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When I was very young, beginning around the age of eight or nine, my brother and I would spend a few months each summer with my aunt. My aunt was on my mother's side and to say that she was a little wacky would be an understatement. Even my mom wasn’t extremely fond of her, being a bit more conservative than my aunt. She believed she had ESP (I didn’t give it much mind, she was pretty kooky.), and was essentially the world’s worst actor.
Even being that young, I knew she was being over dramatic as she sauntered around the room either proclaiming her powers of prophecy or garnering attention through her ‘sad, sad life’. She was a compulsive liar and my brother and I both knew it our whole lives, without anyone really telling us.
It was only a couple months that we had to stay with her while our parents would travel to warmer parts of the world for ‘business’.
I must admit, despite her personality flaws, she was pretty damn entertaining to observe. Everyday was like a new episode and my brother and I would just sit back and watch, cackling innocently all the while.
She slept most of the day and it was only after her death at a rather young age that I came to fully understand that her addiction to drugs was what had ultimately taken her life and probably held a rather large role in explaining her eccentric behavior.
However, one thing that my brother and I rather enjoyed about this arrangement was that we could roam the woods and lakes nearby. My mother would have never approved of us going off alone in this area but while we with our aunt we had free reign and a full map of places to explore.
We had a particular favorite spot that we would go to that we dubbed ‘Brunem’. (Yiddish for well; we’re of Jewish descent.). It was a fair sized lake, probably the length and width of three or four swimming pools either way. The odd thing about the lake was that there was an old, long since unused well which resided just a few feet from the shore of lake.
My brother and I spent many days sitting on the edge of the well, just barely dipping backwards pretending we were going to fall. We would make up stories about the well after long days of running around the woods, using the well’s edge as a place to catch our breath and rest our feet. My brother would carry on with one story he had invented because he knew how much it frightened me.
He called it “the man of the well”. He said that many years ago a young boy fell into the well and cried for years for someone to get him out. Finally he started calling out to children to try to convince them to come into the well because he was lonely.
Most children wouldn’t fall for it and would run for help, but when they returned with their parents, the man of the well wouldn’t speak, pretending he wasn’t there, making the parents think their child just had an overactive imagination. However, some children would slowly lift themselves down into the well, curious about the stranger who seemed so nice. The man of the well would be elated, making up games that the two could play and laughing for days, taking in every delight of such long sought interaction.
The children would start to get worried or hungry and want to go home, but like the man of the well, they couldn’t climb back up. The man of the well would get angry when they attempted to leave and since he had lived in the well for several years, he got hungry and would claw through their flesh, eating them alive piece by piece.
He would stack the bones of the children he devoured beneath him in an attempt to get the pile high enough that he could climb out of the well. The children served him several purposes and once someone got bored, whether it were the children or the man of the well, they were his dinner and another rung in his ladder.
I started to get used to my brother’s attempts to frighten me, and after an entire summer of sitting on the well and never hearing anyone down below, I decided that the story couldn’t be true and ignored his banter.
We returned again the next summer. Our parents went through the usual spiel of how missed we would be, why they couldn’t take us with them, etc. They gave us numbers where to contact them and after several goodbye waves, they were gone and we were again pilgrims of the forest.
On our first day back, we met a young boy named Fernando. He was about eight at the time. I had just turned nine and I was grateful to no longer be the youngest person among my brother and I. He seemed to pick on me less and I felt like I could finally turn the tables and scare little Fernando with stories of the well as my brother had done to me. It was like redemption for me and I expected it would be an even better summer than last.
Fernando’s parents didn’t speak english and weren’t extremely keen on the dangers that the forest could hold. They didn’t seem to have much of a problem with him going out among the woods from dawn to dusk and he quickly became part of our little gang of vagabonds.
We showed Fernando all the forests and the lakes always telling him that we were ‘saving the best for last’. The last place we took Fernando was Brunem. We paddled along the line of trees nearest the shore, the soles of our shoes half sinking into squishy mud.
The lake danced along itself in waves that summer. The air was cool and brisk, akin to the kind of cool fall weather that you can smell and even taste each time you inhale. I couldn’t wait to show Fernando the well. My brother and I just kept telling Fernando ‘just wait, it gets better’.
We were quickly approaching the well. I was anxious to show Fernando Brunem and watch him as he quivered at our tales and of the infamous man of the well. Fernando followed quietly behind, his eyes and mouth agape at the beauty of the forest and each wave of the lake as they overlapped one another and held each other down and became a wave anew, carrying on until the wind was gone.
We finally reached the well. My brother sat down first on the edge, leaning backwards and taunting ‘I’m gonna fall in! Help!’, pulling himself back upright and laughing as Fernando bustled towards him, the worried expression on his face quickly turning to confusion and then adjoining laughter.
