Estimated reading time — 24 minutes
On Davidson Avenue, one mile east of Highway 164 and East Main Street Intersection, sits the entrance to Hillcrest Park, home of the now defunct Nike Missile Base, known to the Waukesha, Wisconsin locals as The Old Hillcrest Doom Tower. From 1956 to 1964 the active site was home to eight Ajax and Hercules missiles, that were launched one mile south of the D Battery. The actual location, now overgrown and rundown, is still the home to the blast building, troop quarters, circular water reservoir and radar tower.
If you Google Nike Battery 74, you can read all about it. It used to house three US Army units during its years of operation, and on August 1, 1964, it was designated inactive. There is no documentation as to why this was since the Cold War didn’t officially end until 1991, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since I lived in Elm Grove, a mere 15 minutes away, I decided to see if I could find out any answers myself.
I visited the Waukesha Library to see if there would be any more documentation on the site aside from what was already posted online. The good thing about actually going to the library is that very rarely can you find microfiche on the internet. And though it may be tedious, the farther you dig, the more likely you will come up with something. That something is exactly what I found. A photograph dated July 31, 1964, one day before the site was designated ‘inactive’. That one fact caught me as odd. Usually, when a site is retired, it is decommissioned, not designated inactive. The photograph I found was of the senior officers and technicians that were assigned to the site. After a bit more digging, I was able to come up with a name; Charles Gunderson, the commanding officer of the Nike Missile Base. After a bit more digging, and a trip to the public records office, I discovered that Mr. Gunderson was still alive and living in Waukesha. I decided to give him a call.
A tired old voice answered the phone and tried to be as direct as possible.
“Good Afternoon. My name is Jonathan Wilcox, I’m a historian for Southeastern Wisconsin and I would like to ask you some questions about The Nike Missile Site, Battery 74.”
There was a long moment of silence. I made sure he was still there.
“Mr. Gunderson?” I could hear labored breathing coming from the other end.
“Charles? Are you okay? Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Goodbye.” He hung up the phone. I attempted to call back, but he never picked the phone up again. Now, I was worried, was he hiding something? Did something happen to him? I checked the information I was given and drove over to his house to make sure he was alright. It was only 2 miles from Downtown Waukesha. The thing about Waukesha is that there isn’t a straight street anywhere within city limits. The city was planned around the old hot springs that used to flow and Waukesha used to be a resort town back in the late 1800s. But as soon as the springs dried up, so did business, and Waukesha switched gears and became an industrial town, swarming with blue-collar workers running the foundries and factories scattered throughout. So because of the city layout, 2 miles was easily 30 minutes of navigating through one-way streets and winding roads.
I arrived at Charles’ house, an awkward sandy brick ranch on the northwest corner of Garfield and Wilson. It took him a few moments, but Charles answered the door after I knocked.
“Mr. Gunderson. I’m Jonathan Wilcox, we…”
“What are you doing here?” He shouted at me.
“I’m sorry, sir. You hung up quite abruptly. I could hear you breathing heavily over the phone, I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“What the hell do you want?”
“I want to talk about the old Missile Base. Hillcrest Park.”
“I.. I.. I have no idea what you are talking about.” He stammered “Please leave.”
“Sir, I don’t mean to pry, but…” I took out a copy of the photograph that I acquired from the library and I handed it to him. One of the men in the photograph was circled in red Sharpie.
“…that man in the photograph that I have circled is you. I did my research before I came here. You were the commanding officer. I just want to get a bit more information for my research.”
Charles looked at the photograph, and his eyes welled up, and his hands began to shake. He looked up at me and began to shake his head.
“Why? Why couldn’t you leave this in the past?” He retreated back into his home and vanished around a corner, leaving the door open. I stood outside puzzled by his words when I suddenly heard a gunshot ring from inside. I tore open the door and darted around the corner Charles had disappeared around to witness a grizzly sight. Charles has taken his old service revolver from a desk drawer in his study and put a bullet through his temple, splattering his brains and skull all over a nearby bookcase, his fresh corpse now pooling blood where it lay, his fingers still twitching and the odor of death, brain matter, and gunpowder now mixed with the musty scent of old books and dust to concoct a vilest aura that chased me headlong into the small, yellow bathroom across the hall.
I wiped the vomit from my chin as I stumbled back outside and immediately called the police.
I was held for questioning since I was the only witness. After several hours, I was released after they declared the incident a suicide, so I drove back home in silence. What could have happened that would have made Charles take his own life? The questions were beginning to pile up, and I wasn’t getting any answers to clear them away.
The next day, I began the arduous process of interviewing neighbors about Charles. Everyone I spoke to in the neighborhood had nothing but kindness to say about Charles; he was a widower of 15 years, served in World War 2 and Korea. But when I mentioned Hillcrest Park and The Old Missile base, the mood suddenly changed. The rumors were plentiful and in various colors. Older folks simply said it was a relic from the Cold War when the Arms race was in full force. Some folks said it was a base for more secretive work. One guy even suggested that they used to experiment on war criminals deep in the blast building, another told tales of it being a second Guantanamo, another thought it was one of many surveillance outposts to spy on Americans. Whatever the true nature of The Old Hillcrest Doom Tower, I was bound and determined to uncover its secrets.
If you don’t know what to look for, you can easily miss it. A wooden sign obscured by the surrounding trees and bushes marks the entrance to Hillcrest Park. The drive is a dirt road that resembles a service or park maintenance entrance rather than a park. The parks in Southeastern Wisconsin are meticulously cared for, so seeing a park entrance that looked like it was specifically to be forgotten about sent a shiver up my spine, and it was in the middle of the day.
I drove my vehicle slowly around the bend and passed the old barracks, radar tower – what was actually called “The Doom Tower” and parked my car by the blast building and reservoir. I got out and snapped some photos of the neglected grounds, and chuckled at some of the more “poignant” graffiti, especially the one that instructed me who to call if I needed a good time. I first started by documenting the barracks and its present condition. The door had long been removed, most likely by vandals or kids needing a cool hangout place. As I had suspected, the interior matched the exterior, rundown, dark, moldy and covered in graffiti. I heard some rustling in the far corner, but it only turned out to be a squirrel.
I left the troop quarters and documented the old “Doom Tower” itself. There wasn’t much left of it but its iron frame. But something about it still standing gave me an eerie sensation. Out of all of the things that still stood the test of time, since the base was marked inactive, the Doom Tower actually appeared to be the one thing that defied aging, like someone had been caring for it all these years. It stood out, like a sterile blue sore thumb. None of the paint was peeling, and there was no sign of excessive rust or decay. I climbed the ladder to the top and the view from the summit was spectacular. You could see down the valley of Waukesha and almost all the way to I-43. Suddenly, I heard a faint echo. If you see pictures of the Doom Tower, you’ll notice there is a large pipe or tube that is the central support for the structure. I initially thought it to be just that, but it was hollow, and I couldn’t see the bottom when I looked down in – meaning that it must have gone down for quite a ways. The echo came from deep inside. Now, I’m not anything close to naturalist or animal specialist, so I just naturally assumed it was some critter that got itself trapped, and fell all the way down, and was just waiting there to die. I tried to pay it no mind, but there was a pleading sense to it as if it knew I was up here and knew I could free it. The more I listened to it, the more it sounded almost human. I figured I must have been matrixing the sound I was hearing, but I swear to God it sounded like it was crying out a word, or something.
“CHAW!” It bellowed. My mind automatically pictured Sloth from The Goonies when I listened to it. It was a sad, solemn moan that tugged at my heartstrings. But there was absolutely no way I could fit in that tube, so I just decided nature would take care of it and I climbed down from the tower.
As I finally made my way towards the blast building, a sudden familiar sound startled me in my tracks. A local police officer had seen my car in the drive and wanted to inquire as what I was doing there. I informed him who I was and what I was doing, he seemed agreeable enough, but technically this was still private property, and not a public park.
“Wait, but the sign says…”
“Yeah, I know what the sign says. But the land technically belongs to a private owner, and if people aren’t on the actual park side of the property…” The officer motioned back behind him where the swingsets and children’s playground was. “If you ain’t there, then we’ve been asked to escort you off of the property, or at least shepherd you back to the actual park.”
“Sure, okay… Out of curiosity, who owns this land?”
“Um… Gunderson. Chuck Gunderson. Lives out on Wilson, by Carroll College.”
“Gunderson? You mean lived.” I was still shaken from the incident.
“What?” Apparently, news does not travel fast in Waukesha. “When did Chuck die?”
“The other day. I was the last one to see him alive.”
“You mean…” His memory was starting to kick on. “You mean THAT’S what all the commotion was over there? I didn’t know it was Old Chuck.”
“Yeah, I asked him about this place, and then he went into his study and shot himself.”
“Jesus Christ! What did you ask him?”
“Just that I was curious as to why the place just closed down in 1964. No explanation in any reports or archives. I’ve lived at the library for days trying to find some explanation as to what happened here, and the only clue I got was Mr. Gunderson. So I called him and he hung up on me. Fearing the worst, I drove over to check on him. And that’s when it all… happened.”
“Damn.” The policeman just stood there for a moment, deep in thought.
“I know I’m gonna regret doing this but, c’mon.” He started walking towards the blast building and flipping through his keys.
“Chuck ain’t around anymore to bitch us out for not doing our jobs. I guess he’s been hounding us ever since then to make sure no one ever came near this place. And when more and more of it just started falling apart, the mayor turned it into a historical landmark and made part of it a park. Chuck was happy, for some reason. Knowing that it wouldn’t be torn down. That’s the part I never got. Who would care if this old abandoned building was demolished? Like you said, ain’t no one been here since the 60s.” The officer finally found the key he needed and unlocked the large padlock barricading the front door to the blast building.
“You got 1 hour. D’ya hear me? I ain’t losing my job over this. But dammit, I wanna know what’s in there too.” The officer jerked open the door as much as it would and I slipped inside.
“WAIT!” he stopped me and handed me his flashlight. “You might need this.”
I took the heavy Maglite and thanked the officer.
“I’m going to be waiting out here. As I said, you got one hour. If you ain’t out by then, you’re on your own.”
I thanked him once again, and he closed the door behind me.
I clicked the light on, hung my camera around my neck and turned my Bluetooth voice recorder on. With the headset just in my ear, it allowed me to focus on my surroundings and watch my step just in case.
The air was foul. Not at all what I was expecting. I was preparing myself for a musty basement that no one has been in for years, with the occasional mold and moss, but there was a definite stench in the air. It was like rotten eggs and a port-a-potty, not powerful, but enough for you to notice. I took note of my watch, it was 3:23 pm. I decided to make sure to document the time with my recording just to make sure I got back to the door in an hour. I sure as hell didn’t want to be left inside.
The first room I entered was a simple entranceway or mudroom, like a connection between the garage and the rest of the house. Some old boots littered the floor and an abandoned coat or two still held their post on the hooks along the wall. A faded poster of Lyndon Johnson’s re-election teetered on the far wall. Opposite that was the only door leading farther into the building. Time had not been kind to the door’s hinges, as it took some effort to wrench it open. As it squeaked and squawked in defiance of opening, I could hear its protest echo deep into the darkness that it kept me out of. With a final forceful shove, the door finally yielded, but not quietly. The hinges splintered off from the frame and the door collapsed onto the floor with a reverberating crash.
As the echo began to die, it was answered with a familiar sound.
It was the same animalistic cry from when I was on top of the tower. I realized quickly that the pipe in the middle of the tower must have led down into a room inside the blast building. There was intelligence in the cry rather than just a carnal moan like the critter knew someone or something was coming its way. The howl was only heard once and quickly died in the blackness of the building.
On the other side of the door was a series of metal catwalks and stairs that led down farther than my light would allow me to see. I shone my light around and I saw on the level beneath me, there were a few doors. My only mission, within the hour of time I was given, was just to find some more information about what happened here, so I was hoping one of those rooms was the base archive. My feet clanged and echoed against the metal floor as I raced downward. As I reached the first of the doors, I heard a low thud, like something large had just collided with a wall a great distance away. It drove chills up my spine to think of what would have been large enough to make that noise, and then I heard it again.
Whatever it was, I was definitely closer to it, and the more and more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to know what it was. It howled again and I listened intently as to put my overactive imagination at ease. It was deep and gravely like a hippo, but emotional. It was scared or concerned, or maybe just calling out – listening to it bellow out a third time did not calm my nerves.
I quietly opened the door and slipped inside, away from the metal floor, and onto moldy, sodden carpet. It definitely explained some of the stench that I picked up earlier in the entrance way. It was potent, but since I’ve experienced dealing with a flooded basement, the smell was not a stranger to me. After a quick scan with the flashlight, I discovered that I was in a common room. The dated furniture and decor affirmed what I was seeing. As I snuck deeper into the room, my feet squishing into the decaying carpet, I saw something that seemed off.
A red playground ball. It was well used and the label had been completely worn off from use. I went to pick it up and rolling it over I saw that the only part of the label that wasn’t completely worn off was the production date – 2003. Now I had originally thought that maybe some kids were playing at the nearby park back outside and maybe this ball had somehow fallen down the tube and landed inside the building, but two things made me think otherwise. First, from where the tower sits and the angle of the tube, it would have opened up much lower in the building, so how did this ball get all the way up here. And second, the tube was about half the circumference of the ball – it wouldn’t have fit.
I quietly set the ball down and from back out in the stairwell I heard it again.
Whatever it was, it was large, it was angry and it was just outside the room I was in. Then came a thunderous crunch, as if whatever was on the other side was pounding on the door. I just stood there, the blood left my arms and legs, freezing me to that one spot. It pounded again and I peed myself. I didn’t know what to do. Fight or flight never kicked in, I was just too terrified to move. And suddenly, whatever was on the other side of the door shifted and the pounding stopped.
I stood there for another few minutes trying to gather whatever left of my nerves was still intact, and hoping that my underwear would dry a little. I know I didn’t have much time left before the police officer would abandon me, but I still wanted answers. What happened down here that would make Charles Gunderson kill himself, and was the hell was that thing that was trying to get in here. The only good news was that I couldn’t smelt the moldy carpet anymore, just my soggy boxers. I raised my flashlight again and surveyed the room. On one side there was a door that appeared that it may lead into the room that was situated next to this room if my memory from being out in the stairwell was correct – and it was.
I opened the door and was immediately met with a new odor, old books. A quick flash of my light and I had found it, the base’s archive. Shelves filled with binders lined all the walls. I picked up one black binder that read 02-1964 on the spine, and began to read:
President Johnson has ordered that all nuclear missile bases in the continental United States be decommissioned. The threat of nuclear war is non-existent but will be maintained on a social platform until such time that it is deemed no longer useful to steer the American Public. This location, Nike 74 will remain active. Not as a missile installation, but as a scientific compound to further study the effects of nuclear radiation. I have briefed the crew on our new assignment and am awaiting our first directive.
C.G.? Who is C.G. – and then it dawned on me… Charles Gunderson, the commanding officer of the base, and until just recently, a resident of Waukesha, Wisconsin. I continued to pore over the binders.
Today we begin our first directive. The commanding team, consisting of myself, X.O. Richard Kingford (Rick), Sgt Maj. James Strouse (Jimmy) and Staff Sgt. Thomas Faber (Tom) have received a sample of slag recovered from The Marshall Islands. With the Limited Test Ban Treaty in effect, obtaining this sample from Bikini Atoll was difficult. We hope that our experiments are successful so that those who died to get us this were not in vain.
I continued to pore over the next few entries as they went into the technical specifics of their experiments.
March 18, 1964
After we secured a segregated room on the location to fill out these experiments, we decided we needed a control. We were able to procure a few test animals so that we could ensure that the equipment we had on site would adequately meet our needs.
March 20, 1964
The local college lent out some of their laboratory rats. Early this morning, Jimmy and I injected some of the sample directly into the bloodstream of one rat. After five minutes, the rat suddenly exploded, covering both Jimmy and me in entrails and rat blood. We decided to rethink our procedure.
March 25, 1964
We used a combination of rat blood taken from one of the subjects and mixed it with our sample in hopes of diluting it so that it wouldn’t be fatal. The next test subject lasted 30 minutes before its hair began to fall out and it broke out in blisters. Instead of exploding, the creature just melted leaving nothing more than a red puddle and a skeleton.
April 5, 1964
We continue to dilute the sample but every test subject continues to perish. We may need something that has a stronger constitution than rats.
April 15, 1964
We were able to track down a few feral cats in the neighboring farm community and employ them in our experiments. The duration of life span after injection is longer than the rats but still fatal. Tom has requested we stop and rethink our procedure. I just think he has a soft spot for cats.
May 12, 1964
We have perfected a serum that has a zero fatality rate in all of our remaining test subjects. Rick has wired our authorities of our progress.
