NEPENTHES

The church’s windows were boarded up, and the front entrance was secured by a heavy, metal chain tangled together and held by a large padlock. The sun was just setting behind the thick woods that surrounded the abandoned building, which had started to become silhouetted by the incoming darkness. Ravens perched themselves atop the steeple of the church, silently guarding the building and cocking their heads at any movement that wasn’t caused by the evening breeze.

    The church was only a square building made out of wood that had started rotting years ago, and anyone who’d seen the building knew that the inside was only one room filled with pews and an altar where the preacher would spew nonsense about sinners, the blasphemous, and nothing but hate toward those who did not believe in a higher power. It was located in a very small, rural town, about thirty miles away from the closest metropolitan area, and secluded in a dense forest of dying trees, as if the church itself released a toxin that killed anything that went near it.

    “What did Kathy and Mark say about this place again?” Susan asked Ben as they traveled through the thick grass and toward the ugly building. “We’re not actually going to break into that place, are we?”

    “God, no,” Ben scoffed. “Weren’t you listening?”

    “Sorry. Obviously I’m not as devoted to this as you are,” Susan recoiled slightly.

    Both of them wore safety helmets on their heads that were equipped with lights, as if they were about to go spelunking in some deep, underground cave. Ben carried rope that was coiled around his shoulder and swung back and forth with every step he took.

    They reached the church and started to round the side of it as they traversed toward the back of the building. The ravens each belched a warning call, either to the two intruders, or to each other to alert one another of the sudden disturbance of other lifeforms that had entered the sacred land. Ben stopped, and Susan stopped shortly after, a couple of steps ahead of him.

    “That’s what we’re here for,” he said, pointing.

    Before them was a water well, made of large, gray stones that circled around a spot of the land with a diameter of about six feet. A heavy lid, also made of stone, rested on top of the well and sealed it shut.

    “Really? A well?” Susan asked with a hint of sarcasm. “I think the inside of the church would be more interesting.”

    “Oh yeah? Like what?” Ben retorted.

    “I don’t know,” Susan replied. “Maybe the churchgoers were some kind of cult or something, performing demonic sacrifices or some spooky shit like that.”

    “Please,” Ben lazily brushed her comment away. “If you were actually listening to Kathy and Mark when they were telling us what happened to them, you would know why it’s the well that we’re here for.”

    “All I remember is that the two came here to fuck and they scared themselves before Mark could whip his dick out.”

    “Well, yeah, that happened. But they said they also heard some little girl screaming from the well. Or calling for help. Or something.”

    “See? Even you weren’t listening,” Susan said. “Besides, a little girl? In a well? What is this, The-fucking-Ring?”

    “Shut up,” Ben pushed past her as he made his way toward the well. “Just help me get the lid off of this.”

    “It’s a well. We both know what is going to be down there. I’m not going to waste my energy to discover…” Susan gasped, “...water!”

    Ben could only glare at her, to which she returned with a smile. Ben’s eyes relaxed from his glare, and soon a smile spread across his face. “Come on, let’s just have some fun. I’ll buy you dinner on our way back home.”

    “I didn’t know this was a date,” Susan winked.

    Ben’s smile grew even larger, and he turned away from her to hide it as he continued toward the well. Susan followed.

    “Why did we even bring this shit with us?” Susan asked. “Headlamps? Rope? Do you really think there will be something worth going down there for?”

    “Just in case,” Ben assured. “There could be treasure down there for all we know.” Susan could only roll her eyes.

    Ben reached the well and rested his hands on the stone cover, only to quickly reel them away, startling Susan. “What? What is it?” She asked, freezing in her tracks, her body tense.

    “Nothing,” Ben said with a shortness of breath. “The lid, it’s freezing. That’s all.”

    Susan relaxed herself, letting her shoulders drop while breathing a sigh of relief. She continued forward and stopped next to Ben, staring at the slab that sealed the well shut. She slowly pressed her hands against it before yanking them away from the icy feeling. She looked at Ben who nodded in confirmation.

    “It’s July,” Susan said.

    “I know,” Ben could only say.

    She added, “In Texas.”

    “I know,” he pressed.

    They stared at one another for another second before returning their uneasy attention back to the lid of the well.

    “You got gloves?” Susan asked.

