Well of Souls

Rural Vermont, Oct 31, 1886

"I hate this part," thought Amanda, just after she breathed in that gasp of air that signaled her return life. She was in pain... and she'd revived before she'd finished healing. Hoping to hasten the process, she reached out with one broken and crushed hand into the darkness and began to stretch. She wanted to scream. "Must have broken every bone in my body," she moaned and rolled onto her back with a gasp of pain.

Her skirts were damp and she lay huddled on an uneven surface, half-in-half-out of what smelled like stagnant water. When she stretched... her feet collided with a rough wall.

Since there was no hope for it until she finished healing, she lay in the fetid atmosphere, collecting her thoughts, attempting to recall where she was... and why she was here.

She'd been in Smithfield, using her feminine wiles to bedazzle the town's banker so that she could get the combination to his new safe and take off with the cash. She hated being short of cash, and she hated having to resort to robbing a bank. She'd have preferred something more subtle. But her sudden exit from the continent and arrival once more in America had, with the accompanying change of identity, left her momentarily the funds she needed for her lifestyle.

She'd grown up poor, and with the gift of her immortality, had determined that she would never live poor again. Rebecca frequently fumed at her for taking the easy way out, and Duncan had once again washed his hands of her after she'd framed him the last time. Well, he would forgive her in time. He always did.

As the pain lessened she stretched again, thrusting her arms into the wisps of white fog that rose about her. Again she moaned and gasped as another wave of pain wracked her body. But it was less than before. It shouldn't be too much longer.

Her thoughts returned to her recent adventures in Springfield. As it was, things had gone wrong almost from the beginning. To say that she'd bungled the burglary... was an understatement. She'd had to flee and had leaped onto a horse and headed out of town at a gallop.

Soon she'd heard the sounds of pursuit. In desperation, she'd headed west and had been swiftly crossing an overgrown field of tall grass when the horse had reared and she'd fallen.into wherever she was now. Amanda gingerly pushed herself up to a sitting position and breathed evenly. She'd fallen through rotten wood into this damp place.

"A well?" she wondered. "An old and dried up one?" One hand splashed in the small amount of water she was sitting in. "Well... not completely dry," she sighed.

Looking upward she could see a small patch of lighter dark that had to be the moonlit sky. "Hello!" she called upward. "Can anyone hear me?" At this point, she'd welcome even even the posse. After all, she had only attempted to rob the bank and while she'd certainly be jailed... she could always arrange a convenient death.

She shivered in the dark as she rose unsteadily to her feet. Somehow thoughts of dying again did not fill her with enthusiasm. But if there were any to hear her cry, they were not of this world.

Feeling the moss-slick stones, Amanda gauged their uneven and rough-hewn nature. She might still find her way out of here. Lifting a foot, she tried to climb, slipping off immediately and landing once more in the dampness. Her skirts hung on her sodden and heavy.

"I guess this has to be done the hard way," Amanda murmured as she began to peel off her water-laden clothes until she was in her camisole and pantaloons.

Grasping a stone and lifting a bare foot to grip the slimy texture, Amanda slowly pulled herself upward. This time she did not fall. She took a deep breath and continued. She fell twice more, each time getting a little higher before the opening above finally seemed to be within reach. Taking another deep breath Amanda reached forward and then instantly pulled her hand back, nearly falling once more into the well.

A black cat... or at least it seemed black... had jumped into the opening and was walking along the top tier of stones.

"Shoo!" Amanda waved a hand at the cat, which raised its back and hissed at her. "Shoo cat!"

"Ebony," a young voice called, "Get out of there. Grasp my hand, miss." A small white hand pierced the darkness and Amanda could see a pale-haired girl reaching to help her.

"I don't want to pull you in," Amanda said. "Go for help."

The girl looked off across the field. Then she shook her head. "You'll fall again to your death if I leave. I'm stronger than I look." Again she extended her hand.

It was cold to the touch, but Amanda clasped it firmly. "Lie flat on the ground and don't let me pull you in."

The child did so. She was right. She was stronger than she looked. Her hand was what Amanda needed and the child scooted backwards as she pulled as Amanda pushed with her feet until at last she lay on the earth's surface.

When she'd regained her breath, Amanda sat up to regard the child, in whose lap the black cat climbed, rubbing and purring.

"I'm Amanda."

"Honoria," the little girl said. Her pale blonde hair seemed almost white in the light of the moon. She wore an oddly formal white dress with a high lace collar. On her delicate feet were white buttoned boots. She looked as though she'd come from a party.

"Do you live near here?" Amanda said as she shivered in the cold night air. Frost was forming on the grass stalks and a north wind had begun to blow. She ran her hands over her bare arms.

The girl nodded. "My parents' place is over there," she replied pointing to the west. "Come, I'll take you there." She pushed the cat away and rose, holding out a hand for Amanda. Already her teeth were chattering. She'd never frozen to death, and she had no desire to experience it firsthand.

After moving through the tall grass and onto the harvested cornfield, they passed a small fenced graveyard before reaching a clearing.

Wood-smoke rose from the chimney and warm light flickered through the windows. On the porch sat a lighted pumpkin, leering into the darkness with its carved grimace. Honoria halted with a sigh. "I have things to do. Just knock and tell them you were in the well. They'll help." Sadly the child turned away, calling to the cat as she headed into the gathering mist.

Amanda mounted the porch and knocked.

When it opened she was met by the barrel of shotgun. She gulped. "I fell into the well," she finally gasped, her eyes on the beckoning firelight inside.

"Land-sakes, Eli, she's half-froze! Let her in," a cheery voice said as the man stood to one side.

"My horse reared. I landed in an old well and climbed out," Amanda began, her teeth still chattering.

"You poor thing," the woman said showing her to a chair pulled close to the fire. She wrapped a blanket around Amanda's shoulders and rubbed the thief's arms before turning to pour a cup of hot cider from a pot sitting on the fire. "Drink this."

Amanda accepted it gratefully.

"Told you that wood was rotting!" the old woman said. "You need to fill that thing in," she told Eli. "'Twas a wonder you didn't break your neck. I'm Maude Jenkins and this is my husband Eli."

Amanda's eyes fell on a tin-type photo resting on the mantel. It was of Honoria, dressed much as she was tonight. "Your daughter helped me out," Amanda remarked between sips of the cider.

Maude stood erect, unmoving. She stared at Amanda and then at Eli. Then she lifted the tin-type off the mantel and handed it to Amanda. "My daughter?"

"Honoria. She helped me out. I gather she was doing some chores... although why she was dressed so formally, I can't understand. Had she been to a party?"

Maude nodded. "We had this picture taken in town two days before her last birthday. She was eight." Maude returned the photo to the mantel. "Her cat wandered off one evening and she went after him. We found her the next morning in the abandoned well." Maude paused and faced Amanda. "She was dead. We buried her in the that dress."

Somehow Amanda wasn't surprised. This was All Hallows' Eve, after all, when the veil between worlds thinned and the dead were said to visit.

"That was thirty years ago," Maude finished.

Amanda closed her eyes to visualize more clearly the pale form of the ghostly child who had helped her back to the world of the living. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you."

I had to gut this story concept to make it fit the criteria of 1500 words. As with last year's The Haunting... I may revisit this and expand it in the future.