The Speed of Progress
John Sibley Williams

The townsfolk and camera crews, even the mayor and his wife, gathered in weeping circles around the dried up well on the forgotten cusp between two families’ properties. The well does not belong to us, they both demanded. Our hands are clean. But the boy, named Charles (last name not disclosed given his age), cried up from its hollows all the same. His voice resonated from brick to brick and through the congregation and sounded to some like an accusation. Church had just let out, and those not coated in dust and soil from the day’s farming wore starched white shirts, midnight black ties, shoes that squeaked from underuse. A debate ensued among the faltering voice at the bottom of the well, whose words couldn’t rightly be deciphered apart from its suffering and fear and hope, and the politics of the mayor, the curious camera eyes, the children of Charles’ tender age who continued chasing each other with sticks, and the parents who watched them and smiled, overjoyed at their safety. Nobody noticed if Charles’ parents were in attendance. Some asked if another child should be dropped into the well, rope secure around the waist, to search for Charles. Each parent looked at each other, asked why not their child, why not Jimmy or Katherine or that Elijah who was known throughout as a troublemaker and seeker of danger. Hours passed in silent accusation. Nobody volunteered their child, and the children themselves could not be tempted from their Cowboys and Indians. The mayor suggested lowering a bucket but no bucket could be found. He suggested lowering a camera so they could at least see the face that belonged to the voice that was steadily growing less immediate. The reporters asked who would pay for the equipment if it broke. The pastor rallied the town in prayer, and they prayed until the moon joined the sun on opposing edges of the sky. At this point, or so the newspapers later reported, the entire town could be counted around the well at the far edge of no one’s property. They exchanged ideas and held hands, lit candles and etched strategies in the mud with the heels of their shoes. As the moon took over and the black of night replaced blue twilight, someone hollered above the group I can’t hear the voice anymore. They all bent over the well and listened and similarly could not catch even a whisper from the lost boy. The bricks were silent. There shall be no more lost children, the mayor is reported to have said. Children are our salvation and should be cherished, the pastor agreed. The town cheered the idea and sealed up the well within the hour.

John Sibley Williams is the author of six chapbooks, winner of the HEART Poetry Award, and finalist for the Pushcart and Rumi Poetry Prizes. He has served as Acquisitions Manager of Ooligan Press and Publicist for Three Muses Press and holds an MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Book Publishing. When he’s not writing, you may find him reclined beneath an unnecessary umbrella on the closer side of the moon.

Art by Peter Gorwin