Jack and Jill went up the hill to the Well, dragging along the bucket, and bickering all the way.
“I’m sick and tired of going to the Well,” Jill moaned. “All those drunks hanging around leering at me make me uncomfortable.”
“Well, you don’t have to look at them,” Jack snapped. “And if we don’t go get him his bucket of ale, he’ll take the strap to us...again.”
“Wish we could do something about him,” Jill said. “I wish mum had never married him.”
“Well, she did, and what can we do about it?” Jack argued. “Run away?”
“That’s no good. Mum would be left all alone and...”
“Look,” Jack interrupted, “there’s that Jack Horner, with a pie as usual. I can’t stand him.”
“Yes, him and his plummy accent,” Jill agreed, momentarily forgetting her grievance. “If I have to hear one more of his smug, self-congratulatory declarations of what a good boy he is, I’ll...I’ll...”
Muttering balefully, she followed her brother the long way round behind the wood so they wouldn’t have to pass Jack Horner, who had sat down under a tree and was digging into his pie. Unfortunately, this brought them close to little Miss Muffet, who saw them and immediately stopped stuffing her face with curds and whey to begin shrieking theatrically.
“What are you screaming about?” Jill asked, clapping her free hand over one ear. “We haven’t done anything to you.”
“It’s the spider,” Miss Muffet quit screaming long enough to explain. “The damn spider just scared me again.”
“Where’s the spider, then?” Jack looked around. “I don’t see the spider.”
“Oh. Um.” Little Miss Muffet blushed suddenly. “She’s on leave today. I forgot.”
“Let’s go, Jack,” Jill said. “Let’s not waste time on this flake.”
“Who’re you calling a flake?” Miss Muffet responded belligerently. “I’ll have you know that I’m a bona fide tourist attraction. I’ll have my own show, Tuffet Talks, on TV while you two are still going to the pub for ale every day for that drunken old sot of yours.”
Jill considered replying to this, but she couldn’t really think of a way to counter the contention that their stepfather was a “drunken old sot,” so she went on without a further word. They passed Humpty Dumpty, who was putting down mattresses before climbing on to his wall, and he didn’t even deign to glare at them as he usually did.
“So,” Jill said, returning to her theme, “I wish we could stop him from sending us up to the Well every day, to get his ale.”
“How could we do that? At least try not to fall down this time. I don’t want my crown broken again.”
“Then you shouldn’t wear the silly thing. It makes you look stupid anyway. Not even princes wear crowns these days, and you –”
“And if I don’t wear it, we wouldn’t fall, is that what you’re saying?” Jack turned angrily to his sister. “Look, even if a ten-ton alien jellyfish from outer space came down here right now it wouldn’t stop you from being the clumsiest girl this side of Little Bo Peep. You –“
There was a soft, immensely heavy thump behind them, exactly as might be made by a ten-ton alien jellyfish from outer space landing on the hill. They were both almost knocked out of their shoes, and dropped the bucket. Fortunately, since they hadn’t been up to the Well yet, it was empty.
The creature behind them wasn’t quite a jellyfish. It was an immense, trembling, translucent mass of something that might have been jelly or might have been something else. It looked as though someone had taken the slime produced by ten million billion snails and put it all together. Ten short limbs poked out of it at various angles, and from somewhere deep inside a pair of huge violet eyes regarded Jack and Jill doubtfully.
“Excuse me,” the thing said. It had a very nice voice, rather like Mistress Mary’s when she was in a good mood. “Is this...I mean to say, are you...” It made a noise like c. “You don’t look like them, though. But I suppose you must be.”
“Uh...” Jack said, when he’d somewhat recovered the power of speech. “No, we aren’t – that noise you made. We’re a boy and a girl.”
“And this is Earth,” Jill, who was a little quicker on the uptake, added.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” the thing sighed. “We were supposed to be invading” (it made a noise like a hyena laughing at an angry pig) “but I lost my way. As usual. I’m always getting lost, and the others will have to launch the invasion without me. Whatever shall I do?”
“Find your way to wherever it is,” Jack said promptly.
