“Don’t cry, Charlene. I’m going to be okay. I’m going to where Mom and Dad are.”

Charlene did not stop the tears flowing down her cheeks. “You’re going to be dead. Don’t treat me like a child. Why does it have to you?”

“Because our family is blessed. You know this. After our parents went into the hole no one else died from the plague that year and we saw animals return that hadn’t been seen for over a decade.”

I stopped hugging my younger sister and turned to look her in the eye.

“You know I love you. And I know how hard it was for both of us when Mom and Dad left. But look at how wonderful and successful you’ve become. You’re the smartest student for a hundred miles around.”

“Stop it.” Charlene hated being praised, but I couldn’t help it. She was the best student in her college classes.

“I won’t.”

Silence drifted by before the next outburst.

“I hate the stupid holes. I wish they had never been made!” Charlene tried not to scream at me.

Technically, she was wrong. The holes hadn’t been made. As the world fell apart twenty years ago, Mars Inc said they had made the original “Snickers Hole,” but they had simply discovered it in Ohio. Why spend money digging when the job was already done?

“Why can’t someone else go? Aren’t all the other people being fed to the holes enough?” Charlene was bursting with questions in between the tears.

I couldn’t tell her the town council had voted selfishly. Everyone was spooked after Creekville sprouted the orange fingers and the boils only 50 miles away. Our family had worked before. Why wouldn’t we work again?

I pulled her in and rubbed her head. 

“I’m going to save you and everyone else. You weren’t born before the holes. There were the firestorms, the raccoon virus,  the flooding, corporate slavery. President Petey was powerless. But after the first accident, the hero Blake Lander gave his life to reveal the power of the holes.”

He was a drunk college kid who fell while partying. He wanted to piss into it and tripped. Afterwards, Ohio had the best weather of any state still in the Union. Then more holes started appearing. 

No one dug them. No one would have been that morbid. But, suddenly there were 10 massive holes across the country near population centers. An elderly woman committed suicide in one and food prices dropped. More holes appeared. No one knew why or how. But the theory had to be tested. 

The more people threw themselves into the holes, the better the world inexplicably got. After a few years, every major population center had their own hole. Climate change was stopped. Corporations suddenly closed with no explanation. Dictators from the ranks of presidents to mayors had unexpected heart attacks. 

But, only as long as the holes were fed. 

If a region didn’t feed their hole for too long, new problems would arise. All the food for miles would turn moldy. Flu would attack in the middle of summer. Flash flooding in historically dry areas could last for days and wreak havoc. Far stranger diseases and pestilence increased over time seemingly at random. Last year a rat sprouted wings.

“I used to hate the holes too,” I told her.

“What changed?” she asked.

“You know Mom and Dad left us a letter when they went apologizing for both going. They admitted they couldn’t go through the despair of one dying before the other and that the double sacrifice would hopefully prevent our family from ever having to face the trials again.”

“Bullshit,” she mumbled.

“Yeah, but they remembered the time before the holes when there was no hope at all as the world sank into blind oblivion. The holes offered hope that with a single action any problem could be fixed. That’s why they went.

“I kept thinking over and over again, how could they have been so selfish? How could they have been willing to leave their daughters? Even if it saved us for a short while. You remember how distraught I was?”

“Yeah, you tried to burn down the police station, tried to curse the holes with blood from raw chicken breasts, and tried smoking weed until you slept for 14 hours straight.” Charlene smiled a little at the horrific absurdities with the kind of humor only time can bring.

“Thankfully, you’re smarter than me. So, I don’t expect you to do anything as stupid.”

“Whatever. Why don’t you hate the holes anymore?” She had finally stopped crying.

“Because the holes guarantee that sacrifice creates a better world. Life always gets better after someone jumps in. You could spend your whole life working and not have the impact on others that you can have in moment. I think that’s beautiful. Out of all the things to have certainty, I’m glad that’s one of them.”

Charlene was quiet for a long time just being held in my arms.I only heard the repetitive click of the clock. 

Charlene spoke back up, “I think that’s bullshit too. How do we know the holes aren’t causing the issues we have to sacrifice to stop in the first place? I’m going to work to make sure no one else has to be given up. There has to be a way.”

I kissed her head. “Then I’m buying you time to figure it out. That’s good enough for me.”

The next day a couple of the elders escorted me. In the first years, each sacrifice had been a hero witnessed by the whole community. Now it was routine. If you could avoid thinking about it, you did.

I waved to Charlene and blew her a kiss as I got in the car. I didn’t want her to come to watch and she didn’t ask. 

The hole was five miles outside of town. You would be looking at thick lines of trees along the road and then suddenly a field missing it’s center. Ours didn’t even have a parking area, we just pulled off to the side of the road and got out. 

When they first appeared, everyone tried to study them. Each hole was the same exact size and deep enough you can’t see the bottom from the top. If you were lowered in on a pulley, nothing happens to you. It’s only a hole. You can explore the whole thing. Except that there are never any corpses. A scientist tried lowering himself down immediately after someone jumped and couldn’t find them. People stopped testing them as much after that. 

The two elders were polite and kind to me as we walked over. Jeremy asked if I would prefer a push. A lot of people do. No shame in it. I declined. I was made for this hole. As I jumped, I hoped Charlene would understand someday, and that she would be safe, and that maybe she could be the one to change everything.

Then, I was eaten.