The Doll in the Basement

There was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about that day–at least, not at first.

It was just another in a string of  lazy end-of-summer afternoons, the kind of day that lingered, unhurried, like a traveler sitting on the front porch of some country store in a small New England town, feet up, sipping lemonade and chatting with the guests.

betterporch

 

lemonade

And that was fine with me.  With the new school year set to begin the following week, the day could take as much time as it wanted as far as I was concerned.  I was about to enter the fifth grade, and the teacher, a veteran of three-plus decades, had a reputation for being a no-nonsense disciplinarian who expected his students to perform from the get-go.  I knew I had to be ready.

But that was next week.  No need to dwell on it, not while a last sliver of summer vacation stood, like a buffer, against the onset of roll call and homework.

The day was hot, clear but humid, the air like a moist blanket that needed to be wrung out, drip by drip.  I decided to head down to the basement–the coolest space in the house.

The basement was split into two distinct zones.  The front, or “Light section,” as I liked to think of it, was partially finished, with food shelves, a freezer, a pool table, and a ping pong set.

pingpong

 

Every time I went down there, I felt as if I were being greeted by an old friend.  I could relax, unwind, let my imagination wander, as I dreamed up new stories to write or new games I could play with my friends.

But the back . . . the back of the basement was unfinished, darker, with metal pipes straddling the ceiling; an old furnace, tucked away in a corner that hummed like a living thing on cold days; a mysterious window, which I had nicknamed “the window to nowhere,” that led to a narrow crawl space; a workbench built in against the far wall, cluttered with hand tools and scraps of wood and paintbrushes; and a snug, pitch-black little compartment under the stairs, where all manner of knickknacks and other assorted sundries were stashed.

clotheslinesandpipes

 

I enjoyed scaring my friends with ghost stories about these tucked-away corners of the basement, and they were genuinely in awe of “the window to nowhere.”

windowtonowhere

 

But while I acted cool and confident in front of them, the truth was . . . I was uncomfortable being in the back of the basement, alone.  I imagined furry things curled up in secret nests; slithery, poisonous things that lived under the workbench or behind the water heater, who would reach out with tentacled limbs and pull me in.  Sometimes, when I ran upstairs, I could swear I heard something stirring in the shadows behind me, and my pace would quicken, my feet rushing, rushing . . .

monster

 

But on that day, with the afternoon heat at its worst and the reality of fifth grade and the demanding teacher on the near horizon, I didn’t think of unseen monsters or dark creatures with fangs and feral, angry eyes.  I just wanted to escape to someplace cooler.

So I went down and played pool with myself, pretending to be a high-stakes player performing in front of thousands of riveted spectators.

pool

 

It was fun for a while, but after a few minutes, I wanted something else to do.  I peered in toward the back of the basement.  Sunlight filtered in through a small window, and I could see particles of dust dancing in the beams.

Why not?  I thought.  Maybe I could discover something new with which to frighten my friends.

The first thing I did when I went back there was yank the chain that lit the naked lightbulb fastened to the ceiling.  The sunlight through the window helped.  But it was not enough–I needed full-on, bright light if I were to venture into this section of the basement, alone.

lightbulb

 

I walked slowly, alert, ready to bolt in a heartbeat if anything should happen.  The sound of footsteps upstairs, muted by the floor above my head, descended upon me.  It was a comforting sound, secure.  It injected me with a fresh dose of courage.

I continued on, heading for my father’s worn, paint-speckled workbench.  Clotheslines crisscrossed in front of it–though no clothes were presently on the lines.  What did hang from one of the lines was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll.

doll

 

I jerked back, not expecting to see her.  Whose doll was she, anyway?  My sister, never a big collector of dolls to begin with, had recently started college.  It wasn’t hers.  One of my cousins, perhaps?  I didn’t know.  And I hesitated, considered turning around and going back to the relative safety of the front portion of the basement.  From upstairs, I heard the dull thud of more footsteps.

The doll was pretty, wearing a dress, with a bow in her hair.  But something about her disturbed me.  I had never liked dolls anyway–maybe that’s all it was.  They always seemed like living things, sentient, only pretending to be dead.

dollalive

 

But when the lights were turned off, and night fell over the house like a shroud, I imagined them walking, on whispery feet, down the hallway, rummaging through dressers and drawers, scheming their secret schemes.

I approached the clotheslines and the doll, slowly, quietly.  Finally, I stood there, face-to-face with her.  I shook my head.  Why had I been afraid?  How ridiculous!  She was made of porcelain, not flesh and blood.  Besides, what could she possibly do?  I scolded myself for being so jumpy over nothing.

I swallowed, reached for the doll.

The doll winked.

