Now don't tell me you were never afraid to go downstairs into that cold, dark basement...
“Are you listening?”
I placed my hands over my ears so I couldn’t hear another word.
I pushed my hands even harder against the side of my head and started humming.
I could still hear her.
“…to the basement…”
I heard every single word she said. Of course, there wasn’t anything to keep me from pretending I hadn’t. I plopped down in front of the television. It wasn’t on, but I watched the blank screen anyway. I didn’t move an inch. I mean, you could have mistaken me for a statue. If I didn’t move, she wouldn’t know I was there. That’s how it works, doesn’t it? Don’t move. Don’t… even… breathe…
“I know you’re in there, young man,” Mom shouted from the kitchen. Her voice had risen another octave. That wasn’t a good sign.
“Uh… I can’t hear you,” I shouted back. “The TV’s too loud!”
“Then turn it down!”
I glanced at the TV that wasn’t even on.
This presented quite a dilemma. Should I pretend to turn it down or should I actually turn it on and then turn it down? I was still pondering the problem when she yelled again.
“I’ll only say this one more time, young man. Go down to the basement and bring up a jar of pickles!”
“Uh… pickles? I don’t think there’s any down there, Mom.”
She appeared almost magically in the living room, hands firmly on hips. If moms were cowboys, this would be the moment in the big showdown right before our six-guns were drawn.
“I bought three jars last week,” she said. “I distinctly remember because they were on sale. Three jars for the price of two. Now please do as I ask! I’m trying to make dinner.”
I could swear I saw her blow smoke from the barrel of her six-shooters as she returned to the kitchen. I didn’t even get the chance to draw…
And why did she keep pickles in the basement anyway? Shouldn’t they be upstairs in one of the kitchen cabinets?
Go to the basement.
She made it sound so easy.
I mean, why didn’t she just say ‘please go down into the cold, dark basement where monsters are lurking in every corner and see if you can run fast enough not to be skinned alive’? Moms simply don’t understand these things. But how can you tell your mother you might be afraid of something? That’s like pretending there’s really nothing lurking under the bed at night or something peering out of the darkness of your closet.
We’d only moved into the house a few short weeks ago and I’d been lucky enough to avoid it. It hadn’t been easy, but I’d done it. That’s why I’m still alive, of course. After all, everyone knows vampires, werewolves and all sorts other of monsters make their homes in cold, dark basements. My older brother, Brian, was the first to let me in on this secret and I’ve never forgotten. I’m not certain I really believe it, but why take chances?
I glanced across the room.
My little brother lounged on the couch reading one of those Goosebumps books. How appropriate, I thought.
“Hey, Bobby…” I said in a matter-of-fact tone.
He didn’t even look up from his book.
“Would you run downstairs and get Mom some pickles?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“I’ll give you a nickel,” I offered.
He shook his head.
He looked up from his book.
“No way,” he said. “Brian told me about the vampires and werewolves living down there. Besides, I heard Mom tell you to do it.”
I took a deep breath and resigned myself to my fate.
“Fine,” I said. “I’m not a scaredy-cat like you! I’ll go.”
The scaredy-cat part would surely get to him.
“See ya,” he said as he turned another page in the book. I could see by the cover it was something about ghosts and goblins. The last chapter is probably about a family member disappearing after an innocent trip to the basement.
I walked through the kitchen and paused at the basement door.
I opened it slowly. Very slowly...
It was dark.
I mean real dark! The kind of dark where you can barely see your hand in front of your face. I hesitated. After all, this could be the door to the basement or it might very well be the doorway that went straight down to… well, you know…
This is ridiculous, I thought. There are no such things as vampires or werewolves or witches! Just mean older brothers. And isn’t that bad enough? Brian’s just a big, fat jerk! And even if there really are such things as monsters, they probably wouldn’t choose to live in our basement.
I continued to stare down into the darkness. I figured the longer I stood there are the top of the stairs, the longer I lived. It was a simple theory, but I liked it.
‘Come on feet or mom’s gonna be the one to skin us alive!’
I started slowly down the stairs. It seemed to get darker with each step. (I’m sure this is a rule straight out of some monster manual.)
“Hello?” I called out.
No one answered.
I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad one. If someone had answered, I probably would have died from a heart attack right then and there. No answer only meant the monsters didn’t want to reveal themselves. Quite logical under the circumstances. They wouldn’t want to frighten off their dinner!
It happened the moment I reached the bottom step. The door at the top of the stairs slammed shut with a bang! I jumped, of course. If I were any taller I would have cracked my head on the ceiling.
