Young Pedro follows the fox.
The fox worms through the underbrush. So does Pedro.
The fox runs, gently, tail high. So does Pedro, except that he does not have a tail.
The fox darts into a hole. Pedro thinks about it. But then Pedro is distracted by the marvelous hill.
Pedro’s older sister is fond of quoting Casablanca. “The problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world,” she tells him, when food is short, when nights are cold, when times are hard.
Pedro had always accepted it. A hill of beans must not be much, thought Pedro.
“But it’s actually pretty incredible,” Pedro admits now.
The beans are dry and they come in many colors. There are red beans, brown beans, golden beans, white beans. They are stacked in a pile, out in the middle of nowhere, a hundred and twenty feet high.
“It’s made of beans,” breathes Pedro.
Pedro advances on the hill. The fox is forgotten. Pedro begins to scramble up the hill.
The colors are like a painting. The beans are like daubs of paint on canvas, thick and striking.
There is one bean that is blue.
Pedro stares at it for a while. “I’ve never seen a blue bean before,” he says.
This is actually not true. Pedro has seen blue beans. But not like this one: not this perfect cerulean, like a bean snatched from the sky.
Pedro reaches for it. But then he hesitates.
“It could be a structural bean,” he says. “Load-bearing.”
So he just looks at it, very close, with his nose practically up against the bean. Then he scrambles on up the hill.
He is almost halfway up when the beans begin to shift under his feet. He is almost halfway up when it is like the beans are quicksand. His feet are sinking into the hill. The beans are shifting all around him. And he can feel, with the certainty of death, a terrible hand wrapping around his ankle, deep amidst the beans, ready to pull him down.
Pedro screams. Pedro struggles. He claws at the beans as they shift all around him. He tries to make progress, forward, backwards, any direction but in.
It is successful. He kicks something old and bony within the hill. His flailing scrambling body finds sterner purchase. He drags himself up and out and lays there, panting, spread-eagled face-down on the beans for maximum surface area, and he waits.
“I am alive,” says Pedro.
He can still feel it. There is something wrapped around his ankle, but it is not pulling him downwards any more.
“I am alive,” Pedro says, but he does not look at his leg.
He writhes around and begins heading down the hill. He does not stand up until he is much lower on the hill, and then he is running, scrambling, hurrying desperately to escape.
He is almost to the bottom when he looks down and sees that the hand that grips his leg is a dead man’s hand, old and skeletal and ancient bones, and the ring on its finger is made of ancient sapphire-studded gold.
It is a cold winter, and a hard one, but Pedro and his sister eat well. Forever after, when his sister tells him that human problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, Pedro’s eyes get very wide and solemn.
“They sure don’t!” Pedro says.
It was a pretty unusual case. Not every hill of beans has gold and magic and terror in it. Some of them are even pretty tame.
But you’d never know that by Pedro!