We Had a Scary Basement

When I was a kid, my parents had a horror movie basement. It was unfinished, poorly lit, and apparently designed to terrorize kids. It was divided into three approximately equally sized rooms:

The wooden, backless staircase from upstairs dropped you into the first. It was mostly OK, but the only light switch was on the far wall away from the base of the stairs, so you had to feel around in the dark to turn on the lights. This is where my parents put the piano I had to practice every day.

The second was separated from the first by a long wall with two large cutout "doors". One of the doors let into a storage room where we kept canned foods, the furnace, and an opening toward the third portion of the basement. The second was mostly storage. For reasons never told to me, this door was covered with a blue velvet curtain you had to push through, and once inside you had to feel around in the dark for the pull string bulb. The far side of it also opened into the farthest section.

The back part was somehow the least creepy, even though it's where we stored antiques and my dad's wood shop. It still had those stupid pullstring lights, though, until you got to the far-far wall where there were switches for the fluorescents over the table saw and lathe.

Digression: my dad's favorite game was "let the kids watch scary movies, then send them to the basement on errands". It played out like this: little Kirk is watching The Shining on TV. It's over and his dad says, "hey, I need to fix this remote. Go get my screwdriver, would you?" He gulps and goes down the basement stairs — the ones without backs so a bathtub woman could reach through them and pull him down to hell. He leaves the pool of light at the bottom, walks across the concrete, and gropes in panic for the switch. He finds it, then pushes through the velvet curtain which immediately falls shut behind him and leaves him in pitch black. Heart racing, he finds the pullstring. Light. He sort of sees the next pullstring farther back, so he sprints to it and yanks it. He yanks too hard and it fails to light, bouncing back upward and landing on top of a chest of drawers. He jumps until he can pull the string back down and yank it again. The light comes on and the demons withdraw back to the shadows. He more cautiously slinks over to the back wall, turns on the overheads, finds the screwdriver, and rests in relative safety for a few breaths. OK, time to retreat. He sets himself in a sprinter's pose, reaches back to hit the switches, and darts back to the drawstring. Makes it. Does the same setup-switch-sprint combo to make it to the next pullstring safely. Tugs it and darts through the velvety cloak into light again. Pants. Goes to the wall switch, steels himself, and flicks it off. Leaps toward the stairs to hear his laughing dad turn off the light at the top and close the basement door. Climbs a flight in approximately .2 seconds, opening the door and bounding through it in one practiced motion. Sees Dad who examines the screwdriver carefully:

"I needed a Phillips. Go get it."

My dad was really a great guy, but he'd been through a war and ended up as a mortician. His good intentions were that his kids would get desensitized to their own internal fears and live as carefree adults, free of the dumb little phobias that nag us all. Did it work? You bet it didn't! But he tried.


So the basement was a horror story set, and yet it's the one we had so we went with it. During daylight, you could start at the stairs, rollerskate past the furnace into Dad's shop, loop back around and shoot through the velvet curtain, and go again for another lap around. That was pretty cool.

One un-daylit evening I was downstairs practicing the piano with my little dog sleeping on the rug next to me. I was plinking away until she stood up and stared into the black maw of the furnace room, hackles raising. I stopped. She didn't. She crept an inch forward, then another, growling, then exploded into barking fury and raced into the back.

I sat on the bench, petrified.

Still barking furiously, she followed my skating path, dashed back into the room with me, rounded the corner, and tore back off into the back.

My breath and heart had stopped. I was frozen in space and time.

My protective pup ran two more laps and raced one last time into the back.

And then "it" growled, low, guttural, and loud. She screamed in pain, reversed course to shoot past me, and flew up the stairs to safety.

I sat there, in the same dark basement with the thing that drove my dog into a frenzy before hurting her into abandoning me. My heart beat once, then twice. I erupted into a panicked explosion of terrified kid and somehow made it upstairs and locked the door in a single motion. I found my little dog, two long clawmarks across her face.

My parents came home and I told my dad what happened. He was afraid an animal had gotten in, but we went around with a flashlight and a shotgun. All of the windows were locked shut as usual, and there were no signs that anything could have gnawed through the concrete walls. Something hurt my doggy, though, and I didn't have to practice piano after sunset for a while after that until Dad forgot the whole thing and we fell back into the old routines.

You think your basement was creepy? You don't know what that word means. I have stories.