In the creaky basement of a 100-year-old house sat a well. It was as wide as the length of a broom, and cast off to the side—unnoticeable unless you walked into the depths of the cement-floor space. The owners of the house—a father, mother, and 5-year-old son—thought the well was an absurdity. And the eccentric family loved that.
“Lazy bastards built around the well rather than filling it in and getting the job done right,” the father had commented. Although his voice sounded disagreeable, the smile on his face showed something of adoration for the homebuilders.
“Cool, a well!” the son shouted. He picked up a stone and raced towards the hole.
“Be careful!” the mother called out.
The boy dropped the stone in the well. He waited and waited and waited—what felt like an eternity for someone his age—until he heard the clink of the stone hitting the ground echo back up to him. He smirked mischievously.
That was when they bought the house. Now, almost a year later, the family settled into their routine, almost forgetting completely about the well. They threw dance parties in the front room, wiggling their limbs spastically. They sat in the kitchen making towering mounds out of their food, giggling before destroying the structures with their forks. They raced around the back yard imagining they were futuristic space people fighting off the bad guys as they zoomed through galaxies on their jets.
One evening, while the family sat down at the dinner table, arranging their food into spectacular shapes before taking a bite, the son interrupted their happy silence to announce: “Little Daddy needs a plate of food please.”
Without skipping a beat, the father looked at the empty chair next to him and said, “How d’you do, Little Daddy? It’s a pleasure to have you join us.” He lifted his right hand to his head as if he were tipping an invisible hat.
The son laughed and looked over at the empty chair. “Little Daddy says thanks. But he thinks your gesture is a little antiquated.”
“Now where did you learn such a word like that?” the mother asked.
“Little Daddy taught me,” the son said.
The mother and father exchanged glances.
Later that night, when the mother and father were in bed, the mother turned to the father and asked, “Should we be worried about Little Daddy?”
“When I was his age, I had an imaginary friend, Franklin,” the father said. “It’s just a phase; he’ll grow out of it. What’s the harm in playing along?”
The mother nodded. She rolled back over, and the father nuzzled in to spoon her. They fell asleep peacefully.
Over the course of several weeks, the son continued to include Little Daddy in conversation. The mother and father learned that Little Daddy had uncanny similarities to the father. Little Daddy drove a red car. He went to work every day, sometimes staying late into the evening. His laugh was more like a guffaw. He loved to be silly. And most importantly, he was the best Little Daddy in the world.
One afternoon, the father came home from work. “Hello,” he hollered, so his family would know he was home. “I got home earlier than I anticipated.” Silence. As he walked towards the kitchen to grab a beer, he noticed the basement door was cracked open. He poked his head through the door and yelled out another “hello.” The basement was pitch black and quiet—no response. Carefully, the father stepped down the stairs. As he crept deeper into the basement, he spotted his son standing next to the well.
“What are you doing down here?” the father called out.
The son stood still, motionless; his stare kept on the well.
It wasn’t until the father was standing next to his son that he heard him giggling softly. Then he heard the clink of a rock hitting the floor of the well.
“Son, why are you down here by yourself?”
As if a bomb had suddenly detonated, the son roared, “I’m playing with Little Daddy. Get out!”
Before the father could process his son’s words, he felt hands on his shoulders shoving him. The surprise of it all prohibited the father from being able to shout out as he fell down the well. He was able to catch a quick glimpse upward; his son’s head was poking down through the well. He yelled, “Little Daddy, what have you done?” The son looked down at his falling father until he heard a thud, distinctly different than the stones he tossed in.
The son raced up the stairs shouting for his mother. He found her in the kitchen preparing dinner.
“Mommy! Mommy! Little Daddy pushed Daddy down the well!”
The mother looked at her frantic son. She stopped peeling potatoes and wiped her hands. The mother embraced her son and said, “My sweet boy, your father hasn’t gotten home from work yet. He let me know earlier that he’d be staying late at the office tonight.” She paused to let out a sigh. “Quite frankly, I shouldn’t have followed along with this Little Daddy charade. Sweetie, Little Daddy is an imaginary friend; he isn’t real. He couldn’t have done anything to your father, even if he was home.”
The son huffed as he tried to simmer his sobs. “But…”
“No ‘buts.’ Now how about you grab your stool and help your mama with the veggies?”
The son obliged and within a matter of minutes forgot why he was so upset in the first place.
Later, the mother startled awake in bed. She heard faint moans that sounded like they were coming from the basement. She shook her head. It couldn’t be, she thought. The mother fell back into bed and curled to the side.
A figure settled into bed next to her and its hands wrapped around the mother’s waist.
“Now there you are, Big Daddy,” the mother murmured before falling asleep again.
Shelby Newsome is a writer living in Maryland. She will begin work on her MFA in writing & publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts this fall. You can read more of her work at shelbynewsome.com or catch up with her on Twitter at @shelbyanewsome