Chase McPaulson and his wife Franny sat at the rectangular, hand-crafted cherry wood table, each holding a half-empty Riedel port glass. As he sipped the twenty-year-old tawny, Chase considered his dinner’s remains.
Pebbles of meatloaf dotted the bright yellow butterfly motif of the Villeroy & Bosch plate. A few limp green beans and a wisp of grey mashed potato adhered to the fork (part of a designer Italian flatware set Franny had ordered online from the MoMA store). Through the panoramic glass running the house’s length, the sun descended in tangerine and flamingo pink, casting soft, muted light onto the Venetian lace placemats, one of which had started to fray at the corner.
The exterior lights clicked on automatically as they always did at this hour. From where they sat, the McPaulsons could gaze through the deepening interior shadows to the hardwood floors that had gleamed in daylight; or across to the sitting room with its 62″ flat screen home theater and surround-sound speakers, screen now dark and inert; or they could view under the quiet, dimmer-switch controlled recessed lighting the antique mahogany sofa table which held, among other things, a tall stack of unpaid bills in envelopes colored white, yellow, and pink, some opened, some not.
Chase eyed the iPhone lying next to his plate with concern and hurriedly refreshed the afterhours trading data displayed on the screen.
“The hole got bigger today,” said Franny.
“Goddamned greedy rabbits. Getting fat while the rest of us suffer.”
Franny opened the sliding glass door and walked past the hot tub to the edge of the expansive redwood deck, then into the center of the green, immaculately manicured lawn. The hole was an ugly, jagged wound the diameter of a Mercedes’ steering wheel. Brown roots–gruesome, writhing, vegetative veins–twisted along its sides into darkness with no visible end. Chase came out to the deck holding the last of the port.
“Could be gophers,” Franny said.
“Gophers, then. Does it really matter who’s at fault? It’s the same mess any way you cut it. That meatloaf wasn’t bad, Franny, but I’d kill for a thick slab of prime rib.”
“This morning it was barely a divot. We should have hired a better gardener, someone who paid more attention.” From the open window next door, a baby’s crying pierced the evening air. “Maybe we should try to fill the gap?”
“Stay away from it. Getting close to it won’t help, you’ll just mash down the grass. Christ, can’t they shut that brat up?”
Hunks of earth peeled away from the hole’s sides and sank with a loud whisper, transmogrifying it into a sickly crescent, as long and wide as the “Foreclosure Sale” sign on the McPaulson’s front lawn. Franny twisted her right middle finger with her left fingertips, as though the emerald ring set in platinum was still there.
“Look! It’s like it’s smiling at us. Mocking us. Saying I told you so. Maybe if we knew the cause.” Franny inched closer to the cancerous gash eating away at the healthy green.
Chase threw his head back, drained the port, and set the glass on the deck table too hard, breaking it at the stem. “And you’re an expert now? I said stay away from it. I’m going inside. It’s not something I can fix. There better be something else left to drink.”
Franny leaned over and peered into the evil, leering hole, its sides wet and oily, glistening like exposed intestines and emitting a lurid stench of decay. Her stomach heaved and her eyes burned and streamed as she staggered through the sliding glass door and locked it behind her. She pressed her sweating forehead to the cold glass.
The glass began to vibrate.
A shockwave rocked the house like a wrecking ball. The hole yawned open a horrible, cavernous mouth and swallowed the deck whole, with a bilious, lethal, sucking sound.
“Won’t you stop?” Franny said, as though the hole would respond to reason, its next move uncertain.
BIO: J. J. Roth is a transplanted New Yorker currently living in the San Francisco Bay area with her boyfriend, two young sons, and three old cats. When she’s not lawyering at a technology company or schlepping kids to piano lessons and kung fu classes, she writes science fiction, fantasy and slipstream stories. Her fiction has been chosen as a Semi-Finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, is forthcoming in issue 59 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and has appeared in The Colored Lens, Every Day Fiction, Mad Scientist Journal, and Bewildering Stories. For more information and updates, please visit J. J.’s web site at www.jjroth.net, follow her on Twitter (@wrothroth), or visit her on Facebook.