One Saturday in mid-October Butch Barstowe pushed Corey Allen into an abandoned well. One minute the two were walking across a field where an old homestead once stood. The next minute Corey was treading water, trying to get it out of his eyes. His body plunged twenty feet into the water before he rose to the surface. Thankfully he wore light sneakers and light clothing, or the water might have pulled him down to his death.
When he was finally able to see, he noticed a small ledge extending from the well wall, just above the water line. He grabbed it with both hands. Then he looked up and saw Butch peering down at him. Hurt, humiliation and rage were evident when Corey yelled,
“Why’d you push me in?” “I thought you were my friend!”
“You shouldn’t have thought that,” replied Butch. “I was never your friend.”
“But you treated me well, and we did fun things together,” answered Corey.
“That was before I saw you hugging my girl,” snarled Butch.
“What?” “I have never hugged your girl!”
“When you were boarding the school bus the other day, she was ahead of you. “I saw you hug her from behind.”
“That was when she almost lost her balance on the bus steps, and I tried to steady her,” Corey answered hotly. Butch rolled his eyes.
“You won’t get off that easily,” said his ex-friend.
“But I didn’t do anything!” wailed Corey.
“Stay down there till you rot or change into a prune,” Butch said dismissively.
“Wait!” screamed Corey. “At least go tell my parents or someone where I am. They’ll be frantic.” Butch gazed into the well.
“Oh, they’ll find you,” he replied. “Or maybe not,” he added. He gave Corey a scornful look and disappeared.
Corey was terrified. He had never been in such a predicament as this, and he felt helpless. No one knew where he was, and Butch would not tell, especially after pushing him in.
Finally, Corey decided that Butch had befriended him to get close to Corey’s sister, Yvonne, who was a year older than Corey. She was a beautiful brunette and very picky about the boys she dated. She told Corey she had turned Butch down for a date to the school Sock Hop. That had only been a week ago.
Corey’s peers had bullied him for years. His left leg was shorter and smaller than his right leg. His back was moderately twisted with scoliosis. He had been surprised and glad when Butch had taken an interest in him and had invited him to go to the arcade and movies.
Butch was a football jock, and the girls loved him, although it was hard to see why. He had pronounced buckteeth and an unattractive buzz haircut. His eyes were beady brown. However, he was large and well-muscled, with the type of body girls went for.
Corey hoisted himself onto the ledge. It was a little bigger than he had thought. He could lie on it if he had to. He shivered. If someone didn’t find him soon, this would be his bed. He tried not to think about dying in the well. His mother had always told him not to give up. Tears stung his eyes. He wanted his family more than anything else.
The sun disappeared, Corey shifted his position and looked up into the dark. His stomach growled. He had missed lunch and dinner. His family must be going crazy by now. Corey had always been an obedient boy, never gave his parents a moment’s worry. Surely people were looking for him. But would they think to look for him in this old well?
Corey and Butch had supposedly been going to see a secret hideout in the woods when they cut across the field where the well was. Butch’s push was so unexpected that for a second Corey did not comprehend what was happening.
His fear turned to anger. If he ever got out of this, Butch would pay. He could imagine Butch right now, probably at home with his family having dinner. Corey hoped he choked on it. Butch Harlowe was a menace. It was a shame that Corey had found this out too late to change the outcome of Butch’s intentions. Corey wrapped his arms around himself and shivered. He felt despair knowing he would not be rescued anytime soon.
Corey felt a nudge at his hand. He looked down. A bullfrog had climbed onto the rock ledge and was sitting next to him. It was aglow with a mysterious radiance that seemed to emanate from within. Corey watched it, transfixed. He did not understand how a bullfrog could glow, but he welcomed the light and the company. It took some of the fear and loneliness out of his heart. He named it Ribbit. The frog snuggled close to him, and both slept, Corey, with troubled dreams, the frog, with whatever dreams a frog might have.
A few hours after dawn Corey was jolted awake by something hitting the water. He looked up. There stood Butch preparing to drop a huge rock into the well. It was aimed at Corey’s head. Oh No, thought Corey. He’s going to kill me for sure. A rock barely missed him but tore a chip from the ledge that struck Corey’s right cheek. He touched his cheek, and his hand came away bloody. He tumbled into the water, holding onto the ledge with one hand, ducking his head beneath the water until he had to come up for air. Butch continued to bombard the well with rocks. While Corey was beneath the water, he opened his eyes and saw the frog beside him. It was hiding too.
At last Butch tired of hurling stones and disappeared. After a while Corey decided it was safe to return to the ledge. Ribbit crawled onto the ledge also.
Corey was starving. He had taken several sips of water from the well, but his stomach screamed for food. Unless he escaped his dilemma he would starve. Tears sprang to his eyes at the thought of dying. He looked at Ribbit. You’re trapped here too, he thought. If I ever get out of here, I’m taking you with me. I have a nice Koi Pond in my back yard. It will be your forever home.
The day passed as slowly as a tick-tock lodged in a grandfather clock’s behind. Corey grew weary and faint from lack of food. Ribbit caught and ate a few bugs that had fallen into the well. It stayed close to Corey through the long, sorrowful day. Corey prepared to face another night on the ledge. He dreaded it.
Sometime around midnight a frigid wind began. It whipped down the inside of the well and back to the top, over and over. The chill awoke Corey. He looked around the ledge for Ribbit. With relief, he saw the frog still asleep, its light dimmed to a dull glow. Corey was trying to fall back to sleep when he heard strange whispers coming from the wind.
“Coreee, come with meee.” Corey struggled to hear more. The whispers came again.
“Coreee, let me take you out of here.”
“Who are you?” Corey squeaked.
“I am Death,” came the reply. Corey shuddered.
“What do you want with me?”
“I want you to give up your futile life and let me possess you. I am hungry for your soul.” A bolt of defiance shot through Corey.
“GO AWAY!” he shouted.
“You will beg for me later, but I might not be here,” replied Death.
The whispers became light, airy whistles and the wind disappeared. Corey spent the rest of the night awake. Ribbit snuggled in the corner of his arm and brought him comfort.
The next morning Corey expected to see his tormentor, Butch, looking down at him and laughing, but Butch did not appear. Corey was ravenous for food. He wondered how long it took for a person to starve to death.
As he sat on the ledge with Ribbit, he felt a slight draft at his back. Turning, looking through dim light, he saw a place heavy with cobwebs and dead bugs. He pulled at the debris. When he had uncovered the spot, he saw a narrow space between the rocks that had been used to keep the well from collapsing. The well was old, perhaps not as it once was. Corey began to dig at the space with a sharp rock he found on the ledge.
An hour later Corey was able to remove the loose rock. There was a hole behind it that seemed to slant upward. It might be large enough to crawl into, but Corey was hesitant because he did not know where it was going. He would be taking a big risk, but he must do something. Reluctantly, with Ribbit ahead of him, he stuck his head in and began to crawl.
The hole was a little bigger than he had thought. For once in his life, he was glad he was small and wiry. He was able to put his hands and arms in front of him and pull the dirt backward as he went. He wondered if an animal had dug the hole trying to reach water. The area had been in a drought for years.
It seemed that Corey had been digging for hours, and he was exhausted. He knew he must go forward or die where he was. There was no way to return to the ledge. He felt dirt covering the hole behind him as he dug. Ribbit stayed just ahead of him as Corey valiantly kept going.
The soil became dry and hard, and he had to claw at it to get it to move at all. His lack of food made him weak, but he was determined to escape. He had no idea how long he had been digging. The fresh air keeping him alive seemed a little stronger. The hole must have been made years ago. Parts of it were filled with dirt.
Corey dug until he was stopped by a large rock partially blocking the hole to his right. He tried moving it, but it would not budge. He would have to dig around it. A few more inches and he felt another stone on the left side. The earth must have shifted and caused the stones to move into the hole.
Corey wept in despair. One stone might be managed, but two? He fell into an exhausted sleep. As he slept, he heard Death whisper once more.
“Coreee, why don’t you come with me? You are already in your grave. No one will ever find you here. Come with me and you can escape this dark place.” Death kept badgering him until Corey awoke to a rage that consumed him. How dare Death harass him! He was only fifteens years old, and he wanted to live. If Death thought he could be taken so easily, Death was totally wrong.
With strength he did not know he had, Corey gave the first stone a hard upward push. To his great relief it moved about three inches. He pushed again. This time it stood almost upright. That part of the hole was open. Now for the next stone… It was set more firmly in the earth than the first one. It took a great deal of clawing and pushing before he was able to push it out of his way.
He barely managed to squeeze through the opening he had made. Other stones, some of them sharp, made his skin bleed as he moved past them. He did not care. He wanted out! Faithful Ribbit stayed near him, lighting the way.
Another hour of digging, and Corey saw a small area of light. He was almost out! Then it began to rain. Water poured into the hole, almost drowning him. He sputtered and tried to avoid it. It swept around him and finally drained away.
At last Corey approached the top of the hole. He searched in the muck and found Ribbit. He tucked him into his filthy shirt pocket. Corey twisted his way out of the hole. He stood up, an apparition glistening with black mud, three feet behind Butch Barstow, who stood peering into the well. Butch put his hands around his mouth and yelled,
“Hey down there! Did you drown? Where are you?”
“Right behind you, bud” answered Corey. Butch whirled around. When he saw Corey, he took a step back and fell into the well. He climbed onto the ledge.
“HALP!” he cried. “Get me out of here!” Corey watched him for a moment.
“Try the hole,” he suggested. “You can make it.” He thought of Butch’s bulk.
“Or maybe not,” he said.
Two weeks later Butch had eaten as many insects as he could find, both dead and alive. He had caught a frog and had swallowed it, almost choking as it jerked its way down his throat.
That night Death appeared, its hollow voice echoing down the well shaft.
“Butch, come to meee,” it moaned. Butch jerked awake.
“Who’s that?” he whimpered, his nerves on fire from lack of food.
“I am Death, and I am here to help you.” Images swirled through Butch’s mind. It was Dad, come to take him home. Mom was there too, and she had a big basket of fried chicken.
Butch licked his lips. No more hunger and fright. Death drew close and snuggled against him. He welcomed it.
LaVern Spencer McCarthy, has written and published nine books, five of poetry and five of fiction. Her work has appeared in Writers and Readers Magazine, Meadowlark Reader, Agape Review, Fenechty Publications, Metastellar, Down In The Dirt, Mouthfeel, Fresh Words Magazine, Wicked Shadows Press, Midnight Magazine, and others. She is a life member of Poetry Society Of Oklahoma and the National Federation Of State Poetry Societies, Inc, where much of her poetry has been published. She resides in Blair Oklahoma where she is currently writing her sixth book of short stories.