The man in Florida was swallowed while he was still alive. He was cooking eggs because he didn’t have enough money to go to the store. Eggs for dinner. It didn’t bother him that he had eaten scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast, and a boiled egg sandwich for lunch. This thought conveniently emigrated from his left ear just before the floor collapsed and the earth took him.
He fell three hundred twenty-three feet and eight inches, his eyelids flapping with each foot. No sound the whole way. He would miss his kids as much as he already missed them. This thought was in a teardrop that fled from his right eye just before he hit the bottom of the sinkhole.
But it wasn’t the bottom. It was only the face of the pit, filled with water dark as the night his wife left him, taking his two children into the Florida heat across the driveway toward the thrumming car that looked to him like an insect flying safely away from the ground and its static drum skin. The skin here was made of cold cave water, through which he smacked like a salesman diving for apples. He went blind with the rushes of bubbles and albino crustaceans seizing his face and his eyeballs and all of his nerve endings in a scintillating second-long ecstasy.
The man died at the end of that second, but not before remembering that sticky night and the drama of the act, the play with its single actress carrying away those muted prop children and staring at the one-man audience in the doorway, also mute with the unspoken covenant binding the stage with the seat. And he remembered his disbelief suspended from the marionette crosses above the legs and arms and lips and eyeballs of the children ushered away into the insect far away. He saw himself too, in that last wonderful second, as a child eating a granny smith in his grandmother’s backyard, watching ants devour the corpse of a robin and seeing blood for the first time.
When professors Stein and Puck returned, they triumphantly reported that the two sinkholes were connected. Twenty-five hours diving within the earth, flashing their gorgeous LED headlights at the blackness of terra incognita and the whiteness of crawfish and shrimp and snakes that did not know them. A day and an hour of breathing through respirators, slowly circulating the oxygen and navigating through water and weighted memories.
Stein saw a black box. He knew it contained the eyes he had stolen over the years from the lab across the hall in New York. He left it where it lay lest Puck should see it too, and know, and see all the things Stein had seen with those eyes—the young women bathing, the bank account numbers of his coworkers, the hands of the wind touching graves under graves of his fathers.
Puck saw a green apple. When he touched it, the fruit turned in the water, and out of a small hole came hundreds of ants coursing upward in an arc. They squirmed as they moved, dying slowly in the light and the water in the light, and he followed them upward through a crevice in the earth. Inside he saw a man long dead. His white skin clung to bones that perforated bloodless muscle and sinew and flesh. The ants attached themselves to the body and sang swan song arias into the dead man’s ears.
Stein and Puck wrote a paper detailing their findings. In it was no mention of a black box of eyes or a corpse mourned by ants from an apple. Stein returned to his lab in New York and continued stealing the eyes one at a time from the lab across the hallway. Eyes of robins, eyes of horses, eyes of cottonmouth snakes, eyes of little boys from backyards. A year later he visited Puck’s house in North Carolina and, being tempted, stole the eyes of a man long dead from underneath Puck’s bed pillow. Through them he saw eggs frying in a skillet, staring back at him like the albino crustaceans in the sinkhole last year. This thought evaporated in a flash of light just before the earth swallowed the bedroom floor, taking Stein and his eyes down into its confidence.