I remember the old nursery rhymes that I was taught as I child and among those timeless rhymes, I particularly favoured ‘Jack and Jill’. Maybe it was the tune of the song or maybe the comedic ending that made me like it so much. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it goes like this –
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Up Jack got and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper;
And went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.
Then Jill came in, and she did grin,
To see Jack’s paper plaster;
Her mother whipt her, across her knee,
For laughing at Jack’s disaster.
The origin of the rhyme and the various additions to it and the numerous interpretation of it are given in Wikipedia.
However, as my second venture into short story writing, I decided to put this rhyme in a different perspective and bring my own interpretation to the table. Hope you enjoy it.
Jack and Jill – A Twist
The wind blew across the wide expanse of parched, cracked wasteland. A few stunted trees, long past their due, dotted this bleak landscape; their twisted and gnarled limbs reaching up to the dark, smoggy sky, begging the heavens to open up. The last time they had drunk was a few months ago, and what a drink it had been! The rain had descended in all its fury and threatened to rip them from their roots. But years of existence had led them to bury deep into the earth and so they had stood their ground in the flash floods that washed the wasteland. But within days no signs of water remained. What little had been left near their roots was sucked dry. And now they yearned for more.
Jack shielded his eyes against the glaring sun and looked across this desolate dry land. All he saw was vast emptiness. The wind tousled his dry, sun bleached locks. His tall lean frame swayed slightly with the wind and yet his gaze never wavered. He methodically scanned the whole land, pausing at every tree and shrub to see if they betrayed the shape of any hidden well of old. His tablet had told him that this land had once been rich and green and belonged to a wealthy family of farmers. But that was before the Purge. Before the war and tyranny of mislead men rid the world of all that was good, green and humane. All that was left now was dust and a net of fissure and cracks that grew every day.
As he stood there wondering if they would ever find water in this place, his sister Jill approached and stood silently beside him. They were twins and you couldn’t have said otherwise. Both had the blonde hair of their mother, now bleached white by the sun, and the square jaw of their father. She held up the binoculars to her eyes and squinted, hoping to see something her brother had missed, which was rare. And she wasn’t disappointed.
‘Look,’ she gasped. ‘Do you see that small hillock? It is to the north east by that tree stump. I think I see something that looks like a well on top.’
Jack snatched the binoculars and had a look, irritated that he had missed such an obvious sight. Maybe his thirst was blinding him.
‘I saw the hill earlier but I didn’t think there would be any well there. Even if there was, it would have dried up by now. I mean, look at this place. I doubt there would even be a drop of water beneath our feet. Maybe we should have traveled west with the Bakers when we had the chance. It was a mistake coming here.’
Jill looked at her brother with concern. She knew that the past few weeks had been rough on the whole caravan, especially Jack. They had to ration what little food they had and Jack had always given half his share to the little ones. While their gasoline was reduced to a week’s worth of supply their water tanker was now at a precariously low level, with just enough for a day. She had watched as the burden of leading the group grew heavier on Jack. He had promised them that he would lead them to safety and struggled to keep up the morale of the party. Now, it looked like this wasteland threatened to destroy his only chance at salvation.
‘Listen to me Jack,’ she pleaded. ‘I know I saw a well. You have to believe me, for your sake and for the sake of the people following us. You cannot lose hope now, when we are so close to our journey’s end. All we have to do is go there and get any little water we can find. What little we have will not last us through the night and we need all that we can get if we are to make it to the other side by tomorrow night. Please, let us take the bikes and find that well.’
Jack stared at the hill for a long time. He had come too far for some measly hill to thwart him. He forced a chuckle and shook his head. ‘You are right Jill. It’s no good thinking of depressing things when sweet water awaits us. Come let us take the bikes and ask Jerry to load extra bottles on them.’ Saying so, he walked back to the truck. He knew that if his sister was right then they would be able to make the journey across the plain with relative ease. But if she was wrong then, it would be the end of all of them.
Jill watched her brother go and realized that their only hope now lay on that small well and the water that lay within it.
As soon as Jerry had readied their bikes, they put on their goggles, covered up their face with their bandanas and rode out. Their caravan was perched on the lip of the gully and the land rolled down in a gentle incline to meet the cracked fringes of the wasteland. As the twins rode down the slope, the people cheered them as loudly as their tired bodies allowed them to. Six months ago they had left their filthy and diseased burrows, when Jack had killed their leader and had given them a chance to follow him to Newland. To them Newland was just a myth, and a dangerous one at that. They knew that many a man had been driven to madness in his search for the Promised Land and had never been heard from again. But a young man and his sister had appeared out of the blue claiming that they had found a way to this land and had the map to prove it. This and the fact that their despotic leader Julius Wilfred the Third was slain by the pair had rekindled their hope for a better world and they had followed the pair gladly. But as the weeks of hard travel went by, with no sign of the Newland, they began to grow desperate. Food and water shortage had threatened them before, but now on the road with no end in sight they had realized that they were in fact going to their doom. So when they saw the twins ride down the gully with all the water bottles they could carry on their bikes, they cheered, but more importantly they prayed hard to their forgotten gods that those two would save them again.
Jack saw that his range finder read the distance to be eight kilometers. It was no great distance for his bike but the return journey would be slow on account of the heavy bottles, if there was water in the well. And he needed most of his gasoline to ride back as quickly as possible before sundown. He did not want to be caught in the open at night.
They rode on at a steady pace and before long reached the foot of the hill. They parked their bikes and looked up in wonder, for the hill was much larger and more rugged than what they had seen at a distance. Its surface was peppered with large dun coloured boulders and jagged rocks jutting out like thorns. It was a wonder that anyone had built a well at the top. Jill being the nimbler of the two started up the hill, carefully jumping over crevices and scrambling over the rocks, trying to find a way to the top. Whoever had built the well must have built a path too and the sooner they found it the easier it would be to climb down with the laden bottles. As she climbed ahead, Jack struggled behind her with the heavy bag of empty bottles. He kept losing his footing and scratching his palms trying to gain a foothold. He had given his morning cup of water to little Jerry junior and he was starting to regret that decision. The Sun blazed above him and he began to see images in front of him as he crawled towards the top. He saw his father dance on the rocky outcrop above him with a beer bottle in his hand and this made him smile. He did not remember his father being a dancer. Soon the image began to blur and blacken. He tried calling out to him, but his words slurred. Before he knew it, his hand touched a piece of smooth metal disc on the ground.
The explosion threw him back and he tumbled down to the foot of the hill and came to a rest in a mangled heap. When the bomb exploded, Jill was almost at the top. She whipped her head behind and looked below with fear. When the dust from the explosion cleared, she saw her brother lying at the bottom in a bloody heap with the bottles strewn around him. She raced downwards, calling his name and praying fervently that he was not dead. She threw herself beside him and cradled his bleeding head.
‘Jack! Jack! Can you hear me? Jack!’
All Jack could hear was a ringing sound. He slowly opened his eyes and croaked ‘Water’. She dribbled what little she had in her canteen into his mouth and across the open cut on his forehead. The cut was superficial and wouldn’t be an issue. She bundled up her jacket and laid it below his head. She then started to check him for any other injuries. Immediately she saw the blood spewing from where his right hand had been. The explosion had ripped apart his right arm above the wrist and what was left was a bloody stump with the white bone glistening in the bright light of the afternoon.
‘Shit,’ she cursed, tears streaming down her dirt caked face. She was lucky that he hadn’t died. She tied her bandana around the bleeding stump and wrapped his head with his. That was all she could do for now. She had to get him to Mamma Mary. She would know what to do; she had to if the caravan was to have any hope of crossing this god forsaken plain.
‘Lift me up. If I lie too long I won’t get up again,’ groaned Jack. Jill knew that Jack had suffered enough injuries over the years to know his own body. So she gently removed the jacket below his head and slowly lifted him to his feet. She placed his good arm around her neck and wrapped her arm around his waist. Slowly they hobbled towards the bikes.
‘We cannot leave the bottles here. They are too precious to leave behind’ said Jack through clenched teeth.
Jill admonished him. ‘They do not matter. Right now I’m taking you back to the caravan to Mamma Mary to look at that bleeding stump. I have no idea how many bones you have broken and how many I have broken lifting you up. No, I won’t listen to what you have to say. We can always come back here. This damn hill won’t go anywhere.’
