by John Knouse

Guiseppi's is still a fine place to buy a pizza. He makes his own whole-wheat crusts and piles on the cheese as well as the toppings, which he sandwiches between layers of cheese. Last month, though, it almost ceased to be a good place for pizza and cannoli, because it almost ceased being a place, period. It almost was redistributed somewhere else in the universe. Not to mention the mortal danger to my house, as well.

I live right next door to Guiseppi's. His restaurant fronts on Elm Street even though it's on the corner of Johnson Boulevard, a commercial strip. Elm street is residential, but there was something about how Guiseppi's building was originally built a hundred years ago that necessitated the front entrance on Elm. Anyway, I like it that way. It's not highly commercial; it's more like a family dining room where some other people just happen to be eating.

The building comes out to the sidewalk and blocks the north winter winds for my front yard. As a result, I can grow summer jasmine on his blank concrete-block wall at the edge of my yard. That front yard is set back some thirty feet, with lots of shrubbery and flowers. No grass, except for a curvilinear strip that runs between the flowerbeds. That's really all grass is good for--the absence that provides the contrast to the presence of plants that really matter.

But all this almost went to the other side of the galaxy along with the restaurant. If it hadn't gotten stopped, my little old house with the tin gingerbread on the tin roof and the wrap-around front porch with the round pillars might have taken a little trip through hyperspace as well. This is really just a quiet, friendly, aging but happy neighborhood; we aren't rife with extraterrestrials landing in our back yards or prehistoric monsters cavorting in our streets, but what happened really did happen.

I was walking over to Guiseppi's for supper. Every Tuesday night I go over for his lasagna special, gorge myself, then spend the night having bizarre dreams and rueing it all the next morning. This Tuesday, I marched out the front walk to the sidewalk by the street, smartly turned right, then looked down while walking to Guiseppi's door. There, in the yard next to the sidewalk, was a small hole. Holes in the ground intrigue me; they may be due to spiders, insects, snakes, rodents, leaky sewers or lunatic prospectors who have lost their way.

This one had appeared suddenly. It hadn't been there earlier this afternoon when I was weeding the garden bed. Now, there it was, about two inches across. I leaned down. It appeared to be some two inches deep as well, going nowhere. There was some sort of indistinct area in the middle. I bent down farther. It was downright fuzzy in the middle. My eyesight was 20/20; it appeared to be the hole that couldn't focus. Being naturally cautious, I grabbed a leaf stem and sat on the walk. I offered the stem into the hole rather than my own tender flesh in finger form. The second I stuck that stem in there, it seemed as if the hole grabbed it and wouldn't let go. I hauled back on that stem and it broke and the part that was in the hole disappeared from the end up. It was as if the hole ate the stem.

I could see the hole didn't go anywhere, even through the fuzziness. There was apparently nothing alive in the hole. There wasn't even anything moving in the hole--but, wait, there was. I bent closer, carefully planting my hands on either side of the hole and recklessly placing my nose within a few inches. There were occasional grains of dirt flying into the center of the hole and disappearing! And I felt a gentle tug on my nose.

All this worried me. Just what was in this hole, anyway? It wasn't anything I knew of. Perhaps it was something supernatural, I thought. Of course, that's what I had thought as a kid when I wanted to sneak a peek in old Uncle Roger's trunk up in the attic and it made noises at me when I went to open it. That turned out to be a very scared flying squirrel that had chewed its way in through the side and was trapped when I slid the trunk over towards the light. Now, thirty years older, I knew there was no flying squirrel in that hole.

Supernatural seemed to be as good an answer as anything. But then, I really had only based this presumption on highly subjective evidence.

I looked up. There were two young women about to go into Guiseppi's and giving me very strange looks. Like I was some sort of life form--a lower life form, of course; they were most definitely looking down on me sprawled out on that sidewalk--that was of questionable origin.

"Uh," I began intelligently, "Could you--would you mind coming over here a second and looking at something strange? I'm just not sure I'm seeing this right."

"I'm not sure we can see what he's seeing," one young woman muttered to her friend.

She was more game. She walked over and asked, "So what are you looking at?"

"It's this hole," I replied. "It eats stuff."

"You mean Mother Earth is hungry?" the second young woman asked sardonically.

She leaned down and looked. Then she got onto her hands and knees and looked. Then she lay down, prone, on the sidewalk and looked.

"Is this a practice session for devolution to snake form?" the first young woman asked.

"Quiet," the second woman said, waving her hand. "This guy's really got something here."

"What?" the first asked.

"Uh, I'm not sure," the second said, "It's actually kinda like nothing. See, I drop in this little bit of dirt and it disappears."

"Of course it does," the first said patronizingly, "Dirt just blends right into a dirt hole. Kinda like pouring a glass of water into the ocean."

"Come on and look," the second said aggrievedly. "Have an open mind."

She reluctantly came over and looked. "I don't see anything."

"That's just the point. Here, drop something into there."

The first fished two pennies out from her purse and carefully dropped one. "Maybe I can inject some sense into this situation," she said.

The penny did not drop to the bottom of the hole. It hung in midair, rigidly as if it were welded in place. I couldn't budge it with a stick, and when I got too close to the middle of the hole, I couldn't budge the stick, either.

"Wow," the first said, "this is really freaky!"

The second finally took a close look. "Whoa! This can't happen. This has gotta be something supernatural." She got a worried look, her mouth pursed. "Did you guys see The Exorcist? The Omen? Poltergeist? I mean, when this kinda stuff happens, there's something weird around--or someone." She looked at me suspiciously.

"Hey, I didn't ask for--" I started to protest.

"Look," her friend said excitedly, "look!"

The penny was warping, and the middle was disappearing in a fuzzy way, while the end of the stick was disappearing. The stick was slowly sinking into the nothingness in the middle of the hole, and then the penny just sort of wrapped itself up into a ball and sort of faded.

"My God!" I said. "It's time to call in someone who might know something about this."

The second gave me a look. "Oh come on, nobody's really gonna know anything about something like this unless you find some kinda weird person like that lady on Poltergeist."

"No, really," I mused, "I oughta start with someone like a physics prof from the university. Maybe this really has a reasonable explanation."

"You really wanna think that?" the first one asked.

"Yeah, well," I replied, "I gotta sleep here tonight."

"You live here?" she asked.

"Yeah, this is my place," I said. "At least, so far, I haven't seen any ghosts or anything."

"Don't want any spooks for bed partners, hunh?"

I sighed. "I've had worse. . ."

"Well, anyway," the second said, "I'd love to stay and look, but we're getting outvoted by our stomachs. Catch you later."

I hurried on down to the university and roamed the physics building until I found a professorial-looking type in an office.

"Are you a physics professor?" I asked.

"Yeah, uh, why?" he returned. "Don't I look like one?"

"You got me there," I said. "I've got something strange that I can't explain and I thought maybe someone here could help."

"You mean you want to know how something works?"

"No, not exactly. It's more like I wanta know what something is."

"Well, can you bring it in tomorrow morning after ten, and I can take a look at it?"

"No, it's rather non-portable. It's a wierd sort of hole that's appeared in my front yard."

"Oh," he said. "You want the geomorphology prof, Hendern, down in Geography." He turned away and returned to his filing.

"No, uh, sir, no, I think this is more something in your line, maybe, unless it's something for, uh, someone who studies the supernatural or wierd phenomena. . ."

"Come on, now!" he snapped. "I don't have time for nonsense."

"No, really," I said. "This really is something. You see, there's this wierd hold in my front yard. . ." I laid it out in detail to him.

"I don't know," he said, "You're probably just misinterpreting some common phenomenon. Maybe there's some critter down there. Or maybe--" He scrutinized me closely. "Well, you don't look like you're on anything."

"Um, you really gotta see it to believe that I'm telling you how it really is. . ." I had an idea. "I'll tell you what, I live right next door to Guiseppi's, this is lasagna night, and I'll treat you to dinner."

"Guiseppi's?" he asked. "I've heard about that place. I just moved close to the university a couple of months ago and I've been meaning to check it out. Okay, I'll do it. You got a deal. Let's go."

We walked back to my place, it only being a few blocks. We got to the hole just in time to see a small rodent squeal, scrabble on the side of the hole, then just sort of implode in a gooey mess that progressively disappeared as if being vacuumed. The hole had grown substantially; it was now about four inches across.

"Oh, my God!" the physics prof, whose name was Sandon, exclaimed. "That's bizarre!"

He got down for a closer look. As he knelt to get his nose close to the now seemingly-empty hole, I thought he wasn't going to stop leaning over. With a surprised look on his face, he slammed his hands on either side of the hole and struggled to do a pushup. I could see little grains of dirt dislodging from the sides of the hole and disappearing in the middle.

