Bocca della Verita

"No, you go first," Lola said. She pushed Miranda towards the stone wall with the face carved into it. Bocca della Verita, the mouth of truth. In her lecture, their teacher had claimed that if you put your hand in its mouth and told a lie, your hand would get bitten off. Lola didn't believe anything like that would happen, but she didn't like the look of that mouth-a wide rectangular slit too deep for light to penetrate. It was pure common sense not to stick your hand into something you couldn't see into, even if all the kids were lining up to do it. Look what had happened to Jaden.

"I'll go first," Damon said. "I'm not afraid of it, and anyway, I'm not going to lie. Watch." He stuck his hand in the stone hole. "I'm in Rome." He pulled his hand out and waved it at them. "See, nothing to it."

"Yeah, brave guy. 'I'm in Rome.' We're all in fucking Rome. Watch a real playa do it." Chaz pushed Damon out of the way and put his own hand into the hole. "I'm the greatest in the whole world." He howled, writhing as though in agony, mugging for the crowd, then laughed and pulled out his hand.

"Now we know it doesn't work for shit," Miranda said.

"Nah, the problem is Chaz really does think he's the greatest in the whole world, so that wasn't no lie."

"We should make it count," Miranda said. "Truth or dare, only the dare is tell the truth with your hand in the mouth."

"Deal," Damon said. "You're first."

"Why me?"

"He who smelt it, dealt it."

"That doesn't even make any sense," Lola said.

"You want to go first?"

Lola shook her head. She didn't want to go at all. It was a stupid game, truth or dare. She knew what they'd ask each other-what they always asked each other: who had a crush on who or who had done what with who. She didn't have any secret to protect-not about her love life. She just didn't want to put her hand in that hole. You couldn't know where a hole led or what it would lead to. Her little brother Jaden had put his hand in a hole once and now he was dead.

"I'll do it," Miranda said, flipping her hair over her shoulder and flouncing up to the medallion mounted against the plaster wall. "Go ahead-truth."

"Admit you've got it bad hot for Damon," Chaz said.

"Yeah, so what? I've got no problem with admitting it." She puckered her lips at Damon and thrust out her hip. Damon came up to her and pulled her hand from the mouth.

"This girl speaks the truth," he said, holding her arm up over her head. He hooked an arm around her shoulders and led her away from the wall. "You're up, dawg," he told Chaz as they passed him.

"I already did it, but whatever." Chaz stuck his hand back into the rectangular slot. "Hit me."

"You ask him one, Lola," Miranda said.

"No, that's OK. I don't want to play."

"You have to play. We're all playing."

"I'll answer a question," Lola said, "but I'm not going to put my hand in there, OK? I'm not afraid it's going to get bitten off or anything stupid like that. It reminds me of . . . you know." She cut her eyes over to Miranda who'd been one of the first kids on the scene when Lola had started screaming.

"Maybe she knows," Chaz said, "but I don't know. Reminds you of what?"

"Her little brother." Miranda lowered her voice respectfully. "He put his hand in that pipe at the bottom of Ottertail Pond and it got it stuck and he drowned."

"That kid was your brother? I heard of him. When I moved there everyone always said don't go sticking your hand in that pipe 'cause some kid died, but I thought that shit was made up-like to scare you. I wasn't going to stick my hand in no pipe at the bottom of a pond anyway. Shit's dirty."

"Then why stick your hand in that?" Lola asked, waving at the stone face Chaz stood in front of, his hand wrist-deep in its gaping maw.

"This only a few inches deep, girl. There's a wall right back here, you see it? Hole doesn't go past that. Come here." Chaz leapt for Lola. He grabbed her wrist. "Come check it out."

"Don't. Don't, please. I don't want to." Lola pulled against Chaz, looking over her shoulder at Miranda for help.

"Chaz, you can't drag people around. Let her go if she doesn't want to do it."

"I don't want to do it."

"I'm only saying look at it. Look." He pushed her wrist towards the wall, propelling her the few remaining inches forward. "You can see the whole thing, right?"

From directly in front of the face, Lola could indeed see the back of the mouth-could see the whole opening, side to side and front to back. She put her fingers on the lip, then slid them deeper into the slit inch by inch. The stone was cold and hard and smooth under her fingers.

"Nothing scary, right?"

She shook her head. She slid the rest of her hand into the dank cavity; her fingertips brushed reassuringly against the smooth wall behind it. She turned to Miranda, ready for her question. Sooner answered, sooner done.

"So why'd your brother put his hand in that pipe anyway?" Chaz asked.

I dare you.

Lola's seeking fingers could no longer find the back wall. A draft rose up from the bottomless crevice that had opened beyond them.

"I mean, why would he even think of it?"

Double dare you.

The damp breeze swirled into a whirling suction. She tried to snatch her hand free, but it wouldn't come. The harder she pulled, the deeper into the crack it disappeared. It was gone past the wrist now.

"Who'd want to put their arm in a dirty old drain pipe anyway?"

Don't be such a baby. When I was six, I could do it.

From inside the dark depths, a hand grabbed hers.

"Jaden?" She closed her eyes tight, willing herself awake. Jaden only came in her dreams.

"Tell the truth," she heard a high-pitched voice demand. Was that Miranda? The voice came from somewhere behind her-somewhere lower, somewhere wetter.

Scared of an old pipe! How's a hole going to hurt you?

"Jaden, don't," she whimpered. "Don't hurt me."

The hand from the pit tightened on hers, squeezing harder, dragging her deeper. Up to the elbow now-like Jaden was when they cut him loose.

I do it all the time-stick my whole arm in.

"Tell the truth, Lola. Tell the mouth the truth," the child-like voice insisted.

"I didn't mean for him to die. I didn't know he'd die."

I'll watch you, baby. What's going to happen to you when I'm right here? God, what a baby.

"I couldn't have known. How could I have known? I wanted, maybe, but I never thought, not for real."

His panicked face distorted by the water, hazy through the scum, looking up at her, one arm in the pipe, the other hand waving frantically. Come up then, baby. Why don't you come up?

"I tried to save him."

Teeth closed around her fingers, began chewing their way higher.

"I did. I tried. I swear to God, I tried."

Diving down, pulling on his arm, afraid to put her own arm in there to free his, afraid to drown like he was drowning.

"Jaden, please."

The teeth scraped their way across her palm, consuming her flesh in crunching gulps. The roar of the vacuum that sucked her relentlessly into the abyss filled her ears, drowning out the noise of the milling tourists. Her body slammed into the wall as Jaden drew her forcefully, constantly downward.

"I'll tell the truth. I will. I'll say it. Will you stop if I say it?"

The gnawing pain eased. Teeth nibbled threateningly at her wrist.

"I told him to stick his arm in the pipe. I told him I'd done it before." Her words rushed breathlessly from her heaving lungs. "I wanted to be with the big kids-with you, Miranda. I wanted to play on the rope swing. I didn't want to watch the baby. I knew he was drowning and I didn't save him and I wasn't even sorry. I hated him!"

She sucked in a lungful of air, inhaling the fetid stench that wafted up from the fathomless pit. "Let go of me, Jaden. I told the truth, so now you have to let go of me."

Along her forearm something flickered-slimy, sharp, hot. She screamed.

She pulled against the suction, against the thing-her brother-that pulled back harder. Crying, yanking, tugging, wrenching, with eyes squeezed tightly shut against the specter of Jaden rising up from the depths to drag her down to him, she pleaded: "I told the truth. I told the truth. I told the truth."

She staggered backwards as her arm popped free. She opened her eyes. Five fingers waved when she wiggled them. There was no blood, no missing pieces.

"Lola?" Miranda touched her shoulder. "Everyone's looking at us."

Lola turned her arm over, inspecting the other side. Not a tooth mark.

"She's a way better actor than you, Chaz," Damon said.

"I don't think she was acting," Miranda said. "I think she was really scared."

"Of a piece of rock," Chaz said. "All you had to do was tell the truth."

"Did I?" Lola asked Miranda. "Did I tell the truth? Did I say it?"

"That's all you did say: 'I told the truth, I told the truth,' over and over, shrieking like a fire alarm. It was fucking freak-ass."

"I told the truth," Lola repeated. But she hadn't. Jaden would be angry. Jaden would be waiting. Jaden would be back.

© Dawn Alguard, 2015