A villager in Aqbasty, Kazakhstan, bathes in an ancient hot spring piped into a bathhouse. Aqbasty used to be on the shore of the Aral Sea. Today it’s seven miles inland. From “Sins of the Aral Sea”. Photo by Carolyn Drake
I Always Thought Something Was Off About My Basement, But I Had No Idea How Terrifying The Truth Was
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.Jesus.Bones.Bones everywhere.
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.
He’d just returned to the bunker, eager to let Sam know that he might have a lead on a “back door” to heaven. It’s clear, though, once he arrives that Sam is not there.
The hallways are dark, lit only by the dim red haze of the emergency lighting. The only sounds are the creeks and hisses of the ancient piping running through the building.
“Hello?” Castiel calls out, but receives no answer. He proceeds down the hallway, the smooth brush of his shoes against the concrete echoing softly against the stone walls.
He vaguely hears something down the corridor and follows it.
He recognizes the area he is in as the hallway containing Dean and Sam’s bedrooms. A muffled melody drifts through the air. He moves toward it and, as he gets closer, the sound becomes something familiar.
It’s a song he recognizes, and one he enjoys in fact. While he was working at the Gas n’ Sip, Nora would play her own CDs and this band in particular was a favorite. Heart, Castiel recalls. He remembers that he liked the name. He felt it was very fitting with the music, very rough and raw in it’s emotions.
Castiel remembers enjoying this song more than others, though. The lyrics seemed to stir up something inside of him that he’d long tried to keep buried.
Till now, I always got by on my own, I never really cared until I met you. And now it chills me to the bone…
Castiel swallows hard as he approaches a door, the singer’s rich voice mingled with a a very familiar low growl. He places a hand on the door, ready to knock, but finds that it gives way under his touch. The door slowly swings open.
Dean is perched on his bed, back to the door, vinyl records fanned out around him. Castiel can’t see his face, but he can hear Dean singing along. He notices the way Dean’s whole body bobs along in time with the the beat and the way his shoulders arch when the singer hits a crescendo.
You don’t know how long I have wanted to touch your lips and hold you tight.
Castiel swallows hard, the lyrics hitting him like a freight train. it’s surreal having Dean right here in front of him and the words he’s never had the courage to say laid out so plainly. Castiel all at once feels guilty. This is something that was never meant to be witnessed; a private moment that only belongs to Dean.
He’s about to take a step out of the doorway and back away, when Dean rises from the bed. He swings his hips as he turns but startles at the sight of Castiel. Dean jumps back, hitting the record player and knocking the needle with a high-pitched “screech”, starting the song again.
I hear the ticking of the clock, I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark.
“Jesus, Cas!” Dean gasps. He attempts to sound angry, but there is no fight in his words. Castiel catches the tips of his ears reddening and he wonders why.
I wonder where you are tonight, no answer on the telephone.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Castiel mumbles, his forehead creased anxiously, “I was looking… um, I like this song.” Dean’s tenses noticeably. For a second, Castiel thinks Dean is going to put on the front that he normally does when confronted with an uncomfortable situation. To his surprise, though, Dean’s shoulders slump and his gaze flickers to the record player.
“Nancy Wilson does have some pipes on her, doesn’t she?” He mutters. Castiel nods. He takes a small step inside the room and Dean drops back down onto the bed. He wonders if Dean will chastise him for the intrusion, but he receives none.
And the night goes by so very slow. Oh, I hope it won’t end, though, alone
“I find the words… “ Castiel trails off. What is he supposed to say. Reminiscent? Reflective? Precise to his own feelings?
Dean nods, as if he understands. He glances up at Castiel, his face drawn and pained. The mark is slowly eating him from the inside out, and there’s nothing Castiel can do to stop it. He wants to reach out to Dean, hold him, fix him, tell him everything will be fine even though he has no idea if it will.
Till now, I always got by on my own,
Dean reaches out and pats the space on the bed next to him, encouraging Castiel to sit.
“Yeah, me too,” He mumbles.
I never really cared until I met you.
Castiel sits down on the bed next to Dean. They are shoulder to shoulder, but Castiel feels so far from this man he once knew so well.
“Dean?” He begins, gathering his thoughts. “I…” Dean shakes his head, cutting him off.
And now it chills me to the bone
Dean reaches out and slips his hand into Castiel, squeezing it. He leans forward, resting his opposite elbow on his knee and covering his eyes with his hand.
“Just listen, Cas,” Dean says softly. Castiel looks at him. He knows that Dean can’t see him, but he nods. Castiel tightens his grip on Dean’s hand as the song plays on.
So, fun house update:
They found knob-and-tube wiring under our bathroom floor.
That in and of itself isn’t so shocking - pun intended - but what was disturbing was the fact that it was discovered lying right next to the ancient metal pipes for our bathtub.
Oh, and it was live. The wire arced while the contractor was capping the pipes again so he could stop working.
We are extremely lucky that no one was electrocuted and we never had a house fire.
Yes, I’m angry. The previous owners had to know about this - and it was a code violation then, too.
The good news is that we have what’s called a “code violation rider” on our insurance, so wherever they find the wiring, they have to bring it up to code. So, as they walk that wire back to its source, they must replace all of it. Given that all the wiring for the house comes up in the same place, I think we’re about to get most of our house rewired.
Or, as @dadhoc puts it, “we’re upgrading our house one facepalm at a time.”