"That's got some force," he said in awe. "My God, it's acting just like a microscopic black hole!"

A light dawned in my head. "Yeah! That's just like a black hole!"

"Except," he said. He sat back with a musing look. "Except it's too small. There theoretically could not possibly be a black hole that small. Well, there are, theoretically, black holes too small to see but they would have enough force to swallow up this entire planet in a few seconds. It must be ultra-microscopic to have a hole that small about it, and to take so long to eat things. And a black hole would not have stayed in the same position with the earth's rotation. And a black hole would not have stayed in the middle of a little hole like that; it would have plunged into the earth, accreting it rapidly and causing the end of the world!"

He looked worried, nonetheless. "And, uh, you say it's been growing?"

"Most assuredly," I said. "Then if it's not a black hole, what could it be?"

"Maybe a pinpoint connection to another point in space," he said unhappily. He looked even more troubled.

"Isn't there a theory that that's how a black hole acts, anyway?" I asked.

"Yes, in some cases, some think that that may be a related phenomenon."

"But this keeps growing," I complained.

"Yeah, well, that doesn't seem to fit the space tunnel theory, I guess."

"Well, whatever, if it keeps going, it's going to eat Guiseppi's and my house and probably keep on going, and then God knows what!"

"Yes," he admitted. "This is a little bit beyond us."

"Great." I turned to face him. "Who we gonna call, Ghostbusters?"

"No," he said. "Maybe a couple of the big universities that have astrophysics programs, maybe NASA. . ."

We had collected a small group of spectators who were eyeing the hole; it was now possible to see distorted air currents over the opening and the hole was up to five inches. They had been listening to our exchange.

Professor Sandon came inside to phone; by the time he had reached associates at two major universities and we had started back out the door, the hole had grown to eight inches. As we walked down my front walk, two ominous-looking cars pulled up on the street.

Several sour but officious-looking types got out of the cars, dressed in conservative business suits.

"You Darryl Burns?" one of them said, looking directly at me. "Uh, yeah. . ." I replied.

"And you're the owner of this, uh, phenomenon in your yard?"

I tried bluffing. "Uh, what are you talking about?"

"Come on, Burns, don't be a jackass. You know what we're talking about." He seemed tired of dealing with such fools as we mere mortals be. "Where is it?"

One of the other men pointed down. "Oh," he said, as if it were right under his nose. And it was.

They examined it from a distance. The attractive force was getting too strong to get a close look anymore.

I noticed that one of the men didn't quite seem to fit with the others; he wasn't such an all- American jock type, but more an egghead type. It was him who seemed to be doing the main part of the assessing of the, well, phenomenon.

They really didn't seem hostile, just businesslike and tired of dealing with such wierd little things foisted on them by the public. This one, however, seemed to capture their interest. They muttered amongst themselves extensively and two of them stationed themselves on the sidewalk, keeping back the curious Guiseppi's customers and other interested passersby.

It was now getting dark, which seemed to be spurring new discussion. One of the men got into one of the cars and talked on the radio, and two of them, including the egghead, came up to us to talk.

"Mr. Burns," said the first one who had spoken with me, "I'm afraid that we're going to have to cordon off this street and you're going to have to stay elsewhere for a while. The government will cover your costs."

"Oh, come on," I said. "Just for a little eight-inch hole?"

"You mean a little twelve-inch hole, now," said the egghead. "It's also twelve inches deep. It's also reached the edge of the sidewalk and is starting to eat away at the concrete. Of course, it's making slower progress in the concrete than in the soil."

"So how fast is this thing growing, anyway?" I asked.

"I expect that it could reach about five feet by tomorrow morning." He looked worried. "Perhaps twenty feet by tomorrow evening, and a good hundred or maybe even two hundred feet the morning after that. It's accelerating its growth, which would fit the idea of a microscopic black hole. So who knows? It may swallow up the earth."

"But it can't be a black hole!" I blurted out.

"What he's saying," Professor Sandon told him, "is that it has several properties which can't fit any known theories of black holes."

"Who are you?" the first one said.

"Professor Sandon, down here at the university. Mr. Burns asked me to take a look at it."

