Day 21 of our Kickstarter! It’s going to be a short post tonight (as I am recovering from food poisoning), but I wanted to give you all a preview of the story I wrote for Athena’s Daughters, “Oh, Sisters, Let’s Go Down to the River.”
This story was inspired directly by family. When my grandmother was a little girl in Virginia in the 1920s, one of her routine chores was to scrub out the family well. As a child, she was lowered into the dark space by a hanging bucket in order to clean it. I always thought this was terrifying! Even now, it’s fascinating to imagine the courage it took for a girl her age to do that on a routine basis.
When I was brainstorming the type of story I wanted to write about a strong female character, an idea based on parts of my grandmother’s childhood was the first thing that came to mind. I also wanted to tie the other side of my family heritage into the folk tale I wrote. My paternal grandfather was Native American, and it was important for me to show that Native culture had significant influence on the Appalachian region.
An excerpt of my story is here on Wattpad. I have also posted a brief excerpt below. I hope you enjoy it!
“You be careful of them mean ol’ ghosts!”
Staring into the dark mouth of the stone well, Mary felt her sister’s hands grab her shoulders as like to push her in, and whirled around with a shout, gripping her small metal pail in one hand and swinging it round in an attempt to scare Virgie away. But all Virgie did was whoop as she jumped back quick, and the pail missed her by a mile. She grabbed her stomach and laughed like she was fit to die afterward, her loose scraggly blond hair hanging in front of her sunburned face.
Mary pushed her frizzy black hair out of her eyes with a frown.
“You shut your mouth! There ain’t nothin’ down there!”
But now she couldn’t help thinkin’ there might be. She glanced down at her feet to remind herself what was real, watched the way her own faded cotton dress, greenish with tiny brownish purple flowers, swayed in the wind above her muddy legs and bare feet. They’d run down from the house on the dirt path behind the outhouse, just after sunrise, pushing through thick bushes and red briars in the low light until they hit the small field clearing where the well was at. She was moving so fast to keep up with tall, leggy Virgie there weren’t time to be scared. All Mary’d had sense enough to do was keep hold of her pail and put an arm in front of her face to keep from getting too scratched up.
Now, standing in front of the well, watching the sun shine through the green-leafed maple trees and listening to the wind whistle through the stones, making the hanging rope bucket creak and move, Mary felt a hard lump in the middle of her belly, and clutched the handle of her pail until it bit into her hands. She had to go inside that big old well and clean it. Her eyes flicked over the outside stones. One side of the well was covered in moss. There were dead leaves crunched up and rotting around the edge, where it met the dirt. Least that’d clean up fine. She was more scared of going inside.
The well didn’t have no roof, just two big wood posts set into the stone, and a long wooden box with a crank on one end stretched across ’em and nailed down tight. The bucket dangled a few feet from the middle of the box, where the rest of the rope was at. Mary put her hand to the bottom of one of the posts. A couple black ants crawled up quick through her fingers, but she didn’t care about them. The grey stuff keeping the thick wood in place against the stones was hard and rough against her palm. Some of it came off in little crumbly bits as she poked her fingers around the edges.
“Hit’s the mortar,” Virgie told her quiet-like, coming up to stand beside her. “Daddy reckons it’ll need fixing in a couple years.”
“Oh,” Mary said, snatching back her hand like she was burned.
She was afraid to ask the questions on her mind – the ones that’d been on her mind ever since Flossie and Virgie told her the well’d be her main chore. When she was no more’n four or five – before Flossie was married, before Bonnie was underfoot, before Mama went to heaven – she’d watched her sisters walk back to the house after cleaning the well. She knew Virgie was always the one who went in, cause her face and arms and dress were smudged with black dirt and green slime, blond hair sticking to her sweaty forehead, knuckles and hands scrubbed raw from the lye.
Ain’t it scary to be down there in the dark alone? Hanging on to that rope with nothing to help you? How’s it s’posed to hold a body up?
She was brought out of her thinking when Virgie tapped her arm, maybe feeling how Mary was nervous, and said,
“Come on, Mary E, let’s go!”
As always — if you like what you read, back us or share about the project here!