“Down, Down, Dark”
William M. O’Brien, Jr.
The Arhelger farm had been deserted for two generations. The slowly decaying buildings lay about a mile from the edge of town and nearest housing complexes. Although there were signs marked “No Trespassing” all around the place, it was still a magnet for kids living nearby, lovers looking for privacy and the occasional transient.
Naturally, rumors grew up about the Arhelger farm. Stories about hidden robber’s loot, a fortune stuck inside a floorboard, money buried about the place, etc. had been very popular among the nearby crops of kids for years. Some of them had gone out there digging but had not come up with anything. Some of them had lied about finding things but had not been believed by their preadolescent hearers. In short, everyone knew about the Arhelger farm, and two generations of parents had told their progeny to stay away from it. Of course most of these admonitions had been ignored.
Two of the most ardent visitors to the place were the Trembley children, thirteen-year-old Brenda and her twelve-year-old brother, Tommy. Brenda, shapely for a thirteen year old, was still an insufferable tomboy who loved every minute of it. Little brother Tommy had a curiosity about everything from puddles on the floor to the occasional Seventh Day Adventist knock on the door. Both kids had a burning interest in the Arhelger farm.
A typical Saturday, providing their parents were not keeping track of them, found the siblings peddling bicycles up the old dirt road leading to the overgrown and ramshackle Arhelger driveway. Long for even a country driveway, it led right to the front door of the huge old house. In the thick shrubbery and wild bushes surrounding the place, the kids would hide their bicycles and make their way into the old house in search of anything the countless former excursions had missed. As of the present, though, the house had been picked clean. Therefore, the two would do a cursory go over of the house and then take on the farm buildings and gardens outside.
“I’m going to stretch out on that beat up old couch,” Tommy exclaimed, once inside the front door. He pointed toward a sofa worn almost flat and grossly discolored by leaking rainwater.
I’m sure there’s a scorpion in that, maybe two,” Brenda laughed and glanced quickly around what was once a grand living room. “There’s nothing here, Kiddo. Let’s go check out the grounds.”
The siblings left the house by the same way they came in and headed around the house to the back.
“I hope we don’t run into Bruce Tibbs and that other shit bucket he runs around with out here,” Tommy piped up.
“Oh, those two turds
aren’t here or we’d hear them.” Becky stopped suddenly
and looked around. “Let’s see what’s in there.”
She pointed to a large barn, both doors to which were in the process of
Inside they found gaping holes in the ceiling. And the back doors to the barn were completely missing.
“Hey, Bren, look at this,” Tommy exclaimed loudly, bending over a stall railing. “Look at these bones.”
Brenda joined her brother at the railing. “Damn,” she said, softly. “Last time we were in here I didn’t notice those.”
“Where’d they come from, Sis?”
“I have no earthly idea, Kid.” Brenda hurriedly climbed over the railing and knelt beside the bones in the stall. “Hey, these are horse bones. Look at this skull.” She held the item for her brother.
“A horse.” Tommy stepped up on the bottom railing to get a closer look. “Where’d a horse come from? There hasn’t been anything around here in years.”
“Old Man Randolph used to stable horses in here a few years back.” Brenda stood and climbed back over the railing. “He put up a barbed wire fence and everything, to keep kids like us out.”
“Yeah, I remember. Someone tore part of the fence down.”
“Hey, Tom. Let’s get out of here.” Brenda screwed up her face. “Something stinks in here, and it isn’t long dead horses.”
Outside, the two stopped and looked around at the other buildings.
“There’s two old storage sheds over there,” Brenda remarked and pointed at two falling-down buildings close by. “There’s probably nothing in them. Everybody and his brother has gone through them.”
“Let’s look anyway, Sis”
The siblings hurried over to the two buildings in question where Brenda immediately went to work on opening the door to one of them. Tommy walked beyond the two buildings where he found a number of pieces of plywood, two-by-fours and assorted trash on the ground.
Noticing something strange over near the remains of Old Man Randolph’s barbed wire fence, he began pulling the debris away until a large blank space appeared in the ground.
