My memory is a bit faded, but I trust that I can fill in the holes of this story with a bit of embellishment. It was about eight or nine years ago now. I had somehow found my way to Berry College home of the Vikings, a few sinkholes and a maze of interconnected underground catacombs.
A typical night at Berry usually included an hour of sitting in various dorm rooms with about six other people trying to figure out what we wanted to do, Waffle House runs and someone trying to convince everyone else that we should go "Catacomb tromping".
One night I was that guy. I wanted to go exploring through the rough underbelly of the campus for a tunnel that connected the ford complex to the rest of the campus. I was convinced--despite having no evidence whatsoever--that we were only a few dark cobwebbed turns from finding this tunnel at any given moment. This is probably the result from a few too many Hardy Boys books and too much exposure to the Goonies.
This particular night I was able to convince Jenn, now my wife, that she should join me. We jimmied a few locked doors to get into a few new crawl spaces and ended up far above a stage and then down in the depths of a boiler room at another point. The night had been good for interesting discoveries. The stairs o the catwalk were very Blair Witch. The paint was peeling off the walls and you could almost imagine the hand prints of children. The boiler room was a Bona Fide boiler room almost straight out of Donnie Brasco. The walls were sweating, the room was filled with steam and it was so hot that you could barely breathe. In the middle of the room was a lone metal chair. Creepy.
We were about to give up and head back to Dana when we saw a window to a basement that we had never been in before. Looking around we found a window that had been left open with no screen in it. We were in.
For some reason it never occurred to me that climbing through an open window in the middle of the night into a locked academic building was anything but just plain stupid. Maybe Berry is somewhere that has always been a safe haven for me where nothing could really happen to me. I was young, stupid and by my reckoning, invincible.
We climbed through the window into a hallway. One way led into a sitting area and the other down a long dark hallway. I chose the dark hallway over the sitting room. And I hope that faced with a similar choice today I would still do the same thing.
We were looking for anything that would lead us to the basement. An elevator would be fine, but stairs all the better. One long hallway led to another. The hallways got darker until we got to one that glowed red. I don't mean that in a dramatic metaphorical kind of way. I mean that this hallway--because of the exit sign--was glowing a deep "Back hallways of Hell" Red.
So of course we continued on.
When we got to the end of this hallway we had nowhere else to go but back. We were between what looked to be an alarmed fire escape (from hell), a stack of chairs, and a series of hallways that had exactly zero ways to get down into the basement. And then we heard it.
It was the sound of keys clinking together. I don't know about Jenn, but I freaked. Deep inside there was a part of me that was screaming. I grabbed Jenn, Pushed her back into the area with the chairs and tried to come up with something. I was convinced it was a Janitor, (except for the fact that the building was being broken into) it was the only explanation that made any kind of sense.
I was holding my breath, hoping that they would go the other way. I took my hat off my head and handed it to Jenn (an inconsequential act in a dark hallway) peeked around the corner just in time to see a flashlight beam take the corner. "It's just a janitor".
I needed a plan. Either I hit the door and we try and make a break for it through the fire escape or we turn ourselves in and try to come up with some plausible story that doesn't involve us breaking into the building to try and explore a closed off system of catacombs that the school would rather have us not know existed.
The flashlight was getting closer and closer. I was running out of time and both of my options were pretty weak. I could make the run, but Jenn probably couldn't keep up. And really, what kind of excuse will make breaking and entering magically okay?
I don't know why I did it.
I saw the tip of the flashlight break past the edge of the corner, I took a breath, a step, I looked the Janitor in the eye and said...
Only it wasn't a janitor.
It was a cop.
It only took up the space of a single second, but I saw him grab his chest with one hand, his gun with the other and fall backwards. I moved back into the shadow to where Jenn was hiding, Falling and almost knocking her down with me.
Like I said, I don't know why I did it.
I think he let us go because he was just thankful that he didn't kill a couple of freshmen. Whatever it was, Jenn and I didn't wait for him to change his mind. Charged up on adrenaline we ran as fast as we could to the closest dorm that we could get into.
Man, I was dumb.
You made it this far. Hear her side of the story at Jenn's Blog