Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Gray. Concrete. Plain. Nothing special about the room at all, and yet.
Lit by bare florescent bulbs hanging in an aluminum fixture, it wasn’t a particularly shadowy place, and yet.
Shadows seemed to loom, just out of the corner of the eye.
No matter how often the bulbs were changed, they flickered. The landlord would be called, he’d show up in his battered old work truck, he’d change out the bulbs, he’d leave. Before he would go, he would test the lights.
When he was there, they’d never flicker.
Nothing had really changed in the basement since they moved in. It was stark, nearly empty. Unoccupied metal shelves lined two walls, the stairwell down occupied another, and an old Kenmore washer and dryer from the early 80s stood watch over the fourth wall. Beneath the stairs, the central heat blower, furnace, and exchange. Next to the dingy aluminum and steel of the climate control, there were only cobwebs.
Year round, the house was cold. When they first took residence in the old 50’s ranch-style, it was winter. The weather was a convenient and comfortable scapegoat for the chill in the air, but then came summer.
They never ran the window unit air conditioners.
Scapegoats became less comfortable and convenient.
The basement was, of course, the coldest room in the house, year round. Once in January, the waterline to the washer actually froze, and the landlord had to replace more than the overhead light.
There was no flood damage, since a large rectangular drain occupied the downward-sloping center of the basement floor. That, and the tenants kept nothing in the basement to be damaged.
The sounds of water dripping always seemed to come from that steel grate. It was dark, rusty, stained. Thick, almost like the sewer grates in a street.
No matter the weather, no matter the time of year.
Her bedroom had an extra air exchange. Floor level, decorative cast iron, the headboard of her bed hid it. If it had been exposed, her frequent guests would have seen that it was painted white and flaking.
Hers was always the coldest bedroom, and she could sometimes hear the drips from the basement, like whispers in her pillow.
The first ninety days passed uneventfully for the group of friends in that affordable, if a bit run-down looking, three bedroom. They were each single, dating, vibrant and living the lives of young adults in a city filled with adult playgrounds. On day ninety one, she lost her keys.
They were found sitting on top of the washing machine.
It was laughed off, rarely discussed.
On day 95, the “prude” of the house came to knock on her bedroom door at 3:30am. “Christy, hold it down, will you? I’m tired of hearing you FUCK!” she yelled from the hallway.
Confused, Christy opened the door groggily.
“I’m alone, Tiff. What the hell are you talking about?”
“What? I heard you moaning and banging around in here like you usually do, but louder than usual,” Tiffany said.
“No, baby. Nope. I’m sleeping alone. Go back to bed, you were dreaming.”
Tiffany went back to bed, but she didn’t dream, or sleep, for the rest of the night.
Her favorite roommate was Josh. He dated a series of drag queens, so his overnight company was as varied as it was interesting. Shortly after moving in, his wicked sense of humor had him slipping index cards under Christy’s door whenever she was particularly vocal during her frequent nighttime aerobics. He’d rate her verbal performance in accordance with how well he perceived her partner was doing, on a scale of one to ten. Sometimes, she’d see the cards slipping in under her door, and others, she wouldn’t find until a restroom break. Josh made a game of it, often sharing the fun with some of his special friends.
There were quite a few nights when Josh would overnight elsewhere, and Christy would have the house alone, or just she and the prude would be home.
It was one of those nights where she was solo, 124 days after moving in, that she brought home a drummer. She was dancing to his rhythm when movement caught her eye; an index card slid beneath the door. She just smiled, thinking Josh was up to his tricks.
It wasn’t until day 125 that she learned Josh and Tiffany had both been out of town that night, and hadn’t been at home at all.
On day 202, Christy heard what she swore was the bouncing of a basketball and a child’s laughter from the vent behind her headboard. She chose to ignore it, roll over, and go back to sleep. On a trip to the restroom later that same night, she thought she heard the sound of a music box.
Josh loses his keys, Christy can’t find the remote control to her DVD player, and Tiffany’s watch goes missing. They are all found sitting on the bottom step of the basement on the two hundred and twenty first day of residence. Tiffany’s Timex had a face that showed AM and PM. It was stuck at 3am, and after she replaced the battery twice, it continued to stop at 3am before she replaced the watch entirely.
Day 279. Smells began. They ranged from summertime dumpster behind a Chinese buffet to clogged toilets in a busy gas station. They were daily, unpredictable, and lasted seconds (just a waft) to minutes (as many as 45).
The smells seemed to emanate from and be concentrated in the basement, but they could be detected in every room in the house.
The landlord finds no animals during his inspection of the entire property.
Day 295. Everyone in the house began using a laundromat. Trips to the basement stop.
Day 326. Christy had no quarters, was home alone, and out of clean clothes. She reluctantly descended to do laundry, calling a friend on the cell phone to chat away the clammy palms and coldsweat.
No unusual events occurred during her first trip to the basement.
While switching clothes from the wash to the dryer, conversation stopped, Christy screamed, and the phone was dropped. A child’s laughter and the sounds of a music box were clearly heard by her friend on the line.
A dirty, soot-blackened basketball didn’t roll out from the shadows beneath the stairs to hit her on the backs of the legs.
Credit To – Nick O’Caliban