A deep old well leads to adventure.
Wells are mysterious things. You can hang over the edge for hours looking down into what appears to be a bottomless hole; you can imagine that it runs forever toward the very center of the earth; treasures could be hidden there, or strange creatures never before seen could inhabit the dark, deep depths. Wells are sheathed in mystery, and to a nine-year-old boy, they are a gateway into a whole new world....
“Hold the rope still, Jeff, so I can climb into the bucket.”
“I am holding it, Tom! Geez, you’re so darn bossy all the time. You ain’t gonna fit in that little old bucket anyway.”
“I just want to get my feet in it, stupid, then you can lower me down.”
“I don’t know, this don’t seem like a good idea to me. Your Pa’d whup us good if’n he saw what we were up to.”
Tom squinched his toes all funny until he got both feet inside the bucket.
“All right," he said, "grab the crank tight and lower me down. And you better not let me fall, dummy, or I’ll whup ya!”
Jeff held the crank firmly with both hands. “I got it, Tom. I got it!”
Tom grabbed the rope with both hands and swung out into the center of the well. “So far, so good. Now, slowly let me down.”
Jeff clicked off the gear lock when he pulled back on the handle. He let Tom down one full spin of the crank.
“It’s working Jeff! Keep it going!”
“Tom, please be careful. I gotta say, I’m more’n a little scared ‘bout all this.”
“No sweat, just keep letting me down!”
Jeff unwound some more rope with a couple of cranks from the handle, and Tom descended into darkness.
The walls of the well were made of brick, but further down it was just hard mud and clay. Tom looked up toward the bright light at the top of the well. A mild dizziness overcame him and he felt as if he were being lowered into the mouth of a gigantic monster.
As darkness enveloped him, Tom reached out and touched the sides of the well with his hand. It felt dry, but Tom could smell the moist wet earth from below. He imagined it was the breath of the monster. Then something grabbed his shirt from behind and pulled it out from the inside of his overalls. “Hold it, Jeff!”
“Are you okay, Tom? You want me to pull you up?”
“No, no, no! I just wanna light my candle! Hold her steady now!”
Tom hooked his arm around the rope, and then with his free hand reached into his pocket and pulled out the six-inch candle he had brought with him. In his shirt pocket he had several stick matches, and he fumbled around until he got one out. He stuck the candle in his mouth, then was able to flick the match-head with his thumb. It sparked to life with the very first try making a sour-yellow light in the thick darkness. He lit the candle like it was a big cigar, grabbed it from his mouth, and held it above his head.
As he looked around, he saw gnarled tree roots sticking out of the walls like old boney fingers from some unseen hand. One had twisted into his shirt, and Tom took a minute to free himself.
“It’s okay, Jeff! Let ‘er rip!”
He started down again, spinning around at the end of the rope like a yo-yo that had gotten its string all twisted up.
Tom noticed his cock-eyed feet were falling asleep from being stuck inside the bucket for so long, and it felt like the blood had left his arms, making his hands feel a little numb and the rope a little harder to hold.
Without warning, Tom, and his bucket, hit the water. It startled him so much, he dropped the candle and nearly let go of the rope.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he yelled. He was already waist deep in the cold well water before Jeff stopped cranking. “I’m in the water, Jeff! Pull me up a little!”
Jeff's arms felt weak and rubbery from holding Tom’s weight for so long. He got on the other side of the crank and tried to pull Tom out, but couldn’t. He started to get scared.
“I can’t turn it, Tom! You're too darn heavy. It won’t budge!”
“Come on, Jeff! Try harder! Get me outa here!”
Jeff tried again with all his strength, but he couldn’t lift Tom out. Fear surged through him, and he began to cry. “I can’t, Tom! I just can’t!”
“Do something, Jeff, will ya? It's freezing cold down here! Go get help...quick!” Tom’s voice pounded off the walls and echoed back at him.
“Okay, Tom! Hang on! I’m gonna go get help!” To Tom, Jeff's voice sounded far away.
As Tom looked up, the circle of light at the top of the hole was his only connection to the outside world. The warming sun couldn't reach down this far, and the hot wind refused to enter. What had once been a great idea to find someplace cool to play and get away from the heat of the day, had now turned out to be a trap. Tom wondered how topside would appear to him when next he saw it--if ever he saw again.
The water looked black as oil as he hung there in total darkness. He felt threatened by it, as if the water was holding him down, refusing to let him escape back into his own world. He expected something to lunge up from its inky depths and pull him down with icy fingers. Like the hoofbeats of a fearsome black horse, panic thundered through his mind.
Then something bumped gently against his belly, and Tom instinctively tried to push it away. As he did so, his hand touched something floating on the surface of the water.
“My candle!” he yelled. Quickly, he grabbed it and stuck it in his mouth, and then reached for the matches in his shirt pocket. There were two left.
Grabbing the rope with both hands, he lifted himself up. He got one foot up on the bucket’s edge, and then the other. Now he stood a little higher above the water, but the lower half of his legs still felt the freezing cold.
He hooked his arm around the rope again and tried to get a match from his shirt pocket. His hands were wet and numb.
After a time, he successfully got a match out. He scratched his thumb nail across the match-head, but it just broke in two.
He dried his hand as best he could on the shoulder of his shirt, then fished in his pocket for another match. "Only one left," he sighed. He held it tightly between his fingers afraid to touch the head for fear of wetting it and having all his hopes shattered.
Carefully, he prepared himself. He slowly raised his thumb to the match and flicked it. There was a spark, but it didn’t light. He tried again. This time the yellow glow of the match-head burst to life, and he quickly lit the candle he held in his mouth.
Tom released his pent-up breath. He had light.
“Tom?" It was Pappy. "Tom, can you hear me?”
Tom felt his heart jump right out of his chest. “I’m here, Pap! Here!”
“Hang onto the bucket, boy, and I’ll pull you out!”
“I got it, Pap! I got it!”
The bucket began to move, slowly at first, and then faster. Tom felt himself being raised to the surface.
Then there was sunlight, and a welcome breeze that hit him full in the face. He squinted his eyes against it, and then drank in the worried look on his Pappy’s face.
Jeff stood beside him shifting his weight from one leg to the other. He looked very nervous. Tom could only pray that he hadn't spilled the beans.
Pappy quickly reached out and grabbed him from the mouth of the well. Tom hugged his neck tightly, smelled his Pap's sweat.
“Are you all right, boy? Did you hurt yourself?”
“Naw, Pap. I’m fine, really. Just a bit scared, that’s all.”
“Well, you plum scared me, that’s fer sure. I told ya ‘bout playing 'round this well, boy. How in the heck did you manage to fall in, anyway?”
“Uh...” Tom looked at Jeff, who just lowered his eyes and stared at the ground. “Well, I was sitting on the edge, and then the next thing I know'd, I was falling all the way down in there. Jeff lowered the bucket to me, and then ran to get help.”
“Well, you're darn lucky you didn’t hit your head on something.” He gave Tom another tight hug; he was so glad his boy was safe. “Hey, how come you're only half wet?”
“If’n you fell in, you’d be all wet, wouldn't you? How come yer shirt ain't wet? And how come you got that there candle in your hand?”
Tom forgot all about the candle. His face turned beet red, and he couldn’t look his Pappy in the eye.
Jeff decided it was time to go home, and started to slink away.
"Hold up thar, Jeff," Pap said. "I think I wanna hear what you got to say about this too."
"Yes, sir," Jeff said, his eyes once again looking down like a whipped puppy.
"Pap, it wern't Jeff's fault. It was all my idea."
"Of that, I'm sure," Pap said. “But I’d like to hear the whole story this time. And from the beginning if'n you don't mind!”