The well was ordinary; small and squat enough to go unnoticed by visitors to the neighboring cemetery and church, yet old enough that it appeared worthy of its reputation. Along the sides of the well, ivy had once crawled up the ashen stone, reaching for the promise of what lay within — but, having failed to summit the wall, had died, turning brown and brittle.
A traveler approached with eagerness in his eyes that betrayed his slow and struggled gait. His once colorful clothes had become a dreary shade of grime. The tired man crossed the cemetery, respectfully avoiding any graves, and then arrived, finally, at the well.
His cracked hands grabbed just below the knot, a lifeline that kept the rope from falling into the darkness, and began to pull. The well’s depth seemed infinite. Sweat soaked the traveler’s white hair, plastering it to his temple; then, having over-saturated itself there, moved down his cheek, along his jaw bone, before falling to the earth. The earth accepted the man’s efforts but gave him nothing in return. What cruelty, he thought, that if, after years of research and months of searching, he was to expend his last breath before even lifting the bucket from its resting place.
Out of the darkness, one final tug revealed an old wooden bucket. On the metal handle the words he hoped to see had been carved in clean cursive: Nascentes morimur. From the moment we are born, we begin to die. A sob of relief shuddered up and escaped out of the old man’s chest, and he would have cried, if there was any water within him left to spare. The traveler hugged the bucket close to his chest as he sank to the damp grass, careful not to spill a single drop. The water within was exquisitely clear, and briefly the man recalled standing next to his lovely wife, hands grasping the edge of their sailboat, laughing as they identified fish that swam in the warm Mediterranean waters beneath. But realities of the current world came tumbling back, and all that was before him was a bucket and some well water.
He brought the bucket to his lips and when the cool water hit his tongue he drank deeply until it was empty. It was said that when god created the heavens and earth, his sweat poured into the soil — the salt fed the earth and its creatures, but the residual water pooled into a spring beneath the well and held the smallest, most basic particles of life. If the prophecy was true, and if he had led a good life, his pain would fade, the cancer would retreat, and youth would heal his sick bones. But if he was undeserving, the cancer would come even quicker, like a spark in a dehydrated forest. The traveler contemplated the life he had led, the years he dedicated to finding the spring within the well, and the family and friends he neglected in pursuit of his quest. Was it worth it? Was he worthy? The man and his weary bones, not yet more or less weary than before, grew heavy from the insistence of overdue sleep. His eyes closed, and he knew when he woke next he would have his answer.
Monica Arone is originally from North Carolina, and now lives in Los Angeles working as a corporate event planner. She spends most of her spare time reading, hiking, planning solo adventures to the desert, and running her book club with a totalitarian hand.