The Well, D. Avery
They were very pleased with the place, such a deal, it was all they had wished for, despite the rundown condition, despite the lack of power and water, toting drinking water in for now with a plan to maybe later dig out the old well.
They went down to the well and dropped a rock, then another and another, listening in vain for its landing in the dark below, hoping for a splash, but hearing nothing at all, not even the tunk of rock on dirt.
But later, when returning to the well for her forgotten sunglasses, she thought she heard a gurgling sound, and another dropped stone sounded a very clear splash, though very far down. When they checked the next day the water level was visible and they rigged a rope and bucket that they might draw water, planning on having it tested later for potability, but for this trip they were now motivated to start scrubbing and cleaning the long unused cabin.
Lying in their sleeping bags that night she remarked how strange the change in water level seemed, but he tiredly mumbled reassuring words about water tables and springs and how they simply didn’t hear the splash at first, and they both were soon asleep after a good day’s work.
They woke at dawn’s light, which shimmered on the water that was up over the hood of the car, and that now lapped over the top step and under the door of the cabin on the little rise of land overlooking the submerged well.
Rushing from their beds to the front porch, standing in water up over their knees, they were shaken not just by the unfathomable water, but also by the silence, by the absolute absence of birdsong, of breezes rustling grasses and leaves, of any sound, save themselves. Except for the steady rise of water, all was still; even the spread of dawn’s light had stopped, arrested low on the tree topped horizon.
“How can this be?,” he queried, scanning in vain for the car, though it clearly would offer no escape.
They looked at each other with a hope of relief when the water, up to their waists now as they clung to the porch posts, seemed to cease its rising. Then they felt a shaking, a profound tremor, and the water pulled at them like a rushing tide that swept them off the porch and swirling helplessly into a whirlpool that finally disappeared into the old well, now visible in the wet and matted yard. At the end of the rutted lane, beyond the dripping car, the for sale sign that they had neglected to remove listed in the sodden ground.
“The realtor, what was she, like somewhere between eighty-five and four hundred years old, what was it she said about this place being a vital link to the town’s history? She was kind of cryptic, if not down right creepy.”
“Oh, the old woman is just desperate for a sale, probably hasn’t sold property since the time of Noah, that’s why she encouraged us to stay here, see if it suits us.”
They had driven as far as they could up the brush-arbored lane and now walked towards the cottage that rested on the rise of land like weathered driftwood, taking in the railed front porch, the rusted old car a raft among the weeds, and further down the hill, what appeared to be an old well, its stone toothed maw muzzled with vines.
“There’s something about this rustic old place that I find appealing, especially that old style well.”
“Yeah, let’s get the sleeping bags and set up camp; after all what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Engine cut, kickstand down, she stretched off the motorcycle, removed her helmet and took in the silent, empty Main Street that was the frayed thread of the tired old town. Feeling eyes on her, she turned, and peering at her through the dust-speckled glass of a storefront real estate office was a woman who appeared agelessly ancient. She waved weakly, and after swigging her bottled water from her bag, she remounted and continued, eyeing her gauge, uneasy now at the dearth of traffic, questioning her choice of road less traveled.
Familiarity made her more confident when she rolled through the next afternoon, now backtracking to avoid road construction on the busier roads that she had finally come to, and she again pulled over in front of the real estate office to stretch and snack. As she tilted her head back to drink, she noticed what appeared to be foggy mist over the trees outside of town, though everywhere else appeared dry and clear, the sun high in the sky.
“Well, well, well, you’re back”, she heard, and, lowering her water bottle, she turned, taking a moment to discern that the middle-aged woman smiling knowingly at her from the doorway was in fact the same woman she had seen the day before.
“There’s people there now, but I’ll clean up after them, check on the well.”
Johanna couldn’t believe her fortune in finding a special remote location for her “gang” to base their retreat ride.
“I’ll take the tractor out there and brush-hog the meadow and grade the lane so you ladies can get in and set up your tents. My, having visitors does keep us young.”
“Okay”, smiled Joanna, reaching for her helmet, “We’ll all be back next weekend, it sounds great, like a dream come true.”
“Yes”, said the older woman, her eyes gleaming, “It’s a dream come true.”
Though it was dusty and empty in the early morning, Nancy recognized the timeless little town from Joanna’s description, in which she had referred to the few inhabitants as ‘a small coven of ancient women, average age two hundred, but being very welcoming to a coven of forty-something motorcycle mamas’. Detained by work, Nancy was now riding solo to belatedly join Joanna’s retreat, almost two days after the others, and looking forward to breakfast with the gang.
Dawn rose a ragged overripe peach nestled in the mist over the treetops. Had it rained here, Nancy wondered; the dirt lane that she now navigated was slick and damp; then in the bowl-like meadow she had arrived at she saw rings of camping gear and debris, even motorcycles, strewn like strands of seaweed showing tidelines; finally she noticed Joanna crouched and shivering on the roof of the cabin that dripped on the far side of the meadow, up the slope from the well that was in the center.
Careful to put her kickstand down on a level rock, Nancy then hurried over to help Joanna find her way down a porch post, all the while wondering about the others, absent in the eerie silence that blanketed this place. Joanna, still shivering uncontrollably, had no explanation other than to babble about the well, the well, the rising water, the whirlpool disappearing into the well.
With Joanna now bundled into one of her sweatshirts and clutching her from the passenger seat, Nancy slowly and carefully skippered the motorcycle up and out of the meadow, down the muddy lane, then motored on until pulling over at the real estate office in town where some young women were now sitting on benches outside.
“My dears, is anything the matter, we weren’t expecting to see you… so soon.”
“There’s got to be an explanation, maybe you can tell us, my friend says something about the well…”
“Oh, isn’t that a lovely well, very old, on the same aquifer as the town water.”
“We were just wondering how you ladies were doing, and I was even inspired to start up my old Indian. How about we take a ride back up to the cabin and see what’s going on?”
Despite the circumstances, Nancy couldn’t help but admire the red Indian motorcycle that the real estate agent rolled up on. “Wow, what is that, like 1915, is it original?”
“1917, and yes, it’s all original, in fact, I am the original owner.”
Suddenly Joanna roused herself and spoke in a tremulous voice from behind Nancy, “You, you are all so young!”
“Why thank you”, said one of the women from the bench, smiling cunningly, “It must be something in the water.”
Nancy’s heart skipped a beat as the implications of the woman’s response finally registered.