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One day not so very long ago, in a village not unlike our own, a boy named Anandola walked along a hillside in the sun. Now, Anandola was not the wisest boy in the village, nor most foolish. Not the tallest, nor shortest. Not the eldest nor the youngest. Not the most beautiful, nor least. Anandola was simply a boy.

And on this particular day Anandola wandered along the hillside in the sun, not far from the village, gazing up at the summer clouds and following no particular path among the swaying, brightly-colored wildflowers and waist-high summer grasses. When suddenly, catching his foot on something hidden in the grass, Anandola pitched forward and fell headfirst into an old abandoned well. Down Anandola fell, out of the sunlight and into the dark and cold and slimy mud at the bottom of the well.

Splat! went Anandola into the clammy, clinging muck. And a few frantic moments of fumbling and struggling went by before Anandola managed to stand. Then, coated with the slimy, clinging ooze and standing knee-deep in the mire Anandola called out, “Help! Help me! It’s me, Anandola and I’ve fallen down a well!”

Now, as luck would have it, just then an older boy, by the name of Hotep, was walking by the very place where Anandola was trapped inside the well and he heard Anandola’s frantic cries for help. Dashing to the lip of the well, Hotep looked down and saw Anandola standing in the muck and sinking slowly. “I see you Anandola!” cried Hotep. “I’ll go get a rope. Don’t you worry. I’ll be back very soon!” And so saying, Hotep ran, as fast as his legs would take him, down the hill to the village to get a rope. And true to his word, Anandola had not sunk very much deeper into the mud when Hotep returned, a rope tumbled down out of the thin light above and Hotep’s voice cried out, “Anandola! It’s Hotep. I’m back. Tie the rope around your middle and I’ll pull you out!”

Well, Anandola cinched the rope tight and cried, “Okay, I’m ready, pull me out!” And Hotep began to pull. And he pulled and he pulled. But Hotep was not strong enough to pull Anandola from the clinging bog at the bottom of the well. And Anandola sank a little bit deeper into the mud.

“Oh this is hopeless,” though Hotep, “I’m not strong enough for this! I need help.” Just then, the village blacksmith happened by. And Hotep thought that all this trouble would soon be over as the blacksmith was by far the strongest person in the village—maybe even in the whole county. Each of the smith’s arms was easily as thick as Hotep’s waist and Hotep was pretty sure he could lay lengthwise across the smith’s shoulders and not touch, head nor toes at either end. “Help, please help!” cried Hotep, “Anandola’s fallen in the well and we have to get him out!”

“Of course,” the smith said , smiling and walking to the edge of the well to gaze down at poor Anandola shivering in the slime. “I’ll be happy to help.” And so saying, he reached out and grasped the rope between his thumb and forefinger and pulled. But it was not enough. In fact Anandola slipped a little deeper down. “No, no!” said Hotep, “Use both hands, use your arms, put your back into it! He’s sinking!”

“Now wait just a darn minute there, son.” said the blacksmith. “I don’t see any reason why I should pull any harder on this rope than you do. And I assure you I’m exerting just as much strength as you are. Trust me, when it comes to muscle, I know what I’m talking about. Besides, why should I exert myself more just because I’m stronger than you? Why should I be punished just because I have more muscle to exert? When you’re older you’ll understand these things. Until then, trust me.” And the smith continued to pull just as hard as Hotep on the rope. And Anandola slipped deeper into the ooze.

Just then the village wizard wandered by. “Why Hotep!, Mr. Smith! Whatever are you doing there?” the wizard asked.

And Hotep knew then that Anandola was saved, for the wizard could do just about anything! He could turn sunflowers blue and make the clocks run backwards, he could even find a missing sock when everyone else was sure that it was gone forever! Turning to the smith Hotep said, “Thank you for your help, Mr. Smith but I’m sure the wizard will get Anandola out of the well. We shan’t be needing your help anymore.” And with a shrug of his massive shoulders the Smith lumbered off down the hill, back to his forge.

Then Hotep said to the wizard, “Oh, Wizard, help us! Anandola’s fallen down the well and I’m not strong enough to pull him out alone.”

“Oh my, oh my! Dear, dear!, Tut, tut!” the wizard mumbled to himself, puttering over and gazing down at Anandola now trembling waist deep in the chilly mud. “Down the well is he? What a foolish thing to do.” And turning to Hotep, the wizard said, “No, no, I’m afraid it’s quite out of the question. I’ll do nothing to get that poor fool Anandola out of the well.”

“Why not?” cried Hotep, appalled. “What has Anandola ever done to you?”

“To me? To me? Why he’s done nothing to me! It’s what he’s done to himself I can’t abide! Why to think of someone throwing himself willy-nilly down a well and then expecting the rest of us to pull him out. Harrumph! Harrumph I say! If he is foolish enough to fall into the well in the first place then he deserves to stay there until he can get himself out. And if you really cared about your friend down there you wouldn’t help him either,” said the wizard, wagging his finger in front of Hotep’s nose. “Why, its a matter of character! Of backbone! Of self reliance and pluck! Help him once and he’ll be expecting a handout for the rest of his life. With your misguided attempts at helping him you do him more harm than good you know! Mark my words.” And with that, the wizard stumped off down the hillside huffing and muttering to himself. And Anandola slipped a little deeper into the mud.

And as Hotep, crestfallen, watched the wizard withdraw he failed to see the village potter walk up and dump a barrow full of used, wet clay into the well. Hearing the slurp and splatter of the clay leaving the barrow, followed by Anandola’s startled bellow from below, Hotep turned and yelled, “Wait! Anandola is down in the well! You can’t pour that clay on him!”

The potter looked at Hotep stolidly, then looked at his empty barrow, and then down into the well. “Down the well, you say? Well so he is. Pity, that. You see I come here every day to dispose of my unused clay and waste water. In fact, I have several more trips to make today before I’m done getting rid of the stuff.” And he turned his barrow around for a return trip to his shop.

“Well, you’ll have to wait until Anandola’s out of the well before you dump more!” cried Hotep, clambering up to the lip of the well and peering in to see Anandola covered to the shoulders in fresh, wet, muddy clay. “If you dump any more on him he’ll drown! Won’t you help me pull him out?”

“Don’t see as how I can do that, boy,” said the potter. “I have a business to run, things to do. Responsibilities! I can’t be held responsible for whatever little things happen outside my shop. And as to not dumping my clay here, well, as far as I can see it, once the clay leaves my barrow it’s none of my concern where it ends up. If Anandola happens to be beneath it when it falls that’s his lookout, not mine. Now good day to you. I’ll be back in a while with more clay to dump.” And the potter walked back down the hill pushing his barrow ahead of him.

And Hotep sat on the edge of the well and despaired. He knew the village folk were right. He had no business going out of his way to help Anandola. Why should he exert himself to help someone who could not help himself? He should turn his attention to his own concerns and let the chips fall as they may. But why did it make him feel so bad? And as he looked a final time into the well he saw Anandola sink a final time into the mire. And with a garbled “Glup!” and an expiring “Glurg!” the mud closed over Anandola’s head.

And as Hotep trudged back down the hill a small lizard crawled out of the grass near the well—a Newt it was. And the Newt watched Hotep walk away, then glanced down the well and he began to laugh. He laughed and laughed. He laughed until his sides hurt, then laughed some more. Then he crawled back into his grassy lair to await the next poor fool to wander by—his head in the clouds—to be tripped up by a sneaky little Newt in the grass.

© 1993-2011 by Stephen Gray

Originally posted to Captain Frogbert on Thu May 12, 2011 at 07:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Street Prophets .

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