Word Count: 4709
Summary: Anno Domini 1951, fifty years after the failed Fertility experiments, the world still deals (somewhat successfully) with the mutations the experiments brought. With the advent of successful mechanical wombs, and a resurgence of female fertility, Carriers finally won full civil rights, and a new type slavery was abolished. Still, in many small towns and rural parts of America, in isolated communities, carriers were still viewed with suspicion, distaste, or horror.
This is the world Jared finds himself having to navigate.
Notes/Warnings: This is an mpreg, but not a kidfic. Warning to folks who want happy-family endings to their mpregs—Jared never adjusts to the idea of being pregnant. He never develops a desire to raise a child. This story is strictly about Jared and his journey to self-hood, at this point in time. I've been hijacked by a story before, though, so...I'm saying, you read this fic, you take your chances.
"Welcome to a new school year, and welcome to our newest crop of scholars," Miss Bartnik told the pupils crowded into the school's middle classroom.
Their school was a little building, no more than four rooms, set at the end of a long road lined with apple trees. The school had been built with donations from the town, to replace the original building which the Elders finally deemed to be unsafe for the children. It had been incredibly exciting for all the kids, but Jared in particular had been fascinated by every aspect of it: the way the land had been cleared, which involved a combination of Outsider's steam vehicles and Family's oxen teams, followed by the building's construction, and then a replanting of lawn and shrubs, and finally the building of a play area, the first real one the school children ever had. Not to mention the addition of indoor plumbing, finally catching the school up to the rest of the town. Jared was so relieved not to have to deal with outhouses at school ever again. Blessed relief, never another squeamish First year reluctant to open the ancient outhouse door—something that Jared heartily empathized with. Never again having to deal with those huge black and yellow spiders, the ones that seemed to see the outhouses as a perfect place to raise a family of a million or so babies every fall....
Part of what made it all so fascinating to Jared were the Outsiders, who'd had special permission to come in and work. They were like magicians, Jared thought. The People of Mountain Grove Family weren't allowed the heavy steam vehicles the Outsiders used. Mountain Grove didn't have the way of working steel like some Families—no raw material, and no one educated in the process of smelting and forming it. The steel beams the Fathers wanted for the building could only come from the Outsiders, and so they were allowed in.
It was something that happened from time to time, Outsiders coming in to do jobs the Elders wanted done. The Outsiders tended to be polite, quiet, and mostly kept to themselves—on request of the Elders, but they seemed to prefer not to socialize very much with Family on their own. The rumor was that the strangers did bad things, and that's why they kept to themselves. Jared had to admit, he had some curiosity as to what exactly made these bad things so bad...not that he'd ever speak his curiosity out loud. He'd heard about some of the things they did that were unacceptable: their movies, and dance halls, the way they dressed and spoke to each other, but in the same way that he'd heard about, say...Paris, or elephants, or the ocean. He knew that Outsider families each had their own phones, while his community shared a single phone, proudly installed in the post office. And then, oh my word, there were the cars. They came in cars and trucks that were simply amazing—great steaming heaps of metal, those wonderful horseless carriages.
Jared wasn't totally ignorant of their ways—he was fully aware how different his life was than boys from the outside, and that maybe Family looked like hicks to those worldly boys. Jared didn't care, though. It was just—they were so interesting, these Outsiders, and Jared certainly looked forward to taking his Runround, and finding out more before settling into adult life in the Grove.
He even planned ways to take it a little bit early, spending evening hours in bed after lights out, spinning little fantasies about what he'd do, and how he'd do it. His secret fascination with the Outside drove him to pick at every little crumb of information he could get. He had watched those Outsiders, watched them listen to some exciting something on their tiny handheld radios, and caught snatches of odd and somehow thrilling music that came from the radios that they'd also had in their cars—such lack of thrift and modesty! So many useless things, so much wasteful consumption of goods and a tiny part of Jared absolutely thrilled to that.
He didn't have any desire to leave everything he'd ever known for good, of course—this was his home, his People—but radios! Cars! Music!
And some of those Outside people had dark skin, dark as caffee, and fascinating. He longed to get closer to them, to feel that skin and see if it was as soft and rich as it looked. He was fascinated with how different their skin color was to everyone he'd grown up with, and how their hair was different and wondered why all of Family looked basically the same. The Outsiders were all different, some as pale as milk, some the color of wild honey and some that rich, dark caffee. Jesse said that was because the Outsiders came from different places all over the world, and the Lord had changed each person just a bit to help them live where they were born. Jared thought that was wonderful of the Lord to make so many different, beautiful kinds of people.
