The Well

Darkness was moving in quickly. Silas laid at the bottom of the well, staring into the dying light. His right knee and ankle were swollen terribly. He had little doubt at least his ankle was broken. The swelling in his knee made him think he’d torn several tendons, if not fractured his patella entirely. He still had not caught his breath. A rib or two likely cracked, causing his chest to swell.

He thought to himself about a news story he had seen on television. A small girl fell into a well. The effort it took to free the girl was extraordinary. The opening at the top was not large enough for a grown man to fit through. The rescue team had to dismantle the opening, digging around the sides to widen the entrance. All of this demolition caused part of the well’s interior to break apart. Shards of brick fell down on the girl. You could hear her cry over the news broadcast.

Silas couldn’t remember how she’d been found. A passerby happened to hear her calls for help. Like Lassie running to get Timmy, the good Samaritan brought the emergency response team to save the girl. Unfortunately, for the girl and her family, the efforts of the team were in vain. It was determined later by an autopsy, the falling fragments from inside the well had killed the girl. The destruction of the well itself, what the rescuers thought would save the girl, led to her demise.

In the bottom of his well, Silas realized there would be no random passerby. His family was gone for the weekend. He was left to tend their modest farm alone. The hole he now found himself laying in was located several acres back from the main house on the almost forty acre property. There was no point in hoping for someone to come and save him. As the light faded, lying broken at the bottom of the darkest pit, he would have to find a way to climb out on his own.

Squinting in the shadows, he looked for stones that jutted out from the wall of the shaft. If he could find a few that looked like he could grip them, it would be a risk, but he could try. Silas tried moving his right leg. It was barely a centimeter before he winced in agony. The dagger of pain shot through his nerves, consuming his spine and causing him to cry out. His chest rose and fell rapidly as he tried to grunt the pain away between his teeth. Tiny bits of foam began to form at the corners of his mouth as he forced the air out of his lungs. The act of standing would be a challenge, let alone crawling to the top of the well. Tears rolled down his cheeks. It was hopeless.

How did he end up this way?  A calf had broken through the fence. Silas couldn’t leave it out overnight so he wandered after it in the dusk. His dad left him in charge for the weekend. It was his first time alone on the farm for that period of time. He wanted to prove he was old enough, that he’d payed attention to the lessons of his father, that he was responsible. He had to get it back to the pen. If his dad realized he’d let the coyotes take it he’d be grounded for life.

After climbing over stones and under low-hanging branches he found the calf standing in the middle of a briar patch. It was calling out loudly, unsure of how to escape it’s thorny prison. Silas reached around to his back pocket, but he’d left his gloves by the barn. He sighed and looked down at his bare hands. His father’s voice chided in his head, “Think and prepare before you go off trying to do something you didn’t plan for.” Silas groaned as he began to pull the vines away, thorns jabbing into his arms. Slowly he picked away at the barbs; the brush was so thick he couldn’t figure out how the calf had gotten in the middle in the first place.

Finally he had pushed enough of the brush out of the way that he could join the calf in the middle. He shewed it toward the opening and the calf stumbled through reluctantly. “Dumb animal,” Silas muttered. He climbed through the gap and began to herd the calf back to the farm. Again, he could hear his father, “Should’ve brought a rope”.

Walking back toward the farm Silas was glad the endeavor hadn’t lasted long. It was dark and he still needed to put tools away for the night. He could make out the fenced-in yard when all of a sudden the calf jumped backward, spooked by something on the path. It backed into Silas, who stumbled, equally startled. His foot caught a tree root. Before he knew it, he was sprawled out in the bottom of a dark hole.

The flashback masked the pain, but only for a second. He ached everywhere. Probably a concussion too. The well itself was a decent size. Sitting with his back against the wall, his feet just touched the other side. In fact, it wasn’t all that deep. Apparently it had been partially filled in, leaving the bottom a mere fifteen or twenty feet from the top. He looked up. There was only one way out, and he was going to have to climb all on his own.

Silas needed a plan, sooner rather than later. But the pain, the pain was too intense. No one was coming for him. He could either lay there and die of dehydration or fight through it. Just thinking about what he would have to endure to reach the top was overwhelming. It was bad enough sitting still. Through swimming vision, he carefully studied the bricks in front of him. If he could just lay out a path, that would be a start.

The initial shock of the fall was wearing off. As if someone were scrambling his brain with a mixer, his thoughts bounced from the calf getting out in the first place, trying to map out a way to the top, to his father standing over him in disappointment, the stinging of the briar thorns, to the terrified cries of the calf, to the screaming pain from his wounds.  His breathing exacerbated. The knife-like jabs to his chest made him dizzy with agony. The muscles in his abdomen contracted and through razor blades of injury he vomited. The whiff of his sick rushed through his nostrils. He squeezed his eyes shut to block his only natural reaction. His stomach retched again. Feeling his body was actually going to explode into pieces, he gave in.

His head fell back against the stone. In the blackness behind his eyelids Silas wished for relief. The weight of his despondency was too much to bare. He sounded a barbaric cry into the coming night and pleaded with the darkness. In a flash of ultimate despair he thought of finding a sharp rock. He sobbed. Not from fear, from pure indecision. Wait it out or climb? Make it out or bleed to death? Climb, or kill himself?

Tears mixed with the mucus running out of his nose. He turned is head to wipe his face on his sleeve only to feel the spear of his broken ribs jam back into his middle. Every single movement was terrifying. He shouted again, this time in anger. The rush of emotion fueled his will. He gritted his teeth, reached to the side of the well to grab a crevice between the bricks, and lifted himself off the dirt. His left leg seemed to be alright. All the bruises and broken parts were on the right side of his body. Realizing he was now standing, he embraced the surge of adrenaline. Survival was the only goal.

Silas scanned the brick wall with his hands searching for more outcroppings and crevices. Finding spots he felt he could hold onto, he throatily wheezed his arms above his head to move to the next one. He couldn’t rely on his legs to help, only his left leg to support. Pulling himself up the wall was like doing chin-ups. Each time he got to the bar, someone tried to shove a sword down his esophagus.  The beating in his chest hurt, only now it was hurt from exhilaration. About half way up his foot slipped.

His body weight, a normal sign of a healthy mid-western farm boy, was suddenly working against him. The sweat on his hands, designed to help him escape predators in the wild, let his hands begin to slip against the already damp stone. Eyes wide, he instinctively kicked against the wall to find footing. The broken pieces of his right leg barely responded while his left pushed that side of his body away so that his grip let go. Now he was dangling from his right hand, torso drawn out to its extent, serrated pain overwhelming his battered form.

Gritting teeth to the point they could break, Silas looked through the floating lights of shock and swung back to grab the wall again with his left hand. With the orchestra of agony conducting its way up and down his body, he took one last gasp, telling himself it’s now or never, and like a spider made a dash for the top. All the upper body strength he could muster, some of it not even knowing he had it in him, rock by rock until finally one hand reached up and over the top.

The realization of reaching the opening was almost too much and overcome with excitement he nearly slipped again. He scrambled to keep both hands at the breach of his salvation. With one final kick from his left leg he forced himself up. His body collapsed like a rag doll, hanging half in and out of the stone opening. He shouted out from the pressure on his chest, shards of rib jamming into his skin. Like a fish out of water he flopped wildly forward until he finally slipped onto the ground.

Relief, anguish, fear and joy poured through him. He sobbed in the most painful ecstasy he could imagine. Through the trees he could see stars poking out of the night sky. The sound of crickets and frogs the music to welcome him back into the land of the hopeful. Silas coughed between fits of laughter; every piece of him hurt, but he didn’t care. He wanted to enjoy this moment, even for a short while. Prayers of gratitude escaped between his lips. Not to anyone in particular, but certainly something somewhere deserved it for rescuing him.

As he lay on the ground and caught his breath, he wondered about the calf. The adrenaline began to dissipate. Now he could feel the screams of jabbing pain resurface. He had to get back to the house. Reality reigned his thoughts in. The house. The house was still so far away.

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