Thursday, April 17, 2014

Beneath the Stairs

Dear Ellie,

Since we're moving into the house that I grew up in with Grandma and Grandpa, it got me thinking about little stories I could write you about that place, some fact, some fiction, and some... both.  Your mother has been telling me not to ever read you this one, since its another "ghost" story like the Bicycle in the Tree.  And like the Bicycle in the Tree, part of it is fiction and part of it is fact.


When I was growing up, there were five people in my family and we all lived in one big house.  Sometimes late at night, though, I became convinced that we were not the only ones living there. 

There were many dark recesses in that home, some of which I continue to discover to this very day.  Plenty of places for some thing to sleep by day and emerge at night to live a parallel life beside our own.  There were the “caves” beneath the deck.  The hut at the back of the attic.  The cavernous air ducts that are accessible from the grate near the front door.  And as you will learn, other places too. 

Throughout my childhood, I woke up to the sound of things going bump in the night.  A crash in the kitchen.  Thuds on the staircase.  Creaking in the attic above where I slept.  Sometimes in the morning I’d notice objects slightly out of place from where they were the evening before.  There might be a picture frame turned down or cereal missing from the pantry or some of my clothes had vanished, never to be found again.  One night, I even awoke to find that my stuffed alligator “Al” was missing, as though snatched from my hands as I slept.   

I never volunteered to investigate the strange sounds during the night, for it would have taken more than just the courage of a child.  But sometimes, I didn’t have a choice. 

When I was nine years old, I began to sleep walk.  I’d often wake up late at night when all the lights were out and find myself downstairs, alone on the couch or sitting upright at the dining room table.  At some of those times, I’d even stir from my slumber, glance around in the darkness, and hear the quiet sound of feet tip toeing across the tile floor in the kitchen.  On one such occasion, I came awake while still standing.  I was confused, unaware of what had woken me from my sleep walking episode… until I saw a dark figure.  Or at least, the dark space that it left as it blotted out the moonlight that reflected from the kitchen tiles.  It was still for just a moment, then it vanished in a sudden blur.  All I heard was scampering and the creak of a closet door.  The door to the closet beneath the stairs.  
The Closet Beneath the Stairs

In the morning, I thought perhaps that it was all a dream.  So I forgot about it for awhile until a few months later when I was rifling through the closet beneath the stairs.  It was then that I discovered yet another one of those dark spaces.  One of those unexplored recesses in our home.  At the very back of the closet, where the ceiling gets so low that not even a child can stand, there was a dark, cramped passage.  It frightened me just to look at it.  That wall of darkness.  I grabbed a flashlight from the shelf.  Turned it on.  Kneeled down and flashed it through the passage.  The darkness seemed to swallow the beam of light, but it gave me just enough illumination to see a secret room, dusty, but not empty.  There was a bowl and a spoon inside, some old paper towels, and my stuffed alligator Al, who went missing long ago.        

My impulse was to reach out to rescue Al, but then it occurred to me that he couldn’t have gotten there all on his own.  As I reached out to grab him, my skin began to crawl.  For each inch I moved toward the shadows, it felt as though a second hand was reaching out from the darkness to grab me, as well.  I wondered whether my encounter a few months before was not a dream at all.  I wondered whether we WERE in fact sharing this house with others, all along.  Could it be a malevolent thing, even though it hadn’t hurt us yet?  And if not, would it be better if I left Al where he lay?  Would I be breaking some unspoken pact between us and the thing by entering this distant, darkened space?

“Please let me have Al back,” I said to the darkness, pointing at my plush little pet.  There was no response.  So I abandoned Al and slowly crept away, making sure not to turn my back to that dark space.  I tried to sleep that night, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched from beneath the crack of my closet door.  For just a moment, though, I closed my eyes and succumbed to sleep.  When I awoke, I found Al tucked safely next to my pillow.      

I can’t honestly say whether there are “others” that slumber by day in the darken corners of that house.  I can’t know for sure whether or not your Uncle Zack was just playing tricks on me, taking my things at night and then returning them later.  But Ellie, just in case, if you ever find that important things go missing in the night, don’t be afraid.  Just go alone to the very back of the closet beneath the stairs.  Tell whoever is there that you miss those things.  Be polite.  And hopefully, with any luck, you’ll find those things in the morning.

  The passage to the secret room, in the lower left

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