No. 389

Every summer, tourists flock to Pikesville to see the “Hole to Nowhere”.

“It’s bigger than last year!” some convince themselves, even though the size of the Hole never changes.

If anything, it is growing smaller, a cause for great concern among the locals dependent on the outside dollars.

 

The Hole first appeared in 1962. Visitors are told it swallowed a horse, even though nobody present at the time could remember losing a horse. Like most sinkholes, its birth was dramatic and unexpected. A horse could have conceivably fallen in, so the legend wasn’t an outright lie.

What was false was the part of the story that said the cause was unknown.

Clarence Humphrey, the warden at the Hole, knew exactly why the ground had given way. Three other men and one woman knew, as well.

Only Clarence and the woman, Sheila Betts, knew that the name was also misleading. They had learned where the Hole went.

 

“Throw down the rope,” Clarence whispered from the bottom of the pit.

Sheila did as she was instructed, dropping the coiled line over the edge. Then she shimmied down the steep sides to meet Clarence.

“You weren’t followed, were you?” he confirmed on her arrival.

“Of course not,” she hissed back. “I’m not stupid.”

“Just making sure,” Clarence mumbled.

Sheila and Clarence were not friends.

Clarence checked his watch. “Come on. We have an hour till the morning shift arrives up top.”

Sheila rolled her eyes at the obvious information, but her contempt went unnoticed in the dark of the Hole. “You say that every time.”

The pair cleared away a loose pile of dirt along one wall and revealed a passage big enough for one person at a time to enter on their belly.

Without speaking, Clarence followed Sheila through.

They arrived in a vaulted chamber, another sinkhole waiting to happen right beneath Harley’s Grocery. Water dripped down from the ceiling into a crevasse in the floor.

Clarence deftly tied the rope around a rocky outcrop and let it down into the split. Without pausing, he turned and slid down it to somewhere below.

Sheila did the same, but not before checking the knot at the top.

Now, far from the surface, the two came upon the final leg of their journey. A steep tunnel led up, toward the hills north of Pikesville.

“45 minutes,” reminded Clarence.

“I seriously don’t know why you time us every week,” Sheila told him. “Get moving if you’re so worried.”

They left down the tunnel at a light jog, arriving soon after at the secret of the Hole.

The spring was small, just a trickle out of the rocks. It was at the end of a narrow box canyon that would have been impossible reach to without taking the route through the Hole.

Clarence immediately dipped his cupped hands in the water and drank.

Sheila produced a shot glass from her pocket, which she filled and then emptied into her mouth.

“That takes care of that,” Clarence grunted.

“You know,” Sheila told him. “The worst thing about finding the Fountain of Youth is that I have to share it with you.”