I fell down a well once, (only once?) when I was ten years old. It happened during a family picnic.
On a grassy green hill, during a sunshiny afternoon, my mom, dad, brother, sister, and I sat together on a red and white checkered blanket, next to a wicker picnic basket filled to the brim with mouth-watering morsels. There was nothing to do except eat, enjoy one another’s company, and bask in the serenity of the picturesque day, or so I thought.
While enjoying one of my mom’s legendary lobster and mango sandwiches, a small bird caught my attention, from about one hundred yards away, in a birch forest. The little guy was flying frantically in a continuous loop around one of the slender trees, roughly half the speed needed to form a constant, blurry ring. “Why is it in such a rush to get to nowhere?” I wondered. Aside from the unusual flight pattern, nothing about the creature was out of the ordinary, aside from the neon purple plumage, that is. My family continued eating and laughing together, unaware of this incongruity of biology taking place. I believe this was for the best, although with the chaos to follow, it is difficult to say.
The more I watched the bird, the harder it became to look away. I soon found myself hypnotically entranced by the swift, circular motion. Mesmerized, I pointed to the narrow birch tree, and asked my parents, “Can I go play over there?” “Just don’t wander off, dear,” my mother replied without even a shift of the head to see where I pointed. My parents were far too preoccupied savoring their chocolate covered cow tongues to maintain a stringent watch. So with their permission, I stood up, brushed myself off, and hazily sauntered towards the florescent jewel of my fixation.
The closer I got to my objective, the more the spellbinding sensation driving me intensified. Within about ten yards of my goal, the motion of time progressively slowed with each step forward, although my ability to comprehend what was taking place remained the same. It felt like I was trying to run along the bottom of a swimming pool, filled from the neck down with wet, quick dry cement. I would have turned away at this point, perhaps to tell my family, (or N.A.S.A., or a psychiatrist, if I were ten years older) but the hypnotic pull drawing me closer was too strong to resist. I was no longer entirely in control of my faculties. Now only a few feet away, everything in visual range commenced to shake in a violent manner, accompanied by a low pitched rumbling that reverberated in my skull. The only thing unaffected by the quaking was the speedy accessory around the birch tree, which had decelerated to a near standstill, along with me. With only a few more steps to take, seconds took minutes to pass. I reached out at the little anomaly of nature, which was mere millimeters from my slow-motion grasp, when the cement in the pool finally dried up.
The rumbling stopped, along with everything else. It was eerily quiet. It was as if I had accidentally stepped into a painting. Unable to move my eyes, I stood there, frozen, studying the equally still absurdity of flight and feathers, when the vibrant bird transformed into an even more vibrant ball of violet light. It then flew off into the forest with the speed of a bullet, leaving a dark, vaporous, burgundy trail. Time and motion returned to its usual pace the instant it was out of sight. The trail beckoned me to follow, tempting the incomparable curiosity of my ten year old brain, and so I obliged, giving no consideration to my mother’s earlier order.
The trail turned and twisted through the trees, far away from the picnic site. The mystical bird/ferry/ball of energy’s path eventually led me to a large patch of grass deep inside the forest. At the center of the patch was an ominous looking well. It appeared to be constructed of white marble. It was in pristine condition, with not a scratch, or even a speck of dirt to be found. Even as a child, I knew this did not feel like an ordinary place where people came to draw water. Odder still, were the features carved into the well. Pointy teeth lined the inner rim all the way around, along with a set of disproportionately large canines, giving the impression of one menacing mouth. To complete the inanimate beast, a pair of pitch black, oval shaped eyes protruded on the outer surface, aligned with the sizable canines. It somewhat resembled the appearance of an anglerfish, and it definitely looked ready to devour anything foolish enough to get near. And of course, on that day I would play the role of a fool.
In all of the commotion I had not realized how lost I had become. I guess the well sensed my predicament, because it started sending out smoke signals. A dark burgundy cloud billowed out, closely followed by two more. Three more would ascend again, and again, and again, consecutively, separated by ten second intervals, roughly speaking. “Must have eaten something bad,” my indelible kid-wit proclaimed. Surely, I had to take just one peak, to see what was causing this to happen. Obvious warning signs aside, that is what I did. (Bear in mind that I still felt the mesmeric influence that drove me here in the first place.)
With fingers locked between teeth, and both hands firmly gripped around the mouth, I leaned in on one foot, and peered down into what was a black abyss. – Nothing to see, but a sea of nothing. As I continued gazing downward, the well inhaled, pulling me inside. The smoking, marble monstrosity had swallowed another victim.
Fitful screams and steady tears were my reaction for the first bit of my free fall. When the shouting became tiresome, I clinched my eyes shut, and wrapped my arms around my body in silent anticipation of the worst. Strange, how the eyes automatically shut, even in total blackness. Stranger yet, the well was turning out to be more of a bottomless pit. After a while of rocketing through this corridor, it gradually did not feel as if I was falling. It was like I had been suspended in place, locked inside of a sensory deprivation tank.
The sound of an old film projector spinning a movie reel then started, and I was surrounded by grainy scenes of my past, present, and future, that resembled old family videos from the seventies, or eighties. The tank was working. I knew they were of my past, present, and future, but how I knew that was not clear. After a minute or two, the images ended, and I was in blackness once more, but not for long.
Glowing green vines emanating from below wrapped counter clockwise around this straightforward labyrinth, revealing that I was still indeed within a narrow cylinder, and not simply floating in empty, space, though the vines seemed to be the objects in motion, ascending by my very eyes. Perhaps ten seconds had passed, when these vines were accompanied by pink ones of equal brightness, wrapped in the opposing direction. This assault to my senses ended before I could pass out, which I would have welcomed.
Once again lost in nothingness, another colour soon emerged from beneath, and the sensation of falling returned. It was an expanse of grey, that stretched beyond the round confines I was plummeting through, giving the impression that this endless hall did in fact lead to a room. There was no light from above, but oddly enough there was some lighting up the greyness, that I was still miles away from hitting, or so it seemed. “Is that the ground?!” I thought it might be pavement. Though perplexed, this was the one curiosity I did not need solved with a closer inspection, but thanks to terminal velocity the answer was rapidly approaching. Turned out the grey mass was not pavement. “Spikes?!” Turned out the ground was comprised of huge, metal spikes, which I discovered first hand as I was spat out of the well, and into an immeasurably enormous area, where I smacked into the spikes with a cat wailing shriek.
Turned out I was wrong about the metal part. Inflatable foam aside, they looked just as threatening as metal ones – my bladder testified to that fact. I bounced through the air a couple times, before coming to a stop. There I laid on my back, when the hiss of air escaping from a balloon echoed far and wide. The spikes deflated, and dissolved into the ground of what I assumed was a dark cave, because it was damp, and made of rock, and pretty much empty. – Not entirely empty, however. There was one occupant, at the least.
A spotlight from an unseen source flashed on, introducing me to a creature with pitch black “fish” eyes, little sharp teeth, and disproportionately large canines. I sat up immediately. Aside from these unsettling, familiar characteristics, I recognized from topside, it had all the features of a bear – a very large, anthropomorphic bear, at least the size of a Kodiak. There it stood, upright, in front of me. Its fur was blue with yellow polka dots. Not only did it have an extravagant coat, but it also had a pretty snazzy jacket to compliment. (Sorry) His attire consisted of a three piece, red and pink, candy striped suit with matching top hat, and a clashing pair of glittery orange dress shoes. In one eye it wore a monocle. In one hand it held a dainty tea cup. In the other hand – to complete the ensemble – it held a gentleman’s cane, crafted from pristine, white marble, with the head of an older gentleman attached for the handle. Judging by the khaki safari hat, small round rimmed glasses, and white handlebar mustache, the head was presumably that of a nineteenth century, British huntsman. Judging the ghastly expression of horror on the man’s face, the hunt had gone awry, before entering his sudden career change as a fashion accessory.
The bear’s massive paw gripped around the head of the cane like it was a tennis ball, as he leaned against it. He took a sip from his cup, then placed it on a matching saucer resting on a round, small end table. He then picked up an old, wooden pipe off the table – the kind an old world hunter may have smoked – sparked a match, and starting puffing out the same colour smoke from earlier. My eyes were steadfastly focused on his ever widening, sadistic smile, showcasing more of those nasty teeth. I thought of yelling and running away, to break the silent tension if nothing else. But before I could implement this well constructed plan, the psychotically sophisticated man/bear (/pig) took one more puff from his pipe, and asked in an unusually deep voice, with a posh, English accent, “Are you lost? A long way from home, are we? Little boys should not wander off where they do not belong. This is a dangerous place. Lots of sordid characters down here hoping to hunt down a meal such as yourself. Just ask this fellow.” He stamped his cane, once, and shifted his eyes to the head posted on top. “If you think he looks terrified now, you should have seen him when he was alive! Ha! Oh, but do pardon my impertinence, and allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Salmon of Sussex: The Great Destroyer. I reside in the forest above, ensnaring foolish children. So, with the formalities aside, allow me to reiterate my previous inquiry. Are you not a long way from home?”
“I… I…” Brief gargles of sound were all that came out when I opened my mouth. I had been bewildered into silence.
“Well, aren’t you the precious one? Not only a foolish little boy, but a dullard as…”
I was at my limit with the amount of fear I could experience, and so anger momentarily took over. “Home is a state of mind!” A lesson my mom had shared, that I did not understand, but was the only response I could think of.
“So, the young lad displays a modicum of cerebral activity. How splendid! But what can a ten year old know of such things?” I did not know how he knew I was ten, but that was the least of my concerns. “Indeed, home is a state of mind. So where is yours?” Mr. Destroyer’s head then turned to the left, to which my head followed.
To the left stood another round end table, with a transparent, glossy pyramid set on top. A cloud of smoke, the same purple colour and consistency from before was sealed inside. I stood up, walked over to the table, and picked up the glass-like structure with my trembling hands. I had an inkling of what needed to be done. Somehow, there had to be a way to free the smoke. Scanning the surrounding area for a hint, I noticed bits of evidence scattered everywhere to support my theory. First there was a smashed pyramid next to a prehistoric, wooden club. I picked up the club, and proceeded to smack the triangular contraption with no effect. “Not a bad idea, but you’re more than a few millennia late for that strategy,” Sir Salmon chimed in. I scoured the floor for more clues.
There was a pair of charred sticks beside one melted pyramid, and a gun next to another that was full of bullet holes. Another one had been dropped to the ground using an elaborate rope and pulley system. Another had a combination lock attached that opened a tiny door on its geometric counterpart, and another had an advanced, digital keypad. I sat down, cross legged with my pyramid in my lap, and thought about what to do next. Images from the prior, grainy footage of my life swam through my mind, along with other visions of humanity’s history and destiny that I could not comprehend. “There is only the story of you within the story of everything else,” I thought, though the thought did not feel like my own. I opened my eyes alertly, as if I had been splashed in the face with cold water. The smoke inside started seeping free. Apparently it was knockout gas, because I quickly lost consciousness. When I came to my senses, I found myself at the edge of the birch forest once more. Happy to be free, I returned to the picnic site. In the years to follow I would let this entire incident slip into my subconscious, chalking it up to being the feverish dream of an imaginative kid, since many of the details at that time were foggy at best. It would not be until years later, during another picnic with my family that I would recall these events, when another adventure I wanted no part of transpired.
Note: There are two more picnics to come, which should be completed within the week, along with a very brief summary about all three.