An excerpt from

Deep Down There

Oli Jacobs

There was a sense of nervousness around the Court the next day.

            Usually, Friday would instigate a feeling of excitement over the pending weekend, but now, there was only a fear over what had happened the previous night.

            Still sat battered in William & Charles’ garden, was the steel sheet Crendon had used to try and cover the hole. While the plan was solid enough – as was the sheet – it was now lay upside down several metres away from the crater, and resembling a bowl rather than a panel.

            This time, there was no uproar from any of the residents; there were no questions or queries, just a stunned silence over what had happened. One could theorise that they all had seen what Hannah believed she saw, but did not want to seem to be the crazy one who would broach the subject. Therefore, the only option was to look at what happened in stunned silence, and hope to continue on with their day.

            Which many did, going to work and taking the kids to school.

            For those who enjoyed the home life – including Hannah, Charles, and now Rich & Stacey – they just joined Crendon in the inspection of the dented metal.

            As for The Colonel & Heather? They remained indoors.

            “So?” Rich said, finally breaking the tension that surrounded the small group as they looked at the panel.

            “So William’s hydrangeas aren’t going to recover,” Charles said.

            “I was talking about the cover.”

            “You don’t say.”

            Crendon didn’t say anything. He just got on his phone and muttered to Ronnie. Maybe someone else. Nobody seemed to neither care nor pay attention, as they were too focused on the remnants of last night.

            “I don’t like it,” Stacey said.

            “Eh?”

            “It’s weird.”

            “It’s not weird, it’s…”

            “Weird,” Hannah said.

            “It’s an eyesore, that’s what it is, my dear.”

            “Not something for your collection then, Charlie?”

            “It’s Charles, Richard, and no. I don’t think this would sell.”

            Crendon came back and began by apologising to Charles about his garden, and then assuring those left that the damage would be sorted out and everything would return to normal. Of course, such a statement soon turned round to bite him.

            “How’s a hole in the middle of the Court normal?” Hannah said.

            Crendon just glared. “It’s being sorted.”

            “It’s been sorted twice,” Charles said.

            “Yeah, well, it’ll be sorted again. Besides, how do I know this isn’t your work? Like, some sort of installation thing.”

            “My dear Vincent, I’m a collector. A curator. Not a creator.”

            Crendon sneered. “Yeah, well if I find out this is a joke, from any of you, your tenancy is revoked, alright?”

            Nobody said anything. They all knew that Crendon didn’t believe his own accusation there, but he was getting frustrated and ready to right the whole mess off.

            The problem was, that the mess was a 6-feet wide hole.

            And his options were fast running out.

 

            Ronnie arrived later that day, as was becoming custom since the hole appeared.

            Once again, the residents of Anton Court watched as he went into conference with Crendon, and they both did the workman’s routine of looking, tutting, thinking and shaking their heads.

            As Hannah watched this show alongside Charles, the two of them sipped their drinks and provided their own acerbic commentary.

            “Fancy thinking this was an installation,” Charles said, his sneer almost twisting off his face. “Like I’d ever do something so cheap.”

            “Plus you’d need to have the ability to dig a hole.”

            “Cheek. I’ll let you know I’m quite the handyman.”

            “So I’ve heard,” Hannah said, smiling into her drink.

            Before Charles could prepare his latest retort, Stacey appeared from her home with Rich, eager to join in the fun with her two new ‘gal pals’. She had disappeared with Rich earlier for reasons Charles could only speculate, and Hannah could only assume. Suffice to say, her new rugged hairstyle was a strong indicator of such matters.

            “So what’s happening?” she said, with only the slightest desperation at being part of the so-called ‘cool’ crowd.

            “There’s a hole, Stacey,” Charles said. “Same as always.”

            Crendon and Ronnie were finished looking over the hole, and were now investigating the sheet of metal that had been dragged from William & Charles’ garden to the road. While it was no longer an eyesore within Charles’ flora, the soil-stained groove in his grass wasn’t much better.

            “Figured it out yet?” Hannah shouted over to Crendon. The site manager just looked up, gave the fakest smile you’d ever see, and went back to discussing matters with Ronnie.

            This was all entertaining, of course, but it was really a bigger distraction from the elephant in the room; nobody yet could figure out what had caused the panel to be punched away from the hole, and nobody would admit that they saw anything do so.

            Even though, if a gun was held to their head, they’d admit they saw something.

            They just didn’t know what that something was.

            So forgetting was the next best thing. Made easier by Charles’ brand of coffee.

            “Ooh,” he said, giving Hannah a nudge. “Now the real fun will begin.”

            The real fun was in the form of The Colonel, who had scouted long enough and was now ready to take charge once more. He marched on over to where Crendon and Ronnie stood, looking over the indent of the panel, and once he was in speaking distance, let rip.

