10 Into the well
She leant over the side of the well, remembering the smell from her dream, holding on to the top of the bricks. A small hand closed over her left one and her eyes followed the arm upwards to see Luke. He was tanned and healthy, his cheeks red and eyes bright, brown hair glossy and thick again. ‘Shall we go in?’ he asked, nodding at the well.
‘What? How on earth do you think … ?’ but she stopped because he was using both hands to throw a rope ladder over into the well. So that answered the how.
‘Why would we want … ?’
‘Don’t you want to see what’s inside it?’
He was tugging on the ladder to make sure it was secure. This end of it seemed to be fastened down into the ground with thick metal pegs, bigger than the ones they used on the tent ropes when camping. Elisha had always imagined the inside would be wet brick and cold, deep water, like with an ordinary well. She had no real desire to check it out for herself.
‘I’ll go first if you promise not to kick my head.’ He already had one leg over the wall. It was all going too quickly for Elisha, like someone had speeded up a cine film of them. She wanted to yell ‘Stop!’ but was ashamed to be such a wimp when Luke showed no fear at all. So she found herself following him down the well, descending the rope ladder slowly and carefully, conscious of his fast, excited breathing below her.
Once they were a few feet down, it got very dark and rather cold. Like caves could be cold in the summertime when you wished you hadn’t gone in in just a t-shirt and shorts but had listened to your parents and brought your pullover from the car. She started to shiver and wish she were climbing back up.
‘Come on, Elisha.’ Luke’s voice echoed a couple of times off the shaft. ‘Wow,’ he said quietly, ‘did you hear that?’
‘I’m coming.’ She started moving again, but put one foot down carefully to join the other on a new rung, while he was skipping this stage and proceeding very fast, foot over foot.
‘You’re miles behind now,’ he called and the echo went round Elisha’s head, making her feel dizzy. It was pitch black in the well now. When she looked up, she could just see a tiny circle of light high above her. Why oh why did she agree to this? She peered downwards but couldn’t make Luke out any more and started to panic.
‘Luke!’ Her own voice came back at her, somehow more pathetically, so that she felt stupid. But he didn’t answer, so the feeling of panic grew. It was swelling up inside her and she couldn’t stop it. Something hairy and spidery ran across her hand and she screamed. Then she felt angry with Luke for abandoning her.
‘Luke! Where are you?’ She tried to speed up and suddenly she was knee-deep in freezing cold water, which made her gasp. Hm, exactly as she’d imagined after all.
‘Up here, up here, Ellie.’ Luke’s voice was hyper and breathless.
Her head jerked upwards. So fast that she felt that sharp twinge in her neck because the brain signal hadn’t got through in time again. She really didn’t like that feeling.
Tiredness washed over her, like it was creeping up from the water. She pulled her feet up with quite some effort, sighing. They were almost numb with cold.
‘Come on!’ yelled Luke from somewhere above her, but further away than before.
She started to climb, her legs heavy so that she had to drag them like dead weights.
‘Are you coming or what?’
She made a face at the bricks in front of her. ‘Okay. But I can’t see where you are.’
‘There’s an opening a few feet up from you, just to the right of the ladder.’
After a minute she saw Luke’s head seeming to pop out of the wall towards her and yelped with surprise.
‘Through here, see. It’s quite a small opening but it widens out. It’s like a tunnel, you’ll see.’ He took her hand to help her up to the hole. The rope ladder swung unexpectedly and she had to stop herself from screaming.
Determined to be brave, she said, ‘Move out of the way and I’ll get in myself.’
‘Okay.’ He retreated out of sight.
She managed to get a good hold inside the hole with her right hand first, leaning across and then found it relatively easy to pull herself up. It was like she was boosted somehow from underneath or like her body had turned very light and buoyant. Normally in her dreams she could float-walk and dance around, a foot or two off the ground, like the people in the Cookeen commercial. She could just make Luke out by the whites of his eyes and teeth, because he was grinning.
‘What an adventure!’ he breathed, seemingly awestruck by the fact that they’d climbed down the inside of a freezing cold old well and discovered some manky tunnel.
‘Yeah,’ she said, rather sarcastically. ‘Well, let’s see what’s down here then.’
But she let him go ahead of her in case of spider webs.
‘Ugh!’ he exclaimed and recoiled into her, having hit one. They had to feel their way along on their hands and knees for a bit. But suddenly the area seemed to be opening out into a kind of chamber.
Elisha became aware of an eerie blue light and blinked a couple of times trying to adjust to it. The walls around them were polished dark rock, worn smooth by something, maybe water, over many years. The blue light was coming from a large, roundish pool roughly in the centre of the chamber. They could hear the gentle sound of tiny waves lapping its edges. Luke took her hand and she grasped his gratefully. They were both drawn to the serenity and glow of the blue pool, approaching it without saying a word to each other, as if no other course of action were possible.
A slow dripping from a number of stalactites above the pool was what agitated the still water into life, creating the ripples that reached the shore, the gentle hypnotic sound they could hear. Elisha gazed into the sapphire water that also seemed to be light, feeling suddenly giddy and cold.
‘What makes it so bright?’ Luke whispered, hushed by the strange calmness.
‘I don’t know.’ Elisha shuddered a little, feeling a chill run down her spine, also in awe, like they’d run headlong and clattering into a vast cathedral and found people praying. ‘I think we should go back.’ But when she looked around, the chamber walls were solid rock; there was no tunnel; it had disappeared.
‘I think we should go on.’ Luke felt the water with his hand, exclaimed, ‘It’s warm, Elisha!’ before stepping into the pool. She was sure there must be some Green Cross Code for stepping into strange pools that he wasn’t paying attention to.
She didn’t even have time to tell him the tunnel was gone. She reached out a hand to grab him but he moved further in so that she nearly overbalanced herself. The water was getting deeper around him. ‘Luke! Stop! Come back!’ she called, as he waded out of her reach.
And he went on, smiling calmly back at her, almost soothingly, a mischievous glint in his eyes, tilting his head as if to taunt her, till the water was over his head and he was gone.
She sobbed a minute, breathlessly, then realised that she had to follow him, no matter how scared she was — she had to get him back. But she couldn’t swim — she’d have to stay close to the edge, duck her head under and see if she could reach him. While her brain was telling her this, she found herself taking a deep breath and closing her eyes before letting herself fall forward into the water.
He was right — it was warm, like a tepid bath. Opening her eyes again, she was momentarily blinded by the light, but then saw Luke ahead of her. He seemed peaceful, unconscious, inert.
The water didn’t make her eyes sting like it did in the swimming baths. She found herself swimming towards him. She could normally swim easily in her dreams but this wasn’t like that. It was really hard, her clothes and shoes like heavy stones she had to tow, the effort of holding her breath making her chest ache. Catching him under the armpits, her temples beginning to pound, she used all her might to hoist him, to shove them both up towards the air, kicking hard with her feet. He surfaced moments before her.