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Gold Towns

Chapter Five

Prosper slowed down when they passed the gas station. "What is it?" Billy asked.

"Thinking about Frank," Prosper said. "Whoever he was." The window Ruben had broken was papered over, he noticed. Otherwise, nothing had changed.

Ruben snorted. "He was creepy, that's what. Let's not go after him without a plan."

They continued on to the library, where they got out of the car and discovered the libary wasn't open yet. "Opens at noon," Prosper said, checking the time. "We've got half an hour."

"Hate to say it," Ruben said, "but I'm so unbelievably bored."

"Play a game or something." Billy put her seat back. "You've got games on your phone, right?"

"Forgot to charge my phone overnight. It's super dead."

"And you didn't say anything? Dude, I've been charging my phone this whole time, and it doesn't even need it!"

"I'm stupid, Billy!"

Prosper opened the car door, which got both his friends' attentions. "Where you going?" Billy asked. "It's not really that much cooler outside than in here."

"Not yet," Ruben commented. "Give it like five minutes and we'll be cooking."

"I want to go back to the tunnels," Prosper said.v

Billy and Ruben were quiet for a moment. "Susannah said the tunnels were dangerous," Ruben said. "Like, really dangerous. You sure you want to go?"

"You don't have to come with me."

"Like we're gonna let you go alone." Billy pushed her door open and got out of the car with Prosper. "Ruben, c'mon."

Ruben flung his door open with such force it almost hit Prosper. "Sorry!" Ruben said. "Didn't mean it! How are we getting in, though?"

"I thought we could use the entrance in the desert." Prosper pointed. "I sort of remember how to get there, so…"

"Works for me," said Ruben, and he hopped to his feet. "It's still early. Not super hot yet. Good time for a walk, right?"

The three were covered in sweat by the time they found the shack. "Oh my God," Billy said, running a few steps to reach the shade. "Guys, that sucked."

Prosper took a long drink from his water bottle. "Sorry," he said.

"At least the tunnels are cool," said Ruben. "Underground and all. Hey, I think the library's open now, too!"

"Too bad we're not going to the library," said Billy. "I mean, not yet, anyway."

"We could use the trapdoor?"

Prosper shook his head. "What, and let everyone in the library know we were in the tunnels?"

"That's a good point. Let's not do that."

They rested in the shack for a few minutes, until the wall Ruben leaned on made a creaking noise and they all decided they were done resting. Prosper reached for the trapdoor, his hands shaking.

"You good?" Ruben asked.

"Yeah," Prosper said, and he pushed the trapdoor open. The three of them peered into the darkness, Billy shining her phone's light into it.

"I don't see anything," Ruben said.

"We're not gonna see much until we go in," Billy said.

"I'll go first," said Prosper.

He climbed down the ladder, careful not to slip. It wouldn't be that much of a fall, but Prosper didn't want to make unnecessary noise. Once on the ground, he used his phone to illuminate Ruben's climb, and Billy after him. She closed the trapdoor, shutting out the sunlight, and the three of them looked around.

"What are we looking for?" Ruben asked.

"I don't know," said Prosper, shining his light down the hall. "Anything, I guess. Let's go… towards the town."

They quickly evaluated which direction "towards the town" was and started walking. When they passed the trapdoor Susannah had led them by before, Prosper paused and stared up at it. "I'm not gonna go up there," he said when Billy questioned him, "I'm just curious, that's all."

"Huh," said Ruben. "I wonder if anyone can hear us down here."

"Let's not test it," Billy said.

Prosper nodded and they kept going.

They passed the trapdoor leading to the library and kept going. There were two tunnels branching off at the end of the hall, left and right. Prosper turned his phone down each one, but the light only went so far.

"There's a room down that way," Ruben said, pointing right. "I mean, I think I see a door."

The left path sloped down, deeper into the earth. Prosper considered the options. "Let's check out the room, first," he said. "Then let's go the other way."

Billy and Ruben shrugged and followed Prosper. There was, in fact, a door down the right path, shut tight. Prosper tried to go in, but the door only opened a crack before hitting something and refusing to go any further. He put his phone's flashlight through the opening, but couldn't make anything out but the wall.

