01 Feb When I was a kid my best friend was a bush inside a well
I was seven when my father died, and ten when my mom remarried. Living in rural Midwest, there wasn’t a lot a woman with no family or friends could do to survive on her own, and not a lot of men wanted to take a widow as his wife.
I rather think that’s why she married such a rude little man, and why she never stood up for me against him and his despicable sons.
Alfred was a widow too, eager to dump the responsibility over his children on another woman, and have intercourse again – he repeatedly said that in front of us boys, and I hated him from the moment we met. He looked at my mother like she wasn’t a person, but a property to serve and please him.
But at least he wasn’t particularly violent and usually just mocked everything I said or left me alone – so he was nowhere near as bad as my stepbrothers.
Abel and Christian weren’t only poorly behaved boys, but also horribly rude to my mother and downright mean to me; at first, they would only call me a sissy, throw away my clothes and vandalize my stuff – I liked to draw, but apparently that was too feminine of a hobby.
But, as they father validated their actions, they would always come out with new ways to torment me. Not a year had gone by since we all started living together and I was always covered in cuts and bruises, brushed off by my stepdad and neighbors as “boys will be boys”.
Was I a girl, I could at least find a little comfort in tucking myself in the safe kitchen with my mother, where I’d learn early to expect nothing in life but a long day of chores ending with a half-drunk stinking man shoving himself in the bed by your side and expecting to be entertained.
But, as a boy who didn’t fit in, I had to be alone and helpless outside.
Both Abel and Christian were older than me, two and three years respectively; I was one of the youngest and weakest kids in the neighborhood, an easy target. The other boys mostly ignored me or half-heartedly bullied me, to avoid getting on my stepbrothers’ wrong side.
The girls didn’t come out to play often, either because they had to help their mothers at home or because whenever they left the safety of their houses, Abel and Christian tormented them.
They threw mud at them, destroyed their dolls and twitched their braids until they cried; the adults said dumb shit like “aww, that’s how boys show they care!”, so the girls mostly herded inside the houses, safe and secret.
As any boy who isn’t deemed manly enough, I craved their company and hoped they would invite me in, but I wasn’t girly enough for them to take interest in being my friends either.
To be fair, I was being raised with their two worst nightmares, so they thought it was a matter of time until I was like them; girls learn painfully early to not let the fox enter the henhouse.
That was the state of things when my stepbrothers found the well.
Like any pair of troublemakers, they loved exploring farther than the other parents considered healthy; the fact that they spent long hours in the woods gave my mother and myself some peace of mind, while their father was proud because his boys were so brave and mannish.
Christian and Abel came back later than usual that night, dusted and sweating, while the rest of us were already having dinner. The duo cackled loudly about some awesome thing they found; my mother served them while remaining silent, knowing that it was unthinkable to tell them to watch their hands or shower before joining the table – my stepfather thought it was manly to be dirty.
“Eliot, come with us tomorrow!” Abel called by my name, something almost unprecedented. Being the younger of the two, his tactic was to pretend he was actually a nice boy under his sibling’s bad influence. Not knowing what to say, I nodded.
I barely slept that night – not because I was looking forward to the little trip, or even afraid of it, but because they wouldn’t stop whispering to each other and laughing, and unfortunately we shared the same bedroom.
It was a good 45 minutes’ walk, and I was on the edge the whole time, trying to predict if they were going to shove me in the creek, tie me to a tree or just start beating the shit out of me, but they weren’t interested in repeating old deeds that day.
They were incredibly well-behaved the whole way there, which only increased my panic.
Finally we ended up in a little opening, with yellowed underbrush and a large round and flat rock that looked like a giant lid. I barely had time to see the hole beside it.
“Look what we found, sissy!”, Christian announced, as the two of them immobilized my arms and legs and threw me in a dark pit, their laughter echoing as I fell.
I think I might’ve hit my head and passed out, because the small circle of surface above me seemed too hot and bright when I opened my eyes again.
Adjusting my eyes to the darkness, I realized the pit was an abandoned well, thus the big lid. There, my only company was murky, stagnant water, cobwebs, and a weird plant that looked like some sort of giant fungus, or a misfit bush.
I cried for what it felt like hours, until I realized I was stuck there until my stepfather missed me long enough to look for me, and then I cried some more; I was sure I was going to die there.
Starved for company, I started talking to the plant.
“You must’ve been alone here”, I remarked. It could be my imagination, but I swear I saw it moving a little branch, like it was nodding. “I guess I’m a misfit bush like you.”
I never realized how much I had in my 11-years-old chest until I started talking alone inside the well. How I missed my father, how it was unfair that he died on duty and his boss didn’t do shit for us, how I hated to see my mother crying because we were starving, how I hated to see her crying now because she found a way to provide for me but her life was miserable.
My mouth completely dry, I drank the murky water from my cupped hands and resumed my monologue, and when I looked up again it was pitch dark outside.
At first I only felt mosquitoes biting my arms and legs, but as the night grew colder and stiller, little creepy-crawlies started moving through my limbs and inside my clothes, and I screamed to no-one until my throat was hoarse.
“Eliot, are you there?” an unfamiliar adult voice broke the immense blackness and startled me. I must have passed out from hunger, exhaustion and panic combined; waking up was horrible because I was back to feeling bugs and worms crawling over my face, making it itchy, gooey and repulsive.
“I’m here!” I replied weakly, hoping it would be loud enough, and soon someone shone a flashlight on my face, followed by a rope.
“Oh, thank God! Tie it to your waist very tightly”, the man instructed me, and I gratefully did it. The moment he fished me out of the well and I got to breathe fresh air again was the best of my life until then.
The man was on his early 40s, a red-head with a respectable mustache that looked half-familiar; he carried me in his arms, strong and gentle like a father, remarking how I was swollen from the mosquito bites and that I needed a good bath and some bandages, then I’d be good as new.
He took me to his house, and one of the girls I watched from afar and wished to be friends with opened the door.
“Dad! Thank God!” she exclaimed, hugging his neck. She was a red-head like him, and I knew that her name was Mia. “Will Eliot be ok?”
I wasn’t. From that moment on, I was emotionally and physically scarred for life.
Still, I appreciated her concerns towards me, and even the fact that she knew my name. Turns out that Mia heard my stepbrothers maliciously laughing about “leaving the sissy in the hole to rot”, and waited until her father came home to ask him to help me.
It was only thanks to this good family that I survived.
Zach, her father, was a really nice man, but he didn’t want to stick his nose on another family’s affairs. He helped me rub some ointment on the mosquito bites, fixed my dislocated shoulder and even stitched an ugly, infected cut on my leg I barely realized I had.
“Dad is used to helping the cows give birth, so he’s pretty much a doctor!” Mia explained, her beautiful hazel eyes sparking. She was around my age and you could tell that in a few years she would be the prettiest girl in town. “I’m sorry your new dad and brothers are so mean. And I’m sorry I don’t invite you to play. The other girls are afraid of all boys.”
I nodded, sadly.
Then Mia’s mother sent me to sleep in a blissfully clean bedroom, where I wished I could be a girl so my bed would smell this nice; and by morning, Zach took me home.
Of course no one gave a shit about the incident. Abel and Christian looked disappointed when I returned home relatively safe, my stepfather said something like “boys will be boys, your son needs to man up” and my mother lowered her eyes.
And of course they did it again a few weeks later. I didn’t sheepishly accept their ill-intentioned invitation, so the two, almost twice my size each, gagged me and carried me all the way there.
The second time, however, was different; there was rain the whole night, and the well had turned into a puddle.
My stepbrothers threw me there, remarking that they would come back near the nightfall so I wouldn’t bitch about it again.
I removed my gag and was ready to start crying at the unfairness of it all, but something caught my attention.
The misfit bush was completely different: it had long and soft leaves that spread gently over the bottom of the pit, light-green and almost glowing. In the middle, tiny beautiful flowers like I’ve never seen before had bloomed; they were deep magenta and emitted a faint golden radiance.
Instead of an ugly shrub, it was now a graceful, unique plant, almost otherworldly.
“Hey, you look so good!” I complimented it, and its leaves moved in a curtsy way. It could have been the wind, except there was no wind down there. “Is it because of the rain?”
The little tree openly nodded.
“Can I do something to keep you this way?” I asked, and it nodded again, then one of the leaves pointed to the water. “Of course, I’ll water you!”
I didn’t really think it was odd to have a plant talking back to me. I always heard that God works in mysterious ways, and that was certainly a mysterious but very effective way to ease my suffering.
I talked to the little tree for hours, it always nodding, shaking its quasi-arms yes or no, pointing at things or making simpler mimics. Noticing how long its arms were, I asked if it could hoist me all the way to the surface. It gestured yes, then suggested I should keep it a secret from my stepbrothers. I accepted the advice, and patiently waited until they came back to fetch me.
The next day, I woke up earlier than everyone, grabbed a few snacks and bottles of water, and headed to the clearing. The morning coldness that precedes the sun hadn’t dissipated yet when I slowly climbed down the well, its old walls full of loose bricks.
But soon my friend noticed me and stretched its botanical arms to help me, and in less than a minute I had reached the bottom.
“Good morning! I brought you some more water”, I announced, and started pouring it carefully. The well was still pretty damp, but both the leaves and flowers had lost most of their exuberance.
The tree glowed a little brighter, and we spent the day chatting.
It didn’t take me long to come up with elaborated codes to help it communicate better. My best friend craved my attention as much as I craved its company, and we got along perfectly, learning from each other about the world and about ourselves.
These moments became so pleasant that I started to lose track of the time, until one day I ended up staying after the sky outside had turned as black as the walls of the pit.
Still, no insects or vermins assaulted me.
It took me a few days to realize that my friend was capturing and eating them. Every time it did it, it looked a little bit stronger.
“So it’s a carnivorous plant, huh?” I thought to myself, my young brain far from understanding the future implications of it.
Time went by faster and less painfully than before. I named my plant friend Ceres, after the roman goddess that nurtures the soil. Ceres agreed to the name, and seemed satisfied with having a sense of identity.
Using the codes I came up with, Ceres told me amazing stories of very distant times, and how it ended up dormant inside the unused well for decades before I showed up.
My body was weak but stealthy, so I had been able to sneak to my secret getaway unnoticed for months; my stepbrothers didn’t bother looking for me, finding new targets for their never-ending aggressiveness, and limiting themselves to make my life miserable only during the hours we spent in the house.
Abel and especially Christian were worse than ever, the puberty hormones hitting him like he hit me and the other weaker kids, his own brother included lately.
By his 15th birth, he was thrice my size, nightly getting shitfaced with his dad, and had forcefully kissed three girls in our neighborhood.
He wouldn’t stop at that.
It was just another day of me hanging out in the pit with Ceres, but when I heard the screams nearing me, I felt like a heaven-sent, someone with a divine purpose bigger than myself.
Ceres lifted me up quickly and carefully, and I watched in horror and disgust as Abel gagged Mia, who already had her hands tied and a bloody wound on her neck; still, she wasn’t only screaming for help, but also bravely putting up a fight, kicking and fussing despite the fact that her perpetrator had a knife and had used it already.
But it didn’t stop Christian from tearing apart her clothes, his obscene masculinity exposed and ready to violate her.
They weren’t farther than 150 feet from me, so it was a no-brainer that I should go and help, even if my only tactic was to take the two Goliaths by surprise and give Mia time to flee. Shocked and disgusted as I was, I still felt grateful that the devils had chosen a place near my well for the horrific deed.
I silently leveraged my whole body from the well, then started running, the damp grass stifling the sound of my footsteps.
Abel gave up on trying to gag her.
“Bro, this is too much. I don’t want to do this”, he announced, and was immediately punched in the face. My younger stepbrother fell to the ground whimpering and holding his left cheek, exactly as I charged against Christian, unarmed and thin, but full of rage and purpose.
Out of sheer surprise, I was able to knock him down and punch his throat once before he reacted and threw me over his shoulder, then started stabbing me. Mia screamed louder, and even Abel begged his brother to stop.
I thought I was going to bleed to death when I saw a long and slender leave extending like rubber, then grappling Christian’s ankle. Then another, another, another and another, like tentacles or a snake.
In a matter of seconds, his legs, wrists and torso were completely, irresistibly restrained.
Christian barely had time to fight back as the long limbs of my best friend engulfed him, and even if he had I suspect it would be fruitless.
He then was pulled to the dark pit and disappeared in an instant. I heard the distinctive crunch of broken bones before blacking out.
I woke up to Zach’s concerned face. Mia was in a bed next to me, a huge gauze around her neck, but her eyes were open and she looked healthy.
“Abel brought us here”, she explained simply.
After that day, none of my stepbrothers were seen again; I like to think that Abel, who had repented and stood up against his brother, left to pursue atonement. As for Christian… when I was finally fine enough to roam around, I went to the well, and Ceres was lavisher than ever.
I wish my story ended here, but that’s not how life goes.
After the disappearance of his two sons, my stepfather unleashed all his rage on my mother, and we ended up finally leaving, wounded and humiliated, fleeing in the middle of the night like we were the ones in the wrong.
The two of us lived in shelters for women, moving from city to city for around three years. As I grew into a teenager, it became harder and harder to get admitted, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to sleep on the curb. This broke her, and she turned to addiction, spending what little we could scrap from odd jobs on booze and coke.
Feeling like I had nothing else to lose, I decided to come back and ambush Alfred, hoping that Ceres would dispose of him; despite being short, my former stepfather was a stubby and heavy man, and I was just a scrawny 15-years-old, so I had to be cunning instead of using brute force.
The details don’t matter. This is not the story about how Alfred disappeared and how Ceres had doubled its size when I saw it again.
We returned to the house, now just the two of us, and I hated myself for not having this idea earlier. My mother was fading.
With my return, Mia and I finally became good friends, due to the traumatic and unexplainable experience we shared, but never talking about it again. She eventually asked me out, but it was around the same time I realized that my stepbrothers were right, after all: I was a f*g.
And life was hard for a gay boy with a dying mother, so I relied on my best friend more than ever.
Every time Ceres started to wither, I fed it someone new, desperate I would lose it.
At first I went after the real bad people – rapists and murderers. But, as my mother’s state worsened, I became so desensitized to killing, so bitter and hopeless, that soon I didn’t bother looking for them anymore.
When I finally lost her, I lost the last undamaged bit of humanity I had in me too.
I threw the doctor that refused to treat my mother because she was a crackhead in the well, and the gravedigger who suggested I just dispose of her like roadkill because an addict wasn’t worth a proper, expensive burial.
I threw cheating boyfriends and fake friends, rude neighbors and bosses who fired me, people who badmouthed my deceased mother and anyone who caused me the mildest inconvenience.
I threw every single source of hatred and despair I ever had, like it would get rid of my pain. Obviously, it didn’t. And Ceres grew too much, reaching the top of the well and continuing to spread, until it filled the whole clearing with its exuberant leaves and tiny flowers.
But, being a hundred times bigger than its original size, it had to be fed more often. It started demanding more human meat, more human wickedness. Afraid to lose the only being that ever stood up for me, I fed it nearly anyone – innocent children, forlorn old people, unsuspecting travelers.
How many times can you do justice with your own hands until you become like the ones you despised?
I had enough.
Today, I’ll feed Ceres one last meal – myself, after setting my body on fire.
And we’ll be best friends until we die.