Authors: Kris Moger
Tags: #Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Series, #Young Adult Dystopian Adventure, #speculative fiction Young Adult, #Teen Dystopian Series, #Young Adult Dystopian novel, #free ebooks, #Young Adult Dystopian Series, #dystopian family series
Down and Out
The Undercity Series
by Kris Moger
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
PO Box 21140 Orchard Park, Kelowna, BC
Copyright 2014 by Kris Moger
Artwork copyright 2014
by Aline Juliette Moger
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This book is dedicated to my partner in art, Aline; my partner in life, Loni; and my partner in mischief, J.J.
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and continue the journey through Undercity.
In the mist, reality is subjective.
In the mist, there is power.
he page stared at Teddy, and he glared back as the thoughts in his head abandoned him for a more creative brain. He groaned and rubbed the sore muscles in his neck. After a day of digging, writing was supposed to be fun and relaxing.
Yeah, right. The blank sheet mocked him. Well, sort of blank aside from a row of faded images, the lingering little hints of a past well gone. He drew his tin lamp closer though the stench of the rancid oil wasn’t pleasant. Tipping his page toward the flame, he studied the words to decipher what they might mean.
‘No, 051-red and b ue – 200 pie es’
Disappointed, he frowned—some inventory list, not interesting. Still, paper was hard enough to come by so he didn’t complain. Luck helped him find the box filled to overflowing with lots of usable sheets on their last hunt earlier in the day. His father said anything marked recyclables had no value, so he collected enough to share with his sister and keep him writing for a while. One of the best parts of his job as a junk hunter was keeping what his father did not think would sell.
He scribbled, ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ and paused, making a face. What did he know about stormy nights? Dark he got; it haunted every corner of his existence and lurked down every hall and tunnel—a monstrous snake ready to devour him if he lost his little flickering light.
Storms were something else. He heard of them while listening in on conversations when Upperlords visited the warehouse and read about them in pieces of books he and his siblings found on scrounging rounds. They were meaningless words like menacing slate clouds and flashes of lightning, which stimulated his curiosity and made him wonder.
Did a person write journals about their lives or what they wanted? His days were an endless journey searching through rubble for sellable items. Dull stuff. Storms and adventures—things he ached to experience.
A year ago the school area collapsed, killing several people, including his teacher, and ending the education of Underlings. He remembered his teacher as relatively kind, but impatient, dedicated to the idea that learning to read would save their society. Though his passion was commendable, his nervous drive was unsettling. Many evenings Teddy would find him curled up in a corner with the remains of some book, tears streaming down his face. Why? Teddy never asked.
His mother insisted those kinds of personal questions were rude, and cultured people did not ask them. How they were cultured people existing in their dugout hovel behind the warehouse in the vast maze of Undercity, he could not guess, but his parents both dreamt of finding one special treasure, which would move them up in the world to the city of the Upperlords.
“A dark and st... st... stormy night?” said Jolon as Teddy realized his brother stood behind him peering over his shoulder. “What kind of way is that to start a story?”
Plopping down on a semi-useable armchair by the makeshift desk, he played with a little box in his hand. He loved to collect all kinds of insects and carried about tiny plastic containers to keep them in. Ma came up with a way for him to display them with pins on a board in his room instead of piled all over.
“Kind of dull... not up to your usual goods.”
“This is a journal, Jolon, not a story, and not meant for anyone else to read except me.”
“Selfish.” His ink black hair kept falling over his mud brown eyes; he wrapped a curl around his pudgy forefinger and tugged. “Deb and Caden ain’t gonna be happy either. You know they live for your stories.”
Chewing on his lower lip, Teddy massaged his temples and tried to stay calm. After a tedious day of searching through ruins with his siblings yapping in his ear every moment, he yearned for peace and to lose himself in his own world. Though, as Caden came into the room and sprawled her long frame across his bed, he decided there was little chance of that happening. He took a deep breath and reminded himself of how life was before the Petersons adopted him—the solitary nights scrounging for food, the ache for company. The emptiness still lingered even after many years.
He remembered his own parents. At least, he remembered flashes of them—his mom, tawny with a limp and a generous, weary smile, his dad, short and bony with a pug nose and shabby plastic-black hair, which went with a ready laugh and soft-lidded brown eyes. Teddy was a combination of them and often peered in any reflective surface to visualize their faces. His complexion had more of a khaki tone like his father, but he liked the fact that his grin resembled his mother’s. He didn’t remember how old he was when they went out to scrounge, as most Underlings do, and didn’t come back. Nor did he have any idea how many days he lived on his own. Life was a blur of survival and confusion until he lost track of everything nearing normal. Reading was his only escape, his lasting gift from his parents.
When the Petersons found him reading scraps of a book in a corner, Mr. Peterson, or Pa as he called him now, greeted him with a grin distorted by a jagged scar down the side of his face and across his upper lip. At first, Teddy wanted to scurry away and hide as he did whenever someone new came close. But, his soon to be Mother wrinkled her nose and offered a cookie, making such a funny face under her pile of frizzy pale hair he smiled and let them approach, hunger weakening his survival instincts. Both were as pasty in complexion as the gypsum boards, which made up most of the broken walls in Undercity. As he munched their offering, Pa talked to him about books and such until Teddy’s fears eased and the Petersons became the first people he trusted since his parents disappeared.
They were kind people. Not too many Underlings assist the various orphans hiding in the passages and tunnels of their world. When he was well into ten years of his life, they gave him a home. Two months later a younger, scrawnier Jolon, now pudgy, with coppery skin prone to pimples and scabs, joined them. His older sister, Caden, already lived with them when he showed up. At first, they each kept their distance from the other, but they came to build a certain level of trust though she still hid much of herself away. Age was irrelevant to most Underlings. Though he knew Deb was seven because he was present when she was born. Although she was the Peterson’s only biological child, they treated all their children the same. Everyone adored Deb, even Caden who refrained from affection toward anyone.
“Got some paper for you,” he told Caden, and she almost smiled.
She tugged off her mismatched, weathered socks and plucked at the holes in her jeans. He passed her a couple of sheets and a pencil, and she settled into drawing Jolon’s portrait.
“So, somebody tell me something interesting,” she said in a gruff whisper. Though tall, she carried little meat on her bones and had peeling splotches on her sepia skin.
One thing about the Underworld life was everyone had a sickly greenish-grey tinge to the complexion no matter what the natural colour. If the toxins in the water didn’t mutate you, the piped in air did; or the scraps of food grown under fluorescent lamps in exhausted, chemical-soaked soil altered your genes.
“He’s writing in a journal, and we don’t get to read it.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.” He threw a wad of paper at Jolon.
Caden shrugged as though she didn’t care. “So? Can’t read, anyway.”
“I told you I would help you.” He could not resist offering.
She narrowed her gaze. “Don’t want help, just want stories. The reading thing is for freaks such as you.”
“I can read,” Jolon said.
“You stutter and stumble over the words, makes the story weird.”
“It’s not my fault the letters are all backwards.” He stuffed a dry cookie in his mouth.
“That’s dyslexia.” They didn’t seem impressed, and Teddy felt his cheeks flush. “It’s true. I read it in a scrap of a book I found in the ruins of one of those office rooms.”
Caden shook her head and flopped back on the bed, staring at the wall. “You gotta do that, don’t ya—name everything. Who cares? Things are what they are.”
“Knowledge is important,” he insisted, wishing they understood.
“Uh huh, and here most everyone thought food and water were important.” She clicked her tongue and jabbed at his papers. “So, how does it start?”
“A dark and sticky night,” Jolon said.
“Stormy. Journals are not for sharing.”
“What’s a stormy night?” Deb asked as she joined them after finishing her usual play date with their father.
Teddy groaned; he was never going to find any privacy. “Ah...” He stopped, how did a person explain something he only read about. The papers they found in almost every building talked about something called weather, but it seemed obscure. “It has something to do with clouds and sunlight and rain.”
“I heard about them,” Jolon said, bouncing up and down on his chair while Deb climbed on Teddy’s lap.
Her worn pink skirt had new blue patches sewn over the holes, which made her soft blue eyes more intense. Her pastel gold hair frizzed like their mom’s and tickled his chin.
Caden scrunched up her nose. “You heard nothin’.”
“No, I did, honest, when I went to Market Quarter with Pa last week,” he insisted. “This group of Uppers went on about building a new garden with this glass dome thing...”
“Jolon, you’re babbling.”
“Let him finish,” Teddy said, always curious about the Uppercity. Aside from the Theater Quarter, he had been to the market and lived through one horrible encounter in the seedy Adult Quarter, but the rest had always been forbidden, and his brain hungered for details, even made up ones.
“They said they saw this bright sun thing and all this...” His brother faded out as though unable to find the words to describe what he heard.
He leaned back and let his imagination fill in the blanks.
“Teddy, Ma says you need to tell me a story,” his little sister informed him with her most serious tone, her intense eyes stared at him.
He smiled and got off his chair, taking her with him as he went. “I need to, huh?”
“Yes, you will shrivel up and turn to dust if you don’t,” Caden muttered as she fluffed her pillow into submission.
“Oooh, another story?” He tossed his little sister onto the bed. “Ahhh, I guess I can manage that.”