Nobody ever expects to find themselves in a ghost story. Yet, I always had a lingering feeling I’d one day find myself in one.
The reason was simple, basements.
I hate them, always have.
I don’t know where this apprehension came from, but they’ve always made me anxious. It didn’t matter if it was my dad’s workshop or the musty old storage room at my grandparent’s house. If it was down in the basement, I hated it.
The worst one, however, was my Uncle Robert’s basement.
He was a friendly man, but also a very peculiar man. He lived on his own, in a huge old house, and proudly called himself a collector of curiosities. My mom, however, used a different word, the word ‘hoarder’, which she whisper at my dad behind her hands.
During my one and only visit to his home, he insisted to give me a present. And so he dragged his young nephew down into his basement to pick whatever I wanted from his vast collection.
“Come on, Mathew, you can pick anything you like,” he said as he descended the old, creaking stairs.
A single light bulb dangled from the basement’s high ceiling.
For long seconds, I stood at the top of the stairs, anxious, terrified even. While Uncle Robert had already made it downstairs, I had to gather my courage before I dashed after him, intent on picking the very first item I saw.
The low light of the basement transformed the many shelves lining the walls into lingering, stretched out shadows, waiting to pounce on me.
As Uncle Robert rambled on about his collection, my eyes darted around. Thick spider webs covered the far corners, and I could hear the distant sounds of rodents moving behind shelves and boxes.
As a kid, I knew that this terrible place was haunted.
After that day, I never came along to visit Uncle Robert again. However much my parents tried to convince me, I was too afraid of his terrible, haunted basement.
And yet, forty years later, I found myself right there again.
When he died, years after my parents, I was his last known relative and thus his home came into my possession.
After hearing the many stories about him, I’d expected to find a run-down hoarder’s home. Instead, I found a typical old house. It might have been dusty and old-fashioned, but it was nice and homely.
That’s until I made my way down to the basement. When I opened the sturdy metal door, it felt like I gazed upon an entirely different world.
What had once been a creepy, albeit tide room, had transformed into a labyrinthine mess of overloaded shelves. Even worse, boxes filled with forgotten memorabilia were haphazardly placed around them.
With each step I took, I was aware of movement all around me. Rodents were everywhere, and the spider webs had spread out and covered the entire ceiling. As I pushed myself past shelves and boxes, I felt under constant watch.
The worst, however, were the sounds. Shelves were groaning under their heavy load and each step I took made items in them rattle. The squeaking of mice was a constant.
But there was more, and I thought I heard a mumbling voice and quiet footsteps hidden behind the many shelves.
I told myself it was nothing but my imagination and that being down here had reawakened my childhood fears. And yet, after only a few minutes, I raced back up the stairs and threw the heavy door shut behind me.
Nonetheless, I stayed at Uncle Robert’s home, at least until I’d put everything in order.
After constant, never-ending lockdowns and working from home in my apartment in the center of the city, I could use a change of scenery.
Staying at his house, located in a small hamlet, was exactly that. Uncle Robert’s home was one of a handful of close-standing buildings, nestled against a small forest. It was a forgotten little place, one that had almost died out.
Only one house was still inhabited, but its owner, a supposed Mr. Williams, never so much as showed his face.
Over the course of the next weeks, I’d hoped to strike up a conversation, but the man proofed a reclusive creature.
I only ever caught glimpses of him behind the curtains, watching me from afar, only to vanish the moment I noticed him.
Sorting through Uncle Robert’s possessions proved a hard and arduous task. Over the course of his life, he’d filled his basement with thousands of items, if not more. There were tin figurines, old photographs, postcards, paintings, strange tools and god knows what else.
Even after I’d stayed there for weeks, I hated that basement. I’d made it a rule to only ever go down there during the day and only when a few rays of sunshine would enter via the small basement window.
There was one problem, however. Uncle Robert’s home was old, cables and outlets were faulty and you could easily blow a fuse by accident. This wouldn’t have been so bad if his fuse box hadn’t been at the back of the basement.
During the day, it wasn’t so bad. I’d hurry down, replace the fuse and go back up. During the night, however, I often sat in the dark for long minutes, contemplating if I’d go down or wait until the next day.
Sometimes though, especially when I was busy with work, there was no other option then to go down and figure out what had happened.
Whenever I found myself in front of that sturdy metal door, all alone in the dark, I felt like a little boy again.
With a flash light in my shaking hands, I always had to gather my courage before I’d dash down the stairs.
The shaking beam of light transformed everything around me into twitching, jerking shadows.
Sometimes, I’d brushed against hidden spider webs and felt eight-legged horrors skittering over my hands or body. At others, I saw movement below shelves and between boxes, rodents who fled in terror as I dashed for the fuse box.
And yet, it was never just spiders, never just rodents.
Night is the strangest of times. There’s the darkness, of course, but even worse is the silence. In the dead of the night, you can hear much, much more than during the day.
In my mind, the groaning of shelves was caused by looming monsters, watching my every move. The rattling of items was caused by shapeless horrors, slithering past boxes, waiting to pounce on me.
Occasionally, I could again make out what sounded like muffled, distant footsteps and other indistinguishable sounds, sounds that sent my heart racing and pushed me to the verge of panic.
In my mind, I screamed at myself to stop thinking about it, to ignore it, and that all of it was nothing but my imagination. Before long, I began talking to myself down there, spoke out loud to every ghost and monsters and told them to leave me the hell alone.
