A pig’s squeal just loud enough to discount as the mind. Jeb squinted and focused his hearing. He edged closer to the guardrail and a semi-truck thundered by. The tail of his leather duster whipped around in a frenzy. Jeb didn’t move, oblivious to the monumental force.
Two thin corners of a grin emerged beneath his coarse grey mustache, and he hopped over the guardrail. His duster’s tail snagged on a jagged edge of metal, a twisted hook, warped from a collision. Jeb stumbled down the edge until his duster came taut, at which point he dog-leashed into backslide down the remaining embankment.
The river valley’s autumn sprawl, a muted golden wash, framed by powdered hills, and a gash wiggling down the center: the river, a blue cold and hard enough to hurt. Jeb squeezed through the wood and barbwire fence that claimed it all, and went looking for the squeal.
The thick brush beside the creek split open into a circle, a few hundred yards in diameter. The meadow centered itself around the blackened husk of a tree. Devoid of branches, the charcoal finger curled upwards into a fine point.
“What luck, Mister Tree,” said Jeb, elbowing the bark in playful instinct.
Stones lay splayed about in a lazy pile beside the tree, the slightest suggestion of a circle. A well? The squeal reverberated through an empty cathedral. It was louder now, Jeb winced at the thought of the well’s height. Or was it depth? When do you start measuring one and not the other? Huh.
He peered over the edge, careful not to let his weight depend on the structure itself. Below was a dark that had no end, as if a black sheet had been draped across the well’s diameter. A pretty autumn day up here, thought Jeb. He chuckled and watched his cold breath rise in puffs. Dark as Nana’s cellar below.
“Hullo? Mister Pig?” A squeal, panicked and scared, replied from the darkness. With it came a wave of hot air and a moldy, rotten stench. Jeb’s floating breath vaporized in the heat.
Jeb considered the pig’s perspective. Not just dark. Empty. A world devoid of light and meaning. Was the pig experiencing terror, a primal claustrophobia, or terrible joy, a freedom from the responsibility of the senses? Wonder what I’d see down there, thought Jeb.
He came to the conclusion that he’d see the universe before God started kicking stuff around. Black or white? Jeb settled on a speckled grey. As a child, he’d been banished to Nana’s cellar quite often, and had found that spending a long time in absolute darkness gave birth to a noisy transmission not unlike a troubled signal from a television channel. After a good day in the cellar, Jeb couldn’t tell whether his eyes were open or not.
An osprey cried from somewhere in the patchy blue above. Jeb screwed his mouth towards the sky and attempted to decide which animal he’d rather be at the moment. He thought long enough for the sun to strain through the clouds in sharp, solemn rays. “Sorry,” said Jeb, and got back to the business of the pig.
Jeb stared into the darkness of the well, pig sending hot air and noise in palpable waves. He stared long and hard enough to lose his sense of place, the black became a noisy transmission and, if not for the gravity, he’d have thought the world had floated away beneath his feet.
Flashbulb engineering solutions in a slideshow of the mind: Pickup and rope? Can’t drive. Whirlybird and rope? Can’t fly. My waist, that burnt up tree, and rope? No, pig’s too dumb. Rope would just be another threat from the circle of light above.
Jeb laid his back on the thick trunk of the burnt tree and, despite his troubles, fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke, a man in pale blue coveralls was staring into the well. His face was obscured by a beard of television static and his eyes were hidden beneath a hunting cap’s scarlet brow. The man pulled a handgun from his belt and pointed it into the well. He pulled the trigger three times in rapid succession, waited, and let a fourth go. Even the firecracker muzzle flash of the handgun wasn’t enough to light the well entire.
The pig’s final cry echoed against the damp walls of the well and catapulted out into the river valley. The pursuant clap of gunshot joined the squeal in a discordant harmony and melted away among the mountaintops long after the pig had stopped being a pig. The man turned toward Jeb and the hollow tree.
“Jeb? That you, Jeb?”
Jeb flinched and stumbled forward. Mister Pig! Without thought, Jeb laid his weight against the frail structure as he peered into the depths. A stone scraped against another stone. With a hollow clonk, the well collapsed inward. Jeb felt a hand on his back, and then he fell.
He couldn’t remember hitting the bottom. A damp smell hung in the air. It had weight and taste. What was pig and what was earth? His vision felt blurry. Where did my body go? Everything was vibrating.
A single word echoed from the circle of light above.