I was a good kid. I didn’t sneak out, got good grades, and was even student council president. I was your typical oldest daughter to an Army man in a Filipino household. Straight as an arrow. Had to be. But senior year of high school, my friends were a bit different.
I feel like I should set the scene since not everyone knows what being a military kid is like. It’s seeing the bizarre but accepting it as reality. Take my friend, Daniel, as an example. Born in the States, but moved to our base in Baumholder, Germany when he was three years old, and he grew up there. So Daniel is “American” and went to an “American” school, but had only been to the States a handful of times. I think I once was talking about Cold Stone and he had no idea what that was because he was blessed and grew up with the ice cream trucks selling gelato and full sundae bowls. And take me, I’ve moved around about 9 times. I’ve lived in different states and overseas. I’d say I “grew up” in California, Tennessee, and Germany because my youth was split between all of those places.
There’s a strange disconnect sometimes when I try to explain my childhood. Every time I started over in a new place, I felt like I lived a new life. When I moved to Germany and became friends with other military kids, I understood that I wasn’t strange or out of place. I just had a different experience.
I think this is why my friends and I got into a lot of shenanigans–never anything bad per se but daring in a wholesome way. And we were all good kids.
We went to a small school— I would say 200 kids from 6th grade to 12th grade. We all fit in the same cafeteria. I had a German class with 7th graders as a junior. I graduated with a class of twenty-three people. So with this tiny population, my friends and I were able to try everything together, even when at other schools, you wouldn’t “qualify” for whatever reason. We were in Student Council, musical theater, AP classes, and yada yada. We were the nerds, to be honest. Naturally, when teachers saw us in the hallway during lunch, they thought we were doing, you know, something academic.
We had it all planned. I had gone down there once, but it had been a year. We didn’t have the key for a while, but Anthony tore his ACL during football and that took him out of our spring track season, just like Daniel and I, but we had shin splints, so that didn’t qualify us injured enough for the elevator key. I had finished my lunch when Anthony came hobbling over with his crutches, Daniel following suit.
“Okay, is everyone ready?” Anthony said to the lot of the table. I glanced at everyone else. Michael, Maddie, and Smalls nodded.
“When you say it like that, it makes me a little nervous,” Maddie said and went to bite her fingernail.
Michael took her hand and reassured her, “It’ll be fine, they’ve gone down there tons of times.”
“There’s a problem though,” Daniel said while swinging his leg over the bench across the table.
“What kind of problem?” I asked as I zipped up my lunchbox.
“Mama Hux’s door is open.” Anthony sighed, trying to lean his crutches against the bench as he sat.
Baumholder had no shortage of amazing teachers. Mama Hux, Ms. Huxtable, was our universal science teacher, who taught about five preps at the time, and is one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met. She always took care of her students, from cooking us her famous chili, which she refused to ever give the recipe for, during exam week and waiting with me until around 6 pm for my dad to pick me up. She was also sharp, and would not hesitate to scold us for being in the school, especially because she knew us better than any other teacher.
Her door was adjacent to the hallway to the elevator. If she sits at her desk and looks left, she would definitely be able to see us.
“What if we just go in groups of two or three from the hallway from that blind spot in the middle?” I offered.
The air was a little chilly that spring day, walking up the gray brick hill to the school. Our cafeteria was in a different building entirely and no one was allowed inside the school during lunch, except maybe the kids who always had random club duties here and there. We opened the side door to the hallway, being careful not to make too much noise, but luckily, Mama Hux’s classroom was at the end of the hall and we stood whispering to each other next to the lab door.
“Since I’m the one with crutches, I’ll go first.” Anthony hushedly stated. Daniel said, “And I’ll accompany him since it looks normal anyway. And I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.” They went down the hallway as quietly as possible. Anthony was careful not to hit his boot against his crutches to make any noise. The door at the end of the hall was open and we could hear Ms. Huxtable talking to someone. Good, she’s distracted.
Daniel gave us the signal for the next group to come around the corner and we hugged the wall until the open door no longer gave us cover, I took a deep breath and ran to the right corner of the elevator. I could barely see between the crack of the door and the right wall: Mama Hux laughing and standing behind her desk.
Anthony pressed down button from his crouched position as soon as everyone had made it. We all quietly shuffled into the elevator and went three floors down to the storage room. The next thing we had to dodge was a maintenance worker, and we’d have to come up with some lie that we were messing with the buttons or something, but we made it to the door with no issue.
So maybe it’s time to tell you where we were going. It’s no secret that the Baumholder military base had been a German training base back during WWII and they weren’t shy about building tunnels underneath the whole town. And there was a door that led down to what probably used to be a tunnel, but the openings unfortunately had been long closed off.
We made our descent and the air was cool and damp, guided by the flashlights on our phones. It wasn’t too steep of an incline of rock, but I did check in with Anthony if he was okay on his boot every now and then. I’ve broken my leg before so I know those things are not easy to walk in. When we reached the bottom, we took a look around. Smalls started talking about ghosts. Daniel mentioned As Above, So Below, a horror movie we had all watched together. We laughed throughout that movie, but the topics really didn’t help the chills. I spotted soda cans left in a small crawl space of dirt, where the opening stopped at my waist. You had to climb inside to get a better look.
