T. F. TURNER - BUYER’S MARKET
T. F. Turner is an emerging writer living in New York, NY. When not writing, he spends his time teaching, working as a therapist, and studying psychology, religion, and grief.
1A year after being married, Maxine and her wife Minori left the city and moved into a modest one-story house located in Crestwood, a quiet little suburb full of winding streets, empty houses, and dead ends. Maxine hated Crestwood right from the start. She didn’t know why she hated it, only that something about it stirred some sort of primal unease in her. It wasn’t that Crestwood was dangerous. Quite the opposite actually. Crestwood was ranked as one of the safest neighborhoods still within a reasonable distance of the city, a fact that Minori frequently cited when arguing in favor of the move. “Plus,” she would add, “it’s a buyer’s market right now, so really this only increases our value.” And so, to give in to Minori’s insistence, and because it was a buyer’s market and all, Maxine moved to Crestwood. And she hated it.
Perhaps, she thought, it was due to her upbringing. Having lived in the city her entire life, Maxine had become accustomed to the sounds of overhead trains, speeding wheels and marching pedestrians. There was a beautiful duality to the sounds of the city. Rush hour commutes were a hellish mess of noise, but at night the sounds morphed into a soothing and mechanical lullaby, one whose comforting properties Maxine was unaware of until she was without it. Crestwood in comparison was sonically monotone. The days were just as quiet as the nights, and Maxine struggled to find any good sleep without the urban background noise she had become so used to.
But maybe there was another reason for her unease, as the city not only comforted her with its sounds, but molded her into a creature of caution. Crestwood, with its clean sidewalks and neat houses, revealed to Maxine no talons or fangs. No sense of underlying malice or danger. Maxine didn’t trust it; she knew better than to let her guard down. And so she remained on edge, living in a state of ever vigilance. That is until she found the well.
It happened like this: Maxine had just left the house to take Baseball, their pet beagle, for a walk. Now this walk wasn’t for Baseball as much as it was for Maxine. You see, after living together in Crestwood for four months, Maxine and Minori found themselves in a rut of sorts. Minori seemed more than content adapting to the slower paced life that the move brought about. Maxine on the other hand was becoming restless and bored. More so than that, a part of her resented Minori for convincing her to move in the first place, feeling as though she had in some way been coerced into a lifestyle more compatible with her partner than herself. Minori was undoubtedly experiencing her own frustration with Maxine’s refusal to adapt to the new living situation. Since neither of the two were confrontational types, they each took up strange behaviors of avoidance and passive aggression in response to this underlying tension. For Maxine, leaving the house under the guise of walking the dog had become her go to escape when things at home became a bit too much.
On the plus side of things, Baseball had never been healthier. But back to the walk.
The sun was setting, and the sky a calming orange. Neighbors pulled into their driveways, all coming home from the city. Across the street Maxine spotted fireflies dancing around a grassy traffic island. A man carrying groceries out of his trunk noticed Maxine and offered her a polite nod. Maxine returned it and sped past with trepidation.
She found the people of Crestwood, much like the homes that they lived in, to be suspiciously quaint. They appeared to her like beings from another period, and was certain that if she were to be invited into one of their homes she would find them decorated with shag rugs and antiquated teal furniture sets. Inside would be a wife in the kitchen whipping up a Jell-O salad, and children sitting around a television set with decorated wooden panels, intently attempting to discern the nature of the grainy black and white images before them. And sitting in a leather armchair would be a gentle father, cleaning his pipe and commenting on the weather. Maxine shuddered at the imagined scene, and continued onwards.
Once the park was in sight Baseball began to drag Maxine forward. She offered a gentle tug on the leash, and steered him towards the street with the abandoned houses. Lately she had become fond of this detour.
“We’ll go to the park soon,” she assured the beagle. “I just want another look.”
She was referring to one of the houses in particular, a monstrous mess of fading blue panels that stood in the middle of the block. Unlike the other houses on the block, which all gave off the impression that they were at one point impressive pieces of property, this house looked as though it had always been empty. Tall patches of dead grass had overtaken its front lawn, and its driveway had several large cracks running up it, spreading in a vein-like fashion towards a broken garage.
Maxine stopped in front of the house and stared at it, taking note of all of its specific failings as Baseball sniffed around the yard. She didn’t know why she kept coming back to the house. Only that there was some unexplainable nostalgia that emerged from within her whenever she looked at it. Something about the house, with its unwelcoming width and broken frames, seemed strangely familiar to her.
Her attempt to figure out this familiarity was cut short when she heard a muffled voice calling from the house’s direction. Scanning the side of the house and window frames for any movement, she saw only dusty ledges, untrimmed bushes, and broken windows. Just as she was about to convince herself that it was her imagination, she heard the voice again, this time louder. It was a thin voice, definitely female, and seemed to be calling someone’s name. Baseball stopped his scan of the front yard and stood up straight as the voice called out again.
“Baseball,” the voice called. “Baseball, come on!”
This time Maxine recognized the voice. Frail and whispery, yet attempting to convey authority and strength. It was a voice that demanded to be taken seriously despite its soft timbre. She knew this because the voice calling from the house was her own.
“Baseball!” her voice called out again. This time the beagle did move, dashing forward towards the side of the house. Startled by the sudden movement, Maxine lost hold of the leash, and in seconds Baseball had disappeared behind a dense tangle that had overtaken the house’s side. Without hesitation she followed Baseball onto the property. She neared the shrubs blocking the path, and began to step through the tangle. Jagged branches scratched at her exposed arms, causing her to quickly push herself through the shrubs, eventually stumbling into the backyard.
The yard was covered in dry yellow grass, and surrounded by a tall wooden fence littered with the remnants of white paint. A few assorted items were carelessly tossed about: a deflated basketball, a broken wicker chair next to an old umbrella, and every few feet or so a beer bottle snuggled in the grass. In the center of the yard Maxine saw Baseball, his behind facing her and little body panting loudly. And in front of Baseball was the well.
