The walls shuddered as a crash sounded through the open window. Addy started out of a particularly good dream in which she was riding a giant dragon. She groaned and rolled over, face to face with glowing eyes and a yawning mouth full of sharp teeth. Moonshine licked her lips and tucked her nose under her folded paws, only briefly disturbed by her owner’s neurotic behavior.
Another loud thud rattled the pictures on the wall. Addy rolled out of bed and parted the curtains, squinting at the light of morning. The school behind her house was half standing, the remainder a pile of rubble beneath the giant wheels of a tractor, or whatever they call those big machines that beep when they go backward and smash buildings with their giant scooped arm. She thought there ought to have been a notice posted to her door warning of the demolition or at least a public mention in the Mid Valley newsletter. Demolitions were awfully loud.
Addy stumbled into the kitchen to assemble her coffee, spilling grounds across the counter and sloshing water out of the pot and grumbling about how there should be public input on how early people are allowed to smash buildings. The smell of brewing coffee jogged her brain as she stared at a Garfield calendar on the wall. It was Monday, wasn’t it? It figures, she thought. She hated Mondays. She looked at the calendar’s drawing of Garfield dramatically throwing himself on the floor and chuckled to herself. Garfield hates Mondays, too.
Moonshine slinked into the kitchen and wound herself around Addy’s legs. Her black fur resembled a mink’s in the slivers of sunlight through the window blinds. She appeared as a small striped jungle cat. She jumped on the counter and stared at the demolition crew, her tail twitching as if observing prey. Addy sipped her coffee and stared as well, the pile of bricks and clouds of dust increasing with each crash. Something very strange about this, she thought, but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Moonshine snuck between the table plants to get a closer look.
An army of machinery surrounded the school, smashing bricks and digging into the debris with large shovels. With each smash of the wrecking ball, the walls shook and Addy’s core rumbled. Or maybe she was just hungry. She toasted some bread and buttered it. As she wandered aimlessly through the house, the satisfying crunch of the toast drowned out some of the racket from the demolition. She finished her coffee and went to shower.
Moonshine heard the spray of the water against the plastic curtain and flew away from the window and into the bathroom. She meowed inquisitively, making certain that Addy had not drowned or become gravely injured by the torrential downpour of water in the bath. A wet hand stuck itself out of the shower and patted her on the head, which sent her reeling out of the bathroom. She skid on the tile out of the room and back toward the window to dry herself in the sun.
As Addy dressed and gathered her things to head to work, she felt a nagging in the back of her mind as if she was missing something. She wandered from room to room, realized she was forgetting the stack of graded papers on the table, felt proud for remembering them, and stuffed them into her bag. She patted Moonshine on the head and opened the window just enough for her to get some fresh air, then walked out the door.
As her heels clicked out a rhythm on the sidewalk, Addy realized that she was definitely forgetting something important. She got to the end of her street and turned right, staring at the crumbling school before her. If the school was being demolished, where was she going to teach? Where were the children going to attend school? Why had she not known that her place of employment, right next to her home, was scheduled to be smashed into dust? She ran toward the workers and their enormous equipment, shouting, “Hey! Anyone! Who’s in charge here? What’s going on here?!” Nobody responded, everyone continuing to push levers around inside the cabs of their machinery. She waved her arms and jumped up and down, papers falling out of her bag and blowing away in a cloud of dust.
Finally, one of the men operating a wrecking ball noticed her and jumped out of his box. He scrambled over some rubble and started shouting over the noise. “What are you doing here, lady? This is a dangerous work zone!” –CRASH—“You can’t be here!” He grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the work zone and back to the sidewalk. “You could’ve gotten hurt, ma’am. Whaddya doing?”
Addy‘s eyes were wide with panic. “I-I work here… Why are you tearing it down? Who told you to do that? I never got a memo!” She glanced frantically back and forth at the destruction.
“Look, lady, I just go where they say and knock stuff down. Call the school district, maybe they know. But stay away from big machines that could smash you like an ant, OK?” He adjusted his safety goggles and lumbered back to his machine.
