The Room

I stopped the car in front of the gate. The sun had set behind the mountains to the west. Nothing could be seen for miles around, except for hills, some bare and rocky, others covered in shrubs and a few trees, but visibility was getting low, and the land was dark in contrast to the dimming sky. I left the headlights on and walked to the gate in the fence topped with razor wire, “U.S. ARMY PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING” claimed the sign. I double checked the 3rd page of the contract that was clipped on my clipboard, at the top were latitude and longitude coordinates down to degrees, minutes, and seconds, then a numbered list of driving directions which I’d found hopelessly incorrect, and at last a satellite image of what appeared to be the facility I was standing in front of, with an arrow pointing to a bunker at the north east corner. I took the ring of keys that had been shipped to me and picked up the padlock that linked a chain around the gate. I tried each key until one fit and unclasped the lock, I swung the gate open and drove in. The second gate was shorter, and didn’t have wire across the top, the padlock was a 4 number combination. The instructions had the combination supposedly, but when I tried it, nothing, lock didn’t budge. I thought perhaps they mixed up some of the combinations so I tried a few of the numbers from the later instructions, no luck. It was getting cold out, I grabbed my jacket out of the car and pulled my small Motorola out and flipped it open, the digital LCD display glowed a faint green, I pulled up the antenna and frowned, no signal. It had taken me all day just to find this place. I’d followed the instructions to the letter, driving miles away from civilization along the freeway, pulling off at the designated exit and continuing down the road towards a lake recreation area before pulling off onto a dirt fire road. The fourth direction was to turn when I found a pipe sticking out of the ground. I never found that damn pipe. I drove aimlessly on, I had no cell signal in the valley, I drove up into the hills, keeping an eye on my GPS, playing a game of warmer/colder by relying on the latitude and longitude coordinates provided. There was no map of the poorly conditioned dirt trails and roads out here. Some were dead ends. At one point the hills slopped down into a plain covered in tall wavy dry brush, it shimmered like a golden sea in the sun. I hadn’t seen any signs of human life up to this point, but in the distance I saw a small house. I drove up to it  hoping to ask for directions, only to find it had been abandoned for some time. I considered giving up, but I didn’t want to have driven all this way for nothing. Besides, the contract was lucrative, more than double the usual rate. The employer, apparently a telecom group based hundreds of miles away on the east coast, seemed legitimate, even if they were likely a shell corporation. This was my first time working with them so I didn’t have much idea what to expect.

I could see I was getting further from the coordinates, so I turned around and drove back to the hills. I drove on, trying new fork after new fork, keeping a close eye on the GPS and compass. Sometimes I’d stop and get out to get a better look at the surroundings, but there was nothing to see, no signs of life or the facility. I thought I might see myself driving about on another road in this maze, just like it always happens in those old cartoons as the characters frantically search the maze only to run into themselves. The roads were in poor condition, in some cases erosion had carried away parts of them. I wondered what would happen if there was a landslide and my car ended up at the bottom of a ravine. It was about 30 miles back to the freeway, on foot, through extremely rough terrain. I’d probably have to wait until someone sent a search party, the number of people that knew I was out here could be counted on less than half of one hand. After painful backtracking and watching the GPS, I finally found it, I saw it at first in the distance at the crest of one of the hills, just a fenced cluster of buildings, and as I drove closer the numbers climbed on the GPS until the coordinates matched, just as the last rays of the sun illuminated the dishes of the radio tower.

I sighed, I couldn’t believe the incompetence of these people. I had come this far and I wasn’t going to turn back. It was eerily quiet apart from the wind. I hadn’t seen any sign of life the entire drive out here, not even wildlife. It was like something out of a dream. I felt like I was in a Tarkovsky film; if I was, then I wondered if I’d be able to comprehend the philosophical implications of the room I was destined for; would it grant my wildest dreams or would it contain my worst nightmares? I slung a small bag of tools on my shoulder and wedged my clipboard into the opening in the gate before gripping the chain link fence tightly and hoisting myself up it, pushing my tennis shoes into the links as I went. The facility was abandoned of course, intentionally unmanned. Most of the structures inside were military, as was the compound itself, but the bunker I was looking for belonged to a certain private corporation. It was there as pictured in the satellite photo, by itself, another chain link fence surrounding it and steps leading down to a metal door in a spartan concrete building. It as pitch dark now, luckily I always carried a small LED flashlight on my key chain, still, I shivered with nervous paranoia, but the only sound came from the gravel crunching under my feet. This time, the combination for the padlock worked, and also the code for the electronic keypad that opened the heavy metal door. I searched for a switch on the wall, banks of florescent tubes flickered on overhead in the small structure. There was a single rack, an uninterruptible power supply on the bottom with several mounted servers and switches above, the lights blinking steadily and the hum of their fans blowing, a thick bundle of blue cables coming down and running across the floor into conduit on the wall. There was a small desk and an old CRT computer monitor and workstation setup next to some equipment lockers. I barely had time to look at my clipboard for my next move before the phone on the wall rang.

That’s when I wake typically. Funny that I still sometimes have this dream. It recounts my first visit to the ‘facility’, I was just a kid at the time, but I had been a bit of a prodigy in my field of expertise (or maybe it was just my determination to finish the job). But, I don’t recall ever having been so isolated in all my life than the time I spent in that room in that bunker.  I remember later talking to my contact, she told me they’d tried other contractors before, but none of them had ever made it as far as I did. The pay nearly compensated for the loss of almost a full day hunting for that place. But, it also meant that I was now the companies’ go to man, and now I knew how to find it. The first time, I remember the cold horror that gripped me as I got lost and the sky darkened towards the evening, everything had felt wrong, alien, but each time I returned, it was easier, until it was familiar. I did begin to see the beauty in the place. It was like it was my own in some ways, no one was ever out there whenever I visited it, never saw a soul after I left the main road. I remember one time I was driving up to the facility and it was raining. Some brilliant blue wildflowers were blooming along the road. I stopped and picked some for my wife who I’d just married. I put them on the passenger seat, but then as I drove small beetles emerged from the blooms, I guess they’d been taking shelter from the rain within the small, delicate bulbs. I threw most of the flowers away and shooed the beetles out of the car. I laughed to think I’d never known such beetles existed. Funny to think about life enduring in that small microcosm living unwitnessed, tiny beetles taking shelter in some small wildflower bulbs in some small lonely slope in the midst of a huge wilderness, hours drive from man’s paradise called civilization.


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