Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Down There in the Dark
Submitted by kat blue
The Jacksons lost both their children in a terrible incident, but it's hard to explain.
I don't let my young ones go near the well, even though it was years ago, before they were born.
No, not even to fetch water; I do it myself.
Mrs. and Mr. Jackson bought a few dozen acres a short distance from our farm, moved in with a Conestoga full of supplies, and we helped them raise the frames for their house and then later their barn and outbuildings.
They had two children, young when they first came, but this was a few years later when we knew them pretty well and got on in a friendly way.
There was Sarah Jackson, about twelve or thirteen, pleasant enough girl.
Then there was Freddy Jackson, I'd say he was about nine or ten, maybe eight, but around that age.
Generally well-behaved for a little boy.
The hatch on the top of the Jacksons' well was the usual sort of thing, flat and made of wood, and being that it lay on the ground out-of-doors for years, it was rotting.
Mrs. Jackson told the children to be careful around it and not to walk across it.
But I suppose Sarah hadn't given it a thought when she went out one day to draw water.
Mrs. Jackson didn't even realize she was missing for a good twenty minutes, and then she searched right by the well without realizing the door had collapsed in.
Somehow she must not've heard Sarah calling for help.
They found her about an hour after she'd first gone to get water; in the meantime they'd searched the barn and the surrounding areas and called up the neighbors to see if Sarah had
sprung for a visit before the little boy heard her and drew them all back to the well, Sarah shivering down there in the dark.
The men ran off to the barn for some sturdy rope to pull her up; I and Mrs. Jackson went back to the house to get out some dry clothes and quilts and a little brandy to warm her up.
I remember Mrs. Jackson that day.
Just sort of staring off, and asking me—or rather, she didn't seem to notice me all that much—asking, "How did I miss her?
I searched by the well.
How does a mother not notice?" and that sort of thing, over and over.
The little boy had an odd look in his eyes too, the same sort of distant stare.
I just put my arm around Mrs. Jackson and hushed her, but the boy wouldn't come any nearer.
When the men came back with the rope, Sarah wasn't in the well.
My husband ran back to the house, called us to come over.
Now my husband's no fool even in a situation, but I don't know what sort of good he thought it would do—Sarah just wasn't there.
There was nowhere she could've gone, but she wasn't there.
"Maybe there's a cavern underneath; she might've been sucked into a cave or a tunnel," my husband whispered to me.
"Hush," I told him, "if that's true there's no use saying it."
I hoped it wasn't true, but there wasn't a better explanation I had unless the Good Lord drew her up out of there Himself.
The men talked together and decided; they tied the rope securely around the little boy as he'd be the one who could fit best.
They lowered him down into the dark to search.
"Make sure to keep a grip on him," I said to them, "Don't go too far, just to the edge of the water."
It was an obvious thing to say, but all I could think of were rip currents into tunnels underground.
Mrs. Jackson clutched my arm, but besides her pale face, she held up fine.
Little Freddy's echoing cries came up, unclear at first, then—"She's not here!
She's not here!"
"Check around!" his father called down.
"Is she underwater?"
She's not here!"
They pulled him back up.
He was as wide-eyed and shivering as if he'd been out in the snow, so they wrapped him up warm in his father's coat, and we trudged back to the house like a funeral procession.
Mr. Jackson paced the floor, muttering to himself, "Where could she go?
Where could she have gone?"
Mrs. Jackson sat and stared into the hearth.
I clutched her hands. "Annie," I said, "Do you need one of us to stay with you tonight?
Either of us will stay."
But she just shook her head, staring off into nothing.
So we walked home.
We decided we would come back tomorrow, help out in any way we could.
For three days the Jacksons were sort of quiet and drifting, slowly working back up to running their farm.
I didn't hear Freddy speak a single word since he'd been pulled back up from the edge of the water.
On the fourth day we came by just to see how they were doing when my husband stopped me on the path.
"Do you hear that?" he said, a little frown on his face.
For a moment I thought I could only hear the wind and some distant birds...but what I'd taken for birdsong gradually shaped into a human voice.
We ran to the well—sure enough, poor bedraggled Sarah was down there, looking up at us and calling for help.
I called down to her "Sarah!
Hold on, we'll get you out!" then told my husband "Run up to the house, get that rope you had!
I'll stay and watch her."
I didn't rightly know what good it would do to keep watch and still don't know what I would've done if something had happened, but I wasn't about to let her disappear with no explanation again.
My husband and Mr. Jackson came rushing back down with the rope, and as they were lowering it into the hole in the ground Mrs. Jackson
drifted down, pale and drawn with a shawl drawn around her, eyes wide as she peered down.
She let out a wail that raised gooseflesh on me when she saw her daughter down there.
They pulled the little girl up, slowly as the rope kept slipping through her hands, and her mother wrapped her in her shawl; the parents fell about crying over her and nearly danced as they carried her back up to the house.
The boy just followed, somber, and I took his hand to walk him back home.
He didn't return my smile.
I thought at the time he must just be feeling
forgotten in the commotion; he was only a child after all.
Sarah sat while her mother rubbed her hands and feet to help the circulation and her father piled blankets on her, ruffling her wet hair and tucking them around her.
It was odd, but sure enough the girl didn't look too much the worse for wear for spending three days underground with no food, and none of us gave it much thought seeing as we were all just glad to have her back.
The two of them, the parents, were in a celebratory sort of mood, but the girl I supposed was wiped out and didn't speak.
Neither did the little boy.
Finally Mrs. Jackson asked if Sarah wanted to get some rest, and the girl just nodded, so they pulled a pallet as close to the hearth as was safe and let her lie down.
We went outside to say our goodbyes without disturbing her too much.
Mrs. and Mr. Jackson had a new spring in their steps; Mrs. Jackson's color was coming back and Mr. Jackson smiled and laughed heartily at something my husband said to him.
"Is there anything you need, Annie?" I asked her, smiling myself.
She just shook her head, her eyes bright but no tears spilling over yet.
Little Freddy clung to his mother's skirts and stared through the doorway back into where his sister slept.
When we said goodbye to him he didn't so much as shrug, even when his mother admonished him; he just kept watching the door.
Circumstances being what they were I couldn't blame a little boy for being confused; I know I was myself, and I'd feel safe guessing the rest of us were too.
With spending so much time away from our own farm we had plenty of work to catch up on.
For three more days we stayed on our land getting everything back up and running.
Then I figured it wouldn't hurt to check in, see how the Jacksons were doing, if little Sarah wasn't sick from her long stay underground.
I was also curious if she had a story to tell about the missing time she'd been down there, but the important thing was that she was back safe.
All that I heard, I heard from Mr. Jackson, as Mrs. Jackson wailed and screamed and grew hoarse, before she beat her head against the wall.
She drew blood before I and Mr. Jackson could hold her back.
Sarah hadn't spoken a word since she came up from the underground.
Neither had Freddy since his trip down to search for her.
The two had silently regarded each other "like a cat facing down a snake," Mr. Jackson had said.
Neither of the parents could force the children to make up, or get a word out of them in the first place.
Freddy had tried to crawl into bed with his parents every night since his sister had returned, although he had his own pallet and hadn't shared his parents' bed since he was very small.
The first night they allowed him.
The next day, Mr. Jackson had spent all morning fitting the well with a heavy new wooden cover.
He took wood from the side of the barn to do
it, but they figured it was more important to cover the well right now.
It took an adult using both hands to lift it, and the children could've danced together on top of it safely.
Supposing they saw fit to do so, that is.
The second night, they awoke to him crawling in with them, and thought they saw Sarah standing in the kitchen, but when they called to her "Go to sleep, Sarah," she didn't move, and Freddy just ducked under their covers, shivering.
The next morning Sarah had shook her head when they asked if she'd been up, but there'd been damp footprints all around the kitchen like someone had come in after a rainstorm.
The third night, Freddy had gone to his own bed at first, then woken them in the middle of the night by jumping in with them again.
In the moonlight Mr. Jackson said he could see Sarah's pallet was empty, but he just assumed she'd gone to the outhouse around the back of the main house.
The third morning, there were wet drag marks on the floor like a sopping wet cloth had been pulled through the kitchen from the door.
Mrs. Jackson told Sarah that if she was going to take a blanket with her to the outhouse, keep it off the ground, and hang it outside if it got damp from the nighttime grass.
Sarah had glared at her, silently, then went about doing her chores as usual.
Then just the night before we visited, Mr. Jackson said quite firmly that Freddy was going to sleep in his own bed, and that was final.
Freddy, he said, had started tearing up, but he had gone to bed and fallen asleep quickly when he did.
Mrs. Jackson had given her husband an admonishing look, but he had put his foot down.
Sarah, he said, was already in bed.
They had awoken this morning to find both their children's beds empty.
A trail of water, as much as a spilled bucket, lay between the kitchen and the doorway, soaking into the floor.
There were scratch marks in the dirt floor-turned-mud and around the doorjamb.
They searched the outhouse, the barn, the entire area, but found nothing.
They searched the well, but the heavy cover Mr. Jackson had made lay securely in place.
They checked inside anyway, and there was nothing but water at the bottom.
A posse was rounded up just a day later to search with dogs, but the dogs would just stay on the property, walking between the house and the outbuildings and the well.
If the children wandered off into the prairie, there was no scent to follow.
After that Mr. Jackson took Mrs. Jackson to town to see the doctor, and the doctor recommended she stay at a sanatorium for a while, to give her some time to "process the trauma," as Mr. Jackson reported.
He had a helpless sort of look as he said it.
One man can't run a farm like the Jacksons' by himself, so he moved—first into town for a while, but then he moved on.
I don't know where he is now.
I don't know if Mrs. Jackson is out of the sanatorium or not.
The Jackson farm is abandoned now, and I don't go by anymore with nobody to visit.
They never did find those children.