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The hole couldn't have been dug by an animal. It was too perfect. And where was the dirt pile? Stan took a look around. Four houses to the left, a neighbor was mowing the lawn. Two houses to the right, a terrier dashed after a tennis ball thrown by a pony-tailed little girl. If this was a joke, no one seemed interested in his reaction.


He peered back down and wondered at the perfect blackness. With the tip of his shoe he helped a pebble over the edge. If it hit bottom, he never heard it.


That night, he came outside with a heavy-duty flashlight and held it over the opening. Smooth walls of dirt extended beyond the reach of the beam. He weighed the light in his hand, contemplated the cost of replacing it, and finally chose curiosity over frugality. Down the flashlight went, handle first, the weight of the batteries keeping it mostly upright. The light shrank to a pinprick, then vanished completely. He sighed.


It took a week to gather enough rope and courage for what came next. He even bought one of those hardhats with a light on it and taped spare batteries to the brim. He dragged a garden hose over the edge and turned it on, then switched on his light and began the descent. When his arms got tired, he dug out notches in the soft clay for his boots. He could even sleep like that, since the hole was narrow enough for him to brace his back against. His pockets were filled with energy bars, and the trickle of water from the hose was sandy but refreshing.


There was no telling how long it took to reach the city below – a watch was one piece of kit he'd forgotten – but when he did, he was welcomed with open arms by the strange folk who lived there. They spoke an odd language impossible to comprehend, but their meaning became clear when they placed a crown upon his head. “It's lovely,” he said, trying to be polite while refusing the gesture. “I thank you, but no. I've only come for this.” He picked up his heavy-duty flashlight from the mud, disappointed by the crack in the lens, and steeled himself for the long climb home.


Copyright (c) 2015 Robert Esckelson

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