“Where do you suppose it goes?”
“Down, probably.” Holly pulled off her necklace and removed beads until she had a handful. Those were safely tucked into the pocket of her dress. One more tug and she removed the scuffed ruby which dangled from the center.
“Whatcha doing with that?”
Holly held the jewel between her thumb and forefinger. She pressed her other forefinger to her lips. Joel nodded and leaned over the hole. “It’s a long way down,” he said.
With a quick flick of her wrist, Holly tossed the ruby into the hole. It hit the dirt side and slid silently all the way down into the blackened depths, a small cloud of dust left in its wake. Joel turned his ear towards the darkness.
“Hear anything?” Holly asked.
Joel shook his head. “Nothing.” He pulled his hands out of his pockets and sat back down on the picnic blanket. “The ice’s melting, Hol. It’s gonna be gross.”
Holly peered into the hole for three more beats of her heart—she counted.
One. Two. Three.
Then she pulled away and returned to the blanket. Her glass had tipped over, caught in plaid wrinkles. It had remained empty, so nothing had spilled. She righted it and held it out to Joel. “Melted ice is fine. It’s just water.”
Joel turned the cap on the pitcher and poured both he and Holly a glass of iced tea. The ice—melted or not—had kept the sandwiches cold. Joel handed Holly hers, but he opted for a baggie of cut veggies. He munched on a carrot stick, furrowed brow giving away his deep thought.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Holly said. She’d unwrapped her sandwich and took a big mouthful. The white bread stuck to the room of her mouth and she had to peel it away with her finger. Another big bite and she followed Joel’s gaze back to the hole.
They ate their lunch in silence, filing their glasses and their bellies. Soon enough, all that remained was an empty pitcher and a crumpled stack of wrappers and baggies.
Holly busied herself with the clean up, but Joel was far too enraptured by the mysterious hole. He crawled over to it and lay on his belly. Small rocks and patches of dirt crumbled when he poked at the walls.
The ground shook under them, knocking Holly to her knees.
A plume of smoke rushed up out of the hole. Joel reeled back, cradling his arm to his chest. “Don’t touch it!” he warned. “It’s hot!” He kicked at the hole, but only succeeded in throwing more dirt downward.
The smoke shifted from grey to a pale red. In an instant—as quickly as it had come—it descended back into the hole as if it, sucked into a vacuum.
In its place, a small red-skinned boy hovered. He crossed his arms and legs, and the expression beneath his tiny, pointed horns was surly. “Do you mind?!” he asked. He spread open his white, feather wings, large enough to triple his size and send shivers down Holly’s spine.
Joel rose to his feet, his arm still cradled tightly to him. He looked between the boy and the hole, then he pointed downward. “Do you live down there?”
The boy touched his bare feet to the ground in front of the hole. “Where else would I live?” He scoffed. “Least I don’t live on a blanket.”
“I don’t live on a blanket!” Joel balled up his fists and looked to Holly. “I’ma knock him back down that hole, the idiot!”
Holly blinked at the two of them, her mind cloudy at the surprise. But her mother had raised a lady, and a lady never yelled at a guest, even if they were a rude little demon boy. She held up her empty glass at him. “We’ve just finished lunch. Sorry you weren’t around or I would have offered you some. There might be a sandwich at the bottom if you like.”
Joel glared at her. The demon boy stuck his tongue out at Joel and then nodded politely to Holly. “I would like that, yes.”
Holly dug through the basket until she found the half eaten remains of Joel’s ham-and-cheese. She held it out to the boy who took it greedily. He ate it, wrapper and all, while Holly and Joel watched—Holly with intrigue and slight disgust, Joel with anger and a bruised ego.
“Thanks,” the boy said. Crumbs decorated his leathery, red chin. “I appreciate your manners. Now if you don’t mind—” He waved at the hole and the smoke reappeared. Once it had turned red again, he stepped into it. Another moment and the smoke was gone, taking the demon boy with it.
“I don’t want to eat here anymore,” Joel said. Holly agreed.