There was a bottomless pothole in the far corner of the Majestic Ten Cinema parking lot. Bottomless, as in, one time, James, the assistant manager, tossed an ugly yellow dresser into it and we all watched as it was slowly swallowed. We watched like people watch an animal feed, vaguely disgusted, kind of in awe, and somewhat excited. We gathered around with drinks and snacks and sat on the hoods of our cars or the tailgates of our trucks, and cheered as the dresser was dragged in by the hole’s unseen gravity, and clapped when it splintered and broke apart, like a chicken wing being snapped in half. Bits of yellow wood white daisies on them had to be swept up and tossed into the hole, as if they were after dinner mints for it.
The hole became the unofficial mascot for the employees of the Majestic Ten. If someone were late, we’d joke that the pothole got them. If someone quit without notice, the pothole got ‘em. If James the assistant manager gave one of us grunts bathroom duty, better believe someone muttered they were throwing him in the hole, for-fucking-sure.
The first time we noticed it was when Carter, Nikki and I got sent out to sweep the lot. Big shots coming in. Y’know, the guys who owned all the Majestic Tens in the state and made us wear those uniforms. Button vests and slacks, what the fuck. We looked like we worked in a funeral home.
People were slobs. So, we got out the brooms and dustpans, and Carter wheeled out a trash barrel. We went around, scooping up half-full 32 ounce cups, candy wrappers, bits of popcorn, a condom some hilarious joking-jokester decided to leave. We swept it all, breathing in the cold fall air, shivering a little, yelling at each other, talking about whatever new movie was out.
“Movie was trash! All this shit we’re cleaning, like, on the ground? This trash? That’s the movie.”
“Oh, come on! I heard it was good!”
“No, it was garbage!”
“You hate every movie, Carter.”
“Sawrrrr-reee! It ain’t my fault there’s only three good movies ever made.”
“What are those?”
“Star Wars, Halloween and Transformers.”
On and on, back and forth. I told Carter he was delusional. He told me the movies I liked sucked. I laughed at him, he laughed at me, we hit each other with the broom, it was the usual cycle of fuckery that went into being the last people stuck at work.
We ended up in the back corner, next to the hole. It had always been there, but it was just another pothole in the Midwest back then. We emptied our dustpans into the barrel. Carter said something stupid, I said something back, so he shoved the can at me. The wheels caught a rock and it tipped over. Popcorn and wrappers and soda cups spilled out and flung everywhere.
“You guys can clean that, I have to leave to go pick my kid up,” Nikki said, as she walked away.
Me and Carter rolled our eyes and laughed as we swept up the spill. What was five more minutes? But then we heard this gurgling sound.
Carter later said it sounded like chicks in porn when they like, really suck a dick, and Nikki asked to be put on another shift, away from him.
Anyway, we looked in the hole and saw that a ton of the popcorn and shit had fallen in and was draining down rather quickly, as if someone pulled a bathtub plug. The trash writhed and spiraled, and within a few seconds, it was gone.
Carter and I glanced at each other, then promptly tipped the entire garbage can into the hole.
Glurp, glarp, slurp.
Trash was gone, and we didn’t have to carry it all the way to the dumpster.
* * *
It became a joke, we started throwing bigger and bigger things in there. James said it was a sinkhole, but that didn’t add up because someone on 1st shift said a sinkhole would expand and swallow the pavement, but ours never grew beyond the size of a manhole. We even tried to dig around it with some pickaxes and sledgehammers Big Paul had in his truck for some goddamn reason, but we couldn’t make it bigger. Carter lost a hammer to it though.
So, it just… existed. Day in and day out. Punched the clock and did its thing, just like us. We tried to name our mascot, but nothing stuck. “Gloryhole” had potential, and so did “Holy of Holies” but they didn’t quite fit. So, it was just “the hole.”
We started making up stories about it.
“It’s a portal to a new dimension.”
“It’s a dormant volcano.”
“It’s God’s asshole.”
“It’s Carter’s mom’s asshole.”
“It’s a door to hell.”
“We’re all dead and this is an inverse world and we’re actually pushing things through to reality and our counter-selves on the other side want to know why dressers and garbage keep appearing out of a fucking pothole at the Majestic Ten.”
That last one was my idea and several coworkers looked at me weird, except Carter, who cackled and suggested we throw a nice looking blonde into the hole, for “Carter on the other side to rescue.”
The hole became the spot where a group of us took breaks, smoking cigarettes, chugging energy drinks, shuffling our feet and huddling against the cold, looking into the hole, wondering if we fed it the right thing, would it give us the answers to some great question we hadn’t even thought to ask?
Then Carter fell in, and things got weird.
* * *
It was any other night. Carter and I emptied all the trash cans into one of the large bins and wheeled it out to the dumpster. Interest in the hole had died down for most of us, I mean, it was a weird hole that ate stuff, basically a garbage disposal, so what? But it stuck in Carter’s mind. He kept wanting to try different things. Firecrackers, bleach, batteries, he was like a maniac who had discovered fire and wanted to see what happened to living things when it touched them.
We threw the trash in the bins, then Carter pulled out a cellphone that he had hooked to a long piece of thick, metal twine. He unspooled it from his pockets and I realized he had been carrying it around all shift, waiting for this moment.
“I’m gonna turn the camera on and see what happens when we put stuff in the hole.”
I shrugged. “I kind of just want to clock out and go home.”
“C’mon, let’s try it.”
We walked across the lot to the hole. It was summer, and bugs were flying around. Giant buzzing June bugs were colliding into the lamplights, making thwack noises when they smashed into the glass.
Carter knelt in front of the hole and turned on the camera. Then he raised the string and drooped it over, like he was ice fishing, and slowly lowered it down. The hole gurgled and swallowed the phone easily, and then began drawing the string in, spaghetti noodle style. Carter fed the line, until suddenly it grew taught and started sliding through his fingers at a rapid pace, slicing his hand open.
“Ah! Fuck!” He let go, started to hop away, like you do when you stub your toe, but he stepped on his fucking shoelace, tripped, and one foot went straight down into the hole.
We locked eyes.
His mouth was open.
“Oh.” He said. “OH!” That was when we heard something creaking, and it was Carter’s leg making the same noises as the dresser. The sound of splintering, cracking wood and a steady, munching sound. Carter tossed his head back and screamed at the sky, and I could hear more June bugs clacking against the lamplight.
I grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out, what else could I fuckin’ do? His hands clutched mine and I pulled, leaning backwards as far as I could. He planted his free leg firmly on the rim of the hole, and I saw him straining it to pull himself out, to the point where the knee of his dress pants ripped, and I found myself staring at a scab on his knee, a scab on my friend’s knee and it made him seem like a little kid who’d fallen down and scraped his leg at the skatepark and oh god.
He started to sink. His eyes were wild and scared and he stopped screaming. He gave me a helpless look, the look that doctors give relatives when the worst has happened.
“No, no, pull me out man, pull me out, please pull me out, it’s crushing me please just pull me out!”
I pulled and pulled until my arms roared in protest, and for weeks afterwards I wouldn’t be able to raise them higher than chest level, but still he sank.
When he got to waist level, he was in shock from the pain. He started sobbing, gently, like he was watching a sad movie.
“I thought I didn’t like dogs, you know? I should have gotten a dog, man. I just figured, you know, they shit and drool and stuff, I didn’t want to deal with that. Why didn’t I get a dog?”
“I’m gonna go get help,” I told him.
“No, please don’t leave me.”
“I need to go get help, we’ll come back with a truck or a crane or-,”
“It’s the hole man, you can’t get nothing out of the hole, you know that.”
“I don’t know what else to do! I’m getting help!”
I sprinted away, my feet slapping the black pavement, Carter sinking a little lower as the hole crunched his legs.
By the time I came back with people to help pull him out, he was gone.
* * *
We tried our best to explain to the police, and they looked at us like we were crazy, nodded their heads and jotted in their little notebooks, but after a week of questions, the official statement was that Carter was a missing person and they were “looking into it.”
Cool, great, awesome.
Time moved on. We went back to work. A new batch of movies came out. Then the sequels to those, and the sequel to the sequels. We measured time in release dates, and each release would sneak up on me and I found myself saying to someone: “Wow, that’s out already?”
