I understand why it was there. I mean, I'm not stupid. It was there for a convenience. It made perfect sense, the floor of the bathroom closet sat right over the laundry room. So yes, it made sense to put in a laundry chute.
The part I wonder about is why it became to be known as, “The Hole,” and why that name stuck.
Just the name, “The Hole” had an ominous sound to it. You couldn’t ever picture something called “The Hole” to be a good place. It was like the word pit, or the word dungeon. These words have their own weight, their own mood, their own image that they evoke in your brain. Pictures connected and entwined with them in our minds eye.
It's one of the things you have to love about the English language, not just the meaning of a word, but the imagery it brings to mind.
So how such a word, a dark word if you would, became associated with our laundry chute I can not understand.
I remember the day my father cut the opening. He had his tool belt out, so you knew right away this was serious work, not just some lame repair. Also there were power tools, always a good sign.
My brother Frankie, he was ten at the time, two years older than I am. He was always Dad's helper, there to hand him tools and learning how to change the electric saw blade, draw chalk lines and how to make relief cuts. Cool, useful stuff like that, and he loved learning it.
Me, I was content to watch, I didn’t seem to have any natural talent with tools, nor did I have the drive or desire to learn that my brother did. So I watched, watched Dad as he marked out the space, using his chalk line, its silver body and wind up handle always made me long to go fishing.
I watched as he took his drill, lining it up in the one corner and drilling down and into the floor wood chips flying out in a small geyser. My baby sister, Ruthie, wondered by at that moment, asking her ever popular question “watz zat?” as she watched dad handle the drill.
Ruthie was only four, and a bit of a handful. Mom said she kept her busier than a box full of monkeys, a thought that never failed to make me laugh. She was in the phase where everything she saw or was told brought one of two questions from her, “why?” or “waz zat?”
Dad just ignored her; he was busy showing Frankie how he was going to make the cut, and promising to maybe let him run the saw a little. Mom stopped by to “check progress” she said, but also to gather Ruth before she pestered dad too much. “Come on chickie,” she said to Ruth, come help me in the kitchen.
Ruth answered with a predictable “Why,” but took mom's hand and let herself be lead away. Dad was setting the saw up now, and as promised he would let Frank run it. He placed the saw blade in the hole he drilled and started cutting, explaining to Frank as he went.
“See.. see Frankie? You want to stay just inside of the line. Use it as a guide, but leave the line. Understand?” Frank nodded, his eyes bright and excited, he looked with fascination at the saw. “Yeah Dad. I can do it.”
I watched him make most of the rest of the cut, dad encouraging him all the way. “That's it, nice and slow. Let the saw do the work, don’t push it, nice and easy. You’re doing great!”
It had gotten a little boring for me by then, so I left all the action and headed down into the basement (Basement, not cellar. See, cellar is a dark word too. Evil dark holes cellars are.) to watch some TV.
The weekend channel line up was always filled with the old horror movies back in those days. Creature double feature, Dr. Shock, all brought you guaranteed chills through the long days of summer when it was too hot to be outside unless it was to go in the pool.
By the time mom called us for dinner, most of the construction was over. They were busy laying molding along the edges of the newly made opening as mom trying to convince them they could finish after they ate, “Come on, food's getting cold.”
After dinner, after the last piece or molding was put in place, with the whole family gathered around. Dad christened the new chute, “John,” he said to me, “Go grab some of your dirty clothes and throw them down the hole."
I did as asked, and we all watched and clapped as my dirty shirt and pants disappeared from view, swallowed by “The Hole”.
That was apparently all the excitement my family could stand for the evening, and we soon split up to do our own thing.
OK, I know I have this obsession with words and language. Growing up I read voraciously, starting with comic books but quickly developed an appetite for fiction. Especially horror fiction.
All of this reading just fed into my love of language, and the pictures you could draw with just words. The feelings words could make you feel. How real words could make you feel.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me? I don’t believe that. The paper is filled with stories of young people, boys and girls, ending their life because of the pain of words. Words of torment heard every day. Wrists slashed and overdoses, even hangings due to words like fat, stupid, dyke, fag.
Words can't hurt you? Look into these kids' dead lifeless eyes, then tell me words don’t have power.
I laid in bed that night, thinking about the day, replaying parts like a private movie in my head as I waited for sleep to come. My mind seized on the word hole. Turning it over in my mind and examining it like and archeologist might study a rare artifact.
Hole. What did the word project to me, what images did it hold? The first thought I had was of solitary confinement in a prison. A dark, damp, cold place that they would put prisoners who would or could not conform. (“Let's see if a week in “The Hole” don’t cure that attitude Johnny” The prison guard said with a sneer.)
The second image that the word brought to mind was one of a well. A deep dark hole, surrounded by bricks in a circular pattern on the ground around the opening. Not a wishing well, the well in my mind was flat against the ground it sat on, a dangerous thing waiting to devour any small children or animals that unluckily stopped to investigate it's opening.
Things came out of holes. Dark things. Nasty, slimy things. They hid in holes during the day, unable to stand the touch of sunlight against their palled skin. They preferred to stay in the shadows, even at night. They hid in the places of nightmares.
As these thoughts spun out in my mind, I realized there was pressure in my bladder, and I better go “drain the monster.” A term Frankie had just taught me and I couldn’t help but find hilarious!
My room was right across the hall from the bathroom. The new improved bathroom, now home to “The Hole.”
The bathroom had a design flaw. The door to the closest, was a bi-fold, it split in the middle when opened and the two halves drew next to each other thanks to a track along the top.
The flaw was, if the doors were not perfectly closed, if they were not flush with each other, The bathroom door would hit them, and you couldn’t close the door.
The bathroom door was closed when I walked across the hall, and I pushed it open, ready for sleep now, my head heavy. When the door opened, it struck the doors of the closet. The noise and the unexpected, though only momentary resistance made me jump slightly in the dark hallway.
As I walked into the room, I looked at the doors, pushing them fully closed. Odd I thought, that someone left it opened and was able to close the door. I stood at the toilet (I was a big boy now and didn’t need the stairs that still sat next to the tub.) and started peeing when I heard a noise. A noise from the closet.
It was an odd noise, and to this day, I can't swear I really heard it, but at the moment, I did. I was a wet, squishy sound, reminding me of sound my sneakers made when we went to the bay, and walked in the mud along the shores to set out minnow traps. If you weren’t careful the thick mud would steal your shoe right off of your foot. That mud, the shoe sucking mud, made the same squishy sound that I heard in the closet.
My eyes went to the closet door, and I thought I saw it tremble, as if trying to open. This I am less sure of than hearing the sound though, so I don’t blame you for not believing.
I cut off my urine and stood for a full two minutes at least straining my ears and listening, my eyes never leaving the door, every nerve in my body now awake and singing.
Nothing. It's nothing stupid I scolded myself as I finished my business, but keeping my eyes on the door as the monster finished being drained. I felt a little stupid and like a baby, a scaredy cat, I wouldn’t tell Frankie about this. He would just tease me. Even with all that said, after I flushed and washed my hands, I gave the closet door a wide berth when as I exited and closed the bathroom door firmly behind me before returning to bed.
Sleep came slowly as images of slow, slimy monsters filled my imagination. Each one making that awful wet sucking sound as they moved. Gelatinous goo dripped from each razor sharp claw and hit the floor with a wet plopping sound like dropping a sponge full of water on the ground.
Over the next few days, my unease at the new addition to the bathroom had avoiding going in there unless I absolutely had to. I even carried my laundry down the steps and into the laundry room rather than open the closet door which now contained “The Hole”.
I remember standing in the laundry room, staring up at the square opening cut into the plywood above. From here, it wasn’t as scary. From below, it was a chute, not a hole. My mind worked hard, trying to convince myself I was just being silly, anything that came out of “The Hole” would have to start its journey here, in the basement.
And there just wasn’t any thing there.
I wish I could tell you that the sane, rational, part of my mind easily convinced the darker, more base, spiritual part (my soul perhaps?) of the fact that no monster in the basement meant no monster in the chute, no monster in the closet, no monster coming up from “The Hole.”
The sane me was winning, and I was starting to feel better as I went up the stairs until my dark side asked, “How do you know a hole always ends in the same place. When you are above, staring down into the inky blackness of the abyss, how can you be sure where you will end up when you can't see the bottom.
I suppose that is what faith is, knowing anything that went into the hole, would find its way safely to the laundry basket that sat next to the washer.
Only, what if that wasn’t true. What if the hole, the darkness, could somehow read the sacrifice it was offered, and then decide where this item should go.
I was much older when I first read Nietzsche's quote on the abyss,
"And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
When I first hear the quote, it stopped my heart for a moment, because it perfectly described my thoughts at that time. When I peer into the dark, I open myself up to the dark. When I step into the dark, I place myself at its mercy.
Following this bizarre yet compelling logic, (I was only eight, please remember!) if the darkness read you, and could alter the destination of those people or objects that entered it based on what it learned from that reading. Then it is also possible it could spew forth from its depths creatures or items from other places, dark places where monsters live.
This idea, this thought, made me ice to my core in fear. The possibilities were horrifying. My imagination ran wild, as it will do when you are still that young, and then another thought crept in.
The name. The name we gave our laundry chute. Could it be possible, when my father named our man made abyss, giving it a dark word as a name, could that have affected the type of darkness our hole was filled with? Could an object named with a dark word call forth a demon or its like? Were words powerful?
These where the thoughts I was still contemplating when I was laying in my bed that night. I think I slept earlier, right after coming to bed, but now I was awake and had been for maybe an hour.
It was coming up on three AM according to our trusty clock radio. The house was quiet. I heard the TV go off in mom and dad's room about a half hour ago and nothing until Frankie got up to use the bathroom.
I listened as he opened our door, padded across the hall and opened the bathroom door, and heard it shut behind him. I was starting to drift off when I hear him open the bathroom door, then our door, then climb back into bed.
I was mostly asleep, drifting in that between world of dreams and reality, when two things happened almost simultaneously that brought me fully awake. I still can't tell which happened first, even after wracking my brain for all these years.
What I believe came first was the realization that I hadn’t heard the bathroom door close when Frankie came back to bed. The second was a noise. A creak from the hallway. The creak of the floorboard that sat just past the bathroom and down the small hallway going towards my parent's room and also towards Ruthie's.
I knew the sound well, like I knew just about all of the sounds this old house made. I knew where to step to avoid the noisy board also. Stealth learned from countless hide and seek games with my brother and our friends.
That sound, that creak, meant someone was in the hall. Someone was walking down the hall and across the noisy floor board with its asthmatic sounding "ReeeH Hhheee" squeal.
I strained my ears trying to hear any follow up sounds, my stomach already practicing origami as it twisted and turned on its self, a low growing noise of protest coming from my gut.
I thought I heard something, that squelching sound, and I slowly got out of bed and went to the door. Cracking it open slowly, I could see the bathroom door standing wide open, and behind it, the closet door was open also.
Then I knew I heard a sound. The sound. From down the hall towards my parents' room, that wet sound from my nightmares. It wasn’t at my parents' door though, it was at Ruthie's.
My horror grew deeper as I heard her soft, sweet, little voice. “Waz zat?”
I heard the monster reply in a wet garbled sound that made me think of black, damp, rotting things you found under rocks. I could make no sense of the words though, I couldn’t tell what it was trying to say.
Ruthie could, apparently, as I heard her reply, “Why?”
More dark slurping noises, and then again, her reply. A rare one, words she only said when she was excited about what you had offered.
I was frozen to the spot. I was only eight years old for Christ’s sake, how was I supposed to stop a monster. I was only eight!
So I stood there as I heard the monster from the hole coming down the hall with my baby sister.
