Featured Reader of
Shannan Neff :
"As unusual as it may seem, I'm thankful for Night by Elie Wiesel. This book that tells the poignantly heart-rendering memories of someone who was a teenager in the ghettos of Nazi Germany and who survived the death camps of the Holocaust.
I know it might seem weird that such a painful, emotionally gutting story about the darkest depths of mankind's cruel capability to be so utterly inhumane and hateful to their fellow mankind is a book I could be thankful for.
But I was 14 when I read the book for the first time. It was assigned reading my freshman year of high school. At the point we opened the book, I had just buried a friend and a relative who's both been murdered as well as the more natural cancer induced passing of my paternal grandfather who fought in the second world war during his lifetime. I was in a pained, dark headspace; broken by the losses....
In his memoir, not only does Mr. Wiesel show us the darkness, he showed the light. The way even in the ghetto, communities and neighbours would try to work together. Young Juliek, the violinist, who could create music even in the darkest moments. The soldiers who helped them find freedom. Even learning he'd go on to find his spouse and learn to live after being surrounded by so much death, to be happy after so much pain.....
THAT is why I am thankful for Night. It helped a broken, frightened young teen see that yes humans can be so very cruel to each other, but that there's often light hiding in the darkness and even in the darkest hours where there's no light to be found, persevere and the light will break through. Or as a song from that time in my life so aptly pointed out ..."It can't rain all the time."
Featured Short Story
of the Around the Campfire Contest "The Devil's Well by Daemon Manx"
Gary Butler stepped carefully to the edge of the massive drop-off and peered over into the dark, choppy water below. His heart somersaulted and then descended into his stomach. What little nerve he thought he had only a moment ago was gone. The sight of the rock face as it stretched out beneath him and the massive height from which he stood made him dizzy. A raging waterfall cascaded off a large outcropping near the edge where Gary stood. It dumped into a deep churning pool at the cliff base. Gary stood at the jump-off point where only the bravest of the boys ever ventured to go. The dive was less than forty feet, but it felt like a whole lot more. The concave vector that the granite wove as it sloped inward beneath the precipice gave the illusion of a never-ending drop. The ceaseless roar of the waterfall only helped to fog the senses at this altitude. He had been sure that today would be the day he would finally jump. But now that he was here, standing at the edge of the unforgiving rock, he knew there was no way. It hadn’t been named the Devil’s Well for nothing.
“Aww, I told ya he wasn’t gonna do it,” Timmy Birch heckled. He was a grade older than Gary and had been riding him since last year about jumping the well. It was a rite of passage for all the boys in Fairmount and many of the girls too. By the time they reached high school, it was expected that they had jumped the well, at least once. Many had done it as early as eighth and seventh grade. Timmy Birch, Scott Clark, and Willie Thomsen had all made the jump earlier that spring during the first warm days when the black water at the bottom of the pit was just shy of fifty degrees. The boys had come out of the water purple and damn near hypothermic. None of them had expected that Gary would go through with it. No sixth grader ever had.
“No way, man,” Willie threw his hands up and puckered his face as if he had eaten a rotten sock. “We didn’t hike all the way up here just to watch this clown chicken out.” He shouted loud enough to be heard over the roar of the falls. “Get your bitch-ass up there and jump!”
The others howled and laughed at their friend’s demands for a show to take place. Gary had been boasting to all of them at school that he was really going to do it. Today was the day, he had sworn up and down. “Today, I am going to jump the well.” He had been so convincing that he had even sold it to himself. That was until he got a look over the edge and lost his nuts. And that’s how it always happened. It was easy to walk around with King Kong’s balls when you weren’t standing on the edge looking at just how far a drop it really was. He walked back to where the older boys were standing, feeling nervous and embarrassed.
“Let’s get outta here,” Scott slapped Willie on the back. “I told ya he wasn’t gonna do it.”
“Bullshit!” Willie spat. “This little shit dragged us all the way up here, and he is going over that well if I have to throw him myself.” This was met with more laughter from everyone except Gary, who smiled and tried to look relaxed. He attempted to act casual as if his heart wasn’t trying to jump out of his chest with every beat. But his hands were slick, and he could feel his legs trembling.
“I’m sorry, guys,” he whined. “I didn’t know how cold it was gonna be up here.” He wrapped his arms around his chest to prove how chilly he was. It was a weak show at that. “It’ll be warmer in a week or two.”
Willie threw his hands up in disgust and made a sound as if all the air in his body had decided to leave at once. “Unbelievable!”
“You know, Gary,” Timmy approached him. “You don’t need to do this to impress anyone. No sixth grader has even jumped the well. I mean…it would have been pretty cool if you did. I bet the kids at school would talk about you for a real long time.” Timmy was the smart one out of the three and had a pretty good idea what he was doing. “But no one’s gonna think you’re a pussy or anything like that, at least no one who counts,” he turned to his friends and exaggerated his speech. “You guys aren’t gonna think Gary is a pussy, are ya?”
Scott smirked and shook his head. “Guess not, probably.”
Willie wasn’t about to play along, not even for a minute. “To hell with that. We didn’t come all this way to watch this pussy chicken out.”
Timmy snickered; Willie had played his part exactly as expected. “Well, there are some who might give ya a hard time. But I wouldn’t worry about them.” He watched the younger boy nervously shift in the spot where he stood. “You make the jump when you’re ready. It’s not for everyone. Shit, some kids never jump the well. I won’t think any less of ya.” Timmy snorted as he laughed, which made Gary feel even more uneasy.
Despite the chilly breeze that raced over the crest of Mt. Hope, Gary could feel the flush of frustration and embarrassment heating him up. He looked at the older boys knowing that he had disappointed them. The patronizing look on Timmy Birch’s face said it all. He had known that Gary wasn’t going to make the jump, and he wasn’t going to let him live it down, no matter what he said to the contrary. He was going to make sure every kid in school knew that Gary had chickened out. Willie continued to pace back and forth in disgust as if his entire life had been wasted on to the events of one afternoon. But it was the way that Scott looked at Gary that affected him most. It was a look of pity; it was a look Gary knew all too well. It had been the same look his father had given him countless times in the past. It said you will never amount to shit, kid. You’ll never leave your mark on this world.
“Come on,” Timmy called out over the blare of the rushing water and the growing howl of the wind that had just started to kick up. “There’s always next year,” he said to Gary.
A slow boil had started in the pit of Gary’s chest and quickly spread to his extremities. It rushed up his neck and into his face. He could feel the sweat breaking out on his forehead even though the air was bitingly cold. He scanned the looks of disappointment and apathy that stared back at him. Suddenly, Gary envisioned what the rest of the year looked like. It would not end here. How could it after he had made such a show at school today? He had even told Sarah Meyers his plans. Today, he was gonna jump the well. He recalled the way her face had lit up and the sparkle that had come to her chestnut brown eyes that had just a hint of gold around the pupils.
“Really,” she gasped in amazement. “Aren’t you scared?”
Her sudden interest was intoxicating. “Heck no,” he had boasted.” There’s nothin to it.”
Her reactions had prompted an even more exaggerated response from him than he was prepared for. It had fueled his still-developing adolescent head with a misguided, youthful vibrato. Gary had taken her interest as a prompt to elaborate about how he would be the first sixth grader to attempt such a feat. He told her how he was going to run like a cheetah to the edge of the cliff and jump further out over the water than any kid had ever done before. Sarah had listened with stars in her eyes, mesmerized by his bravery and prowess.
Now, all he could imagine was the look on her face when she learned that he had chickened out at the last second. Her smile would fade into the same disappointed look that the older boys now wore. Gary thought he could probably stand all the riding he would get from the older boys. And imagined he could even endure the humiliation he would face from the kids in his own grade, as well. But the idea of watching that sparkle fade from Sarah’s eyes was something he wasn’t prepared to deal with. In the end, it had been thoughts of Sarah that prompted him toward action. Gary Butler wasn’t the first, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last boy to make a foolish decision just to impress a woman. Fortunately, it was one he wouldn’t have to regret all that long.
Timmy and the other boys turned and headed toward the path that led down the mountain toward Davenport Lane. “Let’s get outta here, guys.” They walked away, leaving Gary alone at the top of the cliff. The sixth grader’s blood began to churn and then boil, much like the pitch-black soup at the bottom of the well.
He watched as they walked away and heard clearly in his head all the things they would say as soon as they had the chance. The fever that had reddened his face started to burn like an ember in his chest. It felt as if his pounding heart was consuming gallons of his fiery blood with each pronounced throb. The slow shakes that had started in his legs and arms escalated and neared convulsive proportions. Gary pivoted on his heels, crouched low to gain traction, and bolted toward the drop-off at a full sprint.
Timmy, Scott, and Willie were just stepping onto the path when a high-pitched scream cut through the cacophony of the mountain like a harpoon. They turned to see Gary rocketing toward the edge of the cliff, running like a shit house bat with its head on fire. They froze in their tracks as the small sixth grader leapt from the precipice into the air above the well. The dumbfounded look on all three of their faces was that of complete shock. What startled them most of all was what they heard Gary scream as he jumped into the air and disappeared over the ledge. Later, when questioned, all three boys would answer the same. Gary had jumped the well and screamed. “KISS MY ASS, PUSSIES!!!!”
The feeling of weightlessness lasted for only about a quarter of a second, but it was invigorating. Gary had run toward the edge as fast as he possibly could. His heart had been hammering inside his chest. Every raw nerve in his body and every instinct had told him to stop. But all he could think about was how impressed Sarah would be when she found out that Gary Butler was the first and only sixth grader to ever jump the well. The feeling of weightlessness disappeared as gravity did its thing. Suddenly, Gary was flailing toward the ink-black water below like a misguided ballistic warhead. His arms and legs beat against the air to slow his descent, but it was useless. He had stopped breathing at some point as he prepared to meet the fast-approaching surface of the water.