“I am NOT going in that,” Anthony said. “That’s how the black guy always dies first in movies. And I’d like to keep living, thank you.”
Smalls peered inside the opening, “Oh shit, is that a newspaper?” He climbed in to grab it and Daniel followed suit, holding his beanie in place while he ducked.
Anthony leaned against the opening and quipped, “Yup, Smalls would’ve died first.” Smalls did not appear to hear Anthony, and nestled himself inside and sat down against a wall reading the newspaper.
“The date says 1959!” Daniel said. I climbed in and sat on the brick wall of the opening, looking at the remnants of someone’s secret hideout. The air was dusty and the rocks under my feet were fine like sand.
“Wasn’t the school opened in 1955 or something?” I said. I also don’t remember soda cans from the last time I went down here. The expiration dates read sometime in the 70s. I felt uneasy.
“Guys!” Mike yelled. I jumped. I looked behind me and I saw him and Maddie standing in front of a crevice in the wall, just big enough to walk through if you went in sideways. Maddie was sliding through, “There’s a whole other part to this on the other side!” she said.
“Have you guys ever seen that before? Because I haven’t.” I said looking back at Anthony and Daniel. They looked at each other, confused, and shook their heads.
“Come on, what’s the worst that could happen?” Mike slipped through the crack and kept his flashlight shining through from the other side for us. I thought of all the very many bad things that could happen.
Daniel shrugged and said, “YOLO.”
I looked down at Anthony’s boot and crutches. “Dude…” I furrowed my brow.
“I’ll figure it out,” he said.
Sliding through, I could feel the rocks jutting at my arms, but they weren’t sharp enough to break the skin. Thank goodness, because I had no idea when my last tetanus shot was.
When we all made it through, we saw two steep, rocky inclines. The space was vast and open, unlike the small alcove we found before. Michael, Maddie, and Smalls climbed up the left side, while Daniel, Anthony, and I climbed up the right. It was so steep I had to use my hands and feet to grab onto the jagged slab, about five feet wide.
“This is a dead-end!” Maddie yelled from thirty feet away. They tried to climb against the edge that jutted off the wall.
“That looks really unstable! Just go back down!” Daniel yelled back. I looked down at the cavern in between; I couldn’t see the bottom.
“Is that light?” Anthony said from ahead of me, climbing on his good side, his crutches weaved into his arms.
I saw a small square outline of light, big enough for us to call through. “It’s a door!” Daniel yelled back to everyone.
I really hope it’s open.
Daniel reached for the handle and it turned. When we stepped out, we huffed quietly and looked around with confused faces.
“How–?” Anthony sat down on the stairs to the second floor.
We were standing at the staircase in front of the lab. Right back where we started.
“Are you telling me that tunnel is three stories high?!” I whisper-yelled.
Everyone else made it out of the small service door in the wall and dusted themselves off. “You know, I always thought this door led to some electrical thing, not a cavern to Hell,” Michael said.
We all laughed and Michael quickly closed the door after Smalls hopped out. It automatically locked once shut.
Ding dong ding dong ding dang dong. The lunch bell let everyone else in the building, and we turned our backs to the other kids coming in to make it look like we had just been going up the stairs. We parted ways at the top of the stairs and I went to Seminar with a smile on my face.
I know it may not have been a spooky adventure filled with ghosts or secret passageways but I was daring enough to go into the tunnels. And whenever I passed by that blue door in the wall, I was satisfied with knowing exactly where it leads.
My friend Bronwyn from college actually suggested I write about this when I, on the other hand, completely forgot I told her this story in the first place. I’ve never written it down, but it sticks with me. It was one of the last of many adventures my friends had before I moved away for college, and it set a bar for who I wanted to be around from then on. I needed people who would challenge me to be brave because I had never felt truly daring before I met them.
Back in Tennessee, I holed myself up in my room and retreated into my books, only tasting adventure between pages, so I’ve made it my mission to find people who treat life with the improv mentality of “yes, and . . .” Thinking of the stories I have yet to tell like skinny dipping in Santa Barbara, a live escape room in Amsterdam, and a road trip from Vegas to Kansas, I think I’ve done that goal justice so far. Seventeen-year-old me would be proud.
From left to right: Ms. Huxtable, Maddie, Mei-Mei, Michael, and Anthony.
From top left to bottom right: Smalls, Daniel, Anthony, and Mei-Mei.
About the Author
Mei-Mei has worn many hats since joining LYF: Executive Assistant, Event Manager, and Editor-in-Chief, but before anything, she is a human who loves to write and make art. She graduated from UC, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English and a minor in German. She was the President of UCSB Poets' Club. She has traveled to 12 countries and counting, feeling lucky and cursed as an Army brat. In 2019, she moved for the 9th time from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, where she put her love for writing, performing, advocating for mental health, and building communities into the Love Yourself Foundation.