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The Well by Swetha Amit

My face stares back at me from my reflection--a white face with searching eyes endowed with a mass of curly waves. The water churns, makes the reflection hazy, and then settles down. This time I stare at a white face and hair tied into pigtails with red ribbons, crying eyes, siren-like wails, little palms clasped at the edge of the well, calling out for my brother Dan. I close my eyes as the incident leading to that accident plays in my head like it occurred just yesterday.

Dan and I visit our grandparents' farmhouse, as we usually do every summer. We love sifting our fingers through the grassy patches, letting the tiny worms creep up our fingers, feeling the roses' soft petals, plucking lemons, watching squirrels dart across the branches, and playing with the red ball gifted to me on my eighth birthday. We play outdoors until our grandmother hollers from the back door. "Do not go near the well and peep inside, or the evil spirits will get you."

"It is haunted?" I ask.

"Don't you dare disobey me," she glares at me.

Dan and I shrug and continue playing with the ball. Dan throws it high, and every time I catch it, Dan hands me candy from his pocket. We indulge in this catch and throw from the time the sun is above our heads until birds fly back to their nests. My mouth is soaked in sweetness from all these sweet treats, my dress is dirty, and my palms are sweaty. Dan always tells me I'll be a good sportsperson and I'd make our family proud. Barely four years older, yet he treats me like a daughter, more than a sister.

"What sport Dan?" I ask.

"Softball, perhaps," he says.

I visualize a scene of more candies in my pocket and practice catching the ball for longer hours. I draw two eyes, a nose, and a smile on the ball. Dan throws the ball higher every passing day. I imagine the ball to be a baby and try and catch it. I sleep next to the ball these days, tuck it to sleep, and dream about sugar candies. Sometimes I miss seeing the ball, as the sun blinds me. "Come on, focus, don't miss it," Dan's voice echoes. The candy count is getting smaller. I jump, fail to catch, fall, and roll with the ball.

It's one of those days when Dan gets a little ambitious. He throws it far and high, way beyond the firm clasp of my palm. The ball bounces off the edge of the well and falls inside. I watch, in dismay, and run towards it. Dan catches me and tries to stop me. My eyes burn, and the tears won't stop.

"My baby is dying, and it's your fault," I bawl to Dan.

He pats my head, wipes my tears, and runs towards the well. Grandmother's warning falls on deaf ears, conveniently tucked behind the realm of memory. Dan peers inside and disappears. I wait a long time until I see the birds flying back home. I scream, run to the well, clasp my palms, and my screams reverberate under the depths of the well. Dan's face is swirling along with the ball until it becomes a speck of red. More screams, sirens, wails, and people. They try to fish Dan's body from the well. My grandmother is sobbing profusely and muttering about not paying heed to her warning. I go back to the city, never to return to the countryside.

If only I hadn't cried so much. If only I hadn't blamed Dan. If only I'd listened to grandmother. Perhaps today, we would be celebrating his thirtieth birthday. I wonder what happened to Dan's body which was never found, or that red ball. I decided to explore my vacation haunt.

The place is just a shamble of dried grass, and the house is in ruins after my grandmother moved to the city. The well is still there. I look at the sky and the birds flying back to their nests. I close my eyes and let the tears flow down my cheeks. Sorry, Dan, I mutter. I peer inside the well. The water is hazy and then settles. This time I don't see a white face with curls or pigtails. Instead, I see a speck of red, with eyes, nose, and a smile swirling in circles. Next to it, I see another face, looking at me with a pained expression. I gasp as a pair of elongated hands reach out to me.

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