It was an idea from a bunch of stupid ass kids.

Dig to the center of the earth.

Everyone’s done it, but usually within a day we all forget about it, leaving a hole maybe a feet deep, something that our parents would twist their ankles in and get mad at us for later.

Not us. Not the boys of Redwood Drive.

There was about twelve of us, ranging from age five to twelve, and we wanted to dig a hole so deep we’d fall into the center of the earth. I can’t remember why we decided to do it. I think Parker read ‘Journey To The Center Of The Earth’ one too many times, or maybe that summer was just that boring. Either way, it was in the woods in my backyard where we began ‘excavation’.

Jack Summers was the oldest of us all, and when he chose my property to begin our plan, well you could say I was a bit more than flattered. To be honest, I think I had a little bit of a crush on him, but I was only nine at the time. So who could say?

But anyway, over the course of a week we gathered up supplies. The real little ones wouldn’t do the heavy lifting, but they’d be doing the next best job- retrieving nutrition and keeping us from overheating. Basically just getting snacks from their kitchens and pitching water balloons at us once we got too hot. We had to make it fun for them somehow.

I was in charge of making sure the hole wouldn’t cave in, once it got deep enough for someone to hop in. My dad had a workshop, and he didn’t mind loaning me pieces of lumber for the ‘fort’ we were building in the woods. Said it was making me a real man.

I mean, we did build a fort. Over the hole. Just so the adults wouldn’t get suspicious.

Within a week we had gotten six feet down. Parker got one of his dad’s old ladders, but Jack was the daredevil. He’d just climb up the wood I’d nailed together to keep the hole stable and demand a ‘beer’. A root beer, of course, we just wanted to sound cool those days.

I think it was around ten feet deep is when things got weird.

Blaine had shoved his shovel down before he gagged, and the smell filled all our nostrils. It was so strong, my eyes were watering and Parker began to hurl. Mass evacuation from the fort and we were all gasping for air to cleanse ourselves from that horrible smell. Imagine rotten eggs, burning hair, and shit, all mixed together. It was bad.

Jack went back in first, after he’d finished cleansing his lungs, and came back out. Said the scent was already beginning to go away and we’d go back to work in the morning. He spent the night at my house that night.

We talked a lot when my parents were in bed.

I told him I thought he was cute.

Jack looked shocked. “But we’re guys,” were his exact words. I told him I knew. I said I was sorry.

But Jack wasn’t a half bad kid. He rubbed my back and I haven’t forgot what he said to this day.

“Well, I am cute, according to all the girls in my class. It’s okay, Alex. Just… be careful who you tell, kay? Lots of other dudes would sock you, especially in my grade. And you’re pretty nice. I don’t want you to get socked in the face.”

That was some sage advice, coming from a kid who once ate sand on a dare. I went to bed feeling so much better about myself. That I wasn’t some sort of freak of nature. The next morning I woke up and Jack wasn’t so cute anymore, but I was okay with that.

I had a real friend, that was so much cooler than me, but was actually really nice.

We should’ve stopped digging that day.

Any day that smell would return, digging would be called off and we’d go gather supplies from my dad’s scrapyard and plot ways to help make that nasty stink go away.

Other shit started happening too.

Parker screamed his head off when something oily and hot spurted from the wall. I was down there with him that day, I had just turned to ask for another water bottle when I heard a ‘pop’. And then Parker screamed.

At first I thought it was blood. We hauled him out of the hole and Blaine cleaned off his arm. It was badly blistered and Parker was still screaming like a baby. The smell came back and on the way home we concocted a lie for Parker’s parents that he’d burnt himself on the stove at my house.

The next day Parker called it quits. He still wanted to keep digging, told us to keep going. But he had gotten a fever and couldn’t be much help anymore. We all promised to finish the hole without him.

From then on we wore long sleeves and gloves in the hole. I went the extra mile and wore some protective glasses. Protective measures kept other kids from being burnt, but that oil would still spurt out and the stink would return.

We learned to tough out the horrid stink, considering how much it stopped us from working. And now we had to finish this hole for Parker.

A few other kids called it quits though. Couldn’t take the heat, according to Jack. It was okay, we didn’t need them anyway.

Then Chance went missing.

Chance was one of the ‘babies’. Five years old, had a really awful lisp, but was determined to help… a little too determined. He wanted to dig too, but all he did down there was complain about the smell and get in the way. He’d cry when we’d kick him out. He was honestly really spoiled.

None of us thought twice, at least at first, when he was reported missing. We thought he’d ran away, or his dad had finally taken him away from his mom. They’d divorced and Chance insisted that his dad would come get him any day. So we just thought that had finally happened.

When I found one of Chance’s tiny shoes in the hole, Jack told me that Chance must’ve left it the last time he was here. Insisted.

I was stupid and believed him. Still, every time I saw that shoe in the corner of our fort, my stomach sank.

It was the day Jack and I were alone at the hole. When everything… went really wrong.

The other boys were at a baseball game in town. I didn’t like baseball and Jack just wanted to focus on his hole. We had gotten quite deep by this time. We’d had to use ropes instead of ladders as any of the ladders big enough our dads wouldn’t let us have.

Jack was down in the hole while I was at the top. Jack would fill a bucket with dirt, and I’d haul it back up. Rinse, repeat.

Then Jack’s shovel made a wet sound when it sunk into the dirt. Jack made a surprised ‘hmmph!?’ and I looked down there.

He pulled the shovel back and the stink was back, worse than ever.

I upchucked immediately, unfortunately down into the hole. It… mostly missed Jack. A bit got on his arm, but I don’t think he noticed.

“Alex! Get down here! This is weird!”

I climbed down and by that time Jack had dug a small hole into the newly discovered ground. God, it smelled so bad. The ground had turned gelatinous, a black goo that was solid until you touched it. I poked it with one of my fingers and the goo ate right through my glove. I yelled and threw my glove into the goo, which devoured the leather glove.

Jack shivered. “… Maybe this is the center of the earth?” He asked, poking it with his shovel. It left the shovel be. So Jack slowly dug more, careful to throw the goop far away from either of us. I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt and watched.

Finally the jelly opened up… into a much, much, deeper hole.

It was a cavern that plummeted straight down. Swallowing, I got down on my hands and knees and peered inside.

What was down there forever burned itself into my mind.

The walls of the cavern were made of flesh. A rotting, pulsing, flesh. There was white blistering sores every few feet, some probably about the size of my hand and others as big as my father. They would twitch and ooze and the smell was so bad I nearly passed out.

Jack pulled me back, his face had gone white and his jeans had a wet patch in the front. Not the time to make fun of the ‘big kid’ pissing his pants though- we were scared shitless. “… Alex, let’s get out of here,” He said, taking a step to the rope.

His foot went down.

The ground broke.

Jack dropped like a stone, through the earth, and he screamed all the way down. Least I think he did. After a few seconds, his scream faded away. He was probably still falling.

I don’t really remember what happened next. I just started screaming, and screaming. I must’ve grabbed the rope and climbed it, because when my memories pick up again. I was surrounded by cops, and one of them was asking what had happened.

I told them Jack fell into the center of the earth.

Now that I think back, that’s what must have happened to Chance. He was so little, he fell down there, maybe clawed into the wall, and found the cavern of rotten flesh. Poor Chance. Never stood a chance. Neither did Jack.

The whole forest was sealed off after that. Still is, actually. Covered in white tents with government agents going in and out, along with men in yellow hazmat suits. They never found Jack. Never explained to us what was back there.

Dad died of cancer, after he apologized for treating me like shit after I came out of the closet. It didn’t make up for all the times he screamed at my face, calling me slurs and threatening to kill me, but it’s the thought that counts. Mom lives in a home, she’s gotten dementia. Still thinks I’m a little boy.

Meanwhile, I live in the house where I lived as a kid.

This place isn’t full of little boys anymore, running up and down the street. Most of the houses have a sign out front, advertising them for sale. The ones that don’t have a ‘foreclosed’ sign taped to the front door. I’m alone here on Redwood Drive.

I’m grateful for that now though.

Something happened two days ago. More trucks pulled up. Not just scientists anymore, men with guns and heavy protection gear. They marched into the tents. The next day came even more.

This morning men in suits came to my front door, asking me to evacuate. Told me that there was a gas leak in the area.

I told them my name was Alex and that my friend was Jack Summers.

They left me alone after that.

Now I’m staring out the back window, watching the tent.

The smell is back. It’s impossible to forget. Whenever I close my eyes I see Jack, in his wet pants, still falling, still screaming. But now it’s permeated my house. I let my cats out and they took off running, hopefully they’ll get away in time.

I can’t tell you why I’m sticking around here. Maybe curiosity. Maybe idiocy.

But maybe it’s because I hope whatever comes out of there will tell me what happened to Jack.

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