Countless memes and emails ask me to list various things about myself, revealing truths or little quirks. They ask such questions as favorite color or food, political preferences and what clothes am I currently wearing. They also ask about my biggest fear. While some more self-reflective - or perhaps more mentally stable - people answer that they fear there is no heaven or that they will never find love, my answer never changes. I am afraid of basements.
Oh, yes. So much so that I will do anything to avoid going into my own basement after nightfall. And in honor of my favorite holiday, I will tell you the story that inspired my phobia.
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night.
In fact, it was a rather nice late summer evening, full of fun and laughter. Really, everyone was having a great time. So how could it have possibly turned into one of the scariest experiences of my young life?
My brother, Tom, had a friend named Adam. Adam’s older sister was named Amy and his younger sister was Emily. Their mom was single so the three of them frequently came over after school. While the boys roughhoused and Amy shared whispers with my older sister, Tipi, I usually got stuck with Emily, even though she was two years younger than me. She was okay, I guess. Not terribly annoying but not very interesting either. She could sit for hours and brush my Barbies’ hair while I would rather run around the backyard with the boys. Tea parties were only fun if there was real cake.
At eight, there was still a rite of passage I hadn’t experienced yet: my first sleepover. My parents said I was still too young and no argument could sway them. But then Adam invited my brother over to spend the night and Amy invited my sister. Emily and I looked at each other, not sure if she could put down the Barbies or if I could pick them up. It wasn’t until Tom and Tipi were getting ready to leave that my mom started packing my bag. I was going, too? Really? I was so excited, I made sure to bring my Barbie that Emily loved best.
And it was everything I thought it should be! There was pizza for dinner and we got to make our own sundaes afterwards. We watched a movie (that wasn’t about a princess) and everyone got to play ping-pong on the table down in the basement. Emily and I played Barbies a little bit. It was the polite thing to do, really. Then, it was time for bed. Their house was pretty small so the only room where all of us could fit was down in the basement. We laid out our sleeping bags and fluffed our pillows. I was starting to feel a little nervous about sleeping somewhere new so I whispered to my sister and she scooted her sleeping bag closer to mine. Wedged between her and tiny Emily, I felt a little better. Then their mom turned off the lights.
It was dark. The basement had two tiny windows but there wasn’t any light coming in from outside, not at night. The only gleam of hope came from the open basement door and the light spilling down from the kitchen. Adam and Tom started a game of making animal noises, trying to match the sound to the right animal. It was fun but the game fell apart when Tom declared that Adam’s shaky roar was a Tyrannosaurus Rex who stepped on a nail. We were laughing too hard to think of any animals that could top that one, hushing only slightly when their mother yelled down the stairs for the second time to keep it quiet.
One by one, everyone drifted off to sleep.
Except for me.
In the dark and unfamiliar circumstances, all noises were instantly amplified and twisted. The humming was a crazed, bloodthirsty bumblebee, not my sister’s snore. The rattling clang wasn’t the chest freezer. Instead, it was an escaped convict trying to get in the window. And the shuffling? Well, the shuffling could be anything but it certainly wasn’t the restless movements of five sleepers.
Once I talked myself down from a panic, I tried to think rationally, like Mom had tried to teach me to do whenever I was scared. It couldn’t be a bee because they sleep at night, too. Certainly wasn’t a convict because there wasn’t a prison anywhere close by. And the shuffling? That was sound of sleeping bags on Berber carpet. Plain and simple. Fears appeased, I fell asleep, my unconscious sucking on my tongue sounding more like rabid mice clawing their way through the walls.
I was cold.
That was the first thing I noticed when I woke up. There was only stiff carpet under me and I couldn’t feel my sleeping bag. Then I noticed it was very dark. The light from the kitchen was gone. After blinking into the inky black for a moment, I realized that I was by myself. My sister and her sleeping bag were no longer close. Emily and her princess blankets had disappeared into the darkness, as well. I could hear them. There were soft snores and movements not too far away but I couldn’t see them. I tried adjusting my eyes to the dark, squinting at shapes and trying to force them into focus. I sat up to see if I could make out forms in another direction and maybe find my sleeping bag.
That’s when I saw him.
To Be Continued....
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