The Well, the Weapon, and the Way Out

A teen falls into a dried-out well that time has leveled to the ground and overgrown with vegetation. There is something at the bottom of the well. The teen may have made the discovery of the century—provided he finds a way to climb back up.

The Well, the Weapon, and the Way Out

By Richard Zowie

I was 30 feet below ground.

Two hours ago, I had been geocaching, trying to find my two hundredth cache when I stepped onto a weak spot onto the grass. When I realized what it could be, I’d already shifted my weight too much and had fallen straight down.

As I fell, panic swept through my mind as I frantically grabbed onto the sides of the hole, hoping maybe some firm tree branch was sticking out and would allow me to grab on and climb out. There was none. I fell, my feet stinging in my shoes from the impact. No snap of bone, which was good.

Instead, I was in a two-foot diameter hole, weeds and grass sprouting through the circular wall. This must’ve been a well at one time, but no time recently. It was dark and cool down at the bottom, despite it being July, 1 p.m., in Texas. It had a stale, earthy smell, making me think of the apartment I once lived in that had roach problems. I hate roaches, but I told myself if one appeared, it would be the least of my concerns.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my i-Phone. Good news: it was the XR kind and the battery was almost at full power. Bad news: no signal. I texted my brother, told him where I was and what I was doing and tried to send it. It bounced back. I tried to call, but no signal. I also tried to call 911. Same. So, I shut the phone off and put it back into my pocket.

Think. Don’t panic, I thought.

I thought of Jessica McClure, the little girl who was stuck in that hole in Texas in the 1980s. She later said she had no memory. I’m 35, so I’m sure I’ll remember this. As I realized I couldn’t fully extend my elbows, I realized I was a little more claustrophobic than I thought. I reminded myself not to panic.

Two things came to mind. Sing loudly. As much as I hate the rapper Eminem, I decided to rap some of his songs. That would stand out, wouldn’t it?

“MY NAME IS…OOO…MY NAME IS…AAH…MY NAME IS …YEAH…SLIM SHADY!” I kept repeating as much as I could as I pulled out a pocket knife and started digging into the wall. The dirt was firm enough to where, with enough dirt dug out, I’d create a “step”. If I could create two-foot steps, it would take 15 steps to reach the top.

My hands were scraped and bleeding, and a few times I thought I was going to tear off a fingernail, but I didn’t care. I had three “stairs” created and they were holding firm. Soon, I was singing Mötley Crüe songs. Clods of dirt fell out, some big, some just pebbles. I’d also sometimes encounter a few worms.

And then, a large clod of dirt that seemed far too big.

As I tried breaking it apart, I was stunned to feel metal underneath. The lighting wasn’t good, but I could feel it was an old pistol. Judging by the weight, it still had bullets in it. It felt rusty.

“What the hell…?” I wondered aloud, my throat raspy from rapping and trying to reach Vince Neil’s falsetto range. Afraid it might still go off after all these years, I placed it into my pocket, opposite my phone, and kept digging.

is that a well?

“Is that a well?” someone asked from a distance.

I went back to the bottom and looked up. I saw three guys looking down. They wore jeans, cowboy hats and looked like they’d done a lot of farm work. “Hello! I fell into this well. I was geocaching.”

For some strange reason, I was worried they’d decide not to help. I also felt this strong, stinging, intuitive feeling not to tell them about the gun. Maybe one of their grandfathers put it in the hole. Maybe they’d leave me there if they knew I’d found it.

“Sure!” one of them said. “Bryan, get that rope from the back of the truck. Mister, we’re going to play tug of war. Once we throw the rope down, you tie it to yourself and hold on. We’ll pull you out.”

The white cloth rope came down. I wrapped it around myself once, tied two knots and wrapped each hand once with the rope, not caring that it would hurt, knowing it would make it more likely they’d have me out.

When I told them I was ready, they counted to three and pulled.

