“Pure as silver. Have a glass.”
The sound of water in the hot sunlight. Now I hover like a dust, a cinnamon, upon the soft wind.
“What’s the matter, Jones?”
“I don’t know. Got a terrible headache. All of a sudden.”
“Did you drink the water yet?”
“No, I haven’t. It’s not that. I was just bending over the well and all of a sudden my head split. I feel better now.”
Now I know who I am.
My name is Stephen Leonard Jones and I am twenty-five years old and I have just come in a rocket from a planet called Earth and I am standing with my good friends Regent and Shaw by an old well on the planet Mars.
I look down at my golden fingers, tan and strong. I look at my long legs and at my silver uniform and at my friends.
“What’s wrong, Jones?” they say.
“Nothing,” I say, looking at them. “Nothing at all.”
The food is good. It has been ten thousand years since food. It touches the tongue in a fine way and the wine with the food is warming. I listen to the sound of voices. I make words that I do not understand but somehow understand. I test the air.
“What’s the matter, Jones?”
I tilt this head of mine and rest my hands holding the silver utensils of eating. I feel everything.
“What do you mean?” this voice, this new thing of mine, says.
“You keep breathing funny. Coughing,” says the other man.
I pronounce exactly. “Maybe a little cold coming on.”
“Check with the doc later.”
I nod my head and it is good to nod. It is good to do several things after ten thousand years. It is good to breathe the air and it is good to feel the sun in the flesh deep and going deeper and it is good to feel the structure of ivory, the fine skeleton hidden in the warming flesh, and it is good to hear sounds much clearer and more immediate than they were in the stone deepness of a well. I sit enchanted.
“Come out of it, Jones. Snap to it. We got to move!”
“Yes,” I say, hypnotized with the way the word forms like water on the tongue and falls with slow beauty out into the air.
I walk and it is good walking. I stand high and it is a long way to the ground when I look down from my eyes and my head. It is like living on a fine cliff and being happy there.
Regent stands by the stone well, looking down. The others have gone murmuring to the silver ship from which they came.
I feel the fingers of my hand and the smile of my mouth.
“It is deep,” I say.
“It is called a Soul Well.”
Regent raises his head and looks at me. “How do you know that?”
“Doesn’t it look like one?”
“I never heard of a Soul Well.”
“A place where waiting things, things that once had flesh, wait and wait,” I say, touching his arm.
The sand is fire and the ship is silver fire in the hotness of the day and the heat is good to feel. The sound of my feet in the hard sand. I listen. The sound of the wind and the sun burning the valleys. I smell the smell of the rocket boiling in the noon. I stand below the port.
“Where’s Regent?” someone says.
“I saw him by the well,” I reply.
One of them runs toward the well. I am beginning to tremble. A fine shivering tremble, hidden deep, but becoming very strong. And for the first time I hear it, as if it too were hidden in a well. A voice calling deep within me, tiny and afraid. And the voice cries, Let me go, let me go, and there is a feeling as if something is trying to get free, a pounding of labyrinthine doors, a rushing down dark corridors and up passages, echoing and screaming.
“Regent’s in the well!”
The men are running, all five of them. I run with them but now I am sick and the trembling is violent.
“He must have fallen. Jones, you were here with him. Did you see? Jones? Well, speak up, man.”
“What’s wrong, Jones?”
I fall to my knees, the trembling is so bad.
“He’s sick. Here, help me with him.”
“No, not the sun,” I murmur.
They stretch me out and the seizures come and go like earthquakes and the deep hidden voice in me cries, This is Jones, this is me, that’s not him, that’s not him, don’t believe him, let me out, let me out! And I look up at the bent figures and my eyelids flicker. They touch my wrists.
“His heart is acting up.”
I close my eyes. The screaming stops. The shivering ceases.
I rise, as in a cool well, released.
“He’s dead,” says someone.
“Jones is dead.”