An excerpt from

Deep Down There

Oli Jacobs

“What the bloody Hell is this?”

            What the bloody Hell it was, was a hole.

            Of course, in most situations, a hole is nothing out of the ordinary. What made this hole elicit such a reaction was the fact that it wasn’t in the communal garden of Anton Court yesterday. For some reason, overnight, a 6-foot wide crater had replaced the trimmed grass and glowing daffodils and, naturally, some residents weren’t too happy about it.

            The voice that had shouted the loudest – and had been the one to wake Hannah Suggs – belonged to James Stanley, known by the neighbours as The Colonel due to his military history. A blustery type, he was quick to moan and groan about everything and anything, while his wife, Heather, stood in the background and hoped that The Colonel’s old army temper didn’t flare up again.

            The recipient of his morning rant was Vincent Crendon. Crendon wasn’t a resident, per se, but the site managed of Anton Court. The cul-de-sac was a gated community of 5 houses, with a small bungalow belonging to Crendon. His job was to make sure every utility was working perfectly, every path was clean, and that giant holes didn’t suddenly appear in gardens.

            For The Colonel, this last detail had been alarmingly overlooked.

            “So, what the Hell are you going to do about it?”

            Crendon looked down the hole while other residents filtered out of their homes to see what the fuss was about. First were Rich Davis and his girlfriend, Stacey Lloyd. Rich was one of these modern businessmen who had made their money in digital apps, although Hannah didn’t know exactly what it was that Rich did. All that she did know was that he rarely went to work in a suit, and in the meantime, enjoyed various holidays and adventures with Stacey.

            As for Stacey, Hannah felt she had the personality of a paper bag. Which was slightly insulting to the bag.

            From their front door watched Tim & Louise Cooper, making sure to shield their daughter Samantha from any random outbursts of expletives from The Colonel. The family had lived in Anton Court since it opened, and Hannah found they were good company when she needed a respite from looking after her two sons, Michael & Chris.

            Finally, watching from their window like she had been, were William & Charles Barrett, a middle-aged couple who were always keen to ingratiate themselves in the small community. Which, given their circumstances, seemed to Hannah to be compensating. Still, she enjoyed the odd chat with Charles, who shared a conspiratorial wink with her as they watched The Colonel rant.

            Then, of course, there was Hannah herself. She had moved into Anton Court with her partner Greg 6 months ago. 3 months later, it was just her and the kids.

            She made do. And the residents helped. Despite their differences, they always came together for each other.

            And right now, they were bonding over a hole.

            “Are you going to answer me?” The Colonel said, getting close to Crendon, but making sure not to join him too close to the edge of the hole.

            “I’m thinking.”

            “What’s to think about? A bloody great ditch has appeared in our garden!”

            “Really?”

            Crendon’s sarcasm never sat well with The Colonel, and it took Heather’s gentle touch to prevent the old man from throwing Crendon down the hole.

            “You been digging, Crendy?” Rich said.

            Crendon just shook his head, standing back from the hole and taking a deep breath. Usually, his job was easy – make sure the residents were happy and accept the money that HP Properties paid him to live there. It was a cushy job that suited his slovenly lifestyle.

            However, a big hole wasn’t going to be as easy to solve.

            “Leave it to me,” Crendon said.

            “What do you mean, ‘leave’?” The Colonel said.

            “I mean, leave it to me. I’ll look into it.”

            “I’ll be honest,” Tim said, walking from his front door in a hastily thrown-on dressing gown. “I’m not too happy about the safety of this.”

            “Neither am I.”

            Hannah had now made her presence known, choosing to lean out of her bedroom window than bless the residents with the sight of her in her pyjamas. Although the idea of giving The Colonel a heart attack did amuse.

            You could see the stress building on Crendon’s face, which only got worse when Rich inspected the hole himself.

            “Looks pretty deep.”

            “It looks like a bloody eyesore.”

            “I wonder what’s down there…”

            “What…” The Colonel began to splutter, before Heather thankfully persuaded him that a hearty breakfast might settle his nerves. As she led him back indoors, William opened the front door to investigate himself.

            “New look for the Court?” he said.

