I’m what you would call an urban explorer; essentially, I break into abandoned places for fun. I’m a professional interloper. Honestly, I don’t do it for the thrill anymore. I used to, for sure. The adrenaline rush coming from the fear of being caught hooked me, but I stuck with it for the solitude. There is something about the air in an defunct factory floor. There is a spirit that creeps the halls of abandoned estates. They speak to me, and for a long time, I could say that metaphorically. Anymore, though, I can barely get myself to leave the house.
I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know if it even has a name, but I call it The Strobe. It’s a flash, or that’s how it starts. God, I’m not making any sense, am I?
A week ago, I got a beat on an old cannery out in Clovetown, Kentucky, and I couldn’t resist. I’m a sucker for those huge, dusty industrial complexes. There are so many corners and nooks to explore. It was normal. It felt so god damn normal. I scoped it out before hand of course. Broken windows, barbed wire fences, rusty pipework, faded graffiti: just your typical ramshackled shop. That Friday, I loaded up my pack and made the drive.
When I got there, night had already fallen, as did a steady drizzle. That’s a good thing. Rain dampens sounds and obscures your outline, and seeing as the fence line followed all the way up to the highway, a little precipitation was a welcome sight. I clipped the rusted fence and crawled through the break. I moved on all fours until I was out of the light of the nearby street lamps. After that, I felt pretty comfortable with just walking right up to the front door and stepping inside.
It’s never that easy though; “soda cans” (what we call buildings without locked doors) are like unicorns. I like the challenge of getting in, though. Nearby, I find a broken window that is low enough for me to get into. So, I throw some padding over the sill and hoist myself inside, but when I drop, my foot catches a chair. I twist my ankle and hit the ground hard. Thank god for the sound of rain, yeah?
My head cracks against the concrete floor, and I lay there in a daze for a hot second, trying to get the spins under control. Eventually, I’m good to stand. My ankle is twelve kinds of fucked up, but I’m no quitter. It wasn’t the first time I hobbled my way through a site.
The facility is three stories of tanks and vats at first glance. The air is sweet, almost saccharine, and there is a generous layer of dust on everything. I’d say no one had been there in at least five years, which I find surprising considering that a lot of the equipment there would probably fetch a decent price. I stumble around in the dark, guided only by the ambience of the lamps outside. The dim glow barely makes it’s way through the windows, and my eyes are slow to adjust. A draft moans from somewhere deep inside the shop.
On one of the larger vats, I find more graffiti, a pentagram and the artist’s tag. If my foot had been in better shape, I probably would have tried to hop inside the tank, just for shits and giggles. Obviously, I am in no shape to do that, but I do check inside. I lift the stainless steel lid. It growls on its ancient hinges, but the noise is padded. It’s… how do I describe it? It’s not hollow, because the tank is, in fact, not empty like I had assumed.
It was full of random, worn out jeans and flannels and shit. By that time, I didn’t really get the creeps anymore, but something about that hit me just right. It reminds me of some photos I saw of Auschwitz back in high school. The Nazis would take off people’s shoes and leave them in these big piles. I don’t know why I thought about that in that moment, but it makes me queasy. Maybe it was a warning. Fuck, I should have just left. I promise I’m not crazy. I’m getting to the point of all this.
I leave the vat and painstakingly stumble my way up the stares to the second floor. It’s apparent that it was the floor where the actual canning happened. Unlabeled containers still sat on belts in neat little rows. The canning machine was a monstrous network of shoots and arms. Like I said, there was no evidence of anyone being there for a long time, but the whole facility just felt out of time, frozen, like the whole production just stopped on a dime and everyone left.
The rain is picking up by then, and I can hear thunder crackling in the distance. I feel pretty confident that security wouldn’t really be an issue at that point. Normally if there is any type of surveillance, even silent alarms, you figure out real damn quick. My steps punctuate the ambient beat of rain like a metronome as I follow the length of the hulking steel beast. Dead things have a weird way of feeling alive in places like that. I half expect to hear the canning machine breathing, its heart pounding like a slumbering creature as I wander the vacant floor.
Eventually, curiosity gets the better of me, and snag one of the cans off the belt. It’s light, shockingly light, but I feel something tumble around inside, shaking it beside my ear. Thum. Thum. Something is definitely inside, but it’s soft. Intrigue fuels me to carve open the can with my pocket knife, and I get the whole lid off before I check the can’s contents. It’s too dark to make out the strange form sitting on the bottom. I turn it over into my hand.
A sock. It’s single, balled up sock. Those photos flash in my mind again, and my gut tightens. It stinks. Like, it really stinks. It stinks like you would imagine an old sock to stink, but it’s just so fucking strange, uncanny even. My skin crawls, and I instinctively let go of the can and its contents when the smell hits my nose. With a sharp sting, the can clatters on the ground. I wince, pulling my shoulders to my ears, and I wait.
Then I hear it for the first time. It sounds like an old CRT television with the volume turned all the way down. It’s less of a sound and more of a feeling, but you know what I mean, right? It’s not static. It’s just, I don’t know, electricity? Normally, I would have jet right then and there, but this noise wasn’t produced from a human. No steps. No shuffling. Transients are sometimes a problem, but they usually yell. This wasn’t that. In fact, it wasn’t anything I could have guessed. I didn’t know that then, though. Why am I so fucking stupid?
I stand there in silence for an indeterminate period of time, catching my breath, getting my bearings. All the while, that sound draws me. The second floor doesn’t hold anything else other than a couple desks. I rummage through the paperwork for a while, but the search doesn’t produce anything of note.
So, I head to the third floor.
Somehow, the air is thinner up there, and the pungent sweetness of the previous two levels is replaced with the thin smell of petrichor and ozone. It’s almost clinical. At the top of the flight I’m met with a wall and flimsy, faux wood door. The lock is simple enough to jimmy, and as I click the last pin into place, I notice a faint glimmer flashing through the sliver of space between the door and the floor. It’s irregular. Honestly, I think my eyes are playing tricks on me at first. That happens some times when you are in the dark; your eyes make up colors and shapes to compensate for the light deprivation. The door opens smoothly and slowly.
The third floor, from what I could tell, is an office, but that is wholly unremarkable. What is more noteworthy is the flashing light, emanating from somewhere farther in the room. It’s bright. It’s really bright, and there are windows covering three of the walls. There is no way that I wouldn’t have noticed it from outside. Its like a fucking lighthouse. It’s so bright in fact, that I can read a hastily scribbled note written directly on the inside of the door.
“Don’t be scared.”
I can honestly say, I wasn’t scared before I read that. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I was being watched. Normally, I can push down that sensation. It’s primal and usually immensely unhelpful. It’s also usually wrong. Usually.
The office is sparse. Some of the desks sport dusty computers, and I head to the closest one to the door to snoop. It’s almost like I was trying to ignore the light, but at the same time, it was pulling me. It was pulling me in with nearly imperceptible clicks, like fingernails on tile. At the desk, I find a stack of blank pages, an old calculator, and a calendar dated at 1995. The building was old, but I wouldn’t have imagined it being left to abandoned for that long. Twenty five years the cannery stood alone, left to rot in season after season of rain and snow and heat. I’m turning away, when I notice a pair of shoes under the desk. They are facing forward, like someone was sitting there and slipped right now. Weirder yet, they were spotless. They were shining in the bright, periodic flashing.
“Don’t be scared.”
The tapping too loud to ignore at that point, echoing against the floors and fragile windows. I headed for the light. I had to. Clickclickclickclick. Dark. I take a couple weak steps, noticing how badly my ankle hurts. Clickclickclickclickclickclick. Dark. The taps followed the light.
“Don’t be scared.”
The light is blinding, and I’m so captured that I don’t even think to worry about my silhouette showing up against the windows. My approach is slow, and pain is shooting up my leg and into my brain. I don’t know why I didn’t just leave. I honestly don’t know why. The Strobe just does that.
I find the pulsing light is coming from behind another desk in the corner of the office. It clicks and flashes, then stops. God, the pain was almost unbearable. I’m about an arm’s length from the desk, when the flashing stops completely. A streak of lighting roars through the sky, lighting up the entire room, and I see it for the first time.
The thin shadow lurches from around the desk and into the maze of cluttered office space. Clickclickclickclickclickclick. It flashes its crackling beacon of light as it darts around, and I book it.
I dart as fast as my gimp leg will go, sailing down the first two flights of steps without much trouble. On the last, though, I loose my footing and take a hard tumble. I feel a rib crack, and my breath is knocked out of me as I lay face up on the ground. It’s there, at the top of the steps. I hear it ticking away with its tedious decent. It’s growing brighter with every step. That electrical feeling is buzzing in my ears. It signals me like a deep sea predator flashing a ghostly lure.
I don’t know how I got out. I know I crawled back through the window somehow. I know I got back to my car, soaking wet and panicking. I just literally don’t know how I physically did it, though. Through my windshield, I can see the cannery. It suddenly looked insidious, in an inexplicable way, but there was no light from inside. No flashing, but I fucking swear, there was something in there. I know because I let it out.
I know because it found me. As I write to you now, I can look up and see the flashes, hear the clicking through the glass on my front door. The gaunt shadow taps against my window while I try to sleep. It’s trying to get inside.
“Don’t be scared.”