I'm writing a story about a girl who finds out she's an Amazon and would like your honest opinion. You can say you hate it, and that's fine.
On the edge of the park.
Gaby had found the tunnel by accident. She was shooting feral cats videos on her cell phone in a remote part of the park. A silvery cat with orange ears and golden eyes leapt in the sagebrush and slunk deep. Gaby crawled in the bushes after it, cellphone at hand, and found herself staring at a round, uneven open mouth of a tunnel that was hidden between the sagebrush bushes.
She crawled closer and peeked inside. The entrance was large enough to slide in. There were no stairs, and the earth slopped down, the walkway wide and tall enough to walk upright. The tunnel was dimly lit, and blurry objects littered the ground. Shuffling footsteps sounded in the distance.
There was someone in the tunnel. Who was he? What was he doing there? Was it a loner like her, or maybe a weird person? Was he homeless, an outlaw?
The only way to get an answer to her questions was to enter the cave and see for herself. She started toward the cave and hesitated, but then she realized she didn't have a choice. If she backed off, she'd be admitting to herself that she was afraid.
"You're a coward." Her mother's voice reverberated in her head. "You're weak. You're a stupid girl. You can't do anything right."
Gaby shook her head, dismissing the words, and stepped into the tunnel, leaping over a wooden board that blocked her way. She pulled up her t-shirt and covered her face, gagging on the decaying smell of moss and the rotten stench of garbage.
She maneuvered her way around half-eaten sandwiches and piles of clothes that lay in a heap on the floor and slipped on a hamburger wrapper, landing hand on her knees in the dirt with a hollow thud that echoed off the moss-covered walls.
She held her breath until she thought her lungs would explode, afraid someone would hear the sound of her breathing. She listened for voices or footsteps, but the cave remained silent.
Gaby tiptoed forward, careful not to make any noise. The sounds of the park, the flowing river and singing birds, muffled and then disappeared as she made her way deeper inside the tunnel.
It was longer than she'd expected, and its walls were covered with graffiti, the words misspelled and distorted so badly that the words have lost their shape, texture, and taste.
'The sity is ours,' the graffiti announced. 'This is our world.' There was a badly drawn painting of a skull with crossbones and next to it the words 'Humans, biware.'
The last graffiti sent a chill down Gaby's spine. She shivered in the August Californian midday heat and wrapped her arms tightly around her shoulders, ducking her head to avoid flying bats. Some hung upside down from the low ceiling.
And they weren’t the only living creatures in the tunnel.
Shadows moved ahead, and muffled voices sounded deeper in the tunnel.
Gaby inched forward. She had to prove to herself she wasn’t a coward, a helpless herbivore and a potential victim. She slithered along the wall. Her arm rubbed against its slimy surface, and she snatched her hand away and kept tiptoeing forward, bending her knees and taking cover behind piles of clothes, rusty ovens, and broken chairs. She didn’t have to duck too much because she was small and slender for her twelve years.
The voice grew stronger, and the shadows turned to shapes. She fell to her knees between two plastic bags full of clothes, under a bunch of bats that hung from the ceiling. She peeked through a narrow gap between the bags that smelled of mildew and mothballs.
With her limited view, she saw a few grownups and a dozen teens ranging from age fourteen to seventeen. Some slumped on the dirt floor, and some sat on rusty dishwashers, refrigerators, and ovens. They were deep in conversation.
One of them looked vaguely familiar, a boy with a bulbous nose. It took a while for the realization to form in Gaby's foggy brain, but then it hit her. She'd seen him once, when she was walking down the street with her mother. Her mother was berating her, telling her she was picked on in school was because she was weak and a coward.
She remembered how he'd laughed then. Her mother and her had kept walking, leaving him behind. And then Gaby had glanced uneasily over her shoulder and had seen him standing there with an evil grin on his face.
Now the boy stood up. "Them girls be no threat to us, man." He stuck long, curving fingernails resembling surgical knives in his snakeskin belt. "Them only girlies. They ain't be stopping us from gitting our right revenges."
"Hell, yeah, Soljin," a teen boy with black hair that fell in a triangle on his forehead said tentatively. "That be teaching them humans to be setting their house elves on us."
The creature called Soljin marched toward the black-haired boy, and the kid flinched. Soljin stopped a few feet away from him and started rapping. "We be pulling on the swapping in the cover of the dark/but it ain't no walk in the park. Them house elves are fierce/and their screams the murkiness pierce."
The creatures clapped and whooped, their voices echoing off the walls hollowly, like coyotes responding to their leader's wail. Soljin raised his hand, and the boys fell silent immediately.
Soljin's voice was the only sound in the tunnel. "The baby's cries echo off our musty walls/and our magic dipped in intense darkness can swallow a human whole." Soljin's dirty blond hair was so short that he could've been mistaken for bald from a distance. He had pointy ears.
