Friday, July 16, 2010

The Thing In The Basement

A #Fridayflash Story

By John McDonnell

“Watch out for the thing in the basement,” Billy’s Uncle Hank used to say. He thought it was funny, and he’d smile when he told Billy about it. “Been down there a long time, since before I bought this house,” he’d say. “People told me about it, told me not to buy the house, but I didn’t listen. I know it’s there, though -- I can feel its presence. Like a cold, clammy feeling; it makes your skin crawl. You know something’s watching you, just waiting to pounce.”

Billy didn’t like his uncle. He was strange, had too many rules, and every rule had a punishment. The worst punishment was the basement. If you ever did something really bad, Uncle said, you would have to go downstairs where the thing lived.

The basement was called a “Michigan basement”. It was unfinished, with a bare earth floor and walls. There was a workbench, with tools scattered all around, and clutter everywhere. Old, broken furniture. Ancient toys. Old magazines moldering in stacks. A bare lightbulb in the ceiling. It smelled damp and musty, and there were strange noises that came from the shadows. His uncle came down here to do his woodworking, and he had an assortment of saws, lathes, and chisels. There was even a big industrial table saw that could cut thick planks of wood.

When Billy’s mother told him she was going away on vacation with his father and that he’d have to stay with his uncle for a week, he pleaded not to go.

“Now, Billy,” his mother said. “You’re being unreasonable. We can’t afford to hire a babysitter for you for the week, and we have no other close relatives living nearby. We’re not really friendly with any of our neighbors (you know I don’t believe in getting chummy with neighbors), so Uncle Hank is the only option we have. I don’t know why you keep saying you don’t like your Uncle Hank. Why, he’s my brother -- we’re so close, we could almost be twins.”

The first day, Billy broke a rule. His uncle had a strict rule about not wasting anything, and Billy accidentally tipped a liter bottle of soda over on the kitchen table, and all the soda poured out.

His uncle got red in the face, smiled, and said, “Well, Billy, I think for that infraction you need to spend some time in the basement.”

Billy begged him not to go, but his uncle didn’t listen. He grabbed Billy by the collar and marched him down the old wooden steps, then marched back up himself, closed the big wooden door and bolted it shut.

And then he turned out the light.

It was a good thing the house was set back from the road, and there were no neighbors close by, or they would have heard Billy’s screams. Billy’s uncle seemed not to notice the screams, or the pounding on the door, or any of the other noises that came from the basement. The next morning he came down to breakfast whistling a cheery tune. When he was finished eating his cereal, he said, “Well, Billy, I think you’ve had enough punishment for one night. Let’s see how you’re doing.”

When Billy’s mother got back from her trip and came to pick him up, she rang the doorbell over and over, but nobody answered. She tried the front door handle and found that the door was unlocked. She made her way through the house calling, “Billy, Hank, where are you?” In the kitchen she saw a cereal box on the sideboard, and a bowl and spoon in the sink.

The door to the basement was open.

She went downstairs slowly, calling, “Billy, Hank? Are you there?”

It was dark in the basement, and it took several moments before her eyes adjusted.

There was something at the far end of the room, by the table saw.

The thing in the basement moved toward her.

“Mama,” it said.