Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Tale of Jack Frackit

Once upon a time, though not so very long ago, there lived a young man called Jack Frackit. Now, in most ways, this young man was a charming fellow. He was kind to his parents, good to his friends, and he was more honest than most fellows. He was also all set to marry his sweetheart, Kathryn K. Burton, a vain but sweet-natured girl. In fact Kathryn’s father, Hal E. Burton, thought Jack to be such a fine fellow that he offered him a good job with his drilling company— and this was where Jack’s troubles began. Hal had made a fair fortune drilling up the natural gasses from the ground and selling it to folks, but the money didn’t satisfy him. Oh no. It only made Hal hungry for more and he started drilling deeper and deeper, even though what was coming up started getting dirtier and dirtier. Deep down in the earth there are plenty of poisons that ought to stay down, and it was the earth that Mr. Burton was drilling and breaking up that was supposed to keep it down there. Now, as I said, Jack was a fine enough fellow but he had his faults. He could see that what Kathryn’s father was up to wasn’t good, but he didn’t dare stand up to Hal. With his huge industry, the Burton name carried enough weight that Hal could do whatever he wanted, and nothing that a common fellow like Jack said would stop him. Besides, Jack loved his Kathryn Burton, and he needed her father’s approval (not to mention that nice pay check).

So Jack began his work, and he turned a blind eye to the laziness of his fellow workers who were indeed terribly lazy. They took the dirty water that was filled with poisons and dumped it in ponds and streams, because they couldn’t be bothered to take it far away as they ought, and buried the muck that came back up the wells in meadows and fields for the same reason. They chopped trees in the forests because they wanted to go faster on the small country roads, and littered where they wanted because who would tell them no? Jack saw all this and at first he was bothered, he knew it was no good. But he didn’t even dare speak up to the others, never mind Hal himself. In time, Jack started doing the same as his fellow workers, and his heart turned cold­­­­ to the world around him, even though the animals that lived in the forests, and the streams, and the farms began to get sick from the poisons in the water and air. When the farmers started getting sick, Jack had made his heart so stony that even their cries to “stop, please stop!” couldn’t touch him.

But one day Hal sent his crew of drillers into the center of the deepest woods, which before had been untouched by any save the creatures of the forest and a few cautious humans that had lived there for a very long time and knew how to live in the woods without harming it. Those families knew that the forest had more than a few tricks hidden in its valleys and dells, and the warned the drillers when they came that they had best depart if they knew what was good for them. One woman in particular grabbed hold of Jack as he was walking by her home, surveying the land for the best path to turn into a big truck road.

”Don’t do it, don’t drill here! You aren’t thinking of the consequences, they are larger than you think!” Jack started, surprised by this attack, and stared at the woman. She was young and really quite pretty, though with her red hair a muss and her face and clothes covered in dirt from her garden, Jack thought her a terrible sight.

“Let go of me!” He growled, and shoved her away. He meant to walk on, but something in the look of pained sorrow she sent him stayed his feet, and he though he ought to explain to her how things really were. “Look here, it’s not as bad as you think. Were just drilling a hole so the gas can get out, and then we truck it away. You’ll get a nice check and a better road than this little path you live on. Why, you’ll be living in the lap of comfort! And besides, everyone needs the gas.”

The woman looked at Jack and shook her head sadly.

“You don’t believe that really do you? I know the poisons that go in the well with the water, and the even nastier ones that come out. Some things should stay buried. And besides, everyone and everything needs clean water.”

Jack felt a small pang at her words, but he shrugged it off and laughed at the woman instead.

“Well, there’s nothing that you can do about it either way,” he said as he turned to leave, confident in the strength of the company. The woman narrowed her eyes and called after him—

“We’ll see about that, but it’s not me that you should be worried about; if you don’t stop now there will be consequences!”

—but Jack wasn’t listening. If he had heard her words of warning, maybe Jack wouldn’t have met his consequences the next day as he did- or then again, some things might just be fated to be. In either case, Jack didn’t hear, and the next day found him and his crew right smack in the middle of the woods. Things happened fast in the drilling business, and the workers had already cleared a big patch of land for the drill site when a big water hauling truck pulled in. The driver was a Sammy Smit, a slimy fellow that was always skirting even the few rules that drillers had to follow.

“I hear there’s a little pond back this a way,” drawled Sam. “I was wondering if you might lead me to it. Just to have a look-see.”

