Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Old Town Well, Part One of Two

The old town well was cursed.

How long it's been that way, nobody really knew. The town had sealed it up by placing wooden boards over the opening years ago, keeping the curse from spreading elsewhere in the town. The older generations spoke of it, after having a few pints, of course, in harsh whispers. The younger folks, like Jason, didn’t really know what to believe.
“It makes you sick,” old man Alistair said, his eyes rolling about in his head. “One sip of the water from the well will have you wasting away. Within weeks you’ll be nothing but skin and bone!”
“You’ve got it wrong,” Emily Grant, the secretary to the Mayor said. “It gives you bad luck, making each step a misstep until you blunder your way into a deathtrap.”
“My brother drank from it when he was younger,” Samuel said, hoisting his lager high as he spoke. “Drove him made within minutes of drinking that foul concoction. He still resides in Leon Valley’s Home for the Incurable Insane.”
Jason sipped his own beer as he listened to the old people go on and on about the well in the center of town. He himself was a Historian, a man who’d gone off to college in San Marcos. He’d learned of legends and superstitions from the many books kept in the library, and from his professors lectures. He wasn’t impressed by this well.
“Has anyone tested the waters?” Jason asked the three older bar patrons, stopping their conversation cold. “I mean, taken a sample to a lab and had it tested?”
“Well, now that I think of it no,” Samuel said, stroking his peppery beard. “It was sealed up right after my brother went mad. The Mayor at the time said it was for the good of the town.”
“But if nobody has ever tested the water, how do we know it's cursed? You three all have different descriptions for what it does to someone, all varying in wild degree. Our goal should be to test the water and find out what’s wrong with it, not just discount it as cursed. It’s eighteen ninety-eight for God’s sake, we should be acting far more rational than this.”
The elderly folk all looked at Jason as if he were mad. “Well if you’re so dead set on testing the well, I suppose we can allow you to retrieve a bucketful tomorrow. Then you can ride with the sample to your college and have it tested there.”
The old people nodded at Emily Grant’s proposition though Jason wanted to show them there was nothing to fear.
“It’s barely even nightfall! You three come with me and pull those boards off, I’ll get that water now and head off for San Marcos this very night!” Jason declared, downing his beer in a few steady gulps. “Who’s with me?”
The elderly looked between each other before looking back at Jason, all nodding in unison.
Getting up, they all got their coats and made their way outside. In the center of the town was the old well, plugged up with boards. The night air was chilly for southern Texas, made even more so by the biting wind that blew over them, kicking up dust and dirt as they walked over to the stone well.
“We’ll need some rope,” Alistair said.
“And a bucket.” Samuel chimed in.
“I’ll fetch a jug you can fill with the water, you two get the rope and bucket,” Emily said before pointing at Jason. “You get to praying that we’re wrong and that merely holding the water isn’t dangerous, y' hear me?”
“Of course, of course… hurry back now.” Jason said, taking off his hat and smoothening his hair nervously.
The three old people moved through the town like specters, each fetching their desired item. From the front porch of the sheriff’s office Alistair fetched a long length of rope. From a dairy barn Samuel fetched a bucket. And from the front porch of old Mr. Kneelson Emily Grant fetched a water jug, emptying it out as she walked back towards the center of town.
Once they’d all gathered, the men slowly removed the boards while Emily affixed the rope and bucket to the pulley system. The wood groaned as she turned it, unaccustomed to working after so long.
“I don’t know if we should be doing this,” Alistair said with a tremble in his voice.
“Hush,” Jason said as he dropped the bucket into the well, waiting to hear the splash. Smiling when the wooden object struck water, he allowed it a moment to sink before he waved at Samuel to begin reeling it back up. Emily readied the water jug, standing off to the side, while Jason merely watched the rope wind its way back around the axle, the bucket steadily climbing the walls as it sloshed back and forth. Once it came into view Jason whistled.
The water was black, with dark spots glistening on the surface. Gently tipping the bucket over to pour the strange water into the jar, Emily Grant screamed as some splashed up onto her. Jason grabbed the jug and continued pouring a sample of the water in while Emily danced about, screaming her woes about being exposed to the curse, slowly gathering the attention of the other townsfolk.
“Why’s the well been opened?” One man asked, clutching his child by his knee. “Don’t you know about the curse?”
“The curse! I have the curse!” Emily shrieked as she clutched her hand, the black water now gone from her liver-spotted hand.
“Get away from us!” A pair of young men said, backing away to allow her some space.
“Now calm down everybody,” Jason said, waving for everyone to listen to him. “There’s no curse here to speak of, just some dirty water. What probably happened was someone drank this water some time ago and had a bad reaction to it. It was boarded up because its bad water, not because of some curse!”
A low chuckle came from behind Jason, forcing him to turn around, one hand still holding the jug while the other grasped the now empty bucket. Backing away as Emily Grant yanked on the rope, pulling the bucket free, she kicked it to pieces once it came within reach. Slowly, she began unwinding the knot on the rope with deft fingers as she spoke, her volume rising by the second until she was screaming like some unholy banshee.
“Cursed? I cursed this well some eighty odd years ago because you foolish townsfolk wouldn’t let me drink from it.” Emily said in a voice not her own, her eyes alight with green fire. “My horse and I traveled on that day in hopes of reaching the Mission for a respite from the heat. But no. You made it to where we couldn’t make it, all because I was Romani.”
The crowd all began muttering amongst themselves, backing away as Emily brought the rope to her neck and began to tie a loose knot around her throat. Jason stepped forward, holding the jug up.
“Don’t worry Emily, once I get back from San Marcos I’ll have proof the water isn’t cursed! You won’t have to act this way!” Jason cried, only for Emily to laugh at him.
Stepping back, Emily shuffled up the side of the well, standing at the edge. “You take that water boy, and you let your men study it. You let anyone who wants a drink have some. It’ll serve you all well to remember what you did to me that fateful day.”
And with that Emily Grant took a step back and plummeted into the well, the axle spinning madly as the rope unwound itself in a great hurry, coming to a sudden stop that was punctuated by a splash and a crack echoing up from the depths of the well. The whole crowd was silent as they stared at the taut rope, before they collectively looked at Jason.
Samuel raised an eyebrow as he walked up to the rope, pulling a knife from his belt to cut it loose. “Still think the water isn’t cursed?”
Jason didn’t know what to think, clutching his jug, as the townspeople moved as one to reseal the well, taking apart the axle and the two posts sticking out of the sides. The Mayor, a short man with a great moustache, stopped briefly enough to spit at Jason’s feet.
“You go now Jason,” he said, pointing a finger westward. “You get out of town and don’t you ever return.”
Jason looked at the Mayor, then to the angry faces of the townspeople. “You’re kicking me out of town?”

“For getting poor Emily killed, yes!” The Mayor said, keeping his gnarled finger pointed towards the west. “Get your horse and ride boy, and don’t you ever look back.”

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