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The Well of Vibrant Health

by Jeff Carter 8 months ago in fiction

A Jogger's Guide to Healthy Snacking

The Well of Vibrant Health
Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

Audra absorbed her life in healthy living. She enjoyed the thrill of discovering a new low-sodium recipe or finding the perfect mix of ingredients to enhance the flavors of her juicing diets, she had two different gym memberships because neither gym had all the machines she liked to use, she taught yoga to senior citizens at the local city center, and she handed out small bags of sunflower seeds on Halloween.

More than anything else in her life Audra enjoyed her morning jog. She lived in a beautiful area known for its pleasant hikes and extensive outdoor activities. There were two small lakes and a nearby forest all with a crisscrossed pattern of trails so that she could twist and turn and never do the same run twice if she didn't want. She would track her running patterns on her smart phone and compare them to previous runs.

She had tried running with running groups or inviting friends, but usually people wouldn't be able to keep up with her or they would get bored. "I want to make sure you're safe," her father would tell her, "I don't like when you run alone. There could be creeps out there."

"I'm fine," she would respond, "I've taken self defense courses."

"Do you carry your mace," her mother would chime in before quickly changing the subject to future grandchildren.

When she went running alone she was free to venture off in different directions and she didn't feel pressured to end the run if she didn't want. If the air was right and the sun was shining then she could experience a new trail and feel the crunch of twigs under her feet unfettered.

It was one of the first warm days of spring and Audra was excited to break in a new pair of running shoes she had purchased the rainy week before. They were red with scattered streaks of pink flaring from front to back and blue shoelaces. They were marketed as “good uphill shoes with proper traction for mild to rough mountain trails.”

She rolled her feet back and forth to feel the new cushion against the soles of her feet as she popped a protein ball into her mouth and chewed. The protein balls she had made the night before were the perfect consistency, made of a series of oats, pistachios, chopped dates, flax and chia seeds, and all held together by honey. She stuffed a second one into her mouth, letting out an airy moan, and put a handful more into a small blue pack she carried around her waist with her two water bottles.

"It's going to be a good day," she said to herself and walked toward and out the door letting the latch click shut behind her. Outside she thought about her words, took a deep breath of the fresh clean air, and said to the world, "it's going to be a good year."

She turned her iPod on and took off on her usual starting path that led to the gravelly lakeside area where trailheads began, waving hello to elderly Mrs. Nightingale in her polka-dotted floppy hat as she passed the woman troweling the fresh dirt for bulbs. She turned left at Spring View Elementary School where kids were gathering for a weekend soccer game, another right at the post office, and two more blocks and she was at the edge of the wooded forest bordering the lake.

Audra had decided that she wanted to explore and tryout some uphill routes and headed to the east side of the lake where she could watch the sun drenching the hills in morning light. There were more trails on this side of the lake that were still new for her to explore, but until she could find the right one she would stick to the main route.

She stopped by a father and son fishing, bent to tie her shoelace tighter, and said hello.

"It's a good morning for it," the man said.

"Yes," she agreed, not sure if he meant her running or their fishing, but it was a good day either way.

"I've caught two!" the kid said with boyish glee while barely taking his eye off the pinpoint spot where his fishing line met the water.

"That's great," Audra replied, "enjoy your morning."

She took off with a quick wave of her hand as the man and his son turned their attention back to baiting worms onto their hooks. She twisted down a dusty trailed away from the lake and up a hill. As the distance between herself and the lake started to grow she started to look for new trails that she could explore; the area surrounding her was heavy on uphill routes including a steep incline she usually avoided.

The first path Audra chose she found to be occupied by a large scouting group, which veered her off from that course. The second path she chose swung around quickly and brought her right back to the main path. She saw a third path ahead and aimed for it, but out of the corner of her eye she spotted a small red fox. As she stopped to get a better look at it, it did the same and turned around to look at her.

At first she thought it was just going up the steep hill, but at closer inspection she saw a path that was heavily grown over with weeds and ferns. As she pushed back branches of an overhanging shrub she saw that there were even a few notches in the existing stones carved to act as occasional steps.

She had to stoop at first, slowing her pace drastically, stumbling up the hill. She grabbed at branches of trees and balanced on jutting rocks to hoist herself up, but she got the hang of it quickly and was soon charging up the hill with ease.

"I should get into rock climbing," she said to herself with a huff.

She stumbled once, striking her knee on a rock and breaking open a small cut, "ouch." She licked her thumb and wiped away the blood which pooled up immediately. She had Band-Aids in her pack, but it was a small cut and the blood would dry soon; she let it trickle lightly down her leg.

At the top of the incline the overgrown trail cleared and was much more visible weaving through a carper of leaves and pine needles. The trees seemed taller here than she remembered any of the other mountainous area trees. It was shaded and plenty of room to continue her run. With a crunch of forest debris under her foot and a chirp of a birds vibrating through the trees she took off down the trail at a steady pace.

She hadn't seen a soul in quite a while and, as beautiful as the scenery was, she started to grow tired of the unchanging scenery. She flipped her iPod off and took a water out of her pack. As she sipped she noticed something strange, it was quieter than she expected. Her music was never overly loud, but she could remember the birds chirping and the wind rustling the branches of the trees. The silence penetrated through her thin tank top and she decided it was time to start heading home.

Then she saw the fox again. "Hey little buddy," she said to it and it bounded off into a thick mass of trees. She followed him through the trees and found a large grassy clearing with an old stone well jutting up directly in the center. It seemed straight out of a fairy tale and she walked into the clearing to get a better look.

The well was larger than she first thought when she entered the clearing and made of thick slabs of gray and white stone. The masonry was slightly crumbling and decayed with the mild pressure of her fingernail and she felt the stones. There was no rig and bucket system to tell if the well still functioned, but it was open and she wished she had brought a coin to toss for a wish.

It must be getting close to noon as the sun beat down through the treetops directly overhead. Sprinkled through the grass were the occasional dandelion; she reached down and plucked one up out of the dirt and pressed her lips together to blow the umbrella seeds; without any breeze they bobbed up momentarily with her breath and came right back down into the well.

She fiddled with the dandelion stalk as she walked a circle around the well and then noticed a small tarnished gold plaque secured to the rim. "Well of Vibrant Health," she read, her voice echoing down the deep darkness of the ancient chasm.

"Hello," she heard from somewhere nearby. It was a weak voice, but a crack of thunder in the jarring silence. She jumped back and turned around in a circle to see no one.

"Is someone there?" she asked.

"Hello," she heard again and turned her head to the well.

"Is someone," she hesitated and got up onto her tiptoes to peer over the well's rim, "in the well?"

"Yes," came the voice, getting stronger, "I'm down here."

It was the voice of a child, probably about the same age as the boy she had seen fishing earlier. Audra's mind erupted with images of the fisherman's boy climbing the old stones, crumbling below his weight, watching him tip over and tumble head over knees down to the wet mud floor. She backed away, fearing that getting too close might offer her the same fate.

"How did you get in there?"

"I don't know."

"How long have you been in there?"

"I don't know."

"Are you hurt?"

"I'm cold and hungry."

The questions came out of Audra one after the other while Audra's mind reeled with the discovery she had made. She was at a loss for what to do, rubbing the gooseflesh from her arms as she paced back, forth, and in circles around the well. She was definitely off the beaten path and hadn't passed anyone for at least thirty minutes.

"Can you tell me your name?"

"I'm hungry."

"I know sweetheart," she said, taking the pack from her side which still had one full bottle of water, "I'm going to lower my pack down. It has some protein snacks and water in it."

She wished she had brought a flashlight, even with the light streaming through the break in the trees directly down onto them the well was still pitch black inside.

"I can't see where you are, I am going to try not to hit you with it."

"I'm so hungry."

