The Body In The Well Beside Me

A Series by Kwei Quartey


One

I woke to find myself wet and twisted in the dark. I was shivering, and my head was throbbing. I squinted at the light coming from the end of a long, brick tunnel, where I could see trees, and bushes, and sky.


I sat up slowly, my entire body bruised and aching. Oriented now, I realized I wasn’t in a horizontal tunnel at all. I was at the bottom of a well. What am I doing here? Had I fallen in? I couldn’t remember. I shifted my position gingerly. Nothing seemed to be broken, but when I touched the back of my head, I could feel congealed blood over a deep cut.


Something was weighing down my legs and preventing me from moving very far. I leaned over and pushed, but then snapped my hand back as it touched what felt like someone's head. I leaned forward and blinkered the glare from the top of the well, which helped me make out the hulking form of a crumpled lifeless body draped over me.


I retched and scrambled away, kicking violently to get the body off me. I staggered up and immediately had an attack of vertigo, the well seemingly spinning around me. I kept still for a few moments and the sensation passed. I was standing in about six inches of water, my chest heaving as I stared at the corpse. Who is that? And why was I down here with him?

I looked up at the top of the well, took a deep breath and shouted, “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” The words echoed hollowly against the walls. I waited a while before beginning again, this time shouting, “Help!” repeatedly until I was hoarse and panting from the effort.

What was I going to do? Was there a way to climb out? In the gloom, I strained to see some kind of ladder from bottom to top, or metal rungs fixed into the brickwork, or perhaps indentations in the wall where one could plant one’s feet and hands to climb slowly up. I thought I spotted something like that, but they were beyond reach. Spent and exhausted, I leaned against the wall, put my head back, and closed my eyes.

Someone’s got to come. I refuse to die in here.

Is that what had happened to the dead man beside me? He fell into the well, and no one ever came to get him? I shuddered.

***

I had dozed off while still on my feet. I jerked awake to the harsh sound of metal coming from above me and transmitting down to me through the echo chamber like a funnel.

Then, a man spoke. “They shoulda capped this damn well a long time ago. Nothing in this town gets done in a hurry.”

Another man said, “No shit. That’s cuz there’s some red-tape bureaucratic bullshitter for every tiny little thing in this tiny little town, Come on, let’s do this and get to the next location.”

I shouted, “Hey! Hey!” But my voice was drowned out by the clattering metal. As the men pulled a cover over the well, my only light source began to close off, like a full moon transitioning to a crescent.

No! Stop!” I screamed hysterically. "I’m in here--don’t leave me!”

The light was all gone. It was pitch dark now. I began to sob. I can’t die here.

Seconds later, the well cover was pulled back again, and light flooded in.

One man said, “Larry, you hearing voices again?”

“I coulda sworn I heard something, Pat. What if there’s someone down there?”

I’m down here!” I shouted, surprisingly irate.

“Holy shit,” Pat said.

“What did I tell you?” Larry said.

Two heads appeared at the well top.




They shined flashlight beams down at me, blinding me for a moment.

“What the fuck are you doing down there?” one of them--Pat, I think--called out. “Did you fall in?"

“I . . . I guess so,” I stammered. “I don’t remember."

“Are you okay?”

“Mostly, but I think I hit my head.”

The two men were silent a moment.

“Who’s that beside you?” Larry asked.

“I don’t know,” I said disconsolately. “He’s dead. He was there when I woke up.”

The two men pulled back out of sight and held a muted discussion I couldn’t make out clearly.

“Okay, hold tight, man,” Pat said, coming back into view. "We’re calling nine-one-one now, so the ambulance and firefighters should be here in less than five minutes."

I didn’t understand what “nine-one-one” meant, or what it had to do with firemen or the ambulance, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I just wanted out of there.

In the few minutes that followed, a small crowd began to collect around the well, everyone peeping down at me and the dead guy. Some seemed like official types while others appeared to be random people not minding their own business. Then the firemen arrived and made everyone stand back before calling down to me to stay calm.

I am calm.

“What’s your name?” they asked me.

“Hunter.”

“We’re going to get you out, Hunter. It’s just gonna take a little time, that’s all. But trust us and be patient. I know it’s hard, but we want to do this right, okay?”

***

Using a complicated rope system I didn’t bother trying to decipher, the firemen got me out after what seemed like a very long time--too long. Now, I was on safe ground. The sun was painfully bright, and I shielded my eyes until I got used to it.

Apart from the firemen, there was a bunch of policemen hanging around. One of them approached me just as two young, uniformed guys put me on a wheeled stretcher.

"Sorry detective," one guy said. "Head injury--we gotta bounce fast. You can follow us to the hospital to talk to him there, if you want." They wheeled me to the waiting ambulace and slid me in the back. One attendant went to the front to take the driver's seat, while the other stayed with me in the rear cabin. I was grateful when he covered me with a blanket, becuase it was chilly in there.

Everything looked new and clean in this vehicle. Above my head was a flat, luminous screen next to a row of cabinets. The ambulance started up and moved forward more smoothly than even my dad’s car. My attendant sat down beside me, facing me, and strapped on a plastic face-mask that blew oxygen into my nose and mouth. He put a blood pressure cuff around my left upper arm and a pad on my chest. The screen lit up with numbers and my heart tracing.

The cuff tightened on my arm. There wasn’t the usual thing with that bulb you squeeze and pump while you watch the mercury column go up and down. This machine up top had the pressure written on the screen, like automatic.

“Pressure’s great, Hunter,” the attendant said. “You comfortable?”

“Yes, I’m good,” I replied, but I really wasn’t. Something was wrong, out of place.

"I’m John, by the way," he said. "Just need to get some of your particulars.” He picked up an oblong object about the size of a small, framed painting. “Full name?”

“Hunter Price.”

John tapped the screen of the device. It made little clicking noises as he did so.

“What’s that?” I asked, staring.

“What? Oh, the tablet? It’s a Samsung. Race or ethnic identity?”

“White.”

John paused and gave me an odd look. “White?”

“Yeah,” I said frowning. “What’s the matter?"

“No worries, Hunter. It’s all good. How old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“Date of birth?”

“December 8th, 1960.”

John looked up from the tablet. “What year did you say?”

“Nineteen-sixty.”

“Um,” John said slowly. “You sure about that?"

"Yes, why?

John cleared his throat. "No problem, we can come back to that. Could be the head trauma’s fucking with your mind.”

“How do you mean?” I asked, puzzled. "December 8th, 1960. It’s 1980 now, so do the math. I’m twenty.”

John was staring at me, appearing more concerned. “Do you know where you are right now?”

“Happenstance. Happenstance, Ohio, where nothing ever happens.”

John chortled. “Yup. I guess everyone knows about Happenstance."

But he quickly grew serious, and I could see he was worried now. He pulled from his pocket a more-or-less flat object which he looked at and tapped with his finger, then held to his ear. He started to talk in a low tone and I assumed he must be dictating a report, only some of which I could hear clearly.

“Yes, twenty-year-old, um, mixed-race male,” John was saying, "found injured at the bottom of an uncapped well--coulda have fallen in or something. Head trauma to right parieto-occipital skull. Oriented to place, but not to time, and maybe not to person either. So, yeah--head CT scan and all that good stuff.”

What did he mean by 'not oriented to time and maybe not to person?' Where am I?

I suddenly panicked. My forehead broke into a sweat as I swept my gaze around the ambulance compartment. I stopped at a small calendar on the wall with pictures of the world’s largest dog breeds. Below the photo was the month of December laid out, which was fine. But something was wrong about the year. It said 2018. That simply couldn't be right.


To be continued . . .



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