I was helping out for the 2003 Geek Prom, and we were pulling all sorts of geek detritus out of the attic of the NorShor. Old computer monitors, chemistry sets, mobiles made out of action figures and hamster balls… The attic isn’t so much an attic as a number of flights of stairs, with each landing stuffed with leftovers from the greatest deeds of the NorShor; junk from Homegrown, Halloween, New Year’s, Christmas, Geek Prom… the entire colorful history spills down these back stairs. But stairs to where? The most confusing part is that the stairs don’t really go anywhere. They just ascend a few floors above the main theatre and stop.
But then again, the stairs don’t “just stop.” While shoveling through geek items I noticed a wrought iron ladder, buried behind some painted styrofoam and a table of dot matrix printers, that ascended into a hole in the ceiling. The space above was dark and beckoning, so when the time was ripe I grabbed a flashlight we had been using earlier in the evening and headed on up to do some exploring.
The space reminded me of a tomb, in that I have never explored a tomb before but I assume that this is what one would be like, pitch black and pitch quiet, with thick coats of dust on the floor, and strange little tracks making their way through the filth. The first room featured a dirty window that let in the failing light of a cool Duluth evening, but beyond that the space was completely dark. And cramped. I opened up two heavy fire doors. The main hallway, built of sad gray concrete, twisted along the side the building. It looked as though the NorShor was built once, and after they thought better they scraped out the guts and rebuilt it from the inside, leaving the shell. This isn’t far from the truth, as I later learned.
I ducked some ancient rusty pipes and low ceilings and emerged in a room filled with a huge rusted generator type something. It was the size of a conversion van and had a five-foot steel wheel on it, likely attached with a belt to something evil in its hey-day. It was probably used to run curtains or something equally inane, but given the atmosphere my mind wove its own narrative. I squeezed by the generator and pressed on.
I found a set of double doors, varnished red with bullet holes in the glass. I pushed them open and found myself in what must have been the most uncomfortable theatre seating arrangement ever. There were a couple rows of thick slabs of concrete and nothing else. What’s more, it was above the ceiling of the second floor theatre and faced the wrong way, likely making it difficult to understand what was happening on stage. Negro seating from the days when the NorShor was turned around 180 degrees?
As I pondered this I realized my flashlight was dying. In my haste to explore I had neglected to check the batteries, or take extra batteries, or take any sort of safety precautions whatsoever. But with the passion for exploration pounding loud in my ears I foolishly pressed on. Down another dark hallway I came upon an old stairwell, lit faint and blue through small windows. The stairs in front of me disappeared, but I could see that ten feet below they resumed down to what must have been the ground floor, five stories below.
Unable to go down without climbing gear or broken legs, I went up and found another long and dark hallway. Nervous about the life of my flashlight I decided I had had enough discovery for the evening and started on my trek back to the attic.
I got about five feet into the darkness before my flashlight crapped out completely. I started to panic. No one knew I was up here. It would be dark soon, zeroing my chance of finding the ladder by its dingy window. I was too far from everything to be heard if I started yelling. What’s more, there were holes in the floor that gave way to the empty space above the main theatre. It was a fifty foot drop to the hard stage.
I was able to make it through the dark to the sinister generator thing and I hated it, now. I thought about curling up under it and waiting til morning, until I thought of all the nasty things that probably lived up here. I worried that someone might come up and close all the fire doors, locking me inside and blocking any light that I might be able to see from that window. My heart was pounding. I found that if I left the flashlight off for a minute or two I could milk five seconds of feeble light out of it. With this technique I tripped my way around the generator. I groped for what I hoped would be my last hallway, and finding the opening I threw myself through it in exhilaration.
And almost knocked myself unconscious by slamming my forehead into a low concrete wall. Dazed in darkness with pricks of light playing in my vision, I stumbled forward with a bit more care.
Finally, after a few unexpected turns and hallways (as distances in darkness and panic always seem longer than in light and calm) I could see faint sunlight filtering in just beyond the fire doors. I made it. Still shaking I climbed down the ladder, taking deliberate steps and clutching the rails so hard my knuckles turned white. After what I had been through, I was making damned sure I wasn’t going to screw it up at this point. I hit the floor with a sigh of relief and descended the stairs back to Geek Prom.
It was half an hour until my head calmed down and my nerves returned to normal. Or whatever could be considered normal for a person setting up something called Geek Prom.