Here is the next of my previously published stories that I’ve decided to share while we’re all cooped up in the house. this story is called Hole in the Wall. It was my 4th published story, appearing in the May 2006 issue of Atomjack magazine. It’s another relatively short one at 2700 words.
HOLE IN THE WALL
It was just an ordinary Sunday evening when I sat down at the computer to study stock charts and prepare stop loss orders for the next morning. As I reviewed a particularly lack-luster chart, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a little hole in the wall above my printer. The hole was quite small, but it certainly was disturbing because it wasn’t there yesterday.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. Little hole. Kids hadn’t been in the room, and if they had, they’d have left a much bigger hole. Kids are like that. They don’t do any damage small. I decided that the hole was the result of a nail hanging a picture from days gone by, and I just had never noticed it before. I went on to prepare my stock orders for another hour, then I went up to bed.
On Monday morning, as I often do, I went into my home office after the wife left for work. I turned on the computer to quickly check my usual online haunts, and while it was booting, I noticed the hole had grown overnight. Where Sunday evening the hole looked to have been left by a brad, it now looked like a six-inch nail had been there. Quite curious.
I wanted a closer look at that hole, but my printer is on the hutch of the computer table that I use to store stuff I don’t know what else to do with. I’m not very tall, so I had to stand on a chair to get high enough to get a good look at the hole. Once I moved the pile of unread junk mail that was in the way, I moved the chair into position and climbed on up.
When I leaned in toward that little hole, I could see there was something strange about it. It almost seemed alive. I could see motion.
I jumped down from the chair and dug through the closet until I had a mess all over the floor, but I did manage to find what I was looking for. I have this four-inch magnifying lens salvaged from the trash bin of a company I worked for way-back-when. It was part of a lamp used on a laboratory bench, but I lost the bracket. It’s now just a gangly big magnifying lens with a long arm that isn’t completely stable – useful for cooking insects and for looking at little but growing holes in the wall.
I climbed back onto the chair and held up the magnifying lens. That not-completely-stable arm swung around, propelling the lens into my forehead. After a few choice words, I grabbed the stupid thing by the neck and held the lens up again. This time, I could see the hole very clearly. What I saw through that lens looked quite a bit like the accretion disk of a black hole.
“Now that’s odd,” I said, because it was.
“What’s odd, Daddy?”
It was the boy.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the school bus?” I asked.
“I am ready,” he said.
“Oh, okay.” That was all I could think to say.
“What’s odd, Daddy?” he repeated.
“We have a black hole in the wall.”
“We have a lot of black holes in the wall. Everywhere you try to hang a picture takes three or four tries.” The little rat was observant, I’ll give him that. “There’s gray smudges on the wall, too,” he continued. “Way up by the ceiling, from when you used the ladder Mommy doesn’t want you to use in the house anymore.”
“Never mind about the ladder,” I said. “I’m really worried about this hole.”
“I think you should be worried about—” The arm of the magnifying lens swung around and cracked me in the back of the head. “—the arm of that lens hitting you in the head.”
I thanked him for his warning, then took another look at the hole. Out of curiosity, I grabbed a bent paper clip and pressed it into the hole. It went in and out without any problem. That was unexpected. If this truly were a black hole in the wall, it should have consumed the paperclip.
The boy was still in the room. “Hand me that safety pin on the desk, please.”
He gave the pin to me, and I opened it wider than it was supposed to go in order to give me more room to work. I stuck the pin into the wall at an angle and pushed the point toward the hole.
“Why are you putting another hole in the wall?”
I ignored him as I watched the edge of the hole, waiting to see the point of the pin. It never emerged. When I removed the pin from the wall, the tip of it was gone.
I couldn’t rehook the safety pin because the pin part was now too short, so I just set it by the printer.
“This is a problem,” I said.
“What’s a problem?” It was my younger daughter.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the school bus?” I asked while I was wondering when she showed up.
“I am ready,” she said.
“Oh, okay.” I looked at the clock. It was time to go outside to wait for the school bus. “Why don’t you kids get your backpacks and head out to the garage?”
“Okay,” they both said in tandem. “But,” just my daughter now, “what is the problem?”
“This hole in the wall,” I said.
She giggled. “Daddy, we have a lot of holes in the wall.”
Everyone is a smart-aleck. “Most of them aren’t two-dimensional black-holes.”
For a moment, she had a perplexed look on her face, then she smiled and said, “Can you come outside to wait for the bus with us?”
I looked at the hole, then down at her, then back at the hole. “Okay. I suppose the hole can wait ten minutes.”
“Are you staying home from work because of the hole, Daddy?”
“Probably.” I climbed off the chair and followed her out the office door into the foyer and on toward the bathroom, where I noticed the light was still on. “Is somebody in there?” I asked.
“I am,” my other daughter said.
“What are you doing?”
“Brushing my hair.”
“I’m almost done.” She was almost done forty-five minutes ago, too.
“Well, the bus is coming soon and I am not driving you to school if you miss it.” I walked a couple steps more, then paused. “It’s Monday, don’t forget your violin.”
“I won’t.” The light went off as I walked through the laundry room to the garage and out to the street where the two younger kids were already kicking stones and running amok through the neighbor’s yard. That’s how they wait for the bus.
My other daughter finally emerged from the house as the bus pulled up. Before getting on, my younger daughter asked, “Why is that particular hole a problem?”
“Because it’s growing,” I said, “I need to stay home from work today so I can fix it.”
“Okay,” she said, then bounded away, disappearing into the bus. I waved at the driver, then went back inside to deal with the hole. That would be much easier with the kids gone. I walked back into the office and sat down in my computer chair, looking up at the two-dimensional black hole stuck in my wall. Fix it? How?
Spackle! I rushed out to the garage and picked up the container of spackle from the workbench. After a few minutes of digging for my putty knife, I went back into the office to spackle that hole, only to discover that the spackle was a little dry. Well, it was worth a shot.
I scooped a bit of crumbly spackle onto my putty knife and mashed it into the hole. After smoothing it down, I went into the kitchen to grab another cup of coffee. When I got back to the office, the hole had grown, and the spackle chunk was lying on top of my printer.
After fishing the spackle out of the paper feed tray, where it dropped as I tried to pick it up, I sat down to think about what to do next. After a few minutes, I spun my chair around and reached for my astronomy book. I needed to brush up on black holes to know what I was up against. A two-dimensional black hole had no right to exist. Well, I suppose it had as much right to exist as I did, but it still violated every law of physics I ever learned in college. Not that I didn’t invent some physics on exams, but in this case, I was pretty sure that the thing shouldn’t really exist. I just didn’t know how to convince the black hole.
I yawned, then set the physics book on the floor on top of the January issue of Barron’s and a stray sock, then looked back at the hole in the wall. It was now about the size of a quarter. I glanced at the clock and decided that I had to at least get that hole out of my wall before it consumed the whole thing.
The problem with being a pack rat is that there isn’t anywhere to put things, so I moved my printer to the top of my fax machine to prevent drywall dust from falling into it. (I’m not sure which device I was trying to protect.) After a fifteen minute hunt for my box knife, and another five to change to a sharp blade, I stood up on that chair and cut a square six inches to a side, with the black hole in the center – well, a little off-center, but close.
I had a scare as the piece almost fell inside the wall, but I caught it with the blade of the box knife and managed to work it out of the wall. After retracting the blade, I stuck the box knife into my pocket (don’t laugh, I’ve done it without retracting the blade), then climbed off the chair and carried my specimen to the kitchen. I set it flat on the table while I phoned work.
As I was explaining to my boss how terribly sick I had become, it occurred to me that the thing should be extremely heavy. You know, condensed matter and all that. Since it wasn’t any heavier than a normal piece of drywall that size, I assumed that being confined to two dimensions must have some strange way of keeping the mass low, at least from the point of view of a three-dimensional engineer playing hooky and home-owner that was going to have to explain a six-inch square hole in the wall to his wife. Better than trying to explain a two-dimensional black hole that I still didn’t know what to do with. I hung up the phone and sat at the kitchen table watching the thing slowly consume the drywall.
One thing was certain, I had to do something with it. If I kept it in the house, it might eventually grow to cut my house in half. If I leaned it against a tree, it might eventually cut the planet in half. Now, that would be an interesting experiment, but I doubted that I had enough insurance to pay for the damage. Plus, all the innards of the planet would probably ooze out and we’d never get it all back inside again. Maybe that’s what happened to Iapetus. Anyway, that was an experiment I wanted no part of, so the question remained, what to do with this two-dimensional black hole that was now the size of a half-dollar.
I had to think, and I didn’t know how long that might take, so I took the drywall chunk outside and set it on the picnic table, hoping the dog would leave it alone. I walked back to the door, then I turned back and called the dog. When he came running to me, I locked him inside the pool fence so he couldn’t get at the black hole. The way dogs hold things in their mouths, the black hole might cut right through his head. That would be messy.
After I secured the gate, I ignored his barking and went back inside to fire up the computer. I trawled around the internet until I found a discussion group on black holes. I posted a simple question. How do you stop a black hole from growing? The answer came back in a few minutes: stop feeding it.
Brilliant! Stop feeding it. It was stuck inside a piece of sheetrock. The thing would eat until it got to the edge, then it would eat the air. And then the flower pot on the picnic table, and then the lemon tree, and it would never stop until it ran out of stuff after it grew big enough.
How do you stop a rhinoceros from charging? Take away its credit card. How do you stop a black hole from eating? Take away the food.
I ran to the garage, jumped into my pickup, then drove to the hardware store. It was an interesting problem, but I thought I had it figured out. At the hardware store, I bought some heavy-gauge sheet metal, a welding torch and supplies, an air valve, some rubber tubing, some wire, eight eye-screws, and four c-clamps.
I got it all back home and welded the metal into a box, leaving one side open. The black hole was almost to the edge of the sheetrock, and I had no idea how fast it might grow when it got out, so I tightened the clamps onto the four corners of the sheetrock and attached wires from the clamps to eye-screws welded into the corners of the box. When it was done, the sheetrock was firmly suspended in the middle of the box. I cut a small hole in the piece of metal that would become the sixth face of the cube, and in that hole I welded the valve. After welding the last face onto the box, I carried the whole thing to the garage, along with the tubing.
I popped the hood of my truck and connected one end of the tubing to the vacuum line of my engine and the other end to the nozzle on the valve. I let my truck pull a vacuum until the tubing collapsed, then I closed the valve and removed the tubing. After turning off the truck, I carried the box into my office.
The stuff from inside the closet was still scattered across the floor, and the stuff that managed to stay inside the closet was in too much disarray to leave room for my box containing the black hole. For a moment, I considered just tossing it onto the trash, but the box would probably be damaged enough to allow an air leak, allowing the black hole to eat a plane across the landfill, then sever the mountain and cut apart the Indian casino, and on into downtown Phoenix. Dumping it in the trash was out.
If I gave the thing away, somebody would make money from it and I wouldn’t see a cent. eBay! I could sell it on eBay! Then I thought about it. Why really include a black hole if you can just sell empty metal? I made a mental note to follow up on that idea.
Bury it? Nah, way too much work digging because of the caliche.
So, I did what I do with everything else I can’t figure out what to do with – I stuck it on the other computer desk on top of my stack of Barron’s magazines.
I had just finished setting down the metal box when I heard the squeaky brakes of the school bus. A moment later, three kids came crashing through the front door. My youngest daughter came into the office. She pointed at the square hole in the wall and said with a smile, “It’s still growing!”