"You see, in places where the sun is very bight and hot, Outsiders' skin is dark to protect them from frying in the sun. Like Anne and her family, who just get all speckled and then burn bright red."
Jared knew just what he meant, those poor Klimeks. The whole family looked like red potatoes all summer long. The sun liked him, though, along with the rest of his family. They turned brown like toast, and never burned under the sun. He nodded. Jesse was smart, and the Lord was generous.
One of the Outsiders in particular had fascinated Jared. He was tall, and very dark, with the biggest, brownest eyes Jared had ever seen, eyes like a faun's, and lashes so long they cast shadows on his cheeks. They were so soft, and kind, and his broad cheeks and broad nose lent a friendly, comfortable air to his face. Whenever he saw Jared, he smiled—just a bit, nothing showy, and tipped his head minutely. Jared had almost felt like they were friends. Secret friends. Every morning, they'd passed each other on the road and nodded, almost smiled. Jared hoped the boy hadn't thought he was silly, the way he'd blushed with pleasure at every almost-greeting.
The day the Outsiders had all got into their vehicles for the last time, their bags and toolboxes packed up one last time, was such a sad day for Jared. He'd run to the spot he knew the vehicles would pass, and when a particular truck passed him, the boy in the back had looked right into Jared's eyes, and Jared had made a tiny wave. The boy's face had lit up and he made a tiny wave back, and his smile had been wide and bold and beautiful.
Jared was sure that if only he'd been allowed to talk to him, they would have become the best of friends, he knew it. But that was not allowed. Just a one month long Runround and then, there'd be a decision to make. Though like most all the Family's children, Jared had no doubt that he'd choose his Home. There was nothing in the world out there that could compare to family.
"Welcome to a new school year, and welcome to our newest crop of scholars," Miss Bartnik told the pupils crowded into the school's middle classroom. "We're going to have such fun together, and learn many wonderful things. The first thing we learn are the rules, and meet who is going to help us learn them." She turned and smiled at Jared.
"Jared, as one of our two oldest students, is going to work with our second years and our brand new first years, who will have class in the first room. Clarice will help with our third and fourth year students, who will be sharing this room with the fifth, sixth, and sevenths" She pointed to an opposite corner of the large room they were in. "Now, you eighth year students, all two of you," she chuckled, "are in the third room. I'll give you your syllabus and expect you to work on your own. I know all my scholars are going to do the best they can to make their families and Mountain Grove proud." She stopped and blew out a long breath. "Well, that was a long speech—what say we get to work now?"
The children giggled, ricocheting off of each other as she waved them out to their classrooms.
This was the year Jared had been waiting for. It was his and Clarice's turn, as the oldest students (and the sole eighth years), to work with the younger students now. Tradition always called on the older students to assist as teacher's aides, at least those that chose to keep going on in school.
In Mountain Grove, and Jared thought it most likely true of the rest of the Family communities, most students left school as soon as they could, and worked in family fields or businesses in the town. Education in the Family's lands never did go much past what the Outsiders considered eighth grade, unless a person planned to work in some needed, specialized field.
There were boarding schools in the Outside where the Family's children completed their high school years before going on to an Outsider college or trade school: electricians, machinists, accountants, nursing, but more commonly agricultural studies, because it was good to keep up with the newest ways. Growth was important—without the influx of new ideas, Miss Bartnik had always explained, the community became stagnant. But new knowledge required gatekeepers, the role of the Elders, who held the most important job in the Family—making sure the good was winnowed from the bad.
Jared had been taught this was the way of the world since infancy, and he could certainly see the sense in it. But...if new ideas were so necessary for healthy growth, why be tested by those old and set in their ways? Not that there was the slightest bit wrong with that, not at all, Jared hastily thought, and glanced around feeling a bit guilty at what had skipped through his brain. He fully believed that the Elders knew everything, of course they did. And if his thoughts sometimes wiggled in an opposite direction it was just because he was young. When he was an adult, he'd see the truth of it.
Mama said so, and she was not a woman to be contradicted.
Gathering his very excited little charges, he shooed them into their class room. The freshly plastered walls gleamed, so white and bright, and so soon to fall victim to little hands covered with paint and charcoal. This room had desks that were basically one long table, with benches attached—the better to keep the little critters in one place, he thought. In the rooms for the older children, there'd be a bookcase holding their library books, and a reading station next to it—basically a bench where the lucky children could sit and quietly read while the others did their school work.
In the First and Second years' room, there were a few sand tables along one wall where the book shelves would be in the other rooms. They had their very own small wood stove, so that he could warm their lunches and keep the room comfortable, especially now that the weather was so chilly. He had them hang their coats and hats and scarves on the wall hooks near the door, sighing as they bounced along like a herd of wild rubber balls, assaulting Jared's ears with waves of high pitched chatter. He rubbed at his temples. He'd had a low-level headache from the moment he'd woken that morning, a nagging throb that even caffee hadn't eased. The ache seemed to flow down from his head to his gut. He rubbed at his stomach, frowning briefly...what a morning. Well, regardless of how he felt, it was time to gather the little monsters together.
"Okay, everyone, Circle Time, let's go!" He clapped his hands and smiled inside at their immediate response. They all ran together, wiggling and pushing until they were more or less in a circle, little faces turned up to him in anticipation.
"Our first class is going to be about the Families, and their journey to the New Land."
"America," one of the little ones piped up. "Pennsylvania!" squeaked another.
"Yep, correct, the both of you," Jared said, "but no calling out of turn, okay? Our Family came to America and settled in the state of Pennsylvania. Here, we formed the town of Mountain Grove, other families settled here as well, and formed the towns of Rodney, Cilkirk, Wohas, and January. Did I forget any towns?" he asked, and waited, and sure enough, the kids all shouted their answer out.
"You're so smart," he said, with a wide smile, and turned to a felt board hanging behind him on the wall. On the table next to it was a basket filled with felt shapes. He selected one, held it out for the kids to identify, and then pressed the ship to the board. "We came here in ships like this," he said, " all the way from across the sea and settled here because in our old lands, we had no freedom."
The kids were entranced, watching as Jared pressed different shapes on the board. "Our church struggled against the cruel laws in the old land, but here, we could make our own choices and worship the way we knew our Lord wanted us to." He pressed a final shape on the felt, a big, white church, topped it with a cross, and turned back to his little scholars.
"So, who can spell 'sea'?" he asked, and the little ones dashed to the sand tables, fresh new writing quills poked into the sand like a crop of feathers.
The Seconds had some working knowledge of the alphabet and spelling, and all of them were eager to show Jared what they could do. They helped the Firsts, who were standing with their feathers in their hands, a little unsure, but eager to give the sand tables a go. Jared was sure that he'd find more drawings of cats and dogs and "our cow, Bossy," than S's or E's or A's.
Cute little beans, he thought. Bless their mothers for having the patience to deal with them day in and day out. He was turning towards the stove, ready to add a chunk or two of wood when he staggered, hit by a knife-sharp cramp, an odd sort of pinch/ripple that shot down his gut. He was about to go to the middle room in search of Miss Bartnik, when an outraged shriek pierced the air.
Aaand, here we go.
Pain necessarily shoved to the side, he hurried to separate Timothy and Martha, who were doing their best to eviscerate each other with their sand quills, and then untangled Kris and Jimmy and made them make peace and then comforted Sarah who somehow had managed to get sand in her eyes. He made a fuss over their shaky, just barely legible letters—made some corrections as he guided his young scholars into a really close approximation of 'sea'. And then it was lunch time, and calls of "Mr. Jared, he stole my cookie," and "Mr. Jared, this soup is too hot/cold/thick/runny/soupy…"
Who in their right mind would want one of these little things?
Another stab of pain shot through him, but he and Clarice were too busy making sure the First/Seconds didn't drown each other in the toilets on their bathroom break. Those new toilets were still a source of wonder to the young ones, and they had a fascination with them that confused Jared. Sure, up until the last year, they'd had outhouses at the school—it had been an old building, bare-boned as some of the Family still lived. In fact, the desks, the stoves, and the sand tables had come from it, but all these little shin-gnawers had toilets at home.
Jared shook his head. Children. They were like little creatures from some mysterious, smelly, damp, sticky realm.
Finally, they came to the end of a long day. He'd be happier about the day coming to an end, except he still had the rolling wave of headaches and the intestinal upset he'd woken up with and a ton of chores waiting for him to do at home. School days didn't mean that their chores were lessened one bit. Daddy was a firm believer in idle hands being the devil's favored tools.
He made sure each little scholar had the correct coat and hat and scarf, and then bid them a good evening and sent them on their way. When his classroom was finally empty, he spent a few more minutes talking over his day with Miss Bartnik, who made him blush with the praise she accorded him.
He lingered a bit on the steps after the teacher left, still waiting for his sister to be let go from the Fifth/Sixes. He was just a hair jealous that Mercy got to spend all of the day with Miss Bartnik, but was also proud that he was now an instructor too—more or less.
Mercy skipped all the way home, hanging off of Jared's hand, swinging it this way and that, babbling on about what she'd learned that day and "the books, Jared! There are so many of them!"
Jared laughed, completely in agreement with her. Books were a wonder, and their town library had always seemed like a fantasy land to him when he was younger. Stepping in the doors had always felt like stepping into a different world—a better, brighter, fun world.
"I'm glad you're liking the Fifth. I know you were worried, but I knew you'd have no problem. You have lots of room in your brain for knowledge."
She swatted him, giggling. "Well, if being smart means having a big head, then you must be the smartest boy in town," she crowed.
He grabbed both her hands and swung her around while she shrieked with laughter, and when he let her down, she chased him down the lane, threatening his life in all manner of creative ways. They took their time heading home, taking the long way along the fruit trees before heading into the yard, stopping to pick the last of the berries from the tangled bushes crowding an old fence line.
Jared stopped to show Mercy how to make a crown from asters. He sat on the grass next to her, watching her weave the stems together and doing his best to ignore the jabs of sharp-edged pain rolling through his gut...lower and lower, until it seemed he was sitting squarely on an ill-tempered porcupine. He couldn't complain too much, though—Mercy looked like a fairy queen with her crown of lilac-colored asters, and her hands full of berries. Her scratch free hands, since Jared had been gang-pressed into freeing the berries for the both of them.
It was a solid thirty minutes past the time they were supposed to arrive home that they showed up in the yard, running across the bare square of dirt in a futile effort to not be horribly late.
Mama stomped out onto the porch the second they hit the bottom stair. With her stocky frame encased in a plain gray dress, and her silver hair twisted into tight braids framing her face, she looked both regal and frightening—in fact, a little like a battleship, Jared thought, and begged the Lord's forgiveness for his unruly mind, and thanked him also for not giving his mama the gift of mind-reading.
Steel-gray eyes skewered them both. Red cheeks, a tightness around her mouth and eyes were the only sign that she was not amused by their antics. In fact, Jared knew that not amused wasn't the half of it. He was grateful that at least it wasn't Daddy waiting for them, because he'd have been waiting with the razor strop.
Without speaking a word, Mama sent them to wash up and help get dinner ready—after Jared had done his other chores of course.
When brother and sister met again in the kitchen to help with dinner, both of them were red-faced and sweating, Mercy from ironing Daddy and Jesse's shirts for church, and Jared from cleaning out the stalls. Jared was still damp from cleaning himself up—the Lord save him if he tracked muck into his mama's pristine kitchen.
Mercy and Mama began measuring out the ingredients for an apple pie, since Mama determined that there was time to prepare and bake it before Daddy came home. He was down in the town, helping Mr. Krupa with an extra large order he'd had from an Outsider business; an order of two dining sets, each with six chairs. Daddy was there to help Krupa pack them for pick-up, and knowing Mr. Krupa and his liking for chit-chat and gossip, it'd be a good while before Daddy made it home again. A nice pie would go a long way towards soothing Daddy's sure to be strung-tight nerves.
"We've got two hours to finish off the pie," Mama said, stirring the stew keeping warm on the back burner of the stove.
Mercy dropped a bowl of apples between them, the clang of the metal bowl smacking the table covering what she muttered, so Mama wouldn't hear; that Jared had the best of it, unless he wanted to learn how to starch and iron clothing. Jared agreed he'd shovel poopy straw, as Mercy put it, all day long before he'd iron shirts or wash clothes.
He shuddered at the thought, glancing at Mama's raw, red hands.
Jared grabbed an apple, tossed it into the air, and challenged Mercy to a contest. "Whoever can peel their apple in one long strip is the winner. Loser brings the wash in after dinner—along with their other nighttime chores," he whispered, and even though Mercy just rolled her eyes, he knew the challenge had been accepted.
