The Fourth Tunnel
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"You really should stop ditching school, Myra," I said and kicked a pebble with my foot. My cousins and I walked alongside the railroad tracks in our sleepy little town. The day was hotter than usual. "Miss Duncan is really mad."
Myra balanced herself on the rail as if she was a tightrope walker. Every now and then her arms went out to her sides so she could catch her balance. "Who cares? You know that lady has had it out for me since the day I walked into her class."
"That's because you were late." Myra almost lost her balance, but grabbed a hold of her little brother Alex, beside her. We stopped long enough for her to glare at me for my comment, and then we came to the bend in the tracks. Myra hopped off and led the way. We had come to our friend's house.
Myra stood on the street and tossed a little stick at the bedroom window to get Jacqueline's attention.
"Jacqueline!" she called to her, "Jackie!"
The window pane lifted and Jackie poked her head out.
"What?" she demanded.
"Are you coming with us, or are you still mad at me?" asked Myra.
"I don't know," Jackie answered sarcastically, "are we going to find a frog prince today?"
Alex giggled at the remark.
"Oh, come on. I've apologized. I didn't really think you would kiss the frogs," Myra rolled her eyes.
"Please come, Jackie," I said.
She paused and shut the window. A minute later, she appeared outside.
"Where are we going?" she asked with caution. She never trusted Myra.
"The tunnels," Myra replied, and started to walk away.
Jackie shook her head, "No, you guys. You know the sheriff said we had to stay away."
We kept walking.
"You guys... guys? Hey, wait up!" she called.
Besides Alex, none of us really liked playing in the tunnels. They were part of the ditch and smelled funny. Myra just liked to go there because she knew we weren't supposed to. So, after about ten minutes, we climbed out and sat on a nearby bench.
It always seemed to me that Myra and Jackie never got along. As soon as we sat down, Alex darted away. Almost automatically, Jackie began lecturing Myra about how she should watch her brother more closely. Myra rolled her eyes. When Jackie didn't stop, Myra pointed to the ground.
"Hey Jackie, look...a frog." Only at that moment did she realize that Alex was gone.
"Christopher, where's Alex?" she asked me. I glanced around. I couldn't see him anywhere.
We heard him scream. Just then Alex came darting out of the nearby trees. His face was white, and he looked sick.
"Guys," he huffed. "Guys," he puffed. "Guys, there's a body in one of the tunnels." The tunnels were right behind us.
"No, sir," I told him.
"Yeah," Myra agreed. "And what do you mean a body? We were just in them."
Alex grabbed ahold of our hands and led us around the bend of the ditch to a fence. Beyond the fence was a big house. We ducked down.
"That's Old Man River's house," Myra told us. "He's the meanest guy in town."
Alex pointed to a tunnel beyond the fence. "That's where the body is," he said.
"I didn't even know that tunnel was there..." Jackie whispered. She told us that it was on private property anyway and said that we should leave.
I glanced in Myra's eyes. They had that shine in them that she always got when she was curious. I knew that it meant trouble for us. Again, Jackie said we should go. To my surprise, Myra came without even a single word.
Back at her house, Myra quickly found some camping supplies. When she was done, she walked right past us and out the door.
"Myra, where are you going?" I asked. She stopped and turned toward us.
"Well, this doesn't change anything. There's still a body, right?"
"Right!" Alex beamed and trudged after his sister. He knew all along that she wouldn't let him down.
Jackie complained almost instantly, "Hello? Guys, private property. Does that not mean anything to you?"
I wanted to stay with Jackie but a part of me also wanted to investigate. So, she followed after me. The tunnel was dark inside. We crouched down so we couldn't be seen.
"Yuck. What's that smell? Alex, are you sure you saw a body?" Myra asked. He nodded.
"Go check again," Jackie told him.
"No way. You go check," he said, and hid behind me.
"Chris, you go." Someone volunteered me, but my feet couldn't move.
Finally Myra had enough, "You bunch of babies. Gimme the flashlight. I'll go."
We handed it over, almost gratefully. Myra made her way into the tunnel. It was damp and dark. Somewhere she heard water dripping. The smell had grown to a stench, and she felt sick to her stomach. She thought she saw something, but she dropped the flashlight.
