Over the hill behind my house was a clump of trees that I called a forest, through which wound an old path that twisted and turned, doubled back and lost itself, and at one point divided in two. Most people didn't even make it to the place where it split, seeing as you had to continue for quite some time, lifting your feet over squelching puddles of mud and the low, grasping tendrils of thorn bushes. Whenever I had gone that far with mom and dad, we always went to the right, to where the broken wagon was, so we could sit down and eat our picnic lunches there. But of course I always noticed the other path. And of course one day I had to find out where it led.
According to mom, I wasn't allowed to go into the forest past the stone wall, but according to dad, I was allowed to go as far as I liked so long as I stayed on the path and was home in time for dinner. Naturally, I plotted my expedition for a day when mom was visiting grandma in the nursing home, and seeing as I intended both to stay on the path and be home for dinner, dad didn't have any basis for an indictment.
It was a lazy summer afternoon and some sparse, cotton-ball clouds rolled listlessly across a hazy sky. The faintest of breezes whispered through the grass, causing it to nod this way and that, tickling my ankles as I climbed over the small hill behind our house. Then I was over its crest and stepping beneath the cool shade of the trees. Crisp, brown leaves crinkled beneath my feet and the sun shown greenly through the foliage, dappling the ground with pools of wavering light. It was, all in all, a beautiful day for an adventure and I set out immediately along the path, brimming with eagerness and excitement.
It didn't take me long to reach the fork in the path, seeing as I was traveling at a pace of only slightly less than a run, and no sooner had I reached it than I was hurrying down the mysterious left path. I soon realized why we did not go this way for picnics; the path was barely visible for all the brush that attempted to obscure it, and it seemed to be a natural home for thorns and brambles and poison ivy (though I didn't find out about that until the next day). But I was tenacious and pertinacious and perhaps some other things besides, so I pressed on and eventually glimpsed what appeared to be a clearing of sorts through the trees ahead. A few moments later, I was there, though not before acquiring some new scratches on my legs and a tear in my shirt sleeve.
It was nothing more than a little copse in the woods, but my eyes were instantly drawn to the structure that stood at its center: an old, stone well. Vines and creepers grew rampant up its sides and any pulley system used to draw water seemed to have long since rotted away. But there was a certain rustic magic about it, akin to the wonder of exploring an ancient, abandoned temple.
I walked up to it and peered down into its black depths. A coolness seemed to be emanating from the dark abyss and I couldn't begin to guess how far down it went. The wishing well of myth sprang to mind and I rummaged through my pockets to triumphantly produce a single, shiny penny. I took a deep breath, said my wish silently in my head, then tossed the penny into the well. After a second, I heard a series of metallic clinks. I waited patiently, but nothing seemed to happen.
I frowned, disappointed to have lost a perfectly good penny to the useless well. Then it occurred to me that my wish (along with the lost penny) might still be at the bottom, waiting for me to draw it up. I looked in dismay at where the bucket and pulley ought to have been, then back down into the well. A plan quickly formed in my head and a second later I was tearing back down the forest path to my house.
I banged through the front screen door, then bounded up the stairs and skittered to a halt in front of the door to Heather's room. I knocked, only because I wanted her on my good side for the favor I was going to ask of her.
"Come in," sang Heather from the other side of the door. I turned the knob and entered.
My senses were immediately assaulted by the screamingly pink, girly world of my sister. The walls were painted a sizzling shade of pink that I worried might be emitting some sort of radiation and studded with posters of all the teeny bopper idols that were all the rage with girls these days.
"What's up?" asked Heather. She was kneeling on the (predictably pink) rug and lining up her collection of dolls against the foot of her bed.
"I need your beach pail and your flashlight," I panted.
"Why?" demanded Heather.
"I need it for exploring," I said, edging away from a Hannah Montana tissue box on a nearby table, afraid I might contract some sort of disease from it. "I found a wishing well in the forest and I want to get my wish out of it."
Heather squinted at me. "Fine. You can borrow my pail and flashlight, but only if me and Barbie can come with you."
I groaned, but as there wasn't much more time left before dinner, I reluctantly agreed. It took much longer to reach the well this time, with the finicky Heather delicately picking her way through the undergrowth (she didn't wake up with poison ivy the next day) and loyally shielding Barbie from the mud. But finally we reached the clearing once more and I was at the well, "Barbie at the Beach" bucket in hand. But of course, Heather insisted we do everything properly, so we put Barbie in the bucket first (we had duct taped the flashlight to her arm), then lowered her slowly into the well with a rope.
Haltingly, the bizarre, pink-clad spelunker journeyed down the well shaft in her flowered bucket and the flashlight illuminated the dull, crumbling walls. Finally, it hit bottom and Heather and I both gazed down to see a mosaic of glimmering, silver and copper coins scattered in a shallow pool of stagnant water. I grinned. I had wished I was rich, and the wishing well had given me money.