Hole in the Ground
The shout rooted Martello to the spot.
'If you step forward, you'll regret it.'
'But it's only a puddle surely?'
'You're new here, aren't you?'
'You mean this planet?'
'Yes, this planet.'
'Yeah, but –'
'That puddle isn't a puddle.'
'What do you mean?'
'It's a portal to another dimension.'
'How do you know?'
'My people have observed this phenomena for many years. We have seen rocks, animals, people fall in and never come out again. We have also had to put up with what came through from the other side.'
'Things.' He gave a shudder.
After a few seconds he went on again.
'Once a horrible, black slug-like creature got into our world. We eventually killed it, but not before it had killed and eaten many of our people. We didn't realise it was there for a start because it hid from the harsh light and heat of the day. There have been other, similar monsters too. Then there was the invasion. People like us but organised into a relentless and ruthless army. We capped that hole after fighting them off but who knows if they'll come back and where? Maybe next time we won't be so lucky and they'll chose a remote location or come through several portals at once.'
'Does nobody who has fallen through return?'
'Sometimes bits of of people or animals reappear, but they are not a pretty sight. We always assume one of those slug-like creatures or worse got them.'
'Why don't you fill in the holes?'
'Because they are bottomless. we cap them, but even then it can be counter-productive as cutting off the light seems to make them grow because they swallow whatever is put on top of them.'
'What about digging underneath them?'
The alien looked at Martello in a world-weary kind of way, like an old man talking to a child.
'My people did dig below one. What they found was that it was like looking through a hole in the ground, up into the sky but deadly.'
'Yes. One guy tried to put his hand through and his whole arm disappeared.'
'He was none too pleased!' The old man gave a grim chuckle.
'Snyppe, what have you been telling our off-world guest?' A smart-suited person interrupted the conservation.
'About the holes.'
The new alien turned to Martello.
'You didn't believe a word that old joker said, did you? He plays tricks on all visitors like you. Nasty psychological fun, according to him.'
The old man shrugged his shoulders.
'You can step into the puddle with no worries – it is just water after all.'
Martello did just that, laughing at having been taken in – and instantly vanished without a trace.
'I told you before old man – this is our business. Don't betray our secrets to off-worlders, or next time I might put you down that goddam hole, too!' The secret policeman walked off and Snyppe finished his drink, before heading home from the cantina.
'Politeness.' Was all he said before disappearing down the dusty road.