The House That Jack Built: A Diabolical Tragedy in Four Acts

Friends, we here at mean to horrify you by any means and in any format or genre necessary. Below is our first stage play, a horrific fairy tale in verse written for ghoulish marionettes by master puppeteer Adam Bolivar. Let the atmosphere gloom you away …

Dramatis Personae

JACK STRAW, a scarecrow

SOLOMON SCRATCH, a traveling salesman of sorts

MRS. STRAW, a goodwife


The Time: The Days of Yore

The Place: A gone but not forgotten cornfield


JACK STRAW is hanging pinned to a post in an abandoned cornfield.

A house looms in the background.

A rooster crows.

O happy day which over me dawns;
The white cock crows and the black crow caws.
A simple Jack Straw I sit on my post,
A-scarin’ the crows for this I love most.
But what is this cloud which covers the sun?
I hope it won’t rain and spoil all my fun …

Enter SOLOMON SCRATCH with a flash and a whiff of brimstone.

Good morning, good sir, what glorious weather!
I feel I could dance, as light as a feather.
Allow me to introduce myself: Solomon Scratch is my name;
And the striking of deals my unspeakable game.
Do you want wine, women and power,
Stacks of gold piled high in a tower?
Just sign your name in Olde Solomon’s Booke,
And who can deny ’tis I who’s been took?

Well, Mr. Scratch, you’re barkin’ up the wrong tree,
For I love scarin’ crows and the farmers, they love me.

Scaring crows? Humbug, my friend.
This field is abandoned, kaput, a dead-end.
The farmers are gone, packed up and skipped town;
They left you to swing, for none took you down.

The farmers are gone? Left town, did you say?
I’d wondered why no one was planting in May …

You need a new outfit, some spring in your step.
It’s time you got cracking. How long have you slept?

Upon my whole life you’ve shed a new light;
Good golly miss molly, why, maybe you’re right.

Wouldn’t it please you to dance and to play?
To gambol amidst the lilies of May?
And not be affixed to a pole in a field?
I can give you these things … only your soul you must yield.

To fill my jug with songs in a tavern?
Finding a treasure trove in a cavern …

SCRATCH (aside):
My oath, my spurs & garters, my burning ears,
Could these be the words of a deal that I hear?

To have these things I’d sign in a second—
To have these things a deal could be reckoned…

To business then—
I know of a spell, a black spell, a spell
Treasured by the Ancient Ones,
Hoarded by the More Ancient Ones,
for it had been so cunningly and
ingeniously contrived by the
Still More Ancient Ones
Before Them …
It is spell which can turn straw to a man,
I’ll say it aloud to see if I can:

Catch a scarecrow by the toe;
If he hollers let him go,
Out goes WHY-OH-
Era. Quid-

Shang-die, Shang-do;
Out goes Y-O-U!

A CLICK sounds as Jack is released from bondage.

Arise from your roost, gentle Jack o’ the Straw;
Your pastures are nigh, my word is the law.

Jack begins to dance.

Not straw, now a man, my handsomest prince,
The fairest I’ve seen of many I’ve since.
Take you this pipe of Black Mary’s Weed
For it shall give you the strength that you need.

A smoking pipe lowers.

Oh, thank you, Mr. Scratch. God bless you. Amen.
A happy man I am, happy as a clam,
To dance around in grass
And frolic like a lamb.
O, what more could I possibly ask
Than to play around in sunlight and bask?

Scratch is amused.

It tickles me pink, a job so well done.

But we’ll see how you fare for a year in the sun.
Come back in one year, come back to this spot,
And tell Master Scratch how you’ve fared with your lot.
I’ll wait for you here, as heavy as lead,
Right here on this spot scaring crows in your stead.

Jack exits.



[Solomon Scratch puppet created by Dave Huckins.]

Scratch is crouching by the post. A murder of crows is flocked around him. They all fly away as Jack comes waltzing in.

Scratch rises to greet him.

At last, good Jack! I say, you are late.
You do know how much I so hate to wait.

Oh Master Scratch, I have been so far and so wide …
There’s a spring in my step, a strength in my stride.

That much is apparent. Tell on.

I have been to the palace of King Prester John,
And melted his heart with my dance and my song.
I have seen the brooding face of the Sphinx,
And the Land of Nod where lotus blooms wink.

SCRATCH (yawning):
You don’t say?

I have knelt before the feet of a queen…
My heart races madly for all I have seen!

Hmm. How touching.
And what have you learned in all this skedaddle?
Have you a clue? Or is it all prattle?

A clue? Why, what do you mean, Master Scratch?

A clue, dear boy, some horse sense, some savvy.
Answer me quickly, and don’t dilly-dally—
What is the one thing the whole world goes round?
I’ll give you a hint … it’s a jingling sound.

A sound of jingling coins.

Umm … gravity?

Uh uh. No dice. I’m sorry. You lose.
There must be somebody else I can use …

Scratch turns to leave.

No, wait … don’t go …
This sounds important. I want to know.

Want? Need, dear boy. This one simple fact.
Money’s the key to all your doors, Jack.


Moolah. Simoleons. Greenbacks. Dinero.
My, you’d look good in a brand new sombrero.

Gee, this one is gettin’ old…

I can array you in the finest of robes,
And rid you of these rags you must loathe!
In your tower I can stack a fortune in gold,
And silver and jewels and riches untold!

All that for li’l ol’ me?

You have but to ask me whose soul you have lent.
I do it for love and charge not a cent.

You make me an offer I cannot refuse…
Sure, I’ll take your gold. Heck, I’ve got nothing to lose.

Bag of gold lowers.

Take you this bag of Red Vulcan’s Gold.
It can never be emptied, or so I’ve been told.
Arise from your riches, Sir Jack o’ the Straw.
Your riches are nigh, my word is the law.

My lord, my gratitude is without measure;
How happy I am to take of my leisure.

It tickles me pink a job so well done,
But we’ll see how you fare with your cup overrun.
Come back in one year. Come back to this spot.
And tell Master Scratch how you’ve fared with your lot.

Exit Jack.


[Image from]

Scratch waits impatiently, tapping his foot.

Jack strolls in with a sedate, sophisticated gait. He is wearing a coat of the richest fabric.

My dear Jack, you are dressed to the nines,
With an air of dignity and manners refined.
Has the luxury of the rich and entitled
Suited you to a life so carefree and idle?

Master Scratch, at the richest of tables have I dined,
Eating rare feasts and sampling wines.
I have won whole kingdoms in cards,
To find the next night them lying in shards.

SCRATCH (aside):
His gut is a hole which never gets filled;
If he goes on this way, methinks he’ll be killed …

I have tasted of the pleasures of whores,
Tempted by ladies who stand under doors.
I have drunk the potions which make men see stars,
And scried my own future in Saturn and Mars.
Yet the more I have the more I crave;
Grant me this boon and I’ll be your slave.

SCRATCH (chuckling):
Will be? Well, Old Uncle Scratch has a big bag of tricks.
Perhaps in his bag my toy can be fixed.

O, would I were lord of my very own manor,
And waving above my proudly sewn banner.
Can you give me the key to this house,
And servants to toy with as a cat does a mouse?

A tall order you make, but let me see—
Perhaps in my bag I have an old key …

Jack kneels.

Key lowers.

Ahem. By the power vested in me
By the Principate of Pandaemonium,
I hereby name you:
Marquis of Oxford, Baron
of Wittenberg, Elector
of Worms, and Count of Cordova…
Arise as a peer, Lord Jack o’ the Straw;
Your key to the house, my word is the law.

Master Scratch, how can I ever you repay?
I’d give you my soul…

Would? Heh-heh-heh-heh.

I’ll give you anything … whatever you say.

My dear child, my work is its own reward.
But perhaps there is one honor you could me award.

You have but to name it, sire.

Should ever again I pass by this way,
Be it October, or be it in May,
Will you take me to warm at your hearth
As one who is dearest to your noble heart?

My oath, Master Scratch, t’would be a great pleasure
To honor the one who’s bestow’d me such treasure.

Scratch pulls a gold watch from his waistcoat pocket.

Tempus fugit and me, I must fly.
Perhaps in ten years I’ll come and drop by …

Exit Scratch.


[Image Credit: Michael Hegemann]

It is a dark and stormy night.

Jack is asleep in bed in the house, MRS. STRAW by his side.

Enter Scratch, who comes a-tap-tap-tapping on Jack’s door.

The tapping gets louder and more insistent.

Who awakes me at this time of night,
Disturbing my peace with such a loud fright?

Jack opens the door just a crack.

’Tis I, Old Solomon Scratch, come to call.
I’ve come to sit and dine at your hall.

A thunderclap booms.

Solomon Scratch? The name rings a bell…
Aren’t you the devil of whom I’ve heard tell?

Devil or not, you struck me a deal.
I gave you this house, now give me a meal!

A deal with the devil? Oh, what was I thinking?
I must have been mad—or up all night drinking.

Your tune has changed, Lord Jack o’ the Straw.
I knew that it would. Your word has no law.

Jack flings the door open wide.

Begone from my house, you filthy old demon!
For I have a name to uphold with the freemen…

Ungrateful wretch, without me you’d have no name,
For Jack Straw and Scarecrow are one and the same!

Jack leaves the sanctuary of the house to face Scratch.

Fie! You bat, you snake, you two-tongue’d devil!
Get thee hence, back to the fires of hell!

SCRATCH: (raising his hand)
Enough! From all that I’ve heard,
I know you a Tom Fool who can’t keep his word.
Never a man but always of straw
My spell was a sham. I laugh. I guffaw.

A sham? But what of the pipe of Black Mary’s Weed?

Black Mary’s Weed? That’s a laugh—
Where I come from, son, they call the stuff grass.

And the gold…

The never-ending gold which comes from a bag?
I stuffed a few pebbles inside a torn rag.

Get out of my house before I call the local constabulary!

Your house!

The walls of the house come tumbling down.

Your house is a shambles,
All grown over by brambles—
Your house is a-falling, so sit very tight;
Your house is a-falling; I bid you good night!

Jack is magically bound to the post again, the ropes growing around his wrists like vines.

What comes from straw to straw must return,
And you shall know what it means to burn!

A spark shoots from Scratch’s finger, igniting the straw.

Jack is consumed by flame.


A rooster crows.

The deal is struck; the straw is burned;

The gate is closed; the key is turned.

A bell tolls. 





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