The Basements I’ve Haunted is an editorial piece written by Tim Clark and shared with The Ugly Writers to finish off the theme Something Spooky for the month of October
The Basements I’ve Haunted
I work in an old building. History holds it up as much as the square wooden posts that run from floor to ceiling. There were two additions over the years, each a little different in color and construction. Walls of rough brick climb from the ground to the top of the 4th floor, and are capped by terracotta tiles, it has a rough, asymmetrical beauty.
If you’re alone in the building, and there are so few of us it is almost an inevitability, you will feel the power of the past, flowing across the floor, seeping, mist-like up the stairs, caressing the old wood and the new steel with the same loving, gentle consideration.
It’s a powerful force, mostly benign and comfortable. You can lose yourself in the feeling of camaraderie of the precedent.
Until you get to the basement. Everything changes.
It’s darker in the basement, light and shadow reverse roles in the basement. There is darkness everywhere. There is a smell, musty, earthy, decay. Sounds creep, you can almost see them crawling through the thick, moist air. It’s always cold, and you always sweat, until the chill of the air and the dampness of your skin force you to find relief, up, outside in the heat and sun.
Even the stairs to the basement are hostile. They are steep, and gritty with the crumbling, dying, deterioration of countless dreams, lost hopes, broken hearts, forgotten lives. All the pain and sorrow scrapes across the hardwood of the 19 steps leading to the blackness waiting at the bottom. And the steps above sag, hanging right at forehead height. You can’t watch where you’re going, because you have to duck your head. You walk blindly into the abyss.
We moved around a lot when I was young, and we always lived in old houses, with old basements. One of my first memories is of moving into a house in Idaho. Being young and foolish, bored, and lonely, new in town, and feeling lost and forlorn, I explored the house. The basement stairs were in the back of the house, and as I wandered through the rooms I came across a work bench. It only had one thing on it, a small can, a totem. “Red Devil” was written in white letters across a red background, and there was a silhouette of a devil, staring right at me. I was lost, I didn’t know what to think. I went back often and looked at the can, and it looked at me. I realize now that it was only a brand of solvent, or adhesive, but I still see that can staring at me.
We moved, eventually, to a house in Nebraska. It had a big, well-lit basement, tall ceilings, lots of open space in the rooms, it was a treasure for an elementary school child. In one corner, though, was a small room once used to store coal. It was black, black as the pit. The walls, and floors were coated with black, and there were small piles of unused coal that resembled small stacks of bones scattered across the floor. No light ever penetrated that bleakness. You could shine a flashlight in there and it would hide more than it revealed. And that was the trouble, you never knew what you weren’t seeing, and that made it worse.
Whenever I see myself dead, it’s always in a basement.
Our basement at work is an extension of the all the basements I’ve ever haunted. They might be connected, somehow. Basements are all underground, like graves. They all have the same whispers, and sighs, they all have the same shadows.
There is a mannequin in the basement at work. It moves around, it used to startle me. Now I pretend I don’t notice. And it pretends it doesn’t see me. There are ghosts there, and we both pretend not to notice each other. We have reached an uncomfortable impasse.
Last spring the elevator at work died, it stopped elevating, it sank slowly to the basement. It’s become a small cell, a tomb. It sets empty, dark, brooding, alone. You could hear the gentle pleas, turning urgent, insistent, angry, powerful, mean and lusting for vengeance. It has charged the basement with menace. Someday, they’re going to fix the elevator, or at least open it. I plan on taking a vacation day when that happens.
Check out previous entries for Something Spooky here: