Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Don't go in the basement!

   I have always had a bit of a phobia of dark, creepy basements. I can trace the roots of this back to an event in my childhood that I will never forget.
   When I was very young, I had a best friend who I would often spend the night with. He had a much older brother who lived to torment the two of us. His favorite tactic was to somehow trap us in the basement and threaten us with "the troll".
   You see, this house had a HUGE basement. It had as many square feet as the first level. It was used primarily for storage, and as such, was a labyrinth of boxes, totes, and shelves. It was one of those behemoth basement that had one of those old oil furnaces with duct work snaking away from it like some metal Medusa.  It was where strange items from forgotten times were found, and things that had been thought lost, were deposited. There was much treasure to be found for a couple of young boys such as, pocket knives, decorations for every type of holiday, fishing lures, and car parts. Suffice to say it was not a difficult task to get us to go into the basement.
   Now this basement sounded pretty good except for three distinct design flaws. First, it had a monstrous set of steps that seemed to go on forever. Secondly, the door only had one handle and latch that locked on one side... and that was the side facing out of the basement. Lastly, and most horrifically, it had one light switch for the entire complex....and it was located in the kitchen. That was a recipe for disaster.
   One night while we were being "watched" by my friends older brother, he felt the need to entertain himself at our expense. He came up with some easily believable story about a used bicycle he had found far, far in the back of the basement. He even went so far as to produce a cloth to polish the bike and an oil can to grease the chain when we retrieved it. Down the steps two naive boys went to collect this treasure. He kept telling us to look further back... or around this corner or that one. He kept directing us on and on, while giving us words of encouragement, safety from the top steps. We had no sooner reached the farthest , and coincidentally the darkest, corner when we heard his heavy footfalls clearing the top steps. This was followed by the slamming of a door.... the basement door no doubt! We were beginning to sense we had been duped when the lights snapped off! It was pitch black. We could not even see our hands in front of our faces. Panic began to set in, but we held it together. Slowly we began feeling our way through the maze of shelves and boxes in hopes of reaching the steps somehow in this abyss of darkness.
    That's when it got bad. We heard a loud thumping coming from somewhere farther back in the basement and above. It most likely was just his brother stamping his foot on the floor, but still the sound was very unnerving. We began to move all the quicker now that we had a strange knocking sound keeping us company. We then heard the muffled voice of his brother coming through the closed door at the top of the steps. "Oh no! I think I hear the troll! You guys better be real quiet or he will come get you!".
   A troll? Really? I was not buying it, but still in the darkness, I couldn't be completely sure. Again we heard the slamming sounds from above. This time we cried out for him to stop it! We mustered our bravest voices and loudly told him that we knew it was him knocking and there was no troll!
   Everything fell silent for what must have been a full minute. We did not move. Only the sound of our own heartbeats and the occasional shaky exhalation was heard.
   Then we heard the growling. A very deep monstrous growling that seemed to come from all around! It had an other world echo to it that could not be reproduced naturally by a human. With the growl still reverberating around us, we could hear his brother shout through the door, "Oh heck! I think you woke him up! You better get up here fast!". The growling started up again. This time it was louder.....meaner..... hungrier!
   Despite the warning to be quiet, we pleaded for him to turn the lights back on. Of course he claimed there was something wrong and they would not come back on. He may have even blamed the troll for it. We clambered through the blackness of the room, clutching at unseen obstacles as the horrid growling echoed all around . All the while, we could here his brother pleading for us to hurry because the troll was angry! It was then we noted another sinister noise coming from behind us. It was two heavy thumps followed by a heavy dragging sound. We froze in our tracks.
   Thump! Thump! Scrunch!......Thump! Thump! Scrunch!..... Over and over we heard it and it was getting closer!
   We tripped. We fell. We knocked things over. We stubbed our toes and jammed our fingers. We almost killed one another trying to get out, but finally we felt familiar territory and the bottom basement step. Tripping over each other, we made a blind dash up the steps and to the door.....only to find it locked!
   We demanded for him to open the door! He claimed it was stuck, not locked, of course! We banged and beat and screamed like only children on the verge of being eaten in the dark could. The growling got louder and seemingly closer. The banging intensified!
   Thump! Thump! Scrunch!
   Suddenly the whole stairway began to rattle and groan as if some extremely heavy thing was sliding up on the bottom steps!
   Thump! Thump! Scrunch!
   The sound was coming up the stairs but now we could FEEL the vibration of each of the horrid sounds! It was on the steps right below us!
   Thump! Thump! Scrunch!
   Mercifully, the door opened and we fell into the welcome light of the upstairs kitchen. His brother slammed the door shut behind us and locked it. He even went so far as to barricade it with his own body. He told us to run to the bedroom and lock the door. We were in a complete state of panic and rushed off  as instructed. For over an hour we spoke only in whispers to each other as we listened intently for signs of the troll. Occasionally we would hear a thump and what could have been a slight growl, but soon it faded to nothing. The back of my friends shirt was torn to shreds. It was most likely just from wrestling around in the dark, but I think we both imagined clawed hands grasping his shirt on the steps....trying to pull him back down. Hours later we even managed to fall into a fitful sleep.  We had survived the troll in the basement!
   I never spent the night over there again and rarely would I visit at all after dark. Rationally I kind of knew it had all been a clever prank, but deep in the back of my mind, the terror was always fresh!
   Years later, I paid a visit to the old house for Thanksgiving dinner with my friends family.  After dinner, we had all gathered in the kitchen and began to recollect about our youth and the times we had spent together in the old house.The older brother told us about how he had loved to prank us and torment us when we were younger. It was then he got on the topic of  "the troll".  He admitted to us that it was a work of fiction and clever manipulation on his part. He even went so far as to tell us how he disguised his voice and made the banging sounds. He explained that he would run over to the furnace vent, in the floor of the kitchen,and growl into it. This would make his voice echo and seem to be coming from out of everywhere as it ran the length of the furnace's duct work. He would then run back and yell at us to hurry through the door, all the while banging on the vent. We all had a good laugh as we reminisced about days of old. It was finally good to know that childhood folly, and not some unearthly creature, caused my unnatural fear of basements.
   It was then I asked how he had created the thumping, dragging sound and the unnatural shaking of the basement steps. He gave me a confused look and claimed not to know what I was referring to.
   I even did my best impression of the noise... Thump! Thump! Scrunch! I even went so far as to describe, in vivid detail, how the steps vibrated with each thump and how it moved underfoot.
   He flat out denied making those sounds or making the steps shake. He earnestly questioned me back as to how he could have done such a thing from the other side of the shut and locked door.
    I had no answer. I honestly could not imagine how he would have performed such a feat from the safety of the upstairs kitchen. My friend and I exchanged curious glances to one another, neither being able to guess what had made the sounds on the steps.
    "Well boys," started the brother, "we could always go down in the basement and search for an answer to your mystery sounds". We both refused to go anywhere near that basement......ever again!


Do you have wicked words of wisdom? Then please leave a comment.