An Evening Walk
She’d been missing for twenty-four hours, with no one in the community, not even the authorities knowing where she was.
They’d turned the neighborhood upside down trying to find her, with each hour spent more harrowing than the last.
They were almost giving up until they heard the man screaming. His dog was barking hysterically beside him. What had they found?
The man had been walking his dog that evening. His mind was lost in the worries that had blanketed the neighborhood.
He and his family had lived here for fifteen years with little to no disturbance.
But now, his neighbor’s daughter had suddenly vanished. There was no rhyme or reason to the situation until the man heard knocking coming from a manhole. What he’d find would change his life forever.
What’s Underneath The Lid?
The knocking was faint at first. He hadn’t heard it until his dog started growling, pulling him toward the manhole.
With his chin lowered to his chest, he neared the rust-eaten metallic lid.
His dog’s barks had gotten louder now. She snarled and growled, clearly telling the man something terrible lay beneath that lid. But no one could ever have guessed what was hiding underneath their town.
A Good Dad
Mark Ellis had wanted nothing more than to relax and let off some steam that week. After a long seven months at work, he’d finally decided to cash in on his two-week vacation days.
Working as a social worker in Dodge City, Kansas, the forty-eight-year-old had long worked to provide his family of five with everything they needed.
From education to food and clothes, Mark’s family never wanted nothing. He even moved them to a beautiful neighborhood. He’d thought he was making the right move by relocating them there, not knowing what terrible secrets the town held.
A Fresh Start
But Mark and his family had lived in that neighborhood for fifteen years. Their firstborn, Mary, was now a senior in high school.
She’d been three when Mark relocated her and her mom here for a fresh beginning.
The neighborhood came with everything a family man like Mark could want. It had sprawling lawns, ample spaces for kids to run and play, and wide roads for them to ride their bikes. Who would have thought that underneath, it would nest one of the most harrowing secrets in Mark’s life?
It all began with a frantic call from the missing girl’s mom on Tuesday evening. The girl, an eighteen-year-old named Celeste, had allegedly left school that evening and not gotten home.
A close friend to Mary, Mark’s daughter, she’d left school alone, insisting that she needed to pick something up on her way home from school.
Mary and the rest of her friends agreed to let her go, unaware of what was about to happen.
Mark had been on his second day off when he heard the shouting. His neighbors, the Henleys, were a friendly bunch.
Their dad, Mr. Henley, was among Mark’s poker buddies, while their mom, Grace, usually led the summer bakesale with Mark’s wife, Judy.
So when Mark heard the commotion, he hurried over to investigate. His loyal golden retriever, Betsy, followed him across the lawn. What was happening that Grace would cry and shout so hysterically?
She Hasn’t Come Home Yet
Mark knocked on the door, and Mr. Henley wasted no time welcoming him. “We haven’t seen or heard from our daughter since morning,” he said with furrowed brows.
“She left for school and was supposed to be here at exactly five,” her mom said.
“It’s not like her to return late or not call if she’s got something that will make her run late.” Mr. Henley asked Mark a crucial question that would set everything in motion.
Talk To Mary
“Has Mary heard from her?” Mr. Henley asked. “Maybe she told her where she was going. Anything would be helpful, Mark. As you can see, Grace is worried sick.”
Mark nodded and assured the man he’d hurry back to his house to talk to Mary.
He understood how late teenagehood came with changes both physically and mentally. If there were anything crucial to cracking this case open, Mary would know.
Her Prom Dress
Without wasting time, Mark and Betsy returned to the house. Mark called Mary aside, asking about Celeste. Mary explained that the girl had told her she needed to pick up her prom dress from town on her way home.
Maybe she’d run late because her seamstress was still fixing the piece. Prom was only two weeks away, and the girls wanted nothing short of perfection.
Was the girl still at the seamstress even though it was already nighttime?
She Can’t Drive
Mark doubted that this was what was happening. If Celeste was at the seamstress, she would have called her mom and dad and told them where she was.
Mark knew she was yet to get her driver’s license. She’d been in the same driving class as Mary the previous year and had a few difficulties getting her driver’s license.
She’d need someone to pick her up or some cash for an Uber.
Mark knew how much Mary and her friends loved using Uber to move around town. Whether they were going to the mall, movies, or concerts, they would take a taxi there.
It was safe in their town, promising nothing happened to the girls until they reached their destination.
But regardless, they always called and sent information before hopping into the taxi.
Mark raced back to his neighbor’s house and relayed the message. Celeste had left school alone to pick up her prom dress. Mr. Henley knew precisely where the dress shop was.
Accompanied by Mark and Mary, he drove into town and headed straight for the seamstress’s shop.
He hoped with everything within him that Celeste was there. If only he knew that he was searching in the wrong place.
The seamstress’s shop was already closed by the time the two parents reached the doors. They called the number on the front door, hoping to get some good news about Celeste’s whereabouts.
But the seamstress told them she hadn’t seen the girl since the last time she came to check on her dress.
That was over three days ago. Mr. Henley almost broke into tears when he heard the news.
Where Might She Be?
“Is there anywhere else she might go?” he asked Mary desperately. “A friend’s place, a favorite diner, maybe even a secret spot she likes frequenting?”
Mary shook her head. Celeste was among her closest friends, and she knew all the places the girl loved to visit in their town.
It wasn’t like her to go out on a school night like this. Something terrible was afoot.
They Haven’t Seen Her
Mary explained all the places she and Celeste usually spent their time while in town.
Mr. Henley drove to each of these places, asking around if anyone had seen her daughter.
But just like with the seamstress, no one had seen Celeste. Some of the joints the dads visited explained that they hadn’t seen Celeste in weeks! What was happening?
Calling The Authorities
Mr. Henley pulled out his phone and called the authorities. He explained that his eighteen-year-old daughter had gone to school that morning as usual but did not return in the evening as she usually did.
She’d made plans to visit the local seamstress to pick up her prom dress but was yet to show up at the shop.
The authorities flocked his compound by the time he and Mark returned home. A mind-bending investigation was about to begin.
They Search Everywhere
The authorities began by asking each household along the street if they had seen Celeste. They went to businesses in town, from hotels and restaurants to cinemas, beauty shops, and arcades.
But no one knew where the girl was. Everyone reported only seeing Celeste leave school that evening.
They couldn’t explain where the girl had vanished. Immediately, a townwide search commenced.
The Search Continues
For the next twenty-four hours, the community searched for Celeste. The schools were closed early so everyone could participate in the search.
But even with this combined effort, no one could explain what had happened or where the girl had disappeared to.
But they had no idea that they were searching in the wrong place.
It was already evening when Mark heard the knocking coming from the maintenance hole.
He’d been walking Betsey around the neighborhood, keeping an eye out for Celeste if she was to turn up.
The knocking was faint at first. He hadn’t heard it until Betsy started growling while pulling him toward the manhole. Mark knelt, his heart racing, and listened carefully.
It Gets Louder
The knocking grew louder, more desperate. Each thud thundered weakly through the concrete, telling Mark he needed to act fast.
With trembling hands, he reached for the heavy metal lid of the maintenance hole cover and slowly began to lift it.
The noise from below intensified, and it became horrifyingly apparent that someone was trapped down there.
As Mark finally lifted the cover, a young woman’s hand shot out, grasping for anything to hold onto. Shocked and equally terrified, Mark reached out, helping her out of the dark abyss.
Disheveled and covered in grime, the girl looked around in confusion and fear.
It was none other than Celeste, the missing girl from the neighborhood, the one everyone had been searching for. She was alive, but her appearance was a picture of raw torment.
Henry called 911 immediately, and soon, the authorities arrived at the scene. The rescue mission had been successful, but the mystery around Celeste’s disappearance only deepened.
How had she ended up in the underground tunnels beneath the neighborhood? Who had put her there, and why?
As paramedics rushed her to the hospital for medical attention, the entire neighborhood buzzed with speculation.
Only The Beginning
Rumors engulfed the town like wildfire, with everyone spinning their own theory about what had happened. Some believed it was a random abduction, while others suspected a sinister secret within the community.
A series of strange occurrences unfolded while Celeste was recovering in the hospital. First, Mark received an anonymous letter in the mail, warning him to keep silent about what he had witnessed in the maintenance hole.
It was a chilling message that only added to the growing sense of unease.
Then, one by one, several other residents in the neighborhood reported hearing mysterious noises beneath their homes at night.
Whispers and faint cries echoed through the walls, but when the authorities investigated, they found nothing.
Some believed their traumatized minds were playing tricks on them, while others were convinced that something sinister lurked in the underground tunnels.
A Divided Community
As days turned into weeks, the neighborhood became divided. Some residents were determined to uncover the truth and ventured into the labyrinthine tunnels beneath their homes, armed with flashlights and makeshift maps.
Others, however, were too terrified to explore and barricaded themselves indoors.
They had seen how broken Celeste had looked when Mark found her and only saw it wise to keep away from whatever horror she’d endured.
Getting To The Truth
In the midst of the chaos, a local historian came forward with a shocking revelation.
He had discovered old records indicating that the neighborhood had been built on top of a system of tunnels used during Prohibition for illegal activities.
The tunnels had long been sealed off, but it appeared that someone had found a way to access them. This discovery broke the case open.
The investigation took a surprising turn when Celeste, still recovering in the hospital, revealed startling details about her captivity.
She claimed that she had been taken by a group of individuals who had been using the hidden tunnels for nefarious purposes.
They were using the tunnels to smuggle contraband and conduct secret meetings. She had been walking to the dress shop when they had captured her.
Now, the authorities had a new mission: to infiltrate this underground network and bring the criminals to justice.
But as they delved deeper into the tunnels, they uncovered tangles of corruption that reached higher than anyone could have imagined, implicating some of the most influential figures in the community.
The investigation led to shocking arrests, and the once tight-knit neighborhood fell into chaos as everything came to light.
Get To The Bottom Of It
But as the criminals were taken into custody, a new mystery emerged. The mastermind behind the illegal operations remained elusive, and rumors swirled that this shadowy figure was still pulling the strings from the shadows.
With the community in turmoil, Mark couldn’t help but feel that there was more to the story than met the eye. He began to dig deeper into the history of the tunnels and the secrets they held, determined to uncover the truth and bring an end to the sinister forces that had plagued his neighborhood.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.