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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Thing in My Basement

You may have noticed that the background and color scheme have changed a bit around here…this is short term, Halloween-related stuff.  We'll return you to happy pastel pinks and purples after the “holiday”.

Halloween is the perfect time to bring up the thing that lives in my basement and thirsts for my family’s blood.  The following is a true story:

When Emma was 5 or 6 years old she hated going downstairs alone into the basement.  I think pretty much all kids are afraid of going to the basement, but Emma was really afraid. I remember reading that one of the best things you can do for kids is to not discount their fears, but to be understanding of them, and explain why there’s nothing to fear, but to just allow them that.  So I would go with her into the basement. I told her I understood that she was afraid, and that I was afraid when I was her age too, and that it was no big deal if she wanted company and that made her feel less afraid.  And in fact, that’s all she wanted.

For perhaps a year or so I would always accompany her downstairs. No biggie.  But by the time she was 7 or so I began trying to wean her off that, standing at the top of the stairs and watching for her to come back and only making her do little quick chores where she’d only be out of sight for a few seconds.  I’d talk to her while she was down there so she always knew I was still watching.

And I think for the most part she was fine with that. . . but then after a few months she again told me she was afraid of the basement. And again I was understanding. . . but I asked her, "Why are you so afraid of going into the basement all alone?"

"Because I hear whispers when I'm down there alone."

 I kept my voice calm and sort of laughed. . . like no biggie. . . everyone hears whispers. . . houses creak, the wind blows. . . whatever. But it was a little freaky.  I don’t think I ever heard whispers as a kid.  Absolutely heard the house creak when I was alone.  Absolutely heard rustling or scratching at the window panes, that sort of thing, but not “whispers”. 
Hungry Ghost
Not really the same thing at all.

I said, "What do the whispers say?"

And she replied, and I'll never forget this because a chill literally went up my spine, "They just keep calling my name. . . "

And I'm really not a believer in that kind of shit, but I talked to people who were and they said. . . "If you have something in your house. . . you need to address it. You need to tell it that your family is off limits. That it needs to move on. That you won't accept it reaching for your children."

 And I said, "I don't believe in that shit."

 And they said, "Then you'll all die."

The End.

Okay, they didn't actually say we'd all die. 

But it got in my head a little bit, both the conversation with friends, but also the talk with Emma about whispers in the darkness.  Something in the basement wanted my daughter’s attention.

And it would get in further in my head when there’d be strange “dead smells” coming from the stairs.  And my wife would be like, “Can you find whatever it is that died down there and get rid of it?” My mind would return to the conversation with Emma about the thing in the basement that whispered her name.  And the thing that died in the basement would transform from a mouse or a snake into that thing, that hungry ghost.

The Ring
The Ring...
I would "challenge" myself by dismissing it all as ridiculousness and turning all the lights off, maneuvering myself disdainfully through the basement blackness to prove perhaps to myself that it really wasn't in my head, that I was no more afraid of this thing in my basement than I was of the dark.  But even as I would climb the darkened steps, the light behind the closed door above would frame it and I would remember the scene in "The Ring" where they locked the little girl in the well and boarded it up, leaving her only the ring of light at the edges of the cap to see as she died.  Or...mostly died.

Back then I was running at night on the basement treadmill.  Everyone in the house would be asleep.  Sometimes it would be 10:00 or even 10:30 p.m  before I’d even start my run.  It could be a bit spooky in the basement.  The light at the bottom of the stairs had a shitty fixture with a bad connection and one or two of the bulbs would occasionally flicker and go off or turn on.  I’d be running and all of a sudden, there’d be more light, and I’d glance up from the movie I was watching, or the treadmill’s control screen and wait for someone to come downstairs before realizing that it was just the stupid fixture flickering on or off.  Or maybe I’d even say, “Who’s there?” or “Les, is that you?”

spooky basement
Not my basement, but wouldn't be surprised
to learn SOMEONE had been murdered here.
It’s weird how ‘addressing an empty room’ can feed your fear and give it shape, how saying, “Who’s there?” out loud can create doubt or manufacture frightening possibilities in your mind where once there were none.  Once you were alone in the basement, now you are perhaps not alone. 

But, as the stair light flickered out, I was reminded of my ghost problem and I literally, on my treadmill, watching movies, paused the fucking movie at 10:30 or 11:00 at night and, feeling simultaneously ridiculous and also mildly freaked out, "addressed" the thing in my basement that was calling my daughter's name.

It was one of those stupid (or wise) Pascal’s Wager moments, where my love for my family outweighed the immense ridiculousness I felt at speaking out loud to phantoms that existed only in my daughter’s mind.  But the benefit outweighed the “risk”.

I was very respectful and told it that I loved my family and that I understood it was here with us in the house and sharing our space, but that it wasn’t allowed to contact us because it was scaring my little girl and because if it continued to talk to her I would find a way to expel it from the house. 

And by saying it out loud my mind opened to the possibility that such a thing could exist in my basement, and forced me to consider the possibility that I really had no “Plan B” except I suppose to summon a priest or something. 

In the winter I always ran with the window open so the cold air could filter into the room and the fan would cool me off while I ran.  I could see my breath puffing out slightly at the cold air coming in. 

And something detached itself from the wall near the fuse box by my TV, and I heard a soft hiss of breath and a gust of “smoke” and it advanced on me where I stood straddling the belt of the treadmill, backpedaling reflexively. 

Okay, that last paragraph didn't really happen.  There was no visible spirit, no cold gust, no angry hiss, no breathy sigh of hungers disappointed…just an empty room with a flickering light. 

And you know what?

It didn't do any good at all. Three years later she's still scared of the damn basement and the whispers.  And now I am too.

Happy Halloween.


  1. I am never going in my basement again. Emma and I are in solidarity on this one. Hope my kids like wearing dirty clothes...

  2. That was great, Jim! I needed a good laugh after the work day I just had. Thank you!

  3. I never knew she heard is that possible???

    1. Well, it wouldn't be...unless there ARE restless dead in our basement!!!

  4. Sorry for the whispering. I was using my indoor voice.

  5. that was an awesomely suspenseful and scary story..... I love Halloween.. love being scared! Apparently I need to visit your basement.

  6. You're lucky my washer and dryer are upstairs, because if I couldn't go in my basement (which is unfinished and looks like a dungeon) to do laundry, my husband would probably kick your ass.

    Well, I guess he wouldn't. Likely he'd just do the laundry himself. BUT STILL. I'm never going in my basement again, I hated it anyway.

    1. haha. Well...I'm glad I could give you an opportunity to excuse yourself from further trips to the basement!

  7. Hee! I love this, Jim. Happy Halloween to you!

    (I always hated our basement as a kid, too. It's all unfinished stone and it's freezing down there like ghost-breath. Until randomly, frogs started coming in the drainpipe where the washing machine drains out? And now there are always frogs coming in from the cold. So it went from scary basement of death to frog city, and now I like it very much. In summation: get a bunch of frogs, frogs fix everything.)

    1. Our old house was like that...And I mean the house where we lived when I was 5 or 6 years old. It was a Victorian house, 75 years old THEN ...stone basement, pull chain light swinging from the rafters (that a 5 or 6 year old couldn't reach). Had to climb down rickety wooden steps to the basement before you could turn the light on...

      No frogs though. Just hungry ghosts yearning for my soul.

  8. I don't believe in that stuff, either, but the power of suggestion is great and will get us every time.

  9. Thanks for creeping me out about the basement. Those whispers...

  10. I laughed out loud at this post - well done, son. Happy day-after-Halloween and two days before postponed candy day......kickingramma

    1. you laughed at my fear??? See, that's bad parenting.

    2. Papa says "it builds character."

  11. Yikes! I believe in ghosts and tend to get terrified easily.

    1. OH! That reminds me, it's not Halloween anymore. I should change stuff back!

  12. Great story Jim. I have caught my daughter looking at things that aren't there and talking to them. It's amazing how our kids can freak us out.

  13. Brilliant. I was seriously hanging off every word. You gave me the creeps, and then the ending made me laugh out loud. And also, I refuse to run on the treadmill in the basement at night. Because that's just asking for trouble.

    1. I've never been prouder of giving a woman the creeps. It's a weird feeling.

  14. hmmm, interesting....yeah basements are creepy, but hearing something, someone whispering her name, not cool....I know kids are more vulnerable to this stuff bc as adults we are jaded. We don't believe. Well most of us anyway. I can tell you this...sometimes you should trust your easy fix for this, a sage smudging. While I have never personally done it, my mother has done it for me in our home... (my son has some ghost stories, and they were getting out of hand. Me telling "it" to leave didn't work, so we smudged) anyway, you can google it. Its an old indian remedy, basically you burn sage in your house, and it's said to expel spirits.....they can come back, so sometimes it needs repeating....I know, sounds whack, but as a paranormal investigator I have many stories that would raise your hair, and your man voice to a squeal, and you would be running out to get some sage :)