Pain Spiral

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The natural order of things is that death should be followed by grieving. By remembrance and ritual. But there are some who die alone. So utterly isolated, that their anguish begins to distort reality

Alex Beyman
Age Rating:

Pain Spiral

“Emotion is power. Real, honest to goodness energy. I know how ridiculous it sounds, that’s why it’s so difficult to convince anybody who doesn’t already know. Despite the fact that everybody experiences the immediate reality of it any time they’re intensely happy, angry, sad or whatever else. It’s something you can directly feel is true.

Of course you cannot see it. Neither can you see wind, sound or magnetism. But it’s easy enough to observe their effects. The effects of strong emotion, channeled into writing, painting, sculpting or music are impossible to miss. Nothing of real quality has ever been made except by the infusion of potent emotions during formation.

It’s why there are no skilled artists who never suffered. No interesting people at all who haven’t suffered, really. Suffering is the fire which smelts iron from ore, the hammer which shapes that iron into a blade. It’s the eons of heat and pressure which turn a lump of coal into a diamond. The more of it the better, provided it never exceeds what you can survive.”

I turned over the crumpled sheet looking for more. The back was blank, though. Why leave this? Nothing in the way of directions. No signature either. I smoothed it out, folded it up and tucked it into my pocket anyway. It was the first sign I’d come across that anyone else might’ve been here recently.

I found the coordinates for this place on an urban exploration forum. Took months of participation before anybody would share the primo sites with me. Web communities tend to be like that. If you’re brand new, you’re dogshit. Too many pop in expecting a list of the best urbex sites to simply be handed to them.

Cynical assumptions that they’re some stupid kid looking to tag the place with spray paint prevents it. That’s the practical reason. There’s also a sense of entitlement among the veterans. A feeling that because they jumped through the hoops to prove themselves, anyone else looking to break into the urbex scene should have to do the same.

My light began to flicker. I’d wondered for the past hour if it was really growing dimmer or if I was just imagining it. I’m loathe to swap out the batteries until it’s completely empty, but the meager light coming out is essentially useless. I pop in a fresh pair and leave the empties laying on the asphalt next to the ramp which leads to the floor below.

Big no-no. Pack out everything you pack in, leave it how you found it. But by now, that was the furthest concern from my mind. According to my phone I’d been down here for eleven hours. A thin retractable USB cable continually kept my phone topped up from a battery pack in my jacket, which I originally bought to support my DSLR back when I got into photography.

The floor below is just more of the same. Concrete walls, pillars and ceiling, with a floor consisting of jagged black asphalt. Like any parking structure I’ve ever been in, except that there are no cars. I’ve also not seen any signs with text on them, no utility closets or emergency exits. As if it’s not designed for people, either. After locating the next ramp, I descended another level. There, stuck to a pillar, I found the next page.

“Freud called it psychic energy. That which motivates our actions, which underlies every desire. Being Freud, he of course concluded that it originates from the libido. Something Wilhelm Reich agreed with, though he called the force “Orgone”. Franz Mesmer, for whom Mesmerism is named, labeled it “animal magnetism”.

Our world is a teeming ocean of this energy. Modest exchanges of it taking place between billions of people every day, small scale eddies and currents which occasionally align to form a powerful, concentrated surge. During wars for instance, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and so on.

Even then, once the differential is equalized, a state of peaceful stability follows. At least until another buildup occurs. All of it taking place invisibly, but it’s as real as anything else. To ignore the role of emotion in shaping the world we live in is like striving to understand weather while discounting the sun.”

I came expecting bitter cold, and wasn’t disappointed. I’d dressed for it but still was never properly comfortable. Even though I rarely stopped moving, the cold always penetrated the layers just enough to needle my skin. To keep me on the verge of misery, however resolutely I resisted it.

It wouldn’t be so bad except that my shoes are coming apart. I use a ratty old pair when I do this, as these places tend to be filthy. So on top of the fatigue and shivering, my feet are wholly numb. Wet too, though I don’t recall encountering any puddles. I reached the next ramp and shone my light down it. I don’t know what I expected. Every floor is the same.

