When Piers was six she fell into a well. The well was abandoned and no longer had any water in it. If there would have been water in it, Piers would have drowned. Sometimes she’d imagine that she had drowned, and that the life she went on living was a haunted, unnatural one, a grave secret between her and the well.
Piers fell into the well chasing a white fox. A number of people, including her Uncle Clark, told her that it must have been a gray fox, a breed which was native to the area, that looked white in the sunlight. Piers didn’t argue but knew, without a doubt, that it was a white fox, not a gray fox that looked white in the sunlight. Same as she knew that it had multiple tails.
Piers believed that if she captured one of the fox’s tails, her life would change, it would become different. She wasn’t sure how exactly, she just knew it would.
She spotted the fox, or rather its shadow, first, near the edge of the creek that cut through her backyard. The shadow was projected onto the ground from behind some brush, and then came the fox, a shock of white, its multiple tails flaring like plumes of cloud.
Piers crept low to the ground and tried sneaking up on the fox, but that didn’t work. Soon she was chasing it across an open field. The well, located in the field, was about a 1/3 mile away from the house where Piers lived with her Uncle Clark and Aunt Sylvia. Sylvia, who was working in the garden, had no idea that her niece had gone off in pursuit of a white fox.
It was weird, Piers said. I thought the fox had gone into the well and I looked down and next thing I know I’m scrunched in the narrow dark at the bottom of the well. It didn’t even feel as if I had fallen into the well. It felt like I had been beamed there. Except I knew I had fallen because of the pain in my leg, this dull hot throbbing pain that ran from my ankle to my thigh.
It’s hard to say. I might’ve been down there thirty minutes, might’ve been three hours. 7A. Time, sovereign and elastic, accelerates and decelerates, according to the nature of circumstances. The quality of light and dark, and emotional climate, are key variables. 7B. According to the newspaper report, it is believed that Pierangela Lund, age six, was trapped in the well for approximately one hour.
I screamed and I screamed until there was nothing left inside me to scream. I had screamed myself wordless and soundless. Then I just stared up at the mouth of the well. It seemed so faraway, this disc of light, this gold coin. I knew that if I could reach this gold coin, there would be other gold coins, and air. But it was an impossible coin, one that I could only see not touch.
Then came the impossible boy, and his stones. Belle Fourche Gazette, July 26th, 1979: The boy, Emmet Grayson, who lived nearby, was wandering in the open field, playing by himself. “I was throwing stones into the well,” Emmet explained, “it’s this game I sometimes play, where I shoot the stones from different angles and see how many I can score in the well. Then I heard something coming out of the well. I got closer and it was screaming. It was freaky, I almost ran away, thinking it might be a ghost or monster or something. 9B. That first stone got me pretty good. I even have a little scar, right here (Piers indicates a small waxy cleft just outside her right eyebrow). I didn’t know what had happened. When other stones started raining down, I realized someone must be throwing them. That’s when I found new screams inside me, the biggest ones yet.
Emmet ran to tell his parents, who told the authorities, who had already been looking for the missing Piers. Piers was pulled out of the well with a rope. For a while, people in town referred to her as the Girl from the Well. As if she had been born there.
The well incident indirectly led to Piers’s relationship with puppets. At home, while her fractured leg mended, she made her first puppets, Booboo and Jean—a yellow and red sock, respectively—and they undertook many adventures, without ever leaving Piers’s hands. It was then that Piers found she could go into trances, and take leave through Booboo and Jean.
Addendum: A number of years later, Piers would see a news story about a mother who drowned her mentally disabled infant in a well, and this would trigger an obsession: children who drowned in wells. She hadn’t (there was no water), yet many had (drowned), some being accidents, some being murders. Piers began combing newspaper archives and collecting names, birth and death dates, locations, and whatever else she could find out about these children. Her Sad Ophelias. That’s what she called them. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter, they were all her Sad Ophelias. She thought about the screams, all the ghosts of screams, fastened to thin air in those wells.
She told herself that one day she would take a pilgrimage, on foot, across the states and visit as many wells as she could find, and leave stones there. Stones to honor any children who might have lost their lives in those wells, and if none had, then the stones would serve as tactile blessings, protective talismans.
Piers was, for a while, obsessed with collecting the names of the dead, and with the notion of the pilgrimage, but eventually the obsession lost traction. She stopped looking for stories and collecting names, stopped charting the pilgrimage she wouldn’t take.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.