The Thrill Of The Search

“Why don’t you check in the basement?” 

This question, usually posed by one of my parents, has the potential to fill me with dread. I am usually in desperate search of an item whose evasiveness matches that of a fugitive, and to find it I am forced to contend with the force of nature that is our basement. With a thick coat of green paint, our basement would not look far off from a community theatre’s Forbidden Forest. The floor space is thickly covered with human-sized piles of furniture, games, boxes, and old books. If I look hard enough, I might even find a lost birth certificate or two. 

I could get lost or seriously injured with very little effort in the twists and turns of all these treasures. At its core, this basement is a cemetery for abandoned hobbies, jobs, and homes. A peek into lives lost and forgotten. A search that might take a few minutes can easily take longer if I get distracted by a simple stroll down memory lane. A peek of broken strings brings me back to my short-lived stint as a guitarist in second grade. An American Girl Doll missing not only a leg but also an eye, awards fresh horror and the inexplicable joy of playing Pretend in the Depression era. 

The pieces of furniture that have been designated (somewhere, by someone) for “future use” are propped up on styrofoam squares. Why? One must only look to the walls and, on lucky days, the floors to see obvious signs of water damage. Woe be the search that leads me to the basement on the day after a big rain. Even on a dry day, I am likely to find an errant puddle that our designated water vacuum-er missed.  

Perhaps my quest takes me a different route: to the land of laundry. A long folding table holds piles upon piles of laundry, some of which have been there for months. The ceiling pipes in our “laundry area” have been repurposed as drying racks, so I often navigate this land by pushing my way through a sea of damp shirts, a sensation I wish upon no one.

In the figurative “north” but literal “west” of the basement there is an ice chest older than myself or any of my siblings. Its icy depths contain mysteries I can only imagine. I am extremely wary if my search leads me anywhere near this freezer, as I can only stand to frantically rifle through its frosty treasures for a minute or two before numbness sets in. 

There are truly any number of ways to get lost, wet, distracted, or hurt in our basement. My searches are never guaranteed success. In fact, they rarely guarantee even remote pleasure. I am astounded when I go over to a friend’s house and find a finished basement, nary a puddle, or furniture forest, or sea of drying clothes to be found. Now, where is the fun in that?

Welcome To Our Home!

If I had to pick one part of our house that best represents the real soul of our family, I would pass over our beloved kitchen, its marked table a sign of projects and birthday parties past. I would even skip over our living room, with all the pictures of our loved ones and the perfect setup for a combination tapas-and-movie night. 

What about the porch? A twinkly-lit site for magical summer dinners? No! It won’t do.

For a true testament to our family, our hidden heart, look no further than the stairwell to the basement. Our basement door is hard to miss. A few months ago we painted it black with chalkboard paint and it now features our weekly dinner menu in my mother’s loopy script. “Tuesday: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos,” still resides, a bold proclamation from a menu that is now over a month old.

This door is actually not the only thing in our house that my mother attacked with chalkboard paint. At the foot of the basement stairs, there is a fridge that looks like it might belong in a haunted house. Formerly white and hastily spray-painted black, this poor fridge looks like we salvaged it from a house fire. Perhaps to offset its sheer creepiness, my mother chalked, “Eating and Drinking Makes Me Merry,” across its front. I cannot say with conviction this message helped our poor fridge’s case. 

The stairwell is sandwiched between the chalked door and fridge. Opening the outdated-menu door, I am immediately presented on my right with a choice of light switches. I must choose wisely, as one will turn on a dimly lit bulb that barely provides the outline of the bottom-most stair, and the other was a floodlight for the outdoors in its former life, forever memorialized here and often confused for its basement counterpart. 

I must tread carefully, as the stairs are littered with plastic and paper bags alike, dropped like confetti from our bag storage area on my left. Reusable cotton bags bulge off makeshift hooks on the wall, filled to the brim with plastic grocery bags that have likely seen a few election cycles. We have even taken to shoving plastic bags in a hole in the wall- an oddly shaped hole whose origins to this day are unknown. My siblings and I take pride in seeing how far we can shove a bag up into the wall. Such fun to be had in this starwell! 

Moving past the evidence of what is sure to be considered low-level hoarding, I am immediately struck by a bright blue poster of a rabbit jumping out of a magician’s hat. Yes, the sloped ceiling of our basement stairwell is where we have decided to keep a poster my then-fifteen-year-old brother designed for my mother’s work conference… in 2013. We are available for interior design consultations, but please form an orderly queue. 

