by J.E. Mitchell
A breeze blew over the corn stocks with a mystery message. Though it didn’t speak the children’s language, the young boy understood it was a locator. The witch was active on this brisk autumn night, and she wanted to feast upon their innocence.
Wyatt and Karrisa’s mother had told them the tales of the well right before bed most nights, peaking their interests before disappearing into their dreams. Mostly remembering the witch who guards the cornfield they were trying to escape, those stories now repeating in their minds with each step through the towering field.
Wyatt was a thirteen-year-old boy who was holding the hand of Karrisa, his eight-year-old sister. He had brown hair he preferred to keep short, not liking when it grew long enough to touch his forehead when in contrast Karissa’s hair was the opposite, though both the same color.
They needed to make it to the well. Sunset be damned.
It would help them escape this hell Wyatt had been living in the last few months.
Though he hadn’t thought of how terrifying the witch would be as she flew through the field like a wicked whisper on the winds. She knew they were within her grasps.
“I don’t want to run anymore.” Karissa whimpered, causing Wyatt to pick up the pace on his awkwardly long limbs, swinging Karissa onto his shoulders and grip her legs as he continued on, determined.
“We’re so close.” Wyatt heaved, dodging to the right and off the path, the leaning corn at the end of its row smacking him in the face.
You see, this wasn’t a typical Tuesday night for either of the children. No, he was usually tucked into bed with his Spiderman comforter and she was never without her trusted blanket at this time of night.
All the tales had spoken differently of the well, some warning of its power and others thanking it for its blessing but if there was anyone who deserved their wish, it was Karissa. He didn’t know why she was sick, still not privy to the diagnosis his mom cried over in the bathroom at night when she thought no one could hear, but he knew it was bad.
Grandpa had let them know of the witch who guarded the well when Wyatt had questioned his bedtime tales, fearing it wasn’t a story told to ward off cowards but a warning to those brave enough to try.
Some people made it in the past, able to tell their tales of the well’s answer to their desperate cries. Wyatt had visited his grandfather for hours after school while in the hospital, enjoying how he didn’t talk to him like he was a kid, rather allowing him to hear the truth for what it was. His mother had always told him that her father was sick, but Grandpa George had looked him in the eyes and discussed his organs shutting down.
With each day and story, the boy watched life drain from his elder mentor’s eyes until he passed away while napping when Wyatt was in school.
Wyatt had seen the same light dimming in Karissa at dinner tonight, and couldn’t wait for prayers. He had to do something; anything. That’s what Spiderman would do, and he was determined to save her.
“You know it comes with a dire consequence.” The witch flying high in the sky knew that she’d met the boy before when she breathed to the winds, letting her words travel to his ears. “You can never leave again once you’ve taken her there.”
For the witch who guarded the well had only one weakness, and he had left her long ago in pursuit of a new life. She knew she could never reach him, having an agreement to never hurt one another, for the guard and keeper must stick together at all costs.
And so he reached the forest, where he would inevitably stumble upon the well.
Wyatt’s footsteps sounded different amongst the trees than compared to in the cornfield, yet he looked back to see a black shadow hovering just outside of the forest, the hairs on his arms, back, and neck rose from the sight.
“You mustn’t return.” She hissed, zooming around in a circle. “You wanted to be free.”
The boy took it as a threat, retreating further into the forest, and stumbling through the weeds hitting his ankles. He ran with his sister on his back until the entrance of the forest was long out of sight, his legs nearly buckling beneath him, his lungs burning.
Karissa climbed off Wyatt’s back, patting it as she sat. “That was the witch mom and grandpa warned us about.”
“I know.” He spoke between heaves, lying on his back and staring up at the darkened trees. Wyatt had never feared the woods, though he could have done without the witch but the whole interaction had taken an odd turn.
He thought to her warning, looking to frail Karissa with hollow cheekbones on pale skin. “We will make it.” He reassured her, though she looked unsure as her eyes shifted around the darkened forest.
“I’m scared of the dark.” She whispered something he already knew but couldn’t solve. All he could do was wrap his arm around her and try to make her feel safe.
“We’ll be able to find the well in the morning.” He wasn’t eager about being out in the open, but he felt no fear amongst the towering trees. In fact, a bunch of fireflies seemed to light up around them, illuminating the darkness.
“The well, you say? Do you know the puzzle of entry?” A voice came to their right, making Wyatt scream in surprise while Karissa remained silent.
“Who’s there?” She asked, her voice coming across far more confident than her older brothers ever could in this situation.
The leaves began to glow a deep orange, spreading to the tree trunk that was illuminated in red, spreading up to a deep yellow branch an owl was perched upon, blinking down at the children. He appeared to be of lime color, though Wyatt had never heard of a lime-colored owl before.
He hadn’t heard of a talking one either.
“I am merely of residence to these woods. Who are you?” The owl blinked thrice.
“We are Karissa and Wyatt Axton. How can you talk and make things glow?” The young girl asked while her brother continued to cower in surprise. More plants began to glow, and within a few seconds every plant was glowing different colors. Some a bright blue, others a deep purple.
“You said you’re afraid of the dark, and how can you talk?” The owl drew out the end of its sentence, not liking our original expectations of his speaking abilities.
“She didn’t mean to offend you, we just haven’t met many talking creatures back in town. Well, none really. Unless you count the bookshop owner’s cat who sounds like it’s saying hello, but I find that one to be an odd coincidence.” Wyatt rambled when nervous, though he clamped his jaw shut to stop from saying more to the indifferent owl.
The large bird flew down to a nearer branch, so close that Wyatt could pet him if he reached his hand up over his head.
“Who are you?” The owl’s eyes widened as he inched closer. “You have a light of protection around you, but I don’t recall your name, though I have been here hundreds of years. Such protectants cannot be bought, only earned.”
Karissa and Wyatt looked to one another and back at their wide-eyed acquaintance. “We’re protected by light?” Wyatt finally asked after a few uncomfortable seconds.
“Not we, you.” He clarified, pointing his wing to Wyatt.
Karissa gulped, Wyatt’s eyebrow drew together in confusion.
“How can I transfer it to her?” He put his hands on her shoulders.
“You cannot, it is a rare gift. You came from the town?” Squinted the suspicious bird of night.
Wyatt considered his words, thinking back to the witch letting them into the woods even though she had been flying on a broom as opposed to running on small legs. “The witch said I had once begged to leave the well, though I’m not sure what she meant.”
The owl seemed to ponder this for quite some time, looking from the two children, and thought of the well’s keeper who used to sing to the birds as the morning rose through his open cottage windows, something he used to hate while trying to sleep but missed now. From time to time, that is. He’s usually okay with sleep when it’s not interrupted.
“Have you come back to your well, Aviv?” He inquired, ruffling his feathers when the boy tilted his head and deepened his frown.
“What do you mean, ‘my well?’ and my name isn’t Aviv. It’s Wyatt.” The boy seemed to be ruffled by the accusation, making the owl look at him longer than planned.
“You’ll want to continue down that trail.” The owls’ wing pointed to the right, though the children couldn’t make out the details in the dark, only that they wanted to rest in shelter and hadn’t thought out the details of this journey, though Karissa didn’t have much to say on the matter.
“Are we safe?” The girl inquired of the creature.
“Are any of us?” It answered.
Karissa pursed her face at this, tapping her bluish colored lips. “I’d like to pass through safely if you can help.”
The Owl gave the girl a curious blink, wondering how she knew of his powers to these woods by being the protector of night.
“I can only grant you safety until morning.Then it’s up to the forest.” For the owl had to help the good who requested guidance but was a night being with daylight restrictions.
Lightning bugs continued to float all around, transforming the forest from menacing to mystical. With the light seemed to come warmth, and Wyatt found himself laying his jacket down for himself and his sister, untrusting of the owl though he had no choice but to do just that.
Karissa fell asleep within minutes, and though Wyatt tried to fight it, he too drifted off into his dreams. He dreamt of walking through giant trees, and feeling a deep remorse for the things he’d done, though he could not recall, only could feel the guilt unlike any he’d ever experienced before.
Creatures roamed around them, but they didn’t dare come close to the glow. They didn’t like the eyes of the owl on them, as they knew how vengeful it could be when spitted but they whispered to one another, wondering if it could be.
Had their keeper returned at last?
Nonetheless, they scurried away from their resting spot as the sun peeked over the east side of the woods. For these woods carried quite a few mysteries kept away from the world.
Wyatt and Karissa woke in the forest, safe and still alive, as the owl had promised.
The children continued on their way down the path suggested by the missing owl. They heard the apples before they saw them, dropping from their post in the trees and landing with a thud on the ground.
The air was damp with the refreshment of morning and a crisp promise of adventure ahead. A golden hue lit up sections past the white picket fence that was falling apart from age along the trail the children currently stood on, showcasing the apple trees in an enchanting light.
“The owl said we should stay on the trail.” Wyatt grabbed Karissa’s hand when she started ahead, clearly prepared to jump over the broken fence.
“I’m hungry and there is food.” Karissa raised her little eyebrows at her brother, daring him to come between her breakfast again. “We’ll get back on the trail after.”
Wyatt only nodded, looking around the empty forest before following her off the trail and towards food.
“You know,” came a voice from behind him, causing a small scream and turn from the teenage boy. “For some people, those apples rot quicker than a popsicle in the sun.” Speaking was a woman with deep red hair, striped red and white tights beneath a fitting gray dress with long sleeves that flared out at the ends. She held a mug shaped like a deep purple pumpkin, sipping the steamy beverage with ease.
“We can’t eat the apples?” Karissa’s eyes weld with hunger, tears threatening to spill onto her hollowed cheeks. Wyatt felt guilty then, knowing she had a doctor appointment later today she should be getting ready for, but they needed to make that wish.
“Sweet darling, I didn’t say that.” The red-headed woman comforted Karissa by reaching up from a branch above her, pulling down a shiny red apple. “The forest picks who it aids and who is taught a lesson.”
Wyatt couldn’t speak, he was too stunned by the beauty of the woman standing before him. Her face was young but her eyes held years of wisdom. She seemed to understand his shock, offering him a soft push on the shoulder before walking past towards his sister, and while he turned to watch her go, the touch only made his cheeks head up more.
“Well.” He finally sputtered when Karissa had taken her third bite from the offered fruit.
“Well?” The woman turned with a raised brow.
“We need it. The well.” Wyatt couldn’t get out a full sentence to save his life.
“You mean the main reason why people brave this trail and don’t heed the warnings to stay far away?” She looked amused while Karissa finished her first apple, rubbing her stomach in appreciation of no longer being empty. “I am Summer. My sister guards the cornfield outside, she is Autumn. Far too much responsibility for myself as she floats between my land and Winters. We are all witches but Winter dwells in the caves, in which I am ordering you to stay far away from, and remain on the trail the Owl of Night placed you upon. Understood?”
She raised an eyebrow when the children remained silent, sensing their fear. “I say this because I don’t want you to be eaten.” She clarified in the hopes of making them feel better.
Wyatt gulped, Karissa sucked in her lips with worry.
“Take some apples for the road, though I suspect you’ll be back through this way within the next few hours or so.” She spoke reassuringly, offering them each an apple, in which they took a few more they placed into Wyatt’s backpack.
Then they continued on their trail, Wyatt being more shifty and cautious than before, while Karissa kept thinking about the apples in the bag. They had been unlike any she’d ever had before, and felt the best her little body had been in a long time, far before the daily doctor visits.
Other than the constant paranoia, the trail was comforting for the children. They came upon a treehouse-like shack off in the distance away from the trail but they didn’t dare to go and explore it. They were on a mission, and Wyatt took note on how well Karissa looked despite her illness.
They came up on a set of stairs that led down a steep cliffside, a sign indicating they had reached the boulder of what appeared to be a large dropoff in which the children wanted to especially avoid.
They climbed down the stairs without looking back at it. Karissa made it the entire way down before she looked sluggish again, reaching her hand out for an apple Wyatt gladly provided, though he noted only one remained.
The shiver that crept through their backs made them grab their arms in an attempt to warm up quickly, to get back what was lost in one breath. The eldest brother picked up his little sister then, placing her on his back to rush through this part of the trail due to the eerie silence.
“I miss the animals.” Karissa remarked, but Wyatt only continued on while looking around, hearing nothing but his footsteps and his breath. Karissa’s was nearly impossible to hear but eventually would sigh to remind Wyatt she was okay.
There was snow lining the trees, only a small coating on the ground when it had been fall weather at the top of the stairs.
When they turned the next corner, Wyatt stopped in his tracks, chills running up his spine at the sight of the shadowed cave ahead.
‘Keep moving!’ Came a warning from the winds, sounding like the witch from the cornfield. The witch of autumn as the summer sorcerous had said.
“Hello.” Called a voice from the cave, making Wyatt break out into a run. “Don’t leave me! Please, help!”
The boy didn’t turn around, trusting he wasn’t leaving someone in distress behind, rather outwitting a trap set up to test his will.
“I can help her!” Shrieked the woman’s voice but the boy continued on with the unease of never looking back dwelling upon him but the cave had felt familiar. Never welcoming but someplace he already knew of and had seen.
Wyatt’s hunger was gnawing at his stomach and cursed himself for not bringing more of the fruit along for the journey. He hoped there would be more of those trees up ahead but the further he walked, the larger the trees grew and the cold disappeared once more. Birds were chirping again, there was life here as opposed to further down the trail behind their feet.
Leaves of orange, yellow, red to brown fell from the thick branches. Branches so thick he wouldn’t have been able to wrap his arms around them, but he found himself at each in this section, feeling at home.
“These trees can become menacing depending on who is strolling through this trail.” Came a voice to our left, Autumn having decided to join the children on their walk, falling easily into step with them.
“What’s menackin?” Karissa misspoke, trying to understand their new acquaintances’ meaning to her entrance.
“Sorry dear, I mean the trees can frown upon enemies who walk the path to the well, for they were supposed to get caught up in the caves. Most of them do but there are a few who keep walking when they should have turned back, because at least they have a chance in the caves.” She looked sad, staring around the forest with old, familiar eyes. “You both get a beautiful leaf storm. I love walks such as these.”
“Your sister told us about you.” Wyatt interrupted her, though he was taken aback by her striking beauty with her pixie black hair shining, skin radiating with clarity though she was strikingly pale, contrasting the dark raspberry-colored lipstick she wore, and a long black skirt met by a leather jacket and hightop made of dark lace. “You’re the witch of fall.”
“My name is Autumn. Summer is a trip, isn’t she?” She revealed an apple from behind her back. “I’m sure you’ve been warned of the witches guarding the well.”
“Yeah! Mom and grandpa told us to stay away.” Karissa answered, giggling at the witch who did a twirl in front of them. “You guys don’t seem so bad though.” She smiled warmly.
The witch stopped mid twirl and was in front of Karissa’s face, impressingly a shade paler than the sick child. “We can be many things, and bad is one of them.” She grinned to expose her sharpened teeth returning to a normal set of pearly whites. “Only good to those of the same innocence. You deserve your wish, and I hope you receive it.” She looked to Wyatt with an expression he took as pity, and he recalled her words out at the edge of the forest.
“I’ve heard animals whispering about the keeper of the well. Who is it?” Though he felt like he knew the answer, Wyatt was always a fairly anxious kid who thought the worst all the time, but in the woods, he didn’t feel that way at all. He was confident in what was supposed to be unfamiliar territory.
