Nevan was standing now, his arm raised, pointing. 'That man over there,' he said, frowning. Maeve turned to look, but there was no man to be seen.
'Honestly, Nevan. Don't be shitting me. I'm stark naked for fuck's sake.'
Nevan knew that, only too well. He'd flicked his eyes from the loopy looking man by the pump house to her long, dripping body for only a split second, and when he'd looked back, the man was gone.
'He was fuckenwell there, Mae. A tard-lookin twat with no shirt on.'
She rested her hands on her smooth hips and looked at the pump house.
'What was he doin?'
'Must've run round back... where'd the cunt go?'
'Nevan! What was he doin?'
Nevan had started to walk toward the pump house. Wherever this shifty looking perve had gone, he would sort his shit out for him.
'He was just lookin, Mae. Just standin there lookin. Bleedin cunt.'
She half covered herself with her hands, glanced at her discarded togs on the rocks by her towel.
'This is important, Nevan,' she said, her voice wavering just a little. 'What was he doin?'
His foot slid on a loose rock, his steps unheeded in wanting to keep his eyes on where the man no longer was. The sharp edge cut deep. He swore, looked down at the damage.
'For fuck's sake, Mae! He was just standin there, no shirt on, baggy dacks, arms by his side at first, like a fucken halfwit, gettin himself an eyeful of my girl. Then the cunt starts wavin me over, like he's goin to tell me somethin. I'll tell him fucken somethin, aye.'
She hesitated. The sound of grinding stones and rocks moving beneath Nevan's bare feet annoyed her, stopped her thinking straight. She wanted him to just stop still and let her order her mind for a second...
'Where the fuck do you think you're goin with your dick all out and all?' she demanded.
'To sort that twat the fuck out, you'll see.'
'Put some pants on, Nev. And... Just come back here.'
He stopped. Turned. His face a rictus.
'Do you think i'm lettin some daft cunt perve on my girl in the nud without him gettin a fucken weltin for it? Who the fuck do you think i am?'
With the rocks silent, the pieces in her mind were able to fall into place, finally. She found the image, the words she'd been looking for.
'No, Nevan. It's not a perve... It's... It's Jack-o-Well.'
Nevan had half turned to go on with his pursuit of the intruder, but now he turned back to face her. His dick swung, a meaty pendulum. It still caught her by surprise, his dick; she found herself wondering, even now at a time like this, what it would be like, one day, after they were married and their union blessed by Holy Mother Church, to feel that... thing, swollen up and, impossibly, sliding inside her...
She snapped out of her reverie, back to the present.
'Jack-o-Well... You'll not be beatin his shit out... Let's get out of here, Nev...'
'Who the fuck is Jack-o-Well? Some wanderin fucken retard or somethin?'
'He's... Let's just go.'
'You're not makin sense, woman. I'm goin over there and findin this cunt and beatin his fucken lights out.'
And Nevan was off again.
No time even to snatch up her towel, Maeve took after him.
But he was off the stones now, and onto the grass. Running.
He had too much of a lead on her. She ran when she got to the grass, but it was no good. His bare arse pulled away from her, and then he was gone, around the corner of the pump house.
She heard the thump of his running footsteps stop, and then, all of a moment, she felt she couldn't keep going. She stopped dead in his tracks.
She was suddenly very afraid.
Jack-o-Well wasn't a man. Not a proper man, anyways.
She stood there, water dripping from her long dark hair, her wet nipples puckering. Her knees growing weak.
She wanted to call out to her boyfriend, but she didn't dare.
There was not a sound. It was like being underwater. She opened her jaw to pop her ears but it made no difference.
Something was very wrong.
Her mother had told her stories of Jack-o-Well, but they'd only been stories. Same as the story of the Baby Twins, buried in the garden of old Gram Derry and crying for their Mam of a winter's night. Same as the boggarts that knocked things over in the night kitchen for pure spite. Same as the leyline under the village that made the St Ronan's Church bell ring softly with the vibrations of the unseen faerie folk travelling along it...
Same as all of those stupid fucking stories that her mother had told her, just for the satisfaction of scaring her little girl shitless.
Every fibre of her body told her to turn around and go.
That's just the stories, she told herself. Nevan needs me.
She took a step. She didn't fall to the ground.
She took another step. Still, she remained upright.
Step after step, her rubbery legs took her closer to the pump house.
She could smell it.
Smell the weathered paint. The oil-wet interior. The bare earth floor.
It used to be a well, so the story said. Right there, a well! For centuries. The leyline that ran underneath the church even led way aways out here. That gap through the wood, no reason for it to be there, that was the leyline, her mother told her. A faerie highway from the time before people.
And then the people had arrived, and they'd gratefully followed the faerie highway the miles it ran out from the village, to this spot, to draw water, and they had done so for centuries, honouring the well-spirit at each visit for the blessing of the good, clear water.
And, of course, there were the ritual offerings. Virgins, that sort of thing. Her mother hadn't been too specific on that point, just giving enough detail to leave her little girl with a sense of dread, of something dark happening when Jack-o-Well appeared and began to beckon...
So on like that for generations, and then in 1929 the council had put a diesel pump over the well and made the reservoir. Pipes now carried the water into village kitchens. So nobody came here anymore, except for the occasional teenagers like Nevan and herself, intent on some illicit courting and maybe a skinny dip.
Nobody gave thanks for the good, clean water anymore. It just gushed out of kitchen taps onto piles of dirty dishes.
There probably hadn't been a virgin out there for two centuries or more.
She didn't think of herself as a virgin, of course. Virgins belonged in stories. With dragons.
The pump house had a hum inside it. A quiet hum, like an old fashioned electric kitchen clock at night, when you've snuck out for a glass of milk and your parents are asleep. There was a door, she could see, on the side away from where they always swam. The door was open a crack. The hum was leaking out.
Now, she realised, would be a good time to call out to Nevan.
He must be inside.
She called him.
Her voice didn't work.
The hum kept on.
The door felt damp in her hand.
When had she reached out to touch it?
It swung easily on its hinges, without a screech.
Moist air from inside the pump house embraced her, invited her in.
She could feel her wet hair curling in the humidity inside, her skin stretching.
It was dark with the door closed. The pump was moving, but only internally. Electric now, it was practically silent, except for that hum. Everything was still despite all the movement going on. All that water being carried down to the village.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark.
No. Not Nevan. The shoulders were wrong.
Standing against the wall, on the far side.
It was such an effort just to breathe.
Her skin started to bead with perspiration.
Her eyes blinked. Slowly.
He wasn't moving. The man with the wrong shoulders.
Was it a coat? Hanging on a hook? Not a man at all?
It moved, now. Like a man.
He was in front of her now.
Not a coat. Not Nevan.
She was being lifted.
Somehow her feet were off the ground.
It didn't feel unpleasant.
No. Someone else. That's right.
Bigger than Nevan.
Fingers like railroad spikes.
She felt herself parting, midair.
No. Not parting. Parted.
Felt herself pierced.
No! Nevan, no!
Not Nevan. That's right.
Where was Nevan?
The pumping stopped.
The pain went on.
She felt herself lowered to the ground.
Found herself standing on the rubbery earthen floor.
Where was the man thing?
Oh! There was Nevan.
Why was he lying down?
All twisted like that.
His neck so strange.
Why was it so hot?
Inside her head, that quiet, endless hum.
She tried again to pop her ears, to get the silence and the hum out of them.
Finally, they popped, and she could hear.
She could hear someone screaming. A high pitched, skin-prickling scream of terror. Barely pausing to take breath. Going on and on.
Annoying. For fuck's sake! Who could be doing all that screaming?
It was a long time before she realised that it was her.