(Any names used have been changed. Not necessarily to protect anyone’s identity, but just because I haven’t asked them if I could use their names.)
My high school, like so many others, was full of rumors and urban legends, from stories of haunted buildings to intricate senior pranks (that you always missed by only a few years).
At Desert Mountain High School, once you became involved in any club or organization that took advantage of the large auditorium, you began hearing hushed stories of a hidden Secret Room. Details of its exact location were always vague, but upperclassmen always swore that the room was real. I was first exposed to this legend when I overheard that just a few years back—it’s always a few years back—a student fell while trying to reach some secret room and broke his arm. According to the story, the paramedics had one hell of a time retrieving the kid, who had fallen down a 30-foot drop while attempting to descend the student crafted rope ladder needed to reach the nearly inaccessible room.
The details of the Secret Room varied depending on who was telling the story. It was supposedly discovered by a group of students who got their hands on the raw blueprints of our three-story, mile-long high school. After scrutinizing the floor plan, they were able to find a small area right next to the 2,000 person auditorium, that was left blank. An empty space. A void.
This group, of unknown number, had sneaked into the auditorium on some unknown date of some unknown year, and patiently hid until all faculty and other students had left for the night. Then, using the blueprints and a mysteriously obtained skeleton key, they began to circle in on the empty space marked by the map. They unbolted bolts, crawled through air vents, and opened doors never previously seen by students.
As the legend goes, they eventually stumbled upon the empty expanse. It was everything they could have hoped—an open area, a 40-foot ceiling, and a floor caked with dirt. It was the Holy Grail of high school discoveries.
This is where the real work started for our young heroes: Working diligently night after night, they carried wood and carpentry supplies into this empty space, building an actual room within its walls. The dirt floor outside served as a makeshift front yard, and the room was elevated five feet off the floor. It was large enough to fit five or six people comfortably when completed. They even managed to lower a couch down a thirty foot drop to make their retreat more comfortable. The students worked tirelessly to create the perfect hideout, and they succeeded.
Back in the heyday of the Secret Room, these students would supposedly escape to their hideout during their lunch periods or to escape during a class they didn’t feel like taking on that particular day. They would drink, smoke cigarettes, fornicate, and perform other acts that delinquent students with access to a hidden room tend to gravitate towards. The possibilities were as limited as the imagination of the person telling me the story.
The tale of the final abandonment of the Secret Room splits into two versions. In the first version, one of the students was rappelling down the 30-foot rope ladder used to access the room when the cord snapped and he fell almost the entire length onto the dirt floor below. Hurt, and unable to climb back up, his friends had no choice but to get help. The Secret Room was discovered by authority figures, the kids were punished (severity unknown), and the entrance was bolted shut for good.
The second version is even less exciting, with the the students simply graduating, leaving behind the legend and the room. A couple years later, a student (just like you or me, they would always say) was searching for the room and fell the thirty feet to the dirt floor below. And, well, you know the rest.
I didn’t think much of the story for my first few years at Desert Mountain, instead filing it away along with the haunted science building and the students who led the cows up to the second floor of the building (who is going to believe that students in Scottsdale, Arizona not only have access to unsecured cows, but also to modes of cow transportation?)
I may have hoped it was true, but I didn’t believe it—until my friend Chris pulled me aside one day after school, flashed a set of keys, and told me to follow him.
Continued in Part 2.