Something rough rubbed against my hands. Sand. I hate sand, it gets in everywhere. I groaned. The swirling world settled and bright lights stung my eyes.
I dragged myself up and hit something hard. I dug with my foot and unearthed a rope; old and rotten, edges frayed, no good for climbing. Not like I could’ve climbed out. I couldn’t see the sky, and the muscles of a shut-in weren’t good for scaling circular walls, or even walls in general.
The wall was a strange mishmash of colors and shapes with a thick but uneven layering of sand and grime. I eyed the rocks jutting out in random places but they were too far away from each other to be useful.
What now, Jean? I asked myself. Starving to death in a well sounds tedious.
I took a deep breath and yelled, “Somebody, help!
My voice bounced off the walls.
“I’m stuck down here.”
My echoes were the only reply.
Help… help… help…
I yelled for what must have been an hour before sitting down, throat burning, eyes watering. I was stuck. Couldn’t even tell the time down there but at least I knew the sun was out. Where else could all that light have been coming from?
With my back against the wall, I stared at the circle way above me. My voice probably wasn’t reaching the top, echoes dying long before they could catch an ear – assuming there was an ear out there to be caught.
My pockets were empty, no phone, no ribbon, nothing. At least if I’d had a book I could have read it while my body wasted away into the sand. Now that’s a death worth dying – poetic as fuck. I grabbed my knees and thought.
How’d I get here? What was the last thing I remembered?
Sliding ladders and a burning book. A kid wearing a suit and a cozy room at the back of the library.
I didn’t remember falling down a well or getting kidnapped by a masked villain or anything. Rich kid didn’t seem like the throwing-girls-into-wells type either. But then how in Wordsworth did I end up there?
The light was waning and I was panicking. Of course, as I panicked, my thoughts flew about the walls. I had to keep shouting for help; sounds carry farther in the night, maybe I’d get lucky. I picked at the wall beside me without looking at it. I dusted off the sand and played with it absent-mindedly. There was nothing else in the sand at my feet, I’d checked.
Could I eat the rope? Probably not. I’d read somewhere you could eat the leather in your shoes in a pinch. I hoped I didn’t have to gnaw at my soles, although that’d be pretty poetic too.
I told myself to think. I must be missing something, something staring me straight in the face.
My hand brushed something smooth. I jerked to the side and noticed a shiny surface where I’d been playing with the sand on the walls. Smooth was probably an exaggeration; the thing was coarser than skin. But anything smoother than sand sounded good to me. I brushed away the sand on either side, trying to dig the thing out. I only had a few moments before the well would be plunged into darkness.
A long green rectangle came loose, too soft to be a brick. I tried to yank it out but it was stuck tight. I planted a foot on the wall, grabbed both sides of the thing and pulled. My fingers were numb and my nails screamed in pain but I persisted.
I crashed into the sand again as the thing came loose. Groaning, I caught my breath, and hissed as the sand stung my bleeding fingers. I sucked on my thumb, taste of metal and grit filling my mouth. I spat, and wiped the rest of my fingers off my clothes.
In the dimming light, I searched the ground and found the thing a few feet away. I scrambled over and picked it up. My heart stopped.
I flipped it open. Pages bristled – a familiar, welcome sound. A book. It was a book.
But then my heart sank. Empty. It was empty. I flipped through the pages, checked the back side, rubbed my eyes, prayed to the gods of literature, but it was no use. I flung it away. It hit the wall with a thud and I heard a few pages tear but I didn’t care. They weren’t even good enough to kill myself with.
Fitting place for my end. A loner ignored by her own parents withering away unnoticed. So god damn poetic.
I stared into the darkness above, and walked over to the book I’d thrown away. I picked it up and brought it to my shoulder again, ready to fling it across the well. But I stopped, and my arm weakened, and I brought it to my chest. I pressed my face against the leathery cover, breathing in the distinct, book-y smell that reminded me of the secret room at the back of the library.
When my life went to hell, that was where I’d always go; straight to the books. I buried myself in tales of demons and werewolves, detectives and serial killers, even gods and video game developers. The weight of a hardback on my fingers, the crisp sound of a turning page, the woody aroma of paper, and the taste of every word lapped up by my voracious eyes; it’s what I lived for, it’s what I used to escape the dull, dry, dreary disappointment of my real life.
But now my escape had become my prison.
I looked at the book again and frowned. In the last vestiges of light, I could barely make out a title embossed onto the cover. As darkness fell, I read aloud:
“The House of Wisdom.”