Bonus Story: As I Went Down To The River…

on September 15, 2008 in Other Tales

This is part one of (probably) three. I’m receptive to reader input on whether to make the next two bonus stories the continuations of this, or to spread them out more. Thanks to everybody who’s been donating, and please enjoy.

Enjoy!

*goes off to search for some NyQuil, or a hammer*



“Come on down here, Laurie!” her sister called. “We have to stick to the shallow parts!”

The trees and bushes that hugged the winding streambed screened her from view, though she wasn’t that far away, Laurel Anne thought. Though now that she stopped to notice it, it did feel like Jo was farther away. They were supposed to stay in eyesight of each other, and they would have been if not for the trees, so she was fine.

“Why? I’m not chicken!” Laurel Anne Blaise called back.

They’d put their packs and flask down at the broad part of the Sykekill Creek, where you could almost walk across it… the part where the older kids did. Laurel Anne didn’t see how hunting crawdads in the little trickle around the rocks could possibly be a challenge worthy of her clearly advanced talents, so she’d gone upstream a bit to find a different approach. Most of the deeper parts of the stream were at the bottom of steep banks with nowhere to stand, but she’d spotted a little part where the slope was a bit more gentle, and at the bottom there was a shelf that was a good three feet wide at the widest spot.

“It isn’t about that, dummy!” Joanne said. “You have to look in the shallows because they don’t go in the deep parts!”

“But I can see them here!” Laurel Anne Blaise called back. She couldn’t, actually, but she got see some sun glinting on the water that might have been hiding some of the big buggy things. The little platform, which seemed to have been made just for her purposes, continued on a good ways up the stream, but Laurel Anne didn’t dare go any farther afield from her older sister to see if there was another way down. Anyway, the one she’d found was good enough. “I’m climbing down, there’s a place to stand here.”

“You can’t see them from the top of the bank and you aren’t climbing down,” her bossy older sister said, and Laurel Anne could hear her crashing through the bushes, could feel her coming closer.

Well, if Jo tore her dress running after her like an idiot, that wasn’t Laurel Anne’s problem… she would hear about that from Mama… in the meantime, Laurel Anne knew she had to make her move. Once she got to the bottom and proved there were crawdads there… and probably bigger ones since they had more water… Joanne would have to admit that she was right.

She turned around and started backing down the slope, bracing her knees and feet as she went. She knew right away that it was steeper and slipperier than she thought, but she went a little slower and just told herself that if she slipped, she’d just hit the dry part, and that was where she was going anyway.

She’d had to hitch up her skirts to do this or else they’d be absolutely ruined, instead of just dirty, but there was nobody around to see except for Jo. If there had been anybody else, she was sure she’d know about it.

That wouldn’t stop Jo from giving her heck about it or telling Mama on her, but if she was fast enough she’d be at the bottom. It would be close, though. She could tell her sister was getting closer and closer, but she thought she probably had to be near the bottom.

Then…

“Laurel Anne Blaise!” Joanne shouted from above, and between the sound and the sudden blast of anger, Laurel Anne was so startled she lost her grip on a clump of weeds. She slid down all the rest of the way, her knees and shins taking a beating from hard dirt clods and scratchy plants.

“Look what you made me do, dummy!” Laurel Anne yelled up.

“You stay right there!” Joanne said. She was almost shrieking now, like Laurel Anne had actually fallen into the creek. She looked at the slope, which looked like a minor disaster area after the sister-induced avalanche. She started forward, then backed up. “Hang on,” she said. “I’m going upstream to find a way down. Don’t try walking along the creek by yourself.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Laurel Anne said. “I’m catching crawdads!”

“You aren’t going to catch any crawdads because there aren’t any!” Jo said. She sounded like she was having what Mama called “the hysterics“. “The water’s too deep and too fast and… ooh… just wait there! Don’t move, don’t go near the water.”

Laurel Anne watched sullenly until her sister turned and started tramping off through the bushes. She felt her sister’s presence going away.

“Whatever you say, Jo,” she said when she was sure her older sister wasn’t going to just turn around an yell at her some more.

