Bonus Story: As I Went Down To The River (III)

on September 30, 2008 in Other Tales

This concludes the little mini-arc about Laurel Anne Blaise. Thanks to everybody who shared their enthusiastic response over the first two.

A few weeks back I said the reason I wasn’t doing a bonus story showing what’s been going with Barley was that this question was going to be resolved elsewhere… for those of you who missed it, that’s gearing up over in More Tales of MU.


Laurel Anne had always been a fast reader, but it took her almost two months to finish the man’s book.

It wasn’t just that it was big, or that she could only read it when she was alone… after all, she usually did her reading when she was alone, and she was better than most people at finding a secluded spot with no one around.

But she found herself lost when she tried to pick it up. Starting from the same place was no good… she figured out right away that even though it had all the same characters in all the same places, and had long passages that were exactly or nearly the same, there was so much added that it wasn’t the same book she’d been reading, and she got lost trying to pick up from where she’d been.

So she went back to the beginning of the book… and at first, at least, she was just as lost. There were passages in the book… long ones… that she just didn’t understand. She pored over them line by line, reading them over and over again, putting them together with bits of things she’d heard, small things she’d glimpsed, until she thought she understood them.

Then she read them over and over some more.

The book made her feel strange. The same lightness she’d felt looking at the cover came over her when she read the scenes that had been excised from her original copy. They played out in her head at odd moments when she was in class, or in her bed.

Her inability to finish the book deviled her, because the best place to read on her own was the woods but she didn’t want to bump into its owner before she’d finished it. The book became a guilty secret in more ways than one.

Eventually, she did finish it. She wasn’t quite surprised when the first time she took a stroll through the woods, the man reappeared. She wasn’t sure why she expected to see him. Of course, he might have been looking for her, since she had kept his book for weeks and weeks… when she first spotted him coming through the trees, her first thought was that he might be angry, but then she saw him smiling.

“Hey, sharp lady,” he said. “You finish the book?”

“Yeah,” she said. She swung her backpack, a faded hand-me-down from Jo, off her shoulder, demonstrating its weight with the book inside it. “I did, and brought it back.”

He waved a pale hand dismissively.

“Oh, keep it,” he said. “I’ve got more copies.”

“I couldn’t,” she said. “It’s kind of big… Mama would find it, sooner or later. But thanks.”

“You know, I notice you don’t talk about your daddy nearly as much as you talk about your mama,” he said.

“Well, he isn’t around much to talk about,” Laurel Anne said. She added, with a touch of pride, “He’s an airshipman.”

“Well, that’s a fine thing for him to be, but what about you?” he asked. “Do you ever get lonely with no daddy around?”

“Maybe,” she said, dropping her head a little. “But he loves me, and he’s doing important work for the emperor.”

“Sure he is,” the man said. “So, you didn’t have any problem with the book, did you? Understood everything okay?”

“Mostly…”

“Oh, some parts can be confusing, when they’re new. I can show you some pictures that might clear up the hard parts, if you’d like.”

“Maybe,” Laurel Anne said, her face turning pink. She felt hot, even though it was a cool autumn day.

“But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself… I didn’t even ask how you liked it.”

“It was fine,” she mumbled.

“Fine? That’s not an answer,” he said. “That’s what you say when you don’t want to think of an answer. Hey, we’re friends… if you didn’t like the book, you can tell me… I’ll give you back your copy, and maybe we’ll wait a few more years before we try you on any other grown-up books.”

“No, really, I liked it fine!” Laurel Anne said. She blushed furiously. “It just… it made me feel things.”

“Good things, I hope?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Yes. But…”

“But you don’t know how to handle them,” he said, nodding sagely. “Because nobody ever talked to you about these kinds of feelings. Just like nobody ever talked to you about those other feelings you have.”

Her eyes went wide, her red cheeks going white.

“How… how…” she stammered.

“You aren’t the only sharp one,” he said. “That’s why I like you, in fact… most people are so dull, you know, and not only that they aren’t any fun. Listen, Laurel Anne, those feelings you have… all of them, they aren’t anything bad, but most people wouldn’t understand them.”

“Don’t have to tell me that,” Laurel Anne said.

“They’d tell you you’re wrong for feeling them, if they knew about them.”

“It isn’t something I do on purpose!”

“Of course not,” the man said. “It just happens, and really, that’s a beautiful thing. You’re a special little lady, Laurel Anne, and don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise.”

“So why can’t I feel you?” she asked.

“Well, because I’m special, too,” he said. “Not like you are, of course… that’s the beauty of being special. Nobody’s special the exact same way as anybody else. Now, can you tell me, is there anybody else around right now?”

