Have you ever been enjoying my award-winning Let’s Read posts (perhaps while lounging on the beach or the deck of your yacht, or wherever good times are had) and thought to yourself “gosh this Ronan guy is an arrogant dick, criticizing well-known writers all day”?
Well now is your chance to experience the schadenfreude that comes with reading my writing with your eyeballs!
Back in October of last year I found a Reddit page called r/nosleep, where people write short horror stories. The gimmick here is that everything submitted to the page is treated as real, with some authors even commenting and replying to PMs in-character. I have a great love of that sort of storytelling so I took a whack at writing a series of posts about a fictional small town where weird shit happens. That got waylaid by NaNoWriMo, but now I’ve decided to finally do something with them. The first to parts are up on Reddit, but I understand that people may have an entirely justifiable aversion to going there so I’m going to dump them up on the blog every week or so. Part one is below the break.
But wait, there’s more! The second draft of my NaNo story will be finished very soon- likely within three weeks- and I’m going to be looking for beta readers because at some point this project went from “lolololol look at me I’m writing a novel” to “I’m going to submit this to agents”. I need beta readers with teeth. Sharp pointy teeth, who will criticize my writing so I don’t completely faceplant when Dirk Oxenhammer gets my masterpiece in the mail.
If you’re interested, email me at email@example.com and I’ll add your name to the list of people I’m sending the thing out to when it’s done. I’m not, like, auditioning people here or anything- anyone who volunteers to read it gets a copy.
With that out of the way,
enjoy this short story:
The Odd Little Well
Let me tell you some stories about the town I live in.
It’s a small place in the middle of the woods, and for the purpose of this project I’ll call it Ash Hollow. A famous long-distance hiking trail runs straight through the town, and it’s bracketed on all sides by thick wilderness. To the north there’s a large lake. You have to drive south along a lonely stretch of highway for quite some time before you get anywhere else of note. We’re pretty isolated up here, and what with the woods and the steady flow of hikers coming through I guess it’s only natural that a lot of stories circulate. Our town actually has something of a reputation in the area.
“Strange things happen in Ash Hollow”, people say.
About five years ago a hiker from Germany or France – somewhere in Europe, anyway – came into town for a meal at Benny’s, the closest thing to a fine dining establishment in Ash Hollow. Most people who come off the trail are desperate to eat a properly cooked meal and sleep in a motel, and we locals try to make them and their money feel welcome. We’re actually mentioned in several of the big trail guides as a good place to stop for the night. It’s a reputation we’re proud of, and we work hard to cultivate it.
So anyway, this European guy sits down to eat and since he was one of the earlier spring hikers he gets plenty of people coming up to him to make small talk- what are the trails like, is there still snow on the mountains, that sort of thing. He’s perfectly happy to talk, as most people are after spending up to two weeks in the woods on their own. Several times during the conversation he mentions “the well”, and eventually someone gets around to asking him what he’s talking about.
“Oh, the little well out in the clearing,” he says, or something like that. “You know, out there.” And he sort of waves to the west, where the trail enters the town. He went on to say that “well” maybe wasn’t the right word for it, since it was too small to actually fit a bucket. But that’s all he could describe it as.
Now lots of people in town are hikers themselves and have explored every inch of the local parts of the trail and they know there’s no well out there. Anything in the woods that isn’t trees becomes a known landmark. A well would attract attention.
Someone suggests that maybe it was newly built, but he shakes his head. It was old, he explains. Really old, made of ancient-looking crumbling stone. “Archaic” was how he put it.
At this point he’s getting some funny looks so he smiles in a sort of smug way and says that the well was right by the trail, just before you come into town- how could we not know about it?
I’ve gotten this story from lots of sources, and this next part isn’t in every telling. Maybe that’s because it was added later, or maybe only a few people heard it. But apparently he got kind of quiet after that and mumbled something about the well being “eerie”. He wouldn’t elaborate on what that meant. He just kept saying it was eerie.
He stayed three nights, longer than most hikers. I talked to someone who walked part of the way out of town with him, and they told me he was real jittery when it came time for him to go off on his own. He kept glancing into the woods and he was saying something about not wanting to sleep alone. You expect that in newbies, but this guy had been hiking for more than a month to get as far as he did.
But eventually he left, and new hikers came in, and everyone forgot about him and his phantom well. A few people walked out to the area where he said it was, just to see, and of course they didn’t find anything.
Six months later a couple in their sixties came though and got to talking with some trail enthusiasts at the hiking supply store on main street. They were real friendly and they complimented the town and the woods and the people – and our “odd little well” that they had seen just before arriving. As it so happens one of the employees at the hiking store had been at Benny’s that night when the European man came through, and he immediately asked them more questions. The couple repeated the exact same story- a small, very old stone well in a clearing just off the trail. And, they both added thoughtfully, it “felt kind of creepy” although they couldn’t really say why. The hiking store employee pressed them for more details and after a few minutes realized that the location they were describing was completely different from where the European guy had seen the well. Completely different. They were hiking the trail from the opposite direction and claimed to have seen it on the other side of town.
The employee got them to mark on a map exactly where they had seen it and went out to look for himself- and of course, didn’t find it. Now keep in mind it’s not like the story of the European guy and his mystery well was circulated all over the place. As far as I know this is the first time it’s ever been on the internet. What were the odds of two people coming up with the exact same story on their own?
After that we started getting stories about the well every month or so. Every sighting was the same- an old stone well, too small to be of any use, in a clearing by the trail. Always with a vague spooky feeling attached. And always in a completely different place. I don’t want to suggest that we started huddling around maps sticking pins in it, but the whole town got a mild case of what I guess you’d call “well fever”. What can I say? It’s a small town.
And then it just stopped. About a year and a half after the first sighting no more people saw the well. Eventually it faded from memory, and became just another strange thing that happened in Ash Hollow.
Now you might be wondering why no one ever tried to drop a stone or a coin down this well to see how deep it was. Isn’t that what people always do on TV? As it happens, one person did just that, although not on purpose.
A man came through town near the end of this whole business and started telling the by-now familiar story, only with an added wrinkle. Somehow – I got this story directly from the source and I get the feeling he was reluctant to go into specifics – this particular person went over to have a closer look and ended up dropping his very expensive wrist watch down the well. He heard it bouncing a few times off the sides and then there was silence. No splash, no sound of the watch hitting the bottom. Just silence.
Needless to say, our friend set up his tent in quite a dejected mood that night. The watch had extravagant amounts of gold or platinum or some other precious metal, and a lot of sentimental value besides.
Some time in the night he was woken by what he initially thought was the sound of rain drops hitting the side of his tent. A “pitter patter” was how he put it. Then he realised the sound was getting closer, and he recognized it for what it really was- footsteps. Small footsteps. Something small walking through the underbrush on two legs, “like a baby or a toddler” only moving much faster. Try to picture that scene- you’re camped in the middle of nowhere, no one else around for miles, and there’s something moving around in the pitch black outside your tent. You’re a seasoned hiker and this doesn’t sound like any animal you’ve ever encountered. What it sounds like is a baby waddling through the woods toward your tent faster than a grown man can run. It’s amazing how the silliest mental image in the world can seem terrifying when you’re alone at night.
Our friend lay there as the footsteps rapidly got closer and tried to remember if he had secured his tent zipper with the little padlock some tents come with. As the footsteps arrived right outside his tent, accompanied by the sound of high-pitched, laboured breath, he realized that he had in fact not used the padlock that night.
Nothing happened for several long seconds. Whatever was outside the tent breathed in and out heavily. Then the breathing stopped, and there was complete silence. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the woods at night with no breeze to stir the trees. It’s so still and quiet sometimes you swear you can hear the Earth grinding away below your feet.
Then something dropped to the ground outside the tent, making our hero jump out of his skin, followed by the sound of the tiny footsteps speeding away into the woods.
Needless to say the person who told me this story didn’t get much sleep that night. Every rookie hiker has lain awake in the dark clutching their knife and their flashlight at least once, straining their ears for the sound of a bear or a human footstep outside, but eventually you get to trust the forest. Now there was something unknown out there, something alien and strange.
It wasn’t until the light of dawn started to filter through the fabric of his tent that he allowed himself to fall into a fitful, restless sleep, waking well after noon feeling pale and depleted and chiding himself for over-reacting to what had probably just been a skunk or a raccoon.
He unzipped his tent and poked his head out, blinking in the sunlight.
His fancy wrist-watch was on the ground in front of him.