The Well

Y’know how I said that I’d get back into posting larger (*cough* non-dream *cough*) stories again, now that I’m done with all that work that I was doing.

Here is the beginning of that. I’ve been working on this one for a while (I think I actually started it while I was amidst the endless work), and quite like it. Hope you enjoy.

 

My family and I own a well.

Our property is very…rural. No, beyond rural. To get to it, you have to drive for forty-five minutes from the nearest paved road. I think state officials would be hard-pressed to actually determine what county we are in; we are in a sort of grey area between Boytn and Oliver.

As I was saying, a well. This well supplied us with all the water that we used, day in and day out. Being so far out from the rest of civilization, we grew the majority of our food, and well water with the occasional mug of ale brewed from leftover grain from the harvest was our only drink.

The well had served us well ever since we bought the property, twelve years ago, as it had served the owners before us and the owners before them. The water was clear and pure, with enough tang of minerals to give it substance, but not so much to overpower. Sometimes, in the summer, I would enjoy sitting on the ground in the surroundings woods, my back against a tree, sipping a glass jar of it.

Ah, those summers. The public school system was, obviously, an impossibility for me. My parent’s answer to this was to dedicate one of the many rooms of our house to bookshelves, which they filled with subjects from math to science to history. Of course, it was not only for holding  ‘school’ books, but also fiction. I loved Poe, Stoker, and Shelley, among everything and everyone else. I was given free reign to read what I liked, when I liked.

What that turned out to be was ‘everything’ and ‘always’, especially during those well-remembered summers. I always read, when I wasn’t gardening, walking through the woods, or doing writing of my own. Eventually, I read them all, including the math, science, and history books, which I enjoyed nearly as much.

Aside from the books, I had learned from my father and mother cooking, gardening, brewing, and woodworking. We worked together, day by day, to grow and prepare food. Our life was simple, though still educated, loving, and happy.

I don’t know why we didn’t have to pay taxes. Perhaps it was because of our juxtaposition between the two counties, hence a gap in jurisdiction, but I don’t know. Perhaps it was merely that the state wasn’t aware of our existence. It is highly likely.

It is good that we didn’t have to, in any case. We very rarely had any ‘actual’ money. My father and mother had bought the house those twelve years ago, in cash, and moved in intending to leave behind ‘the system’. The only time that we actually had money was when my father had driven the round-trip length of four hours to a farmer’s market that the nearest town had.

They had the farmer’s market weekly, from June to October, but my father usually only went four or five times throughout the year. When there, he would sell some of our leftover vegetables, fruits, grain, and ale. With the money thus collected, he would buy some necessities that we couldn’t make ourselves, such as gas for the car, which was used rarely, and some types of tea, then bring back any additional money.

It was an efficient system, and enough to supply us with what we needed.

As I said, we were happy.

I stirred from under the book that lay open on my chest. I was propped against a pillow, and decided that I must have fallen asleep while reading the previous night. I closed the book, put it on the table next to my bed, and got up. I looked in my teacup from last night, surprised to find some tea still in it. I swallowed it, thankful for something to wet my parched throat. I supposed that I hadn’t drank enough the day before.

My room was on the third floor of our house, across the hallway from my library. My parents lived on the second floor, on the opposite side of the house.

As I walked down the stairs to the second floor, the boards creaked under my feet. The house had been built almost two hundred years prior, at the same time of the making of the well, so creaks and groans were common in it.

I walked somewhat cautiously on the second floor, not sure whether my my parents were awake yet or not. Once I reached the top of the stairs that led to the ground floor, though, I heard the rattle of dishes and the boiling of water. I went downstairs to find my mother, Catherine, holding a bucket.

“We’re out of water, Thomas,” she said to me. “Could you get some?”

I sighed softly. “Sure,” I said, taking the bucket. “How many buckets should I get?”

“I think four will be enough for today, at least,” she answered. “While you’re out, what kind of tea do you want me to make for you?”

“Erm, I guess English Breakfast.” Mornings were pretty much the only time that I drank that kind of tea, and it sounded good at the time.

I walked out the door, thankful that the weather had been recently heating up after our unusually cold winter, and headed towards the well. As I went, I saw my father, David, chopping wood. I waved to him, and he looked up, wiping his brow with the back of his arm, then waved back. He gathered the wood up in his arms and headed for the house, passing me on the way.

“Getting water? Good, we’re out,” he said, then went into the house.

Once I got to the well, I hooked the bucket onto the rope via a two-pronged metal hook that was fastened onto the rope. After doing so, I let go of both.

The bucket landed in the water below with a splash.

I then began turning the crank to bring up the bucket. I got water several times every week, if not every day, so this was not hard for me in the slightest.

Once I had brought up and retrieved the bucket, though, I noticed something odd about the rope.

As I’ve said, the water in the well is mineral-rich. Obviously, when the rope goes down with the bucket, it gets wet. When this dries, it creates a white layer on top of the rope.

After many years of this, it has created a well-defined layer of white on the rope, which stops at a very definite line. When the rope gets wet, the water always goes up to this line, as that is the depth at which the bucket hits the bottom of the well.

This time, however, the water stopped about a foot short of the line. Confused, I decided that I must just have not given the bucket enough time to sink to the bottom. I carried in the bucket, emptied it into the larger barrel that we used for storing the water throughout the day, then repeated the process.

Again, the water stopped a foot short of the mineral line. Concerned and again confused, I brought the water in and repeated the process again, making sure to wait a while after letting go of the bucket and rope.

Still, the water was a foot short. I brought that bucket in, filled it again, and brought the final bucket in, still confused.

My mom came down the stairs. “Your tea is sitting on the counter, over there,” she said. She looked at me for a moment, then asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. The water is a foot lower in the well.”

“How do you know?”

“The water stopped a foot short of the mineral line on the rope.”

She frowned. “I’ll go tell your father about it. He might know what the issue is.”

I nodded, then went to my tea. She had already sweetened and creamed it with half a spoon of sugar and a drop of milk. I sipped it slowly, the bitterness of the tea spreading over my tongue, just barely lessened by the milk and sugar.

My father came down the stairs, adjusting the collar of his shirt. “So what’s this about the well?”

“The water level is a foot lower than usual, or at least the water is a foot short of the mineral line on the rope,” I answered.

“That’s concerning,” he said. “Wells get naturally refilled by underground springs, so they should never ‘run out’. You’re sure the bucket just didn’t get all the way to the bottom?”

“I tried it four times, and each time was the same.”

“Maybe it’s just something with the thaw that we haven’t noticed before,” he said. “We’ll just keep an eye on it, and see if it goes away.”

It didn’t. In fact, it got worse. Day by day, the changes weren’t that noticeable, but week to week and month to month, they were.  And, as the water decreased, an odd taste grew in the water, a sickening metallic taste. Before the end of that year, the water line went only two feet above the bucket. A month after that, and it was only a foot.

A month later, the water went only a few inches above the bucket, and the water was so foul that it was utterly undrinkable, even after we boiled it.

It was then that I decided to discern what was wrong with it.

I rummaged through the cabinet in my room, leaning partly inside it. My mom came into my room, behind me.

“What are you looking for?” She asked.

“A flashlight. I want to look down the well, to see what’s wrong with it. Where’s dad?”

“He went into town, to get us enough water to last for a while. He had to bring in some of our ale to sell.”

I found the flashlight, started to climb out of the cabinet, and bumped my head. When I stood up, I rubbed it. “This can’t go on too much longer, or we’ll have to make some major changes around here.”

“Indeed,” she answered.

Once I got out of the house, I flicked on the flashlight, walking to the well. When I got there, I shined it down, the light reflecting off the shallow water and several large, white shapes at the bottom and the always-damp walls,

At the bottom there lay five bodies, grotesquely swollen and pasty white from the long submergence under the water.

I vomited uncontrollably into the well, almost losing my hold on the flashlight. When my vision cleared and my stomach was empty, I looked again.

There were three men and two women down there. Their mouths and eyes were open in a gasping scream. Their hair had disintegrated into the water, and their features were mutated by the pressure and water.

I dropped the flashlight, and ran inside. I couldn’t, it must have been a delusion, or something, a nightmare hidden in my mind that manifested itself now, at this unknown time. 

I burst through the door, then forced myself to sit down, take deep breaths. I didn’t see my mom anywhere. Before I tell her, I must make sure that it exists in the physical plane, not just the mental one of my mind.

Simple to think, but difficult to do. The thought of the bodies, pasty white and only just preserved by the water… I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  The thought of forcing myself to view it again was ridiculous. I couldn’t do it. Why, what, who could have done this, caused this? I couldn’t imagine, and didn’t want to try.