Now, Jack knew right off what Sam was really about- his truck was full to the brim with the rotten water that oozed back out of the wells, and they had no way to really dispose of such deadly stuff. Which meant most of the time, it was dumped in a stream, dripped onto a road, or drained into a pond. Jack knew this, but he still led Sam to the lovely little pond that sat just over a bank next to the clearing they had made. Jack stood watch as Sam backed up to the water’s edge and opened the pipes to let his deadly load pour into the pond. When Sam had finished and roared off in his much lighter truck, Jack turned to get back to his work site as well but was surprised to find an enormous green frog sitting right in his way. It was twice as large as any Jack had ever seen, almost the size of a large rabbit, and a bright bottle green that almost glowed. Something about the way its big yellow eyes made Jack nervous. It was as if the frog knew exactly what Jack and Sam had been doing, and the big thing was accusing him with an awful glare.

“Shoo, git!” Said Jack, but the frog didn’t budge. He could have just walked around the frog but, while he would have died rather than admit it to the other fellows, he didn’t quite dare. It’s silly to think it would even go after me, thought Jack to himself. After all, it’s just a frog, what could it do? But the frog kept staring, and Jack kept sweating, and neither moved. Finally Jack couldn’t take it anymore. Without taking his eyes off of his adversary, he picked up a stick from the side of the road and went to poke the frog in the stomach. No sooner had the stick brushed the frogs skin though than there was a buzzing whoosh! and Jack felt all the air go out of him and he was knocked on his back as if he ‘d been punched right in the chest. Ohh, groaned Jack, his winded voice coming out as a hoarse croak. As stars cleared from Jack’s eyes, he was astounded to find that the woods had sprung up around him, along with a huge hulking form- a giant! The giant threw away the stick in his hand and knelt down to Jack, who tried to run only to find that his legs were strangely long and his body round and ungainly and- Jack croaked in horror as he realized that he was, in fact, transformed into a frog. As the giant got closer, Jack realized that it was his own face that he was looking at, and his own face that was gazing sternly back at him.

“What’s happening?” Jack croaked, panicked. “I don’t understand!”

“Why, it’s quite simple really,” said Jack’s body. “We’ve switched places.” Jack gaped at the frog that had taken his form.

“But- but why?”

“To teach you a lesson boy, why else?” The frog stood suddenly, stretching out his new human arms, and then began to walk away.

“Wait,” cried Jack, “you can’t just leave me like this! What am I supposed to do? I can’t live as a frog! It’s inhuman!” The frog turned and examined Jack, who was looking just about as sad and pitiful as a frog could get, and relented a little.

“It’s not forever. I don’t fancy looking like this anymore that you like being a frog, I suspect. All you have to do is bath yourself in some clean water, and you’ll turn back to normal.” With that, the frog strode off again, into the woods, leaving Jack alone.

This is ridiculous, fumed Jack to himself, as he tried to get his long legs into position to hop. What kind of frog goes about putting spells on people? I’m missing work and Kathryn was supposed to stop by for lunch. I can’t just disappear. Jack finally got the hang of jumping, and made his way slowly to the pond, a trip that had only taken moments when he was human. He comforted himself with the thought that the frog had at least made the cure easy- all he had to do was get to the pond… right?

But when Jack reached the pond, he was struck by a horrible smell. He hopped closer to the water’s edge and saw that a greasy oily film was covering the water. The chemicals that he couldn’t smell when human were strong to his new, delicate senses. Jack shivered, but he wanted to be human again. The water couldn’t really be that bad, could it? Jack jumped and the moment he touched the water he regretted it. He could almost feel the poisons leeching into his thin amphibian skin and as Jack floundered, trying to figure out how to swim, he accidentally swallowed a gulp of the foul water. When Jack got back to shore, he felt terribly ill and could barely move. But lying out in the hot sun was no good either; his skin began to feel hot and tight and so he gathered himself back up. He thought for a while and decided the best thing to do was to hop back to the site and somehow convince the fellows that he was Jack and then he could get some water.

When, after a long difficult journey, Jack reached the site he saw not only his fellow workers, but his betrothed. He hopped faster, his heart full of hope. Then someone noticed the large frog hopping towards them almost happily, and laughed.

