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I had my first out of body experience when I was four years old. I remember having a vivid dream that took place inside my bedroom, and then suddenly half-way waking up and seeing my own body from above as I floated in the air of the dark room. Having no idea what was happening, I screamed, and I kept screaming until I could finally hear my own cries that forced me awake.

This began to happen again and again, more frequently, and my parents had gone from comforting me every night to becoming worried and sometimes annoyed. I took medication that ridded me of what they saw as night terrors, and was then weaned off of the pills by the time I was six.

My OBEs started up again, but I was older then, and not as frightened. Before long, I was teaching myself how to control it. I could float around my bedroom, and it was fun—it beat the hell out of any regular old dreams, and sometimes even the lucid ones, which I am also no stranger to.

I soon began to expand my territory. I couldn’t touch or interact with anything while outside of my body, so my options for nightly entertainment in my room were limited. Floating through the toy chest and seeing the insides of my stuffed animals was only fun for so long, so I trained my strange superpower and increased its range. After a month or so of trying, I was able to explore the rest of our house.

I could watch late night television with my parents without them ever knowing, although I had no say in what channel was on. Nights they watched HBO or one of their R-rated movies were the best. Sound was always limited in a projected state. Voices were muffled, like people were speaking underwater. But luckily for me, my mom was hard of hearing, so she always watched TV with the captions on—which benefitted my viewing experience during my nightly escapades. It also had me reading at a high school grade level by age eight.

I think I kind of assumed at first that everyone had my ability; that it was part of what it meant to be human. But after I brought up how I flew around the house at breakfast a couple of times and they just told me that it “sounded like a fun dream,” I realized that I really could do something special.

Sometimes I would even use it to spy on my dad when he wrote his stories late at night on his computer in his office. I always found it funny how mad he could get when programs weren’t working, or he couldn’t figure something out. He also had some interesting midnight snack recipes.

He was a cool dad all around. For example, when I was seven, in the summer of 1996, he took me to see Independence Day. Looking back, I was probably a little too young for all the destruction and alien violence, but there was always one set piece that interested me, which I looked forward to seeing each time the movie was on TV or playing on a well-worn VHS tape.

With the title I’ve given this story, you can probably see where I’m going with this. It was the Area 51 stuff in the film that stuck with me the most. I was fascinated by the movie creators’ designs and ideas about what the secretive military base looked like. Actually, when I was young, I thought that they had filmed those scenes inside the real place, like they had gotten special access to some big underground extra-terrestrial workshop right out of science fiction. I later rationalized that they just knew what the place looked like and recreated it. It wasn’t until I was nine did I comprehend that they completely made it up.

That realization both disappointed and fascinated me. I had to know what was really down there. How it ran, what experiments they might’ve been running, what kind of people worked there. And, of course, whether or not they actually had aliens or their technology locked up in some secretive warehouse in the middle of a desert. By the time I was ten and our house had internet access, I was gulping up the classic conspiracy theories about the base, going from one GeoCities or Angelfire site to the next, and eating up every doctored image of alien autopsies and examinations of UFOs that I could find. Games like Half-Life and its Black Mesa compound, or Perfect Dark’s take on Area 51, or the titular arcade shooter itself all scratched an itch, but I knew when I was young just what I wanted to do with my special power.

I would cheat the system. I would bypass all of that security without anyone ever knowing, without ever having to join the military just to maybe get a shot at seeing the place. Could you blame me? If you could do what I can, wouldn’t you try? I wasn’t even that far away. I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. Las Vegas was just a day trip, and “The Ranch”, as it’s sometimes called, wasn’t far past that. Area 51, a legendary producer of American lore, was always just past the horizon while I came of age. And one day, I would see it.

The problem was that I’d have to practice, every night if I could. The range of my astral projection was my weakness, and I would have to self-train myself to extend it. It wasn’t like I could just consult with a mentor, or look up OBE tips and tricks on the internet. When I was in middle school, I learned how some Native American tribes sent their adolescents on vision quests, a spiritual journey involving fasting and praying that, allegedly, sometimes resulted in the sensation of leaving one’s body. Elsewhere in the world, various drugs could supposedly trigger out of body experiences. None of these things were an option for me, either to learn from or enhance my natural ability.

I try to avoid any drugs entirely. They only inhibit my skill. Even taking an Advil before bed makes the projection muddled and weak. The only way I could get better was by exercising strenuously. I took naps whenever I could, meditated often, and taught myself how to lucid dream every night. Anything to master my inner self. By the time I was fourteen, I was sometimes getting twelve hours of sleep a day—excessive, even for a teenager.

Over time, the boundary increased. The dark edges of the astral realm, which I could not breach, expanded outward. My neighborhood became my playground. I would go to bed early whenever my body allowed it, giving me time to float about and observe the secret lives of our neighbors before everyone else went to bed. You can call me a pervert—I wouldn’t blame you. But I’m also not going to share what I’ve seen, or name names. My curiosity and its rewards are for me alone. Suffice to say, though… Humans are strange.

When the veneer we all put on for the public fades away for the day and we stop being a side character in others’ lives, our true selves come out. Turns out, every family or couple has its problems; those familiar arguments and little debates. We all have our peculiar hobbies, and… preferred subject matter that we look up online late at night, when we think no one else is watching.

But I’m not judging. If you lived in Flagstaff while I did, I apologize in advance for the fact that I may have spied on you for a bit at one point or another. Rest assured, though. Your secrets are safe with me. I’m not going to say anything about anyone. I enjoy cheating the laws of the universe and observe without physically being there, but that’s no excuse to start gossip.

