Underland, p.1Chanda Hahn
Copyright © 2016 by Chanda Hahn
Cover design by Steve Hahn
Edited by Bethany Kaczmarek
Kindle Edition, License Notes
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form is forbidden without written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
About the Author
To Bethany Kaczmarek
My editor & friend
When I was about to give up, you helped me create an even better story and fall in love with this book all over again. Without you there wouldn’t be an Underland.
Rain drizzled softly on the cardboard box, lulling the sleeping girl inside with a momentary sense of security. A can rattled along the cement and crashed into a brick wall. Kira’s head snapped up, her startled heart pounding as she stared into the night, scanning for the source of the noise.
She wished for moonlight but saw only creeping steam rising from the sewer drains and crowding the alleyway. Shifting within the overturned appliance box, she pushed her sleeping bag off her shoulders to lean out of the box and gaze into the alley.
Madame Fortuna’s neon sign buzzed and flickered, casting an eerie green glow on the steam, obscuring her vision even more. Kira waited and watched silently. Probably just a four-legged dumpster visitor, scavenging for food.
The aroma of baking bread told her it was pre-dawn, the only time of the day a pleasant smell competed with the rotten vestige of overflowing garbage. Kira’s stomach grumbled in protest, but she was used the sound by now. And the numbness that followed.
When no other sign of movement came from the alley, she released the breath she’d been holding and inched backward into her box. She tugged her sleeping bag around her shoulders and listened to the sound of the light morning rain.
It was always drizzling in Portland. Most of the homeless learned to place their lean-tos, boxes, or shelters on top of a wooden pallet to separate themselves from the pooling water and to stretch a tarp over their shelter. Someone out there was benefitting from Kira’s tarp even now. They’d stolen it just before nightfall, and she had very little hope of staying dry much longer. She’d have to find another box or tarp.
A shadow moved in front of her box’s opening—bigger than any animal. Kira froze, her eyes narrowing as she reached into the small space behind her for the broken two-by-four she’d spiked with jagged nails. The shadow moved again, and a pair of big black boots stopped right in front of her box. Men’s. Her mouth curled in a feral grin, and she pulled back the club to stab the ankles if the owner of the boots moved toward her.
She wasn’t prepared for the assault to come through the top of the box. A second attacker’s hands burst through the wet cardboard and gripped her neck. Strong arms pulled her against a solid chest, and a big hand covered her mouth with something foul-smelling. She kicked, fought, and scratched at the vise-like arms. But nothing helped. The arms lifted her high into the air, leaving her bag, club, and few possessions abandoned in her destroyed box as her assailant dragged her across the alley.
He smelled worse than her lecherous stepfather. She’d have to escape again. Good thing she’d had so much practice.
Hands removed a heavy grate from the sewer drain, and Kira screamed into the rag at the darkness below. The purple curtain in Madame Fortuna’s storefront moved, and a pale, gaunt face appeared in the window, but the curtain quickly dropped back into place. Clearly, the old fortune teller wasn’t interested in what lay beyond her fake crystal ball, heated flat, and big screen TV.
Or perhaps she’d already seen Kira’s future. The woman had confronted her in the alley just the other day, her salt-and-pepper braid in much need of a thorough combing. Small gold rings made her plump fingers look like sausages as they’d poked seventeen-year-old Kira in the chest.
“Death!” Her voice rasped. “Death surrounds you.”
“Go away, you hag!” Kira pushed her sausage finger away.
“Kira Lier,” she chanted in a singsong voice. “Kira Lier brings death to us all.” The woman had wandered back to the side door of her shop and hadn’t come back out to bother Kira since. Now she wished she would.
She wished anyone would.
The sour gag in Kira’s mouth turned her stomach. All she could make out around her were rough hands and darkness. They pushed her along tar-black passageways, the thinnest light slanting through each time they’d pass under a sewer grate—barely enough to illuminate the faces of her kidnappers, and even that for mere seconds. Two men. One was tall with long brown hair pulled in a ponytail, the other short with dark skin and a bad buzz cut.
Both had an unbreakable grip on her forearms. She would sport bruises the next day, if she lived that long. But she wouldn’t panic and start crying like most girls. She would wait and plot. If she struggled, she could blow her one chance of escape.
She didn’t know where she was, other than underground. Her kidnappers obviously knew the sewers, knew where they were taking her. Right now, her best bet was to play the scared and compliant hostage. They might let their guard down.
“Dis one is quieter than the o’ers,” the short one commented. He sounded almost disappointed.
“Alpo, do you miss the screaming? Just be glad this one isn’t a biter. I hate when they bite.”
“Oi just miss the begging. Oi like it when they beg for their life.” As if trying to elicit a response from Kira, Alpo dug his nails into Kira’s arms, hard.
Kira let out a whimper through her gag for him. She wouldn’t fake tears, but it was time to pretend to be scared. Using her tongue, she pushed the gag out of her mouth and watched as it landed on her old worn army boot. She kept her head down to hide what she had done.
Alpo chuckled at Kira’s whimpers. “Ya see, Vic, oi can still make them whimper.”
Vic sighed, “Yes, and you’ll get to hear plenty of screaming and begging when this one is taken to the pens. Don’t worry none.”
There was less light as Alpo and Vic pulled Kira farther into the tunnels and away from the sewer grates. Rank smelling fluid leaked in through the soles of her boots, cold and wet. She ignored the odor and cold as she counted steps and turns, hoping to retrace her route out.
She didn’t doubt that she would escape.
They stopped at a dead end. Kira looked up, puzzled. Alpo let go of her arm and stood in front of a huge cement block covered with bad graffiti and the word Monsters, outlined in neon pink. She had to stop herself from snorting in amusement at the bad artw
Alpo walked over to the side of the brick wall and dug his fingers into the cracks and pulled.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but watching a five-foot-nine man move a two-foot thick brick wall with his bare hands was not on her list. It wasn’t humanly possible. Maybe it was a faux wall, a movie prop used to camouflage the entrance. Or maybe there was a lever and hidden lock used to swing the massive door. A dark passageway opened up behind the wall, and a stagnant smell blew from the darkness. The hair on Kira’s arms stood.
They hadn’t blindfolded her, so they clearly believed this was going to be a one-way trip. And if they dragged her in there and closed the wall she probably would be trapped. There was no chance she could move that wall on her own. And only one person held onto her arm for the moment.
Kira planted her feet and pulled as hard as she could away from Vic. When he gripped tighter and yanked her towards him, she used the momentum to throw a left-handed punch.
Vic yelled and dropped her arm to grab his bloodied nose. It was a shame Kira had to use her weak arm. She’d aimed to break his nose.
Kira sprinted in the direction they had come, praying she could remember the turns correctly. Adrenaline made her legs fly beneath her. It was harder to reverse the directions under pressure, but she refused to look back, to give in to the voice that was screaming in her ear, Turn around. Look.
Vic was screaming at Alpo behind her, and their longer legs were quickly catching up to her. She ran, turned left, turned right. Did I pass that lump of garbage already?
Fear flooded her.
Breathing hard, she spun to correct her mistake.
Too late. Arms like iron encased her. Alpo grunted into her ear and tried to squeeze the breath out of her.
Kira kicked. She bit. She squirmed, used every technique her Navy SEAL father had taught her. She wasn’t going down without a fight. She wouldn’t betray his memory that way.
She’d never quit trying like her mother had.
Vic came up behind Alpo, wiping the blood from his nose on his sleeve. “Well, you have definitely made this interesting.”
His viper-like grin ticked Kira off. She spit in his face.
Vic’s grin turned ugly. His eyes darkened, and his hands clenched her throat.
No air. Between Alpo compressing her chest and Vic strangling her, she was losing consciousness fast. Her father’s smiling face flashed in front of her.
I’m sorry, Dad.
Ears ringing and throat raw, Kira blinked and tried to make sense of what she saw and felt.
Getting past the rancid smell took a little effort, but she could piece some details together. A lantern hung from a pole in front of them and cast an eerie glow over the cavern. She wasn’t walking, and the men weren’t carrying her. Just a gentle bobbing motion. A bench seat pressed into her cheek, but there was no vehicle ceiling. Her hands were zip-tied behind her back, her feet bound with a worn black belt. The crick in her neck told her she had been lying in this awkward position for quite a while.
The bobbing was gentle, rhythmic.
They must be in a boat.
The skiff, or what she could see of it, was a combination of hodge-podge materials and shoddy work. Numerous coats of paint—some fresh, some older and half-chipped—covered the metal siding. A can filled with dead fish sat by the bow. The source of the stench. Blowflies fluttered around the disgusting fish in their different stages of decomposition.
Kira held her breath and only moved her eyes to see who was in the skiff. She counted six feet—two in green boots, probably Vic’s; two in sneakers, she bet they were Alpo’s; and the other pair of boots belonged to someone new.
She tilted her head a bit and saw what looked like green-hued water beneath them. Too much effort. Easing her head back into its awkward resting position, she waited for the ringing in her ears to stop.
Faint conversation drifted her direction.
“What do you plan to do with this one?” the newcomer asked.
“Sell it of course,” Alpo grunted. “Grater is still paying plenty of money for slaves.”
“I don’t think he would pay much for it. This one looks pretty weak. You know he likes fighters.”
“It mighta been a bit of a fighter if Vic ’adn’t choked the life near out of it.” Alpo snickered.
Kira desperately wished she could see the new guy’s face. His questions were finally giving her information she could use to her advantage.
“Well then, we sell it as feeder for a vamp or zeke,” Vic spat out. He kicked Kira, and she slumped sideways falling on her back.
Kira grunted. She finally had a view of the speaker, but a long weathered hood covered his face. She could only see his pale hands.
“It’s human! You brought a human down here. How dare you go against the ban from scavenging the surface world? The penalty is a month in lockup or worse—the games.”
“Eh, what Grater doesn’t know won’t hurt him or the price none, if you keep quiet.” Alpo stood up and the skiff rocked back and forth. “You don’t plan on making trouble do you?” He cracked his knuckles threateningly.
The hooded cloak swerved Kira’s way and then looked out over the river of sewage they were floating on. “No. I could get in trouble just by association. Risk your necks, not mine.”
They were quiet, and only the occasional sound of an oar correcting their course interrupted the silence. Lights flickered across the cavern ceiling as they picked up speed. The skiff skimmed the water smoothly until something large knocked against the bottom of the boat.
Vic, his face twisted in worry, reached for the bucket of dead fish. She heard the knocking again, and something bulky slammed into the boat. It swayed and tilted, letting sewage spill over the side into the bottom. Kira lifted her feet to avoid the reeking water that ran towards her body, but she couldn’t avoid it. Cold soaked into her clothes, and she gagged at the smell that now permeated her khaki pants and t-shirt.
“Dang it, Vic. Are you going to toss in the chum, or are you waiting for the thing to ask you on a date first?” The cloaked man snatched the pail and tossed the dead fish into the green depths.
The knocking stopped, followed by a splash and a deep bellow from beneath the water.
Alpo peered over the edge of the boat, searching the water for movement. “Is it gone?”
Vic, visibly shaken, wiped his sweaty brow with a rag. “I don’t think I will ever get used to the city’s new gatekeeper. I think I preferred Horace.”
“No, thank you. It is way easier to acquire dead fish than wrangling live cats for Horace.”
Alpo looked over the water and shrugged. “But why does she have to get so orn’ry?”
Vic stood straighter. “Yeah, Nessie’s been PMSing ever since somebody spotted her in Scotland and the gods demoted her. She’s the only one desperate enough to take the job,” he laughed cruelly.
The cloaked man leaned back and stared Alpo down. “She takes her job to protect the city seriously, unlike some. Don’t pay the toll, and you’ll learn what it’s like to be fish food.”
A humongous gray tail rose thirty feet out of the water and came crashing down next to the skiff, missing Vic by inches. The boat rose, almost capsized from the weight of the cresting swell. Sewage water soaked all four passengers. The sound of a groaning submarine under pressure rose from the depths—Nessie’s laughter.
The immense tail made Kira wonder about the sea monster’s actual proportions. Had she really heard them right? What in the world was the Loch Ness Monster doing living in the sewers of Portland?
Were they even in the metro area anymore? The cloaked man looked towards Kira, and she glared heat his way.
He was the first to drop eye contact. She smirked.
“Do you have a name?” He asked her.
She simply stared in return.
“Not a talkative one, are you?”
“It’s pretty isn’t it?” The man spoke. “There’s more diamonds in our walls than in all of Africa. It won’t do anyone any good though. It’s cursed—the price we pay for anonymity. If mortals make it past Nessie, they lose all thought of searching deeper when they see the jewels.” Kira believed him, because she found it almost painful to pull her gaze away from the diamonds.
She closed her eyes and looked away but found it hard to breathe; she gasped and felt herself begin to shake. It was as if she was addicted after only one glance and was suddenly in withdrawal, worse than any heroin or meth addict.
Alpo swore. “Forgot to cover its eyes. It ain’t gonna catch us a good price if we don’t do something quick.”
Kira’s body began convulsing, and her tongue felt twenty times larger than her mouth.
Vic searched his pockets but came up empty. “I don’t got any. I wasn’t expecting it to be awake already.”
Kira couldn’t believe it. She was going to die for looking at a stupid wall covered in diamonds. Just when she felt as if her heart was going to explode, something warm and soft touched her tongue. Chocolate. As soon as the sweet flavor reached her taste buds, her body relaxed.
“Chocolate is the only cure for madness,” the man said. As he held her in his arms and leaned over her body, she could see the bottom of his chin. Maybe it was because she was still drugged with greed, but Kira really liked that chin. There was something hard and soft about it at the same time—it even had a dimple in it. My cousin would call that a butt-chin. The thought made her chuckle.
Alarmed, the man dropped her, and her head hit the bench with a thud.
“Ow! That hurt!” Those were the first words Kira had spoken to her kidnappers—not her ideal choice for a starter conversation. She would have preferred a slew of words that would make her grandma cringe. But at this moment, Kira didn’t have full control of her faculties. The whole thing was pretty hilarious, really. She giggled harder and then laughed loudly.
Underland by Chanda Hahn / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes