It was the type of day that you could see from anywhere. Ordinary people were doing ordinary things. They drove on ordinary streets, in ordinary cars, or they walked upon ordinary sidewalks going to ordinary jobs. Only one thing was extraordinary about that day, and it was the mad unearthing that was taking place far beneath their innocent soles.
This is where I come in. My name is Hodge the Excavator. Some people call me a digger, but I always tell these ignoble souls that I am much more than a digger. I am not merely wasting my day, burrowing through the ground just to dirty up my precious hands, or to stumble upon some loose change. I excavate the ground to reveal history, to uncover a part of the past that no one has seen before.
Underneath the ground lies centuries of history piled up on each other. Cities that lay upon cites, bones that rest upon bones; catacombs, tombs, and gold; ancient books, pottery, and weapons, these are all part of my life. I live and breathe excavation, as it is the only driving force within me. I loathe anyone who derides my great profession by calling me a digger.
My latest discovery, venturing directly back to that ordinary day, was perhaps my greatest. It was a Tuesday. My colleague Barnes took the day off to go to the beach with his family. It was a decision he would soon regret. Barnes was never the master of making proper decisions. He often reminded me of the fool who kept getting stood up at the altar.
“Never the bride,” I exclaimed as I cleared the soft patch of dirt away from what appeared to be a slab of mortar. Further clearing excited my senses. I had precisely found something!
I had worked diligently all during that day. I was sure Barnes was brainless at the moment I made my discovery. He was probably sipping on a fruity cocktail, relaxing on a lounge chair, while his wife idly built sand castles with little Tammy on the beach. As I covered my mouth and nose from the ancient dust that I had stirred, I could almost hear Barnes’ sappy observation about how there’s nothing better in this world than breathing in the cool ocean breeze. I was tired and could barely stand, and my breath seemed to be playing viscous tricks on me. However my current condition did not bother me in the least. The sweat that retreated from my nose, like rats scurrying away from a spotlight, tasted sweet on my tongue. No drink, not even Barnes’ fruity delight, could ever taste as pleasant as the toil of victory did to my taste buds.
There it stood in front of me in all its glory, an ancient wishing well. My first inclination was to check for coins buried underneath the rubble in the center. Surprisingly, I found not one coin. I examined the surface thoroughly and found many cracks. It was obvious that this structure had not been used for a very long time. I had surmised it had been about two hundred and fifty years old. There was no top or covering for the well, at least within my keen sight. It was not very large; the circumference was only about fifteen feet and the wall was only about eighteen inches high.
Besides its age there was nothing special about the well. Or so I thought. As I was clearing more dirt away from the wall I noticed and inscription on the bottom left of one of the stones. This stone was noticeably darker than the others. I immediately snapped a photo of it. As soon as the flash went off I heard a crack from the inside of my camera. I thought that somehow the film had snapped. I tried to pop open the camera to check on the film, but it seemed to be jammed. I then tried to take another photo but the shutter would not release. I hadn’t time to worry about it then, so I just stored my camera away with the rest of my supplies. I wrote the inscription down, in case I could not retrieve the film in good condition. I took out my pencil and wrote down the letters.
A S A P, Wish Well Will Grant.
“As soon as possible?” I thought. I highly doubted that that acronym was used that many years ago. I resolved to decipher it at a later time.
Barnes and I had spent almost two weeks under the floors of old St. Peter’s church. We had convinced the Senior Pastor, Father McBride, to allow us to excavate there. He had only two conditions: that we split with the church any profits from any valuable findings, and that we only dig from the back rooms of the church, as to keep the appearance of the church intact for its parishioners. After I corrected the unenlightened man of the cloth that we were excavators and not diggers, Barnes and I agreed to his conditions.
Just two days into our venture we had found a buried passageway. It was located under a large closet in the rectory’s office. We walked down the passage and found that it connected St. Peter’s to another church. Father McBride had heard stories that St. Peter’s was built on top of another church. “St. Andrew’s, if I recall correctly,” the old man seemed strained by our questioning. He promised to search through church records to find out more about it’s history, but Barnes and I were more interested in our foray into St. Peter’s under belly than we were with the history of it. Much of what we found over the next week was useless. It seemed it was mostly cleared out before they built St. Peter’s on top of it. We did happen to find an old Bible, which Barnes and Father McBride seemed more intrigued by than I did. My indifference seemed to irritate the old pastor.
Most of our searches came up empty until I found the wishing well. At first I did not realize how valuable the well was, but I knew instantly that I wanted to keep my finding away from Barnes’ prying eyes, at least until I explored the surroundings a bit more. Perhaps there were valuable items nearby. If we had found anything as a team Barnes would insist on keeping up our end of the bargain with Father McBride, unfortunately the sod was born with too many scruples. So I had to find a way to keep Barnes away from it. I was not so worried about Father McBride, as he had not even stepped one foot into the upstairs closet since we began our journey. He hardly paid attention to what we did below during the day. I had the sense that he was aggravated by my presence, but he was being very careful not to lash out. Any information that we needed to convey, or to acquire from him, was done so by Barnes. This arrangement seemed ideal for both the pastor and I.
As it was, Barnes was the only one for me to worry about. Before I left that night I knew I had to devise a plan and put it in motion, as surely Barnes would be with me the very next morning, unless of course he got wiped away by a massive tidal wave at the beach.
I had discovered the well under a room in the basement of the old church. Barnes and I had been searching the basement walls for soft spots that may have led to other rooms or passageways. After we failed to find anything, we decided to concentrate our efforts on a small sectioned-off room that was in the back northwest corner of the basement. Inside the room there hung an elaborate wood panel with many intricate carvings on it. There were eleven carvings altogether and at the bottom of the panel there were ten Indian numbers carved out up to ten. I wondered if the numbers corresponded to the above carvings, even though they were unequaled in numbers.
I still remember with great detail all eleven carvings. There was the boy who flew a kite. There was a couple holding hands. There was a man kneeling in prayer. There was a girl cupping a bird in her hands. There was a man smiling under the sun. There was an old woman surrounded by smiling children. There was a man jumping over what appeared to be a bucket. There was another couple holding hands sitting next to each other under a tree. There was an old man whom appeared to be dead with an angel floating above him. There was a dinner table that a family of four sat around. And finally there was a man who held a string of pearls up to the sky.
For nights after I first saw the panel I would have dreams about the different carvings. Each night a different image would come to me while I was deep in slumber. For ten days straight days we cleared further and further down and each night I dreamt more vividly of one of the carvings. The night before my discovery, which was the tenth night, I dreamed of the man smiling under the sun. The man, upon first inspection, was genuinely happy. It put me instantly at ease. As I walked closer to the man his mouth became distorted. It wasn’t until I was nose to nose with him that I noticed that his teeth were black. His smile had disappeared and then he abruptly laughed. Suddenly everything became dark. I searched for a light and upon flipping a random switch I was confronted by a mirror. The image in the mirror was a blank face. I screamed and then woke up in a cold sweat. It was the first of the dreams that had grown into a nightmare. It did not deter me the next day however.
There was no flooring in the room, only dirt. Being the master excavator that I am, I decided to put our shovels to work. Barnes, my trustworthy tagalong, readily agreed. He worked hard the first few days, but the more fruitless hours that passed us by the more he became frustrated. Until eventually he took a day off. I was hoping I could use this frustration to my advantage in keeping him away from the well.
The position of the well was such that it appeared it was left for no one ever to find. The room was larger than I had originally thought, not in width or length, but rather in depth. About ten feet from the well was a landing, out of which a half destroyed wooden step eerily grew. Apparently there use to be steps leading down to the well from the top of the room where the wood panel was. The former owners probably destroyed the steps and possibly the flooring above, and then proceeded to fill the resulting hole with dirt. Why they wanted to hide the well from the rest of the world, I don’t know. This mystery only intensified my thirst for discovery.
The room was about fifty feet deep, and I had a bit of trouble trying to latch my rope onto the bottom rung of the make shift ladder Barnes and I had built. It was when I looked up that I realized how far down I had to come on that day; the bottom of the ladder was about twenty feet above my head. This led me to believe that my deception of Barnes must include a diversion. Concealing the well would be challenging enough, but trying to hide how much I had cleared out would be impossible. The bottom four corners of the room held the evidence; four large mountains of dirt grew out of the ground. It was Himalayan heaven for the ugly rats.
I sat on the floor with my back to the well, my rope to safety dangled precariously over my head. I was in deep thought when I heard a noise. It sounded much like the crack that came from the camera earlier. I searched my bag and found my camera, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I decided again to take a photo of the well. This time the shutter worked and the flash went off. As the well lit up I once again heard a loud crack. This was the loudest one yet. I knew that if anyone had been in St. Peter’s church that they would have heard the noise. Once again my camera would not work, nor could I open it.
The hours grew late. I decided that I would cover the well with tarp, which I had to climb back up to get, and then lightly cover it with dirt, so that if light was flashed on it from above it would appear to be nothing more than the same old dirt we had been poking away at day after day. I would have to do the same with the landing. I would apply enough dirt on top of the tarp so that it would look convincing, but not enough so that it would cave in or take me a long time to get rid of when I began reinvestigating.
Before I covered the well up I decided to make a wish. I did this as an afterthought, like I would when I was a teenager leaving church, casually dipping my fingers into the holy water on my way out the door. This afterthought would prove both beneficial and costly in the days to come. I tossed a shiny nickel into the dry well and wished that people would respect me. The nickel stood out, like a lone star shining in the deep dark night. It glistened over the murky pile of rubble that I was about to cover. It was the last I’d see of that nickel.
I emptied the room of the makeshift ladder and all of our supplies. I had to convince Barnes that the room was no longer worth our efforts. Considering his recent frustrations he may have easily agreed, but I was not in the mood to take chances. By morning I would have devised a new venture for us.
Upstairs in the rectory office of St. Peters I was surprised to see Father McBride. What was more astonishing was that he greeted me like we were old friends. He offered me a cup of Irish brew. I casually declined.
I was about to leave when he mentioned that he had some information that he would like to share with Barnes and me in the morning.
“Why wait until the morning?” I said with an ingenious smile, “What type of coffee is that again, Father?”
Father McBride was rather excited to relay to me what he found out about St. Andrew’s; in fact he even complimented me a few times on the work I was doing. For this, I was as patient with him as possible, as he took his time in revealing his findings. What made the exchange even rougher was that he seemed insistent on interjecting a few personal stories. A couple of times I subtly prompted him to pick up the pace. He was never the wiser. I was in need of information, as long as it had use to me, unfortunately much of what he said was useless. To make use of the time I had him follow me to the rest room where I could wash up while he rambled on.
“Apparently the famous novelist Dr. Bernard Wills had been a parishioner at St. Andrew’s for three summers in his late teens,” Father McBride grinned as I wiped my wet hands with a towel.
“You do say,” I replied casually, knowing this could be something of use.
“Yes, I do enjoy his books, especially the one about the rabbit and,”
“So what else do you know about the doctor’s time here?” I interrupted blatantly, as I cared not for his opinion of the doctor’s books, especially considering that I would have disagreed with him on the matter.
The friendly card had finally arrived, and not a minute to soon. It was shortly after one in the morning when the yawning pastor told me that he suspected Dr. Bernard Wills had started his famous novel, Birds, somewhere here in town. And who knows, possibly right below our feet at St. Andrews. I knew that I could use this somehow in my plan, knowing full well there was little chance of finding any traces of his works anywhere nearby. And even if there were, I would consider it worthless.
The pastor was sad to see me go as I bid him adieu. I was concerned about his change of demeanor around me. Inconsistent people worried me to no end.
“I’m a big fan of his!” Barnes told me at breakfast on Wednesday morning. I somehow suspected this. What I did not expect was how cheery Barnes was toward me.
“You must have had a great day at the beach my dear friend,” I winked.
“There’s nothing like the breathing in the ocean air,” he said, while I winced.
The plan was to have Barnes spend the day asking locals about their knowledge of the doctor’s time spent in the town. I instructed him to talk to as many people as possible, the older the better, and to gather as much information as possible. Then he was to report back to me at five o’clock at the Old Towne Tavern. I was to spend the day at the office reading up on our good doctor.
To my delight he accepted his assignment. In the past Barnes had often questioned my projects, or more so my authority. In all actuality we were partners, but I tried to take control as much as possible and he in turn resisted, claiming that his mind was as sound as mine. In reality his mind was as sound as a jesters and there was no way I could trust my fate in the hands of a jester.
At the church Father McBride had arranged for two of the other pastors to meet me. Father Downing and Father Kelly were both friendly men, but I had no time to sit and chat with them. The three of them were overzealous in expressing their gratitude for my work. I hurried their compliments along, but they were persistent. I became quite annoyed with them and said something that I was sure would get them moving along. I cannot quite recall what it was, but to my delight it worked.
It did not dawn on me until I was walking down the passageway to St. Andrew’s that it was perhaps my wish that had sent everyone into this mad frenzy of praise. Could it have been true?
A well is but a well. For if you wish into it, you might as well wish into the garbage. Neither can grant a wish! My mind must have deceived me for even thinking the thought. Oh, how I wish my mind would respect me as much as the jester and the three fathers did.
The first thing I noticed after uncovering the well was that my nickel was gone. In disbelief I started digging down into the well. I expected to find the bottom about in level with the floor, but I was wrong. The hole kept going. All the while I was searching for my nickel or perhaps something greater.
One day became two days and then it was three, and the hole in the basement of St. Andrew’s became deeper and deeper. It was as deep as the praise that was coming my direction. Father McBride and Barnes would talk me into a coma about the no good doctor during dinner. How happy they were to find out that Mrs. Collier on Eighth Street knew that her grandmother had went on walks with him during the summer of twenty-one, and that Mr. Nelson at Weatherby Park said that his father told him stories about how the young Wills often meditated under the park’s oldest oak tree, suggesting that perhaps this was the inspiration for the magical tree he wrote about in Birds. It was maddening! However it was no more annoying than Barnes’ insistency on picking up the check at dinner, or the fact that we secured the Old Towne’s VIP table, or the fair waitress who kept dishing me extra scoops of vanilla ice cream. This went on for three straight nights.
By Saturday I had resolved myself to the fact that the well had granted me my wish. I had not yet found the nickel. The hole was over twenty feet deep and the rat-mountains expanded so greatly that they took command of the room. I was exhausted.
While Father Kelly held a service upstairs at St. Peter’s that night, I sat in the back room of St. Andrew’s basement and stared at the carvings on the wood panel. I knew they had to do with the well and most likely the wishes. The more I looked at it the more I admired the artist for the fine detail that was in each of the images. My favorite was the man who held the string of pearls. He wore a robe of gold and held the pearls to the sky. His eyes were closed but his expression was solid, definitively sure that he had made solid choices throughout his life. I figured that this image depicted a man who wished for riches. He may have been one of the ten people whose wish got granted. I supposed that the ten Indian marking represented the ten people who made wishes that came true, and I wondered which one of the eleven images represented the unlucky sap whose wish failed to come true. I doubted that it was my man with the pearls. If I had to guess it would have been the silly man who was jumping over the bucket.
It excited me that I could have been only the twelfth person to make a wish into the well, and I was somewhat proud that I made the record eleven out of twelve, even though the wish granted to me turned out to be a little overwhelming. I imagined that if I were alive when the wishing well was in its glory days, the skilled carver would have carved me on the panel. I would be dressed in a three-piece suit and a couple of men would be kneeling in my presence. This thought reminded me to take a picture of the panel.
I got out my camera hoping for better luck than I had with the well. I was able to restore my camera to its earlier form but the film was all chopped up. I held my breath and snapped. The flash went off and the shutter released. Again I snapped quickly with the same results. There were no loud noises and the camera still worked. I was satisfied.
Since my camera seemed to be in working order, I decided to take a chance and photograph the well again. This time I was successful, at least in not breaking the camera. I was excited as I photographed the discolored stone and the inscription. It was the final shot on that roll of film. Things were starting to look up for me.
Before I covered the well that evening I made another wish, except this time not with a nickel. Searching through my pockets I found a quarter. I flipped it into the air and it fell more than twenty feet down into the dark depths of the well. I had wished for riches. Bucket loads of respect may have been too much for me to swallow, but buckets of gold could never dampen my spirits. As I covered the well I looked down the hole and wondered if I would ever see the quarter again.
Upon finishing my work I climbed the ladder back to the basement of St. Andrew’s. As I looked up toward the carvings I noticed a marking underneath the front side of the panel. Carved into the wood were the words: Applaud Saint Andrew’s Presence.
A S A P, I thought. Applaud Saint Andrew’s presence and the wishing well will grant your wish? The thought lingered in mind, much like the ladder of my well hung over the deep dark hole I created. I had never once applauded St. Andrew’s presence. Although I figured that he gave me a standing ovation every time that I shined my light into the darkness of his home.
On my walk home that evening the moon lurked over my shoulder like a vulture waiting to feast. It may have been full, but I could not tell, as I was afraid to look at it. I had usually been enamored with the night; it had always been kind to my thoughts. Some of my greatest ideas had come long after the sun went down. Unfortunately on this evening I had the sense that the night was laughing at me, or perhaps watching over me like I had done something wrong. I walked briskly home.
By the time I reached my apartment complex I felt terribly ill. My stomach was turning and my head felt like I had been hanging upside down for the past few hours. I planned on retiring immediately to bed when I reached my apartment. Mr. Happ, my landlord, had other ideas. He happened to be walking through the hallway on the second floor when he stopped me with regrettable news.
“Mr. Hodge,” the big-bellied man bellowed at me, “I need a moment of your time please.”
“What is it?” I replied rolling my eyes.
“Well unfortunately I am raising your rent after your lease expires next month.”
“What?” I interjected.
“No worries, I am sure you will be able to handle it Mr. Hodge, it’s only two hundred dollars more per month,” he grinned, “and since you are doing very well in your profession I am sure it will be no problem.”
I shook my aching head and unlocked my front door.
“Would you like to come up for a cup of coffee Mr. Hodge?” Mr. Happ asked as I shut the door on him. Of all times to invite me up for coffee, this had to been the worst, it was bordering on cruel. His sudden unpredictability rivaled that of Barnes, and it made me feel more unpleasant than I already was. The last thing I did before going to bed was vomit.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling worse than I did when I went to sleep. It did not help that I had a nightmare about the man jumping over the bucket. We were in a large field and the man was showing me, Barnes and Father McBride how easy it was to jump over the bucket. He must have jumped it ten times. Then it was our turn. Barnes and McBride both cleared the bucket with ease. Then all focus was pointed toward me. I was terrified as I approached the bucket. Barnes and McBride had their arms crossed and they watched over me intensely. I tried many times to jump the bucket, but every single time I tripped over it. I was helpless. The ensuing pit left in my stomach was what drove me out of my sleep.
The next morning I threw away the plastic cleaning bucket that I kept underneath my kitchen sink. I actually smashed it to pieces before I trashed it. I was beginning to despise buckets. I was pretty confident that I could survive without it.