That said, though, I admit that I was no angel. I was a teenage guy for a few years of my life, and sometimes, when I took a sick day in high school, I did have a few ghostly visits to the girls’ locker room. Before you scold me, let me at least say that I was more fascinated by my astral range at that point, than the things that I saw in the gym without others knowing.

That wasn’t the only exploring I did at my high school. I would go there night after night, up and down its dark halls. How often did you get to be at your school at night? The few times you were, it was probably for some event where all the lights were on. There are fewer things more unnatural in this world than seeing your school in darkness, the shouts and bickering of its loud students not even a lingering whisper in the air. I often heard things when I visited—but they weren’t audible. Rather, they were auditory hallucinations, the trick of a mind, even projected, caused by empty liminal space. Don’t forget, whatever I could actually hear would be muffled, so I could tell the difference.

I never saw any ghosts or demons or extra-dimensional beings while in a projected state. And I did look. Every now and then, I could’ve sworn another person sensed my presence, or looked right at me, and in these instances, I would always freeze up for a second. But it was just a coincidence each time, based on my position as I watched them. What attracted their attention was something on TV, their cat making a noise, the wind on their curtains. I have never been seen. I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve even paid a visit to every psychic in town as they supposedly connected a customer with a deceased loved one, to no affect. They were either all frauds, or just not very good at their profession.

By the time I was out of state and in college, I had a firmer grasp on the reality of everything, including the banality of the place I had longed to one day break into. I had accepted by then that, in all likelihood, Area 51 was little more than a secretive military installation where prototype aircraft were housed and flown. Warehouses of spy planes and bombers, many of which were never mass produced. Maybe it really did have its share of government secrets, but I no longer really believed that it had something more exotic, like aliens and their flying saucers. Life had disenchanted me to the point where I believed the Roswell incident really was just a weather balloon. Apologies to my childhood hero Fox Mulder, but I no longer really cared about believing.

Then my dad died in my sophomore year. Having focused on school work and a smaller, more chaotic sleep schedule, I hadn’t expanded my projection range all throughout college. And the students in my dorm were all so predictable that spying on them got boring. They played video games, got high, sometimes even did their school work, and ignored calls from their parents.

But once I came home for winter break to attend the funeral and spend some time with my mom, I got back into my nightly jaunts. It was sort of my way of grieving, through reliving my youth and remembering how much fun I could have as I simultaneously laid in bed and explored the town.

And, truthfully, I was also hoping to somehow find my dad lingering about in that other realm. It was a sudden heart attack that took him out of my life, and I figured that if anyone had unfinished business and a reason to cling onto the world of the living, it would be him. But he never showed up.

I regretted not telling him my secret back then, thinking that if he had known, maybe he would’ve tried to speak to me when I was floating around the house, halfway between the corporeal world and whatever is next for us. If there’s anything at all. Looking back, there was no logic to my regrets. I was simply coping in my own way. I was, however, awakened to the idea of mortality and how limited our time could really be.

So I made a promise to fulfill the wish of my younger self, and see that secretive place out in the desert before I died and perhaps spent the rest of eternity drifting around the world. By that point, I wouldn’t have a body to return to and no ability to tell all of you what big secrets I might’ve uncovered. And, certainly, if Area 51 did turn out to be a disappointment, there were so many other places I could check out that most humans would never see.

I could visit the bunker under the White House, or get within inches of the radioactive molten slag that made up the Elephant’s Foot under the Chernobyl power plant. I could swim around in an active volcano, see the inside of a famous dead person’s coffin, count the money in a major bank’s vault and peer into safety deposit boxes, and make bizarre finds throughout a self-storage building.

Some of those things I had already done, actually—not that there is much of interest to see in the region. I spent a night in Las Vegas once, though. Going around its casinos and seeing the security rooms and offices of the owners was one of my highlights by that point. I’m still trying to figure out some way to cheat at the games, without getting my kneecaps broken in the process.

After college, I spent a few more years refining my techniques and learning how to send my meditative energy farther and farther outward. When I first discovered my power, I was restricted to my bedroom. My high school, I could go a few miles out. By college graduation, I was able to get twenty miles away from my body. But the farther out I got, the more mentally exhausted I would be when I returned to my physical self, and the less time I had to project.

I can move quickly when I explore, much faster than I can when I’m stuck inside muscle and bone. I’ve learned to catapult myself through the air to get around long distances. It’s not quite as good as flying, but it isn’t a bad accomplishment for an amateur without a teacher. Those big jumps are a necessity for extended projection. I can’t wake up unless I return to my body. That’s the scariest aspect of what I can do. There have been times where I feel like I just barely made it back before a piece of myself faded away, and the thought of what might happen if I didn’t return before running out of spiritual fuel, or whatever you want to call it, has always been the one thing that’s kept me from taking bigger risks. Area 51 would be my toughest challenge yet, just because of the distance I’d have to cover.

I had given some thought to the possibility that the secretive air base might have some sort of detector able to spot me. It didn’t seem likely, but in a world where there are pictures of pretty much everything, the fact that seemingly no one had ever leaked photos from deep inside the place made it enigmatic, like it was detached from the rest of reality. Once I put my mind back to it, I began to obsess about getting inside. Just to see it. I had to see what was inside, if only to put a compulsive curiosity to rest.

And then a meme made me move up my schedule. In 2019, a group of a few hundred people showed up to “raid” Area 51, out of the thousands that originally planned to participate. Their proclaimed goal was to see “them aliens” and that they couldn’t all be denied the chance, but of course it turned out to be little more than a party near the base with only a few arrests.

It wasn’t that I was worried about them getting inside and messing things up or causing the military staff to trigger some self-destruct safety measure. I just didn’t want them to book up all the nearby rooms. By then, I had gotten my range up to about thirty miles, and I wasn’t sure if I could do better, as it simply felt like my upper limit. But if I stayed at Rachel, Nevada, which was around that far north of the base, I could make it work.

I reserved a room in the small desert town’s motel for an entire week, which was probably one of the longest stays they had ever seen. And to call it a town was a stretch. The place isn’t much more than a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. It has no restaurants outside of the motel, so most of my meals would come from the combination gas station general store. I wasn’t expecting to be able to fully explore the base in a single night, but I didn’t think it would be so huge that I wouldn’t be able to cover it within my time frame.

I went to bed as early as I could my first night at the alien-themed motel, barely able to contain my excitement about the upcoming spiritual break-in.

Astral projection, for me at least, is best commenced in a lucid dream state. I can pull it off at limited distances and time while meditating, and I used to randomly experience it throughout the night, perceiving it as a regular dream where I just explored my surroundings. But lucid dreaming was the way to do it right, where I could redirect all of my unused physical energy into my formless wandering self, all while I slept comfortably in a warm bed elsewhere.

But the first night was actually a disappointment.

I got there fine, going south and flinging myself across Bald Mountain, where I looked down at the lights of the base itself. Crossing the exterior fence was exciting. Traversing the enclosed desert around the buildings was thrilling. I kept expecting to be surrounded by helicopters and commandos any second, but there I was, strolling right into one of the most fortified places in the world.

Problem was, I just couldn’t figure out where to go to get into the sub levels. Everyone knew Area 51 has a basement, even without paying a visit, but they didn’t make it easy to find a way down.

I didn’t want to spend too long looking for nothing other than an elevator, just in case something happened and I lost my only chance to see anything at all of actual interest. So I relegated myself to exploring the aircraft hangars and the administrative offices. I had done a few trial-runs on less secretive air bases, and on the surface, the Homey airport area wasn’t all that different from the norm.

I saw soldiers on patrol, staff making phone calls, people eating in a mess hall or working on computers. Vending machines, furniture, bathrooms and locker rooms attached to exercise areas. Everything one would expect to see.

It wasn’t all that surprising. Area 51 isn’t even blurred out on Google Maps. Anything truly meant to be kept away from prying eyes would be out of view of any passing satellite. The hangars I saw only held standard fighter or surveillance aircraft, including a few models from the past. I even saw one of the first American jet fighters, in good condition—an F-86, the kind used way back in the Korean War. Couldn’t tell you why they were keeping it air-worthy.

The only element I couldn’t fully explore, other than the data on the local servers, were the contents of the file cabinets spread across several of the offices and officer quarters. I just have no way to see what’s on papers that are pressed together inside a cabinet. So physical information wasn’t only protected from possible hackers; it also keeps away the prying eyes of projectionists as well. I could’ve waited around for someone to open a file and read it as I peeked alongside them, but I kept my interest on covering ground instead.

Honestly, I’m not a big aircraft or military enthusiast. I’m sure there are a million people out there who would be fascinated with just exploring the surface freely like I did, but it wasn’t enough to make all the effort and planning worth it. I would have to try again on a second night. But if I couldn’t find a way down after three attempts, I figured I’d be ready to head home disappointed.

You may be thinking that I could just dip myself down into the ground and keep going until I emerged into an alien autopsy room or dark energy reactor. Thing is, dropping beneath solid ground isn’t easy. It’s slow, and navigation is impossible, as I can no longer see anything. I have little sense of orientation or gravity when I project, so if I get disoriented, I could get turned around and end up burrowing towards the center of the Earth and never returning to my body. It wasn’t something I was about to try. I was restricted to elevators just like the locals who somehow managed to get assigned to the place.

On my second night, I finished exploring the surface buildings and focused my attention on getting down into the abyss below. It occurred to me that such a secretive base had no reason to make the elevators easy to find. I scoured the insides of walls, looking for hidden rooms, but every building I revisited had no apparent means to gain access to the good stuff. A new idea didn’t occur to me until I was halfway back to my body as dawn’s first light swept the sky. I’d have to wait another day to try it.

The hangars. Area 51 was primarily used as a place to test out new aircraft in secrecy. That was what it was originally built to do, in a way that kept anything spying in the sky from catching a glimpse. There had to be at least one hangar, or maybe a few of them, that connected directly to the underground. To let them manufacture their prototypes down below and bring them up for their test flights. What I had seen so far must have been just the tip of a big iceberg.

Thankfully, my third night of exploration provided the breakthrough I was waiting for. I went into one of the empty hangars, and despite no indication whether or not there was something beneath it, I lowered myself through the floor. After passing through about a meter of metal supports, I emerged into an enormous elevator shaft with dozens of lights built into its walls. The hangar was big enough on its own, but here was a whole pneumatic lift system that could raise or lower the entire floor of a structure designed to hold aircraft.

It was my first clue that a mega-structure lurked under the airport, and I went down about fifty feet until arriving at the bottom. A construction bay was just ahead, and some half-completed modern stealth aircraft occupied its space. Eventually, if they even planned on completing it, it would be wheeled onto the elevator and brought to the surface. But, for now, the place was otherwise empty, with no tools or blueprints in sight. The flying wing style aircraft was in a dull military gray color, and its cockpit was empty of any controls.

I could’ve studied the thing all night, even if I wasn’t all that invested in aircraft development. Instead, I moved on, and began navigating the labyrinthian halls of a realm so few would ever get to see. Large concrete arches held up natural rock, excavated and drilled perhaps decades ago. Forklifts and inactive flood lights lingered in the halls, which were dimly lit up by orange sodium vapor lamps and fluorescent tubes. I didn’t see anyone at all in this part of the base.

