The hole was ten feet deep when I showed up. Alice had a shovel and pickaxe set crooked beside the entrance. I could see boulders pointing out at odd angles on the walls of dirt, which displayed shining hints of mica like crushed mirrors.
“I can hear you,” she said.
“There’s lunch,” I replied, “Ham and cheese.”
I unpacked my backpack and laid the contents at the base of a nearby tree.
She climbed out and threw a pair of blackened garden gloves beside me, then grabbed the sandwich and ripped the wax paper off with her teeth. Her hair slipped out of its ponytail as she sat down.
“I think I can get there,” she said. “But I need your help.”
I cracked one of the cold Limonatas and surveyed the work she had done. Her backyard was uneven and rocky at the surface, but it seemed the further she went the smoother the earth became. The first five feet must have been hell on her own. I watched as her thin arms shook in the shadow of the large cherry tree we sat beneath. I noticed that the roots of the tree seemed to wrap directly around the hole, but not through it. Maybe Alice had finally found the right part of yard to dig in. Previous iterations of her digs could be seen nearby; levied piles of dirt lay like small graves, discarded amongst the overgrowth.
Grabbing the pickaxe as an anchor, I moved myself slowly into the hole. Alice was still breathing heavily under the tree and I wanted to give her time to collect her thoughts. There was no point trying to talk her out of digging, her mind had been made up long ago. “They’re there.” I could hear her in my memory. “I know someone is down there.”
We worked through the day and into the night. At one point, Alice fell asleep beneath the cherry tree but I kept working. The sun was cool and her mother brought more Limonatas as we worked, giving me sad eyes but staying quiet. When night came again, I could see her waiting at the kitchen window, probably considering whether to invite us in for dinner. She eventually closed the blinds and fed her remaining children; the ones at the table, normal and accepted.
Alice had been talking for months about the voices she heard coming from the yard. At first, we all agreed the sounds must be coming from the wind rushing over the tin roof of the garden shed, or maybe a group of teenagers had been drinking in the alleyway at night. Alice refused those explanations and moved her bed underneath her window so that she could hear better. Eventually, she reported that the sounds were in fact coming from beneath the ground, that someone must be buried under her home. That’s when she started to dig.
The more she dug the more frantic her ideas became. She covered all the mirrors in her room and claimed that looking at your own reflection was the easiest way to lose yourself. She spent long hours starting at the cherry tree asking it questions in short, breathless whispers. If anyone came near, she stopped.
After a full day of digging, Alice and I slept in the hole. It seemed to be warmer the deeper we dug and the later it got. After midnight, I had to take off my t-shirt because the heat from the hole was so raw it made the polyester fibres tight against my skin. When we were both exhausted and beaten, the bottom of the hole seemed comforting, almost soft. Alice and I lay at opposite sides and slept deeply, neither one of us waking when the birds began to call at sunrise.
In my dream, I sat in a candy shop surrounded by books that the shopkeeper kept calling “Tangerine Dreams.” Every time I reached out to touch one it would flare up like the sun and make a huffing noise. The shopkeeper sat quietly smiling as I reached for each book and fell back, startled, at its reaction. I didn’t stop reaching and the books didn’t stop blasting me with their hot orange heat. When I awoke, Alice was already digging.
No one from her family came out on the second day, though cold Limonatas appeared on the edge of the hole repeatedly. It seemed that day and night existed equally as we dug, with light being nothing more than a senseless commodity. Coloured gases sprung out of the rocks that we pulled. When tossed out of the hole, the glass became birds, pumping their wings into the branches of the sitting cherry tree. I could see the roots of the tree spinning around us, though their circle never grew tighter, only more round. It was as if the roots of the tree formed a tunnel that kept up with our digging. Down, down, into the centre of Alice’s backyard.
Alice was also changing. Her thin arms were stacked with thick veins of gold, pulsing light in and out of her heart. Her skin, always so pale, looked almost translucent in the reflections of the hole, making the mechanics of her insides look like a cruel machine. I could not tell what my own transformation looked like, but I kept catching Alice staring at me in awe, so I knew we were the same. We both kept quiet, unraveling the dirt around us like spools of thread.
To explain how long it took seems irrelevant; the hole grew and so did we. I saw my hands engorge and consume the pickaxe. Soon I was so large that I could bite massive pieces out of the hole and spit the excavations right back into the yard. The yard itself was invisible, unknown, forgotten like the house and family that I had left down the road. I couldn’t see Alice, but I knew she was there. Beyond the fringes of my own awareness, I knew we were close.
I struck an edge and heard a long, high, ‘ting’. My body came back to me and in a moment I stood beside Alice, myself, and whole again. Hands reasonably sized. Teeth caked in dirt.
Alice moved the remaining bits of earth out of the way and we both gazed longingly at the end. The floor of the hole shone silver, like a mirror, and reflected my own image back at me. I could see myself, but my self wasn’t looking back. Alice stood beside me. Her reflection sat still, no hand over mouth, no look of horror. Her reflection tilted its head and gave a small, inaudible laugh. The Alice beside me began to cry.
Turning back to my own reflection, I was surprised to see the slightness of my own figure, how small my form looked against the backdrop of eternity. I looked at myself and smiled, my reflection smiled back. I reached towards the mirror, but my reflection moved just out of my reach. It seemed as if my reflection was speaking but I could only see the movement of its mouth, no sounds reached my ears. I found myself thinking how strange it would be to hear my own voice from the bottom of this hole. I realized I had forgotten what my voice sounded like.
My reflection continued to speak and I tried to concentrate on the movement of its lips, mimicking the motions with my own. Once I got the hang of it, I let my own voice ring out: “Tangerine dreams, tangerine dreams.”
Hannah Macready is a writer living in the coastal paradise of Vancouver, BC. Her work has been published in The Quarantine Review, SAD Magazine, and Bandit Fiction (UK), among others. She also writes regular web content for EVENT Magazine.