She was drawn to it immediately. It was an old looking thing, formed of moss covered stones carefully arranged in a wide circle. The stones were stacked three feet high, and sat under a crude wooden arch. Towards the top of the arch was a thin beam that may have once held a rope and wheel, yet the wood was far too decayed and rotted for one to really tell. Maxine inched closer to the well, appreciating its design and aesthetic, which reminded her of the wishing wells that often appeared in the European fairytales her older sister read to her when she was young. As she neared closer Baseball turned to her, his mouth open and tongue out, and let out a soft whimper. Maxine had almost forgotten that Baseball was there, and only looked at him briefly before moving closer to the well.
Something about it seemed so anachronistic, yet inviting to her. She stopped in front of the well and looked down at Baseball, who had just finished relieving himself. He made his way back to Maxine, and allowed her to pick up his leash. Maxine did a quick look around the yard for any other people. Someone had to be here, she thought. Yet she saw nobody, no source of the voice that had called Baseball’s name.
Maxine figured that she should leave before anyone did show up, but she wasn’t done with the well yet. She approached the well’s rim and placed her hand on one of the stones, feeling bumpy patches of moss and dirt spread about a smooth surface. She let her fingers linger on the stones a moment, and slowly she began to feel a soft warmth coming off of the stones, as if she had placed her hand on the back of a sleeping infant. Baseball pulled on the leash, attempting to pull Maxine away, but she offered a tug of resistance.
“Stop it,” she said to him softly. He whimpered.
Maxine wondered how deep the well went. She leaned forward to peer inside of the mouth, thinking that she might toss a coin in. But she didn’t see any water inside of the well. What she saw instead, she struggled to make any sense of. Inside of the well was a dark empty void, which began about five feet in, and was completely pitch black despite there being a significant amount of sunlight outside. It was as if at a certain point light simply ceased to exist, as if there was a physical barrier absorbing all light and reflecting none back, like an otherworldly black hole. Maxine stared into this darkness, utterly baffled by its existence.
Baseball barked loudly, but Maxine paid him no attention. She peered deeper into the blackness, and thought of maybe taking out her phone and using its flashlight to try to see more, but feared she might drop it in. Instead, she felt around the well’s mouth for a loose stone, eventually finding a grey pebble. She picked it up and dropped it into the well, hoping to see some sort of change.
The pebble fell for a few feet in visible space before passing through the dark barrier, silently disappearing into nothingness. Maxine was disappointed at first, yet quickly noticed that after the pebble passed through the barrier a swirl of darkness began to emerge from it. Various shades of grey and black moved around each other in unclear patterns. The shapes were hard to make out at first, yet she knew that some scene was playing out before her. She looked at the swirls more intensely, paying attention to the particular movements and nuanced differences in colors, and eventually noticed a rhythm in it all. It was something hard for her to rationally understand, but slowly all of the darkness began to take shape, and the images before her became lucid enough for her to grasp. She was becoming lost in it, absorbed in the play of shadow. Far away she heard Baseball bark again, but it was muffled and distorted, like the lingering words of a dream just passed.
2She saw a woman standing by a kitchen counter. Appearance wise, this woman looked exactly like Maxine. She had the same height, the same dark skin, and the same heavy look in the eyes. Yet stylistically, she wasn’t Maxine at all. She was wearing a sleeveless red dress, thin at the bottom with a fashionable V neck at the top, revealing more skin than Maxine was usually comfortable with. Her hair, which should have been dyed a shade of purple and cut short, was now longer and tied up in a braided twist, and her lipstick was a bright red. Maxine often avoided bright colored makeup, as she found natural tones matched her darker complexion better, but looking at the woman before her she had to admit that it looked good. Somehow this woman, this other her, had been able to pull off a style that Maxine thought would never suit her.
Maxine tried to look down at her own body for comparison, and was shocked to find that her own physical appearance had vanished completely. She tried to move her arms around, tried to kick in the air, but saw only the kitchen tiles below her, and the other her in front of her. She had lost her physical form and had become nothing but a pair of floating eyes viewing an unreal scene.
She watched as the other Maxine reached towards a kitchen cabinet to grab a bag of dog food. She pulled the heavy bag out with a grunt, and began to shake it.
“Baseball!” she shouted out, tossing the bag onto the kitchen counter. “Baseball, come on.” Maxine heard the sound of small feet scurrying across a tiled floor, and turned to see Baseball running down a hall towards her. Maxine tried to move out of the dog’s way, but was not fast enough, and closed her eyes in anticipation of a crash. Her heart sank as she noticed the dog pass right through where her feet should have been, moving straight through her and towards the other Maxine who had crouched down to pour the dog food into a nearby dish. After, she picked up a cell phone that was left on the counter and began to make a call.
Maxine watched this all in disbelief. The kitchen in front of her was not her own. Its marble counters looked heavy and expensive, and it's dark wooden cupboards contrasted with the silver of the fridge and dishwasher in a pleasant home magazine sort of way. The size of the space also dwarfed Maxine’s own kitchen significantly, as the room was large enough to form a comfortable square around a large kitchen island. Two entranceways connected to the room, and via a quick peep down one of the connecting halls Maxine could tell that she was not in a house, but an apartment most likely equal in value to Minori and Maxine’s home in Crestwood.
No, this was not her home at all, yet the dog in front of her was so clearly her Baseball, and the woman was so clearly her, yet so clearly not. Maxine felt ill and disoriented, and needed to find something that made sense, something to center herself with. She saw a window situated by the kitchen sink, and thought that perhaps looking out of it might help her figure out her current location.
Clearly neither Baseball nor the other Maxine could see her, so she wasn’t worried at all about whether or not she would have to explain her intrusion. What she was worried about was how exactly she was to move in the first place. With no physical body, she existed as a floating specter. She tried to take a step forward with no results, and instead tried to see if she could move herself in another way. She stared at the window she wished to look out of and, as much as anyone could do without a body, leaned forward. At first nothing happened, but as she continued to push herself in a forward motion eventually she did begin to float towards the window.
As she neared close enough she did a sudden jerk backwards in order to slow down and avoid floating outside of the apartment. When she was close enough she stopped and peered out of the window. The apartment was at least on the 10th floor, and was located in the middle of a large bustling modern city. She did a quick scan of the skyline before her, and soon enough recognizable images became apparent. The skyscrapers she often looked up to whenever she got out of the subway, the public park that her mother used to take her to, and the same boardwalk by the bay that she walked on during her summertime dates in high school. Indeed, this was her city, and somehow some other her was living in it.
