Fiction Friday: Jack and the Magic Coffee Beans

Recently, I wrote a couple of fairy tale retellings to submit to a fiction magazine.

What follows is an expanded edition of the story that didn’t get submitted.

Magic Coffee Beans
The mahogany beans, whose fragrance had filled the kitchen as Jack ran the grinder arced through the air and out the back door, landing somewhere in the clump of winter nude bushes.
“This is your job opportunity?”
“The beans will grant me increased intelligence and ingenuity.”
“A caffeine high then crash, you mean. How do you fall for these cons?” His sister’s wide stance and hands on her narrow hips made him cringe. Even if he was taller and stronger, she was older and had always been the boss of him. Now that their parents had passed, it was so much worse.
“Do you think this is some fairy tale? You said you had an interview. The taxes are overdue on this place.” She waved her hand in a gesture that encompassed the over-sized city lot and the rundown house. His gaze flicked to the scratched cabinets, lumpy linoleum and countertops with several brown spots and an area wavy enough to give the ocean an inferiority complex.
Jack knew she spoke truth. His entire life he’d been the smallest, the strangest, and called the stupidest by everyone he knew. Not usually his sister, though. Once upon a time, she agreed that Jack saw potential where others saw failure.
Maybe his sister was right this time. He stared at the ground beans and the ancient French press his father had always used to brew his morning coffee.
“Go ahead and brew your magic, but I’m going to work. And tomorrow.” She shook her head. “Tomorrow you’ll go to the hospital with me and take the job in the kitchen.”
Washing dishes, she meant. A step up from cleaning out bedpans, which is what she did. But she was attending nursing school, too. When she finished, she’d make enough money to fix up this place, sell it, and move somewhere closer to the hospital.
The old Chevy Impala coughed and sputtered to life in the cracked driveway. It spewed dark smoke as his sister accelerated toward town.
He might as well get the most out of his investment. Jack put the coffee into the filter, added hot water and pressed the plunger. Dark brown liquid seeped out. He poured and pressed until he’d reached the maximum fill line.
“Here goes nothing.” He gulped down the lukewarm coffee, making a face at the bitter aftertaste. He’d never been a fan of anything less than scalding hot coffee.
“To sear your tastebuds so you don’t gag on the flavor,” his sister always said. She could be right. But since she drank flavored tea, her tastes were questionable.
The room spun slightly. He dumped the remainder of the coffee into a travel mug and walked into the backyard. He scanned the ground, which rippled with strange gray light and a mist hovered near the bush where he’d seen the beans fall.
He thought he spotted a bean and ducked close to the ground. As he glanced up, a strange apparition—a lighted doorway—hung above the bushes. Jack blinked, but the light grew brighter and the ground seemed to heave, pushing him toward the glowing portal.
Reality wavered. His stomach bucked in protest. Jack found himself on his knees again. Around him, giant flowers swayed in the breeze. Spongy ground beneath his fingers was a glaring neon green. He squinted toward a giant edifice, a stone house that made him feel grasshopper-sized.
A haunting tune summoned him forward. The giant wooden door stood open a few inches wider than his shoulders. His head spun, and the coffee mug felt heavy in his hand. Inside, a wide hall opened into an daylight porch.
A giant woman lounged on a sofa. Cradled in her arms was a golden harp. Or was it a woman? The harp had a woman’s frame, and her mouth moved in wordless song while her fingers strummed the strings of her body? But no, that didn’t make sense.
The harp-woman’s gaze landed on him and widened. She shook her head, and Jack ducked beneath a nearby table, now only able to see the pink flesh of the giant’s calves between an ottoman and the couch.
“I smell coffee.” The giant woman stirred on her house-sized sofa.
Jack covered his ears to keep the gong-like voice from breaking his eardrums.
He gazed at the delicate features of the golden woman whose haunting melody soothed the pain and tugged his heart. He swore he recognized the music.
A cat walking upright stopped beside the truck-sized table concealing Jack. The feline’s mannish face had pursed lips and whiskers that vibrated when he asked, “Would you like coffee, Mistress?”
“You know I must have a cup once I’ve smelled it. Have you found a new grind?”
The cat’s tail flicked, hitting Jack’s wrist a thumb’s length behind the travel mug of magic coffee.
“Indeed. I will bring you a mug.”
The black striped tail wrapped around Jack’s arm, jerking him backward. His grip tightened in time to avoid losing the cup. He scurried after the bounding cat.
Jack skidded into the marble-tiled kitchen. A ladder made of cans, a stool and a cane back chair led to counters looming five feet above Jack. The cat sat at the top, glaring with amber eyes in that strangely human face.
“I expect it’s magic brew.” The snide tone matched Jack’s expectations.
“How did you know?”
“How did you get here?”
Jack blinked. “The portal in my backyard.”
“Did you wish for one? Pour coffee where it appeared?”
Jack shook his head. “My sister threw some of the beans outside.”
“Uh-huh. And you wished for nothing before you stepped through a strange—I suspect glowing—portal?”
Put it in those terms, Jack supposed his actions had been rash. But he’d been so confident the beans would make a difference. And then the bright doorway appeared hovering above the heather beside the azalea bush in their yard. In response to wishful thinking? His sister swore he excelled at that.
