Friday, January 23, 2009

Lost in the Dark

I had completed the flight from Pittsburgh to Long Island's Islip/MacArthur airport, touching down well after dark. Upon my arrival, I found my way to the baggage area where I was supposed to meet the young graduate student who was to drive me to nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory. I had made this trip to participate in an experiment that my group was involved with. I had not been to Brookhaven before, but the ride from the airport to the nearby small town of Upton was uneventful. Once we drove off the highway and into the lab site, it was clear that we were leaving civilization behind. The facility is what arose out of the old Fort Upton army base. Many of the visiting scientists stay in the original, centrally located army barracks. However, as none were available on my first night, I was scheduled to stay in an old login cabin. I did not know what to expect, but my hopes diminished as my driver began to wind his way deep into the woods along old, ruddy, unmarked, and completely unlit, dirt trails. He pulled up outside my cabin and dropped me off, telling me he would return at 7:00 a.m. the next morning to pick me up. At this point, it was just past midnight and I was totally exhausted from a very long day of work and travel. The only lights that I could see as I surveyed my surroundings were the tail lamps of the car that I had just arrived in moving off into the night, and the flicker of a small, tired light bulb hanging outside the door of my cabin. I had been told beforehand that several other folks from our collaboration were staying at the place and just to find an empty bed and claim it. When I opened the front door, all I could see was inky blackness. I paused for a moment to let my eyes adjust, but I remained submerged in a darkness of a sort that is the stuff of nightmares. I had no idea of the layout of the place and began to grope about with my hands for a light switch or a lamp. After searching up and down all of the nearby walls multiple times, I found nothing. My hands only encountered the smooth texture of wood paneling. I didn't know if there were rooms in the cabin or if the other occupants were sleeping in the very room I was in. I was so exhausted I couldn't think. The more I stumbled around the entranceway, the more things I bumped into. I was beginning to lose control of my mind and I feared I would never find my way. I wanted to call out for help, but I had no more strength. I had become resigned to my fate. In my mind, out of the complete and total silence, I started to hear strange, other-worldly noises. I was in a Steven King novel, just standing there like a coward awaiting some horrible fate that I was certain I could not stop. My end was inevitable. About 15 minutes had passed since I entered that cursed portal, when one of the folks staying there came out of his room to see what was causing the commotion. He was a very nice man who fully understood my clumsy entrance in the middle of the night and showed me to my room. This experience happened to me about 15 years ago, but it still gives me shivers of fright and discomfort. I was so lost in darkness, so disoriented and tired. I'm not sure that I've ever been the same since.