They giggled a lot, doing their best to be quiet about it, but eventually Jared caught his mama smiling at their antics and relaxed—seemed they'd been forgiven, once again. Jared crowed when he managed a nearly perfect long strip, and Mama declared him the winner, and awarded him a thick slice of apple dusted with cinnamon and sugar as his prize. Mercy glared at him. She'd have had to bring the clothes in regardless, but she'd been hoping Jared would be stuck with it. Jared, on the other hand, was magnanimous in victory—he stuck his cinnamon-dusted tongue out at her, but refrained from guffawing in her face.
He was just finishing off his apples when Jesse came into the kitchen, his face and hands still damp from washing up. He frowned, crossing his arms over his chest, at the sight of Jared sat at the table with Mercy and a bowl of skinless apples.
"Woman's work again, Beans? Mercy and Mama don't need help here, there's things you could be doing, more useful things, I'm thinking."
"Women's work?" Mama turned from the stove and asked Jesse mildly, "So, son. Are you telling me you think this work has no value? That what women do is unimportant?"
"Nu—no! Mama, of course not," Jesse stuttered. "I'm just saying—"
Whatever it was that Jesse was 'just saying' was lost to Jared. The prickly porcupine feeling suddenly ratcheted up to a sword stabbing through his guts—a sword that he'd sat on. He managed to bite down hard on the scream that wanted to fly out past his lips. The pain grew until his eyes watered and for one horrible second he felt...wet down there, as if he'd peed on himself—holery—it hurt so darn bad he just might have.
He was thankful that everyone's attention was on Jesse being an gluepig. He had no desire to tell his mama he was about to burst into tears because his rear and his rod were both being filled with flaming skewers. He breathed deeply, hand shakily trying to peel another apple and ending up with a pile of slivers and chunks.
At bath-time that evening, Jared undressed reluctantly, hesitantly undoing his trousers. He was right. Something really not good had happened to him—he had to peel his underwear away from his bottom, something had dried, gluing them to his skin. The fabric prickled and snagged as he pulled, and he nearly fainted with the embarrassment and fear. What was wrong with him? What had he done? What in the world had happened?
He squeezed his eyes shut like a baby when the fabric finally came loose; peeked, one-eyed, down at himself, afraid of what he'd see.
He gasped. There was blood; a good-sized splotch of blood stained his underwear. His knees went rubbery—he just managed to hold himself up by the bathroom sink. Terrified, he felt gingerly around his rear, reached between his butt-cheeks and reluctantly touched his opening, because where else could the blood have come from? All that pain this afternoon….
He pulled his fingers away, wincing and squinting at them.
They were clean, and dry. He felt around his penis and balls and found nothing. He prodded at his sphincter again, a little harder this time; came away with the faintest bit of dried red crust on his fingers. Whatever had happened, was not happening now. He went to pull his fingers away again and hissed—he must have scratched himself prodding places that shouldn't be prodded. He felt a slight swelling, a welt between his opening and his balls that stung, and a bit more blood around it, this blood being tacky instead of dried. He pressed harder, and gasped as his finger sank into the welt, slipping in to the first joint. There was a thing there, there was a—another opening? He snatched his finger away, confused, terrified—and definitely not wanting to linger there.
He bathed himself quickly, and gingerly felt himself after, his face on fire with embarrassment. For touching himself, for his rod thickening up as he did. The other opening was still there, but the pain was gone. His rod stiffened even more, what with all the handling he was doing. He dropped his hands, folded them together and fell to his knees on the hard, tiled floor. He prayed, begging forgiveness, and kept on praying until his rod finally softened again.
His dreams that night were awful; he dreamed the barn and stables were on fire, and he ran away with Mercury, riding crazily, crashing through through woods and rivers with the fire chasing him like a thing alive, thirsting for him.
When he woke, his underwear were wet, only this time they were wet with the proof of sin. He washed them out, and stuffed them into his pocket and practically ran to his private place, where he hid in the bushes. There he had the added embarrassment of having to hang his underwear on a branch to dry, hoping the darn things would dry quickly, forgive his language. He sat morosely chugging caffee until he felt something like human again.
At least the ill-tempered porcupine had abandoned his nether regions, he thought, and bleated out a shaky laugh, squirming on his seat in remembered pain and mortification, and fear. He had no one he could ask about this thing he'd found. No one had ever said anything more about boys besides they had penises, and that penises were trouble until a man was married and he'd find out about that on his wedding night. He drank his caffee down until there was nothing but dregs in the flask, and wished so much that he could just roll himself under the bushes and not come out again until he'd figured out every question he had—so, 'round about an eternity, he figured.