Living the Haunted Life
By Boone Brux
I grew up in a haunted house. Not the good kind. No Caspar to hang out with. No Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin ghostly-type couple to tell my woes to. The spirits that inhabited our big, turn-of-the-century home felt sinister, like we were intruding where we didn’t belong.
When I was in fifth grade, my parents bought the house for $15,000. My mother loved the eerie domicile. She became obsessed with redecorating, stripping the ornate woodwork and parquet floors, even painting the outside charcoal black with white trim. Remember the Amityville Horror, when James Brolin weirds out? Okay, bad comparison. Mom didn’t wig like that badly, but the creepy vibes and ominous presence that plagued my brother and I seemed silent around her.
If I had to recreate a basement for a horror movie, it would be from that house. Narrow, single planks of wood formed backless steps. Every creak of the dry wood as I descended the stairs sent shivers racing up my spin. Surely some creature of the damned waited to grab my ankles.
The basement consisted of three rooms. The first was lit by a single bulb hanging from the low ceiling in the center. This meant traversing several feet of darkness before fumbling to find the thin, dangling string to pull. I remember the way the bulb swung back and forth, rocking its light into the dark corners before retreating again.
There was no electricity in the small room to the left. It was long and narrow, the darkness so dense it hurt my eyes. The last room was the worst. In the far wall yawned a wide, black hole. If an entrance to Hell existed, this was it.
Two doors led to the basement. The one on the back porch had glass windows that allowed me to stare into the dark abyss. Oftentimes I’d challenge myself not to run and gaze down the stairs for ten seconds, all the while praying that nothing would step from the shadows and peer back at me.
The second door was in our kitchen. So many times I’d walked into the room and notice the door cracked open. I’d tiptoe over, take a deep breath, grab the knob and slam the door. I’d give it a little push to make sure the latch caught. Then I’d back away, watching the knob for the slightest jiggle or twist. But it didn’t matter. When I’d return to the kitchen, even if it had only been five minutes, and even if I was the only one in the house, the door would be open—again.
I believe kids are susceptible to the unexplainable. For me, the most horrifying thing was the entity that often entered a room. It brought with it a sense of being watched and a suffocating presence. Cold dread would pour over me, my breath would catch in my throat and my heart would pound so hard I thought it would pop from my chest. I taught myself not to panic, to stay calm, get up slowly and leave the room. Sometimes it followed, but usually not. I’d rush to find another living person, but if I was home alone, I’d run outside. Oftentimes, behind the massive oak tree in the front yard was the only place that felt safe. I’d peek around the trunk and stare up at the tall bedroom windows; sure I’d see a shadowed figure gazing back.
My mother was oblivious and for a long time I thought I was the only one who experienced such things. One night, a few years ago, my brother and I were talking. I mentioned “the house”.
He looked at me, his face draining of color. “I hated that place. Something evil lived there.”
I was stunned and slightly relieved. He went on to tell me about the night he woke up and a man was standing at the foot of his bed. He wore a cloak and hat, but his face was shrouded in darkness. My brother’s room had once been the old servants’ quarters. Perhaps the ghost was the carriage driver or a servant in the home. The sight of the specter frightened my brother so badly he threw the covers over his head and hid until morning.
I did point out that blankets rarely fended off an attack, but in his defense, I can attest to the paralyzing fear that renders a person helpless to cry out for help or flee. To this day my mom scratches her head and says, “I always loved that house.” And at times, when I think about my childhood home too much, I dream that I’m there again, standing at the kitchen door as it creeks open and invites me in.
Boone's Shield of Fire will be released by Entangled Publishing Dec. 6, 2011