“Howard Merton ain’t nothing but a liar and a cheat,” proclaimed Jim Brown then raised his Colt 45. “And I shot him dead back on the trail out of Dodge over a month ago!”
The well was nothing but a wide open pit lined with ankle high cut stone descending into darkness. The fog was thick and persistently overbearing. From under his dusty cavalry hat, Fred Joiner watched the form of Howard Merton advance from the abyssal well. Absently touching the grip of his saber he remarked, “I didn’t particularly cotton to Merton either, but I don’t think that’s him.”
“It’s a doppleganger,” said Abe Amsel. “Kill it.”
The three men stood within the veil of voluminous mist and watched Howard Merton approach. “What’s a doppleganger? That sounds German,” asked Jim Brown, the sights of his pistol tracking Merton as he moved.
“It a person’s double and I don’t believe in them so shoot it, whatever it is,” said Abe Amsel poorly disguising his disgust.
“Now hold on boys, we don’t know nothing about this place or who that is. Let’s talk to it,” said Fred Joiner.
“Talk nothin’! It ain’t Howard Merton,” demanded Abe and raised his Model 3 in solidarity with Jim’s Colt 45.
Fred adjusted his cavalry hat and watched the thing closely. He began to utter another plea for rational discourse when the faux Howard Merton screamed his intent and charged Jim with no concern for the Colt 45 peacemaker.
The venomous, unintelligible scream carried over the fog and ended only after three shots from Jim’s pistol. They crowded in over the faux Howard Merton and Fred asked, “What else do you think is down there?”
Jim flipped open the cylinder of the peacemaker and removed the empty cartridges. Abe looked at Fred and said, “I don’t know, but I’m sure it isn’t something from our Earthly world.”
After Jim had reloaded his pistol he marched back to the horses to retrieve his Winchester lever action.
“What do you think, Fred?” asked Abe as he stared at the old cavalry soldier.
Fred slumped his shoulders. He was thinking about the well. “I’ve been through the war, fought Indians, ran my own newspaper for a short time, and I’ve even been to Europe, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
“Do you think it’s evil?” asked Abe.
“Evil? I don’t’ believe in Good and Evil. But it sure ain’t friendly. And probably dangerous,” said Fred.
Abe was not surprised by Fred’s declaration. Abe considered Fred a bit of a philosopher, but this well surrounded by seemingly suffocating fog was real and Abe knew evil when he felt it. He wished he hadn’t asked Fred.
Jim returned with his rifle and said, “We’ve been looking for this thing for a long time. Let’s go in and be done with it.”
“Fred?” said Abe.
“We don’t know anything substantial about this thing. Why are you so damned fired up to go charging in there?” asked Fred.
“Because something out of that well killed my fiancé,” said Jim clutching his Winchester and studying the rim of the well. His breathing increased and his eyes went cold. “And vengeance is mine!” Jim marched over the body double of Howard Merton to hover at the edge of the well.
“I guess we’re going in,” said Fred and went to the horses.
Abe followed to secure his double barrel shotgun. Fred, ever thoughtful, pulled two lanterns from the mule’s pack then took the waterskin that hung from the saddle of his horse.
“Will the horses be alright out here in this fog?” asked Abe.
“It ain’t the fog I’m worried about. It’s what’s sneakin’ around inside it,” said Fred then left the three horses and one mule to wander the fog.
Fred and Abe went to the well. “It’s dark down there,” said Abe.
Fred lit the lanterns and held one out. Jim took a lantern and walked around the edge of the well until he came to the top of stairs cut out of the stone descending into a pitch black wall of dank air. They swirled around the side of the well and what waited at the bottom was an enigma that both repulsed and coaxed them in one feeling.
Jim raised the lantern and placed his foot over the side of the well. When it landed on the first step he looked up and Fred saw apprehension on his face.
Fred looked into the depths of blackness and said, “This is it, Jim. Go on. Will be right behind you.”
Jim placed his other foot on the stairs then after a deep breath accepted the idea of oblivion that the damnably unique well promised. They walked down the stairs slowly, hugging the wall as they went. It was a long drop.
The air increasing became cold, and when Abe could see his breath in the eerie light of the lantern he said, “I thought hell was supposed to be hot.”
“It ain’t hell were walkin’ into. Expect the unexpected Abe. Like you said, it ain’t nothin’ from our Earthly world,” said Fred then took his Navy gun into his hand thinking it would be a good idea to be ready.
Jim led the group further into darkness and holding his Winchester at the ready said, “There’s cold places in hell. You should read Dante some time.”
“I didn’t take you as an admired of literature Jim,” said Fred.
“I’m not really. Penny used to make me read. She was a school teacher. I thought it was funny and made me feel special when she’d buy me something so . . . academic. I didn’t finish ’em all, but Dante’s Inferno was somethin’ else boys. That’s why I say there’s cold parts in hell,” said Jim then went silent.
“Well, I hope it doesn’t get much colder. And maybe we should keep quiet. No tellin’ what’s listening down there,” said Abe.
Fred looked over the side wishing the light from the lantern could pierce the blackness below. He looked up and the sky filled with fog obscured the opening. It was dark below and dark above, and somewhere behind the onyx screen were answers to questions best left unasked.