Ding, Dong, Bell

by Iris Carden

Ding, dong, bell, pussy's in the well....

Glenda sat bolt upright. She was shaking and sweating. What had she been dreaming?  The well.... the well... from the little house they lived in on the mountain.

Pussy's in the well. She'd heard her older half-brother's voice.  That was never good.  He was older than her by enough that he'd been like an adult to her childhood. But in a childhood tormented with nightmares, he was the worst.

As an adult, she could rationalise that he was a psychopath, or was sociopath the current term.  He'd had all three indicators: lighting fires, torturing and killing animals, and sexually assaulting younger children. Of all the nightmares she'd lived, and suppressed, the ones about him were the ones that tortured her most when they returned.

It was 3am, and she did what the psych told her to do when the nightmares came back. She sat down and wrote about the memory in her journal.

Puss had been an orange ginger kitten.  It used to hide behind the fridge. Glenda had wished she could hide behind the fridge, too. No-one could get Puss where she hid. Puss ended up down the well in the back yard.

Ding, dong bell, pussy's in the well
Who put her in?

Glenda's big brother put her in. It was a lesson. He killed Puss, telling her that if she ever disobeyed him, he would put her in the well. He would put the wooden boards over the top and she wouldn't be able to get out, just like he'd done with Puss.

It was a rotten thing to be remembering in the early hours of the morning, but getting it down, remembering, was important. It was important to get it out of her nightmares, and be able to look at it as a reality.  She wasn't crazy, she'd been the victim of some terrible treatment, and her mind had tried to protect her from it.

Here she was, teasing at the edge of a memory, in the early hours of the morning. There was more. She could feel something at the back of her mind, Puss dying in the well was a part of a bigger memory, a worse nightmare.

Ding, dong bell, pussy's in the well
Who put her in?
Little Tommy Thin
Who pulled her out?
Little Tommy Stout.

Who pulled Puss out? No-one. But Bootsy appeared. Bootsy was an adult male, black-and-white cat. Mummy had told Glenda the wild little ginger kitten had grown up into the black and white cat. Glenda wasn't old enough for school yet, but even she knew girl ginger kittens didn't grow up into boy black and white cats. But Bootsy didn't hide behind the fridge. He became her friend, someone to share the traumas of life with.

Thirty years later, Mum still told the story of the wild ginger kitten who grew up into a black and white cat. She had retold the story so many times, she believed it was true.  But Mum had always been like that. All her stories were absolutely true, in her own mind. She imposed their truth on everyone around her. No matter how unbelievable the stories were, they were true, because Mum said they were true.

That well had been a source of horror for her as a small child. No wonder. It wasn't just the half-rotted timber cover, or Mum's constant warning to stay away from it because if she fell in she'd never get out.

It was an awful nightmare, but now she'd recognised the truth behind it, perhaps she could get to sleep. Except that it still felt unfinished... the rhyme was still going through her head.

Ding, dong, bell,
Tommy's in the well...

No that's wrong, Tommy wasn't in the well, it was Tommy in the rhyme to put pussy in the well and another Tommy to take her out.  There wasn't a Tommy in the well.

Ding, dong, bell,
Tommy's in the well....

Why did she keep getting the rhyme wrong in her head? And in her old nursery rhyme book, hadn't it been Johnny to put pussy in the well and another Johnny to get her out? So how does Tommy get to be in the story? She hadn't ever known any Tommy, had she?

Out of nowhere, another memory fragment pushed its way into her mind.

It was a visit from Grandma. Grandma was looking at a photo of a young baby asleep in a pram, and saying what a cute baby Glenda had been.  But Glenda could see looking at it that the photo was taken in the house on the mountain, the house with the well. Glenda had been two when they'd moved to that house, so she could not have been the new-born baby in the picture.

Her mind made a sudden connection between the photo and Tommy in the well. Had there been another baby? People had appeared and disappeared throughout her childhood. The baby could have been anyone, couldn't it? Although it was odd that Mum hadn't corrected Grandma and said, "Oh, no, that's a photo of so-and-so's baby."

Ding, dong, bell,
Tommy's in the well.
Who put him in?

No. It could not be. Mum would cover up her half-brother killing a cat, but a baby? It was unthinkable. There was a problem with recovered memory therapy wasn't there? That people imagined things that were later proved impossible? This was surely impossible. But so far, all the memories that had come back to her, all of the things that could be verified, had proved to be true.

Not this, surely not this. Surely it was just the realms of nightmare? Just a confusion between the rhyme, the nightmare, and the memory. It would take some work to clarify what was what.

It had been a strange thing, that house. Mum had sold houses that she had owned and lived in after that one, but she never sold the house with the well, and never rented it out or lived in it. Glenda had visited it as an adult - the yard was overgrown, the floorboards of the house rotting. It had been vandalised over the years. The wreck of a house had no longer looked scary. There was a mystery there - why Mum would not get rid of a house she wasn't going to live in.

Ding, dong, bell,
Tommy's in the well.

Was he? And who was he? If he was a baby, after all these years there would be no sign of him, so there was no point in calling the police with her crazy nightmare recollection.

Ding, dong, bell,
Tommy's in the well.

Glenda wondered if some of the memories were better left suppressed.

Review: Blacklisted by Luke Romyn

Blacklisted by Luke Romyn

Review by Iris Carden

Nightclub owner, boxer, former bouncer, and serial killer Mike Swanson, is broken out of police custody by a mysterious military group.

He finds himself subjected to a bizarre series of tests, before finally joining a group of other killers to be trained in weapons and military skills - without explanation.

Suddenly he finds himself in a world where it's impossible to tell truth from lies, to know who is right and who is wrong, but life and death hangs in the balance at every turn. One by one, the people he has come to look on as "family" are killed.

In a shady world of mercenaries, terrorists, and counter-terrorism, they are betrayed, but it is hard to tell who the traitor actually is when it's impossible to know which side they are actually on.

There are points where the reader's suspension of disbelief is pushed to its outer limits, but the narrative is too good to give up on it at those points.

It's a story that keeps driving forward, constantly challenging the reader to keep up with the twists and turns of a plot that can't stay still.