Fear gripped Gaby's heart with an icy hand, and a knot formed in her stomach. What magic? These were obviously powerful and dangerous creatures.
Soljin threw back his head and screeched in a raspy voice, "Them house elves be trying to protect them human babies. They ain't nothing but humans' slaves. But they be brave, I be giving them that."
A stocky teen girl with a nose that looked like it'd been broken too many times spoke. "They brave 'cause they be nannies to the human babies, and 'cause it takes more courage to risk your life than take care of one of our changelings."
The creatures roared with laughter. Soljin's sharp Adam's apple stuck our grotesquely, traveling up and down his throat like a razor.
He said, "Them elves be causing us all that trouble and stuff. They be sealing our tunnels and setting black bears, bobcats, and rattlesnakes on us, but I got something on them." He began rapping. "Your deepest fear I can tell/and on this, I put a spell."
"Spells ain't enough to fight the damn elves," the black-haired creature called. "We need fighting power, right, Soljin?"
Soljin threw his head back and screamed wordlessly. The sound was accompanied by the flapping of wings as bats detached from the ceiling and circled madly. Strutting sounds and squeaks followed as terrified mice and rats bolted so fast, they turned into a blur of gray patches.
Soljin's silvery belt shone eerily in the light of two naked bulbs that hung from a cable just under the low, curved ceiling. "Git in here," he yelled. "And I be showing you how to fight like men."
The creatures leapt to their feet and stalked toward Soljin. Gaby thought uneasily that they looked like a pride of lions, except larger and with more males than females. Soljin leapt in the boxer's stance.
"We be wanting to keep living the life we want, we gotta fight for it," Soljin slammed his fist into an open palm. The thud was dull and mixed with the sound of static through the blood rushing in Gaby's ears. "We wanna git all the gold from them jewelry stores so we don’t be working, taking orders from humans like them house elves, and so we be gitting them pills and drinks that make you feel nice."
Soljin leapt in a boxer's stance. "Come on, Juljina," he called to the girl with the broken nose.
Gaby tensed as the girl threw punches at Sojin, who blocked them with the speed and ease of a professional boxer. The other creatures coupled up and wrestled. Thuds echoed hollowly off the walls, and shoes scraped against the dirt floor.
Soljin and Juljina were moving back and forth. Soljin pushed Juljina back, closer to the plastic bags behind which Gaby had taken cover. The other creatures were all over the place.
Gaby decided it was a good time to sneak away. There was a good chance they'd stumble upon the plastic bags if they kept going like that. Besides, they were occupied. You can't fight and see what goes on around you at the same time.
She got to her feet quietly and tiptoed away, throwing a cautious look over her shoulder. Juljina was lying facedown on the dirt floor, her arm twisted behind her back by Soljin. Two creatures had each other in a headlock.
Gaby crept away, every muscle in her body tight, heart racing. She made it past an upturned old table. Her knees were wobbly. She could hardly feel her kneecaps. She prayed the creatures wouldn’t notice her. She tiptoed past a half-eaten apple covered with ants and kept going.
And then she slipped on a sandwich wrapper.
She felt the ground beneath her slip. She watched the wall lower, and then she was staring at the gray ceiling.
The thud vibrated and echoed as her head bounced off the dirt floor.
Eerie silence fell on the tunnel. Gaby leapt to her feet, her head throbbing. Her heart raced so fast, she felt her chest would explode.
Soljin turned toward her in slow motion. The other creatures faced her. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breath. Soljin's mouth moved, but she couldn't hear the words. It took so long to draw a breath, so long from one painful heartbeat to another. Her head swam.
And then the world went back to its usual beat, and the sound came back. "Get her," Soljin screamed. "Get the human!"
Gaby whirled around and bolted. Running footsteps behind her exploded like gunshots. She pumped her feet so hard, she could feel the dirt floor yield under her sandals.
A chair grazed her shoulder as it sailed through the air, and she screamed in pain. The chair landed sideways with a thud a few feet ahead of her. She leapt above a pile of clothes and kept racing.
Then she saw it; the entrance.
It stretched ahead, just a pinpoint of golden light. She tore through the distance, her hands slicing through the air, gulping air.
"Don’t let her git away," Soljin yelled. "You can do it. She just a girl. Don’t be letting no girl outrun us."
The entrance was getting larger, widening before her eyes. She held out her hand and stretched her arm as if to grab ahold of it and pull it toward her. Sweat poured down her back.
She kicked half-eaten sandwiches aside. She was almost there, just a few more feet. From the sound of running footsteps and heavy breathing, she knew her pursuers weren’t very close. She was going to make it. She reached the wooden board she'd seen before, right by the entrance.
And then a voice behind her said, "You coward. You weak girl, afraid of your own shadow."
Gaby froze. Something made her turn around. Soljin was at a good distant. She could still outrun him, and the other creatures were a few feet behind him. She could make it to the entrance. Soljin stopped in his traces and motioned for the others to do the same. The froze, as obedient as dogs, Gaby thought numbly.
