John, James, Mary, and Martha were inseparable, tied together since birth. They’d lived on the same cul-de-sac, gone to the same elementary school, and grew up being called each other’s names.
Every day during summer vacation, they marched out the back gate of Mary’s house, crossed an empty swath of grass, and shimmied onto a forest path that only the kids explored. Branches and leaves hid the foot-worn dirt while thick vines crisscrossed between the trunks. But just beyond the shadows — it was there.
The day before 7th grade, they stepped onto the path at dawn. The air between the trees was charged, raising goosebumps on their skin. Each ray of sunshine became a spotlight, highlighting a strange moment in time for the quartet. Every breath a memory of the day, everything would change.
Sometime that afternoon, they veered off their special path. None of them mentioned it, and John wasn’t sure the others even noticed. Eventually, they came upon an old well they didn’t recognize.
James found the ladder — coated in years of forest air and moisture.
The girls coughed as his movements unsettled dust and spider webs.
John’s lips stuck together as he watched the other boy climb over the slick stones of the well.
“One last adventure,” James said before climbing down the rungs.
The ladder didn’t look safe, but James didn’t slow down. Before long, he had disappeared, alone on a brand new hidden path. A secret within a secret. His footsteps echoed before softening into a whisper. There was a grunt, and after a moment came a thump.
The well went silent.
Mary and Martha screamed.
None of the friends talked after that day, happy to settle at uncomfortable eye contact throughout high school.
Years later, long after the girls had moved out of state, John often thought of that summer — of James and Mary and Martha. He remembered how they’d been inseparable. He daydreamed of the cul-de-sac, the old elementary school, and getting called each other’s names.
Except no one called him James anymore. Not since the day before 7th grade.
Alyson spent her adolescent years in the southwest of the United States, going to high school in Arizona. She moved to Maryland where she got married, had her only daughter, and began her writing journey. She has appeared in Altered Reality Magazine and on Purple Wall Stories.