I think it has become fairly obvious why I consider this stairwell to be possibly the only legitimate peek into our family’s psyche. Nowhere else in this house can I find the same haphazard and sometimes dangerous arrangement of odds and ends. Nowhere else can I see a trend of obvious, if maybe a little misguided, efforts. Nowhere else do I giggle immediately upon thinking about what visitors must think, should they find themselves checking out our basement stairwell. The pièce de résistance of our family.

Don’t Tell Mom

One summer, years ago, I was hanging out in the basement with my older sister and our cousin, Andy. Andy was visiting for a few weeks, and the basement was operating as his bedroom and our main hangout spot. We were playing a game, probably on the Nintendo 64, when Andy heard a noise.

“What was that?” he asked.

My sister and I looked at each other. We hadn’t heard anything. A second later, we heard a small voice, like a little girl’s, say “Look.” At least, that’s what I heard. It was so soft we couldn’t know for sure.

Andy was clearly startled, but my sister continued playing the videogame. “You guys are being children,” she said. “There’s nothing there. It was probably just a weird sound effect from the game.” So, like any kid with a big sister, I did what I was told and kept playing the game.

Around fifteen minutes later, we heard something else. This time, it wasn’t a voice. It sounded like a nail or slender piece of metal dragging across one of the workbenches my dad kept in the back. We heard the object ping to the ground and bounce for a couple of seconds. Andy and I looked at each other.

“Uh, we’re gonna go upstairs,” I remember him saying.

“Okay, losers. I’m gonna play a couple of more games because I’m not a child,” my sister said.

Andy and I ran up into the kitchen. Ten minutes later, my sister came up.

“I heard something else,” she said, her face white. “It was a man’s voice, and it was definitely not from a videogame.”

When Dad got home, we asked him to go check it out. Next to the workbench, he found a single nail lying on the ground. He said it must have fallen out of the ceiling or wall, but he dismissed our claims when we told him about the voices. “Get over it guys. It’s not real,” he said. “And don’t tell your mother. It’ll only freak her out.”

We decided to let it go. We moved the Nintendo 64 upstairs, and Andy decided to sleep on the living room couch for the rest of his visit. Years later, when my sister and I went to college, our parents moved out of the house.

I recently visited my parents in their new home. Dad started teasing me about always being such a scared kid – I have to admit, I was – and brought up the basement incident. “You guys forgot about it and everything went away,” he smirked. My mom’s face went white.

“Why didn’t you tell me about that?” she asked Dad. “I told you to let me know if we saw or heard any other weird stuff in the house.”

“Other weird stuff?” I asked.

“I used to see a young girl and an old man around the house when I was home alone,” she explained. “They looked like shadows. Nothing ever happened, but it was scary. I didn’t realize anybody else had encountered them.”

A Different Kind of Home Invasion

I’ve lived in my house for 15 years. It’s a wonderful home – an old Victorian with lots of charm and character. Unfortunately, that character can sometimes mean unwelcome surprises – like Boo (named for the notorious Boo Radley in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird).

I noticed Boo after living in the house for about 10 years. It started as a croaking noise, rising sharply from the basement every evening. At first, I thought it was the house settling. It was old, after all. Then, I would think, But the house has already settled, right? I realized something else was happening, but it was innocuous enough that I didn’t think to delve deeper. I named the noise Boo and continued on with my life.

The creaking and croaking became a low moan a couple of months later. It sounded like an injured animal, or perhaps a very sad man. I guess that name fits whatever is happening, I remember myself thinking once or twice. Still, though the noise was starting to get a little creepy, I didn’t think very much of it. I’ve lived in scarier places and in older buildings. I didn’t believe in ghosts, and I’d walked around the basement to see if someone had snuck in through one of the low windows. I saw nothing but the unfinished floors and countless storage containers. I didn’t mind the noise.

It happened a few months later: a terrifying crack. I at first thought a tree had fallen outside but quickly realized it had come from inside the house. This was starting to get weird. I knew it wasn’t a person messing with me – I’d already checked – so I decided to call an inspector. If there was something wrong with the house, they would be able to tell me. If there was nothing wrong, I would figure out something else.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to figure out something else. The inspector found the issue immediately. Termites.

I later learned that termites are some of the worst types of pests a home can have. They are not only disgusting, but they can cause major structural damage to a house. It is very easy for termites to go unnoticed – they rarely leave signs on exterior walls. To actually find them, an inspector needs to check the sub-flooring for signs of damage. I learned all of this after living with the colony for years; the noise came from the insects burrowing into the foundation and destroying parts of my house. I’ve since hired an exterminator, but every time I hear a creak, I can’t help but call an inspector. What would have happened had I neglected to call for another few months? I don’t want to think about it.