Soljin moved his foot, and Gaby tensed and started turning around, ready for flight. But then she saw he was just nudging away a torn gray shirt.
"You're small." His voice was quiet, almost gentle. "The smallest girl in class. You be at the bottom of the food chain, girlie. You a girl, and a weak one."
His rough voice merged into Gaby's mother's voice. It resonated inside her head, but she could block him out if she'd concentrate.
"And somewhere in your heart, you believe your mother," Soljin whispered.
The tunnel's walls dimmed and turned to a blur. Soljin's apple green eyes locked on hers. "Who knows you better than your mother? It be true then, what she says. Would your own mother lie?"
Gaby's limbs grew heavy. She breathed slowly and deeply. She knew she should resist this strange pull, but she wasn’t sure she could.
"You got to prove to yourself you not be a coward." Now she wasn’t sure if the words came out of Soljin's mouth, or if they were her own thoughts. "You turn and run like a scaredy cat, like rabbit, you be proving your mother's right."
He slid closer, like a cobra hypnotizing a bird. Gaby couldn’t move. She was sinking. She forgot why she should stop him, why it should matter whether she stayed or ran. She knew there was a reason she should bolt, but she couldn’t remember what it was.
And then his fist slammed into her face with a deafening sound. She stumbled backwards. White stars exploded before her eyes. Pain shot through her like an electric current.
Soljin aimed another punch at her head, but she ducked and came back with an uppercut. The top of her head barely reached his chest, and she had to stand on her toes, thrust her arm upward, and do a little jump.
The punch sounded like an explosion of firecrackers. Soljin's teeth knocked together with a dry sound. His head snapped back so hard, she thought his neck would snap.
Soljin rushed at her, his fanglike teeth bared. He growled deep in his throat, like a distant thunder. She threw him over her shoulder, and he slammed into the dirt floor. It vibrated like a mini earthquake.
The other creatures reached her. The black-haired boy leapt in the air and kicked her in the face. She felt her eyes roll up in her head. Thick, metallic liquid dripped into her mouth. She gulped air. It sounded like gurgling water struggling to come up in a rusty pipe.
Juljina bent, snatched the board off the dirt floor, and flung it at Gaby's head, roaring like a wounded tiger. Gaby ducked at the last second. The board slammed into the wall, sending moss and plaster flying like sparks.
The creatures circled her. Punches and kicks landed in all directions. A fist landed in her stomach just as she was kicked in the back of the legs. She screamed, and rats nearby answered with terrified squeaks. The bats sliced through the air, the sound of wings flapping like a flag whipping in the wind.
"Hold her down!" Soljin hollered. "And let Juljina do the job."
Hands closed on her arms, pulling them behind her back. Fingernails dug into her skin, knuckles hard as rocks against her wrists. Arms tightened around her waist like nooses.
"I'll kill you!" Juljina howled. Her eyes popped like a frog's.
Gaby raised her right foot and gently reached backward until she felt her sandal rubbing against something hard, a kneecap.
Juljina raised the board above her head.
"Kill the human!" Soljin screeched.
Gaby slammed the back of her foot into the kneecap.
Screams and curses rang in her ears, and the hold around her waist loosened. Juljina rushed toward her.
Gaby threw her captures over her shoulder. Juljina was a foot away, ready to swing. Gaby got her foot behind Juljina's ankle and pulled. The girl hit the dirt floor hard.
Gaby kicked Soljin in the stomach, throwing him backwards into a heavyset boy. The boy collapsed, trapping other kids under his weight.
Gaby grabbed the board off the dirt floor and raised it above her head. The creatures exchanged glances.
"Take one step toward me, I'll kill you." She didn’t recognize her own voice. It sounded like someone in a trance.
The creatures froze, their eyes trained on the board. It started slipping through her sweaty fingers, but she tightened her hold on it so hard, her knuckles turned numb.
"Don’t you dare go near me," she whispered hoarsely.
Soljin moved toward her, and she whipped the board from side to side threateningly.
Soljin froze. "You git guts, girl," he muttered, not taking his eyes off the board. Then he stepped back, and the creatures retreated, imitating him like herd animals.
Gaby stepped back, holding on to the board. She turned and hurried away, throwing looks over her shoulder at the creatures who stood unmoving, watching her. When she was almost at the entrance, she spun on her heel and bolted out into the sunlight that blinded her. She blinked and saw red and black patches twirling behind her eyelids. The blazing heat was suffocating.
She glanced back, wondering if the creatures would follow her. She wouldn’t be able to see them well. She'd be in trouble, but there was no one there, no creatures who had the power to mess with her head, no crazed girl with a board, only a couple of white gooses strolling by the riverside.
She stumbled away, leaning on palms' barks. She turned her head again, although the motion made her dizzy and lightheaded, but the creatures were nowhere to be seen. Only then did she dare drop the board. It landed on the sand with a muffled thud.