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

on September 22, 2008 in Other Tales

I figure you folks came close enough to the donation goal last week, considering how close I came to the writing goal last week, so here’s the second part of the story. Enjoy!

“You!” Laurel Anne said, looking up into the face of the man she hadn’t seen for seven years.

He looked the same as she remembered, though he was young enough that this wasn’t more than a little jarring. If he’d been eighteen or so then, he would be in his mid-twenties now, and in Laurel Anne’s limited experience, people who weren’t growing up or growing old didn’t change much from year to year.

“Me,” he agreed. He held the flower out for a few more seconds before seeing that she had no intention of taking it, then stuck it through his buttonhole. “How’ve you been keeping yourself, Laurel Anne?”

“Dry,” she said.

“Sharp as ever,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t come back around for so long, but I thought you might be a little sore over our last meeting.”

“That was a dirty trick,” Laurel Anne said.

“Now you make it sound like I dunked you in the stream on purpose,” he said. “I was in earnest about teaching you, but then your babysitter showed up screaming her head off about something and I thought it was best if I made myself scarce before she got the wrong idea.”

“That was my sister,” Laurel Anne said.

“Your sister?” the man said. “Can’t say I see the resemblance… anybody ever told you that you end up with all the looks in your family?”

“She got the wrong idea anyway,” Laurel Anne said. “She thought I threw myself in the creek. If you’d have stuck around, you could have explained… if you weren’t just trying to drop me in the water, I mean.”

“I promise I wasn’t, but I wasn’t sure I’d get a chance to explain… I mean, the folks around here don’t act too kindly towards strangers,” he said.

“Shows what you know,” Laurel Anne said.

“What don’t I know?”

“My mama says nowhere in the world treats strangers better,” Laurel Anne said loftily. “She says hospitality is sacred.”

“That so?”

“Yes,” she said. “She says she’s never turned a stranger away from our door.”

“Your mama have a lot of sayings?” the man asked.

“I guess.”

“She ever tell you, ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place,’ or something like that?” he asked.


“Well, that one kind of trumps the other one,” he said. “You follow?”

“No,” Laurel Anne said, shaking her head.

“Well, let me put it to you like this… do you actually get many strangers knocking on your door?”

“Not many,” she said. She was trying to remember if there had ever been a stranger that came knocking on their door. Her mama did take a lot of visitors, but she seemed to know all of them. The ones who might have been strangers to her usually came with somebody from town, who introduced them.

“You ever go into the city with your mama?” he asked.


“You see any strangers then?” he asked. “Hungry strangers, poor strangers?”

“Sometimes,” she said, shifting uncomfortably.

“Your mama ever show them much hospitality?” he asked. “She ever offer them a crust of bread or a copper coin? She ever ask them if they need a roof over their heads?”

Laurel Anne said nothing. She had a few vivid memories from when she was younger… as vivid as her ones of plunging into the creek… of asking her mama if they could do something to help the people they saw on the streets, and being told to mind her place.

“Ever?” he prompted.

“They didn’t come to our door,” she said.

“Can you imagine her treating them any better if they did?” the man asked her. “See, I’m sure your mama’s a charitable soul. I’m sure she puts money in the poor box and I’m sure she gives to the food pantry and I’m sure she prays for them, but when all’s said and done she expects them to stay in their place while she stays in hers. You remember that word I told you last time?”

“Yes,” Laurel Anne said. She lifted her book and lowered her face, making a big show of resuming reading it. “I even know what it means, thank you very much, but I don’t think you know as much about my mama as you think you do.”

“Ah, horse feathers,” the man said. He pulled the book out of her hands and closed it, then slipped it inside his jacket.

“Hey, I was reading that!” Laurel Anne said.

“I’ll give it back,” the man said. “Just take a little walk with me first.”

“A little walk along the creek?” she asked, giving him a skeptical look.

“If that’s what you’d like,” he said. “Though I wouldn’t expect the same old conjurer’s tricks to impress you, now that you’re a sophisticated young lady.”

“I am pretty sophisticated,” Laurel Anne admitted. “But I don’t go walking in the wood with strange young men.”

“Strange? Strange? You’ve known me since you were five years old,” the man said.

“The only thing I know about you is that the last time I talked to you I ended up halfway drowned,” Laurel Anne said. “And that you stole my book.”

“Do you really think I wish you any harm?” he asked. “It seems to me that walking through the woods by yourself has got to be more dangerous than walking through the woods with anybody, even a stranger.”

“How do you figure that?”

“Mathematically,” the man said. “Either I mean you harm or I don’t, right? It’s a toss-up, like spinning a coin… fifty percent chance either way. But the same is true for anybody you meet walking through the woods… if you’re alone, you might run into any number of people who mean you harm. If you’re with me when that happens, then you’ve got somebody who might be inclined to help you. My fifty percent cancels out theirs.”

“That’s only if you don’t mean me harm,” Laurel Anne said.

“Right,” he said. “But if I do… well, you can’t be murdered twice, so it doesn’t hurt your odds to go with me.”

“I don’t think that’s right…”

“Well, it isn’t often that girls have a head for math.”

“I do so have a head for math!” Laurel Anne said.

“Then you see my point,” the man said.

“Maybe I do,” she said. “But I’d still say I’m safer right here than I would be walking through the woods alone with you.”

“How do you figure that?” he asked. “I mean, seeing as you’re already alone in the woods with me. Are you safer here than in any other spot?”

“Maybe I am,” Laurel Anne said. “People come through here all the time. Is that why you want to get me away from here?”

“Well, you caught me,” he said, taking off his hat and crumpling it in front of him. “I’m not exactly what you call a ‘people-person’, you see… that’s why I take these walks through the woods. I don’t normally ever approach anybody… I’m too shy, and like I said, the folks around here don’t take well to strangers. But you have such a kind face, and you aren’t like the others… I could tell that right off.”

“Where are you from?”

“I have a little place on the other side of the woods,” he said.

“That sounds like a long walk,” Laurel Anne said.

“It is,” he said. “Last time I saw you was the first time I walked this far. Would you like to see where I live?”

“I’d like my book back,” Laurel Anne said, holding out her hand.

“Certainly,” he said. He reached into his pinstriped jacket. “It is yours, isn’t it?”

He held a book out with a flourish. Though it had a similar cover, and she could see her yellow ribbon bookmark hanging from between the pages, she knew right away that it wasn’t hers. It was much too thick.

“This is wrong,” she said, taking it anyway. Its weight was very satisfying in her hands.

“You weren’t reading Summers in Athanasia?” he asked.

“I was, but this is… different,” she said, looking at the cover. The faded illustration of the elf lord and his human maiden were similar… the figures were the same, but the position was… different. She felt an odd lightness looking at them.

“Oh, silly me,” he said, pulling the book out of her hands. “I accidentally gave you the unabridged edition.”

“Unabridged?” she echoed as the thick tome disappeared inside his jacket. He placed her own book back in her hands. It felt so light as to be almost insubstantial.

“Forgive me, child…. what would you think of me if I had let you read that?” he asked. “I don’t think you’d begin to understand…”

“I’m not a child!” Laurel Anne said.

“Well, certainly you aren’t, but by the same token, you are not a grown woman, and a book like that might confuse…”

“I’ve been reading on my own longer than anybody my age,” Laurel Anne said indignantly. “I’ve read plenty of books with things I didn’t know about in them, and I’ve never been confused by them.”

“Well, you are sharp and sophisticated, for your age,” the man said, scratching his head. “But… well, if your mama found you with a book like that, she might have questions about where you’d got it from.”

“She won’t find it,” Laurel Anne said. “And if she does, I won’t tell… I’m no rat.”

“So, you swear not to tell her about me?”

“Sure I do,” Laurel Anne said.

“Well, I suppose that’s alright, then,” the man said. He pulled the tiny volume out of her hands and replaced it with the heavier one. She looked down at it… the biggest book she’d ever seen, outside of a librum or the big dictionary… like a hungry child looking at a great big piece of birthday cake. “I’ll take a rain check on that walk, for now… I can tell you’re eager to get back to your reading, and after all, now you’ve got twice as much to do.”

“Yeah,” she said, not looking up from the cover of the book. It almost looked like they were doing something… indecent… but if they were, the lady didn’t appear to be objecting much. “You’ll come back, though?”

“Certainly!” the man said. “When you’re done with the book… it’s a favorite of mine, you see.”

“Oh, I’ll take good care of it!”

“I had no fear,” the man said. “But, you see, I’ve never met anybody else who’s read it, and I think it would be fun to have somebody to talk to about it… and of course, I could bring you more books to read, if you like that one.”

“I’m sure I will,” Laurel Anne said.

“I’m sure you will, too,” the man said. He turned and started to walk away. “Happy reading!” he said, then strolled off through the woods, whistling as he went.

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

  1. pedestrian says:

    when my granddaughter was younger, and we went to the bookstores or library, i would always have to keep an eye out for pseudo-adult material deliberately left out for display in the children’s sections by malapriapusstic perverts.

    Current score: 0
    • Kat says:

      Uh…that was mostly not the work of perverts. (Coming from a female someone who did the same when she was 13 with her friends because it was just SO HILARIOUS…and because we couldn’t get our hands on real porn at that age.)

      Current score: 3
    • Jechtael says:

      At my old library, adult comics (not pornographic, necessarily, but some of them were… Well, rated “M” for uncensored nudity, sexual situations, and explicit violence, and some were adult in the sense of politics and tax return forms) were mixed in with the rest of the manga and comics for everyone from Everyone/All Ages upward. The Dewey Decimal 741.5 section of close to every library I’ve been in contained newspaper comic collections, but one of them had a couple of uncensored books on comic censorship. I expect the two adult Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) books, one being a treatise on grammar and the other collecting his political and pornographic art, were checked out by many a parent who was too embarassed to complain afterward.

      …I ramble on like the old lady I expect to be in about forty or fifty years, but my point was: If it doesn’t look like porn, and the staff on shift don’t know the content rating system, odds are nobody’s going to flip through it to see if it is porn.

      Current score: 0