It was like shooting straight up into the air, and before the ropes had a chance to hurt my hands or chest, soon, my face rested on the hot ground, near some gravel. It hurt, but I didn’t care.

As I caught my breath, I stood as the three helped me and I thanked them. Two of them were unaware what geocaching was. And I explained it to them. Finding the cache no longer appealed, so I walked back to my car and drove first to the sheriff’s office to drop off the gun. They questioned me for 15 minutes, then asked for my number so they could call me back.

Six months later, I picked up a copy of the local paper, the Ruthville Blue Star. Thirty-five years ago, a woman was killed with two gunshots, both to the head. She had just turned down the marriage proposal of a 30-year-old Roger Williams. He told police he had “lost” his gun and denied shooting her. Well, it turns out the gun was missing two bullets, the serial number matched old records showing it belonged to him, and the ballistics showed it was the murder weapon. Apparently he dumped it into the well, knowing it was dry, and hoped that once filled, nobody would notice.

Williams couldn’t be prosecuted. The Blue Star reported that Williams in 1998 was all set to go to prison for 10 years for bank robbery, except he cut a deal to testify against his partners and got a two-year sentence. That didn’t go over well with the other inmates, and he was killed a few months later. I didn’t ask how, as I didn’t want to know.

The three guys were brothers sent out by their father to search for an old well on the property. The day after they rescued me, they filled in the hole and put boards over it.

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Lack of curiosity is the best medicine

A neighbor’s dog keeps barking in the middle of the night, always at the same hour and for the same amount of time. Your character decides to investigate what has the dog agitated in such precise, repeated pattern.

Lack of curiosity is the best medicine

By Richard Zowie

Did you ever see that movie Amityville Horror? Each morning, George Lutz would wake up at 3:15 a.m. It had something to do with the house he and his new wife and her kids lived in. George is now dead, but the debate continues as to whether or not the house really was haunted or simply made up over a few bottles of wine.

I have a similar problem, although my house isn’t haunted. A few nights per month, around 2:30 a.m., a dog in my neighborhood starts barking. It’s the dog across the street in a brick, two-story house. An accountant and his high school principal wife, and their four kids. I’ve had only a handful of conversations with them. Polite, but I can tell they guard their privacy. Once, because my wife wanted to make a house-warming dessert for them, they declined to tell me their favorite type of dessert. I have no idea where they’re from. My kids don’t socialize with their kids, because their kids often seem involved in various clubs when not completing school projects.

“Maybe they’re in the witness protection program,” my wife said, chortling. She always loves to joke around, whereas I’m more serious by nature. As a structural engineer, there’s no time for jokes because if you miss something when drawing up plans, a building can collapse. Lawsuits can ensue.

And now, the dog is barking again. It would be a waste of time for me to put on my blue cloth bathrobe, put on my blue slippers, grab a flashlight and walk across the street. But, that’s intrusive and their backyard brown wooden fence is about seven feet tall. I’m 5’10”, so I can’t see over it.

I’m not in a good mood, since I can’t get back to sleep when the stupid mutt barks, so I called the police and asked them to investigate.

Somehow, I slept.

My cell phone rang an hour later. “Mr. Stoltz, I’m Officer Wendell and I’m at your front door. May we talk?”

A few moments later, I opened the door and let him inside and closed the door. Noting there were no flashing lights from multiple police cars outside, I assumed nothing was wrong.

“Mr. Stoltz, this doesn’t leave this house, ok?”

“Yes, officer,” I said.

“Your neighbor apologizes for waking you up. He does not believe in using banks, so sometimes at nighttime, he will dig up a spot in his back hard where he keeps a safe that has an unspecified amount of money into it.”

“Ok, and why does he not like banks?” I asked, certain Officer Wendell would politely tell me it wasn’t my business.

The officer, wearing a shiny silver badge and black uniform that probably made him look invisible when he went outside, smiled and looked off to the side. His eyes were almost black, and his military-style black hair cut didn’t conceal that he was halfway to being bald. He looked like the type who, after shaving, would have five o’clock shadow three hours later.

