When I stopped at a well in the woods, I found within not water but a wretched waif. A pale figure curled up on a bed of grass and crushed flowers, the hands cupped over their head the picture of abject sorrow. Their voice bounced off the stone walls up to me, distorted and muffled. “Do not drink here.”
Warm sunlight beat down on the back of my neck, a contrast to the chilly air rising up from below. “I would not,” I replied, leaning my arms on the well rim, where grit bit at my skin. Surveying the prison below, I searched for a way to free the stranger. No cracks marked the smooth inner walls, no handy rope dangled down. “How do I get you out?”
Grass rustled when the well-dweller turned their head to look up at me. My stomach plunged at the sight; for a moment, the face was mine, or that of someone I had once known. “I would rather stay here,” they mumbled. “I have poisoned the well, but the well contains my poison.”
“You will suffocate, then,” I replied, though I suspected they already understood that.
“Leave me.” The wretch curled up tighter, face hidden from me once more.
I tapped my fingers against the stone, gaze on the mossy middle distance. At a loss, but unwilling to leave. After a minute or three, I dug around in my satchel and withdrew two climbing picks. They thumped against the soft dirt next to the well-dweller’s head and they flinched back in surprise.
“For when you’re ready to get yourself out,” I explained.
Before I moved on, one pale hand reached out and grasped a pick, clenching it in a tight, shaking grip.
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