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The Well

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"I am a frog at the bottom of a well," the little boy begins, closing both eyes and tilting his head up toward the ceiling as if in search of light. "It is dark, and cold. The water is red, and made of blood."

"How do you know that, Akito-kun?" a woman seated in a big chair across from him asks. The little boy is sitting on a squishy sofa; his legs hang over the edge, but his feet do not touch the floor. He swings them back and forth, his shoes brushing against one another every so often. His hands are stuffed beneath him, fingers curling into the fabric under his thighs. "What makes you think it's blood?"

"I can smell it," he answers, and licks his lips. "And I can taste it, too. It smells thick, like the sky after a rainstorm, and it feels heavy on my skin."

The woman pauses to write something down on a clipboard that she then sets on her lap. "Is there anything else in the well with you?"

He is silent for a long time. His eyes are still closed. The little boy bites his lower lip and stops swinging his legs. He pulls them up onto the couch, and crosses them underneath him. He swallows hard, knits his brow in thought, and then, finally, replies: ". . . There is a shark at the bottom of the well. He is very big, and very angry. Too big for the well, I think, but too angry for the world, too."

"What does the shark do in the well, Akito-kun?"

"He swims in circles. There are bones down there, too, and he crushes them between his teeth. His teeth are big, jagged, mean. As I look up from the bottom of the well, at the clear sky and the birds. . . I. . . I really like them, the birds, I mean. I wish I could fly, too, to somewhere safe and happy, outside of the well."

He trails off, tilts his head to one side as if listening for something. The woman does not say anything. She waits for him to continue, and after a moment, he does: "When I think like that, the shark opens his mouth really wide. He swallows me whole, and holds me from the inside, because he doesn't have any hands and his fins are too rough. The shark tells me that it's going to be okay, and if I close my eyes, he will make all the bad things go away. He will keep me safe, and one day, he will get me out of the well."

"Does that mean that he has a plan for you two to escape, Akito-kun?"

The little boy opens his eyes, blinking at the ceiling light. He takes a deep breath, sets his small shoulders resolutely, and repeats what he has been told.

"The shark will fill the well with blood. When the blood rises high enough, he will open his mouth to the sky, and I will hop out and learn to fly. He will die in the well."

He sniffs loudly, bringing an arm up to wipe his nose with the back of one hand and wrist. The woman leans forward and tries to reach out to him, but the little boy pulls back. He scoots farther away, his knees coming up protectively.

"I want my big brother. I don't want to talk anymore."