It helped to keep the panic and fear at by and to remind me that a man in his mid-forties had no business of being afraid of a dark room and a few sounds.
And yet, it only ever helped so much. With each visit, the sounds seemed to evolve, seemed to change, almost as if something in the basement was growing angrier.
What had only slightly sounded like footsteps turned to shuffling and eventually scratching. It sounded as if someone or something was buried behind the bricked walls of the basement, trying to break free.
At one point, while talking to myself, I suddenly heard an angry grunt, and the scratching. It grew louder, more intense. It sounded almost as if a beast’s claws were scratching over the floor or the walls near me.
In that instant, all my defenses broke down and terror took hold of me.
I was a half-screaming, half-crying boy again, a boy who rushed from the horrible basement and threw the door shut behind him.
There was no way, I told myself, no way I’d go down there again during the night.
But a vow only last so long before it’s pushed aside by necessity.
For weeks I’d been sorting through Uncle Robert’s possessions, but had gotten nowhere. Instead, I’d steadily fallen behind at work. For days, I was forced to work almost the entire day in hopes of somehow making my deadlines.
When yet another fuse blew, I tried to work on my laptop in the dark as long as I could. With the battery running low and work nowhere near done, I knew I couldn’t push it off any longer.
I had to return to the ghastly basement.
As I always did, I pushed open the sturdy metal door, rushed down the creaking stairs and dashed for the fuse box. I cursed at the darkness, cursed at the noises, and cursed at whatever was down there with me.
In an outburst of rage and anxiety, I threw the blown fuse half across the basement. In the night’s dark, it clattered over the floor before it came to a rest.
And yet, the silence of the night didn’t return.
I always had the lingering feeling that I’d end up in a ghost story one day, and today should be the day.
While I stood in front of the fuse box, a voice reached my ears. It was a high-pitched, wailing voice that came from behind me. I froze. Panic washed over me and I repeated I was alone and that it was all in my head.
But then I heard footsteps, shuffling footsteps from right behind me.
Almost as if in a trance, flash light in hand, I slowly turned around. At first there were only boxes, only shelves, but then the shaking beam hit a figure. It was a thin, bony thing that pushed itself from between the shelves.
I screamed in shock, stumbled backward, away from the fuse box and the ghastly apparition, only to crash over one of the nearby boxes.
I hit the ground hard and pain shot threw my body, but I crawled on, trying to flee.
My eyes were glued to the apparition. Its eyes were glowing with a manic rage. I saw its mouth open wide and a reverberating scream escaped it.
“Get out!” the thing shrieked at me before it stumbled forward to get me.
Once more it shrieked at me and in this moment I could finally push myself to my feet. I half-ran, half-stumbled through the basement in sheer and utter panic as the apparition chased after me.
For long, terrible seconds, I found myself lost between the shelves before the beam of the flash light hit the stairs.
At that moment, I suddenly heard the scratching again, louder now. But it wasn’t coming from behind me. No, it was coming from the wall, the bricked wall right next to the stairs.
My eyes grew wide as one of the stones started to move, rattled in the wall before it was pushed out and crashed to the floor. Then, a second one followed.
One after another, I thought, they keep appearing, one after another. I stared at the wall in disbelief, watched as a third stone crashed to the floor.
Right behind me, I heard the apparition again, could feel its icy breath on my neck and then, for the shortest of moments, I felt its thin fingers on my shoulder.
When it whispered into my ear, I dashed away, past the hole in the wall and up the stairs.
Once I’d made it, I saw a white arm dangling from the hole, then a head and a face.
Just as I threw the door shut, a figure had pushed itself from the hole and into the basement.
I’d barely closed and locked the door when someone started screaming and pounding against it. It was a voice, but one that was undoubtedly human.
Slowly, as the man was insulting and threatening me, the reality of the situation sank in and rushed for my phone to call the police.
I told them, as impossible as it sounded, that someone had just broken into my basement.
When they arrived and entered the basement, they found no trace of ghosts. No, what they found was a man who was clearly out of his mind and who’d tired himself out trying to break down the basement door.
I learned the full story over the course of the next days.
The man I’d thought of as Mr. Williams wasn’t him. Mr. Williams had died years ago, but I’d never bothered with anything regarding the small hamlet.
The man I’d seen in the house was a squatter, a man on the run from the police who’d hidden in Mr. William’s abandoned home. Down in the basement, to be correct.
As it turned out, Mr. William’s basement was right next to mine, only divided by a thick brick wall.
The strange sounds I’d heard, the shuffling, the footsteps, the mumbling voice. It must’ve been this man.
He must’ve heard me down there as I talked to myself and screamed and cursed at someone else. He must’ve quickly realized that my voice came from a room next to the one he was hiding in.
My behavior, the insults I was screaming. It must’ve antagonized him, provoked him, and he’d decided to get me for it.
Last night, when I was down there again, he’d finally broken down the wall. And he’d have gotten me.
The only reason I’m still alive is because of the bony apparition I encountered and that the police found no hint of.
No, it had been a ghost, a ghost I always knew I’d encounter down in some musty, old basement.
But it had been a different type of ghost. For when it had whispered something into my ear, I’d recognized its voice, a voice I hadn’t heard in forty years.
It had been the voice of my Uncle Robert.