A Damp Tragedy

My wife and I bought our house a couple of months ago. We were so happy to find the place; it was in the perfect neighborhood, it was the perfect size, it got the perfect amount of natural light in the mornings and evenings. We were even more excited when we saw the price tag was about $10,000 under what we had planned to spend. We got the property assessed (nothing wrong there), applied for a mortgage, and signed the papers just a couple of weeks after seeing it for the first time. It moved so quickly we couldn’t help but think, this was meant to be.

Things went awry just a couple of days after we moved in. That’s when we got sick.

It started with my wife. We were moving some winter supplies into the home’s basement when she started to cough. We didn’t think anything of it – she was due for her annual cold, anyway, and a cough is never really something to worry about. Then, a few hours later, the cough had progressed into a painful wheezing. She got a runny nose, her eyes started to itch, and her throat become sore. No problem, we thought.

Her condition worsened for weeks, but she insisted on continuing to help me move into the house. We spent hours in the basement trying to find the perfect spot for all our things, trying to find the silver lining in this cloud of sickness. Her cold had turned into a fever, and she got bloody noses daily.

Around a month after the move, my wife started to forget things. It started with simple misplacements; she’d set down her car keys, then fly into a frenzy when she couldn’t find them hours later. She started to have more difficulty breathing, and she couldn’t concentrate on a project for more than a few minutes. That’s when we realized: something was wrong with the house.

I remembered that her sickness had started in the basement, so that’s where I started my search. I pawed my way through our possessions, tossing aside Christmas stockings and snow boots, until I found an untouched corner. In that corner, just on the wall, it looked as though somebody had tried to patch a hole. That’s odd, I thought. I decided to see what was there. I grabbed a sledgehammer and started whacking away.

After a few hits, the patched wood gave in and the hammer slid through. A horrible, pungent smell, like rotting vegetables, hit me. I tore the wood away and discovered the source of my wife’s illness: stachybotrys chartum, or black mold.

We’ve since hired a professional mold removing service, and my wife’s condition has begun to improve. Still, the experience has left a stain on our happy new home. The next time we move, this will be the first thing we look for. Sometimes, the terror in the basement is very real – even if it doesn’t have sharp claws and glowing eyes.

Diapers and Containers and Labels…Oh My!

I thought I had planned for everything. I really did. The nursery. The shared bedrooms for the other kids. The need for storage. A few family and friends I could trust to occasionally get a few hours for myself and, despite what everybody tells me, the fragile balance that is my sanity. After years of talking about it, months of preparation, and a bunch of worrying in between, I thought I was finally in a good place. I finally felt ready, even in a way that I never once during my first pregnancy and as a new mother.

My first time, I was pregnant with twins. As my husband and I needed a little extra help getting pregnant—a story for another time—we used IVF and so it was no big shock that we ended up with twins. It was supposed to be the same the second time around. Our first two children, Brian and Brenda, had just turned 4 and were about to enter pre-school. I could tell I wanted more children, but wasn’t sure how much longer we could wait before that window closed permanently.

I told myself 3 children total would be perfect, but also that I would be prepared for another set of twins or even triplets. At the beginning of my second trimester, I went to see my OB/GYN. The ultrasound revealed twins, and while my doctor definitely mentioned and I already knew from my first pregnancy that a third baby could be missed, especially by the second ultrasound. It was still a shock, an earth-moving, vertigo-inducing shock, to discover at 20 weeks that I wasn’t having twins. I was having triplets.

This, as they say, was a whole new ball of wax. Everything that had been budgeted, financially and spatially, had no room for error. There was no room at all for this problem. Naturally, we thought at first about moving into a bigger house. We had a house, not super-fancy or brand-new, but on the nicer side and in a good neighborhood. Which is to say, we could have gone out in the housing market and found a bigger home at roughly the same price as our current home. We would have to lose the realtor fee and closing costs and all that, but more than that, I was 5 months pregnant. The only way to seemingly make it work would be to find a new house and move in before moving out of the old house. And that was a problem financially in terms of showing the bank that we could come up with 6 months of mortgage payments for both properties. We freaked out for a couple days, but then we got to work. And this is where the basement comes in. My husband’s parents agreed to take some of our childhood mementos and store it in their house for a while. Then, we went to work.  

Our basement is creepy enough. Bigger than a crawl space, it still has low ceilings. It was also unfinished in the worst way. God bless, we had some friends and friends in the construction business, and they ended up cutting us a break. We didn’t need the basement fully finished, but they did the waterproofing that let us feel comfortable storing kid clothing and other items down there.

While this construction was going on, we went back to the drawing board and to online shopping to get extra supplies. The Container Store has always been there for us when we needed additional home and kid storage. We increased our order for diapers and other baby items with We made plans to get our triplet clothing at a great price with Stuff4Multiples. We also realized from our experience with twins that it doesn’t much to get the laundry hopelessly disorganized. And so, we found a personal label maker, It’s Mine Labels, that made clothing labels custom made for our kids—all five of them—Brian, Brenda, Carla, Christopher, and Colton.

And so, on March 21st, I got that sharp familiar pain, and our journey started. Dave, my husband, was great. I’ll never forget what he said as we left for the hospital. He kissed forehead gently, looked me square in the eyes with a look that was somewhere between earnest and calm, and he said, “We got this.”

My Basement Saved My Marriage

My partner and I have been together for a while—a long while. We met in college and moved in together after graduating. We got married four years after that, when we were 26. We’re both currently 58 years old, so yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty long time. They’re my best friend, my closest confidant, but wow do they get on my nerves sometimes. You know how when you begin a relationship and certain things piss you off, but you expect your frustration to just fade with time? Well, it doesn’t fade. I love them more than anything, but every once in a while, we really do need our own space.

When we moved into our current home, we both had one new requirement. We’d always sought out homes with large windows, updated kitchens, and built-in shelving. This time, however, we wanted an extra living space. Here’s what the idea was: one of us would take the living room as a private space, and the other would take the additional living area as a private space. That way, we’d have the ability to have private time when we wanted to escape each other for a few hours. We were expecting to just get a place with an extra bedroom, but what we found was even better.

We found… *drumroll*… a basement. A finished basement. We didn’t think it would be possible with our budget, but it happened. They took the basement as a den/office/gym, and I have the living room as a studio. I don’t know what we would have done without this space; honestly, I think not having these areas would have killed our marriage. Regardless, I am so happy to report that the basement worked out perfectly.

I can honestly say: my basement saved my marriage! Sure, basements can be spooky, scary, and isolating, but to some they’re the perfect space for independence.

A Dream Come True

Let me start this by saying: I’m not sure if this is the type of story that can be featured here. There isn’t much coverage of stories like this on the site, but I hope this one is published. Of course, basements are scary (some of these stories made my skin crawl!), but for some of us, they are a point of pride and realized dreams. You’ll see what I mean.

My husband and I have been together for twelve years. I know, that sounds ridiculous for two 30-year-olds, but yeah, we got together when we were both 18. Money was always really tight for us; both of our parents cut us off financially when we graduated from high school, and though we were able to handle the expenses of attending in-state universities, we always struggled to make ends meet. We worked multiple jobs while studying, never having enough time to enjoy the fruits of our labor—small but well-kept apartments.

We’ve shared more studio apartments than I can even count. It was really rough for a really long time; they were always meticulously decorated, the room always carefully designed to maximize space. But two twenty-something-year-olds in a 450sqft area is never a good idea. Regardless, we persevered.

Things didn’t get easier when we graduated from school. Though we were able to leave debt-free, we both struggled to find well-paying jobs in our fields. Regardless, we both set aside half of our paychecks for savings. We continued to live in studio apartments and spent the bare minimum on food, fun, and entertainment. We still enjoyed a night out every once in a while, but we really prioritized savings.

Then, after eight years of working full-time and saving as much income as possible, we did it: we bought a house. We had saved enough to put down a really generous down payment, and our credit scores were good enough to get great interest rates. We’re essentially paying the same amount in mortgage fees as we did in rent, only now, we have a two-bedroom home… with a basement!

The idea of having a basement—finished or unfinished—is mind-blowing to me. For years, we did whatever we could to minimize our belongings—we just didn’t have the space for them! Now, we have an entire floor of our home devoted to storage. Heck, we might even finish part of it and put in a pool table or home gym. I get it—basements can be creepy. But for some of us, they’re a sign of having ”made it” in some way. I freaking love my basement.


Urban Explorer

I used to consider myself an “urban explorer”–someone who loved going into old and abandoned structures, such as hospitals, apartment buildings, and warehouses. I was always drawn to the sense of adventure and discovery in these vacant buildings, and I loved to see what people had left behind. A few years into my urban explorations, a friend said he’d found a place around an hour out of town—an abandoned farmhouse. It was an isolated site, and we’d have to go pretty far out of our way to check it out, but we were told it was worth it. We knew some crazy stuff had happened there—my friend, Josh, had mentioned it was previously owned by a cult—so we wanted to see it for ourselves.