    “Nope,” Ben mumbled. “I forgot them.”

    Susan once again rolled her eyes. Typical, she thought. She cupped her hands in front of her mouth and breathed from the pit of her gut onto them. Warmth bathed her palms, and she rubbed them together to fire them up. Ben watched, and then did the same.

    They both looked at each other once more, possibly to confirm that they were about to do what they had come here to do. They pressed their hands against the lid, and each released a series of short hisses from the freezing sensation that rushed up their arms and drenched their bodies in invisible ice. With the weight of both of their bodies pressing against the stone slab, they grunted and groaned as the lid began to slide inch by inch away from the edge of the well. The sound of stone scraping against stone seemed to echo through the empty forest. Their feet dug deep into the dirt, and Ben almost slipped as he attempted to find a spot in the ground to push against.

    Just when the two were about to give up, the slab suddenly glided effortlessly about a foot, exposing the interior of the well, and releasing a stench worse than death. It hit Susan and Ben instantly, and they recoiled in disgust as they stumbled backward and away from the well. The ravens on top of the church emitted shrill cries as they fluttered off of the roof and into the evening sky. The caws of the birds became amplified as even more ravens exploded from the dead trees, and a shadow of black, flapping wings erupted in all directions in a cacophony of wails, drowning out the gags and coughs of the two teens as they attempted to bear the heinous smell that leaked from inside of the well.

    Susan looked up and watched all of the birds disappear beyond the treeline, and she noticed the first few stars appearing in the growing night sky.

    “Jesus, it smells like...like…” Ben stuttered.

    “Fuck this,” Susan chimed in. “There’s no way in Hell I’m going in there. I’m leaving.”

    She turned and started to walk away, and Ben scrambled after her. “Susan, wait…”

    They were no more than a few feet from the well when the call of a young girl stopped both of them in their tracks. Goosebumps radiated throughout Susan’s body, and the hairs on the backs of both of their necks erected themselves as far as possible. Slowly, Susan turned to look back at Ben, who stared at her with wide, fearful eyes.

    “I heard it, too,” was all he could say.

    They both turned their attention to the well, partially open with the stench of something dead leaking out from within.

    A moment of silence passed, and then the echo of a weak, girly cry broke the eerie quietness as it escaped from the pit of darkness. Susan shivered at the ghostly call for help, realizing that everything she dismissed when it came to ghosts suddenly became all too real.

    Slowly, the two tiptoed their way toward the well. Ben pinched his nose shut and kept his face turned away from the well while peeking from the corners of his eyes. Susan breathed through her mouth, and the taste of musky decomposition covered her tongue, but she was too high on sudden adrenaline to care.

    They both peeked into the sliver of darkness inside of the well, but the dying light only reached so far. Ben flipped the switch of his headlamp on, and the darkness swallowed the beam of light up like a black hole.

    “Turn your lamp on,” he whispered.

    Susan did so, and the combination of both headlamps was bright enough to reach the bottom of the well that stretched as far as thirty feet. At the bottom of the well, the two notice slight movement. Something small. Pale. Wet, black hair. A face of a little girl snapped upward to look at them.

    Susan gasped and pushed herself away from the well. “Oh my God, oh my God,” she cried out as she stumbled away from the dark pit. Ben turned and rushed to her, grabbing her arms to calm her down. “Was that real?” She asked. “Is that real?!”

    Ben attempted to shush her, but to no avail.

    “Did you see that Ben?!” She cried.

    “Yes!” He sputtered, even though he was unsure of what he’d really seen.

    “There’s a little girl trapped down there! We need to get help!”

    Susan turned away and started toward the direction of where they had parked the car, but Ben rushed to her and snatched her arm. “Susan, wait!” He attempted to say in a hushed yell.

    “We need to call the police! There is a girl trapped in that well!”

    “Susan, just hold up for a second!” Ben yelled louder this time. Susan quieted down, and Ben caught his breath before he continued, “It’s getting dark. We can’t leave her down there. Look where we are! Who knows how long it’ll take for the cops to get here?”

    “What do you suggest we do then, Ben?!” He only stared into her eyes, and it took Susan a moment before she realized what he was thinking. “Wait, you’re not thinking of going down there, are you?!”

    “Who knows how long she’s been down there, Susan? Someone obviously trapped her in there, the fucking well was sealed shut!”

    “We need to call the police, the fire department—”

    “That water is probably freezing. She needs help now.”

    “And you think a couple of kids can save her?”

    “It’s the best option she has right now! We can call the cops and the fire department, and attempt to get her while they’re on their way.”

    Susan ripped her cell phone from her pocket, and the illumination from the screen showed her face drop in defeat. “I don’t have signal in this God forsaken place!”

    Ben pulled his cell phone out, and his shoulders fell in disappointment. “Yeah, me neither.” He looked back at Susan with his best attempt at a reassured facial expression. It wasn’t much, but it worked as Susan sighed and looked past him and at the well. “It’s getting dark,” he said. “One of us rappels down there, ties the girl up, and the other pulls her out.”

    “Who’s going down there to get her?” Susan asked cautiously. Ben looked at her intently without saying anything, and it clicked in her head. She took a step back with her arms out. “No. No, Ben. I don’t want to go down there!”

    “No offense, but I’m stronger. I can pull the girl out once you’ve secured her with the rope. It’s the only way!”

    Susan didn’t say anything. Instead, she hesitantly looked back at the well. The faint sobs of the girl were barely audible as she cried softly at the bottom of the pit. “God-fucking-damn it,” she muttered under her breath.

    Ben uncoiled the rope and walked toward the church, his headlamp lighting the way as the sun had finally set beneath the horizon. The last glow of daylight squeezed through the twisted branches of the dead trees. The area was covered in a blanket of silence except for the crunching dead grass beneath Ben’s feet as he approached a cellar door at the back of the church. The handles were chained shut, much like the front entrance, and Ben snaked the rope through the handles, tying it into a large, tight knot.

    Susan looked back down the well and listened to the weakening cries of the small girl. “It’s okay,” she said in half-ass reassurance, “we’re gonna get you out of here. Just be brave!”

    “Please, help me,” the girl whimpered.

    “Are you hurt?” Susan called out.

    “Please, help me,” she repeated.

    “We’re going to try! Are you able to move?”

    “Please...help me…” It was as if the girl was a broken record, as if it was all she was capable of saying. It made sense to Susan, though. The girl sounded very young, and she was probably in shock from being carelessly tossed into the well and left for dead by whoever the sick bastard was that did this to her.

    Ben returned to the well and picked up the rest of the rope. He joined Susan in looking down the well, and the combination of their headlamps illuminated the small child once again. She faced away from the well opening, and her black, wet hair shimmered in the poor light. The girl rocked back and forth slightly, cradling herself. The sight of it squeezed at Susan’s heart, and she grew braver and more determined to go down into the well.

    “We’re throwing a rope down now!” Ben yelled for the little girl. “My friend Susan here is going to come down and get you, okay? And we’re going to get you out of here!” The little girl didn’t say anything, and continued to sob. Much like the cries for help, Susan noticed that the girl’s sobs sounded as if they, too, were coming from a broken record. But adrenaline blocked out any uneasiness she had felt spill out from the well.

    Ben clumped the rope into a ball of tangled mess and squeezed it through the dark crack of the open well. He dropped it, and it disappeared into the darkness.

    He looked back at Susan and said, “C’mon, let’s push the lid open a little bit more.”

    The two braced themselves against the lid with the palms of their hands, and stomped into the ground to get good footing. Ben counted down from three, and the two shoved all of their weight into the edge of the lid. Slowly, but surely, the stone slab scraped against the lip of the well.

    Once the slab was halfway across the well opening, the two grunted to a halt and caught their breath.

    “Okay,” Ben wheezed, “you ready?”

    “No,” Susan replied uneasily. “This fucking sucks.”

    “I know,” he said.

    Susan stared at the rope that hung over the lip of the well loosely, took a deep breath, and hopped up onto the edge. As she stood atop the mouth of the well, she believed the girl would have somehow managed to climb up to the top and grab her ankle, yanking her into the darkness where she would be left for dead.

    This isn’t The-fucking-Ring, she told herself silently.

    She hesitantly grabbed the rope and tugged at the end tied to the cellar doors, testing the strength of the knot that Ben had made.

