One block away from where I live is a manhole cover that’s been paved over with asphalt. For the past couple of weeks, I became aware of a strange, noxious, metallic odor accosting my nostrils and emanating from a twelve-inch hole immediately adjacent to the manhole tube. A couple of days ago, as I passed the hole on my way home from work, I stopped to inspect it and realized that it was much deeper than I had originally thought. It was, in fact, so deep that I could see nothing but blackness.
I went back to my apartment, grabbed a flashlight and returned to the hole to take another look. It followed the side of the cylindrical manhole down to at least five feet where it disappeared at approximately a 120-degree angle. The dirt leading down to the bottom showed clear signs of water erosion, and broken tree roots were jutting out in all directions. The hole was located right where the asphalt met the grass. If anyone were walking or jogging by and didn’t see it, they could fall right through and sustain some serious injuries.
I was intrigued. At first, I thought this might be the work of a mole or some other digging critter. Perhaps. Perhaps not. And then I wondered why on Earth the adjacent manhole would be completely paved over. That didn’t make sense. Could it have something to do with the noxious fumes emanating from the hole adjacent to it? Perhaps the odor had a more sinister origin.
While it is true that I have experienced the putrid aroma of decaying roadkill, I have never – to my knowledge, at least – experienced the scent of a decaying human corpse. I assume the two would not smell that differently. The fumes emanating from the hole didn’t necessarily have that sickly-sweet putrid quality one encounters as a byproduct of the breakdown of organic matter such as animal – or human – flesh.
Still, it smelled pretty nasty.
I made a report to the City of Houston online. Within two days, a large, white, a-frame road hazard sign with diagonal orange and white stripes and “COH” (City of Houston) in black paint had been placed over the hole, and green paint had been sprayed around the area to mark whatever type of work was to be done to repair the damage.
Noxious-smelling steam continued to billow out of the hole.
Soon, Hole, I thought. Soon.