The Mountain Farmer’s Bootlace
Once upon a time there were three cats who lived in a boot that belonged to a giant. Now, this giant had a small farm, stretching over about half a continent, where he grew mountains. You might not think of mountains as a crop that grows on a farm, but if you are large enough and patient enough, you can grow them, and I’ll tell you how:
You start with a mountain seed, which is a special kind of stone, slightly bigger than you are, and shaped like a kernel of unpopped corn. Hold this stone between thumb and forefinger, and push the pointy end down into the rock. Keep on pressing down, down, down into the Earth’s crust, until the tip of it just breaks through the mantle. The hot magma spills up from under the mantle, swells into gaps in the crust, and pushes the mountain up over the course of thousands of years. And that’s how you grow mountains.
Now, this giant had been working barefoot in the fields when he came home and found a small family of cats inside his boot. Curious, he shook the boot. The calico cat climbed up the inside of the boot, trying to escape — but the shaking made her lose her grip and fall. She landed on her feet in the heel of the boot, and scampered into the toe, where the tabby was hiding. But the black cat saw the enormous bootlace dangling inside the boot, and she had to play. She latched her claws into the bootlace and bit, and when the giant pulled it up the cat came with it.
“Well, you’re a brave one,” the giant said as he pulled the cat out. “Are you a good mouser? I have an infestation — mice or something — at the top of that mountain in the east. If you’d like to hunt them for me I’d be mighty grateful.”
The cat did not want to leave her brother and her sister behind, but the infestation of mice sounded delicious. “Yum,” she said. And the giant carried her to the distant mountain and placed her gently on top to hunt the mice.
Now, giants’ eyes are wonderful for seeing large things far away — but not so good for details on mouse-sized things — or even goat-sized things, for that matter. Indeed, if the black cat had not mewed and played with his bootlace, the giant might not have realized she was a cat, but mistaken her for some other creature. So when the black cat arrived on the mountaintop, she searched and searched for mice, but the only creatures she found were goats – a herd of goats.
She tried to catch a goat but she had no luck, and in the end she set off down the mountain alone. She saw a plume of chimney-smoke rising up from a house at the bottom of another mountain. She traveled for days until, thin and starving, she reached the house, where a farmer and his family took her in and nursed her back to health.
Meanwhile, the giant went back to his boot and shook out the calico cat and said, “Your sister has not caught the mice I sent her to hunt on the mountaintop. I saw that you were good at climbing. Do you think you can help?”
“Of course,” said the calico cat, who was afraid for her sister, and missed her dearly.
So the giant took the calico cat to the mountaintop. And the calico cat searched high and low for mice, and for her sister the black cat, but she found neither
So she walked down the mountainside and followed the chimney-smoke to the cottage, where she arrived worn and haggard. They nursed her back to health, and now the two cats nestled together on the windowbox in the sunlight.
Meanwhile, the giant returned to his boot, having no idea that a third cat remained in the toe — for the tabby cat had always hidden himself so well. So the giant put his boot back on with the cat inside. Luckily, the boot fit him well, with extra room in the toe, and the tabby cat found a warm place to sleep between the giant’s big toe and his next one (which was also quite large but not a big toe by name), and the cat was comfortable there.
But one night the giant could not sleep because the goats on the mountaintop were bleating so loudly. As patient as he could be about growing mountains, he got grumpy when someone disturbed his sleep. So he flung his boot at the mountaintop, and mumbled something about that infernal squeaking, completely unaware that there was a cat inside his boot. Of course, being half asleep, he missed by a mile, or possibly even a mile and a half, and the boot bounced off of the crest of a neighboring mountain, and settled even higher up, on the icy peak of a third.
When the boot was no longer moving, the poor tabby cat stumbled dizzily out of the toe, and walked up toward the opening to make sense of his surroundings. But before he could get out, the boot, perched on icy rocks, shifted and began to slip from the mountaintop. The cat held on for dear life as the old boot rode an avalanche down the mountainside, coming to rest at last against the back of the cottage where his sisters now dwelt.
The cushion of snow was a fortunate thing, for it kept the massive boot from cracking the cottage in half. But the snow nearly buried the cottage. The farmer and his two daughters had to climb out the windows and shovel a path to the door, while his wife stayed inside and made something hot to drink, and their young son played with the two cats.
While they were shoveling, the farmer and his daughters noticed the face of a tabby cat poking out through a hole in the snow. And so it was that the tabby cat was reunited with his sisters, and the farmer and his family gained an enormous boot in their yard, which they used to store root vegetables for the winter.
And they all lived happily ever after…
…or they would have, except that the giant was still out there looking for his boot. Because the boot was covered in snow, he walked past it two or three times, giving the farmer and his family time to stock it completely with beets and rutabagas, turnips and parsnips. The boot remained hidden in the snow until one day the farmer stamped snow off his boots before going in to get a parsnip for the soup, and that stamping shook a bit of snow off the giant’s boot. So it was that, on the fourth or fifth pass, the giant noticed his boot sticking out of the snow, and he picked it up.
And what a tasty treat awaited him! For instead of a family of cats who never did deal with the mouse infestation, when he looked inside he found a cache of root vegetables just the right size for an afternoon snack. So he upturned the boot above his mouth and ate them all in one gulp, leaving the farmer and his family with nothing to eat for the winter. The family was distraught, and had no idea what to do. The winter stretched out long before them, and they had just enough food left for a week.
But the youngest child said, “I will go and find the giant, and make him pay us back for the food he took.” And his father told him no, and his mother told him no, and his sisters told him please don’t, and the black cat told him, “If you go then I’m going with you.”
So when everyone else was asleep, the farmer’s son went out in the snow to track the giant, with a sandwich, a bit of cat food, and the black cat riding in a pack on his back. It did not take much skill, because the footprints were almost as big around as his whole house. But it still was not easy, because the giant took such large steps that the boy had to run all night just to catch up. And he still would not have made it, except that the giant stopped in the morning to plant a new crop of mountains.
“Hey, Mister Giant!” the boy shouted, and he tapped on the giant’s boot.
The giant pushed another mountain seed into the ground.
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” the boy shouted.
The giant did not notice, but walked a bit further, and the boy sprinted to keep up. “Hey!” the boy shouted, breathless, when the large foot stopped again, but the giant continued not to notice him. The cat leaped out of the backpack and grabbed the giant’s dangling bootlace. With the greatest leap he could muster, the young lad followed the cat, and grabbed the bootlace as well. And they swung back and forth from it until the bootlace came untied and dragged along the ground.
Still the giant did not notice, but went his way.
“We can tie him to those trees over there,” the cat said.
The boy ran to the trees and quickly wrapped the bootlace several times around a pine. And this the giant noticed because the pine tree slowed his step before nearly pulling out of the ground.
“Hey!” the boy shouted again.
The giant turned and squinted down at him. “You’re not a cat,” the giant said. “And you’re not a rat. What are you?”
“I’m a boy.”
The giant scratched his stubbly chin. “Are you a good mouser?”
“I don’t know.” The boy shrugged. “I’ve never tried.”
“Then probably not,” the giant told him. “What do you want?”
The boy felt a quivering in his chest that nearly stole his voice away, but he answered anyway, “You took something of mine.”
The giant looked around, puzzled. “Was that your tree?”
“No,” the boy answered. “My family’s root vegetables. The beets, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips you ate from this boot.”
“Those were yours?” the giant asked.
The boy nodded. “Uh-huh.”
The giant shrugged. “Why were your roots in my boot?”
“We didn’t know it was yours,” the boy said. “It came to us with a cat. We were using it as a root cellar.”
“Did anyone buy?” the giant asked.
“Buy what?” the boy asked back.
“The roots, from your root seller.”
The boy shook his head. “We weren’t selling them. They were all we had. They were supposed to feed us all winter.”
At this point the cat tugged on the boy’s pants. “Tell him you’re a good mouser,” the cat whispered.
“He already thinks I’m not,” the boy whispered back.
“Tell him you’ll try,” said the cat.
“What are you talking about?” asked the giant.
“Mice. I can try being a mouser, if you need one,” said the boy.
“But you’ll need a tool,” said the cat.
“But I’ll need a tool,” said the boy.
“What kind of tool?” asked the giant.
“His bootlace,” the cat whispered.
“Your bootlace,” said the boy.
So the giant thought a minute, and pulled out his bootlace. He then took the boy, not even noticing the cat who rode along, and deposited the boy and the cat on the mountaintop with the goats.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, the boy’s family wondered if he would ever return.
“He probably got eaten by the giant,” said his mother. And she shed tears, because as tough as she tried to be, she loved her children and did not want to lose them.
The boy’s sisters watched the two cats play half-heartedly in the sunlight. The girls missed their brother, and the cats missed the other cat.
And then it was that the boy and the cat rode in on the back of a goat, with a dozen more goats harnessed behind them with a giant bootlace. “We’ll have milk for the winter. And cheese,” said the boy.
But his sisters and his parents only ran to him and hugged him, so glad they were to see the boy alive. And the cats ran up and rubbed against his shoes, then they leaped up onto the back of the goat and welcomed their sister home.
And then they all lived happily ever after.
“The Mountain Farmer’s Bootlace” © David Sklar
David Sklar grew up in Michigan, where the Michipeshu nibbled his toes on the days when Lake Superior felt frisky. His eclectic mix of publications include fiction in Nightmare and Strange Horizons, poetry in Ladybug and Stone Telling, and humor in Knights of the Dinner Table and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. David lives in the New Jersey swamplands with his wife, their two barbarians, and, at present, only one cat and no goats–although his yard backs onto a neighbor’s chicken coop.
“Planting Mountain Seeds” digital photomanipulation by Fran Eisemann, Stock credits: Wikimedia Commons photo of the Colosso dell’Appennino, or the Appennine Colossus, erected in 1580; “Over the Fog 2nd” mountain background by Bernhard Siegl, Austria, — “My gallery is for showing the beauty of the country I´m living in. Some of the pictures show my favourite places.” http://burtn.deviantart.com/. Goat stock: http://stockproject1.deviantart.com/art/Hillside-Flock-2496862-188062866. Cat stock: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Black-cat-stock-08-277773902, http://catstock.deviantart.com/art/Christmas-Snow-148-418329939, http://www.deviantart.com/art/Sitting-Calico-Female-293310406