The Well That Grew Giants: A Prairie Folk Tale

The Giant Well
August 1863

The scorching hot Kansas wind twisted around Isaiah Milton’s face. His mother had named him after the haunting sound the wind made when it came through the front door of his childhood home: Isaiah.  It lured him back twenty years later, and he stumbled through the Kansas plains searching for it. Hunger grabbed his stomach and his throat was as dry as the dusty air. No food, no water, no refuge from the relentless sun beating down like a branding iron, The dusty trail dotted with blood from his blistered feet squeezed in tattered boots gave hope to the scavengers flying above proving the briefest moments of shade. 

Not that the vultures would have had much to eat. Isaiah, whose stunted growth had halted at the age of twelve, was little more than living bones wrapped in tattered remnants of an ill-fitting Confederate uniform.

However, the way he looked was the least of his worries. His gaunt face and sunken cheekbones weren’t enough to avoid sunburn causing his skin and lips to crack and bleed. Without shelter and new boots, he’d transform into tumbleweed.

An unhappy soldier, Isaiah walked away from the battlefield with his rifle but no plan for survival. It took some time before his troop noticed his absence, and even though they were better off without him, Isaiah knew they would come looking. When the Confederacy started paying soldiers to find, return, and execute deserters, poor Isaiah knew that without either a horse or a sense of direction, death on the battlefield would have been the better choice.

Isaiah lost track of time. Had it really been a month since he walked away? Up until now, he was what they called a ‘straggler’ — someone who leaves the camp but eventually returns.

Everything changed after day thirty. You got reclassified as a deserter. He had a target on his back and a reward on his head … or was it the other way around? He had no experience or training to outrun or outfight a group of vicious and ruthless men. Men who are willing to give their lives to maintain the slavery system aren’t just dumb, he thought, they’re dangerous.

Isaiah’s blistered feet throbbed as he trudged across the endless prairie. Up ahead, he spotted riders on the horizon, their forms wavering in the heat haze. A voice like his mother’s whispered on the hot wind – “Isaiah…” He pushed onwards, trying to raise his spirits with an old marching song:

“When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then….”

The song died on Isaiah’s cracked lips when he stumbled upon a massive pit sunken directly in his path. Perfectly round and twelve feet across, it looked too unnatural to be some old well. Nothing marked its location, indicated who had dug it, or hinted at what was at the bottom if it even had a bottom. Had he stumbled into it at night, Isaiah would’ve fallen in without a sound, never to be seen again.

Standing at the edge, Isaiah couldn’t see how far it went, just more deep darkness. A fast path to hell, he thought.—except there was a cooling breeze that escaped from its depths. “Isaiah,” it called, sounding more like his mother than the wind.

Curious to gauge its depth, Isaiah picked up a rock not much bigger than a pebble and tossed it down. He stood silently, waiting to hear it hit the bottom, but he never did. As he listened, his eyes moved up to the horizon where he saw a boy watching.

Isaiah was set to continue on the path — he needed a hole in the ground as much as he needed a hole in the head — when suddenly the rock he had dropped flew back out of the tunnel.

Isaiah picked up the rock, which felt bigger than when he threw it. Again, he tossed it back down, this time with more force, and again he never heard the sound of it hitting bottom. A minute later, a rock flew out of the hole, this time nearly hitting Isaiah in the head.

The rock had changed again. This was not the same one, he was sure of it. This one was at least twice its size. Now more curious than ever, he reached into his knapsack and found a bullet. Isaiah flung the bullet into the pit and waited.

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Clearly, someone was watching him. Isaiah’s eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. It was a young boy, and Isaiah lifted his arm in a lazy wave. The boy did the same. As he watched the boy, Isaiah momentarily forgot about the bullet he had dropped until it came back up. Like the rock, it came back different; it was much more substantial. This bullet wouldn’t even fit in his rifle. It looked like a mini-missile.

“What in tarnation?” Isaiah mumbled to himself comparing it to his other bullets; it was more than double the size. He quickly scrounged in his backpack, found a small piece of stale bread, and gave it to the darkness.

While waiting, he again looked for the boy, but he was gone. When the hole tossed the bread back up, Isiah clumsily caught it. Examining it closer it looked identical but bigger. Nearly the size of a loaf. It was cool to the touch and smelled like stale bread.

“Holy moly.” He exclaimed nibbling at his magic meal. 

A voice, deep and dry called to him, “Isaiah Molton?” Isaiah jumped and spun around, his mouth full of bread. 

Confederate soldiers – led by a sneering captain – had Isaiah surrounded, rifles leveled. They’d finally caught up to the deserter.

“It’s Milton,” Isaiah corrected, eyeing the group of Confederate soldiers and the rifles aimed squarely at him. His own gun lay discarded on the ground nearby. The men stood ready on foot while their horses huddled together at a distance, stamping nervously. Isaiah kept chewing the stale bread defiantly, not wanting to spit it out and show any sign of weakness.

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

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

“That is what I mean,” the captain agreed, as the men approached. Isaiah stepped back, his feet only inches from the dark void in the ground.

“I am unwilling to fight your stupid war, but I am willing to fight you,” Isaiah shouted casting himself into the inky darkness. The Confederate soldiers stared in disbelief, circling around the edge of the perfectly rounded hole. One let out a derisive chuckle at Isaiah’s apparent act of crazed desperation. “All of that work to watch the man leap into a hole,” The soldier turned to the captain. “We still getting paid, sir?”

The captain exhaled a frustrated sigh, unamused by his subordinate’s remark. “Enough lollygagging. Mount up, we’re returning to camp.” 

As the men turned away from the hole to return to their horses, an earth-shaking thump came from behind. Whirling around, their jaws went slack at the sight now rising monstrously into view.

What had once been the scrawny frame of Isaiah Milton now loomed over them, less human and standing 12 feet tall, dwarfing the soldiers. 

“You’ll remember my name now, you worm.” A deep, rumbling voice reverberated from the massive man. Even Isaiah was taken a back by his grotesque speech.

Before the soldiers could raise their rifles, one of Isaiah’s massive hands lashed out swiftly, like a black bear, knocking the closest soldier violently to the ground. The others finally remembered to open fire, but the bullets bounced off Isaiah without leaving so much as a mark. 

It was over in seconds. The once terrified young deserter swatted the remaining men away like gnats. From Isaiah’s new, viewpoint he was a man fighting toddlers. 

The battered Confederate soldiers finally retreated toward their horses, one shouting over his shoulder, “This ain’t over, freak! We’ll be back with reinforcements!”

“I’ll be waiting,” Isaiah’s deep bass voice rumbled in response.

Once the men had fled, the towering giant turned his attention back to the mysterious pit. If they did return with hundreds more soldiers, he didn’t think even his newfound gigantic stature could withstand their numbers. But if this strange hole could double his size once or twice more, increasing his size to 30 or 60 feet tall or more, maybe he’d have the power to crush the Confederates entirely.

Drunk by his new power the promise of even more, Isaiah decided to tempt fate once more. Taking a deep breath, the desert wind whistling through his massive nostrils, the giant leaped back into the hole in the ground. 

A minute went by, and Isaiah was not tossed back out. Ten minutes later, it became clear he was stuck, or perhaps trapped, in the otherworldly pit; too large to be squeezed back out. 

That’s when a boy, a Native American no older than eight, cautiously approached, pushing a small cart piled with fruits and vegetables. One by one, he began tossing apples, squash, and ears of corn into the void, waiting for the food to double in size to provide more food for his tribe.

One by one, the boy tossed his offerings of fruits and vegetables into the pit, only for them to soon reemerge – transformed into massive versions that thudded heavily to the ground. When at last the final apple returned it had swollen to the size of a small pumpkin. But what made the young boy freeze in fright was a bite marked by teeth larger than a great white shark’s. Terrified, the boy abandoned the mutated fruit to rot on the ground and hurried away, fleeing back to the safety of his tribe’s village leaving the giant now too big to escape the underground world.

The next morning, the Native tribesmen returned, leading mules pulling supplies needed to cover the strange pit – lumber, tools, and materials. They carefully constructed a sturdy framework to bridge the gap. Once the wooden beams were in place, they covered it all with packed clay, dirt, and sod, camouflaging it to blend seamlessly with the prairie surroundings. Within a day, the location of the mysterious hole was utterly concealed and secret once more. If the Confederates returned they had nowhere to go and no one would believe their story. 

Over the century that followed, the existence of the otherworldly pit faded from memory as the area became settled. A few years later a school was built on the adjacent property and a playground for the children – swings, slides, and climbing structures built directly over where the void had opened up. Among the equipment were “talk tubes” – long pipes that allowed kids to communicate by speaking into either end.

One day, in a corner of the playground, a young girl played alone, ankle-deep in rubber mulch. She stood by the talk tube with no one on the other end to communicate with, but she laughed and sang anyway.

A teacher, feeling bad for the youngster, went to the other end of the tube to give her some conversation. When she neared, she could hear the girl’s song exiting the tube on her end – a marching tune about soldiers returning home.

While the teacher thought the song choice was odd, when she heard the next line sung by someone with an impossibly deep voice, she freaked out.

“The men will cheer, and the boys will shout.

The ladies they will all turn out.

On that joyful day when Johnny comes marching home.”

The terrified teacher immediately rushed to the girl and ushered her away from the tube. Later that day, the school janitor Benjamin permanently sealed both ends with concrete, cutting off any link to the depths below.

 But even now, when you stand at the Middletown Middle playground on a hot August day and feel the warm breeze whispering Isaiah in your ear, you may also hear the giant singing his favorite song.


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