I was a better worker after Carter’s disappearance. Having a friend at work makes the days easier, life more bearable, but that meant we’d take long breaks, goof off, try to trap each other in the bathroom stalls while we were cleaning them, that sort of stuff.
Once, Carter stuck one of those Halloween fake hands in the popcorn machine, so at the end of the night when I was scooping out all the old, dried out popcorn, I found it and yelped. Of course, that meant we had to scrub out the entire inside of the machine because of “sanitation concerns.”
James the assistant manager became James the Manager, and he promoted me to assistant. “It’s time for you to take more responsibility,” he said, “You’ve been here for a few years, I can see you being a role player.”
That was terrifying, and if Carter was around, I would’ve said no, managers are cops, I ain’t wearing the corporate blue, fuck all that.
But he wasn’t. And I said sure, I will do my best.
So, there I was. Assistant manager.
More movies came out, another Star Wars, and I casually suggested that we could use baby oil on the stainless steel bathroom faucets to make them shinier, and ho-leeeeeee shit, you would’ve thought I cracked the Nazi code. James the Manager tells corporate, and whaddya know, I’m promoted to manager and sent to a struggling part of the chain two towns over.
A meeting gets called, and I gotta greet my employees. We gathered in an empty theater on a Tuesday morning. I looked out at them and realized they were the same people from my old Majestic Ten. Just palette swaps. Slightly different faces, tweaks to their mannerisms. It was the same motley crew with tattoos and tired eyes, making the same jokes and crossing their arms to glare at me, their enemy. Two guys walked in late, shoving each other as they found seats, and they might as well have been Carter and me.
I did my best to be, you know, the cool manager. Which made me supremely uncool. I told them I wasn’t a stickler as long as the job got done. I wasn’t going to breathe down people’s necks. I was flexible with time off. Every sentence essentially me saying “Please, I’m not really this guy, I’m one of you, I just want to afford health insurance and maybe new tires.”
I was like a new stepdad, trying to break the ice with a teenager.
* * *
More time, more sequels, more reboots and the steady throp-throp-throp of the popcorn machine and the hissing of the soda dispensers and my life starts getting eaten by this place. The name badge on my colored shirt started to feel like it was irradiated and the core of me was being hollowed out.
The natives slowly grew more accepting of me, moving towards an uneasy peace where we would sometimes talk like normal people, and one of the ushers told me about the ice pond out back.
“You know that patch of woods behind the Ten?”
We were walking the auditoriums after closing, picking up scattered ticket stubs and Milk Dud boxes. “Yeah,” I said.
“There’s a pond out there that’s always frozen. Solid ice, y’know? Never melts. Even in July.”
I stooped to grab a half-crushed soda cup. “How do you know it never melts?’
“I walk to work. I cut through there every day. Even in July. Still frozen.”
“You didn’t try to tell a newspaper or anything?”
He yawned. “Naw man, who cares? It’s ice.”
I thought about telling him the story of the hole at the Majestic Ten but didn’t bother. Instead, after clocking out for lunch, I walked out back and into the wooded area. I found the pond quickly. It was afternoon in late May and the sun was beaming down, but the water was indeed frozen. There was even a thin layer of frost on it.
Cautiously, I edged out onto the ice, listening for creaking and cracking, taking ginger steps forward, until I was sure that it was frozen at least a few feet down. I walked to the center of the pond, marveling at it. People had ditched shopping carts and tires back there, and it looked like some kids had a party because there were crushed beer cans everywhere.
It was just…weird. After the hole, it seemed mundane. The usher was right; who cares? I had schedules to write, a new hire to train.
I was about to leave when a thought struck me. Was it clear ice under the frost? Would I be able to see the bottom, like looking into a fish tank?
Using the tip of my shoe, I kicked the frost, scraping up the top layer. I carved out a big patch. It was clear underneath, but dark. I took out my phone and shone a light down into it.
I saw bits of yellow. Wood. Shredded wood chips. One big chunk had white daisies on it.
I looked down into the ice and saw fragments of the past, and I missed my friend more than ever.
About the Author
Alex Olson is from Port Huron, Michigan. He writes literary fiction, science fiction and horror about drug stores controlled by squid-gods. More work available at www.squidthroatonline.com