I stumbled back, nearly falling over, and was sure I could hear the murmur of some unseen piece of machinery grow louder, closer.

thingsinthedark

 

I turned away from the blonde doll with the blue eyes and the hair bow.  I raced for the stairs, forgetting to switch off the light on the way.  As I took the stairs, two at a time, my mind imagined the doll on the clothesline, smiling now, her eyes staring, empty, calculating, wanting me to return.

childdoll

 

I never did.  I did not venture alone into the back of the basement again until that doll was gone, nor did I tell anyone about what I’d seen.  I’d occasionally head down with my father if he needed to search for something on the workbench–though I always made sure to keep my distance.  I peeked in, sideways, checking to see if she was still there.

Finally, nearly a month later, the doll was gone.  Just as I never learned where she had come from, I never learned where she went.

*****************

To this day, I still ask myself:  Did that doll really wink at me?  I was nervous as I approached her, so it’s possible my mind created the illusion.  Marc Kuslanski would favor that theory.

But I have always believed that she did in fact wink.  I saw her eye close, slowly, and then open again–as clear as the sunlight that filtered in through the small window on the other end of the basement.  Perhaps, in her own way, she was the reason the blue-eyed “ghost girl” appeared in my nightmares years later, the same girl who haunts Mitchell Brant‘s dreams at the start of The Eye-Dancers.

ghostgirl

 

That version makes for the better story, anyway . . .

betterstory

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

64 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. John W. Howell
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 18:33:21

    Whoa Very scary. I wouldn’t go back either.

    Reply

  2. Carol Balawyder
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 18:41:36

    I really like your style of writing:)

    Reply

  3. europasicewolf
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 19:21:20

    That was so cool!! Great read and having something of a fascination with basements in general a good scare is always handy to be able to sneak in with you…I would not like to meet any dolls in the basement though!!! 🙂

    Reply

  4. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 19:34:01

    Wonderful Mike. Great description-I would have been able to ‘see’ it even without the photos, which by the way, are also a wonderful choice. I was right there with you…kind of reminded me of one of our basement’s when I was about 10.

    Reply

  5. jenniferkmarsh
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 20:14:43

    Gosh. Perhaps that was what inspired your Ghost Girl! Fascinating 🙂 Freaky though, that would have scared me to no end. I get freaked out sooo easily, you’ve just got to laugh.

    It’s funny how many people dislike china dolls, don’t you think? I wonder why. I do too. However, that said, one of my most prized possessions is a china doll. She’s a Victorian woman with a big feather hat. She isn’t creepy – or at least I don’t think so. I view her more as a guardian, in some very strange way. But I’ve had her since I was a little girl, so maybe that has something to do with it (:

    Reply

  6. Rosaliene Bacchus
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 22:28:48

    Fascinating story! A writer myself, I find it amazing the way our subconscious mind works in creating characters and events that seem to come from nowhere.

    Great storytelling.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 17, 2014 @ 18:20:23

      Thank you! Yes, I think being a writer sometimes makes us more prone to invent a scary story out of an otherwise harmless situation! A writer’s mind almost automatically defaults to the “what-if” mode . . . not always a good thing!

      Reply

  7. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 22:51:11

    It’s pretty special that the memory remained with you and you used it in your book. The true story sounds spooky. You chose a great way use it. My basement was scary growing up. The attic was worse. I hear a bear lived up there, so I was always afraid to go past the attic door. (This was told to us so we didn’t go up there.)

    Reply

  8. mummyshymz
    Mar 14, 2014 @ 23:52:37

    Love your stories. Will you be coming up with a compilation of your short stories?

    Reply

  9. Minister Gertrude Ferguson - Founder & CEO- Enough Tribulations
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 01:02:22

    I think it was scary and full of suspense, especially towards the end, and I kept wondering what’s going to happen. I enjoyed it.

    Reply

  10. Ste J
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 10:54:26

    Wonderfully atmospheric, stories like this are delightfully ghoulish when you know something sinister is going to happen.

    Reply

  11. Fashion Mayann
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 14:16:21

    A greatly dark post which isn’t going to make me go down in the basement of my building (I’ve been living there for almost 8 years, but I’ve never been there, who knows ? maybe that the blue eyed-doll is hidden somewhere !).

    Reply

  12. Bruce Thiesen
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 15:23:30

    Spooky story, Mike. Campfire anyone?

    Reply

  13. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 20:03:05

    Scary cool! Good story Mike.

    Reply

  14. AGentleandQuietSpirit
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 20:58:19

    Had just such a basement in our house growing up. We always thought the crawl space would be a great place to play… but never worked up our courage to go in there. Thanks for sharing. Dolls are always, always creepy. Always. Plus, this had a fun tie in to your story which I really enjoyed. 🙂 THanks!

    Reply

  15. Andrea Stephenson
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 00:05:25

    Great story – I love the image of the dolls’ whispery feet in the hallway at night – very creepy. And the fact that the doll appeared and then disappeared with no explanation.

    Reply

  16. stormy1812
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 05:23:32

    Dolls, basements, clowns…all the stuff nightmares are made of, I swear! For me, only basements seem to do the trick lol (or attics – they’re just as creepy with their cobwebs, dark corners and mysteriousness). I just love a good spook story…always have. I think it’s the adrenaline rush I get. I love haunted houses, etc. It’s just something I’ve always been about. Granted, it always bites me in the rear later once the lights go out and I have to try and go to sleep. My mind loves to play tricks on me. I also always enjoy your writing. Your descriptions are always so spot on but not overdone. Fabulous! 🙂

    Reply

  17. Elizabeth Melton Parsons
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 19:59:56

    I love dolls and used to have quite a collection until space became an issue and I donated them to charity. I’m reading “The Eye Dancers” and enjoying it immensely. Ordered a Kindle so I can read it in more locations than just my laptop. Should make a lot faster progress into it then. 🙂

    Reply

  18. valentina
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 22:32:44

    Dear Looooord… if a doll winks at me in a dark basement, I would probably wet my pants first and then run like hell!!!!! LOL…

    Reply

  19. beebeesworld
    Mar 18, 2014 @ 00:44:15

    What an imagination! beebee

    Reply

  20. Holistic Wayfarer
    Mar 18, 2014 @ 01:57:09

    LOL Yes, she did, Mike. Waha ha ha ha.

    I would just say “something new to frighten (or more colloquially, scare) my friends with) since you’re thinking as a 5th grader. Not many kids that age would be so conscientious about ending a sentence with a preposition. =)

    Why not? I thought. Maybe I could discover something new with which to frighten my friends.

    Feel free to delete this part of the comment.

    Always a pleasure here.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 18, 2014 @ 12:55:46

      No deleting here.:) It’s always great hearing from you!

      Reply

      • Holistic Wayfarer
        Mar 18, 2014 @ 14:41:55

        Well, you agree? Disagree?

      • The Eye-Dancers
        Mar 18, 2014 @ 16:32:47

        Well, I will play it both ways.:( I definitely see your point, and you’re right–a fifth-grader wouldn’t think in such a grammatical way! But . . . that isn’t necessarily the intent here. The post is reflective–remembering something that happened to me years ago. So, while it is about my 10-year-old-self, and though I try to bring the reader back with me to that time in my life, the writing itself is reflective, not necessarily using the vocabulary and usage of a ten-year-old, but that of an adult looking back. I hope that makes sense! It’s definitely a fine line, though, writing in the first person about childhood experiences. I can certainly see your point!

      • Holistic Wayfarer
        Mar 18, 2014 @ 14:42:21

        Wouldn’t hurt to hear from you either, Mike.

        *tease*

  21. Sherri
    Mar 18, 2014 @ 10:05:43

    Oh Mike, this is very spooky indeed! I can certainly see where you get your inspiration and great ideas from for the Eye-Dancers! I’m with you, I have never liked dolls and never will. They freak me out and I’m positive that that doll blinked at you. It’s just the kind of thing they do, down in the dark basement, when you’re all alone…
    Great post as always, have a great doll-free day my friend 😉

    Reply

  22. DeDivahDeals
    Mar 18, 2014 @ 18:36:23

    Great story, it captured me from the very beginning and then reminded me of the Twilight Zone Episode “Living Doll’ with Telly Savalas

    Reply

  23. Charron's Chatter
    Mar 21, 2014 @ 15:07:59

    Very well done–it’s as if I was walking into the basement, too. Great establishing paragraph. And yes! I think absolutely this is why the “blue-eyed girl” features in the Eye Dancers…

    Also: we had a pool table in our rec room–my deal was walking on my hands around it…:)

    Reply

  24. beebeesworld
    Mar 21, 2014 @ 23:48:39

    What a neat sttory-great imagination! beebee

    Reply

  25. fashionassist
    Mar 26, 2014 @ 22:32:53

    Awww, the wild imagination of a 5th Grader—there’s nothing quite like it…
    and it seems this blue-eyed phenomenon continues…
    hmmm…wondering where it will pop up next?!!
    A movie maybe???

    Reply

  26. maryamchahine
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 17:04:30

    That was creepy. You did a good job of scaring me ; ) Yes, dolls do have a sinister quality to them. I remember my grandma’s attic. There were definitely spirits living up there. We would go up there to play, and they got angry, and would start doing all kinds of stuff around the house like knocking on windows, rattling things in the fridge, etc. Not everyone believes in ghosts, but I do and many people in my family as we all experienced the ghosts in my grandma’s house.

    Reply

  27. homeflair
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 13:21:04

    Very nice:)

    Reply

  28. FreeRangeCow
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 14:49:09

    I mean this as an ultimate compliment: You are CREEPY! ;oP Okay, you are not; but you sure can write about creep well!

    Reply

  29. 24/7 in France
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 15:03:02

    Yikes, sounds creepy! I would be frightened too.

    Reply

  30. Ampbreia
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 16:24:45

    Aww… Creepy Dolly just wanted to play with someone.

    Reply

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