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Rat Hole

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Rat Hole: A Love Story | We used to believe that nothing ever happened in this town. Every winter, when snow caked the buildings and the streets turned to ice, it seemed that time itself had frozen solid, too.

From a safe vantage point on the outskirts, say the top of some hill with a radio tower on it, you could watch cars and trucks drive into our city and to your eyes they would appear

to have utterly

stopped

moving.

We all secretly knew why things were like this. At the heart of our town lurked a singularity. With our usual self-mockery that was also a kind of boasting, we called it the rat hole.

In outward appearance it was a traffic tunnel that ran under a railroad crossing at the edge of the downtown core. It was only an intersection long. But the rat hole was more, or perhaps less, than a traffic tunnel, and we all knew it. Eventually, no matter where your business took you, you’d find yourself going that way to get from one side of the city to the other. And even if you had no reason to take that particular route, sometimes you did anyway, as if the hole’s gravity or some other mysterious force had compelled you, like a coin circling a drain, down into its grimy, graffiti-adorned, ill-lit cloaca. There was a pedestrian walkway through it too, but few dared take it and risk being gassed with exhaust or accosted by one of the crazies who haunted the city’s grimmest corners.

This is what we knew: cars entered the hole from either end, switching on their headlights and narrowly missing each other as they exchanged photons in the artificial night, then they emerged on the other side. It took what … maybe ten seconds to traverse? No big deal, right. And yet every time we passed through it we knew something had changed. 

Returning into daylight, crossing the event horizon back into normal spacetime, your heart would be thumping just a little faster. You always felt a moment of doubt about where you were, or where you’d come to. As if maybe you’d been shunted into a slightly alternate reality. For a moment this grey utilitarian city seemed exotic. Alien. Even interesting.

When had the rat hole been built? The planners at city hall could tell you, but surely it was some ancient holdover from deep time, an artifact from the early formation of the planet. We loved it and we hated it. It made us feel how far-flung we were, like a colony on an asteroid at the edge of the solar system. Sure, that meant we were tough. We were a breed apart. But it also reminded us how inferior this place was to bigger, grander, more advanced cities, with soaring overpasses, freeways with multiple lanes, boulevards of dazzling neon signage. Cities with improved, scientifically-planned traffic flow.

The hole had to go. We admitted that. We even looked forward to it. The thing was a hazard, an eyesore, an embarrassment. So we got rid of it. A couple of months, or perhaps years of construction, and then one day the hole was gone. We didn’t miss it. At first. We liked being able to zip across the newly gentrified surface of downtown without that nerve-jarring plunge into concrete glare and gloom.

A lot happens in this town these days. Just like you we’re busy busy busy. We’ve got our overpasses and freeways, our neon dazzle, our improved scientifically-planned traffic flow (well, okay, that one never really worked out, but apparently it doesn’t anywhere else, either). Anyhow, we’re a lot like every other city. Our remote patch of the universe emits the same uniform background hum of unbridled commerce as everyplace else. We don’t stand out as odd or different anymore and we pride ourselves on that accomplishment.

A few of us miss the hole, though. We dream of it some nights. We dream it goes on and on and we never get to the other side. We dream the real city is still down there, the city we left behind. But who knows what might happen in our future. It may well be that as this shiny new metropolis grows too large for itself, its monied core will one day collapse under its own self-important density. One day we’ll be driving blithely along and we’ll feel a tug, a field of force that grows stronger and more irresistible the more we surrender to it, and we’ll discover there’s a brand new gravity well in our midst that we’re all falling into and that we will never escape, or we will choose not to. A new rat hole that will fling us through the dark to the far side of ourselves.

Contributor: Thomas Wharton
Twitter: @TWhartonWrites
Website: thomaswharton.ca

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