After all the mayhem, we did actually get to the bunker in time. At first, we were really disappointed. When Mum and Dad had been talking about ‘Cold War bunkers’ and ‘nuclear proliferation’ I’d conjured up all sorts of images of an imposing military base surrounded by barbed wire and missiles. Okay, I knew this was disused and now a visitor attraction, but it just had the appearance of a boring cottage from the outside, with a few suggestions of possible military use as you drove up to the car park.
I don’t know what it is about government buildings, but they very definitely have a ‘look’ and a ‘feel’ about them. They’re well-built, strong and robust. They’re also businesslike, functional and plain. That’s how I’d describe the cottage. For all intents and purposes it was a regular cottage. But the guttering was metal, not plastic; the fence posts were concrete and nothing was done for decoration, it was purely functional. The land surrounding the cottage was scattered with man-made knolls, some of which had aerials and dishes perched on them, others looked like ventilation outlets and the rest were just concrete stores. It was a rural and hilly area, with a mobile- phone mast close by and lines of pylons dotted along the horizon.
It became immediately clear from a map just outside the main entrance that this was just the shop and ticket-buying area, the real Secret Bunker was concealed deep beneath the ground.
Our sheer excitement at the adventure that awaited us beyond the ticket desk distracted us from the fact that our hosts had not turned up. There was a message waiting for us as we were handed our free tickets, apologizing for the delay and asking us to go ahead and look around the bunker. We’d be joined in the café in about one hour’s time. By somebody with the surname Pierce.
A Sudden Sound
My anxiety has taken over again and I’m not really thinking now about what happened just before I lost sight of Mum. I’m really hungry and considering making my way along the corridor again. I’ve tried calling out to Dad, but my cries are just returned to me as an echo. Why can’t they hear me? They weren’t that far away. And what the devil is going on out there?
Mum was caught outside the closing blast doors, there’s no way she can get through those. The sign outside said that they weigh three tonnes. When the alarms sounded, they closed automatically.
Funny that: they looked as if they’d be manually operated, they had handles on them the same as the ones that you see in submarines, the type that you have to turn several times to open and close. I don’t think I’d be able to hear her through them, either.
I thought that most places had emergency lights when something unusual like this happened. I suppose this place is just a museum now, but still, we’re so deep underground, why didn’t the lights come on? My mind starts to race again with all the different scenarios and possibilities. The simple fact is, I just don’t know what’s going on. I tried to get up and walk along the corridor one more time, but I just gave up again. It’s so dark, if only I could hear somebody or something, I’d have a destination to aim for. I’m pretty sure that if I can’t hear Dad, he must have made it past the next set of doors, so all I’m going to reach is a dead end if I move forward.
And then I’m startled, because out of the silence and blackness, I can hear a noise. It’s not a person, there is no voice or movement. It is the faint hum of something that sounds electrical, as if somebody just turned the power on.
The Other Pieces
Three years on, and I was still pretty sure of what I saw. But as a thirteen-year-old child you receive the world as it’s presented to you by adults. Nat was dead, Mum and Dad were distraught and there was a funeral. It must be so. Only I knew what I’d seen. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew that it had happened.
And what about that man who’d distracted Mum? Was it a coincidence that he was there at that time? In films, if somebody has a heart attack on a plane, they always ask for a doctor. There’s usually one on board. So was this just a happy coincidence?
As a thirteen-year-old I was unsure. My sixteen-year-old self was definite that it was no coincidence. And there was one thing that I knew with complete certainty about that day. Again, it was a feeling in the moment, an instant of understanding, vision and acceptance. As I stepped forward with Nat, then stepped back to take a look at that coin on the ground, I looked up. A black car was coming at us at speed, Nat just hadn’t seen it. In that moment I looked up and saw the eyes of the driver. This was no driver error, no careless steering or momentary lapse of concentration. He was looking at me directly in the eyes and the car was being aimed straight at us.