So Jack walks into a bar and he says “I’ve got 5 beans. Who’s with me?”
Nobody says anything at first. But then some guy says “lemme see ‘em.”
Jack shows him the beans and the guy says “You pay for these?”
“These ain’t no ordinary beans,” says Jack “these here are magic beans.” He goes on like this, and pretty soon a few guys go with him.
The next morning we see this giant beanstalk coming out of the ground. Five trunks are braided and they’re covered with throbbing veins that pump water up out of the earth. The dang thing shades half the town. Jack’s mother says she doesn’t know where he is.
So we wait a few days, but nothing happens except mushrooms are coming up everywhere and the corn isn’t growing, what with dense shadow covering most of the arable land north of Jack’s mother’s house.
At first light on the seventh day we start in on the beanstalk. It’s slow going. Then we get the idea of cutting through some of the vein-like things. Water spurts out like blood, and after a while the whole stalk kinda starts to deflate. We also mix up some salt water and squirt it up some of the tubes. Late in the evening a couple of things fall out of the sky. Some kid comes running up a few minutes later to tell us that bean pods 12 feet long are falling on the north side of town. One of them crashed right through the roof of the dentist’s house. We gotta stop he says.
“No way,” I tell him. “You tell Doc Wilson we’ll be over to fix his roof after we’re done here.”
We keep going, and sometime after dark the thing starts to give. Longitudinal fibers are cracking like cannon shot and soon the noise is so steady we are half deaf. Maybe that’s why, it already being dark and all, we don’t realize at first when the stalk comes down.
The ground jumps and a tremendous cloud of dust explodes away from the stricken stalk. Things get quiet, and we feel pretty good until Jimmy the butcher, said “Where you figure it landed?” Don’t really know what to say after that.
The beanstalk took out a good fifth of the town, but I still say it was a small price to pay. And we did get a few tons of beans out of it. But I do wonder what happened to Jack and the others, up above the sky.
Yeah, D’miss and I, we own exoarcheology. We translated a newly discovered example of Precursor writing, which we found etched onto a billion-year-old polished stone standing upright at the geographic center of a rubble-strewn plain. Mauger the rubble, the place was flat as a pancake. Must have been an important spot. Now? Sole remaining trace of life on a long-dead world. The stone, with its inscription, the only fabricated object within lightyears. The Precursors were the oldest interstellar civilization; their ruins range in age from 1.8 to 0.9 gigayears. The few known examples of their writing had been enough for Odaro to crack the code – to translate. Yeah, that Odaro. Not just a writer and singer. I know; his translations haven’t been published yet. Heard rumors at the last Interstellar Archeological Congress. We tried to contact him after IAC, but he blew us off. At first he said he’d try to squeeze us in, but then he said he was too busy, when he’d merely glanced at a photo of the stone. After that, even his autoclerk wouldn’t respond to messages. So we fixed his ass. The AI Klondyke hacked his linguistic database. With its help we tackled the new inscription ourselves. The translation was surprisingly easy to come up with, though we’re not sure what to make of it. Here’s what we’ve got so far.
Some flowers have color, others do too,
food additives have flavor, and I love you.
So the oldest known poem is … doggerel, of an all-too-familiar sort.
The road to the shore winds down the mountainside, a narrow snake covered by lush green canopy, alive with birds and butterflies. A troop of monkeys swings above paying us no mind. Our little hotel room offers nothing but a ceiling fan as respite from the midday Costa Rican heat. So we trek to the beach, a bag with left over fruit for the monkeys that live there.
A resonant howler cry joins the song of the lazy afternoon.
“Make a wish,” Connie says. “They don’t do that during the day!”
“So?” she asks.
“I’m saving it.”
She smacks me, playfully.
We’re just about at the bottom when a four hundred horsepower roar decimates the tranquil buzz of animal sounds and gently breaking waves.
A candy-apple red sports car speeds down the hill, convertible top up. The tinted passenger side window rolls down revealing the innocent face of a pretty Costa Rican teen. She’s done up in god-awful make up and wearing a whore’s dress. A man in a dress shirt and tie leans over.
“How the hell do I get to the beach?”
“You can’t,” Connie says.
“Come on. She wants to see the beach.”
This ass makes me ashamed to be an American.
“No vehicle access,” I say. “Cars aren’t allowed.”
We leave him to spin his wheels, literally, and go for our swim. We move farther and farther up the beach but we can’t escape his shouting and revving engine.
“That arrogance must serve him well in his life, but its not going to do him any good here,” Connie says.
Not yet. I think, afraid of what the future might bring.
We take another dip then trudge to our room. A breeze from the waves below blows the thin drapes. I turn the ceiling fan on. Its lazy spin accelerates and then it is rocking in its loose anchoring. We lay on the bed. Kiss. Take off our clothes. Soon we are matching the fan’s rhythm.
As sleep takes us, I hear the sports car on the road. A monkey howls. This time I make my wish.
Connie is still asleep when I wake. I go outside to the communal kitchen to find ice crackling in glasses on the patio bar, but no patrons. Our host is gone from her eternal post, lip-sticked cigarette still burning. I glance down the mountain to the shore, not a human in the waves or the beach. A boat, unguided, crashes into the rocks.
A howler jumps from the canopy to the table and joyfully smashes an empty glass. His eyes full of acknowledgement of my selfish wish.
I walk back to the room, with a mischievous smile.
“Hun, want to go for a swim?” I call.
Route: Portland, OR to Denver, CO
A. Portland, Oregon
1. Grand adventure is calling!
2. Slide your ass out of bed.
3. Drink a Stumptown or three.
4. Clear IPAs from your head.
5. Gas up the Subie wagon!
6. Put on your old Birks!
7. You’re in Oregon camo.
8. (In the city that works.)
9. Avoid roads with bored cops.
10. (You don’t want to go down.)
11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!
12. Head straight south out of town.
637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):
B. San Francisco, California
1. Cross your choice of big bridges.
2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!
3. Go up and go down.
4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!
5. Go up and go down.
6. Get lost and then again!
7. Do E with a homeless dude.
8. He’ll become your best friend!
9. Good luck finding parking.
10. (Though it helps some to pray.)
11. Kick the homeless dude out.
12. And head south to L.A.
381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):
C. Los Angeles, California
1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!
2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!
3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!
4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!
5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.
6. Never trust a valet.
7. Careful snorting while driving.
8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!
9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.
10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!
11. Avoid being on a reality show.
12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.
792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):
D. Albuquerque, New Mexico
1. Take that left turn.
2. (You know that you want to!)
3. Make fun of the town’s name.
4. Just where no one can hear you.
5. It’s a good place for business.
6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).
7. But they drive like they have
8. Nowhere special to go.
9. So just drink some peyote.
10. View the great color fountain!
11. See hot air balloon fiestas.
12. Then head on up the mountain!
449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):
E. Denver, Colorado
1. Celebrate that you’re here!
2. Your adventure is done.
3. Drink beer and get stoned.
4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!
5. It’s the Mile High City.
6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!
7. Reflect on your adventure.
8. All the places you’ve been!
9. You’ve had traffic and parking.
10. Yes, at times you were vexed.
11. But it’s your destination!
12. Where will you go next?