“Go on downstairs and wash up for dinner, baby girl.”
I was four, maybe, the night of my first real memory. The night when unspeakable horror in a child’s eyes were merely games to be played in the shadows of man.
Grandmother had urged me to the bathroom in the basement to get cleaned up like she did all the kids before eating. I wanted to be the brave girl, all grown up, so I started walking down the stairs without turning on the light beforehand. It wasn’t too dark, as the bright fluorescent kitchen light flickered on and filtered down the open stairwell to barely illuminate the bathroom door.
I made it halfway down the stairs, my small hand tightening my hold the railing, before I stopped. I stopped, and stared. I was frozen in a bewildered manner, trying to make sense of what was happening before me. I couldn’t. I had no frame of reference for what I saw. I remember tilting my head to the side, like you see now in those cute malamute puppy videos, but it didn’t help me make sense of it.
“Go on down now, pumpkin. Your dinner’s gonna get cold.” Cabinets opened and shut. Plates were placed on the table. I didn’t want my favorite take out to get cold. Tater tots never tasted as good when they cooled and lost their crispiness.
I remember her urging, her need for me to rush there and back, making a race of it like she always did because she knew how much I didn’t like going down to the basement at night alone. Why couldn’t she have just let me use the kitchen sink. Just this once.
I didn’t want to know what lurked in the shadows. A child should never know.
I stood immobile for what seemed an eternity, especially given what I involuntarily bore witness to, but in my grandmother’s reality only seconds had passed. Ice clinked into glasses and grape koolaid was poured. I knew it was grape koolaid because when she’d set the pitcher down, it was a nearly silent thud of the plastic container reserved for my sugary concoction, and not the heavy glass sun-tea jar. And grape was my favorite.
“Whatsa the matter, girl? There ain’t nothing down there to be afraid of, you know that. Quick as those race car drivers you wanna be like when you grow up, get there and back.” Another drink poured and this time the tea pitcher was put back in the fridge. Grandmother never had more than one glass at dinner.
I took one more tentative step down then my nightmares were made manifest.
Shadows which had lurked in the deepest recesses of the basement flew from their previously unseen hiding spots. They escaped through the cavernous cellar door, the old screen left to hang from rusted hinges behind them.
At that, I calmly turned and walked back up the stairs, and told grandmother what I’d seen.
It was over. Or so I’d thought.
c. 2016 Deidre Meyrick