The Hole
by Will Stinson

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    It was early October when I moved into town. My father, a local farmer, had passed away and left me his land. The will said nothing about what I should do with it, but knowing my father, he’d want me to take care of it, not sell.

    I had my own plot farther south, but it was smaller, easier to manage. This would be a challenge, I never shied away from a little hard work.

    The town was more remote than I expected. One road in or out, through hilly country. One church—Catholic, like me. One of everything. And everyone who ran everything knew each other.

    I settled in nicely. Officer McDougan, Father Dante, Keller from the laundromat, Maddie the baker… all were nice enough. Warmer than I expected. Or deserved, from how little time I had to make introductions.

    The field out front was overgrown by the time I was moved in and could tend to it, so I sighed and bit the bullet, strapping a mowing deck on my father’s old tractor to tame the lot. It took hours, though I’d seen my father do it before in half the time.

    I was almost halfway through when I felt something give to my right. The tractor started to tilt that way. I hit the brakes and pulled left, but it only leaned farther, farther, until it was practically falling out from under me. There was nothing to do but jump, leaving it to tumble into the sinkhole that had opened up.

    Falling, falling, falling. I didn’t hear a crash.

    I ran home and phoned Officer McDougan, told him what happened. “It’s right near the road out of town,” I said. “You might want to come check it out.”

    No one in town rushed much, but no one had much else to do, either. Half an hour later, he was standing in my field, patrol car parked on the road nearby. “See what you mean. That’s a big one.” He went up to the road, grabbed a rock, and dropped it into the hole.

    Falling, falling, falling. No thud.

    I asked him, “You gonna get the DoT on it? Could be damaging the road.”

    He shook his head. “It’s a good twenty paces away. I don’t think we’ll need—”

    Then the ground rumbled again, and the dirt at the edges of the hole fell away. Officer McDougan slipped, gave a holler, and fell into the hole.

    Falling, falling, falling. No thunk. No scream.

    “Officer McDougan! You in there?” I called after him. Nothing.

    So, I ran home again, called the neighbors for help, but no one could see how to get him out, and night was coming. It was too dangerous to look for a body after dark, so we agreed to pick it up the next morning.

    I got out there bright and early, only to find (who else but) Officer McDougan standing at the lip of the hole. He was looking down, but turned and waved when he spotted me.

    “How’d you get out?” I asked.

    He just smiled. “It’s not so deep, once you’re inside,” he said.

    I was glad he survived, but didn’t have much time for anything else; I was, as ever, busy. The house needed painting, the fence needed mending, and the field needed mowing.

    Which, of course, reminded me. My tractor was still sitting at the bottom of that hole. I went to ask Officer McDougan if he’d seen it was still usable, but he just smiled, pointing at my garage.

    There it was. My father’s tractor, just like it’d been when he’d given it to me. The same long scratch across its right, from when he’d pulled too close to a rock wall. The same ding in the hood, proof of surviving a falling tree after a nor’easter.

    “How’d you get it up?” I asked the officer.

    Again, he only smiled. “It’s easier than you think, once you’re inside.”

    So I started mowing again.

    I give the hole a wide go-around, let me tell you. I could lose the tractor once, but hell if I was going into that hole to hoist it out again. Officer McDougan had all the police tools in the world, but I had my hands, and that was it.

    Right as I was passing the hole by, the tractor’s steering wheel seized up. Couldn’t budge it for the life of me, and the pedals locked, too. It started drifting to the left, making a run straight for the hole, and it was gonna drop me down with it.

    I had no choice but to bail for the second time. And, for the second time, I watched my father’s old tractor…

    …falling, falling, falling. It never even hit the sides.

    That cued me into something: the hole was growing. It started out maybe forty feet from the road, and now it was practically touching the asphalt.

    I was shaken, I won’t lie to you, but nothing puts the mind at ease like having something to do. I gave up on the field for the day, and set to painting the front door instead.

    Over the next day or so, I came to realize that news had gotten around. People came driving up to see what the fuss was about; they wanted a peek at the hole. Officer McDougan had his hands full keeping them orderly, but he never seemed stressed about it.

    While I worked on the fence, I heard Keller from the laundromat come up to Officer McDougan. “What was it like, falling in? Did it hurt?”

    Officer McDougan shook his head. “Not at all. We can set up a rope, lower you in, if you like.” Keller seemed to like that idea, so Officer McDougan turned to me. “How about you? It’s an experience, and that’s for sure.”

    I told him, “Nice of you to offer, but I’ve got my hands full.” I was digging new fence post holes, and not nearly done yet.

    “You sure?” asked the officer. “It’s not something you’d want to miss.”

    But I was sure, and other folks started lowering themselves in, one by one. They must have thought it was something special, because to a person, they came out with a smile on their faces. Keller tried to invite me in again, but I said to him what I said to Officer McDougan: I was busy.

    Over the next month or two, practically everyone in town came by to see the bottom of the hole. Miss Viola, the school teacher, brought her little class down on a field trip, with Officer McDougan and Maddie the baker as chaperones. I heard it was quite the hit.

    And the hole kept growing. It swallowed the road entirely, it did. I asked Officer McDougan about if he’d called the DoT, he only shrugged and told me everything was already being taken care of. It’d all be alright in the end.

    Late in one afternoon, I got a knock on my door. It was a couple of faces I didn’t recognize, but they introduced themselves as Joseph and Erin Malone, from a farm at the far end of town.

    “We came by to introduce ourselves. Sorry we’re so late,” said Joseph.

    “Not at all. Come in, it’s chilly out.”

    While I poured hot drinks for everyone, they told me about how they’d lived in town their whole lives, and knew everything there was to know: Maddie had celiac disease, and had figured out how to make some gluten-free bread that didn’t taste like sand. Father Dante had asked his bishop to station him in town, too.

    Right as they were heading out for the night, Joseph turned back to me. “Let me know if you want me to show you around sometime,” he said. “There are a lot of places you’ll get to know. But none quite like the hole!”

    Erin was nodding along. “We went down last week. You haven’t gone in yet, right? It’s right there! Make sure not to miss out!”

    Now, I’ll admit, I’m what you might call a contrarian. The more someone bugs me to do something, the less I want to do it. So by this point, I was pretty set on never checking it out, even if the Lord Himself said I needed to. I was a little short with them on the way out… all but slammed the door on them.

    Which is why I was still in a sour mood when Father Dante came by two days later. I was working on some interior painting when he arrived, but I couldn’t turn back a man of the cloth. He had a sad expression on his face, sort of somber.

    “I understand you had a confrontation with the Malones,” he said.

    “I did indeed,” I said.

    “Erin Malone came to me yesterday, all but in tears. She’s worried they did something to offend you.”

    It wasn’t worth fighting over, so I told the Father, “Nothing, really. I’ve just been feeling a little short-tempered lately.”

    Father Dante nodded. “I see. They were worried it might have something to do with the hole. Now,” he held up a hand to stop me from objecting. “I understand that you’ve been hearing a lot about it, but the Malones are torn up. Dropping by the hole will take fifteen minutes of your life, but it’ll spare them days of guilt. Think of it as a peace offering. There’s value in community, in being neighborly, my son. You should go into the hole.”

    I’d just about had it. Politely as I could, I booted the Father out of there. “You live your life, and I’ll live mine,” I told him, and watched him drive off.

    Days of that. People couldn’t stop talking about the hole, the hole, the hole. “Drop in! Drop by! You’ll like it!” Keeping to myself got easier, because listening to everyone else—and I do mean everyone else—was grating on the nerves.

    I rarely left the farm—there wasn’t much reason to, and it wasn’t like I could get out of town with the road gone. But I had to take care of things eventually, and so I made a day trip into town. The Post office, the dump, grocery shopping… took me a good few hours.

    And when I came back, there were a dozen cars in my driveway. Inside, the neighbors, Father Dante, Maddie, and more had hung a banner.

    “Intervention.” It was about the hole. They said I was getting aggressive, that I was starting to scare them.

    “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I said to them.

    They gave me the usual spiel. “We’re worried about you.” Why would you be?

    “You’re not yourself!” You’ve known me for, what, three months?

    “It’s such a little thing to do, and it’ll help you so much!” How? How will it help me?

    They just looked at each other. “You just need to trust us,” said Father Dante. “It’s only scary from the outside.”

    “It’s warmer inside,” said Maddie.

    “You’ll understand once you try it,” said Joseph Malone.

    That was when I broke. “Get out! All of you, get out, or I’m calling the police!”

    There was a knock, knock, knock from the door. It opened, and Officer McDougan was outside. “Hope I’m not late!”

    I’m not too sure what happened next. It was a blur. I was throwing things, people were running, crying. Fifteen minutes later, my house was empty, and a wreck.

    A storm blew in that night. Snow like I’d never seen, three, four feet in a single night. Visibility zilch, zero.

    The next morning, the world was white: not glistening, crystalline, but foggy and opaque. Even when I dug out the door, I couldn’t see a thing until the fog lifted up, just enough to get a view outside.

    Just enough to see the ring of people. Everyone from the intervention. Everyone from the town, standing there, waist-deep in the snow. Father Dante. Officer McDougan, Maddie, the Malones… everyone.

    Not frozen. Just… watching me.

    And they all turned at once, pointing. To me. Then to the hole.

    I never said I was a brave man. I ran. Found my truck, ran it straight through the doors, straight through the snow. The road was gone, so I took it over the fields instead.

    In the snow, I couldn’t see. Didn’t realize how big the hole had gotten.

    So now, I’m here to tell all of you: honestly, I was worried over nothing. You really should take a look at the hole.

    Because it’s not so deep, once you’re inside.