It was a nice well: roomy, dank and dark. There was just a glimmer of hurtful sunlight from the small aperture high above. This suited Odd Bod, suited him fine. As he sat in the noxious gloop that constituted the well’s floor he scratched the infrequent tufts of hair on his scabrous scalp and decided that, overall, life had been very good to him. He had a safe place to live and there had been no hordes of angry villagers chasing him with pitchforks or other horticultural accoutrements.
The food, however, was becoming a problem.
Odd Bod tugged at a small bone that was lodged in the sticky floor and it parted company from the clinging substance with a wet pop. He blew at it and a piece of green slime dripped onto his knee. Absentmindedly rubbing at the slime with one hand, his other used the bone as an impromptu toothpick between his blackened incisors whilst he contemplated the issue of supplies.
There used to be plenty of food. It would come to the well, drop the wooden thing down to scoop up the wet stuff and, if he was hungry, Odd Bod would give the wooden thing a big tug causing the food to come crashing down into his awaiting lap. True, it was a noisy experience when the food fell and sometimes it needed convincing that it really was food but on the whole it worked to Odd Bod’s satisfaction.
Recently, though, the food had stopped dropping the wooden thing down. Odd Bod thought that this must be down to one of two reasons. It was either because the horrid wet stuff that the wooden thing used to scoop up had finally vanished or, and this possibility troubled Odd Bod more, that he had eaten all the food and there was none left.
Yes, that troubled Odd Bod a great deal. The thought of a world with no food was not a pleasant prospect at all even if he did live in a very nice dark, dank well with very little sunlight.
He hoped that it was the lack of the wet stuff that had caused the food to go away, he truly did because if the wet stuff came back then the food would, too. If, however, he had eaten all the food…
Odd Bod sadly shook his head. He had never been a fan of the wet stuff. It had always gotten everywhere and had made him feel as icky as the wet stuff itself. Odd Bod had fashioned himself small ledges between the crumbling bricks which had provided places for him to perch on when the wet stuff had risen up at certain times of the year. Then over the last few years the wet stuff had stopped rising. Instead, it had gotten lower and lower until all that was left was the gloop and the bits of broken bone that Odd Bod had discarded during his time in the well.
Odd Bod liked the gloop. It stuck nicely to his bony fingers and made his nose wrinkle when he sniffed it. Much more pleasant than the wet stuff.
However, if the wet stuff going away had caused his food to disappear then that was a bad thing, whether Odd Bod liked the wet stuff or not, and something had to be done about it. The melancholy creature looked up to the small hole high above and sighed. There was only one way to find out what had happened to his food. Had it gone away or had it all been eaten? He had to find out or he would starve. It would not be the easiest of jobs, but one that had to be undertaken, nonetheless. His stomach rumbled and he whimpered disconsolately, his shaggy whiskers quivering around his mouth.
Odd Bod transferred the small bone from his hand to between his freshly picked teeth and placed a bare foot onto the lowest of the perches. He reached up with his hands – his cracked and broken nails searching out the tiniest of nooks and crannies with which to heave himself up. A foot edged up to another perch and his hands started to seek out more holes where he could cling securely between the bricks. After he had reached the same number of perches as he had fingers on his left hand he had to start work with the bone. Whilst clinging on with one set of fingers, the others used the bone to dig out handholds and footholds for him to utilise.
So it went on, time after time, transferring his weight onto newly excavated holes whilst digging out more and more spaces for his hands and feet. As he ascended the side of the well Odd Bod realised that the work was becoming harder and harder. Down below, the wall had been soft and easier to excavate. Up higher, it was tough and the bricks were much more firmly cemented together, but Odd Bod knew there could be no turning back. He peered down between his legs at his comfortable home and whimpered plaintively. What he would give to be settled down there once more with some fresh food, happily enjoying the knobbly, gristly bits that spurted goo all down his front as his teeth chomped into them. Instead, his muscles ached and his throat was dry. Moreover, to make matters worse, he was starting to feel very warm.
Odd Bod looked up and saw the reason for the increased heat: the hole at the top of the well was getting much larger! He had thought it was starting to increase in width when he had reached about half way but he had dismissed the notion as silliness. Now, however, here he was, much higher up and the round hole was definitely letting in more of the hated sunlight. Odd Bod blinked as the brightness hurt his eyes and he focussed yet again on the task at hand, digging furiously between two stubborn bricks. Even the bricks seemed to be suffering from the sunshine. Down below, they had been beautifully dark and shiny; up here, they were dry and much paler in colour. Odd Bod shuddered as he dreaded what the evil sunshine would do to him when he eventually emerged from the well.
He carried on climbing.
In time, his breathing became somewhat laboured as his throat felt parched. Odd Bod started to whimper as he began to fear that he was not going to make it to the top of the well. Despair started to wash over him.
What if he slipped and fell? Would he make the same noises that the food normally made when it jumped down to him?
What if he got to the top and discovered that he had eaten all the food? His stomach roared and he shook his head. No, he must not think such things. Food had to be out there. It had just gone away when the wet stuff had disappeared!
He glanced up and squeaked in both fear and excitement. Fear because the hole was now so wide that he could not see all the way around it. Excitement because he was only about an arm’s length from the top. A broad grin of blackened teeth spread across his face and he clambered towards the rim of the well.
Odd Bod’s stomach lurched as his foot slipped and his arm swung free. Screaming loudly he gripped with one hand on the bone that was currently dug between two bricks.
Silly Odd Bod!
Silly Odd Bod!
He had let his excitement get the better of him and had lost his concentration. With one firm tug on the bone, he swung his loose arm up and grabbed at the tiniest of gaps in the unforgiving brickwork. His nails prised themselves in and he hissed in pain as the rough surface dug into his grey flesh. Desperately, his feet scrambled at the sheer wall below him, propelling his weight up towards the rim of the well. He discarded the bone, ignoring the tool as it tumbled down towards the dark, comforting gloop. Instead, he hauled his hand up to the precipice above him. His fingers flailed around crumbling material on the rim until they found sound purchase and the rest of his withered body scurried up the last little distance. With one, firm lunge he heaved himself up and over the edge of the well. He rolled head over heels and landed with a thump on something that was most definitely not gloop.
Odd Bod bent over onto all fours and peered closely at the stuff. It covered the floor around the well. It felt strange to his gloop-accustomed touch and consisted of a multitude of little strands of near identical material that stood together in the near vicinity.
He sniffed it. It wobbled as he did so.
Carefully he picked some out and stuck it in his mouth before chewing.
“Pah!” He spat the disgusting substance out and wiped spittle from his face with the back of his dirt-encrusted hand.
“Why are you eating grass?”
Odd Bod’s head snapped up and his eyes located the source of the noise. It was food; a small morsel, but food nonetheless. He grinned.
The food giggled as it clasped its hands over its mouth. “You look funny,” it laughed.
Odd Bod sat down on the horrid-tasting stuff and scratched his threadbare scalp. This food was strange. Food normally made noises like, “Oh, God! No! No!” or “Please no! I have children!” This one sounded different. In addition, it was not covered in delicious icky stuff.
He pointed with a chipped and broken fingernail. “Food?” his gravelly voice enquired.
“Sure,” said the little red-haired girl. “I’ve got lots. Teddy and I are having a tea party on the blanket over there.”
Odd Bod’s eyes followed her small finger as it pointed over to a small furry thing sat on the thing called a blanket. “Food?” he asked again.
The little girl walked over to him and took his warty hand in hers. “Come on. We have plenty.”
Odd Bod clambered to his feet and slowly lurched along behind her as she led him over to the blanket where the small, inanimate furry thing was propped up against a grey stone. In front of it were a number of round receptacles of different sizes along with an object that had a handle on one side and a pointy bit on the other. The girl patted the blanket next to her and Odd Bod seated himself down, tucking his gangly legs beneath him. He frowned as his brain used to years of peaceful solitude tried to make sense of the situation. As his grey cells bumped together in confusion, the little girl handed him one of the round things. “Here you go,” she said. “Cake.”
The very perplexed diner took the object in both his hands and stared at it. It was flat and about the size of one of his hands. It was decorated around the edge with pink flowers. Not sure what to do, he shoved it in his mouth and started to chew.
“No!” exclaimed the girl, leaning over and dragging the thing out of his mouth. “Don’t eat the plate. Eat the cake.” She proceeded to hold her own plate and apparently feasted on thin air.
Odd Bod did likewise. The air did not taste of anything. He frowned.
“It is only make-believe, you know,” the girl whispered into his ear. “There isn’t really any cake. Just don’t tell Teddy. He’ll get upset.”
Odd Bod looked over at Teddy. The small, furry thing was making no apparent effort to eat the make-believe cake. Whatever cake was. Odd Bod sighed and glanced longingly over his shoulder to his well.
“Are you thirsty?”
“Thirsty?” Odd Bod asked.
The girl was now placing a different receptacle in front of him. This one was also decorated in flowers but was somewhat deeper in shape. “I’ll pour some nice tea in the cups.” She picked up the odd-looking thing with the handle and poured a clear liquid into the cups before offering one to her guest. “Here you go.”
Odd Bod took the little cup awkwardly in his misshapen fingers and raised it to his mouth. His nose caught a whiff of its smell and wrinkled in disgust. He snapped his head back and grimaced.
“Now, don’t be rude,” the little redhead scowled. “Drink it all up.”
Odd Bod looked across the rim of the cup to this strange piece of food that was not acting as it should then peered down into the cup unsure as to what he should do. Part of him wanted to reach over and gobble her up but part of him felt he really ought to do as he was told. It was only polite.
He placed the cup to his lips.
The girl smiled and nodded for him to continue. “Down in one,” she said.
Odd Bod did as he was instructed and gulped the liquid down.
He immediately regretted the decision.
Emily carefully tidied up the blanket and the tea set. She cautiously poured the remains of the so-called tea down the dry, foul-smelling well – the well in which her mummy had died. She had no idea what she had put in the teapot but it seemed to have done the trick. It had been a concoction of all sorts of liquids from tins in the cellar, the labels of which had borne loud warning symbols.
It had worked a treat.
She had been terribly scared when the monster had climbed out of the well, but it had saved her the job of climbing down to do what had needed doing. Besides, Teddy had been there for moral support.
The thing that had eaten her mummy and so many other villagers lay dead at her feet.
She bundled Teddy and the tea set into the blanket, swung the improvised bag over her shoulder and skipped merrily home.
Needs Must first appeared in A.S.Chambers’ collection of short horror stories All Things Dark And Dangerous published in 2015.
Links for this book and all his other works (including the Sam Spallucci series) can be found on his website www.aschambers.co.uk.