J. A. Tyler
The Black Hole in Tommy's Backyard
The biggest thing he'd thrown down it so far was an apple. It was a golden delicious that was more red than anything. He'd twisted the stem while reciting the alphabet and ended up on R. He couldn't think of any girl with an R at the beginning of her name. He had been hoping for S, because Sarah was the girl he liked best. So he pretended to himself that it had been an S instead of an R. Then he smiled and chucked the apple down the black hole and it disappeared.
Tommy had been plucking dandelions in his backyard Saturday morning when he found the black hole. He'd been pulling up the flowers and popping the heads off. Every once in a while he'd scrap one down his arm, leaving a trail of dirty yellow amongst the light-colored arm hairs that had started growing on his little kid forearms. He'd been reciting the old, worn out rhythms of childhood—"Mary had a baby and its head popped off."
And when he pulled up the next dandelion it had been there, this funny little hole in the yard. Tommy had peered down the opening and could see nothing: it was entirely black. Tommy had listened to the hole and it made a whispery sound, like a sucking wind. Then he'd found that if he put his hand over the hole it was kind of like holding your hand over the end of a vacuum cleaner hose. It sucked hard, enough that it made a light hickey on his skin. Tommy was fascinated.
That afternoon he'd done nothing else except lay near the new hole in the ground and listen to the breeze that emitted from it. He'd just lay there and tossed blade after blade of grass down the hole, wondering where it was all going. But even without knowing, he'd loved the fact that the grass couldn't fly like normal; it no more than made it to the opening before it was pulled downward and then disappeared. And after each limb of green grass vanished, Tommy would look down into the black hole only to find still nothingness.
The next morning Tommy found that the hole in his yard had grown enormously. It was now the size of a soccer ball, and was almost noticeable from his bedroom window. Had it not been for the length of the spring lawn, uncut by his father for at least two weeks, anyone could have seen it with nothing more than a passing glance. Tommy had bolted down the stairs to the living room and out into the yard without even saying good morning to his parents. He spent the morning laying by the hole like it was a pet dog, feeling the grass around the hole and chucking little pebbles into the abyss.
At lunch his mother had asked him what he'd been doing outside all morning.
"Nothing," he'd answered.
"Really? It looked like you were napping," she'd said.
"Yeah. I think I did fall asleep once. But I was just laying near the hole," he'd said.
"The hole?" she asked.
"Yep," he said.
"The black hole in the yard. I found it yesterday. Its fun to see what happens when you throw things down it," he'd said, telling the story upfront and honestly.
"Tommy, you better not have been digging a hole in our backyard," she reprimanded.
"No mom. I didn't. Honest. It was just a hole that, well, sort of appeared when I pulled out a dandelion yesterday. I think it's a black hole. You know, like in space."
She laughed, and it hurt Tommy's feelings. She didn't believe him.
"Okay. But don't you go digging it any bigger. Our yard has enough problems as it is."
"Yes mom," he said sullenly, disappointed that she hadn't wanted to see the hole for herself, that she hadn't believed him.
Later that afternoon was when he'd thrown the apple down. It had acted just like the blade of grass. No real arc to it, just a straight, sucking plummet like the hole was pulling it down. And no sound either. No bouncing off the sides or hitting the bottom. Tommy had listened hard for that, especially the thud at the bottom, like a grapefruit hitting a well's stone base. But it had been nothing but silence.
And when Tommy went to bed that night he'd dreamt about how things looked going down the hole, and he smiled the whole time, even in his sleep.
But this morning, when he awoke from his pleasant dreams of tumbling objects, he saw from his second story window that the hole was now much, much bigger. It seemed large enough for a small person. Tommy was excited and scared at the same time. But when he heard the horn of the school bus and his mom calling for him to hurry up, he knew there was no time for the black hole. It would have to wait until later.
Tommy's school day went much like this:
Calculate this 2 + 4 x 17 = Black Hole
At home, with the sun still high in the spring sky, Tommy finally had the chance to check out how big the hole had become. And when he approached the rim of it, he saw that his eyes had not deceived him this morning, the hole was big enough for a small person, for Tommy. But he was careful. He stayed just near the edge of the hole, close enough for the downward breeze to stir the bangs of hair covering his forehead, but far enough that he wouldn't be sucked straight down it.
The Capitol of Colorado = Black Hole
Huck Finn's father's name = Black Hole
The years of the Civil War = Black Hole
So that's what Tommy did for most of the afternoon: stood watching the hole, staring into its blackness and wondering what was down there, what was at the end of that giant tunnel. Was it China? Was it Space? Was it the entrance to a fantastic highway that led to the most wonderful place in the world? And as Tommy was thinking about all of these fantastic things, he inadvertently leaned a little too close to the black hole and the wind started to suck on the front tails of his shirt. Pulling back with a fear that made him instantly sweat, Tommy yanked himself away from the hole and felt the frayed tear on the bottom of his shirt. Now he knew that the hole was not friendly and didn't lead to a good place. It was a bad black hole, one that took you some place awful. Tommy was sure of it.
The evening ended with a purple sunset, a warm breeze that stirred the poplars, and the neighbor's cat Jangles wandering down and into the black hole. It was right as Tommy's dad was calling for him to come to dinner, and Jangles didn't really wander into the hole so much as she was sucked down it. As Tommy turned to go inside, he took one last glance at the black hole and saw something white on its rim. It was Jangles. She was curious about the dark spot in the lawn, and when she approached it, just to check it out, it was like the hole reached up and grabbed her. She was gone in an instant. The blink of an eye. No noise. No sound. Just the disappearance of white into black. And now Tommy was more scared than excited.
At dinner Tommy tried to talk with his parents about the black hole. It didn't go well at all.
"What do you mean? You dug a hole in the backyard? Tommy!" his dad scolded. He'd been out fishing yesterday when Tommy's mom had heard about the hole. And although Tommy was always disappointed when his dad didn't invite him along, he didn't want to upset his father. He was an aggressive man who was easily upset.
"No dad. Honest. I didn't dig the hole, it just appeared there. It's like a black hole or something," Tommy tried to explain.
"Really Tommy?" his dad said sarcastically. "It just appeared? Out of the middle of nowhere?"
"No. From underneath a dandelion," Tommy said.
"I can't believe you did this. Well, lets go see how big it is. See how much damn work I have to do tomorrow—"
Tommy's mom interjected, "No hon. Leave it for tonight. I'm sure it's nothing that big. Tommy's imagination is just wild and dishonest. It's probably nothing, right Tommy?"
Tommy didn't know what to say. It certainly wasn't nothing. But Tommy just didn't care anymore. They could fall in that hole for all he cared. They didn't even believe him. Some kind of parents they were. Wild imagination. He'd show them.
"No mom. It's a definite hole. A black hole. That's the truth. Go see for yourselves if you don't believe me," Tommy said with defiance.
Tommy's mom and dad were out of their chairs and into the backyard before Tommy could even stop to think about if this was the right thing to do or not. It all just happened.
With the porch light on, you still couldn't see the hole from the back door, so Tommy's dad hollered for a flashlight and Tommy's mom obliged. And Tommy had a feeling that this wouldn't end well.
Standing around the black hole, which was now even bigger than it had been this morning, no one could believe it. Even Tommy was still amazed. His dad shone the flashlight around and around the hole, trying to figure out how Tommy had dug so deeply that the bottom wasn't visible. Meanwhile, Tommy's mom was trying to understand how he'd done it without noise or tools. Just a little kid laying in the lawn on a hot spring day. But they all felt the sucking wind that the hole produced. And somehow both Tommy's parents started to believe. But they didn't apologize for being wrong. They didn't even say anything to Tommy. They just talked to themselves.
"How could he have?"
"I don't know."
"Do you know how long this will take to fix? Hell, we're lucky that he didn't hit any cables or pipes. He could have blown up the house."
"I know. Tommy's got a lot of explaining to do."
The hole whistled subtly, called them.
"Still, do you think he might be right? Do you think maybe this hole just happened?"
"No. No way. This is all his fault. Things like this don't just happen."
"No, no. You're right. It couldn't be."
And at that point, either from a powerful gust of the hole or from a little push of Tommy's tiny boyhood hands, both his parents slipped and fell down the hole. Correction, were pulled silently down the hole. Sucked into the black hole.
And either way, Tommy couldn't help but smile.
He watched his parents disappear quickly and the flashlight go slowly. With it's lighted front, he could see it twirling and spinning down into the void. Then the black hole returned to darkness and pulling breezes. He wondered if tomorrow it would be big enough to suck up the house. Then maybe the neighbors. Then the city, the state, the country, and the world. But it was too much to think about. Instead, Tommy yawned and went inside to go to bed. The house was a little quieter, and he had to tuck himself in, but it was a nice change of pace.
As for tomorrow, he'd just have to wait and see.
©2005 by J.A. Tyler