By the end of the night, I had realized that the first sub level was barely any more remarkable than the surface. Other than being an impressive engineering feat, it seemed like an area with its glory days long behind it. It had dozens of vacant offices, sealed locker rooms, empty vending machines, and only a few uniformed base staff walked past me my whole visit. I looked through more hangars, along with storage rooms filled with old experimental aircraft that might’ve never seen the light of day, and now sat frozen in time under a tarp. I also found some sort of conference room that, for whatever reason, had been buried behind a concrete barrier. It still had its tables and chairs, which were right out of the 1960s and positioned like people had fled the room in a hurry. For some reason, the room was still lit by a single dim wall light.

The conference room turned out to be the most interesting thing I saw that night, just because of its mystery and the lack of any context.

The first sub level seemed to be seldom-used. Maybe it sprang to life when a new contract for experimental aircraft arrived and I had just shown up during the slow season, but I ended up spending the night wandering empty rooms and halls, mostly looking for a way farther down. It was a massive complex that I knew I didn’t cover completely, and had no particular desire to continue exploring, because my gut told me it would be more of the same.

Even so, I ended the night on another high note. Around dawn, I finally found a more active portion of the level that was lit more brightly and featured up-to-date rooms with modern computers and furniture. It was a small section overall, filled with a few dozen on-duty men and women. My lip reads told me that they were mostly just talking about current events.

The discovery of the area led me to the central elevator that had eluded me, which required keycards. I slipped past the doors, floated up to the lift itself, and looked at the buttons to see that I had three more levels to check out.

As the sun rose, I flew up the elevator to see where it had been hiding. I emerged into a hardened concrete bunker-like building. I passed through a blast door and drifted along in a lengthy tunnel on the other side until I was under the sky again, and at a secondary checkpoint deeper inside the base. The entrance to the lower levels had been concealed within a mountainside, and the tunnel leading to it was buried at the end of a narrow valley a good distance from the other surface buildings. It was both hard to see and well-defended.

I did my best to memorize the location, and returned to my body once again, ready to spend another day doing almost nothing as I waited to sleep and travel once more. My next visit, I knew, was going to be a special one.

I had stocked up on microwavable meals upon arriving in Rachel and rarely left my room, leaving the curtains drawn at all times. I knew I was messing around in a place I was never meant to see, that the government worked hard to keep a secret, so naturally I had grown paranoid that feds or the military would somehow track me down and come banging on the door. I hadn’t really felt that fear since I first started exploring as a kid, back when I thought the cops of all people would show up and arrest my young self for some sort of privacy invasion crimes. I never really rationalized how they might find me.

But, if anyone in the world could detect and find me, there was a good chance it might be the fine folks who have a career in Area 51. I just couldn’t work out how they would either, because there were too many unknowns about what they were capable of and what they researched. If they, for example, had at some point reverse-engineered alien technology, then who knows what manner of physics they were aware of that the rest of us may never understand. While projecting, I was sending some piece of myself out in the world. Something tangible, if difficult to detect. I was receiving information and sending it back to my brain for processing. I just happened to never have found anyone that could tell me how I did what I did, what kind of signals I might’ve been broadcasting that someone or something else could perceive.

The fear of being caught had always dogged me. It wasn’t so much the consequences that scared me as it was finding out that there existed a way to find or catch me in such a vulnerable state. This time, that worry was also manifesting itself in a perhaps rather crazy concern that Area 51 had a honeypot set up in part of its base that would attract people like me, and capture our projected selves for imprisonment and experimentation. I started thinking that I would stumble upon a room full of other trapped souls who got too curious. It felt like the perfect “twist ending” to my story.

I could never see myself as the first one to truly have access to astral projection. I always assumed someone had done it before, and there were hundreds of people like me, if not more. And if that were true, then surely someone had paid a visit to a mysterious installation in an American desert. And if that were true, said installation might’ve already created countermeasures.

Or, I could just be over-thinking and over-worrying again. That was a constant consequence of living a lonely life. I have stress feedback loops in my head that have sometimes led to panic attacks. But that’s never been a problem while projecting. I guess that’s one reason it usually makes me feel so peaceful.

By the fourth night, all of my good food was gone and the motel TV was no longer providing any entertainment. Exploring the base was all I had to look forward to, and I wanted to make the most of it. As soon as I could, I jumped straight to the main elevator and floated my way down to the second sub level.

This one was where the trains ran. Area 51 had long been rumored to have an underground rail system, though there were debates if it was just for local use or if it connected to more distant bases, or hidden entrances or cargo depots. The level was almost entirely pure cave, drilled away some time ago by large machines. Flatbeds ran on electric rail, transporting materiel and aircraft parts across the installation. There were few rooms to speak of, and the cars moved without human operators until they reached their terminus, where they were unloaded and moved by people who looked like they might have spent weeks at a time without seeing sunlight.

I couldn’t be certain if it was always this busy on the level, or if there was some big project in the works that required constant transport of goods, but it was definitely active down there, with cars coming and going constantly. The tunnels were maze-like and sprawling, and with little signage, it was easy to get lost. I must have spent around two hours just trying to find something more interesting than the extensive rail-line itself. After I unintentionally double-backed to the elevator, I chose to take it down again instead of spending further time attempting to navigate the local subway system.

The third sub level was much smaller than the first, and looked entirely different. Its corridors were narrow, confining, and featured more metal than concrete or natural rock. It was reminiscent of the interior of a nuclear submarine, and most of the few people I saw walking around wore suits and ties.

And those that did not were armed guards, which was strange. What were they protecting, or trying to keep inside this far down? Aliens, I hoped. Seeing a live colony of little gray guys would’ve made this trip more than worth it, and I couldn’t wait to describe them to the world, whether or not anyone believes any part of my story. But there was something weird and concerning about the floor.

For one, I could no longer pass through the walls. I could push my way through some of the metal siding, but something inside the wall stopped me. Nor could I get through the bulkhead-style doors if they were closed, which severely limited my ability to explore the floor. I was able to get a peek inside a room when someone went into or left one of them occasionally, but they always got closed again, like there was a protocol. If I had gone into any room, I would probably end up trapped inside it. It was a risk I couldn’t take.

What little I did see of the offices and labs on this floor didn’t suggest that aliens had ever been kept there—not that I had high expectations.

The fact that I couldn’t go through the walls, or the floor and ceiling for that matter, was something new to me. There must have been a sort of energy field inside them, maybe there to block something else, some kind of signal. By extension, they limited my mobility in the process.

Seeing the sub level as a dangerous place to linger, I returned to the elevator and dropped downward to the fourth and presumably lowest level. Only, I descended into darkness, and something solid. I was already on the bottom floor, at least that the elevator serviced. Either they filled the space below with concrete, to seal it off, or there never was another sub level and the button in the lift was just a dummy for whatever reason.

I went back to looking through the third level’s hallways to see if I had missed anything. The old hanging wall clocks inside showed me that it was three in the morning, so I still had a few more hours before my body would start trying to wake up and ask where its owner was. I had the idea that the floor below, if it existed, might still be accessible somewhere else.

Passing hallway after hallway and going down each side of an intersection, I got a closer look at the weapons in the hand of each patrolling guard whenever I got a chance. They didn’t seem like any sort of gun I was familiar with. They actually looked non-lethal, and their barrels were equipped with a panel of lights that surrounded some sort of beam emitter. They had the appearance of a sci-fi laser rifle, but logic told me that they were likely deterrent weapons, which may have fired off bright bursts of light and a powerful laser, or burning microwave energy. It made no sense. If someone managed to get all the way down here after dodging all the real bullets up above, why give the guards at the heart of the base rifles like this? Unless, as I speculated already, they were keeping something inside, and these were the only weapons that could contain it.

Eventually, I noticed something lining the segments where the hallways were connected by seams and rivets. Every few meters were thin strips of metal and LED lights that ran along the wall, floor, and ceiling. I didn’t think much of them at first, thinking they were part of a peculiar emergency light system.

At least, until I randomly set one of them off.

The moment I did so was one of the scariest moments of my life so far.

I can’t really explain why I only triggered one of the apparent sensors long after I began traversing the level. At the time, all I could think about was how anything in the world would be able to pick up my presence.

The LEDs lit up in a pulsing red to attract attention, and my dampened hearing just barely picked up an alarm. This was all so bizarre and new to me that I froze up and just floated there, feeling exposed and helpless. Guards rushed in like they were trained to do, despite how rarely, if ever, this sort of thing happened. They couldn’t see me, but they swept their weapons about like they were searching, and some of the men had what appeared to be scanners on their wrists. They were trying to find something invisible, like a ghost. I would say that it was absurd, but I’m someone who can send my own spirit out into the world. The existence of ghosts was never a big leap for me.

The younger guys soon looked a little less nervous about what they were doing, and one of the older ones deactivated the alarm as the whole group continued searching. I was still too freaked out to focus much on their lip movements, but it was obvious that this was a major event for them. They looked at the other hall sensors to see if any other ones were going off, and one of the men swept his scanner right over my position. Reflexively, I held my non-existent breath as he did so. But he didn’t seem to pick up anything.

I kept still and watched the entirety of the procedures they followed. The situation was called in over radio, the men finished their scans and began to disperse, except for the one guy who waited for a technician to show up who then checked the sensor for a malfunction. The tech even plugged a wire into a port near the sensor and ran some software checks on a tiny portable computer.

I only started moving again once the IT guy finished up and left. All total, the delay and my abundance of caution had cost me an hour. I would have to return to my body soon. But first, I convinced myself to press on ahead even after what seemed to be my detection.

Now wary of the sensors every time I passed one, I stayed calm as if to keep my astral energy output “low” and continued down a particularly long hallway that ended at a promising, large chamber. It was the most secured place I had seen yet, a circular room with only two exits and covered by multiple security cameras and automated weaponry, the turrets in the same non-lethal design as the things the guards were armed with.

Ahead of me was a large segmented blast door painted orange and black, with the faded numbers “01” painted on its stainless-steel surface. Like the rest of the floor, I couldn’t pass through the barrier. And I already really wanted to find out what was on the other side. It probably held whatever the guards were keeping down here and worried about, sure, but it didn’t matter. I wanted in. For my journey all the way out here and its risks to be worth it, I needed in.

I waited for as long as I could on the off chance someone would open it, but had to return to the surface once I felt the connection to my body beginning to wane. I returned to it just as it was waking up, a lust in my gut to see just what the base’s biggest mystery might’ve been.

Getting past that door was already my new obsession. It was like the Area 51 of Area 51, my childhood dream reignited. I would never get answers from anyone in the world, and the odds of finding out what was inside by peeking at any visible papers or computer screens throughout the base seemed non-existent. I had seen a lifetime’s share of an incredibly exclusive place, and of course because of human nature, I still had to see that final secret.

The fifth day was agonizing. Not just because of the wait to get back under the base—it was also when Area 51 “raiders” started showing up. There might’ve only been a few hundred that actually went through with coming out to the desert to party, get drunk, and live out their alien rescue fantasies, but the motel, my sanctuary, filled up with rowdy out-of-towners while camper van and motorcycle engines ruined the quiet atmosphere.

All day I thought about the door and what was behind it. A new super-advanced aircraft? A deconstructed alien starship? The skeletal remains of an ancient god? I would’ve accepted an empty warehouse. As long as I found out for certain and didn’t go through the rest of my life not knowing. I had no idea what was driving my urges, only that I wanted to see something truly special before heading home, and so far, I felt I hadn’t.

