by T.S. McAdams

Men and dogs do foolish things. Bringing a stripper home to see the hole was a foolish thing. It was the girl from the billboard Donny liked, with soft-looking hair and bare shoulders cut off by the bottom of the sign. Donny used to drive by and feel sorry she was a stripper, but it stirred him up that she was.

The hole was foolishness itself. Big enough for a Clydesdale, but too steep for a goat. It was just about straight up and down, only slightly angled towards and underneath the house. They couldn’t see the bottom, even with Donny’s black LED flashlight. Donny had no idea how the hole got there. The stripper said, “One of us ought to go in.”




Saturday morning, a police detective knocks on our door. He’s too young to know his camelhair blazer makes him look like a real estate agent. He says he’s from the Van Nuys division, and he’s looking for Dorcas Breen. Donny doesn’t know the name, but the detective has a picture of the girl from the billboard. The hair is different, a straight bob that makes her face look hard, but it’s her.

Donny and the detective sit in my lemon fauteuil chairs, next to the glass-topped coffee table. My Western Garden Book is still out, faded from sunlight through the back slider, just a few minutes each day, late mornings. The whole house is a museum to me. Mostly me: There’s a dog bed in the living room and a water dish in the kitchen, but Duke’s only been gone eight days. I’ve been gone almost eight years.

The detective doesn’t want coffee. Donny admits he brought Dorcas Breen home from her place of employment Wednesday evening. He says he doesn’t know where she is now. The detective asks about her mental state, and Donny says she wanted to jump into a hole. The detective asks what hole, and Donny thinks about saying any hole, holes in general, but he thinks too long. He can’t say that now. Now he’s going to be on the news, part of a story about a missing stripper. Donny says, “There’s a hole in the backyard.”




Tuesday night, the night before the stripper, Donny showed the hole to Mrs. Lewin’s animal guy who got the skunks out of her crawlspace. The animal guy had long hair and round glasses and a white coverall, not so white anymore, but it had been. It could have been white again with a little bleach, but it’s not like he was a surgeon. He seemed disappointed in Donny, as though a sixty-nine year-old man in a houndstooth jacket that wouldn’t button over his stomach shouldn’t have been involved with such nonsense. He said, “No animal dug that, Mr. Wheeler.”

Donny said, “Something dug it. It’s not a sinkhole. I buried my dog here, but I only dug about three feet.” Donny uncrossed his arms to test them, and they were still too sore to straighten all the way. The animal guy shook his head. There was a spray of dirt around the hole, as though a giant gopher had popped up through my St. Augustine lawn, but not enough dirt for a hole that size. There was always construction in our neighborhood, and Donny wouldn’t put much past some of the workers from the looks of them, but he couldn’t think of any equipment that would fit in our yard that could dig a bottomless hole.

When the animal guy started talking about aliens experimenting on dog cadavers, Donny got rid of him and went inside. He turned on Discovery Channel, hoping for the British fisherman who catches monster fish, but it was a show about insects, so he opened a Louis L’Amour, a library hardback with that extra plastic cover. Four pages in, he remembered reading it before, but that didn’t matter. Donny always said L’Amour might not be literature, but the worst of his novels was good for three reads, if you waited a year in between. Donny thought Zane Grey’s novels might be literature, but he said he could only read a Zane Grey novel once.




Wednesday was all meetings. Donny passed the CPA exam on his first try in 1973, six weeks before our wedding, and hadn’t kept up on tax law since he hired his first assistant in 1985. Kimberly and Aylin (Mexican for “Eileen”) did all the real accounting, and Donny felt that his job, in and out of the office, was to be avuncular. He was especially good at meeting heirs when a client passed. He liked sympathizing with people, and he always talked about how much he missed me. Wednesday, he wondered if it would be appropriate to talk about losing his dog, an affectionate bull mastiff who had been his only company, making the loneliness even worse, but Mrs. Mayer’s children didn’t need any of that. They only wanted to talk about money, how much there was and when they could get it. Valley smog isn’t so bad now, not if you remember the ’80s, but Donny felt it settling in his lungs on the drive home, and then he passed the billboard.

Donny had never been to a place like the Rhinestone Tiger, but he was a grown man with no one waiting at home, and it was a bar, not just a strip club. He could just go to drink. He didn’t have to stuff bills in some hoochie’s cootie cave. Donny wouldn’t say something like that, but he thought it. The parking lot was small and had two handicapped spaces, which wasn’t really surprising, just something Donny noticed. Inside, the place had no more atmosphere than a Methodist church, and he knew the girl on the billboard was probably a model who didn’t actually work there.

Donny sat down at the table farthest from the stage and ordered from a sturdy black woman in rayon slacks, like a topless crossing guard with torpedo breasts. Her nipples targeted a tent card with the happy hour specials. Donny’s choices were to walk out as an old man with a visible erection or to drink until it went down, so he ordered bourbon and a beer chaser. Donny didn’t like bourbon, but he liked ordering it, and with the beer handy, he wouldn’t have to taste it for long. He was finishing his second round, swishing beer around his mouth so no leftover bourbon taste would catch him by surprise, when the billboard girl took the stage. She had pointy breasts, b-cup at most, but healthy, bouncing all over the place. Her frantic dancing wasted a lot of energy on men who would have preferred a slow grind.

The walk to the stage was too long for a dollar bill, so Donny found a twenty. The girl waggled childishly and snapped her G-string, and Donny tasted bourbon in the back of his throat. He shook his head and held out the bill until she took it in her hand. He walked back to his table and would have kept walking, but he hadn’t paid his tab. He asked the waitress for water, and she said, “Good idea. You’re sweating. But they’re gonna make me charge you a dollar.”

When the billboard girl sat down, maybe ten minutes later, she was wearing a pink half t-shirt with cartoon woodland creatures lined up on her bosom. A squirrel that didn’t fit on her left breast had to perch on a rib. The girl asked Donny, “What the hell are you, a gentleman?”

She thought Donny’s Chrysler was “nice.” Donny buys rectangular cars like the old Cadillac his uncle had in Bakersfield, with steer horns on the hood. She said the house was nice too, and it was, a little suburban cottage worth a million dollars by now because of being south of the boulevard and Donny keeping it shipshape. He told her how spec developers tear down houses like ours and build to the maximum legal footprint, and how he calls their architecture Neo-Victorian Holiday Inn. She laughed. I didn’t used to laugh at that one, but I laughed at plenty of Donny’s jokes.

The billboard girl didn’t think aliens made the hole. She didn’t think aliens visited us from thousands of light-years away. “Because nothing goes faster than light, right? I mean, that’s Einstein’s theory, I don’t know if they can prove it, but I believe it, don’t you?” She said, if they went down the hole, they might spend a night or a week and come out a hundred years later, not looking any older, but when they got off their horses—she didn’t say why they would be on horses—they would turn to dust. She wanted to try it, but Donny had the sense, at least, to say they should go inside and think it over.

Donny fed his stripper grilled cheese and tomato soup. They watched River Monsters, and she clapped when Jeremy Wade caught a man-eating catfish. About nine o’clock, she said, “Donny, I like you, but you’re kind of old. You have spots on the back of your hands. You don’t gross me out or anything, but I’m not going to do you for free.” She said it would cost a hundred dollars. Donny said that was a lot. He was stalling, not bargaining. She said she made more in one dance, and it hadn’t looked that way to him, but he didn’t want to be rude, so he said dancing was more work. She asked whether he’d had sex in the last ten years, and he said he guessed not. She said, “Trust me, this is going to be work. I’ll give you credit for the twenty.” Donny turned my picture around, which didn’t make any difference, but it showed he hadn’t forgotten me.

Thursday morning, he found a note on the bureau, on a Chinese delivery menu: “Donny, you only had $44 in your wallet. You owe me $36! Watch out for aliens.” He wanted to remind her aliens were not his theory. He didn’t believe in aliens. It looked like the note was signed Hot Savory Dumplings, but that was part of the menu. The wedge-heel sandals were facing the hole, as though she’d set them aside before climbing in, not as though she’d climbed out wearing them and turned to dust. Grass wet his hands and knees as he stared into the hole, and the dirt smelled like soda bread. He called “Glitter” a few times because that’s what she had told him to call her, but he didn’t yell very loudly because it was six forty-five in the morning. That wouldn’t really have mattered, though. He could already hear construction starting up down the block.




It takes until Monday to get someone down the hole. The man in the harness is a SWAT officer, and he doesn’t seem to realize Donny is a person of interest, not a member of the team. He says “Hell, yeah” to coffee and tells Donny he trains to rappel down the sides of buildings, not to do this shit underground. All of the equipment looks brand new.

There’s an argument about securing tripods next to the hole. They finally run ropes from the tripods to the carrotwood tree, which will keep them from falling down the hole, but it won’t stop them from tipping over, so they also assign two officers to hold them steady. Then they argue about cable. One tripod is for an electric winch, like a motorized fishing reel, with sixty feet of steel cable and a harness to extract a victim, and a man with a vinyl pocket protector says that fucking hole is more than any sixty fucking feet. The other tripod has a reel and cable and a piece of tackle like a swivel snap for a half-ton bass. That attaches to the SWAT officer to control his rate of descent and help him climb back out, and it has three hundred feet of cable, which is more fucking like it, since fucking Anderson is going to the center of the motherfucking earth.

