Slivers of glass everywhere.
In many ways, I think at the end of it all, in spite of all the names I give myself, all the titles, all the mental and physical armour, I’m a thrill-seeker.
It doesn’t matter how long of a day I’ve had, how many hours of sleep, how drained I might be … you give me a chance to risk something, anything … I’ll be down to do it.
I suppose it’s why my favourite “uniform” are a pair of cargo pants, strong sturdy tactical boots, a dark grey long sleeve shirt and a mask. Because I’ve done everything in them. I’ve organised festivals, chased trams, jay-walked, climbed walls, slid across cars and crawled in bushes with them.
It’s the only outfit that keeps me warm & cool, comfortable & tough, attractive & terrifying.
With that in mind, allow me to set the scene.
My friends and I had agreed to meet after work. Being a Friday, it was a long day for me, constantly serving customers and trying my best to ensure everyone checked in and was actually following the rules.
As I thought sarcastically to a customer who got pissy with me for COVID-SAFE regulations …”Are you going to pay the $20,000 fine? If that’s the case, come on in to the store, you twat.”
But knowing that I got to eat decent Japanese food and hang out with friends after, soon erased any bad times at work. After all, just because my feet were tired, didn’t mean I couldn’t hang out with friends. That is the beauty of working full-time … you can afford to go out and if you can afford to do that, why shouldn’t you?
As I parked my car, and was walking to the Japanese Izakaya restaurant, I noted an abandoned building along the way. Tempted, I pondered about going in, but left it.
The dinner was lovely, and it was good to catch up with my friends again. Leaving the place, we decided to walk around and see what was interesting in the area. As coincidence would have it, my friends were also intrigued by the abandoned place. Waiting until it was dark, we killed time with idle chat and walks, before deciding to go for it.
Walking into the alleyway behind the abandoned building, we noted how easy it was to circumvent the cyclone fencing and gain access.
I personally regretted wearing a bright white shirt, but there was no time like the present.
Skirting the garage area, we tried all the doors, only to be disappointed that everything was locked, and despite the “DEMOLITION IN PROGRESS” sign, there was no way in. I found myself peeved by the missed opportunity and remembered the huge abandoned compound near my home.
I bought it up in idle chat and to my surprise, my friends, despite the hour long trip back home for them, were keen.
Upon hearing that, I felt my mind wipe clean, my feet lose some of their stiffness and my eyes lit up in excitement. I haven’t been back to that place in over 2 years, but the last time was the perfect level of eeriness. It was abandoned enough to have intriguing signs of isolation, without the usual graffiti destruction.
Rushing home, I quickly snuck into my house and got my gear on.
Dark navy cargo pants
Dark grey long sleeved Arcteryx henley shirt
Grey/Red Arcteryx beanie
Black long socks
A 7100 Pelican LED Torch
Black Oakley Palm Pilot gloves
An Oni styled neck gaiter
A Vortex monocular
My venerable Leatherman Skeletool
My favourite knife, the CRKT M16 – 14ZLEK
Black Under Armour Valsetz Tactical Boots
Wolf Grey Pentagon Artaxes Softshell Jacket
Armed with all my favourite gear, I couldn’t help but smile underneath all of it. I was excited. The surge of adrenaline was coursing through my system, making me forget everything that had happened in the past 24 hours. I couldn’t wait. This was my element, this was my field of mastery.
Walking along the perimeter of the fence, along the busy road, I knew that we had to jump into the thick bushes to get access and feel along for holes in the fence.
Timing it before cars saw us, we stumbled our way into the bushes and felt along the fence until we duck in through a conveniently cut hole. I felt my breathe quicken and my body react to that familiar rush of breaking into a property.
The compound is a former road analysis centre. It may sound incredibly dull, but this facility was designed around the study of road and how they reacted to weather and wear. It is a big, ugly building, typical of government work. Along the left wing is the mess hall, with a kitchen and huge dining area. The centre has a spiralling staircase that leads up to offices, meeting rooms and presumably the CEO office. It also descends into a basement area that has filing shelves and a generator that powers the building.
On the ground floor, it leads into more cubicles and then into the rear section of the building, which houses the laboratory and even more cubicles for study and work.
Along the right side, leads the main road which used to take deliveries and has several garages and a storage facility that, for the three times I’ve been there, has never been accessible.
It’s a huge complex, full of fascinating discoveries and strange eerie atmosphere.
Only this time, it’s been completely trashed. Any discoveries or signs of what office life could have been, is now completely ruined.
Slipping on my mask and using a small torch, I flicked over to my usual choice for going through abandoned places.
The Splinter Cell: Blacklist soundtrack.
It is at times like this, I wished I owned NODs (Night Observation Device ala, night vision), as it makes “light pollution” a void issue. The problem with my Pelicans are that they are insanely bright for what they are, and can draw attention. Whenever possible, I try to let my eyes do most of the work, but in this case, it was far too dangerous for myself and my friends.
My friends didn’t have the luxury of kitting up like me. They would have to watch their footing carefully, whilst I could focus more on silent footsteps.
It was clear that since the last time I came, someone had done some extensive fire damage to the structure. The entire central staircase was a shattered, blackened mess and graffiti was literally everywhere.
Holes in the roof gave way to exposed and wreck beams. Shattered glass littered the floor with every step. I could see torn air-con ducts, their stuffing leaking onto the floor. Trees and branches poked in through windows, of which 90% were all smashed in.
I didn’t recognise the place any more. Too much damage had been done to it.
It had been so long, so trashed that I almost got lost. I remembered the general layout, but it was still a bit of a confusing mess.
