We remodeled our basement into an art studio a few years back, digging down under our 1922 townhouse to get a higher ceiling. We were shocked to find huge, twisting, tunnel-like holes in the dirt once we cracked the thin concrete floor. They looked like a human sized mole had been making its home there. My first thought was, “The sandworms from Dune!”
In fact, the holes were voids left from trees that had been used to help level the building site. Over time, the trees rotted away, leaving spaces that conveniently filled with water during the winter. One of the holes sat under our chimney, only the edges of the brick were on solid ground. If we hadn’t dug down, we might have lost the chimney in a small earthquake.
The contractor poured dirt into the holes and we put down a huge slab of concrete. We thought the matter was settled, crisis averted. But seven years later, we can see small depressions around the basement floor where it appears the fill job is failing. If we rap on the concrete floor we can hear the echo of the empty void underneath. Those spaces want to stay open. Initially we had been relieved there were no bodies, but now we suspect we have a nasty infestation of hell mouths.
When I found this 1899 story from the godmother of fantasy, Edith Nesbit, I took comfort. In “The Dragon Tamers”, a young family, hard on their luck, discovers a fearsome beast in the dungeon of the castle ruins where they make a home. What begins as a threat to their lives becomes the secret to their happiness and prosperity.
I hold out a little hope that we may be so fortunate with the sink holes in our life.