The Hole

1. Pete and Repeat are walking down the street. Pete falls in a hole. The question isn’t who is left. That’s obvious. The question is, if you’re Repeat, what do you do next?

If you choose to try to rescue Pete, go to 3. If you choose to keep walking, go to 5.

2. You pull four dollars out of your back pocket to purchase the peanuts. One of the dollars falls in a hole. You wonder, why are there so many holes all the sudden? Is this place like Pittsburgh just in dire need of road repairs? Will that money, once it falls, end up in the same spot where Pete is? If it finds him, will he be safe and well? 

You ask the Peanut Man, “Hey, do you know what’s down there in the hole?”  

He shrugs. “Probably nothing good. You seen that horror movie with the clown?” 

You slowly nod. Of course, he means It.  

“You don’t think there’s really a clown down there, do you?”

The Peanut Man shrugs again. “What do I know? I just sell peanuts. You got four dollars or not?”  

You do have another dollar in your other pocket, but you hesitate before reaching for it.  

Pete might be dying. Pete might be dead. Are you really just going to sit around and eat peanuts?

If you decide you really still want the peanuts, go to 11. If you choose to back and rescue Pete go to 8.

3.“Pete, it’s me, Repeat. Are you there?” you scream into the hole.  

Your voice echoes down into the blackness. The only thing you hear is yourself. The hole is like a void. No light, no noise, no Pete. Where is Pete? Is he just gone? He can’t just be gone. People don’t just up and vanish into holes. Except maybe, you think, when they do.  

You scream, “Pete!”

No one answers. You can’t just leave Pete here to die, can you? 

As you are trying to decide what to do about Pete, a peanut vendor appears. He’s wearing a red and white striped uniform.  

You have questions. Where did the peanut vendor come from? How did he know you were hungry for peanuts?  

Pete, you remember, loved peanuts. Should you buy yourself a bag of peanuts and go eat them on a nearby bench, or should you forget about the peanuts and try to find someone who can help you rescue Pete? 

If you choose to buy the peanuts, go to 2. If you choose to try to find someone to help you rescue Pete, go to 4.

4.You walk down the street looking for someone to help you rescue Pete. But the street seems quiet, almost too quiet. Where is everyone?

“Hello,” you yell. “Is anyone out there?”

No one responds. You continue walking. It seems like you are getting farther and farther away from where the hole was. You continue shouting. Time passes. Is it hopeless? Should you go back and try to help Pete alone? Or should you cut your losses and walk away? I mean you did your best. It’s not like you didn’t try. You’ve been walking for a while.  Time is marching on, and you are starting to get hungry and tired.

If you decide to go back and help Pete alone, go to 8. If you decide to walk away, go to 7.

5. Pete, you tell yourself, was never a good friend.  

Remember that time that Paul spread unfounded rumors about you to Mary? Pete didn’t even try to defend you. He didn’t add to the rumors. But he also didn’t try to correct them. He just stood there and did nothing. What if you chose to stand here and do nothing? Would that really be so bad?

If you had fallen down the hole, what would Pete do? Would he choose to try and rescue you, or would he walk away?

You tell yourself that Pete would walk away. But then you remember that time when your mother tried to have a party for your 14th birthday. But it snowed so hard that weekend, and it was so cold that no one came. No one except Pete, whose dad’s car was on the fritz. He walked a mile in the cold to be there.

If you change your mind and decide to try and rescue Pete, go to 3. If you decide to continue walking away, go to 7.

6. Three hundred dollars seems a bit steep. Besides, payday isn’t until next Friday, and you have things you need to buy: fish food, deli ham for workday lunch sandwiches, double A batteries and more collectible cards. Even though Pete is a good friend, he’s also a frugal person who knows the value of a dollar. You feel like Pete would understand you choosing the Five Dollar Discount Rope.

“I’ll take the discount rope,” you say. After all, you reason, you might need to come back and buy additional supplies. For example, you might need a headlamp. You’re not sure where you would get a headlamp, since the rope store seems to be the only open store in town. You can’t say you’re surprised, since it seems like no one wants to work these days or at least work for the money these places are paying, which is not enough. The cashier, whose name tag says, Pinkie, hands you the rope, and you walk out.

Once outside, you are back at the hole. That can’t be right, you think, since it seemed like you walked some distance to get to the store. But, you think, nothing about this day has been normal, so you aren’t really surprised. You hang the rope on a nearby hook and plunge into the darkness. You can see the bottom. It’s not that far down. Just as you’re about to reach it, the rope breaks. You should have, you think, splurged on the pricier rope. But it’s too late now. Now you’re down in the hole, down in the darkness, even if you find Pete, without the rope, there’s no way out.

7. You always thought that you were the type of person to do the right thing. You were usually the first one to sign up for the Toys for Tots Drive at work, the one who others could count on to switch schedules so more popular coworkers could attend friends’ parties and weddings. You were the type of person who tossed in spare change to the red kettle and volunteered at the food pantry once every other month. When they asked for volunteers at church, you signed up for the less desirable committees. (Sometimes they had good food.) But here you are, with no one looking, just walking away. In a way, it feels so freeing, so good to be bad. You see the way home but realize you can’t take it. It’s not that you don’t want to take it. It’s that you physically can’t because you are in a hole, and no one’s left, no one who cares enough to save you.

8.  It doesn’t seem like you were walking that long before, but you’re unsure of the way back. What is going on? Is this real? Is this a dream? Did you fall and hit your head during a tornado in Kansas?  

It’s the middle of the day, but none of the stores on this downtown street seem to be open, except one. It’s a rope store. What the heck, you think. You decide to walk in. Maybe, you can buy a rope and climb into the hole. Maybe, once in the hole, you can find Pete.  

You walk up the counter. A woman with pink hair asks how she can help you.  

“I need a rope,” you tell her. You’re not sure if you should say more. For example, should you tell her that your friend Pete fell into a hole, and he seems to have disappeared? Should you tell her that you don’t know how deep the hole is or what else is down here? Or should you say as little as possible in a silence is golden kind of approach? 

The pink haired woman interrupts your thoughts.

“There are two options,” she tells you. “The Five Dollar Discount Rope, which may or may not work, or the Super Special All Occasion Rope, which costs $300 and comes with a 30 day money back guarantee. If this rope doesn’t meet all your hanging and grabbing needs, we will give you your money back, no questions asked.

If you choose the Five Dollar Discount Rope, go to 6. If you choose the Super Special All Occasion Rope, go to 10.

9. You think about past times when you, Pete, and Melissa all hung out. One of the last times that you can remember is when you were dating Sheryl. Sheryl was a great girl. But she wanted too much. She really did think she could have it all: marriage, a career, a family.

Maybe she could, you had thought, but not in the real world that you both lived in.  

If you had kids, someone had to care for them. Would that be you, or her, or would you pay for childcare?  

If you both decided to return to work, how would you pay for childcare? If you didn’t, how would you pay your bills? Where would you find the money in your budget?

Sheryl said you were overthinking things, being too difficult.

But you hadn’t been, you thought. You were just being practical.

Had Pete stopped bringing Melissa around when Sheryl broke up with you because he didn’t want her to seem like the awkward third wheel, or had Pete and Melissa also broken up?

Under normal circumstances, you could ask Pete. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and you couldn’t ask Pete. However, you could ask Sheryl. You still have her number in your phone.  

If you decide to ask Sheryl, go to 13. If you decide to try to figure it out on your own, go to 16. 

10. You decide that Pete deserves only the best. But you also have selfish reasons for choosing the pricier rope. The rope not only needs to get you into the hole, it also needs to get you and Pete out.

You’re not sure that the discount rope can handle the weight of Pete, especially since Pete has eaten a lot of peanuts lately, more peanuts, you think, than he used to. You wonder why. If you were a better friend, you would have asked. Is the hole a metaphor, you wonder, or is the hole real?

If you decide the hole is a metaphor, go to 14. If you think the hole is real, go to 12.

11. The peanuts are very good. They’re both salted and sugary. Pete, you realize, would have loved these peanuts. Even though it’s only been a few minutes since Pete fell victim to the mysterious hole, you miss him.  

If you had fallen in the hole, you don’t think Pete would be sitting on a bench eating peanuts alone. Pete was a man of action. But you, you are not Pete. You do little things, like help the needy. Give a dollar to the homeless or round up your change at the checkout to help the children’s charity. But, this, being responsible for Pete’s entire well-being on your own, it is too much.  

In a way, you feel like it would be nice to pretend that Pete never existed. If you choose to do that, go to 7. If you choose to try to rescue Pete, go to 8.

12. Of course the hole is real, what were you thinking? How could you even entertain the idea that it could be anything else? I mean, if it wasn’t real, where was Pete? This isn’t The Twilight Zone. Metaphorical holes don’t make people disappear. But real ones do. You take the rope and plan to begin your descent. The hole is dark and deep and not particularly lovely. But the rope is first class. It’s the best. So, of course, the rope holds. In fact, it seems to expand the deeper you descend. It is getting late and you are getting tired and hungry. You don’t seem to be getting anywhere but deeper into the darkness. Maybe you should go home, you think.

If you decide to go home, go to 7. If you decide to descend deeper into the hole, go to 18. 

13. You dial Sheryl’s number. At first, there is no answer. But then she picks up on the fourth ring.  

“Repeat?” she asks. “Is that really you? How long has it been?”  

You don’t know, so you make up a number.  

“Six months,” you say, trying to sound confident. She doesn’t question your math or your memory.  

“Yeah,” she says. “That sounds about right.”  

Suddenly, you miss Sheryl. You want to ask her out on a date. Maybe it can wait. Maybe it can’t.  

If you decide to ask Sheryl on a date, go to 15. If you decide to question her about Pete, go to 17. 

14. What warning signs should you have looked for, you wonder. What could have told you that Pete was on the verge of falling into a mind hole, and how could you have missed it?

You’ve been so busy, you realize, with work. But Pete’s been busy too with Melissa. Pete and Melissa have been together for a long time. How long, you wonder. Are things okay between Pete and Melissa? When is the last time he mentioned her? 

The last time you visited him, you realize, he said that she was visiting her parents’ family for a party in California. And the time before that, Pete said, Melissa was working late. Come to think of it, you can’t remember the last time you actually saw Melissa. Are Pete and Melissa even still together?

If you decide to climb into the physical hole and look for Pete (because maybe Pete’s troubles have caused a real hole to form), go to 20. If you decide to try and figure out what happened with Melissa, go to 9.

15. “Sheryl,” you say, “how have you been?”  

“I’ve been good,” she says. “I’ve been okay. Repeat, I’ve missed you.”  

“I’ve missed you, too,” you say, though the truth is you haven’t thought about her in a while.  

But now that you’ve said it, it feels truer than the truth.  

Suddenly, you know what you have to do, both for Sheryl and for Pete.

“Sheryl,” you say, “Pete fell into a hole. Could you help me save him? Then, afterwards, we could get some dinner.” 

“Yeah,” she says. “That would be nice.”

You and Sheryl go save Pete. Then, once he’s stable enough up to walk again, you leave him. He says he’ll walk home. He’ll text you later to let you know he made it. 

Sheryl chooses a restaurant. You eat by candlelight and talk of holes, both real and unreal. Before the hole, you realize, you had no idea what you were missing.

16. You wrack your brain and try to remember the last time you saw Melissa. Maybe it had been Halloween. Maybe it had been at a costume party. Maybe his costume had been the sheriff and hers had been the girl who had shot him like the line from that old-school song?

Was that really what their costumes were? If so, you think, those were pretty messed up costumes.

How long, you try to remember, had Pete and Melissa dated? You think of an idea, but you dismiss it at first. Then you decide to go with it. 

You search for Melissa’s number in your phone. It is possible, you think, that she is still listed among your contacts. There it is, right after your coworker Mary, Melissa’s number. Should you dial it? 

If you decide to dial it, go to 19. If you decide that you’ve done enough for today, go to 7. 

17. “Hey,” you say to Sheryl. “Do you remember my friend Pete?”

Sheryl responds with annoyance. “Of course, I remember Pete. You two were always together. It was always Pete this and Pete that.” 

“Well,” you say, “Pete fell in a hole.” 

“I’m so sorry,” Sheryl says, as if falling into a hole was pretty everyday kind of tragedy. 

“Wait,” you say, “do you know other people who have fallen into holes?” 

“Yes,” she says, “of course. It’s a pretty common occurrence nowadays.”

This is news to you. “Really?” you say with surprise. 

“Yeah, I know a lot of people it’s happened to,” she says as if she were talking about getting stung by a bee or getting lost at an amusement park. 

“Um,” you say, “do you know why?” 

“Well,” Sheryl says thoughtfully. (You never appreciated how thoughtful she was.) It seems to happen when people get desperate. Maybe they lose a job or a marriage falls apart. Or maybe they just kind of lose themselves. And then they fall into a hole. Could just be bad luck following bad luck, or maybe it’s something more.” 

“Okay,” you say. 

“Was Pete alright?” she asks, and you realize that you don’t know. You should know, you think. He was your friend. 

“I’m not sure,” you answer honestly. “But maybe you’d like to help me find out?” 

You realize that you aren’t so different from Pete. You, too, are in danger of falling into a hole. But maybe you, with Sheryl’s help, can save them both. 

“Well,” Sheryl says hesitantly, “I have a nail appointment.” 

“Um, okay,” you say. You wonder if you should just give up, go home, forget about Pete. After all, you did try. And you’re only one person. When is enough enough? 

If you decide to give up, go to 7. If you decide to keep trying to help Pete, go to 19. 

18.  The darkness gets worse before it gets better, but then it does get better. As you go deeper and deeper into the hole, the darkness fades away, and you see light. So much light.

“Hey,” Pete says, when you finally find him. He is playing baseball. What is this place? You wonder. Some weird underground Field of Dreams

“Pete,” you say, “I came to save you.” 

“I’m fine, Repeat,” Pete says. But I appreciate the effort. You should stay here. The Pitmaster is just about to cook up some hot dogs. Pete always did love hot dogs and peanuts and baseball games. To Pete, you realize, this place isn’t a hole. It’s more like an opening. But, to you, what is it to you? 

If you decide to stay with Pete in the hole, go to 20. If you decide to leave, go to 21. 

19.  You decide to call Melissa. She picks up on the second ring.

“Hello,” she says. Apparently, she doesn’t have your number saved in her contacts because she says who is this. It kind of hurts that she doesn’t even recognize the sound of your voice. 

“It’s me, Repeat.” 

There’s a pause. 

“How’s Pete?” she asks finally. 

You don’t answer directly. Instead, you say, “Have you been in touch with him recently?” 

“No,” she says. “It’s been a while. Look, Repeat, I’d love to chat with you, but I’m kind of busy right now.” She sounds like she’s about to hang up. 

“Melissa,” you blurt out, “Pete fell in a hole.” 

“Oh my God,” she says. “Repeat, we have to help him. What can I do?” 

You tell her you’ll pick her up and drive her to the hole. She says she can meet you there. 

When she gets to the hole, you see that Melissa, a former Girl Scout, has come prepared. She has rope, a headlamp, a First Aid kit, water. 

“You hold onto the rope, and I’ll go down,” she says. 

You hesitate. It’s dangerous. Shouldn’t you volunteer to go down instead? 

If you offer to go in place of Melissa, go to 20. If you decide to honor her wishes, go to 21. 

20. The holes isn’t as bad as you thought it would be when you first approached it. After a while, you get used to it. You can get used to anything.

You don’t see any of the people you used to know again other than Pete. But there is your friend, and he is happy, and there is beer and baseball. And that’s okay. That’s enough. The hole gives you all you need. 

21. You leave the site of the hole, still not exactly sure what was down there. You know now that you won’t see Pete or anyone else who went down the hole ever again. The hole was real, of course. But once you moved away from the hole, it kind of disappeared. The ground closed up. There was no way out. You could go home, crack open a beer, put on a baseball game, and try to forget what happened. That option, the living the rest of your life option, is tempting. It may even be your best option. 

If that’s what you decide to do, stay here. This is the end of the line for you. It’s not a bad ending. You lived. But if you’re not satisfied with that, if that’s not enough for you, return to 1, and start again.

Lori D’Angelo (she/her) is a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Recent work has appeared in Beaver Magazine, Bullshit Lit, Chaotic Merge, Idle Ink, JAKE, One Art Poetry Journal, and Wrong Turn Lit. Find her on Twitter @sclly21 or Instagram at lori.dangelo1.