“Get up here. You will help me—my human—escape.”
Jack climbed the makeshift steps. The cat poured coffee into a coral mug as high as Jack’s waist.
“Now wish for the drinker of the coffee to take a long sleep.” The cat narrowed his eyes. “Unless your portal has already disappeared.”
Ice hollowed Jack’s chest. Surely not. A proper wished-into-existence conveyance would wait for Jack’s return.
Jack unscrewed his mug’s lid and wished the giant would sleep for a day. He dumped the aromatic brew, hardly more than a drop in the larger cup. He jerked his travel mug upright but a clawed hand upended and emptied it.
“Hey, that was the last of the magic coffee.”
“And let’s hope it works or this will be the last day of your life.” The cat hefted the mug with his front paws and descended to the floor with feline grace.
Jack climbed down the cane-backed chair, bending his knees to absorb impact from the final leap. He stumbled and the travel mug clattered across the floor. His muscles tensed.
“Did you drop my coffee?” The feminine voice screeched above the faint music.
A purring rumble responded but Jack’s bleeding ears couldn’t distinguish words. He snatched up the empty cup and skidded across the floor, grasping the door frame to keep from sailing into the hall. Stealth had kept him safe thus far.
He slunk along the hallway and ducked beneath the same table. The cat stood on a paper-strewn table in front of the couch, hands—paws?—clutched behind his back. The harp woman’s eyes pleaded, her hands still, lips silent.
“Nothing special about this coffee.” The giant took another sip anyway. “Sing.” She set the harp near the cat and cradled the mug between meaty palm.
“Something happy. Lively.” Did the giant’s voice slur?
An upbeat tune trilled from the strings and the angelic voice hummed. The cat settled onto his haunches, tail curling over his paws, head tilted toward the harp. Purring along?
The giant blinked, sipped, and stretched out, her pointy shoes butting against the sofa’s arm.
Jack stood awestruck by the harper’s beauty, and started when a snorting grunt interrupted the music. The giant’s head lolled to one side.
A nasally rumble jerked her head nearly upright but her eyes remained closed.
The cat hissed. Jack whipped his attention to the pair on the table. Claws closed around the non-human edge of the harp, and the cat dragged the instrument to the table’s edge.
Jack raced forward and extended his arms. He really could use a wish for strength at this moment. With empty hands, he grasped the feet of the singer and the cat lowered her slowly into his arms.
With a grunt of exertion, Jack backed away from the table and wobbled toward the hallway. The cat passed and wrapped its tail around the harp, lightening the load so Jack could trot after the animal.
He huffed and glanced at the woman in his arms. She stared over his shoulder toward the sleeping giant.
Enormous wooden doors groaned open. The cat raced ahead, nearly jerking Jack’s arms from their sockets.
“Where am I going?” The cat slowed.
“By…the…dragon lilies.”
“The purple and pink flowers,” the harp sang.
Tingles thrummed through Jack’s chest. His grip tightened on her arms. Something crashed in the house behind them.
“Run!” The single note pierced his eardrums.
They ran to the door-shaped portal which hovered a step above the ground.
“Go!” Claws dug into Jack’s back as the cat shoved him and the now silent harp into the light.
Nausea roiled. His head spun. He fell and landed beneath the bush, a coffee bean next to his nose. A pale-featured blonde woman landed on top of him, crushing the breath from him.
A cat leaped over their heads, its tail slashing. A golden glow surrounded the woman.
“Thank you,” she said. “You saved me from the giant.”
The giant! Jack scrambled to a seated position and stared toward the magical portal. Except there was nothing but empty sky above the bush in need of trimming. He heaved a sigh, knowing she wouldn’t be able to chase them. Maybe she was still asleep. Far away. In a magical realm.
“You were a harp?”
The woman’s musical laugh serenaded Jack. “I’m a harpist. Somehow, the giant heard me play and my music was the only thing that cured her insomnia.” She scowled, and even that looked beautiful. “As if putting people to sleep with your music is a high compliment.”
The purring cat rubbed against the woman’s shin, where a shapely calf peeked from beneath a black skirt. Amber eyes stared unblinkingly before the animal stalked to Jack and sat on his foot.
“She turned the cat into a human-like creature?”
“My cat is always with me. He tried to scratch her when she pointed her finger in my face and told me to sing and play. So she cursed him into a servant. And forced me and my harp to unite.” Her voice shook. “I’ve been singing the same song on repeat for so long.”
Jack petted the rather large cat, staring at the tufts on the ends of its ears. The cat butted its head against Jack’s shoulder, purring as loudly as the giant snored.
Jack stood and brushed off his jeans and rumpled shirt. “I’m Jack.”
“Malin,” she said before throwing her arms around him. “What did you put in her coffee?”
Jack showed her the coffee bean he’d retrieved from beneath the bush.
“Coffee that grants wishes, I guess. I wished for her to sleep for a long time.” He grinned at the cat. “It was mostly your cat’s idea.”
“He always has been clever.” She stood close so their chests nearly touched, head tilted back, wide blue gaze locked with his.
Jack opened his mouth. Closed it. What should he say now?
Malin pushed onto her tiptoes and pressed her soft mouth against his. Jack’s eyes widened an instant before his hands rested on her waist and his lips responded.
Would the magic last? Or should he scrounge the rest of those beans to make another wish?
The magical kiss drowned his worries. A harp sang.

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.