I sat down next, leaning back, holding the ring that lined the ‘hat’, or roof, of the well. I leaned back as far as I could, until blood began to flood my head and I pulled myself back up. “Come on Fernando.. Or are you scaaarrred?” we jeered in unison. Fernando seemed unsure of whether to sit down on well. “Fernando’s a chicken, Fernando’s a big chicken!” we chanted. He finally gave into our disparagement and with small steps he approached the well, uncertainty coloring his face.
He sat down on the edge and just barely dipped back, quickly pulling himself back. “Come on don’t be a wuss!” I taunted. Fernando grabbed the roof of the well, closed his eyes tight and dipped himself back until he was upside down.
It all happened in a matter of seconds and before we knew it my brother and I had scrambled around and were standing up on either side of the well looking down. Fernando had fallen in so fast and, from the position he was in, we knew he must have gone head-first.
“Wait, wait,” my brother said, his hand shaking as he tried to unzip his backpack.
“I have it here,” he muttered, his voice trembling as he shuffled through the pockets.
He pulled a flashlight out of his backpack and tentatively leaned over the well as he clicked it on, shining it down into the deep abyss of the well.
“Fernando!” We yelled.
“Right there!” I screamed at my brother, pointing to some bubbles rising in the shallow water of the well. It wasn’t too far down, but we were surely going to need a rope to get him out.
Suddenly hair emerged above the water. Both my brother and my eyes widened in anticipation. We watched as a head slowly emerged from the stagnant water. I will never forget the face. He had black stringy hair, that was rather long but looked so unhealthy as though it had stopped growing at shoulder length and started to become sparse. His scalp was so white, it made his black hair look even thinner. He was dripping with water, and yet his skin and every fiber of his hair looked so dry. He had a long, deformed face, with a nose that was so crooked it was almost zigzagged.
I will never forget the image as he raised his head slowly above the water, moving perfectly straight up as though his neck was stiff and motionless. His smile was the worst part of the ghastly image I was seeing. It made my heart race even faster and I knew no normal man could adorn such a smile. He smiled from ear to ear, his lips tightly pursed together. His eyebrows were turned down as though he had an angered expression, but his eyes were so wide, I didn’t think it were even humanly possible.
He crooked his head to the side with a large series of cracks, until his shoulder and ear met. He showed his teeth, which looked which worn and black, as though he had been chewing on stone for years. His voice was so high pitched and sharp, that I almost had to cover my ears “Fernando is here with me, we want you to come play.” He screeched out in the most deranged, cheerfully menacing voice I have ever heard. I looked beside him, still seeing bubbles rise from the top of the water and pop rapidly.
“Where is Fernando!?” my brother screamed. “Let him up!”
The man crooked his head to the other side, his neck snapping again as his head instantaneously reached his other shoulder.
“He’s right here, come on down and play with us,” he said, his smile growing somehow wider than before.
The bubbles beside him grew more sparse and finally dissipated completely. We screamed at the man for what seemed like hours, telling him to give us Fernando. We knew there was no hope. The man began to claw in our direction, as though he were almost high up enough to nearly reach the edge of the well. His spindly arms flailed wildly and his smile turned to a frown that nearly reached the bottom of either side of his chin.
“Fernando wants to stay here with me. He likes it here and so will you. Come down and play.” he screeched, his voice cutting through me like glass scraping stone.
My brother quickly grabbed me as the man jumped, getting nearly close enough to grab a hanging fabric of my clothing.
“We need to get out of here.” My brother said shortly, as he began pulling me and breaking into a run. We ran through the forest as fast as our small bodies could bare, our legs propelled almost twice as far by our fear.
We finally got back to our aunt’s house. I grabbed the phone, beginning to dial 911. Before I could hit send, my brother snatched the phone from my hand.
“They won’t even believe us. Whatever that guy was, he wasn’t human. Who knows what he’ll do to whoever tries to get in that well and find him.”
I was a nine year old girl and at that point I completely agreed with him, though in retrospect we probably should have let the police find and kill the man or..thing, whatever it was.
We didn’t talk about it much after that. A small search party searched for Fernando but eventually most of the blame got placed on the parents, who were considered neglectful since they let their 8 year old run around unsupervised throughout a wooded area all day and night. The next summer we begged our parents not to go to our aunt’s, making the excuse that she was crazy and slept too much.
From then on they took us to our grandmother's and we were content never to return to Brunem. Since that day, I still shudder at the sight of a well and haven’t gone camping a single day in my life.
One day, once we were a few years older, I finally asked my brother if he had made up the story of ‘the man of the well’ or if he had heard it somewhere, since his tale ended up being essentially true. “To be honest Lisa, Aunt Malory told it to me.”
My aunt may have been crazy but she either knew of this thing or really did have ESP. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to fully understand and to ask her, she had already passed away.
Either way, I have planned for many years to return to pour concrete into that well or cover it with a large stone slab; anyway to make sure that thing never hurts another child. The only thing that has stopped me is that I wonder how many other children have fallen into that well. His bone ladder may just be high enough now, and if it is, I don’t want to be the one to be there when he climbs out.