Updated: Mar 14
When I was 17 I spent a month in Paris exploring with a guide. One of the many places I visited was a old historic district of Paris where a big fire damaged some of the buildings. The city decided to preserve the historic building but they were demolished on the insides to prevent building collapse and to make it uninhabitable for squatters. There were still burned cars on some of the streets from the student revolts. It was completely empty of all people when I went there. Totally surreal like being in a zombie apocalypse zone for many blocks and blocks. All these huge buildings like hulking dead giants, empty and cold. I shiver involuntarily as I peer into the depths of the building through its broken windows. It is a serious criminal offense to enter the buildings and is strictly forbidden my guide warns me as I try the door. The noise startles some pigeons that flap away in a hurry. All the doors are boarded and sealed except one on the fifth building one has been pushed open and was left ajar. No one is around and a quick look won't hurt right? My guide crosses his arms and asks me "Are you asking me to break the law Buck?" "Yes I suppose I am what do you say we have a quick look just five minutes tops?" Guide replies "Though you might never ask let's go!" As I step into the building all my senses are turned up. The ancient musty smell of the building is rich and complex. A blend of ammonia and feces from the rats, bats and other dwellers. Mold, decay, layer upon layer of asbestos and dust. The half light plays tricks on your mind. Sensing subtle movements in the shadows. Creaks and cracks in the building are constant. I feel anxious about being here. I feel something heavy creeping in on my mind. A flood of whispering voices comes and goes. Is it in my mind or did I just hear that? I step on a nail that pierces my shoe. Luckily I stopped before it stabbed all the way through to my foot. When I close my eyes, quick flashes of people's faces looking at me change with every blink. I keep it all to myself not wanting to spook my guide. We walk to the opening of a vast open space inside the five story building. The open space is bristling with sharp broken materials sticking out in all directions from the walls and it looks beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Suddenly being in that place was like the first time you jumped into the ocean and you could not touch the bottom. You knew right away you were out of your environment, this was something completely new and it was mysterious as it was terrifying. Eyes straining against the faint light streaming down from the ceiling illuminating a fresh layer of dust settling from our brief descent into the darkness unfolding before us.
The first chamber is a tall corridor maybe 80 feet long by 20 feet high and then there's a wide square monolithic stone blocking the way except to go under and through. Crawling on all fours through a space two feet tall, the shelf of stone beneath you is maybe six feet wide and slopes down on your left to a sheer drop into the abyss. Someone spray painted the word Hell with an arrow here. A super cold breeze of air freezes you for fifty feet of crawling. Damn I really wish I brought a sweater and some long pants instead of shorts! Stay all the way to the right side do not look over the edge! Trying really hard not to imagine being flattened by this ginormous rock, and it's not working! It's all I can think about that and sliding off this edge into a chasm. My flashlight flickers momentarily on the ceiling scattering some freaky looking spiders or is it whip scorpions?
After the shelf there's another chamber a little smaller than the first, we have to climb over a boulder field to get to another drop point. Climbing as far as possible you still have to jump down maybe eight feet into a very large room. There is a hole in the top where natural light shines down from seventy feet above. Angelic rays and a tiny patch of blue sky give me some reassurance of being connected to the outside world.
The room has an assortment of large sitting rocks perfect for a rest and some well earned Scooby Snacks. After a while underground your body changes. You constrict and become tighter, your adrenaline is kicked in and all your senses are on high alert. One bad step here could be your last. The big chamber is sort of round and splits off into seven different paths. Two are up high and inaccessible without climbing equipment, one is very small and goes to a dead end of rubble like a cave in, two lead to an underground river blasting away in the eternal darkness. Our lights reveal a frightening scene of certain doom for any who might dare explore here. One leads straight down into a bottomless hole maybe two feet in diameter. And the last path is seven feet climb down to a closet sized space with 2 exits, one side there's a perfect formed doorway with a round smooth arch on top with straight sides. This leads towards the river area and then is blocked by stones. Going the other way is another drop maybe 12 feet into a 10x10 room with a quicksand floor that is feeding into a hole at the center of the room. Every time you move it's sucking you towards the hole. Now I'm starting to get really concerned for my safety and regretting jumping down into this crazy place deep in the earth. The next person jumps down into the middle of the room and there's a sound like shifting stone. Jump to the side! The two people at the top wanted to come and help. Stay where you are! (Me)We need to get out of here! (my friends older brother)Not until we've explored this chamber and where else it leads! I didn't come all this way to give up now! Hold my legs while I look down this hole in the side of the cave and don't let go! (Me) Ok but then we should go. I held his feet while he crawled face first into an opening maybe 2 ft in diameter and shine a light down. I can't see the bottom, bottom, bottom, bottom. The hole echoed back each time. Then he dropped a rock down the hole and it seemed like forever before the piercing crash in the darkness. After a tense moment we heard the sound of another rock smash followed by a terrifying sound of some animal or beast below us.
Let's get out of here! (Older brother) climb off my back and pull yourself up the rope to the edge. We scrambled up and over the lip of rock, up and over the Mason's doorway into the large chamber, across the boulder field, through the flat stone passage with scrapped knees bleeding from several abrasions. Everything hurts, it doesn't matter, the light is just above you now. One last push and you emerge squinting from the intense light of the sun and the sudden warmth on your skin reminding you that you are alive.