The intense pain kept Jack from opening his mouth again. They reached the bikes and Jill gently placed him in the carrier of his bike. They had served their purpose of carrying the bag of bottles and now they were carrying their master. After making sure that he was secured safely, she put on her goggles and stepped on the throttle. The bike shot forward and she raced as fast she could back to the caravan.
Mamma Mary was sitting in her van, thinking about the good old days when she used to drink iced tea in the patio with her husband George after a hard day’s labor. She remembered the jingle of the ice cubes in the tall glass and the sunlight sparkling off the amber colored liquid. What she wouldn’t do to get one sip of that cold beverage. As she sat reminiscing, she heard a faint boom and saw a dust cloud rising from the parched land ahead. Fear gripped her heart. She had watched the twins ride out to search for water in those devil plains and now she was afraid that something had happened. As she watched, a thin trail of dust rose at a distance behind a speeding vehicle. She saw that it was the twins bike and ran to the lip of the gully as fast as her old legs could carry her. The others had gathered there as soon as they had heard the explosion. As the bike drew near, Momma Mary saw that Jill was riding the bike and Jack was sitting hunched up in the carrier with his arm across his chest.
The bike came to a skidding halt at the lip and Jill jumped out. ‘Jack has been hurt. There was a bomb on the hill. Someone give me a hand.’
Jerry and a few of the stronger men lifted Jack out and carried him to Momma Mary’s van as she ran beside them. Besides being the oldest and wisest of the group, Momma Mary was also the only one nurse among them. She opened the doors of her van and directed the men to lay Jack down as gently as possible on the rickety cot at the back of the van.
‘Jill’ croaked Jack. ‘Get someone and go back to the hill. We cannot afford to waste time. Think about the others. We need that water. Take the metal wand with you this time and be careful.’
Jill nodded her head knowing that it was the right thing to do, now that he was in capable hands. But her heart felt heavy as she left him and went back to the bike. ‘Jerry, come with me. And bring your metal wand,’ she said, starting up the bike.
Jack was slipping in and out of consciousness. He felt a needle prick his arm and then slowly all else faded. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw Momma Mary’s wizened old face and twinkling eyes in the dark van.
‘Ah, so you have come back from the dead to haunt the living have you?’ she asked, with a warm smile on her face.
‘What happened? Where is Jill? Water! What happened to the water?’ stammered Jack, trying to get up. Momma Mary helped him sit straight and gave him a cup of the heavenly fluid. ‘What! Is this your ration? No I cannot accept it,’ he said pushing it away. ‘Yes my dear,’ said Momma. ‘This is mine and you can have as much as you want. There is plenty now for everyone.’
‘How is this possible? Where is Jill?’ he asked, dazed and confused.
‘She has been waiting outside since evening, waiting for you to wake up. You can come in now Jilly.’ Saying so, she pushed the van door open and Jill climbed inside with a big grin on her face.
‘Well brother, you look well and alive. Although, I must say, the plaster on your forehead is a good contrast for your skin,’ she said and chuckled. Momma Mary lightly rapped her head and said, ‘Stop playing with him child and tell him what happened.’
‘Well, after I left you here, I took Jerry with me and we went back to the hill. The bottles were still there, so we started climbing back up, only this time I had Jerry scan every foot with his metal wand. We found that a few land mines had been buried under the ground. Whoever had built that well must have wanted to protect it. Anyway, we found the well. Jerry had a few feet of rope with him and we dropped a line. The well looked so deep that we feared the rope would end and we would never reach the bottom. Luckily for all of us the rope came back wet after a few feet. Immediately we sent down a bottle to fill it up and we struck gold! The water tasted unbearably sweet and it has been a long time since I drank so much water. In the end, we filled every bottle we had and brought it back here. I reckon there must a good amount of water available down there. The only problem now is to bring it all up and fill the tanker.’
Jack fell back with a deep sigh. He looked down at his arm and saw the bandaged stump. He no longer had his fingers and he would no longer be able to write his journal or ride a bike. The intense pain was now reduced to a throbbing ache. But the pain did not matter, now that they had water. Hope. That was all the morphine he ever needed. They would live to fight another day and maybe even reach Newland.