June 7th, 1964
We received orders from my superior officers to test our findings on a human being. Our location had been chosen because of the depth of the blast building and that the radiation could be kept under control. All experimentation has been halted until our human subject arrives at our location.
I reached a page that seemed to be stained. With what, I’m not entirely sure. The date was July 30, 1964 – two days before the base was designated inactive.
Our test subject was to be Graham Phelps who was convicted of arson. The subject was delivered to our installation and led into his cell where the necessary precautions were administered. He was sedated and strapped to an operating chair in room J-57 which had been reinforced with concrete months prior. The experiment was simple, expose the subject to increasing amounts of the radiation sample serum we had developed, and monitor the effects and measure the damage. We began the experiment with 100ccs of the serum. The subject was injected with the dosage, and the effects were instantaneous. The subject began to convulse violently as the radiation traveled through his bloodstream. Next, the skin began to blister and melt leaving visibly open sores. The subject began to scream in pain, and we were instructed to terminate the subject at that point. Rick, Jimmy, and Tom enter the room, wearing protective suits as they prep the subject for termination.
The subject suddenly…
Just then, there was a crash through the door leading back into the stairwell and the gigantic… thing, for lack of a better term, barreled into the archive room with so much momentum, that it toppled over the nearest bookcase. And with that, it knocked over the next, and the next – like a set of steel dominos – and it was headed my way. I tucked the binder I was holding under my arm and headed for the common room. The shelves collided against each other, hurling dirty, old books across the room and kicking up decades of dust and mold into the air. It was only 20 feet to the next room, but the billowing noxious cloud soon overtook me and I was lost in a fog of dirt and grime. The odor was stale and I could taste copper as it seeped into my mouth. I tried to stumble my way towards the door but I must have gotten turned around. Instead of running headlong into the common room, I collided with what felt like a padded wall. A padded wall that was now swelling and retracting – it was… breathing. The dust finally began to settle and I stared at the ground attempting to regain my bearings. The wall was dark and billowy, and still heaving in and out. Shapes slowly took form and what was dark and billowy was now tattered fabric and muscle. I gazed down at the floor and what once appeared to be large boxes where enormous bare feet, hairy and filthy – nails that were ingrown and yellowed. My head tilted upward and I realized the fabric was shredded clothing. Not just any clothing but a scraggy and frayed uniform. I raised my head still upwards, feet led to legs, legs led to hips, hips led to a torso, which led to massive shoulders, a thick veiny neck that was larger than my thigh in circumference and as it bent down to get a good look at me – a hideously disfigured human being.
A few strands of brown hair littered his massive head and his face looked like he had lost a fight with a lawnmower. He glared at me with his one good eye, while the other, which was clouded over, looked in a completely different direction and he grunted at me. I felt my shorts grow soggy again. He aimlessly sniffed at the air like his could smell the fresh piss in my pants, but couldn’t quite tell where it was coming from. I began to slowly back away from him as I could see I was only about 2 feet from the doorway. He craned his neck back at me and stopped me from moving any further. His brow furrowed and he leaned back and let out a mighty roar.
I took my chance. I bolted through the common room door in an attempt to escape back to the surface. But as I reached the door that connected the common room to the catwalk, he was there to impede my progress. I thought that his massive size would make it difficult to move through the room he just destroyed, but his reflexes and dexterity were electric and feral. With one swipe of his massive paw, he clutched me from the walkway by the neck and hurled me into the darkness down below. I screamed like a baby the entire way down and then blackness.
* * * * * *
I woke up to the sound of buzzing. I sat bolt upright and gasped, but the air was putridly rotten and I vomited immediately. The ground was squishy and furry. I looked around but couldn’t immediately find the flashlight the officer had given me until I laid back down on the plush ground and felt its metal housing digging into my spine. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, picked up the flashlight and found that it still worked, although I wished it hadn’t. As soon as I clicked it back on, I discovered that the soft ground was nothing more than the decaying partial, half-eaten corpses of thousands of small forest creatures. Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, birds, and foxes made up the floor of this stairwell, and their decaying flesh poisoned the air. I scrambled to find the bottom of the stairs, and in my haste forgot about the binder I had with me at the time of my descent. I quickly swung my light back and forth and eventually found it buried in appeared to be a wolf’s ribcage. I trudged back through the wooly swamp of putrid animal cadavers towards the binder. I could feel the maggots crawling up my legs and the bot flies circling around my head as I reached down and pulled the tome free of the animal’s remains. The puke rose up in my throat once more, and I retched again. I ran back to the stairs as quickly as I could and climbed several levels before I stopped to rest.
Now that I was out of the filth, I surveyed my own body for any injury and was surprised to find that aside from a few fly bites and scratches, I was fine. As I collected myself more, I glanced at my watch which now read 5:14 pm.
That meant… that meant that the officer who was waiting for me to return to the surface was gone. I was on my own in this. I started nervously going over all of the possibilities that awaited me once I got back to the top. Did he lock the door behind me? Did he get back up and was going to have me arrested for trespassing? And then I starting thinking of worse scenarios. How did I know it was 5:14 pm on the same day?! How long have I actually been down here?
It was in this panic that my light just happened to scan passed a partially ajar bulkhead that was fenced over with chicken wire and a few planks of decaying wood. I limped over to the door and began to look for any clues as to where this door led. A plaque caked with years of grime and rot sat bolted to the wall next to the door. I scraped off as much as I could to reveal an alpha-numeric label, J, 5, 7. I tore away the boards and wire as efficiently as I could in my condition. Once I made enough of a hole in the blockage, I crawled in past the bulkhead and forced it closed behind me, straining to turn the bulkhead’s wheel to bolt the heavy door into place. I slumped down onto the damp floor in exhaustion and just stayed there, motionless. When I finally felt myself blink back into consciousness, I finally took in my surroundings. I was in some type of control room that looked through a shattered glass partition into another circular inner room. And then I remembered the plaque on the outside of the bulkhead. J, 5, 7! J-57! This! This was the room where the experiment was conducted. That’s when I remembered I never finished reading that entry. I flung the binder back open and rifled through the pages until I came back to where I left off.
The subject suddenly exploded, covering the three men with radioactive blood and entrails. Protocol states that the room needed to be sealed immediately, to contain the radiation. I sat in the control room, helpless as I watched Rick and Tom succumb to the radiation and finally perish. Jimmy’s fate was more extreme and heart-wrenching. His hair began to fall out and his body began to deform. His face slid from his skull as his body swelled. I could hear his skin stretching and his bones cracking under the stress of his transformation. He was crying for help the entire time. His speech began to slur until it became unrecognizable sounds of fear and pain. As his growth finally began to slow, I could see that he was now at least ten feet in height, but the girth of his frame simply wouldn’t allow him to fit through the door. I could still recognize his face. It still looked like Jimmy, but the radiation mutated him into a feral beast. He thrust his meaty paw against the glass and shattered the viewing window, cutting my face in the process. I fled from the control room and bolted the door behind me, the entire time he was calling my name for help, but his deformity now prohibited his mouth to form the correct “Charles!” and it now resembled a garbled “CHOO” or “CHAW”.
No. That can’t be possible. That hulking beast is Jimmy Strouse? That would make him as old as Mr. Gunderson.
I took another look at the experiment room Old blood splattered over the glass shards that littered the inner chamber and the control room. I slowly peered beyond the glass to see exactly how the radiation affected these men. The mangled remains of a human corpse lay splayed open in the operating chair in the center, the skin worn away by time, showing nothing more but a skull frozen with an expression of unbearable pain. On the floor, lay two humans, dressed in primitive protective clothing – I can only assume these are the remains of Richard Kingford and Thomas Faber, the two who did not survive the experiment.
I opened the binder back up and read the last entry.
The experimentation lab was sealed and after reporting the incident to my superiors, the base was designated inactive.
In the months that followed, the crew was reassigned and the details of the failed experiment were covered up. The deaths of Rick and Tom were explained as a military accident, and even though their caskets were empty, they were given a proper burial. Jimmy, on the other hand, will suffer a fate worse than death. He is now a prisoner in this nuclear tomb, and only I know about him. This is my punishment also. No man should have to suffer through this alone. I will do what I can, to make Jimmy as comfortable as I can until I perish from this earth.
It started to all make sense now. Why this land was owned by Mr. Gunderson, why the beast called out “CHAW” – Charles Gunderson was the only one who knew and the beast knew only of Charles. I left the room and began to head back up towards the surface. I knew James Strouse would still be roaming the dark corridors. And he deserved to know what became of his old friend.
