The day my brother, Murdoch, stopped talking he looked down a well and saw something he wasn’t supposed to see. The well was on Old Man Mitchell’s property south of town where junk covered the front lawns. Murdoch heard about it from Donovan, an older boy, at recess. According to Donovan, you could look down the well at a certain point in the day and see your future. It was Halloween, and I was ten years old.
We rolled up to the Mitchell property on our bikes after school and parked them right below the front steps. Murdoch banged on the door until the old man answered, cussing and stomping.
“What is it?” he said through the chain.
“Sir, we were hoping you’d let us into your backyard. We wanna take a look into the well,” Murdoch said.
The door shut and then reopened. The old man motioned us inside. The house was dark and cluttered with trinkets and stacks of newspapers and records. He led us out back and motioned down a trail.
“That way about a quarter mile,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” I said and Murdoch grabbed me by the arm.
“If it works, boys…” the old man said but we were already at the trailhead. “…there’s a price,” he called after us.
The trail grew thick with vines, briars, and underbrush. We came to a clearing. There was a small structure around the well to keep animals and children out. It had the opposite effect. It was an eerie beacon. Around the place were little human stick figures made up of twisted vines and twigs hanging from the lowest branches of the surrounding trees.
We both walked into the shed and approached the old well with a circular stone perimeter like you’d see in old movies. Green moss covered the sides. Murdoch grabbed a rock from the side of the wall and looked at me.
“Supposed to toss one in and hold your head over the edge with eyes closed before looking,” he said and I nodded. A small portion of the top of the shed was missing, so that an overcast October sky shone down through. Murdoch dropped the stone in and looked over. I saw him open his eyes and I looked down. The reflection of the sky rippled in the black water. It gave me gooseflesh. I looked over at Murdoch. He was transfixed, gazing into the water with his eyes wide and eventually going wet with tears, but he couldn’t look away. I touched his arm and he looked at me in horror. I glanced back down and saw the same dark waves reflecting the gray sky.
We walked home and I asked him what he’d seen. He didn’t answer. He didn’t speak for six months. My parents took him to therapists, neurologists, acupuncturists, and all manner of other experts to no avail. Then the nightmares started. Three months later in the dead of winter, Murdoch woke up screaming in his bed and my parents rushed to console him. He couldn’t tell them what he dreamed. The nightmares persisted once a week. That winter our house was the set of a horror movie and a mute twelve-year-old was the main character.
When it warmed, Murdoch camped in the backyard. It eased his mind and we slept through the nights. Sometimes, I camped with him. We gazed at the stars and things got better. One night I awoke to popping and crackling and a warm feeling on my feet. I stood up and saw our house burning. I heard her screaming after getting to my feet. Murdoch watched the flames and I stepped forward. I saw our mother on fire through the kitchen bay window, her hair and sleeping gown glowing bright. The firemen said we were lucky to be camping. They said Dad came home late and left one of the burners going. I took another step toward the house. Murdoch grabbed my shoulder hard and said, “You’ll burn alive in there.”
Jay Tyler is an attorney in central Virginia. He’s been writing for over ten years, and his fiction has appeared in Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature and Electric Spec.