The Charred Tree

Jack’s End

A fable about responsibility.

Jack sat on the front stoop of the cabin that was home to him and his aging mother. Mother was very religious and spent most of her time praying up at the chapel. Jack sometimes asked her what she prayed about and her response was always the same: “I pray that you will one day get over your foolishness and take the responsibilities of an adult seriously. You are an adult and should do more than just lounge around grinning your fool head off!” Jack didn’t ask her that very much anymore.

Jack grinned out at a beautiful day…one just made for sitting on his favorite chopping log (not used recently) next to the door and watching the day pass him by. So that’s what he did.

Just a few moments passed before he noticed a long and sinuous vine growing next to the house. It grew and curved about this way and that. Jack was a bit surprised when he realized that the vine was whispering to him a very soothing melody. He wasn’t sure what the song was but it was very relaxing and enjoyable; perfect for a day like today.

As Jack’s eyes were slipping closed, a magpie flew overhead and landed on the peak of the roof. She squawked loudly “Jack! This roof is a terrible mess! There are missing shakes up here where you can see right into your Mother’s room! Snow’s a-coming and it will surely blow right onto the dear lady’s head! It’s nice weather now so why not get the ladder and fix this roof while the sun shines?”

Jack just grinned up at the bird. “Oh, Magpie, why do you suggest such a thing as work on a day like this? This day wasn’t made for work but to be enjoyed in all it’s beauty! There will be plenty of time to fix the roof tomorrow.”

“Don’t be foolish, Jack! You should emulate your late Papa and do your duty to keep your Mother well!” And with that the magpie flew away while Jack just sat and grinned and kept listening to the vine’s enchanting song.

That song…Jack was sure he had heard it somewhere before. Such a slow rhythmic cadence but somehow one that made pleasant images appear in his head. Such wonderful images…flowers…butterflies….a cool breeze that was just right. It was enough to make him drowsy and want to nap….

But a plaintive “Mreeow!” brought him back to the sunlight and he looked down to see Miss Whiskers just sitting in front of him. “Mhhrrr….Jack, the cow needs to be milked. She’s quite uncomfortable there in the barn. I do believe that there is quite likely more milk in there than you and your Mother can use, so why not share a bit with your favorite mouse-catcher?”

Jack grinned and chuckled. “Miss Whiskers, why would I want to go in that dark and stinky barn on such a beautiful day as today? Chores can wait for a day that wasn’t meant to be enjoyed!”

“Mmmhrrrrr…But every day seems to be made for you to enjoy, Jack. The barn would not be nearly as dark or smelly if you would shovel out Bessie’s stalls and knock down the cobwebs every now and then.” And with that Miss Whiskers turned and strutted off into the tall grass at the edge of the house.

The vine’s siren song kept wriggling its way into Jack’s brain. It was a song of freedom from unpleasant things like smelly stalls and leaky roofs. No need to worry about those things, the vine seemed to say, because what’s important is to just enjoy the right-now. What better way to enjoy it than with a nap? The sun is warm and the breeze is nice. Sleep. Sleep and be refreshed.

Jack sighed and started to lean back to be a bit more comfortable when he heard the running of feet coming up the path. His grin fell for just a moment before he told himself that he would let nothing ruin this perfect day for him.

Timmy, the boy from the next farm up the road, came running up the path and waved to Jack as he approached. “Jack! Jack! Ain’t it a nice day?”

“Why it sure is, Timmy!” Jack grinned. Timmy was a well-behaved boy who never got into any mischief. “Nice enough to sit and do nothing but smile at the day and enjoy it!”

“If you say so. I was thinking more along the lines of taking the fishing pole down to the brook and fishing, but Pa says I have to finish my chores first.” While Timmy tried to sound sad about the prospect of chores, it was only half-hearted and Jack could tell that the chores didn’t weigh much on Timmy’s mind–he was already thinking about fishing. “You wanna come? Pa says that this time of year the haints come out and can catch you if you don’t have people with you.”

“Nah, Timmy. I don’t believe in the stories of haints but you have fun down at the fishing hole!” And he waved to Timmy as he sped back down the path.

That music was still there. Jack looked over at the vine as it moved gently back and forth in the breeze. It just stood there like it was enjoying the day just as much as he was. It even seemed to grin back at him when he showed his teeth in his usual grin.

It was odd that Timmy had mentioned haints. Jack’s Papa had once told him about some of the supposed haints of harvest. The vine even looked a bit like one of the ones Papa had described. It looked how Jack had once imaged the demonvine to look. That particular one would sneak up on bad boys and girls and grow right into their heads if they didn’t do their chores.

Jack chuckled and then grinned at himself. What a hoot! Scary tales told to little kids to get them to do their chores. Superstitious nonsense.

The music from the vine was more noticeable now that the breeze had begun to slack off a bit. What a pleasant melody. So soothing and relaxing. Jack leaned back and sent a big grin up at the sky before closing his eyes for a nap. Just a quick one…no need to miss out on too much of the day with sleep. The vine’s soothing music lulled him off to slumber as the breeze bent it closer and closer to his unfurrowed brow.

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