My pal Joel Golby has a tumblr called Tiny Little Love Stories where he posts microfiction, which is to say, love stories, which are tiny. To celebrate Valentine’s Day me and several others have guest written some of the many stories posted there today! You should definitely go read them all, but in case you’re impatient and only want more ME, here are the specific ones concerning Yours Truly:
I had a dream I was watching a TV show about famous scandals. Evidently during the early 90s, Prince Charles had died under mysterious circumstances. Everyone had blamed the Queen, naturally, and taken to calling her “The Assassin of Wales.”
The show then ran a segment on the Assassin of Wales, a legendary creature with the body of a raccoon and head of a human baby that was used by people throughout history specifically to kill the Prince of Wales.
No one had ever seen the creature, so it was usually described as mythological.
I looked up from my seat on the couch and saw an Assassin of Wales in the tree outside my window, but I knew I didn’t have to worry because I wasn’t royalty.
You who consider yourself enlightened may still yet laugh at me, but I say to you again: the mind of man, in his Troglodyte infancy, has never dared to imagine the terror I experienced during my two days and three nights wandering the foetid catacombs of the local convention center.
At every turn a new grotesque assailed my eyes: from shimmering diaphanous wraiths with silver hair, to abnormally corpulent beings whose very bodies seemed unnaturally imbricated in the bounds of our sublunary space, and also their homemade Sailor Moon outfits. My relief at spotting, in the undulating mass of terror, a pair of fuzzy cat ears turned quickly to extremest nausea when I saw they belonged not to a cute little kitty but a squamous youth protesting loudly to the price of a certain table’s merch.
I retreated to the balcony to recompose and it seemed, for a moment, as if a noxious cloud hovered over the entirety of that hideous scene, a condensation nearly visible in its dank iridescence. The cries of those foul creatures echoed up the columned walls, ululating cries for such incomprehensible entities as “huggles” and “glomps” — and even, in some tenebrous corners, were the hushed, mad whispers of “yiff!”
“Eh, you must be a stranger in these parts,” murmured a voice to my side and, turning, I saw a slight, yellowed old man who by his attire I recognised as a custodian. “Happens every year. Olways a young man not much dif’rent than yeself shows up to this here convention, not knowin’ what he’s in fahr.” His eyes regarded me with a lizardlike intelligence that inspired in the pit of my being a wordless unease. “‘T ain’t so bad onct yer used ta it,” the custodian continued. “I’m rememborin’ way back in Ninety-Eight when we began hostin’ this deal…. Wal, Sir, you can believe thar was a lot o’ outcry at the noise an’ the mess. I was one o’ them! But after some years had gone by and by ye start to git used to perty much anythin’, ye reckon.” He chuckled loathsomely.
“Anyhaow,” he said, shaking the leathery head when he saw my horror was not assuaged, “what it was fer me, was I seen ’em at their meals. This stuff called… ah, ah, Pocky, ye ken? Can’t tell ye ‘zactly whut makes it whut it is… a kinda… cookie dipped in… dipped in whatever one might imagine, d’ye see? An’ I saw ’em with it, monchin’ and snarfin and snackin’ and I jus’…. got a cravin’…. Queer haow a cravin’ gets ahold on ye, eh boy…?”
My mind pushed to the very limits of exertion, I made to flee for good. Yet the convention center maps, posted to the walls like horrid, unremembered glyphs, are all but unreadable and after more than one wrong turn I realised I had furtively stumbled into the very nexus of that maelstrom: the Screening Room.
That thing — that terrible unnameable thing — towered above me, projected through the fuliginous aether of that room to proportions unnatural, though it was dimly and reluctantly understood that even unprojected it was a being wholly disproportionate to any known body: its eyes hovered like gibbous moons, iridescent like pools of ichor suspended whole, against the natural laws of physics, in a malformed skull, while about it splayed in non-Euclidean angles, in a shade of the most decadent purple, structures that might have been in some perverse evolutionary perspective homologous to hair. Before I could leave the room that thing began to gambol, to the amusement of its wretched audience, and began to gibber in its alien tongue: “Onii-chan! Onii-chan! Itai!!!”