She crawled around until she was looking down into the water. She wasn’t so stupid as to just crawl out towards the edge without checking to see if the ledge was strong… at least, she wasn’t after she thought of doing that. She pushed down on it hard and bounced a bit. It was pretty solid, except for the edge which was crumbly.

But it wasn’t like she was going to do something silly like stand up on it. She was just going to lean over and grab some crawdads.

Her first look into the water was disappointing. It was murky and brown, not clear and shining like the water downstream where they’d set up their “camp”. Of course, she told herself, the water was deeper, which meant the crawdads might not be right up on top. They’d be suckers if they did that. Hadn’t she wanted a challenge?

She pushed up her sleeve and then reached into the water. She couldn’t reach as far as she wanted, because she had to use one hand to hold the sleeve up and because she didn’t quite dare to inch any further out. But she got her arm in the water up to just below her elbow and started to feel around anyway.

“Find any crawdads?” a voice said suddenly, and she gave a yelp and scrambled back from the water.

A man was standing there… a young man, or a big kid. Laurel Anne had a hard time figuring out which was which sometime. Her mother called them all “young man”, though, so that’s how she thought of this figure. He was a man, but a young one.

She might have wondered why she couldn’t feel him when he was standing there as plain as day… feel him in the way that she assumed without thinking that everybody could feel others, even if she’d got some odd looks from Mama and her teacher the few times she’d tried to talk about it.

She might have wondered that, but all she could think about was the fact that he was standing on the fast-moving water like it was a sidewalk.

He seemed tall to Laurel Anne, though part of that was just in comparison to her young self. He hunkered down a bit. As he was standing down on the water and she was kneeling up on the ledge, this made them closer to level. He was dressed in a suit, but somehow it was less boring and stuffy than the suits she knew. It was a very dark red color, almost purple or black but definitely red, and it had little tiny gold stripes running lie threads up the legs of the pants and on the jacket. He wore a hat that matched it. The brim of the hat shaded his eyes, stopping her from getting a good look at their color. She thought that they were dark like her own, though.

All his clothes looked old and kind of faded, but they weren’t torn or tattered. He had a narrow face, with a small nose and thin lips, which were curled in a sort of half smile.

Laurel Anne Blaise decided she liked his suit. She wasn’t sure about the rest of him.

“No,” she said, remembering his question and composing herself. “You scared them all away.”

“Oh, did I?” he said. “So sorry.”

“What are you doing out on the water like that?”

“Walking,” he said. “Just taking a little stroll. I heard some yelling and crashing and thought I’d come and see if anybody needed my help, but I can see you’ve got things well in hand.”

“Well, yeah,” Laurel Anne said. “Tell that to my sister. But how do you do that?”

“Do what?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Walk!”

“I just put one foot in front of the other,” he said. “Been doing it that way almost my whole life.”

“On water, I mean.”

“Oh, you see, the water’s less wet in this part of the stream,” he said. “They mixed in too much earth when they were making it. Try it yourself… you’ll see it’s solid.”

“It is not,” Laurel Anne said.

“I’m standing on it, aren’t I?” he asked.

She wasn’t stupid, though. She’d just had her arm in the water. She demonstrated, dipping her fingers into the water and flicking some drops at him. He twirled nimbly away from them. “You are a liar.”

“You are one sharp lady,” the young man said. “I wouldn’t set one foot out here if I didn’t know I wouldn’t fall in, and neither should you.”

“Why don’t you?” Laurel Anne asked. She looke at him suspiciously. “Are you a wizard?”

“No, ma’am,” he said, pushing up the brim of his hat with a finger by his temple. “That I am not.”

“My mama says that wizards are men who’d sell their soul to a demon for power, if one asked nice enough.”

“That’s what she thinks,” the man said. “How ’bout you? You’re sharp, what do you think.”

“I think Mama doesn’t like wizards much but she’s nice to them when the washer acts up,” she said.

“And that, young lady, is what we call a ‘hypocrite’,” he said, sitting down on the bank beside her, with his long legs stretched out in front of him, the heels of his shoes resting on the water. “You remember that word, and when you’re old enough to understand it… and your mother… a little better… you keep it near the tip of your tongue. I expect you’ll get whole worlds of use out of it.”

“I know what a hypocrite is,” Laurel Anne said. “And my mother is not one.”

