At bedtime, the little girl I babysat grabbed my shirt and whispered, “Don’t go there.”
“Go where?” I picked her up and walked through the minimalist-styled kitchen with its dark cabinets and farmhouse sink, to the open living room and up the stairs.
She nestled her head into my shoulder. “The basement. Don’t go down there.”
“Why not?” I walked down the hallway to her room. I pushed the door open to an explosion of pink. She had a twin bed covered with pink stuffed animals. Toys cluttered the floor and her drawings hung on the pink striped walls.
“Daddy keeps the door locked. He says the monsters live down there.” She was serious.
I pulled back the sheets with one hand and placed her on the bed, “Yeah. Now go to sleep.”
She made a small noise and pointed down. “Under the bed. You said you would check.”
“Doesn’t make any sense for me to check since your dad has the monsters locked in the basement.” I pulled out my phone and switched on the flashlight, “I will check because I promised you. And then you go to sleep, right? You made a pinky promise.”
“Pinky promise,” she squeaked as she held up her tiny hand.
Our pinkies made the promise and I looked under the bed. I passed my flashlight back and forth for dramatic effect, “No monsters under here!”
“Closet. They hide in the closet too.”
“Gotcha. Checking the closet.” I walked across the room and opened the closet door. The closet was filled with pink dresses, all lined up in a row.
“There are some killer dresses in here, but no monsters.” I turned off the flashlight and slipped my phone in my back pocket. I closed the door. “Time for sleep.” I stepped over toys and checked the window. It was locked. I walked over to the bed and kissed her on the forehead, “Goodnight, pumpkin. Sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams, Aurora. Don’t go in the basement, okay?” She stared at me with a seriousness I had never seen on a child’s face before.
“I won’t. I’m going downstairs to wait for your mommy and daddy.” I lied, knowing I was going to go check the basement. What kind of monsters did her dad have in the basement? Maybe humans. “Okay, now go to sleep.” I flicked the light switch off and closed the door. I waited outside the door for a few minutes until I heard her snoring. I closed the door and wandered down the hall to the parents’ bedroom.
No surprise. Minimalist influence in here; a bed, dresser and a nightstand on each side of the bed. The mirrored closet doors opened and revealed clothes lined in order by color (white to grey to black) and style (dresses, skirts, short skirts, pants on her side). I lay on the bed and the mattress was firm. I rolled over and opened the drawer on one of the nightstands. I saw a pair of keys labeled “basement.”
“Monsters, right.” I grabbed the keys.
I slid the drawer closed. I twirled the ring around my finger as I walked out and down the hall. I listened outside and heard my pumpkin sleeping. I checked my watch. Ample enough time for the parents to come home, I’ll clean up and watch some television – if they have one. We ate pizza out of the box for dinner and ice cream with chocolate syrup for dessert. We left a mess in the kitchen. I sighed and tossed the keys on the counter. I cleaned up the boxes, put the dishes in the dishwasher and wiped down the counters.
I eyed the door on the other side of the counter.
The door to the basement.
“No. No. No.” I mumbled as I strolled over to the sofa and flopped down. I found the remote and turned on something. Sound echoed around me and I found the huge TV screen. I watched something about sharks, then the history of oceans. And I heard it.
Like someone fell or maybe something fell over. And the sound was beneath me. All the crime shows I ever watched rushed into my head. I knew that no Black person would ever go and Scooby Doo that shit. Nope.
I can sacrifice the child. If it comes up, I can sacrifice the kid.
No! What am I thinking? It’s just something that can come up here and probably kill me. The headlines on the paper tomorrow will read, ‘Monster Comes Up From Basement And Black Girl Sacrifices Child and Runs Away.’ I sat back and pressed my hand to stop my heart from pounding through my chest.
I walked over to the fridge and grabbed a water. I chugged it and walked back over to the sofa. As I sat, the lights went out. The blue light from the television screen filled the room.
Think. Think. The parents said the lights were on a timer. So, in theory, some lights should be on. I looked around and there were lights on around the perimeter of the huge, open room.
Who lives like this?!
I heard it again and it was closer. It came up the stairs, I think.
I hate this house. Only thing I needed was for it to rain. A serious thunderstorm and there it is – a crack of lightning across the night sky.
“Okay,” I made my way to the kitchen, “Since everything I think is happening, how about some LIGHTS!”
I raised my arms and nothing happened. “Shit.”
The light over the stove was on. I saw a light switch by the sink. I reached for it and realized it could be the garbage disposal. Found another switch further away from the sink. I flipped it on and the patio lights illuminated outside the house. Through the huge galley window in the kitchen, I saw lights illuminate the entire backyard. As the sky opened up and rain pounded, the wind whipped and tossed everything not nailed down. I looked at the deck with furniture nicer than everything I ever owned, and the pool, which I should have used. The grass looks really green, maybe they have a person…
I stopped. I heard a sound. A creaking sound. Like a door opening sound.
Who would be down here? Who would…and that’s when I noticed the keys were gone.
The keys were on the counter and now they were gone. And the door to the basement was open. Shit!
I’m not Nancy Drew. I’m not in the Scooby Doo gang but I will be damned if this door stays open. Nothing coming up here to get me, monsters or not. The background chat about aliens on a Sci-Fi channel on TV didn’t help much. I’ll just make my way to the door, close it and run to the sofa.
I was sure I’d left those keys on the counter. I shouldn’t have grabbed them anyway. Whatever. It is what it is.
I slid around the counter. The door seemed like it was ten miles away.
I hyped myself up. I bounced on the balls of my feet like a kickboxer ready to strike.
“Now or never. Let’s go!” I ran around the rest of the counter and stopped dead in my tracks.
“Pumpkin, what are you doing down here? You should be sleeping.” Great, now to save the kid. Why did I let a kid psych me out about monsters in the basement anyway? No such thing.
The lights flicked on. She stood at the top of the stairs, by the open basement door. She rubbed her eyes with her tiny fists. She looked so small standing next to the door.
“Come on, baby. Let’s get back upstairs.” I reached out to grab her and saw something in her hand.
“I want some water, Aurora. I’m so thirsty.” She looked at me and tilted her head. “Can you come get me? The monsters are coming.”
I watched her glance into the darkness of the basement. She didn’t turn her head toward me. It swiveled as she whispered, “Water.”
Half of me wanted to forget this kid. Then, I heard my grandmother whisper about how I needed to do the right thing and grab the kid, close the door, and swan dive over to the sofa.
Not the swan dive part.
“Pumpkin, I’m coming.” I tried to convince myself more than anything.
It happened in slow motion. My bare feet tried to gain some traction on the linoleum as I ran over to scoop her in my arms.
Everything went wrong. I bent down to pick her up and she grabbed my legs. She held my knees together and twisted me toward the open door. I fell backward as I reached up and gripped the sides of the door frame.
“Please Jesus! Pumpkin, what are you doing?!” I yelled.
“Even the monsters have to eat, Aurora.” She growled, her voice low, “Monsters get hungry too.”
Something was behind me and it was close. It huffed into my hair. I couldn’t go out like this. I was going to bring that whole fucking door down with me. I held onto the sides as something wet…smelly and clawed, pulled me.
“No! Pumpkin help me! I’m gonna beat your ass when I -”
She closed the door as it wrapped itself completely around me. My eyes were last. I watched the light in front of me slowly disappear.
“Monsters gotta eat too.” She giggled.
I felt hot breath on the side of my face as the light collapsed to darkness.
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