The Underground was a nightclub downtown with a dilapidated sign and ladies’ night every Thursday. They weren’t on top of the scene anymore, but they still had radio ads and made a killer on the weekends. Didn’t think they were open during the day, but I made my way to their doorstep after school the next day like Pace Vaughn had told me to.
As expected, the doors were locked.
I caught movement to my left and turned to see someone in black slipping into the alley nearby. I glanced around, saw no one out of the ordinary afternoon traffic, and decided it wouldn’t hurt (or at least not hurt too much) to follow him.
But when I turned down the alley, it was already empty.
Interesting, I thought, even as my better judgment told me it’d probably be safer, or at least smarter, to turn back and go somewhere else, but Pace had explicitly said to come by in the afternoon, so perhaps I was onto something. A side entrance, maybe, or just walking into a trap. Pace didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d introduce himself and then ambush you in an alley, and my curiosity got the best of me.
The walk to the side entrance of the Underground was boring and uneventful. I was almost angry nothing happened, no ninjas, no bullies, no excitement at all. I grabbed the door and pulled it open; I stumbled back a bit when it gave way more easily than expected.
The inside was dark. I looked around quickly before the door latched and the only light left was the red glow of the exit sign over the door. I walked forward a bit, decided I was in some unused side room, and opened the first door I came across…right into the men’s bathroom.
A guy was at the urinal and looked over his shoulder at me as I stepped inside. He sneered or something as he looked me up and down, then went back to his business unamused.
I tried to ignore him and just walked past him to a second door on the other side. The wall-length mirror over the sink was covered in lipstick writing full of numbers and mathematical figures. It made me dizzy and I pushed through the door as soon as I could.
The brightness was blinding at first and I shaded my eyes to stop the pain. When my vision finally adjusted, I noticed the entire club was lit up from end to end. There were about six or seven people at the bar, though no one behind it, and a small crowd of ten or fifteen around the dance floor. I scanned the club for Pace, but didn’t see him.
I jumped when a hand hit my shoulder, but relaxed when I realized Pace had found me instead.
“Glad you made it,” he said with a grin, a darker grin than before. He was wearing red today, with a pair of black shorts. He looked nearly demonic with all the bright lights on him.
I looked back at the crowd around the dance floor. “What is this place?”
“A gathering,” he said. Calm, cool, casual. Pretty much clichéd, really.
“Of whom,” he corrected, resting his hand on my shoulder again. I actually welcomed it this time. At least for the moment, it was something familiar amid all this oddness. “Of people like me,” he said, practically whispering into my ear, “and people like you.”
I pulled away and looked at him. “What?”
He grinned, and suddenly he wasn’t in front of me anywhere. “You were right,” he said behind me, but by the time I had turned he was already back where he’d been a moment before. “I’m not like everyone else. You already know this, though, don’t you?” He paused long enough to look into my eyes for a second. “I bet you even know what I can do.”
I swallowed and felt my skin growing tighter as I tensed up. “You move in circles.”
His grin widened and he shrugged. “Angular momentum. Circles just happen to be easiest.”
I looked back at everyone else in the club, none of them caring to take much notice of me now that I was inside. I glanced back at Pace. “All of you can do this?”
He shrugged again. “All of us can do something. Not all of can do this.” He was gone in a second, and I didn’t jump when he touched me from behind this time. I just turned to him and rolled my eyes.
“I’m really getting tired of that,” I said, trying to sound polite.
He smiled and pushed me on my arm, but I backed away instead.
“So what are you all? X-Men? The Incredibles?”
He laughed. “The X-Men are a joke, convincing but too sensational. And the Incredibles?” He coughed he laughed so hard. “You’re comparing me to Disney? Honestly?” He shook his head. “Let me teach you a lesson, Keith.” Here he stepped up to me and wrapped his arm around my shoulders; I figured I could move away, but he’d spin around me faster than I could if I tried. “We’re real. We’re not mutants. We’re not superheroes. Hell, most of us don’t even know what we are past gay or straight. So we just get together sometimes, have a little fun, meet people who know what it’s like to be like us.”
He stepped away and turned back to me, arms spread, motioning to everyone there. “We’re the Underground, Keith.” Then his grin returned and he crossed his arms. “What can you do?”
I laughed. “I can’t do anything.”
“Sure you can,” Pace said. “Why else would you try taking on a super?” He rolled his eyes. “A lame-ass super, but whatever. You still tried.”
I glanced away, feeling really awkward all of a sudden. I couldn’t do anything. That’s why he had to rescue me in the first place. Didn’t he realize that?
“So?” he said, and when I looked back I saw a couple new faces coming over to join us. They were slowly circling around, more coming over as they caught site of the growing crowd. “Well,” Pace said, “what can you do?”
I swallowed and stood up straighter, but with everyone crowding around me I felt like all I was doing was turning red in front of them. I shook my head and tried to back away, but the guy I bumped into just shoved me back into the circle. I stumbled forward, then spun around as everyone became a laughing blur all around me. Jeering, pointing, sharing jokes beneath their breaths as I watched on.
I caught sight of Pace at the forefront, stopped spinning and looked straight at him even as my mind kept tumbling through me, blurred at the edges, still spiraling.
He raised his eyebrows. I watched his grin turn into a sneer as all my old anger swelled up within me. First he’d made me feel like a fool by saving me. Now he subjected me to this? My fingers clenched into a fist, but my fist kept getting tighter even past what I thought was possible. An orange light flushed the scene as I pulled my arm back and punched–
Pace flew across the room. He didn’t have time to dodge me now.
The crowd broke at once and rushed toward him, but I didn’t take care to stick around. I turned away, glancing back only to see everyone around Pace with one or two people still looking at me. Then I made my way back into the alley and even further away.
PART 8: The Park