I forced myself to stop thinking, as much as I could, and breathe. Close my eyes, breathe in, breathe out. When I had steadied myself enough to go out again, I did so, my legs shaking. The closer I got to the well, the more they shook. I leaned over and picked up my flashlight, flicked it on, and leaned over again, gagging but unable to vomit anything.

There were more bodies than I had previously thought. There were six large bodies, then two smaller ones, a child and a baby. I hacked, and a spray of blood flew against the side of the well. I had to tell my mother now. I couldn’t imagine what her response would be.

When I got back in, she was folding clothes downstairs.

“Mom, there’s something I need to show you.”

“Can it wait a bit?” she answered. “As you can see, I’m almost done here.”

“I think this is something that takes the precedent right now.”

Perhaps it was because she saw a strained look on my face, or that I was unusually pale, but she got of the bed, her eyes darkening.

“What is it?”

“There are, there are bodies in the well.”

The blood drained from her face, her eyes widened, and a look of urgency came over her. “Show me.”

She followed me out, her body slackening when she looked down. I supported her and led her back into the house.

“What should we do?” I asked her.

“We need to tell your father as soon as he gets back. Unfortunately, he’ll have to drive back into town to get the police. But this, this is something that they will be a necessary evil for.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “I just don’t know what this is all about, and I don’t really want to.”

“The water, though,” I mused. My eyes widened as I thought of the gravity of those words, and my stomach tried in vain to remove from it anything and everything. My mom rushed outside, and I heard retching. When she came back in, the area around her eyes looked almost green, it was so sickly.

She leaned on the counter, her chest heaving as she breathed. “And now,” she said, “we wait for your father to come home.”

That hour before my father returned seemed the longest of my life. When he came home, we showed it to him, and he promptly left, bringing my mother and I with him. It had been a long time since I had gone with him into town, as I found nothing there to be compelling enough to go with my father when he went, except for the occasional time there was something specific I wanted to get. I had brought a book to read on the ride, but was preoccupied with memories of the well and couldn’t pay attention.

In the end, I closed my eyes and tried to relax and rest on the way, which was primarily unsuccessful. Once we got there, though, I had fallen asleep and had to be awakened.

We walked up the cement steps to the police station, the grey clouds that had been growing heavier began to loose their burden on the world, releasing drops of chilling rain. Thunder growled in the distance. Large cement columns, in the doric fashion, supported the greek-styled front, the large POLICE STATION engraved at the top.

I frowned at it, then it was obscured from my sight as I walked in behind my mother and father. Two officers sat behind a large desk-like structure, casually discussing something. When they saw us, they sat up abruptly.

“What can we help you with?” one of them asked.

“I’d like to report a crime, or a body, or bodies, or something,” said my father, nervously looking around the station.

The eyes of the officers widened considerably. “Where?” said the one who had first spoken.

“In our well.”

“You mean to tell me that there are bodies at the bottom of your well?”

“Yes.”

The one who was speaking to us, a young looking man, with dirty blonde hair, responded. “Where do you live? What is your name?”

“We live between here and Boytn, down a long dirt road. I can show you where. My name is David, this is my wife, Catherine, and our son, Thomas.”

The officer looked to the other, an older and heavier man with slightly greying hair, and got out from behind the desk. “I’m Wilson, and this is Peters. We’ll go out with you,” he said, filling out a form, signing it, and leaving it on the desk. He looked back at us. “Let’s go. You’ll lead?”

As we were leaving the building, I realized that there was a book that I had wanted to get the next time I went out to town, but didn’t bother bringing it up. The rain had picked up since we went in, drenching me the moment I had stepped out of the building.  Also in the short amount of time we had been in there, the sky had darkened, partly due to the dropping of the sun and partly the thickening and darkening of the clouds.

A few street lights had turned on, flickering slightly and tinged yellow from age, with moths and flies chaotically flying around inside. They dimly lit the way to the cars.

A bolt of lightning jarringly illuminated the way, thunder crashing after it. In the split second of strong light, I thought I saw something large lying on the ground to my right, but when I looked, nothing was there.

I climbed inside the car, shaking the water from my hair. It was dark brown, but the water had made it look black. My father and mother got in shortly thereafter. I heard the police car start up outside, then my father started ours.

We drove off the way we had come. I didn’t even try to rest or relax, this time. My head had cleared somewhat, and I read for a bit. Eventually, I put the book down and just looked out the window, the falling rain sometimes clearing trails on the window through which I could see, sometimes obscuring sight altogether. My mind wandered at that point, but never far from the sight of the well. As much as I tried to ignore it, forget it, I couldn’t.

When we arrived at our house, my father was looking nervous. My mother patted his shoulder, and he got out of the car just as the police car pulled in. When Wilson and Peters got out, the looked around curiously.

“I didn’t know this property existed,” said Peters.

“Most people don’t,” my father said shortly. “The well?”

“Yes, yes,” said Wilson. “Where is it?”

“Over here,” my father said, leading them to it.

Although the rain hadn’t slackened whatsoever, the dense foliage surrounding and penetrating our property shielded us from a large portion of it.

When they looked over into the well, the water slightly higher now from the rain, both let out a low whistle. Wilson, wincing, turned to my father. “How long have you known about this?”

“Not much longer than you. I had just gotten back when my wife and son showed it to me, and we came out immediately. I was shocked, obviously.”

They nodded, Peters taking out a notepad from his pocket and writing a few notes on it. “We’ll have people come out, and we’ll have to take you and your wife in for questioning. Who first found the bodies?”

“I did,” I said.

“Take all of you in for questioning, in that case.”

The next few days were a blur, in a sense. I didn’t sleep much during that time, and day and night faded between themselves. Fairly soon after they had questioned all of us, they were mostly convinced we didn’t have anything to do with it. That conviction was confirmed when the results came back from the coronary’s office, stating that the bodies had been dead for close to two centuries. We were allowed to go home, though the area had been greatly changed in the process of evidence gathering. Parts of our garden had been trampled, the support structure for the bucket and pulley system on the well had been torn down, and muddy footprints obscured the step-stones leading to the entrance of our house.

Before long, though, we had gotten things mostly to how they were before, although once or twice every few days an official would come out and check a few more things, ask a few more questions (although it seemed that there were no more questions to be asked), or update us on something.

I set my book down, took a drink of Earl Grey , then leaned my head back against the wall behind me and closed my eyes. So much had happened, in so short a time. The bodies had been removed, the well had been filled with dirt, and a new well dug, the water from which was purer and more delicious than even the other had been. It was a bittersweet feeling, I thought, though probably more bitter than sweet. We still didn’t know what had happened with the bodies.

We had since re-planted our garden, or the parts of it which had been mutilated, rather, and things were growing back well.

Although I hadn’t told anyone about it, there had been something wrong with me since the whole ordeal. The white thing that I had seen out of the corner of my vision outside the police station hadn’t been the last. I had seen others, and not just at the corner of my vision. White bodies, dead bodies, waterlogged bodies of men, women, children, and babies were what I saw around me, randomly, everywhere. When I would look a second time at them, they would be gone. But I wasn’t sure that it was truly all in my mind; there was a sense of reality when I saw them, of absolute mortal horror and disgust. Sometimes, too, there would be flashes of motion, just outside my range of vision, when I would see one of the bodies.

I shook my head, picked up the book again, and read. I had been reading less, writing less, doing less of almost everything that I usually did. I slept the rest of the time, and my dreams were plagued with death. Some overwhelming shadow of evil that threatened to overtake me lest I not flee.

My eyes slowly crawled across the page, just barely following the story. When I reached the middle of the page, I frowned as a dark red spot appeared, blotting out some of the words. The color spread and darkened, taking over the entire page. A drop of it pooled, then dripped out of the book. It spread across the entire book, continuing to drip and bleed out of the book. A puddle formed under the floor where I held it.

Horrified, I dropped the book, closed my eyes, shook my head. When I opened them again, the blood was gone. The book sat, open, on the floor where I had dropped it. I picked it up, shaken, and continued reading. This had never happened before, but it was things like that that had been happening. I ran a hand through my hair, took a deep breath, and continued. I didn’t know what was going on, but I wanted it to stop, needed it to stop.

I went downstairs. My father was re-stringing his violin, an instrument that he had had since he was a boy. He played it frequently, though thought he didn’t have much skill at it, and played on the third floor, where he thought we couldn’t hear him.

We could. He was very good at it, with almost perfect intonation and bowing skills. We played along, though, asking him where he had gone to upstairs, and what he was doing. “Practicing, and making a fool of myself in doing so,” was what he would answer.

My mother had been preparing a soup. “Lunch will be ready in half an hour,” she said to me.

I nodded distractedly and walked out the door, meaning to go to the woods, where I often found solace. I hadn’t been out there in quite some time, and thought that that may have been part of the problem. Perhaps getting back into a habit of going out there frequently would help me, both by calming my frayed nerves, and by giving me something to do.

Once I had gotten there, I found the tree that I rested on most often, sat down against the trunk, almost smooth by my frequent visits there, and closed my eyes, leaning my head back against the tree.

When I opened them, a minute later, there lay before me the still corpse of a child, about the age of eight. I found it hard to breathe, even though this had been happening so frequently recently. The skin towards the middle of the neck suddenly split, curling away on either sides and revealing the raw flesh beneath, but only for a moment.

Its sudden exposure to air caused it to rot away almost instantaneously. The bones, once exposed, experienced a similar fate, cracking and dissolving to dust. The head rolled on the uneven ground towards me, into my lap. It rested there, face up, and the eyes opened. The mouth gasped, taking in air

I screamed, got up, ran. Nowhere was safe for me, anymore. Turning back, there was nothing, but a flash of movement to my right. I turned to look at it, to discern for once and for all whether everything was in my mind, or if some (or all) of it was true.

I saw nothing, or at least, no one. A tree branch in that direction swung, and there was no wind. I took a breath and headed back to the house. I would have to tell my parents about this, to see if they could help me, or at least find someone who could.

When I neared the house, I saw a black car in the driveway, shinier than any I had seen before. I quickened my already swift pace, into the house. There was a man there, talking with my parents.

When I came in, he turned towards me. “This is Lieutenant Marx, from the police station in town,” said my parents. “He has information for us about the well.”

“Yes. As I was saying, we’ve been looking back in our records, and we think we’ve figured out what, or rather, ah, who, did this.

“We looked back at who got the original building permits for the house. As you probably know, the well was dug by the same person. His name was Obed Davenport. He had been suspected of several murders, but as no definite evidence was found, he was acquitted. This was around the end of the eighteenth century, you understand. They had nothing much for information-gathering practices, and the legal system was still in a heavily evolving state.

“Shortly before the murder case, he had begun the construction of this house and the well. When digging a well, one must be careful of certain gasses that sometimes gather at the bottom of the well. It is odorless, colorless, and feels the same as air. It is a strange type of natural gas – not the type of natural gas you would immediately think of, the flammable gas, you understand – that is completely nonflammable, in fact, it will extinguish a flame. It also will render humans and other animals unconscious after just a few seconds, and will kill them if they stay there longer. It also has a few other deleterious effects, but those are beside the point. Now, we don’t have any solid evidence from this point on, but what we think happened was this: he killed them by throwing them into the well just before the water came, when the gasses are usually at their strongest. They were knocked unconscious, then killed either by drawing or by the gasses. The surprisingly high concentration of minerals in the water partly preserved the bodies.”

“How did we discover them, then?” asked my mother.

“Oh, yes, that. Well, over the years, their dissolving bodies plugged up most of the natural springs in the well, and, since you obviously kept drinking water, the water level decreased.”

A thought came into my mind. “The ‘other deleterious effects’? They wouldn’t happen to include hallucinations at low dosages, would they?”

Marx looked surprised. “Well, yes, actually.”

I took a deep breath. My parents looked at me. “Is there something you haven’t told us, Thomas?”

I sighed. “Yes. I’ve been…seeing things. Bodies. Blood. Decay. In my dreams, too. I had thought it was just stress, or,” I faltered, “something else, but this would make sense. And put my mind at ease.”

“That would be good if it was the case,” said the Lieutenant. “If it is, the effects will wear off soon. You’ll be fine by the end of the week.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Lieutenant Marx.”

“No problem. Also, as this all happened two centuries ago, there won’t be a legal case or anything, since nothing can or could be done.”

“Thank you for updating us,” said my father.

“Again, no problem. Well, I’ll be on my way now. Goodbye,” he said, getting back into the car and backing away.

After he had left, my mother spoke. “And that, I suppose, is that.”

That evening, as I sat in the living room, sitting in a chair and reading, my mother came up behind me.

“What’s that?” she asked, indicating the book.

“Frankenstein. I’m reading it again.”

She nodded, running her hands through my hair as she did so. Her hand caught in something.

“What’s this?” she asked, picking something out of my hair and peering at it. She handed it to me. It was dark red, so dark as to almost look black. “It looks like blood.”

My eyes widened. The book, I thought.

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