            “So how do you explain this?”

            “It’s under control, Mr Stanley.”

            “So you say, Crendon, but it doesn’t look like it’s under control, does it?”

            As Crendon did his best to smile at The Colonel, Ronnie took a closer look at the panel.

            “If you have any complaints, you know who to address them to.”

            “Well I don’t want to bloody talk to HP anymore. I want to talk to someone higher than them.”

            Ronnie noticed on the panel was a layer of rust, right in the epicentre of the indentation. It was a dark burgundy colouring, and splattered lightly across the metal.

            “Who’s higher than HP then?”

            “The police, that’s who. Failing that, the local council.”

            This sort of talk unsettled Crendon, who knew what sort of orders he was under from HP Properties.

            It would have unsettled him further, had Ronnie not wiped his finger over what he thought was rust, and began a series of reactions that would scar those watching.

            At first, the rusty residue just stained Ronnie’s index finger. Then it started to tingle. Then the tingle turned much more violent, and before he knew it, Ronnie’s finger felt like it was on fire.

            Which, rather appropriately, was when he started screaming various expletives.

            Whatever lively debate Crendon and The Colonel were about to enter, soon stopped as Ronnie waved his finger around for all to see. The sight itself was not a pleasant one, with the residue slowly burning the flesh off his finger, causing blood to pour from the tip down his hand, and darker and darker flesh being exposed.

            Immediately, Crendon went to get something to sooth the pain, but in a panic such things were not readily available. As soon as Ronnie’s pain escalated, the usual confusion in such instances replaced any rational thought. It wasn’t until Hannah snapped out of the communal stupor, and threw her special coffee over Ronnie’s finger.

            It wasn’t quite the medically approved method, but it seemed to cease Ronnie’s cries.

            Not that it would save his finger, though.

 

            As the ambulance took Ronnie away, the residents of Anton Court stood looking at the sheet of metal that had caused the horrific injuries to his finger. The paramedics who looked at it compared it to a chemical burn, with the skin finally eroding right to the bone. While he wouldn’t lose his hand, Ronnie would be half a finger down for the rest of his life.

            Luckily, Crendon made sure no lawsuits would be forthcoming with the promise of a hefty compensation.

            Such offers would not sway the likes of The Colonel, though, as the presence of the hole and what it could contain were now becoming a bigger headache than anyone could imagine. The sheet of metal that attempted to cover it could easily be disposed of, but it was becoming clear that they could not simply lay something over a problem of this magnitude.

            And when such homemade solutions do not yield the desired results, then that’s when the experts are to be called in.

            “I’m calling the council right now,” The Colonel said, muted of his usual bluster due to recent events.

            “I wouldn’t recommend that,” Crendon said.

            “Why ever not? Surely they’d be able to sort this out?” Charles said.

            “Just… bear with me one moment.”

            Hannah could tell Crendon was under pressure. The way his eyes flitted about as he desperately looked for a solution equated him to a madman, and as The Colonel appealed to the other residents for an official to arrive and sort the hole out once and for all, Crendon was on his phone and working away.

            If she was honest, Hannah entered a fugue around this point. It may have been the coffee, but she felt herself entering a dream state that muted Crendon’s desperate phone call and The Colonel’s attempts at rallying the troops. Instead, her focus went toward the hole, and whatever lay beyond its depths.

            In the back of her mind, she heard something down there.

            Something familiar.

            But it couldn’t be. It was probably just the ‘coffee’.

            “Right,” Crendon said, snapping Hannah out of her trance. “Check your emails.”

            “For what?” Rich said.

            “For an email.”

            “Yeah, from who?”

            “You’ll see.”

            And with that, Crendon rushed off, making sure to check down the hole as he did so.

            Sure enough, within the hour, every resident of Anton Court got an email. It was addressed from HP Properties, and came with a fancy letterhead and bold text to get your attention. It read as follows:

 

            Dear Resident

            We understand that recent events have left you feeling uneasy about your tenancy here at Anton Court. For that, we can only apologise. HP Properties pride themselves on creating communities where select people can come together in safety and comfort, away from the bustle of everyday life. Of course, the mere fact you are receiving this message shows how valued you are as a resident here at Anton Court.

            Site Manager Vincent Crendon has given us all the information regarding the recent incident involving a sinkhole appearing overnight within the Court’s communal garden, and also the failed attempts to solve this issue. For that, we can only apologise once more. Mr Crendon was hired for his expertise in such matters, and we have absolute faith in his skills moving forward.

            Of course, he has also informed us that you are looking to obtain an exterior solution to this problem. For this, HP Properties completely understands your concerns and wish to do so. However, due to the nature of our business, we look to work independently from any council authority where possible. This is so we can continue to evolve our reputation as a safe, comfortable community building business.