“You’re fucking kidding me,” said the other her on the phone. “Don’t move, don’t do a thing. I’ll be right there,” she continued as she stormed out of the kitchen. Maxine could hear the other her shuffling around the room, picking up papers and a purse, followed by the sound of keys jangling. Maxine moved towards one of the hallways, but couldn’t move fast enough to catch up, nearing the bend just in time to see her other slam the front door shut.
She contemplated following her other through the door, but her coordination and control of her current spectral form was still far too underdeveloped. She found that she had to exert an extreme amount of effort just to move a few feet, and even then her movement was slow and imprecise, as though she was controlling a big lumbering tank rather than a human body. That considered, just the thought of following her other out of the apartment, into the hall, and into an elevator, or worse, a flight of stairs, tired her immensely. Besides, she figured that she ought to learn more about the world she had stumbled upon, and see if there was anything around the apartment that could clue her in on what was going on.
For the next half-hour she slowly made her way through the apartment. Connected to the kitchen was a lavishly decorated living room, overtaken with reds, whites, and greys. A large checkered rug took up most of the floor, and resting on the back wall was a home entertainment setup, complete with a flat screen and surround sound system all set within an oak cabinet.
Picture frames were littered about the room neatly, all depicting scenes both familiar and not. Maxine recognized her college graduation photo, as well as a four year old photo of her and her mother on vacation in Seoul. But other pictures revealed to her scenes entirely unfamiliar, most of which featured a man who looked about the same age as Maxine. The man was pale, had a thin frame and even thinner nose, and dressed often in blues and greens. There was one of her laughing with him in front of a Ferris wheel, one of her holding his arm on a park bench, another of the two at the beach smiling with drinks in hand. At first Maxine figured this man was perhaps a roommate of hers, but with each additional photo it became clearer that this man was a romantic partner. Of all the strange things Maxine saw in this other’s life, the fact that somehow there was a version of her out there still dating men struck Maxine as being strangest.
Maxine searched the apartment for more clues about this other life, yet doing so proved to be difficult in her current form. Although she was able to observe things and phase through the walls and doors of the apartment, she could not find any way to actually interact with any objects in this world. This meant that the apartment’s bathroom remained in eternal darkness, as it had only one small window which currently had a curtain over it, and Maxine could not find any way to turn on the room’s light. Similarly the bedroom only had half of a curtain drawn over its window, offering Maxine just enough light to peek at a few objects here and there. There was a writing desk in the corner by a large closet, and several drawers and dressers which Maxine desperately wished that she could ruffle through.
Before leaving the room she floated closer to the desk. It was covered in envelopes and handwritten notes, and from what Maxine could see most of these had to do with bills or some sort of financial contracts, the true nature of which she could not tell at a surface level glance. What she did notice, though, was a calendar next to a digital clock on the desk, which revealed that the day’s date had not changed. Maxine’s mind ran through a dozen science fiction plots before she was certain that wherever she was, she was no longer in her own universe, but another parallel one. How she got here, she did not know. And worst, she had no idea of how to get back.
The sound of keys entering the front door distracted her from the thought, and like an anxious child hoping to avoid getting caught snooping in their parents’ bedroom she quickly maneuvered back towards the living room. Heavy footsteps came her way, and soon enough she was face to face with the mystery man. He was carrying a small backpack and wearing a navy blue suit, and made his way to the kitchen. As he flung his backpack onto the kitchen counter, Baseball emerged to greet him. He bent down and rubbed the dog, and Maxine positioned herself closer to get a better look.
He was a good looking man. Although it had been nearly a decade since she had been with one, she had to admit that he had an appealing quality to him. It wasn’t just his physical features either, but the way he walked, the way he bent down to softly touch Baseball, the fluid way in which he moved back to unzip his backpack and pull out used lunch containers, all revealed an attractive ease to him.
The man made his way to the fridge and opened it. He stared inside for a minute before closing it and heading back to the living room. He then sat down on the sofa and reached for the nearest book on the coffee table before him. The man turned towards a page about a quarter in and began to read. At first Maxine attempted to read over his shoulder in order to find out what the book was about, yet when this proved to be too difficult she instead moved herself towards the coffee table, and simply watched him read. This, she was ashamed to admit, she did with pleasure. She found a voyeuristic joy in watching someone while they thought they were alone. In a strange way it made her feel powerful and strong. As if she was the sole holder of some perverse secret.
She had lost track of time, and didn’t know how long the two of them had been together, him with his book and her with him, before the other her returned. She bursts through the door in a whirlwind of energy, and despite her loud steps her partner remained unmoved. When she entered the room she greeted her partner briefly, forgoing any use of a first name and instead launching into a frantic rant that Maxine could only assume related to the previous phone conversation.
Maxine struggled to follow anything her other was saying. Unknown places and names were used, and her other’s speaking pattern was so chopped and disjointed that she couldn’t tell if the woman was happy, angry, or frustrated, let alone who or what those emotions were directed towards. On top of it all, Maxine’s head began to feel fuzzy and heavy. The room around her started to sway in a strange way, and the lights dimmed as her other rattled on about indiscernible events. Eventually the man put his book back onto the coffee table and spoke for the first time.
“So, are we ordering in tonight?” he asked with a curiously tired voice, and Maxine fell unconscious.
When she awoke it was nighttime, and she was sitting in the grass with her back leaned against the well. Baseball sat in front of her, his head lightly resting on his two front paws. As Maxine slowly inched forward and got onto her feet the dog sprung up, disorienting Maxine. She wasn’t too sure where she was, which dog was in front of her, and her legs felt weak and unreal. A spell of dizziness quickly came and passed as Maxine’s senses rebooted, and after a few steps she was able to recall what had happened with clarity. The well, the other her, and the expensive apartment. Was it a dream? Maxine quickly dismissed the notion. Whatever it was, it was real, and it scared Maxine immensely. She suddenly felt that it was urgent that she leave the yard, as if her discovery of the well had somehow put her own life at risk.
She looked down at Baseball, whose tail was wagging with excitement at her return. If there was danger nearby, the dog clearly did not sense it. Still, Maxine felt unsafe. With great caution she picked up Baseball’s leash and hurried towards the side of the house. The thick shrubbery that she once struggled through was soon in site, but Maxine froze upon feeling a tingle along her spine. She sensed someone behind her, watching her quietly, yet was too afraid to turn around to confirm this. For some reason she figured that if she didn’t turn around, if she didn’t see whatever or whoever was watching her, didn’t see the well resting there in the moonlight, she would be safe. All she had to do was not turn around.
“Don’t look,” she repeated to herself quietly.
She didn’t look. Instead she picked up her speed, breaking into a fast dash towards the side of the house. After a few moments of struggling through the bushes she was once again in the front yard of the home. She made her way to the sidewalk and continued to move at a quick pace. The streetlights lit the neighborhood before her with a bluish white glow, and once she made her way back to the populated blocks she saw orange and yellow lights emanating from homes. Families were most likely preparing for dinner, although Maxine really had no idea what time it was.
“Sorry about the park,” she said to Baseball as they turned onto their own block. “Next time.” She spoke out loud to try to break the uneasy stillness present. Although she no longer felt in danger, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched. Maybe it was the neighbors hiding behind their curtains, or a dangerous vagrant in the bushes, or something else. Something from the well, something that had followed her back to her own world. Soon she saw her own home in site, and Baseball began to walk faster once he recognized it. “Poor thing,” thought Maxine, realizing he must be starving. Maxine made her way to the front steps and took out her house keys.
Now on her home turf, she began to feel more secure, and so before she opened the front door she gathered the courage to turn around and see if anyone was in fact watching her. Taking a deep breath, she jerked back and looked behind her. She saw no vagrants or monsters, no nosey neighbors or strange phantoms. All she saw was the same quiet street as always. But, of course, it wasn’t the same, and in an odd way she felt vindicated by this. Crestwood had revealed something to her. Something bizarre and unreal, justifying her initial vigilance and distrust.
After months of suspicion, she thought, Crestwood was finally making sense.
3 Minori was in her usual spot when Maxine and Baseball entered: sitting on the living room couch, her legs crossed and dressed in track pants and a light t-shirt. The T.V was off, and a book rested in-between her thighs. Maxine took this as a bad sign. Minori only ever read when she was angry about something.
Lately, she had become quite the reader.
Upon hearing Maxine approach Minori closed the book and tossed it onto a nearby coffee table. She didn’t look at Maxine as she spoke.
“Where were you?” she asked.
“Taking Baseball for a walk.” Maxine had already decided that she would not tell Minori about the well. Not because she feared Minori wouldn’t believe her. She just wanted something for herself.
“It’s 8:45 Maxine. You’ve been walking for three hours?”
Minori didn’t believe her, but knew that pressing the topic at the current moment wouldn’t do either of them any good. She instead switched topics.
“Have you thought about painting then?” she said with a smile, now looking at Maxine.
“What?” stumbled Maxine, unsure of what Minori was referring to. Then like a splash of cold water it came back. Earlier that day the two of them had been discussing if they should paint Minori’s home office, and if so what color. Despite its banal content the talk had a tense tone to it. At one point Maxine’s phrasings became somewhat combative, which took Minori by surprise. Before she could work up the courage to address it Maxine was reaching for Baseball’s leash, saying that she’d be back shortly.
“Oh, yeah,” said Maxine. “Yeah, painting is fine. Just let me know when I guess.”
Minori looked unmoved by her answer and reached for her book again. “Well, if you’re going to take him for a walk so late, not that I mind of course, he needs the exercise, but if you’re going to do that at least take your phone with you. I was worried.”
“Oh, yeah I’m sorry I just left in such a… yeah sorry. My bad.”
Minori was reading her book again, barely paying attention. “There’s pasta on the stove,” she said after a few moments of silence. “If you want.”
That night Maxine dreamt of the ocean, and being able to breathe underwater. She also dreamt of her mother, and walking with Minori in a shopping mall as a teenager, and also of an old stone well standing alone in a vacant field. As she approached the well a cold greyish hand began to emerge from it, inviting her to come closer and take a look inside. It was the best night of sleep she had gotten since the move.
Three days later and she returned to the well.
It was a Tuesday, and so Maxine was working from her office in the city. She worked in photography, and while she liked to think of it as being an artistic line of work most of her day involved taking stock pictures for various advertisers. Fortunately while the majority of her responsibilities uninterested her, there was just enough excitement every now and then to keep her engaged with the whole affair. As a plus, she got to spend time in the city, away from Crestwood.
Minori on the other hand was a UI designer and worked primarily from home. She had transformed a spare bedroom in their Crestwood home into a cozy office, and recently spent more time there than any other part of the house. Maxine had no idea how she could spend so much time hidden away in a little home office without going mad. Yet Maxine had always been the more restless one of the two. As soon as Maxine felt stuck, or the days felt monotonous, she just had to do something new to shake up the routine.
She was feeling stuck the day she visited the well again. She didn’t mean to do it either; originally she had just been aimlessly driving around the neighborhood after work, hoping she’d suddenly think of something to pick up from the supermarket or maybe get a sudden call from a friend. Really, she was just killing time, hoping something, anything would happen before it got too late and she would have to go back home. And then, without even noticing, she was on the street with the abandoned houses. And like an answer to a question, there was the house.
She got out of the car and did a quick scan of the block to make sure no one was watching, and upon confirmation she moved towards the house’s side and squeezed through the bushes. When she reached the other side she half-expected the yard to be completely vacant, and thought that life would be simpler if she had in fact imagined it all. But there was the well. For a split second her heart skipped a beat, and she considered turning around, but the anxiety passed as soon as it came. Quickly she hurried to the well, got on her knees, and looked inside.
The lights were dim, and disorienting sounds assaulted Maxine’s senses. Dozens of voices all talking at once, forks and knives scraping against glass plates, and radio friendly pop-music playing above her. A waiter was rushing towards a table behind Maxine, and made his way right through her. Although she felt no physical sensation from this, the experience itself made her squirm. She scanned the restaurant, looking for a face like her own.
Maxine then saw them in the back sitting in a booth. She was wearing a white button-down tucked into a black pencil dress, and in front of her sat a curly headed woman with thick glasses and a wide smile. Between them was a pitcher of sangria; next to that their unopened menus. A waiter came over and they talked for a brief moment. Her other said something apparently funny and everyone laughed. The waiter then left, and they both reached for their menus. Maxine slowly floated closer.
She stopped right before the booth, and upon closer inspection realized that this other her was not the same other her as the last time. While the other her had hair in a long braid, this one had much shorter twists, some of them dyed a golden color. Several tattoos covered her right forearm, and she wore an assortment of spiked jewelry and studded armbands. This new her gave off a completely different vibe from the other, less lounge and more dive bar. As the curly headed woman reached across the table to touch the new her’s arm while laughing, Maxine realized that she was witnessing a date.
“We’re never coming back here again” said the other Maxine.
“Why come?” asked the woman. The phrasing made the other giggle, and Maxine couldn’t tell if this was a deliberate joke or a slur due to alcohol.
“The staff is too attractive, they’ll steal me away from you.”
“Well, I’m sure they’ll bring you back once they get to know you.”
The other Maxine let out a loud cackle and put down her menu. The woman smiled. “They have too many options. What are you getting?” she asked.
“I’m not telling.”
“You’re not telling me?”
“Nope.” The other Maxine leaned back in her seat with a grin. “Not telling. You’ll know when I order it.”
“And why is this a secret?”
“Because,” she said, stressing the syllables, “You’ll just try to make me get something you’re interested in and then we’ll end up sharing plates.”
“What’s wrong with that? That way we both get to taste a different thing.”
“Well I don’t want to eat what you order, and sometimes I don’t want to share a whole plate. Sometimes I want you to eat what you order and for me to eat what I order.”
“Okay okay, no micromanaging meals. Got it.”
Maxine smiled and reached for her glass. “So what are you ordering?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Okay Gwen, but when the waitress comes you’re ordering first.”
The conversation continued in such an inane fashion, but Maxine still watched it unfold with great interest. She found it odd that this other her was so alike, and yet so different from herself. She too hated having others eat off her plate. Still, she could never see herself actually bringing that up during a meal; especially not with such a playful attitude about it. Maxine had a tendency to take things seriously, especially when they involved things her partner did that she found annoying. To be able to address such a complaint without getting worked up or anxious was something she had yet to master.
Why, then, were these other hers so different? At what points, what crossroads or junctures, did she stop being the Maxine that she was and become these other women? What incidents or choices led her to become bolder, living in the city, romantically involved with a men, and on playful dates? The questions clouded her mind, and soon she found that she was losing focus of the conversation before her. Words became harder to follow, and the room began to grow dimmer and blurrier, and soon the entire world slipped away and left her in darkness.
When she woke up she was once again sitting on the grass, her back resting on the well. She checked her phone; saw that only an hour had passed. Still, it was enough lost time that Minori might be suspicious, and so while on her way back to the car Maxine tried to think of a good lie to help cover her actions. She decided that the often used “caught up at work” would be easy and plausible, so she went with that. She had just finished working out all of the little details of the narrative when she pulled up to her driveway, certain that the story was foolproof.
When Maxine got home Minori was in her office, looking over emails on her laptop. The two exchanged half-hearted greetings, and Maxine was disappointed to find that Minori didn’t ask her where she had been the past hour. It was as if she didn’t notice, or possibly didn’t care. For the sake of their relationship Maxine chose to believe in the former, and so she decided to use the excuse anyway.
“Sorry I’m late by the way, I got caught up looking over a couple of reshoots,” she shouted from the kitchen.
“That’s fine,” shouted back Minori. And that was that.
Maxine made a vegetable lasagna that night for dinner, but Minori opted for a small salad instead. As Maxine did the dishes Minori snuck upstairs to the bedroom, and by the time Maxine had put the lasagna into the fridge Minori had fallen asleep.
Feeling lonely and frustrated, Maxine snuck into Minori’s office that night and masturbated on top of her work desk. As she was coming, a vision of the well flashed quickly in her mind, like an out of place frame hidden in the reel of a film.
4Her trips to the well became more frequent after that.
The routine went as such: Maxine would leave work an hour early, often on a Monday or a Friday since there was often less to do those days. She would drive from the city back to Crestwood, back to the block where the abandoned house was, and then drive a few blocks past that and leave her car by the park to avoid suspicion. She would then walk to the house and squeeze through the side to the backyard, where the well patiently waited.
Every time she entered, she would observe a different version of herself. Interestingly, she soon realized that in these worlds that she was viewing, the only thing different was the fact that she was not the version of herself that she was now. Places, locations, and names were all the same as the world that she knew, but she was always different. Similarly, the time of day always seemed to coincide with the time of day in which she entered the well, and no alternate versions of her ever seemed to live too far from her current area, suggesting some sort of temporal or spatial connection between Maxine and the other hers she was dropping in on.
Concerning the other hers, while all of them were different from each other, these differences sometimes ranged from minor to drastic shifts in lifestyle and living conditions. Not once did Maxine ever drop in on the same her twice, but oftentimes she would visit variations of alternate versions of herself. For example, sometimes she would view a variation of the her she witnessed living in the apartment in the city, yet the other would be dating a different man or sometimes a woman, or be completely single and have more pets or a different pet or no pets at all. Some of the hers lived in other parts of the city, and appeared to have more bohemian artsy lives. They dressed in blacks and wore big boots and had tattoos and took pictures of naked people in studio apartments. Some hers were accomplished individuals, and put on gallery shows full of their photos. Others sold art in the park. Some had office jobs, one was a chef, and one time she dropped in on a her shooting a threesome, behind the camera that is.
Other hers weren’t doing nearly as good. One of them was living with an abusive boyfriend, while another still lived with her parents, and one was even homeless. These windows into lives clearly worse than her own certainly humbled Maxine, and made her feel fortunate to at least be in a place where she felt safe and secure. Yet still, on days when she was fed up with the monotony of her relationship, these views offered her an escape. Sure, things could always be worse, yet there were worlds out there, variations of her existence in which things were also better. And if not better, then at least they were different. And sometimes different is all she was really looking for.
Some differences however were harder to watch than others. For Maxine, these were the worlds that included Minori. In these alternate lives, she has seen her and Minori living in the city, lounging on a couch and laughing together. She’s seen the two of them going for a walk in the park, Maxine walking Baseball and Minori licking an ice cream cone. She’s seen them in Crestwood even, holding a barbecue for their friends, Minori on the grill and Maxine entertaining the guests. She’s even seen an alternate her come home from work only to trip over a tricycle left by the doorway, nearly toppling over. She caught herself however, and right before cursing out loud saw Minori on the couch across from her, and sitting on her lap a toddler reading a book.
Maxine couldn’t handle these sights. Seeing different lives that she could be living worked as a suitable escape from her life with Minori, yet having to think about ways that things with Minori could be different, could potentially even be better, unnerved her so. Whenever she would drop in on these alternate worlds, she would only spend a few moments at maximum before leaving.
Leaving, it turns out, was actually quite an easy process. Sometime during her fourth trip Maxine realized that if she simply unfocused her eyes and stopped paying attention to the world and sounds around her, her entire view would become a dark blur, and eventually her thoughts would slow down and she would enter a light sleep. When she awoke, she always found herself in the usual position sitting against the well. On average she spent around two to three hours in the well every visit, and when she got home she would tell Minori that she had to work late, and Minori would always believe her. Or at least, if she didn’t, she never said anything about it, instead choosing to talk about whatever ongoing project she was working on or what the dinner plans were.
On days she was feeling extra daring, or extra restless, Maxine would take Baseball for another walk late at night, and head to the well. Crestwood at night no longer scared her, and she would march down the dark empty blocks with confidence. She no longer thought about the neighbors and their watchful eyes. She let them be with their quiet secret ways, for now she had her own secret, and understood just how valuable such a thing was.
Maxine liked stepping in on her others at night time. It was then that she saw them during their most intimate moments. Watching tv in bed with a partner, talking to someone on the phone, reading quietly or masturbating in a bathtub. These visits made her feel closer to them. Made her feel less alone. Yet due to the time constraints of not wanting to be out for too long, and wanting to give her others some privacy, she rarely stayed in these moments for more than a few minutes. Sometimes, just dropping by to say hello was enough. When she would come back, she would find Baseball waiting patiently in front of the well, obedient but clearly unsettled. Maxine would rub Baseball’s head to calm him, certain that these midnight expeditions would remain between the two of them. On the walk back home, Maxine would feel a peace inside that she never knew, and would pray that this time, this secret, this well, would remain hers and only hers forever.
This went on for 3 months, right through a blistering summer and into the start of fall. Leaves started to turn, and in the air hints of a coming northern chill. Maxine began to wear a light jacket on her late night trips to the well, which had by then become nightly jogs, as Minori began to question taking Baseball out so late. Maxine didn’t mind coming up with new lies to cover up her actions, and for the most part Minori barely seemed to question her lack of presence in the house. Still, once it would get really cold, Maxine figured that it would be harder to explain being out so late. This would especially be true once winter hits. How could she explain an hour long run through a snowstorm? What new excuses or events could she come up with to justify her absence? Or would she have to abstain from the well completely during the colder months? The thought didn’t sit well with her; fortunately, she thought to herself, there was enough time to prepare for this. She was sitting on the couch mulling all of this over when Minori entered the living room and tossed an envelope onto Maxine’s lap.
“What’s this?” she asked, her voice sharp and thin. Maxine was taken aback by her tone, and slowly picked up the envelope.
“Looks like mail.” Said Maxine.
“Wow. Genius, really smart there Max…”
“Okay, okay, what is it? What’s going on?”
“Just open it.” Maxine opened the envelope and took out the piece of paper folded inside. It was a traffic ticket, complete with a picture of the back of Maxine’s car, running a red and license plate on full display.
“Fuck,” whispered Maxine. “I’m sorry”
“Oh yeah? You’re sorry?”
“Look I know I said it wouldn’t happen again…”
“It’s not even about…”
“I didn’t even see this one…”
“Its not about the ticket Max!”
Maxine leaned back and looked closer at Minori. Her hair, usually neatly brushed, was frayed and messy. Her eyes looked deep and piercing, her cheeks rosy. “What’s this about then?” she asked.
“Look at the date.” Maxine looked at the date and time that the photo was taken. Minori continued as Maxine read through the details. “It’s a Friday. A Friday at 4pm. And look at the location of the camera. I know this street, Max. This is the intersection near the supermarket. The one here in town.” She waited for Maxine to respond, hoping that she wouldn’t have to ask the obvious question. Maxine only sat there in cold silence, like a child waiting to hear her punishment. “Maxine, what were you doing near Crestwood at 4pm on a Friday? On a day you told me you had to work late?”
“I was taking a break.”
“Taking a break?”
“Taking a break in fucking Crestwood? Do you know how crazy that sounds?”
“Why’s that so crazy?” snapped Maxine. “Crestwood is… peaceful, isn’t it Minori?” she asked, pronouncing each word with a sharp edge.
“Who takes a break nearly an hour away from work? What the hell were you doing by the market Max? Meeting someone?”
“No. I was alone.”
“You weren’t with anyone?”
“I was with myself.”
“Oh, okay, cool. So you do this often then? These random trips out of the city in the middle of work days? Pretty uh, pretty routine for you then?” Their voices were getting louder.
“Yeah actually, I like the breaks. It’s really nice to just get away sometimes, you know? Away from work, away from the house, away from… you ought to try it sometime you know?”
“Away from… what Max? Away from me?
“That’s not what I said. Don’t twist-”
“I know what you’re saying Max. You like to get away from the house. I get it, I totally fucking get it. And you know what, I’ve been cool with it, haven’t I? I let you take your little weird dog walks at night, and I don’t say shit about it.”
“Yeah,” said Maxine, annoyed. “You’ve been cool, but…”
“I don’t question your night jogs or even you coming home later, which I knew was bullshit of course, I just didn’t know it was this level of bullshit!”
“It’s not bullshit okay! I just can’t, can you give me a minute to think?”
“Look, I know you regret this house, this move…”
“Oh for fucking God’s sake is this where it’s going again?”
“ I know you are struggling here, and I know that part of that is because of me and my wants. And I have been trying Maxine to be accommodating and helping you adjust as much as possible…”
“I told you I’m not angry at you for the move, it’s just…”
“But when you act like a little…child sometimes…”
“Can you give me a minute to talk? Is it my turn now?”
“And act like you didn’t agree to this too. That you didn’t sign up for this too, cause you did!”
“I know I did!” shouted Maxine, overpowering Minori. “I know I did. And I’ve been adjusting in my own way.”
“Adjusting?” said Minori, almost laughing. “Adjusting how?”
“I told you. I take breaks. I go for walks.”
“Around where Maxine?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because? Because what? Who are you with Maxine?”
“No one. I’m by myself.”
“No. You’re wrong.”
“Then what, Maxine? What? What is it?”
Maxine struggled to think of what to say, struggled to think of a way out of this, but slowly the reality began to sink in. She would either have to reveal the truth, or see whatever was left between her and Minori fade away. A part of her was certain that it was already faded, and was close to walking out of the room and leaving for good. But another, louder part of her said otherwise. It told her to stay. It told her that whatever was there was worth fighting for. And so she offered one last plea before submission.
“Please…,” she squeaked out. “Let me have this Minori. Please.”
Minori stared at her, her face a mix of frustration and bewilderment. Eventually she shook her head slowly, and when she spoke she looked at the floor. “I just can’t trust you then.”
There was a silence for a while. This time, Maxine would be the one to break it.
“Fine,” she said. “Follow me.”
5The two didn’t talk as they made their way through the empty streets. The sun was going down, and the sky had a serene orange glow that reminded Maxine of the first day she discovered the well. As they walked Minori was certain that Maxine was leading her to the home of a neighbor, and kept her eyes open for any familiar attractive faces. She was surprised, then, when the two of them stopped in front of an abandoned house, and Maxine started to approach its side.
“Max?” she said.
Minori did, and the two entered the backyard. “Isn’t this trespassing?”
“Probably. But look,” said Maxine, pointing at the well. “There it is.”
“There what is?”
“The well. Go look into it.”
Minori gave Maxine a suspicious look. “You want me to go look into the well?”
“I promise you Minori, if you look into the well I will explain everything to you. You’re just going to have to take my word on this one.”
“Why are you being so ridiculous? Why can’t you just-”
“Please, you just have to trust me. Please Minori.”
Minori looked at Maxine, and although she felt the whole situation was ridiculous, she decided to play along. “You’re not going to push me in, are you?” Maxine shook her head, and Minori gave an exhausted shrug and walked over to the well. Maxine watched from afar as she approached it and leaned forward to look in.
“I don’t see anything Max. It’s all dark,” she said after a few moments.
“Keep looking. Just keep looking and stay focused.”
“What? Well I…,” she started before her voice trailed off. “Wait a minute, something is happening. I see something.”
“This is… weird.”
Maxine then watched a process that her own body must have gone through dozens of times already, now able to see what it looked like from the outside. Slowly, Minori’s body began to lose color, and the light around her seemed to go right through her, causing her frame to become a greyish shadow. Her clothes, skin, and hair all became clear and translucent, and through ghostly layers Maxine could see Minori’s muscle tissue as her outer layers flickered in and out. Then, the muscles too began to fade away, leaving nothing but organs and a skeletal frame, and then soon her whole body was a ghostly form, each layer of skin and muscle all translucent and flickering in and out of focus. Her being was so faint, so thin that if one were to look into the lot quickly they would see only Maxine standing there, her mouth agape and expression horrified. One would have to look at the well and squint hard to see what was left of Minori, and even then they might convince themselves that what they saw was merely a trick of the light.
Minori’s body eventually stabilized, growing no dimmer or fainter, but staying at a consistent ghostly flicker. Maxine figured that this meant that Minori was now fully in the other world, and sat down on the grass and waited for her to return. As she sat she thought about the well, and for the first time ever found herself questioning its actual nature. Who built it? Was it a creation of the previous home’s owners, or was it here before the house was built? Before Crestwood itself was built? Did its magical properties affect only a select few, or everyone who encountered it? What would happen if the media, if the government knew about it? Physicists and philosophers and theologians would crowd Crestwood, conducting experiments, entering debates; parking would become hellish. She’d have to move then. Even Minori would agree with that. Eventually, though, her mind turned to more serious questions, such as what would happen between her and Minori now. Would Minori understand now that she too knew what was in the well? Or, more importantly, did she even want Minori to understand in the first place.
Almost an hour later and Minori’s body began to flicker in and out of focus more rapidly. In a strange ballet like twirl, Minori’s body turned around and softly floated up, and then downwards, her back gently landing on the stone well. Throughout this motion color returned to her, and her form became solid once again, until she was back to normal, sitting in the grass resting against the well. Maxine watched this all in awe.
“Minori,” she whispered. “Minori.”
Minori’s eyes opened, and her eyes darted around the yard in a panic. It was dark outside, and she was clearly disoriented. Maxine called her name again, and their eyes met. They stared at each other for a while, and as the look of confusion left Minori’s eyes it was soon replaced by one that Maxine recognized as sadness. Without a word Minori stood to her feet, and hurried past Maxine and through the bushes. Maxine, unsure of what to do, stayed sitting there for a few more minutes. When she got home she found Minori asleep in their bed, and so she opted to sleep on the living room couch instead. It seemed like the safer option.
Maxine awoke to the smell of coffee. She leaned forward a bit, her leg hanging off of the couch’s edge, and saw Minori sitting on the armchair across from her. Her legs were crossed, and she held a mug gently in her hands. Minori’s eyes were softer, not piercing like they were last night. They weren’t welcoming or forgiving either, but in them Maxine picked up on a sense of understanding, and a willingness to talk. Maxine felt calmer by them.
“Been awake long?” asked Maxine.
“Didn’t sleep much, if I’m being honest.” Even her voice was softer than before. “Mind if I join you?”
Maxine shook her head, and scooched over on the couch as Minori made her way over. They turned to each other again, and Maxine couldn’t help but smile.
“You look tired,” said Minori, and then she patted her lap. Maxine leaned downward and let her head rest comfortably in Minori’s lap, and curled the rest of her body into a cozy fetal position. Minori began to stroke Maxine’s hair back, and Maxine felt like she could melt right there.
“Maxie,” said Minori, “Do you think this was a mistake?”
“Do I think what was a mistake?”
“The house. The marriage. Us. Us here, together in this place?”
“The house? Maybe. The marriage? I don’t know. Us? I don’t think so.” Maxine looked up to Minori. “What about you?”
“I don’t know either.”
“I love you Minori. And I’m pretty sure you love me, but…”
“You’re wondering if that’s enough? That two people love each other?” It was rare for Minori to know exactly what Maxine was thinking. Maxine took it as a sign that Minori was thinking the same thing. “Yeah, I’m wondering if loving you is enough.”
“Well, we love each other. So I guess we should figure this all out huh? I guess there’s stuff we should be talking about.”
“Yeah, I guess there is,” admitted Maxine. There was a moment of silence. Not uncomfortable, awkward silence, no. Something more serene. More comforting.
“Maxie,” said Minori. “You know, if this is going to work out, I mean, if we want it to work out, you know we can never go to that well ever again. You know that, don’t you?”
Maxine paused. She knew it was true. In fact, once she heard Minori say it, she realized that she had always known this truth. She always knew that in the end, it would come between the well and Minori. “Yeah,” she said eventually. “I know.”
“That thing will destroy us Maxie.”
“Yeah,” she said again. “Yeah. It will.”
Minori smiled to herself, and tapped Maxine’s cheek playfully. “Hey, want some coffee?”
“Sure. If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” said Minori. “And then, at some point today, we should talk.”
Maxine nodded in Minori’s lap. “Yeah. We should talk.”
Things were different after that morning. The two of them began to talk, which was easier in concept than execution. Having become so accustomed to ignoring their own wants and quieting their dissatisfactions, any attempt to address them in an open and honest way took extreme effort, and often was handled in the clumsiest of ways. Although they both continuously agreed that they were making progress, things weren’t always good. There were fights, screaming and shouting. Winter was particularly rough, and during one week Maxine packed up her things and stayed with a friend in the city. No, it was not easy at all. But in the end, they would talk, and move on. They ended up staying in Crestwood, and by the time spring came around if you were to ask them how they were getting along, they’d say “just fine,” and most of the time they would mean it. And most importantly, neither of them returned to the well.
In fact, over time Maxine slowly began to think about the well less and less, until eventually it was nearly erased from all memory. And whenever she did happen to be reminded of it, it felt more like remembering a dream, and not even her own dream at that, but one that someone else had told her. That was until one spring evening when she happened to ride her bike passed the house.
A moving truck was parked in front of the old thing, and two men were carrying boxes to the front door of the house. Two little girls, neither any older than 10, sat on the house’s front lawn, and parked in the driveway was a red SUV. An older woman wearing jeans and a yellow blouse leaned against the SUV, and turned to see Maxine. Maxine considered speeding up and peddling past the house, but the woman offered a polite wave, and so Maxine slowed down and peddled towards the sidewalk.
As she neared closer she saw that the house itself had changed dramatically. It had been painted a light blue, the tiles and roof and windows were all repaired, and the grass was green. The house looked healthy, and Maxine was surprised to find that seeing the house looking this way made her feel warm inside. Like coming across an old friend, and finding that they were in a better place now than when you last saw them. She was happy for the house, and thought that maybe all of this time all it needed was a little bit of attention and a loving family to fill it up.
Maxine got off of her bike and pulled it up on the sidewalk. “Moving in?” she asked.
“Yep,” said the woman cheerily. “Are you from the neighborhood?”
“Just a few blocks around the corner. How’re you liking Crestwood?”
The woman flashed a nervous smile. “Its… quiet,” she said shyly. “But it's nice. It's our first house you know, we used to be in an apartment and just… I mean look at all this space right? It's funny though, you know you’re actually the first person we’ve seen out and about.”
“Yeah,” said Maxine. “It can be sort of dead around here sometimes. But you get used to it. Me and my partner only moved in a year or so ago too.”
“Oh, I’m Abbey,” said the woman, and she extended her hand. Maxine introduced herself. “Over there are my two little ones, that’s Lacey pulling the flowers out of the ground, and the other is Carol. My husband must be somewhere in the house…” Abbey trailed off as she looked around the yard. “Well anyway, you and your husband ought to come by sometime! We could use some neighborhood friends.”
“Right,” said Maxine. “I’ll pass the invite along to Minori. I’m sure she’ll be pleased to meet you.” Abbey looked confused for a moment, but before she could respond Maxine had interjected. “You know, I remember hearing, from others in the neighborhood, that this house had a well in its backyard.”
“Yeah. Like an old wishing well. Like the ones from old fantasy stories. I had always wanted to see it, you know, just out of curiosity.”
“Huh,” said Abbey, “well there is no well out there right now.”
“Yeah, the backyard’s totally flat and all. You know, the place was renovated recently, they must have filled the thing in or something.”
“Safety hazard maybe?”
“Yeah, I mean I don’t want to be known in the neighborhood as the lady whose kids fell down a well, right?” Abbey chuckled and Maxine forced a smile. “Well... well or no well, we probably would have taken this place anyway. Between you and me, the deal we got was an absolute steal.”
“Yeah,” said Maxine nodding with disinterest. “Buyers market and all that, right?”
“You know, to be honest, I’m not really too sure what that even means. Real estate was never my thing.”
“Yeah,” said Maxine. “I guess I don’t really know what it means either.” They smiled at each other. “Well I should let you get your move on, it was nice meeting you.”
“Absolutely, don’t be a stranger then.”
Maxine got back on her bike and peddled away. As she did, she wondered about the well. Was it really taken down due to renovations? A part of her didn’t believe it, couldn’t imagine the well letting anyone take it down. No, more likely, she felt that it simply left on its own. Perhaps somewhere out there, in another quiet sleepy neighborhood, in the backyard of another abandoned house, the well appeared. And there it waits, calling out names until someone eventually comes by and looks in. She shuddered at the thought, and planned on sharing it with Minori when she got home, but by the time she put her bike away in the backyard and entered through the back door the thought was gone, replaced instead by the rich smell of the curry that Minori had begun to make for that night’s dinner.
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