Middletown Middle / Chapter Four – The Giant Well

August 1863

The hot Kansas wind twisted around Isiah Milton’s face. His mother named him after the sound the wind made when it came through the front door of his childhood home. ISIAH.  It called again twenty years later, and he stumbled through the Kansas plains searching for it. He needed food, sleep, and shade but had nothing but the dusty trail under his tattered boots, and the only shade came from the scavengers flying overhead waiting for him to fall. 

Not that the vultures would have much to eat; Isiah, who stopped growing at twelve, looked foolish in his confederate uniform. Without some new boots and a change of clothes, his days were numbered. An unhappy soldier Isaiah walked away from the battlefield with no plans on how to survive. It took some time before his troop noticed he was gone, and even though they were better off without him, Isiah knew they would come looking. When confederates started paying soldiers to find, return, and then execute deserters, poor Isaiah knew with no horse or sense of direction, escape was hopeless.

He lost track of time. Had it really been a month since he walked away? Up to now, he was what they called a straggler, someone who leaves the camp but eventually returns—everything changes after day thirty. You get reclassified as a deserter. Now he had a target on his back and a reward on his head, or was it the other way around? Isaiah had no experience or training to outrun, outfight a group of vicious and ruthless men. Men willing to give their lives to keep slavery around aren’t just dumb, they’re dangerous.

Isiah fought through the pain of his blistered feet and looked behind to the horizon to see the silhouette of the horsemen dancing through the wavy summer heat. Isiah could hear his mother calling, and he pushed on. ISIAH.  

While dragging his tired legs along hurriedly, he sings a tune to lift his spirits and quicken his pace. 

When Johnny comes marching home again

Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then

Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer and the boys will shout…

Isiah quickly ditches the song and forgets about the men tracking him when he stumbles on a massive hole dug directly along his chosen route. This hole was too wide to be an empty well, but it was perfectly round and about 12 feet across. There was nothing to mark its location, who dug it or what was at the bottom or even if there was a bottom. Had he traveled at night, he’d have fallen in without as much as a whisper never to be heard from again.

Standing at the edge, Isaiah could only see deep darkness. There was nothing about it that belonged to this planet except a cooling breeze that escaped from its depths. ISIAH, it called sounding more like his mother than the wind.  

Curious to gauge its depth, Issah picked up a rock not much bigger than a pebble and tossed it down. He stood silently, waiting for the sound of rock hitting bottom, but it never came. As he listened, he thought he could see a boy watching him in the distance.

Isiah was set to continue on the path as he needed a hole in the ground as much as he needed a hole in the head, when suddenly the rock he dropped was tossed back out of the tunnel.

Isiah picked up the rock, which felt bigger than the original stone. Again he tossed it back down this time with more force. There was no sound of it hitting any bottom, but once again, a minute later, a rock flew out of the hole, this time nearly hitting Isaiah in his head.  

The rock had changed. This was not the same one he was sure of it. This one was at least twice the size. Now more curious than ever, he reached into this knapsack and found a bullet. Without delay, Isiah flings the bullet in the pit and waits.

There was clearly someone watching him. Isiah’s eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. It was a young boy, and Isiah lifted his arm in a lazy wave. The boy did the same. Isaiah forgot about the bullet he dropped until it came back up. It came back different; it was much more substantial. This bullet wouldn’t even fit in his riffle. It looked like a mini-missile.  

“What it tarnations?” Isiah mumbled to himself sweat stinging his eyes. He compares pit bullet to his other bullets; the projectile was more than double in size. He quickly scrounges in his backpack and finds a small piece of stale bread and gives it to the darkness.

While waiting, he again looks for the boy, but he’s gone. When the hole tosses back up the bread, it’s now the size of a loaf.

“Honey moley,” He takes a bite of the bread.  

“Issah Molton?” a voice from behind calls out. Issah spins around his mouth full of food.   

“It’s Milton,” Isaiah says to a troop of Confederate soldiers standing on foot; their horses huddled in the distance. The men all carried guns like him, but theirs were already pointed in his direction. He’s still chewing on the stale bread, not wanting to spit it out.

“Milton. Molton. It matters not. You will be forgotten. We are here to bring you to justice, deserter”, their captain says. 

“You mean to execute me for abandoning your stupid war,” Isaiah returns.  

“That is what I mean,” the captain agrees while the men approach. Isiah steps back, his feet only inches from the dark void in the ground.  

“I am unwilling to fight your stupid war, but I will fight you,” Isaiah shouts before jumping into the hole.

The men all watch as he disappears into the darkness. They circle the pit dumbfounded by the man’s stupidity.  

“All of that work to watch the man leap into a hole,” one soldier says. “We still get paid, right?”

“Let’s go,” the captain follows, and they turn and head back towards their horses.

They only make it a few steps before hearing a loud thump behind them. They spin around to find Isaiah, now nearly as wide as the hole and more than 12 feet tall. The once small figure was like a man amongst toddlers. 

“You’ll remember my name, now won’t you. It is Isaiah Milton,” Isaiah says. His deep voice surprises him. 

 Before the soldiers can get off a shot, Isaiah pushes the nearest man to the ground. It’s no longer a fair fight. The bullets and the men are no match. Isaiah’s whole view has changed. It’s like he is standing on top of a tall ladder, looking down on playful children. The men are quickly beaten and bruised. They take their broken bones back to their horses.  

“We’ll be back,” one shouts.  

“I’ll be here,” Isiah returns.  

When it is quiet again, he turns back to the hole in the ground. If they return with hundreds of men, he thinks he can’t fight them all; not at this size. He believes if he was 30 feet tall, he could end the war. Intoxicated by the power, Isaiah the Giant does an improbable thing. He leaps back into the hole.  

A minute goes by, and Isiah is not tossed back out. After ten minutes, when it is clear that he’s stuck and not coming out, a Native American boy no older than eight approaches. He wheels a cart half full of fruit and vegetables.  

The boy begins tossing the food into the hole, waiting for them to be returned, doubled in size to bring back to his people. He throws apples, squash, corn, Each time they are thrown back up twice their size; more food to feed his family and tribe.

The last apple, now the size of a pumpkin, gets tossed back with a bite nearly as big as the apple itself. The frightened boy leaves the apple to rot on the ground and hurries back to his tribe. He leaves the giant who is now too big to escape the underground world.

The following morning the men of the tribe return with the boy. They bring with them several mules that pull various items they need to cover the hole, including lumber. They carefully and expertly bridge the gap. Once the lumber is set, they blanket the logs with clay, dirt, and grass, which blends in with the countryside, and the hole’s location becomes secret again.

What does this have to do with Middletown Middle School? When the surrounding area is settled over the next century, and the school is built, a playground is erected on top of the pit. The playground has swings, slides, and climbing things. It also has talk tubes, a big pipe that lets kids talk across the playground by speaking into either end of the cylinders.

In a corner of a playground, a young boy plays alone ankle-deep in rubber mulch. He stands by the talk tube with no one on the other side to communicate with, but he laughs and sings anyway.

 A teacher feeling bad for the youngster goes to the other end of the tube to give him some conversation. When she nears, she can hear the boy’s song exiting the tube on her end. He sings-

When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah Hurrah.
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then
Hurrah Hurrah.

While she thought that was odd when the next line was sung by someone with an impossibly deep voice, she freaked.

The men will cheer and the boys will shout.
The ladies they will all turn out
That joyful day when Johnny comes marching home.

The teacher carries the boy away. That afternoon Benjamin, the school’s janitor, fills the tube with concrete so no one can communicate with what lies beneath. But even now, when you stand at the Middletown Middle playground on a hot August day and feel the warm breeze whispering ISIAH in your ear, you can hear the giant singing his favorite song.

Get ready for the Jubilee, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll celebrate the victory, Hurrah! Hurrah!

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