The professor and the visiting egghead then launched into a long and complicated discussion about black holes that went way over my head. In the meantime, I saw a large van pull up, and several men emerged and began setting up barricades with flashing lights and ropes running between them. The other two men got into one of the cars and drove away.

"Well, so it's agreed then," the egghead was saying, "It's some sort of singularity with basic accretive and some gravitational properties of black holes, as well as conforming to visual properties. So we'll start doing some tests tonight to try to pin down more of its properties."

"We'd better find some way to neutralize it or contain it," advised the professor.

"I think that's a given," the egghead agreed.

The men in the van were unloading large, complicated-looking pieces of equipment, mostly connected back to the van by cables. The egghead and the professor hurried down to start fiddling with controls.

"You realize," the first one said, "that this must be kept confidential. Top-secret. Oh, I know there will be rumors at this point; this is a little too public already to keep it entirely contained. But you'd better keep your mouth shut anyway."

I sighed. "You don't have to worry about me. But can't I stay in my house for at least another night?"

The first man looked thoughtful for a moment. "All right," he said at length. "We'll let you stay here one more night. It'll help us help you keep quiet about this and you can help us with some basic services. Those are my conditions. If the hole grows faster than expected, we'll roust you out."

"Okay," I said. I wanted to keep an eye on my place. I didn't want anyone running through my house or yard without me there, and I didn't want anyone uprooting my plants, even if the hole was going to get them. Anyway, I don't sleep worth a damn away from home.

By three a.m., nothing particular had happened; the two physicists were still hard at it. I went to bed and slept fitfully until eight. Coming through my living room, I saw the two scientists and two others fast asleep on the couch, in the recliner and on the floor. There were still four on guard duty outside, as well as several technicians reading instruments and what appeared to be another scientist.

I came out and saw that the hole had grown cavernous overnight. I could distinctly see a little eddy of air and dust directly over it. I sat there and watched it for a while, ignoring one of the guards growled admonition to stay away.

The first government scientist emerged from the house after about an hour and came and stood beside me.

"You know," he said, "this thing will deplete the earth's atmosphere long before it eats up an area larger than this end of the state. In the meantime, a gaping hole a couple of miles deep could potentially trigger earthquakes and other phenomena."

I felt a chill on my spine. "How long before it eats up my house and Guiseppi's?"

"Guiseppi's will start falling in sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening. Your house will be gone by the morning after that. No neighborhood by a couple of days after that. The whole city could be gone by the end of a week. Then half of the rest of the state by the end of the next week."

I sat for a minute, feeling the breeze whisk past my head, blowing towards the hole, and feeling an additional pull which seemed to come from the hole.

"So what is the damn thing?" I asked.

"It does appear to be an anomalous black hole," he said. "We're still trying to figure out how it can be so small and so stationary in relation to the earth. But all readings point to a black hole-- gravitation, light refraction patterns, x-ray radiation patterns and so forth."

"Perhaps aliens created it and placed it there," I said, sarcastically.

"Yes," he replied, "that actually seems to be the best explanation."

I watched several peonies suddenly get sucked into the hole and disappear. "So what are you going to do about it?"

"A nuclear explosion has been suggested," he said. "A detonation of just the right force, as close to it as possible without being so close that the gravitational force disables it, just may do the job."

"A nuke? Not in my front yard, goddammit, you goddam---" I was temporarily at a loss for words. I waved my hands instead.

"Calm down, calm down," he said. "It's just an idea. It may be the only way to save the earth. In any case, if done properly, it wouldn't affect a large area, because the detonation and the black hole would pretty much cancel each other out. Anyway, you notice how nobody gets within five feet of the hole now without radiation suits? The x-rays and other radiation are starting to pick up."

The other physicist and the first Fed joined us as several more vehicles came into the street. Several news media vehicles were at the end of the block, with reporters and photographers trying to get closer.

Dr. Sandon sat down with us. "Harry here," he indicated the first Fed, "is going to get us some breakfast."

"This one here," I said, indicating the government scientist, "wants to blow up my place with an H-bomb!"

"Yes, we discussed that last night," Dr. Sandon said. "Personally, I'm interested in the anti- matter approach, which could cause just as much damage. You're going to lose your entire house sometime during the night, anyway, if we don't do something."

I felt lost and desolate. My life was my home; my home was my life. I was a creature of routine and domicile; I wanted no unscheduled changes.

The only consolation was that, if they didn't succeed in neutralizing the thing, everyone else would eventually be in the same boat and worse. Misery does love company.

"Isn't there some way that you could shoot that thing into outer space?" I asked, desperately.

"We discussed that too," the prof said. "Unfortunately, the fact that it's stayed fixed in its current position rather strongly indicates that there's no way that we could move it with any conventional means of force."

"Anyway, as I said," the government man continued, "Antimatter is very difficult to generate, even more difficult to control, and there is probably at best a less than one percent chance of being successful using it. You'd probably wind up blowing up half this city."

"Nonsense," the prof said. "A nuclear explosion is all or nothing. If you err with your calculations, it's all over. Howsoever, with anti-matter you can control your dosage. You can start with injecting just one atom, even just a single particle!"

"Yeah, and how would you get it in there without bumping into an air molecule? And how the hell, anyway, are we going to get an anti-matter generator here in time?"

"Well, you have to start by creating a vacuum chamber around the hole."

"There's absolutely no way that you could create an absolute vacuum under these conditions. Anything less would be grossly unsafe."

"I'm sure it can be done." The prof was stubborn.

They continued arguing. Three more scientist types arrived over the next hour and got in on the show. They all diddled with the instruments again and yet more people arrived. At one point around noon, I counted thirty-seven scientific people.

I suddenly realized how loud it was outside. Johnson Boulevard was full of traffic and cops; apparently, they were evacuating the neighborhood.

Harry the Fed came to me at one point in the middle of the afternoon and talked with me. The hole had licked its chops with my blazing stars and star magnolia and had undermined most of the sidewalk, which was starting to cave in.

"They keep taking readings," he said, "and it appears that the growth of the hole is progressing geometrically and will continue to do so indefinitely. At the current rate of growth, we must act within two days, at which point we will have lost this entire neighborhood. It appears that a limited nuclear device is the only hope. We will, of course, evacuate the entire city out to a thirty-mile radius within the next two days."

I gaped. "You're not serious!"

"Yes, surely." He didn't appear to see any humor in the situation. "Notice the wind now, by the way," he said, jerking a thumb over towards the street.

Sure enough, it was quite a breeze now blowing towards that hole. The tree leaves and branches were all blowing that direction. I looked at the street, which had been quite dirty with the sand from last winter's snows that the city still hadn't cleaned up. All the pavement within twenty feet of the hole was clean. In fact, all vehicles had been moved at least thirty feet away from the hole. The water line and gas line had been absorbed, too. The gas had been shut off but I could still see water gushing from the ends of the pipe into the center of the hole. This was definitely getting out of hand.

Harry the Fed continued. "All civil defense and other government agencies have been notified and the neighborhood is being evacuated. We've started putting it out on the media that there's an imminent danger of poisonous gas leaking from local industry--that it's safe now, but we must do work on it within twenty-four hours that may result in large-scale leakage."

I felt disgusted. "Why not just tell them the truth? You don't think people can take it? Anyway, they've already been here and seen it, and I've already heard speculative reports on the radio."

"No, I don't that people can take it. First of all, most people couldn't really conceptualize the danger that this thing presents and wouldn't really think it hazardous enough to evacuate. They certainly wouldn't understand why we need a nuclear explosion. Secondly, many people just wouldn't believe us anyway, and so wouldn't move." He continued, more ominous in tone, "And we've done the necessary damage control with the media. You'll hear no more of those speculative reports, as you call them."

I thought about it for a minute. "Yeah, I guess maybe you're right," I said. "I hate to say it, though."

"People are people," Harry said. "You gotta deal with them in terms they can understand."

I shook my head and walked away. This was going to be neither fun nor profitable.

"You're going to need to pack to evacuate," Harry called after me. "And I mean right away!"

I walked over to Giuseppi's. It had been commandeered by the federal forces. The street was blocked off at the corner, and Guiseppi was cooking for the Feds even as his staff was busy packing up to move out.

"But I can serve you some supper," Guiseppi said. "You're part of this. The Feds are paying for it, anyway. Might as well get what you can out of it."

"Yeah," I said. "I'm probably going to lose my house, you know."

"Don't say that," Giuseppi said. "If you lose your house, I lose my business."

"Yeah, I guess that's right," I replied. "Stinks, doesn't it?"

"You said it," he replied.

As I was leaving, full, I spotted the first girl from the night before, standing at the police barricade and trying to see what was going on.

"Your hole getting hungrier?" she asked.

"Damn straight," I replied.

A cop glared at me. "Hey, buddy," he growled, "this is not supposed to be a public site."

"It's okay," I told him. "She already knows about it. She was here and saw it last night. She was the third person to know about it."

"I don't care," he said, "I got orders for information not to be given out over police lines."

"Then let her in here," I said. "It won't hurt anything."

"Goddam it, buddy, I can't do that. I can't just let anybody waltz in and out of here."

Harry the Fed strolled over to see what was going on. "What's going on?" he asked.

"This jerk wants to let unauthorized personnel on the site," replied the cop in his best mix of cop speaking styles.

"Look, Harry," I told him, "she was here last night. She already knows about it. In fact, she was one of the first to know. We had already mentioned the possibility of a black hole then, even. Anyway," I continued, "the word's getting out and getting around even as we speak, I'll bet."

"You want to let her come in?" Harry asked.

"Sure," I said, "what could it hurt?"

"Plenty," he said. "If she comes in, I've got to do a security check on her and she can't leave again until she checks out."

"That okay with you?" I asked her.

"Sure," she said. "I'm as clean as the driven acid snow."

Harry told the cop to let her in, and he checked her identification, recording the information. He got another Fed to stay with us as he took the information off somewhere. I found out from the procedure that her name was Margaret Reed, so I told her my name, Darryl Burns.

We walked over towards the hole, the Fed dogging us.

"Quite a hole, isn't it?" I asked.

"My God!" she answered, bracing herself against the wind and the attractive force. "I had no idea it was going to grow this fast and that it would be this strong!"

Growing it was. It was now eight across and as deep. It was starting to eat into the street, the sidewalk being almost totally gone. The concrete was pitting and crumbling even as we watched it. There were no longer any ostrich fern or bleeding hearts in my yard. It was difficult to watch the hole because of the wierd visual effects from the bending and absorbing of the light rays.

"I've got to evacuate soon," I said. "In fact, everyone in the city is going to have to evacuate by tomorrow evening."

"You're kidding," she said, wide-eyed. "This really is serious, isn't it?"

"Hey, am I smiling?" I asked her.

"Yes, you are a little bit," she said. "At least, you are while you're looking at me."

I blushed. "Uh, well, yeah, I've just gotten a little side-tracked from this hole for a moment."

She looked at me thoughtfully. Then she smiled slightly and turned back towards the hole. I could see a slight blush on her as well.

The Feds changed their mind and made me move out immediately. Margaret started to leave, and I asked her to keep me company while I packed. She hesitated, then smiled and said "Sure." She helped me pack a few things and load them out.

Then she invited me over ot her house and I wound up spending the night. It seemed amazingly natural.

The next morning, we came back as close as they would let us get to the hole. It had now eaten half my yard--no more lilac--and half the street. The corner of Guiseppi's was undermined and sagging; the bottom corner of the southwest wall had already dropped into the hole and disappeared.

Margaret and I had both taken off work that day--they were pretty understanding at my workplace--and spent the morning doing things to try to distract ourselves, but still periodically checking back on the hole.

By noon, most of Guiseppi's dining area was gone and my front yard was no more. It had started undermining my porch, which had started to sag. The street now was part of the crater clear to the far sidewalk.

As we watched, numbly, the wind suddenly died down, gravity returned to its proper direction, and there was a shout. "It's stopped!" someone called.

And it had. As suddenly as it had begun, it had stopped its voracious consumption. Now it sat there, just a plain hole. There was nothing in it; whatever the black hole was, it had apparently disappeared even with all its accreted matter. It was now starting to fill up with water from the water lines, but even as we watched, the water slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped.

"Wow," Margaret said. "Incredible. It's maybe even more incredible that it could disappear than that it started."

"Yeah. . ." I felt some of the tension drain away. We were alone in an island amidst the bustle of activity as the Feds tried to figure out what happened to the hole. "I hope I won't have to evacuate now."

"You must be exhausted from dealing with this," she said. "I mean, it's kinda put a hole in your yard, hasn't it? And a hole in your life."

"Yard? There's no hole in my yard, just no yard," I complained. Then I looked at Margaret and felt tension abating. "But I feel like maybe that the biggest hole that there's been in my life is getting filled."

She blushed, smiled and kissed me. Somehow, I felt like maybe she belonged to my life or me to hers or something like that.

