George saw the expression of horror on my face from halfway across the yard. Even before I started yelling for help, he was on his way toward me. Through my shallow, ragged breaths of panic, I choked out, “she’s in the well!”
My neighbor was galvanized into action. He practically carried me to his pickup and we peeled out of the driveway toward his barn. George slammed the parking brake down while we were still moving. The truck screeched to a halt and George ran into the barn. He came back ten second later with a long, extendable ladder. He threw it in the back of the pickup, cracking the glass on the rear window of the cab with the force of his throw. Without even a hint of concern for the window, he jumped back in the truck and we tore through the field separating our yards until we reached the old well on the edge of my property.
For Mia’s entire childhood, Dave and I warned her to stay away from the well. When she was a kid, she listened. Once she hit ten, though, she got a rebellious streak in her. It only got worse in the aftermath of Dave’s passing. Without her dad around and with me being at work so often, she’d always find her way into some trouble. George did his best to keep an eye on the house from across the way, but he couldn’t watch it all the time. Nor should he have to. But he remembered when he had to tell his own kids to stay away from our well. The thing is a deathtrap, even with the boards Dave had put over its opening.
“She hasn’t answered me,” I sobbed. We’d just gotten to the well and George was using his flashlight to peer into its stygian depths. The boards that had covered the opening were stacked neatly against the side. George yelled her name into the blackness. His deep voice echoed off the narrow walls and came back to the top a few seconds later as a weak shadow of its former self. Not a sound was heard from the bottom.
George could see I was starting to lose it. My shivers had turned into full-blown shudders. My knees were knocking together so hard I could barely stand. I leaned against the pickup for support.
“She’s going to die,” I gasped. “Mia’s going to be dead. Dead like Dave and I’ll be alone.”
The world desaturated and dimmed as I hyperventilated. For a second, I must have blacked out because I wasn’t standing anymore. I sat cross-legged in the dirt as George struggled to put the ladder into the opening of the well. He called Mia’s name over and over and over as he worked to get the thing inside. It struck me that George loved my daughter. It made sense; he’d babysat her whenever I needed to work. Even after his own kids were grown and had moved away, George took interest in Mia and did his best to give her turbulent life a modicum of stability.
I heard George swear under his breath once he realized the ladder wasn’t long enough to reach the bottom. He yelled, “Mia, look out!” and he dropped the ladder. I struggled to my feet and peered over the edge; my tears falling into the blackness. I could see the top of the ladder was only about ten feet from the lip of the well. George rushed to the bed of his pickup and grabbed a rope. He tied it to the bumper of the truck and was ready to rappel down to the ladder.
“How long until the fire department gets here?,” he asked.
“I called them two minutes before I came to you,” I whimpered. “It’ll be at least another 15 before they’re here.”
Before jumping over the edge, George told me, “When I have her in my arms, I won’t be able to get back up the rope. They’ll need to get us both out.” With that, he lowered himself down to the ladder.
Once he had his feet on the rungs, he let go of the rope and navigated down the narrow throat of the well. He peered up at my tearstained face as he descended. “She’ll be okay,” he told me. His voice was firm. Confident.
George reached the bottom a minute or two later. He yelled up to me, his voice still calm and steady but with a hint of worry that’d been absent moments ago. “I’m looking. I’ll find her.”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw dust being kicked up on the dirt road way on the other side of the property. Dave always hoped he’d get an opportunity to pave the damn thing, but he never got a chance. The only benefit was it was easy to see when someone was coming.
The ladder shuddered as George made his way up. His face emerged from the blackness. “I…I can’t find Mia,” he admitted. The calmness that had defined his voice this whole time was gone. He sounded resigned. It almost sounded like he’d failed.
I heard tires screech to a halt behind me. I whirled around and shouted, “It’s about time!”
“I’m so, so sorry Mom!,” Mia exclaimed. She got off her bicycle and let it drop in the dirt. She was panting and sweat poured down her face. “Did I miss it?”
Mia and I peered over the edge of the well. George, who’d made his way to the top of the ladder and was reaching for the rope, stopped and stared up with bewilderment.
“Mia?,” he asked, a look of confusion blooming on his brow.
“Hi Mr. Palumbo!,” Mia shouted.
George reached for the rope and tried to pull himself up. Its end whipped over the edge of the well and slapped him in the forehead. I’d untied it from his bumper the minute he’d set foot on the ladder.
“What’s going on?,” asked George. He sounded angry now. Indignant. “What are – .” He stopped talking. A deep, droning sound came from below him. Even though it wasn’t loud, I could feel its low frequency resonating in my chest.
He peered down. Mia glanced at me and smiled. I put my arm around her sweaty shoulders. We watched George together. The noise came again. It was louder this time. Almost too loud. I felt it in my chest and deep in my stomach, giving me the unpleasant sensation of needing to rush to the bathroom. Mia squirmed with discomfort. The stones lining the inside of the well began to leak. George yelped with surprise. The fluid was thick and viscous. It started dark – almost black. As more vomited out from between the stones and dripped into the pit of the well, its color lightened. Crimson liquid mixed with swirls of beige paste and yellow, mucousy discharge. The smell made my head spin. From the corner of my eye, I saw Mia quietly retching.
George yelled again. And again. More fluid spurted from the walls, soaking George. His yell turned into a high-pitched, uncomprehending scream. His clothing dissolved. The mop of gray hair on his head began to smoke. Steam rose from his skin. He gripped the top rung of the ladder in some desperate bid for security.
The walls stopped their ejaculation. George stared at us with a look of desperate pain and abject terror. The droning sound from earlier was replaced by an intense, distorted blast. The ladder shuddered below George as the amplitude of the noise increased. My breath felt stuck in my chest. It was so, so loud. My ribs felt like they were being trampled on and my bowels contorted and spasmed. Mia doubled over and fell backward, clutching her knees to her chest as her nose dripped blood onto her t-shirt.
When it felt like my body would pop from the intensity of the sound, it stopped. “Come on, get up,” I hissed at Mia. She obeyed, wiping her nose with her forearm and pulling her shirt down over the back of her shorts with embarrassment. George was silent. He wasn’t looking at us anymore. He was staring at the bottom of the well. Then he gasped.
Our God coalesced from the putrescent slime and crept up the sides of the well like ivy carved from rotten meat. A thick tube, about as wide as George’s trunk, rose silently from the depths. George scrambled up the ladder, bracing his hands on the slippery stone. Steam billowed from the spots where his hands met the walls, still wet with caustic fluid. He didn’t seem to notice. He dug his fingers into the stone and I cringed when his fingernails snapped backward with audible pops. Our God was at him in seconds.
The column had enveloped the ladder and was at George’s feet. Cilia slid from the tip of the tube and grasped each ankle. As he was pulled downward, he reached up toward us. Mia waved. A terrible sucking sound exploded from the well. George’s legs disappeared into Our God. The color drained from his body and his eyes collapsed backward into his skull. After a loud crack, the top of his head caved inward. Mia and I stared into the hole in his head. Soft, wet slurping sounds burbled up from the wreckage of my neighbor’s body.
I looked away from George and watched Mia. She gazed at Our God with rapt attention. Her nose had clotted and she gripped the edge of the well with white knuckles. The embarrassment she’d felt a brief time ago was long forgotten. This was what she’d wanted to see. This was what Dave and I had told her about since she was a toddler.
Once Our God had finished and disappeared back into the well, Mia looked into my eyes. She was weeping.
“Are you okay?,” I asked, genuinely concerned.
“I love you, Mom,” was all she said. We embraced for a long, long time.
Today, with Mia all grown up and my beautiful grandchildren running around the house causing all sorts of trouble, I look back at that embrace as the first time my daughter and I truly connected. Sometimes it just takes a special situation for two people to realize how close they are. For that situation – for that wonderful, memorable moment – I give great thanks to Our God.
May every word I speak be in praise of His drooling mouths; may all my pleasure be felt by His singing flesh; may my last day on Earth be the day He chooses to taste me. Through His grace, I will bathe in His tongues.