Let's see where this thing goes...an urban adventure
Gather round kits and pups, here's a tale of two intrepid adventurers who journeyed deep into the bowels of the Earth to the Well Spring of Eternity! Okay, okay, that last sentence was a tad over the top. A journey underground fraught with peril was undertaken. Worthy of an epic.
You may look at me and chuckle at my current appearance. A sweater vested coyote wearing bifocals. The very model of a mild mannered professor of Chemistry at Stanford.
Come with me as I guide you into the misty past. An Eon before smartphones. When all forms of metadata ladened social networks had yet to be spawned. This was the neolithic period of the so called Information Age. The public Internet was in it's infancy of newborn innocence. Only the rich kids had an AOL dial-up account to their bulletin boards and something called the world wide web. College students had real networks with Mucks, MOOs and Usenet. Unconnected and bored, two high school students became inadvertent pioneers in the now heavily cool field of Urban Exploration.
In that Era, I was a gangly coyote teen with trusted comrades, like my friend Duane. Our meetings were held in the dank, candle lit public room of the Dragon's Inn on the River Kye. Raucous laughter often rang out to the clanking of wooden Ale mugs as we plotted adventure and plunder...
All right, all right I'm exaggerating again!
The inn doesn't exist. It came out of suggested settings from a D&D rule book. In actuality, our meetings took place at a table in a high school backroom.
Picture a Friday afternoon in the first week of September in Phoenix, Arizona. A solitary table, lit by flickering fluorescent lights, surrounded by black and gray plastic containers in a room as dank as a ship's hold. The high school's band instrument storage room.
Having gotten permission from the band director, every Friday afternoon for the last two years, four to six of us would gather to play D&D in the back storeroom upon a table replete with gaming board, figurines and multi-sided dice.
Yes, we were band nerds for a Phoenix suburban high school band. On that fateful day, there were only two at the gathering table. Reluctant to face the problem that lay before us.
"Peter, do you think two can play Advanced Second edition?" asked my friend, Duane Rodus. He was idly paging through the Monstrous Compendium manual.
My then teenage self, in orange T-shirt and shorts, wearing pince-nez glasses, stared back at the russet colored rat in a green shirt and stone washed jeans.
I replied. "A dungeon master and one player? Since Josh, Ben, Gary and Hart graduated last May, not a chance."
Duane sighed gazing up from the manual, "Did you ask around the band for any new players?"
I nodded. "No takers from the flute section."
The first game of the Fall semester was set. Ready for adventure into lands beyond imagination. Dungeon and Dragon campaigns that would never be. With the loss of four players to high school graduation, there was only us two Sophomores holding the fort. No one else was interested in joining the Phoenix Underground Gaming group.
"We can ask outside the band..." I suggested.
Duane shook his head. "No dice. Looks like we'll have to put the Underground Phoenix Gaming group on hiatus till we can get more players. And this time ask everyone in the band."
I sighed, reaching across the table, gathering up dice, paper, pencils and gaming board. Folding it up and placing it back into it's cardboard container.
"Except for the religious nuts," I remarked, "They've been preaching Dungeons and Dragons are the dark army of Satan. I think we're in the wrong cult if all we can muster is two high school band players playing a game with dice."
* * *
Chuckle about it all you want. Nowadays role play gaming is mainstream. Even amongst girls. But in that era, Dungeons and Dragons were the domain of the nerdiest of nerds. And had become a hot topic of deliberate misunderstanding in suburban church circles.
In a heated atmosphere, driven by the televised and recently ended First Gulf war in Iraq, suburbanite evangelical ministers were labeling D&D players as a vanguard for Saddam Hussein's army and having unholy influences on the innocent young. The unbiased truth was further reinforced by the rantings of Jack Chick religious tracts. Designed to keep napping church congregations awake and donation plates flowing with loot to help finance the never ending battle against evil, evolution and edjumicated liberal elites. Who ever they are.
* * *
Duane stared up at the suspended ceiling. Paying no attention to my remark. Chair leaning back at an angle about to fall backwards. Suddenly, chair and rat tipped forwards, chair leg tips smacking the linoleum tiles.
