Holiday Throwback: Jack and Jill

((Another old story that I dug up recently, this one also from high school. Merry Christmas to everyone!))

 

Two women stood in the kitchen, peeling and chopping vegetables for their dinner. The older women had a weathered face, from the wrinkles on her forehead to the tired blue eyes. Silver veins coursed through her brownish-blond hair. She was currently dicing potatoes that were being peeled by her daughter. The smaller girl was tall, or at least tall for an eight-year old. Her blonde hair reached down to just past her shoulder blades, and it flowed freely. Her vibrant, green eyes were full of anticipation, vividness, and a slight hint of immaturity. Handing her mother the final starch, the girl rose to her feet, gracefully walking towards the open window. She looked out onto the path, hoping to see anything or hear any sound; a carriage bell, horses trotting, crunching gravel.

“Jill!” her mother called, and the girl turned away from the opening. “While I finish preparing the ingredients, can you please go get me the water for stew?”
“Yes, mother.” Jill said airily, reaching for a large metal pail that was stashed in a cupboard.
“Oh, and Jill?” the older woman continued while slicing a carrot into extremely thin slices. The little girl looked back, the pail bouncing off of her knee. “Can you take your brother with you?”
A sigh, then, “Yes, mother.” Jill left the room, stopping only to find a white ribbon to tie her hair back. That accomplished, she went outside.

A boy that was an inch or so shorter than Jill was amusing himself by throwing stones at small woodland creatures that came nearby. His blonde hair was messy and unkempt, and his blue eyes twinkled with mischief. A smile came to his face when the pebble knocked a squirrel off-balance. His hand reached reflexively for another stone, and then he saw Jill. Dropping the rocks, he stood up and asked, “When’s Pa coming home?” while brushing dirt off his pants.

“Soon, Jack,” his sister replied, eyes darting towards the road for a second. “But first, Mom wants us to get water for cooking!” Jack groaned. “C’mon,” his sister needled, “It’s not that bad a climb.” She started walking, and Jack slowly followed.

The ‘climb’ that Jill was referring to was the hill that the two had to scale in order to reach the well. Jill’s family lived in a valley between two hills in the Appalachian mountain range. A long dirt road winded around the hill to the peak where the well was. There was also a steep footpath that lead directly from base to summit. Jack and Jill always raced to the top along this path, and Jack always run. It wasn’t that Jill was slower; her legs were longer than her brother’s, and she could sprint the length of a field in three-fourths the time it took Jack. The pail dangling down around her calves was the cause. The only time that they went up the hill was to get water. It was large, bulky and always getting caught on the rocks.

At the base of the hill, Jack let out a whoop of delight and tore up the footpath. Clutching the bucket tightly to her chest, Jill gave chase. The girl darted from tree to tree, trying to keep an eye on the dusty mop ahead of her. Trees began to open up, and Jill caught a glimpse of her brother halfway up the hill. Picking her way through the section of rocks and small boulders, the girl felt something tug at her ankles. She had caught herself on a root, and the ground was rapidly rushing to meet her. It was by sheer luck that her face missed any sharp rocks. Scrabbling quickly to her feet, she ignored the dust in her mouth and continued to run up the sharp incline. The path only grew steeper, and Jill was forced to use a hand for balance, dragging the pail behind her. “Jill!” a voice cried, and she was at the top.

Jack took the bucket from her. As she continued to gasp for breath and spit the dust out, the boy attached the bucket to a piece of rope and lowered it down the well. After hearing a light splash, he began to pull the rope back up. However, he wasn’t making much progress on his own. Jill grabbed a length of rope, and together they hoisted the heavy pail of water back to the surface. As Jill held the handle, her small muscles strained from the weight.

They were about to descend when Jack stated, “I’m taking it down.” He grabbed a part of the handle and tried to take the bucket from his sister. Although Jill was older by about twelve minutes, Jack was stronger. The two continued to grapple for it, Jill out of a necessity to go what her mother asked, Jack because he wanted to do something significant. Their struggle inched them ever closer to the sharp decline, with Jack closer to the drop.

A bell was heard chiming at the base of the hill, harmonizing with the clopping of horses. “Father!” Jill said, releasing the bucket and staggering backwards. By the time she realized what she had done, Newton’s third law was in motion. The little boy was tumbling head over heels down the slope, the bucket spilling all over the ground. As time went on, he began to pick up speed. Jack reached the rocks. Luck was on his side for a moment, and he missed the outcroppings. Then, his head collided with a small boulder. Although Jill didn’t see the details from that distance, it was enough to make her vomit.

The taste of bile still in her mouth, Jill ran full speed down the path. She passed the metal pail, and took a glance at the path ahead. It was the same path that Jack fell down before he smashed his head. Unfortunately, by looking ahead, Jill forgot to check her footing. The wet ground slid out from underneath her, and Jill came tumbling after.

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