Groans From the Basement
By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 6 minutes 30 seconds
Scare Rating: 2/5 Ghosts
New to town, Jake had made a fast friend in Thomas. By the end of the week, they were getting along so well that Thomas asked Jake to have a sleepover. Jake’s mom, eager to help her “big boy 4th grader” cement the new friendship, agreed.
With a sleeping bag and clothes stuffed into his backpack, Jake rode home on the bus with Thomas, who let them into his house with the brass key that hanged off the green and orange shoelace necklace he wore.
“Want some cookies?” Thomas asked. “My mom will be home in a little bit, but she always bakes when I have a friend come over.”
Jake took two cookies and followed his friend through the house, gnawing the chewy oatmeal raisin disks as Thomas dumped their backpacks in his bedroom, fed and watered his dog Rascal, and gave a lay of the land that was his house.
“We’re not allowed on the good furniture in this room,” he said, leading Jake through the formal living room at the front of the house, “but we can eat in the family room, and my parents let me jump on the couch in the family room!”
“Cool,” said Jake, taking it all in.
The two had covered most of the floor plan, and most of the home’s rules, and were heading back to the kitchen for more cookies, when they passed a new door.
“What’s in there?” asked Jake.
“Oh yeah,” said Thomas, suddenly nervous, and bit embarrassed — as though he’d forgotten something really important. “That’s just the basement. But we can’t go down there. Don’t go down there ever.”
“Why not?” Jake asked.
“Just because … because there’s a pair of monsters down there!” Thomas replied sheepishly. Jake frowned. He didn’t need to hear a tall tale like that to follow the rules in someone else’s house. But he shrugged off Thomas’ tale on the fact that his new friend didn’t know him quite well enough to know that about him.
“Come on, let’s go kick the soccer ball in the backyard,” Thomas said, eager to change the subject. “But watch out for Rascal’s landmines!”
The duo spent the afternoon playing soccer outside and video games inside before returning back to the yard to climb the big oak tree that shaded the patio and most of the house. After dinner — tacos –the boys helped clean up the table, then settled into the family room to play the board game while Thomas’ parents relaxed to the television in their own room.
As Jake contemplated his next move — the quick kill of one piece or the strategic routing of Thomas’ entire squad — his concentration was broken by the sounds that rose from the basement. At first he thought it might be a TV, but the sounds were the same: A low, guttural groaning sound, followed by a quiet, high-pitched snickering sound. Jake looked up from the board to his friend with a quizzical look, but Thomas seemed oblivious to the sound.
“Don’t you hear that? What’s that terrible sound?!”
“Hear what?” Thomas answered, scanning the board for his best defensive position. Then he, too, finally noticed what Jake had heard.
“Oh yeah, that; that’s just our monsters,” said Thomas, somewhat nonchalantly now. After all, he’d already told Jake about them. “One’s torturing the other. It’s no big deal. But remember: don’t go into the basement.”
“Whatevs,” was Jake’s reply. He didn’t know for sure what was making the noise, but Thomas’ storytelling was starting to annoy him a good deal.
Jake took out his frustration on the battlefield of the board game, by wiping out all of his friend’s soldiers and cornering his general in the garrison at the far edge of the board. Now it was Thomas’ turn to be annoyed.
“It’s time to go to bed!” he declared matter-of-factly at the end of the game. He tossed the board game back into its box and headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
In relative silence, the two laid out their sleeping bags on the family room floor and settled in to sleep While Thomas crashed almost immediately, Jake — in a strange house and worried about his fragile new friendship, couldn’t sleep. He replayed the conversation in his mind a couple of times, and came to the conclusion that he needed to forgive his friend for the stories he told and let it go. Doing so was like a magical sleeping spell; almost immediately after deciding to forgive his friend, he was able to sleep.
But the sleep didn’t last for long. In the twilight of rest — that early dozing state en route to a deep slumber — Jake was yet aware subconsciously of noises around him. His subconscious mind, hearing noises beneath them in the basement, quickly roused the conscious Jake and told him to pay attention.
Sitting straight up and listening hard now, Jake could hear the same sorts of noises he’d heard earlier. He heard low mumbling, followed by deep, pained groans and then an also-deep tittering sound that sounded like a throaty giggle. It was quiet for a moment afterwards, but then it happened again:
“Mumble, mumble, mumble-mumble!”
Jake couldn’t stand it. Upset at his friend all over again, he couldn’t stand not having an honest answer about the goings-on in the basement. He certainly wasn’t going to be able to sleep through the noise, or through his anger. Because he was mad, he was not at all afraid, and quickly slipped out of his sleeping bag and made for the basement.
Stepping gingerly across the floor, he made it all the way to the basement door without rousing Rascal, who was chasing rabbits in his dreams in his bed in the corner of the kitchen. Slowly, quietly, Jake twisted the handle of the door to the basement. He was expecting that creepy foreshadowing squealing sound to grind out from an old set of hinges as he swung the door open, but to his relief, it opened silently — Thomas’ dad maintained the house quite well, Jake thought to himself.
Leaving the door open, Jake stepped lightly on to the first wooden plank step. It, too, kept his secret.
Whatever was making the groans in the basement was still at it, and Jake marvelled at Thomas’ imagination — it did sound like monsters torturing each other! But as he crept deeper into the basement, Jake could start to make out what was being said.
“How much mumble, mumble batteries mumble? Mumble – they’re mumble, mumble charge!”
“Arrrr-urrrh-owhrrr-uhhnh!” came the same pained groans.
“Eeeeh-eee-ehhh-ehhhh-ehhhhhh!” rose the same maniacle, gleeful laughing sound.
Jake got to the bottom of the stairs and slowly peered around the corner into the basement room. There, in a well-lit and nicely furnished lounge room, two large, hairy monsters sat on soft armchairs facing one another. The monsters were hideous, but Jake was frozen. He watched as one monster handed the other one a soft-bound book — the kind you’d get from classroom book orders. The monster with the book found a new page with its hooked thumb and cleared his throat to read.
“The little girl’s doll lost a foot,” read the monster in its deep, guttural voice. For the first time, Jake was afraid. Fearing what was coming next, he turned to sprint up the stairs. But he was too late; as he escaped across the basement threshold and slammed the door behind him, he could nonetheless hear the monster triumphantly finish the painful pun:
“So she took it to a plastic surgeon!”
As the second monster groaned in agony, Jake ran for the front door and all the way home, desperate to avoid becoming a victim of the punny, terrible torture taking place in Thomas’ basement.