The Devil’s Hole (Flash Fiction)

Hole in the groundDuring the summer, I was allowed to stay up late, which usually meant bedtime was an hour or so after dark. But I stayed up with my mom, waiting for dad to return.

She was reading one of her tabloids from the grocery store, and I had my nose in a comic book. But I don’t think either of us was getting much reading done. Every time we heard a car in the distance, we thought it might be him coming home with news.

Around 11:00, a car finally pulled up to the house. The sound of tires crunching gravel on the driveway drew me to the window. Mom went to the door, but it opened before she could touch the knob. Dad came in with Mr. Johnson, both men covered in sweat and dirt. Dad looked shaken. Mr. Johnson helped my dad into the door and left without a word.

Now, there’s something you should know. My dad drank. He had a bottle of rye hidden behind a book in the study. We all knew it was there. I had never seen him take a drink from it, but I had smelled it on his breath more than one morning. Not once had he ever taken a drink in front of me or – to my knowledge – my mom. That night, when he came in, he made a beeline straight for the study, grabbed the bottle and a glass, and returned to the living room. He sat in his chair, and proceeded to drink two glasses of rye before saying a word.

“Boy, go to bed.”

When he called me “boy” it meant that there was no discussion. I said goodnight to them both and went upstairs to my room.

We lived in one of the older houses in Polk County, built around the turn of the century. We had central heating, and the vents were placed on the floors and ceilings in each room. To my good fortune, the vent in my room was directly over the vent in the living room. When one was opened, I could hear everything said below me. When both were opened, I had a bird’s-eye view too. In the summer, all the vents were open because my mom felt it helped air flow through the house.

I closed the door to my room and climbed onto my bed, making sure to squeak the mattress springs so they would know I had gone to bed. Then I slipped to the floor and crawled commando style to the vent and peered down from the darkness.

Evidently, the men didn’t have any luck finding the Murphy boys. I heard my dad say, “…found some shoes. Could have been from one of the boys, but they might have been left there by some tourist. They were by the mouth of a small cave south of the river. Old man Monter found them and figured the boys had climbed down into the hole.”

I didn’t know which hole he was talking about, but I had seen plenty in my short time on earth. Boys find holes in the ground the way snakes find warm rocks. It’s just something in their biology. The Ozark region is filled with caves, grottos, and hollows.

“Did you go down after them, then?” asked my mom.

“Couldn’t,” said Dad. I heard the clink of glass on glass, and figured my dad was pouring some more rye. “It was a small hole. A couple of boys could climb down, but not me. Jim Parker said he could make it, so he stripped down to his skivvies. We tied a rope around him and lowered him down.”

“That was brave,” said Mom. She always hated close places. We had a walk-in pantry that she refused to use.

“Brave. Huh,” said Dad.

“What happened?”

“I don’t think you want to know. It was … Jesus H. Christ, it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Carl! Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

“The Lord had nothing to do with what was out there tonight. I’m telling you, Ellie, it was something from Hell.”

Dad took another drink of rye. I could hear him gulp it down. Then he poured another.

“We lowered Jim into the hole. It was about two feet across, but it seemed to angle a bit as it went. After a few feet, he found his footing and climbed down. We held the rope to steady him, but he was doing it on his own.

“Everything seemed to be fine,” continued Dad. “Then Jim let out this horrible scream. It wasn’t the kind of scream you yell when you’re hurt or when you’re in pain. It wasn’t a cry of surprise. It was long and high, a scream of pure terror and fear.

“The rope pulled in our hands, and we thought he was falling. We grabbed on tight, and the rope burned our hands. We finally got a hold and pulled Jim back up. It didn’t take long – two or three minutes, tops – but it seemed like an eternity. When we finally pulled him out of the hole, we jumped back unsure of what we were looking at.”

“Was he hurt?” asked Mom.

“He was alive,” said Dad. “But his skin was the color of ash and his hair had gone white. His eyes were wide, and he was shaking like Marge Wilson having one of her epileptic fits. I started to think he was going to hurt himself, when he flipped over onto his stomach, pushed himself to his feet, and raced off at full speed like a man running for his life. It took us nearly an hour to find him. He was in the churchyard, naked as the day he was born, huddled up against his momma’s headstone.”

“Did he say what happened?” asked Mom.

“We couldn’t get a word out of him. He was quiet as a sinner on Sunday.”

We never saw Mr. Parker again. Dad said he moved away, but I heard my mom talking with Mrs. Wilson and saying he had gone to the state hospital in Fulton. The kids in the area stayed clear of his farm, and no one would buy his house. It burned down a few years later, and a friend of mine who lived nearby said the county fire department just let it burn.

Dad took another drink of rye and coughed.

He always coughed after that. Some say it was the drink that got him. Others say it was cancer, because he smoked a pack a day. But I still wonder if maybe something had touched him that night and never let him go.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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