A short story I wrote for a workshop in college. A young boy learns his family's secrets.
Walter left the schoolhouse amidst the plethora of screaming kids. He clutched his schoolbook to his chest as he was pushed and shoved by his classmates. They either made their ways home, or to their father's businesses to work, or got together to play around the village. Walter, however, walked to his home on the far side of the village. His mother always expected him to come home right away to help with dinner. Walking at a brisk pace he said his hellos to the many villager's he passed by. The old shoemaker, the rowdy tavern guests whom he gave a wide berth, the housewives hanging laundry or knitting waiting for their kids to come home from school. Walter heard a frantic conversation as he walked by the busy town center.
"He's somewhere, I know he is!" Walter heard. Multiple men begun to add their voices to the commotion.
"Enough of this madness! The boy's gone. We looked everywhere!"
"Give it up. The village doesn't want to hear of it anymore."
"You're boy ain't here no more!"
Walter had stalled long enough to listen. He knew a boy had gone missing a couple weeks ago. His father had told him to think nothing of it, so he didn't ask any questions. Walter continued to walk as he heard some of the housewives at the back of the crowd gossiping.
"I heard he found a young lass at the village across the river."
"Oh, I heard that too. It makes sense, he started making trips over there, "for business" he'd say. We all knew what he was really doing over there."
"I don't blame him for trying to get away from his mother, look at her she's gone mad."
Walter paid their gossip little attention as he walked by. He picked up the pace as he left the town square toward the far end of town. Walter heard laughter coming from the upcoming alleyway and he made the critical error of looking.
"Ey look! It's gibface!" one of the older boys shouted. Walter snapped his head forward and began to rush forward as if not acknowledging them would deter them from pestering him. The group of three boys easily caught up to Walter and surrounded him.
"Ey, ey, ey! Where does the little gibface think he's going?" The oldest boy said kneeling to be eye level with Walter.
"I am not a gibface."
"Oh, now isn't that sweet? The pigeon-liver talked back." The boys laughed as one. "You've got such a sweet little disgusting chin on that mug of yours gibface." The boy grabbed Walter's chin like his grandmother would. Walter tried to shake his head free and the boys all laughed at him.
"Look at this rotten little thing on his neck Henry." Another boy grabbed at Walter's bowtie undoing it.
"Hey! Give that back."
"Oho, you want it? Come and get it." Henry said as he ran down the alleyway with his friends laughing together. Walter followed shouting for his new bowtie back. The boys left the alley and zigzagged around the village until they had come to a clearing with just a large oak tree and a well a few feet away. Walter followed into the clearing panting from trying to keep up with the older boys.
"Give it back." Walter panted.
"Oh this?" Henry flicked the bowtie down into the well. "Whoops."
"No!" Walter shouted as he ran toward the well. One of the other boys tripped him as he ran and burst into laughter as Walter face planted into the grass. They picked Walter up by his shirt and pushed him around, threw his schoolbook across the field, and taunted and teased him.
A loud and stern voice suddenly shouted. "Hey! What are you boys doing by that accursed well!" Walter and the older boys noticed Mad-eye Earl coming toward them waving a hoe. Walter began to scurry away. Henry though shoved him right back down to the floor. The older boys began to scatter Henry reaching for his schoolbag but failing to grab it as one of his friends pulled him away. Mad-eye Earl was upon Walter as the older boys were now gone. Walter crawling away as Mad-eye Earl picked him up.
"This well is cursed boy. Get out of here and don't you ever dare come near it again!" Walter was pushed away from the well by the crazy old farmer. Walter scampering as he grabbed his schoolbook and ran home.
* * *
"Where have you been?"
Walter's mother had scolded him the moment he got home. He was tardy, dirty, and his new bowtie was gone, and dinner is already almost done. Walter had tried to explain but his mother merely told him to change clothing. Walter made his way upstairs to his bedroom. Walter began to change out of his grass and dirt stained clothing when he overheard his Father and his older brother James talking in the room next door.
"The arrangements are finished. You're set to marry Clara in a few months." Walter's father said.
"So soon after her betrothed has gone missing?"
"They're upset, but Clara is young, and they would rather not waste time waiting for him to come back from wherever he ran off to."
"A shame for his family then. I'd be searching high and low as well knowing how extravagant the dowry is. I'm sure you would be thrilled if he never showed his face again. Off with some lass in a nearby village."
"Right. Off with some lass," Walter's father said, "and yet his horses are still here in the village."
"Dinner is set!" Walter's mother shouted up the staircase. Walter quickly exited his room and leapt down the stairs, so his father and brother did not notice his eavesdropping. The family gathered at the table and said a prayer before beginning dinner. It did not take long before conversation begun however.
"And where the hell were you Walter? You know you're to come home and help your mother with preparing dinner."
"I'm sorry father I was coming home like I always do, but Henry stole the new bowtie mother made for me. I followed them to the well wher--"
"You went to the well?"
"Yes, but to only--"
"Don't you ever! Go near that well."
"Walter that well is cursed. Years ago, before you were born three people committed suicide by jumping in it. The water is contaminated, drinking it will sicken you. Being near it will drive you mad, until you jump in yourself." James said.
"Is that true?" Walter asked. He had never heard of these stories before. All he had known was that no one used the well anymore. No one really talked about it except to tell people to stay away from it.
"Some of it." His father said. Walter looked at his father concerned about this madness James spoke of, but he noticed his father only glaring at James. "I thought you didn't believe in that stuff James."
"Father I only meant to joke with him. I don't--"
"Enough talk about that damned well and eat," Walter's mother said. "and Walter do not fret over the bowtie, I can make you another."
"Thank you, mum."
* * *
Darkness had encroached upon the village. In the night only, the local tavern was alive with the bustle and rowdiness of drunks as the rest of the village slept. Save for one who has winding through the roads and alleyways of the village until he had come to a clearing. All that was there was the oak tree, and the well.
"I know my damned schoolbag is here somewhere," Henry said to the night. "I told father that damned gibface kid probably has it."
Henry searched around the well where he had left it and found nothing. He searched the base of the oak tree and found nothing. He even searched the tree branches to see it had been tossed above and was caught in them, but he found nothing.
"I wish I could tell father to shove that bookbag in his gob. Why I need to be out here now to get it is beyond me."
"Looking for something?" a rough voice called out. Henry saw the figure approach from the alleyway already close to the well. Henry tried to see the face of the upcoming figure when he sighted his bookbag in the figure's hands.
"Yeah, I was looking for that."
"Oh, this thing?"
"Yea, it was my grandfather's and my father would like it back." Henry said as he held out his hand. The figure took the bag and inspected it. He ran his hands along the strap and pulled it tight.
"Hey wha--" Henry started but the figure had wrapped the strap around his neck before Henry could fight back. The figure tightened the noose around Henry's neck as Henry futilely smacked and kicked at him. The figure watched as soon Henry went limp. The man picked up Henry and tossed him into the well, along with his bookbag.
* * *
Walter the next morning was leaving school for the day as he noticed a new atmosphere in the town. Gone was the cheerful and bustling village and now there were bands of concerned men, guns at the ready as they watched all the kids leave. Some had called out to their kids yelling at them to go home right away. Walter began his walk home when he heard the panic cries of a woman approaching the school.
"Henry! Where is my Henry!"
Several men held her back venting frustration at her and telling her to wait at home while they looked for him. Walter's father not to concern himself with the last missing kid, so Walter tried to not concern himself over Henry and so he resumed his walk home. Walter passed bands of men looking in every house, hay bale, barrel, and carriage of the village. As Walter walked though he wondered if any of them were looking around the well. He stopped for a moment at the alleyway he followed Henry down just the day before. Maybe madness had taken him? What if James told the truth about the well? Walter, before even committing to his search, had already found himself walking toward the well as he thought about it. He winded down the alleyways and streets, being mindful of the bands of men searching as to not get in their way. Soon enough he had found himself at the clearing. His heart was pounding in his chest. Slowly he took steps toward the well, as if he was approaching a snarling beast that was ready to attack him.
"Walter!" Jumping in panic Walter dropped his schoolbook and whipped his head toward the booming voice. His father stomping across the clearing to him, shotgun in hand. Walter grabbed his book as his father picked him up.
"Boy what did I say yesterday?"
"I-- I'm sorry father I--"
"Git home. Now!"
Walter was thrown back toward the alleyway and his father watched as he ran home. He looked toward the well. He stomped toward it and looked inside.
* * *
Dinner that night had been uneventful. A discomforting silence had permeated throughout the household. No one spoke of Henry, the well, or anything except to ask for a bowl of food to be passed down the table. Walter's mother had put him to bed early that night, but he was woken up in the middle of the night. Walter sat up in his bed as he heard shuffling and footsteps pass his room and go downstairs. Walter peeked into the hallway but saw nothing and both bedroom doors were closed. He heard more shuffling downstairs and then a door close. Walter quickly and quietly made his way down the stairs and looked out the window to see the figure walking down the street. Walter put on his shoes and began to follow. He made sure to stay quiet and out of sight. The figure wound its way through the village down alleyways and backstreets until Walter had known what the figure was going toward. Soon enough Walter was hiding in the alleyway watching the figure by the well. He stayed quiet hiding in a bush nearby as the figure was messing with the crank. The figure seemed to be struggling when a voice called to him.
"Looking for something?" Walter recognized the voice as his brother James. The figure by the well let the crank go and Walter heard a large splash sound from the well.
"What have you done?" Walter now recognized the figure as his father.
"To which one? The boy? He was snooping so I dealt with him. To Clara's former husband to-be? She knows, it was her idea."
"This is madness James. You have killed two people. The village is looking everywhere for this boy now! They'll find him!"
"And when they do then what? They will not know it was me. Unless someone speaks up, and I don't think you will."
"And why would I not?"
"The family of a murderer? The village would run you out of town. Not to mention you would lose the lavish dowry I would get form marrying Clara."
"You think I would put money above murder?"
"You put pleasure above it before." James had noticed the shift in stance from his father confirming the suspicions he had had for years. "You do not really think they were so quiet, do you? Their screams coming from the barn? Then three bodies found dumped in the well? I was young father. But I could figure that out on my own."
"I-- I don't--"
"You can stop father. I can see it in your face. I propose a truce."
"I will not tell, if you do not tell. It is as simple as that." James put his hand out for a handshake. "We haven't spoken of what you did for all these years. We're about to be rich, and none will be the wiser."
Walter watched from the bush as his father fixed his clothing, and very hesitantly grabbed James's hand.
"Excellent, we're only left with one issue that needs dealing with."
"And what would that be?"
"Walter, you can come out now, I know you are behind the bush." James had turned and looked directly at Walter hiding in the bush. "Come on. Don't do something stupid."
Walter slowly rose from behind the bush. James made a motion with his finger beckoning him forward. Walter slowly crept forward to meet his dad and brother.
"Now I am gonna show you something," James told him, "and you've got to promise to never tell anyone ok Walter? Because if you do, bad things are going to happen. To you, to me, to dad, and to mom. Do you want bad things to happen to any of us? Especially mom?"
Walter shook his head. James nudged him forward and Walter found his eyes meeting the edge of the well. Walter looked to his father who nodded him forward. Walter grabbed the edges of the rocks and pulled himself up to look. At the bottom of the well, he saw the missing boy from 2 weeks ago intertwined with Henry's body, and his bowtie. Walter had begun to understand what James had said about this well. Being near it drove them mad. It was cursed. The curse, was his family.
Ryan Hayden 11