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”.
|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."
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.
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?”
|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.