Green River, Wyoming

originally published in the Ponder Review, Volume 3, Issue I

Beliefs open up out here like sinkholes. They swallow you. Come out here for the perception of privacy, the perception of freedom, for the open air, and next thing you know the government is bombarding your house with radio waves, changing your brain chemistry, making you want to kill your wife. The sheriff had seen that one before. The holes out here are deep. Real deep.

He’s driving out to another one tonight. A real one, that is. An actual hole, out near Green River.

He got the call about an hour ago. A couple kids fell down a deep crack in the earth, some snaking underground branch of the river, nearly impossible to get into and even less possible to get out of, which is to say, they were already looking for corpses.

The evening sky mirrors the land, dull oranges and tans, dust in the air, dirt, no clear lineation. The sheriff takes a right off the interstate. For a while it’s a dirt road to nowhere. Then he gets to the scene.

There’s a local deputy, his red and blue lights rebound off the rocks and stubborn flora. The sheriff gets out. The lawmen look at each other. “It’s a shame,” they say, “a damn shame.” They shake hands. “Show me,” the sheriff says. They walk carefully. The deputy mutters to himself, like he’s reciting instructions on how to get there. They hear it first.

It’s a low rushing. You could confuse it for the breeze. Water, way down, you hear it more in your feet. The opening is only a couple feet wide at its widest, and going down it twists and turns so much you’d think someone would have to wiggle their way through it. You’d break a leg stepping in it before you fell all the way through. “Now how in the Hell?” the sheriff says.

The sheriff gets back in his car. He tells the deputy his lights aren’t necessary anymore and drives to the house about a mile further down the dirt road. It’s a shack more windswept and barren then the land. There’s another deputy there. They greet each other similarly.

“How’d it go,” the sheriff asks.

“The boy says they were running around out there when his brother and sister fell in. At first he told his parents they’d been snatched up by wolves or something, some kind of dog. I didn’t quite catch what he was describing. Couldn’t tell you why he said that. Then he tells ‘em they fell into the earth. Tells ‘em he heard them fall all the way down. Then nothing. Took him hours to get home. They’d never seen the hole before.”

The sheriff nods. More strangeness he thinks.

“They’re Native?”

“Yes, sir. Says they’re Tukudeka. Sheepeater.”

In the house a small man and woman, old and weathered, sit on the couch. Their expressions are flat. The other boy is leaning against the wall by a window. He’s about 12, tall for his age, well-built, old Nike sweatshirt. You could tell they spent a lot of time outside. Healthy boy, strong boy. All the more strange they didn’t know about the hole. The sheriff takes his hat off.

He talks to the old man. At one point the old woman brings coffee and the sheriff says thank you. The boy stands by the window the whole time. The sun disappears beside him as they talk. The man explains to the sheriff how the earth shifts out here. It’s never settled, never certain. It could be that our eyes simply trick us. They never tell the whole story. But it’s more than that says the old Sheepeater. It’s a confusion of worlds. The ground giving way to the water, falling through the ground as if through the sky, the river like a snake, buried, a thing that eats. It’s all mixed up the old man says, shaking his head. The Gods are no longer separate. The hierarchy is disordered. It’s all mixed up. The boy and girl were called Alex and Maria.

The sheriff sighs. Back outside he puts his hat on. CPS is going to have to get involved. Certainly not because of how the old man thinks, though it won’t help him any against a bureaucracy, but just because that’s the way things work. He drives back to the hole.

The dive team is a while coming. The sky turns black in that time. The sheriff and deputy train their car lights on the hole. They watch as a diver puts on his wet suit and scuba gear. “Don’t make a difference diving day or night for this one,” he says. “It’d be dark down there anyway.”

It’s around 11pm by the time the diver starts crawling down. Over the radio they can hear him cursing. He doesn’t like this one. Before he went in he stood over the hole and said, “Boy I don’t like this one.” Then he’s quiet a while. The deputy and sheriff stand together but don’t say much. The dive team monitors things. Every now and then the diver gives them an update. The stars are bright. The sheriff tries not to think, it doesn’t help too much.

Then things get quiet for too long. The sheriff notices. He walks over to the team and asks what’s going on. They tell him they’re not sure, maybe something’s wrong with the comms, but the vital monitors say everything is fine. For all they know he’s still searching, just without the ability to communicate. It’s not too uncommon the team says. The sheriff doesn’t like it.

The deputy walks over. “What’s going on,” he asks.

“Communications are down.”

“I saw something,” the deputy says.

“Jesus, what?”

“I don’t know. An animal. Over there.” The deputy points into the dark.

“Just an animal?”

“Sheriff, something’s wrong. Everything just went down.”

“What do you mean?”

“We don’t know, but there’s no vitals. There’s no signals or ultrasounds either. It’s like nothing’s there.”

“How?”

“We’re not sure. It’s like things have been turned off.”

Something moves outside the circle of light around the team.

“There it is,” the deputy says.

“Jesus-Lord.”

In the darkness the sheriff sees a figure moving towards them. The deputy draws his gun. The slapping of wet feet can be heard. The body stumbles into the dive team’s light. It’s the diver.

“What?” the deputy says.

The dive team runs over and pulls him into the van. They immediately work to get his gear off. The diver mumbles and shivers. The sheriff and deputy just watch. They wrap blankets around him. He’s incoherent. He mumbles about things, things that he saw in the hole. He mumbles about how deep it is. He says it’s too deep, deeper than possible. He talks about lights that shouldn’t have been down there, about underground tunnels, about secret military bases, about how everything leads to the Denver airport. The dive team has to take him to the hospital. He doesn’t stop mumbling.

At one point in all the commotion the sheriff thinks he sees the older boy standing in the lights of the patrol cars, standing over the hole. He looks and thinks he sees the older boy looking into the hole, as if something could be down there, as if anything he could recognize could be down there, as if down there everything wasn’t just incoherence. But then when the sheriff looks again and shouts, no one is there.

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