And then came the tentacles.
My review of last year opened with a rather definitive statement. There will be no such statement this year.
2011 was a different sort of year, a more difficult year, a year of complication and nuance and building and unraveling and expectation and perhaps — overall — fear.
When speaking of narrative a term that gets thrown around a lot is “arc.” Where does a character start, and where do they end up? The thing about life is that you’re always starting somewhere and ending up somewhere else, and then starting again. You never really stop moving. 2011 was the year many arcs ended, and when many other began.
2011 was the year of learning what it means to occupy; to learn its dangers, and its signification. American Horror Story is not just the name of a hit new series on FX, it’s also a buzzy phrase for our current political and economic clusterfuck.
But, then again, it’s also the name of a hit new series on FX.
I watched it recently, and American Horror Story is pretty good. It did its homework on haunted house movies, and it’s got some visual flair. It’s also one of the most sloppily written things I’ve seen in the past few years — there are, perhaps, no ghosts, just the mournful whisper of wind through the gaping and multitudinous plot holes.
But then there are also actually the ghosts. The fact that the show is so poorly written means that, when you get right down to it, the character arcs make no sense. Stories of haunting, as I’ve written on this blog before, often deal with that which has been denied or displaced or forgotten, the problems we’ve neglected to face but which still occupy, however nebulously, some space in our lives. To save you from any spoilers, suffice it to say that the arc of American Horror Story does not attempt to navigate this hauntological cohabitation of the past and present. What it does is cheat, in at least two ways.
One is the introduction of an apocalypse storyline — something the latest season of Dexter danced around as well — which is probably the most boring thing imaginable in a horror story for me. The antichrist, the fruition of Revelation — so fucking what? Supernatural or horror-inclined shows need to learn is that betting the whole damn farm only makes me think you’re not taking the game seriously. The stakes are so high they’re meaningless.
The second way AHS cheats is a bit more subtle. Though it wants us to think the apocalypse is a Bad Thing, total annihilation is in fact the only workable way out offered by the logic of the plot. The only way our ghosts can be overcome — or at least, cohabitated with — is to be ghosts ourselves. To force ourselves to belong to the past, or as the past seems to those who inhabit it, in a character’s words, “one long today.”
The apocalypse is the end of futurity. If there is no future, there can be ghosts. The ghosts become us, or we them.
Interesting, then, that the world is supposed to end in 2012. I doubt this, of course, but I guess I could be proven wrong.
But for the time being, no matter what American Horror Story (the series or the situation) suggests, I rather think I’d like to continue soldiering on into the future, with my ghosts in tow.
In 2010 my life was working to a clear, definite point. It was a time of transition but that transition’s nature felt solid. The solidity fell to pieces in 2011, when many things happened. These weren’t necessarily bad things; my graduation was one of them. I am the first person in my family to obtain a four-year degree, a first-generation college student and, now, a first generation graduate student. These are wonderful things.
And they are frightening things. I am on my own now, further afield than any chick from the ancestral nest. My friendships from undergrad, though they maintain in some ways thanks to modern technological convenience, have ended their arcs for now. I need to build new relationships, I need to find new ways to occupy the world I’ve made for myself, and that others have made and will make for me.
It would be dishonest to not here mention the one arc still hanging from undergrad: the most frightening and the most wonderful thing of all about 2011. She knows who she is, and to her I say thank you. Thank you for staying in this story, even as it got messy.
For the rest of you, I wish you and all your ghosts a happy new year.
The world was saddened today to learn of the loss of author Cormac McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy lived a long life and anticipated his own passing some time ago, and thus wrote his own obituary well in advance. It is printed without editorial comment below.
The old man died this week. He was known chiefly in the region as a charlatan who peddled illusions to a people desperate to speak back into the echoes of its own savage past and there scrape up the dried blood on the worn stones of this country’s history. He had white hair and a face dry and cracked like an ancient arroyo scraped into the land by a presence perhaps implied by circumstance but far from tangible and at many points seeming to be a figment altogether.
The old man had read quite a few books and at some point took it to his own mind to produce a few which was hard but honest work and in the end the satanic engines had churned up and down the hillsides devouring the trees to make the paper on which his thoughts were printed. His works included Child of God, No Country for Old Men, Blood Meridian, and The Road. Several were bought by soft men in suits and these men went back to their luxurious cities and they made these stories into talking pictures not entirely to the old man’s taste but it happened regardless, inevitable like the onrushing dark as the sun sinks down into the parched earth and extinguishes the light of gods and reason. On account of one of his books he met the black woman Oprah.
The old man was not always an old man but was once a child. He was a child partly in the East where he was born but the currents of his life dragged him West and his fascination with this place was to become in some ways metonymic with the old man himself. When the old man was a child he once saw a dog beaten to death with a tire-iron by a local rustic and as the child who would become the old man watched the animal’s eyeball stalk and all drip like egg yolk down the cracked skull he thought, One day that will be me, and in the grand design of things he was not far off.
The old man’s favorite song was Always on My Mind but not as you would expect based on his demographics the Willie Nelson version but rather the recording from the 1980s by the Pet Shop Boys. It will be played at his services this Thursday no matter whatever his wife says.
it’s not friday but i made this so here
The library here is a lot stranger than any others I’ve ever been in.
It’s two towers of aging Indiana limestone that have stood here for forty years and for all I know might stand for forty more. Unlike most major university libraries students are allowed to browse the stacks freely, which is of course quite a privilege, and something that makes me excited to have it at a resource. Actually being there, however, is quite an experience.
It’s far larger than any academic library I’ve been in, and thinking about the books it’s acquired throughout the years — for the first time in my life if I want to read something I can almost guarantee it’s close by — it’s a little unsettling. On one hand, it’s exciting to consider all of those books around me, all of those things freely available for me to pick up and read. On the other it makes me intensely aware that there are many more books available to me than I could ever read, literal decades of accumulated attempts at communication, more than I could ever comprehend or understand or synthesize into a coherent whole.
This becomes especially pertinent if you hit the library during a slow period, or if you end up in part of the stacks where no one usually goes, and have plenty of time on your hands. You may be surprised at what you find.
I was on the ninth floor of the east tower — the highest you’re allowed to go if you’re not staff — when I first saw the phone. It was probably the beginning of September and I was dropping by to pick up some books for a possible research project. I stepped out of the elevator and into the small hallway situated in the dead center of the stacks. Immediately across from the elevator bank are the restrooms, plus a table supporting a yellowed dictionary (which seemed adorably quaint to me upon first glance) and I noticed, right by that, a purple cell phone.
Cell phones aren’t unusual, of course, and I figured this one wasn’t my problem. Someone had left it — probably after sending a text or making a call, which incidentally is a big no-no since cell phone use is prohibited beyond the main lobby. After waiting around for a few minutes, listening for anyone approaching or to see if anyone ducked out of one of the nearby bathrooms, I realized that the owner probably wasn’t going to come back any time soon. Because I’m something of a Good Samaritan, I decided to take the phone down to the Lost and Found, after I got the Milton biography I came for.
I grabbed the cell phone — a purple Motorola — and slipped it into my bag before running my errands.
It wasn’t until I got back to my apartment that I realized I’d forgotten about the phone entirely. I’d been distracted in the stacks and gotten a deal more than the Milton bio I was aiming for, and the Motorola had slipped my mind. I found it when I emptied out my bag and instantly felt a sharp pang of embarrassment. Of course, all was not lost. I just turned the phone on.
I already mentioned it was a Motorola. It was also marked as a Verizon phone, and beyond being purple was mostly nondescript. It was one of the models that slides open to reveal a perpendicular QWERTY keyboard. It also had a camera, but the background was what looked like a default image: two figures silhouetted against a sunset on a beach. Above that the time was displayed, the signal strength (good), and the battery life (about half). My plan was to see who the last person contacted was and hit them up letting them know a friend’s phone was missing, so I quickly navigated through the menus.
I discovered the lists of incoming and outgoing calls were both blank. The text message in- and outboxes were likewise empty, and so was the address book.
I can’t say I wasn’t suspicious. This simply wasn’t how people use phones. Yet, if someone had chosen to clear out their phone, well, more power to them, no matter how weird it was. That just meant I had no way of getting it back to them on my own, and at the time I remember being distinctly grateful that the next day I could just drop it off at the library Lost and Found, as per my original plan, and be done with it.
So I set the phone aside, and went about my business. It was a Wednesday, which meant my roommates would be out most of the evening for various reasons, so I took advantage of the situation by making full use of the kitchen. I was dipping chicken thighs in Italian dressing when I got the first text.
I’d left the phone on, and right next to my own phone in the pile of homework I habitually keep on the kitchen table when I’m cooking. There was no ringtone, only a setting to vibrate, so when the text came, I thought it was my own phone going off. (I personally hate ringtones.) But I was surprised to see, after washing my hands and heading over, that it was the purple Motorola’s screen that had lit up with a message notification. One new text message.
Thinking I might be able to return the phone in person after all, I opened the message. It was prefaced by the number of the sender — no name, since there was nothing in the address book — and I could tell at first glance that the number wasn’t local. The message said
are you home yet?
I hit reply and with fingers not at all used to the keyboard wrote back that I wasn’t the owner of the phone, that I’d found it in the library, but I’d be happy to return it if I could figure out who it belonged to. I hit send and waited.
I expected a response within at least a few minutes. In my admittedly limited experience with things like this, people are pretty prompt when a phone is missing. But as it turned out, I didn’t get a response until half an hour later, after my chicken and sweet potatoes had been in the oven for a quarter of their bake time. I was sitting at the table doing homework when the next text came.
are you home yet? this is harder than i thought lol
Confused I spent some time comparing the originating phone numbers They were the same, but the second seemed oblivious to my reply to the first. Not sure what to do, I replied again, something along the lines of, I’m sorry, this isn’t my phone, I said I found it, could you tell me who it belongs to?
The phone was silent again until I was doing dishes almost an hour later. I took my time checking it, since I was already expecting something less than helpful, and sure enough I wasn’t disappointed.
when they knocked i didnt answer so its ok. ive been drinking a little. ok maybe alot lol what about you?
Still the same number. I didn’t respond to it this time, figuring that whoever was on the other side of this conversation was probably a bit more than drunk. Instead, as a mild curiosity, I googled the number, idly fantasizing I’d find it associated with a Facebook page or something. No such luck there, but I did manage to pin down a region: Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. Nowhere close to local, but the university takes students from all over.
I shrugged this off as I went about my business, finishing up the dishes and moving on to more homework. It occurred to me at one point that due to the time difference, my mystery correspondent was drinking a little (okay maybe a lot) at four in the afternoon. Strange, but I hear they have odd ways in California.
Regardless of my own lack of response, I saw the purple phone had received yet another text after I got out of the shower.
hes been weird since you left
By this point I was beginning to feel a bit uneasy. Whose phone was this, who was texting it, and why were they ignoring me? I began to consider the possibility that this was an elaborate prank, or maybe part some psych doctoral student’s research project. Of course it made me wonder what sort of prank or research project relied on people stealing a cell phone from a library and sending those people aimless texts. I wondered if it were some sort of trolling gimmick — someone with money to blow was hoping to get a rise out of me, and would upload a transcript of my hilarious reactions to a cutting edge comedy website, or a 4chan board or something.
That still didn’t make any sense.
I got another text while I was pondering the possibilities, though.
i saw lights outside my window are you home yet
I swallowed. It had to be a trick. Someone’s dumb game. Would I be playing into their plans if I called?
Only one way to find out.
I called the number and waited. One ring, two rings, three rings, four and five and — someone picked up. “Hello?” came a voice. It sounded like a woman’s voice, maybe middle-aged.
“Hello,” I said, doing my best to organize my thoughts. I honestly hadn’t expected anyone to answer and now I didn’t know what to say. “I’m not sure whose phone I’m calling from, I found it in the library here and when I received a text from your phone I tried asking for a name so I could–”
There was a groan. “I’m so sick of this,” the woman said. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
Then she hung up on me.
I stared at the screen for a few moments, watching CALL ENDED blink on the screen, and then set the phone aside again. It was certainly some kind of trick, I decided. I was getting texts from the woman’s number. I got one just before I called her. There was no way she didn’t know what I was referring to. It was a prank, a really elaborate and inscrutable and asinine joke.
A bigger man, at this point, would have checked out, just turned the phone off. But I was beginning to feel indignant and more than a little pissy toward whoever was orchestrating this game, and more than a little anxious to see if they tried anything further. So I just set the phone aside on my night stand, right next to my own phone, and went about the rest of my nightly routine, finishing up reading for the next day’s classes. As 11:30 rolled around, the purple phone hadn’t shown any signs of life. I went to bed.
I’m a heavy sleeper, which somewhat explains what happens next. How I remember it beginning is rolling over in bed during the night, as I think most people do, and becoming aware that something was off about the light level in the room. That set me on the path for a full awakening, and as I smashed my face into my pillow in protest I became aware of a low buzzing sound. The sound of a phone vibrating against my night stand.
I’d forgotten about the purple Motorola and immediately assumed it was my phone going off, that there was an emergency somewhere. I reached out, my hand scrabbling around the nightstand until I felt my phone’s familiar case, and cracked open my eyes.
The screen was dark. The light was coming from the other phone. Memories returned and, irritated, I picked up the Motorola with the intention of turning it off.
That was when I caught sight of what the screen said. It was not a call, of course, but a text message. But not just one. The screen said there were now 15 new messages.
I dropped the phone, my hand reaching out again for my glasses. I blinked as I pulled them on, wondering if I’d read the screen correctly. On the night stand the phone buzzed again as I picked it up. 16 new messages.
I hit a button, automatically opening the most recent.
im coming now let me in
I closed the message and frowned, still trying to get the sleep out of my eyes. As I focused on the screen I noticed two things. The first was that it was past two in the morning. The second was that the battery icon was flashing.
But before I could fully comprehend that, the phone died, the screen flicking to black in an instant. But in that instant I saw once again the background image, the wallpaper, that sunset.
Then I was alone in the dark.
I took the phone back to the library the next day, not even bothering to see if my own phone cord would suffice to recharge it. I decided, after my night of intermittent sleep and uneasy dreams, that I didn’t want to see whatever else it had to say.
“Hey,” I said to the man behind the reference desk, “I was wondering if you had a Lost and Found here.”
“Sure do,” he said. “Lose something?”
I shook my head and showed him the phone. “I found that up in the stacks on the ninth floor,” I said. “No one was around, so I figured if anyone came back looking for it they’d check here.”
“Ninth floor?” said the man. “Thank you very much.” He took the phone and dropped it somewhere below the counter as I walked away.
I wondered if I had imagined the look on his face when I set the phone down between us. It was almost surprise, or rather, the look someone trying to hide surprise. Or recognition. Maybe I had imagined it, I decided. Just like when I glimpsed the phone’s wallpaper for the last time, and in my confused, half-asleep state imagined I saw, standing black against an orange beachside sunset, a solitary silhouette where I had before seen two.
Last week I got a call from an unfamiliar number. I usually don’t answer them but occasionally, if the mood strikes me, I will.
This time, after maybe four or five rings, I did.
“Hello?” I asked. I was standing in the hallway of the apartment, just getting ready to head out for the night.
“Hello,” said a voice, a young woman’s voice. “I’m sorry, I don’t know whose phone this is, I found it today, but you’ve been texting me and–”
I understood what was happening, at least on a surface level. I suddenly understood, with perfect clarity, as if I could see it physically, what phone this girl had found.
But I still don’t know what came over me. I knew, as she was speaking to me, exactly what it was I was going to say. I don’t know why I said it, but with a heavy sigh I did: “I’m so sick of this. Don’t you have anything better to do?”
And then I hung up.
My phone began to buzz in my hand almost immediately; she was calling me back. I held down the red END button, watching as my phone’s screen went black, and I kept it off for the rest of the day.
When I turned it on the next morning, I was relieved to see there were no new messages.
When I was about five years old I fell into a well.
This is not as wildly dramatic as it seems, as “well” in this case does not mean the classic visual trope of a moss-encrusted piece of masonry, a chthonian portal mortared together by our pioneer forefathers and slowly crumbling into dust ever since, waiting patiently in the middle of the forest or meadow to gobble up young boys such as I and/or your telepathic demon daughter who wants nothing more to be a ghost in the television. No, what I mean by “well” here is a large metal tub, maybe about three feet in diameter and a foot high, with a grated bottom and a water spout rising over it to one side, said water spout being the actual “well” part of this device, tapped into the aquifer below and constantly pumping forth a heady stream of absolutely frigid water into the basin, where it drains through the grate and returns undrunk to the chill, stygian darkness. Experts call this sort of thing an Artesian well.
So: there is this Artesian well on a campground-cum-park area near my hometown, as I just described it, pumping constantly all year and exposed to the elements, accumulating since time immemorial a patina of characteristic rust. The pipe that spills the water into the basin has this nifty thing where, if you bend down over the well and put your palm over the open end, the water redirects to a smaller aperture at the top of the pipe, sending a vertical stream of water straight up into the air and into your mouth or probably your nose as the case may be. However, at age five, I was slightly not tall enough to make this method of operation feasible, and so if I wanted to drink I had to cup my hands below the pipe’s larger opening, spooning the water into my mouth in this way.
Fun fact: I am picky about water. Like, super picky. I’m very sensitive to the way water tastes, and when I was younger my parents thought I was just being a brat and bullshitting them when I said water from this faucet or that faucet or this house or that city tasted bad. But it was God’s honest truth, and it never made sense to me how some people can just, like, drink water from anywhere. Anyway the point I want to make is that the water from this Artesian well tasted absolutely rad.
It was untreated, of course, which I think had something to do with it. I’ve discovered that the harder water is, the more it is essentially some sort of sand/mineral suspension, the more I like it. Up until the time I was about 12 and my parents divorced we lived in the country, in a house with its own well, and that water was harder than an AP Calculus exam. Part of me has never forgiven my father’s eventual decision to buy a water softener, as that water is probably some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
The water from this Artesian well at the park area was a pretty close second, though. We were at the park this particular day in late summer for what I believe was a family reunion, which was being held a bit of a ways away from the well in a largish shelter, where there were tables decked out with deviled eggs and potato salad and iced tea and a particular Midwestern delicacy called “hamloaf.” I had aunts and uncles milling about, and some cousins, but I ended up in some strange generational gap on both sides of my family so there were no cousins precisely my age — they were all notably older or younger. This meant I had pretty much no one to play with during functions like this, and I was particularly sensitive to when I was becoming a nuisance to adults, which translated into me hanging around on my own an inordinate amount of the time.
And so: this explains why I ventured out to the well on my own, at the tender age of five. This was in fact no great journey, since the well was right next to the road and at most maybe a hundred yards from the shelter. Because I 1) was bored, and 2) absolutely fucking love drinking good water, I decided at some point that what I really needed was to head out to the well and fuel up. I’m five years old, so at the moment I’m making some educated guesswork about my exact thought process here, but it seems good enough.
