Fiction: Down To The River

A longer story than I usually write but I had to get it all out.

Uncle Francis was not Christine’s real uncle. He lived down the back road that curled through the wild woods behind her house. The shack he lived in, surrounded by overgrowth, had been in disrepair before he had been born, built by his grandfather near the beginning of the last century. He lived alone and worked odd jobs for his neighbors, occasionally venturing into town for work but never spending more than two weeks at any one. Every morning, Christine would hear whistling the same tune as he walked down the road towards the river, a fishing pole over his shoulder and small tin can of worms in his hand.

One autumn morning with the school closed for the day, Christine decided to embark on an adventure. She would go down to the river and spy on odd Uncle Francis. Her friends were afraid of him and most thought of him as creepy but Christine was twelve and felt brave enough not to let such things frighten her.

After breakfast, she put on her hiking boots and followed the road to the deer path that led to the clearing where a few locals had fashioned rough docks for their small boats. She expected him to be on one of those docks but when she stepped into the clearing saw that they were unoccupied. Christine looked around but could not see him anywhere so she did what any young Sparrow Scout would do, checked the ground for fresh footprints. Although she’d achieved the badge for tracking, Christine knew that she was not as good as she could be and gave up after a few minutes of searching. It came to her suddenly that she could just listen for a clue. Uncle Francis always whistled no matter what he did. Some folks found it unnerving or annoying but she liked it. It was a constant presence like the rustle of wind through the trees or the appearance of the first song birds in spring.

She took a deep breath and forced herself to listen. It was a mere hint at first but grew more distinct as she concentrated. She could faintly hear him whistling and she was sure it was coming from down river. Christine started making her way along the shoreline to the left. The clearing lasted for another 200 feet but soon the woods were right up against the waterline forcing her to step over fallen trees and force her way through bushes. She could not see how Uncle Francis had made it through the thick foliage without disturbing anything unless he walked through the shallow water to bypass it. It took her ten minutes to go a short distance but soon came upon another clearing. She stepped out of the woods and spied Uncle Francis with amazement.

A small inlet of water blocked her way and she would be forced to follow along to the left to get around it. However, there was Uncle Francis leaping effortlessly along a series of small boulders that barely cleared the surface of the water as he made his way to the other side. When he arrived, he sat down on a weathered and rickety wooden chair buried halfway up its legs in mud. He grabbed a worm from his tin, put it on a hook in one motion and dipped the pole to submerge the wiggling creature into the water. He sat back in the chair, the creak audible across the inlet, closed his eyes and started to whistle.

The sense of adventure only increased Christine’s excitement. Uncle Francis had a secret spot that only he could get to, she thought. Now it can be mine, too. She decided that she would make it across to the other side and surprise Uncle Francis by suddenly appearing.

She looked into the water and saw that it was deeper than she had thought. The constant current of the river swirled through the inlet and through the rocks, carving a deep trench in the riverbed at that point. However, she was a brave twelve year old as well as a Sparrow and was convinced that if a strange old man could make it across the rocks then she could as well. Christine thought she would quietly She stepped onto the first one with little incident although she had to catch her balance. The next one was easy as well but she soon found herself unable to reach out with her foot for subsequent rocks, she would have to jump the way she had seen Uncle Francis jump. She gave a small hop and made it to the next boulder, her arms swinging to straighten her landing. The next one was farther but not too much farther than the last. She bent her legs and jumped. Christine landed with perfect balance and gained a measure of confidence. Not so bad, she said patting herself on the back.

She looked up and noticed that Uncle Francis still had his eyes closed. Without hesitation, she leaped for the next rock. Her foot nearly found purchase. The boulder, its surface slick with wet moss, proved too slippery to grip with just the toe of a boot. She pitched forward and nearly hit her head on the rock but reached out at the last minute with her hands to deflect her away and into the water. Christine could swim well but the the swirling and ice cold water gave her little opportunity to put her skill into practice. She found herself being carried in circles around the rocks, occasionally banging into one with a thump before she was carried away by the river. She panicked for a second as her head went under the surface. The cold water had taken her breath away and she discovered she could barely get her voice above the volume of a croak. Christine reached out with her hands to grab onto the rocks but found that there was little to hold on to. She was in trouble and knew it.

The water spun her around and she prepared to be flung backwards into the next boulder when she felt herself lifted out of the water and onto the rock. She turned around to see Uncle Francis standing there a look of annoyance on his face.

“What the heck are you doing in my pond”, he said. “You’ll scare the fish”.

Christine sputtered and shook the water off her face. “Your pond almost drowned me”, she said.

Francis laughed — a gruff cackle that caused him to dip and shake his head. He straightened up and quickly picked Christine up in his powerful arms. She yelped in surprise but soon was frozen with fear and held on tight as Francis hopped from rock to rock back towards his side of the inlet. He made the last leap and landed on both feet, setting Christine down in front of him.

“I don’t have a blanket for you so I better build a fire before you freeze to death”, he said.

He walked over to the edge of the woods and lifted up the corner of a canvas that lay there. Underneath were sticks and larger pieces of wood, the canvas keeping them dry from the elements. He carried an armful back and dropped them onto the ground. He carefully placed them in a loose pile over dried leaves and lit it with a match from his jacket pocket. Grey smoke swirled around them until the leaves were completely consumed leaving the twigs and sticks to ignite the larger pieces. Soon a medium sized fire was going and Christine leaned towards it to get warm and attempt to dry her clothes. Francis went back to fishing and whistling as Christine slowly revolved to even out the warmth. If Francis was amused by this, he showed no outward sign of it.

As the fire died out, Christine was satisfied that she was as dry as she was going to get and walked over to Francis.

“Thanks for saving me”, she said.

He dipped his head without opening his eyes to say, “You’re welcome”.

“If you were my girl, I’d tan your hide for doing what you did”, he said. “Nearly getting yourself killed out there”.

“Sorry”, she said. “My mom will probably whip me good when she hears about it. Probably ground me, too”.

Francis opened one eye and looked at her. “Well, you meant no harm and it was an accident. Maybe I can put a good word in for you”.

Christine shook her head. “It won’t help. I’ll be in as much trouble if you do”.

“Well, since you’re on my turf here, I guess I just might give you a good switching myself and then you won’t have to tell your mom”.

Christine didn’t know what to say. Her mouth opened and closed but no words came out. When she finally composed herself, all she could say was, “A switching”.

“Yup”, he said getting up from his chair. “Go over there with this knife and cut a nice thin switch from that tree. Bring it back here and I’ll give you what I think you should get for this and then we can forget about telling anyone”.

Christine was conflicted but intrigued nevertheless. She had only been punished by her mother all these years. Even her teachers had never as much as given her a swat with a book. She could run away and just not tell her mother where she’d been but was afraid that Uncle Francis would let it slip at some future date creating a bigger problem for her. She took the knife from him and walked slowly to the tree he had pointed at. She saw several candidates and picked what she thought might be the least painful of them and cut it free. She walked back to him and delivered both the knife and switch to his outstretched hands.

Francis looked over the switch for a moment and then used the edge of the knife to smooth out any bumps that he saw. When he was satisfied, he pointed to the chair and Christine walked over to it.

“Do you want my pants down”, she asked.

“Don’t have to do that. It will hurt plenty even if you keep ’em up”.

Christine unbuttoned her jeans and lowered them followed by her panties. Her mom always punished her on the bare bottom — it was what she called a “proper spanking”. She didn’t look towards Uncle Francis. She trusted him totally so was not afraid to bare herself to him but was embarrassed at doing so. She heard the switch whir through the air a few times and suddenly felt her backside on fire. She gasped for a breath but had little time to recover before the next stroke fell, then the next and the next. Francis was methodical about punishing her. There were no words spoken because none were needed. She know what she had done and was accepting her punishment for it. He switched her a dozen times and then a second dozen before pausing.

“Five more and we’re done”, he said. Christine nodded her head, a tear falling on the chair beneath her.

The strokes were the hardest he had delivered and she screamed after each one. When it was over, she pulled up her clothing and stood there drying her eyes. Francis tossed the switch on the remnants of the fire and sat down to continue his fishing.

When she had composed herself, she walked over to him and sat down on a rock next to his chair. They said very little at first but he soon started pointing out the different techniques he used to catch different fish. Christine was doubtful of his fishing theories but listened and was amused by his insistence that they worked. By the time the sun touched the top of the trees, Francis had pulled five fish out of the water of several varieties, oddly matching his use of different techniques.

Christine shifted on the hard stone she was sitting on and thought it best to head back. Francis stood up with his fish and led the way, pointing out exactly how to jump and where to aim on each rock to get across the water. She only needed help with one jump but he easily managed to carry her. They walked back together up the road talking about the river and how it was much more dangerous in spring when the thaw came. As they approached her house, they saw Christine’s mother standing on the porch with her arms folded and a stern look on her face.

“Where have you been young lady?”

Christine was about to speak when Uncle Francis interrupted.

“Sorry to intrude, ma’am, but it’s a darn good thing young Christine here was hiking by the river when she was. I lost my step and fell in and your daughter was able to grab my hand and pull me back onto the shore. She got a little wet but we built a fire and got dry before coming back”.

“Is that true, Christine?”

Christine said nothing but just nodded her head when Francis bumped her with his arm. “She’s a hero, ma’am. A real proper Sparrow Scout”.

Uncle Francis tossed the pole onto his shoulder and headed down the road whistling. Christine watched him round the bend and smiled even as she felt a twinge of pain from the red lines across her bottom. She went to bed early that night hoping the marks would be gone before morning and before she told her mother what really had happened — minus one detail.

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7 Responses to “Fiction: Down To The River”

  1. I liked ” there were no words spoken because none were needed”. Flowing and lyrical tale!

  2. Thanks for that, Rad! I especially like the characters.

  3. I liked it, for several reasons. I’m a city girl who has a soft spot for the country, so the location appealed to me. I’m also intrigued by the notion of an outdoors switching such as this, especially one delivered so coolly and calmly. And I liked the age of the girl. So sue me. (My dirty little not-so-secret is that I enjoy stories involving young girls and putting myself into the character. That may squick some people, but hell … it’s MY fantasy.) And I also wondered, Rad, if there was an intentional implication that Uncle Francis could actually be her father, or is that just me reading too much into the story?

  4. Glad some folks enjoyed the tale. As to Red’s observation that Francis might really be Christine’s father, I had that in my mind at one point but decided to hint at it rather than make it a definite. Like a poem or song lyric, it’s up to the reader to decide for themselves.

  5. I liked it a lot. Growing up in the country I had slightly similar fantasies growing up. The ending was my favorite though. Will she tell her mom? Will she get spanked again for lying? Will uncle Francis ever spank her again.

  6. I like the story, it was interesting. The characters, especially the old man, I could imagine pretty vividly. Might not you said in there this sentence:

    After breakfast, she put on her hiking boots and followed the road to the deer path that led to the clearing where a few people locals had fashioned rough docks for their small boats.

    Dunno if “people locals” was intentional. Good story though!

    ~T.Knight

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