This was just last year; so weird to think that this all happened over the course of an afternoon. I still feel it, and the scar on my forearm still hurts in the cold. I didn’t think anything would happen that day; it was just a sunny, warm, happy day.
I picked Dan up at his house, and CJ was already there, and they were high. On a scale of one to ten, they were ‘purple’. I sat down in the garden with them and felt the cool grass under my fingers. CJ passed me a joint and immediately started rolling another one, his nimble hands working fast to prepare the next dosage.
I loved these guys, but could no way keep up with them. When I went home I stopped nearly everything, no drink, no drugs, barely even food. I wasn’t at home a lot, but it was generally for sleep, washing and the odd meal. Bit of a waste really, having a three-bed terrace that I barely acknowledged as home.
Dan turned to me, smiling, and winked. “Wanna go out to the hills? If you can drive, I’ll navigate.”
I nodded and helped CJ gather up his paraphernalia: scraps of paper, small bits of cardboard, big bag of weed. It was all essential gear for a guy like CJ, his survival kit, to help him move through the world in the haze of quiet contemplation. We walked toward the car in silence.
“Shotgun!” Dan blurted out, but CJ just walked up to the passenger and got in. Such was his way; quiet superiority running parallel to such meekness.
We drove out onto the small country roads, winding and meandering across the shire, occasionally coming to the crest of a hill and looking out over the verdant trees, some of which turning just the hint of sienna, scorched by the late summer sun. The car lolloped around each corner, it’s aged shock absorption system mirroring our own internal softness, but carried us well out into the wilds. The roads were somewhat empty, being a midweek, and we only occasionally passed another car or tractor.
Dan’s navigation style could only be described as ‘sporadic’, and ‘untimely’. For long periods he would sit silently in the rear seat, gazing out the window, glassy-eyed, peaceful. Then all of a sudden he would erupt and stare intensely at me through the rear-view mirror. “Next left, next lefffft!”.
I looked ahead and saw the left he was referring to, it was about 10 metres away, and we were easily doing 40mph (I guessed, as I dared not look away from the road). My eyes darted in each mirror, my foot pushed hard down on the brake, and we careened around the corner, the right-hand side of the car dipping into the G-force. This was how it went for most of the journey, but as we drove it became more normal. Long periods of peace, an occasional pump of adrenaline, and we finally reached our destination.
“Hop out, we’re here” Dan said cooly, fumbling at the door release. “We can get a drink in the pub before we head off to the towers”. We followed Dan down the small road I had parked on, and into the small, white painted stone building, and found a seat near the bar. CJ ordered us some drinks, and then pointed at me when the price was totted up. Typical.
I recall asking Dan where we were going, but he skirted around a vague answer, with a soft smile, ever present on him, and refused to furnish me with specifics. I was glad, in a way, after all, this was my day off. These two scallywags were shift workers, and so regularly had midweek days off, but I had to plan when I wanted to skip off and wander freely, outside of weekends of course.
After a soft drink we stopped in at the small Spar on the main road, picked up some drinkables, munchies, and a few other supplies. Dan set off perpendicular to the road, out over a plain of roughly ploughed weeds and small clumps of grass. He walked with purpose and ease over the uneven ground, but CJ, in his long trousers and trainers, took a more sedate pace, occasionally pausing on a particularly tricky bit of ground. I followed behind the two of them, watching this odd performance play out.
The walk was long, but after a short time the ground evened out to short grass; the kind of land which lays fallow, or often has cattle roaming around, ignoring the humans who stumble out of nowhere, heading across towards the other side and then out of sight. The warm afternoon sun was nice to walk in, but not too hot. We trudged over the open field and across the fence on the far side. We climbed through copse of low trees, and there, on the other side, we could see the towers we were heading for.
“Ta-daaaa” said Dan, waving his hands, jazz-style, towards the ageing concrete structures in front of us. We laughed and carried on towards them. From the copse they looked quite small, just four stumpy towers and a few decrepit outbuildings, but as we got closer they grew up into the overcast, bright, sky. Dan lead the way, deftly clambering over the mounds of rubble, which, it seems, had be clustered willy-nilly around the remains of these structures.
At the time, I felt I could recall having visited this place before, but was unable to put my finger on when, or how, I knew this place. There was a deep familiarity with the four grey towers, sitting here in the relative middle-of-nowhere.
Dan lead on and around the back of one tower, walking towards a rusted and bent metal door, yanking it open, and confidently striding into the dusty and dark interior. The inside looked much the same as the outer, but the base of the tower was filled with grit and rubble. There was a dampness in the air, that increased the strength of the memory I had of this place, yet not enough to recall it completely.
I remember walking towards the rusty ladder, that went straight up the opposite side to the door, and tapping it with my hand. The sound of mud and clumped-together dust falling made me step back. The beam of light from the door, the only light source inside this silo, went misty with the falling debris. Up above a bird flapped, and flew out of a hidden hole in the tower, right up at the top. The sound echoed around, and we all looked up to see where the bird had gone.
The light cleared again after a short time, and I looked over to see CJ climbing the ladder, cautiously rising a rung at a time, heading up into the darkness above. When he was about five metres up, the ladder lurched and shuddered, filling this cavern with loud noise, that made us all jump. I looked up sharply to where CJ was, and he looked down, smiling. He was hanging out and pulling on another piece of rusty metal, hanging alongside the ladder. Perhaps it was the remains of a safety cage, so that a climber may fall back and be held, rather than falling all the way down. CJ yanked the metal again, and again the noise filled the tower. He carried on climbing.
The air was still, with Dan and me standing around in the base, looking up at CJ, who was now about half way up, maybe 20 metres up the ladder. He was far braver than me, and I remained static in the base, kicking the grit and rubble back and forth. Dan walked over and took to the ladder, shaking it and pulling down to gauge it’s strength. CJ looked down and shouted “Come on!”.
The moment Dan let the ladder take his full weight, there was a deep, thunderous, sound from above . CJ yelped and started down the ladder as fast as he could, but it was too late. I could see shadows moving above them both, and started backing toward the door. Dan was on the ground and moving toward me, glancing back up, as the ladder shook. I reached the door and saw that the ladder was peeling away from the wall, CJ hanging on to it and falling slowly backwards toward the opposite wall, still a good eight metres above the ground. Dan and I were now in the doorway, as the ladder hit the opposite side from where it was installed, and CJ hung, moving back and forth. The deep sounds were still rumbling up above, and we could see light starting to break into the very top of the tower.
CJ dropped from where he was, landing hard on the ground. We ran over and picked him up, basically dragging him towards the door. We pulled him outside and fell in a heap on the floor. Just as we landed, we saw the side of the tower, at the top, fall inward, leaving a hyperbolic gouge out of the smooth exterior. A moment later a deafening clamour of rock and earth thundered out of the doorway, and dust shot out, covering us and making our eyes sting. There was a rumble in the floor, that carried on for a few seconds, before another loud crash came out of the tower.
Looking down on the three of us there, I can see our dusty, shocked faces, laying back on the ground and looking through the door, and back up to the top of the tower.
“Close one, really close one” said CJ, coughing some grit out of his mouth. We picked up the bag of supplies and had a drink, wiping our faces with t-shirt-sleeves and trouser-knees. I sat back comfortably, and Dan dug out the snacks from the bag. CJ was transfixed on the doorway, watching the dust and debris clear, the gentle breeze outside the door blowing swirls of dust out and away.
Dan rolled one, and we passed it around in our usual style and rotation. Everything calmed after the chaos of just a few moments before, and the sun warmed my exposed arms, albeit through a layer of dust. Time slowed, and the sound of the trees returned, the light wind rustling the leaves, the sunlight sparkling through them as we lay on the soft ground.
After a time, CJ stood up and walked calmly back toward the tower. We had all been sitting there looking at it, glancing away only for moments, like it was an injured animal, that at any time could rally and attack us again. CJ walked up to the door and leaned in.
“Hey, hey! Come over! The floors caved in down here. I can see some light down there!”
Startled, Dan and I rose and jogged toward the door. Looking down into the broken ground and rubble, we saw he was right, there was light coming from somewhere below. It was unusual, not daylight, but white. The light gave enough definition to the rubble and boulders so that we could see a way down, and CJ lurched forward, pulled on and in by the light. We followed, although Dan ran outside and got the bag of supplies. The way down was tricky, but once we passed floor level, the cave-in had created a sloping piece of concrete, that lead down and into the light. As we went deeper, we all saw the inside of a room, with tiled flooring and a desk. The suspended ceiling was hanging, precariously rocking in place, so we had to duck down and crawl through.
The inside of the room, covered in dust and rubble as it was, was illuminated, but it was tricky to see how. Once my eyes attuned to the white light, it became apparent the walls had a strange luminescence, as if the whole of each wall had a gentle glow, that combined together into a normal amount of light. Other than the light, the rubble, and the three of us, the room was bare, but obviously kept clean.
“There’s a door over here” CJ called, followed by the thunk of him trying to pull it open. As we approached we saw the problem, a large boulder had deformed the shape of the door, jamming it into it’s own frame. The three of us grabbed the handle, and I put one hand on an exposed section that had bent outward, and pulled. The door came open quickly, and as I pulled back my arm was cut against the sharp corner. The gash, about four inches long up my forearm, quickly filled with blood, that started trickling down my hand, pooling on the floor. I felt weak, so sat down against the open door, while Dan and CJ knelt nearby, looking my arm. CJ took off his jumper, ripped a sleeve off, and passed Dan the strip of material, while he put the remains of his jumper back on. Dan put the sleeve over my arm, and it quickly darkened with the blood underneath. I pulled it up a bit, and it tightened around the wound. It hurt like hell, but I could handle it for a while.
“What’s in there?” my voice warbled as I spoke, clearly from the shock of the blood, while, with my other, good, arm, I pointed inside the room we had just opened. CJ stood up and walked through the doorway, and turned out of sight. Seconds later the lights came on, that same white light, that seemed to emanate from all around.
“Guys, you gotta see this!” CJ called back. Dan pulled me up by my good arm and I followed him in. My arm throbbing with pain as I looked around this room.
CJ was fiddling with a control panel on the far side of the room, but nothing appeared to be happening. He flicked switches up and down, and pressed his finger against a panel of small squares, with no markings on.
Suddenly light filled the room, projected from every surface, even the panel on the door, which was standing ajar behind us. The intensity of the light increased, until my eyes hurt, but stopped just short of total blindness. The room was now indistinct, devoid of form or shape. All was light, and as I scanned around, I noticed nothing to focus on. Dan and CJ were no longer visible, but Dan was calling to CJ to turn it off again. I heard a fumbling, stumble, and thud, coming from where Dan had been. A few seconds and some shuffling later, the lights dimmed back to the steady, glowing state from before. We stood there, blinking as our eyes adjusted again, looking at each other and the panel on the wall.
“I’m gonna have another go” CJ said, and turned back to the panel. Dan was slumped against a wall, but looked at CJ with focused concern. In a moment the white room had turned a deep purple, almost towards ultra-violet, and CJ chuckled as he turned back to us. “Cool, huh?” he said, sliding across the floor towards Dan and me.
I looked down at my arm, black in this light, but the material seemed to have fused and stemmed the bleeding. It still hurt, but was more a dull throb, that I could push to the background. Dan started rolling a joint, while CJ sat nearby, running his hands over every surface within his reach. We stayed here, in this quiet state, for a while. Our eyes became accustomed to the light, and we relaxed.
There are times in my life when I recall the events of this day; the day we found the bunker. Whenever I feel down, isolated, or generally morose I think back to the shape of CJ, sitting in the dark purple light, joint hanging from his lips, blissful look on his face. I also reminisce about Dan, cool and calm in the face of finding an underground complex, and quite content to take some time and enjoy the moment. When I think back to that time, my arm always throbs, drawing my gaze down to the scar, exposed, or hidden beneath long sleeves.
Dan and CJ, joints finished, both stood up at the same time. They stood in front of me and helped me up out of the heap I was on the floor. As we walked toward the other wall, CJ reached out and tapped the control panel again. The rooms light went back to white, and with another tap of the panel, CJ opened a door, previously hidden, on the far side of the room. The doorway was illuminated from the other side, and we walked in to the next room. I paused to examine the control panel, wondering to myself how CJ had worked out the intricacies of the panel so quickly. How long had we been down here?
As we walked through a series of rooms, the lights came on as before, glowing bright while we stood in the empty space, then fading as we left, only to come alive in the next area. My arm was cold, and the dull ache took up my consciousness. I followed those two in quiet obedience, unquestioningly walking through empty room after empty room. What was this place?
I noticed the rooms were all the same size, identical in every way, with a doorway on each side, but no furniture or decoration. We kept walking, Dan and CJ ahead of me, picking up speed to a fast walk. I tried to call to them but my voice faltered, I was out of breath and my arm hurt. I turned to look back but the fading light from the last room prevented me from seeing any further than the doorway we had just come through. CJ was almost running now, and him and Dan were walking into darkened rooms, the light only catching up when I was through the doorway. In desperation I screamed out “Stop!”, and felt my legs go from under me, falling to the floor just inside this room. As I fell, the light leaking into the room ahead barely illuminated the other two, and as I lost sight of them, the light seemed to flicker around their silhouettes. I was alone here in this room, shapeless and soundless. The sound of the other two had gone now, and as I listened for any sign of them, I looked around. This room, just like all the others we had passed, felt smaller, and I felt the rising panic of claustrophobia. How deep into this network of rooms had we come?
I used the nearby wall to help lift me from the floor. Standing helped the sense of the walls closing in, as I realised how spacious it was in here, with no furniture. I walked slowly to the control panel, the same panel as all the others, and started to feel the clear glass beneath my fingers. Light flickered, pulsed, changed colour, but nothing else. I had definitely found the light switch, but that was all. I leant my head against the wall and watched the panel, cold and lifeless, as much fingers brushed over it. A sound, like a distant waterfall became audible. The light was fixed in a turquoise blue, but I could see the wall opposite was deforming from the flat, white panels, and bits were starting to project out.
As I watched, the wall pushed outward at an angle, and then one pane began to fold down, sliding down and outwards, just a few metres from me. The panel kept on sliding out and several other protrusions began to form around it. The sound stopped and I looked at the table that had just come out of seemingly nowhere. I took a few paces towards the large desk, stopping suddenly as a chair pushed up out of a seamless join in the floor, like it was liquid for a moment. The chair pivoted around to my direction, and I took a seat, feeling the tiredness coming over me.
I called out “Dan! CJ! You gotta see this” into the dark room off to the side, where they had run off before. I knew my words would find nothing in the blackness, but it felt reassuring to call to them. They were my friends, and they’d been here in this bunker with me from the start. We had come here together, venturing out with no intention of splitting up, finding this place and exploring the first rooms, but now they were gone. They’d left me.
“BASTARDS!” the word came out of my mouth before I realised, the harsh word crackling through the room and echoing in the dark ahead and behind me. I immediately felt immense guilt wash over me. I wanted to call out an apology, but the moment had passed, and I was here alone again.
I rested a hand on the desk and turned myself, so I was facing the whole desk, and the wall behind it. There was no sense of any blemish or mark anywhere, and also no sign of any discerning feature. Looking closer at the surface of the desk was so indistinct that it was like looking over a still lake, leading off into infinity. I leaned back to break the effect, and tapped the surface in the middle, expecting ripples to appear, pushing off in concentric circles outwards to the horizon. The surface was cold glass, just like the rest of this place.
I missed shape and sound, movement and colour. In this place there was a complete lack of irregularity; everything was in it’s place, as per design. Each panel and groove in the room was filled with potential and intent, like it was just waiting for me to call it’s name, and let it out.
I felt tired and rested my head on the table, letting out a deep sigh, and closed my eyes.
As my eyelids drifted up and back, letting the turquoise light in, I saw, for a moment, the outline of several objects on the desk in front of me. As my eyes adjusted to the light pouring in, the edges faded and disappeared, leaving just a hazy memory of them being there. I pushed out my arm, watching the red bandage moving out across the horizon, but felt nothing. Whatever had been there was long gone.
I felt as if my eyes had only just closed and reopened, but had the feeling I had slept deeply for a spell. I breathed deeply, tasting and smelling the indistinct air, blinked my eyes a few times to focus on the nothing all around me. I was still alone, and there was no sign of anything else that might have appeared since I fell asleep. The void of this room felt at the same time both calming and terrifying.
Rising to my feet I noticed I had regained quite a bit of energy, and felt energised. My arm was almost pain free. I pinched it a few times to make sure it hadn’t gone numb, and it felt fine, just a twinge around the cut. I walked to the wall and looked into the next room, taking a pace inside, watching the white light come on and fill the empty room. I walked through and out the other side, following in the footsteps of my friends. There was no sign of them, and I walked slowly through the next door. I carried on like this, calmly walking through room after room. After a while I would enter the room, and begin running my hand along the walls in a sinusoidal wave, up and down, as I walked. When I left a room behind me now there was always a gentle sound, like water running in a series of streams and rains, differing in pitch and volume. I walked on through maybe 20 rooms this way, not looking back, but wiping as much of the wall as I possibly could. The light seemed to pulse as I entered each room now, and the nose behind me was growing.
As I passed into another room, I noticed a sort of translucence in the panels around me, like they were shimmering. Each room I passed had a more liquid feel than the last, like the whole structure was rippling. I stopped for a moment in a room, and put me head against the thin wall, looking out with my hands clasped each side of my eyes, to block out the reflection. Nothing, a reflection of another room.
I pulled my head back sharply, gasping. Looking closer at the wall I examined the reflection again. It was a perfect mirror of the room I was in now, with one glaring omission. Me.
I looked all around, through different panels and even up into the ceiling, but there was no sign of me. I looked at my arms and legs, touched my face and head. I was definitely here. They must be other rooms, the same as this.
My brain immediately jumped to another possibility: “Am I a vampire?”, but my consciousness quickly dismissed it. Not only had I not had any urge to suck blood, I realised I hadn’t been hungry since I got here. The world seemed to be on pause in this place. The dull ache in my arm was coming back, and it felt as though the wound was fresh again. I walked on into the next room, watching the luminescent light invade the space from all directions. Every surface shimmered now, like mother-of-pearl, with a depth that I hadn’t seen before. My eyes were having trouble focussing in on anything, as each point in space seemed equidistant. I could just about make out the doorway ahead of me, and kept walking on, through each room with a fading sense of reality. The light was beginning to pulse, brighter and brighter, flashing across my eyes. In the depths of my mind I felt myself letting go, allowing all thoughts to dissolve and fade away. With the void in my mind came a calmness, a still wave of euphoria, that grew and grew.
The walls and floors were now so translucent that I could see through the next room, and beyond. I could see a cubic structure, stretching off infinitely, but everywhere were similar rooms, same shape, size, colour. The whole universe was filled with these rooms, my mind had no end, no limit. Everything began to shimmer and pulse, fast and loud, but still I walked on, through each doorway, my legs feeling light in this haze of euphoria.
I realised my feet were no longer touching the ground; I stopped moving them but continued to move onwards, impelled by some silent force. My mind was lucid, but detached. I tried to think of what was happening, but the moment didn’t seem to exist to me. No moments existed, I was in a stateless position, no linear thought or movement was possible. The rooms were moving past me, not me through them, I was falling forward, or upward, or down, I couldn’t tell which. My eyes stopped focussing, and everything around me turned to a uniform and blank opalescent blur. I stopped moving, I think. With no frame of reference there was no way to know if I had direction, motion, orientation. The light was blinding, but the calm serenity was overpowering any reason to worry or care.
I don’t know how long I was hanging there, silent in the light, but after some time, my eyes began to focus on a shape in the distance. The grey corner, indistinct at first, but then obviously concrete or stone, was moving gently towards me. I reached out to touch it and my arm ached so much I had to pull back. I pushed my head forwards, trying to focus.
“Watch yourself” it was Dan’s voice, clear as a bell. I looked around and could make out the shape of him, leaning against a rock, or pile of rubble. To his right was CJ, flat on his back, staring wide-eyed up at the sky.
“He hasn’t come back down yet, but he’s on his way” Dan said, motioning to CJ. I was thirsty, so thirsty. Dan passed me some dcoke, and after I’d swigged half the bottle back, he replaced it in my hand with a joint. I took a deep puff, feeling my mind coming back into my head as I drew the smoke in. I looked around and saw we were sitting under the cover of one of the derelict buildings.
“The tower, the ladder….did it?” I looked up to Dan’s soft eyes.
“Yeah, that happened, you hurt your arm and we came in here to sit down. Not bad is it, this stuff?”.
The afternoon was turning into evening as we strolled back across the open ground, towards the car, the road, the pub, all of reality. The whole world was about to come pouring back into my brain. We’d been out there for at least seven hours, and none of us felt sober, really sober, just yet. Either way we got back to the car. I drove us back into town, and we all went to CJ’s for a nice big smoke. I fell asleep on the mattress in his room, my last words barely audible over the background noise of the city.
“Love you guys, love you”.