All the joys and anticipation of the end of the week was replaced with anxiety and dread for Davis. His brain still racked over his split-second decision to let the shapeshifting monster run away free. The more intimidating matter was how Louise would treat him after that act.
He lay still in bed for several moments. His stomach felt like it was tied into a giant knot. He couldn’t close his eyes or sleep, his brain was far too amok to even think about sleep.
He clenched his teeth and forced himself out, slowly getting ready for the school day.
Louise woke up as energized as ever, but below the surface she was still fuming. As she got ready for school, she was running all the ways that she would scold Davis when she saw him in-person again. After several minutes of imagining the scenarios, she sighed to herself.
Perhaps it was better if she just kept to herself for the day.
When lunchtime arrived, she sat down at the usual spot, but Davis was nowhere to be seen.
He had picked the lock to an empty classroom, munching on a candy bar. This time, at least, he made sure to properly dispose of his garbage.
A day of studying and classwork passed on by, normally for Louise, but agonizingly slow for Davis. It felt like his stomach was going to cave in on itself every moment, especially the few classes he shared with his partner. He tried to focus as much as he could, avoiding trying to even look at the girl. Every now and then, he’d jerk his eyes towards her desk.
She seemed bored, looking everywhere but the front of the class.
After the final bell rang, Davis wasted no time in blending in with the school crowd, hoping his fashion wouldn’t give himself away to the girl.
I’m just gonna sleep this day off.
Davis’s avoidance for the day was annoying, but to her, not too serious of an issue. It was at least an issue she could confront him about if he continued.
With the library open, she thought that was a good place as any to continue searching for leads.
Plus, the government wouldn’t know it was her on that public computer. Maybe the school would get in trouble, and get closed for a day or two.
Just hop on some sketchy conspiracy sights, try to find anything local, and hope she’d come across some sort of lead.
Though her plans were a bit disrupted as she saw three familiar figures standing outside the doors.
It was Kirino, and the red and blue haired students that were with her last time.
She stood there, hands on her hips, talking to them. She spoke with a strong, and somewhat authoritative voice. She was also fairly loud too.
Loud enough to almost make out what she was saying from Louise’s distance.
Louise dove behind a nearby hedge, glaring at the trio.
It was a perfect storm of luck; The library was already quiet, most of the students had cleared out, so she was able to catch bits of her conversation.
“This is important…”
The Whispering Mines. They were an old settlement deep in the woods of Tomahawk Hills, and she vaguely remembered some ghost stories connected to them. Perhaps they had some merit to it.
She snickered to herself. She should have thought of this sooner. Kirino was rich; She probably already paid somebody to give her all sorts of secret info.
She thought about looking up thieving or spy techniques, and just spy on Kirino whenever she has free time. Or perhaps Davis could stalk her? She’ll have to ask him about it.
Helping save their town was one thing, but foiling Kirino’s plans on top of it? It was perfect.
The three split up, Kirino walking one and the two students the other direction. With the coast clear, Louise bolted into the library, keeping her mind on the strong lead.
Davis had been lying in his bed for the past few hours. He hadn’t eaten since lunch, and the anxiety was still overpowering his mind and stomach.
He thought to himself how he had to at least do something, maybe some research of his own to make up for his mistake to Louise.
But where to even start? I don’t want to go to some site and get noticed by PAIN. Or a trojan virus, or something else.
His phone buzzed, lurching him out of his unresponsive state.
It was Louise.
His stomach churned as he opened it.
“I found a huge lead, but we gotta act on it soon. I’ll be at your place first thing in the morning. Be dressed to head out into the woods too!”
The knot in his stomach undid itself, feeling the release of relief rise through his chest. He smiled, thinking that things were going to go back to usual.
The pangs came right back as somebody knocked on his door.
Could that be Louise? But she sent me a text message… or maybe it was delayed… Or maybe…
He sucked in his breath and hurried over to the door. He cracked it open, peeping at who it was.
It was himself, standing at the door at first glance. He was almost shocked, but then he remembered:
At second glance, he realized it didn’t look all too like him. Sure, it still had his outfit, hood, pale face, but there were significant differences.
His face was looking more childlike and innocent, with bigger eyes and somewhat poutier lips. Not to mention, the body was certainly not the same as his.
The clothes beneath the jacket hugged tighter, and the body shape was looking curvier.
“Hey…” He spoke to his admittedly cuter doppelganger. “Is everything all right? You’re not here to kill me or anything, right?”
It shook its head.
“Money. I need money.”
He scrunched his brow in confusion, before realizing what she meant.
“You ran out already?”
“I wanted lots of food, but they got mad. I gave them the money, but they said it wasn’t enough.”
He stared for a few moments. “How much did you order?”
“I pointed at all the pictures.”
Davis sighed, giggling a bit. “All right, well hold on a second.”
He pulled out his wallet, taking out a $100, along with two $20’s.
He held up the $100. “See this? This should give you enough to feast on to make up for yesterday. And with these two, try to not order everything at once. Pick one food a day, and these will last you four days.”
It nodded, scanning the faces, numbers, and details of the cash.
“I can trade one for more food, and this one, I trade for less?”
“Yup. I uh, don’t think you know how to count.”
It shook its head. “Does it involve these?”
It pointed at the numbers at the bill.
“Yeah. Then there’s change. Oh uh, just, also when you give them the money, tell them to keep the change. At least until you figure out how it works.”
“Thank you. I will do my best.”
“If you ever need more money, just stop back here, okay? I can help out.”
“I will try. My master is still looking. I don’t want to endanger you. I should leave.”
It glanced around, before sprinting away. Davis reached towards the creature.
“Wait, what about your…”
He sighed. Still, most of the anxiety had washed away. His previous decision didn’t backfire horribly, and more importantly, he was still friends with Louise.
Saturday morning, Davis was rudely woken up by a pounding on the door.
Still dressed in his big jacket and baggy pants from the previous day, he leapt out of bed and shuffled over to the door.
There in the doorway stood Louise, with a dumb smile on her face, all dressed up in her cargo shorts and alien t-shirt. This time, the alien was purple.
“You know, I was gonna comment about how you’d need to prove your dependability to me.” She said, “But you actually got up when I asked, all dressed!”
He yawned. “I… Didn’t just get up. I swear…”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah yeah. Now, before we get to business, I do need to address something.”
The pit in his stomach began forming again.
“Just, when I’m about to kill a cryptid, let me, all right? We can’t really afford to have any sorta debate in the heat of battle. Honestly, we’re really lucky the thing didn’t ambush us on our way home alone. Unless it’s still planning one…”
Davis opened his mouth for a brief moment, thinking back to yesterday afternoon. He closed, holding his tongue.
He didn’t want to cause any issue.
“Fine. Just before we get too deep into fights, I’ll just, try to let you know if something feels off.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with freeing a creature that’s trying to kill me.”
He nodded. The stomach pangs dissipated.
“So…” He paused. “What’s the lead you found?”
“Ever hear of the Whispering Hills?”
From her backpack she pulled a few scans of news articles. Each one had constant mentions of ghosts, mass hysteria, riches in the mine, and so on.
“This stuff is like, prime paranormal material.”
Davis raised an eyebrow at her research. “You actually found a good source that wasn’t just a random forum poster?”
Louise nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, my guarantee that something HAS to be going on here is that I found out Kirino is interested in this place too!”
Davis squinted. “You don’t think we’re gonna bump into each other again, are you?”
“Well why do you think I wanted us to leave so early?”
She cleared her throat, picking up one of the articles.
“So basically, some people claimed to hear ghostly whispering calling them to some hills, located deep in our local woods a few centuries ago. They followed it, and all of the sudden they come across some hills that are chock-full of gold! A bunch of miners then holed up there to try and get really rich.”
“So rumors about a ghost voice is all there is?”
She picked up another one of the papers. “Whispering Hills settlement disaster, Whispering Hills colony established, Law Enforcement bars visitors from Whispering Hills Settlement. There’s like, so much misfortune around this place. Did you know there were four attempts to keep this settlement running, and all failed? All due to mysterious accidents and mass hysteria.”
“Survivors, and yeah I do mean SURVIVORS, who fled the settlement kept complaining about a constant whispering, trying to call them back into the mines cuz of all the riches down there.”
“So we’re gonna find out what’s causing the whispering, beat it and go home?”
“Yup, that’s the plan!”
“And what if you can’t just punch it? What if it’s like an actual ghost?”
“That’s no biggie. There’s always some way to kill a ghost.”
“But aren’t ghosts already dead?”
Louise shook her head. “Then banishing it? Exorcizing? We can figure something out, like we always do.”
Davis huffed. “I do know a few things about putting spirits to rest, maybe we can try it out if it comes to that. But if we’re threatened, and we have no clear way to deal with them, we’ll run. Got it?”
Louise shrugged. “I mean I guess…”
Davis picked up one of the papers, with the headline mentioning the police.
“Also, are you sure we won’t get in trouble for trespassing there?”
“Psh.” Louise almost laughed. “If they actually bothered to assign police to watch the middle of nowhere, I’d willingly ask them for help on our mission!”
After preparation, the two were all set to head out.
The hills wouldn’t be too hard to find; They were even visible off in the distance. They simply needed to head off in one direction, hit the hills, and follow along the side until they reached the settlement. A simple journey.
That was, until their trek through was interrupted.
Decently deep in, they saw a lone figure standing, staring into the sky.
His outfit was too unique to be forgotten:
It was Von Chad.
The two didn’t waste any time to dive behind a pine tree, barely peeking out to stare at the mysterious man.
He held up a hand towards them, motioning for them to stand still.
The two froze in place. Davis grasped Louise’s wrist tight.
Moments later, he sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Not today… You two can come on out. I think my target has eluded me.”
Louise walked on up to the man, towing Davis along with her. She stared up to the sky, before looking back at him.
“What exactly were you looking for?”
“I’m sure somebody as educated on the supernatural as you is aware of the Thunderbird, correct?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of the myths. That’s real too?”
The man laughed. “Oh, yes! And there’s so much more I would love to tell you about, that’s if I could however.”
Louise narrowed her eyes. “Oh, so you come around, make demands to me, but telling us about all the cryptids around here is too far?”
“Yes, unfortunately. I’ve been around for well over a millenia, and the stories I could tell!”
“Hold on,” Davis interjected. “You don’t mean an ACTUAL millennia, you’re just exaggerating, right?”
He broke into laughter again. “Do I seem like the type to lie?”
Louise and Davis instinctively took a step back.
“Don’t tell me…” Louise took a deep breath. “You’re one of those secret shadow government elites that happens to eat babies to live forever?”
Davis coughed out a laugh, eyes bugging out of his head.
She turned frustrated at his friend.
“It’s a thing! Like look at him! He’s fancy, well spoken, ultra powerful, immortal? Like isn’t that all the criteria for being a secret evil ruler of the world?”
He shook his head. “No, no. Ruling the world is too easy. Such a weak ambition. I prefer collecting birds.”
Louise had to hold back a snort. “You gotta be kidding me… Too easy?”
“Well, if you don’t lie,” Davis pitched in, “Why DON’T you rule the world. You’re implying you could if you wanted to. Not to mention, bird collecting would be easier with the world’s resources under your control.”
“Ask yourself this: What’s the difference between a caged human and a caged bird? A caged bird will love you for providing everything it needs to live. A caged human with everything they need will always be left wanting more. Don’t you already understand this Louise?”
She stared at the immortal in utter disbelief.
“What do you mean, I’m not caged!”
“Now then, thank you two for respecting the avians. I must continue my search!”
In the blink of an eye, he became a blur, dashing into the thicket of the forest. A gust of wind followed him, causing the two to stumble.
Davis sighed in relief, and Louise huffed. She turned to her partner.
“No way in heck he’s that old…”
Davis jabbed her in the side. “I told you it was a good idea we shouldn’t have messed with that guy. Immortality, super strength, super speed, what else do you think he’s hiding?”
“He could still be lying!”
Davis scoffed. “Does his age really matter? You saw how fast he was!”
“Well, we can figure out some plan of attack later. You don’t think silver or garlic would work?”
“What do you…” The gears in his head clicked. “Oh. I mean, you can try? But if it DOES work but doesn’t kill him, you might be in a lot of trouble.”
She put her hand on her chin. “True… If he doesn’t lie, maybe we can ask what his weakness is?”
As the explorers continued a light fog descended upon the woods. The moist, chilly air was thankfully repelled well by their warm clothing, but Davis wasn’t a big fan of the atmosphere it was creating. After reaching the hills and following along the edge of it, they came upon a clearing.
A massive expanse of dirt, mud, roots, dead leaves, stretching to the size of a small neighborhood block. In the center of the clearing was what they were looking for.
The Whispering Settlement.
It was a bizarre mix of structures;
There were some made of stone, others wood. They ranged from well-kept to rotting away. Some looked like they were picked straight from a wild west set, and others built like medieval stone huts. Off against the hills were some old structures, most likely for processing and refining ores.
On the outskirts of the settlement were frames and foundations, set up for homes that would never be built.
Louise smiled at the sight.
“See, told you there’d be no cops. Come on, let’s hurry up and-”
Davis tugged her on the shoulder.
