Sam was puzzling over the hatch in the basement floor when he heard a knock. The hatch looked heavy, and the bar that bolted it closed was very sturdy. Luckily he had a really big wrench. He used it to knock back.
* * * * *
At the closing for the house, Sam had been surprised by some of the language in the sales agreement.
"It says here," he pointed out, "that I am supposed to leave several barrels of food and dry goods, 10 copies of the Sunday paper, and 30 live chickens in the basement every January and July 1st."
Sam stared at the old woman on the other side of the table. This was a Sale by Owner; there was no one in the room but them. She leaned forward.
"It's up to you whether or not you do that, you understand, but that language was in the contract when I bought the house sixty years ago, and my niece said I had to leave it in."
"That's right. She's a lawyer." She folded her hands together with pride.
"Did you do it?"
She looked down, then back up at him.
"I'll tell you straight, young man. I did not. I tried, that first year, but everybody I ordered stuff from treated me like I was crazy, and it was hard enough being a black woman in that neighborhood without bringing a bunch of live chickens into the house that never left it. I had no wish to give people cause to accuse me of doing hoodoo.
"Maybe the old white man who owned the house before could do that sort of thing without questions raised, but I had enough of that nonsense after one turn. And they only knock twice a year."
"They? Who? People hiding under the floor?"
"No sir," she shook her head.
"I looked. The instructions say to deliver the stuff and then stay out the room but I looked just after I bought the place that April. There were no hidden rooms down there, and no people. Just a long dark staircase that went someplace very cold. Where, I don't know. In a city like this it could connect to all kinds of underground tunnels. Or the sewers." She sniffed.
"I didn't want anything to do with it. Who knows what kind of rabble might have been involved. Maybe the old man had been running liquor back in the day. Or worse." She straightened up. "I had the basement locked up, and I didn't give it another thought. You do as you please, you buy the house."
"Do as I please?" He looked down at the list. "How am I supposed to pay for all this?"
"The previous owner left an estate, in Trust. You buy the house; you become the executor of that estate. You can use the interest to pay for what you get. That's why we're in a bank for this meeting, so we can sign the papers and get everything settled."
"But you didn't do it," he said. "What did you spend the money on?"
She lifted her chin.
"I put five nieces and nephews through college, and gave them a place to stay while they was in school. My sister has space for me down in Florida now, and Lord knows she owes me. That weather will do better for these old bones, and I don't need the house anymore, with all the children grown and in they own homes.
"Well, Mr. Hidachi? Do you still want to buy it?"
* * * * *
There were people down there, Sam saw when he opened the hatch. A group of five people, wearing glow lights and carrying ropes and sleds of some sort. They were compact, slender people with dark hair and reddish brown skin. He stepped back as they came out of the hatch and went right to work loading the sleds with the goods he'd bought. At first the leader just glanced at him warily, but once the loading was under way, she came over to Sam and smiled.
"Thank you for re-establishing this supply," she said softly, "but you really should wait outside. Risk of disease transfer, you know."
"No, I don't know. Who are you? Where did you come from?"
"We are from here," she said. "These lands belong to us. When your government chased us from them, some went up the mountains to get away. We went under them."
He gaped at her.
"The newspapers?" She asked, looking around.
"Ah, about that," he said, "Newspapers are not on paper anymore. You see, there's this big computer network—"
"We have other doors besides this one, Mr. …"
"Hidachi. Sam Hidachi. Call me Sam." He held out his hand. She looked at it.
"Disease, right." He wiped his hand on his pants. "Anyway, I loaded the past year's major newspapers and magazines on a tablet for you."
"No, thank you," she said calmly.
"We have our own culture. We have no wish to import yours. The newspapers are just for our elders to get an idea of current events, to decide whether or not to stay below." She turned away. The others had disappeared down the stairs already.
"But—How do you live?" He called after her, "How do you eat? Thirty chickens aren't going to go very far."
She turned back. "Those are just to replenish our breeding stock. Bring in new genes so they don't get inbred and unhealthy."
"Don't you need to do that with people too?"
She looked him up and down. He blushed.
"Prove that you are trustworthy, Mr. Sam Hidachi, and we'll see. Tell no one about us, maintain the Supply, and stay out of the room when we visit."
"Will I see you again?"
She smiled, and closed the hatch behind her.
Sam decided to leave the doors unlocked. Just in case.