Lost and alone, the boy stumbled through the forest, his feet finding their way better than his eyes could, but neither saw the well, covered in thorns as it was. He cried out as he bumped his hip, and stopped for a moment to recover what he could of himself.
He looked at his surroundings, looked at the deep shadows, looked up to the leafy canopy which allowed barely any light to break through. He didn’t know where he was, when he was, nor why he was. He had forgotten why he ran away, he was so confused. His emotions had overpowered him, and clouded his perception of reality.
He remembered arguing with his Father about the family farm. His Father wanted more from him, earlier starts, late evening finishes. His sister, his only friend in his life, had died a few months ago and he was expected to take his share of her workload, to do her late night sewing, to prepare his Fathers meals.
He had screamed at is Father “Mother can do that women’s work, its not for me.”
His Father didn’t waste words, and struck him.
It was more the shock of being hit by this trusted figure than the actual physical pain that brought tears to his eyes, and he had ran. Now, sitting by the well, he began to cry.
He cried because he was lost and scared and hungry and thirsty.
He cried for his sister, dead in the ground.
He cried for his Father, who had lost two children needlessly.
He cried for his Mother, who couldn’t bring herself to rise from her bed since the loss of her daughter.
He couldn’t cry for long, his body was dehydrated. He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since he’d ran away. He pulled himself to the lip if the well, and pushing the briars aside, he peered into the darkness.
Not able to see a thing, he leaned further in, squinting his eyes. A brick shifted under his palm and feel into the well, splashing loudly.
This well isn’t deep, he thought, I can get water out of here.
Before he could begin to consider how he might get in, or get the water out, he noticed a soft whimpering coming from the well.
“Hello? Is there someone down there?”
The whimpering stopped, and the boy became scared of what might be down there. It could be a forest beast, in distress or in hiding. His mind raced through the possibilities.
A girls voice drifted up to him, “Please don’t throw any more rocks at me.”
“I..I didn’t mean too, I mean, I didn’t know you were down there… Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“Your in a well… why are you in a well?”
“I… this is where I stay. I am safe here. No one knows about this well…”
The boy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He wanted to help this girl to get her out of the well.
“I didn’t hit you with the stone did I?”
“No, no, its ok. I’m ok.”
The boy didn’t know what to say.
“How did you find my well?” asked the girl.
“I, uh, actually I’m a little lost. I ran away from home.”
“Oh! Why did you do that? Aren’t your family wondering where you are?”
“Probably… I don’t know…”
“Of course they are. Now, how can we find your way home?”
“I don’t even know if I want to go back there. I’m pretty thirsty and hungry though…”
He heard water sloshing around in the well.
“Step back!” came the cry from the well.
The boy took a few paces back, wiping away the tracks his tears had left on his grubby face, not knowing what to expect.
A bucket flew out of the mouth of the well, a rope tied to the handle trailed behind. The bucket landed near his feet. He picked it up, feeling the coarse damp wood, noticing its knots and holes, and testing the knot that tied the rope to its handle.
“Lower it back down” said the girl.
The boy obeyed and in moments had a full bucket of cold water. He splashed the water across his face and neck, sloshed some on his hair, and gulped down what was left.
He lowered the bucket again.
“Hah, you want more?” the girl said.
Again he hauled the leaking bucket towards the lip of the well. He drank slower this time as his stomach filled with the delicious liquid and his thirst cleared.
As he drank, he thought about how pure the water was, how cold it was and then he thought, this girl is down in that cold water, how long has she been down there for? How does she eat?
“What’s your name? I’m Evan” he said.
“I’m Lee. Are you still thirsty?”
“I’m fine now, thank you. Are you hungry Lee?”
Evan knew by the tone of her voice that she wasn’t fine. He felt she wanted his help, but for some reason couldn’t ask for it. He knew he had to help her anyway he could.
“Do you want to come up here and talk?”
No response came. Evans stomach tightened and and his head swam.
He groaned and slumped to the side of the well.
“Lee? I… I don’t feel too well. I’m just going to rest here a moment.”
