The Hole in the Top of the World
by J. Brandon Lowry
J. Brandon Lowry is a former academic scientist with a PhD in Molecular Biology. In 2017, disillusioned with life and yearning for something more, he and his wife quit their jobs, sold their possessions, and began traveling full time. They have since explored four continents in three years, living out of backpacks and house/pet-sitting along the way. You can check out his travel blog at theplaceswe.live.
This adventure has allowed for plenty of time to pursue Brandon’s love of reading and writing. His flash fiction and poetry can be found on his website (jbrandonlowry.com), and in his debut collection, “Finding My Voice.” His first novel, The Glass Frog, is slated for release in early 2022. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; his handle is @jbrandonlowry.
On October fourth, two-thousand eighteen, a hole opened up in the top of the world.
I remember because the whole world remembers. I remember because it was my thirty fifth birthday. I remember because it opened up directly over my house. I also remember because of the sound it made, a gloopy plopping noise. I always imagined it’s what an ant would hear if you dropped banana pudding on it. The gloopy plopping woke me up in the night. I suppose it woke the neighbors too, though I’ve never asked.
The sirens woke me up in the morning. The police seemed to think there was some sort of emergency, which I suppose there was, though no one had been seriously hurt. One person was minorly hurt when they stepped off a curb and twisted an ankle while trying to take a picture of the hole, and two men sustained some scrapes and bruises while fighting over whether or not the hole meant the end of the world. The hole itself was innocent. It had hurt no one.
Next came the helicopters. They were matte black, with strangely shaped bodies meant to make them invisible to radar. Men in matte black suits rode in the helicopters. Some of the men had matte black skin. They carried little cases that were matte black. The cases looked heavy. They took little pieces of equipment from the little cases, and these were mostly matte black, but with shiny metal bits, too. They aimed the equipment at the matte black hole in the top of the world and listened and turned dials and listened some more.
Other men in other suits came to my door to ask me questions. They assumed that because the hole had opened over my house, I had something to do with it. I told them I didn’t know anything more than they did. I told them I was just a regular person that didn’t know anything about making holes in the top of the world. I told them about the gloopy plopping noise. They demanded to look in my house, for what they didn’t say. I assumed they were demanding only to be polite, that if I said no they would do it anyway, so I let them in. They opened all of my doors. They shook out all of my drawers. Eventually they believed me about being a regular person. They seemed disappointed.
More men, this time in uniform, came to my door later in the day and told me to come with them. I didn’t want to go with them. I was busy contemplating the hole in the top of the world and what it meant. The men had guns to go with their uniforms, so I went with them. They put me in a large van. They put my neighbors in the large van, too. There were no windows in the van, and it soon began to smell like hot breath and sweat and farts.
I assumed they were taking us to a secure location somewhere. We ended up at the Hidden Hideaway Motel on the edge of town. It’s a place where married men go to sleep with women they aren’t married to. The men in uniform must have figured that if it was secure enough for those married men, it was secure enough for us.
We lived at the Hidden Hideaway for two weeks. We were not allowed to leave the Hidden Hideaway. We were allowed to use the pool. The neighbors swam a lot during those two weeks, as did their children. They liked to splash each other and make squealing noises. I spent most of my time in my room, reading news stories about the hole in the top of the world. I did not go down to the pool. Then the men in the uniforms came to our rooms and put us back in the large van and drove us back to our homes.
My home was much the same as it was when I’d left it. My things were scattered all over the floor, right where they had been left by the men in charge of questions. My car was still in the garage. My grass had grown quite a bit in those two weeks, and needed mowing. My curiosity piqued, I explored the rest of my property. My backyard had a new addition, a small shack with a dense forest of dishes and antennas on top.
My my, I thought.
I knocked on the door of the shack. A small, peevish man opened the door. He said he was a government scientist. He was wearing a white lab coat, so I believed him. He was also wearing big, bulky, matte black headphones. He explained to me that the government had exercised their right of eminent domain and seized a portion of my backyard. My savings account had been credited $789.43, fair market value for the amount of property they had seized. He told me that part of the seizure was the grassy lane that ran along the side of my house. He also told me, rather impetuously, that I was to keep that lane clear at all times so that the scientists who would be stationed in the shack could enter and exit at will. Their work was very important, I was informed, and the government would not abide any interference. I joked about being relieved that I didn’t have to mow that part of the grass anymore. He did not laugh.
I’ve developed a repartee with the shack scientists over the years. They work on set schedules, so I know when they arrive and leave. I greet them as they arrive, I do the opposite when they leave. I offer them cups of coffee or snacks, which they always decline. Many will at least return a wave or a smile, which I appreciate. If there are going to be scientists in my backyard, I’d prefer if they were human about it.
The hole at the top of the world was big news for a month or so. When everyone realized that the hole didn’t do anything but sit there, they went back to what they were already doing. Sometimes strangers will drive from far off places to park in front of my house and look at the hole. They take pictures. They ask me about the hole in the top of the world. What does it do, they ask. It just sits there, I tell them. I also tell them about the gloopy plopping noise. People seem to like that story.
I’ve never written about the hole in the top of the world before. There just wasn’t much to say about it. I was moved to write all of this down because of something that happened earlier today. One of the scientists came out of the shack. This struck me as odd, because it wasn’t time for a scientist to come out of the shack. He looked very distressed, which also struck me as odd. I offered him a cup of coffee and a snack, which he accepted.
Very odd indeed.
Why did you come out of the shack, I asked him. He didn’t respond at first. He just drank his coffee. His hand was shaking so badly that he spilled some of it on his white lab coat, leaving ugly little splotches on the clean fabric. He didn’t seem to mind. Eventually he told me why he came out of the shack. He said that he’d heard something. On the news, I asked. No, he said. It was coming from the hole in the top of the world.
He said it was a noise like crinkling paper. He said it was echoey, like something coming down a big tunnel. He said it sounded like it was getting closer. He said his partner had heard it too. He said that all the government scientists were issued poison capsules so they could kill themselves if they were ever captured by foreign agents. He said his partner had calmly removed the poison capsule from his lab coat and swallowed it. He said his partner was lying dead on the floor of the shack. He said it smelled something awful in there. He said he needed to make some phone calls, then left down the little grassy lane that I didn’t need to mow anymore.
I went and opened the shack door. He wasn’t lying about his partner. Or about the smell. I put on the big, bulky, matte black headphones and listened. He wasn’t lying about the sound, though I think he was wrong about it’s character. It doesn’t sound like crinkling paper at all. It’s a skittering clicking noise. It’s what I imagine an ant hears while crawling around in a busy ant hill. There’s one other thing he wasn’t lying about. It is definitely getting closer.
It sounds as though it is moving very fast.