Chapter 1: The Boy Who Didn't Die Yet
In a hole in the ground there was a boy. It wasn’t a very nice hole in the ground. It wasn’t your conventional multi-roomed, smooth-tunneled, have a fire in the fireplace and tea in the kettle boiling and cakes in the oven baking type of hole. No, this was a dank, smelly, muddy, wormy and totally unacceptable hole and the boy was stuck in it. His name was Peter Harrison but all the children at his school called him Potty because he often had to use it. Since most school children about his age, in and around twelve years, are terribly cruel, the nickname stuck, and Peter was always, even after his medical treatments, known as Potty.
How Potty got into this hole is probably easy to figure out. The very same cruel classmates thought how much fun it would be to throw someone down a well during their dull and rather short lunch time. Who better to toss around then Mr. Potty Harrison?
“No one better!” they thought. So Clement Stebbs, the one who felt more than any of the other children that he had a right to throw anyone down anything, gathered a collection of the most insecure and bully-ish of the classmates and decided to have a go at it.
Therefore, Peter was unceremoniously picked up, carried up in the air over the asphalt that was supposed to be the playground of Ewart Street Elementary School, out the swinging and squeaking chain link gate, (that someone always managed to break open, leaving the poor groundskeeper to constantly replace the lock, which on this day, hadn’t been done yet) and up the dry, burnt-grass hill to the well that no longer had a bucket. Into the well was cast the little twelve-year-old boy with the irritable bowel syndrome. He landed with a crack and a thud. A moist, muddy thud and a definite “I might have broken something in my leg” crack. Three hours had already passed, and by dinnertime he had not returned home, not to mention his teachers were all wondering what had happened to him.
Peter lived with his grandmother and she was a kindly woman, a little absent-minded, and plump around the middle, but kindly nonetheless. She really never understood why Peter would come home from school angry all the time. Sometimes he would come home crying. Perhaps he has a cold, was what she thought or perhaps he still has tummy trouble. Whatever the reason Peter never really told her it was because the children at school made him suffer terribly, especially Clement, who was probably just as upset because of his awful name. By this time of day, however, no matter what his mood, he would always be home. She was starting to worry. Her name was Mrs. Nora Nesbitt, but everyone on the block where she lived called her Grandma. Peter was her daughter’s child and Peter was living with Mrs. Nesbitt because his mom and dad had had a very unfortunate accident.
The parents of Peter Harrison, Whilhemina Nesbitt Harrison and Argyle Perciville Harrison, were really wonderful as far as parents were concerned but like Mrs. Nesbitt, they were terribly absent-minded when it came to the important things in life. Argyle worked for a private firm that made some kind of technical device that did something or other and Whilhemina worked for the city, filling out forms and helping people with their taxes. These seemed like important jobs and as such they were.
But, Peter had thought, why are they so absent-minded about things around the house?
Peter’s mom and dad had left one of the devices Argyle was building in the garage plugged into a bad outlet and one Sunday, while Argyle and Whilhemina were about to be on their way to a picnic luncheon with some of her clients, the darn thing went up in a cloud of green and pink smoke, taking the small Ford convertible car and Argyle and Whilhemina with it. The explosion could be seen all over the neighborhood as clear as day and as far as Naperville, and that was far. This had all happened when Peter was nine, and now he was twelve.
The last thing Mrs. Nesbitt needed now was to have her grandson go missing. The explosion three years earlier had been shown all over television. The car, Argyle, and Wilhelmina had never been found. This had been a terrible tragedy for Peter and Mrs. Nesbitt, but she felt that Peter somehow took the blame upon himself. Children who lose parents at that age often do. So she tried to make her home a happy place for Peter, despite his medical troubles and whatever was making him sad or angry. She felt whatever she was doing wasn’t working and started to panic.
“Where is he?” she kept asking herself. “He has never been this late. He is always home in time for supper.”
Mrs. Nesbitt had no idea at that very hour Peter was lying in an abandoned well just outside Ewart Street Elementary. “Oh dear,” she continued, “I suppose I better call the police.” She untied the apron she wore around her ample middle and wiped her hands on it, placing it on the counter near the dish-filled sink, and grabbed the phone. She dialed for emergency help and waited patiently.
Meanwhile, in that dank, dark and smelly hole, Peter realized the pain in his leg was not really a break. He had landed on some roots that were coming up through the ground, and one had snapped. Still, he ached all over and his leg was numb. Peter stood up and took a look around, standing gingerly on his two feet, favoring the sore leg. It tingled as if it had been asleep. After a few seconds the feeling started to return and he could stand with better balance than before and looked directly above him. The afternoon light was peeking through a tiny hole the size of a baseball.
That must be the top of the well, he thought. I’ll never get out of here. There is no way to climb out. Indeed there wasn’t. There were no handrails, no jutting stones, no vine creepers or anything of the like. Peter just stood there and stared at the rounded wall in front of him. He looked all around the well and found that the wall was a smooth, slick and slimy curved surface. There was nothing to show any change in the structure of the well all around him except for one tiny thing. At the bottom of the well, directly behind him, there was a thin sliver of light. It was much like the light that would shine under a door when the light on the other side of the door was turned on and the light on your side of the door was shut off. The light wasn’t particularly bright, but it was very intriguing.
Peter turned completely around so he wasn’t straining his neck and faced that side of the well that had the strange light on the floor and knelt down to take a look.
“Yep,” he said out loud, “there is a crack in the wall of this well. It must be some kind of door.” He tried to stick his fingers through the crack but they were too big. He stood up and started knocking on the wall of the well and heard a hollow sound as if he was knocking on a wooden door, even though the wall at the first touch felt like stone. He tried knocking on another part of the well and the sound was much more like hitting a rock. Again he tried knocking on the other part of the well that he felt might be a doorway. Not much happened and it was getting darker so he thought he’d run his hand along that section of the well wall and see if he could feel a latch or something. All he felt, after what seemed like an eternity searching, were little rocks or pebbles that were sticking into the well wall. He started to press on them and then suddenly, to his surprise, one moved into the wall like a button on a machine. There was a still silence and Peter held his breath. The light in the floor started to grow a little wider at one end. It was the effect of a door opening, which indeed was what was happening. That section of the wall slid inward, like a door on a hinge, but made a monstrous noise like two boulders rubbing together. Peter couldn’t believe his eyes; right in front of him was a doorway. It opened to a small landing made of old flagstone and covered in green moss. From this landing there was a staircase that wound itself downward to some other chamber.
Peter took a deep breath and limped in because his leg still hurt. The doorway remained open, which gave him some comfort; he didn’t want it closing behind him and keeping him from the only way out of the well. However, if he could get back he still had no way to get out to the top. He decided to walk down the stairway but it was getting very dark and he didn’t have a flashlight. With what little light he had and with his hand on the wall to his left he gingerly stepped down the winding staircase that wound around to his right when suddenly and with a great thud the door behind him slammed shut.
The noise made Peter stop and try to catch his breath because the sound of it was so startling. Also, on top of being startled he was terribly afraid that he was trapped. There was hardly any light to see by except for a sort of ghostly glow that was coming from down the stairs.
Funny, he thought, that light should be brighter somehow. It seemed to be when I was on the other side of this door. Peter slowly turned around and went back and tried the door but it was shut fast. Well, that’s no good. I guess I must continue on. He shivered and felt very much like he wanted to use the bathroom just then, but after taking a few deep breaths he moved forward ever so cautiously.
The stairs wound around to his right and he descended one step at a time with his left hand feeling the wall next to him and helping to keep him steady. It seemed to take forever and ever and many times Peter got so tired that he would just sit down and try to rest. It took all his strength to keep from crying but he managed, and after a time he would stand up again and continue down the stairs. The ghostly light way down the passageway looked to Peter like it wasn’t getting any brighter as he expected it should. It wasn’t getting dimmer either and that was at least a comforting thought. He sat down again and tried to reason things out in his brain.
Surely the kids at school were not cruel enough to leave him in the well to die so they should have gone back to get a teacher or someone to come and help by now. Clement could be mean, but he wasn’t about to let someone die. Unless he got scared. Oh, that would be just the thing. He’d get scared and think that he’d get into a heap of trouble, which he would, so he probably wouldn’t say anything to anybody. Grandma certainly would be calling the school to find out where he was because it was at least past dinnertime. Then he remembered the school was probably closed. After thinking like this for what seemed an hour or more, he stood up and continued down the winding staircase, careful to keep his hand on the wall.
Just when he thought he was going to have to sit down for another rest his feet hit what felt like a dirt floor.
Goodness, he thought. I must have hit bottom. It was now very dark and Peter was very scared, but the glow of light he had been following hadn’t dimmed and he could almost tell that whatever was making the light was but a few feet in front of him. He started to walk toward it. By this time he had really been perspiring and his feet hurt and he had to go to the bathroom so badly, but all those unpleasant feelings fell away when he saw clearly what was before him. It was an archway made of old gray stones. It was very tall and on either side of the archway, lodged in the pillar of stones that helped form the arch, were torches: long poles with some mossy-like substance on the tips that were on fire and giving off the glow he had seen. At the apex of the arch, the center of the top, there was a legend written out in some strange language that he didn’t understand and using strange letters that he had never seen; but they looked wonderfully weird in the torchlight. He felt somehow this was either a written warning or instructions on what to do when one walked under the arch.
“I wonder if I should walk through it,” he said aloud. He peered through the arch to see what was on the other side but all he could see was inky black gloom. He called, “Hello!” but no one answered. All he heard was an echo and he knew enough about echoes to know there was a chamber on the other side of that arch and maybe not much more.
“Well, there’s no use standing here guessing,” he said to himself. “So I might as well just bite the bullet and walk through it.” “Bite the bullet” was just an expression he had heard his grandma use when trying to pull hairs out of her chin. Peter didn’t actually have a bullet to bite. He reached up and grabbed the torch on his left and slowly walked through the arch.
He didn’t feel anything strange or think that he might have been dreaming and waking up, but in an instant he was in a wooded glen. He immediately turned around to see the arch he passed through and it looked much farther away than it should have been. It was there, however, and through the archway he could just make out the bottom of the winding staircase he had come down. He looked back in the direction he was walking and noticed the wooded glen was bright, as if it were noon. He looked up toward the sun, but instead, through a mist of what could have been clouds, he could make out what looked like the ceiling of an immense cave. He dropped his torch, which had gone out without his knowing it.
“Why I’ll be,” he said. “I’ve managed to come into an underground world. How unlikely and slightly unnerving.” He sat down in the soft, springy grass and covered his eyes. After a time he opened them and he was still in the beautiful wooded glen. There were trees of all kinds, and bright yellow and red and purple flowers dotting the ground all around him. He was sitting on the most wonderfully soft and springy grass that was so green, and seemed to go on and on before him for miles. The trees towered above him, reaching up toward that far away ceiling of rock that wouldn’t be noticeable through the clouds if you weren’t really looking for it. It was almost as if there was a sky above him. There was sunlight but where it was coming from he couldn’t tell.
After a while some rabbits started rummaging around in the grass. They must have had warrens nearby and Peter stayed very still to see what they would do.
Astonishing! An underground world with animals! The rabbits didn’t take any notice of him until he sneezed. They scattered at the sound and Peter felt lonely again.
The loneliness settled into a small tinge of regret. Although for the life of him he couldn’t really focus on what he really regretted, because he hadn’t done anything significantly wrong; not in his recent memory, anyway. So the regret progressed to a state of depression and kind of swam around his insides looking for something to irritate.
Well, I’m all alone, he thought. My friends hate me. For what I don’t know, was his second thought. To be honest, I have no friends, was what he finally concluded and the depression found something to swim with; to tear apart and shake up and swallow whole like a large voracious shark in a tiny backyard pool.
“This won’t do,” said Peter aloud. “I’m just dreaming. This is a hallucination. That’s all it is. In the morning I’ll wake up dead and it will all be over.” He started to cry.
“Oh, dear! I don’t want to wake up dead!”
Then he immediately stopped crying. Something was happening to his insides. He no longer had the urge to use the loo, but the depression that was eating away at him suddenly turned to ire. He was angry and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.
Peter stood up to his full height of five feet and almost an inch extra. He wasn’t a remarkable looking boy. He had an average build for his age and an average small amount of tub for his height. There was nothing about him to distinguish him from other boys his age. He scratched his sandy colored hair and looked around again.
The meadow he was in was astonishingly beautiful.
“How could this be? I must be crazy!” he said. “If I’m going to be insane I might as well enjoy it and go exploring; that is at least what a dying kid should do, go on an adventure.” So Peter wiped the tears from his brown eyes and started off into the heart of the meadow, not knowing what would happen next.
At home Grandma Nesbitt was in more than just a tizzy; she was downright hysterical. She had several police officers at the door and two out in the neighborhood roaming the streets looking for an average brown-eyed, sandy-haired boy with no visible scars. The teachers and principal of Ewart Street Elementary were all upset and frantic. Someone was going to get fired. The school was going to be sued. Some children who could be implicated in the disappearance of Potty would probably end up in juvenile hall, again. This was a rotten day altogether.
“Did Potty…” started one of the officers in the doorway; he was speaking to Grandma Nesbitt.
“Peter,” she corrected him.
“Sorry, Peter. Did he have any favorite places he liked to hide? An old refrigerator for instance, that he could lock himself up in and slowly suffocate to a pale shade of blue?”
Mrs. Nesbitt started to cry.
“Again, I apologize, but really it would help us a lot if we knew of someplace he liked to hang out and be alone.”
“I know of someplace.” The voice that said this did not belong to Mrs. Nesbitt or to any of the other adults in the house. It came from a small girl whose nickname was Bucky and who had wandered into the house. She went to Ewart and was also quite a loner. Why she had the name Bucky no one knew, no one ever asked, but I can tell you it had something to do with her teeth.
“What?” asked Mrs. Nesbitt.
“Yes, Grandma Nesbitt,” said Bucky, trying hard not to show her prominent front teeth by keeping a very solemn look on her face. “I believe some of the boys at school may have…” she trailed off.
“Please,” said the officer in charge, “tell us what you know.” Bucky smiled quickly, and then stopped again when the officer looked away, suppressing a grin.
“Some of the boys don’t like Peter. They weren’t very pleasant to him today. Apparently there is this old haunted well at the top of Marsdon Hill.”
There was a collective gasp.
“Marsdon Hill?” asked one of the other police officers. “Not the old haunted well at the top of Marsdon Hill?”
“I thought,” started another officer, “that the well up on Marsdon Hill was abandoned. That there hadn’t been a ghost living in there for, oh I don’t know, two or three years.”
“Gentlemen, please!” pleaded Grandma Nesbitt. “Let the young girl finish. Go on dear, and try not to smile.”
Bucky continued. “Apparently, Potty, I mean Peter, was not too keen on the well, what with it being haunted and all.”
“Allegedly,” added the officer in charge. “We have to be careful of these things you know.”
“Yes,” continued Bucky, being very solemn, “we have to be careful. The other boys didn’t care and I think they picked up Peter and threw him down the well.”
There was silence for just a moment. Then everyone burst out laughing.
“Ha!” said the officer in charge. “Who ever heard of throwing a kid in a well? That sounds positively Biblical and we all know how wrong that can be.”
“Yet,” added Bucky, “I saw it.”
“Sure you did,” said the officer in charge and then he patted her on the head. “Sure you did, young person. What an imagination. No, I think we need to search around for old abandoned refrigerators and forget completely the idea of a kid getting stuck in a well.”
“Fairy tales,” said another officer, who wanted a promotion.
“Yes, Smithers,” replied the officer in charge, “fairy tales, indeed.”
Smithers smiled broadly. Unlike Bucky, he had no front teeth, and he didn’t care.
Bucky looked up at Mrs. Nesbitt. “You do believe me, don’t you Grandma?”
“Oh, Deary, don’t look at me like that, with your mouth open. Of course I think I could believe you, but these are professional men here. I don’t know but it does sound awfully fairy tale like to be thrown into a well by a group of bullies.”
So Peter was stuck at the bottom of a well, either having a dream or really living a true, bona fide fairy tale of his own. He wouldn’t know until all of it was over. All he knew was the deeper into the meadow he walked, the more like the real outside it seemed, and he turned his head this way and that, not looking where he was going. So the last thing he expected was to bump into a beautiful woman all dressed in white, but he did, and it hurt his head so he had to sit down.
“Welcome, Potty,” said the beautiful woman all dressed in white.
“The name is Peter,” said Peter, rubbing his head.
“Welcome, Peter. I am,” she was about to make a proclamation.
Peter waited anxiously. Was she an angel? Was he really dead? If this was heaven, why was it underground? If it were a dream would he wake up? If this were a real fairy land would there be any homework? So many thoughts ran through his head as she continued to speak.
“I am,” she said, “the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White.”
Peter was impressed, but suddenly very tired, and he couldn’t stay awake any longer. He fell into a deep slumber right there in front of the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White and dreamed of grabbing at a very thin thread with a very giant fist. He didn’t know why.