“Hey, Bren. There’s a big hole in the ground over here.”
Brenda appeared quickly at her brother’s side where she bent over and moved a large piece of plywood away.
“It’s a big hole in the ground, Sis.”
“That’s not a hole in the ground, you little knucklehead. That’s an old well. Look at it.” She pointed to aged brickwork in the side of the hole.
The girl straightened up and looked around. “let’s see if there’s any water left in it.” She walked over to the path to the pasture beyond and picked up a rock. Then she returned to the well and tossed it in.
There was no report.
“No splash, Sis.”
“There’s probably water a long ways down there.” Again she straightened up and looked around. “Find me a larger rock. One big enough to make a big splash down there.”
The two searched the area between the last outbuilding and the path to the pasture until Tommy found a large rock he had to carry with two hands.
“Great, Thomas! Go throw it in there, boy.”
The boy did as he was told, but again there was no report.
“Nothing, Damn it.” Brenda stood up. “What the hell is down there?”
“I didn’t hear it hit anything, Bren.”
“There’s probably silt or a soft bottom down there that would absorb anything thrown down the well.” Brenda bent over the well and tried to see something, anything, at the bottom.
There was nothing but blackness.
“God, kid. What a great place to hide something.”
“What do you mean, Sis?”
“I mean there’s been rumors about valuable things hidden out here since before Mom and Dad were born.” Now Brenda backed away from the well and stood up. “I’m thinking we’ve just found the best hiding place on the whole estate.”
“We can’t even see the bottom, Brenda.” Tommy shook his head. “There might not be a bottom.”
“There’s always a bottom, nitwit. Where do you think the thing goes, China? “ Brenda put both hands on her hips and stared her brother down. “What we need to do is go home and come back later with a flashlight, maybe Dad’s lantern, and a good strong rope. Like the towing rope Dad has in the garage.”
“We’re not going down in there.”
“You bet your butt we are, chum.” Now, Brenda began to be excited. “I’m thinking we’re the only ones who knows this well is here. Didn’t you drag a bunch of crap off the top of it. God only knows how long that stuff has been there.”
“What do you think’s down there?” Tommy asked quietly.
“I’m thinking money.” Brenda turned back to the well and started to replace the plywood, random boards, and other trash over the top of the well. “That’s usually what all the rumors were about. I remember the Arhelgers didn’t trust banks.
In fact I don’t think they had a bank.”
“You think there’s money down there.”
“Yes. I’m thinking this well was their bank. They wouldn’t keep it in the house where someone could break in and steal it. I remember Dad and Mom talking about the lavish trips the Arhelgers took. They’d be gone a long time. They had to have a good place to hide their money while they were gone.”
The siblings soon left the property with the promise they would come back next week prepared not only to find the bottom of the well, but to climb to the bottom of it.
“You keep your little knuckleheaded mouth shut around your dipshit friends about our little secret,” Brenda barked at her little brother on their way to school Monday morning.
“Don’t worry,” Tommy countered. “They wouldn’t believe me, anyway. Our going out there trying like hell to get arrested or falling into a deep hole.”
“Just see that you don’t tell anybody.”
Friday was a holiday for a teacher work day, so off went Brenda and Tommy to the Arhelger property. They carried with them a regular flashlight in Tommy’s pocket, their father’s larger flashlight as well as sandwiches in a bag over Brenda’s shoulder and a sixty foot rope coiled over Tommy’s shoulder.
They hoped they wouldn’t attract too much attention until they left the neighborhood property and entered the woods where they wouldn’t be seen from the road. There they shouldn’t run into anyone on their way to the Arhelger property.
“If someone’s there,” Brenda told her little brother as they traipsed through the woods. “We’re going to have to turn back. We cannot have anyone knowing about what we are doing out there.
“Don’t worry, Sis. Everybody except us is tired of that old run down place. There’s nothing there.”
“I wouldn’t bet your goofy little ass there’s nothing there,” Brenda said loudly and laughed. “There is something there and we’re going to find it.”
