Urban Exploration (Part One)

The old factory sat downtown against the river clustered amongst the other abandoned buildings. They didn’t mean anything anymore, relics of an economy long forgotten but whose ghost still remains in America. Everyone in town knew of them but not directly. In memory they only appear as vague and ghostly shapes around the peripheral of actual memories. Countless wedding pictures and social media posts show these ghostly, grim structures hiding in plain sight across the river, but nobody takes notice.

The factory wasn’t special — just one of many — but it was the one we scouted out one weekend night and it became special to us. It was perfect as far as abandoned factories go, tucked away from the main streets, dark and secluded with the street lamps far away. As we wheeled to the side of the building we noticed that the windows, while boarded up nearest to the ground and shattered higher up, were not that high. We’d just have to find a way to get up to them. Riding around to the opposite side of the building we discovered a tree growing, one large branch probing directly into the building, with the single plywood sheet smashed into the interior. The tree was leaning towards the opening almost as if it knew we wanted a way in.

She climbed up the trunk, carefully grabbing the few branches to access the window while I watched our bikes. No one was around so I took a drink of our mutual vodka and waited for her report.

“It’s fine,” she said as she clicked on her flashlight and peered through the smashed window. “It leads to a small room and there’s a table right under the branch.”

“Very cool,” I said.

“Are we doing this now?” She asked.

The alcohol was coursing through both of our veins, I could feel the pull of the adventure, but we could wait. And we should’ve waited. This evening was meant to be an aimless drunken bike ride and only in the midst of the factories had we talked about exploring one. We were just poking around, seeing what could be accessed, and had lucked out; we actually found one to plunder. There’d be other days to explore the abandoned corpse, there was no rush, and next time we could prepare.

“Maybe we should come back next weekend. We could bring some supplies or something.”

“Come on, chicken shit. What ‘supplies’ do we need anyways? We have our phones for lights, and climb up here and give me the vodka. Let’s do this!

She had a point. Maybe I was only being my hesitant self? Another way to pass up the adventure and succumb to my anxiety; adventures are always in the future for me. I took another drink and climbed up after her.

It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust from the dim light of downtown to the utter darkness inside the factory. I turned my phone on and shone the light inside. My eyes followed the bright circle of light as it darted around the room. There was a table a few feet below the window strewn with old papers and file folders. The back of my mind vaguely noted that none of these papers were printed. Handwritten scrawl all over the pages, numbers and codes that ceased to have meaning to anyone alive except some old retiree living somewhere in the world.

We both climbed down onto the table and then to the floor. Filing cabinets lined one wall while desks took up the rest. All useful machines, typewriters, phones, and whatever else had been in the room had been removed. Papers covered the floor and a few broken lamps layed sideways with their bulbs smashed and glass glittering in the pale light.

An old wooden door led to a hallway that ran in both directions. Across from us was another “office room” (at least this is what we called it). This room was the same as the last, littered with the same cryptic papers and trash, although the far wall was all dusty glass. We walked up and peered into the blackness of the factory floor. Some large machines remained, old, decrepit and long being useful to anyone. Our lights didn’t shine far and we didn’t know what the rest of the floor contained, shrouded in a darkness that the little ambient light from the few holes in the roofs couldn’t dispel.

We walked down the hallway and entered another room along the outer wall like the one that led us inside. This room wasn’t totally dark. A solitary oil lamp sat on the floor. We both looked at each other and crawled our lights around the room. There was a pile of blankets a few feet from the lamp in a corner of the room. It looked like another heap of junk, except that it moved.

We gasped and stared at each other in the dim reflected light from our lights. Eyeing the pile closer we noticed there was a shaggy head of hair peeking up under the covers. The bum coughed, rolled over, and tucked himself into his nest, apparently still fast asleep. Our senses came back to us after this initial shock. We noticed the pipe of empty cans and bottles of beer and alcohol as well as a few cans of food. Ravioli. Beans. Soup. Old bread and fast-food bags also littered around the nest.