“Just, before we run in, let’s avoid the buildings. Some of these buildings could be centuries old. There’s no telling how their condition could be, or what could be nesting inside.”
Louise nodded, slipping on her gauntlets.
“I don’t think it’ll be that bad. If asbestos is what gets me at the end of all of this, I’ll leave you a million dollars in my will!”
Davis gave her a disapproving glare. “First, I don’t think you can get asbestos from buildings this old. I’m thinking some like, poisonous mushrooms, or maybe hallucinogens. Just before we do ANYTHING involving those buildings, let’s both agree on it. No rushing in like a buffoon.”
“Ahhh, fine fine. But I have a feeling you’ll be wanting to crack open some of those houses soon enough!”
For the next few hours, the two thoroughly scanned the town, hunting for any supernatural clues.
Slowly but surely, plant life was starting to crawl back in, the outermost paths having a tangle of leaves and weeds. The frames of buildings were victim to the creep as well. One of the saloon buildings had several holes either pecked or smashed through its walls. Others which looked like shops were most likely looted. Most of them seemed fine at first glance, but each one had a not so subtle hole smashed into them somewhere.
The only buildings that were still standing strong were made of stone or brick, but even then vines were growing up the walls and overtaking them.
Other than rubble, dirt, and uninteresting plant life, the town had nothing to offer.
Amidst the ruins, there was one more stable looking building built of bricks. It was a single story, single room building. It had a chimney, but no windows.
Its door was made of solid wood, and hadn’t begun yielding to nature.
“This one at least looks safe enough to pop open.” Louise mentioned, sizing it up. I’m gonna see if I can open the front door, all right?”
She walked up to the door, pushing.
It budged forward only slightly. Something was stopping it from the other side.
She gave the door a powerful kick, and it snapped off the hinges, but still stood upward. Davis winced, hoping she didn’t wake up any sort of wild animals living inside.
She pulled at the heavy door, removing it from the frame.
Stacked up against the doorway was a bedframe, heavy dresser, a chest, and thoroughly rusted mining tools.
She carefully pushed away the barricade, getting a better view of the building’s interior.
It was a very small house, soaked in dust. Whatever furniture wasn’t put up against the door was overturned or smashed into splinters.
The fireplace was totally charred black, and in front of it was a skeleton, sitting on top of some chest.
Louise crept over, heart racing in fear and excitement. Davis stared in disgust.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to…”
She shoved the skeleton off, bones clattering against the floor.
“Only way to figure out why this guy literally died, you know? Come on Davis!”
She opened the chest, which was unlocked, to find…
She scratched her head, peering around the dusty container.
“There’s nothing in here…”
“I just hope you didn’t disturb his spirit for nothing then…”
As she shut the chest, she noticed a leather booklet to the side of it. She picked it up.
Every single page was torn out, except for one. Shaky writing was scrawled on it.
“Everyone has gone mad outside. I have enough food and kindling, and my door will hold. If they all starve, I can return home with my earnings safely.”
Louise opened the chest a second time, hoping for some kinda secret contraption to reveal some hidden treasure. Still, it was empty.
She turned back to Davis, holding up the booklet.
“So the newspapers weren’t lying. This guy mentions everyone outside going mad, and how he tried to wait them out.”
She walked out of the home, showing her partner the journal. He scanned the single page.
“I mean, how do you know he’s not lying? What if he went mad, barricaded himself inside, and starved to death?”
She shrugged. “I mean his “earnings” was an empty chest. Unless some rats stole what he wanted and slipped out?”
She glanced back inside the building. There were no holes or any way any person could have gone in or out, other than the chimney. Even then, it was too thin for an adult to fit through.
“I doubt they were digging cheese up here. Let’s keep hunting around.”
All the paths that ran throughout the settlement connected and routed their way to one point: The mines themselves. It was an old-timey looking mineshaft entrance that still looked pretty well kept up. The wooden beams were still solid and standing, the exterior had fresh minecarts lined up, ready to carry more slag or valuables out. The tracks were rust-free as well, suspiciously leading into a charred wooden building that Davis assumed was some kinda depot.
Not too far from the mine entrance was a serious outlier to the rotting structures: Pickup trucks and trailers attached to them.
They were rusted, but compared to their surroundings, their wear seemed quaint.
“You don’t think there’s police in there, do you?”
“Oh yeah” Louise scoffed. “Let’s just send some police officers to sleep in some rusted trailers.”
