The Hole In the World
Klem Antrim would go to the ends of the Earth to see his father alive again—but he’ll have to travel much farther than that.
Klem’s life in picturesque Sea Scarp has just taken a turn for the worse. The car crash that killed his father knocked him straight out of reality, and since that day nothing in his life has seemed quite right.
Not only is Klem being followed, but he keeps stumbling into invisible tunnels that snake through town. But when he peers through one tunnel’s glassy walls and catches a glimpse of his father—alive and well—Klem realizes the town outside the tunnels isn’t his Sea Scarp at all. Such things aren’t possible, of course. But if Klem is losing his mind, then how has the mysterious stranger who’s been tailing him already mapped out every hole in town?
Now Klem will set out to find the one tunnel that leads to his father. But unraveling the truth behind his father’s death is about to unravel a much more dire truth, hidden in plain sight.
Klem rolled his hands into fists to keep them from trembling uncontrollably as he stormed up the lane from the bus stop to his house.
He had just had a conversation with his father’s killer—and the man had known exactly who Klem was. The collision hadn’t just been a random act. They had been targeted.
At the thought of it, Klem broke into a sprint past his neighbors’ houses.
He should have recognized the man—Toq—sooner. But how could he ever have anticipated the murderer would just come out and confront him? Was the guy nuts?
I’m a friend, he had said.
The hell you are.
How could he say something so warped? Was there something in it for him, or was he the kind of guy who enjoyed pulling the wings off flies? Or maybe he just wanted to lure Klem in just so he could finish the job.
No more putting himself into the mind of a monster. All he had to do now was retrieve the police officer’s contact card from the trash bin in his room.
Klem’s lungs were on fire by the time he turned up the walk to his home. As he trudged up the porch steps, he spotted someone in the shrubbery just around the side of the house.
She was leaning into the hedge, peering through the windows, in full view for anyone who might have been watching.
Klem forgot his anger for the moment and approached the woman. “What’s up?”
“Klem! Good,” she said, extricating herself from the bushes and brushing off her clothes. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here.”
“How the hell did you know where I live?”
She blinked, but ignored him. “You and I need to talk.” She peered around the back of the house. “Let’s go. We can get some privacy.”
“It’s gonna have to be later. Sorry, but . . . it’s kind of an emergency.”
“Trust me,” Mays said.
A request he had heard from one too many strangers.
She was insistent, though, and tugged his shoulder until he yielded, allowing her to lead him toward his own backyard. And despite the fact that his every nerve had just been laid bare, he couldn’t help his curiosity about Mays’s timing.
✧ ✧ ✧
The funk of the tool shed assaulted Klem’s nostrils; it smelled like a fungus-infested carpet. He walked straight into a web and swiped at his face as Mays slid two empty crates to the middle of the grit-covered concrete floor.
“Sit,” she said.
He looked from the crates to her. What had gotten her so excited? “Mays, you don’t know me well enough for anything to be this important.”
“That’s right; I barely know you. But I did see you yesterday.”
Klem blinked. Veiled in the darkness, it was hard to read her expression. Had she been spying on him? Was that why she had first approached him? Had their conversation been some sort of test?
“You didn’t think you could just appear out of thin air and no one would notice, did you?”
Klem stood up, his chest tight. “Whatever you think you saw—”
“Would you sit?” She put a hand on his chest, and he plopped back down. “Let’s stay frosty. I promise not to call the portal police on you. I’m cool.” She sat across from him. “I want you to know you’re not alone. I know it feels like you are, but I promise—”
“Say you’re a friend and I’ll leave right now.”
Mays squinted, as though something had just occurred to her. “Toq,” she said, nodding. “You met him, didn’t you?”
How could she have known that? Klem looked away. What was he doing in the shed with this weird girl?
“Fine,” she said. “We need to talk about him, too.”
Klem stood up again. “Talking about him is the last thing I need right now.” Let her sit there in the gloom for as long as she wanted. It had nothing to do with him. “Whatever you think you know about me, you don’t.”
Mays laughed. “I know that you’re flailing around, blind.”
Klem’s hand froze on the shed’s door handle. “What?”
“I’m trying to tell you something, Klem. Fill in some blanks? But you’re just reacting—reacting—without even knowing why.” She stood and crossed the floor. “Let me speak my piece. Then at least you may have more to go on.”
Klem sighed, but didn’t move.
“I didn’t have to come here today,” she added.
After a second, Klem shuffled back to the crate and sat. “So talk.”
Mays sat down across from him. “I saw you do whatever you did yesterday. You looked like you’d just come from a funeral—like you had a lot on your mind. I know that feeling . . . because I also know about the portals.”
Klem grimaced. “I didn’t do anything, if that’s what you think. I fell inside of something at Scarp Hill—a tunnel or something—and then I just followed it to the other end. That’s all you saw. I don’t know anything else about what it is, and I don’t want to.”
No way was he about to tell her who he had seen through the passage wall. She didn’t need to know everything.
“What if I told you there’s more than just one tunnel, K-L-E-M Klem? A lot more. They’re all over the place.”
Klem looked at her evenly. “So I’ll be sure to watch where I’m walking.”
“You should watch who you’re talking to.”
Klem flinched at the sharpness in her voice.
“Toq has been bothering me, too,” she said. “For a long time now.”
Klem squeezed one hand in the other. “Yeah, well he’s been doing more than just bothering me,” he said, regretting it immediately. What did he know about Mays, really? For all he knew, Toq had sent her to find out how much he knew. The best thing to do was to let her talk.
“He knows about the portals, but he’s not like us,” she said.
“As in, he’s interested in the portals, but has no talent for them. At least not that I’ve seen. He can’t use them like you do, or find them,” she pointed at her chest, “like I can. I don’t know what he’s up to, exactly, but he’s involved somehow.”
She was full of theories, but she might be making things up on the spot just to keep him there. He should be talking to the police by now, informing them about the murderer down by the water before the trail grew any colder. Mays couldn’t know that, but if she was trying to protect Toq, he wanted nothing to do with her.
Klem leaned forward. “Okay, so avoid the crazy guy down by the pier. Got it. Problem solved?”
Mays shook her head in disgust, springing to her feet. “No, you little shit. Problem not solved.” She went over to the window and looked out. Klem thought she might leave, and he was okay with that possibility.
But when the woman approached Klem again she seemed to have regained some composure.
“For the longest time I thought I was alone, Klem. Until yesterday, in fact. Now I know that you’re in this, too. I don’t know how, but you’re in it the same way I am. Not everybody can do what we can, and I have a feeling that . . . You and I are going to have to do something about what’s happening out there, and sooner rather than later. This isn’t one of those times where hiding from it will make it go away. I’ve tried that. Time doesn’t always heal all wounds.” She gave him a measured look. “I see how you’re looking at me. I know what I look like, and I’d have a hard time trusting me, too. But if you let me—if you give me just an hour—I think I can convince even you.”
That was a surprise. Maybe she wasn’t with Toq after all. Was this the appeal of his victim?
Mays took his silence for indecision.
“Tell you what,” she said. “Don’t just believe me. Let me show you. Things are seriously not right out there. It’s not normal that there are these portals—or tunnels, if you’re right—all over town. Something bad is happening, and I need your help, right now. I don’t think anyone else knows what’s up but me. I’ve been paying attention.”
Goosebumps sprang up along Klem’s arms. Toq had said the same thing. But even if she was right that something mysterious was going on, what about Toq?
Klem shut his eyes tightly, wishing he had more time to think things through. Why did Mays have to complicate things? Why was he deliberating when justice was within arm’s reach?
Klem opened his eyes and looked at Mays.
If she was right, going along with her might actually lead him to finding justice. What had she said? Toq was interested in the portals for some reason. That would explain his persistence with Klem down by the docks. He was a friend, he had said, which meant he wanted something. Whatever it was, the man didn’t realize Klem knew who he was, and that gave Klem an advantage.
Having him incarcerated now would only ensure that Klem would never find out the full story.
An hour—that’s all she was asking for. Give her an hour, and he might even be able to find out why Toq had done what he had done.
“So?” Mays said, reaching out and nudging Klem’s knee.
“Fine. Just let me go inside and apologize, and then you can convince me.”
Mays looked dubious.
“I’m already in trouble with my mom. If I don’t show my face, Toq will be the least of our worries.”
I had a hard time putting it down, even when it kept me up way too late, and I eventually had to slow myself down so I wouldn’t finish it too quickly.
One of those types of stories similar to Philip K Dick’s work where … everything is building up to that point where … everything you just processed has been turned on its ear.
Very different from anything I have ever read.