“Look at that foolish thing! You’d think it was coming over to say hey, the way it’s coming for us.” Everyone turned to look and began to laugh as well. When Jack reached them, he tried to write in the earth, but it was too hard and his efforts only made his audience laugh the more. By now Jack felt very dry and thirsty, and he had nearly given up hope when he saw that Kathryn had a bottle of fresh water in her hand. Sure that his love would be kind even if she didn’t know him, Jack reached out his small frog claw and tugged at her dress. Instead of the sympathy he expected though, Kathryn shrieked and kicked out, knocking poor Jack all the way into the bushes!

“What was that dirty little thing doing?” Kathryn said in a huff, and stomped off for her car. Jack, bruised and hurt by his former companions callousness hopped slowly away into the woods and finding a small hollow log, he settled down, for it was late, and wept a few small frog tears for himself.

The next day, Jack set out to find some clean water intent on returning to his human form. But Jack soon found that the other streams and ponds were even worse! The chemicals from the many wells drilled by Jack and the others all over the county that had spilled, leeched, and been dumped had found their way into all the water. And now, not only were the ponds awful from the poison, but the inhabitants had begun to die as well. The dead fish floated to the top and made the water smell rotten- and it was certainly no good to drink or swim in. Jack met other frogs and water dwellers in his travels. Most of them were sick and all were frightened.

“We don’t understand,” they would say, sadly wringing their paws and claws. “All the water has gone bad! We don’t know what to do. Our bigger friends like Deer and Rabbit have been able to run far, but even they are getting ill.”

“Why did the human do this,” wept others, “the water was good before they came; now we are dying of thirst and hunger!” All Jack could do was hang his head in shame. He had known that the drilling was bad, but he had hardened his heart and refused to think of the consequences. Now he saw and he knew, as the other animals could not, that even the humans were beginning to get ill. And if all the water was undrinkable, well, every living thing would begin to die. At that moment, Jack swore that if he could get himself back to normal, he would spend the rest of his days trying to save the water and everyone who drank it, whether they were human, animal, or plant.

Jack continued his travels, but he got weaker and weaker. Finally he could not hop even one inch more, and Jack collapsed on the middle of a road. Now, this might have been the end for Jack, and it certainly would have if one of his former friends had driven by in their huge trucks, but it was not a truck or even a car that came by. It was a young woman with flyaway hair on a bicycle, returning from town with her groceries. She saw the frog on the road and stopped right away- she had never seen a frog so big and so green, and looking so sick besides. She carefully picked Jack up, put him in her basket, and hurried home. Once there, she placed Jack gently on her table and stroked his head.

“Poor dear,” she crooned, “what’s the matter?” The cool air of the cottage roused Jack a little and he blinked at the girl, recognizing her as the red haired woman who had warned him before. If only she knew how true her words were! Jack thought. If only I could tell her.

“You’re awake! But you look terrible. What can I do for you?”

Jack struggled upright. Looking directly into her eyes, which he found were quite beautiful up close, Jack gestured to his throat and tried his best to croak “water.” The woman was surprised to find that her rescued frog seemed to be trying to talk with her, but instead of shrieking and running off, she leaned close, searching his eyes.

“You… you want- food? Water?” At the second option, Jack nodded, vigorously but clearly. The woman started a little at being answered, then quickly stood and filled a little bowl with water.

“Is this good?” She asked anxiously. Jack leaned in to take a sip, savoring the sweet, cool water, but it wasn’t enough to bath in.

“More.” Jack croaked, as best he could. The woman looked at him for a long moment and then offered her cupped hands as a seat. Jack hopped in, and she carefully carried him out her back door and into one of the loveliest gardens Jack had ever seen. At the back of the garden was a small but deep well filled with water. The woman set him in the edge, and the both looked into the water, then at each other. It was a long fall for a frog. Gathering his courage, Jack leapt. The icy water hit him with a shock, but it was so lovely and refreshing that Jack just let himself drift in the dark water in ecstasy. Then he felt his boots hit the bottom. Boots? Jack wondered? Pushing of the bottom, Jack returned to the surface with a splash and a yelp from the woman above. He was human again. Looking up, he saw the woman gaping down at him, her pretty face in shock, and he grinned.

“Give me a hand?”


As you might well guess, once Jack had been freed from the spell and the well, he kept his vow and devoted the rest of his days to fighting the drilling and protecting all things living in the woods that had changed him and everywhere else to boot. He left his fiancĂ©e to her vanity and took up house instead with the Claire Water- the red haired woman. She worked alongside him to protect the water and taught him quite a lot about the good fight as well. Claire also never forgot the story of how they met, and she told it to her all her children and her - and now, I’ve told it to you.