When they reached the edge of the farm, they stepped over Old Man Randolph’s fallen barbed wire fence near the site of the well and crouched down in a clump of bushes to study the area.
“I don’t see anyone,” Brenda whispered. “We’re in luck. Again we’re the only ones here.”
“At least it’s not the cops waiting for us.”
“Why would the cops be out here, you little idiot.” Brenda stood and headed out of the brush. “They don’t know anything about what we are doing.”
Quickly they moved the debris away from the mouth of the well. They tied one end of the rope to a nearby tree and sent the rest of it down the well.
When they aimed the flashlight beams into the well, they could still not see bottom. All they could see was their rope dangling, a single entity in nothingness.
Brenda quickly removed her shoes.
“I’m going to climb down that rope and see if I can see bottom,” she stated. She hooked their father’s big flashlight to her belt with a short chain that snapped on to the ring on the end of the light. There was enough play in the chain to allow her to manipulate the flashlight with one hand.
Slowly, carefully, she climbed down the wall of the well. Ten feet down she turned on the light at her belt. She kept going.
“Can you see anything, Sis?” Tommy yelled down into the well.
“Not yet,” she replied. “I don’t think I have much more than forty feet of rope down here. We used so much tying it to that tree.”
Silently, slowly, she climbed
down another fifteen feet and further until she could see the end of the
rope. There she stopped, reached the flashlight and aimed it straight down
toward the bottom of the well.
In the dimness, she made out forms at the bottom.
“Tommy,” she shouted upwards. “I can see the bottom. I see some things that look like boxes. Or even trunks.”
She started back toward the top, moving very slowly and carefully. Climbing upwards was more difficult than the trip down, so Brenda stopped every few feet to catch her breath and strengthen her grip on the rope.
At the top she quickly climbed out and laid back with her lower legs still dangling into the well.
“Just like I thought, little guy,” she said, breathlessly. “There are things down there that look promising. Boxes, kid, boxes. What could be in boxes except money.”
“Trash in a well!” Brenda, indignant, twisted around and got to her feet. “Who but an idiot would throw trash into a well.”
“If there’s money down there, Sis, wouldn’t it be ruined by water and whatever else there’s down there with it.”
“You don’t stow bills down in a place like that, Chucklehead.” She put both hands on her hips and bent forward. “Silver and gold coins. For many, many years people have been hoarding silver and gold coins because they don’t trust the crappy economy. And they hide these things carefully to keep them out of the hands of thieves.”
“If that’s true, those boxes are going to be pretty heavy.”
“That’s right.” Brenda turned back toward the well. “What we do is tie the end of the rope around each box and then you and I will haul them up. I’ll go down to the bottom and do the tying. What we’ll need, though, is a much longer rope. And one that’s stronger if we can find it.”
“Jacob’s Dad has a rope that’s a hundred feet long. He uses it on his job.”
Now Brenda turned to her little brother. “What does he use it for? Jacob’s dad I mean.”
“I don’t know. Something to do with towing.”
“Towing. Then it has got to be strong.” Brenda looked around and then began to gather what equipment they had brought with them. “See if you can borrow it. for tomorrow.”
“Great idea, Sis. His dad won’t need it on a Saturday.”
Late that afternoon, the siblings succeeded in borrowing the rope and returned to the well early Saturday morning.
Excited, they both nearly fell into the well while they cleared the debris away from the mouth. After tying the rope into a double knot around the nearby tree they both watched as the end disappeared into the darkness toward the bottom of the well.
Brenda shined their father’s light down the well. “We still can’t see bottom from here,” she remarked. “But I think we’ve got enough rope.”
Without another word she grasped the rope and moved into the well. Slowly she climbed down into the darkness, the large flashlight, lit, dangling from her belt. Meanwhile, Tommy watched from the side of the well, and kept a lookout for anyone coming around.
With no trouble at all, Brenda reached the point she had reached the other day. But this time when she shined her light toward the bottom in an attempt to find the boxes she had seen previously, she found a large shadow taking up most of the bottom.
