There’s a bottomless pit under the welcome mat on my front stoop.
It’s a little misleading to call it a pit. It’s a hole, but a pretty small hole, just a little bigger than a marble, but it has no bottom, at least not as far as we can tell, and we’ve been trying to figure out how far it goes for a number of years now. At this point I’m pretty sure it goes down forever.
We bought this house from the town, after they seized it for non-payment of taxes. It’s an old house, built in 1850, and the last owners that the neighbors knew were a family that lived here about 40 years ago. They moved to a place in the next town north of here that had more property so that they could keep horses, then they rented the house out for about ten years, but they got divorced and sold the place to a guy who never really moved in. The neighbors heard rumors that he worked for the CIA or something and was off on assignment in the Middle East. For a while he’d have people come and do upkeep on the property, but that became less frequent, and eventually the house started to go to pieces. Fortunately, there are no kids around this neighborhood any more, it’s all older people, so nobody broke the windows or anything. Finally the owner stopped paying the taxes, nobody knew what became of him, and that’s how we ended up here.
I found the hole before we moved in, when I was cleaning the place up. I needed contractors for a lot of the work, but I did as much as I could myself. The yard was all overgrown, and I cut all the weeds down, and I had it looking pretty presentable. That’s when I saw the snake. It wasn’t a very big snake, but my wife really doesn’t like snakes. Her sister mailed her a picture of a snake once as a joke and when she opened the envelope she screamed and dropped it on the floor and had to have me pick it up and throw it away. Just a picture of a snake. So when I saw the snake, I figured I’d grab it and let it go way over on the far end of the meadow. But it slithered away and disappeared into one of the slots in the welcome mat.
I picked up the welcome mat and saw the tail of the snake disappearing into the hole. I had an idea how to get it out, I’d done this a couple of times before. You pour a bucket of water into the hole, and in a few seconds the snake comes back up out of the nest, sputtering, and you grab it. I got a funnel and a bucket, and poured the water down into the hole, and it all went in. I waited for the snake, but it never came up. I might not have thought any more about it, but I was curious, so I got the hose and set it on the edge of the funnel and adjusted it so that the water was going down the hole but not overflowing the funnel. Then I got distracted with some other chores and forgot about the hose and drove back home.
When I came out the next weekend to work on the house some more, the hose was still running. I panicked, because it occurred to me that the hole probably led into the basement and there was now a week’s worth of water in there. But I opened the bulkhead and went down the stairs, and it was dry. So I looked around the yard to see if I could find anyplace else where it might be going, but there weren’t any seeps or muddy spots around.
After we moved into the house, I got curious about the hole again, and I started poking into it with some fencing wire, and it just seemed to keep going and going. My friend Phil is a machinist, and I got him to help me out. We didn’t know if maybe the hole went into a cave or something that my fencing wire was just coiling up in, so he came up with the idea of joining a bunch of pieces of brazing rod together to make a stiffer stick to poke down there with. Brazing rod is like heavy duty coat hanger wire made of brass. We got about a hundred feet down that way, and he started adding more pieces of brazing rod on the top end until it started to get really heavy and hard to hold onto. We had lost count of how many pieces we had used, so we were going to pull it up and measure it, but we lost our grip on it and it disappeared down the hole. We were still wondering if it was going into a cave and bowing to the side, so Phil rigged up a little gizmo for the end of the rod that would open up like an umbrella if it got to a wider spot, and then fold up again if you pulled it up, but it would leave a mark on the rod to show that it had done that. We tried that, kept pulling it back up, and we got over 400 feet down, but the hole never widened out.
I was still thinking that there might be a cave down there, so we dug out around the concrete front stoop and hit ledge all the way around. The concrete had been poured directly onto the bedrock, so the hole was going into granite. It doesn’t make sense that there would have been a cave, because we don’t have the right kind of rock around here, caves form in limestone, and it’s all granite up here in New England.
Around this time, my neighbor Fred noticed what we were up to, and he got interested. Fred is an engineer, and a bright guy, and he came up with some good ideas. He got a spool of hair-thin wire that was really strong, and he put a weight on the end and put the spool on a scale. Then he started lowering the weight gradually, and he’d know when it bottomed out because the reading on the scale would be less once the weight was sitting on the bottom. That spool had thousands of feet of wire on it, and he sent it as far down as it would reach, but it never hit bottom.
