Down the Well
Rie Sheridan Rose
“It used to be a real well,” Greta said, leaning her chin on her crossed arms.
“Like, in the old times?” asked Pete, standing on the other side of the stone circle. He peeked over the edge curiously.
“My dad says this used to be a farm long back. The well went dry, and they couldn’t keep going,” she replied. “Now people throw coins in it.”
“It’s a wishing well?” He levered himself up on the wall, leaning out over the edge. “How cool is that!”
He jumped back from the well. “You have any coins?”
She reached into the pocket of her overalls and pulled out a handful of change.
Pete grabbed it out of her hand and darted back to the well, tossing the whole handful into the hole. There were a series of muted plops and a couple of plinks…there must be a bit of water left in the well after all.
“You asshole!” Greta screamed, stamping her foot. “I didn’t give you all of those. I didn’t give you any of those! My lucky silver dollar my grandpa gave me was one of those. I gotta get it back.”
She ran to the well and looked into the circle. The depths of the shaft were in darkness. She couldn’t see anything at the bottom.
“You are such a jerkface,” she sighed. “I gotta get that back. It’s all I have of my grandpa’s.”
“How are you gonna do that?” Pete asked.
Greta looked around the clearing. Scrub had started to grow back in the years since the farm was actually worked, but there were no trees big enough to use to climb down, or vines or anything. The farmhouse was long gone. So was the barn. No ladder or anything.
There was one way down, but she really wanted it to be the last resort…
Two forked branches were set into the masonry of the well. A third log lay across them, and a dirty gray rope was cinched onto the log slithering down into the darkness of the shaft. Greta reached out and tugged on the rope. It seemed sturdy enough.
She climbed up on the lip of the well and threw a leg over.
“Wait—what are you doing?” Pete asked, grabbing at her sleeve.
“I told you. I have to get that silver dollar back.”
“You can’t go down there!”
“Oh, yeah?” She took hold of the rope with both hands and pushed off the wall. “Watch me.”
Her breath caught in her throat as the rope took her full weight. She started down the shaft. The rope creaked and rubbed against the log as she descended. It made her a bit nervous, but there wasn’t anything else she could do. That silver dollar meant everything to her. She never went anywhere without it.
The well was deeper than she expected, and the lower she went, the darker it became. The circle of daylight at the top dwindled until it looked like a blue dime.
It was a good thing she had one of her little flashlights in her pocket—she believed in being prepared—she could barely see a thing. It smelled horrible down here, like something had fallen in and died or something. A rank stench of rotting vegetation and rancid mud wafted up around her as she reached the end of the rope.
Greta’s feet touched the ground, and she felt mud squelch up over the tops of her sneakers.
“What?” asked Pete, peering anxiously over the edge of the well from above.
“Mud,” she replied with a grimace. Mom was going to kill her.
She pulled out the flashlight and twisted it on. The beam was strong, but tiny. It didn’t light much of the mud.
A pile of matted fur lay against one wall of the well. She shuddered. Poor animal…to fall down here. What a nasty way to go.
There were dull gleams here and there in the muck—the coins people had thrown down here—and she bent down to check them out. She ignored the copper ones. There were more silver than copper at least.
Face twitching in disgust, she reached into the mud, picking up coins and examining them. She started to toss away those that weren’t the one she was looking for, then thought better of it. She shrugged and stuck them in her pocket.
When she had picked up all the coins she could see, she began to dig deeper in the muck. She had to find Grandpa’s dollar!
Her hand caught on something close to where the mat of fur lay. She pulled, and then screamed. Her fingers were in the eye sockets of a skull.
“Greta! What’s wrong?” Pete shouted.
She threw the skull against the masonry of the wall, and it shattered into a million fragments. Scraping her hand against the leg of her overalls, she fought to breathe as she tried to wipe the feel of the bone from her fingertips.
“Greta! What’s wrong?”
“There’s someone dead down here,” she whimpered. No longer worried about the silver dollar, she grabbed for the rope and started to climb.
Greta’s arms were trembling as she fought to get up the rope as quickly as she could. The rope was harder to climb up than it had been to come down.
Something grabbed her ankle. She could feel it—hard and cold and sharp around her leg. She kicked out, trying to break loose.
The rope began swaying hard.
“Pete! Go get help.”
“I can’t leave you here.”
She heard him running.
And then the rope broke.