The Rear End

THE REAR END: The Hatch Out in the Field

living on the edge of adventure

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

One day, we found a hatch in the middle of the field, just out there in the long grass. There were a few fields like this on our street, undeveloped patches of land waiting for bulldozers to show up and dig basements for new ranch-style homes. Big old trees here and there. Big shady bushes to hide under. 


OK, “hatch” is kind of generous. It was a manhole cover. But it was just out there by itself, silently waiting for us to trip over its hard metal edges as we zipped through the tall, yellow grass after school. I was out in the field with my best friend and his two younger brothers. Mystified.

We wanted to open it. Of course we did. Manholes in the middle of the street made sense. This was different. How long had it been there? How many years had we missed it? 

The lid was way too heavy for our little grade school arms. We stuck our fingers into the small hole at the edge, but we couldn’t get a grip. We jammed countless sticks in there and tried to pry, but it never budged.

So we just sat around imagining what was down there. Probably a secret lair or an underground house. Maybe it was empty and we could use it like a clubhouse. First we’d need a cool name for our club, but once we figured that out, we’d be set for life. 

Maybe it was an old bomb shelter or a tunnel to a different part of the city. Maybe it twisted and turned for miles until it opened up into a giant underground military base where they studied captured alien aircraft. 

The lid was way too heavy for our little grade school arms. We stuck our fingers into the small hole at the edge, but we couldn’t get a grip. We jammed countless sticks in there and tried to pry, but it never budged.


Maybe it was haunted. It hadn’t been published yet, but we didn’t have any trouble conjuring up sewer-dwelling beasts and ancient demons. I mean, come on, there had to be a reason the hatch was so hard to open. And it was monsters.

At one point, my buddy’s younger brother – the scrappy one – found a metal pole and went out by himself to do the job. He came home with a bent pole and a hundred ideas about how to do it better.

Then we kind of forgot about the hatch. We had bikes to ride and cartoons to watch. We had homework and skateboards. He-Man and Skeletor weren’t going to play with themselves. 

We could absolutely obsess over anything and then absolutely move on within five minutes. It was probably what we were best at. The older kids on the block were different.

On a cool Saturday morning, my best friend and his brothers were out front, knocking on my door. He said his cousins from down the street – the high schoolers – had opened the hatch. Let’s go.

We ran across the street and through the field. The older boys were long gone. I’m not even sure when they’d done it. But there it was. A dark circle in the ground with a manhole cover laying off to the side. They’d left a heavy metal rod next to the hole, covered in rust. 

We peeked over the edge. And in my memories, I see a metal tube extending down into darkness, ladder rungs welded along one side. At this point, I can’t honestly say if that’s really what I saw. But it’s close enough.

I didn’t want to go down there. It was dark and weird, and what about the monsters? 

My friend’s scrappy little brother, on the other hand, was totally up for it. He sat on the ground and swung his legs into the hole. He started down the ladder rungs, but he stopped when he was waist deep. And then he climbed back out. 

We spent the next 20 minutes or so finding stuff to throw into the hole, because what else could we do? Then we went home. 

Later on, we heard that one of the older kids had gone down into the hole and stood at the bottom. 

“It’s just a sewer,” he’d said.

He also said a city worker had told him to stay out of there, but when he’d had that conversation, I have no idea. Within a few days, the manhole cover was back in place, and the metal rod was gone. 

And that’s kind of how our whole childhood went on that street, out in those fields. Wild imaginations on the edge of an adventure that kind of just never came. Not like it does in the movies, anyhow. We’d either chicken out or our odysseys would just lead … nowhere. 

But that’s OK. We felt adventurous. And that was all we needed.