I was 12. Smokin’ Bunny-cakes was 2 and He Who Would Grow Up With the Ability to Sell Snow to Polar Bears was 7. The house we were living in was haunted. It really was, we all had our experiences with that particular spirit, and maybe I’ll share some of those some other time. But this is a story about something scarier. Our basement had a rec room, two bedrooms (one for me and my sister, one for my brothers), an office, a laundry/furnace room, and a bathroom. The rec room part was, at this time, still unfinished. The office contained a door to our fenced backyard. A door that was rarely used. The stairwell that the door opened onto was full of spiders and a cold malevolence that everyone in the family tried to avoid. The door had a deadbolt that was always locked. I rarely went into the office because that is where the house felt hauntedest to me. Even on bright, sunny summer days, the office and that basement door were so frightening to me that I would avoid them at all cost.
This particular night my parents were taking The Brother Just Younger than I (10 years old) out to a movie because he had earned enough stars on his chore chart. I had earned the least amount of stars on my chore chart, so I had to baby-sit that night. And I was supposed to muck out my bedroom while I was babysitting.
After my parents and brother left, I locked the door behind them and went upstairs (it was a split level home) and locked the French doors in the dining room. Normally it wouldn't have occurred to me to check the basement door because no one used it and it was always locked. But something told me to go check it. That voice in my mind was so insistent that I couldn’t ignore it. And so, despite my deep reluctance, I steeled up my courage and went into the room. The door was, surprisingly, unlocked. I flipped it locked and high-tailed it out of that room.
Night falls and my brother, sister, and I are in my room. We're watching TV and sullenly cleaning the room. Suddenly our normally very calm black lab, Liza, wakes up and starts growling. We watch the hackles rise on her back. She jumps on the bed and starts barking and clawing at my curtain-less window. My brother and I freeze. It is not normal for Liza to bark. She is so upset she looks frightening to us.
Suddenly she jumps off the bed and runs up the half-flight of stairs to the front door. I run up after her. She's barking and throwing herself against the door. I peek through the peep-hole but can't see anyone standing there. I look through the side-light and still can see no one. My brother turns off the light in the bedroom and looks at the door from the bedroom window. He can't see anything either. I run up the rest of the stairs and try to look down on the door from the living room window. Nothing.
Suddenly Liza stops going nuts and cocks her head to one side. She holds this waiting position for a moment and then howls and races through the living room and to the dining room French Doors. I run back to my bedroom and scoop up my little sister and then follow my brother to the dining room. Liza is starting to foam at the mouth; she is so upset at something. But whatever it is doesn't seem to be very scared of her, and so I don't want to open the door and let her at the would-be intruder. My brother's carrying a broom like a baseball bat, and I grab a big knife from the kitchen. I know Dad has a gun, but I don't know where it is. (Thank GOD I didn't know where it was!)
Liza does her listening thing again and takes off for the basement. I shove my sister in the coat closet and, armed with my knife, I follow Liza into the basement, and (pause a moment at the door) into the office. The room with the door to the outside. The door that, if I hadn't had a strange impulse to check just a couple hours before, would have been unlocked. Liza is barking, her whole body jumping with each bark, a couple feet away from the door. I flip the light on. I watch the doorknob twist, slowly, and then the door thumps against the deadbolt.
And suddenly, in that moment, my brain switched back on. And I realized that this was not just something scary, but something really, really dangerous. That there was someone on the other side of that door. Someone who knew that there were three children alone in the house with a big, angry dog. Someone who wasn't afraid of a big, angry dog. And I also remembered that we had big halogen lights that lit up our entire yard, and so pissed off neighbors that, when we turned the lights on, they would lean out their windows and tell us to turn the lights back off. And I remembered that bad people hate bright lights.
So I backed away from the door with its twisting handle and ran through the house, turning on all the lights, and turned on those halogen lights.
You might wonder why I hadn't turned on the halogen lights to start with. Well, it was a HUGE no no to turn that light on. It was such a big deal to turn that light on. Because it was so bright and so expensive, and it made our neighbors so angry, that very serious punishments were handed out to kids who turned that light on. Punishments that only the very real threat of immanent death or dismemberment by a stranger could overcome. This is the same reason it didn't occur to me to call 911.
There were no windows on the side of the house where the basement door was located, so I couldn't see what happened. But a few seconds after I turned the light on (it felt like an eternity), Liza stopped barking. She came upstairs and snorted and huffed for a minute. And then fell back asleep on the living room floor.
And a few minutes after that my parents were home. They'd been coming down the hill toward our neighborhood, debating whether or not they should stop at the 7-11 to get the Brother Just Younger than I a treat when they saw the halogen light shining over the fields (our street was an incursion into a former farm's fields) and decided just to head straight home because if that light was on then something was very, very wrong.
When they heard our story they went out and bought heavy curtains for my bedroom. They didn't punish me for turning the light on. They didn't leave us alone for months. The neighbors claimed that they didn't see anything, but a couple of weeks later a kid was kidnapped from a street a mile or so away and later found dead.
I know that the man who kidnapped that boy tried our house first. And I know that if I hadn't had that strange feeling to brave the haunted room and check the basement door, something terrible would have happened that night.What scary stories do you have to tell? Leave them in the comments here, or tell them on your own blog and let me know, and I’ll link to you. You can consider this a trial run of the Scheherazade Project.