photo of a person through a hole

It’s Right Below You by Susan Monaghan

We found the gap at the end of August, two weeks into the first semester. I remember because we’d just entered the lull between the excitement of the start of our high school careers and the holiday season. That, topped off by the persistent heat of the outgoing summer, fated the gap for sensationalism. Many of us felt that its discovery was a relief, the culmination of several disturbing symptoms that could only belong to a building with a secret, like the soft creaking of the walls or the weak floors built without a strong foundation. It wasn’t bothering us too much then–after all, it was in the basement. But we knew enough about it to speculate. Slowly, though some more quickly than others, we each formed identities around it. Few of us in the direct sense.

Kaitlin decided she was going to protect people from hurting themselves. Because she never knew all that much about the gap itself, it was nothing but a catalyst for her faith in the importance of the student body’s safety. Robert was one of the few who directly responded to the gap. Unfortunately, his understanding of it was at best superficial, and he ended up even worse off than Kaitlin. Which didn’t stop him from talking about it every opportunity he got. Abigail was doomed by the gap, because she understood it the best. Richard spent too much time telling everyone how stupid they were for getting so obsessed with it–all he wanted to do was go back to the way things were before it was found. He liked spending money and keeping up his grades, and any deviation from those activities was a waste of his time. Sometimes he acted like he didn’t even believe the gap existed. I vacillated between all of their ideas, but none of them really stuck, though I felt the best when I was with Richard.

Abigail was the one who first saw it. Nobody can remember exactly how she discovered it, which is usually the way things go. You don’t know something’s going to be big until it is, and then nobody can remember how it started in the first place. All we knew was that she’d been wandering around after school when she found it. Some kids called it an accident. Others said she was just one of those people who can’t help finding strange and horrible things. All I know is she told me once that she always felt like she was going to find it, and that it was going to take over her life. I never knew what she meant by that, but it made me sadder than I’d ever been. She was just a freshman, after all.

We started to notice other little infirmities in the school’s architectural integrity. Dripping faucets. Fissures in the ceiling. Stains on the walls. Stains on every wall, on the inside and the outside. Dips where oils and ruddy water and whatever else had collected and eaten away at the drywall. I guess it was our fault, then, for being so careless and busy. I even started to remember little infirmities in my old middle school’s building. We’d all gone to the same middle school, so I started asking around, trying to find out if they remembered too. I asked Kaitlin first, while she was handing out safety pamphlets.

“I never saw anything, but I didn’t go around looking for that stuff. Though now that you mention it, there was definitely a higher standard of care there. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? We’re all at risk just going to school here. It’s awful. It’s unfair.”

Then I asked Robert. I didn’t want to, but I had to know.

“Of course I did. Did you even know me back then? I was absolutely appalled! There were creaky floorboards, loud pipes, the heaters and air conditioners never worked. Well, I think they did sometimes in the P wing–wait, no they didn’t, they didn’t work anywhere. The plumbing was just horrid. I knew exactly what was wrong with the pipe system, too, and it was absolutely unfixable, but no one would believe me, the pipe flow was completely irremediable-”

“Sounds like you had it all figured out.”

He was always using big words when he didn’t have to. Like ‘irremediable’. And I’m pretty sure he made up ‘pipe flow’. I asked Richard next, knowing he’d be angry.

“Why does it even matter, man? God, this whole thing is fucked. I’d bet you anything there’s barely a crack in the floor down there. It’s all people can talk about anymore! It pisses me off!”

I didn’t try to ask Abigail. I already knew she’d noticed.

A year and a half later, in the middle of sophomore year, I started hearing that it was too difficult to get rid of the gap, that dangerous animals lived inside it and made it impossible to fill, the vote split between rabid rodents and poisonous snakes. The fear was growing.

I thought if they could just find out where it came from, they could figure out how to level it.

Robert thought that was hysterical. “Do you actually think someone made that thing? That’s cute. It was bound to happen, this school is about as sound as a rotting watermelon, and there’s no way to fix it.”

Abigail thought it was a good idea. “I hope you’re right.”

Students weren’t allowed to see the gap after Abigail found it. Construction workers failed to fill it; they were always trying to get the principal to abandon the project and seal off the floor instead so she could devote more money to the students’ education. Abigail said they were missing the point: the gap refused to be ignored. Robert insisted on counting every crew member who quit or disappeared.

A year later, kids started talking about sneaking down to see the gap and coming back with injuries. It was obvious who was lying. They all wanted to be like Abigail, but I couldn’t imagine why. Richard and Kaitlin started dating, after Kaitlin decided that helping people was hopeless since eventually everyone was going to get hurt. I wished Richard would leave her alone.

One Monday, a kid with long hair and a goatee was telling me about his trip down to the gap. “There are snakes living in it. They definitely wanted to attack me–they’re very hostile animals. This whole place will come down if we don’t protect ourselves, girlie.”

His story took hold of the school, and pretty soon it was the general consensus that the gap was filled with venomous snakes. He got a bunch of kids to band together and protest the dangers posed by the gap, mainly the snake thing. Eventually, most of the school believed him, but Abigail knew he was full of shit. She never said anything. I watched the walls shake and the floor tiles shift when kids ran down the halls between class periods, putting up flyers about removing venom from a wound and distributing protest zines that blamed the school’s staff for not controlling the snake infestation. I watched Richard and Kaitlin get sucked passively into the lie. Richard was always staunchly against getting involved.

Eventually Kaitlin started following Goatee Guy around, and we all knew why: she felt like she was really helping people. Robert never believed the snake lie, even when the teachers started to buy into it, and for that I was grateful. At the end of our junior year, the Instigator was expelled for staging a walkout during seventh period, and the snake lie blew over shortly after. Richard was there to rescue Kaitlin from the fallout, of course.

We were a few months into senior year when I heard rumors about a kid who’d figured out how to get rid of the gap. I asked Abigail if she believed it.

“Yeah, he figured it out. I think I’ve figured it out too.”

“How do we get rid of it?”

“I’ll show you, but you have to come down there with me to see it.”

I really, really didn’t want to. But of course I went. The day I submitted my first college application, when I was the least interested in seeing the gap, was the day she took me. The stairs were narrow and dark, and almost impossible to navigate. There were so many inviting exits leading back upstairs, it seemed like the basement didn’t want to be seen. But Abigail’s course was sure and steady, and after what seemed like days we were in a cold, lightless amphitheater. It didn’t even seem real to me; I felt like I was watching a movie. Abigail looked like she belonged there. I watched her walk a few yards in front of me and stop. She looked like a floating white splotch in the darkness.

“Okay. Watch closely.”

She jumped, and the gap swallowed her eagerly. In an instant her gap was gone, but ours remained intact, waiting.

Susan Monaghan is a seventeen-year-old senior attending Hesperia High School. She has a twin sister she tolerates and two beautiful pets, a cat and a dog, who do not know she is a published author. She loves opera, high-voltage power lines, surrealist paintings, and the exotic flora of the high desert, either despite or because of all the interesting garbage caught in it. She is very passionate about pursuing a writing career, is especially fond of short fiction, and hopes to expand her repertoire in the future. This is her first publication.

Lead image: “Hole” (via Flickr user Emanuele Toscano)

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