I often think... if I acted quicker, come into the hall sooner, blocked his way somehow... Maybe... maybe Ruthie would still be alive.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t move, couldn’t move, as I heard the floor board creak again and saw a large shadow slipping along the wall. Trailing behind it was my sister, Ruthie, looking like she hadn’t a care in the world. Her tiny hand clasped in this monster's hideous claw.
It wasn’t until the monster entered the bathroom, Ruthie happily following, that I started screaming. Screaming at the top of my lungs. “You let go of my sister!” I shrieked, “Let her go!”
The monster swept into the bathroom, dragging my sister behind him, for the first time her face showing confusion. “John?” she squeaked before being drug into the room.
I heard my father's feet hit the floor in their bed room, and mom's worried cry of “What is it,” but it was that look on my sisters face that finally got my legs moving. I heard Frank call out as I flung the door open, “What's going on?” but I ignored him as I ran as fast as I could to the bathroom.
As I skidded to a stop in front of the open closet door, I got my first good look at the monster. Its face was little more than a skull. What flesh was left was infested with maggots and shiny black beetles that crawled along the surface.
It smelled of rotting leaves and its bright black beetle eyes landed on me and it gave an evil hiss. Ruthie was now wrapped in its arms and her face showed real fear. “Johnny!” she screamed, reaching out to me as the monster sank into the hole, dragging my sister with it.
I didn’t think, there wasn’t time. I dove for the hole, head first like I was going into a pool. My head and shoulders slipped easily into the hole but I was stopped short when something grabbed my ankle.
It was my father. He had come into the room just as I was diving, and he caught me by the ankle as I went into the hole. I heard him yell something, but his words were like a million miles away.
I hung down in the hole, my hips just past the edge, my father holding me in place by my leg. What I saw... well... it wasn’t my basement. The hole continued down maybe another ten feet, its edges widening as it went. The walls were black and slimy, smelling of rot.
I could see the monster, still dragging my sister along, her screams of terror broken up by her sobbing her free hand reaching back to me for help.
It wasn’t all I saw though.
There were many monsters, hundreds of them it seemed. They climbed and scurried along the walls of the hole like insects, reaching for me with their terrible sharp claws.
My father hauled me out of the hole by my leg, dragging me onto the bathroom floor and turning on the light.
“John! What the hell are...”
But I cut him off, screaming, “No!”
I crawled back to the edge of the hole, peering in, looking into the darkness.
Except it wasn’t dark. The light from the bathroom spilled in the hole, and down below, maybe ten feet away, I saw the laundry basket that caught the dirty clothes.
I was in shock then. Or that's what they told me later, when I came back, came back to being in my head.
They wanted to know what happened, what happened to Ruthie, where was she.
So I told them. I told them everything I saw as I am telling you now. I told them of the monster, of the darkness of the hole, and the things that lived in there. The monster who took Ruthie lived in the darkness, and now Ruthie did too.
I saw lots of doctors after that. Looked at endless ink blots and talked about everything from my parents to if I ever had any sexual thoughts. (I giggled the first time I was asked this. It felt good. It was the only real laugh I had since this all happened.)
They asked, and I told the same story.
Over and over again.
I didn’t realize till much later that they thought I did it. That I did something to Ruthie. I even saw it in my mother's eyes.
One night she broke down in the hospital room I had been confined to since that night. “Please John” she sobbed, dropping to her knees before me. Her fingers wrapped and clutching at the gown I wore.
“Please tell me, what did you do to Ruthie. What did you do to my baby girl!”
Her sobs were hysterical and she was scaring me, my father drug her off of me and wrestled her into the hall, slamming the door closed with his foot. But I still heard her, heard her scream that I had taken her little girl from her.
They stopped visiting after that. It's been five years now since I last saw them. Even the doctors seem to have lost interest. They stopped asking me questions long ago.
All they do now is adjust my medications once every few months, that's it, otherwise I just sit in my room, a medicated zombie.
But not a night passes, that when I am drifting off to sleep, that I hear those words.
And now I know.