Last October, we drove up to the house. That last few miles of the trip were over a muddy, rocky dirt road surrounded by rows and rows of trees. The house emerged in front of us, a two-story Victorian with a beautiful roof. It looked like a beautiful, peaceful building—somewhere I would have loved to live after putting a few months of hard work into it. It was in pretty bad condition, but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of graffiti and litter. The windows and front door were boarded up, but the back door was open, banging around in the wind.

A photo of a separate exploration.

We walked around the exterior of the property, finding a few sheds and the corpse of a truck. There was a collection of white stones scattered around the ground, forming a spiral pattern. I bent to examine one of the stones, discovering that patterns had been etched into its face. It was weird, but we didn’t think much of it; maybe the nearby college was using the property for an art project.

We eventually made our way into the house, moving from the entryway to the living room. The space was filled with dust-covered furniture, the coffee table turned on its side and rodents visibly moving under the couch cushions. The place was a mess, but it was the thing I loved to discover. We found a few family photos—ostensibly, the people who lived there before the place was abandoned. I stepped back to examine the photos altogether, noticing something odd. Their faces had been partially scratched out with spiral shapes similar to the rock formation we’d observed outside. “That’s weird,” I remembered myself saying.

We moved from the living room to the basement, descending the craggy steps carefully. Not carefully enough, apparently—five stairs from the bottom, the wood gave way and I plunged through the material into several inches of tepid water. Initially, I didn’t completely realize what happened, but then my legs started burning; I dozens of splinters were stuck into my legs, making movement both agonizing and very, very difficult. The pain began to spread up to my torso, and I began to feel woozy. Before passing out completely, I looked around to survey the room. Something moved in the corner, and I could have sworn I saw a face. It must have been a combination of fear and pain, but I blacked out.

When I woke up, I was in an ambulance. Josh had called 911 as soon as I fell—the right call, despite the illegality of what we were doing. After a few hours of stitching and more than enough vaccinations, I was out of the hospital. I still think back to what I saw before passing out—a ghostly face. Was it a member of the family who had lived there? Was it a homeless guy squatting in the basement? Or, was it something more sinister—there had been more than enough creepy shit in and around the house. What were those spirals? I’ll never know, but I still think about that day from time to time. Basements are creepy, man.


The Note

My wife and I have always left notes for each other—on the bedside table, on the refrigerator, on the door, pretty much everywhere. They’re as touching as they are helpful, service as brief reminders that we’re in each other’s lives… but, also, that we might be out of milk. We recently moved from the city to a more rural area to purchase our first house. The house structure is a bit wonky, so we end up exiting the building from the basement. It leads directly into the garage and includes a finished, vestibule-like area for shoes and coats. We put a whiteboard in that space to record messages to each other—your mom called, I have book club tonight, the car needs, gas, et cetera.

After a few months of living in the house, we settled into a schedule. We got to know each other’s new habits and hobbies, eventually starting to abandon the basement whiteboard notes. Every once in a while, a “I didn’t get a chance to grocery shop” would show up, but those messages were few and far between. Suddenly, however, that changed.

It started with weird erasure marks. I’d get home to see that morning’s message defaced in some way–“I didn’t get a chance to grocery shop” would be changed to “I didn’t get a chance.” Small things that I normally wouldn’t have noticed without the weird deliberateness. I asked my wife about it, but she didn’t think it was anything to worry about—”You probably brushed it on your way out.” I wasn’t convinced.

After a few weeks, new messages began to appear. They were always vaguely threatening—one that sticks out in my memory read, “Why didn’t she call?” It was something that my wife very well could have written (the handwriting was strange, but similar enough to hers), but she never knew what I was talking about when I brought it up. The messages began to become even more aggressive–“Is life worth living?” And “I don’t know what to do.” I was confused and scared.

Eventually, we ended up calling the police. The came, searched the building, and couldn’t find anything. They told us to call if anything else popped up. The messages paused for some time after that, and I got more comfortable telling neighbors about it in passing. That’s how we ended up solving the mystery.

I’d been telling my neighbor, Dave, about the strange messages and how they randomly stopped. He was intrigued and asked to see a picture. “I’ll do you one better,” I said. “I’ll show you the actual white board.” I brought him into the basement so he could read the last message for himself. “Are you kidding me? I know that handwriting,” he laughed. I was shocked.

As it turns out, Dave’s son had been struggling in school. He’d been bullied so badly they had to choice into a new school system—right around the time the messages disappeared. Dave called his son right there, and he confessed to writing the notes on our board. He said it felt good to get these thoughts off his chest, even though he knew it was at our expense. I should have been angry, but to be totally honest, I was just relieved. The house wasn’t haunted, we didn’t have a malevolent intruder, and we could go on with our lives.