The fall lasted for all of about two seconds, but from Gary’s perspective, it had felt a whole lot longer, a lifetime, in fact. The satisfying feeling of accomplishment was short-lived. It vanished as soon as he hit the churning surface of the dark water and was seized by the incapacitating arctic blast. It was cold, still in the low fifties. The icy chill attacked his chest like a swarm of hornets as he plunged deep into the murk. His body was driven deeper and deeper as his momentum carried him downward. The suffocating darkness enveloped him, and the thrill of the jump was quickly replaced with a far more menacing sensation. As Gary descended into the abyss and the black water shrouded him, an overwhelming thought gripped him like a seizure. He wasn’t alone down here.
Panic set in as his downward momentum began to slow and he found himself, God knows how far below the surface. It was black. Blacker than black. It was so dark that it felt as if the water were absorbing the little light that penetrated the surface. Gary’s lungs were already burning as he started to swim in a direction he could only hope was up. With each stroke, he forced himself to reach a little harder and propel himself a little faster. He knew he couldn’t hold his breath much longer.
Panic turned to terror as Gary kicked at the inky tar that wrapped around him. He felt as if cinder blocks were tied to his legs and that he couldn’t move them fast enough. Although he was sure that his eyes were open, it was still impossible to see a thing. Then he felt it. He screamed as something brushed against his leg.
He heard his voice underwater as he cried out and sucked in a mouthful of the murk. He choked and gagged as he continued to claw his way to the surface, away from whatever it was that had brushed up against him. He had been fighting his way up for what felt like a week; he had to be close. He couched again and could feel himself about to take another lungful of the frigid water when the faintest shimmer of sunlight appeared less than a few feet above his head. He had made it; he was going to be alright.
Gary broke the chop of the well and bobbed like a spastic balloon. He coughed up snot and gagged on the remainder of the water he had swallowed. Timmy, Scott, and Willie peered down over the edge at him as he splashed about on the surface. The three older boys started hooting and hollering down to him. Gary was unable to decipher the exact praises they were raining on him, but he was able to get the gist of it. He looked up to see the smile on the older children’s faces and began to smile himself, forgetting momentarily about his present situation. He raised his arm up out of the water and waved to them. “I did it,” he called out. “I really d….”
Gary was suddenly yanked under the water. It had taken hold of his leg just below the knee. Something strong with an incredibly powerful grip had latched onto him and dug into the flesh. Gary swallowed even more water as he was dragged down and nearly blacked out. He probably would have if it weren’t for the searing pain that bolted through him, setting all his nerves on fire. It was sharp. It was pointed. And it was strong. Whatever had grabbed him dug into the skin below his kneecap and then into the muscles beneath. He felt it rip, and then he heard a large snap just before it let him go. Gary fought to kick in his semi-conscious state and somehow managed to move. He broke the surface once again and listed like a sea lion that had been bitch-slapped by an Orca.
The other boys watched in horror as Gary returned to the surface. Even in the black water, they could see the color change that had begun to surround him. A deep scarlet engulfed the area where Gary lolled like a broken cork. The child fought to hold his head up but could not. It continued to roll back on his neck. The look in his eyes was a mix between disorientation and unadulterated terror. Timmy watched as the child opened his mouth, attempted to raise his arm, and call up to them. Then it grabbed him again. Gary Bulter was swallowed up by the crimson, black water and vanished into the well.
Timmy Birch had been right after all. The kids in Fairmount talked about Gary Butler for a very long time after that day. The only sixth grader to ever jump the well. The last child to ever dare to try.
The remains of Gary Butler were never recovered, despite a full investigation by the Fairmount police with the aid of county divers. The well was simply too damn deep. A fissure that possibly went as far as hell had been discovered during the search and was believed to be the final resting place of the young boy’s body.
Sarah Meyers had cried for nearly a month and never forgot the day that Gary Butler told her about the Devil’s Well and how he would be the first sixth grader to ever jump it. The golden flecks that peppered her eyes shined a bit duller than they had in the past. For a while, at least. But in the end, even Sarah got over it. As well as most of the town, save Gary’s mom and even his dad. The kid had left a mark after all.
On the year anniversary of that day, Timmy Birch, Scott Clark, and Willie Thomsen made one last trip to Devil’s Well in honor of Gary. They brought with them a six-pack of PBR and a can of spray paint. They shared the beers and stayed as far as they possibly could from the drop-off until they were ready to leave. Then they took the spray paint and left the marker on the rocks. It’s visible still today, though few venture to see it. It is somewhat faded and worn, but if one were brave enough to follow the path that leads from Davenport Lane to the top of Mt. Hope, it’s easy enough to see. The granite outcropping that parallels the falls serves as a memorial to Fairmount Middle School’s greatest legend. It’s written in metallic black spray paint and reads...
KISS MY ASS PUSSIES!