Scarier than Fiction

(This story is a re-telling of an experience my best friend had while in high school.  There is little dramatic embellishment. Written in the late 90s)

It was the middle of October in 1978.  My friend Sue, a junior in high school who lived in a small farming community, was at her locker after school when she noticed Diane Boswell a few lockers down.  Sue barely knew her, and had been surprised to find out Diane had recommended her as a babysitter to the new family in town.  She didn’t know much about the family but she had spoken to them on the phone and learned their name was Smith, they would pick her up at 6:30, they had one toddler, wouldn’t be out late and the money was good.

Sue called out, “Hey, Diane.  Thanks for giving my name to the Smiths.  That was really nice.”

Diane looked up, startled, “Uh… yeah… uh, I had plans.   Gotta run.”  As she hurried by with her head down she whispered, “I’m Sorry.”

Sue was puzzled as she watched Diane walk away but she  shrugged her shoulders, grabbed her books and headed for the bus.  That evening she waited eagerly for the Smiths to pick her up.  She had already put together her baby sitting kit of games, stickers, candy and a toy or two.  When the Smith’s white van pulled up, she shouted a quick goodbye to her mom and ran outside.  Sue reached the van and was a little surprised to find Mr. Smith sitting in the car looking straight ahead and not making any move to greet her or open the door.  She suddenly felt uncomfortable climbing into the van of a complete stranger.  She tapped cautiously on the window.   Mr. Smith turned slowly, his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, and reached over to open the door.

“Hi,” Sue said.  Mr. Smith merely nodded and they made the 5-mile trip in silence.  Sue began to wonder just what she’d gotten herself into.

Mrs. Smith was a little more talkative than her husband.  She welcomed Sue into the kitchen while her toddler clung tightly to her leg.  “Thank you so much for helping us out tonight,” she smiled warmly at Sue.  “This little burr on my leg is Sam.” Sue bent down and said, “Hi Sam. How old are you?” Sam ducked behind his mom’s leg and wouldn’t even peek around to look at her.

“He’s a little shy,” Mrs. Smith said.  “He’ll warm up.  So…  let’s show you where everything is.”

She showed Sue what Sam was to eat for dinner and went over his schedule.  Sue was excited when she learned that Sam was to be in bed by eight.  That was only about an hour away which meant she would have the rest of the night to watch TV, read and generally goof off.  This was her favorite kind of job.

Mrs. Smith peeled Sam away from her leg and put Sue in charge while she finished getting ready.  Sue coaxed him into the living room and was surprised to find it completely bare.  The only thing in the room was an old TV.  She realized it was a good thing she’d brought her baby sitting kit.  She was doing her best to get Sam out of his shell when Mr. Smith made an entrance into the living room.

He finally spoke, “I need to give you some instructions.”

Sue followed Mr. Smith into the kitchen, trailing Sam behind her.  He walked over to a door and said, “This is the basement.  We’ve been doing some work down there so it’s a little torn up.  No matter what you hear, don’t go in the basement.  Is that clear?” Sue nodded, “Yes, sir.”

“The phone is to be used for emergencies only.  We should be home shortly after midnight.  Do you have any questions?”

“No sir.”

“Good,” he turned and left the room.  Fifteen minutes later the Smith’s left for the evening.  Sue went to work trying to keep Sam occupied but no matter what she pulled out of her bag, he would only cling to her silently.  The next hour passed slowly but finally it was time to put him to bed.

She grabbed Sam’s hand and said, “Okay, Sammy-boy, it’s time for bed.”  Immediately his face scrunched up in fear and he began to cry.

“Sam, it’s okay.  It’s time to go to sleep and dream good dreams.”  But no matter what she said, he could not be consoled.  She took his hand and led… well, sort of dragged him up the stairs to his bedroom.  She pushed open the door to his room and flipped on the light switch.

The first thing she saw when the light came on, was a large German Shepherd chained to Sam’s bed.  It didn’t make any threatening moves, but its eyes were locked on her.  Sam began to whimper.  Then she noticed that for a child’s bedroom, this room was very bleak… only a dresser and bed.   Doing her best to skirt the dog she got Sam into his pajamas and put him in bed where he lay sobbing quietly.  Sue told him a story but he wouldn’t stop crying.

She had an idea.  “Sammy, stay right here, I’ll be right back.”  When she returned she had a small teddy bear.  “Here you go Sam,” she said, “This is my friend Rex.  He kept me safe from monsters when I was little.  You can keep him.  He’ll take care of you.”

She held the bear out to Sam and he cautiously took it.  He looked into Rex’s eyes as if in silent communication and then hugged him to his chest.  For the first time that night, he gave her a little smile.

“Good night sweet Sam.  I’ll be downstairs if you need me,” she assured him.  He was much calmer now that Rex was there to protect him.  She turned off the light and left the door open just a sliver.  Everything seemed to be quiet so she tiptoed downstairs and stood surveying the barren living room.

She grabbed the remote from the top of the TV and plopped down on the carpeted floor.  As she flipped through the channels she found nothing but static on any channel.  She got up and fiddled with the rabbit ears, but nothing changed.  “So much for that idea,” Sue said to herself, “I guess maybe it’s time to do some homework.”

She opened her backpack and pulled out her Algebra book when she heard a clank.  It was incredibly loud and seemed to be coming from under the floor.  She froze, waiting to see if it would repeat.  Perhaps some tool they’d been using in the basement had fallen over or something.

Then she became aware of a new noise.  It sounded like someone was dragging a cement block across a concrete floor.  Now, in a normal situation, these noises wouldn’t have bothered Sue at all.  She was a farm kid and there was a certain toughness about her.  There were many nights her parents had been out late and she had been home alone on their secluded property.  Not once had she been afraid of a creak in the house or a thump outside.

This was a whole different situation.  The entire series of events led up to something very wrong in this house.  Sue got up, went into the kitchen and stood listening by the basement door.  She barely dared to breath.  After about a minute she came up with the theory that maybe a tool had fallen against a cinder block and caused it to slide down something.  Hey… it could happen.  She started to move away from the door when…  BANG!  It sounded like someone had slammed a large-link chain on concrete.  About 20 seconds later the dragging noise happened again.  That was no fallen tool.

Her mind sifted through possible explanations for the strange noises.  Perhaps there was a broken pipe.  Maybe there was some piece of equipment that made those noises… a pump of some kind.  What if there were workers in the basement.  But, that didn’t make sense.  Why wouldn’t the Smiths have told her about them?

That’s when her mind inevitably turned to some eerier explanations.  Maybe they hadn’t mentioned workers in the basement because they had a reason not to tell her.  Like maybe they were doing something illegal.  Or, what if there was a huge dog chained below.  Maybe it was some sort of misshapen and distorted human monster.

Mr. Smith’s words rang in her head, “No matter what you hear, don’t go in the basement.”  But, how could she not?  She stood in front of the basement door with her hand almost grasping the knob.  Her breathing was shallow, eyes dilated, and adrenaline was surging through her veins.  But she stood frozen, unable to grab and turn that knob.

She willed her muscles to clench just as… BANG!  She ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs.  About half way up she got control of herself and sat down, trembling.  She couldn’t go into Sam’s room because she didn’t want to wake or frighten him.  And besides, there was the hound from hell.  But she couldn’t bring herself to go down the stairs either.

Eventually, the noises just stopped.  She wasn’t sure when they did, but it was about midnight when she felt calm enough to go down the stairs.  She dragged a chair from the kitchen and put it by the living room window.  She decided to pass the remaining time by keeping an eye out for the Smiths.

Over the next hour or so, not a single car approached.  It was about 1:30 when she heard a familiar clang below her.  The noises had started again and the Smiths still weren’t home.  She decided it was time to get some help.  She went into the kitchen and picked up the phone.  When she put the receiver to her ear, she was relieved to hear a steady dial tone.  She dialed her home number and waited to hear the phone ring.  Instead she got complete silence.  The line was dead.

Sue depressed the telephone hook and then let it up.  The dial tone rang out steady and clear.  Again she dialed her parents number.  Again the phone went dead.

She went over her options.  She had no transportation to get Sam out of here, so leaving was not an option.  The phone didn’t seem to work, so calling for help was not an option.  Something was in that basement.  Perhaps the dog chained to Sam’s bed was there to protect him from whatever it was.  But what was going to protect her?  She realized that this was becoming an emergency situation.

“That’s it,” she practically shouted!  She remembered Mr. Smith’s instructions, “The phone is to be used for emergencies only.”  Maybe they had done something to the phone and it could only dial 911.

She picked up the receiver again and gave it a try. She was thrilled to hear it begin to ring… and ring… and ring… and ring… and ring.  No one ever picked up.

Sue’s hand was shaking violently as she hung up the receiver.  The tremor in her hand soon engulfed her entire body.  She sank onto the floor in a quivering mass of fear.  She was on her own in a house full of unknown terrors.  She crawled into the living room as the noises continued below.  She pulled herself into the chair by the window and hugged her legs to her chest.

She sat frozen this way until almost three in the morning.  The noises in the basement had stopped long ago but she had been unable to convince herself to move.  She barely blinked as she prayed for the Smiths to come home.  “Please, please, please,” she whispered to herself.  And then she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise.  A wave of eeriness washed over her shoulders and down her back.  In slow motion, she turned to see what was behind her.  Standing in the doorway was Mr. and Mrs. Smith silently watching her.  She had seen no car approach the house.  She’d heard no door open or footsteps across the room.  They seemed to have simply appeared.  They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity.  Then Mr. Smith spoke, “I’ll take you home now.”  That was all he said, then, or on the entire ride home.  Sue wasn’t sure which experience was worse, the night in that house, or the silent ride with this disquieting stranger.

Two weeks later, Sue learned that the Smith’s had vanished.  They left no forwarding address and supposedly their few belongings were still in the house.  The owners of the property were furious because there was an unknown stench in the house and they were unable to rent it.

 

So, that’s the story Sue told me years later when we were roommates in college.  I have to be honest, I didn’t really believe her at the time.  I thought she was getting a kick out of scaring me.  Then one year Sue invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her family on the farm.  Once there, I remembered her babysitting horror story.  I asked if we could go to that house.  At first she refused.,  but then she realized that my curiosity might provide some answers for what went on that night.

She drove me to the house, but refused to go in with me.  It was daylight out, but as I pushed open the creaking door, I flicked on the flashlight I was carrying.  It was obvious it had been several years since anyone had lived there.  There was a thick layer of dust on every surface. and cobwebs draped the corners and doorways of every room.

There was nothing to be seen on the ground floor or the upstairs and finally there was nowhere else to look but the basement.  I stood in front of the gaping black hole that was the stairway.  My flashlight beam hardly seemed to put a dent in the darkness.  I took a deep breath and made my way cautiously down the stairs, swinging my light around the unfinished basement.  The room was empty but in the northeast corner was a red door.

By this time I had the heebie jeebies like you wouldn’t believe, but I was determined to fully explore the basement.  I pulled the door open and saw something furry inside.  I let out a scream and jumped back.  When I realized it hadn’t moved, I entered the little room and got closer.  That’s when I saw exactly what it was.  It was a small stuffed teddy bear that had been ripped to shreds.  Was this Rex?   I scooped up the small toy and carried it out to the car.   I watched the color drain from my friend’s face.  Never again did I doubt the truth of her story.

You’ve heard the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction.  Well, sometimes truth is scarier than fiction.

 

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