After hours of television and internet browsing just to pass the time, all while staying inside my room to avoid social contact, I grew unreasonably excited to see the sunset light hit my room’s window. By 8:00 PM, I was already in bed and trying to force myself to sleep. Since I couldn’t take a sleeping aid and my new neighbors were rude and noisy, it was torturous. I wouldn’t wake up before my sleeping cycle was complete once I was out of my body, but getting there was no easy task, and it took two hours of restless tossing and turning.

And after all of that, the night was a bust. I explored very little else of the base, instead spending most of my time in that final chamber with the giant door, just waiting for someone to come along and open it. I understood that in all likelihood, no one would have a need to while I was at the base. I just didn’t want to go home thinking I missed a potential chance because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In hindsight, I wish I had seen more of the base while I had the chance instead of wasting all my time in one place hoping for the impossible. I returned to my body disappointed, then suffered through a sixth day, my time at the motel running out. I could extend my stay, but I felt that would just lead to more extensions to feed an obsession—and I had to get out of that nowhere town.

My mom called me, as did my employer, both of them wondering when I’d come back. Responsibilities at home were putting pressure on me to finish my time in Nevada, and my room’s air conditioner was now just barely working and a repair guy wouldn’t be coming anytime soon. I was miserable, but I had to stay just a little longer. I almost spent the night dreaming instead, just to escape from reality for a while. I had never projected for six nights in a row, so I only ever saw the reprieve of darkness during the few naps I had over the week.

And then no one showed up to open that damn door for me again. Every time I was about to leave that security room to explore more of the base, I convinced myself that someone was on their way to let me through. But it never happened. Ten hours I spent lingering on that sub level I could only barely navigate. Hell, I even tried sending “psychic waves” to the people down there in an effort to manipulate them into unlocking that door. It didn’t work.

I woke up early in the morning, sweating and feeling pissed off. I knocked on my walls and yelled at the people next door to turn down their music. After they told me to shut up, I left my room, packed up some water and food, and drove off. I might’ve been able to tolerate the desert and the heat for one more day, but not the motel room where I felt like I was losing my mind.

I actually ended up driving down to Las Vegas and spending the day on the Strip and blowing money on tourist shows. It worked so far as it let me get my mind off of things, calm down, and detox from the shut-in routine I had reduced myself to. Getting some actual meals at real restaurants helped as well. Still, I never wanted to come back to Nevada again.

I arrived back in Rachel around sunset feeling refreshed, and instead of heading to my room, I went to the party. Or rather, I just observed it from afar. The drunken eccentric-types looked like they were having more fun that I had over the past week. They were gathered up at the gate and just hanging out as base guards made sure they stayed back and didn’t try to run inside. The raiders were smart enough to not get shot, although as I said earlier, I did see a few of them get arrested. Their fun lasted into the night, even if they sadly never got a chance to see any aliens. But if that didn’t disappoint them, I figured I shouldn’t have let myself feel disappointed, either.

I had actually seen the inside of the base, unlike any of those guys. I had fulfilled a childhood dream. I could head home right then, look back at all this in a year, and still feel excited about everything I had witnessed inside Area 51.

But that would never be good enough for me, so instead, I drove my car to a secluded area near the base, reclined the seat, covered all the windows, and fell asleep. If I projected this close to the place, everything would be in sharper focus, giving me a better experience—and I would cut back on the travel time from and back to my body. I was determined to leave the state on a high note.

Once I was adrift, I floated over to the party by the main gate and went right by the revelers, and then past the guards that stopped them from going any further. If only they could see me and cheer as they watched just another regular dude making his way inside the base.

I’ve made fun of them, but I would slowly start to see the guys as a good luck charm as the night progressed. Before I even arrived at the elevator, I saw something new and worth following. Two people in full hazmat suits, with tinted visors that hid their faces, came walking out of one of the side rooms within the mountain tunnel. They were pushing a cart with a large metal crate on top.

Even if they had nothing to do with that final door, I wanted to find out what they were up to, so I tagged along without them knowing. They went through all the checkpoints, and didn’t stop to chat with anyone as others moved aside for them in the hallways. I steadily realized that they were heading down the same route I took to get to the locked door. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it was looking more and more like the two were my ticket inside.

By the time the three of us were heading across the lower sub level together, I tried my hardest to contain my excitement, which was the only thing I could think of to avoid setting off any alarms again. The hazmat boys nearly broke my heart the moment they made a right at the last junction before the door, but it turned out that they were only having their key cards programed in a surveillance room. It was filled with camera feeds on a TV array, and had a single guard watching them all, including the four cameras pointed at the big door. It must have had codes that changed daily as an extra layer of security.

Once their keys were updated, we arrived at the last obstacle. They ran their cards onto two separate scanners, pressed down two red buttons with their thumbs, and then finally pulled the two levers within the door itself. Maybe this was something they did on a weekly basis, or it could have been an annual thing and I had just gotten extremely lucky. Whatever the case, the huge slab of metal at long last began to slide open, to reveal the darkness beyond.

Lights flickered to life past the door, illuminating an angled concrete corridor and the hefty inclined cargo elevator that went down. The hazmat team went in and locked their cart’s wheel into a pair of mounts on the lift, which didn’t start moving until the big door was closed again. I was still right there with them, and was now committed, having no way out until they left first.

The elevator went downward at a tepid pace, and I stayed with my two new best friends instead of going on ahead with them. I had come this far, so I was willing to be patient a little longer. I was heading down into the inner sanctum of Area 51, a forbidden place very few would ever think about, much less see for themselves.