    “You know you can do this,” he said. “Just remember all of those times we rappelled down the cliffs of the greenbelt.”

    “I can’t believe you forgot the fucking gloves,” she sputtered.

    “You can do this,” was all he could reply with.

    With a deep, shaky breath, Susan began her descent down into the well. One step after another, she tested her footing against each unevenly placed stone that jutted out like a snaggletooth mouth. The stones were slippery with moisture and moss buildup, but she managed to rappel down with much more ease than she had imagined. Every few feet, she looked up at Ben, who stared back down the pit of the well and cheered her on, his headlamp blinding her. As she neared the bottom of the well, the sobs and cries of the little girl grew louder.

    “I’m coming for you,” Susan said in between coughs from the suffocating stench. “I’m almost there.”

    “Please, help me,” the girl replied in the same tone and inflection as she had before.

    “We’re going to get you out, okay?” Susan responded. Her strength had started to weaken the longer it took for her descend, and along with the awful smell, the echoing sobs of the girl whirled around her, almost disorienting her. The deathly aroma stung her nostrils and choked her windpipe, and she began to feel sick to her stomach. A stinging sensation burned her palms from the rope digging into her palms, and she could only imagine the blisters she would get once she got out of the hellhole she was currently in. To distract herself, she called out to the girl. “What’s your name?”

    “Jessica. Please, help me,” the girl responded.

    “I’m here to help you, Jessica. How old are you?”

    The girl sobbed in reply.

    “Do you know how you got in here?” Susan asked, descending a few more feet. She looked downward, something she never did when rappelling, in fear that she would develop vertigo and scare herself.

    Her headlamp shined onto Jessica like a spotlight. The girl looked up with hollow eyes. Black. Devoid of life.

    Susan’s heart skipped a beat. She stepped wrong. The rubber soles of her shoes squeaked against the moist stones. The rope sizzled as it burned into her palms when she fell.

    She disappeared into the warm, murky, rancid water in a foaming eruption of bubbles.

    “Susan!!” Ben screamed for her. His headlamp was too weak to reach the bottom of the well, but he had heard Susan’s screams vomit from the pit of the well and the splash that followed shortly after. Without thinking, he hopped onto the edge of the well, gripped the rope tightly, and quickly disappeared into the increasing darkness of the well.

    Susan exploded from the surface of the water and thrashed her arms outward. She coughed and wheezed, spitting the dirty water from her mouth that made her tongue tingle. Her hands slapped against the stone wall and she gripped tightly to whatever she could hold on to to keep herself afloat. The water was too deep for her to stand.

    Her headlamp had disappeared beneath the surface of the well water, but it glowed beneath, illuminating the yellow-green liquid that she had bathed herself in. The splash of water released a smell so foul that she dry heaved immediately, but there were no contents in her stomach to be expelled.

    Susan looked up at Ben, who was now halfway down the well and quickly approaching. “Fuck!” She screamed. “Ben, get me out of here!”

    “I’m coming!” He shouted.

    “Shit! What the fuck is this?!” Susan belched as she looked at the gooey water. She snatched her headlamp and struggled to fit it back onto her head. The light began to flicker. She slapped it a few times, but it continued to malfunction. “Jessica?!”

    Before she found a chance to look around the pit of the well, Susan’s hand slipped, and she disappeared beneath the disgusting water, only to splash back out immediately. She wiped the dirty water from her eyes and snatched another stone to grab a hold of. Jessica’s ghostly sobs danced around the delusional Susan, her headlamp growing weaker as it flickered more and more.

    Movement caught Susan’s attention, and she directed her poor lighting to the small girl trapped at the bottom of the well, crouched and facing away from her. A haze started to form inside of the well and clouded Susan’s already blurry vision.

    Ben neared the two, only about ten feet away, when the sound of stone scraping against stone directed his attention to the opening of the well.

    Susan weakly pushed herself off of the wall and sloppily swam her way to Jessica. The broken record sobs continued, and it was as if the little girl didn’t know that Susan was in the well with her.

    She cautiously reached toward Jessica with a shaking hand. “Jessica?”

    The stone slab slowly pushed itself across the mouth of the well, and any remaining daylight disappeared as the crack of the well opening grew thinner and thinner, becoming only a crescent of light. “Susan…?” Ben alerted her uneasily.

