Read The Return Online

Authors: Jennifer Torres

Tags: #Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Action & Adventure, #Science Fiction

The Return (3 page)

BOOK: The Return
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“They thought he had built this cabin without my knowledge, but that simply wasn't true,” said Rusty. “He built it for me as a guest house. I think the poor fellow was implicated just for being a grumpy old man.”

“But the authorities couldn't find him for a while, right?” asked Max.

“He was with me,” Rusty quickly answered.

“Rusty,” Tim whispered. “I'm so sorry about Luke, but I know we will find him. I know it.”

Rusty's head went down and he stared at the floor, then placing his elbows on his knees, he covered his eyes with his hands and let out a long sigh. Was he crying? Tim couldn't be sure, but he suddenly felt tears welling up in his own eyes.

“You kids are his very best friends in the world,” Rusty finally managed to say. Then rising from his chair, he looked directly at Tim. “What are you doing here at the cabin anyway?”

“We thought we could find some answers,” Emily said. “Something that might help us find Isabelle, Luke, and the others.”

Rusty walked over to Emily.

“Eme, I'm so sorry about Isabelle,” he said warmly. “But I know she is okay. Just like I know Luke is okay, and we will all be together again.”

Emily leaned toward him and gave him a hug.

“You really think so?” she asked with urgency.

“I know so,” he replied. “Please trust me on that.”

“Why did
you
come here?” Tim asked.

“Same as you I guess,” he answered, turning again to Tim. “But there is nothing here to find. I searched this place up and down with a fine-tooth comb. If there was anything here, the authorities have it now.”

After visiting with Rusty awhile longer, the group said their good-byes and headed for home.

“Oh, man!” Tim shouted. “I left my phone in the cabin, I have to go back and get it. You all go ahead, I'll catch up.”

He ran back toward the cabin and up the stairs of the porch. He knocked softly and then opened the door. Tim was about to call out Rusty's name when he heard his voice. He must be on the phone, he thought.

He went to the table to retrieve his phone and was about to leave when Rusty's voice became louder, as if he were angry with whomever he was speaking to.

“Listen to me, this has to be done quickly, the other kids are in pain over this,” Rusty was saying. “You know as well as I do it wasn't supposed to go down this way.”

Tim found himself moving closer so he could better hear what was being said.

“Yes, I am aware of the risks,” he continued. “But that doesn't matter now. If you don't get the other kids out of here and back on Earth soon, the whole plan could be ruined.”

Chapter 5
The Underground

Tim was frozen in place, but his mind was racing.

What was Rusty talking about? Did he hear him say “Earth”? And what did he mean about “getting the other kids out of here”? Tim wasn't really sure, but he did know one thing —he wanted to get out of here—
now
.

Tim forced himself to move slowly and quietly toward the door, until he was outside, and then he ran—he ran faster than he had ever run before. He ran past trees and bushes, over hills, and across a dried-up riverbed. He wasn't even sure he was going in the right direction. He looked back to see if Rusty was there following him, and it was at that moment he tripped and fell flat on his belly, narrowly avoiding smacking his face right into the dirt.

Getting back up wasn't easy. His chest was aching, his hands were covered in scrapes, and his pants were ripped at the knee.

“Great,” he said aloud.

Back on his feet again, Tim took a good look at his surroundings. He had definitely taken a wrong turn, nothing looked familiar.

He walked a little farther and came to a hill. At the bottom of the hill was a creek. That might be Ebert Creek, he thought, and that cuts right through town—but which way?

He decided to follow it for a while and see where he ended up.

Staring at the ground, he stumbled along the water's edge trying to recall exactly what Rusty had said. Was it possible that he was involved in the disappearances? But how could that be? His own son was missing. No, Tim must have misheard or misunderstood something. It simply didn't make any sense for Rusty to be involved.

He was so lost in his thoughts, he almost tripped again on a branch. No . . . wait. Not a branch, what was it? He bent down to take a closer look; it was a piece of metal or something. Hold on, it was more like a cover or a lid, and it was off center so it was sticking up a bit.

What was it covering?

Curiosity took hold and he grabbed the thing, pulling it as hard as he could, finally managing to move it to one side, revealing a large hole underneath.

But it wasn't just a hole; it was an opening—an entrance. He leaned down further, peering into the darkness. There was light coming from somewhere down below. It was barely detectable, but it was there. He remembered his phone, and turning it on flashlight mode, lowered it down as far as he could reach. It illuminated the gloom enough to see that it was a long tube that seemed to lead to a landing at the bottom. He swiped the phone along the walls of the tube and could see a set of rungs obviously meant for using to climb up and down. There was something lying at the bottom, but what was it?

He extended his arm further, holding the phone in his fingertips to see if he could make it out and then—the phone fell—
down
—
down
—
down
.

Tim let out a cry of frustration as the phone's light grew smaller and smaller until it landed with a whoosh. Leaning his head down into the hole, he could see that the light was still on, and the phone appeared to be in one piece. He had to go get it. After carefully studying the placement of the rungs, he grabbed the first and began a slow descent.

It didn't take long to reach the bottom. His phone had fallen into a pile of soft dirt and he quickly dusted it off and checked to see if it was still working—it was. Next to it was a small box. This was what he had seen from above. He reached down, picked it up, and opened it.

Inside was a large key ring with about ten keys on it.

Looking around, Tim could now see that this wasn't just a hole, it was a lighted tunnel. A tunnel someone had built with great care.

He peered back up at the entrance and knew he couldn't just leave. He wanted to see where this passageway led. He
needed
to see.

Tim began walking, slowly at first, and then with longer, faster strides.

After several minutes, the light was getting stronger and better illuminating the tunnel.

He finally arrived at what appeared to be another set of rungs that led to another entrance. Placing his phone in his pocket, he climbed up and pushed at the cover. It wouldn't budge. He climbed back down and kept walking. Every so often, he would come to another set of rungs, leading to another entrance, but all were shut tight. He kept walking.

The tunnel twisted and turned, but it was easy to navigate and there was plenty of air to breathe. Despite his circumstances, Tim was more curious than nervous.

Another set of rungs appeared. He almost skipped it. He assumed it was locked like the rest and he wanted to keep going.

Did this thing ever end? Or did it just go on and on forever? What was the reason someone had made it?

He had so many questions, but he knew it must be getting late and his parents would be concerned. So would his friends. He had told them he would catch up with them; they must all be worried by this point.

Tim reached another set of rungs leading up to a cover. Maybe he'd try just one more before heading back, just to see if it was unlocked.

He climbed up and this time the cover moved open easily. He carefully popped his head out from the catacombs and recognized where he was immediately.

The Reef Institute.

Chapter 6
What Lies Above

It had been more than an hour since Tim had taken off back to the cabin to retrieve his phone. After walking for a bit, Max, Nina, and Emily had decided to sit and wait by a group of fallen trees for him to return.

“I bet Mr. Kull is happy the kids are gone,” Max snapped.

“Max!” Nina chastised, putting a hand on Emily's leg. “I'm sure that's not true.”

“He's probably right,” Emily whispered. “He was always so mean to us.”

Nina couldn't disagree.

“I guess that's true,” she said. “And what is the deal with that woman who is always staring out her window at us? She really gives me the creeps. It feels like she is always looking right at me.”

Lost in conversation, the time passed quickly without notice until the suns started their descent and the forest began to fill with shadows.

“Do you think he took another way home?” Emily asked.

“What other way?” Nina replied nervously. “We've never even been out this far before. Do you think he got lost?”

Max paced nervously back and forth.

“Should we go back to the cabin and see if he's there?” he asked. “Maybe Rusty and Tim just started talking.”

It would have been easier if someone else had thought to bring a phone along, but no one did, so they were stuck with the option of going back to Rusty's cabin—or going forward to tell Tim's parents. But that would mean explaining why they had gone to the cabin in the first place.

After a few minutes of discussion, Max decided to head back to the cabin while the girls headed back to town to see if Tim was already there.

•••••

The phone was gone.

Rusty had noticed it after the kids had left and shortly before getting the call. It had been on the end table in the front room, and it was quite easy to recognize who it belonged to because of the skateboard stickers on it. Now it was gone.

For months Rusty had been feeling a wide range of emotions, but overriding it all was an acute sense of anxiety and this situation certainly didn't help to ease his fragile state of mind.

One of the kids, or all of them, must have returned to retrieve it while he was on the phone in the other room. Was there a possibility they heard his conversation?

Walking to the kitchen, he took out his wallet and removed a small photo of his sons: Luke with his jet black mop of hair—and Aidan, who was blonde with pale skin. Aidan had been very weak as a baby, and it only seemed to get worse as he grew. He was always sick, and by the time he reached the age of seven, he was simply unable to thrive any further. Luke was only five when it happened, followed shortly after by the loss of his mother—Rusty's wife, Lenore.

It had been a very sad time for them both. There had been no good way for him to explain to Luke why he lost both his brother and his mother so close together. Perhaps one day.

“Hello, anyone home?”

Rusty walked slowly back to the front of the house.

“Max?”

“Hi, Mr. Eller. I'm sorry to bother you again but . . . hey, are you okay?”

Rusty realized he was suddenly sweating profusely.

“Max, are you alone?”

•••••

Tim couldn't believe he was looking at the Reef Institute.

The opening was covered under some brush. He could see he was in some kind of enclosed courtyard. There were two guards close by, so Tim quickly ducked his head down to avoid being seen. He could hardly believe where this door had led him. While it did feel as though he had been walking awhile, it certainly didn't feel like he had walked this far.

If the tunnel had a door to this facility, where did all the other doors lead?

He carefully lifted his head through the hole again and saw that the guards had moved away. He looked around and could see he was definitely inside the gates of the facility in a yard with a bench and a few tables.

He was inside the fence.

Feeling nervous, he lowered himself back down, gingerly moved the cover back into place, and climbed back down into the tunnel.

Tim could see that the tunnel went on from here, but for how long? The questions were endless, and he had no answers. Then he remembered the box of keys.

He decided he was going to find out where the other openings led. He raced back down the path the way he had come. When he reached the beginning, he opened the box and removed the ring of keys. He walked until he came across the first opening. Climbing up, he felt around in the dark until he found the opening. Key after key didn't fit—and then finally the chamber turned and he heard a loud click.

It was unlocked.

It took some effort to move it aside, and as he did, sand poured in on his head.

It was the beach. As he lifted his head up, he could see it was on an isolated stretch to the right of Paradise Beach. He didn't waste any more time on that one. He closed it up and continued on.

When he got to the next opening, he reached for the cover and pushed up, slowly moving it to the side.

Carefully, he lifted his head out of the opening. He was in some sort of room, a storage area?

A sharp pang of terror gripped him as he realized what the room was. It was Luke's basement. He was peering into Luke's house.

Tim quickly lowered himself, replaced the cover, and without locking it, went on to the next. It was quite some distance from the first, but following the same procedure, he found the key and moved the cover.

This time, he was in another room, another basement? But whose was it? he wondered.

Hearing a noise from somewhere upstairs, he quickly replaced the cover, not taking the time to lock this one either. Tim decided to skip a few of the openings and go past the place where he had seen the Reef.

As he ran along the path, it seemed to go deeper and deeper underground. Knowing that his friends would be looking for him, he decided to try the next opening he came upon.

He climbed the rungs and pushed the cover over to the side.

BOOK: The Return
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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