Hyun knelt on the grass and reached his arm deep into the hole.
“Hello,” he whispered, “Can you hear me?” He was sure they were just out of reach, that if only he stretched that bit further he might touch them. First his left leg stretched back, then the other. Soon he was prone, shoulders by his ears and both arms buried in the darkness. The dew soaked into his cotton shirt and stabbed his chest like little dots of ice. But he was more concerned that the cover of morning mist had already slid into the valley below and left him exposed. “Hello? I can hear you, can you hear me?” He removed an arm from the hole and rolled to his side. His shoulder fell a few precious inches further inside and he held the other arm up like a flagpole. Just like the one in the village. The same village that now stirred in the morning sun. Hyun called down the length of his arm, this time more urgently, “Hello? Can you see my hand? I’m wiggling it. Can you hear me? I can hear you. I hear you.”
“Oh Hyun. Not this again,”
Hyun turned his head and stared at the soft leather shoes that contained his wife’s feet. Dried mud from her work in the fields cracked into brown shards, but the shoes remained soft and supple, always yielding when necessary yet strong enough to count upon in times of harshness. A perfect match for his wife and her countenance. Hyun looked up to search her face but the morning sun glowed behind her silhouette and made it unreadable.
“I’m sorry Su-Jin, I must—” and as if taken by a loud noise he stretched his arm out again, thoroughly captivated by the hole in the ground. Su-Jin listened to him call into the hole, frowned at the morning breeze and pulled her jeogori closer. She spoke softly, worried that those in the nearest huts at the edge of the village might hear her. Her voice was calm, her words as steady as her husband’s body on the cold grass.
“I don’t know what to do with you anymore Hyun,” she was tired; beyond crying, pleading, and demanding, “I’ve been your friend since childhood, given you children, worked in your fields. I’ve done all that was required of me, yet…”
Hyun stopped calling to the hole, twisted his body and nodded at the silhouette above him. The light shone around her form and Hyun wondered for a moment if she had transformed into the angel he’d always proclaimed she was. Her voice had always calmed his heart, but the pull towards the hole had become unbearable. She spoke again, “Can you move away from the hole now? Please? The villagers are beginning to talk, just like they did when you were a child. Remember how you held my hand, and we walked away from the hole? You said if we lived on the other side of the village you might not—hear them…. Do you remember?” Su-Jin pulled her jeogori closer and checked either side of her before she bent over and whispered, “Please get up and come back home.”
Hyun leant on his elbow and looked between Su-Jin and the hole several times. “You really can’t hear them?”
“No. We’ve been through this a hundred times.”
A cry rose like an unearthly song from the hole and crushed Hyun’s heart, he clutched at his chest but Su-Jin remained unmoved. “You didn’t hear that—just now?”
Su-Jin shook her head, “It’s not that I don’t believe you hear whatever it is you hear…”
“The well dwellers.”
“Yes, your well dwellers,” she sighed, “It’s just I don’t hear them, and that makes it difficult to…” she looked back to the village and her shoulders dropped with her sigh. “Please come home,”
Hyun smiled at the beautiful strong woman before him. Her body was no longer firm but her heart was larger than any he had ever known. Tears pricked his eyes. “Forgive me my love, but I cannot leave them now,”
Su-Jin turned her head from him, bit her bottom lip, nodded, and walked away.
The dew had already dried when a sting across Hyun’s back jolted his body and slammed his chin into the ground.
“Hyun! Hyun! You moron. You crazy man. Get your arm out of that hole and get to your fields!”
He didn’t have to look, it was the voice of his brother. The second most successful man in the village and his eager replacement as mayor when he’d stepped aside in the spring.
“You can waste your entire day beating me with your stick,” Hyun replied, “I cannot move from this well. I refuse to move.”
“But what of your fields? They’re ready for harvest.”
“You have them. I don’t want them,”
“Now you really are crazy! You’d give up your fields for a hole in the ground?”
Hyun rolled over and watched his brother curse and wave his arms in the air. The stick in his hand gathered momentum along with the redness of his face and Hyun thought it best to rise and sit before he spoke. “Brother, I have done everything that was asked of me. I kept the village happy. Now can I please return to my real work?”
“Real work?” his brother bellowed, “Your real job is in the village!”
The stick smashed into Hyun’s shoulder with such force shockwaves of hot pain seared through one side of his body. He grunted against the pain, confident the blow would only form a deep bruise. “You help Su-Jin with the harvest and keep some for yourself,” Hyun returned his focus to the well and continued, “I’ll stay here. I should have been doing this all along,”
“Yelling down a hole? You are here to work your field!”
The stick hummed as it sliced through the air above Hyun’s skull. Hyun turned and collected the stick with a smack to his hand and wrenched it from his brother’s grasp. “No!” he said, “I am here for them, and I have ignored them long enough. The village has taken enough of me. Leave me in peace to complete my work. Take all you want from my fields, and if you are able, at least try to honor what you don’t understand,”
The sun’s honeyed light pointed through the valley and had already forced shadows into lines when Hyun gasped, the air catching just inside his throat. A hand, soft, light, and delicate took his within the darkness. They searched each other, this hand and his, in a gentle dance of understanding. Trust inched forward and their dance settled on a grip that bound their hands to the other’s wrist.
Slowly Hyun lifted the well dweller to the surface and finally beheld the call of his heart. A contradiction knelt in the grass before him. Skin that shivered, pale and damp from life in the well yet contained a fire so intense he had to lean away. Eyes, fearful and large, that held the secrets and wisdom of incredible strength. The release of the well dweller sparked a lightness of hope that bloomed in continuous motion inside his chest. Hyun had witnessed the birth of something new, his small role part of a larger expansion that grew by each accumulated but equally small role. Hyun gently reached toward the well dweller and tucked a damp lock of hair behind their ear. He lowered his head toward the well dweller, “You know your task?”
The well dweller nodded once.
“Then you must go. Don’t let the village distract you. They’re yet to live in the depths or be remade by the darkness. I will stay to help the others. Now go,”
Hyun watched the well dweller disappear into the woods with a heart that threatened to expand into every part of his body. He lay prone on the ground and stretched his arm into the hole.
“Hello,” he called, “Can you hear me?”