A sea of cement blankets a massive expanse of vacant land jetting out like a deformed elbow into the Hudson River within a sleepy Upstate New York town. Just past town the stately river begins to narrow from its widest point a few miles north, before snaking below the span of the Tappanzee Bridge and flowing south past New York City. From an aerial perspective on Google Maps this cement sea appears more as a desert; void of any forms of life, except for a few of the most hardy shrubs and weeds which manage to sprout out and up through cracks in the concrete and reach toward the sky, reaping in the benefits from the unobscured sun. Incessant heat rays from above boil the concrete sea which stretches block after desolate block. Day in and day out, year after year, the sun after all this time has caused the cement to take on a rugged, rough appearance, as nature works nonstop, slowly eroding and chipping away at this post-industrial, lifeless, man-made desert.
However from a micro perspective, this narrow slice of undeveloped land oddly placed within the overbuilt suburbs on the outskirt fringes of a bustling metropolis, hides beneath it, a darkened world, home to a secret ecosystem of forgotten life. While this jutting elbow of concrete may seem oddly placed today, initially this expanse of sun-bake cement once existed as the foundation for the The North Tarrytown Automobile Factory, an immense automotive plant which closed it doors in 1996. In current times however, this uninhabited hunk of land serves as no more than a tease to greedy developers and at times, a gigantic puddle after it rains. Few perhaps realize though that beneath this cement sea exists a sunken underworld populated by darkness and strange stalactites slowly inching their way closer and closer to the ground.
Entering inside the hollow cement foundation from within a small smashed out hole in an otherwise mundane weathered brick wall, the intense sunlight from above begins to fade, but not as fast as the temperature drops to a cool 50 degrees, this in stark contrast to the outside environment. The nearly instantaneous temperature dip sent goosebumps across my body and turned each exhale of my breath into a ghostly fog. The sun is no master down here, rather darkness prevails in every direction except for a few rays of light that manage to seep in though cracks within the otherwise sturdy cement above. These occasional rays of light illumine narrow slits across the ground which give life to bizarre plants, anorexic in form, as they slither their way up to the surface like seaweed into the narrow crevices toward the outside world where they photosynthesize within the almighty sunlight. Sans these alien plants however, the environment down here is expansive yet barren; a true urban desert. The soil below if it can even be classified as so is nearly lunar in texture; like an arid clay powder, it molds to every foot print and movement which traverses across it encapsulating whatever walks over, like a mosquito forever preserved in amber.
Down here, deep beneath the cement sea, hidden in the stagnant blackness, it seems more like an industrial coral reef or underwater cave rather than the sub-basement of a former automobile manufacturing plant. Very few hints give clue as to what once-was, rather ones imagination is let to run wild within the endless darkness intervened by row after row of cement support columns sporting bizarre water and rust stains. Strange pipes and protruding shafts of metal mimic calcium carbonate reef structures or seldom seen sea monsters. Sea swept trash from decades past litters the lunar sand below, like shells left behind after waves break across the beach before thinning out over the shore. Looking down, footprints in the soil prove I'm not the only one alive down here, for the numerous animal prints scattered across the ground appear so frequently that their little paw print indentations begin to create an unnatural pattern about the ground. Such a sight however is void of any human markings giving me confidence that I'm probably the only anthropomorphic being to have visited this artificial reef in quite some time.
As far as my flashlight beam extends, darkness always manages to consume just past. I feel that if I keep walking eventually I will fall off some unseen edge and into an infinite black pit of darkness, or maybe I'd just circle around and wind up right back where I started, by that sliver of sunlight peeking in through the hole in the ordinary brick wall. Occasionally my light reflects off a random shiny surface; a pipe it often turns out to be, that or some random garbage like a crushed aluminum 7-Up soda can pre-dating my very own existence. Further and further I walk, it's so dark I feel as if I'm floating, swimming, yet I have no idea if I've moved miles or if I have just circled around myself dozens of times. For everything within this industrial reef appears so repetitive that my senses have become numb due to the lack of stimuli and any sense of direction is lost to very darkness which swallows everything.
CRUNCH, I felt my left leg crush through something brittle beneath my feet. Immediately I shot my flashlight toward the ground, yet I could not spot anything. I backtracked a few feet then again CRUNCH CRUNCH, followed by a loud and audible cracking sound as if stepping on an unforeseen twig laid across a trail. But again as I shown my light down, nothing; yet I knew my ears were playing no games. With my shoes I easily kicked back a few inches of the dusty lunar soil across the ground directly beneath where I had heard the sound. To my surprise a fractured bone segment protruded up from within the loose regolith. It was decently large too, a leg bone perhaps.
I kept digging and kicking around the soil all-the-while revealing more and more buried bones; had I stumbled upon some mass grave, I thought? I took a step back to asses the scope of my makeshift archeological dig-site, at which point I realized the low cracking and crunching I experienced was the result of my foot sinking directly through some long decreased animal's rib cage. From the uncovered bones alone, I could not tell exactly what type of animal the creature was, yet the scatter of bone debris looked to be kept together within the same general area, lending me to believe that whatever it was, died right here. I walked the perimeter of the death sight, keeping my flashlight pointed toward the ground the entire time, until a shimmer of light reflected directly back into my eyes. I crouched down to gain a closer look. It was a small piece of metal, silver in color and shaped like a heart, no bigger than about an inch in length. Leaning in closer I picked up the object, blew some remaining dirt off, which revealed a name inscribed within the metal. "Buddy" the inscription read, follow by a phone number and name imprinted in tiny characters beneath: Call Maria: 978-268-0657.
I searched deeper within the soil and a few inches from the metal heart-shaped tag I found a circular piece of leather about the circumference of a large animal's neck. It was weathered around the interior, but it also appeared to have been violently ripped off, as the metal belt loop was bent. Shit, someone's dog died down here I quickly realized, as I began to piece together the grim discovery I had just unearthed. A bit taken back and startled I decided to just turn away at this point. I tried to assume the dog just got loose and died a peaceful, natural death down here, yet my imagination played up the fact that perhaps it didn't. And with that thought, I did not want to become a new pile of bones next to Buddy.
I retraced and backtracked my footprints into the darkness from where I had thought I entered. But after a few minutes things began to appear differently than I had recalled. Ahead a massive pipe cut through the blackness. Realistically it looked like a subterranean telecommunications line, but my imagination running wild brainwashed me to think otherwise. It's a dead whale I envisioned, as I slumped my body over its rusted out carcass and slid down its blubbery belly, quickly plopping across to the opposite side of the carcass and letting out a puff of lunar dust upon landing steady on my two feet. Into the distance I stared again, still the repetitive darkness continued. I felt like I was stuck in some glitchy PC video game. Yet certainly if I just kept walking I would reach some sort of end, a wall, anything to make an escape back into the safety of the sunlight outside.
While searching for an obvious quick exit, I noticed imprinted within the soil just a few feet ahead, foot prints! I paused to examine the sight. "Had I just been walking in circles all these hours, a prisoner of my own poor judgement and imagination" I thought to myself? But the foot prints I noticed, they were narrow and did not match the pattern imprinted by my own shoes. Stopping to listen, I could hear nothing but the sound of my own heart beating against my chest. "I'm alone" I convinced myself. "Anyway who knows how old those footprints are", I thought. Due to their narrow form, I concluded they were most likely female in original, which quelled my fears slightly of being wasted by a deranged murderer lurking and stalking me in the darkness, yet it didn't subdue my fear that instead I was being stalked by a deranged female murderer; perhaps the lesser of the two death sentences, I suppose. Just keep walking I convinced myself. Eventually I'd find a wall, hole, hatch, something to climb out of and emerge back into the light.
"Buddy, Buddy", I swear I heard a voice beckon. I stopped dead in my tracks and shook my head like a dog shaking off from a dip in a lake. Then I heard it again but this time the name was slowly extended when pronounced, followed by a manic laugh: "Buddddy, Budddddy, come here, where are youuuu". It was a long drawn-out feminine voice for sure, but due to the cavernous nature of the underground, I could not pinpoint from which direction the voice originated. Panicked I circled around, waving my flashlight about like a madman, its beam of light bouncing around in all directions but illuminating nothing of the voice's source. "Buuuuddy Buddddy is that you"? The feminine voice piecing through the darkness echoed again. Hearing this call a third time sent a chill straight up my spine. In that moment of horror, fight or flight set in and I chose the latter. I started running as fast as I could, I did not pick any said direction, instead I just ran for it, hopping over industrial pipe reefs protruding up through the ground and hurdling back over the dead whale. "Buddyyyyy, come here don't run, it's only mommy", the voice uttered. Faster and faster I ran and I ran. "Buddyyyyy, you can't hide from mommy any more, you can't leave me here". I had no idea where I was running to, yet the voice seemed to keep up with my spastic pace.
I was making no progress and with nothing but darkness still surrounding me I stopped and just stood trembling in fear. "Come back to mommy, Buddy" the deranged female voice continued. At this point I could tell it was originating from directly in front of me. I pointed my flashlight straight ahead, it illuminated a large blue metal door, slightly ajar, with a small set of cement stairs leading up towards it. It was here the voice was coming from, no doubt. Carefully I walked closer, the door was cracked open, I could see from where I was standing dozens of blankets all hanging from within the hidden room, obscuring my view. "I'm in here Buddddy" the female voice echoed from within, cracking and changing pitches between each word, manic in speech. "I'm not fucking Buddy" I yelled back, my voice trembling with fear! The female voice immediately ceased after my response, but the silence was soon followed by ruffling and scratching sounds.
I kept my eyes fixated on the blue door and held my flashlight straight above my shoulder like a cop, hoping to give my otherwise lanky self a bit of a tough-guy first appearance. Then I saw a couple of the blankets move and from behind one of the sheets a frail woman appeared. Adorned with long knotted dirty black hair extending down to her ankles, it covered most of her face. She walked with a limp up to the ledge of the cement steps, dragging her dead right foot behind before crouching down on all fours. She pushed back the hair covering her face revealing an eye patch over her left socket and a mouth full of ragged teeth, most of which, appeared to be missing. Her eyes were like full moons, completely white upon reflecting my flashlight beam. Beady yet glazed over her stare peered straight through my soul. The crouching woman then cocked her neck back to an unnatural degree and began screaming from the top of her lungs over and over again, without pause "YOU'RE NOT MY BUDDY YOU'RE NOT MY BUDDY YOU'RE NOT MY BUDDY", three times, four times. Then without warning the woman just stopped. Only continuing to crouch down with a slight bob to her posture, existing like a human sized cave-cricket ready to jump at my face.
Every hair on my body stood up, I was so petrified I could not even run. I could only hear her demonic scream continue to echo and reverberate through the hollow space. I stood there in complete silence before mustering up enough strength to utter back "No, no I am not your Buddy ma'am"! "Have you seen my Buddy, my dear dear Buddy" she interrupted back in a shaky yet calmer tone this time around. In truth I knew Buddy was no more than a half unearthed bag of bones somewhere in the darkness behind. "No, I have not seen your Buddy, Marie" I lied back. "HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW MY NAME!" she screamed back at me, in lower pitched voice followed by a few short nasty, phlegmy coughs, as if she was about to hack up a lung across the ground.
I shined my light directly at her face. Maria flinched and turned her head away from the light. I could see her ragged hair mop over the dusty ground. Pale rubbery skin loosely draped over her frail bones like a thin blue tarp covering the obvious outline of a beat up car and her spine curved up like a rainbow. "How long have you been here, Maria?" I calmly asked. "My Buddy, my friend, I lost him here yesterday, have you seen my Buddyyyyyy" she very slowly responded back mimicking the voice of a chronic chain smoker. Again I sternly asked "Maria, how long have you been here?!" "Buddy is that you" she murmured in between a coughing attack, before slowly stooping back up onto her legs and wandering into her room before disappearing behind the same blanket from which she emerged. I looked toward the ground and could see it was covered with all sorts of used needles and drug paraphernalia; a tweeker's landfill it was. A few dozen spoons blackened along the bottom, handles bent more severely than the woman's back. Orange needle caps everywhere, by the hundreds were littered amongst used candles and hardened puddles of wax.
I followed a plethora of cigarette butts, quite literally amassing into the thousands which lead like a trail up to an area where I could see light seeping in. It was a blocked off wall but a hole was again smashed within the brick providing an opening that was closed over with a few layers of cardboard and some tattered sheets sporting a faded, blood stained, Hello Kitty pattern. With a simple kick to the cardboard barricade, the hell out I retreated. Emerging back onto the surface of the cement sea, the light was blinding. Upon my eyes adjusting from the darkness I found I was surrounded by a shipwreck of abandoned shopping carts. Plastic ones, metal ones, Target ones, Wally World, ShopRite you name it. All flipped to the side, wheels rotating in the breeze, screeching and clanking altogether, plastic bags knotted within the basket frames.
Just past the wreckage a heap of tattered clothes rose up forming a small island in the middle of the wide expanse of the rough cement sea. This land, it was desolate and uninhabited, just a Salvation Army clothes slump. But climbing to the top of the island I could spot from the pinnacle of piled up underwear and used socks, a distant skyline. This land, it was habited for sure! No mirage for I could see a cityscape and lights twinkling ahead. I continued to schlep across the cement sea, the sun beating down violently across my back and neck. As I arrived closer, seagulls swept in to pick off bits of stagnant garbage and food floating atop the cement. Just ahead a freight train slugged past separating the sea from this mainland. As it cleared I could just begin to make out some signage ahead, the lettering slightly disfigured behind waves of heat rising off from the cement sea. A white sign topped with a horizontal green painted line stated: Tarrytown Metro-North Railroad.
I had made it to back to land! Relieved, I walked up to the train station platform to await the next railcar to transport me home. I was completely shot, wasted, dehydrated, so much so that I could only barely slump across the waiting bench and stare out across that deslolate cement sea as I awaited the next train. It was then I noticed, stapled to a wooden banister a typed and laminated poster: Lost Dog. Answers To "Buddy". If Seen: Call Maria 978-268-0657.