In a remote Midwest town, lived a poor family of four; Emma, her husband Gerald, and their two children. Their cottage was small but had a large backyard, blanketed by overgrown grass covering a brick-walled well.
The well was thirty feet deep with a narrow round mouth and plenty of cool water, the family’s sole prized possession. A rusty metal ladder, mounted along the brick wall, wrapped itself with vines and glimmered with the kitchen’s dim light at night. The cottage looked as deprived as its dwellers inside.
Emma and Gerald had been married for ten years. In the beginning, they were happy. But when Rebecca was four, they had James, and everything started to change. First, Gerald started degrading Emma on her waxen skin and stout body. Then, he complained about how she was not a good housekeeper like the other town ladies.
Gerald would have angry outbursts for trivial reasons. No matter what Emma tried, he remained discontent and found an excuse to drink. Eventually, he preferred drinking alone over spending time with his family.
Emma felt unworthy and blamed herself for her loveless marriage. If only I were smarter and more beautiful, Gerald would still love me, she thought. Months passed by as Gerald’s anger got progressively worse. When he was out, Emma toiled around the house and home-schooled her children till afternoon. Then, she stitched clothing for her neighbors until dinner time to earn a few pennies of her own. But Gerald never cared about how hard she worked.
When Gerald came home at night, swaying and permeating liquor smell, everyone went quiet.
The children whispered a prayer, “Let today be not like yesterday. Let him not beat mama today even if she misses the salt in the soup.”
Gerald threw his wages at Emma, and Emma picked them up. She knew that he spent the rest on drinks, but no longer complained. She only spoke when questioned to protect her children from witnessing his violent episodes. The children were content as long as there were no beatings. They played in the backyard and slept in the living room without any complaints.
As Gerald’s work dwindled and wages went down, his anger and drinking soared. Emma struggled to calm him down and feed the little ones with their tiny income. But, Gerald remained indifferent to their suffering. His strikes bruised her body, but the children’s hungry faces tormented her heart.
Emma wished she had a friend to confide in so to lighten her baggage. But, other women were too scared to come close to her due to Gerald’s nature. She saw no end in sight for her pain until one night.
That night, as Emma washed the dishes in the kitchen, she heard a woman’s silky voice.
“Emma, come to me. I know your pain. Come to my refuge and rest.”
Emma was startled. Cautiously, she followed the voice to the backyard and then to the well. But, there was no one. It felt as if the well spoke to her. Her hands trembled, and sweat covered her face as she sprinted inside to wake up Gerald. Intoxicated, he murmured a swear word and went back to sleep.
The children were already fast asleep. Terrified and clueless, she lay down beside them grabbing a chair leg with her sweaty palms. She breathed heavily and listened to the well’s voice till dawn.
As Gerald woke up, she sprang up and gibbered to him, “Gerald, we have to leave this place. It’s haunted. Last night, I heard voices coming from the well. We are not safe here. Please, let’s leave!”
Gerald shrugged and scolded her, “What voices? Lost your mind, have you? Stop raving and go, do some work. Don’t have time for your whims and fancies!”
Tears rolled down Emma’s eyes as she heard Gerald’s words. Touching the old bruises, she wiped her face and knew it was futile and risky to continue persuading him. So, she remained silent. As he left, banging the door behind him, she shut the window and door to the backyard and forbade the children to go outside.
The well did not stop speaking. Its muffled voice called Emma day and night, whether she was alone or with company. But her company never heard the voice. Only Emma heard it as if it only wanted her.
As days passed by, Emma found the well’s voice more appealing than her miserable life. Though she did not go there leaving Rebecca and James behind, she became increasingly curious about why only she heard the well’s voice and no one else.
One day, when Emma was alone, she summoned her courage and asked it, “Why do only I hear your voice?”
The well replied, “My child, that is because you are the one who needs me. I am here to alleviate your pain. Once you come to me, you will have peace and joy forever.”
Emma said, “But, I can’t come. My children need me here.”
The well said, “Don’t worry, Emma. Your husband can raise them. It’s you he doesn’t like. If you are gone, he will be a decent father. He may even remarry a beautiful, smart woman, and your children may like the new parents.”
The darkness covered Emma’s face as she thought, Are they really better off without me? She glanced down at the tranquil water hopelessly.
The well repeated, “Come on. Take a dip. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Heartbroken, Emma climbed down the ladder. She closed her eyes and felt a strange calm as she took a dip.
The well said lovingly, “Well done, Emma! Now, swim to the bottom. I am waiting for you there.”
Her children’s innocent faces flashed across Emma’s eyes as she opened them. Their grief would be unimaginable if I abandoned them, Emma thought. The mother’s love was too strong to succumb to the promise of joy and peace. As she turned to the ladder to climb up, the vines clutched her feet and pulled them down.
The well shouted, “Emma, stop! Your children won’t survive without you. If you come to the bottom, they will soon follow you. You will be united with them forever without your wretched husband. Come now.”
Emma received a shocking revelation, as the words pierced her heart.
She kicked and screamed, “How could I not see your sinister plan, you evil well? You want to devour my children and me. I will never let you hurt them. Never!”
Then, Emma scurried out like a squirrel and ran to the cottage. How could I let the darkness control me and risked my children’s lives, she thought. The place was not safe for them anymore. Emma decided to leave with her children. Before she left, she kept a note for Gerald.
We can’t live here anymore. It’s too unsafe for children and me. If there is a place in your heart for us, please come and find us.
Emma and children came to a new town where she found work on a farm. She hoped that with solitude, Gerald would realize how he hurt his family and will be ready to seek help and change his ways.
But a few days later, she heard ominous news. A drunk man had jumped into a well and died at a creaky old cottage a few towns away. She realized the evil well of depression had finally succeeded in its pursuit. Emma wept silently and prayed, ‘May his soul rest in peace.’