“No,” she said. “There isn’t.”

“You sound real sure about that.”

“I am,” she said.

“You don’t even have to think about it?”

She shook her head.

“I just know,” she said.

“Interesting,” he said, scratching his chin thoughtfully.

“What?”

“Well, it seems to me like that ought to be harder than it is,” he said. “If you can do that much without even trying… I wonder what sorts of things you could do with a little effort?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, some folks… special folks, I mean… can look inside people’s heads and see what they’re thinking,” he said. “And some can do more than that.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, different things,” he said. “We’ll talk more about them later. But right now, you’re sure that nobody’s nearby?”

“I’m sure.”

“Good,” he said. “Because I want to talk about your other feelings for a bit. If you aim to keep reading at a grown-up level, you’ve got to learn how to get them under control, you know?”

“I tried,” Laurel Anne said.

“Of course you did, but you can’t be expected to handle something like that on your own,” he said. “There are some things that I do when I get all ‘het up’ like that. Maybe if I show you, we can figure out something for you to do.”

“Why can’t I just do what you do?” Laurel Anne asked.

“Well, this is getting into the ways men and women are different… I know I don’t have to explain that to you, after you read the whole book,” he said, and she blushed again. “Come on, let’s just go a little deeper in the woods… I’ll show you those pictures, and we’ll see what we can work out for you.”


Two years later, Laurel Anne was still meeting the man in the woods. Sometimes he’d give her a magazine, sometimes a book. A couple of times he’d shown her some illusion crystals. As time went on, he brought these little gifts less often, but he always had something new to teach her… and whether it had to do with being ‘het up’ or what she’d come to think of as her special gift, she did her best to listen to her older, wiser friend.

She’d been uncomfortable with the physical contact at first. In fact, she was still uncomfortable with it, two years on, but she wouldn’t give up the thrill of it all for anything. The secrecy was exciting, and it was flattering having an adult who listened to her and showed such interest in her. He’d been right about her mother not understanding… right about her mother being a hypocrite… and he always had time for her.

“You were right,” she told him, as they lounged on a gentle slope beside the Sykekill. “All I had to do was give Jenny a little ‘push’ and she told Becca how she really felt about her new shoes.”

“How’d that make you feel?”

“Well…”

“Come on,” he said. “You don’t keep secrets from your friend.”

“A little bad, actually,” she said. “They were both screaming at each other when I left.”

“She was lying,” the man said. “You told me yourself that Jenny was a two-faced lying bitch. You just shot a piece of honesty inside her empty head. How can honesty be a bad thing?”

“I guess it can’t,” Laurel Anne said.

“You should never feel guilty about using your special gift, so long as you’re careful about it,” he said. “Just think about what somebody like Jenny would do to you, if she had your power. You know what kind of a person she is… what goes through her head.”

“She’s horrible,” Laurel Anne said. “She thinks she’s so sophisticated and mature since she spent the summer in the city. I wish I could… could… make her wet herself in front of the whole class. That would show everybody what a baby she really is.”

“Well, that’s not so easy to do.”

“Why not?” Laurel Anne said. “I could just give her a nudge.”

“Could you pee your pants on purpose?”

“I’m not allowed to wear pants,” Laurel Anne said.

“You know what I mean,” the man said. “I tell you what, I’ll give you ten gold and a change of clothes if you can wet yourself right now.”

“You probably don’t have ten gold,” Laurel Anne said. “And I know you don’t have a change of clothes. And Mama would want to know where they came from.”

“Maybe I don’t have ten gold, but it doesn’t matter because you couldn’t do it if you tried,” the man said. “You can make a body decide to up and do anything it might do naturally, but most folks can’t piss themselves on purpose. That’s what comes of spending an entire lifetime trying not to do something.”

“So I can’t do it,” Laurel Anne said. “Oh, well. It was just an idea.”

“It was a good idea,” the man said. “It really would serve her right.”

“But you said I couldn’t…”

“I said it wasn’t easy,” he said. “You’d have to reach deeper than you have before, not just mess around with the surface. It would take a lot of practice and hard work.”

“Just to make Jenny Miller make a fool of herself?” Laurel Anne said. “I don’t know if that’s…”

“Not just for that,” he said. “If you pulled it off, why, there’s no end to the things you could do.”

“What could I do?”

“Sharp lady, the question is what couldn’t you do,” he said. “Let’s you and me have a little fun, and then we’ll get to work on this.”

“Couldn’t we get started right away?” Laurel Anne said. “You said it’ll take a lot of practice…”

“That’s why we should relax a little first,” he said, putting an arm around her. “All work and no play… have I ever led you wrong, Laurel Anne?”

“No… okay,” she said.


It was after the start of summer, after a very interesting school year, that she felt the first signs of sickness. This was after missing her monthly bleeding. Her cycle had never been the most regular thing, but it usually showed up sooner or later.

Her period wasn’t the only thing that went missing… the man who had been a constant presence in her life simply stopped showing up, leaving her to piece together what was happening to her on her own.

She worked it out less than a day before her mother did. Her mother had always been extraordinarily canny about things… that was one reason Laurel Anne had never tried any mental manipulations on her. Maybe it was just her earliest memories of the indomitable woman towering over her, but she always got the impression of solid iron from her mother.

If she could have controlled her mother the way she did her classmates, she might have been able to go on with her life the way she always had, but now there was no question of going back to school in the fall. Mama sent her to live with Jo and her husband before she started showing, “for her health.” Laurel Anne despised the lie as she despised all of her mother’s hypocrisies, and she hated being sent so far away from the woods where she and her man had always met. Though she’d seethed at his abandonment before, she forgot about his previous absence and blamed her mother for separating them.

In the course of time, she gave birth to a son. If she’d known his father’s name, she might have given it to him… it was only then that she realized how strange it was that he’d never told her it. She named Aidan instead, after a character from one of the books they’d shared. Jo had her own child and another on the way, so young Aidan was put up for adoption and Laurel Anne went back to her mother’s house.

She could have gone her whole life without setting foot in that place again, without seeing that woman… but doing so was her only chance of seeing her man again. She didn’t tell him about his son… there were no secrets between them, but she felt sure he’d be tormented by the thought of what had been.

She’d lost Aidan, and she didn’t want to inflict that loss on him.

If Laurel Anne had been eager to learn, eager to please before, now she was driven. The man seemed pleased with the change that had come over her, even if he couldn’t possibly have guessed the source. She spent more and more time with him. Having missed a whole semester of school, missing days didn’t seem like any big thing.

The next time she came up pregnant, she was eighteen… a year older than Jo had been when she’d wed, and too old for Mama to send her off or get rid of her baby. The old woman’d had words to say about that, of course… they’d started with “So long as you live under my roof.”

Well, Laurel Anne could take care of that. Her mother would have to settle for bossing around her younger brothers… she was an adult, and she had a man who lived in a house on the other side of the woods, who thought she was beautiful and special and sharp, who’d be overjoyed to learn that they didn’t have to hide out and sneak around any more.

She just needed to find him, and then everything would be just fine.


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6 Responses to “Bonus Story: As I Went Down To The River (III)”

  1. pedestrian says:

    The ballet Giselle, was intended as a warning/propaganda for innocent young maidens to not allow themselves to be seduced by smooth talking men. And the terrible consequences for the women when they succumb to the blandishments of masculine libidos.

    This was a period BEFORE antibiotics, latex condoms, birth control, blood transfusions, or the most rudimentary sanitation. The casualty rate for women and infants was horrendous.

    We are very smug and pretentious in our good opinion of ourselves as a society. Most people project a comfortably snug cocoon of modernism in their pre-judged views of the rest of the world and our own ancestors.

    Current score: 4
  2. Arkeus says:

    This chapter was very sad. A combination of “This can only happen because of how sheltered Laurel was” and “I want to kill The Man”.

    Current score: 6
  3. Holodrum says:

    Unfortunately it’s not only because she was sheltered. Anyone can fall prey to these kinds of people, especially when they’ve been worked on since such a young age. Grandma Blaise’s personality doesn’t help, but the level of pseudo-maturity, mixed with The man’s subtle use of sex and truth/ half-truth set himself up as the only one who Laurel Anne could “really trust”. It’s a scary thought.

    Current score: 6
  4. Arakano says:

    He is a frigging INCUBUS. Manipulating and seducing a young teenager, vile as it is, is no big challenge for such a creature, when, sadly, we know from our own world that even humans are quite capable of it…

    Current score: 3
  5. undertheteacup says:

    Ugh, I don’t think anything in the MUniverse has inspired deeper disgust in me than The Man grooming and molesting Laurel Anne. So fucking awful. I hadn’t read these ones in my first go-around, and it puts Mack meeting The Man for the first time in such a better context.

    Current score: 0
  6. Lara says:

    This trio of stories reminds me so much of my own experience. I was taken in in the exact same way, by a man who appealed to the pride I had in my own intelligence and maturity as a little girl. They know exactly what you want to hear, and how to flatter you, and manipulate you into doing what they want in an attempt to “prove” yourself worthy of their adult attention.
    Distressing, disturbing, and very well written.

    Current score: 2