Perched atop a rocky point, overlooking the northern
The house itself was enormous…but he enjoyed his time outside more than anything else. He’d always climb down the cliff to the beach, as opposed to taking the weathered stairs. It made a great start to his day of exploration. Heading north along the white sandy beach…there was not a house to be seen…it was ‘his beach.’ It took him only about ten minutes to make it the next outlying cliff – his destination. Getting closer, he could see the odd shapes and black holes in and around the upper edges of the cliff. His excitement grew, increasing as he got closer…because this day he was going to explore farther and deeper than he ever had before.
As he began climbing up the steep embankment, his eyes began to hone in on anything and everything that he could add to the little bag that was draped around his neck. Scrambling to the top, he rested for a minute and then did a full 360 to take in his surroundings and gather his bearings. Knowing that he was embarking on a journey that no other 11 year old boys had ever been on, he smiled and took a deep breath, which he held in for a moment, as if to not let his fear or anxiety surface.
Looking inland from the cliff top, he marveled at what lay before him. The old fort, abandoned by the Marines more that a decade ago. He eyed the reinforced trenches, gun turrets, crumbling stairwells that seemed to lead nowhere…he did not know where to start. He’d been there once before with his sister, but she was scared and they did not explore the way he planned to this day. Mentally flipping a coin, he started walking north along the cliff.
When he came to the first of the seemingly endless bunkers, he walked around it, searching high and low for the doorway…he found none. He did, though, find several spend shell casings from a machine gun. The shells quickly went into his bag. Moving on he came to a spot where he would have to cross the trench. It was not deep, but there was still a certain level of fear that began to creep up. He turned and lowered himself into the trench. Once inside he realized that to get out…he’d have to find a fallen rock or a spot where the wall had broken. He began his journey along the trench. Comforted by the ever present sun on his head and the familiar sounds of crashing waves, he proceeded. After a few minutes, he saw his opportunity to climb out of the trench…a large piece of the wall had fallen inside. It was just enough for him to climb up and then pull his way out.
Right there in front of him was another bunker. He had to find a door on this one. Scurrying all the way around the 10’ X 10’ bunker, jumping up onto the earth-covered top and then back down, he still found no way in. He wondered for a moment how the soldiers got in and out. Scratching his head, he walked around it once more. This time more slowly and eyeing everything. About ¾ of the way around, he saw where the 10” window, which encircled the bunker, was broken. It could have broken from decay in the salt air or from a fallen rock…but he was going with a missile blast…yeah, that’s what made the hole.
He first peered inside. Not seeing much of anything, he remembered his difficulty in getting out of the trench. Finding a few large rocks that he could roll, he one by one, rolled them into the bunker to use as a ladder if he could not find a door. Then he dropped to his belly and began descending into the bunker, feet first. Inside the bunker it was dark, the air was still and…he had no flashlight. Walking around the room feeling the walls for a door, he noticed that there was a bunch of stuff on the floor. In the dim light he could not make everything out so he lifted items, one by one into the light from the sliver of window. This room was a gold mine for shell casings…he even found 2 belts of shells…where they were all held together by little metal pieces. These, he knew, were used in the large machine guns.
Finally he found what seemed to be a mini door in the wall that opened to a stairwell. He could see nothing in the stairwell. It was pitch black. He sat there for a moment, contemplating whether he would brave the stairwell or go back the way he came. The internal argument was brief…he’d come back another day with a flashlight for the stairs. Climbing up on the rocks that he’d pushed down into the bunker, he was able to emerge from his first explored room with ease. Once back on solid ground, outside the bunker, he searched for something to mark the bunker with so that he could come back to see where that stairway led. The only thing that he could find was a bunch of rocks. He grabbed them, one by one and piled them on top of the bunker, in a pile that he’d be able to see from a ways off.
At that point, he decided to head inland from the cliff to see what was there for him to explore. Passing by several flat cement circles, each with a few sets of holes in them, he noticed huge amounts of spent shell casings and knew that there must have been machine guns mounted there. He took a few minutes to pretend that there were still guns mounted in their positions. With his hands up in front of him, he shook back and forth and turned back and forth, making machine gun noises. With that, he thought to himself what a great vantage point that spot was. He had a great line of sight up and down the beach…as well as the ocean to the east.
Moving on, the boy came to a set of stairs which led down about fifty feet to a large open area. Seemingly an old staging area for the military personnel, to him it looked like an un-kept playground …with no equipment. Reaching the open area and turning to look at the hillside toward the ocean he marveled at the number of stairways, doors and open passageways that riddled the embankment. As if he were a trained soldier, he squinted his eye, peered back and forth and then seemed to KNOW which direction to head.
As he started to the north-East, he noticed something that stood out to him. It was not the shape of all of the other things he was finding…and it looked to be halfway stuck into the ground. Crouching down in front of it and brushing some of the dirt away from the sides…it became clear what he had found.
The tarnished metal sticking out of the ground was making his eyes widen and his heart race. Grasping his hand around his new found treasure, he pulled with all of his might. After a few seconds of pulling he found himself falling backwards, landing on his rear and holding, up in the air, what would be ‘the find on the day.’