"Darn," she said and fumbled around in the dark. When she finally found
it, she turned the light to a nearby wall. That's when it came across a familiar face. A dead man stared back at her.
"Ahhh!" Myra came running out of the tunnel the way that Alex had. "That's a dead body alright," she said once she caught her breath. "It's Tucker Manning."
Tucker was known as the town drunk and we believed him to be one of the nicest people we had ever met. We had all been sad to find out that he's been missing for a few days.
"Was he murdered?" I asked.
She shrugged, "That's the only thing that makes sense. Let's get out of here."
So, we ran and met again at Myra's house.
"We can't tell anybody," Myra said, and paced back and forth.
"Not telling is against the law," Jackie said matter of factly.
"Yeah, well what we just did is even worse. So, if you want to go find the nearest police station and turn yourself in, that's fine. If not, then shut up," Myra retorted.
We were quiet for a long time after that. We knew that we were all thinking about what to do. I remembered that Mrs. Lopez, and old lady in town had also disappeared a while back. No one ever found out exactly what had happened to her. When I brought this up, Jackie rolled her eyes. I think that Myra considered the possibility of her murder, though. We promised never to tell. And we would keep that promise.
Friday, just two days after we found the body, Myra told us all to meet at her house. She was the oldest so when she said for us to tell our parents that we were camping that night, we did. She led us to a road near Old Man River's house. It was along a mountain, where the forest began.
"I've been coming here every night. Just after the sun sets, Old Man River leaves his house. He doesn't come back until dawn." She pointed, "You can see everything from that cliff."
"So?" I questioned. We continued to climb the path.
"So, we're going to wait for him to leave. Then, we'll go down and investigate," she responded.
We made it to the top where it was darker due to lack of streetlights.
"See, I told you. You can see everything from here."
Jackie hung back. "I think someone is following us," she whispered.
Without wanting to, I shuddered. Myra didn't seem to care. We sat and waited until complete darkness fell.
Suddenly, Myra sat straight up, "Guys, look."
We watched as a fat figure climbed into a big white truck. There was no way to make out who the man was. We could only guess.
"One of us will have to stay up here and be the lookout." We all turned to Jackie.
"No. No, not me. It's always me. Someone is following us. You can't leave me here," she pleaded.
Myra told her not to worry. She just had to let us know if a car came. Finally, Jackie gave in.
"Here, Jackie. You keep two of the walkie-talkies from the two sets. We'll keep one and Alex will keep one. Tell us if you see any lights. Oh, and here are some binoculars."
Jackie mentioned that they wouldn't do her any good.
Myra turned toward Alex. "Come on Alex. You have to stay by me."
I turned back to Jackie. She seemed so sad, as if she would never see us again.
"Jackie?" I said. Her head jerked up. "We'll come back for you."
My voice was soft, but her eyes grew even sadder. It was as if she had hoped I wouldn't have to say that.
"We are talking about actual murder here, Chris. Please be careful."
I turned and walked away.
"We should go through the tunnel." We were standing by the opening. "It doesn't stink anymore. The body is gone. I checked this morning." I remembered that Myra had ditched school again. This was why.
"I think the tunnel might lead to the house. We have just enough time to look around for evidence," she went on. I wanted to argue, but the look in her eyes made her seem so determined, I didn't even try.
Alex looked scared, "I don't want to go, Myra. I'm afraid."
She hesitated and then nodded firmly, "You can be our special lookout. If you see something, call into the tunnel, okay?"
We trudged throught the tunnel, knowing that someone dead had been there. The area was dark, but it did end up leading to the inside. A door blocked our way but Myra forced it open. We began searching the area right away. The room was filled with old books, dishes and dust. Yuck, I thought. There was nothing. And if we did find something to make our search easier, we would be covered in filth because of it.
Meanwhile, Jackie grew bored. Every sound made her jump and there hadn't been a car in hours. She'd check in with us every now and then. We'd ask about Alex, and she'd check in with him too. All was well, until Myra found something that caught her eye. A ladies purse was stuffed under a desk. Myra pulled it out and brushed the dust off. She ran her hand along the back and revealed a name.
I went to her side. I could make out the last name Lopez. As I gasped, I heard a crackled voice came over the walkie-talkie, "Hey, guys. I saw some headlights a while ago. I think it's okay though. How are things?"
Myra tried to answer Jackie, her voice shaking with excitement.
I grabbed the walkie talkie away. "Everything's fine," I told her. "How is Alex?"
We waited a second for her to check.
"Guys," Jackie answered back with fear, "he's not answering."
"What?" I asked.
She repeated herself.
"Oh my God," I whispered. "Jackie, think really hard. What happened to the car?"
Jackie breathed heavily into the speaker, and I knew she was trying not to cry, "I don't know...I think it left."
"You think? Jackie, what the heck is wrong with you?!" I screamed into the walkie-talkie.
"I'm sorry. I looked away for just a second." Jackie did cry now.
I turned to Myra. She was staring out the window. The light in her eyes was gone.
Jackie strained to see if someone was by the tunnel. Tears stung her eyes and her vision was blurred. She didn't notice the figure that was lurking behind her. She didn't even notice the sound of crunching leaves until it was too late.
Myra had been standing at the window for only a minute. But it seemed like an eternity. When she turned to me, I noticed something I never thought I would. Myra was helpless.
"Give me the flashlight, Chris. I'm going back."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing, "No, Myra. Please don't."
The window behind her revealed the dark unknown. "It's dangerous..." My voice just trailed off.
"I have to Chris. That's my little brother out there. If something happens to him...I never should have brought him here in the first place."
I walked her to the tunnel door and stared at her for just a second. Neither of us had ever been that scared. I remembered what Jackie had said when I had left her in the woods. Now my voice couldn't form the words. Myra slipped through the tunnel, without looking back. I held my breath.
Cold had seeped into the tunnel. Myra held her hand in front of her face, but there was no way to see. The cement walls reminded her of a prison. Desperately, she whispered into the dark.
"Alex...Alex, where are you?" Her steps echoed, and she froze. Were those her steps? She was about to call out again, when a hand reached out.
"Alex?" Myra flung around. The light landed on a face "Ahhh!"
A hairy, scowling man wrapped his arms around Myra's neck. She struggled to get loose. In the fight, the flashlight dropped from her weakening grasp. Its light flickered on the wall behind them. A thinner shadow appeared and Myra could barely make it out. It raised what looked like a large stick to the man's head. She watched as it came down hard. The man dropped to the ground, taking Myra down with him. She was able to crawl out from under his large body. She stared up at the shadow as a hand reached out to her. She scrambled away before remembering that this person had saved her. Then she took the hand and let someone to lead her out of the tunnel. In the moonlight, Myra's eyes fell on her little brother. He'd been waiting there for her to come out.
"Oh Alex, what happened to you?"
The shadow beside her cleared his throat. She saw now that he wasn't a shadow at all. He was a kid, hardly bigger than herself.
"He's okay. My name is Damion. I've been watching Old Man River for a while now. I've also been following you. When I saw headlights earlier, I pulled Alex out of the way."
Myra tried to let the news sink in while I came running up.
"Myra, Myra, Jackie is gone!" Everyone turned to me, and I didn't notice the extra person or the white van that was parked nearby.
"What do you mean she's gone? Where is she?"
"She's not answering..." I stopped. There was a soft thud sound coming from the van.
Myra stepped forward, and we followed her to the back of the van. Hearts pounding, we allowed her to move in close. She unlatched the lock on the door, and swung it open. A chair fell forward.
"Jackie?!" Myra exclaimed.
Jackie was tied up, and had tape over her mouth. Myra jumped in and ripped the tape off.
"I told you this was a bad idea!" Jackie yelled, and took a deep breath.
The authorities found out that Old Man River had killed three people and kept them in his tunnel. Our parents were proud of us, but we still got grounded. We didn't mind. We became good friends with Damion. After all, we shared a common interest.
Myra started going back to school now that she had something to talk about. The tunnels in town became pretty popular. We never played in them again. We all figured that if there was something else to find, someone else could find it.
It didn't stop us from glancing at them every time we went by, though. Myra always had that same look in her eyes, and I knew she was thinking the same thing I was. If there was a fourth tunnel, was there a fifth?
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