“Oh yeah, good point…”
“I’m gonna go check em out. I mean… We should go check them out. You agree?”
“I mean, unless they’re booby trapped? But they’ll still be much safer than checking out the buildings.”
Louise hopped on over to the trailer, Davis tagging behind. She tried the door.
Without hesitating, she grabbed it with both hands, yanking.
The handle popped off.
Grabbing the indent from where the handle was, she yanked again. She huffed and pushed one of her legs against the wall. The entire door popped off, and she staggered back a few steps, still holding onto it.
“You know, I coulda just like… lockpicked it?”
“Yeah, but this is a bit more fun.”
The inside of the trailer was coated in dust. There were empty cans of soup scattered on the floor, and shredded remains of ramen cups strewn about.
There was a map of the US tacked against the wall, a red mark over Tomahawk Hills, and a red line connecting to highways across the entire country.
Louise didn’t hesitate to begin rummaging as Davis stared nervously.
“You uh… Realize this is vandalism right? Or thievery? Interfering at a crime scene?”
Louise turned around, giving him a dumbfounded stare.
“Since when did you start caring about the law so much?”
“I mean, if somebody did still live here, they could trace the crime back to us… It just feels wrong rummaging through somebody’s stuff like this.”
“Well, you saw that dust. Nobody’s been here for a while, and I don’t think that fact is gonna change. We also gotta find some sort of clue!”
She turned back and continued to pull open drawers and cabinets, finding nothing but more food, utensils, tupperware, or random tools. She did manage to find some supplies of note:
Flares, a long length of rope, some pickaxes and sledgehammers, along with cables for power tools. She also found a set of car keys.
She hopped out, pushing the unlock button.
The truck towing the trailer honked in response.
She popped open the driver’s door and quickly surveyed the front seats..
The dashboard was smashed up. The display screen in the center looked like somebody drove a pickaxe through the center of it. Several frayed wires were left loose underneath the steering wheel, and the steering wheel itself was smashed apart.
There were also stains of dried blood on the seat.
Louise felt her heart race. Her imagination raced at what could have caused the scene.
She left the seat, turning to her partner.
“Now I know for a fact we’re not gonna see the police. There HAS to be some sort of cover-up going on.”
Davis’s eyes bugged out. “Wait, did you find a body in there or something?”
“No, just dried blood, and quite a bit of it. With the car all smashed up like that too, I don’t think it was an accident. You think if the police were actually watching this place, they’d find these trucks, the dried blood, and make a report about it, right? It’d be in some sort of newspaper!”
“Or maybe you missed something during your research?”
She shook her head. “If there’s a few things I can be sure of, it’s that aliens are real, and my ability to research into this stuff. I checked every lead online I could, and there was nothing from the past few decades related to it.”
Louise turned towards the hills, where the mine entrance was located.
“It’s a safe bet that whatever is driving everyone who comes here insane, HAS to be in the mines.”
Before entering, Louise took some time to gather a pickaxe, some flares, and a bundle of rope from the trailer.
They were going into a mineshaft, so some of these supplies were bound to be helpful, she thought.
“Just before we take a step in” Davis spoke up, staring at the mine entrance. “Let’s just have some ground rules before going in there, all right?”
Louise silently nodded.
“At any sight of structural instability, like a cracked beam of wood, we should turn around instantly. A cave-in is no joke, probably more dangerous than monsters. Besides, didn’t you say something about wanting to die to a monster rather than something lame, like asbestos, or a cave-in?”
“Oh yeah, I’m with you there. Not the uh, dying to a cryptid part, but the landslide. I don’t think these gauntlets were meant for power mining out of caverns.” She chuckled to herself.
“Also, let’s say the worst case scenario happens and a landslide does happen. You’ll be stuck, but I can still escape. I’ll ghost through the rubble and call the authorities for some help. You’ll just have to sit tight, but I promise I’ll do whatever I can to get you out.”
Louise frowned. “But that means the police will catch us… There should be some alternate exit, right?”
“I don’t think mines work like that. Plus, if you went exploring after a cave-in, you’ll end up getting more lost. If you stay put, it’ll be easier for a rescue team to find you.”
Her expression changed to a smile. “Then, I trust you on that front! Just at least come down and visit if it’s gonna be a few days before they can get me out, all right?”
Davis grinned in turn. “I think authorities will be all over the place, and won’t let me back near. But I’ll definitely try.”
In his mind, the small fight they had a few days ago no longer mattered.
Davis had Louise’s back, and he had hers. This exploration would go solidly.