“Oh? What is it, then?” the young man asked.

“It’s a bird pony.”

“A bird pony?” the man repeated, confused. Then he threw his head back and laughed. “A bird pony! Of course it is. Didn’t I say you were sharp? You already taught me a thing or two.”

“So tell me how you can walk on water.”

“Well… a long time ago, some moldy old elf said that nobody can ever step in the same river twice,” he said. “You ever hear that?”

“No, but it isn’t true,” Laurel Anne said. “I’ve stepped in the river bunches of times. Bunches and bunches of bunches.”

“Well, maybe it’s true for some people,” he said. “And me, I’ve got it twice as bad. I can never step in the same river once.”

“Why not?”

“Because I try, and this happens,” he said, lifting up his head foot and bringng it down on the surface of the stream. “See? It just plain doesn’t work.”

“No, how does it really work?” Laurel Anne asked.

“What, you don’t believe me?” he asked.

“No.”

“Well, you are sharp,” he said. “I think you’re the sharpest lady I’ve ever met yet. In fact… well, no, you’re probably not that sharp.”

“How sharp?”

“Sharp enough to learn the trick from me,” he said. “But if I was wrong, you’d get your dress all wet.”

“Jo would kill me, and Mama’d kill me again later,” she said.

“Right,” he said. “So, we should probably better not risk it, not for the small, off-chance that you are as sharp as I am.”

“But I am!” Laurel Anne said. “You said I taught you a thing or two!”

“Well, I did say that,” the man said. He stood up and brushed off the leaves and dirt from the back of his pants, then turned to face the little girl. “I’ll tell you what, we’ll do this, but it’s safety first. I’ll hold your hand. That way, if you don’t get the trick right away, you won’t get much more than your shoes wet. Alright?”

“Alright,” she said.

“Now, you scoot back and stand up properly back on the bank,” he said. “You don’t want to try to stand up on water, not before you’ve got the trick down.”

“Right,” Laurel Anne said, standing up.

“Now, just watch what I do,” he said. “Watch carefully,” he said, taking several long steps parallel to the shore, lifting his foot up and bringing it down flat with exaggerated care. “Can you see what I’m doing?”

‘I… I think so,” Laurel Anne said, and she believed this to be true… at least she did according to the childhood logic that insisted that even if she couldn’t quite understand what she was seeing, she’d work it out before it became too important.

“Are you sure?” he asked, crossing his arms and stepping backwards. “Because I’m not going to do this if you aren’t sure. If you go and get your socks wet, I don’t want you saying I made you do anything you didn’t want to.”

“No, I’m sure! I’m sure!”

“Well, if you’re sure you’re sure,” he said, and he slowly reached out one long, slender arm to her. She put her tiny little hand in his. “When you’re ready, just… take a step.”

“Okay,” she said, and lifted one foot and stuck it in front of her. Some small instinct, a little voice which told her there was nothing there and if she leaned forward she would topple and fall, was holding her back. She tried to ignore it. She didn’t want to look scared or stupid in front of… of… what was his name? She had a sudden realization that she’d just spent the past few minutes talking to a stranger! But he was nice, and she’d put her hand in his and he hadn’t done anything bad. “Oh, by the way,” she said. “My name’s Laurel Anne.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Laurel Anne,” he said, giving her a gentle tug and turning in place to usher her forward with a sweep of his free arm. As she held her breath and started to bring her foot down and forward, he said, “My name is…”

Splash! Her foot crashed through the surface of the water like nothing, and the rest of her followed. Her new friend’s fingers slipped away from hers like they’d never been there, and then her head was under. She cried out, and water filled her mouth. She was too stunned to kick her legs for a moment… and then when she tried, her soaked garments clung to her and something hard and sharp snagged her underskirts. Hands grabbed her… not the strong, sure hand that had just clutched hers, but smaller ones, and she was hauled her up until her head was above the surface.

“Oh my kosh, oh my kosh, I told you, I told you, I told you,” Joanne repeated, pulling on Laurel Anne, who clung to the overhanging shelf and did her best to help her sister get her out of the cold, dirty water. “What were you thinking? Mama’s going to kill you! No, she’ll kill me! Oh, what were you…”

“Man,” Laurel Anne said. She coughed, spitting out some water and a bit of a leaf.

