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Sam Was in a Well

Updated: Jun 9

Sam was in a well. He was at the bottom of it. What a day it’s been, said Sam. First the crisis in that shared toilet, and then that thing with the stalagmites or stalactites, whichever they were, and now this. He gazed upward at the little circle of blue sky; he touched the dew-slicked rock wall. He was standing in about an inch of fetid water. And was that there, by his left foot, a human skull? No, it was just a large rock. Still, Sam figured being at the bottom of a well was a more or less hopeless kind of predicament. In his rucksack he didn’t even have any granola bars. But then he just climbed out of the well.


He just climbed right out of it.


Sam was surprised by how easy the whole climbing-out-of-the-well process turned out to be. He’d expected to encounter some obstacles along the way, like a loose rock or maybe even a ghoul of some sort—a malevolent soul trapped in the well who desperately wanted to procure a friend for all eternity. Who knew what diabolical phantasms resided in the bowels of the earth? Sam had fully anticipated falling back to the bottom at least once. But each incremental movement upward was executed flawlessly and without much difficulty. His fingers easily found their grip along the way, and there was practically an overabundance of reasonably spaced footholds in which his boots could gain traction. Sam didn’t even need to pause to catch his breath. Usually when something seems to be this easy and straightforward, before too long it reveals itself to be anything but. Not this time, though. This time it was smooth sailing all the way to the top—was it called the mouth?—of the well. When Sam finally reached topside and pulled himself out, he checked his watch. He’d been in the well all of six minutes. Sam was nonplussed. Given what he’d known, or thought he’d known, about wells, about being trapped in wells—from news accounts and movies and the little doodles he used to make when he was a kid—being trapped in a well was the kind of harsh ordeal that left its mark for life.


If Sam was being totally honest with himself, he was a little disappointed in how this had gone. Climbing out of the well had been way too easy. There hadn’t even been any witnesses; no one had seen Sam fall into the well or emerge from it. There had been no panicked cries of Criminy! Sam’s in the well! or There’s a real live boy trapped in the bowels of the earth! or Shit! Boy! Well! Bottom of it! There had been no reason to call the fire department or the civil service or Well Extraction Team Five, or whomever you were supposed to call in such emergencies. No one from the local newspaper was there to snap a photo of Sam, freshly topside, smiling and squinting into welcome beams of sunlight after being trapped for hours in total darkness.


LOCAL BOY SAFE AFTER HARROWING ORDEAL IN WELL, the headline might read.


Or: LOCAL BOY RESCUED FROM DEEP WITHIN BOWELS OF EARTH.


Or: SHIT! BOY! WELL! OUT OF IT!


Sam sat on the edge of the well. He could feel the cold of the stone through his jeans. He wasn’t all cut up. He wasn’t bleeding. He wasn’t even breathing hard.


This is bullshit, thought Sam.


Maybe the well had been specially designed to be easy to climb out of, thought Sam. Maybe that’s how all wells were built these days. Come to think of it, Sam hadn’t heard of anyone getting trapped in a well in a very long time. It had maybe been twenty, thirty years since he’d last heard of a kid getting stuck at the bottom of one. Had there been a significant change in the well-building code in recent decades? A bipartisan shift toward well safety?


If so, this was surely a good thing, thought Sam. How many lives might have been saved over the years by these new, safer wells? Three, maybe four? And if those children grew up to have children of their own, and these children, having inherited the gene that instills the propensity to fall into wells, also at some point fell into wells? Sam could hardly grasp the wide-ranging implications, the intricate web of cause and effect, the exponentially expanding branches of family trees pulled from the bowels of the earth.


It’s like a butterfly flapping its wings in China, thought Sam, and then immediately falling into a well. The butterfly could just fly the fuck out, right?


Yeah, thought Sam. It was kind of like that.


Sam whistled: one of those drawn-out, nonplussed numbers.


This is good, thought Sam. Safe wells are good.


Then he went to his truck to get his tools.


Of course, he’d have to grind down all the well-placed footholds as he made his way back to the bottom of the well. That would be the easy part. The hard part would be explaining to his eventual rescuers why he had a grinding tool with him. Maybe Sam could say he’d found it inside the well? But no: the grinding tool had Sam’s name engraved on it. He’d also carved a little drawing of a frog on it, and everyone in town knew how much Sam liked frogs.


Everyone knew.


It didn’t matter. Sam would figure it out. Sam figured most things out in the end.


Disguising his voice, he placed two calls: one to the local newspaper and the other to emergency services.


For each call, when someone picked up, Sam said, Shit! Boy! Well! Bottom of it! Behind the old Griffith homestead! and then hung up.


Sam looked skyward, squinted into the bright sunshine.


He was no longer a boy, of course. He was a grown man. He was forty-five, almost forty-six. But the pull of gravity did not discriminate by age, and wells were nothing if not voracious.


Sam tossed his phone the gulch and then, grinding tool in hand, began his slow, steady descent back into the bowels of the earth.

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