A sheriff and his old friend meet at their childhood haunt
Some brave souls, who’ve trooped to the site after one too many shots of Jack, give accounts of the well pulsing in the glowering darkness, like the shuttered gates to perdition. Yet despite the drunken boasts and whispered legend, none can deny the horror that’s followed in the footsteps of that place.
As a boy, I played there often, drawn by its forbidden attraction. With my best friends, Jeff Daily and Lewis White, we three followed the slim dirt track through a throng of somber oak sentries until the parched wooden structure and its rusted red roof resolved itself through the trees.
We called ourselves, The Three Musketeers, and with branch swords and trash can shields, we dashed through the barren corridors our footfalls like a slow heartbeat through its worm-eaten rooms. Then on a bright May afternoon, Jeff tumbled from a second story window, killed instantly in the fall.
It was years before I returned to the house on Wickum Lane. Not so for my friend, Lewis.
During his years as an intern, he had the misfortune to take his fiancé to the old Wickum place. After Lewis had gone missing for days, a search party discovered him badly beaten and handcuffed to the corpse of a hooker from Tulsa, his fiancé’s body was never recovered. The shocking case of his kidnapping was one of my first as a young deputy for the Chisolm Springs Sheriff’s Department, one in which I took a very personal interest. But despite our best efforts, a killer was never found.
Years later, as Sheriff of Chisolm Springs, I was surprised when Lewis returned to his ancestral home and took over ol’ Doc Johnson’s practice. After his parents passed, I could understand Lewis’ desire to move into his folk’s gable roofed mansion. Hell, I helped him unpack. Yet, I always figured the aftermath of the murders, the inability to remember what took place would have discouraged his return.
So it was with great surprise that I received a call from my friend not two weeks after his arrival.
“Wayne, where are you?” Lewis asked.
“Still at the office,” I said, the disappearance of a local drug dealer having occupied most of my week.
“Can you meet me at the old Wickum place?” he asked. “I’ve found something related to Abby’s disappearance.”
“Lewis, what are you doing?” I asked. “Abby’s been gone twelve years.” I’d never approved of Lewis’s engagement to Abigail Moss. She was a two-faced whore who’d slimed her way to the top of the Chisolm Springs food chain, landing Lewis prior to his graduation from med school. I’d kept my mouth shut about their relationship out of respect for my friend.
“I’ve never given up finding her,” he said. “Now are you coming out here or not?”
I sighed in resignation. “Fine. I’m on my way.”
The drive to Wickum Lane took a scant eight minutes, the hike along the overgrown trail, another fifteen. By the time the rusted roof drew into view, twilight’s satin curtain was drawing closed on another day. Tree frogs chirped out their raucous chorus while the wind sighed a low refrain through thick summer leaves. In the final glow of twilight, I spotted my friend hunched over a pile of debris his flashlight playing above the mound.
“What’s so important I have to miss dinner?” I asked.
Lewis started at the sound of my voice. He straightened, blinding me with the light. “Oh, thank God.” He dropped the beam from my face and waved me over. Lewis’s clothes were dirt smeared and unkempt, his eyes wild behind glasses that sat crooked on his nose. “I get jumpy around this place,” he confessed with a shrug.
“I think that’s understandable,” I said, “Given your history.”
Lewis stepped to a pile of debris lying in the tall grass. He shown his light across several dirt encrusted items: a shoes, a purse, a child’s white plastic sword and a wallet.
“So what is all this?” I asked.
Lewis squared his shoulders, a broken smile creeping across his grime smudged face. “I found all this in there.” He turned and with an extended arm indicated the stone circle of the accursed well. A neon yellow rope was tied to a tree and extended into its depths.
I stepped over to the stone lip and peered into the darkness. “All of this?” I asked.
“Yeah, and there’s more,” he said. “Pens, makeup tubes, that kind of stuff. I uncovered all sorts of things and piled’em at the bottom.”
“People throw all kinds of crap in a dry well,” I said. “It doesn’t mean a thing.”
“Oh, but it does,” he said scooping up the purse. “This is Abby’s.”
He brushed mud from the tan bag, the chain strap barely tarnished. “It’s incredible what good shape all this stuff is in,” he said. “It’s like it’s been preserved.” He turned the purse and pointed to a brown smudge on the side. “And I think this is blood.”
A gust of wind whipped past, the old house groaning on her foundations. “You’re jumping to conclusions, Lewis. How do you know that’s Abby’s purse? Was there ID inside?”
He shook his head. “No, there was nothing in it except this.” He produced a black matchbook with the letters: SPUDDER in gold letters across the front. “This is the restaurant we ate at the night of the attack.” He closed the purse and returned it to the pile, then he stood, a camo-patterned cloth wallet in his hand.
“Then there’s this.” He opened the wallet revealing an ID. “This belonged to Darrin Biggs,“ he said. “You remember Darrin… from school.” He turned the wallet in his hand a thoughtful expression on his face. “He was a bully and an asshole, but I never heard what became of him. So I looked him up on my phone. He disappeared four years ago.” He ran a finger over a dark spot in the material. “More blood." He glanced up and met my eye. "I think all this stuff is related to the man who killed Abby. I think Darrin is dead too. In fact all this stuff probably belongs to the people who’ve gone missing over the years."
He dropped to a knee and picked up the toy sword. It was a curved plastic blade with gold highlights and a tiger head pommel. “Remember this?” He looked up, a rueful grin curling the corners of his lips. “It was Jeff’s birthday present the summer he died.”