“Let’s just say they had to relocate here from somewhere else,” Wendell said. “They don’t use banks out of fear they’ll be found out, even though they have different names. If you see them again, stick to small talk. Do not ask them any questions about themselves.”

“Noted, officer. Would you like me to make you some coffee before you leave?”

“No, thank you, sir. I appreciate the offer, but I have two other calls to respond to. Have a nice day, and please call me if you have any further questions.”

He produced a white business card and gave it to me, shook my hand, and left.

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Supernatural, Suomi Style

Freelance journalist received a strange job offer: cover a supernatural convention. The journalist thinks the gig a joke. But is it? And who are the convention’s guests of honor?

Supernatural, Suomi Style

By Richard Zowie

I live in San Antonio, and that’s a good thing. Plenty of time to think as I drove to El Paso, which is an eight-hour drive. I’m a full-time freelance writer, and one of my clients is the San Antonio Express-News. I write mostly features for my editor, Mona De Los Santos, who told me they wanted me to cover a supernatural convention in El Paso. It was for this weekend. I would go, observe, ask questions, take a few pictures, write a 2,000-word article and it would be the lead feature in the Weekender on Friday or for the Life section on Sunday.

As I drove past San Antonio’s outer circular road, Loop 1604, on Interstate 10 West and started my trek into the Texas Hill Country, I remembered the protocol. Since I wasn’t an employee, my travel expenses would have to be written off and claimed on taxes. Gasoline. Drinks. Snacks. Food. Motel room. The cost of attending the convention, which was $500.

As I saw a green sign that said Boerne was 20 miles away and Comfort was 40 miles, I remembered Mona’s request.

“I think it’s a fascinating convention, but management didn’t want someone local covering it when the El Paso Times could easily assign a reporter that we could piggyback off of,” she said. But, the Times told us they were only planning on doing a few photos and no story. That’s why I decided to ask you. What is your religious background, Bill?”

“I’m a Christian, but I’m not sold on supernatural,” I said. “I don’t believe in ghosts. I used to rent an apartment that was a boarding house where an unsolved murder took place, but I never experienced anything unusual.”

“No supernatural experiences?”

“Zero.”

“Can you go with an open mind?” she asked.

“If you’re paying me, yes.”

 

I’d left San Antonio at 6 a.m. that morning, which was wonderful. By the time I-10 became clogged for the morning commute, I was gone. With the stops I made in Junction, Fort Stockton, Van Horn, I arrived nearly at 6 p.m. in the desert town of El Paso. I’d been there only a few times in my life, once as I drove to Phoenix on business and once as I took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to visit my Uncle Jerry.

After checking in at the Double Tree Hotel about two blocks away, I went to the El Paso Convention and Performing Art Center, where the supernatural convention was taking place. I expected to see a few science-minded protestors outside, yelling about facts matter over faith. The only people outside were tourists looking for the Southwest University Park, El Paso Museum of History or the University of Texas at El Paso. One complete stranger asked me if El Paso was in Texas or New Mexico. I told him he was still in the Lone Star State.

One beautiful woman wearing a sundress asked me how El Paso got its nickname “Chucotown.”

“I don’t speak much Spanish and have no idea. You should ask someone at the Museum of History,” I replied as I entered.

I expected people adorned in black clothing and silver jewelry, along with priests or priestesses wearing shiny black or indigo robes. Instead, everyone wore suits or dressed in slacks or dress shirts. One woman wore a business suit with a short skirt. From her legs, I imagined she ran a lot and probably looked hard to turn away from when she sat and crossed her legs.

I checked in, introduced myself as Bill McGinnis and got my badge and packet. As I got them, I noticed a brunette with pale eyes helping herself at a spread of various pastries, meats, fruits and assorted dressings. Soon, she was coughing.

As she coughed, I looked up and saw panic in her eyes. I jogged toward her. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

She looked at me, tried to breathe. “PLEASE! HELP ME!” she said in English but in a foreign accent I could not place. “I…can’t…breathe! I’m choking! Help!”

As I dropped my packet and was about 10 feet away, I noticed how everybody stared blankly at her, as though they didn’t know what to do.

What is wrong with you assholes? I wondered as I got to her from behind and embraced her. “I’m going to do a Heimlich Maneuver. Try not to panic. You won’t die.”

“Ok, I won’t.” As she briefly turned around, I could see her pale eyes were a mix of gray and green. She had a soapy smell, as if she had just showered a few hours ago. Her accent…I still couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t Russian or German. She looked like she was from a cold-weather country, with her pale features.

On the third thrust, the dark-brown, partially-chewed piece roast beef flew out of her mouth toward the crowd. A few screams as some scampered out of the way. Several people had their cell phones out and were recording the incident, which really pissed me off. What is with Americans and their need to record everything?

She took several deep breaths as her color returned. She turned, smiled at me and gave me a hug. “Thank you so much,” she said. “You saved my life. I am Ailukka Korhonen.”

I told her my name. “That’s a pretty accent you have. Where are you from?”

“Finland.”

I was amazed at how well she spoke English when a man came out of a bathroom and headed to us. He wore blue jeans and wore a blue polo shirt with a white flag with a left-of-center blue cross on it. Underneath the flag was the word “SUOMI.” I had no idea what that meant.

He had blond hair and blue eyes and went up to her and hugged her and said something to her I could not understand. She pointed to me.

“Are you the man who just saved my wife’s life?” he asked me. He spoke with far less of an accent, as if he’d been speaking English for a long time.

I nodded, thinking of how strange things seemed to be — and the convention hadn’t even started yet.

He offered his hand. I shook it and found his grip to be firm. “My name is Hannu Korhonen.”

I noticed a few people still recording.

“What is wrong with you people? Why did you just stand there?” I demanded, upset but trying not to lose my cool. “Couldn’t you see she was choking and asking for help?”

One man, who had just turned off his phone, shook his head. “We heard her, all right, but none of us could understand her. She was speaking in a foreign language.”

“No, she wasn’t,” I said. “She’s from Finland, but I could understand her English just fine.”

Everybody became silent.

“You say my wife asked for your help in English?” Hannu asked me.

“Yes, sir. She has a strong accent, but I could understand her.”

Hannu said something in Finnish to Ailukka. She shook her head.

“My wife says there must be a mistake. She doesn’t speak English, but she said you were speaking Finnish to her.”

“Hannu, I don’t see how that could be possible. I don’t speak Finnish, not even to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

The man who had just shut off his recording came up to us and played the recording. It showed Ailukka choking and me coming up to her to do the Heimlich.

Then the dialogue.

“Voinko auttaa sinua?” My voice, without a doubt.

“OLE KILTTI! AUTA MINUA! En … voi … hengitä! Olen tukehtumassa! Auta!”

“Aion tehdä Heimlich-säätimen. Yritä olla paniikkia. Et kuole.” My voice yet again, this time saying things I didn’t understand.

“Ok, en.”

“Kiitos paljon. Pelastit henkeni. Olen Ailukka Korhonen.”

“Olen Bill McGinnis. Se on melkoinen aksentti. Mistä olet kotoisin?”

“Suomi.”

She’d said Finland to me, I’m absolutely sure, but now, she was saying Suomi.

“Hannu, what does ‘Suomi’ mean?” I asked.

“That’s how we say ‘Finland’ in the Finnish language.”

For five minutes, I had no idea what to say. Finally, I took down as many names and phone numbers as I could as I pulled out my phone, turned on the recorder and asked questions to as many eyewitnesses, including the Finnish couple. The convention hadn’t even started yet, but I already had my story.

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