There were giants in the land in those days, but fewer people than there used to be. Now the giants were the typical sort—lumbering and hungry. But the people were very odd, most anyway. It wasn’t uncommon for a giant to reach right into a house and pluck up one of them while he watched television. No one minded. Sometimes it was even an occasion for tears of joy.
Still, a few people managed to keep clear of the giants, and one of those people was named Jack.
About this fellow Jack; he loved a farmer’s daughter. One day, as he crossed the countryside on his way to the father’s farm, he daydreamed of the daughter and the house they would build together. While he did, he came upon a freshly-ruined house. Flames consumed its members and all the signs pointed to a giant. Then Jack saw that the trail of ruin ran straight away towards the neighboring farmer’s house. So Jack ran after.
But he came too late. The giant had come and with the farmer’s daughter it had gone. The farmer-father remained and he wore a big smile.
“Yes, she’s gone,” he said, “and she deserved it too. Her grades were good, she’s worked so hard—we’re very proud.”
“But she’s been eaten by a giant!”
“Well, I suppose if you want a safe, secure job with benefits, you should be willing to give something up for it.”
But Jack did not hear the farmer’s words. He was already running after the giant. And the giant wasn’t hard to track, wherever it had passed things were uprooted or broken.
He found it towering behind the crest of a hill. It was a big one, as giants go, one hundred feet tall, maybe more. And it was well-dressed; it wore a tailored suit. It was lowering the farmer’s daughter into its capacious mouth just as Jack ran up to its enormous Italian shoes. There Jack found himself in a crowd of people, each person shouting up the contents of his resume.
“Giant, spit her out!” Jack said. But he wasn’t heard over the chorus of resume readers.
“Fee, fi, fo, fum!” the giant said, its mouth full of farmer’s daughter. “We have one more opening; who’d like the job?”
“Me! Me!” all the people said.
When the giant reached down Jack saw his chance. He shoved aside a middle-aged, middle-manager and grabbed onto the giant’s hand.
“No fair, age discrimination!” the middle-manager cried.
“Fo, fum!” the giant said. “This one is a real go-getter. We always need his kind in sales!”
At this point Jack could see that the giant was made up of people, or what had formerly been people. Each digit on its six-fingered hand consisted of human bodies hopelessly twisted together—legs, arms, torsos, all knotted—heads either buried, or staring blankly, self-awareness gone from their eyes. The whole giant, hair, face, clothing, everything, was people. Being part of the giant looked painful, and as Jack rose into the air he heard whimpers.
Now that he was high up he could see for miles. Wherever he looked he saw more giants. Some of them fought, rumbling and tumbling, crushing small towns and smashing family farms. They came in all sizes, some were so large their heads were in the clouds; those hardly moved at all. Still others were like mountains, with mouths like open volcanoes, other giants feeding them, hurling buckets of natural resources into them. Still others were cannibals, hunting smaller giants and eating them. Whenever that happened the cannibal grew bigger and debris fell like rain. Then the debris would run after the now larger giant, swarming around its feet, begging to be eaten too.
Before Jack could be afraid, he was in the giant’s mouth.
He found himself in a waiting room lined with white, plastic chairs. The place was lit by industrial florescent fixtures overhead. But the walls were red, as you might expect. And the farmer’s daughter was there.
“Jack, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to take you away.”
“We’ve already discussed it—I have student loans, I need a job.”
“Not here, not with a giant. It will promise you the moon—but whenever has a giant kept a promise? Besides, everyone is miserable here; can’t you hear the groaning?”
It was hard to miss—groans came from every direction, the floor, the walls, even the chairs.
That’s when the Mouthpiece rose from the floor. She was dressed in a pink business suit.
“Welcome to Giant Corporation. I’m here to help you find your place.” She sounded friendly, but without a promise of real friendship.
“Thanks, I’m ready to get started,” the farmer’s daughter said.
“Stop!” said Jack. “I though we had a future together, we talked about building a house.”
“Jack, be practical,” she said out of the corner of her mouth.
“You don’t have to choose between a house and Giant Corporation,” said the Mouthpiece. “The hours are good here and so is the pay. If you want to buy a house our credit union can give you a loan. Not right away, of course. But with a couple of promotions you should be able to put your earnings together and afford a cute little place.”
“You see, we don’t have to choose, we can have it all.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Let’s get out of here—this is no place to spend your life,” said Jack.
“But how can we live if I don’t work?”
“That’s it—work takes time and time is life. Giants take your time, and when you are all used up they just throw you away. That’s not living—that’s slavery.”
“But you’re forgetting advancement and recognition,” said the Mouthpiece. “There are many opportunities in Giant Corporation.”
Until this moment Jack had ignored the Mouthpiece. But this made him angry.
“Recognition? From whom? People she doesn’t even like? Advancement? What’s that supposed to mean when nothing you work on is your own? Besides, a wife’s place is with her husband.”
“Jack, please—you’re embarrassing me; we aren’t even married yet.”
But as the farmer’s daughter spoke, a clicking sound came from the Mouthpiece. Her head was turning and another face appeared. This one had eyes of flame, and the hair of its head stood on end and undulated, and her voice was like that of a crow’s.
A finger of accusation rose and stopped right in front of Jack’s nose.
“Patriarchy! Oppression! Rape! Socially constructed heteronomy!” she screeched. “You vile, vile man! Shame! Shame!”
Jack began to tremble, but not with fear.
“Hell no!” he said with so much force the Mouthpiece was dumbfounded. “You are the oppressor! And you are a thief! You steal people from their homes. You are an enemy of what is natural and good!” Then Jack took her finger and bent it back on itself.
“Shame on you….” Jack said low and menacing.
There was no cry of pain from the Mouthpiece, just more clicking as the head turned again. A new face appeared. This one was made of metal and had holes where eyes, nose, and mouth should be.
“Business is business,” it said robotically. “Nothing personal, but we’re going to have to let you go. Please leave by the nearest exit.”
“Glad to, but I’m not leaving without her.”
“Jack, I don’t know. It’s so risky.”
“Come,” the robot said, “you must be processed.” And it began to push the farmer’s daughter toward a back door.
As it did so the whole room began to move. The ceiling lowered and the floor began to rise and the white chairs began to look like teeth, or at least the baldheads of accountants all in a row. They were chanting, “Crunch the numbers; crunch the numbers.”
Jack jumped after the farmer’s daughter to pull her away. Instead both Jack and the daughter were swept through the door. Then they fell.
Down, down Jack and the farmer’s daughter fell. They landed with a splash onto a spongy floor covered ankle-deep in milky fluid. The place was filled with pale people waiting in a line to go through a door at the back. Someone came up carrying a clipboard. It was unclear whether it was male or female; its voice was high and its clothes were formless bags.
“Oh my—aren’t you a buff fellow?” it said to Jack. “And you, with that shape, no mistaking you for anything but a woman now, is there?” it said to the farmer’s daughter. “No, won’t do, no need for any of that here.”
“What is this place?” Jack said.
“Processing, of course,” it said with its hands on its hips. “Didn’t they tell you upstairs?”
“What’s the stuff on the floor? It burns my feet,” said the farmer’s daughter.
“That, my dear, is what we use to remove anything that is not useful to the giant. It’s nothing special, every giant uses it.”
Jack looked at the bleached people by the door. Now he noticed that they wore bags too.
“Will it make us like them?”
“Certainly, what a silly question. Oh, I know what you’re thinking; don’t you worry, you two can still have your fun—after hours, mind. We all need recreation, don’t we?” It nudged Jack and sidled up to him. “We don’t judge here, you know, how you get that fun is none of the giant’s business. Why, I imagine a fellow like you gets lots of attention.”
The farmer’s daughter took Jack’s arm. “We’d like to have children some day.”
“Children, whatever for?” it said, moving away from Jack and taking an officious tone. “That’s wonderful, I suppose,” it said blankly. “Let me make a note of that. I should think a liberated woman would not want to limit her self in that way. You are liberated, aren’t you?”
Just then the milky stuff fell from the ceiling as from a bucket.
“Ow!” the farmer’s daughter said, “My whole front is burning!”
Jack felt the burning too, but just lower down.
“Oh, everyone says that at first,” the thing with the clipboard said. “But soon the burning sensation goes away. From the looks of both of you that may take a little longer than normal, but don’t worry, eventually you won’t even remember what those parts are for.”
Another deluge fell and the farmer’s daughter cried out in pain.
“Quick, hold on to me,” Jack said. “I’m getting us out of here!”
The farmer’s daughter wrapped herself around him. When the acid fell again it only reached their backsides.
“It didn’t burn that time,” she said.
“Just hold on tight.”
“Oooo, you two are a problem. We can’t process you this way. Now, separate!” It tried feebly to pull them apart.
Jack reached up and grabbed on to some appendages that protruded from the wall. Then he saw once more that the giant was nothing more than people, all twisted and knotted together, until they became the tissue of the giant. He pulled himself up, the farmer’s daughter still clinging to him.
“I’m getting us out of here!”
“Stop!” the clipboard thing cried. It tried to pull them down.
Jack kicked it away and then began to climb. He saw the hole in the ceiling they had fallen out of and he steered toward that.
“I’m afraid of heights!” the farmer’s daughter said.
“Don’t look then; just hold on.”
He made it to the hole and passed through. Getting out would mean a long climb, and they might not have made it if not for two things.
They got some help along the way. Some of the people in the walls, those whose heads weren’t buried anyway, wished them well and even pushed them along when they could. A few even wanted to come.
“Please take me with you,” a face said pitifully from the wall. “I don’t like it here, I’d do anything to get out.”
“If you don’t like it, why did you come here in the first place?” said the farmer’s daughter.
“When I was young,” the face said, “no one told me what it would really be like. Everyone wanted to be part of a giant—it just seemed the thing to do. And I believed what the Mouthpiece said. Now I know it’s all lies.”
“I can’t carry you and her,” Jack said. “Besides, you’re tied up. You need to work yourself loose.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said the face. “Won’t I fall?“
“Maybe so. But it’s a risk you’ll need to take if you ever want to get out of here.”
When the face heard that, its countenance fell, for it seemed to have great security in the giant.
But even with help from people in the walls they might not have gotten out without even more help.
“Fee, fi, fo, fum! I seem to have something caught in my throat!” the giant said.
Inside, great waves, spasms really, passed through the walls and Jack and the farmers daughter were thrown up and out into the light of day.
Clinging to one another now more tightly than ever they fell as one onto a patch of freshly tilled soil.
The giant looked down at what it had spat out.
“Fee, fi, fo, fum—it is an indigestible bean!”
It took one of its massive feet and pressed Jack and the farmer’s daughter down deep. But this only pushed the bean into the earth where it could put down roots.
The indigestible bean was now invisible and the giant went on its way.
But from the bean something green began to grow. In time it would come to shelter and feed Jack and his wife, and in time it was the joy of their life together. Why, it even lived on after they both passed away.
This book is about that thing.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.