“The well will answer all.” But she touched his face with love, ruffling his hair before walking ahead of them, disappearing in between the giant oaks. “Remember your way, stay on the trail.”
So the siblings kept on, and Wyatt handed Karissa the last apple, his stomach protesting otherwise. The leaves continued to rain down upon them, crunching along the dirt trail. They happened upon a set of stairs that required slight climbing down, zigzagging causing them to jump from wooden step to step unconnected from one another but giant blocks that became a part of the earth as they climbed below the surface.
When Karissa notated how dark it was getting, in which green glowing snow began to light their way, falling down to their destination. They came to the last step, having to jump down. Wyatt had to catch Karissa on the way down.
“Oh no.” He began to cry, knowing he wouldn’t be able to get back up. I can jump but you’re too small.” Tears fell down his cheeks, though he looked around their surroundings during his distress, realizing the well was lit with glowing neon green snow.
“Aviv, I didn’t think we’d see you again.” Came a woman from the darkness, appearing as though she came from a cave off in the distance. She was dressed in all white with hair that matched the snow. Wyatt wondered if those were the caves the two previous met witches had discussed. “The well needs you.”
Karissa and Wyatt looked to one another, and they both knew he was its keeper, even though it confused them both greatly.
“I want my sister to be healthy again.” The brother was willing to make any deal, something Winter was familiar with. For Aviv had stood before her in the very spot Wyatt was in now, begging to be released when they knew it would come at a cost.
And it had, since the well would not grant wishes without Aviv, but the sisters let him have his experience with life and love as he had requested. With Aviv being the purest of their family, he felt too fragile for what happened to the bad walking through their forest.
It hadn’t been the first time Aviv made his plea to leave, and certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“She will be healed if you remain, and that’s not my being cold, that is how the well works. It needs you, my brother of spring. For spring brings a new start to the water of the well to grant wishes.”
“No.” Karissa boiled with anger, though she was feeling completely exhausted and was dreaming of a nap. “He’s my brother, I need him.”
“You won’t remember him, but I’ll let you keep this dream. Write it down when you wake up, kid. Or else you’ll look back at it as an adult and wonder if you’re mad, but you’re not. Make sure you become someone who can come back here to eat the apples and walk amongst the colorful leaves and you both might meet again.” Winter knew how awful it was for siblings to separate, so she gave Wyatt and Karissa the space needed to cry, for there was a lot of love and fear between them, not knowing who the other was without one another.
“I love you.” Karissa whimpered.
“Come back to see me, when you can.” He begged, his eyes wide with welling tears.
“I’m afraid that won’t be for many years.” Spoke Winter with icy remorse.
“I’ll come back, Wyatt. I promise I will see you again.” Snot ran down her nose as she cried inbetween a new case of the hiccups.
That was the last thing she remembered from the dream she made sure to write down about her imaginary brother from the most lively sleep she’d ever experienced, even now in her adult life. Their family moved a month after her being free of treatments. Relocating to a small town in California about twenty minutes away from the beach. Her mother had been beside herself when Karissa tore apart the boxes after finding out, screaming how they couldn’t leave Wyatt behind even though the poor woman didn’t know who this Wyatt was.
Through the years, Karissa remained healthy, the doctors having declared her tumor disappearing a miracle unlike any they had seen before. Though they found her mind to be another matter all together due to her making up a brother. Something she now scoffed at while leaning against her shiny car, a mix of emotions washing over her.
She was grateful for her life, but knew the price Wyatt had paid to save her.
Her fingers shook outside of the familiar cornfield her mom had stated wasn’t real, merely a story Karissa must have heard from a book she carried in her mind for many years. Now at the age of twenty-two, she returned home to this very stock, knowing the guard was watching somewhere.
This wasn’t between her and the witches.
Even though it was the season after summer, she was here for spring.
The Well’s Keeper if you will, but forever Wyatt to her.