The pack slipped from her fingers. A short silence and then a soft, moist, thump echoed back up from the well.

"Eat those snacks and drink that water, okay?" she waited a moment, straining to hear the zipper from her pack open, "Can you tell me your name?"

"Valentin," he told her, "Valentin Sult."

"Well, Valentin Sult," she repeated the whole name so that she could help herself remember it, "My name is Audra Zucker. I am going to go and get you some help. I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"

"Please!" the boy yelled, "please don't leave me!"

"I can't get you out by myself," she told the boy, "I need help."

"I'm so cold and hungry," he began to whimper, "and scared. Please don't leave."

"Okay," she told him, "I'm going to stay for a little bit and talk to you, keep you company." Hoping someone else came by, she didn't want to have to tell him she would need to go get help otherwise. She would try to help calm him down before she would have to leave.

"Valentin," she said, "do you remember how you got inside the well?"

"I don't remember," he told her again.

"What do you remember, Valentin? Do you live nearby? Were you hiking with your parents?"

"I don't remember, Audra. Please help me."

She scanned the forest floor, try to search for large branches or something she could lower into the well even though she knew it was an impossible task. The well was sure to be too deep and she wasn't sure the boy would be strong enough to grasp anything she could offer him. There was nothing big enough even if there was the possibility, the few branches on the ground were too short or too thin, and most of the ground was bare except where the patches of sunlight could drive through the forest canopy.

She hoisted herself up so that she could get a better look into the well. It was dark, but it did seem like there was some movement below.

"Valentin," she said, "can you reach your hand up?"

Sure enough, piercing the darkness, she could see a small hand reach upward and tenderly wave.

"That's it, buddy," she told him, "I can see you. The well isn't as deep as I thought it was."

"Can you reach me?"

"I think you're out of my reach, Valentin."

"I can't see you though," he told her, "can you see me?"

"Yes, I see your hand."

"Can you stretch your hand down?" he whimpered, "I want to see you too."

"I really think I should go and find someone to come and help," she told him, backing away from the well again.

"Please?" he asked, "I am not as scared anymore, but I want to see you first. I want to know that you are there."

She imagined the boy, terrified and tear-streaked face, just wanting to see another human. Finding a loose foothold in the stone she stepped up and leaned her pelvis against the sun-warmed stone and leaned into the well, stretching her arm down and wiggling her fingers back and forth. She saw him reach up his arm and wave again. "Okay," she said, "I'm going to try."

"Can you see me," she strained to ask and she wiggled her fingers back and forth.

"I think so, but I'm not sure," he replied. This little piece of hope gave Audra an elated feeling and she stretched a little further, letting her feet grip tightly at the footholds from inside her pink shoes.

"I think I can see you," he told her; his voice seeming closer than it had been before, she could almost see his face. He wiggled his fingers back at her.

The further she stretched into the well the closer she felt she was getting to Valentin. She had a warm euphoric feeling that if she tried hard enough she could reach right out and touch him. She stretched her fingers further.

"Valentin, do you think you can reach my hand?"

"I'll try," he told her.

His arm stretched upward, winding and twisting out of the darkness, entwining with her fingers. His touch was a soothing, soft, warmth that caressed each natural groove of her hand.

"I've got you," she said dreamily, "I'll be able to save you."

"I'm so hungry," he told her as his pink chubby arm continued to slide up hers, wrapping around and squeezing at her muscled bicep as it snaked along her shoulder and around her neck.

"I know," she told him as her feet slipped from the foothold and kicked at a dandelion, sending seeds scattering through the forest floor, "I'm here to help."

One pink shoe slipped off her foot as her legs smoothly disappeared into the darkness below her and the forest grove returned to somber silence. A clap of thunder emanated through the forest and over the sun strewn lake as a little red fox ran for cover in his burrow.


Jeff Carter

I enjoy writing short stories in magic realism, horror, and the bizarre. I have ambitions to write a novel.

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