“If only it were that easy,” the thing sighed, quivering all over. “You say this is Earth? I’m afraid I have not the faintest idea where that is, you see.”
“Oh,” Jill said. “So you can’t go there because you’re so lost that you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where to go.”
“That’s it exactly,” the thing said eagerly. “You see the problem.”
“Sort of,” Jack responded. “But why do you want to invade the whatever you called them?”
“I’m a ten-ton space jelly,” the thing said. “What else can a ten-ton space jelly do except invade some planet or other? It’s expected of us.”
“Can’t you do something else instead?”
The thing attempted a shrug and almost rolled off downhill. “I don’t know, I never thought of it.” It paused a moment. “My name,” it offered, “is Rose Petal Plum. And you are?”
“Rose Petal Plum?” Jack repeated incredulously. “Rose Petal Plum?”
“Why shouldn’t its name be Rose Petal Plum?” Jill snapped, kicking Jack on the ankle. “I’m Jill,” she told the thing. “And this is Jack. Please excuse his lack of manners. It’s the stupid crown he’s wearing.”
“The crown,” the thing repeated. “Of course. It makes sense now.”
“Does it?” Jack and Jill exchanged glances. “Er...” Jack ventured, “why would the crown have anything to do with it?”
“Except for sucking out his brains, it doesn’t do anything,” Jill said. “So I don’t follow –”
“You see,” the jelly said, “the (cats and hailstorm) look a lot like crowns. So I must have accidentally homed in on your crown instead.”
“So what can you do now?” Jack asked. “I don’t suppose that helps you get back to where you came from, does it?”
“No,” Rose Petal Plum admitted sadly. “If only I could find my way back home, though, I’d be all right.”
“How would you find your way home?” Jill wondered. “Is it far?”
“It must be,” the jelly agreed. “But there are gateways, and all I need is to find a gateway. But how can I do that up on this mountain?”
“What do these gateways look like?”
“There are many sorts,” the jelly said. “It could be a hole in time and space, or a bump in the fabric of reality, or something quite simple, like, oh, a volcano, or a well...”
“A well,” Jack and Jill said together. “Did you say a well?”
“Why, yes. But where would one find a well up here on this mountain, and, moreover, one lage enough for me, I don’t know –“
“We can take you to a well,” Jill told it. “At least,” she amended, “it’s called a Well. But if we do...”
“Yes?” the jelly asked. “Whatever you say, I’ll do it. Just get me home.”
“All you have to do,” Jill told it, “is to promise never to invade us.”
“Or to invade anybody,” Jack added. “Find some other way to pass the time.”
“Take up collecting, I don’t know, asteroids or something.”
“And if you go anywhere, go as tourists.”
“Yes, I’ll do that,” Rose Petal Plum said. “I’m not really cut out for this invading thing anyway. I keep getting lost.”
“Well then, Rose Petal Plum,” Jill told it, “let’s get you to the Well.”
“I’m glad that’s over,” Jack said, as he and Jill carried the bucket down the slope.
“How’s it over?” Jill asked, shifting her grip on the pail handle. “He’s not going to be happy we didn’t get his ale, just water.”
“He can’t do anything about it,” Jack argued. “It’s not our fault that when Rose Petal Plum jumped on to the Well it disappeared under the ground and became a real well.”
“He can come up and see for himself if he doesn’t believe us,” Jill said. “Jack?”
“Mmm?” Jack was looking across the slope, towards where Polly Flinders was gathering firewood for the night so she could sit warming her pretty little toes by the cinders. “What?”
“Look out, or you’ll...”
It was too late. Jack’s foot caught on a root, and he went head over heels. Jill, pulled off balance, went tumbling right after.
“Ooh,” Jack said, picking himself up and rubbing his head.
“Ouch,” Jill agreed, rubbing her head. “Now we’ve fallen down again. And dropped the water too.”
“It’s worse than that,” Jack said gloomily.
“Worse? How could it be worse?”
“Look,” Jack said, holding something up. “Just look!”
It was his crown. He’d broken it.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015