    Susan grabbed Jessica’s shoulder gently and slowly twisted her around so that she could see her face.

    She screamed.

    Ben’s head twisted around at the shrill shriek just as the lid of the well sealed shut. It grinded against the rope and the fibers exploded to shreds. The slack surprised Ben as gravity suddenly yanked him downward. He screamed, but it was inaudible to him as he fell to the bottom of the pit with a splash.

    A hand yanked Ben out from under the water, and he was met with a flickering light and muffled, watery cries from a terrified Susan. He whipped his head side to side as he shook off as much of the foul-smelling water as possible. He threw his arms outward frantically while he kicked his legs in an attempt to stand.

    Susan snatched him by the collar of his shirt while she gripped a stone. She shouted his name while simultaneously spitting out the acrid liquid that splashed at her. Ben grabbed onto another stone in the wall and pulled himself upward to where the water was at his chest.

    “The lid!” He shouted almost incoherently. “It’s fucking closed!”

    “Ben!”

    He snatched his safety helmet from under the water and slapped it on top of his head, unknowingly sideways. “The girl! Where is she?!”

    “That wasn’t a fucking kid down here!” Susan screamed in complete fear.

    Ben straightened his helmet and the two looked around the well. Jessica was nowhere to be found. “Where the fuck did she go?!” He screamed to nobody.

    “What the fuck!” Susan screamed. “Jesus Christ! Her face! Oh my God, it was—it was—” Susan’s body shook uncontrollably.

    “We have to get out of here!” Ben shrieked. He lifted the rope out from under the water and noticed the frilled end. He slapped it back into the water. “Fuck!”

    “Oh my God, Ben, the girl...something was wrong with her face—!”

    “What the hell is wrong with this water?!”

    “—fucking deformed, like her mouth was fused shut—!”

    “Susan, we need to climb out of here. Something’s seriously not right here!” Ben looked down at his hands. Steam slithered off of his skin and swirled upward into the darkness above.

    “—God, her eyes?!”

    “What the fuck?!” Ben exclaimed. “What’s wrong with my skin!?”

    “Her skin! It was...I could see inside of her!?”

    Ben shined his light onto Susan, and then at her clothes. “Susan...your shirt! What the...what the fuck!”

    Susan looked down at her outfit. The fibers twirled apart, and holes grew larger and larger as steam ate away at her shirt. She looked back at Ben with fearful eyes that only grew bigger as she saw his clothes dripping off of his body in a liquefied goop. The smoky haze became thicker, and the two began to cough from the increasing heat from within the well.

    “What the fuck is happening?!” Ben screamed up into the dark abyss above them.

    “It’s getting hard to breathe!” Susan shrieked at him. “I can’t—I can’t feel my fingers!”

    Ben grabbed onto a stone and pulled himself upward. He gripped another stone, digging his fingers into it when his nails peeled away with a gooey snap. He disappeared back under the water.

    “Ben!” Susan screamed for him. With one hand still gripping a stone, she wiped clumps of hair out of her eyes, which nearly bulged from their sockets when she noticed the clumps tangled between her fingers, the follicles still attached. She gasped and ran her hand through her hair. A large chunk slid out from her scalp with ease as she pulled her hand away, leaving a large bald spot on the side of her head. A scream attempted to escape from her chest as she stared at her steaming hand, horrified, but only a shaking wail of fear erupted from her instead.

    The stone she held on to dislodged itself from the wall of the well and she sunk beneath the water for what felt like hours. When she resurfaced, her flickering headlamp illuminated the greasy, shimmering walls that were suddenly devoid of stones.

    Instead, pulsing veins popped from the skin-like surface of the well wall, which undulated in a peristalsis-like manner.

    Ben splashed out from beneath the water and latched onto Susan, gripping her shoulders with the bones of his fingers. His skin and muscle and fat dripped off of him like melting candle wax. His face stretched downward, and his toothless mouth hung lopsided, emitting a shriek of absolute agony. Blood poured like a faucet from his nose and eyes and mouth.

    Susan couldn’t do anything but scream. As her flickering headlamp slowly faded into darkness, Ben’s deformed, half-digested body sunk back down beneath the acidic water, and yanked her down with him.