The dug well had a monster in it.
And Becky Lee was afraid it was going to eat her.
How and when the monster got into the well was beyond the girl’s recollection.
It just appeared one day, shortly after her Pa had gotten hitched again to his new wife, Alice.
And much to Becky’s anxiety, it didn’t always appear when she lowered the bucket into the well.
The creature usually waited.
It was her daily chore to fetch a pail of water for her Stepmother’s morning house: cooking and cleaning.
Invariably, the child would bring back too little water—and that earned her a whippin’.
Ma Alice—or “Malice” as Becky and her brother Jeb nicknamed her—was an oppressive taskmaster.
The miserable woman’s only redeeming quality was she was a neat housekeeper, which seemed to satisfy her husband, Red Lee.
Red worked in the cotton fields for long hours on a threshing machine and would usually come home exhausted late in the afternoon. Oblivious to the sullen, hollow-eyed expressions of his children.
The overworked man had done his best to raise them on his own. But with his demanding job, he felt they were better off if they had a woman to take care of them.
And at first, Alice had been a model wife and mother to the family of three.
However, after a spell, she just couldn’t bear anyone or anything, including Red’s dog, Checkers, competing for her husband’s love and attention.
Checkers eventually ran away, leaving poor Becky and Jeb alone in dealing with their Stepmother.
“I just know your kids hate me, Pa,” remarked Alice to Red one evening after supper.
“No, they don’t, Ma.”
“They don’t respect me.”
“Now, now…ya know that ain’t true, either.”
“It’s true, goddamnit! They are dirty and lazy… What would people say just lookin’ at ‘em? They’re an absolute disgrace!”
Red would shrug his exhausted shoulders with a sigh, secretly wishing he could be left alone to his misery and beer drinking before passing out.
One morning, Becky awoke late and knew she’d be in for it.
“You finally felt it necessary to grace us with your presence, girl? Go and fetch me some water for cleanin’. After that, you can feed the goats and chickens.”
“Can I eat first, Alice? I’m powerful hungry.”
Alice threw a stale biscuit at the girl that hit her squarely in the chest before it landed on the floor.
“We’ve all eaten breakfast, so make do with that.”
Becky picked up the biscuit off the kitchen floor, blew the dirt off it before putting it in her pocket, and dutifully went outside.
Carrying her pail to the well, legs trembling, Becky’s chest tightened with fear.
Maybe the monster won’t be there this mornin’, she thought hopefully.
Lowering the well bucket, Becky managed to fill the container and was just pulling it back up when a large, clawed hand grabbed it, nearly pulling her into the well.
A giant maw snapped hungrily at her missing her head by mere inches.
“What do you want from me, you devil?” screamed Becky, shaking her fist at the creature.
Glaring at her, the beast beckoned with its hand to its mouth as if imploring her to feed it.
Becky was still for a moment, just watching, while the creature persisted whimpering and begging for food.
“Hungry, are you? Well, I ain’t got nothin’ to feed ya. And I ain’t on the menu, Mister Monster. So, le’ go.”
The beast somehow understood her but refused to let go of the vessel. Growling with frustration, it continued to tug on the bucket, causing Becky to pull tighter on the rope.
“Tell you what… If you give me back my bucket, I’ll fetch you somethin’ real good soon. Deal?”
The monster let go of the bucket with a growl and Becky scampered off.
“Took you long enough. Where’s the blasted water?” askedAlice.
“I got as much as I could.”
“There ain’t enough in thar’ to drown an ant. You lazy, no good child!” yelled Alice, grabbing her favorite stick.
And so a tacit agreement was formed by Becky and the monster.
The creature continued to allow her to take water from the well under the condition she would feed it somethin’ good, eventually.
But sadly, that didn’t stop Alice from finding fault in Becky’s other chores, which of course resulted in more beatings.
It was several days later when Alice came storming into Becky’s room brandishing a broom.
“Get up, you lazy girl… I need water and there’s a heap of work to be done.”
“I can’t get up. I ain’t feeling well today, Alice,” cried the exhausted child.
“Quit fakin’ and get up now!”
“I can’t. Oh, please.”
“If you don’t get up right now, I’ll give you somethin’ to cry about.”
“I want my Momma!” Becky sobbed.
“Your Ma is dead, you worthless child! Look here, girl, I’m gonna git started. But I warn you, if you ain’t up by the time I get back, I’m gonna give you a thrashin’ you’ll never forget!”
Alice stormed out of the room, and moments later the front door slammed.
Even from her bed, Becky could hear her Stepmother cuss a blue streak as she stalked out to the well.
There was a silence as if the whole world held its breath for a moment.
Becky counted the seconds. There was a shrill scream. It was such a scream she knew something was either being born or dying. There was no in-between, of that she was certain.
Next came a splash, followed by what Becky imagined to be the sound of flesh being rendered from the bone.
Alice’s screams were joined by the cries of frightened starlings taking flight. The murmuration swooped past Becky’s window, and she knew that her father and brother would soon be drawn to the site of the well.
Becky cuddled her doll, closed her eyes, and went back to sleep, smiling.