“Beanstalk” by Clifford Henderson from Saints and Sinners 2014: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books).

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

This story spoke to my heart. Right out of the gate, I saw it unfolding as a stage play aimed at kids. (Reminder: I spent nineteen years working in theatre for young audiences.) Come to find out, the author’s roots are also in theatre, so go figure.

She had me at “Once upon a future” and it only got better and better. The main character, Jackie, lives in Utonia, a land where almost everyone is happy. Poor Jackie isn’t happy, though, and the reason why is hinted at in the depression she feels when she looks at the edges of the 3-D landscapes she paints for a living.

Obviously “Utonia” is meant to conjure “Utopia”, but isn’t Utonian also what you call a person from Utah? So is this a (not so?) far-future Utah where people are (gasp!) allowed to be open about the manner in which they’ve fallen in love? Meaning, of course, when they are smitten with a person of their same gender, but quite possibly—because it’s Utonia, and also because I’ve read the blurb for the author’s latest book—meaning also the number of people with whom they have fallen in love (although that actually turns out to not be a factor in this particular tale).

Under duress Jackie sells one of her 3-D paintings to the crone named Marta, who is rumored to have witchcraft-type powers. What does she get in return for her work? Why, a magic bean, of course, which, naturally, she tosses out the window, and the next morning discovers has grown into a vine that reaches up into the clouds. And, just as naturally, she climbs the beanstalk looking for adventure, and finds more of it than she bargained for. It’s a really cute and fresh re-telling of the classic fairy tale.

On a side note, I challenge you to visit the author’s blog (http://www.cliffordhenderson.net/joomla/index.php) and not come away from it liking her. I bet you can’t. Likewise, I’ll wager you’ll find the blurb for her latest book, Maye’s Request, very intriguing. Lastly, let me say that if the author hasn’t already been introduced to my former boss J. Daniel Herring, now a professor with California State University at Fresno’s Department of Theatre Arts, that unfortunate situation needs to be corrected post haste.