We nodded to each other and silently left the room, retreating back to the windowed office room.

“That scared the shit out of me. I didn’t expect anyone to actually be here.” She said.

“I about pissed my pants. But it is an old factory. There’s probably homeless people all over the place.” I said. “Should we leave? I think we should leave.”

“No. There’s this whole building to explore, we can’t leave now. He’s sleeping anyways and didn’t notice us so we’re fine. We’ll just be very quiet, okay?”

“Sure. I guess.”

“Gimme the vodka; stop hogging it.”

I pulled the bottle out and we took drinks from it.

“Well, you ready?” She asked.

“Sure. Let’s see what…”

Footsteps on the floor above us and we froze. It didn’t sound like a single person either, maybe two or three. They didn’t seem like they were scared of making noise either, their footsteps being confidently loud and booming in the silent stillness of the building.

“How about now? Are you ready to get the hell out of here?” I asked.

“Let’s wait. Maybe they’ll…”

The footsteps moved across the ceiling above us and down a flight of stairs in the distance. The sounds echoed from the end of the hallway looming in the distance.

We shut our lights off and hid up against the wall next to the doorway. If anyone looked in our room maybe they’d miss us?

Her courage was greater than mine. She peered around and out of the doorway. There were three people, one carrying an oil lamp and the other two had, well what did they have? She couldn’t clearly see.

They stopped at the room with the bum, and a voice spoke up. “Will he work?”

“Yes,” another voice replied.

“Do you think he’ll fight?”

“No. He’s passed out drunk. Get him.”

The figures walked into the room and we heard rustling and grunting. A raspy voice seemed to be mumbling and questioning something and was silenced by the sound of fist against flesh. There was more mumbling and grunting, this time with an edge of pain to it.

“Good. Get him upstairs.”

The figures helped the bum limp his way along the hallway with something held to his neck. It could only be a knife. The footsteps faded into the silence of the building, into the silence of the night, and once again transformed into those threatening steps on the ceiling above us.

“We’re leaving now, right? Let’s get out of here. Fuck all of this.” I said. “Unless you’re still bold and courageous for some reason.” I was joking; I wanted to leave.

She grabbed the bottle out of my pocket and took a drink bigger than I’d seen her do thus far. “Let’s check it out. Why not? He’s in trouble, it’s obvious, and maybe we can help him.”

“What kinda trouble do you think he’s in? They can’t rob him, he has nothing, so…?”

“Come on. Let’s go.” I followed sheepishly as she led the way through the darkness towards the stairway.

The Smiling Faces

The room was white. There were no shadows. There was a line of faces, faces looking at me and smiling. All types of people, all races, female and males, mostly younger but some middle aged, all smiling at me. The row of faces was endless, but didn’t display any perspective. It was if the row of faces was two-dimensional. Even the faces far to the left and to the right were seen dead-on, no side perspectives or anything. The room was featureless, no obvious walls, corners, floors, doors, or anything. Just white. White with smiling faces.

I was a photographer for some reason. I didn’t have a camera, or a tripod, or anything but knew I was there to take pictures. Everyone looked at me with blank expressions except for their smiles. They all had that hesitant closed-mouth smile, with their lips and cheeks straining upwards as far as they could without showing their teeth. Those smiles are always strange and insincere, even the smiles that do display actual happiness and joy have an embarrassment and unwillingness to open up and let happiness be real. As if being happy is an affront to the world or something. Scowling is fine, blandness is fine, and a small grin is fine, but true happiness? No. No laughter. No real smiles. No joy. Always hide it from the world.

I looked up and down the row of faces. As a photographer you needed to be fun and lighthearted. I wasn’t good at doing that. I didn’t know why I was a photographer. I was terrible at getting people to smile. How was I to turn these hesitant half-smiles into fully fledged photograph-worthy faces of pure happiness?

I asked them with the fakest tone of enthusiasm possible to smile. “You need to smile! I want to see some teeth! We need these pictures to be good. They’ve paid a lot of money for these pictures to be good!”

The faces turned and looked at each other. There were no bodies, just faces. Not that they were beheaded or anything, I just didn’t notice any bodies being present. Just the ever present heads. The heads that seemed too scared and afraid to actually smile.

“Come on, smile!”

The face directly in front of me looked down at the ground and all around the room-that-didn’t-exist, hesitant and seemingly deep in thought and fear. Guarding something horrendous. Finally, she let her lips open and develop into a fully-fledged and joyous smile.

And her teeth. Blacked. Rotten. Pungent. I wasn’t close to her, but the smell permeated the room instantly. None of the other hesitant faces seemed to notice anything with their dumb half-smiles and their blank stares directed towards me.

“Okay. Good. That’s a good smile. Beautiful.” I held down a few coughs and heaves that my body was demanding of me. “How about everyone else? Smile like the beautiful lady right here, okay?”

They all hesitatingly opened their mouths into a multitude of hideously genuine smiles, all with rotting and wrenchingly awful smelling teeth being displayed to me and only me. The blackness and stench of their mouths seemed to suck the light out of the room. It was still white obviously, but seemed tarnished.

“Those are nice smiles…really. Nice…” I coughed a bit. The faces kept smiling with some beginning to silently and horribly laugh.

“Why, why are your teeth so rotten?” I asked. “You, you all have dental insurance. Why? Why don’t you get your teeth fixed?”

Their laughing started to become hideous and fearful.

“Get your fucking teeth fixed. What is wrong with you all? They’re rotting! Literally in your mouth?! A permanent part of you is dying inside you. Doesn’t that bother you at all?”

The faces slowly turned from laughter to crying, crossing that subtle boundary that separates the two. Ugly laughing into ugly crying. Tears streaming down their faces and into their mouths. I imagined the salty tears entering the rotten crevices of the teeth and burning like acid on skin, or alcohol on a wound. Their faces seemed to confirm my beliefs: they were all hideously crying and screaming with no sounds to be heard, tears flowing into their mouths incessantly.

“Don’t you smell that awful smell? Everytime you breathe, you don’t notice it? You don’t want to vomit every time you inhale, every time you look into a mirror? They’re rotting inside of you. They’re bones but in your mouth and rotting. Pull them out. Why don’t you pull them out? Get rid of them. Before the putrefaction spreads.”

Immediately as I said it, their teeth started falling out. Everyone of the faces’ teeth were falling out onto the white floor that wasn’t really there. But they made the floor appear. They gave it definition, shade, and color. Teeth blackened and pungent all over the floor, with yellow puss and ooze pooling around them. There was no escape from the scent. I couldn’t puke; my body wouldn’t let me. It was an affront to the white room and my body wouldn’t allow me to soil it further. I started to run along the row of faces, constantly screaming and howling in perfect silence. My feet were bare and as I ran the rotted, sharp, and jagged teeth dug into my feet. They were razors and every step I took they embedded themselves into my feet. They worked their way into the bones of my feet, as if my foot was made of putty or jelly. I could taste the awful stench of the puss as it seeped into my bloodstream. It was the odor of rotten potatoes. The white room turned a sickly off-white and yellowish color. The puss was in my eyes. The stench was in my nose. The rotting was in my brain.

I turned and saw a mirror. I opened my mouth. My teeth were rotted. My teeth stank. It was inside me and eating me away. My teeth fell into my hands. My nails were rotted. My nails stank. They fell off onto the floor. My feet were blackened and decayed. My toes fell off. I looked into the mirror once again to see a corpse without teeth staring back at me. I screamed but no sound came out. The faces reflecting in the mirror continued to scream, howl and cry — not at me but with me. I was one of them. I was one of them all along and was too terrified to see it. Our pungent howls in unison silently turned the room black.