It resembles the shape of a human being, but the length of the arms and legs are exaggerated. It is black, and looking at it from this distance makes it seem more like a coal sketch than a physical creature. It pauses on the lip of the well, mouth agape, and Saul can feel it watch him from the hollows of its face that should be holding eyes. He watches its back rise and fall with breath. Saul wants to walk toward it and run from it at the same time.
“Your sensitivity summons me, boy. You’re like a quivering magnet; it could be hazardous if I come much closer.” The being’s voice is a hoarse whisper caught in a hiss.
“What’s your name?” Saul asks.
The being cocks its head back, its mouth a sneering black hole. “Mersef. You may be a boy, but you’re not a dumb one. You ask my name with authority; who taught you how to guard yourself from we who walk the boundary?”
“I read a lot.”
Mersef’s laughter erupts. “It is dangerous to walk the path of knowledge without a guide. You might stumble over a snake you mistook for a stone.”
“I could banish you from the well if I wanted,” Saul says with sudden bravado.
Mersef’s reply is a purr. “Your ignorance is obvious. A wise man, a righteous man - yes - could banish me. The most you can do is hold me at bay, but I can follow. I can inhabit the things around you, the ones you love. I can torment you for the rest of your days, boy.”
Saul swallows, feeling his pulse beat hard between his collar bones.
“Or, I can guide you,” Mersef coos.
The wind picks up as the sun begins to set behind the trees, leaves rustling a gentle warning. Saul hears the creak of the screen door as it opens and the sound of his mother calling him in for dinner.
“Saul, come inside! Let’s eat!”
“Ah, Saul. Now we are better acquainted,” says Mersef, almost giggling.
“Damn it,” Saul says under his breath and then, “K! I’m coming!”
Mersef adjusts itself to resemble a cat seated on its haunches.
“We have power over one another now, Saul. Just enough to stay bound,” the demon says.
Saul shakes his head. “No. You are bound to the well. You can’t leave it unless you’re released, unless you have another place to go. Your threats are empty. Meaningless.”
“But my promise is rich with potential,” Mersef replies. “I can guide you, remember?”
“What could you possibly teach me that I would even want to know? I can learn everything myself.”
Mersef begins to lower itself back into the well. “Ah, but you want to know everything I know, because the rabbis won’t teach you. They keep the power from you, but everything the rabbis know, they learned from us. We are the true source of knowledge, the ultimate source of power for someone like you.”
“What do you mean someone like me?”
Mersef shrugs and turns its face away. “What difference does it make? You can learn everything yourself, you said.”
Panic settles in Saul’s chest and he steps forward, reaching toward the well with his hand. “Wait. I mean it. What do you mean?”
Mersef turns to the boy again and says, “Your tradition and your world disapprove of all the qualities that make you special. You perceive the spirit world. You can walk the line between worlds. You are rare because you are curious and willing to be controlled by the very beings you can control.”
Saul is anxious now, knowing he should go inside. This conversation should end, but he wants to hear more. He has always felt like an outcast at school and at the synagogue, too smart to be relatable. He’s a star on the track team, but no number of medals could earn the respect of his peers. The demon knows a part of Saul that he cannot share with others, not even his mother. Maybe Mersef can make him feel at home in his own skin.
“We are brothers, Saul. I can show you what that connection means, and the power you can wield.” Mersef descends into the well, out of sight and says, “Come to me tomorrow with your decision.”
At the dinner table, Saul is pensive and pushes his peas around with his fork. His mother notices, but doesn’t press, and his father is engulfed with the day’s newspaper. His brothers are playing paper, rock, scissors for the last piece of chicken. Saul helps clean the table and wash the dishes with his mother.
“Do you think I’m special?” he asks.
She turns to face him, holding a dish in one hand and a rag in the other. “Yes, Saul. You are very special.” Her smile suggests concern. “I think you will make a wonderful lawyer someday.”
Saul lies in bed with his hands under his head, staring at the ceiling as his thoughts become lazy and he drifts toward sleep. He dreams of a spirit, luminous and malleable like water. He hears the echo of the rabbi reciting from the book of Bereshit.
“And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep…”
Saul watches the spirit hover and glow, but it isn’t bright enough to illuminate the darkness that surrounds it. It seems weak in comparison to Mersef. He wants the adoration, the admiration, the affirmation and words the demon offers.
The vision of the glowing spirit begins to dim as the well comes into focus with Mersef waiting. Saul hears himself whisper into the night.
“Teach me. I’m yours.”