“Oh, I remember,” I broke in. I swiped an arm across my sweat-beaded brow. “Jeff’s Mighty Morphin Power Ranger’s Sword.” I stepped across and snatched it from his grip, held it in the pale glow of the crescent moon. “He was so proud the day he came to play. You remember, Lewis?” I shook my head and turned away. “Of course you don’t,” I said. “You weren’t there the day Jeff plummeted from the roof.”
Lewis snicked off the flashlight, the shadows it held at bay swirling in on raven wings. “What do you mean, from the roof? Jeff fell out of the second story window.”
I leaned against the well, the stones pressing hard and cold against my back. “No, that’s what I told the police. Even at twelve, I knew no one would believe me if I told the truth.”
“What truth?” Lewis asked nudging his glasses back up his nose.
“The truth is we fought over that sword. You were always the rich one, Lewis. You had a fancy plastic helmet and your knight’s sword. But me an’ Jeff. Well, we got by with wooden sticks, trash can lids and imagination. Then Jeff’s mom remarried and suddenly I was the odd man out. The kid with holey jeans and an imaginary sword.”
“We didn’t think any less of you,” Lewis interrupted. “We were kids, we didn’t notice things like that.”
“I noticed. I saw the way you guys looked at me, the way your parents looked at me.” I dug a pack of Winston’s from my pocket and tapped one out. I held the pack out to Lewis but he shook his head.
“So when Jeff brought that sword, I got jealous. We fought. I cut my hand but managed to get it from him.” I puffed the cigarette to life, blowing a stream of smoke to the star-studded sky.
“I didn’t intend what took place,” I said. “But when I threw his sword into the well, something happened….something horrible.”
“What?” Lewis asked staring up in wide-eyed expectation.
“Something came out of that pit. A winged abomination as black as death’s tombs. It scooped Jeff up and leapt to the roof dangling him by one leg. I think it relished Jeff’s frightened sobs. Then it let go. He hit the ground with the sound of a wet melon and the thing disappeared back down that hole. ”
Power hummed through the well stones warming my back like the glow of a fireplace. Lewis pushed up from the ground, his head turning this way and that.
“What’s that? Do you hear it?”
I took another puff and nodded towards the well. “The stones do that before the thing comes.”
“So you were responsible for Jeff’s death?”
“No. Not Jeff’s. I never meant for him to die. I feel bad, ya know, but it was an, accident. A horrible, unfortunate accident. Now Abigail,” I cleared my throat and smiled. “She and the others. I was responsible for.”
“Abby? What do you mean you were responsible?” Lewis took a step. I upholstered my 9mm Glock and waved him back. “Sorry, Lewis. I can’t allow you to do that. Not after what you’ve uncovered." I sidled away from the well and brought the gun up so he could see I meant business. "You see, Lewis, I found that dousing someone’s possession in blood, then tossing it in the well translated into a rather unpleasant demise for that person. It’s my blood on all those things you found.”
He took a step back, his face flush with rage. “You killed Abby?”
“I’ve killed a lot of people, Lewis. Don’t you think it strange there’s no crime in Chisolm Springs? Not since I became Sheriff. It’s because the criminals …all go away. So you see, it’s all for the greater good.”
“But why Abby? What did she ever do to you?”
“You shouldn’t be so protective of your precious Abigail,” I told him taking another puff on my cigarette and flicking it to the ground. “Did you know she was cheating on you while you were engaged?”
“She’d never,” he hissed.
“Oh, but she did. With me. Or maybe it was me she was cheating on with you. With that little slut, I don’t think it mattered. So you see, my friend, I saved you a lot of heartache. Now, if you’ll please.” I waved the Glock towards his hand. “Did you bring that flashlight?”
He met my eyes, a smirk creeping across his lips. “Yeah. I did.”
“Toss it at my feet if you will. And don’t try anything slick, this ain’t the movies.”
The light hit the ground, bouncing once before coming to rest against my foot. In one smooth movement, I slid a knife from my pocket and knicked the blade across my finger drawing a stream of blood which drizzled down my palm. Then reaching down, I snatched up the light.
“Sorry about this, Lewis. I’d always meant to rekindle our friendship.” With that, I dropped the blood-spattered light into the well.
A low rumble, more felt than heard oozed from the rough stone mouth. A cherry red glow, like the slow pulse of coals, emanated from the shaft. I backed away half expecting Lewis to flee in terror. “You’re taking this better than I thought,” I said. “Most of em’ try to run.” I shook my head. “It doesn’t do them any good.”
A scrabbling, scratching commotion rose to the lips of the well, a black mass vomiting forth and thudding to the ground like bile laced filth purged from the stomach of the abyss. Then the creature clambered to its feet, rose on scaly black legs and extended his leathery wings. His yellow slit eyes scanned the darkness and fell on…me.
A malicious grin split the ebony skinned patchwork of the creature’s face, rows of needle-sharp teeth glinting in the feeble light. Then it turned its hungry eye on me.
“How is this happening?” I backed away, the creature's lips splitting into a rictus grin as it shadowed my retreat.
“It was your flashlight,” Lewis said.
Fear, unreal and malign, course through my veins as I raised the Glock and fired. The creature sprang across the intervening distance, pinning me to the ground with razor sharp claws. Screams filled my ears, my own panicked cries.
“Don’t you remember?” Lewis said. “You lent it to me the day I moved in.”