holes in the earth, Audrey Hawkes
When the first hole appears in Cora’s backyard that summer, all the neighborhood kids gather to see it. We stand barefoot in the grass and peer down into it from a few feet away. Joey from next door wants to throw a rock down it to see what would happen, but Cora tells us her dad said not to put anything in the hole. He called the fire department to come look at it.
The hole is three feet in diameter and pitch black all the way down. It seems to eat at the light around it. It’s the middle of the afternoon, the sun bright and baking white overhead, and the hole is still a dark void.
There’s not much to do besides look, and soon we get bored and leave. Before we go, Joey throws a rock into the hole anyway. We watch it get swallowed up by the darkness and we listen for the sound of it hitting the bottom, but there’s nothing. It’s just gone.
The fire department shows up at Cora’s house and we watch from across the street as the truck parks outside and the firemen go through the side gate. After, Cora tells us they couldn’t figure out what the hole was or how to get rid of it, since it seems to swallow up the dirt no matter how much you dump in. Cora’s dad still tries; every time I look out my bedroom window I can see over the fence into Cora’s yard and there he is, shoveling dirt into the hole.
A week later, another hole appears in Mrs. Derby’s backyard and her little dog runs right into it. Mrs. Derby says that the dog yelped when it first ran over the edge, but once it fell in there was no more sound at all. She didn’t hear it hit the ground, and she can’t hear it barking from the bottom.
“What do you think is in there?” Cora asks over the phone. I’m not allowed to go to her house anymore.
“That rock Joey threw and Mrs. Derby’s dog, I guess,” I say. I walk across my kitchen to the glass back door, holding the phone to my ear and staring out at my mom’s garden boxes, the crabgrass sprouting through the cracks of our patio. There is no hole in my backyard. Not yet.
When the third hole appears in the sidewalk between Joey’s house and mine, the neighborhood starts to get concerned. They send complaints to the city. Men in construction gear set up a low fence around the hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it every time I go past Joey’s house on my way home.
A month after the first hole appears, Cora has an idea. “I’m going to look inside the hole,” she tells me. “I need you to come hang onto me so I don’t fall in.”
I sneak over after dinner. I climb the fence between our backyards and Cora is waiting for me by the hole. “I’m just going to stick my head in for a second,” she says.
I wrap my arms around her waist. I dig my heels into the grass. Cora leans forward in the circle of my arms until her head is inside the hole.
It looks like she’s been decapitated, her neck cleanly ending in nothing where her head disappears in the darkness. I can feel her steady breaths, the way her chest rises and falls against my forearms. The back of my neck sweats.
She’s only inside it for ten seconds, maybe less. When she comes up, she blinks for several minutes, squinting in the early evening light. There is no emotion at all in her face. She’s just gone.
“Well?” I ask, when she’s been quiet too long. “What’s in there? What did you see?”
Cora looks at me. After a while, she says, “Nothing. I think you should go home.”
That night, I can’t sleep. I get out of bed and go to my window. I can see into Cora’s backyard, and even in the moonlight I can see the hole. It eats the light around it. I get back into bed and close my eyes, and the backs of my eyelids are as dark as the void outside.
Audrey Hawkes is a desert rat living and writing in Arizona, and can often be found watching bad horror movies or on Twitter @audrey_hawkes.