            “Seems like it,” Tim replied, making sure to supply a handshake to the new member of the inspection group.

            Naturally, all the men of Anton Court were now intrigued to look into the hole. It was a primal behaviour that Hannah had seen many times before at the odd community party, and it was always amusing. Now, she had the absurd sight of Rich, Tim, and William looking down this pit, while Crendon paced nearby, talking on his mobile.

            As for her, she had no interest in a big hole. She had two boys to feed, and they weren’t getting any more patient.

            Especially when they would find out about the hole.

 

            The rest of the day trundled along rather mundanely for Hannah.

            Michael & Chris caught the bus to school, although not before having a cheeky peek down the hole. Crendon was yet to do anything about it and the thought of seeing one of them jump down made Hannah’s chest feel tight.

            On the bus they went, though, and now she was enjoying a coffee with Charles – with an Irish twist, of course. Neither of them worked, so the day was always one for catching up on various gossip and talks of the town. Hannah was still lucky enough to be living of off Greg’s inheritance, and Charles was a creative sort who always seemed to be living the life of a bohemian. Normally, the two would look over various news sites and social media, but today there was a more important subject de jour.

            The hole.

            “I wouldn’t be shocked if it was some vandals,” Charles said.

            “How would they get through the gate?”

            “My dear, anyone could get through that gate if they were inspired enough. Crendon isn’t the fine gatekeeper he thinks he is.”

            The two were sat on Charles’ front lawn, watching the site manager work away on solving the riddle of the hole. When his name was mentioned, he glanced their way, as if his ears had suddenly gone up several degrees.

            Charles just waved.

            Crendon didn’t wave back.

            “I remember when William & I first moved into Anton. We had a little soiree – before your time – and, shall we say, some sorts weren’t invited. Court Rules.

            So anyhoo, we wanted all our friends to visit, you understand? So - whoops! - over they went and in they came.”

            As always, it was an intriguing story that was deliberately left open for more questions, but Hannah had bigger, deeper, things on her mind.

            “But why dig a hole?”

            “Why not? Kids these days seem to lack creativity.”

            “But… a hole?”

            “Hannah, dear, a hole is a hole. It’s quick, simple, and most of all, irritating.”

            As Charles said that, he nodded over to the Stanley residence. Sure enough, hidden behind the net curtains, were the watchful eyes of The Colonel.

            Hannah just shrugged and sipped her coffee.

            It was a nice buzz to enhance the early afternoon sun.

            After an hour of chatter, the two of them watched as Crendon opened the gates and beckoned in a van. On the side were the words PICKMAN MAINTENANCE, and in the driver’s seat was the kind of man that you wouldn’t expect in Anton Court.

            Although, as Charles noted, it was the sort of man Crendon would know.

            The two Queens of the Court watched over as Crendon and the other man walked toward the hole, looked in, and did the usual tuts of the tongue and scratches of the head that workmen are wont to do. It was fine theatre – especially after a few of Charles’ coffee – but it did lack a certain something from this distance.

            So Hannah got up to investigate.

            With Charles tittering behind.

            “What’s the word, Crendon?”

            Crendon looked up at Hannah approaching – with Charles lurking behind her – and smiled. She knew he had always had a thing for her, and since Greg had gone, that had intensified a little. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t take advantage of it, and had even confided in Charles that the odd drunken temptation was there. But as it was, she was a widow, and Crendon was a gentleman. Despite what some may think of him.

            “The word is, we’ve got a big hole.”

            “Cheeky,” Charles said. Hannah stifled her laughter.

            “Yeah, whatever. Anyway, my mate Ronnie here thinks it might be a sinkhole. One of those things that pop up now and again.”

            “Pop up? How can a hole just pop up?”

            Crendon answered by pointing at the hole.

            Charles, however, wasn’t convinced by this theory.

            “Looks a bit too… neat, to be a sinkhole.”

            “Since when were you the geologist?”

            “Since I took the same class you did?”

            Crendon laughed. Of all the people who could keep up with his style of banter, Charles was the best. After a few drinks, it was fun to watch.

            “I’m getting Ron to fetch some cement. We’ll fill it up later today and that should sort it out.”

            “And in the meantime?” Hannah said.

            “In the meantime, don’t fall in.”

            It was fair advice. Even standing a few feet from it, Hannah felt a bit wobbly. Although that could have been Charles’ coffee.

            Talking of which, she needed another one. Sans the emerald spirit, of course.

            After all, the kids would be home in a couple of hours.

 

            By the time the cement arrived, the residents of Anton Court were back in force.

            Of course, most of them didn’t have the time to watch the hole being filled with concrete, but those who were of a nosy persuasion were watching with interest. It wasn’t every day that something exciting happened in their little community, so much like the Michael & Chris who bounced by the window, begging to be let out to watch, Hannah was also captivated by the sight.

            When the vehicle arrived, most were impressed by its size. Evidently, Crendon had decided to go hard on this crater, and given the amount of concrete the mixer held, he wasn’t doing any half measures. Hannah saw that behind the controls was his friend Ronnie from before, and the two men talked a little bit before performing their act. There was a lot of laughter and back & forth before they actually did anything, and Hannah could feel the seething of The Colonel from across the cul-de-sac. However, after a moment of debate, Ronnie got back behind the controls, and Crendon stood to watch.

            By the time the mixer was in motion to pour, everyone in Anton Court was watching.

            Because eventually, everybody likes a show.

            The cement poured quicker than Hannah expected, and the coos of awe from her boys made her laugh. The cement came out in a steady, grey stream – thick like gravy and going directly into the hole. At first, Crendon looked pleased with his plan, watching as more and more liquid concrete fell into the pit. However, as the mixer tilted more and more, his pleasure turned to confusion, as he kept looking at the vehicle, and looking down the hole.

            Despite emptying enough concrete to cover most of the Court in a thick lining, it had barely made a dent in the hole. Crendon was left looking down there, wondering how deep it went, while Ronnie went back to his routine of scratching his head.

            Throughout the evening, Ronnie left, came back, and poured more concrete in the hole. Hour after hour, he attempted to fill it as Crendon watched, and each time neither man could understand why it wasn’t full yet.

            As the sun began to set, and the price of concrete began to hit figures that even HP Properties would balk at, Crendon looked angrily at his new problem, and told Ronnie to come back tomorrow. In the meantime, he grabbed some panels from his home, hammered them strategically around the hole, and scrawled a sign on some paper.

 

KEEP AWAY FROM THE HOLE

 

            Hannah laughed. As if they were going anywhere near it.

            Although it certainly was tempting to have a look inside.

 

            It was around 2:30AM when the first rumble happened.

            Of course, it was so innocuous, that nobody in Anton Court really noticed it. They were either snoring their slow drones into the night, or mumbling bizarre non-sequiturs based on dreams they’d soon forget.

            No, they did not notice the rumble.

            They noticed the first chunk of concrete, though.

            Hannah woke up with a start thanks to the disquieting alarm of her screaming children. Acting purely on instinct, she rushed to Michael & Chris’ room to find the two boys looking out the window. There, she saw what had caused their concern – a large chunk of hardened cement that had shattered their fence.

            And more were coming.

            Blasted from the hole.

            As more of the residents woke up to this unusual assault, the more concrete was spewed forth from their brand new crater. Some chunks tumbled harmlessly around the road, while others flew several feet in the air, landing perfectly onto freshly mown lawns and carefully arranged flowerbeds.

            At one point, The Colonel erupted from his front door. Hannah wasn’t sure what was in his hand, but she knew she didn’t want to find out.

            Nobody would anyway, as Heather soon pulled him back in from the bombardment of mortar that struck their front path.

            Not that it would make them anymore safe, as soon enough, the volley of cement became more violent. Chunks were thrown with obscene speed from the hole, flying in the air and striking the rooftops of Anton Court. Some harmlessly tumbled down, but Hannah watched as one sizable chunk punched a hole in William & Charles’ home.

            As soon as panic set in within the residents, the assault stopped, and the Court was quiet again. Holding tight to her sons, Hannah watched as Crendon crept out of his bungalow, eyes wide and jaw hanging loose in a stunned silence. He looked over the chaos of what had just happened, shook his head, and drank from the bottle in his hand.

            Whatever was in the hole, didn’t want to be covered.