"I got it!"
"Why don't we do a real dungeon crawl? In a real place!"
"How about taking an unauthorized tour of the Salt River Diversion and pumping facility"
My glasses almost slid off my snout. I barked, "That sounds suspiciously like the Keerman Avenue storm sewer outlets. Loitering drunks and addicts hang out there!"
"Where's your sense of adventure?"
"Duane, there's a world of difference between a D&D Gnoll and real life homeless addicts. They're infinitely more scary."
Duane held his rodent hand up. "No. No. No. It's not at all like the storm sewers. The Salt River Diversion station has just been built. There's a storage crypt, pump house and control offices. No one's moved in yet. It's got pathways over water weirs. All underground. Unoccupied! It's perfect!"
My ears splayed sideways. "Where did you hear about this?" I asked with a hint of skepticism.
"From my Uncle, he works for the State Water Board. He came by for dinner at our house last night. Talked about taking a bunch of college civil engineering students down there last week on a tour. He even showed off a big bunch of keys to the access doors!"
Duane reached down to rummage through his book bag. Skinny, scaly tail waggling like a canid. He hauled up a palm wide metal ring with a silvery glittering shapes of keys.
Grinning like an idiot, he spoke. "And best of all. He left his keys behind! Shall we go a-crawling?"
Bushy tail wagging, I barked. "Lead the way!"
* * *
The following morning was your typical hot, dusty Fall morning in Phoenix. At a designated dirt pathway just beyond the cul-de-sac suburban jungle where we lived, two adventurers met up.
The first was a yote teen wearing strapped down pince-nez glasses, so they would'nt fall off no matter what. I came dressed in an old tatty shirt and jeans and rode atop my trusty steed; a dusty, rusty bmx style bike.
Duane came up on his bicycle. Carrying a canvas rucksack atop his back. The russet colored rat wore clothing fit for a gaming convention. A light green vest with leather straps over a white shirt, short pants of similar hue and greenish ankle leggings. An impressive knife on a holster was strapped around his left thigh.
"Duane! This is not the time or place to be cosplaying Legend of Zelda!"
"Look," Duane snorted, "My mom makes these things out of the toughest cloth you can imagine. It's perfect for an underground crawl!"
He motioned down to the knife strapped around his belt. "And we might just need this knife!"
I sighed, dearly hoping we weren't planning to bike through a chola neighborhood. The local cholas and even their girls would be having the time of their lives beating us up for looking like that.
Fortunately, the place lay several miles beyond our suburban jungle in what was then sagebrush and cacti. A hot, but bearable trek on bicycle. Having lugged music instruments about and marching in the band kept us in decent enough physical shape.
But even back in the early 1990's, developers were funneling borrowed money to ensure Phoenix grew like a concrete Amoeba on steroids. The monster had yet to swallow up the entire greater Scottsdale and Mesa regions. At that time, there were still large swaths of surrounding desert that moderated the hot climate somewhat. And a few old neighborhoods where you could keep your house cool with just a Swamp cooler!
The megacity had yet to become the concrete skinned hellhole of today. A place often curtained with Haboob dust storms and crackling under summertime 120F day temps and 90F evenings.
But back to the past. Our journey on bike ended at the grounds of the Salt River Diversion and Pumping station. A dirt colored square shaped hill with the top cut off. Roughly a few acres in size surrounded by rounded bunkers. The station drew water from both underground aquifers and a diversion pipe from what was left of the Salt River and stored it in the ground level reservoir tank for later pumping to the surrounding golf courses and grassy yards of Phoenix.
The station looked shiny new. Even the high chain link fencing shown like freshly polished silver. A tiny parking lot with a few pickup trucks lay behind what looked like a guard gate. Duane motioned to a side path. We made our way behind the storage reservoir towards the back. Where a set of square shaped bunkers lay. Out of sight from the parking lot.
After stuffing our bikes behind a creosote bush, Duane boldly strode up to a locked back gate. He found a key and to my amazement, opened it!
He grinned. "Easy Peasy." And pointed to a nearby bunker with a windowless, heavy door.