Thinking it was a shadow from something above, she continued her climb to the bottom.
Suddenly her lower foot collided with something seemingly soft. Looking down, the girl saw only a much larger shadow at her feet. Then, two very large luminous eyes appeared in the mass at her feet.
Brenda screamed and started back up the rope, but, in a hurry, her hands slipped and she fell downward into the shadowy mass but rolled down the side of it and fell to the bottom of the well.
Only a well stacked behind prevented a broken hip.
The girl lay in the darkness and shined her light up at what had ascended the well after her.
A creature truly out of a nightmare. Multiple sets of legs that became claws up the side of the creature, it’s behind somewhere in a darkened tunnel off to the side of the well bottom. And the creature was moving toward the top of the well. And the stench was horrible.
She screamed as loud as she could, hoping Tommy could hear her.
Tommy, apparently hearing her, appeared at the mouth of the well.
Now the head of the monster was near enough to where Tommy could see.
“Oh God!,” he screamed, falling backward from the side of the well. He had regained his feet in time to see the head of the creature appear above the mouth of the well.
“Oh, God, Brenda, help! Help!” Frozen momentarily only to see more of the thing coming out of the well, he quickly turned and headed into the farm buildings near the well. He ran, as fast as he could, to the Arhelger house and climbed a short flight of steps to a back door. Fortunately it was ajar.
Inside, he turned and stared out a window toward the path he had just taken.
But the monster was not in sight.
In the bottom of the well, Brenda lay plastered to the bottom of the well as far away from the monster as she could get. The rear of the creature appeared in the cave and headed off up the well toward daylight.
When she shined her light on the wall of the well where the creature had been, even in darkness, she could see wet and dripping slime. She would have to climb up the side of the well where the creature had not been. Fortunately, her rope was still intact. Apparently it had lain over the top of the monster as it climbed out of the well.
When the creature had disappeared out of the well, Brenda naturally grew worried about the monster. She had heard Tommy scream earlier, and, hopefully, now he was in full flight.
She tried to contact her little brother by cell phone from the bottom of the well, but she could not reach him. In fact, her phone could not work at all even though it had been in her shirt pocket which had not slammed into the bottom of the well.
There was no certainty when the monster would return to the well, so she grabbed the rope to climb out, if she could. Fortunately the rope was dry, even the parts which had been in contact with the creature.
Slowly, always watching the top of the well, she began her ascension. She found she could use holes and chips of the wall for foot holds as she climbed. Also, fortunately, the side of the well she climbed was away from where her adversary had climbed. Hence, it was dry.
In the meantime, Tommy, lay low behind a back window of the Arhelger house. He was not able to contact his sister and he became worried, thinking he should return to the well. However, somewhere, probably between him and the well, was the nightmare he had seen earlier climbing out of the well. Had the creature hurt or killed his sister. The thought brought tears to his eyes.
The boy rose and tiptoed into the house, going from room to room. If the monster was in the house he would hear it, but he crept as quietly as he could into the large living room in the front of the house.
There, across the front wall, was a bank of large windows where he could see in several directions.
However, the windows showed him nothing. The creature was nowhere to be seen.
Now he figured the thing was somewhere in the back of the house, probably waiting for him to try to get to the well.
Slowly, painfully, Brenda made her way up the rope toward the mouth of the well. Every once in a while, she stopped and listened, trying to determine where the monster was. And there was the worry of the creature waiting for her just beside the well. But she would have to take the chance that the creature was chasing her little brother and that he had eluded it in the farm buildings near the well.
After what seemed like hours, she reached the top of the well. Carefully, she stuck her head up and scanned the area for any sign of life. There was none. Then, quickly, she pulled herself up and out of the well and rolled over on the nearby group of leaves near the well. There, the girl who rarely went to church and never prayed, said a prayer. For her and her little brother.
She rose to her knees and texted her brother who quickly responded, saying he was in the main house but could not see the monster.
Then Brenda looked around and could not see the creature, either. In fact, everything around looked in order, as if the monster had existed only in the minds of the siblings. Brenda knew better, though. Keeping a wary eye out, she started for the main house.
Heading up a passageway between rows of out buildings, she noticed the gate at the head of the passage was closed with a crude wire lock set. Apparently neither her little brother nor the monster had come this way. Therefore, she quickened her pace as the main house was in full view behind the closed gate.
However, from out of nowhere, the monstrous head of the thing appeared out of a lugustrum hedge beside the gate.
Now she had a distinct view of the thing out of the darkness of the well. As it moved toward her over the gate, she noticed a long, seemingly sharp appendage, projecting from the top of its head. While the monster crept toward her it lowered the spear-like appendage. Twenty feet away from the girl, the creature’s eyes became apparent, two huge luminous marbles seemingly staring at her.
Brenda turned and headed back the way she had come. She had no idea how fast the thing could move, so she ran at top speed for the well from which it had come. When she rounded the corner of the last outbuilding, she stopped dead in her tracks.
A second monster was emanating from the well, its gross, slimy body already half out of the entrance.
Brenda screamed as loud as she could and ran past the outbuilding toward old man Randolph’s barbed wire fence at the edge of the immediate property. Reaching the fence, she tripped over a large rock and fell into the barbed wire.
The fence was partially down so she was not as cut up as she would have been if the fence were intact. But, when she glanced back, the second creature was bearing down on her. She couldn’t make a sound. She did, however, empty herself in her pants.
Sobbing, and bleeding from cuts on her arms, she quickly rose and ran into the brush and scrub trees bordering the old fence.
Plowing through thorn bushes and heavy brush, she made her way eastward toward the road, hoping that there she would find Tommy. Suddenly she stopped and, hidden by heavy shrubbery and brush, texted her brother again, telling him to head for the main road.
However, her brother had problems of his own. He had left the house to head up the driveway to the road when he had come face to face with the first monster that had apparently just come around the house. Now it stood between him and the road.
He turned and ran top speed back to the house, hoping to hide somewhere upstairs away from the numerous openings to the ground floor. Only when he had reached a bedroom looking out on the overgrown front lawn and driveway did he remember his cell phone.
Without hesitating he called his sister.
“Tommy, where the hell are you,” the girl sobbed into the phone.
“I’m in the house upstairs.” Tommy answered. “That damned thing’s out front of the house. I almost ran into it on the way to the road.”
“Tom, I’m out here in the brush trying to get to the road.” Brenda, out of breath, paused and looked all around her. She could hear nothing in the brush around her. “There’s another one of those damned things, at least. It came out of the well shortly after I got out of the well.”
“Sis, there’s one out front.” Tommy repeated. He looked up and out the window. “I can’t see it from here, but it is out there.”
“I’m going to try to get to the road.” Brenda stopped a minute and listened. She held her breath and slowly looked around. There was no sound in the brush and brambles around her. “I think I’m pretty close to the road now. Keep your phone handy. When I get there I’ll call you. Stay put where you are. If you’re upstairs, I think you’re pretty safe from those things. If they do come at you from the front, there are back stairs.”
“Yeah. I’m looking out the window now and I still don’t see anything.”
“Tommy, those things move very fast, but they do make a racket. Keep your ears open.” Brenda sniffed back tears. “Bye, now. When I get to the road, I’ll call you again.”
Now Tommy began to plan a way to get out of the house and down the driveway to the road. Knowing the monster was in the outgoing driveway, he thought about the incoming driveway which could not be seen from the outgoing way. He could possibly use the incoming driveway to escape but he would have to know where the monster was since it would be close by.
Stopping every now and then to listen, he crept to the first floor and looked about through a bank of broken, dusty windows. Everything was deathly quiet. There wasn’t even any wind.
The boy made his way through a broken door at the side of the house and began following the circular driveway in the direction of the road. Soon though he caught sight of the monstrosity, standing perfectly still among trees and high brush between the two driveways.
Immediately, he stopped. Obviously the creature saw him as it moved its head in his direction. It was then that Tommy noticed the long appendage jutting out from its head.
Using this horn-like accessory to move heavy brush aside, it started in Tommy’s direction.
Momentarily panicking, Tommy turned to his left and ran into a large, high lugustrum hedge lining the driveway. As quickly as he could he pushed the think vegetation aside, trying to make his way into a field that he knew was on the other side of the hedge. At the property edge he ran into a barbed wire fence that he knew couldn’t be Old Man Randolph’s since it was in good shape and stood four feet high.
In a heartbeat, he was in the fence flailing about to get through it away from the monster he knew was right behind him. Suffering cuts on his face, arms and hands and tears in his clothes he made it to the neighboring property and took off eastward toward the road.
In five minutes he stood at roadside, looking desperately for cars, any car, to come along for him to flag down. His desperate wants were soon rewarded as a Sheriff’s Department car appeared at the top of the road.
The car drove up to Tommy and stopped. Sheriff’s Deputy Harlon Scrivener stepped out of his car and walked around the front of it.
“What the hell happened to you,” he said, eyeing the boy up and down.
“I got cup up in a barb wire fence.” Tommy pointed down the road. “Sir, my sister’s down there trying to get to the road. She’s in a bad way, too.”
Tommy and the Deputy hopped into the car and started down the road. They had gone less than two hundred yards when they spotted Brenda, who had started walking toward the car when she spotted it.
The Deputy stopped the car and got out. Tommy did the same. Both noticed that Brenda was cut and bruised as Tommy had been. Both kids embraced each other fiercely.
An incredulous look on his face, Deputy Scrivener put both hands on his hips. “What in the name of God have you two kids been up to?” he asked in a low, slow voice.
“We were in the well trying to get to the bottom when this monstrous thing came out of it after us,” Brenda stated frankly.
“What well? What came out of the well?” The Deputy looked from Brenda to Tommy in turn.
“The well behind the old house. This…This thing.” Now Brenda began breathing heavily. “It chased me and Tommy around the house and then, when I went back to the well, another one came out.”
“Young lady, that is the damndest thing I’ve ever heard.” Slowly, he shook his head.
“It’s true,” Tommy said, almost in tears. “The thing chased me out of the house and through the hedges and through a fence to the next property.”
Noting that neither youngster seemed to be hurt that much and the scratches and clothing tears were only superficial, the Deputy started walking toward the nearby road into the Arhelger property.
“Show me where all this was supposed to take place,” he said over his shoulder.
The siblings eagerly followed, anxious to show the Deputy the monster, or monsters, that had been bedeviling them.
They walked through the property to the well behind the outbuildings. There, they found the well still open, its coverings lying around it. Also they found the heavy rope the siblings had used to reach the bottom of the well.
While the deputy examined the well, the siblings noted that nothing about or near the well had been disturbed. They scoured the ground for tracks or even scrape marks of the monster that had followed them but there were none.
Now, Deputy Scrivener turned to the kids. “I’ll be the first to tell you two that what you are doing here is just as dangerous as it can be.”
“Sir, I know you don’t believe us but it’s true,” Brenda whined. “Both of us were chased by this monstrous thing. It came out of there.” She pointed at the well. “So did the other one. Both of them.”
“The only thing I see around here is a couple of kids getting in trouble.” Deputy Scrivener looked from Brenda to Tommy. “A couple of kids who are lucky they’re not seriously hurt I might add.”
The Deputy took the siblings back through the property to his car. Then he drove them home.
On the way, Brenda and Tommy resigned themselves to the fact that no one would believe their stories, given the evidence of them had vanished. It was like the two had imagined everything, and the huge monstrous creatures had never existed at all.
But deep in the well, Brenda remembered the boxes. What was in the boxes? And why were they down there, other than to be hidden. Boxes full of valuables? Well hidden from anyone who came around.
Curiosity would not take the siblings back to the Arhelger property. Curiosity and the knowledge that these treasures had a guard. One that was definitely waiting for them.