In the basement on Christmas morning – Can you see a ghost in the room?
I got an urgent email from the mother of a young fan of The Oz Chronicles desperate for my help. Her son had a report the next day that included bio information about me. They had a list of questions for me to answer, and I happily answered and sent them back as quickly as I could. I’m not going to lie. It’s flattering to be part of a classroom assignment and discussion. Most of the questions were simple enough to answer. In fact, the only one that stumped me was the last one.
Trivia -Things about the author that may be unique, unusual, or intriguing.
My nature is to be boring. I don’t go to a lot of parties. Stephen King isn’t calling me to meet in NYC for a slice and interesting conversation. Nor is he calling me to for some uninteresting conversation. He’s just not calling me. I live a sparse, yet fulfilling life with my wife (and pets). So, I don’t exactly come across unique, unusual or intriguing moments too often. I had to get in my way back machine and find something that didn’t completely disappoint my young fan and ruin his report.
It being so close to Halloween, I decided to share a scary story I rarely share with people. And, lucky for you, I’ll share it here with you on the blog today. It’s going to make me sound a bit flaky, but I swear it’s all true, and it may explain why I like Horror stories so much. This is the absolutely true tale of the ghost that lived in the basement of one of my childhood homes, and it was far from a friendly ghost.
My family moved five or six times when I was a kid. For a young kid, it’s a struggle to fit in living in one place. The struggles are compounded when you find yourself in a new school system every few years. I guess that’s where my ‘loner’ persona took hold. When I was 12, we moved into a house in Highland Ridge subdivision in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was your typical middle class neighborhood before the days of McMansions and the free fall of mortgage industry. The homes were modest and affordable.
The home we lived in was on the opening bend of a cul-de-sac. It was a two-story dwelling with a main floor and a basement. The basement was where all the trouble took place. It was a nice, large area that was 90% finished when we moved in. It had a bar for entertaining, full bath and two rooms off the main/open area. One room was finished. It had two windows that looked out into the backyard and the side yard. The other room was situated in the back of the basement. It was unfinished when we moved in. It was smaller than the other room and because of its location, it didn’t have any windows. In essence, it was a storage room.
My parents quickly had the room finished and converted into another bedroom for guests. At the time, we had a Beagle/Dachshund mix named Wendy. She was the sweetest dog on the planet that we adopted when she was an adult. She took to our family quickly and almost immediately made herself at home.
Wendy did not like the basement. Whenever I would go downstairs, she stood at the top of the stairs and whimpered. Initially I thought it might be because she didn’t know how to navigate the stairs, so I carried her down them on one occasion and set her down on the bottom landing. She surveyed the basement, growled and bolted back up the stairs. It was unsettling.
The room in the back of the basement did not feel right, even after my parents had it finished and furnished with a bedroom set. It was ten degrees colder than the rest of the house and when you shut the door and turned off the lights it was pitch black. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. As unnatural as the room felt, I always felt drawn to it. It was just spooky, and part of me loved to be scared.
I made friends with the boy across the street, Billy. Billy had stories about the family that lived there before me that weren’t exactly flattering, particularly about the young man that lived in the basement. He was weird, mean, a biker. The rest of his family seemed to be frightened of him. The police were called on more than one occasion to deal with domestic situations.
One day, Billy insisted, the young man just disappeared. No one knew what happened to him. The family moved out of the house shortly thereafter. Now, looking back, I can’t attest to the accuracy of Billy’s stories. He was eleven and did take a certain amount of joy in scaring the hell out of people. But, if he did make the stories up to scare me, he proceeded to scare the hell out of himself, too. Billy genuinely did not like that room.
One night, Billy and I decided it was time to man up. We would sleep in that room. We settled into the bed, and I mustered up all my courage to turn off the light. I rolled over on my side, facing away from Billy. He lay flat on his back. Surprisingly, it wasn’t long before we both dosed off.
Before I tell you this next part, it’s important to remember my position in the bed. I was on my side, facing away from Billy.
At about 3:00 AM, I was punched squarely in the face. It startled me, hurt me, and angered me. My instinct was to turn, sit up and punch the only other person in the room which was a pretty good trick because the room was completely dark. Billy woke up with a start. “Hey! What did you do that for?” he asked.
I couldn’t see him, but I imagine he was rubbing his cheek. “You hit me!” I said.
“No, I didn’t! You hit me!”
I was breathing so heavily I was on the verge of hyperventilating. I thought about what he said. I ran the last few minutes over in my mind. I was punched squarely in the face which meant whoever hit me did so by being in front of me. Billy was behind me because I had my back turned. Coming to that realization, the only thing I could determine was that someone else was in the room with us. I reached over and fumbled for the lamp and then the switch to turn on the lamp. It took just a few seconds, but it felt as though I would never be able to turn on that light at the time.
The light on, I looked around the room. We were alone. There was no place to hide because there was no closet in that room. A chill went up my spine. I threw back the cover and jumped out of the bed. I was out the door before Billy knew what to do. He followed, and we both ran up the stairs.
That is not the only “sleep” mishap we had in that basement. Weeks later, I had a sleep over with two other friends. I told them stories about that room and they wanted to sleep in it. I wouldn’t do it, so I talked them into sleeping on the sofa bed in the basement. It was placed in front of a fireplace. When it was folded all the way out, the bed was about six feet from the fireplace. With my parents’ permission and supervision, we built a fire and told campfire stories until we fell asleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke. Sitting up in bed, I was surprised to see that the fire had actually died down in the fireplace. On closer examination, the smoke I smelled wasn’t coming from the fireplace. It was coming from the end of the bed. I crawled down to the end and looked over. A flaming log had rolled out of the fireplace and the six feet to the bed and set the sheets on fire. I screamed bloody murder and woke my friends up. Luckily, we were able to put the fire out before it did any more than ruin a perfectly good set of sheets.
Thereafter, there was no place in that basement where I felt safe. I never went down there alone again. If there was no other person with me, I would force Wendy to come with me. She wasn’t happy about it, and I never could get her to go too far away from the closed door to the stairs. But she was a great warning system. If she scratched and barked at the door, I knew it was time to leave.
Nothing really happened beyond the basement. We lived in that house for about four years before we moved once again. I was sad to leave that neighborhood, but I can’t say I was too upset at leaving that house. Luckily, the ghost that punched me didn’t decide to follow us to our new town.