We went up to door. And again, Duane found a key amidst the multitudes within that key ring. The key slid into it's socket. A twist, the brand new lock mechanism clicked. I yanked open the door. Staring at the stairs in dim light leading down into the dungeon like depths. We entered, closing the door behind us.
Compared to biking through the desert, it was a treat to be skulking down a cool, dim corridor of stairs. Lit by a flashlight I had brought along. Even the most scent dead snout could smell the water that lay ahead.
Duane was not exaggerating about the dungeon like appearance when we came out into a tall atrium of concrete with a low bridge pathway zig zagging over a pond of still water! The molding marks in the concrete had me imagining it was like fine hewn blocks of stone. Tool markings were like runic graffiti from an ancient civilization.
Adrift in the black water were floating buoys with LED indicator lights. Probably flow meters. All glowing like red ghost lights. A steady thrum thrum thrum echoed around. Some kind of motor. It wasn't too hard to imagine it was the sounds of a napping dragon!
The concrete pathway led towards another wall. In the center was a gray, locked door. Painted with block letters Fire Exit. A breeze rustled my ears. Glancing up, I noticed the source, a large air grill from a duct jutting out of the wall. Exhausting air into the atrium.
This time, Duane's keyring did not have a suitable key to unlock the door. Key after key tried and failed. The firedoor sealed off what lay behind it.
"So close, " I remarked.
Duane sniffled, "We're not licked yet."
He gazed upwards and loosened the knife out of his thigh holster and placed the dull side into his open jaws. Looking like a pirate with knife in his mouth about to board a ship. He pointed up towards the ventilator grill.
Through muffled lips, he merfed. "Ete! Eve me ah boost up thar!"
Gripping his waist, I boosted him up towards the grill. Where he proceeded to use the knife as delicate tool to damage and destroy the grill screws. Undoing the fine job workers had done in mounting the grill.
Suddenly, the grill came loose and slewed sideways. Hanging loosely on a remaining screw. Duane swayed on my shoulders, clawed fingers death gripping the metal duct.
"Help me down!" He yelped.
"Watch your knife," I hissed as I helped him down to the pathway.
Suddenly, the duct grill came loose! It fell, clattering off the pathway and sliding into the water with a loud sploosh!
"Crap!" I yelped. "How are we going to fetch it?"
"Never mind that Pete. We found it!" Duane replied, pointing up to the now naked air duct. "The way In!"
"We're going to clamber up there and crawl inside?"
"You're going to crawl in there," Duane declared. "I'll stand guard out here. Think of it as adventure!"
The red furred rat's snout whiskers twitched and wriggled. He sneezed loudly. "Aaachhoo!"
The waterlogged echos died down in the Atrium. The red furred rat looked up at me, with an apologetic look. "I have allergies and that dusty duct might set them off."
"Thank you for volunteering me."
"Pete. You should know by now a dungeon crawl may get down and dirty sometimes," Duane countered.
He gestured up towards the open duct. "All you have to do is crawl inside the duct a few yards or so. Find a grill, punch it out. You'll be somewhere in the hallway on the other side of the firedoor. Wriggle out and onto the floor. Make your way back to the firedoor and open it. Got it?"
I sighed, feeling like a conscripted soldier. "Okay, it's your turn to boost me up."
Grunting, I managed to haul myself into the rectangular shape duct. Despite it's roomy dimensions, it didn't feel like I was crawling in a rigid square pipe. The metal yielded a bit under my weight, making scary, squeaky noises and it swayed sideways a bit, too and fro. I somersaulted on my side and stuck my head out of the mouth of the duct..
Below, Duane was rummaging through his backpack.
"Duane," I hissed down at him, "This duct feels as flimsy as tissue paper."
Duane looked up, "Relax Pete. Think of those TV programs where the hero crawls through an air duct."
"That's fiction!" I hissed.
Duane snorted. "Of course it is. The actors don't do the dirty work. Producers hire stunt performers who crawl through air ducts! It has to be safe, if they can do it!"
"Large and conveniently mounted air ducts..." I muttered as I turned around and began my own version of a dungeon crawl down a ventilation duct.
* * *
Elbows jutting, I slowly edged my way forwards in stages of arm pull and body wriggle. Tail nervously scraping against interior of the duct, pressurized fan driven air whistling around my body. I'm not claustrophobic, but I couldn't help but feel like one of many a hapless D&D character getting swallowed by one of the sand worms described in the Monstrous Compendium manual.
It was hard to judge how far I came in so far. The best I could judge was maybe several yards. There wasn't any light! Nor any sign of an exit grill. Ahead, my hand felt the duct take a right angled turn. I groaned and squawked from twisting around the turn.
The groans and squawks continued as I took a breather. Wait, that wasn't me making that sound!
Underneath, the duct seem to sag underneath me! I heard more metallic groaning. Then what sounded like wire snapping. Pop! Pop! Pop!
Just as my brain categorized those sounds as snapping duct supports, GRoooooan CRACK! Light erupted like jagged teeth as my surroundings upended and I tumbled down a steep descent! Like a fatally wounded monster disgorging freshly devoured prey, the broken and collapsing ventilation duct vomited me through the ceiling tile, depositing me upon a desk that gave way and dumped me onto a carpeted floor piled high with debris. The wrecked remains of desk and bent chair covered in ceiling tile snow and fibers. Coated in the dusty mixture, I staggered up on my feet.
A still lit fluorescent fixture swayed like a glowing pendulum. Throwing strobe light and shadow about in a strange room. Apparently, I was the only occupant. In front of me was a shelved wall aglow with multiple TV monitors. I stared at the B/W camera fed images showing various parts of the complex. Including one screen showing a rat huddled by a firedoor.
Oh shit! I fell into the security guard room! There was no one else here...YET!
To my right was a white door with a handled doorknob. I ganked it down and yanked open the door. My ears picked up footsteps to my right. I raced to the left and around a turn down a short corridor to a red painted door!
There was no time to read the sign. Opening door will sound fire alarm
The door flew open. The fire alarm sounded. Whooping and shrieking. Upon a bridge like pathway of concrete was a dimly lit and a very frightened rodent. I managed to grab Duane by his backpack, hauling him upright.
He took one look at my white dusty appearance and toothy fanged face of death and took off down the pathway. I followed. Somehow, we found the right set of stairs, raced up the treads, and through the bunker door to the outside. We raced towards the gate in the chain link fence.
Duane was so scared by the shrieking fire alarm, he pedaled out of there like a bat out of...hell.
I followed on my bike, ceiling tile bits sailing off my tail like comet dust. I kept looking back. Expecting a squad car to come roaring after us like a Basilisk
None did. I reached my house where I changed clothes. Duane nervously biked back to his cul-de-sac street with the borrowed keys belonging to his uncle.
We waited for the inevitable knock of the police on our respective doors. None ever came.
Amazingly, we got away with it. Though there was a second page article in the local newspapers about a possible terrorist attack at the Salt River Diversion and pumping station. The then new Fox TV station at the time breathlessly speculated it may have been done as a revenge attack from agents of Saddam Hussein. Another station interviewed a laconic deputy attributing the cause to vandals.
Somehow, the security guard had been either called away or was on the can while we were sneaking in and I was crawling through that duct. Were we lucky! My inglorious fall atop that desk had either broken the room's VCR recorder for the security cameras or no one bothered to have it running at the time.
* * *
So ended our first and only real life dungeon crawl. The Phoenix Underground Gaming Group remained in hiatus till our senior year in High school when we recruited three more gamers into joining us. They often complimented Duane on his lavish details in dungeon setups.
As for me, I blew out of the city for California after graduating. Duane went east for a degree in finance and business at one of the Ivy league schools. He put those persuasive skills to good use in a perverted way.
Only someone like Duane could convince half of the financial community that issuing junk real estate loans and profiting off of their seemingly endless repackaging and subdividing was a great idea
But that's a story for another time.
© 2014 Sirius Dogfire ("SiriusDF"). May not be reprinted, reposted, or redistributed without permission.
8 January 2014 at 01:19:16 MST
A tale of two bored anthro teens attempting to do a real life dungeon crawl way back in the early 1990's.
Based on MLR's drawing: