During the winter of my twenty seventh year, I was sent by the king to a faraway village to investigate a large hole that had opened up in the ground. The people of the village went to bed one night and there was no hole, the next morning it was there. A round black circle, so deep the bottom could not be seen. Rumors reached the king of strange things happening in the village, tales of food appearing, as if out of the sky, and saving the village from starvation. It was requested of me that I inquire into the matter to see if witchcraft or devilry was behind these events. The king was reluctant to send me at first because my young son had recently succumbed to the fever and died. He had been in the ground only thirteen days when I began my journey.
When a child is lost, their future is lost as well, and this in turn makes the future of the parents bleak and shapeless. My wife fell ill with grief and would not rise from her bed to bathe or eat. She wept for hours, from the darkness of the morning to the darkness of the night. Weeping until her voice was hoarse. She pleaded with God, begging him to let her be haunted by the ghost of our son, for the silence in the house was too much for her to bear. I did not want to leave her, but neither could I stay. My presence helped nothing, and the sound of her crying only made it more difficult for me to remain intact.
The journey to the village took three days by horse and was largely uneventful. I did however come across the frozen body of a young man fallen to the side of the road. He was stiff and covered in frost, as naked as the day he was born. It was my belief that some bandits robbed and killed him, so I said a prayer for his soul and continued on.
I traveled through a perpetual fog that hung over the land like a tattered blanket. I smelled the odor of cooking meat before I saw the village. As I drew closer, the lights of the houses hung suspended within the fog like yellow eyes, the buildings themselves only shadow shapes fluttering on the silver blanket.
When I reached the tavern there was music and dancing. I was told it was a celebration for the village’s good fortune. I was taken to the village elder, who was already drunk on mead. He sat at a table in the corner, stroking his white beard and watching his people be merry. I told the elder who I was and asked if he could tell me about the hole.
“I will do more than that,” he said. “I will show you.”
With that, the elder downed the rest of his mead, then he smashed the mug on the edge of table, shattering the clay into pieces. These he gathered into his hands and said, “Come with me.”
He led me past the well and the whipping post. Past the church, whose bell I could not even see because of the fog, and out of the village to a field where there was a withered old tree with branches like skeleton arms. Twisted and bare. At the base of the tree, stretching out from the trunk, was a circle of small stones, surely placed there by hand. Beside this tree was the hole. I felt the cold dead air of it rising up, smelling of must and earth. And although the night was black, the pit itself was even blacker.
The elder and I stood side by side before the hole, and it was as wide as the two of us. He still held the broken mug in his hands. He took one look at me and then threw the pottery into the void. The pieces made no sound as they fell. I could not understand why he’d done such a thing, but I immediately fell to my knees and listened. The hole was silent save for the faint breeze that blew over the opening, making a sound not unlike the moaning of my wife.
“You will not hear it land,” the elder said. “Large stones have been sent down there, but it appears that it had no end. And yet,” he said with a smile, “it does have a beginning.”
The elder then told me the story of how the hole was discovered one early morning six days earlier. A boy had gone out to collect eggs from the chickens, and he discovered that they were all rotten. He took the eggs in his basket and meant to dispose of them in the field when he came across the hole. Rather than walk any farther, the boy tossed the rotten eggs into the abyss and returned home. The next morning, all of the eggs the chickens had laid were once again rotten. So once again the boy gathered them up and took them to the hole. However, when he arrived he saw this circle of stones by the tree. Inside the circle was the exact number of eggs he’d thrown into the hole the day before, all of them fresh and new.
“We have been giving all of our broken and rotten things to the hole,” the elder said, “and it gives them back to us, mended. You have heard of the blight that plagues our village. Our crops rot and our animals die without reason. We would have all starved without this gift. You’ll see. In the morning come and look in the stone circle.”
The elder found me lodging with a poor family in need of the money, and I slept fitfully, covered only in a small blanket that smelled of sickness and death. I dreamed of my son and awoke with tears on my face. I left the home before the family was up and made my way to the hole. And there, inside the stone circle, was the mug, it’s handle attached and the crack repaired.
I did not trust my eyes until I reached out and picked up the object, turned it over in my hands. There was no doubt, it was the same mug that the elder had thrown into the chasm. There was no sign at all that it had ever been broken. Tears burned my eyes as I looked into that black void in the ground, wondering what secrets lay on the other side.
Who could say how long the hole would remain? It appeared out of nowhere and could vanish just as quickly. So I gathered my belongings and mounted my horse and began the journey back home.
It was night when I arrived but I did not go home. I went instead to the burial place. There was a spade near the entrance, and this I used to dig at a mound of earth beneath a small wooden cross. I dug until a piece of cloth was uncovered, then I used my hands to clear away the rest of the dirt.
There he was, my son. His small body wrapped in cloth and reeking of death. It was almost more than I could bear. I lifted him as gently as I could, his body so much lighter in death than it was in life. I held my breath against the stench and laid him across the back of my animal, who whinnied at the smell, at the dead thing now strapped to him. Then I coaxed the horse back onto the road and into a run, and I would not let him stop until we reached the faraway village.
It was once again night when I arrived. I carried my son’s body to the abyss and fought every urge in me to unwrap him and see his face, because I knew that whatever I saw would not be him. I held him to chest, standing there at the edge of the void, and then I let him go, let him fall into the blackness.
I waited all night.
I stared at the stone circle until my eyes burned. But he did not appear. And when the sky grew lighter and that space was still empty, I knelt in the dirt and wept bitterly.
In the midst of my weeping I did sense something within the stone circle. A silvery shadow that could only be glimpsed from the right angle. It mimicked my movement and then vanished. I mounted my horse to begin the return journey, and I felt that the shadow was following me. And I felt this the entire way home.
I did not see the shadow during that time but I sensed its presence, and when I finally made it back to my house it entered behind me through the door and settled into the walls, the ceiling.
My dear, precious wife’s prayer was answered. We are haunted now, and the moaning that I hear in the night is no longer my wife, it is the voice of my son. His soul brought back from wherever it had been, and he cries in the night, begging to leave this grey in-between place and return to where the light is.
My wife says she wishes to move to another house, but I do believe that we will be followed. That abyss did what it could. It gave back to us what was left of our son.
Word reached me not long after that the faraway village had disappeared. Every man, woman, and child is gone. The hole disappeared as well. All that remains are homes and buildings, standing like empty monuments to a dark world that never gives without taking something away.
Tyler Jones is a novelist from Portland, OR. Jones been in a writing workshop with Chuck Palahniuk for the last two years. Palahniuk also selected Jones’s short story, “F For Fake,” to be included in an anthology he edited called BURNT TONGUES. The film rights to my story were sold to a Sundance award-winning producer named Danny Yourd. I co-wrote the screenplay with him and he hopes to begin filming sometime later this year.