Monday, March 5, 2012

That Search Story

We were out searching for a missing elderly woman.

Our search team was four people, and the area we were assigned to search was fairly large, so we split into two groups of two. Mostly, we were walking along a little used road, searching fields, ditches, and some woods. It was several hours past dusk, so we were working with flashlights and occasionally, vehicle lights.

However. There was a complex of buildings that were in our area, too. One building had signs on all the doors, indicating it was unoccupied and unused. The entire complex had been "abandoned" a few years back.

My partner and I had the buildings to search, so we split and went around each one, one going clockwise, the other counter-clockwise, until we met on the opposite side.  Most of the buildings were, in fact, abandoned and locked up tight.

But not all of them.
On my search, I found an open door.
It opened into a boiler room. They were working, and the small room they were in was very warm. Nice, considering it was cold and snowy outside. A perfect place for a missing/lost person to get in out of the weather.  The problem was that the boilers sat in the middle of the room, and I couldn't see all the way around them. I didn't want to go in the building by myself to check around the other side, without my partner knowing where I was. So I didn't.

I continued on around the building until I met up with him, reported what I had found, and we went back to the open door.

On the other side of the boiler was another door, one I hadn't seen. It was labeled "Lady's Room" <sic>. Kind of odd, for a door leading out of a boiler room.
We opened it.
It was, indeed, an old (but apparently no longer functioning) restroom. With lockers.
And another door.
My partner searched the rest of the bathroom, while I opened the door.

The door opened into a hallway leading to the rest of the very large building.
All I could see from where I stood was a long hallway in one direction, several connected hallways the other direction, and lots and lots of open doors.

I chose to do a right hand search; my partner took the left hand search.

And that is when things started to get weird.

Down my hallway, the rooms were all very similar.
Not being used, but not empty, either.
Each was about ten or twelve feet square, with no windows. Most had utility sinks. A couple had desks, some had lab cabinets and counters. Most had various containers and junk scattered around.
As I continued down the hallway, the last several rooms were empty, and had some sort of exposed pipes. Gas pipes? Water pipes?

As I reached the end of the hallway and turned around, I saw a sign. There had been no signs going the other direction, but if I had come in the door at the end of the hallway, I would have immediately seen the sign that read "Infectious Agents. No children or pets past this doorway."

Crap. What does that mean?
And why did the very next room have a desk with a gas mask on it?
And the next, some sort of stainless steel tables, and a bunch of oxygen bottles? Blood stains on the floor?

What IS this place?

I met back up with my partner, and told him what I had seen, and that I was kind of creeped out. We had been in the building maybe 5 or 10 minutes, out of communication with our other pair. When we not only saw more hallways full of doors, but a door that opened to stairs, we decided to get outside, find our other team, and finish the search as a group.

They met up with us as we walked out- they had tried to reach us by cell phone, with no answer. No cell signal inside the building. We gave them a report, of what we had done so far. The crew chief called in where we were and that we would be investigating, we went back in, and split up the rest of the building.

My next find, near the base of the stairs, was the first aid station, with the MSDS sheets for all chemicals in the building, and a box on the floor labeled "Emergency Kill Box." There were containers with kits in them that looked to be atropine. (Surely those rooms weren't set up to... gas the occupants??)

The last room was a kitchen and laundry area, with refrigerator and washers and dryers still in place, but not connected.

The whole place looked for all the world like something out of a horror or disaster movie, that had been abandoned in a hurry, everyone just up and leaving. I half expected to find an unfinished plate of food still on the counter, or a television that was still on. I was imagining the Andromeda Strain. I was picturing clandestine operating rooms for illegal human organ trafficking.

It was creepifying. Seriously.

Dark, silent except for the hum of the boilers, and the footsteps of people going room to room, searching. Lit only by flashlights. (Didn't even think of trying a light switch! For all I know, the power was on.)

Clothing on hangers and in piles, left behind. Printed out e-mails taped to the wall behind a desk, as if someone had worked there only yesterday. Painted cinderblock walls, and glossy painted floors, all the easier to wash clean with a hose, if need be. But nothing, anywhere, alive. In the middle of the night, it doesn't take much to get the imagination going.  I had the feeling that if we went back later, it would all be cleaned out, nothing left behind, no evidence of... whatever went on there that no one was supposed to know about. Right out of the X-Files, or the Twilight Zone.

The truth is, we knew what the building had been. A research lab that had closed a couple of years earlier. No big secret.

But if I ever wanted to film a horror movie, I know where I'd go. It was PERFECT. You could almost hear the soundtrack.

Looking back on it a couple of days later, I wish I had put the gas mask on, wrapped a coat around myself, and jumped around the corner to scare the crap out of my partner. He was making fun of me for being creeped out.

He said it was good that I didn't, because he might have called a Mayday before recognizing me. I asked him what he would have said. Name, yes. Location, sure. Problem and resources needed?

He said he would have said "Being murdered."

As creepy as the place was, I wish we had found the missing woman there.
We didn't.
She still has not been found.
It doesn't look good.

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