Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Old Well, Part One

The old town well was cursed.
Not cursed in that it gave foul or polluted water, no. No, the water was fine and cold, and clear as could be. The seven families that composed the village of Remtusk depended on the well for their everyday chores: the woman needed it for laundry and cooking, while the men used it to quench their thirst after working with the animals in the fields. Even the children looked to it as a source of solace that they could find on a sweltering summer day.

But still, the fact remained that the old town well was cursed. Everyone knew it, from the oldest crone to the youngest child; after all, the whole reason this town was founded was the fact that their ancestors had found this well in the middle of the Worley Woods to begin with, a stretch of land that it itself was considered cursed. But over the years, the families that had settled here had cleared a large section of trees to build their homes, tilled land to make fields for wheat, and gathered sheep for milk and wool. And through it all, everyone knew the well was cursed.
How was it cursed you ask? Well, that in of itself is a far more twisted tale than this one, but let it be known that the old well harbored a dark secret that, once every red moon, every year, would require the heart of a young lamb to be lowered into the well. The townspeople (well, the men) did this on the eve of every red moon, slaughtering a lamb and yanking the bloody heart from its chest, before tossing it into the bucket and lowering into the darkened reaches below the village.
Oscar found all of this fascinating. Of course, Oscar was a young boy with an eager mind and very active imagination. So when he was little and his grandfather told him of the cursed well, the young boy had come up with all sorts of monsters and demons that could lurk in the slimy depths of their precious well.
“Maybe it’s one of the fallen angels!” Oscar said to his grandfather one day, the stooped man stopping to look down at the precocious young lad. Plastering a patient smile on his face, his grandfather nodded slowly.
“Maybe it is,” he said as they walked slowly down the road to the grove where the shepherds watched the sheep, “but we should not think of such things. One day, you will have to deal with what is beneath our town just as your father does now, and I did before him.”
“Was there ever a year where we didn’t offer the well a sacrifice?” Oscar asked, skipping ahead of his grandfather’s slow gait.
Grandfather chuckled, wagging a finger towards the smiling child. “You should focus on something other than the well. No good will come of it… you should focus on your studies.”
Oscar pouted, looking at his grandfather with wide eyes. Rolling his own, Grandfather ruffled Oscars short hair when the boy came within reach, shuffling past him as he talked. “Fine! Was there a year where the sacrifice was missed, you ask?”
“Yeah!” Oscar cried, hopping up and down as he circled his grandfather, who merely slowed his stride even further so as not to trip over the energetic youth.
“Well, when I was a boy about your age, we missed the sacrifice due to a storm.” Grandfather said his voice low as he stopped to ease himself down onto a large, flat rock. “Such a storm! The woods howled in agony as the winds screeched! Rain pelted our homes like thousands of tiny hammers, it was so loud!”
“And this made you all miss the red moon?” Oscar asked, pulling himself up onto the rock beside his grandfather.
Grandfather nodded solemnly. “Oh yes, we missed it by two days. Everyone was worried over what might happen. The women refused to pull water up from the well while the children hid in their homes. For another two days, nobody approached the well.”
“So nothing happened?” Oscar said, obviously disappointed.
“No, not until the third night. On the third night, when young Jason Goldberg was bringing the sheep in for the evening, he saw something come up out of the well.” Grandfather said, waving a hand in front of himself as if to emphasize his point.
“What was it?” Oscar asked, his voice hushed.
“None of us know! It climbed from the well and ran into the woods, running on four legs like a hound.” Grandfather looked down at Oscar, his own wrinkled features now wide with energy from his storytelling.
“As Jason was telling the older men of what he saw, the women were tucking away the young children for the evening, beneath their woolen blankets in their straw beds. But my grandmother, a stern old witch if ever there was one, said she saw it coming before it all happened.”
“Before what happened?” Oscar asked.
“Before the beast attacked, leaping through an open window into the bedroom. It howled and it hissed, rising up on two legs before screeching with a wide maw. Grandmother fainted dead away, and when she awoke, my brother Mort was gone. All that remained were puddles of water leading back to the well, where the only signs that Mort had struggled at all were the scrapes over the stone, and the bloody fingernails broken along the lip of the well.”
“The beast took your brother?” Oscar repeated, shocked.
“Indeed he did, though I was barely old enough to comprehend such things; I just knew he was missing.” Grandfather said, turning to stare off into the distance. “We made a headstone for him, and buried his blanket in the graveyard in place of his body, in hopes that it might give his spirit some rest.”
“And nobody ever did anything?” Oscar asked, standing up.
“What do you mean?” Grandfather asked, blinking as he stared at his grandson in confusion.
“I mean the men didn’t hunt the beast down? They just let it take one of the children and run away with it?” Oscar demanded.

To his credit, Grandfather looked bashful as he spoke. “It was agreed upon that raising the ire of the creature again would be foolish, and that we would continue the yearly tributes to the well to prevent another such event from happening.” 

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