As I descended the stairs, I realized I had never been to the basement before. I have always had a slight aversion to being underground. It isn’t normal to be below the Earth when not in serious trouble. Only bad things happen underground.
I walked down the stairs, and from the lack of reference points had no idea how deep I was. I knew I must be a floor or two under the street by now, but the beige walls and grey stairs offered no information. Every part of this staircase was designed to look the same. Same fluorescent fixture overhead, same paint scheme, same fire sprinkler. And yet, I could feel the drop.
The air seemed thicker, heavier here. The muskiness and moisture was unique to being underground, as if the very air had to invert below sea level. I also felt a growing sense of unease, a desire to return above-ground as soon as I could. Though this feeling was fabricated, it was still compelling. Maybe more so.
I finally reached the basement, and looked out over the floor. It was well lit, with fluorescent tubes washing the concrete in a light that you had to look close at to see the hint of green. Not a shadow or dark corner in sight. The whole place was concrete, floor and walls, with the ceiling bare, exposed piping and conduit overhead.
There wasn’t a lot there, though that might have been a side-effect of the size of the space. Being the floor plan of the building meant it was going to be big. Rarely did I think of downstairs as an abstract concept in the city. I hadn’t had a downstairs since I lived with my parents. But here it was.
The basement had the usual suspects. Freight elevator off to on side, piles of disused office furniture strewn about. They were all pretty dusty by now. Luckily, I hadn’t come for any of it. I kept looking.
On the opposite side of the wall where the stair had dropped me, I found my mark.
There was a cage, made of chain link fencing, stretching all the way up to the ceiling. Inside the walls were large cardboard boxes, all white with blue stripes near the lids. Each box was stacked as high as the fencing. All identical, aside from one small rectangle of either neon pink or neon blue card stock taped to the front, each with a piece of writing done in magic marker.
I walked into the cage and now was surrounded by boxes on all sides. They didn’t seem to have a start or an end once you were in the middle of them. They lined the walls of the fence, blocking my view out, and made me forget where I was altogether.
I searched through the boxes. Not opening any, mind you, but looking at the labels. That had all the information I needed. “DESTROY 2019”, “DESTROY 2020”, “DESTROY 2037”.
Ah, of course at the end of the row the final box sat in the middle of the stack. “DESTROY 2017”, in big block letters, scrawled across the neon pink label. There were no other words on the box. I picked it up and slid it into my hands. Lighter than I’d expected, but it’s hard to expect anything.
I carried the box, slowing at times to readjust, to the corner of the basement. There, I leaned it against the wall and my leg. With my free hand, I opened the metal shoot, just large enough for the box. I could see the fires licking the walls below.
With a gentle push, the wall swallowed the cardboard, the box slid down the metal, and it was gone from my thoughts forever.