By Zelda Martin & Harry B. Sanderford
There are reasons why a basement is a scary place. It's underground. It's dark. It's damp. It smells funny. Things are stored down there for years on end; boxes that have been there for so long that you don't even know what's in them anymore, or who put them there, or why. But the contents must have some value, you tell yourself, or you (or someone else, whoever it was) wouldn't have gone to the trouble to box them up and place them on the floor, or shelves, or rafters. They're all stuck back in the darkest corners, where you never go, because it's kind of creepy back there and what would you do with the stuff if you did haul it out into the light, anyway? And the spiders! My god, it's like the NYC of spiders and spider webs and lots and lots of dead things caught in those webs. Just let sleeping bugs lie, you've told yourself over the years. Always a reliable philosophy in retrospect, but somehow, this time, you just had to know.
Curiosity is notorious for offing its share of cats. Looking back, maybe finding Fluffy’s mummified remains sandwiched there between the stack of moldy leftover sheet-rock and those long forgotten boogie boards should have served warning enough for you to curtail your own intrigue. Maybe you should have left the basement right then. Just climbed the stairs, switched off the light, and locked the damn door on the NYC of spiders, never to return.
But it was Fluffy!
So, with a lump forming in your throat, you couldn’t help but reach out and stroke the little lost tabby, her orange hair exploding in a puff that scattered like dandelion seeds. Dozens of which you inhaled with a horrified gasp before scrabbling backwards into a pyramid of paint cans, coughing and spitting and blinking back your tears.
Yes, maybe you should have left right then. Terror and disgust gave way, however, to a pitiful sort of relief. As sad as finding the kitty made you, at least now you finally knew what happened to the lovable little fuzzball everyone had panicked over and searched for. The one that little Elinor had cried little rivers for.
Elinor is almost twenty now! So Fluffy has been down here for over fifteen years. It's time to clean out this creepy basement, right now, you told yourself. So what if today is October 31? It's still daylight, after all, and it'll feel good to be sure there are no other unpleasant surprises down here. So in you went, you foolish woman. Pulling down old boxes and hauling them up the steps to the back yard, while dust flew and spiders scattered. You recognized some of the boxes; they were labeled and taped, and hadn't been opened since you'd moved to this old house, a long time ago. You decided that you would just haul them to the dump the next day, without even looking inside. If you hadn't needed whatever was in them in the past 15 years, you sure didn't need it now. Finally, you reached the back wall, and felt a sense of elation. Look at all the space you'll have to store important stuff now! But then, you saw the small, locked door in the corner.
If you’d been hoping to avoid unpleasant surprises, not looking inside the boxes was a good choice. Had you been in less of a hurry to clear out the crumbly cardboard containers, less eager to sweep the dust from all that glorious empty space, space you could now fill properly with tons of those cool, color coordinated, Rubbermaid containers you saw at Target, you might never have opened that damned door. Maybe if you had stripped the tape off of the box marked “Bone China,” for instance, and looked under the lid of Aunt Saucy’s Wedgwood soup tureen to find Mrs. Parker’s long missing Pekingese, Pugsy; his bleached skeleton simmering in a puddle of its own congealed sauce. Maybe then you would have run screaming and just abandoned the whole idea.
I can’t say I told you so. Heheh, no I cannot. But the signs were all there for you. Right there in each crusty carton, each corrugated crypt. Cats and kitties by the score and cute bunny rabbits galore. Guppies and puppies, turtles and frogs, oh so many gerbils and hamsters, but just the lone prairie dog. The big box marked LIONEL, the one you thought was Johnny’s train? Jeffrey Archer’s German shepherd, of same name fame. Lionel was supposed to be romping on a farm upstate. At least that’s what they told Jeffrey. Not that Jeffrey will ever be the wiser, but Elinor knows. She knows about Fluffy and she knows a lot more.
You avoided the unpleasant surprises, but you missed all the signs. The ones urging you to TURN BACK! “Unpleasant” does not begin to describe what horrors lie beyond that door. You just have no idea. But Elinor knows. She knows about Fluffy and she knows a lot more.
She was so meticulous in her concealing of canine and kitty corpses, hiding them so carefully in all those cartons. How could she have been so careless as to leave that cursed key in the lock? Of course you couldn't resist turning that key, opening the lock, and slowly...oh so slowly...opening the small, low door. In the dim, murky light, you see another container. This one is made of wood, about five feet long. You think it's your imagination, but it does smell kind of like formaldehyde in here. Turn back, honey. No good can come of this. Don't open the crate. Oops! Too late. Screaming won't help, my dear. Johnny is dead. Johnny, your little boy, Elinor's little brother, the little brother you and your husband loved so much that you neglected Elinor. You doted on that silly boy, showered him with praise, attention and gifts, while poor little Elinor sat on the sidelines, seething with jealousy. Of course, she grew to hate Johnny; what did you expect? She worked so hard in school, got all A's, while Johnny goofed off and came home with C's. But that was just fine with you and Daddy, wasn't it? You never praised me for my good grades, but you acted like Johnny was a goddamned genius for getting C's! Yes! I killed him and I'm glad I did it! You should be glad that I studied chemistry and preserved his stupid body in formaldehyde, instead of letting him rot, like all those other stupid animals!
Now stop screaming Mommy. I have one more coffin to fill, right here next to Daddy's.
Happy Halloween Everyone!
Madam Z Rocks all by herself here: