Tumbling, running, screen door slamming; Timmy and Joey are all elbows and laughter as they try to be the first one to dump their paper plates in to the trash can. Their mother, Ann, follows close behind.
“Calm down you two! Don’t make me sorry I let you stay up late!”
“Did you see that one tube firework go off, Mom?” Timmy asks. “I thought it burned off dad’s eyebrows!”
“Oh I saw it all right.” Ann says “One of these Fourth of July’s your father is going to kill himself.”
“I hear you talking, but I still have my eyebrows!” Their father Marty, thunders as the screen door slams behind him. “They are still there right?” Marty says bending over and putting his face close to the boys so they could check for him.
“Yeah!” The kids yell in unison
“I don’t want you giving them any ideas. Just because you didn’t lose an eye tonight doesn’t mean it’s all right for them to sneak off and shoot fireworks.”
“All right, all right” Marty says as he puts his hands in front of himself in a surrender gesture, wafting out a fresh cloud of burnt gunpowder and stale beer. “Nobody shoots any fireworks until they are at least 18.” Marty raises his right hand up, his first three fingers in the Boy Scout pledge.
Ann eyes him sideways and turns towards Joey “Take out the trash honey before you brush...”
“Aww, why me? I took it out last time!”
“I don’t want to hear anything out of you! I let you stay up late, you saw fireworks and drank more soda then you probably should have in a week so march!”
“Ha! You gotta take out the trash! She told you!” Timmy points and laughs at his brother.
“Oh yeah funny guy?” Marty asks as he pushes himself up from his leaning position on the counter “Run down the basement and get me two beers; the good ones - from the back.”
Timmy’s hand drops and his eyes widen “Dad, you know I can’t go down the basement after dark.”
Ann turns to Marty “Were having a nice day don’t ruin it.”
The warning in Ann’s voice gets lost in the fog of beer. “I just want to see the progress this pricey shrink is making.”
“He told me he’ll take me if I go down there in the dark again.” Timmy pleads, looking at his shoes.
Rolling his eyes, Marty walks to the basement door at the side of the kitchen, throwing it open he slaps on the lights in the basement from the switches of the top of the stairs. “Then I guess I’ll have to go down myself and get it. Not a big deal, just disappointed, again.”
“Stop torturing him Martin.” Ann says low, through gritted teeth. “You’ve had enough beer anyway.”
“Don’t tell me what I’ve had!” Marty says jabbing his finger in the air towards Ann. “I’m just trying to figure out how we have a ghost that only haunts the basement. Can you explain that to me please? Can you explain to me how my 12-year-old son is only afraid of the dark in one room of the house? He doesn’t need a doctor he needs to man up!”
In the moment it takes for Ann to unfold her arms and lean in to pick up her half of the yelling match Timmy pushes past her towards the basement door “I’ll go, just leave the lights on. Okay?”
“That’s my boy! I’ll leave the lights on, just hurry up.” Dad says smacking Timmy on the back.
Timmy stands at the top of the stairs looking down into the halogen lit basement. Years ago Marty had refinished the basement, putting up drywall and getting a big screen TV so he could watch football on Sundays. Ann had decorated what she called the man cave and during the day it was nice, but at night something else was down there; something that only talks to Timmy.
Timmy steps down the stairs on his tip toes; stopping halfway to look up and make sure his dad was still the top of the steps.
“Come on boy that beer ain’t gonna get itself.” Marty says as a form of encouragement “Don’t worry I’m not going anywhere until you get back.”
Marty had never put the spindles in the banister, so there was a large space between the steps and the handrail. Timmy sits, and surveys the room from his unobstructed view.
Timmy couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but he could smell a damp earth odor that isn’t there in the daylight. Stepping off the stairwell and on the basement floor Timmy turns and walks towards the back of the basement. Along the edge of the wall, in the periphery of his vision, he could see things, things that Dr. Connor said weren’t really there, skittering, trying to get at him but unable to come into the light.
“I told you not to come again.” A voice like nails on a chalkboard whispers into Timmy’s ear.
“Tonight you are mine.” The voice stops Timmy mid step.
“Dad? Did you hear that?”
“All I hear is you stalling. The sooner you get it, the sooner it’s done.”
“Tonight’s the night.”
Timmy walks faster, not wanting to break into a run, not wanting to show fear.
“I’m not afraid of you! My Dad is right upstairs. He won’t let anything happen to me.”
Timmy gets to the refrigerator, focusing on the door handle, ignoring the movement he sees in the corners of the room. Timmy opens the door and smiles at the additional light coming out the refrigerator. He grabs two of the beers from the back, the good ones with the Mexican writing on the label when Marty calls out.
“Are you at the fridge yet Bud?”
“Yeah I’m here now I’ve got the beer in my hands.”
“OK, this is for your own good.”
Timmy can hear the plastic click of the three switches at the top of the stairs.
The basement falls into almost complete blackness. Timmy, standing in the small cone of light from the open refrigerator door, screams.
“Come on boy! There’s nothing there. You can do this!”
Timmy’s white knuckle hands squeeze the two beer bottles almost to the point of breaking. He drags in air with quick, shallow breaths. Sweat breaks out on his forehead and he swallows hard. He tries to push away from the door of the refrigerator but his legs won’t move. Timmy is stuck in the small bubble of refrigerator light listening to the excited scratching and scrabbling of the unseen things in the dark.
“Hurry up I ain’t got all night.”
His father sounds very far away but Timmy wants to get to him, to the steps, to safety. Timmy focuses on the lit stairwell on the far side of that vast darkness. Clenching his teeth and taking a couple practice starts Timmy charges in to the dark. He can feel the tendrils of the thing grabbing at him, cold and hard and urgent. He bobs and weaves, pulls and shrugs, his shirt rips and his arm bleeds, sending the things in to a fresh wave of excited titters and clicks.
The stairway stretches away from him the faster he runs but Timmy’s fear carries him through the bending space and he slams his right foot on to the first tread.
“Yeah!” his father cheers. “I knew you could do it!”
Timmy’s left foot lands on the second tread and he is triumphant, holding the beers high so his Dad could see.
Timmy’s right foot scales to the third stair, bringing most of him in to the light from the kitchen. But below the knees he is still in the darkness, and that is where he feels the tendrils clamp down.
They pull him sideways, off of his feet. The bottles smash open; the shards cut Timmy’s hands as he tries to grab on to the stairs, trying to stay in the light. Timmy looks up, his face a twisted red mask of terror, he lunges his ruined left hand towards his Dad, towards the light. But Marty, with his jaw dropped open, is too slow.