It gave me the creeps. Nodding, the man on the Blasingstoke bus leaned over and said to me, in a tone of complete complicity, “Oh, yes, just like shouting down a well.” I could tell he was thinking, “I know that you know just what I mean.” I didn’t. But even though I’ve never been sure what that means, I have a pretty good idea.
When I read that Gainsborough Farm in Blasingstoke was for sale, I decided to pay one last visit while I’m still able. I spent many happy days there are a child, and some not so happy ones.
Picking my path through the over-grown puckerbrush carefully, I make my way back to the well that still stands out behind what used to be my great-grandmother’s house on Gainsborough Farm. It once provided water to my ancestors, but it’s a forlorn orphan now. Surrounded by tall dying grasses and thorny thickets, it’s been neglected by the more recent residents of the house.
The deep hole is covered with a rotting wooden cap. Around it, crumbling stones still support the lichen-covered shakes of the roof, but the bucket that once hauled cold spring water from its depths is long gone.
I haven’t seen the old well since the last time I visited Great-Gamma with my family on Guy Fawkes Day all those years ago. My brothers, Will, a year older – he’s gone now, bless him; Daniel, a year younger; and I: we loved that well. We called it our wishing well. Despite admonitions to stay away because it was dangerous, at least once a visit to the farm, we’d sneak back there into the thicket. We would stand on the big rock beside the well and hang over the edge in turn to drop a coin, calling down our most sincere wishes before the faint splash of the coin hitting bottom called back in answer.
Not one of those wishes shouted down the well ever came true. Not even the one that George Fisher would stop tormenting me. No, especially not that one.
George Fisher lived on a farm on Coventry Lane that was next to Great-Gamma’s. I think he was only a little older than I was, maybe a year, but he was much bigger. And ugly.
We only saw each other when I visited Great-Gamma, but I was convinced that he spent the rest of the time dreaming up ways to torture me. He started small. The first time, he jumped out of a bush by the side of the dirt lane when I rode my bike past and scared the living bejeebus out of me. I know that sounds like a little thing, but I was just a little thing myself. Down I went. The fall tore my pants and knee alike. I can still hear George’s taunting laughter ringing out behind me as, limping, I pushed my bike back to Great-Gamma’s, trying hard not to cry.
“He only does it because he likes you, Nessa,” Great-Gamma said soothingly as she cleaned up my knee while I sat on the counter beside the kitchen sink. She gently pressed a plaster over the scrape, and went on. “That’s just how boys are.”
Unfortunately, Bobby and Daniel were sitting at the kitchen table at the time with the remnants of Great-Gamma’s shortbread biscuits and milky tea on the faces. “Georgie loves Nessa. Georgie loves Nessa,” came their annoying sing-song little voices.
I remember thinking, “Ugh.” From that day onward, I always thought of that old nursery song whenever I saw George.
Georgie Porgie, Puddin' and Pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away.
Except he didn’t. Run away, I mean. When my brothers came out, they all ran off together to wage war against the Germans at George’s house. And bully George always got to be Montgomery, I’m sure.
Over the next few years, George developed his craft, getting much more creative with his torment. As much as I loved visiting Great-Gamma, I began to dread the inevitable pranks I knew I would suffer at George Fisher’s hand.
The day he laughingly crushed the tiny bird with a broken wing I’d been nursing under his boot, I thought it couldn’t get any worse.
“Oh, you are a right bastard, George.” I cried. “Your day will come. Mark my words.”
I was alone at the well that Guy Fawkes Day. Father had taken Will and Daniel to the Guy Fawkes events in town. Even though taking our tea at Mrs. Firthingham’s Parlor was enticing, the idea of standing amongst a bunch of rowdies at the bonfire that would go up just after dark put me off. I decided to stay with my mother at the farm.
I was fourteen that year, and no longer really believed that the wishing well could grant my wishes. I still enjoyed visiting it, though, and that’s what I did that afternoon just before darkness fell.
“Don’t dally, Nessa,” my mother called as I was crossing the mudroom behind the kitchen. “Tea is almost ready, and besides, it will be dark soon. I don’t want you wandering around back there alone in the darkness. It’s not safe,” she warned.
“Yes, Mum,” I answered, “I’ll be back before full dark.”
I wasn’t worried, though. The path to the well was as familiar to me as the palm of my hand.
When I reached the well, I fished a shilling from my pocket and dropped in down the well.
“Please, I’d like to be pretty,” I called after the coin.
I didn’t wait for the splash to answer me. The echo of my own voice in the well reminded me that wishing wells were childish nonsense. I turned to head back through the gloaming to the farmhouse, looking forward to the lamb I’d smelled roasting before I left the kitchen.
That’s when the answer to my wish reached my ears.
The tramp through the weeds to the well has tired me.
“You old fool,” I grumble to myself as I sit on the big rock along side the well that we used to stand on. “You’re not the young wisp you were back then. What were you thinking, coming back here?”
But I knew what I’d been thinking. I’ve been haunted by that day for sixty years. It's long past time to face the ghosts once and for all, then be done with it.
“Ah, but Fraulein, you’re pretty enough for me.”
Though the accented words had been near whispered, I recognized the voice as being not that of any German.
“Go away, George.”
I made to quicken my step, but he grabbed my arm roughly and spun me round to face him. I was astonished to see him in a cobbled-up approximation of an Army uniform.
“I was just wishing me some fresh Kraut meat,” he leered.
I opened my mouth to scream, but his meaty hand clamped viciously across my lips before I could get a sound out. I wrenched my body frantically, trying to break free of his grasp, but he was too big, too strong. He forced me to the ground, and settled his weight across my chest. His massive thighs pinned my arms at my sides.
With his free hand, George unfastened the broad leather belt at his waist, and pulled it free of his trousers. In short order, he had it wrapped around my head and pulled tight across my open mouth.
“There now, Liebchen, Let’s eat.”
Terrified, I thrashed my legs as I struggled for breath, but between his body atop my lungs and the belt in my mouth, I stood no chance. George Fisher was going to kill me, crushing me as surely as he’d crushed that little bird.
The warm sun drapes gently across my aching shoulders and songbirds call gaily, but I am too far away to notice. I’m on the damp ground on a chilly November night, feeling nothing but the rocks beneath me and the pounding within. Old tears spring into my eyes as I face the demons that my memories have become.
After pushing the front of my sweater up toward my neck, George grabbed the front of my brassiere and ripped it apart as easily as if it were tissue paper. When he leaned forward to feast on my exposed breasts, he lifted enough for me to draw the chilling air into my aching lungs. The stars I’d been seeing receded, leaving me with the loathsome sight of a wild-eyed George reaching for my flesh with his fat tongue. My shame and revulsion, as much as the cold air, made my nipples stand erect, offering themselves to the drooling animal slathering his hunger upon them.
Leaning back again, he grabbed first one of my hands and then the other, and held them firmly in his left hand. With his right hand, he reached down and fumbled open the zipper on his trousers, releasing his engorged, throbbing penis. The sight of it springing toward me like a viper was disgusting, and I could feel myself begin to gag.
George slid his bulk lower onto my thighs, and reached beneath my skirt with his free hand. He tore my panties free and forced himself into me. Grunting like the rutting pig he was, he pounded, slamming his need into me over and over. With a groan that released his fetid breath into my face, he collapsed onto me.
The throes of his release brought not only the sticky mess oozing past his now flaccid penis and onto my buttocks, it also cause him to loosen his grasp around my wrists. My hands were free.
I grabbed one of the many rocks scattered around the well, and before he could react, I brought it down with as much force as I could muster against George’s temple. I immediately felt his body go limp, becoming even heavier than before. I pushed him off of me and scrambled out of his reach.
As I wipe away the tears drying on my wrinkled cheeks, I can still feel the pain in my heart and my groin that never went away after that night. I pull myself to my feet, using the side of the old well for leverage and support. The crumbling wooden cover covering the well moves aside easily, and I look down into depths as dark as my soul.
My voice cracking a bit, I call down my most sincere wish.
After undoing the belt and pulling it from my head, I grabbed the side of the well for leverage and support, and pulled myself to my feet. I never took my eyes from George’s inert form. My soul was filled with hatred for the bully who had taken such pleasure in my anguish.
I pulled my destroyed brassiere and panties free and threw them down the well beside me, sending the belt down after them. Then I straightened my clothing and brushed the dirt and leaves off as best I could. With a last look at George, sprawled on the ground beside the well, I ran through the dark toward the farmhouse.
When I walked into the kitchen from the mudroom, my mother and Great-Gamma gasped at the sight of me.
“Nessa! What happened?”
Looking down at myself in the light, I saw that my clothes were filthy, and I had a little blood on my leg.
“I, uh, fell. You were right, Mum. It’s dangerous out there after dark.” Then I hurried upstairs and scrubbed the stench of George Fisher from my body.
The next day, they found George, hanging in the well, suspended from the rope that usually supported the water bucket. He was dressed in his General Montgomery costume.
His distraught mother told the constable that he’d never come home the day before. “He said he was going out to fight the Germans.”
I clear my throat, and start again in a stronger voice.
“I wish,” I call down the well, “you hadn’t killed yourself, Georgie Fisher. I’m sorry you did that.”
I pause and feel a burden lift from my soul. Even if I am wasting my breath shouting down a well, I feel better.
“But I’m not sorry you’re dead. No, not sorry at all."
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory.