Nobody knew much about the Architect’s Well except that it was old. It was mentioned often in the brochures handed out by the Street Patrolmen, but even they didn’t know where it was or what it looked like. The most anyone knew was that when people were taken there, they never came back.
Like everyone else, Emma knew there was a reason for these abductions. She just didn’t know what it was, and the thought of being taken herself kept her up at night. She would wake up in a cold sweat, startled out of nightmares pot-marked with rotting faces and disembodied screams, trembling in her sheets as frantic thoughts scurried like ants through her brain. Then morning would come---warm, bright, glorious morning---and Emma would forget about her fears.
But forgetting about the fear did not eradicate the threat. The Street Patrolmen came for her anyway.
It was a warm night in early spring. She was walking across the university campus parking lot to her car when she suddenly felt herself seized roughly from behind. She tried to scream, but a hot hand clamped over her mouth. Cold ripples of panic exploded in her stomach as she was pushed face-first into the gravel. Then a sharp pain exploded at the base of her skull, and she was swallowed in unfathomable darkness.
When she opened her eyes again, she found herself staring up at high-vaulted concrete ceilings. She slowly sat up, her head throbbing in protest, and looked around with a sinking heart. Instinctually, she knew where she was, but her brain was still struggling to comprehend it.
She was sitting in the middle of what appeared to be a gigantic, circular structure. Everything around her was dark and moist, like the inside of a rotting carcass; the walls were slick with weeping, moldy stones, and the earth beneath her reeked of rust and rot. She stood up on shaking knees---and almost collapsed again when she realized that she wasn’t alone.
She was surrounded by a battlefield of bodies. Countless human limbs were scattered across the landscape. Some were gray and rotting, while others looked fresh and raw, not even a week dead. Disembodied arms and legs stuck up from the ground like grotesque headstones marking forgotten graves. It was only then that the smell of it all hit her, and she reeled back gagging. She tried to swallow the hard lump of bile rising in her throat. She hunched over, retching.
“You get used to it.”
Startled, Emma opened her streaming eyes to see that a man had appeared in front of her. He was very thick and broad-shouldered, with a wide chest and bulging arms that looked like they could’ve effortlessly snapped her in half. Most of his face was covered in a carpet of black hair, and more of the same grew in a wild, tousled mane from his head. His intimidating girth and commanding presence would have terrified her if it hadn’t been for the softness of his doe-like brown eyes. He was wearing a plain tee shirt whose original color was impossible to define; both it and his pants were very dirty.
“Where did they come from?” Emma whispered after they had spent a few silent seconds sizing one another up. She was still trying not to breathe too much out of her nose.
“No idea. Come over here. I’ll show you a corner where the stink don’t reach.”
He grasped her arm in what was no doubt meant to be a comforting way, but she flashed back to her captors’ rough touch. Emma gave a violent start, and the man immediately released her.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, blushing, thinking she’d hurt his feelings. “It’s just---”
“Handled you bad, huh? Not surprised. Bastards almost broke my head.”
“How long have you been here?” “No clue. Couple days I guess, but it’s not like they gave me a watch. Now come on, the smell’s getting to me.”
He turned and began to walk away. Emma stumbled after him, taking tentative whiffs of air through her nostrils, until they came to an area of earth that looked relatively free of severed human remains. The man squatted down on his haunches, scowling at the dirt. Emma stole glances around her and saw discarded bottles and empty food cans.
“Who feeds you?” she asked.
He shrugged. “It just shows up every so often. Generally tastes how one of these body’s looks. I’ve got half a mind to complain to management.” Emma smiled weakly. The man grinned. “I’m Rick.”
“Welcome to my shithole, Emma. Make yourself at home.”
“What do you think is going to happen to us?” “Now come on, honey. You don’t need me to answer that. Look around.”
Emma swallowed, feeling sick again. Rick’s face was full of pity, his brown eyes soft and sad.
“I don’t want to die,” she whimpered.
“I just don’t understand. What have we done?”
“What did any of them do?”
“But why?” she cried, panic rushing in on her from all sides; her voice shot tore through several octaves. “Why are we here? I didn’t do anything wrong! I don’t want to die! I-I’m not even out of school yet, there was so much I wanted to---!” Her voice cracked. Rick reached out and patted her leg with a hand that was as big and thick as a full-sized ham.
“Take a minute to adjust, darlin’. I know I took several.”
Emma stared at him with both astonishment and resentment. She wanted him to do something about this, but she didn’t know what, and deep down she knew that if he hadn’t found a way out of here, then that meant there wasn’t one. She uttered a small sob and sank down on the ground, her head resting on her knees. She didn’t know how long she stayed like that, but when she looked up again, it was to see Rick sitting across from her, chewing whatever he had pulled out of the can that was perched at his feet. He offered it to her, but Emma shook her head and sank down onto her knees again.
A few days went by after that. At least, it felt like days. It very possibly could have only been a few hours. There was no natural light in the Well, so telling time was impossible. The food did seem to come at random, as Rick had said, and although none of it was good, they had nothing better to do than eat it.
Eat it and wait.
After what felt like an eternity, they finally heard something other than yawning silence. It was a deep, mechanical whirring. Rick and Emma stared at one another from over their cans of half-eaten sludge. Emma’s own fear was mirrored back at her on his face, and they both scrambled to their feet as the noise grew louder.
A steely shape, enormous and pincered, reared up before them, breaking through the darkness so abruptly that Emma cried out and stumbled back. The intruder was a gigantic mechanism, a scissor-like tool with three long, gleaming prongs at the end, which opened and clicked at her like metal jaws. She stared in speechless horror as this thing, operated by unseen hands in the darkness beyond, reared up over her head, poised to strike her in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Rick screamed and began to run. The hellish prong veered to the left and shot straight towards him. His cries ended as the tool dipped down and clamped his head between its prongs. Emma caught one glimpse of Rick’s face---his mouth open in mid-shriek, his eyes bulging in fear---before the prongs squeezed the sides of his head until his skull collapsed in on itself like bruised fruit.
In blind terror, Emma turned and ran as fast and as hard as she could in the opposite direction, her heart pounding like it was trying to break her ribs, her brain on fire with panic. She could hear it behind her. That horrible clicking noise filled her head like the song of a demonic choir. In her desperation, her feet became entangled, and she fell hard onto her stomach in the moist earth. As she struggled to stand, she realized she had fallen down before a wall, and on it was an inscription she and Rick hadn’t seen before. It was carved faintly within the wet stones, hard to see unless you were very close. She stared up at it open-mouthed, forgetting that she was fleeing for her life. Just before she felt the cold pincers clamp down on either side of her head, she read the words:
YOU ARE SAVED.
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