He kept working on it for a while, he’d call me up every few months with a new idea or an improvement on one of his old ones. He had an electronic thing that did what Phil’s umbrella did, and he came up with more or less the same answer, the hole gets very slightly larger in the first few yards, then it’s basically the same size the rest of the way. He put a little camera down the hole, but it never showed anything interesting, just blackness. We tried a laser rangefinder, and it couldn’t see the bottom, so Fred kept coming up with bigger and bigger lasers with complicated frames to aim them exactly down the hole, and it was always the same story, a lot of nothing. He tried an electronic thermometer, and it just kept getting hotter and hotter as it went down, just like he said it was supposed to.
The walls of the hole are really slick, and nothing sticks to them. We poured yellow paint down the hole at one point to see how far down the hole we could see, but it just kind of beaded up and dripped off. By the next day there wasn’t a trace of it. I’ve tried gluing things to the sides of the hole, but it’s like trying to put glue on something oily, except it doesn’t feel wet or greasy. One time I was in a bad mood and I got a spike that had a head bigger than the hole, and I coated it in cement and stuck it down there to seal it up. That lasted about a month, but the head of the spike rusted pretty fast and then the whole business fell down the hole.
The reason I know that the hole is about the size of a marble is that you can exactly fit a marble down it. If you drop it very carefully, it just silently disappears. If you do it more casually, you can hear it rattle against the sides on the way down, for a pretty long time. If you put a lot of spin on it, then it makes a crazy whirring sound that gets lower and lower in pitch. It’s kind of creepy. I’ve dropped a lot of marbles down that hole.
My cousin Kevin is a real bible-thumper, and he’s convinced that the hole leads straight down to Hell, and that demons and ghosts and such can get up into our yard that way. He wants me to either cover it over with steel plates or get an exorcism. He also won’t come visit us any more. And that’s just fine with me.
A lot of people I know have said that I should look for a way to make money off of the hole. Sounds like a fine idea, but it’s really not obvious how to do that. It’s kind of the opposite of a gold mine. Charging admission to see it doesn’t seem like a great plan, who’s going to pay to see a little tiny hole that I tell them is really deep? It’s not much to look at, I wouldn’t pay to see something like that. All it’s really good for is getting rid of things, but it’s so narrow that you can’t stuff garbage into it very fast. I could get rid of cigarette butts as fast as you can hand them to me, but that’s pretty useless. I could run my septic system into it, or better yet, set myself up as a sewage disposal plant, but who wants a sewer line running into the front steps of their house? Nuclear waste disposal would be even better, but I asked Fred and he said nobody in charge of that stuff is going to believe about the hole, because it doesn’t make any sense.
Fred doesn’t have an explanation for what’s going on. I wondered if maybe the hole just goes all the way though the Earth and there’s another hole just like it on the other side, but he says that all his laser measurements proved that it goes straight down and that means that it would have to come out in the middle of the Indian Ocean somewhere. Another idea I had was that maybe there’s a black hole down there, like the kind in space. Fred explained why that can’t be, either, although I didn’t understand very much of what he was saying. He wrote about the hole to some other smart people he knows, but they either aren’t very interested or they think he mistaken. Or nuts. Or making this up.
Most of the time these days I keep it covered with a welcome mat, but this one doesn’t have slots in it, so snakes can’t get in. Once in a while I take the mat away because it seems like a hole like that ought to have a chance to air out. I drop marbles or other things in it from time to time, and occasionally Phil or Fred comes by with some other widget to slide down the hole, but we haven’t learned anything new, just that it’s a really deep hole and anything you put in it is gone for good.
Recently, I was in my front yard and I could swear I saw a snake come out of the hole. I grabbed it before it had a chance to get away. It couldn’t be the same snake from when we first bought the house, because that’s been years, and I don’t think snakes live that long, especially with nothing to eat. It was already halfway out of the hole when I spotted it, so I guess it could have just stuck its tail down there to explore before it changed its mind, but I’ve never heard of a snake backing into a hole. Could be that I just imagined it. I took the snake down to the far end of the meadow and let it go, and I haven’t seen it since.
I really enjoyed this yarn! As is often the case with stories, I can't help but wonder how much (if any) of it is based on fact.
The central thread of the plot came from a dream. Peripheral details are drawn from my life, e.g. there is a house of that vintage across the street from where I grew up that's falling into disrepair because the owner never moved in (although he's apparently still paying the taxes after 20 years). A shame, it is (was) a very nice house.