavily as if he already knew my question.  

“The idiot tried to escape last night.” He mumbled, averting his gaze from mine “He didn’t get far, but he didn’t survive either.”

A sudden sense of grief overcame me and I felt my heart begin to ache painfully. Unable to stay upright, I collapsed onto my mattress, breathing heavily as I gripped the thin sheets between my clenched fist.  

The overpowering emotions began to overtake me in a sudden moment; fear, grief, pity, sorrow, anguish.  

I squeezed my eyes shut, wishing to disappear; hoping that it had all just been a terrible nightmare; a slight misunderstanding. 

However, upon reopening them, I was met with nothing more than the foul ceiling inside that cold and miserable cell. 

Tightening my jaw in frustration, I suddenly caught sight of a folded piece of paper tucked carefully into a corner between my mattress and the wall.

I immediately retrieved it, unfolding it delicately before scanning the page; a single sheet filled with fast and scribbled writing.   

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was entitled in big letters near the top.

I took a deep breath, forcing a feeble smile before leaning back against the wall as I continued to read.  

‘There once was a young boy named Jack who came from a poor family. One day, while walking down a little pathway, he saw a vendor and, in desperation, killed him, hoping only to obtain a few coins. However, he gained nothing more than some peculiar-looking beans.

When he got home, ashamed and guilty of what he had done, Jack tried to hide the beans in the ground so as to not stir up suspicions. Yet, the next morning, he awoke to find that a large sprout had exited the ground, shooting up high into the sky.

Curiously, Jack decided to climb the beanstalk and was amazed to find a humongous castle when he reached the top. Upon entering the large building, Jack was soon met face-to-face with a terrifying giant and was instantly captured, forced and locked into a tiny cage.

Jack remained trapped in that cage for years and years, unable to escape. The giant was a cruel and tormenting beast, always whispering into his ear, giving him orders, changing his mind, fighting against him, using force… The giant soon drove him mad beyond belief, and though he never liked to admit it, Jack knew that he had reached the dangerous point of insanity. 

One day, Jack decided that he had enough. He was tired of the small cage and the terrifying giant and the tormenting voices. So, he decided to run away.’

At that point, the writing ended abruptly and I sighed, unsure of what to make of it.

However, as I thought it all over in my mind, I finally realized that this was his story– Jack’s story– and that he was now free. 


April 09, 2021 23:01

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 comments

Susan Joy Clark
01:08 Apr 16, 2021

Hi Alea. I enjoyed your story. Your opening intrigued me from the start and captivated my interest. I didn't anticipate the conclusion until the very end. Even while the narrator is reading the final tale, I didn't immediately catch the significance of Jack sharing the name of the character in the tale. I'm glad things seemingly worked out favorably for Jack in the end.

Reply

Elliot G
02:36 Apr 16, 2021

Thank you so much for reading my story and for the feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed it:)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Francis Daisy
21:40 Jan 10, 2022

Cute story! I loved your dialogue!

Reply

Elliot G
02:51 Jan 29, 2022

Thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply