Author Thursdays: Chapter One
Once upon a time in a homely village high up in the mountains there was a well. It wasn’t a wishing well. It wasn’t a well that was used for water. For good or for bad this was a well full of anger, the town’s anger to be exact. Every month the townspeople gathered in the ragged clearing behind the cemetery to purify themselves with the well. Over the years the well had seen murderous thoughts, petty thievery, greed, jealousy, and many, many tears of spite. And over time the well had grown black with the mold of disgust that crept slowly up its smoothed stones.
Zos held his mother’s hand tightly. He was afraid. He could feel a terrifying pit of darkness coming from the well. It called to him, saying, “Zosimos, come close and peer into my depths. I want you. I need you.” Zos tried to back up but he was still connected to Chalysta, as if the lifeline between mother and child still existed. She scowled and yanked on his arm,
“It is time, Zosimos. You too are not exempt from anger. The town must be cleansed and you along with it.” She pulled him forward as she spoke.
They were standing in a line, waiting for the rest of the townsfolk to take their turn. Zos shuffled his feet and sucked in a breath of cold air. Even the air tasted black with turmoil. Zos felt lightheaded and dark-feelinged. He wanted so desperately to run off into the forest. It was right there, just beyond the well. His legs were short but if he took off his mother would be too surprised to run right after him and he could make it. He was just about to risk abandoning her when she yanked again on his arm and there they were.
“Zosimos.” The well whispered his name.
Zos ignored the call and instead concentrated on his task. He knew what he had to do. He gathered all his negative thoughts and imagined them traveling from his extremities inward to his torso and upwards through his body until they reached his head. He gathered himself and leaned over the well to expel them.
“Zos-“ He heard the well begin to pull him forward. “-imos.”
“No.” he whispered back as he tumbled into such a torrid place of anger that even closing his eyes couldn’t shut out the nightmares of 50 years’ worth of crippling energy and blinding fury.
Zos couldn’t see how his mother grappled for his arm again but in her haste and the well’s hurry, his hand slipped through hers. The townsfolk stepped back in fear and confusion. In all the months and in all the years, no one had ever fallen into the well.
For several moments too long Chalysta, the mother of the fallen child wailed and for several moments too long the people of the town stood still and watched. Then, even Chalysta was silent, and then they waited. A great fog began to roll in unannounced and smothered the feet of the onlookers, coiling around shoes like untied laces. The sky began to darken. In that moment there came a sound from the well.
“Help.” Zos yelped, the tears from his tightly shut eyes creeping down his face. Miraculously he felt no broken bones or hurt of any kind on his skin. His body felt stronger than it ever had. However, his mind felt in turmoil, a great blackness attempting to sheath his thoughts and overpower his self. “Help!” He cried louder. He opened one eye and barely spotted the light at the top of the well, worlds away from him. He didn’t want to be consumed by the darkness. “Help me.” He whispered feebly and shut his eyes once more, wishing it were just as easy to shut out the well.
Chalysta sprang into action. Her baby was hurt but he had spoken. He was alive! He must be rescued. She looked right and left in a panic. Rope. This was an abandoned well, not a place one would find usable tools. She spotted the mayor of the town, sliding backwards on his heel. His unease plain on his face. She turned to him, like a lion cornering a rabbit.
“We need rope.” She spoke, her words succinct.
“C-certainly.” He chattered back with a false smile. What went into the well was not supposed to come back out, ever.
One of the older children shouted, “I’ll get rope.” And took off.
Chalysta ran back over to the mouth of the well.
“Zosimos!?” She called down, careful not to touch any part of the rock or even the moss blackening its surface.
“Mother!” Zos cried feebly. He felt weaker and less able to block the well’s efforts. It was going to win. It would have him. It needed him. He could feel it. Its presence was overwhelming and its negative energy reeked of power. How could he stop it?
Rope was tossed at Chalysta’s feet. The boy peered at her apologetically and then hurried back several feet. They were all wary of the well but it was her baby down there! “Help me!” She implored the citizens of a town without anger, without depression, without antagonism. They stared at their toes in shame but stayed in their places, well away from the terror in front of them.
Then one small girl, no more than five, the minimum age to begin the ritual, came forward. She held out a hand and chalysta hesitated only a moment before handing the end of the rope to the tiny girl. The girl, though petite, in that moment seemed strong. She was assured of herself and of doing what was right. She hadn’t noticed the petty actions of the townspeople. She was pure and good.
The rope uncoiled downward. The well tried to expel it but gravity was a powerful master and the rope eventually came to rest on the boy’s head. He did not know what had touched him but he felt that it was a power that matched the well’s and he grasped its end. The rope whispered to him now, much like the well had done, only the words were of encouragement and not ownership.
“Tie me around your waist.” The rope instructed him and he obeyed lifelessly, for he was lost in the foils of his own mind, being put to sleep by the command of the well. He didn’t hear the desperate pleas of his mother, trying to tell him that she loved him and would save him and that everything would be alright. He only felt a sliver of goodness trying to poke at him from the fibers of the rope but his body had tightened against any assault of goodness. He had been taken by the well and marked by it. He was now and forever its embodiment, its face.
Chalysta yanked on the rope and felt resistance. She indicated to the girl that all was ready and slowly they began to heave up on the rope. Chalysta was in tears, fearing the worst and hoping for the best. He must be conscious. He must be well. The girl, Alcina was her name, was pursing her lips in effort. She pulled with all her undeveloped muscles. She felt sorry for the poor distraught mother.
Alcina’s mother was also distraught. Her child was close, too close to the well and the same disaster that had befallen Chalysta’s child could befall her own dear girl. She wanted desperately to leap forward and grab Alcina in a great bear hug but feared getting too near the well herself. Instead, she stared with fear at her daughter.
An eternity passed as the rope crept slowly out of the well. Finally, Zos appeared, his eyes still shut tightly. He wasn’t moving and didn’t try to climb out of the midst of the well. Chalysta pasued for a moment but forgot her fear of the well and grabbed for her son, brushing her hands against the soiled surface of the well in the process. Dark tendrils of dirt leapt onto her hands like static electricity. She paid it no mind but pulled Zos into her arms, the rope still trailing off his waist. He was covered, head to toe in dirt that coiled around his body like veins. Alcina dropped the now useless rope in her hands and stepped back to give mother and son space. Alcina was snatched from behind as her own mother gathered her up. Alcina felt comforted. Her mother felt differently, she wanted to keep her daughter away from the boy. She had a bad feeling about him. It was more than the dirt that caked his skin, he was now soiled on the inside.
Now that the incident had passed, the townsfolk carefully finished up their monthly ritual, each person in turn taking a turn and spitting into the well. Unlike before, they did not feel like they were ridding themselves of troubles and ill will alike. The anger still clutched to their minds and bodies. They felt uneasy. What had occurred here today? Would life return to normal tomorrow? The mayor certainly hoped so. He did not want to be the mayor of a town in turmoil. That was not his job. His job was not to reconcile differences or to act as a mediator in the middle of conflict. There was no conflict! At least, there wasn’t supposed to be.
Slowly the mob of villagers drifted apart to head back into town. There was much to be done and the ones who had not made it out would also need to make the lengthy trek to the edge of town for the monthly ritual.
Chalysta half-carried her child. He plodded along methodically beside her, not seeing what was in front of them, not caring. Chalysta was worried but also frightened as the realization of what had happened hit her. She was not unlike the villagers in her founded fear of the well. It was a sinister pit that must be regarded carefully and yet Zos had touched its heart and she its outer extremity. She looked at her hands, the dirt almost as much a part of her skin as the angel kisses that dotted her arms. In that moment she felt desperate to wash herself and rid herself of these marks. She reached over and picked up Zos. She had never struggled to carry him before but he was heavier than she remembered, more solid and real. Whenever his sickness had overtaken his physical body in the past, Chalysta had to carry him home and care for him. It was different this time. She was holding him for comfort and he was letting her hold him because at the moment he was indifferent. Chalysta sensed that he did not and never would need to be carried again. Somehow he had found his manly strength, in the span of that one incident, and had grown up.
The mayor hurried back into town. He was anxious to check the town records. This incident was unprecedented for all that he knew, but he had only been the mayor for a few short years. Perhaps something like this had occurred in a previous mayor -ship and he could reference the records to figure out how to proceed.
“Back so soon? Is everything alright?” The mayor’s secretary leaned over her desk to peer at him.
“I need the Book of Incidents, Marina.” The mayor said curtly in his best no nonsense voice.
