The Story Well – A Short Story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt began, as a lot of things did, with light.

Cedric had noticed the lights flickering on and off in the bedroom. He had replaced the light bulbs three times and to no avail; they still flickered, almost as if in tune to a song. He would stare at the bedside lamp and the overhead light and imagine the tune that they were blinking along with. It seemed to be a peaceful melody.

The superintendent, a man named Gustav, shrugged when Cedric told him about the lights. “It’s an old building.” He said, his accent thick and melodious. “These things happen. I will take a look at the lights.”

Thanking him, Cedric went about his day and was taking some meat out to defrost for dinner when he noticed the fridge was acting up. The freezer seemed to be frozen over, a thick layer of ice covering everything. Looking closer, Cedric noticed that it wasn’t a layer of ice that had grown over his food, but a layer of sparkly dust caught in glass. It glittered like fairy dust. As he looked, he realized that the freezer seemed to go on forever, as if it were a land of ice and snow contained within.

Opening the fridge, Cedric saw that it was filled not with food, but with grass and flowers that went on as far as his eyes could see. It looked to be a meadow and he could make out butterflies frolicking in the distance.

He called Gustav. When he explained about the fridge and freezer, he could almost hear him shrug. “It’s an old building. That happens all the time.”

Cedric snorted. “Seriously? There is a meadow in my fridge and glass covering my frozen foods.”

“I’ve seen a lot of things in my time as a super. You wouldn’t believe half of them. I will look at your fridge and freezer when I look at your lights.”

That evening, the radiator started letting out little puffs of steam. They looked like little clouds floating up to the sky. The puffs of steam alternated with the lights, so that the tune Cedric heard in his head was more complete. The fridge chose that moment to let out a soft hum that started, held and then stopped again. This continued for a few minutes, the music sounding fuller then ever.

The fridge and the radiator went silent so that Cedric was left with only the blinking lights. He decided to try and ignore the lights and went to his bookshelf to find something to read. He wanted to find something light, something that would carry him away to somewhere different within himself.

Cedric loved that books, music and art could do that. When the world got to be too difficult, he would turn on an album or dive into a good book. Art could do this in a way that nothing else could. It was why he wrote…or why he used to. He didn’t write anymore.

He chose a book (Alice in Wonderland; it had been a long time since he had read that) when there was a whispering sound that filled the room. It sounded as if the walls were talking to him. The flickering lights threw everything into shadows and out again.

Looking around the room, Cedric called out “Hello?” even though he knew that he lived alone. He even went to the doorway of his bedroom, as if he expected someone to be there. There wasn’t, of course there wasn’t. Sighing, he took his book in hand, the line spoken by the Mad Hatter running through his head (“Have I gone mad?”) and made his way back to his bedroom.

As he made his way back into his bedroom, he found what had made the noise. The plaster of his bedroom wall had cracked. Running his fingers along it, he already knew what Gustav’s response would be and could hear his voice (“It’s an old building”). He ran his fingers along the cracks again, wondering why the walls didn’t bleed. I mean, aren’t houses alive in some way? Housing so much emotion, so much hate and love? Don’t the walls take those feelings in to themselves?”

“I really am going mad.” Cedric said. He wondered when that had happened. Smiling to himself, he went to the bed to lose himself in a good book.

Cedric had just gotten himself comfortable and was about to open Alice in Wonderland to the first page when something caught his eye. Maybe it was the light that drew his eyes, flickering as it was, but whatever the cause he looked up.

On the walls, made with the cracks in the plaster, were the words HELLO, HOW ARE YOU?

Cedric thought about not saying anything out loud. He had a moment to decide that this was pure madness. However, Cedric didn’t know if he couldn’t not speak. He always loved a good story, but the fact that he was living inside of one? He couldn’t ignore that.

“I’m fine?” He would think about the fact that he was talking to a wall later. “How are you?”

There was another whispering sound that filled the room as the cracks along the wall rearrange themselves to form other words. They were I’M LOVELY. IT’S SO NICE TO FINALLY BE SPEAKING TO YOU.

The radiator stared again, letting out happy puffs of steam and he heard his stereo turn itself on, playing a soft, happy song.

“Have you always been here?” Cedric asked.

There was the sound of laughter followed by a knock on his apartment door. He looked at the writing on the wall and said softly “I’ll be right back.” Walking to the door, Cedric thought it might be Gustav the super again. He opened it to find someone else altogether.

“Honey, why haven’t you returned my calls?”

Cedric’s best friend, Jessie, stood there with her hands on her hips. Today, she was wearing a long broom skirt and a poets blouse with sleeves that hung like bells on her arms. She had topped that off with a choker made out of amethysts and opals and a pageboy cap, tipped saucily to the side.

She flew into his apartment without waiting for an answer. “Seriously, I thought you had died, or gone on the lam from the law after your last novel bombed. Or maybe you tried your hand at raising the dead spirit of Shakespeare to find out what made his books sell so well.”

Cedric gave her a small grin. “I think you might be exaggerating a little bit.”

“Well, maybe a little about raising the dead and running from the law, but your last novel did bomb, so there’s truth in what I said.”

She went to the kitchen and took out a bottle of wine. “Honey, why do you only have one glass? I bought you some for when I come over.”

“They’re under here in the cupboard.” Cedric said, pointing to the cupboard under the sink.

Letting out a loud sigh, Jessie looked and found the box of glasses.  Taking two out of the box, she washed and dried them and opened the bottle of wine. “Why haven’t you called me back? I’ve left like a trillion messages.”

“I’ve had lots to do, I’ve been really busy.”

“Oh, yeah, what book are you reading? That’s all you ever do now. You lose yourself in books instead of writing your own.”

“Hey, you can’t ignore the classics.”

“Cedric!” She turned to face him, a glass in each hand. “Shut up and drink this.”

Cedric knew that look. Jessie had perfected the Mom Look early on and he knew there was nothing to do but drink the wine. So he took a glass, clinked it against hers and took a sip. “Happy?”

“Yes. Now will you tell me what’s going on? You’ve been hiding away for weeks!”

“What’s to tell? I wrote and now I don’t. Can’t be much clearer than that.”

“Honey, you can’t let one bad review stop you from writing. You’re a writer, it’s in your blood.” She took his arm and led him back into his bedroom. She motioned at the bookshelf with her wine glass. “Look, all your books!”

“Yeah, and my last one was trashed. Nobody liked it. It was picked apart by every reviewer and trashed from here to Timbuctoo.”

“Not true. Your publishers loved it, your agent loved it. I loved it and I’m clearly the most important person in your life, so my opinion matters most.”

“Well, that’s all well and good but my readers didn’t like it at all.”

“So?” Jessie asked.

“So? So? Really, that’s all you have to say?”

“Yeah. So what? A bunch of people didn’t like your novel. Whoopee, the world is ending!”

“Jessie, honey, if people don’t like my books, they won’t buy them and I’ll have no career.”

“Again, so what? One bad book doesn’t make a career. Bedsides which, The Hills of Yesterday was a brilliant book. You can’t stop writing because of one bad review.”

“Jessie, there are hundreds of bad reviews.”

“Who cares. Who did you write the book for?”

“I wrote it because it had to come out. I had to write it.”

“Exactly. And would you change anything about it when you finished writing it?”

“No, it had to come out as it did. That was the way the story wanted to be told.”

“So what’s the problem? You were true to your art and your words. There should be nothing more fulfilling than that.”

“But no one liked it.” Cedric hated how sulky his voice had become.

“Honey, you wrote it for yourself. Nothing else matters.” Jessie told him. She put down her wine and embraced him in a soft hug. “You have to keep writing. It’s what you do, it’s who you are.”

“The story well is dry, there’s nothing left in it.”

“Occasional droughts happen; it’ll fill up again.”

“I’m not so sure. I can’t think of anything else to write. I’ve been hoping for an idea, but nothing is coming to me.”

Just then, there was a whispering that filled Cedric’s whole apartment. The lights began to wink on and off and the radiator began to let out puffs of steam again. Jessie looked around the apartment with wide eyes. “What was that whispering? Is the warranty up on your apartment or something?”

“No, come and look at this.”

Leading her into his bedroom, Cedric watched as she looked the writing on the wall. It had changed again. Now there were different words: HELLO. I’M LUCY. YOU’RE THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO WITH CEDRIC.

Jessie looked at the words and turned to Cedric. “Honey, what’s going on?”

“I think I have a ghost.”

Jessie let out a snort. “I could have told you that. How long has this been happening?”

“It started this morning. Come look at this.”

He took her to the refrigerator and showed her what lay inside the fridge and freezer. Jessie looked at the meadow and the Iceland with wonder. She reached into the fridge and plucked a small flower, bringing it out and placing it under her nose. “It’s real.”

“Yeah, it is.”

Jessie looked at Cedric with wide eyes. “You told me the Story Well had dried up, that it was empty.”

“It is.”

“Um, Cedric? Hello? You’re living in a story idea!”

Shaking his head, Cedric said “I can’t write about this.”

“Sure you can. You’re a novelist. You can write anything you damn well please.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Jessie sighed and looked at him as if the answer should be obvious. “What do you do when you want to tell a story? You start at the beginning. If talking to a ghost doesn’t give you an idea for a story, I don’t know what will. Talk to her and I bet you that your Story Well of yours will be full in no time.”

A light flickered over Cedric’s head and it got brighter as if he had had an idea. He went back into the bedroom and sat on the bed, Jessie following him and sitting on the bed beside him.

“Um, Lucy? How did you come to be a ghost? Can you tell me your story?”

There was the sound of wind chimes, though Cedric owned none. Words appeared on the wall. I’VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG TO TELL SOMEONE. I WOULD HAPPILY TELL YOU.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Cedric said and waited to hear what the ghost would say…

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