Now what I remember is having no concept of the dimensions of a circle (though of course I did not know this at the time). What I mean by this is that it did not occur to me how a point on one side of the circle is the furthest distance from a point on the exact opposite side of the same circle, which is to say, I completely failed to understand the concept of a diameter, esp. how it is the longest chord of a circle. How this played out in real life was me standing exactly opposite the well’s spout, leaning over the rim of the basin with my hands cupped, grasping handful after handful of water. Because I was the greatest possible distance from the object of my desires, I was leaning forward pretty damn far.
Too far, it turns out, as the relatively low rim of the basin and my relatively large forward bent plus the sudden weight and pressure of a powerful jet of water on my tiny five-year-old arms meant I tipped right the fuck over into the well. My trajectory, then, consisted of more and more of me being pushed into the path of the water jetting from the spout, soaking me as I fell down into the basin, splashing all over my face and doing nothing to help my sudden, panicked, ultimately useless burst of adrenaline as I smacked right into the metal grating.
This is it, I thought. I’ve fallen down a well.
As if it were an eventuality for every child.
I had been conditioned by years of television consumption and cultural osmosis to know that the only way to be saved from a well (any type of well!) was for a brilliant, golden-furred dog to witness the event and rush back to the old family homestead, where its worried barks would be correctly interpreted by one’s salt-of-the-earth family as an oddly specific yet ultimately effective and timely warning. The immediate problem this posed was, of course, no dog had witnessed my accident — in fact, I did not own a dog.
I was doomed.
So I lay there, a torrent of water slamming into my back, too pressurized for me to actually stand up with the leverage afforded me, and my head throbbing where I’d bumped it against the side of the basin. Like the greedy man who wishes for infinite riches and drowns in gold, that wonderful, mineral-infused H2O I had so loved and desired would now be my demise.
Except of course there was a grate in the bottom of the basin so the water was basically just running over me, back into the ground, and only getting into my mouth/nose because I was trying to shout for help instead of concentrating and trying to like, you know, move out from under the goddamn water.
Now, you will recall the depth of this basin is only, like, a foot, so there is no way it could have swallowed me entirely. In fact, what any passersby would have seen (should they choose to look) was about the final third of a five year old boy, being mostly the legs, sticking up awkwardly into the air, Kermit the Frog adorned Velcro sneakers waving manically.
Luckily, a passerby did choose to look at this particular sight! Some woman who happened to be driving by (remember, the well was pretty close to the road) saw me fall in and immediately slammed on the brakes, pulling over and dashing to my rescue. From my perspective this meant that I had been in the well for roughly half of my life (in reality: maybe 20 seconds) when suddenly something grabbed the back of my shirt, yanked me back through the gout of water, and into the land of living, non-doomed five-year-olds once more.
The woman, I remember rather distinctly, was for some reason wearing a lady’s business suit.
She slammed her palm into my back a few times to help me expel any water I may have swallowed (not much, really), and then helped me stagger back to the shelter, where some of my family members had noticed the spectacle and my older, more female relatives were positively flipping out at the way in which I had just brushed the edge of the mortal coil. I readily admit my memory of this bit is even more hazy, being completely panicked and cold and wet as I was, but I distinctly remember thinking that the woman who had pulled me from the well was some family member I hadn’t met before, and I think I asked my grandma (as she wrapped me in a fluffy beach towel) if my savior was one of my aunts or something.
My father and I believe my grandfather shot some stern words my way about the incident, making me feel like I was somehow totally and irrationally guilty for what just transpired (in retrospect I think they were angry this stranger saw what looked suspiciously like reckless child endangerment) and that, on top of the whole having-almost-made-peace-with-my-own-death thing, did not put me in a particularly good mood for the rest of the day.
A few years ago, during high school, I was at the park again and saw the well’s basin now had a grate on top, as well as on bottom, and I wondered if I was the sole purpose for that or, alternatively, how many kids through the years had ended up in my position.
The water was still really good, though.