“A new incident? That hasn’t occurred in over seven months!” Marina stood up in shock. Her hands shook as she skittered out of the entranceway and to the back room. She had all but forgotten about the ritual. She had stayed behind from the main cleansing but she only had until sundown to make her way out to the lonely well. If she waited too long, it would be all but deserted and she did not fancy finding herself alone with all that evil.
The mayor settled into his plush chair and stared up at the grandfather clock that graced the mantelpiece. If he concentrated he could hear its faint ticking. The sound was unnerving so he tried to distract himself by thinking about the last mayor.
The last mayor, like all the mayors who had been elected before him, had been an excellent ruler. He was lauded by all the townsfolk, a man to look up to. He ruled the town through a great and lasting peace.
“Here Mr. Mayor.” Marina set the overly large tome down on the mayor’s desk.
The mayor opened up the book with awe and an appropriate level of respect. This book set the guidelines for any future precedents. Whatever had been the ruling for previous incidents was taken as more than just advice for any future similar or same incidents.
A small spider came scurrying out from between the pages and ran to the edge of the mayor’s desk and disappeared over the side.
First order of business was to document the incident that had just occurred. The mayor pulled out his quill and paused, poised above the page. He must write it out just so. Future mayors might read his report. Finally he scribbled down as precisely as he could, what had occurred,
Incident occurred at the well
Incident occurred at approximately 10:30 in the morning
Zosimos, son of Chalysta fell into the well. Chalysta and Alcina retrieved him using a piece of rope. Zosimos appeared conscious after retrieval. Evaluations of his physical and mental well being to be completed by tomorrow afternoon.
Zos traipsed dirt through the house. Caked pieces fell off his body in specks. He walked down the hall and bumped into the corner in his daze. He left a smudge mark on the wall but that didn’t faze him and he continued on his way to the back of the house. He went into the bathroom and turned on the water.
“You okay in there?” Chalysta called from the back room.
Zos opened his mouth to shout back but no sound came out. He strained his vocal cords, fighting with some inner beast.
“Fine.” The word blurred with the effort he put in to get it out. It petered and died but Chalysta was still able to hear it.
“I’ll be in the kitchen making dinner, just holler if you need me.” She called back, her words stretched with the strain of a mother worried about her child.
Zos didn’t bother fighting with that inner demon to reply. He checked the water temperature cascading in the shower with the back of his hand. It felt fine but reflexively he stuck a foot into the waterfall. Again, reflexively he turned down the temperature and without waiting for the temperature to change he stepped in delicately.
Steam erupted out of the top of the shower. Zos maneuvered the shower head and tilted his head back, letting the cascade of water flow down, sticking his hair to his head. The water pooled around his feet, a dark and murky puddle. Zos grabbed the loofa mchanically and squirted some of the liquid soap into it. He scratched at the remaining dirt clinging to his body in swirls and patterns. Zos scrubbed harder, digging the loofa angrily into his skin, now trying to cleanse the memory of sitting helpless in the well, covered in the soot of thousands of unhappy people. The etched lines of filth wouldn’t come off his skin. Zos frantically threw down the loofa and clawed at one of the rivulets on his arm. A droplet of blood erupted like a miniature volcano, mingling with the water that continually washed over him. Zos grasped his other arm and held it up to his face, peering at the lines noodling in between his soft arm hairs. The dirt was seamless with his skin, like it was a part of his coloring. But it wasn’t. Zos rubbed the spot and felt no bumps or eruptions. This was his skin, felt like it, even smelled like it. Yet, like sidewalk cracks, his skin was now swirled with an ashy brown coloring.
Chalysta began preparations for dinner. First, she brought out all the ingredients and herbs and pots and pans she needed to make the meal. She had almost forgotten to wash her hands! She had just been all over town and had even touched that blasted well, her hands were most likely riddled with germs. She went over to the sink and turned on the water, wetting her hands. It was then that she noticed the deep lines slinking across the palms of her hands. In her life Chalysta had worked hard and her hands reflected her ethic. They looked ten years older than she did, darker and more wrinkled than they should be. However, Chalysta thought that the lines were more pronounced, darker even. She poured some of the heavy duty dish soap onto her hands and rubbed them together. She wondered how Zos was, he must be extra cowed after his experience earlier. He was always a sickly child and had only recently begun to fill out and grow taller. Chalysta reflected on Zos as an infant as she scrubbed her hands and rinsed them off. She shook them solidly and then turned them toward her to inspect her work.
“What in the…!?” Chalysta shouted in surprise. The lines had darkened, like all her blood vessels along the fault lines of her palms had burst under her skin. She gingerly poked at one of the lines but felt only the normal amount of pressure. It wasn’t blood then, or a bruise. It wasn’t dirt, eithor, for her hands were now clean.
Zos turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. He shivered as the cold air hit his body, even though oddly he didn’t feel cold at all. He grabbed a towel and brushed off the droplets of water, letting them catch within the fibers of the grey towel. Zos shut his eyes and shook his head and then tousled it firmly in the towel. He dropped the towel on the floor and grabbed for the clean set of clothes his mother had set on the shelf. He dressed quickly and then brushed his hair. He stood in front of the mirror as he always did but the mirror was fogged from the hot shower he had taken so he couldn’t see his reflection. He stared dully ahead and was able to make out the outline of himself through the condensation.
Zos opened the bathroom door and felt drawn to the front door. Mechanically he reached for the knob and turned it slowly. He heard his mother talking in the kitchen but ignored the confusion in her voice. Without a sound he let himself out and closed the door behind him. The sun beat down, threatening to make him sweat. The morning clouds from earlier had passed and there was no gloomy fog in town. Zos stared up at the sky, an unusually bright shade of blue. The sky was perfectly blue in fact which made Zos frown. A sour bile crept under his tongue and he swallowed, making a face. The sun was too direct on his skin and he felt himself burning and so hurried into the shade of a neighbor’s tree. He felt compelled and his feet seemed magnetized. Zos did not bother trying to resist but instead scuttled from the shade of one tree to the next until he had made his way deep into the heart of the village. Presently he passed the barber shop and the butcher shop and started to see the other villagers out and about as well.
Yuridia was exiting the butcher’s when she saw Chalysta’s boy. She let out a gasp of horror and surprise. She dropped her basket and stared as he walked passed. She turned to Mara, who happened to be nearby.
“Do you see him?” She tapped Mara nervously on her shoulder.
Mara’s head swiveled first to look at Yuridia and then quickly outward to see what she was so anxious about. She spotted Zos immediately.
“Oh my goodness! What horror!” She cried in a whisper. She felt that she did not want Zos to notice her or look there way. It was just too unpleasant. The two ladies crouched into each other, trying to blend in as they whispered uneasily to each other about the boy walking unknowingly past.
Zos felt eyes on him but ignored the feeling. He concentrated on his feet. There were no more trees and he was wholly exposed to the rays of the sun. He was sweating now, and he was more than simply overheated. The sun’s rays were like infinitesimally small rays of lightning and his skin was on fire. This was why he did not at first notice how the other villagers were openly staring at him. When finally he picked up his head and looked around him he saw them watching him with more than horror. They was unabashed unleashed anger in their faces.
“Monster!” Cried one man.
“Detestable thing!” Cried another.
Then the villagers began to creep forward, gaining power in their unity.
“Devil of a child!”
“It must be killed.”
Zos did not feel the sun anymore. The rays of hate from his neighbors’ eyes bore into his skin now but he was not afraid. Zos began to feel what he had never felt before. He began to feel angry, powerfully mad in fact. His chest puffed out. He had stopped where he stood. He stared back at the people and they took a collective step back. When he did not do anything else, they took a step forward and their insults grew louder.
Suddenly the crowd hushed and made an opening that the mayor stepped through. Sweat trickled down his face as he regarded the boy who was no longer a boy but had not quite grown into a man.
“Leave this town!” The mayor shouted from ten feet away, loud enough for all the gathered villagers to hear. “Your evil is not welcome here. Your anger does not belong among the Freyans.” His voice was steady and booming.
Zos’s anger boiled inside, and the heat from the sun on the outside of his skin met with the fire raging on the inside of him. The veins of dirt that was no longer dirt blackened, turning onyx black. The crowd gasped and squeezed tighter together, seeking solace and protection in each other. The mayor frowned and held up a hand,
“Stop! You are not welcome here any longer. Zosimos, you are hereby banished from the town of Frey!”
The mayor took one step forward, stomping down in the dirt for emphasis. Zosimos regarded the mayor and townsfolk testily. He turned his head up to the heavens and roared out of every pore. Black blood dripped out of the blackened lines that creased his face and hands and legs. Droplets fell onto the ground, staining the dirt.
Then Zosimos was gone, with the speed and agility of a terrorized predator, leaving behind only the small spot of sullied earth.