I remember seeing the house for the first time. I was a child of seven. My young parents had just bought their first home. I remember I used to hate living in the cramped, dingy apartment we previously inhabited and opened the door to our new home with wide eyed wonder. It blew my young mind how spacious this house was. I went upstairs to scope out my bedroom. I was so excited that I was getting my own room and did not have to share it with my infant brother.
On my grand tour of my new digs, I finally made it down to our basement. The basement was nothing like the rest of the house. The upstairs was elegant and classy. The basement was cold, metallic, and sterile. The ceiling covered in ancient pipes winding in grotesque angles. The floor covered in rough cement. I recall taking a look at the stairs for the first time and being immediately struck with how odd they were.
The stairs were surrounded in drywall which clashed with the rest of the basement. One particular section of the wall was colored differently than the rest. It stood out like a sore thumb. I inched close to it and felt the texture of it. It felt very strange. I then knocked on it. A hollow sound pervaded the empty air of the basement. Something about that sound immediately put me ill at ease. I walked up the stairs as I could hear that same hollow sound echo in the emptiness of the basement.
As we settled into our new home, I began to get comfortable with my surroundings. The house began to feel familiar. Everywhere, that is, except for the basement. It just always put me off, and I avoided going down there as best as I could. Our family couldn’t be happier. My loving father and mother doted over me and my little brother. My life was perfect.
Then it began.
I would hear errant noises. When I pointed it out to my parents, they told me the old standby that the house was settling in. One night in particular indicated that something wasn’t right. I snuck downstairs to the kitchen for a late night snack. As I closed the refrigerator, I heard a tapping sound cut through the silence of the night. I craned my head to see if I could pinpoint where the sound was coming from. Dread began to wash over me as I realized that tapping was coming from the basement. I inched my way over to the basement door. I opened it to see the blackness of the depths below.
My ears perked up. There it was again. That hollow tapping sound. The same sound I had heard on my initial visit to the basement from hitting the drywall. I turned on the lights steeling myself to go down the stairs and investigate. The tapping continued as I took the first step. Fear overtook me. I ran back to my room and hid under my covers until the morning light gave way to a new day.
I remember walking down the stairs. Being the first one up and about, I ran to the living room to play Nintendo. On my way, I passed the door to the basement. It was shut. Though I was in a state of near panic when I ran from it the previous night, I distinctly remember leaving the door open and not turning off the lights. I rationalized that my mother or father must have gone down there for some reason and lost myself in Super Mario Bros. 3.
Later, I mentioned the incident to my parents, and they just assured me that what I heard was the sound of the hot water heater clicking in the night. I knew better, but welcomed a logical explanation.
About a month after the move, my mother asked me to run downstairs and grab a load of socks as our washer and dryer were in the basement. I reluctantly told her I would. It was the middle of the day and enough time had passed to dull the fear I had felt a week prior.
I turned on the lights. I ran down the stairs. Hearing the hollow sound echo with my footsteps, a cold sweat started to form on me. I made my way to the dryer and grabbed a basket. I pulled the socks out hastily and shoved them into the basket. After I shut the door to the dryer, I surveyed my surroundings. The stillness of the basement was so eerie. Then I heard it. A faintly audible whisper.
At first, I thought it was somebody calling from upstairs, and their voice scarcely making it down into the basement. However, this was not the case. That sound was coming from the basement, specifically, from under the stairs. As I stood frozen with fear, it began to increase in volume but still remained barely above the threshold of human perception, what was being said incomprehensible to my young ears.
Then it stopped as quickly as it began.
I moved toward the stairs keeping my eye on the oddly colored portion of the drywall. As I took my first step to escape this ever growing nightmare, the most profoundly terrifying moment of my life occurred. A loud, hollow bang shook the stairs. Almost knocking me to the ground. I ran up the stairs as fast as my legs would carry me.
Through tears and shaking uncontrollably, I told my parents what happened. They tried their best to calm me, but nothing they said could ease my mind. I told them in no uncertain terms that I would never go down to the basement again. They must have been convinced of how terrified I was, because they honored my request and never sent me down there again.
After another three months in the house, things returned to normalcy for me, and honestly, there was about a two week period where I was happy again. The last time happiness would exist in my life or my families for that matter. One moment in particular comes to mind. I remember lifting up little Jonathon above my head lovingly as his pacifier fell out of his mouth and brushed against my nose tickling me. I pulled him in for a big bear hug and remember how he smelled. That wonderful smell that babies emit and, for the last time, feeling content.
Any semblance of contentment came crashing down for me and my parents the night of July 2nd, 1991.
That is the day Jonathon went missing.
A ransom note was scrawled in barely legible English and left in his bed demanding $20,000 dollars cash. It informed my parents that if they contacted the police, they would kill Jonathon. My mother and father took to their room and argued loudly and emotionally over whether or not to call the police as I listened with tears streaming down my eyes. My mother eventually wore down my father, and the police were called. Seeing as the location of the drop and time were indicated on the note, the police set up a wiretap just in case the kidnapper decided to call. I asked my parents and the police if they had thoroughly searched through the house in case he was still here. They assured me they had and that Jonathon would be fine after the drop, but the seed of an idea was already growing in my mind that would blossom throughout the rest of my life.
My parents followed the instructions to a T. They dropped off the money and then waited in the location that they were supposed to pick up Jonathon.
He never came.
Needless to say, this tore my family apart. As the weeks passed and there was no news about Jonathon, my young, vibrant parents became husks of their former selves, my mother especially. She blamed herself for getting the police involved and believed that to be the reason Jonathon was not returned. One night as she was sobbing alone in shambles clutching a bottle of wine, I finally decided to divulge to her my theory that had been brewing inside my skull. I told her that I thought it was whoever (or whatever for that matter) was under the stairs that had gotten Jonathon and maybe he is still alive. She slapped me across my face so hard that I saw stars. She screamed at me. The guilt expressing itself as rage. She told me to stop the childish bullshit and just accept that Jonathon was taken out of the house by some sick fuck and is dead. My childhood died that day. I remember contemplating taking a hammer and exposing whatever was under the stairs myself, but the fear was just too overwhelming for me to actually do it let alone step one stair down into that basement.
My family moved shortly after this incident. I remember looking to the future with what might resemble optimism only to have it come crashing down. My parents divorced. The grief was too much to share and not a year after that my mother killed herself. The guilt must have just overwhelmed her. My father did his best to raise me, but Jonathon’s long shadow always hung over our lives.
Twenty years later, I began to think long and hard about my little brother’s disappearance and how angry it made me. My family had a chance at a normal and fulfilling life, and it was snuffed out in an instant by whoever took him. I wasn’t just robbed of a little brother. I was robbed of any chance of happiness. As I grew up, I accepted the official story of what happened. But lately, curiosity began to get the better of me. I began driving past the old house. Seeing that it was currently vacant. Ideas began to swirl in my head.
So, I broke into the house bolstered by alcohol. I decided to do it. Knowing I would likely find nothing under the basement stairs, but hoping that this would close a too long chapter in my life and allow me to finally move on. To my dismay, the stairs sounded exactly the same as I remember they did, a hollow sound pervading the emptiness of the basement. I stare at the spot in the drywall, still discolored, still just as ominous as it was when I was a child. However, fear was not going to stop me. In fact, I was feeling the opposite. I was feeling a courage I hadn’t felt in a long time. The moment of truth was upon me. With all the force within me emboldened by years of pent up rage, I ran toward the wall shoulder first. The drywall came crashing down around me. I opened my eyes as my bravery was immediately eroded and turned into absolute horror.
My horror increased to unimaginable heights as I surveyed the tight space seeing the myriad skeletons strewn about. The light playing menacingly on their tiny frames. Tattered pieces of paper were strewn about with God only knows what written on them. There must have been the remains of 20-30 children. My fright reaching a crescendo when I realized that with no exceptions they were all missing their skulls.
One particularly tiny one begged for my attention. I became weak in the knees and fell backwards when I saw what were unmistakably bite marks up and down the tiny forearm.
As I hit the ground, I expected to hear a dull thud as I landed on the concrete. Instead I heard a hollow sound. I looked to see what I had landed on, a trap door. Finding new courage, summoning strength I didn’t know I had, I opened it.
Below me lay a dark tunnel, a crawl space that could barely fit a person lying on their stomach. The dank smell wafting upward made me reluctant, but I knew what I had to do. Before I was conscious of what my muscles were doing, I found myself crawling through the darkness toward whatever lay on the other side.
As I reached the end of the tunnel, I looked up to see a sliver of light cutting through the darkness. With trepidation, I pushed upwards.
Cautiously, I poked my head up. To my surprise, the tunnel had led to the other side of the stairs. I crawled out to find myself in the corner of the basement facing the stairs behind a dryer covered in years of dust. The implications of all of this sent my mind reeling, but before I could form a coherent thought the lights turned off in the basement.
My heart caught in my throat as I began to hear someone descending the stairs, slow but sure steps announcing I was no longer alone. With every thud, my heart skipped a beat. I began to hear that incomprehensible whispering absolutely indelible in my mind. The familiarity reigniting the fear and woe of my lost childhood. Worrying the darkness would not adequately hide me, I sought cover by ducking behind the dryer not willing to take the risk of catching a glimpse though every fiber of my being screamed to do so.
Panic began to set in. What am I going to do when he (it?) discovers his lair has been revealed? While I was mulling over my options, the screaming began.
I say scream as a frame of reference, but there is no way to truly describe the guttural noises I heard. The sounds smashing the silence of the basement were, so bone chilling, so surreal as to defy description. He clearly had discovered his perverse sanctuary had been disturbed. Before I knew it, I was up the stairs running for my life.
I made it to my car too scared to turn around. With all muscles working in concert, I opened the door and put the key in the ignition in one swift movement. As my car sprang to life under the street light, a shadow fell over my car. I gunned it never looking back, flooring the accelerator to the local police precinct. I breathlessly tried to explain to the attending officer what had occurred and collapsed to the floor mid sentence.
Now, it is a month later. The next day after my discovery the police launched an investigation and quickly made the same gruesome discovery. I was thanked profusely by the police and the community for what I had found telling me they were going to be able to close the books on multiple missing person cases. However, they were not able to find the perpetrator of these heinous crimes. They began to test the DNA of the bodies. A profound sense of relief overcame me when I received the call informing me that one of the tiny skeletons belonged to Jonathon.
I shared the news with my father. The look on his face, relief all encompassing as the burden he had carried for so many years was lifted. We hugged as tears filled both of our eyes.
However, the relief has been short lived.
The thing that keeps me up at night is that whoever or whatever did this is still out there. The question that plagues my mind is whether or not this monster is literal or figurative. Either way, I hope I never find out.