Paradise Below: Chapter 1

The palpable darkness swallowed every inch of space down the long corridor. The horrid stench of shit polluted Dominic’s nostrils as he walked along next to the sewage. Light from the streetlamps above peeked through the manholes and storm-drains above, sheepishly illuminating the pathway ahead. Just another day in the life of a sewer inspector.

Dominic sighed. What a miserable way to spend a Sunday evening.

This was Dominic’s tenth year as a sewer inspector. He’d installed pipelines after high school while he was working towards a Bachelor’s in Engineering. He failed his way right out of sophomore year with copious amounts of booze, boobs and blues. His father pushed him towards sewer inspection partly for the job security, and partly for character building. What character building Dominic accomplished by mucking around in sewage was uncertain, but the salary was acceptable and he found the job easy.

But, God if he wasn’t sick of this place.

The city of Canova seemed like a ridiculous idea. An underground city founded by one of the richest families in the world, and inhabited by the social elite? It sounded like a bad movie premise to Dominic. But it ended up being sound enough for millions of rich bastards to invest in. It took six months of around the clock work to dig up the location, another five years to lay the groundwork and infrastructure, and four years to bring everyone in. Private property of this size was unheard of, but greed greased all the wheels.

Of course, rich people don’t want to dirty their hands. Workers like Dominic, the unsung heroes that held society up by its frail strings, were offered lodgings in the city. Dominic didn’t think twice. His salary was practically doubled, and he now lived in one of the most advanced cities in the world.

Or so he’d thought at the time.

Sure, the buildings and services above ground were all high-tech and fancy. But the city planners and construction crews had cut all sorts of corners elsewhere. They were using CCTV from the 1990’s in the sewers, and basically all of their maintenance equipment was shoddy or outdated. It was a miracle that shit never erupted into the streets to give poncy club-goers a shower they so rightly deserved. Sure, they were smart enough to put the main treatment plant towards the surface and set it up properly. Everything else was still a pain in the ass.

And that fat salary? The cost of living in this place devoured a large portion of it. Nothing like an $18 cheeseburger without the meal. Christ.

Still, Dominic supposed he shouldn’t complain. The first year had been no worse than his last thirty-two above ground. He was alive, he was making money, and he wasn’t so fed up that he resorted to killing his neighbors yet. He thought about bashing in Mike’s shiny, bald head for breaking one of the boards on his fence, or running over Cherise for screwing with—

He stopped and shook his head. The fuck is my problem? He took off his glove and rubbed his forehead. He’d thought about things like that more lately. He didn’t understand why. He’d thought of the odd maiming when it came to some shitty classmates or annoying coworkers, but he didn’t think he’d considered it any more than the next man. His father had called him a reasonable kid, if a bit of a dummy. His father should stick his head into a drainage pipe and drown.

“Jesus Christ,” Dominic said aloud. Focus on the task, he breathed deep and steadied himself.

What was the task, again? A blockage was reported towards one of the major southeast lines. Day shift had been assigned to it, but apparently either skipped it or “forgot” about it according to his supervisor. Damn the day shift. Damn them to hell. Lazy bastards.

Sweat collected on Dominic’s brow. It was always like a furnace down here. Using his helmet’s flashlight, he could see the grates along the line a bit of a ways down. Soon, he’d be digging around in the muck to see what the problem was.

Shining his flashlight ahead, he spied what he thought were two people laying down next to the grate.

Homeless in the world’s richest city? He pondered the remote possibility before he saw the deep red pools slowly pouring over the edge into the sewage. His eyes unfolded the horrific scene before him. Vicious cuts and tears all along their bodies exposed meat and bone. Flies buzzed ceaselessly along the injuries, caressing the gore with their filth. The glazed eyes of one of the bodies stared longingly at the manhole above, lonely lights dancing along the young man’s blank face. Both of them wore the attire of sewage inspectors. The day shift hadn’t forgot after all.

Dominic’s mind went blank. He’d come across disgusting things in his time as an inspector before, but never a dead body. He was no homicide detective, but their wounds didn’t look natural. This didn’t seem like an accident. These men were killed.

Something shifted in the muck. A huge mound of refuse and trash began to shake in the tide of shit. Slowly, a figure uncurled itself in the middle of the stream nearest the grate.

Through the layers of trash and crud, Dominic couldn’t tell what it was. It stood like a man, but had an unnatural stiffness in it’s posture. It was a full two-heads taller than he was, and had long, spindly limbs. He saw no mouth or nose, but could hear it breathing. He saw no eyes, but could feel it staring at him.

Dominic had no other option to make. He turned and ran. He heard only his own footsteps along the narrow walkway. Tip-tap-tip-tap. He shed equipment he didn’t need as he ran. He heard several measurement tools along with his utility belt clatter on the ground behind him.

A new sound in the distance. A repeating schlik-plop sound of slime. The thing was chasing him. And gaining fast.

Dominic’s stamina was fading. He was no fitness freak. His job was the only exercise he ever got. He considered the hopelessness of his situation as he sprinted, lights above teasing him with promises of escape.

Idiot. Use the storm-drains!

He didn’t think twice. He gathered all the strength left in his legs and jumped for one of the holes. His hands gripped the edge of asphalt. He swung his legs and strained his shoulders frantically to pull himself through.

Light burned into his face from the side. He turned to look into the blazing lights of an oncoming car as the driver pounded the horn. His eyes stuck to the screeching car, watching the rubber spin on the wheel as it passed just inches in front of his face. Frozen for just a moment, he threw himself clear of the sewers. Crawling away on his hands and back, he turned around to look at the storm-drain.

For a moment, he thought he saw something look back.

“Hey, man. What the hell are you doing?” The voice from his right startled him. A preppy blonde punk with cold blue eyes was standing next to him with a scowl on his face. “I almost ran you down!”

Dominic couldn’t find the words. He stared at the punk, then back at the grate. He couldn’t understand. He wasn’t a god-fearing man, but he’d felt the fear of God in his bones. He’d seen something that shouldn’t exist. He could feel its eyeless gaze on him even now, peering into the depths of his being. It was there. It was everywhere.

When he turned to look back at the punk, he screamed. The thing was there, waving its fists at him and pointing at a dent in the punk’s Ferrari.

Dominic told them everything over and over again. Where the bodies were, what they looked like, and what lived below. They took their notes in their clean, white lab coats that begged to be covered in their own blood.

They left him in this room, padded and shackled with a low-hanging light just like some crap psychological horror flick.They told him they would help him, that the bodies were never real and what he’d seen was imagination. They wanted to know why he’d done it, and where those day shifters actually were. The implication wasn’t subtle.

He tried to help them understand, much as he hated them and wanted them to die.

Canova wasn’t a paradise. They’d dug too far.

Canova was hell.







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