As usual, I like to begin teaser posts about new novels with the beginning.
In this case, though, I’m going to start with the end of the beginning, specifically the end of the first chapter. Partly this is because it gives a clear entry into the world of Joseph Wunderkind, but mostly it’s because I feel I’m going to be changing the first part of the first chapter significantly.
If you read last Thursday’s post (and, if you haven’t, you can do so now. I’ll wait.) then you know the basic history behind the idea. There’s an entrance in Joseph’s basement that leads… well, somewhere.
Where we pick up in the novel is here: Joseph was down in the basement retrieving some tools for his dad and noticed a room he’d never seen before. It was labeled as a broom closet and, since his dad was the handyman for the apartment building, Joseph was suspicious. Wouldn’t his dad have known about this room?
Joseph uses his dad’s tools to break into the broom closet which is, unsurprisingly, filled with brooms but also, surprisingly, contains a trapdoor. And that’s exactly where we are now:
The trapdoor stuck a bit at first, then opened smoothly when Joseph used his legs to lift. He was hit first by a smell so strong that he took a few steps back, hand over his nose. At first he couldn’t place it. But then, he recognized it, remembering the homeless men and women he always passed on his way to school. Unwashed skin.
But there was nothing to see. The light from the broom closet was too dim to reach far into the hole beneath the trapdoor. He got down on his knees before the opening. The smell was strong, but he was starting to get used to it. What could cause it, though? Joseph had heard of people living underground in big cities where old tunnels went unused and forgotten. Were there people down there?
“Hello?” he said. “Anyone down there?”
No one answered. Joseph admitted he didn’t really expect anyone to. It was a stupid thought, really, and he was sure that the trapdoor was just a fluke. Maybe someone had started to build a basement to the basement but ran out of money. Or maybe it was a pit dug for trash. Or a test drilling for oil. Or, well, he didn’t know. But it was dark down there and he didn’t have a flash light and he was sweating so much a pool was starting to form around his hands and knees.
Joseph heard a light patter like a cockroach on tile. So something was living down there, though just an insect. He tried to adjust his eyes to see more clearly, but it was useless.
Then the pattering sounded again, louder. An arm reached out of the darkness, patted the ground around the opening, and found the drill. It grabbed on and, instantly, was gone back into the darkness.
Before Joseph had time to react, more arms reached out of the hole. They took the hammer and the screwdriver. They took the screws that had held the trapdoor shut. Joseph, startled, fell back on his butt and backed away but, by then, an arm had grabbed onto his shoe. It pulled, and when Joseph resisted, another grabbed on, and another, and then they had both shoes, and a hand was around his shin, and by the time Joseph began to scream, it was too late, the arms had latched on to him up to his waist.
Then they dragged him in.