The ride lasted ten minutes or more and it felt like we descended deep into the Earth. If ever there was a portal to hell or another dimension, it would be here. After the lift came to a stop, a second giant door opened as slowly as the first, revealing something perplexing but not quite bizarre just yet.

Ahead of me was a purely stone antechamber, carved into bedrock. The surfaces were immaculately smooth. About thirty feet of rock, illuminated only be the elevator corridor’s light, led up to a large perfectly proportioned open square that preceded a void of darkness. The square was roughly forty feet long on each side, so it was certainly a sizeable doorway to whatever lay beyond it.

It wasn’t completely without technology or machinery. The opening was lined with the same sensor strips used on the third floor, and there were large circular hatches built into the stone on either side of the door.

I stepped out into the antechamber with the hazmat crew as they wheeled out their cargo, and looked to my sides. On the left was an old regular-sized metal door that showed signs of disrepair. While my buddies worked to unlock their crate and remove its contents, I went over to get a better look at the old side door. It appeared to lead to the original fourth sub level, or whatever remained of it. It was unpowered and had no inner electrical field running, so I was able to pass through it and see if there was anything on the other side. But I saw only darkness—nothing at all.

On further inspection, I noticed that the door had actually been jammed open just a crack. From outside, I managed to see a tiny bit of the pile of rocks that had blocked my view. It appeared that the hall had suffered a cave-in at some point. Or maybe the entire floor had gone through a controlled demolition. Whatever happened, it seemed to be completely inaccessible.

I returned to the hazmat brothers as they worked together to take out their cargo. It was a giant battery, or a power cell of some kind. I understood what they were doing: replacing one of the two power sources that kept something in, past, or around the giant square entrance running.

But they couldn’t just hot-swap one of the batteries that easily. It looked like they had to shut the whole thing down first. On realizing this, I felt equally terrified and excited. I knew I might actually have a chance to glimpse what they were keeping all the way down there.

The guys went to either side of the door, opened up two fuse box-looking things above the battery hatches, and flicked two of switches. Nothing happened for a few seconds. And then lights slowly began to warm up past the doorway. The first thing I noticed was just how many of them there were, high up on a ceiling inside the chamber. There was an entire array, like stadium lighting turned to a face-down position; it was overkill for illuminating a room.

One of the hazmat guys worked to exchange the power cell, while the other took up a defensive position near the center of the doorway and pointed his rifle into the brightening room past it.

I will never be able to give a reason behind the place I saw. I don’t think I’d be able to rationalize it even if whoever ran the base sat me down and described it in great detail.

Kept deep inside Area 51 was a full-size lobby of a grand hotel, its style copying the architecture of the 1920s. And the more I looked at it, the more it seemed to be pulled out of history. It wasn’t like a movie set, or an attempt at a replica. It had Roman pillars, marble tile, a mahogany reception desk with a classic candlestick phone in black. Most of the hard materials were in good condition, but the fabric, like the red carpet and the drapes covering the walls were falling apart and covered in dust. Behind the cloth hanging from the ceiling were the remnants of floral wallpaper, curled and melting into the floor.

It was like the lobby had been sliced cleanly out of a building and transported directly here; the outer edges of the walls looked sharp. Without any signage, it was difficult to tell where it had come from. But it did certainly look like it had served wealthy clientele in a major American city a century ago.

And now here it was, a hotel lobby out of time and place. Something unimaginably evil might have happened inside its walls in the distant past. Or it could’ve simply been haunted or cursed. Other possibilities I thought of upon seeing it were that the very matter of the structure had been corrupted, and it was contained here to contain the spread, or that maybe it really had just been transported from the past through some wormhole experiment gone wrong.

Drawn to the large room and not really thinking about, I drifted forward and through the open-air doorway. I met resistance on my way inside, yet pushed through with minimal effort. There was something about the room that made these guys contain it, fear it, and point their weapons at it, but I figured that whatever it was, it couldn’t hurt me. I would just take a quick look around, and when they finished changing the batteries for the lights, I’d leave with them.

Every little detail of the hotel, from the counter’s brass call bell to the yellowed mail envelopes that would eternally wait for their recipients, and looked like they’d fall apart if touched… It was all too authentic to be a part of a recreation. It was also in good enough condition to suggest that the place had been moved here a long time ago and preserved as if it were in a museum. Whether it had been perfectly rebuilt brick by brick, or somehow brought here instantly, my untrained eye was unable to tell.

At full brightness, the lights above also completely bathed and drenched the lobby, and probably made the heat unbearable as well, if I could feel it.

I could’ve spent the rest of the night thinking about the purpose, history, and storage costs of the hotel lobby, or just exploring it, but I didn’t want to linger at the deep end of a containment chamber. I turned to leave, drifting back to the massive entrance. And damn my luck, I only almost made it.

I didn’t realize that I was trapped at first. I thought nothing of the fact that one of the hazmat guys had fully inserted the other battery, shut and locked the hatch, and hit a lever to draw power from it. In my mind, they were only there to keep the lights going. It turned out that they actually powered an invisible barrier within the square doorway. It was the same kind of field within the metal walls above that kept me from going through them. And my dumb ass had just gotten stuck inside the hotel lobby crypt.

The two finished up with their task, packing up the discharged battery into the crate and wheeling it away and back to the lift. I shouted at them as best I could, but of course they would never hear me. I hit the barrier with my ghostly fists, hoping to cause a reaction that would alert them to my presence. That was also to no affect. I felt a brief glimmer of hope when they turned around and walked back to the sides of the doorway, but they only did so to turn off the powerful lights.

