The well behind old Donnie's farmhouse shows you how you die. Everyone knows that. For many, it's a blessing to know their final breath comes at the end of a long and happy life. They're the lucky ones... Some fates, after all, are worse than death. (1500 words)
They say if you gaze into the well at midnight, you witness your own death. It’s nonsense, of course. I’ve been telling anyone who will endure my cynicism, but everyone in this town seems to have lost their mind. I get it; I like scary movies as much as the next person... But to truly believe that the well behind the decrepit farmhouse on Locke Street, right at the edge of town, harbors a form of sinister divination? Maybe if there was something else to do here, people wouldn’t believe in childish ghost stories. Why did I let corporate talk me into moving here? I chuckle at the absurdity of it all.
“Sshhh,” Jen whispers. “Donnie will hear you, he doesn’t like trespassers.”
“Maybe he shouldn’t have made up this well nonsense, then.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you from up there on your high horse.” She grins, her teeth like rows of neat, pale tombstones amongst the gloom. She pulls her knit cap tighter over auburn locks, shivering beneath her pea coat. She’s the only reason I’m out here; I feel like I’ve known her forever, and I can’t resist her playful sarcasm or the way she tilts her head when she looks at me.
I haven’t felt this way about a girl since high school; her eyes remind me of the grass of the lacrosse field, where I spent my time honing physical skills over social ones. Somehow, she’s drawn to my sullen awkwardness, and I’m doing my best not to screw it up. Her walking into the new restaurant is the only good thing that’s happened since I’ve moved here. I miss the city.
“You’re too smart to believe in this.” My breath cloaks my shoulders in mist as our feet carry us across patches of malnourished grass. We’ve already hopped the rusted chain link fence and the degraded wooden pickets, leaving only open ground between us and that cylinder of stones that everyone here reveres with such trepidation. The farmhouse, several hundred feet to our left, reminds me of a predator watching its prey unwittingly approach.
“I’m smart enough to accept the truth,” Jen says.
“Right.” I snort. “Let’s get this over with.” I’m amazed I let her talk me into leaving the warm bar so we could run around like teenage delinquents. I look at her porcelain face, her lips like pink rose petals. I guess there are worse ways to pass the time, even though I’m freezing.
We approach the ring of cracked stone; it shines dully in the moonlight as the harsh breeze stirs the skeleton of a nearby tree. I half expect a raven to descend from its tangled branches. At Jen’s prodding, I thrust my head over the lip and am rewarded with the sight and stench of fetid water. The seconds tick by, cold and empty. “Nothing.” I pull back and regard Jen with a patronizing smile. “Woops.”
“It’s only 11:57.” She stuffs her phone into her pocket and returns my smile.
“Come on, really?”
“Just wait three minutes and look again.”
I roll my eyes and sigh. “What happens once I see how I die?”
She pauses. “You use it to free yourself.”
I burst out laughing. “How can you be so cool and so pretentious?”
She hits me; she’s strong for her size. “I could ask you the same thing. Look, I saw myself dying as an old woman. I have a heart attack while I’m frying bacon. But you know what that means?”
“That you should limit your saturated fat consumption?”
“When I went skydiving a few months ago, I wasn’t frightened. It means that when I go scuba diving on my next vacation, I won’t have to worry about a shark eating me or my gear malfunctioning.”
I nod sagely, like I’ve finally seen the light. “So, the sharks are in on this too?”
“Shut up.” She grabs my collar and kisses me. I return the kiss; our lips are sensitive in their frigidity, her nose presses against my cheek as I pull her close. Skepticism aside, I’m glad I’m here with her. She could throw me into the well and it’d still be worth it. Her jade eyes sparkle as we separate. “It’s midnight.”
I groan and turn toward the well.
The water is black and featureless, but the putrid smell remains. An animal must have died down there, probably a raccoon or— Something in the murky depths swirls. Despite myself, I nearly jump. The water shimmers, reflecting moonlight, except the faint glow is coming from within the darkness below me.
The well has become a snow-dusted mirror, and black shapes coalesce on the ghostly surface. They remind me of old stick figure animations. The mirage swells and expands, drowning my sight.
The stick figures are now people, and I’m one of them. I’m close to my current age. Dozens of us walk down a street that could be anywhere. Before I can analyze the scene further, I hear the deafening screech of tires. An off-white car jumps the curb and plows through three of us, splattering its bone-like exterior with flecks of crimson. My body flops and crunches, landing amongst shards of glass and twisted metal as the vehicle comes to a jarring halt against a post. My fingers twitch, my neck lolls to the side, and the well rushes up to swallow me.
I heave myself from the stone, gasping for breath. I want to puke.
“I told you.” Jen shrugs.
“This isn’t— no, no, no— this isn’t possible!”
“What did you see?” Jen touches my arm, her smugness melting into concern.
I recoil, suddenly frightened of her. Of everything. Why did she have to bring me here? “Stay away from me!” I sprint for the fences and leave the beautiful, bewildered girl standing alone in the field behind the farmhouse on Locke Street.
* * *
It’s been six years. I’m still alive, but I’ve stopped living. I’ve forgotten what the wind feels like, what the world sounds like. I’d give anything just to hear a dog bark or a train horn, things I used to take for granted or even hate. It’s only getting worse. I’m running out of money; job options are limited when you refuse to leave the house. The minutes are agony now. Time crawls without TV, and I’ve read every book I own several times.
Jen visited me after that night. Even knowing I was doomed, she wanted to be with me. She saw my curse as an opportunity to truly live, to revel in every passing second, but I blamed her and drove her away. In truth, I wasn’t angry. I was afraid. My cowardice has kept me alive long enough to become this miserable creature, but to what end? Jen was right. The whiskey bottle in my hand trembles as I pour myself another drink.
A voice whispers in my ear. What’s the point of this? You’re dead already. There’s a sick truth to the words; I’m nothing anymore. The well has ruined any semblance of the life I once had. I take a gulp; the whiskey burns harsh in my throat. I can’t live like this anymore, fearful and pathetic.
My life could have been beautiful. I could have had something special with Jen, made the most of these last six years instead of squandering my remaining days by clinging to them in futility. The true depth of my wastefulness crashes down upon me. It’s not too late. Go find her.
The whiskey bottle slams against the table and I grab my coat. I’m outside, sprinting to the area of town where Jen works. I’ll tell her I get it now, that I’m finally free. I’m sorry it took so long. The air is crisp against my skin, and autumn leaves swirl in eddies of wind; the sight fills me with joy.
I’m no longer afraid. I’m alive again, and there’s hope for something real instead of this death I’ve been living. I can celebrate that life with Jen, even if only for another year or two. I don’t care anymore. I just want to be with her. To feel. I bump into a stranger; human contact has never felt so poignant. I slow down to apologize, delighted by the sound of my voice. How could I have wasted a single day of my life?
I hear the screech of tires behind me. No, please God, no. Give me one last day. There's a crunching pain, my vision twists, and I’m paralyzed beneath a fading blue sky. Everything goes numb. An unfulfilled lifetime with Jen passes in the span of my final heartbeat. Our hands intertwined, pink rose petals, emerald eyes behind a white veil. The profound freedom is gone; now there is only regret. I see Jen’s smile, and words we’ve never said to each other carry me away as my consciousness tumbles down the well.