I laughed nervously.
Was Brian or Bobby playing tricks on me? (If so, I swore I’d get even!) Had it just been the wind? Maybe it was an evil wizard with the power to close doors from a distance. Or a band of werewolves who were now upstairs devouring other family members. (Hopefully, Brian and Bobby were the main course on the menu.) Of course, if there were werewolves or monsters up there, they’d simply keep me locked in down here until it was time for their snack.
This is ridiculous, I told myself. Just do what you came down her for! Grab the jar of pickles. (And then run like crazy of course!)
The concrete floor was freezing beneath my bare feet. Should have worn shoes, I thought. And not simply because the floor was cold. It’s a proven fact bare toes are appealing to your basic monster types. Sort of like little snack bars. Just the right size for monsters of all kinds to nibble on…
The sun had already set, so the small basement windows provided little light from the outside. I knew a single light bulb hung in the middle of the basement. I remember Dad mentioning it was one of those you had to turn on by pulling on a string hanging down from the ceiling. The dilemma was how could I turn it on if I couldn’t find it? Sounded like a poor design to me, but I’m sure some grownup somewhere has some logical explanation.
It was dark. That’s all there was to it. It was the kind of dark monsters of all kinds love. Why hadn’t I brought a flashlight? I took another step forward and froze.
I heard something. It was the sound of someone (or something) breathing! It would have scared me out of my shoes if I’d been wearing any. I gulped loudly and held my breath. That’s when I realized I was the one making the strange breathing sound. (It was a good thing no one was around to witness this. I was even tempted to call myself a scaredy-cat!)
“Is anyone there?” I whispered.
I felt even more foolish this time. The sound of my voice against those cold walls sounded dead and detached. I tried to whistle. I’ve heard that’s a good thing to do when you’re scared. I also discovered it’s impossible to whistle with a dry mouth. And I felt as if I’d just eaten a hundred and twenty-three crackers.
I glanced around. I knew the jars and canned goods were stored on some shelves behind the stairs. (Back where it was even darker, of course.) I took a deep breath and stepped forward. There was a sudden clinking sound behind me! I spun around. Nothing was there. Must be the furnace, I told myself. Or the water pipes. Or maybe…
This is stupid!
I forced my feet to shuffle forward. (They weren’t being very cooperative.) This time something brushed my cheek and I jumped again. I was getting more exercise than gym class! I flapped my hands wildly through the air, trying to protect myself from the attack! Something touched one of my hands and I yelped. It wasn’t until I’d imagined giant demon bats that I realized it was the string hanging down from the light fixture.
I shook my head and laughed. I pulled the string and the light bulb flickered to life. And suddenly, I felt a whole lot better. My imagination was getting the best of me.
I walked quickly to the shelves and started reading labels. That’s when I heard the rattle. It started. It stopped.
I held my breath.
It started. It stopped.
Scorpion? Rattlesnake? Skeleton?
I wanted to turn and look, but didn’t dare. If you look, you’re a goner for sure. (Monster Rule #12, I think…) I grabbed the jar and raced for the stairs! From the corner of my eye I saw one of the window shutters moving in the wind. It rattled. It stopped. At that precise moment, the light bulb flickered brightly and died. As they say – that was the last straw.
I probably resembled some cartoon character with my legs flying around in circles as I raced up the stairs. Of course, I didn’t care how funny I might look. I was running for my life! I half stumbled, half crawled up the steps and slammed the door behind me. I took a moment to catch my breath and finally realized what I had done. I smiled.
I had escaped demons and devils and who knows what else. I had escaped death by inches and lived to tell about it! No one would believe me, of course, but I knew the truth.
I had triumphed over monsters. I was, well… I was a hero!
I strolled into the kitchen like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Mom looked at me quizzically.
“What took you so long?” she asked. “Did you get the pickles?”
“I sure did!” I said and proudly handed her the jar.
She looked at the label. She signed and shook her head.
“These aren’t pickles. These are olives!”
She handed me the jar.
I glanced back at the basement door and shuddered.
Stan Swanson is author of The Misadventures of Hobart Hucklebuck, a new juvenile fantasy series from Stony Meadow Publishing. It is available through Amazon and other online bookstores. He has also written two books on songwriting: The Songwriter’s Journal and Inspiration For Songwriters. He is currently hard at work on the second book in the Hobart series.
Stony Meadow Publishing was established in 2004 and is located in Broomfield, Colorado.