            In light of these events, HP Properties is willing to offer you, our trusting residents, compensation in the form of 6 months waived payment of tenancy fees, and also accommodation at the 5-star Whately Hotel, fully paid for by HP Properties (including meals, use of facilities, and other amenities) over the duration of solving this problem.

            Once again, HP Properties thanks you for your patience in this matter. We are aware of how unique, and troublesome, such an event can be on your overall quality of life here in Anton Court, but we are dedicated to provide the upmost duty of care to make sure that your tenancy here is indeed a pleasant one.

            Thank you for your patience, and we look forward to hearing from you.

 

            William Dyer

            Community Manager, HP Properties

 

            “It’s a tempting offer.”

            This was an understatement to say the least. Hannah was round Tim & Louise’s house, watching the kids play together while they discussed the ins and outs of HP Properties letter. In terms of compensation, it was one Hell of a deal – free board at a 5 star hotel as well as 6 months free living? Already Charles had perked up at the idea and told William that they should snap it up immediately.

            For now, however, the Barrett’s were staying put.

            The Cooper’s weren’t too sure.

            “I mean, it would be a nice break,” Louise said. “But I can’t help but think that by doing that, we…”

            “Give up our right to complain?” Hannah said.

            “Well it doesn’t say that anywhere in the letter,” Tim said. He’d been analysing it ever since the residents had received the email. “So, legally, it isn’t an admission of acceptance over current circumstances.”

            “I think it’s implied though.”

            “Maybe. It is a tempting offer…”

            Hannah wasn’t so easily swung. She had struggled to ingratiate herself since Greg had gone, and wasn’t willing to give up her home due to a hole in the ground. Already, HP Properties had questioned as to whether she’d be able to keep up her ‘status’ here in Anton Court.

            She had shown them exactly what that ‘status’ was, in not so many words.

            All of them not fit for the ears of her sons.

            There was the small matter of the kids, though. Hannah did wonder whether it was a safe environment to be in, especially as Crendon had seemingly given up all attempts to place a fence around the hole. For now, it was just left there, gaping in the middle of the grass.

            Not only that, there was something else about it. Something she had noticed the other day.

            It was getting bigger.

            “Well, I know Rich isn’t taking the offer,” Tim said. “The whole thing seems to excite him.”

            “No wonder, he’s like a teenager that man.”

            This was true. Rich had been coveting the hole since it appeared. Every day, he had been gazing down it, thinking over what was down there, and literally itching to have a look. For now, Crendon’s attempts to cover it had prevented him from pursuing anything seriously.

            Now, there was no such barrier.

            Literally.

            “I could take up the offer, with the kids, while you stay here?” Louise said. “That wouldn’t be an admission of acceptance over… it.”

            For some reason, nobody could address the hole simply as it was. It became something more than a crater. It was something other than that, they just didn’t know what.

            “I’m not going,” Hannah said, finishing her drink. “But the kids…”

            She looked around, and didn’t immediately see Michael or Chris.

            And neither Tim nor Louise could see Samantha.

            The adult fear soon kicked in, as the parents realised they had been so distracted with HP Properties’ incredible offer, they had let the kids wander off. As they all jumped from their seats in panic and began searching frantically, it wasn’t until a shout from Crendon alerted them to their presence.

            The three children were near the hole.

            Absurdly, with armfuls of food.

            Hannah was the first to get out the door, watching as Chris froze in Crendon’s sights. Michael turned around and immediately knew he was in trouble, backing away from the pit and putting his hands up as if to say ‘nothing to do with me’. As for Samantha, she was happy throwing uncooked rashers of bacon down the hole, without a care in the world.

            “What are they doing?” Crendon said, now seeing both Hannah and the Cooper’s appear from their house.

            Of course, Hannah didn’t have an answer, just heading toward Chris while Michael denied all knowledge about the whole enterprise. With a quick glare, she turned toward Chris and picked him up, the tears already dripping down his cheeks. Her sons had never really had to deal with adult anger on the level of Crendon, and the site manager wasn’t exactly soft in his approach.

            Not that he could understand what the children were doing, anyway. As Tim scooped up Samantha, she was still tossing slices of chicken down the hole. Both sets of parents tried sterns words, but everyone was just trying to figure out the whys, rather than fixate on the very real danger of them falling in.

            After a moment of relief that they were a safe distance, Hannah finally got her sons in front of her and asked the important question.

            “What were you doing?”

            “Sam… Samantha said that we needed to feed them,” Chris said.

            “Feed who?”

            The boy just shrugged. When Hannah turned to Michael, he joined in.

            When Hannah would speak to Louise later, she would clarify what Samantha had said to her. Apparently, during the night, ‘something’ had grumbled, and Samantha decided that whatever was making the noise, was obviously hungry.

            Hannah was just concerned over what was making ‘the noise’.

            Mostly, because she had heard it too.