Addy walked, dazed, back home. The sidewalk shuddered as the school where she’d taught for the past ten years was dissolved into a pile of bricks. She flipped open the mailbox, which she just realized she had forgotten to check for however many days, she couldn’t remember, and pulled out a letter with the school’s return address. So she did just miss the memo, she thought to herself. She sat down on her porch step and read the letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
We have recently become aware of a dire structural fault in our school building. There is a large sinkhole beneath the school that caved in the gym. There are potentially other foundational issues as well, so we have made the decision to demolish the building. All classes will be moved the Mid Valley Recreation Center until alternate accommodations can be provided. Please do not be alarmed as this does not affect the safety of the community or schoolchildren.
Thank you for your understanding,
Mid Valley Middle School
Days before, she recalled, a group of children had huddled together in the back of the lunch room. Bradley, a snotty boy from Miss Deveraux’s class, was telling them, “Did you know that there’s a big hole under the gym that leads straight to China?” Some children giggled, others spoke out in disbelief. Addy had completely forgotten about the conversation until just then. She chuckled to herself about the tall tales children are always inventing, then folded her letter and started in the opposite direction toward the rec center.
That evening, when she returned from school, Addy bumbled around the kitchen making herself dinner. The beeping of the machinery alternated with the microwave’s announcement that her pot pie was done. It certainly takes a long time just to knock something down, she thought. All those months spent building it just for it to sink into the ground. She poured herself a glass of wine and picked little pieces of chicken out of her dinner for Moonshine.
he thuds and crashes of the demolition subsided as night fell. Workers packed up their things and locked up their machinery, leaving mounds of different materials to dispose of later. Addy and Moonshine looked out the window as they disappeared into the night. She turned back from the kitchen and uncorked the wine bottle, a little hollow pop resounding, and poured herself another glass. She turned back to Moonshine just in time to see her tail slipping out the window she had left cracked earlier in the morning. Lazy with drink, she slipped on her shoes and grabbed a flashlight to head outside and find her. Moonshine snuck around the side of the house just as the door shut.
Walking out onto the driveway, Moonshine turned back and waited for Addy. Her eyes gleamed like mirrors as the flashlight beam hit them and she let out a tiny meow, as if taunting her owner. Addy whispered, “Moonshine! Come here baby, let’s go back inside,” then wondered why she was whispering at all. As she stepped closer, Moonshine galloped further down the drive and stopped, waiting. Addy followed and the cat jaunted away, until she looked up and saw the dark shadow of the school. “Where are we going, baby?” Addy hissed. “Well, I guess we could just take a peek at that sinkhole.”
Addy made her way through the rubble and past the machinery to where the gym had stood the day before. Moonshine, pleased with her owner’s conceding, walked expertly behind her, navigating the rocks and sniffing for bugs. Despite the light of the moon, the sinkhole remained a large black void in the ground. Moonshine chattered and bounded down into the darkness. “No! Get back here! Bad kitty!” Addy yelled, and her voice echoed into the blackness. She shone her light into the hole, and made her way down into the depths.
From inside the hole she realized how massive it actually was. Even the smallest crumbling of debris echoed inside the crater. She called, “Here, kitty kitty,” and her voice resounded back a dozen kitties. She heard Moonshine coo in the distant dark and followed. Her flashlight followed along the edge of the wall and then disappeared down what appeared to be a tunnel. Her mind began to present possibilities: large creatures, a secret passageway, aliens, or maybe it was just a sewer line or another sinkhole that had yet to collapse. She ducked down and followed the echoing meows of the cat.
She could smell the iron and must in the dirt, the wet air of clay and mud. Her shoes made soft squishing noises in the spongy ground. Every so often, the glimmer of Moonshine’s eyes would flicker in front of the flashlight. She felt as if she’d been walking for hours, though everything looked the same. The silence surrounded her, made her claustrophobic, and she begged Moonshine, “Please baby, come back, let’s go home, come on, good kitty…” Moonshine responded with a purring meow and galloped down the passageway.
The beam of the flashlight began to flicker. Addy hit it with her palm, jarring the light back on for a moment, but then it gave way completely, enveloping her in darkness. She was never very good at tight spaces or dark spaces or any spaces she couldn’t figure out how to escape, and this was definitely one of them. She wandered, feeling the walls and trying to remember which direction she was facing when the light went out. She heard Moonshine mew in the distance, and felt her way along the corridor. Time ceased to exist. How long had she been wandering down this tunnel, anyway? She was getting hungry again. She was certain she had put new batteries in the flashlight not too long ago, and she never used it except to take the trash out after dark. She started breathing heavily. How much is there in an underground tunnel, she wondered. I must just keep feeling along, she thought, and it has to come out somewhere. Still, tears formed in her eyes and she shook slightly.
When she tired herself of weeping, she slid down to the floor in exhaustion. Moonshine, her black fur perfectly married to the darkness, wandered back and wound herself between Addy’s legs, purring. “Stupid cat, you are,” she scolded, “Getting us lost in this God-forsaken hole we’re going to die in.” Regardless, she picked up the kitten and held it tightly.
At that moment, she felt a cold sting on her face of a breeze drying her wet tears. Moonshine mewed and jumped down, bounding in the direction of the draft. It smelled of mint and ginger and exotic spices. She followed the breeze, and soon her footsteps sounded on concrete. The walls were hard and cold to the touch, and a faint light shone several feet away. Moonshine sat, looking up into the light, and looked back at Addy expectantly. As she neared, she saw a grate and a ladder leading up to it. She grabbed Moonshine, kissed her and sat the cat upon her shoulder, and climbed up the ladder, pushing the grate out of the way.
A sliver of moonlight shone through a basement window, in what appeared to be a cellar or store room of sorts. She stood tiptoed and looked through the tiny window and onto what appeared to be an exotic garden. She squinted her eyes to decipher the writing on the boxes lining the walls. Everything smelled delicious, and she realized she was starving. She realized suddenly that everything was written in Chinese. Her mind began to reel. It can’t be possible, she thought. That’s just a story that children tell each other. You can’t actually dig a hole to China. She looked frantically around the room, seeing no door in the darkness. Moonshine was curled up asleep on a pallet of bags of rice. She threw herself down beside Moonshine and whispered to her, “This is all a dream. We’re not in China. We can’t be,” but in her mind she was not certain. “I’ll just rest with you for a moment, bad kitty, then we’ll figure out how to get home.” Once again she was enveloped in blackness.
Addy was jolted awake by a piercing scream. As her eyes adjusted, she saw an old woman yelling in another language and flailing her arms. A group of Chinese men flooded through the doorway and the oldest tried to calm the woman, who was pointing at the pallet of rice and the filthy, muddy woman and cat perched upon them. One of the men rushed over and shook Addy, yelling most likely about what a strange woman was doing in his shop. Moonshine stood and stretched, taking in the scene calmly.
While she was being reprimanded and held by the arms, she recalled the events of the night before. She thought for a moment it had all been a dream, but this was definitely not her bed. My god, she realized, the children were right. The man kept babbling as he led a shocked Addy up the stairs, Moonshine following behind unnoticed. The staircase opened to a small, dimly lit seating area draped in ornate tapestries and paper lanterns. A Chinese couple looked up from their lunch in confusion and worry as Addy was pushed out the front door and onto the street. Moonshine slid past their feet and squinted in the sunlight.
As her eyes adjusted, she looked down at her filthy clothes and shoes, picked up Moonshine, and started down the drive past ornate shrubs and carved stone lions. “What an adventure this is, bad kitty,” she said as she stroked the dirt out of the cat’s fur. She wondered how she would get back to Mid Valley without a passport or her credit card. As she approached the end of the drive, a sign pointing back toward the house said, “PANDA HOUSE CHINESE RESTAURANT.”