He closed his eyes against the growing pain in both his stomach and head, cursed his foolishness at drinking the water so quickly and drifted off into a disturbed sleep.
He dreamt he was back at home, at the farm with his family. He saw his sister running through the fields, his Mother taking in his clothes from the line and his Father smoking his pipe on the porch. He could feel all was not right and it started to rain. His Mother stopped unpegging the clothes and looked up at the pouring sky. She looked at her husband. Her husband looked at his daughter and his daughter disappeared.
When Evan awoke the forest was dark, but he did not panic, because he could see the outline of the well beside him.
He pulled himself to his feet and rubbed his stomach.
“Lee!? Are you still there?”
“Evan? I thought you had left…”
“No, I fell asleep…”
“Did you dream of your family?”
“Yes! How did you know that?”
“I dream of my family sometimes…”
Evan again didn’t know how to respond. He wanted to hear what she had to say, but he felt he couldn’t ask too much.
Before he could decide what to say, Lee continued to speak.
“In my dreams they are all smiling and want me with them. Its not like reality at all. I wish I could dream forever and never wake up.”
“My dream wasn’t like reality,” said Evan. “In my dream my sister was still alive and my Mother was happy and my Father was relaxed.”
“Your sister is dead? I’m so sorry.”
“It… its fine, really.”
“What was her name?”
“How did she die?”
“Um, I don’t really know. I didn’t see her much at… near the end.”
“I understand if you can’t talk about. What did you see?”
“One day she was fine, and the next she was in the bed and I wasn’t allowed to see her. My Father wouldn’t speak to me and he threw himself into work. My Mother….”
He began to cry, but let no noise out to alert Lee to his distress.
“Evan? Would you like more water?”
He coughed and rubbed his eyes dry.
The two fell silent as the forest continued to darken around them. The wind picked up, and as the trees swayed in response, moonlight flitted across the forest floor, lighting the small space Evan and the well occupied.
Evan fell into himself, into his own thoughts. He remembered seeing Maeve pulling in the washing off the clothes line as dark clouds breached the horizon, strong wind pushing them into the open sky above the farm. He saw her push her hair from her eyes and study the skyline. Then she coughed and the sheet in front of her splash with dark red blood. His Mother appeared at the door and ran over to Maeve. She looked at the sheet and shook it at Maeve, throwing it to the ground. They both looked at him and then went inside. He ran over to the sheet and felt the sticky hot blood and he cried.
Lee called out to him.
“Evan? Evan, grab the rope, I’m climbing up.”
Shook out of his introverted daze, he scrambled to his feet and held tightly to the rope.
He felt her tug on the rope and steadied himself as her weight went onto the rope, though she was not heavy. He could hear rocks splashing into the well as her ascent disturbed the old stones.
He saw a soft pale hand grip the edge of the well, and as he noticed its delicate beauty, its soft almost translucent skin illuminated in the moonlight, he saw, as though in slow motion, the brick which it laid across shift and loosen under the new weight. The brick flew backwards and splashed at the bottom of the well. He saw the hand scramble for purchase on the remaining bricks, to no avail as each one loosened and fell with increasing ease. As the bricks fell away, the rope lost its purchase and slid around the lip, knocking bricks and slapping damply across Lee’s wrists.
He called out “Lee!”
No response came, and the weight fell from the rope. Evan yanked the rope out, hoping that somehow Lee would be at the end. The bucket was all that came, and as it crashed through the lip the well began to cave in on itself.
“Lee! Lee! Lee!”
No response came, as bricks began to stumble into the well, and no watery splash greeted them at the bottom. The ground around the well began to sink and shift, and he instinctively leaped away to safety.
Evan could do nothing but watch on by light of the dancing moon as his only friend in the world was drowned by earth at the bottom of the well.
The ground steadied itself, but Evan could not. His body was shaking from shock and he could scarcely breathe.
After a couple of hours, the night passed and the morning sun began to trickle through the tree line.
As the sun crossed his eyes, he blinked and looked around. There was no sign of the well.
He stood and continued deeper into the forest.