On my way to the church that morning I dropped off my film to be developed at the camera store. The clerk that morning was Jasmine, a young red haired girl who usually was short with me. She was quite talkative that morning, asking me how things were going and what adventures I had been on lately. On this occasion it was me that was brusque, as I was with the customer behind me who claimed that he recognized me from St. Peter’s Church. He asked if I was going to church this morning.
“Perhaps,” I winced as I felt a sting in my belly.
I was not happy to find out that the price to develop a roll of film had went up since the last time I stopped in, but I was in no condition to object. My wish for riches had not started off too well.
“Jones,” said the voice behind me. I turned. “Harry Jones is the name,” he said extending his hand. I turned back to Jasmine, nodded, and then left the store.
“Jones!” I cried to myself on the way to St. Peter’s. I was so winded when I got to the church that I sat down in a pew before heading to the back. There was a service already in progress. The old woman I sat next to smiled at me, as if I was her brother. I found it odd the Father Kelly was performing the service. In the short time I had been excavating at St. Peter’s it was always Father McBride who held the services on Sunday. Perhaps the old pastor was ill, or maybe he was off gallivanting with Barnes this morning trying to dig up more of Doctor Will’s dull past. What fools they were!
Looking around I counted as many bored faces as I did attentive ones. It was obvious some of the people were there against their will, especially the children and the men. It reminded me of when I was coerced into attending mass every week with my mother. I’d give her, and God, one hour a week and she’d give me my allowance. I still have not forgiven her. Why people would take this much time to worship a deity they cannot see was beyond me. They seemed so preoccupied with the afterlife that they forgot about living in the now. Although the now that was presented to me on that fateful Sunday morning was making me sick. I felt like a scared child surrounded by clowns.
My colleague Barnes once told me that I had no feelings, no compassion for anyone or anything. He always teased me saying that I was inhuman. My thoughts often regurgitated this conversation at the oddest times. As I watched a boy of about twelve fidgeting around in the pew to the left of me, Barnes’ words smacked me again, right between the eyes, like a pickaxe obliterating a large clump of dirt into a million pieces.
My compassion, dear Barnes, does exist for the boy who knows nothing of the painful life that is in store for him. He does not yet understand what it is to be human. He has not yet suffered with the same dreaded thoughts day in and day out, and has not yet seen those same thoughts expressed, so clearly, on the faces of others; they are the faces of sordid people, the ones we are told to love and to respect. We are told to ignore their shortcomings for the better of society. By trusting them we become better people. But how can I rightfully put so much faith in them, when they habitually let me down? Yes Barnes, I have feelings! I have compassion for the poor boy, who idly stares into space, not knowing that his very own Mr. Happ waits for him around some random corner, with his gun loaded, ready to raise the rent.
Tears ran down my face as I entered the rectory. I needed work to divert me from my sickness and, more importantly, from my thoughts. However, my diversion turned to madness when I found that my quarter was still sitting in the bottom of the well. Yet my nickel never showed up. I knew that the well, or St. Andrew himself, had rejected my wish. I was doomed to a lifetime of needless respect, and further more, my pot of gold would never be found!
What good was respect without money? The respect had already driven me insane. The well had obviously turned on me.
At the bottom of the worthless pit I sat crying, with my hands in my face. I was thinking of what to do next, when my illness overwhelmed me. My thoughts spun me into a frenzy of delusion. I screamed and kicked. I started hallucinating. I saw the madman and his bucket. He came to me, revealing the contents of the bucket. He showed me dead arms and dead legs. He placed the bloodied bucket down and the kicked it over. Decapitated heads rolled from it. I started hearing loud voices, but I could not understand what they said. And the heads just kept coming, like an endless terrorizing marching band. Finally the voices stopped and I saw Barnes’ head roll directly toward me. I could not scream, nor could I touch it. It was the last thing I remembered before I blacked out.
That night I had dinner with Barnes and McBride, once again at the tavern. They wanted to share some exciting news with me. I ordered a bottle of red wine to calm my nerves.
“Do you remember Mrs. Collier on Eighth Street?” Barnes asked me after we ordered. “Well she found some letters her grandmother had written and it turns out we were able to identify the house that Dr. Wills stayed at during his summer visits.”
“It’s the old brick house, number twenty four, on the corner of Rodney and Choat,” McBride interjected.
“Apparently a friend of the doctor’s aunt lived in the house, and he visited there for three summers,” Barnes continued, “We haven’t been able to find out why.”
“Where does this lead to my friend?” I asked hastily.
“Well we asked the current owner, a Mr. Harry Jones, if he would allow us to search around,” Barnes words frightened me.
Jones I cried on the inside.
“He allowed us into the attic, which he had never searched. And his family had lived there for almost twenty-two years! Anyway we found an old desk and next to it was a pail.”
“You mean a bucket?” I alarmingly interjected.
“Bucket, pail, what’s the difference?” Barnes said as he continued. “Well the bucket was covered with blankets.” I started to sweat as Barnes told his story, and my glass of water was empty.
“Well at the bottom of the bucket,” Barnes said giddily, “were neatly tied papers. Father McBride and I had found three unpublished short stories, written by none other than Dr. Wills!”
McBride and Barnes were jolly. I had to take deep breaths to keep from passing out. Why a bucket? Why Jones? The waiter finally brought me some water.
“My favorite of the stories,” McBride turned his head to Barnes and said, “was The Wishing Well.”
The horror! The decapitated heads reappeared right before me. They rolled off my plate and smacked into the floor. I needed a bucket to throw-up in.
After I came to, Barnes and McBride suggested that I visit the hospital. They even offered to walk me there. I refused. Before I left the tavern Barnes informed me that he would no longer be working with me, and his resignation was effective immediately. He apologized and wished me well, but he was doing what was best for him and his family. He, Father McBride and Mr. Jones were going to tell the world their story and get the writings published, with the permission of the doctor’s descendants.
“I would love for you to come along Hodge,” Barnes said, “but I figure you love your work too much, and well,” he hesitated, “How is that well coming anyway?”
How did Barnes know about the well? He was smiling and gracious but I knew he was mocking me the whole time. And McBride, he was no less innocent, he probably led Barnes to the well. They probably stole my nickel!
I wandered the streets that night in a state of disarray. I wondered how everything had turned so bleak. I asked the night what trusting face would help me now. Was I not worthy of compassion? I knew there was no one who could help me but myself. In my life it had always came to that, no matter how hard they tried to convince me otherwise.
It was Monday. By mid-afternoon I had convinced myself that I only needed two things to get on with my life; my sanity and for people to leave me alone. I thought about moving away. But that would only create more problems, and surely my insanity would follow me. I’d end up being just another well-respected lunatic, albeit in a different town surrounded by different fools. This did not appeal to me.
I needed a quick fix and I was willing to take my chances with the well again. I had thought heavily about my hallucinations and my nightmares. Was the well trying to tell me something? Perhaps it craved more than pocket change. My hunch was that it was asking for a bigger sacrifice.
It was that evening that I planned my revenge on Barnes and McBride. I would get each of them to the well and then hit them over the head with a shovel. I would do them both in. Then I’d toss them into the well and make my wishes.
“McBride for sanity!” I exclaimed as I cleared the well of my belongings.
“Barnes for peace!” I yelled as I placed the shovel, my instrument of death, next to the well.
I decided not to kill them together in case I ran into resistance. So I planned to kill McBride first. I figured my sanity might come in handy while killing Barnes, whereas I only needed the shovel and my two hands to do away with the feeble McBride.
“Barnes for peace,” I thought during the whole conversation where I tricked Barnes into coming to the well.
“I found something very interesting down there,” I told him, “It concerns your good doctor. Can you meet me there in the morning?”
“Sure!” Barnes replied, “Father McBride and I can be there at nine.” I could always count on Barnes to trust me.
I waited a few hours before calling on McBride, as to give Barnes enough time to contact him. I called McBride later that night and asked if I could see him in person. He had heard the news from Barnes, so he obliged.
“But why tonight, without Barnes?” he asked.
“Well I am concerned about him and how he may handle the news,” I replied, “I needed to warn you. And since you are a man of the cloth, I would ask you for some advice.”
It was not quite the answer he expected, as he became silent on the other end.
“Is it bad?” he asked.
“I’ll see you in thirty minutes,” I said right before I hung up the phone.
“McBride for sanity!” During my walk to the church, the thought circled around my brain like a whirlpool full of rocks. The faster I walked the louder it got. It was deafening by the time I reached the steps of St. Peter’s. I started to sweat as I approached the door. I was anxious for revenge.
No one was at the church or in the offices at that late hour. It would be easy pickings for me. I convinced Father McBride to follow me down to the well. I told him that I should show him first, and then we would discuss how to reveal the news to Barnes. I saw dread in the poor pastor’s face.
“McBride for sanity!” I heard a murmur as I led him down the passageway.
“McBride for sanity!” it got louder as we entered St. Andrew’s.
“So tell me, McBride,” I started as we walked toward the basement steps, “How did you and Barnes find out about the well?”
“Mr. Hodge,” he replied nervously, “please call me Father McBride.”
“Sorry,” I smirked behind him as we walked down the basement steps.
“You mean to tell me Mr. Hodge, that you don’t remember telling Father Downing, Father Kelly and me on the morning I introduced you to them?”
“McBride for sanity!” the voice screamed at me. My mind had been playing tricks on me for longer than I thought.
As soon as we entered the back room I grabbed a hold of McBride and threw him down into the abyss. I was sure that the fall had at least knocked him out. I climbed down the ladder and grabbed my shovel. McBride was sprawled out on the floor. There was blood pouring from his head, he must have hit a rock. I smacked him in the head with the shovel over and over again.
“McBride for sanity!” I yelled as I dumped his lifeless body into the well.
“Please Saint Andrew! Grant me my sanity! For man must live with his mind in the right!”
Half of my deed was done. I had assumed that it was the easier half. I sat down next to the well to rest.
Dirt surrounded me. Everywhere I turned there was more and more of it. My very existence was dirt. With each breath I became more entrenched in my nuptials with the sacred soil. It was the same soil that many other men took for granted. Even fools could not live without being grounded. Without dirt there is no ground, and without ground, there is no earth. Yet men continually spit on the ground, making a mockery of their lives. Man by nature is dirty, but very few acknowledge this. I am one of the few who has reached this higher calling. I am fully comfortable living in my pile of filth, no matter how bad I smell to the rest of the world.
Freedom had never been so close to me as it was on that night. I closed my eyes and breathed freely. I was liberated from pain. I belonged where I was, in the ground amongst rats.
The softest dream came to me. My mother wore a string of pearls. She gently danced with me. She whispered in my ear, “Everything is alright my boy, you will be safe soon. I promise, you will be safe soon.” I cried in her arms.
I awoke to hear Barnes saying, “There he is officer.”
It turned out that sanity was more dangerous to me than insanity. My sane mind had allowed me to sleep the whole night through.
Barnes cried as they took me away. I felt sorry for the poor fool.
And now I relay this story to you from my prison cell. I complete this tale on a most ordinary day in the pen. I was given a small breakfast of jam on toast and a glass of water. Then I was allowed to the gym where I could lift weights. After my paltry lunch, I was back in my cell with a pen and paper.
It is now that I look forward to another chapter of my life, the one that will begin with my escape from this prison. In the corner of my cell there is a crack in the floor. From under that crack is where my digging will begin. It will be my biggest dig yet, one that will lead me back to freedom.
As I lay down on my cot to plan my escape, I hear the janitor’s keys rattling. I look over to see his bucket being pushed along by his mop. He is now standing in front of my cell looking at me in awe.
“Mr. Hodge, how very nice to see you today!”