(read part I)
Edward came to the foot of ladder, setting his feet on what seemed like damp stone. The pungent scent of garbage still lingered, but it was no worse than it was at the top of the ladder. Even down here, he could still hear the bubble gum music ponderously thudding along. Somewhere in the distance, water trickled into a drain. Only the strongest rays of light braved these depths, leaving Edward enveloped in umbrous shadow; and though he could see nothing around him, he found that he was not much afraid. Better here than stuck in a fashion shop all afternoon.
In the darkness he searched his pockets, discovering there a Super Joe action figure he had brought with him. Edward smiled the smile of false competence, as if he had known all along that he would find himself in such a predicament. You see, Super Joe was a large action figure whose main weapon against Terron was a fearsome chest-mounted laser cannon. And since most toy manufacturers frowned upon the distribution of such armaments to small children (at least in the United States), they substituted a weak flashlight beam. Edward switched it on and held the figure before him like something part way between a crucifix and a fully-articulated lantern.
The dim light revealed the walls to be formed of smooth concrete, cold and dusty. The floor was rougher and every few feet, Edward had to step around a wide, shallow puddle of muddy water. He walked along in his small bubble of light for several minutes, taking a turn here or there. He fancied he could not become lost, since the route did not branch at any point that he could see. It did not take him long to leave behind a whole world of malls and fashion shops, pretzel vendors and pet stores; so easily we forget ourselves in the solitude of our private journeys.
A faint scratching sound reached his ears from somewhere far ahead. Edward stopped to listen; the scratching reminded him of the sound of his spaniel's dull nails on the hardwood floors of the kitchen. He wondered to himself what sort of dog would wander tunnels like this. He supposed it could drink from the muddy puddles, but who filled its bowl? As he continued toward it, the sound grew louder until he began to wonder why he did not see the dog's eyes glimmering in Joe's light beam. Edward stopped, listening again for the sound. The scratching sound had stopped. And as he looked around, he realized he had come into some sort of small chamber, circular in shape, with walls which bent in and up like a funnel.
As he was looking up into the darkness, he caught a brief flash of light accompanied by the sound of a small, rusty metal door swinging open. Before the light disappeared again, he caught a glimpse of something falling toward him. He instinctively covered his head with his hands. Just in time too, for he was struck by something which left him warm, wet, and sticky—what was that smell? Coffee?
He found where he had dropped Super Joe, and shined the dim light around him. It was indeed coffee—and there on the floor near him was a soggy Starbucks cup. "Yuck, who drinks that stuff?" he said to himself, utterly unaware that opinions might be subject to change years hence.
He looked up again, wondering where the cup had come from. The coffee was not hot, the cup had not been full—then it occurred to him: the tiny metal door above him was the door to a metal garbage can. Which meant—
Something grey and bristling walked toward him out of the darkness, its dull nails scratching along the floor. Edward backed away until he bumped into the cold concrete wall. As it crept closer, he could see a shaggy head in a mass of grey fur, and above a wide mouth of square white teeth peered two large yellow eyes. They blinked at him. Edward did not know if he should be frightened or reassured by its appearance—it was something of a cross between a chubby wolf and a furry bean bag. And those white teeth smiling (snarling?) at him, none of it gave any clear indication of the beast's intentions.
Edward waited in silence, holding Super Joe before him like a talisman. And then the beast did something else unexpected—it spoke! In a gurgling voice, as if speaking from the bottom of a pool, it said, "Come ex-plorin', did it? What does it want?"
Edward frowned and looked around. Was it talking to him? Edward had never been refered to as an 'it' before. In a weak voice, he ventured, "Are you talking to me?"
The beast jumped back, startled. With wide eyes, it asked, "It speaks? A greeder speaks, now that makes for silly con-versation!"
"Who—what are you?"
"Sogga-Moffin, that's my name. And that's what I am; I eats the greeders' toss-aways. Do greeders have names? Something to eats?"
"My name is Edward." He hesitated, then added, "You don't plan to eat me do you?"
A sound like a clogged garbage disposal echoed around the chamber. After Edward realized that it was laughing, he calmed down a little. It said, after it had finished its grating laughter, "Silly Edwards; why would a Sogga-Moffin eats a greeder? Then Edward give no more eats, Sogga-Moffins go hungry."
Edward breathed a sigh of relief. Spying the coffee cup on the floor, he pointed to it. "What about that? Do you eat those?"
The shaggy beast turned its head, and upon seeing the cup, it opened its wide mouth, revealing three rows of blocky white teeth. A slimy tongue ending in three little knuckle-knobs unfurled from behind the teeth. With this strange and disgusting appendage, Sogga-Moffin lifted the coffee cup to its mouth and began chewing slowly like a cow.
Edward shook his head, half amazed, half disgusted. "Where is this place?"
The bristly brows above its dark eyes knitted together in what looked like a frown. It continued chewing for several long moments, and then let out a moist and fragrant belch. "Not polite to talks while Sogga-Moffin chews. Where, greeder asks? How it comes to Dis-kardia and doesn't know where it is?"
"Diskardia? I've never heard of such a place. Do the janitors know it exists? I always thought they just emptied the garbage cans."
Sogga-Moffin looked at him quizzically. "Sogga-Moffin doesn't know 'jan-i-tors', doesn't know gar-bage cans. Sogga-Moffin takes greeders to the Drain-Snipes. Maybe they knows." The beast wheeled around and scuttled off into the darkness, and to his own surprise, Edward followed. Much, much better than a fashion store, Edward thought to himself.
(part III coming soon...)