Most houses have a basement. A trivial fact of our relationship with the roof over our heads. Cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The basement is sometimes a place for hiding the neglected crap that has accumulated over the years and has been banished to that place below our feet. It is the place where we store our food, do our laundry, or hide from our siblings. If the basement is one that has been converted to a ‘rec room’, then there may be parties and gatherings. But for some, a finished rec room is not always a requirement for a party. Just add alcohol. Some basements, even unfinished ones, have bedrooms where teenage boys secretly smuggle their girlfriends in through the window at night, or they secretly smoke their cigarettes, hoping that the smoke dissipates quickly and does not enter their parents’ bedroom directly above. More often than not, basements are dark and mysterious places where strange things happen, even on the brightest and sunniest of days. It is a place of cobwebs and spiders. Of horror and malevolence. It is where heaven and hell coexist not only in our imagination; it actually exists just down the stairs from the kitchen. If, after a heavy rainstorm, water should flood the basement, ruining everything it touches, the evil stench of raw sewage backing up into the basement is not easily erased from memory.
I can’t say for sure if there were any ghosts inhabiting the basement of the house where I grew up, but I always felt a sense of dread going down there as a child. Many times, I would go down there to get something and would immediately forget what it was that I went down there for, spending twenty or so minutes wracking my brain trying to figure out why I was down there in the first place, usually returning to the upstairs empty-handed and bewildered.
The basement I remember was a barren landscape of mildew-covered walls, and a concrete floor painted a teal color before my dad set upon his 20-year basement rec-room development project. Gray metal posts supporting the floor above were positioned at regular intervals. The washer and dryer were the only signs of life, as were the furnace and hot water heater. There was a pantry next to the stairs that held the canned food. I was certain that the walls contained faces, and at least one monster, with eyes and pointed ears. I recall an incident, perhaps when I was maybe four or five, when I had misbehaved or otherwise done something that warranted extreme corrective measures. My parents, reasoning that a child banished to a dark basement during the night might wise up quickly, were instead surprised that I not only did not scream and beg to be allowed back into the light and safety of the upstairs, but I actually fell asleep on that cold, blue-green painted, concrete floor. I think I still learned my lesson, but I have long forgotten what it was that I did in the first place that led to my confrontation with the basement.
In later years, I lived in a basement bedroom that I inherited from my older brother. I spent several nights wide awake with the lights on after having weird nightmares where I was certain that I was awake, but could not move, aware that there was a presence in the room with me; the pounding sound getting louder and louder while the dread increased in unison. It always started with a ringing in my ears that steadily grew louder until I was paralyzed. Once or twice I thought I heard my name being whispered in the night, even though I was alone in my room. Sometimes I felt like I was floating away from my body and could see everything from above. Eventually, the ringing and the dread and the pounding would subside, and everything would return to normal. I later learned that there was a name for this: sleep paralysis.
Eventually, the mildewy walls were covered with insulation and sheetrock, and the teal-colored floor was covered with carpet. The memories still linger, but the evil has gone. Or perhaps just in remission until someone, someday, tears out the sheetrock and carpet. I miss that old basement.