A few floors later, I found the next note. Confusing, but heartening. It must mean there’s a way out. Whoever left these must’ve meant for them to be followed, like bread crumbs. I felt water on my face and wiped it, only to discover it was my own tears. Am I really so weak? I’ve always enjoyed this before, even the times when I got lost. I’ve just never been lost for so long. I smoothed out the page, shone my light on it, and read.

“While it tends towards balance, there are special circumstances under which a feedback loop occurs. Recursion, but with increase. If you’ve ever placed a microphone too close to the loudspeakers it’s connected to, you already have an intuitive understanding of how this works. Louder and louder, accelerating to infinity except that the available energy is finite.

The natural equivalent is the black hole. A gravitational singularity which only continues to accumulate mass, warping spacetime to a degree which approaches infinity as you travel into its core. The laws of physics, elsewhere conducive to life, behave more and more strangely as you approach. Unfathomable sights, sounds and experiences for anyone unlucky enough to be pulled in.

What would a singularity of suffering look like? Would you recognize it quickly enough to save yourself? A swirling vortex of emotional energy, formed by such intense pain and despair that it compounded on itself to infinity. Normally such energy dissipates into your loved ones when you die. A part of your soul lives on in them, literally.”

More gobbledygook. The longer I trudged onward, the more seriously I began entertaining the idea that I would never see sunlight again. Hardly unprecedented. I recall a post on the forum, one linked to from a much more popular site. The story which made me interested in exploring forsaken places to begin with.

In 2005, a group of teenagers threw a New Years party in the Odessa catacombs in Ukraine. Originally sandstone mines dating back to the early 19th century, they’d been used by various groups since then as a hideout for thieves, as a bomb shelter, and at one point a base of operations for rebels during Nazi occupation.

The tunnels span over 1,500 miles. All too easy to become lost in, with no hope of escape if you haven’t brought some reliable means of navigation. The sort of precaution that doesn’t occur to a bunch of drunken teens. The girl became separated from the group, wandering on her own for three days. Estimated, as that’s how long it takes to die of thirst.

Her friends notified the authorities but it took them two years before they were willing to mount a search. No official explanation was given as to why they waited for so long. Really, it was over the moment her phone ran out of juice. As she’d brought no other light source, any hope of finding her way out died the moment her phone’s battery did.

The story stuck with me ever since I first read it, my sleep frequently troubled by recurring dreams of wandering in the cold darkness. Eventually collapsing, dragging my weakened body across rough, frigid stone. She must’ve cried so much. Even knowing it would only accelerate dehydration. Must’ve held out hope, for the first day at least, that somebody would come.

But nobody did. Perhaps she thought once or twice that she heard someone approaching. A rescue crew? Her friends? Only the distorted echoes of her own sobs. With no sense of direction or time she may as well have gone in circles, over and over, before collapsing.

What did she think about in her final hours? The friends who didn’t come? Her family? The future she might’ve had. A husband she’d never meet. Children she would never raise. Or maybe she held out hope until the very end that help was still on the way. Until she passed out for the last time, breathing slowing down over the next few hours before…

All they found was a crumpled heap. Pitiful mound of soft decomposed matter filling out the ragged remains of her clothing, a massive colony of mold covering it all. Spreading out from her final resting place, an immense white and brown stain outlining everything she’d once been.

I ran my hand along the cold, smooth concrete as I descended the next ramp. Why build it so deep? I hadn’t thought to count but felt as if I’d descended at least forty floors, maybe fifty. I’d been turned on to the site by a long forgotten post in an archived thread from several years ago. Wanted to ask him for details but he’d left the site since then.

At least I assume so. I could find no other traces of his presence. Seemingly joined the site just to post once, then vanished. Only two other people in the thread commented on it, which struck me as odd since it included coordinates to a promising site which wasn’t in the main list for my state.

I might’ve forgotten about it except that over the subsequent weeks, those two posters went missing. There were threads about it made by their friends asking anybody with information about it to come forward. I’d posted about their interest in that site, but nobody acknowledged it. Like it just wasn’t considered plausible, or got lost in all the activity.

The structure shuddered subtly. Keeps doing that. I began to time the intervals on a whim. They seem to be growing more frequent as I descend. This state isn’t known for earthquakes. The structure itself looks good as new, no cracks or crumbling to indicate any danger of collapse. Every time I’m tempted to start going up again.

No use. After the first few floors, I went back up to where I remembered coming in. Nothing but blank, contiguous concrete wall. Up a few more floors, same result. For the first several hours I kept going up until I began to suspect something was wrong. So I reversed course, wondering if I hadn’t somehow passed by the entrance without noticing it. Same result. I descend another ramp, and again spot a wrinkled page stuck to one of the concrete pillars.

“There is no such outlet for that energy if you die alone. Utterly alone, in every respect. Nobody to bury your remains. Nobody to remember you. Your grief, pain and despair compound over time. Spirit trapped in a vortex of its own suffering, unable to escape without closure. Without the rescue it so desperately hoped for. Or at least understanding of what it was like to die that way.

The intensity increases exponentially from there. Like the psychic echo of a final anguished scream, growing louder with each repetition. Eventually becoming so powerful as to distort reality around it. The radius of effect small at first, but expanding more and more quickly the longer the source of that energy goes without any satisfactory outlet.

The resulting pocket dimensions are always similar. Barren, abstract, desolate places. Always recursive in some way, comprised of self-similar repeating elements. Why? An expression of despair, maybe. Of infinity. That anyone sucked into it might experience some tiny fraction of what they felt as they lay dying in such a place, their hope dwindling to nothing as nobody comes to rescue them. As their body begins to shut down.”

I slammed my fist against the pillar. Every time I hoped for useful information. Every time, it was simply more demented ranting. Could he still be here? Did I really want to meet such a person in this empty, forgotten place? Had to be the same guy who posted the coordinates. Who else could it have been?

I laid down, again trying to rest. But I found no comfortable spot to do so. This place affords no softness, no provision for flesh and blood. Only cold, damp darkness. Floor after floor of concrete and asphalt, extending impossibly deep into the Earth. What if I’d kept going up? Would it have made a difference? I doubt it. From the outside, this place only looked three stories tall.

Why hadn’t I thought it strange that there should be a parking structure in the middle of the woods? I’d offroaded most of the way. Made no sense to put such a thing there. The exterior overgrown with vines, concrete weathered as though it’d been there for decades. Yet the inside was pristine. No doubt how it looked when she died.

“In December of 1979, a young girl was abducted and raped over the course of several days in an abandoned parking structure on the outskirts of Detroit. Because she came from a family with a long history of drug violations and runaways, police did not initially respond. When they finally did, there was no trace of her abductor. Her body was found on the lowest floor, decomposition already quite advanced.”

The coordinates followed, with a low res jpeg of the structure’s exterior below that. Thinking back, I could pinpoint that moment as when it began. When I first entered its influence, subtly pulling me towards it. How could I pass it up? Most of these places are nondescript derelict industrial buildings. This one had a story behind it. Something to give a sense of meaning to my exploration.

The hole in the wall must’ve been the event horizon. Point of no return. Looked as if vandals had knocked through with a sledgehammer. I fully expected the inside to be coated with graffiti. Instead, aside from the lack of working lights and ever present dampness, it was immaculate. Didn’t seem strange to me then. None of it did, somehow. Not enough to make me turn back.

Frivolous. Thoughtless of me. I could see that now. Someone had died here. The worst death. But for me, disconnected from it, simply trivia to whet my appetite. Something to dwell on as I poked around in an abandoned building, taking pictures for bragging rights. That I’d dared to enter with those intentions now seemed an unforgivable trespass. Perhaps I deserved this.

To wander in darkness, belly growling, legs growing weak. Alone, far from those who love me. From light, from sound. Silence and hunger my only companions as my body slowly wears down.

I began to weep again, despite my best efforts to suppress it. I thought of my first day of school. My first car. My first kiss. Of everything I’d done, and everything I still wanted to.

The tremors grew stronger and closer together. As if I were approaching some industrial project, or seismic fault. At the same time, I began to notice that subsequent floors were different from the ones I'd already seen.

A startling development, after passing so many identical ones. But sure enough, now each floor was noticeably more and more different from the last. Pillars in different places, patches of concrete among the asphalt and vice versa.

And toys. The first I encountered was a ragged little stuffed rabbit, fur stained with grime. On the tag, someone had written "Mr. Bun" in faded ink. I searched the floor looking for anything else, in vain.

After resting again, I descended another few floors, checking each more throroughly on account of the discovery. Sure enough, I found more toys. A set of soggy lincoln logs. A headless Barbie. A little faux gold trophy for third place in a spelling bee, the coating chipped to reveal white plastic beneath it. More troubling by far, a wadded up pair of bloody panties.

The floors were now unrepentantly erratic. Some vastly larger, such that it took an hour or more to find the ramp to the floor below. Some no larger than a livingroom, the ramp down to it immediately adjacent to the next.

Strangest by far, one floor simply had an entire wall missing. It looked out into darkness. If I laid right on the edge and peered up, I saw a seemingly endless stack of the floors above me receding into the black fog. When I looked down, more stacked floors, but of increasing irregularity.

A tremor struck, nearly sending me over the edge. Heart pounding, I backed away and waited to catch my breath. It defied understanding. I'd been underground until now, so far as I knew. I wiped the sweat and tears from my face, mind racing, struggling to make sense of it.

It was no use, though. Because whatever I might think of, there was still only one thing to do, one direction to go. That I was finally seeing meaningful difference, seemingly moving towards something, was an encouragement if anything.

How much stranger could it get, after all? The rate of tremors accelerating, each floor increasingly different. It has to end at some point. Has to. "Surely I'm approaching the end", I thought. A desperate, empty promise to myself. I descended another level.

Only to find it was completely regular, identical to the first fifty or so in every discernible way. The tremors had also suddenly stopped, with silent implications I couldn't pin down. Like entering the eye of a hurricane.

I shone the light around searching for the next ramp, but found none. Stunned, I then searched for the next sheet of paper but also found nothing. At last, though I could hardly believe, I seemed to have reached the final floor.

Sweeping my light around, I almost missed the frail mass huddled in the corner. It cringed slightly as the light struck it. A girl. Emaciated, neglected, long black hair tangled and filthy. “Hello?” I cautiously whispered. No response. So, slowly, I approached. Maybe because of the fatigue, I at last started to believe.

“It's you, isn't it. I read about you. I know what you went through, that’s why I came”. A half truth. Although after my journey, I did feel as though I’d absorbed some of it. The feeling of final surrender to the unthinkable. The vast, cold darkness of it. Realizing that nothing ever actually guaranteed that things would turn out okay for you. That it really can end this way, and is going to.

“You don’t have to stay down here. You’re not alone anymore. I understand.” I extended my trembling hand to her. At first, no reaction. Then, slowly, she reached up with her own delicate hand and grasped mine. When I shone a light on it, the flesh was mottled white and green. I then shone light on her face. Empty sockets stared back.

I cried out in fear and tried to withdraw, only to discover her grip was impossibly strong. Struggle as I might, I couldn’t pull free. She just sat there in her wet, moldy rags, staring.

When I shone the light around her, for the first time I noticed the two nearest skeletons. And piles upon piles of bones behind them, the remains of curious explorers who'd come to gawk. Misery loves company.

"Please, don't do this. I'm not like them. I understand what you went through! I know what that man did. I know you were a good girl, that you loved your Mr. Bun. I know you liked lincoln logs, and won third place in that spelling bee. I came because I care. I came to save you."

The silence that followed was agonizing. But finally, in a low, gravelly whisper, it spoke. "Then what's my name?"

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