portion of the artwork for Kea Marie's fiction

The Pit
Kea Marie

You have to forgive us. We’ll take responsibility.

But you have to understand: James had just gotten one of those 350 packs of Silver Salutes from the firework stands on the rez, and half of us were watching him set them all off at once with a jerry-rigged rocket rack and a Bic. Mary was frying sweet-potato burgers and Sam had that girl with the robin tattoos on her tits up on the roof and what other alibis do I really need to give here? How many breezy nights do you get in New Mexico in June? How much longer did we all have together?

I mean, of course we all knew Paul was drunk. By the first time we re-upped on Tecates, he’d stationed himself by the grill with a bottle of starter fluid and was squirting it determinedly over the gigantic flames, cackling in his Alabama accent as his arm hair curled in the heat. Later on, he cornered the cute keyboardist from the band and mumbled for a solid half-hour about how he’d survive the peak oil crisis, no problem—cilantro and Steel Reserve on his breath, leaning in just-this-much too close. The singed hem of his wifebeater; the smell of gin in his hair; all the unprompted hugs.

We did notice.

But when Paul wandered out past the yard and into the arroyo, it was going on four in the morning, and a half dozen girls in summer dresses were already passed out on the couches in the back yard, their hair slung over the armrests and their mouths moving in their sleep. It was that let’s-just-stay-up-until hour: just until Matt got the icepick wedged deep enough into the watermelon to funnel in the vodka, just until Jen got a ride home.

So you understand why when Paul staggered out toward the fire pit—fifty yards out, all ash by then, anyway—we just decided to play with roman candles and pretend we hadn’t seen him go.

Except an hour later, he came back. He was covered in a thin layer of soot from the ends of his hair on down, eyes scarily blue. His teeth basically gleamed.

Guys, you have to come see this, he said.

But the hookah was going by then, and no one wanted to get up. Grace threw a flaccid bratwurst at his face and told him to go to sleep. Nolan told him he looked like a titillated coal miner.

For a minute, Paul’s tongue searched the inside of his cheek, trying to root out the words he wanted to say. Finally he decided on Fuck you, nerds, and wandered off again.

Lucas was kicking a soccer ball by himself in the chamisa near the fence, so he was the only one who actually saw Paul disappear. Apparently, Paul stomped up to the edge of the fire pit, glared back at the house once and then slung his legs over the side, pushed off with the heels of his hands and was gone. It was like watching someone fall down an elevator shaft, Lucas told us later. Fucking sick. Except when we went over there, all we found were a few half-singed Shiner boxes and a giant hole in the ground. Not a pit: a hole. No one screamed up from the bottom. Nothing came out.

I’m too drunk for this, Trev said, and went off somewhere to puke.

No one particularly wanted to deal with the fire department right then, so we all headed back toward the house. Anyway, it wasn’t the first time Paul had disappeared. Once at Lake Abiquiu the summer before, he found a gutted Pinto in the woods and messed with the dead engine for literally hours trying to make it start, despite the fact that there was clearly no crankshaft and all of us were looking for him well past sunset. When we finally found him, there was a small continent of oil spread across the left hemisphere of his face, and he was so happy we all wanted to hit him. He was filthy, and an idiot, but he was fine.

So we went to bed: two to every twin mattress and couch, the rest in the backseat of whatever car they found unlocked. We figured he’d be back in the morning, curled in a sleeping bag on the front porch or slack-jawed and upright in an armchair. Fine.

Well, that turned out to be a definite fucking negative.

At noon, Nadja kicked everyone awake, her Toms sharp between our ribs and the light searing through the curtainless windows—get up, bitches, he didn’t come back. We clustered around the pit yelling for him, elbow-deep in boxes of cereal and hair mussed up at 90-degree angles.

Jeremy said: Paul, this isn’t funny.

Jonah: We’ll buy you IHOP if you come out.

Nolan: I’m sorry I said you looked like a titillated coal miner.

David: Here, kitty kitty.

It didn’t do any good. After a while, a few people went to work and the rest of us dragged mattresses out to the hole and ordered a pizza. We almost made it till dark before we got bored and went to the bar.

* * *

Heather went in sometime the next day.

We’d always kind of thought she’d had a thing for Paul—once, Jason even said he’d heard them fucking, really awkward, fake-sounding porn sex, too—but this finally confirmed it. She’d dragged a stereo out to the mouth of the hole and strung an extension cord in from the garage to lure him out. Baby Huey—his favorite—was still playing on auto-rewind when we noticed she was gone.

We’re not sure when Greg went in, or why. The utilities were in his name, though, so that did kind of screw over those of us who were officially on the lease.

Jenna was the only one who told anyone where she was going. She’s always been sort of the grand madame figure of our group—Bettie Paige bangs and gingham worn ironically, you know the type—and she’d made this intense sangria and invited us all over to play hold ’em. In the middle of a hand, she leaned over into her cloud of cigarette smoke and smiled. We should all go in, she said.

Martin said, No way. What if there are spiders or weevils or whatever down there?

Dex said, What the hell is a weevil?

It’s like a possum but bigger, said Emory.

It’s a beetle, you shithead, said Andrea.

Man, why would you even want to go down there? Jackson threw down his cards on the table, rubbing sleep out of his eye with one knuckle. It probably just spits you out on the highway somewhere like in that John Malkovich movie.

Who says it goes anywhere? some spooky motherfucker said, I forget who.

Oh Jesus, shut up, said Tony.

Meanwhile, Jenna stood and put her margarita glass down on the mantle without a word. She unbuttoned her cardigan while she walked toward the back door—always that little sphinx smile, her eyes roaming the room for anyone who might be looking at her—and then she took off her shoes, pinstriped mules that she dangled from one delicate pinky. A few of us got up to follow her. When we asked where she was going, she put a finger to her lips and said, Patience. She pronounced it like it was French. She pulled her shirt over her head in one fluid motion.

Pretty soon, Jenna was in her underwear and we were all standing around the fire pit watching her arc into a swan dive. She was the only one who made any sound as she went—first a bright scream, happy, like she was getting tickled. Then a yelp and a thud as she hit the side and hurtled down into the darkness.

Holy shit, Eddie said. She did it.

Guys, I think she hurt herself. Holly got down on her hands and knees and stuck her head as far into the hole as she could stand. Then she snapped back, sudden, like something had breathed on her from down there.

Chris found a bunch of bedsheets and knotted them all together to make a ladder. The tree he’d tied them to snapped after about ten minutes and he was gone, too. Sid dragged out the rock-climbing equipment his dad had bought him for Christmas and tried repelling, but he didn’t really know how and the same thing happened.

By then it was two in the morning. The last tenants had left a carton of emergency flares in the garage—god knows why—and we thought about throwing one in, but no one really wanted to see what was down there. A steel hatch we couldn’t open; our friends’ bodies, bent in half and piled like old railroad ties; a thick and endless darkness. None of it sounded particularly heartening.

We waited until morning, but it wasn’t any easier to see down there in the light. For a while, when the missing kids’ parents called, we pretended to be them, faking falsetto voices or serious colds. Eventually, we gave that up and just said they’d all gone to a concert in Arizona and please call back in a week, Mr. or Mrs. Whatever.

A week passed. No one called.

* * *

The thing was, even when there were only a few of us left, not a lot changed.

We bought a pool table on Craigslist and set it up in the backyard under the pretense that we could watch the hole better from there. Soon, the monsoons came and the felt curled in the hot rain, so we dragged the whole thing inside and cracked a window in case we heard cries for help.

Toward the end of the summer, we’d seen all the movies at the dollar theater, so Brian and Andy and Jessie all decided to go down together, just for the day. They didn’t come back, either, but it didn’t seem so bad anymore. Brian had given up on his law school app halfway through the first essay question; Jessie and Andy were about an inch from getting laid off at Whole Foods; and anyway, there isn’t really that much to do in New Mexico in July. We wrapped sandwiches in bandanas and threw them down, juice boxes too, everything insulated in four layers of paper towels and duct tape like the egg-drop contest in fourth grade science class. At first, it tripped us out when we realized that none of the stuff we dropped made any sound when it landed, but Hyun broke the silence—Nice catch—and we all started to laugh.

The pit began to seem kind of comforting. If you put your ear next to it, you could almost hear a sound like a waterfall in the distance. It smelled like wet earth and new grass and popsicles, sort of, if you used your imagination. Those of us left spent a lot of time there, actually, just talking shit and passing joints and dangling our feet over the edge.

Then one weekend in August when we were throwing a party, Henry decided to light a fire. Someone had left a human-sized nutcracker in the living room—a good story, but one for another time—and it weirded us all out, so we threw it on a pile next to the hole with some magazines and sparklers left over from the Fourth of July. We lit a match and giggled like assholes for a while, watching shards of smoke fade up the side of the nutcracker’s face, his hat melting into his scalp. But of course soon the flames were six feet high and nearly blue, sparks arcing towards the chamisa and the buckshot targets and the house. Maisy squealed, What if we start a goddamn wildfire? Then Henry prodded the whole mess into the pit with a broom handle, screamed something like, I am the master of the elements.

I guess by then we basically assumed it would disappear: a quick nova of light, then our eyes would adjust to the dark again.

But the flames stayed high, licking north toward a sky full of low-hung constellations. Then we all just sort of stopped and looked at each other—like, oh fuck—our hands hanging limp at our sides.

Val broke the silence with a sob that sounded like Minnie Mouse getting tasered. Then Lacy came out of the house screaming for someone to help her get the keg out of the ice bucket, just throw it over there, I don’t care if it’s only half cashed, you idiots are burning them alive.

Between the ice and a few stray jugs of cranberry juice, we put out the last of the embers in about twenty minutes. There wasn’t anything there anymore, of course—just wet ash and burnt wood, a shallow basin of dirt with no hole whatsoever underneath. We thought about digging one, but what would it do? The shovel was buried somewhere in the back of the garage and, inside, Stevie Wonder had just come on the radio and people were starting to dance. We beat the dirt out of our clothes and stomped the last embers of our cigarettes. We stood still for a long moment and listened to the crickets, the distant thunder of laughter, a bottle shattering somewhere far off in the bright distance. Then we walked back to the house.

The party had moved inside; our friends saw us through the windows, staggering like returning exiles, the air gray-black with morning behind our silhouettes. Somewhere, someone twisted the volume knob up on the subwoofer and the Christmas lights started to shake on the vigas. Everyone raised their Solo cups and their hands and crowded in toward the patio door, hair mussed, faces gleaming. They all screamed together: Get in here, you bastards, where have you been?

Kea Marie’s Comments

“The Pit” is a sort of scrambled memoir about the end of a summer I spent living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, amongst an enormous, unwieldy population of friends in a house at the corner of Rodeo Lane and Rodeo Road. As in the story, this population evaporated abruptly once school started or summer jobs ended or the money ran out, and abject literalist that I am, the most apt way I could find to enunciate my feelings over this sudden exodus was by condemning my housemates to a bottomless pit. From there, though, the personal experience dissolved (though I did leave in many of my friends’ names, haphazardly designating them to random characters with total arbitrary abandon—really, guys, I swear). I became more interested in more general questions about being young: about the cultures that we assemble around ourselves and then swiftly abandon, about the friendships we continually form and continually lose, about the disarming ease with which we survive this attrition (or don’t.)

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 34 | Fall 2011