Lowering his treasure to eye level, he carefully studied it. Knowing very well that he’d found an old bayonet, he was anxious to get it cleaned up. Vigorously rubbing the handle up and down the leg of his jeans, spitting on it and rubbing some more, he began to clean away the dirt and grime. Holding the weapon by its semi-clean handle, he wondered what to do about cleaning the blade. What if it had blood …or something cool like that on it? He put the blade into his bag to clean up later…when he could take the time to do it right.
Continuing to the north-east, jumping, happily, over pieces of broken cement blocks and mounds of dirt, he came to an incline that would bring him up the slope of the hillside fort. He began up the cement stairs and after a few of the stairs basically crumbled under his feet, he moved to the left and on all fours, continued up the overgrown embankment. Around the midway point there was a small landing where he found a small open doorway. It was pitch black inside and he was a bit scared. Poking his head in, he barely made out that the room was quite small and it had two doorways that he could see. He was frightened, but the excitement of exploring this forgotten fortress was too much to handle. He sat for a minute before it hit him…he would make himself a torch. Backing out of the doorway, he turned and scanned the hillside for a stick that could serve as a good torch. He spotted one, grabbed it and sat on the small landing. Taking his bag off his shoulder, he sunk his hand in, to the bottom and quickly pulled out his pocket knife. Setting it on the ground beside him, he stood and reached into his pocket for the book of matches that he’d stolen from next to the fireplace. Happy that he had all of the tools that he needed, he began to cut a long strip off the bottom of his T-shirt. Carefully wrapping the cloth around one end of the stick (yes, he was an Indiana Jones fan) he slung his pack back onto his shoulder, stood up and stepped into the doorway to the darkness.
Holding the stick between his thighs, with the cloth-wrapped end sticking out in front of him, he struck the first match. Not able to ignite his torch with the first match, he tried again, and then again. Frustrated, he struck two matches at once and held them underneath the torch head. It lit! Smiling to himself, he quickly shoved the matches back into his pocket and proceeded into the room. In the flickering light he decided to head through the door to his left. It was a narrow hallway and he was now surrounded by cement walls and darkness…all except for his circle of safety within the orb of flickering light. The smoke-filled hallway soon opened into a larger room. As he entered the inner room, he noticed that his torch would not be burning for long. He knew that he’d have to keep moving.
The room was seemingly empty, except for a set of stairs on one side of the room. He quickly headed for the stairs. He was about half way up the stairwell when his torch flickered and burnt out.
At first he was consumed by fear. He did not know where the stairway was going to lead him…and he did not know if he’d be able to find his way back the way he came. Suddenly, as if being guided by some supernatural force, he closed his eyes and with an uncanny sense of ease, pushed through any and all of the fear that was lurking in his vulnerable head. While still midway up the uneven staircase, he blindly took off his backpack, removed the rest of his shirt and would it around the charred end of his torch stick. Operating as if he had no need for eyes, he quickly ripped two matches from the book in his pocket and had his torch relit in a matter of seconds.
As his eyes began to adjust from pitch blackness to the blinding light of his new torch, he began to survey his situation. He decided that he would explore just one more room before heading back. Continuing up the stairs he finally reached the top. Standing on the top landing and using his torch to see, he noticed that there were two ways he could go. There was a closed doorway to his right and a hallway to his left. Looking at the hallway, he noticed that it seemed to be inclined…heading up towards the surface. Thinking for a moment he proceeded up the inclined hallway, sure that it would lead him above ground.
Stumbling over a few loose rocks on the floor and noticing small little doors in the wall which were all locked. His guess was that they were storage areas for food or ammunition. Now he knew that he would have to find a way to map this maze of tunnels and rooms, marking where he had been and the things that he had found. On his next trip, he would undoubtedly bring some supplies such as; bolt cutters, flashlights, a clipboard and paper for his map, etc.
The inclined hallway led him up and around a corner and into yet another room. This room was large and had big wooden doors on the floor of the room. There was obviously something below him. He tried to lift 2 of the doors and he could not budge them. He mentally added a crow bar to his list of items to bring back with him. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a light poking through a small crack in a wall. After examining the wall for a door, he found a small crawl space that seemed to be an exit. Knowing that he only had a minute or two of light left on his torch, he proceeded to crawl through the opening. The opening led him to a very narrow hall that became almost too small for him to get through with his pack on. It got brighter and brighter as he pushed forward. Finally he reached the small opening into the natural sunlight. Looking back at where he had just emerged from, he saw that it was an almost unnoticeable opening between a large tree and a big boulder. He was sure that he’d just found one of the fort’s secret entrances.
Snubbing out his torch in the dirt, he thought it best to leave a few of his things there so that he did not have to carry as much. He left scraps from his T-shirt, his torch stick, and a few other items right next to the base of the tree. After looking around and thinking for a minute, he picked up the T-shirt scraps and hung them over one of the low hanging branches…as an indicator of where his gear and the fort entrance was.
TO BE CONTINUED…