From the author: Oh the mash-up of fairy tales that are crammed into this explanation of the Jack Spratt nursery rhyme! Wicked and funny, this really isn't one for young children.
Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean.
Betwixt the two,
They licked the platter clean.
Jack leaned back from the evening meal, a dark-furred hand going up to pick at his large teeth.
“Mr. Spratt, if you please! Do not pick your teeth at the table!” His wife’s deep voice so close behind him made him jump like a nervous hare. He was glad, therefore, that she had just eaten her fill of the roasted goat. He, meanwhile, had made short work of the salad and carrots. It was a stem of said salad that was stuck between his teeth just now, but he ignored it due to the racing of his heart.
“Sorry, dearest. But I do wish you’d quit sneaking up behind me. It’s not good for my nerves.”
Elsa, his wife, came beside him and cleared away the plate, smiling wolfishly. She liked displaying her large, yellowed canines prominently; he knew she liked the way it made him squirm. Normally he had little qualms over his wife’s peccadillos, but in two nights the moon would be full, and Elsa was growing restless earlier with each moon that passed. It leached away her good sense, and he grew more and more fearful of her during the fullness of the moons.
He retreated to the hearth and poked at the fire, trying to calm his breathing and flatten his gooseflesh. Letting her scent his fear would be bad. In as calm a tone as he could muster, Jack spoke over the sounds of her washing up.
“I thought I might go to the village tomorrow. Leave in the morning, do some trading. Stay a couple nights. Maybe visit my friend Hamm.” He kept his eyes on the snapping fire, but he felt her glowing eyes caressing the back of his head.
“Ohhh, why, Mr. Spratt. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You know I can use you here during the full moon. To keep things … settled … during my time of the month.”
That’s what she called it, now. Her ‘time of the month,’ as if a werewolf’s curse was something entirely normal. She’d rampage over the countryside for a night and a half, maybe two depending on the moon-cycle, then come straggling back home, naked and bedraggled, flushed with a shameful joy. Lately she’d been staying closer to home during her change. He’d heard her snuffling outside the door, howling in the forest behind the barn.
Jack shook his head. Ever since they’d refused to help the old witch of the wood the year before, when she wanted to lure children, Jack’s ears had grown, and a fine hair grew over his arms and hands, then his whole body. His eyes got sharper, and while living with a woman cursed with lycanthropy never made a man calm, Jack had gotten more high-strung than ever. He refused to admit it for the longest time, but there was no denying it any longer: he was turning into a rabbit. He knew that his wife knew, and found him … interesting.
“Besides,” Elsa murmured, turning her gold-flecked eyes back to her dishes, “you were just to the village two weeks ago, so I can’t imagine you need to visit again so soon.”
Jack froze. His heart hammered once more, and his ears heard the low, throaty laugh his wife gave. He scented his own panic, and knew mortal fear.
Jack shut the door to the chicken coop behind him. He’d barricaded the henhouse doors from the inside. Now he prepared to nail boards across the doorframe to secure it — he hoped — from entry. He lifted the hammer, set the nail and swung.
Hot breath on his neck made him leap and twirl, but the hammer landed on his thumb anyway. He hopped a few steps, sucking his thumb, as he took in his wife’s narrowed, gleaming eyes and hungry smile. He noticed the way she tensed at his hopping, and he immediately froze.
“What are you doing, Mr. Spratt?”
“Just protecting the chickens, Mrs. Spratt.” His heart hammered at his throat and made his voice come out as a squeak. Her smile widened.
“Good instincts, but somehow I think the hens will be safe. There are better things on the menu tonight, I do believe.” With a last wolfish grin, she turned and loped back to the house.
The moon rose early that evening. His wife never left the house, but sat watching Jack, pinning him to the dark corner of the room with her intense eyes. As soon as the change rendered her immobile, he raced out the door, zigging and zagging in a panic. All too soon, he heard the howl of pursuit, and in a burst of speed, Jack zipped up to Hamm’s dilapidated, straw-mortared hovel. At his panicked knocking, his short, fat friend opened the door. Jack burst inside, slamming the door behind him.
“Why, Jack. Whatever is the matter? Onk.” Hamm always caught his breath after each utterance, sounding like a goose. Or a pig.
Before Jack could explain, Elsa was upon the house, howling for Jack’s blood. The two friends cowered in the center of the room as the wolf shouted, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”
“Go away! Onk. Onk.”
Elsa rammed the door, and it gave way in a shower of wood and straw. Jack and Hamm sprinted out, to Hamm’s brother’s house nearby.
At Pudge’s wooden house, the scene repeated itself, and Jack and the two little pigs squealed in terror as they zipped to the eldest brother’s home. Porky’s home was stout brick, and when the wolf arrived hot on their heels, Porky laughed at the wolf’s foolishness. Jack cowered by Porky’s feet, panting, as his friend’s brother told off the wolf.
The door shuddered once, twice, three times, but held. Elsa snarled and snapped on the other side, cursing Jack, cursing bricks, and doubly-cursing Porky. Jack looked up, his pulse slowing as hope bloomed in his heart.
There was a long silence, then the sound of footsteps on the roof.
“The chimney!” Jack shouted. But Porky was already stoking the fire higher. He placed a large soup pot in the hearth. The wolf popped out the chimney and fell into the pot, and Porky threw the heavy lid onto it. Jack and the others raced to hold the lid in place as the wolf who’d been his wife struggled to escape.
As the bangs and knocks came to an end, Jack grinned at his friend.
“Looks like you’ll have soup tonight, my friends. Thanks!”
“No thanks needed. But you know, there’s one thing that goes perfect with soup.”
“Oh?” Jack looked back towards the kettle, sniffing appreciatively as Porky lifted the lid. “What?”
As the lid hit his skull, Jack heard the pigs cheer, and he saw only dark.
This story originally appeared in Short Sips; Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection 2.