It was near closing time in the castle. If they weren’t the last visitors, they at least weren’t far off. Penny was standing at the wall, looking out of one of the small cross-shaped windows. She’d had enough of imagining herself as a twelfth-century archer, and was now simply savouring the warm afterglow of Earl Grey, scones and jam and enjoying the view down the hill when Craig called over to her.
“Hey Penny, come look at this,” he said.
She turned reluctantly away from the view, adjusted her bag on her shoulder and turned around. He was pointing up towards the window on an upper deck of the castle and she didn’t see the open cover of the well. One foot went down into it, and as she turned to try and stabilise herself, Craig’s foot swept around and kicked her other ankle. She dropped into the well, almost silently, a sound resembling a mouse squeak escaping her and no more.
Fear kicked in immediately, and she flailed her arms, finding the cold wet stone of the side of the well, but unable to slow her rapid descent into the gloom. She looked up, terrified, seeing the light failing, and realising, as it clunked into place, that Craig had immediately replaced the cover of the well. With a thud, she landed in sheer darkness.
She sat there for a moment, unbelieving. Craig had tried to kill her.
“Oh come on Penny,” she said out loud. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
But of course he did. He replaced the lid back on the well. But why, that was the question. Maybe he was cheating on her with that girl from work – what was her name?
“Stop it,” she closed her eyes and pushed the thoughts away. There were more important things to worry about. Like surviving.
“Hello?” she shouted. “Help me! I fell down the well!”
There was no answer. Of course there wasn’t – Craig had replaced the lid. Assuming anyone was near the well,
She felt to the floor with one hand. It felt cold, metallic and a little damp. This must be one of the grates they install in old, unused wells, she thought, just for situations like this, when otherwise perfectly normal men turn psycho and try to kill their girlfriends. So that meant she wasn’t too far from the surface, and could probably climb out quite easily.
“And then I’m going to kill him,” she hissed.
Penny joined her hands together and cracked the knuckles on both. It was an old habit, and although her mother had hated it, her grandmother always commented one thing: “she means business.”
“How right you were, granny,” Penny whispered. “How right you were.”
She reached out in the blackness, and put her hands against the wall. It was cold, clammy, but not as damp and slippery as she had feared. She pulled herself to her feet, the bruising in her back and hips beginning to protest already.
Call the police she thought, and reached for her bag to get her mobile phone. It wasn’t on the right shoulder, as normal. Instinctively, she checked the left shoulder, hoping it would be there, but it wasn’t.
Taking a deep breath, she stooped down, and felt around on the metal floor. The metal appeared to be thick, maybe three or four fingers thick, while the holes were much smaller. Good. That meant that if her bag was here, it certainly would be on the metal floor and not –
“Ouch. Fucking ouch!” she shouted, and felt her finger. It was wet and sticky – possibly blood. What the hell was that on the floor? She stood still, listening hard. She heard something to her right: maybe a drop of water; maybe rats.
“Fuck you, rats,” she shouted, and stamped her feet. “Fuck off rats!”
Penny stamped on the floor, setting off clanging noises for a few more minutes, until she felt safe enough to reach down again. Bending down, she felt along the outside walls of the well. The well felt bigger than from outside; perhaps even two could comfortably stand up here. That was a little reassuring. Although she wasn’t claustrophobic, there was at least room to move – a little, anyway.
Her fingers suddenly encountered what could only be the leather strap of her bag. She sucked in breath sharply, and then eased out with a sigh. She gently picked it up and placed it over her head, strap on the other shoulder, like a messenger bag. The strap wasn’t quite long enough for that, but she didn’t want to lose it again.
Feeling at the clasp, she opened the bag, and felt around. A familiar button lit up the phone’s screen, revealing the contents of the bag. Relief flooded over her, like hot water flowing into a cool bath. She lifted the phone out of the bag, looked at the screen and froze.
Penny closed her eyes and sighed. “Up we go then,” she said.
She switched on the phone’s torch mode and looked at the wall. It wasn’t smooth – there were large pieces of plaster missing between the stones, and jagged edges. They might be dangerous if she started sliding, but the good news was that looking up, she didn’t seem to be too far down.
Penny turned off the torch and closed her eyes. She breathed deeply for a few moments, trying to get as much oxygen into her bloodstream as possible. Once her breathing was under control and she felt ready, she opened her eyes again.
There was some light after all, it seemed, as she could vaguely make out the wall in front of her. That was understandable – the wooden lid over the well probably wasn’t as light proof as it used to be when they originally made it, however many years ago. And it was possible that Craig hadn’t put it back properly in his hurry. That was a comforting thought, and she smiled a little.
She walked forward to the wall and started hunting for handholds. It was easy enough for the hands, but not for the feet.
“How are you supposed to do this?” she asked of nobody in particular. The fact that nobody replied was comforting.
She tried pulling up just with her arms they weren’t strong enough on their own. She looked for a toehold for one foot, just in the first stone above the gribut the hands weren’t strong enough. She found a break in the stones and jammed the toes of her left foot in, pushed with that foot, then pulled with the arms. This seemed to be working, so she found another hold with the right foot and did the same.
Penny nodded to herself and put her left foot up again. This time, it didn’t catch and slipped down, putting weight on her shoulders which screamed in agony. She held her breath, clinging tight to the wall, swung her leg back and tried again.
“Note to self,” she whispered. “Don’t be greedy.”
This time her foot caught into place, and she pulled herself up again. Change legs, one foot up slightly, and pull. She was now two full stones above the metal grid. Looking up she couldn’t see where the well ended.
Her throat drying, she tried her right leg again, going a single stone. Each stone was no more than a head’s height, but every one meant she got closer to freedom.
And then it happened: her right hand slipped part way through the left leg raising, and within moments she fell back down to the metal grid. She hit hard, her back and hips getting the worst of the bruise.
Penny screamed, in frustration and pain and rage all at once.
And then she noticed something. It was brighter down here than it was towards the top of the well. There was light, but it wasn’t coming from above.
She opened the clasp on her back again and pulled out her phone. Switching the torch on again she looked around the well.
Down below the grid was a long, long drop. There was no water at the bottom, just darkness. The well must have dried up years before.
She shone the light around, turning around to look at all the walls and then –
“Why didn’t I see that before?”
Behind her was not rock, but a door. A curved door. The grill was three or four stones below it, but the handle was less than head height. If she could open that door, then maybe…
“Why has a door suddenly appeared in this wall?” she asked.
It hasn’t, her subconscious replied. You just haven’t noticed it before.
“Fair enough,” she shrugged.
She shined the light on the door. Holding the phone in one hand, she grasped the ring on the door and turned it. It was stiff, as though unused in years (centuries?), but it swung easily in its socket. She began trying to twist it, and gasped as the pain from her shoulders coursed through her body like a hot knife.
She buttoned her (now ruined) beige jacket, put the phone into her bag, and pushed the bag so it hung in front of her stomach. Using both hands, she grabbed the metal ring on the door with both hands and turned, hard.
Penny closed her eyes, swallowed, and felt the tears come into her eyes as the door opened.
Compared to the climb, it was an easy matter to enter the doorway. She sat down on the step, pulled up her legs, and then turned herself backwards to fact into the room.
She pulled the phone out of her bag, closed the door behind her, and looked around.
To her left was a wrought iron bench on which lay a woman dressed in rags.
“I remember you,” she said to the unmoving woman. “You’re the waxwork from the dungeons, aren’t you?”
She looked at her phone. Four fifteen. It wasn’t even last admissions yet.
She walked over to the door. It was, of course, locked. As dungeons should be.
Maybe it was time to turn off the torch on the phone? To save the battery. She opened the screen, turned off the light and saw one bar.
“You’re in real trouble now, Craig,” she said, and began to dial.
The post “Penny Drops” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.