The Old Well

Someone’s in trouble down in the old well!

It’s not so surprising. Timmy’s dead. Timmy’s parents are dead. There’s no one to know.

“All things are transient,” mourns Cold Bone Eddie, looking up towards the sky.

“Even Lassie is dead,” says Morgan Sachlaw.

“She’d rescue us,” says Eddie. “She’d drag us out. But Timmy’s dead, and his parents are dead, and Lassie is dead. It’s the transience of all things. That’s why we’re here.”

“Bloody Hell, Eddie,” says Sharon. “We’re sinking.”

A lot of people are in trouble down in the old well.

Actually.

“I remember when I saw the news,” says Cold Bone Eddie.

“Yeah?”

“Lassie passed away, gently, at the age of 20. 20! That’s like 140 human years. But that’s when I knew that there wasn’t any point any more.”

“Testify,” says Frank Scheclon.

“I knew there wasn’t any point in being good. What’s the use in being good if Lassie’s dead? What’s the use in the straight and narrow if there isn’t a dog to herd you there? So I came up with the perfect crime. I’d steal a million dollars from the bank and hide in the old well until the trouble cleared. But my rope snapped, and anyways, it’s kind of crowded down here.”

“You’re telling me,” says Sharon. “Frank, your foot?”

Frank, reluctantly, moves his foot off of Sharon’s face and contorts his knee so that he can brace it against the wall. It doesn’t help. They’re still sinking.

“You wouldn’t have succeeded, you know,” says Morgan. “I mean, if Lassie were alive.”

“Of course not,” says Eddie.

“I mean, it’s only because she died—”

There’s a bit of a pause.

Frank looks up, his neck crammed at an odd angle, so he can see part of Morgan’s face.

“Mr. Sachlaw?” says Frank. “You got somethin’ to say?”

“Well,” says Morgan, “it’s like this: when Lassie was alive, the bank didn’t really need much of a security system. I mean, why bother? So I got this guy, this contractor I know, to install the system cheap. And I took the kickback from one end and overcharged at the other and I bought a vintage bank security system off of eBay in the middle, and I figured, no problem, if anyone robs this place, Lassie’ll save the day.”

“Wuf!” agrees Sharon.

“But then she died.”

“Word,” says Eddie.

“And when you robbed the place,” says Morgan Sachlaw, “I lost everything.”

“I don’t blame Lassie,” says Eddie. “I blame death. I blame the fact that good things always go away. That’s what happened to us.”

“Not to me,” says Sharon. “I never had good things. That’s why I jumped in here.”

“Never?”

“I’m the ugly kind of girl,” says Sharon. “And I thought—well, I thought, I’d never amount to anything. So I came down to the old well and jumped in.”

“Oh, honey,” says Frank. “Don’t you know that if Lassie were alive, she would have shown you the beautiful special person inside you?”

Sharon sobs.

“Why couldn’t she have been there, then?” says Sharon. “Why don’t I get the magic?”

“She wasn’t magic,” says Cold Bone Eddie. “Just an ordinary dog.”

They sink further.

“Hey, down there?” calls Frank, nervously.

There is a mumbling and a rustling from the hundreds of people on whom they’re standing.

“Why are we sinking? What’s happening? Is there like a mole kingdom eating us from the bottom up? What’s going on?”

There’s a pause. Someone calls up, in a thick deep voice, “We are compressin’. It is the intense pressure down here. It is compahcting us progressively into a new form.”

“Great,” says Frank.

“What’s your story, preacher?” says Eddie.

“I fell.”

“That’s it?”

“I was lost in rapturous contemplation of God,” says Frank Scheclon. “I was marveling at his mysterious ways and not looking down. And suddenly I fell in a well and broke my leg.”

“Well, that was just plain dumb,” says Eddie.

“Thanks,” says Frank. “Thanks a lot.”

They’re sinking a bit faster now.

“Um,” says Morgan.

“Um?” Sharon answers.

“Um, if we’re compacting based on pressure, shouldn’t it, you know, stabilize? I mean, now that no one new has fallen in for a while?”

“. . . huh,” says Eddie. “Any physicists here?”

There’s a silence.

“Hey!” shouts Eddie. “I need a physicist!”

There’s a startled noise from up above. Ellen McCloud rushes up to the edge of the well. “I’m a physicist!” she shouts. “What’s the . . .”

She wobbles at the edge of the well.

“Momentum, have you no shame?” she shouts, indignantly. Then she falls in.

Thump.

“Hello,” says Ellen McCloud, as they sink. “I was just having a picnic out by the old well. What’s gong on?”

“We’re sinking,” says Eddie. “On account of the compression.”

“I’m sorry,” says Ellen, guiltily. “I didn’t mean to fall. It was my old enemy, momentum, at work.”

“It’s okay,” says Eddie. “It was accelerating anyway.”

“I’m afraid,” says Sharon. “I don’t want to die by being crushed into a black hole at the bottom of the old well.”

“Don’t be afraid,” says Ellen. “There’s nowhere near enough mass in this well to create a black hole. Not even a pinpoint singularity!”

“Oh, good.”

Ellen rubs her chin, thoughtfully. “Still, I think I can recognize the hand of Acceleration at work.”

“Are you really a physicist?” Frank asks, suspiciously.

“Oh, yes,” says Ellen. “I just practice physics in a two-fisted manner. But I think at last natural law has come up with a deathtrap I can’t get out of.”

Sharon’s voice is bleak. “What?”

“The more we sink, the faster we sink,” says Ellen. “Pretty soon, we’ll be an undifferentiated mass of incredible density and power.”

She sketches some equations on the wall in chalk. “See?”

“But they don’t add up,” says Eddie, who was going to be a mathematician before Lassie’s death sent him into a life of crime.

“Well, no,” says Ellen. “Equations don’t balance any more. Not without Lassie. She was the hidden variable—the dark matter, as it were, in every law of physics and science. That’s why all the planes have been crashing, you know, and swarms of demon-locusts bursting through the interstices of reality. Also, pickle and corned beef sandwiches don’t taste good any more.”

“I’d eat one,” says Sharon. “Anyway. Right now.”

Ellen looks sad, in part because her equations are now far above her.

“I left them up above,” she says.

“I can feel strange matter around my toes,” whimpers Sharon.

“It’s the impending critical mass,” says Ellen.

“God:” prays Eddie, “I know I said you were dead to me, I mean, what with Lassie being dead and all, but, you know, if you were to resurrect Timmy’s rotting corpse and send him here with a rope, I sure would be inclined to change directions in my life.”

“That’s not what God does,” says Frank. “He moves mysteriously. . . . Sharon?”

There is only a bubbling scream.

“Mind,” says Frank, “If God wants to do it, I mean, for Eddie, for love of humanity, I mean, maybe Jesus could slip it under God’s radar.”

“If he loved us,” says Morgan, “I’d still have a job and a Porsche.”

“It’s very hot,” says Frank.

“And dense,” says Ellen.

“And strange,” says Eddie.

The substance in the well reaches its critical mass, and with one last scream, the transformation begins.

Night falls.

Day dawns.

Night falls again.

A dog wriggles up out of the well. It is a Collie. It is clean and young and new, and its fur still glistens with the ichor of those whose compression created it.

“Bark!” barks the dog. “Bark!”

The dog runs around. The dog dashes across the field.

The sun rises.

It will be a long and beautiful day.

7 thoughts on “The Old Well

  1. That was a bit of a shock.

    What is Jane trying to understand though telling this legend? The process by which saviours are made?

  2. I have to admit, I didn’t see the ending coming either. I liked it though; it was more hopeful than we often see from Hitherby.

    I once saw a “dog-age” formula somewhere that purported to be more accurate than the 7:1 ration — basically, it said that the first year was like 15, the second like 9, years after that were like 3. So 20 dog-years would be about 80 human years.

    It’s a funny thing how all of my favorite recent Hitherby legends have given me something to nitpick. Coincidence, or…? (I have to admit that I like to nitpick.)

  3. …pickle and corned beef sandwiches don’t taste good any more.

    I wouldn’t want to live in a world like that… even if Lassie has been reborn, or reincarnated, or replaced.

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