For those of you who aren't in the know, urban exploration (also known as urbex) involves visiting abandoned buildings and structures to experience the emptiness of places that were once full of people and energy. Explorers are often photographers with a passion for architecture, who take pictures of the interiors and always (it's the no. 1 urbex rule) leave everything exactly as they found it. With a tightknit network of urbex fanatics all over the world, the hobby is rapidly becoming more popular, with some amazing photos, and terrifying tales of paranormal encounters, surfacing on the internet.
Sophos9 is an urbex veteran, well into the hobby for eight years now. He's definitely one of the more well-travelled urbex heads, exploring derelict buildings in nine different countries so far, his favourite visit of all time being the chance to look around the radioactive ghost town of Chernobyl.
From abandoned asylums to derelict hospitals, Sophos9 has seen some of the creepiest places on Earth first-hand. In a three-part Halloween special, he shares his scariest stories with Footasylum. Over to the man himself:
Halloween is my second favourite time of year, only beaten by Christmas. I love the celebration of the spooky and macabre.
This Halloween I have the honour of sharing some of my stories with you. My style of photography takes me to places that people may not ordinarily think of as a great backdrop. These can be anything from abandoned mental asylums and derelict hospitals to decaying laboratories and spooky chateaus.
For those that know me, I'm typically described as the least superstitious person they've met. Although I'll admit that I've seen some things that would leave even the least superstitious person wondering how they could be explained. Read my stories and make up your own mind...
Part 1: MIDNIGHT SHADOWS CRAWL
The complex corridors of this abandoned asylum were the idea behind its design. It was done to confuse the patients, and if they were confused, they were more likely to stay in their common area rather than exploring the labyrinth of walkways and stairs.
It was getting late and I remember the rain, which was pouring, and the wind was blowing steadily. After a long journey, the asylum finally stood before me. The plan was just to get in, get some shots using specialised lighting and then get out again. The door was partly open, as if they were awaiting a guest. I thought about this for a while and laughed, before entering the grand reception.
Any photographer knows that feeling when they have a new canvas to play with, and this was no exception. I started making notes on areas to visit so that I didn't lose time by walking through the entire asylum. I'd been scouting for around twenty five minutes when I first heard something...
I was walking down a corridor which ran the entire length of the asylum. It was the one place that connected all of the buildings. The meeting place of the many complexities.
The corridor was sectioned by heavy duty fire doors. I know a little about this type of door, and it takes a significant amount of effort to move one and approximately 20 seconds to close. When it closes, it makes an unmistakeable 'thud!'. In an abandoned place, you can hear a pin drop, so when the corridor was filled with that exact 'thud!', I knew I wasn't alone.
My mind tried to come up with every logical explanation possible. Pigeons? Nope, they can't move fire doors. An animal? Nope, not them either. Wind, perhaps? There wasn't even a breeze inside this place. "OK" I thought, "It must be another person...". Maybe a copper thief? Probably. Hopefully.
I continued to move, much more delicately than before, mostly looking over my shoulder instead of where I was going. The next thing that happened stopped me dead in my tracks...
The heavy footsteps were calm and well-timed. I knew whoever it was already had a minimum of 20 seconds on me, so I decided to do what anyone else would: leave. Taking the left hand corridor would lead me to the joining corridor, then up the stairs, take a right and the exit is right there. I moved quickly and quietly, following the directions in my head and then... Wait... What?
Pausing for breath, heart beating faster, I could hear the sound of footsteps getting quicker, getting louder. The reality hit me hard: My directions were wrong. I hadn't been to this part of the asylum before. My mental map disintegrated and the footsteps were so close that they must've been where I was standing just before I decided to make a break for it. Panicking, I burst into a run, abandoning all hope of being silent in my escape.
Making the typical horror movie mistake, I took the next door, which happened to be one of several patient cells, and hid myself around the back of the door. With just the sound of my heartbeat exploding in my eardrums, the sound of the footsteps disappeared.
At that time, I was hoping to hear a security guard's radio, or a calming whistle. Anything that would help me figure out what was behind the footsteps. Slowly moving to get more comfortable as I hid, my camera's tripod hit the wall loudly, and in less than a second, the footsteps started again.
They were just around the corner. I braced for impact. At least I would get to find out who this was. The collection of horror films I've watched in the past certainly wasn't helping. I listened closely to every single footstep, and whoever this was, was now standing outside the door of the cell I was hiding in. With one eye peeking through the door gap, I couldn't see him yet. What was this?
They began to walk away again, calm and steady. The corner muted the sound, they must've gone around it. My desire to find out what had been following me wasn't as strong as my desire to stay safe in the cell, so I stayed and listened to the footsteps getting further and further away, followed by the familiar 'thud!' as the fire door closed.
After 30 whole minutes of silence, I got up and got ready to get out. Striding as fast as my legs would take me back along the corridor, I took a left and quickly realised that this was the left I was supposed to take earlier.
Stop. Senses running wild. No noises. No footsteps. MOVE!
Up the stairs, next right: Reception. The door was closed. I couldn't remember if it was me who closed it, but I assumed it was. Part of me thought that when I tried to turn the handle, it would be locked and I would be trapped in here with whoever the footsteps belonged to. I tried to shake the thought. The handle turned and as I stepped out, I've never been happier to feel the rain on my face.
I didn't find out who or what it was that followed me that night. I keep telling myself that it was just another curious explorer.
But we'll never know for sure.
See more from Sophos9 over on his photography site.