My Second Building, or, Did You Hear Something?

posted 11/07/03

It was precipitating; a cold, unpleasant mix of light rain and snow was falling. Winter was finally here. A friend emailed me, asking if I wanted to come with and try to enter a local tunnel. I agreed, and some time later found myself in a remote part of the city, staring at a concrete wall that there simple was no way through, barring power tools or explosives.
Not content with our failure, we drove around trying to think of somewhere to go, something to do. It was still reasonably early, it was still snowing, and we were itching to photograph something.
We discussed exploring a small drain that was known to us, but that we hadn't personally visited. However, the first rule of draining is to not go if it's precipitating, so we ruled that out. Some other people had found an interesting-sounding location and told us about it; in fact, a scouting trip was planned for later in the week. Since we were bored, restless, and knew almost nothing about the place in question, we decided to run through a quick scouting trip for the scouting trip. Pre-scout, if you will.
It took a while, but we found the site in question. Entrance was pretty easy - squeeze between the ill-fitting parts of a fence, and you're in.
There's an undeniable thrill in going somewhere you're not supposed to go. Doing so at night increases the thrill. At night, in the rain and snow... was a blast. The woods around the location took on creepy, mysterious airs, part Hitchcock, part Lovecraft. Minnesota's ever-present wind rustled the few remaining leaves, adding further mysterious noises to the woods and contributing to an overall spooky atmosphere.
The location was clearly known to others, for there was a hole in the fence large enough to walk through, and a well-trampled path leading towards the buildings. We approached the latter cautiously; some were clearly in use, and had cars parked in front of them. Two seemed very disused, but had lights on both inside and out. The two of us hung out in the woods, observing the buildings for some time. The larger was very well lit, and reasonable exposed, while the smaller was less exposed and closer to the treeline.
We snuck up to the edge of the woods, directly to the rear of the smaller, three-story building. From there we spent still more time looking and listening for signs and sounds of activity. Time passed, we grew chilled from inactivity, and saw no signs of anything going on in the building. We approached, cautiously, and scared a rabbit nearly as much as it scared us. As we came to the outside of the building, it was clear that many of the windows were boarded over - a good sign from our perspective. Further examination showed that all the third-floor windows were broken out and not boarded - an even better sign.
The moment of truth in an infiltration comes when you try to gain access. All the ground floor windows were securely boarded over, and there was no easy way to get to the second-floor windows. So our hopes rested on the two battered metal doors on the ground floor. If they were locked or sealed, we were out of luck.
We crept around the building and had a whispered conversation. While the broken windows were a good sign, there was still electricity to, and lights on in, the building, and we were both less than positive that the building was unoccupied. As my partner was determined to make entrance, if possible, he crept up and tried the first door... and it was open. He shut it carefully, and crept back around the corner.
Now the whole issue of occupancy was more than just abstract. We were both concerned with being caught, naturally. I suggested a plan that was, if not elegant, at least simple: Open the door, stick head in, and shout hello, then proceed or bolt as appropriate. Please note that I've never claimed to be a master strategist!
We proceeded to the door, opened it, and stepped inside. It was clear once we were inside that this was not a building currently in use. Broken glass and pigeon droppings littered the floor, the latter actually forming stalagmites on the floor under favored perching positions. No shouting was deemed necessary. We checked out the ground floor, which was pretty much empty. We slowly ascended the stairs to the second floor, which was open and well-lit, as well as covered in an even thicker layer of pigeon droppings. Living in the cities, I'm no stranger to pigeon poop - but this was a truly monumental quantity of the stuff! Broken windows in both exteral and internal walls attested to this buildings' disuse. We looked around, examined the remains of the washroom out of some sort of morbid curiosity (or boyish fascination with such things, your call), and proceeded to climb the rusty metal staircase to the third and final floor, the layer of pigeon poop doing little to muffle our footsteps as we did so.
We got to the top floor, and were looking around by the light of our flashlights, as this floor was completely dark. We'd gotten perhaps ten feet in when I heard a rythmic clanging noise coming from below. I grabbed my partner and motioned for him to be quiet. We froze, motionless, lights out, and listened. The noise, coming from below, sounded just like someone climbing the staircase we'd come up only moments before... and then it stopped.
We waited several minutes, and heard nothing but silence. We realised that we were for all practical purposes trapped on the third floor; no fire escape on this building! Several minutes having passed, the other fellow called out a tentative hello. There was no response. I tried in Spanish, with the same effect. I was betting it was a transient whose sleep we'd disturbed, but my partner wasn't so sure, and seemed somewhat afraid of the idea of a homeless person. Without any planning or discussion, he started down the stairs in double-time, motioning for me to follow.
Now, I admit, the building was a little creepy, given the darkness and the weather. And the wierd noise certainly rated a fairly respectable pucker factor. All of which, basically, explains why I followed him down the two flights of stairs and out the door, running. When we reached the treeline I told him that we weren't being chased, and he could stop, or at least slow down, but he seemed intent upon running all the way back to the car.
We finally stopped by the fence, by which time we were both breathing so hard that we wouldn't have heard any pursuers, had there been any. We made our exit quickly, and the walk back to the car was uneventful, if filled with paranoid apprehension that "they" would be waiting for us at it. No such thing happened, of course...

So it wasn't the most interesting of trips, and I didn't get to take a single picture. Some others went back during the day a few days later, and reported that the larger building was sealed up tight, and there was no sign of a squatter having lived in the building I was in. Was it a transient? A raccoon? A ghost? Or something else entirely?
I'll probably never know. But the whole thing was fun, I didn't get injured, and it got me out of the house, so it wasn't a total loss, which is, I guess, what really matters.


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