The lamps didn’t go dark instantly. The hundreds of bulbs above me had a dim afterglow that would linger for a few minutes, giving the lobby a few lit candles worth of illumination. But I knew that I would soon be trapped in darkness, for at least a week, or at most, years. All while my body rotted away in my car far above the surface, where it would be cooked by the sun.

So, that was it. I had gotten myself killed. Or maybe I’d go on even without a body, trapped down here for centuries outside of a physical form. I thought about all of the places I would never get to see, and my poor mom wondering what had happened to me.

The only two people who could let me out disappeared behind the elevator door, after which I drifted over to the center of the hotel lobby, feeling completely despondent and resigned. The fading warmth of the lights looked like they would keep me out of total darkness for another few minutes.

I didn’t want to think about my fate, or how long I might consciously be down in that place before everything faded away. I had never failed to return to my body before. There could’ve been some chance I would just wake up and be fine, but I couldn’t see that happening, especially not while I was in a chamber seemingly made to contain the same force I tapped into to project myself.

The lights dimmed further. I could barely see anything. Colors had left the lobby, and there were only faint dark shapes. I knew that pure darkness awaited me, and never anything else. A piece of me would be trapped here forever.

Then… a voice spoke to me. I swear. For the first time in my projected form, I heard a voice directed towards me, and it came in clearly.

“I see you…” it said in a deep, disjointed English, from somewhere in the abyssal dark. “And what manner of thing would you be?”

I wasn’t alone after all.

I didn’t dare move. I was so scared, it felt like my spectral form had begun to lose coherence and break apart. If I was in my body, I would be feeling a heart pound through my chest, or falling into a daze or panic. But in my state, true terror could only diminish my ability to remain an existing, thinking being. I had never come closer to experiencing a degree of fear that could have that effect.

The entity that produced the voice grew closer, and whispered into my ear from behind, “I do think I have been here long enough. Perhaps you are a means toward freedom.”

Just before the light was replaced by blackness, I saw and felt something pierce straight through where my spine and heart would be. Long, pale fingers twisted around and curled upward, reaching for my spectral eyes. The skeletal appendages were like spider legs and ended in sharpened claws. It wasn’t a ghost, or a demon, or a powerful psychic alien that had been down here for a long time and had wasted away. It was something else entirely, and I’ll never know for certain just what. Its presence was ripping apart the link to my body.

It said one last thing. “Now, bring me… to you…”

I felt an incredible burning sensation tear through me.

The next thing I could remember was suddenly waking up in my motel room, on the floor and tangled up in my blanket, with my shoes still on. It was eleven in the morning, the last hour of my stay. Somehow, I had escaped from the prison, returned to my body, and made it all the way back to the motel. I looked out of my window and saw my car, messily parked across two spaces and scuffed up, like I had driven back while intoxicated.

I packed and checked out within ten minutes, not even changing my clothes. Then I drove straight out of Nevada without stopping. I expected the police or military to chase after me or set up road blocks, but the highway was just about empty all the way to the border. No one knew that I had gone into that prison cell, or anywhere at all in the base.

When I finally got home, I ate a microwave meal, turned off all the lights in my apartment, silenced my phone, and slept for about fourteen hours. I was only calm enough the next morning to start to actually process what I had been through, and begin writing it all down.

My long sleep had been dreamless, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. During the day, I started to feel tired much earlier, and I suffered through a murky brain fog, like I was disassociating with myself, making my already boring job harder to get through. That got better over time, but I lost two things permanently as a consequence of my mistakes.

It’s been years, and I still haven’t had a single dream since then. I go to bed and then wake up, and it’s like no time has passed for me. In relation to that ailment, I can no longer astral project, either. A part of myself is gone.

A year ago, I got my brain scanned at a hospital. It didn’t reveal what was wrong with me or help me find a treatment, but I did learn that all of the parts of my gray matter that have anything to do with dreaming were much more active than average, even though I wasn’t actually dreaming anymore.

I think that whatever I encountered freed me, but also found a way back to my body and as payment for that freedom, took up residence somewhere in my mind. That entity now gets eight hours or more a night to come out and do whatever potentially evil, demented deeds it wants. It doesn’t speak to me or share visions of its motives, but I have no reason to think it’s benevolent. The people working in Area 51 tried to contain it, and they even knew how to detect it and maybe subdue it with light and other forms of energy. At least until I came along and gave it a way out.

I survived and do what I can to keep others safe, including locking my bedroom door with a key each night to keep myself from sleep-walking or leaving the house in some dangerous, “possessed” state, but I don’t think physical manipulation is what it’s after—or, maybe, I’m an imperfect vessel for the entity and it’s out there each night looking for another.

There’s a chance my actions have hurt someone you know, and for that, I sincerely apologize. I’ll soon be moving to one of the country’s most rural areas, but I’m not sure yet if I could find a house that’s thirty miles away from another, innocent person. I’ll accept a solitary life with no dreaming if I have to, but I need some time to track down a suitable place to live. Until then, I’ll stay on the road, so that no single cluster of people has to experience the terror I carry, and with any luck, no pattern will be found and no suspicion falls upon me. I may be able to stop all of this if I ended my life, or if I turned myself in at Area 51, but I’m sorry, I’m still too selfish and cowardly to do either.

And for my mom’s sake, and my friends, I can’t stay close to home.

You see, every night, one or two people within a thirty-mile radius of me die from a sudden brain hemorrhage. The local news picked it up and called it a possible local epidemic, and that’s when I made the connection and blamed myself. I’ve been on the move since.

I turned myself into a walking bioweapon, and my only remaining hope… is that if you should have the misfortune to meet the thing I’m carrying around, any possible pain or terror you experience is brief.

Again, I’m sorry. It’s a terrible mistake to squander a gift. Worse still to misuse it.

A Cold Relics Original

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