“‘Oh, man’ is right!” Joanne said. “I’m taking your little behind home and telling Mama what you did, before she decides to kill me instead.”

Once she’d recovered from her shock, Laurel Anne regained most of her sense of adventure, though she never went crawdad hunting, even in the shallows, and she was more respectful of creeks and rivers than she’d ever been before, but she never gave up on the neighborhood of the creek entirely.

Years later, she still went back into the trees, but she did it to get away from the increasingly cramped house and the noisier kids in the neighborhood. She’d take a book or three, pack up a salad and a flask of juice, and then head out for a quiet spot to do some reading. She liked the sound of the creek, so she’d often sit within earshot of it, or situate herself down by the ford she’d once shunned, if nobody else was there.

She could still tell when other people were around, and sometimes what they were feeling or what they were up to. She knew now that it wasn’t a normal thing… or if it was, it wasn’t something that you talked about. It was like her monthlies, but without the hygienic requirements that had necessitated her mother talking about them stiffly and briefly. Having concluded that there had to be something dirty about them, Laurel Anne didn’t think about them often. She never thought to herself, “I’ll take a quick look around and see if I can feel anybody there.” She simply felt what she felt and she went on with things.

She thought about the man and the day by the stream… well, not often, but more often than other things that had happened when to her around the age of five. She wondered who the man had been, and what he had been up to… not so much how he’d been able to walk on water. As a mature young lady of twelve, it took more than a little bit of magic to impress her.

How he’d been able to vanish so fast that Jo hadn’t seen him, when she’d been near enough to not only see Laurel Anne tumble in but to pull her out… that was something Laurel Anne would like to ask him about.

There was an obvious explanation for that, of course, but she tended to ignore that. A five year old could fool herself about a lot of stuff. But an overactive imagination couldn’t produce a whole conversation with a man she’d never seen before. Her youthful stubbornness had convinced her to climb down the bank, but it wouldn’t have been enough for her to decide she could walk on water.

So, she thought about the man… less often as she got older, because there was never anything new to think about him.

On the other hand, she’d never stopped coming to Sykekill, either.

She never talked about him, of course, after a few abortive attempts to tell Jo the whole story and to convince Mama that her dip in the creek hadn’t been entirely her fault. He was like those feelings of hers, the feelings which told her that she was alone, that there wasn’t another soul around for miles.

A shadow moved onto her book as she turned the page. This happened often, as a bird flitted overhead or a leaf shook itself loose from the tree she’d picked for a seat… but this one didn’t move on. It was like a branch had suddenly shifted right into her light, casting a line of darkness. She looked up to see what was causing it, and banged the back of her head on the tree trunk.

“Hello, sharp lady,” the man said. He held out a calla lily, which had cast the shadow. “Where were we, before we were so rudely interrupted?”


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9 Responses to “Bonus Story: As I Went Down To The River…”

  1. anonymous says:

    My god, he’s like a demonic, evil, manipulative Eleventh Doctor! Leaves a young child for half her life, only to show up again once she’s grown up, maybe even seduce her…accidentally or purposefully, we don’t know.

    Current score: 18
    • Miz*G says:

      There aren’t enough hearts in the world for how I feel about this comment.

      Current score: 0
    • Pamela says:

      You didn’t actually have to add in the manipulative bit, though.

      Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Damn. Your weirdly right. Weird. . .

      Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    trully chilling! And every “good” predator stays focused on their prey.

    Current score: 0
  3. MadnessMaiden says:

    @anonymous: the big difference is, the 11th Doctor isn’t some demonic creep.

    Current score: 0
  4. Erm says:

    β€œIt’s a bird pony.”

    [years later]

    Oohhh, I get it!

    Current score: 4
  5. Anon says:

    Not a soul around for miles!

    So if her mother had a touch of the subtle arts, might Mackenzie develop similar talents at some point? It’d take training that she has no cause to think might be useful of course…
    Or perhaps she’s already been sensing some things? When she smells people, especially when hungry, she seems to get more information than pure olfactory senses would typically give…

    Current score: 2