The hole’s initial appearance in the wood was insidious and attracted little attention. Only Old Jack perceived the subtle change in certain animals’ behaviour; the robin, for example, performing indignant sorties over its invaded territory.
When it finally became too large to reasonably ignore, people skirted the hole, as they would a puddle or prone beggar, affording it only a cursory acknowledgement. Observant dog-walkers threw balls to distract their pets; Old Jack’s frantic and unintelligible efforts to warn off the rest were met with seasoned mistrust and impatience. Nevertheless, they directed their dogs into the hole’s peripheral undergrowth, arrogantly refusing to acknowledge the vagrant’s part in their pooches’ timely deliverance.
Briefly concealed beneath a carpet of leaves, the hole was soon swept clean by an obliging easterly wind. A still larger void was revealed to Old Jack. He grudgingly moved his shelter further up an incline, from where he watched the teenage lovers pause in their search for concealing shrubbery; they stood for a while gawping at the gaping hollow. Shortly afterwards he was sole witness to the demise of a pensioner; this unfortunate man, whose lifelong passion for geology caused him to peer over the edge, stumbled as he reached for his loose tweed cap. Old Jack, alert to the certain stress and disruption to his cherished routine which reporting the incident would cause, remained silent. He retreated instead into his den, where he processed the facts of the event.
Rain in November redefined the hole’s perimeter, lending it both plausibility and purpose. Booted couples took to gazing at their rippling reflections; Old Jack wondered if they even noticed the new pond’s lack of waterfowl. The local news team didn’t appear to, but then the young reporter’s remit extended only to creating a feel-good piece to lighten the gloomy last days of autumn; her ‘Unexpected Woodland Delights’ feature was later edited to remove footage of Old Jack shambling around in the background. It was the second time in his life that he had ended up on the cutting room floor: fifty years earlier he failed to make it to the final edit of a documentary on young autistic savants. Sudden stage fright on the day of filming had rendered him incapable of repeating to camera his ‘trick’ of reciting Shakespeare’s complete sonnets by heart. He rarely spoke afterwards.
After the TV crew had gone, Old Jack noticed a lone heron peering into the murky depths; it soon departed, finding nothing of interest. When it optimistically returned a week later, the water had drained away, but the camera had stopped rolling by then.
The cordon placed around the hole that winter was meant to deter them; instead it drew the boys in, towards its icy edge. Their cries from the depths went unheeded, muted by a sudden and prolonged snowfall. The two small bodies lay undiscovered until the spring melt.
The mob ignored the advice of the authorities, who knew that Old Jack had, as always, remained holed up in the hostel since the first sign of frost. The ensuing witch hunt trampled his new den, splintering fragile bones and his treasured model of the Eiffel Tower, constructed from memory out of birch twigs over twenty years.
Naturally, there were no witnesses; even the robin had gone. It had maintained a prolonged vigil, observing the hole’s development. But as any gardener will tell you, the robin thinks only of himself; when it became clear that there was a lack of worms in the burgeoning chasm, the bird lost interest and flew away.
When not ministrating to his passengers’ needs at 30,000 feet, Justin N Davies tends to his own needs in the South of England where he writes flash, shorts and posts for his blog. He has been published at Flashquake and in Words with Jam. His progress on a novel for children is eagerly observed by his niece for whom it was promised some time ago.