I was two levels below where I was originally thrown into the pit when I heard him stomping around, aimlessly and angry. Originally, I would have been terrified, but now – it was all replaced with sorrow and pity. I decided that I should get this over with as soon as possible. I called out into the darkness:
“JIMMY!” the words reverberated against the concrete.
“JIMMY! CHARLES SENT ME!”
Suddenly, I heard calm thunderous footsteps approaching from a corridor around the stairwell. I shone my light in their direction to see a massive hole in the wall. There was movement from within and it was getting closer. A thick, bulbous hand reached out from within and gently grabbed the edge of the hole followed by the rest of Jimmy. Now, that I was no longer fearing for my life, I was able to appreciate his massive frame. The journal was accurate, as he stood about ten feet tall and by the looks of it, he had grown accustomed to stooping over to fit within the hallways – so if he were to stand fully upright, he might be closer to 12 or 15 feet tall. His arms were as thick as tree trunks and were covered in matted, mossy hair. He glared at me from across the stairwell as best he could with one good eye and called out
He sniffed the air and I knew he could tell the difference again. Like a pet identifying his master, Jimmy was trying to figure out why I didn’t smell like Mr. Gunderson.
“WAR CHAW? HOO YOO?”
He was deformed, not mentally challenged, and he was doing the best he could under the circumstances. I figured it would be best to play to the remains of his humanity and appeal to his compassion.
“My name is John Wilcox. I’m from Elm Grove. I’m a Historian. Are you Jimmy Strouse?”
Jimmy nodded in silence. I called out again.
“Do you know what year it is, Jimmy?”
He looked at me for a while, and cocked his head at an angle and then after a few seconds shook his massive head.
“Believe it or not, Mr. Strouse, the year is 2010. And I have some sad news for you.” Jimmy leaned on the railing, his face full of worry and concern.
“Your friend, Charles, died several days ago.” Immediately, giant pools began to well up in the great man’s eyes and poured down his face and into the darkness. His sobs resembled the cries of a bear that had become trapped. He collapsed to the floor and began to wail over the loss of his only friend in the world. I didn’t know what else to say. For forty years, he had been trapped in this tomb, and his only link to the world outside was now gone, what could there have been said?
He slowly stood up and looked up, towards the ceiling of the stairwell and wiped away the tears with his tremendous hands. He took a deep breath and a calm came over him. He almost appeared to grin.
“YOU. GO. NOW.”
His voice was soft and articulate, probably the most he had sounded like his old self since the accident. He then turned to face the wall. He raised his monstrous arms over his head and violently began to pound on the concrete wall. It shook the entire stairwell, and almost caused me to lose my balance and fall over the railing back down to the bottom. He bellowed out this time,
I didn’t need any further instruction. As fast as my legs would carry me, I raced up the catwalks and the stairs towards the entrance way. He continued to pound until I could hear steel pry itself away from its supports and buckle and crumble. The decades of rust and mold was helping Jimmy with his task. As he continued to batter the foundation of the stairwell, bolts sprung from a section of the walkway and gave way, hurtling towards the darkness below. I continued to run as best as I could as the metal was forcefully quaking and deteriorating. I reached the top of the stairwell and turned to see Jimmy continuing to pound against the walls of the stairwell. A second later, there was a titanic crack, a deafening screech and I had lept into the entranceway just as the entirety of the catwalk had buckled and plummeted into the inky blackness below, taking Jimmy with it. A few seconds later, the metal scaffolding crashed to the bottom of the stairwell with such a booming and ear-splitting impact that it resembled that of a volcanic explosion. I stood at the entrance of the stairwell peering down below. I don’t know what I was looking for. Hope? A fairy-tale ending? A miracle? Jimmy was dead and was finally free of this prison.
I opened the door to the blast building to find I was surrounded by a squadron of police officers and I immediately threw my hands up and surrendered. The officer from before escorted me to his cruiser, slapped his handcuffs on me and forced me inside. The ride to the Waukesha Police Station was quiet enough.
“I assume you were the cause of whatever sonic boom everyone heard top side. What happened down there?”
“It wasn’t me.”
“Wasn’t you? What else could it have been?”
“It was Jimmy. He was just saying goodbye.”
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