This goes on a while, in language my tea roses don’t usually hear. Not from Donny. Not in English. The gardener, Mr. Alberto, sometimes talks about pinche chingon weeds, but I don’t count that. In the end, of course, they go ahead with the equipment they’ve got. Donny puts out coffee and powdered donuts on a card table. He doesn’t try to socialize. No one knows whether he’s a civilian or a suspect. But officers who aren’t holding tripods eat the donuts. The SWAT officer goes down the hole and comes back up and accepts help climbing out. Everyone looks at him, and he shrugs. “It’s a tunnel. Nearly vertical, all the way. More than three hundred feet.” He’s distracted by wisps of cloud or by the way the deep blue sky pales towards the horizon, what you can see of it over the fence and Mrs. Chehabi’s roof. He sees everyone is still waiting, and he spreads his hands. “That’s it.”




The local hardware store only sells rope in fifty and one-hundred foot lengths, so Donny drives to the Walmart in Panorama City for a five-hundred foot spool of half-inch nylon unicord. In case that’s not enough, Donny rush-orders a thousand-foot roll online, but he doesn’t feel like he can wait. Mrs. Chehabi’s Russian Blue cat sniffs the hole while Donny ties his rope to the carrotwood. We planted that as a sapling just before I got sick, so less than ten years ago, but it’s a big, sturdy tree. Donny puts on a little headlamp made for camping and rappels down just like the demonstration he watched on the Internet, wrapping the rope behind his back and holding it out to the side to go, crossing it over his belly when he panics and has to stop. He has the rope through one rear belt loop, and this is good: he always feels like he’s about to flip backwards, and if he could, he would slide the rope far up his back, which the man on the Internet said not to do.

Donny can still see light above, but no color like blue sky, just light. There’s music, sort of churchy, only without organ or piano, all strings and bells, like a hallucination you’d have if you were drowning. Donny also thinks he hears the phone ring when he showers, every single time. The tunnel walls are sandy clay, the same all the way down, which seems odd to Donny, but he isn’t a geologist or whatever kind of scientist would know about that. There’s a fair amount of extra rope coiled on the ground when he reaches the bottom, and next to that, a door frame set right into the earth. The door is a big slab of dark wood, carved into rectangular panels. Any developer who tore down a house with that door would save and reuse it. Donny knocks because he’s not sure he’s still beneath his own property.

There’s no answer, so Donny squeezes the lever with his thumb—it’s that kind of handle—and steps into a high-end waiting room, like for a place that sells private jets or human organs. There are wood-paneled walls and wood on the floor, Aremberg parquet, not that Donny knows what it’s called. There’s a settee, upholstered in cloth of gold, and a sideboard with yellow cakes and crystal decanters of something or other; white and red wine is what it looks like. A low coffee table has thin, glossy magazines. Donny sees Coldwater Canyon, a junk mail magazine of advertisements and local profiles. It has our address on it. Underground people are stealing our junk mail. There’s an inner door, but it’s locked.

Donny brushes off his rear, though it’s his front that’s dirty, and sits. Soon, the locked door opens. It’s his dog.

“Duke!” says Donny.

“Donny!” says Duke. “I’ve missed you!”

The talking throws Donny off. He hugs Duke when the dog butts him in the stomach like a dehorned cow, but it feels a little gay, like hugging his friend Len Weinberg. Donny came up in Kern County in a certain generation, so he would never hug Len this long. He sure wouldn’t press his face between Len’s shoulder blades, but a lot of people are closer to their dogs than to their friends, and Duke smells like a clean wool suit. Donny says, “Duke, what’s going on here?”

“I’m Gentry, Donny. Part fairy.”

“Oh. Are you really my Duke?”

“You know I am, Donny.” Duke doesn’t move his lips like a human. That would be creepier, somehow. His voice is the same as it was. Duke always talked, even if he didn’t used to make words. “I’m only a little bit Gentry, Donny. I didn’t even know. But they were glad to see me. Fairy dogs are so rare. The forgetful people never become animals anymore.”

Donny thinks it’s all right if a good dream is a little confusing. He says, “Are you coming back with me, Duke? I’ll carry you back up.” Since he’s not sure he can climb out at all, he says, “You might have to help.”

“I can’t go back, Donny. I’m dead.”

“Well sure, I buried you, but I thought—” He finally thinks to ask, “Say, Duke, is Libby down here?”

“This isn’t Heaven, Donny. That does happen sometimes, someone finds a dead wife or husband here, and Elizabeth did love you, I remember, just—”

“Just not as much as I loved her. I know.”

“I was going to say not as much as I love you.”

Neither one of them knows anything. Just because I didn’t think we had to say it every half hour for forty years doesn’t mean I was less in love. Donny forgets Kern County and holds Duke’s ears while Duke licks his face. Duke says, “I left the hole for you, but Dorcas came first.”

“I thought so. She’s the reason I climbed down. I didn’t know you were here. I kind of thought something tunneled up and ate you. I guess she’ll be wanting to get back.”

“Good old Donny! I’ll show you Elfland before you go.”




Elfland looks like Canada. It looks like Victoria. Donny and I went there on vacation in 1994. Here, though, buildings are farther back from the road, which is really more of a path, and the trees crowd in more. It’s night here, and dark, but not dark like night. The trees make it dark like a cave. The sky is bright where it shows, wasteful with stars, an overflowing Milky Way.

Duke and Glitter are best friends. Duke and Donny meet Glitter in a park that’s like a cemetery, with a gazebo like a mausoleum. She’s wearing an evening gown, basically, but in a stiff fabric like felt or velveteen. Eggshell white. It’s tea length to show her calves, and when she sits on a marble bench, it flares to show frail pink thighs, pressed together like the stamen and pistil of an orchid. Duke leaves Donny to sit next to Glitter, acting like he doesn’t notice he’s doing it.

Glitter is fine. She asks Donny if he’s ever seen trees like this, and he says he thinks he has, up north, but they are impressive. She says when you stand at the base of one, looking up at the top, you have to hold on to something. She says it’s always night here, and Duke explains that night is a place in Elfland, not a time. They’ve heard morning is seventy-seven leagues away, and Duke says he and Dorcas are planning to go there, but they’re not sure how far a league is. Donny says about three miles. Glitter-Dorcas says, “Oh, we can walk that in two weeks.”

Donny knows his will is airtight. He used the attorney he refers clients to for that, and his office helped with the details. Our house goes to my sister’s boy, a music teacher, even if he doesn’t need it since teaching middle-school cured him of wanting kids. Donny and I wouldn’t have minded kids, but we didn’t do anything medical about it, and it didn’t happen. Aylin and Kimberly will get the business. One of them will have to take the CPA exam, and they won’t know things you learn for the test and don’t use, but you can pass with seventy-five out of ninety-nine, so that’s fine. Donny’s will also says he should be buried next to me at Forest Lawn, but he goes ahead and says, “I’ll go with you. Maybe I should climb up and get some supplies.”

Duke and Glitter say no, no, they’ll be fine. They walk Donny back. A white carriage passes, rippling pools of shadow in the road. It’s the round carriage from the Cinderella cartoon, but more like a fat spider than a pumpkin. Elegant passengers nod politely and stare like birds. The girl has no business here, but what is a sixty-nine year-old man to do, climb up a rope carrying her against her will? The waiting room is still blond wood and classy accent lighting. Glitter is grateful Donny came to check on her. Duke was happy to see him again. Hugs all around. The climb is easier than he expects, wind at his back or something. It’s daylight in our yard, and Mrs. Chehabi’s cat is in the middle of the lawn, watching a waving branch in Mrs. Lewin’s Podocarpus hedge. That could be a sparrow or a squirrel. The cat doesn’t look surprised when Donny crawls out of the hole.




The next day, the hole is smaller, and Donny thinks that’s something the detective should find out from him. The detective sets up a consult with a geophysics professor from Cal State. At this point, a man who climbed down the hole could brace his feet on one side and his back on the other. You can see how much bigger it used to be, because Mr. Alberto said he didn’t know nothing about no hijo de puta hole, only about doing his job, and he mowed to the edge of the opening. Ground that wasn’t here to mow came back with grass an inch longer.

The professor has a short beard and a long mustache, which is a style, and he says the hole is not a natural phenomenon. He advises the detective to find a drilling engineer. They tell him about the hole shrinking, and he doesn’t believe them, so he says, “That’s interesting.” After he leaves, the detective says there should have been pictures of the hole, even with no determination that it was a crime scene. He says that was an oversight. Donny says he’s about to grill a steak, and it’s just as easy to cook two, but the detective has someplace to be.

Donny eats dinner on the back patio. Honestly, it’s more of a porch. Mrs. Chehabi’s cat eats two roses. Donny gets a second beer and waits to see the reflection of the sunset. He could see the real thing from the front yard, but Donny is easily satisfied. Mrs. Chehabi’s cat walks straight to the edge of the hole. The cat has green eyes and witchy vertical pupils. All cats have that, of course. The pupils, not green eyes. Donny says, “Don’t fall in. There’s a big dog at the bottom, and he has all the friends he needs.” The cat doesn’t say anything to that. Donny tries, “You hungry? It’d take five minutes to burn another steak.” The cat looks at him, and poor Donny starts getting his hopes up again.

T.S. McAdams lives with his wife and son in the San Fernando Valley. His fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless SkiesSanta Monica ReviewPembrokeExposition ReviewFaultlineLady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and other fine magazines near you.