1. Suddenly I realize, there’s someone there. Right in front of me. Inches from my face.
“There’s an abandoned and boarded-up WWII fort in the southern part of Belgium, that we often sneak into with the scouts. Getting in there requires scaling a sheer wall (where we’ve placed anchoring points for ropes and climbing gear) next to a relatively busy road. So you’re being super quiet, making no light and cowering every time a car passes by so he doesn’t spot you in his lights. The atmosphere is set.
The moment you enter it, it’s like diving into water. Sound stops and the entire place is at a constant 14 degrees Celsius, with a slight breeze passing through. The tunnel is barely large enough for me (slightly broader than the average person) to pass without turning my body sideways. The tunnel is just high enough to work up a decent gait while hunched over. If someone ahead of you blocks a passage for a moment, the breeze stops and it feels like the entire tunnel network takes a breath. Because of the way the tunnels are constructed, they echo in such a way that your own footsteps seem to be coming from behind you. They also seem to take one more step than you do when you stop.
Of course, we don’t allow the guys and gals to take any source of light in there, so it’s pretty scary overall.
So I’m in there, posted at a side passage to ensure everyone takes the same path and doesn’t get lost. I go in first, before any of the climbers arrive, so they don’t know there are friendly faces in there to help them. I’m in there for a while, just waiting for the first to come by, when I see a dancing little light coming down the long hallway. I quietly settle back in my nook and wait for whoever was smart enough to hide some matches and take them away.
The light quietly bobs closer when I realize there aren’t any footsteps accompanying it. I poke my head around the corner just in time to see it disappear. I hear no footsteps still.
I settle back and wait some more, when I realize I do hear some scuffling. Very faint. Breathing noises, but still very faint. I become aware of a wet heat coming from right in front of me, with a faint smell of…person, sweat, dirt? Suddenly I realize, there’s someone there. Right in front of me. Inches from my face.
The breathing stops suddenly, whatever it is, is aware of me as well. Whatever or whoever it is, we’re both holding our breath, both acutely aware of each other. It takes ages. I’m sitting there, unable to move, speak or breathe properly.
The wet heat passes and some minutes later I become aware of very faint light coming from my right side, which soon dissipates and leaves.
Sometime later still, I hear the familiar stomping of combat boots coming down the hallway from my left. I stop the person, tell them to keep following the passageway and take the first right they come to. Out of curiosity, I ask who went in first. No one, he went in first…
it was explained much later. the first guy got lost down a dead-end side passage and the second girl passed him by. She got nervous from the footsteps and removed her shoes. She saw me poke my head from around the corner and dropped the match. She passed me very slowly. One of the later checkpoints said she was crying her eyes out.”