The Well

Jamie Stephens and his little brother Tommy found the well during the second week of June in the summer of 1989. They’d just moved into the country that April, and the boys hadn’t quite mapped out the woods and fields surrounding their new house. They were in the field behind their new house, and Tommy had been chopping down the tall weeds with a stick he’d found.

He’d hit a corner of the concrete slab, snapping his stick in two with a dry crack. Tommy looked at the stick in his hand, as if disgusted by the sudden betrayal of an old friend. He tossed the rest further into the weeds, then shaded his brow with his left hand, squinting.

“Hey Jamie, look!” he called. Jamie stood up, dusting his hands on his pants. He’d been inspecting an ant hill he’d kicked over. Watching the ants scurry around, panicking. Jamie walked over, looking at the thing his brother had found.

“What is it?” asked Tommy. He was only a couple years younger than Jamie, but he had a deep and abiding respect for the worldly wisdom of his older brother.

Tommy had found the edge of what appeared to be an ancient square of poured concrete, piled high with rubble and sticks, and buried in the tall grass in the field behind their house.

“I dunno. Concrete or cement, looks like.” said Jamie. “Let’s clear it off."

It took both boys working together about half an hour to clear all the debris off the concrete slab. Mostly old boards, sticks and rocks. Like someone had tried to cover it up.

Jamie knew there was something special about the well as soon as they uncovered it. It didn’t look like much. Just a square of concrete surrounding an old, metal hole. Maybe a foot in diameter. Too small for Tommy to get stuck in, even if he tried. But there was something about it. Some feeling that came over Jamie. He couldn’t take his eyes off the thing, and neither could his little brother.

“What is it, Jamie?” asked Tommy, again. He took a step toward the well.

“You stay away from that, Tommy. I don’t want you getting hurt,” he said. “I think it’s an old well. That’s probably why it was covered up. To keep little turds like you from falling in."

“Aww, I can’t fall in there,” said Tommy, scowling. “Let’s throw something in it, see if we can find out how deep it is."

“Yeah, ok,” said Jamie. Throwing something into the rusty black darkness of the well struck him as a bad idea, but he wanted to know how deep it went, too. “Find me a rock."

Tommy wandered off a bit, looking around near the ant hill his older brother had kicked over. He came back with a fist size rock clutched in his hand. He handed it over to Jamie, and the boys knelt in the grass and dirt near the concrete.

Jamie dropped the rock down the hole, and the boys leaned over to listen. Nothing. No splash, no sound of the rock hitting anything at the bottom. The well was deep, and now that he was leaning forward over it, Jamie could smell something bad. Like old, stagnant water, but worse.

“It smells like something dead,” said Tommy, in a whisper. “I don’t like it."

“Me either,” said Jamie. “Let’s cover it back up."

The boys hauled a couple of the old rotten boards back over the concrete slab, then piled some larger rocks on top. It wasn’t covered up as well as it was when they’d found it, but the sight made Jamie feel better. Something about it gave him the creeps.

“This is boring,” said Tommy. “Let’s go down to the creek and look for frogs."

“Yeah, ok,” said Jamie. “Go get a bucket out of the shed."

Tommy lead the way, picking up another stick before he went. Jamie stood by the concrete slab for another minute or two, listening. He could still smell the stink of the thing.

Jamie thought about the well long into the night, lying awake in his bed, and listening to his brother snore softly from the bottom bunk. He’d forgotten about it by morning, and the well didn’t cross his mind again until one day a couple weeks later, when he was mowing the lawn and heard someone calling his name.

Jamie shut the riding mower off, looking around. He wore an old baseball cap to keep the sweat out of his eyes, and he thought Tommy might be looking for him.

“Yeah?” he called, standing up from the mower. No response.


A voice he didn’t recognize calling his name. Jamie turned around, certain the voice had come from behind him. He saw the edge of the concrete surrounding the well he and Tommy had found. Jamie walked toward it, slowly.

No way someone could be down there, he thought. It’s way too small.

The boards he and his little brother had placed on the well were still there, held down by large rocks. It had taken both of them to life those rocks. Jamie could see a dark gap between two boards. That same stench rose up out of the earth.

“Jamie,” said the voice again. Something like a whisper, something urgent.

“Who is it?” asked Jamie, taking another hesitant step toward the well.

“Help,” said the voice. “Jamie, help."

“Who are you? How do you know my name?” he asked. He felt goosebumps rising all up and down his arms. Something about that voice gave him the creeps, and Jamie wished he’d never turned off the mower. He wished he’d just ignored that voice.

The voice fell silent. No answer from the hole in the earth. Jamie would have thought he’d imagined the entire conversation, except it had called him by name.

“How can I help? Do you need me to get you out of there?"

“Yes,” it said. Jamie caught a stronger whiff of decay, and wrinkled his noise against the stench.

“What can I do?"

He knelt down on the grass again, leaning forward over the hole.

“I’m hungry,” it said. Another whisper, so faint Jamie had to lean further over the hole to catch it. “I need…a sacrifice."

Jamie didn’t understand the word, but there was an eagerness in the voice he didn’t like. He stood up too quickly, his knees locking and his vision momentarily blurred. Jamie half-ran back to the lawn mower, starting it up again, and driving it back toward the barn.

He thought he heard the voice in the well laugh. He hoped he’d imagined it. He hoped he’d imagined the whole thing.

Their mom let them stay up late on Wednesday nights to watch Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. Jamie liked the unsolved murder episodes best, but Tommy liked the Halloween specials the most. He was crazy about anything with ghosts or demons in it, even though he usually stayed up all night after watching one of the specials. He had a nightlight next to his bed, and mostly Tommy thought he was too old for it. Unless he was scared. Then Jamie could see it glowing all night from the top bunk.

That night was a murder mystery episode, but all Jamie could think of was the well. He looked up the word “sacrifice” after parking the lawnmower that afternoon. It meant to give something up, like an animal or blood, to God. Or a supernatural entity.

Jamie didn’t believe in ghosts, not like his little brother, but he asked him to leave the nightlight on when their mother sent them to bed after the show was over.

“Aww, who’s a widdle baby now?” asked Tommy, echoing Jamie’s taunts whenever he got too scared at night. “Who’s a tiny widdle scared baby?"

“Just shut up and do it, Tommy,” said Jamie. Tommy stopped teasing his older brother at once. Jamie climbed up the old ladder to the top bunk, running his hand over a dried drop of resin on the top bar, like he always did.

He heard Tommy shuffling around in the lower bunk, and then saw the glow from the nightlight.

“Thanks, Tommy,” said Jamie, settling back, hoping to get some sleep.

Their bedroom was next to the bathroom, and there were pipes running in the walls and beneath the floor of their room. The boys could often hear those old pipes rattling and moaning. Jamie thought he heard something, a faint knocking in the wall. A scraping sound, and then heavy silence.

Sleep was a long time coming that night.

The boys stayed away from the well during the day. Jamie asked Tommy to leave the nightlight on until he didn’t have to ask any more. The pipes made noise, more and more every night.

One night, lying awake in bed, Jamie

“Tommy, do you think our house is haunted?"

His little brother didn’t say anything for a long while. Jamie thought he was asleep, but Tommy wasn’t snoring.

“I dunno,” Tommy said, finally. “I didn’t used to think so, but I’ve been hearing things at night."

Jamie swallowed hard.

“Things like what? The pipes?"

“No, not the pipes. Like something in the bathroom. And the laundry room. Like in the drain."

Jamie always hated these kinds of night time talks, though it was usually Tommy who initiated them. Usually after a scary movie or TV show.

“What’s it sound like?"

“Like something wet. Or someone laughing sometimes. I don’t like it."

“I don’t either, Tommy. Let’s try to get some sleep, ok?"


The boys fell silent for a while.



“Will you come sleep with me?"

Jamie couldn’t get down the ladder quickly enough. He laid down next to his brother, turning onto his side, and welcomed the arm Tommy flung over him.

The next day was a Saturday, and Tommy was already awake when Jamie got out of bed. He vaguely remembered his little brother climbing over him. Tommy was crazy about Saturday morning cartoons, and would make himself a giant bowl of cereal before sitting down to watch their tiny black and white TV set for hours.

Jamie pulled on his jeans and socks from the day before, and went into the bathroom to take a piss. He brushed his teeth, then took a bandaid out of the medicine cabinet above the sink, and put it in his pocket. Jamie walked down a narrow hallway into the living room. Tommy sat cross-legged on the floor and he turned his head toward Jamie, then back to the TV.

“Good morning to you too, you little turd,” said Jamie.

“I’m not a turd, you’re a turd,” said Tommy, never taking his eyes off the TV.

Jamie sat down on the sofa, pulling on his shoes and tying the laces.

“You wanna watch cartoons?” asked Tommy.

“Nah,” said Jamie. “I’m gonna go outside."

“What’re you doing?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just eat your cereal."

“Ok,” said Tommy. He looked at a little blue Mickey Mouse watch on his left arm. “It’s 8:13."

“Thanks for the update. Mom and dad up yet?”

“Nah, they’re still asleep,” said Tommy.

“All right. I’ll be back later, maybe we’ll watch TV then."

The day was already too hot for Jamie’s taste. It was just the last week of June, and he felt his forehead start to sweat as soon as he stepped foot outside their front door.

“Christ, fucking hot as shit out here already,” he muttered. He never talked that way in front of his brother, but Jamie spent a lot of time with his older cousin Robby, and Robby swore like a sailor. Cussing when he was by himself felt good. It was like a secret that wouldn’t hurt anyone.

He walked up the hill toward the back of the house, looking through a large plate glass window into the living room when he walked past it. Tommy was still sitting cross legged on the floor, his giant bowl of cereal balanced in his lap, staring at the TV. His mouth hung open a bit, making him look stupid, and Jamie realized how much he loved his little brother.

Sure, they fought sometimes, but they hadn’t lived in the country very long and there weren’t many kids out here his own age. Tommy had been good company, and they’d had a lot of fun exploring the area around their new house. It was a big change from their cramped little house near their elementary school.

Jamie found himself in front of the well, before he really had a chance to think about where he was going. The hole in the earth stank worse than ever. The boards covering the top of the well didn’t line up right, and there was a triangle of darkness peeking out between them.

Good, thought Jamie. I won’t have to move all that shit off of it.

Jaime knelt down in front of the well again, pulling his red pocketknife and the bandaid out of his pocket. He opened the knife, pulling out the largest blade, then wiped it off on the hem of his t-shirt. His father had just sharpened his knife the week before, and Jamie drew the blade across the ball of his thumb.

Blood sprang up from the cut almost immediately, and he held his hand over the well, pressing his knuckle against his thumb to squeeze more blood out. He didn’t know how much blood counted as a sacrifice, but quite a few drops of blood had fallen down the throat of the well, and Jamie decided that was enough.

He held his thumb to his mouth, running his tongue over the cut, wrinkling his nose at the metallic taste of his blood. He wrapped his thumb carefully in the bandaid, then stood up and looked into the well. It looked the same as before, but that stench rising up seemed to be better. Not as overwhelming as before. He’d almost retched when he first knelt in front of the well. It was still bad, but tolerable.

Probably just used to it now, he said, even though he didn’t think it was possible to get used to that smell.

He didn’t feel any different. Jamie had lain awake the night before, going over his plan in his head, wondering if the act of making a sacrifice would change him in some fundamental way. His thumb hurt, and he felt a little foolish, but other than that, he felt the same.

Jamie walked away from the well, making his way to the little creek that ran behind their house. There was a shady spot next to an old tree he liked to sit on when the weather was hot, and suddenly there was nowhere in the world he’d rather be.

Something deep in the well chuckled, pleased with itself, when Jamie was out of earshot. A satisfied, knowing laugh.

The boys didn’t hear anything for a long time. Almost a month with no night time noises, no voices from deep beneath the earth, nothing but silence. It was just about enough time for Jamie and his little brother to forget about what they’d found behind the house, and for Jamie to forget about the sacrifice he’d made.

The boys got nearly three weeks of peace, and then one night in mid July, the thing came back. It was worse than ever.

“Ugh, gross, Tommy,” said Jamie, from the top bunk. Something reeked in their bedroom.

“It’s not me, Jamie,” said Tommy. There was a tone in his voice that jerked Jamie all the way out of sleep. “Something’s in the wall."

Jamie could hear it himself now, a creeping, slithering sort of sound. He was reminded of an old horror movie he’d seen once, with a giant snake. The snake had made a similar noise, a furtive, scraping sound as its scales moved along the ground.

“Do you hear that, Jamie?” asked Tommy, his voice tiny and frightened. Jamie had seen him scared before, but this was different.

“Yeah,” said Jamie. “It sounds like it’s moving around in the pipes."

“No,” said Tommy. “Not that. It’s talking. It’s saying my name."

A chill came over Jamie. He couldn’t hear anything but the steady, arrhythmic scraping sound from the pipes. Like something trying to force itself through the plumbing. He climbed down the ladder, his bare foot stepping in something wet. The old green rug that covered most of their bedroom floor was soaked through.

Tommy scooted closer to the wall and Jamie crawled into the space he left.

The boys huddled together in the dark. The creeping, crawling noise from the wall stopped almost as soon as Jamie got into bed with Tommy.

“Do you still hear it, Tommy?” asked Jamie. “Is it still talking to you?"

“No,” said Tommy. “But don’t go back to your bed. I want you to sleep here."

“I will,” said Jamie.

“Do you think we should tell mom and dad?” asked Tommy.

Jamie shook his head.

“They wouldn’t believe us. We’re too old to believe in monsters. But I’ve got an idea, Tommy. I’ll fix it."

“Ok,” said Tommy, his voice getting drowsy, and his head drooping back onto his pillow. Within a few minutes he was asleep, snoring softly next to Jamie.

Jamie put his wet feet over the edge of the bed to avoid getting his brother’s sheets dirty. He was too old to believe in monsters, but images of something under the bed reaching out and grabbing his bare feet kept him awake most of the night.

Jamie woke as soon as he heard his parents leave in the morning. In the past, his mom and dad had dropped them off at their grandma’s during the summer breaks, but Jamie was almost 12 now, and his parents decided he was old enough to watch after his little brother.

In the dim, early morning light, he could see some kind of residue on his feet. An oily, black stain. He swung his legs over the bed, testing the carpet below. He found it surprisingly dry, then got up and walked into the bathroom to take a shower.

He caught his reflection in the mirror above the sink. Jamie almost didn’t recognize himself. He looked older, with dark black circles under his eyes. He walked back into the bedroom to put his clothes on.

Tommy was stirring in the bed.

“Get out of bed, Tommy,” said Jamie. “We have something to do."

Tommy whined, but got up anyway.

“What happened to your feet?” he asked. Jamie hadn’t been able to get all of the residue off, but they were cleaner than before he got in the shower.

Jamie ignored the question.

“Just get your clothes on, turd,” he said.

The boys dressed, then Jamie went into the kitchen to make them both a bowl of cereal.

“Where are we going?” asked Tommy, following Jamie outside.

“To the well,” said Jamie. “I have an idea. I think we can get it to leave us alone."

The boys walked up the hill. The grass around the concrete slab was a dark, brittle brown color. The boards were no longer covering the hole in the earth, and the heavy rocks had been pushed off the top of the slab. As if something had cleared them off.

Jamie and his little brother stood in front of the well, bathed in the stench rising from the mouth of the thing.

“What’s your idea?” asked Tommy.

“We need to make a sacrifice,” said Jamie. “I think it’ll leave us alone if we do."

“What’s a sacrifice?"

“It means we have to give it something. Something alive. Help me look for a frog or a turtle or something."

The boys walked away from the well, heading down to the creek that ran past their house and under the road. Toads were pretty hard to find this late in the summer, but sometimes the boys would get lucky. Tommy liked to make little cages and keep toads as pets, until they died or escaped.

“You look up that way,” said Jamie, pointing. “I’ll look down here.”

The boys parted ways, stepping carefully through the creek. It hadn’t rained for a while, and the creek bed was dry, but the rocks were still loose. Neither of them had ever seen a snake in the creek before, but it was possible. Copperheads lived in the woods around their house, or so their parents had told them.

Jamie picked his way carefully down the creek bed, looking through the banks for any sign of movement. Any little creature too slow to get away in time. He’d really like to have something larger, something like a squirrel or a rabbit, but there was no way he’d catch one with his bare hands.

“Jamie! Jamie!” called his brother, from further up the creek.

Jamie turned around, moving more quickly now but still being careful not to step on any rocks that looked loose.

He found Tommy around the bend to the north, bent over by the side of the creek, looking at something underneath a tree. It was a small, black bird, crouched on the ground, its wings tucked close by its side.

“I think it’s hurt,” said Tommy. “It’s not flying away."

Jamie looked up into the tree. He didn’t see a nest, but he heard some small squawking noises.

“Yeah,” he said. “Looks like it fell out of the nest. Stay here. I’m going to get some gloves."

Tommy nodded, crouching down in front of the little bird. Jamie walked back to the house, into his dad’s workshop. It wasn’t really a workshop. It was more like a place his dad hung out and drank. Tommy could see little sample bottles of liquor lined up against the wall of his old wooden work bench. Most of them were whiskey. Most of them were empty.

He grabbed a pair of leather gloves from a shelf under the workbench, then walked back to the creek.

Tommy was still crouched down by the bird. Jamie thought he heard him talking to the little animal, but Tommy stopped when he noticed Jamie walking down the path.

“Do we have to?” asked Tommy. “I feel bad. Like it’s wrong."

“A sacrifice isn’t supposed to be easy, Tommy. And I think it’ll leave us alone if we do this."

Jamie pulled on the old leather gloves, then crouched down next to his brother.

“Don’t hurt it,” said Tommy.

“I won’t. Don’t worry,” said Jamie, gently scooping the little bird up into his hands. The bird sat, wings hunched, looking around with bright, black eyes. The boys stood, walking back up the path. Back toward the well.

The bird began to struggle as they got closer to the well, almost panicking when Jamie and Tommy knelt down in front of the concrete slab. Jamie tightened his grip on the little bird, hoping to silence its panicked cries. The bird bit him, but he didn’t feel it though the heavy glove.

Tommy's eyes were filled with tears. Jamie nodded, holding the bird over the mouth of the well, then opened his hands and let go. The bird fell down into the dark hole in the earth, trying desperately to fly, squawking in protest.

The boys listened carefully. The cries stopped, eventually. They didn’t hear the bird hit the bottom.

Tommy was crying now, trying to stay quiet, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand.

“I’m sorry, Tommy,” said Jamie.

He put an arm around his little brother, and the boys sat there in front of the well for a long while.

The sacrifice worked. For a while, at least. Jamie and Tommy didn’t have any problems from the well for another few weeks. No noise in the walls, no night time visits.

Jamie was falling asleep one night in early August when his brother spoke to him.

“It’s been talking to me again."

Jamie opened both eyes, staring at the tiles in the ceiling a few feet above his bed.

“What do you mean? Like right now?"

“No,” said Tommy. “Not now. But I’ve been dreaming about it. About something in the well."

“How long?” asked Jamie. He was fully awake now. His brother’s voice seemed distant, much farther away than the lower bunk.

“The last couple of nights, I think. I don’t really remember, but last night for sure."

“What does it want?"

Tommy didn’t say anything for a long time. Jamie felt sweat all over his body. Sweat that had nothing to do with the muggy night time air in their bedroom.

“I think it wants me, Jamie. I’m scared."

“I am, too,” said Jamie. He felt helpless, lying there in the dark, listening to his little brother’s fears.

Jamie was out of bed before his parents left for work in the morning. He sat at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal, waiting for his dad to come in for his morning coffee. He didn’t have to wait long. The sun was just beginning to rise when he heard his parent’s alarm go off, and his dad came stumbling into the kitchen a few minutes later.

“Morning, Jamie,” he said. “You’re up early.” His dad smiled at Jamie, rubbing a stubble covered cheek with his hand. He was a big man, and had to shave every day. He stood on the faded linoleum in his boxer shorts and wife beater, yawning.

“Morning, Dad,” he said.

Jamie’s dad measured out coffee, filled the decanter, and turned the machine on.

“Dad, we’ve been hearing weird noises at night,” said Jamie.

“What kind of noises?” asked his dad, sitting down across from his son.

“Like weird creaking noises. In the walls, and in the pipes, sounds like."

“Well, it’s an old house, Jamie. Old houses tend to settle a lot, especially at night.”

“It sounds like something’s wrong. Could you check?"

His father looked up briefly, then back at his son.

“I can’t this morning, but I can go down to the basement and take a look this weekend. How’s that sound?"

Jamie smiled, but didn’t feel like smiling. It was only Tuesday.

“Sure, that sounds great. Thanks, dad."

“You got it, buddy,” said his father, rising, pouring himself a cup of coffee, then walking back out to the living room.

Jamie heard his mother stirring now, and far away in the back of the house, a furtive, careful noise. Something moving in the laundry room, behind the kitchen. Something that wanted him to know it was there.

The thing in the well came for Tommy on Thursday morning. It didn’t wait for night time, it didn’t try to take him by surprise. Jamie was woken by his brother’s screams of terror, coming from the bathroom.

“Jamie! Help, oh god! Jamie, help me!"

Jamie almost fell out of the top bunk in his hurry to help his brother. He threw open the cheap bathroom door, horrified by what he found.

His brother’s legs were almost entirely covered by an oily, black mass coming from all of the drains in the bathroom. The thing rose from the toilet, the bathtub, and the sink. It looked something like an octopus, and something like an oil spill Jamie had seen once on the surface of a lake. It stank, like the throat of the well but worse.

“It burns, Jamie, help, oh god,” screamed his brother.

Jamie looked around the bathroom for something to push the thing off his brother. He grabbed an old broom, trying to chop into the ropy mass crawling up his brother’s leg. Nothing. The thing yielded a bit, but was otherwise solid.

“Get off him!” screamed Jamie. The thing stopped climbing up Tommy’s leg at the sound of Jamie’s voice. He swallowed, once.

“Take me instead, you fuck! Leave my little brother alone!"

Tommy’s eyes widened.

“Jamie, no, don’t!” he said, but it was too late. The thing slid off his leg, revealing burned and corroded flesh below. More of the thing oozed out of the bath tub, flowing out of the toilet and the sink. It rushed toward Jamie with purpose and hunger, a stinking, black tide.

It hurt, but not as much as he thought it would. Tommy stood paralyzed, trapped between the thing and the bath tub.

“Tommy, I love you,” said Jamie.

“I love you too, Jamie,” said Tommy. His voice was thick, and he started to cry.

“Run,” said Jamie, as the thing crawled up his neck, exploratory tendrils reaching toward his mouth and his left eye. Tommy couldn’t move. He stood, paralyzed, in the doorway as the thing from the well slowly crawled up his brother. His paralysis finally broke when the thing pried open Jamie’s mouth, his throat bulging as it forced itself into him.

Tommy ran, out of the house, down to the creek. He didn’t know where else to go, and sat on the rock underneath the tree. It was Jamie’s favorite place, and Tommy stayed there until his parents came home.

He didn’t know how to explain what had happened to Jamie. His parents thought it was a prank at first, but Tommy’s father’s eyes widened when his son pulled up his pant leg and showed him where the thing had burned him. The flesh of his leg was dark red from his ankle to his calf.

His father didn’t believe his story of a monster from the drain that lived in the well. He began searching the house while his mother tended to his leg.

“What did it look like, Tommy?” she asked, when his father was out of earshot.

Something in his mother’s tone of voice told Tommy she wasn’t immediately discounting what he said as make believe. Not like his father.

“It was bad, mom,” he said, wincing as she gently washed his leg with a cool wash cloth. “It looked like mud, but it was black, and strong. It hurt when it touched me."

His mom nodded. Almost as if this sounded familiar.

“And you think it came out of the well?” she asked, her voice gentle. Soothing.

“Yeah. We gave it a bird, but it didn’t stop."

His mother stopped working on his leg, drawing her lips into a tight line.

“I wish you hadn’t done that, Tommy,” she said. Just a brief pause, and then she went back to cleaning his leg. His father came back into the room a few minutes later.

“Can’t find him,” he said. “I’m going over to the Wilsons’s next door. They’ve got a son about Jamie’s age. Maybe they’ve seen him."

“Ok,” said Tommy’s mom. “We’ll be here."

The sun went down, and Jamie never turned up. His parents filed a missing person report the next day. His father covered up the well, putting a heavy rubber cap in the mouth, then covering it with fresh concrete.

The rest of the summer passed in a daze for Tommy. The police came and went, came and went. Two men in dark suits came by to speak to his parents one day. One of them wanted to talk to Tommy about his brother, but Tommy’s mother wouldn’t allow it.

“He’s been through enough already,” she said. “He was there."

“That’s why we want to talk to him, ma’am,” said one of the men. He had dark hair, and looked at Tommy with strange, blue eyes.

“I said no,” she said, again, crossing her arms for emphasis.

The men spoke to both of his parents for a while longer, the quiet partner taking notes, and then left. They didn’t return.

School started again in the fall, and his classmates treated Tommy differently. Like he was more fragile now. No teasing, no pushing in the cafeteria line. Like all of their parents had warned them to be nice to the Stephens kid.

It was hard to live in the house without his big brother. Hard to sleep in the bottom bunk, knowing Jamie wasn’t sleeping above him. Would never sleep there again. Jamie asked him once if he thought the house was haunted. Tommy didn’t think so then, and he still didn’t think so. But there was an absence in the house now. It felt emptier, and no amount of time Tommy spent at Jamie’s favorite place by the creek made it any better.

He never heard any more sounds in the walls. No unexplained noises. He dreamed about the thing in the well, but not very often. It seemed satisfied, but it wanted him to know it was still there.

The well looked like a tombstone now. Jamie only visited once, shortly after school started again. He thought he heard his brother say his name, just once, from somewhere far away.