But the thrill was still there. My sense were on hyper-alert. My eyes were constantly flicking around, scanning every corner, for any sign of life or worse … security. I could listen through my music oddly, the soundtrack giving me an even greater sense of perception.
It took us well over an hour to scan through, and I had to admit that we might have used our torches too much. There was a lot of light pollution on our end, simply because it was so dark and difficult to see where our feet were going.
It didn’t help that when I approached a building, one of the lights flicked on …
Which meant that there was power somewhere, which indicated a sensor or at least some type of camera.
I didn’t think much of it, focusing instead on showing my friends the basement.
I should have listened to my instincts.
We were making our way through, back into the central building and were going on through the other side, when I froze.
I heard voices.
Then I saw flashes of a bright light through the bushes I heard the voices coming from.
My heart-rate went from calm and collected, to fierce concentration.
My internal voice screamed SECURITY. AVOID AT ALL COST. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.
I whirled around and whispered-yelled “No light. NO LIGHT!” My friend, to his credit, switched off the torch instantly.
Moving over to them, I motioned urgently. “Security. Let’s get out here. Follow me.”
Cutting across the building to the other side, we waited around the corner of the building, exposed in the pale moonlight. I winced inwardly, as one of my friends, in his rush, didn’t hold the door and I heard it slam behind us.
There’s no fucking way they don’t know we’re here now I thought to myself.
To our eleven o’clock were tall trees, bushes and bramble, thick enough to cover us and make our way straight to the fence line.
My ears were straining to hear anything, my eyes peering into the greyish light, checking to see if the two security guards were near the front entrance.
Using a hand gesture, I whispered to my friends that we were going to make for the bush and then head straight to the fence-line. There was no way, any of my friends were getting caught. I was going to make sure of that. This was my territory. This was my environment. This is what I excelled in.
Just as I was making my way through the bush, my friends, perhaps only 3 metres behind me, a bright light shone into the trees.
Without hesitation, I ducked down into a crouch.
To my immense relief, several trees obscured me from the actual brightest part of the beam. I looked behind, to see my friends frozen in place, low in the bushes. The treeline was sparse and the grass wasn’t quite tall enough. This was not a good position.
The light shone through the silhouettes of trees for an eternity. I willed myself to be invisible.
Then it flicked off.
I started to crawl slightly. I made it 30 centimetres before Bam! the light came on again.
I went flat into the ground, cursing inside. I felt a branch scratch at my leg, the soft caress of grass on my cheek, my knee pressed hard into the ground.
Bastard! Trying to bait us into giving away our position. That clever arsehole!
None of us moved. This time, the light went on even longer. I could hear my own heartbeat now. It was thumping away in my chest. Fear and determination mixed together in my mind. We could beat this guy, I thought. We’re so close. There’s no way he can get us, even if we were seen. We can make it.
The light flicked off. I immediately began moving, and was relieved when I saw one of my friends blitz right past me. I hear him muttering If I stay there, I’m getting caught. Let’s fucking go.
I agreed. The guy with the flash-light could have us pinned in place, whilst his partner went in to grab us. It was time to go.
I followed my friend, and was relieved when the bushes claimed my form completely. We punched our way through the trees, the branches and the bush, not caring about ourselves, desperate for the fence line.
We were beyond caring about evidence, about caution. It was time to make a determined effort to escape. This was our one chance.
I scanned left and right swiftly and almost yelled with joy when I saw another convenient hole less than 2 metres to our left. Come on boys! I whispered-yelled as I stood by the hole. At the back of mind, I was praying that there wasn’t another security guard at the front gate.
But I had scanned the road entrance by the corner of the building earlier and was incredibly relieved to see nothing there.
As the boys climbed through, we began sprinting for our car. My tradition is to always park the car slightly further away, to ensure that we can all split up and head to the car in an emergency. It is also always suspicious to park the car directly in front.
No guard will catch my number plate.
OPSEC (Operational Security) matters and these small precautions I take aren’t just borne out of paranoia, but something I’ve developed over so many incursions into abandoned places.
As we piled into the car, we were all heaving huge sighs of relief at our escape. Our breathing was slightly ragged from the dead sprint, and the shock of what we had just done.
I’m going to the nearest McDonalds I proclaimed to my friends. We needed to eat something to ensure we took the edge off the shock. Besides, it was also a celebration …. a toast to our stealth skills and daring breakout.
As we sat outside with coke, nuggets and chips by my car, we traded theories on who those guys were. They could have been strangers like us. Maybe they were security. Why did they arrive? Was it just the one guy? Surely they knew we were in the trees.
At the end though, the speculation didn’t matter. We got out, we didn’t lose anything and we were relatively none the worse for wear.
I couldn’t stop replaying it in my head though. That fear and sense of fighting spirit the moment when the lights shone through the trees, confirmed that I wasn’t a coward. That I would stick by my friends. Yes, I had a sense of self-preservation, but it was completely combined with the idea that all of us would survive.
The sense of camaraderie and kinship, I felt, whilst sitting in a McDonalds carpark, felt good. Our friendship had deepened. It was almost tangible that feeling.
I now know why I do half of these things with my friends. It isn’t just to seek a thrill, it’s also to create deeper feelings of brotherhood. This is my way of creating a military environment where loyalties are strengthened, and friends become family.
After all, it is often said that bonds are created equally strong in a criminal setting as they are in a military environment.
It was fun being a ersatz Splinter Cell for a night.
Let’s hope another experience like this happens again soon.
You only live twice.
One when you are born
And once when you look death in the face.