The Feds didn't let me stay in my house that night, but I wound up staying with Margaret. They let us (Margaret and I, of course) back in the next night, when the Feds left, anyway, and the water had been hooked back up. Of course, we had to come in the back door because the front yard was, well, so totally not there. As was the street not there. The whole street and the whole perimeter of the hole, some forty feet across and thirty-two feet deep (bedrock had slowed down the accretion), were blocked off by flashing barricades.

I slept surprisingly well that night, despite the damage. The whole affair had ended so suddenly; so anti-climactically. But my house was safe (and I had Margaret). I didn't know what had happened to the hole, but I knew my house was safe. I didn't even know what the hole was, but I basked in the comfortable familiarity of my home (and now of Margaret!).

But then I heard a noise and awakened. I turned over and squinted one eye open. Oblique gleams of less-than-gloom penetrated from the street lights in front. I heard another wierd noise. Groggily, I lurched to somewhere near vertical and caromed from bedstead to doorframe to windowpane. There, on the sidewalk, by the still gaping hole, were two figures.

They were wearing long overcoats, and were hunched over, talking. And looking at the hole. I saw one, his back almost to me, gesture with an arm. My vision still fuzzy from sleep, I supposed they were more government men. Again. Oh God, why wouldn't they quit?

I looked in at Margaret, still asleep, and flung on my bathrobe. I flung open the back door and ran up through the neighbor's yard. "Just what," I asked, "are you doing here now in front of my place?"

Seven feet away from me, the two figures turned to look me full in the face. Even with less than the full light from the streetlamp, it was clear they were other than human. Somewhat insectoid, in fact.

I froze in mid-stride, my hand up and my mouth open. Moths and gnats fluttering and dancing for the streetlight missed my gaping maw by inches. I must have looked like every alien's nightmare image of a truly dumb earthling.

One of the aliens pointed at me. "Reside house?" he said in the strangest voice I've heard since my first girlfriend's mother.

My hand and leg unfroze, as did my mouth, which threatened to flap instead. Bringing it under control, I came up to a standing pose and stuttered, "Uh, uh, you mean this my house, yes, this my house."

They conversed in an alien language, popping and whistling and droning. If they usually talked like that--and I certainly could never imitate it--I had to admire them for mastering earth sounds. American English, even.

The first one turned back to me. "Hole wrong. Make wrong wrong we. Hole test gone wrong. Not place take you. Hole place take look. We wrong wrong."

He was gesturing disorganizedly, scanning my face with several froggy-looking eyes, seeming desperate to communicate. The sound he had down pretty well, but I didn't have to admire him for grammar.

I kind of put my hands up, unconsciously as if I were warding off demons. "It's okay, it's alright. No harm done. I can fill it in. I'm just glad you took it away--the black hole, I mean."

They looked puzzled. I repeated myself, and they seemed to get part of it. They buzzed and clicked between themselves, then one pulled a small pouch out of his "overcoat," which was more like a cloak.

"Metal good good. Metal you give. No we pay have metal have. Metal take."

It looked like he was trying to pay me for my trouble. I took the small bag and opened it. It was heavy. I slid out two small bars of gold, weighing perhaps five pounds altogether. Possibly a cool $25,000. Not bad for a hole in my yard.

"Um, this is payment, right? Thank you, if that's it. This will cover the damage just fine, no problem."

"Metal good good. Pay we metal. Good good."

He seemed to want further affirmation. I smiled. They started and shrank away slightly, as if I were about to attack. So much for a smile being universal body language. I put my lips back over my teeth, put the gold in my bathrobe pocket, and held out my hands, open and empty.

"Metal good good," I said. "You pay metal. Good good."

They seemed satisfied. As one, they turned and walked over to the street and got into what had seemed to be a car, but now was seen to be something else. At least, I wouldn't call it a car. Some cars convert into boats, but James Bond notwithstanding, I haven't yet seen cars levitate, streak into the upper atmosphere, and disappear in a blue phosphorescent gleam.

So, anyway, I've done the sensible thing with the gold. No, I didn't use it for the dirt. The government graciously took care of everything to do with that hole, as they did for Guiseppi's restaurant. Instead, I put the proceeds from the gold in a mutual fund arrangement that deposits monthly earnings into my bank account. The extra monetary margin is just about enough for two to pig out on Guiseppi's lasagna special once a week. And we do.

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