Ruben sighed. "Guess that's a bust," he said. "Let's check out the other way."

They moved on.

The long sloping tunnel had no rooms on its path. Prosper didn't know what he was looking for, but they had been walking for another half hour, and they was nothing to find. Eventually, he stopped and sat down against the wall, Billy and Ruben sitting on either side of him.

"You alright?" Ruben asked.

"I don't know," said Prosper. "I wanted to find something here, but… I have so many questions, I don't even know what they all are."

Billy put an arm around him. "I get it," she said. "If this were one of my siblings missing, I'd do whatever I could to find them."

"We're definitely going in the right direction," Ruben added. "First that guy knew you had a sister, then Susannah said someone mentioned her."

"That's what makes it scary," Prosper said. "Like… I didn't even plan to stop here, y'know? I was gonna check the last place she was, where we found her car. Now we've found this whole–this whole conspiracy at a random gas stop!"

His words echoed in the dark tunnel. Prosper sighed.

"Hang on," Billy said. "Maybe we should do that."

"Do what?" Prosper said, sitting up a little straighter.

"Check the last place she was." Billy got to her feet. "This is gold town six, right? That means there are more, right?"

"Yeah, but the police didn't find anything when they looked."

"Yeah, well, obviously the police haven't found this place, either, 'cause you know it'd be all over the news if they did." Billy smiled at him. "If we found something here, maybe she found something where she was, y'know?"

Prosper stared up at her. "We don't know that," he said. "Maybe some random axe murderer got her."

"You don't really believe that, do you?"

"I guess not."

He stood up. Ruben stood with him and yawned. "I dunno about you," he said, "but all this walking made me tired. Is it alright if I sleep in the car?"

Prosper cracked a smile. "Yeah, of course. Let's head back. I'll find directions to Dustfield at the car."

They made the long journey back to the car, exiting the tunnels and walking under the hot sun to the library parking lot. Ruben paused before they got in the car. "Can we say bye to Susannah?" he asked. "I mean, we might come back here, but I wanna let her know we're going."

"Sure," Prosper said. "Library's open now, right?"

The library doors were unlocked. Prosper, Billy, and Ruben went in and passed the empty desk. Ruben cupped his hands to his mouth to call out, but Billy elbowed him. "It's a library, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. Thanks."

There weren't any other people in the library, Prosper noted, but he didn't comment. "Let's just go to the back and see if she shows up," he said.

"Are you looking for me?"

The three of them jumped at Susannah's voice. "Don't sneak up on us like that!" Billy blurted out, spinning around to face her. "I know you're a ghost, but you don't have to scare us!"

Susannah flinched. "Sorry!" she squeaked.

"Your dress is nice," Ruben said. "I didn't know you could change clothes."

Susannah's dress was green and patterned with pink flowers. She picked at her sleeve and looked away. "I can sort of control what I wear," she said. "Um, I just copy what I see in books."

"That's cool," Ruben said. "We came to tell you we're heading out."

Susannah tilted her head. "Out where?"

"Out of town," Prosper said. "We're going to the last place we know Goldie was and investigating there. We'll probably be back."

"I just wanted you to know," Ruben said. "I mean, you'd probably be freaked out if we left without telling you, right?"

She nodded. "Yeah," she said. "Thank you. Be careful."

"Don't worry, we will be." Billy smiled. "Don't you get in trouble, alright?"

"Why would I?"

"I guess you wouldn't."

"I think that's it," Prosper said. "We're gonna go now. See you next time, Susannah."

Susannah managed a smile. "See you later," she said. "I hope you find your sister."

"Yeah," Prosper said. "We will. I'm sure of it."

They had enough gas to get to their next destination, at least. Prosper started the car with the AC on full blast and drove away. From what he knew of Dustfield, it was another small town, much like Granite Village, in the middle of the desert with nothing of interest to people driving through but a gas station and a fast food joint. Prosper told this to Billy and Ruben while they drove down the highway. "I looked into it when we found Goldie's car, but…" He sighed. "I don't know, it was hard to focus on anything. When I finally snapped out of it, I just wanted to get out of there, y'know? Tried to save up for a phone, a car…"

"Guess the car thing didn't work out," Ruben said.

"Turns out, it was way cheaper to take my dad's." Prosper snorted. "He doesn't even use it! But yeah, I didn't do a lot of research into Dustfield until I started planning to actually leave, and I didn't find much. Their town website looks like crap."

"Figures," Ruben said. "Most towns have crappy websites. Oh! Can I look it up on my phone?"

"I mean, I won't stop you."

"The only problem I have is how we're going to look for tunnels," Billy said. "I guess we could start at the library, if they have one, and look for something there…"

"I was thinking we could look in abandoned buildings," Prosper said. "If the tunnels are as old as Susannah says, there's probably some entrances in places like that, right? Like, if someone built their house around an entrance, and then had to leave 'cause it's a dying town."

"So we're doing more breaking and entering, huh?" Billy sighed. "Just make sure you have my back. It only takes one guy with a gun guarding his property, y'know?"

"Oh, God." Ruben jerked his head up from his phone. "I didn't even think about that."

"We'll be careful," Prosper said. "I mean, it'll be dangerous, but of course I've got your back. You and Ruben both."

They drove in silence for a while, until they pulled off the highway and the GPS beeped at them that they were approaching their first stop. "Drive through or sit down?" Prosper said as they approached the burger place. "I'll pay, either way."

"I think we should go in," Ruben said. "I gotta pee."

They parked and went in. Prosper and Billy examined the menu while Ruben headed to the restrooms. "How much farther do we have to go?" Billy asked. "Like, in hours."

"Two more hours," Prosper said. "Maybe a little less? The GPS says an hour forty-five, but you know how traffic goes."

"Yeah, alright."

Ruben returned and they ordered their food. "You good with eating in the car?" he asked. "Some guy looked at me funny in the restroom. I don't want to stay here."

"Yeah, of course," Billy said. Prosper nodded in agreement.

When they exited the building, someone was standing by the car. "Hey," they said when Prosper neared them. "Is this your car?"

"Uh, yeah," Prosper said. "Is something wrong?"

They gave him a sheepish smile. "I scraped it pulling out. Sorry."

Prosper's eyes fell on the side of the car, where there was indeed a large scrape running across the side. Ruben winced. "Looks pretty bad," he said.

"It's fine," said Prosper. "I mean, it's just a scratch."

The person laughed. "I mean, scratch or not, it was my mistake, and you gotta get it fixed, right? Here, I'll give you my phone number for the insurance."

They took out a notepad and started writing on it. "Uh," Prosper said, "that's really not necessary. I'm just gonna go."

"Wait, but–"

Prosper motioned for Billy and Ruben to get in the car and opened the driver's door. "It's alright," he called to the person staring at them, "I can probably take care of it myself. I'm good with cars. Bye!"

He started the car, waited for them to move out of the way, and pulled out of the parking lot.

"Dude," Billy said once the burger place was behind them.

Prosper kept his eyes on the road. "What?"

"That was majorly suspicious, you know that, right?"

"I can't get the car fixed," Prosper said. "They'll find out it's not mine. And then my dad will find out what we're doing, and then–"

"I know that," Billy interrupted. "But just driving off might've made things worse. Now they're gonna think you have something to hide!"

"I'm surprised they even wanted to give you their information," Ruben commented. "Like, down here? Maybe if we were on, like, the east coast. They're supposed to be nice there, right?"

"Have you ever been to the east coast?"

Prosper tightened his grip on the steering wheel. "Well, it's too late now," he said. "I'll try not to do that again, or whatever, but it's not like we can go back, alright?"

"Hey, easy on the attitude," Billy said. "We're your friends, remember? I'm not mad at you, I'm just scared we're gonna get caught." She sighed. "Let's just be careful from here on out."

Hadn't he already been careful? Prosper bit back a remark and kept driving.

"We've got your back," Ruben said.

"Yeah," Prosper said. "I know."

Eventually, they were at Dustfield.

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