In 3000 words or less, write about a girl who finds a body in her basement. When she tells her parents, it's no longer there...
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing a dead body three times in my life. One evening, when I was thirteen and getting some laundry from the basement, it first happened. I could see it in darkness, lying on its side, near the drain, and the dryer. My heart raced, and my mouth became instantly dry. I can tell you – honestly, I never ran so fast up the stairs in my life. I ran through the doorway, picked up a splinter in my finger from the jam as I passed, skidded to a halt on the white linoleum and turned back to look at the dark doorway. Was it a dead body, or worse, a monster?
My mother came into the room and looked down at me, “Sheila, close that door. Were you born in a barn?”
“But mom – there’s something down there!”
I hesitated, “A body I think…”
“Don’t be silly. You saw a pile of your father’s old clothes bunched up. I assure you there is no body in the basement.” She went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of milk, which instantly began to sweat, and put it on the table. “I said close that door,” she indicated with her eyes.
I slowly went over, put my hand on the knob, and pushed it shut. It clicked into place, and I turned the lock. There was a body down there, but I wasn’t going to go back down there without an escort. I was quite familiar with horror movies and how they ended up. I was sure that thing in the basement was just waiting to kill me. My God, I thought, it could try to come up in the night. It might slip under my bed, and reach up while I sleep and grab my feet… I’d better tuck in my sheets.
After dinner we all went into the living room and sat. My father insisted that we all read, and not watch the ridiculously large flat screen television they bought for Christmas. This night, I decided to forget the collection of works published by Alfred Hitchcock, and instead open an old Agatha Christy work. Just as I was on page eighty two, my father said something that stunned me.
“So, you saw a body down in the basement today?” His voice was thick with fatherly knowing.
“Yes,” I said stunned.
“Shall we have a look?” His eyes sparkled as he said this.
“Okay,” I looked over at my mother who was smirking.
“Come on, before we have to go to bed.” He stood up, and we all followed him into the kitchen and to the basement door. He unlocked it and looked over at me and smiled with a sardonic expression. “Let’s get this done,” and he started down.
He flipped the black light switch on and the bare bulb at the bottom of the stairs illuminated the end of the basement and the junk that was strewn about. The wood creaked, and the whole stairs swayed with us on it. Getting to the basement floor, my father looked around the cement room. Nothing. No clothes on the floor. No body. Just old junk, a peddle car, boxes of old toys, skis, some tools, and three empty coolers, one stacked on top of the other at the far corner.
“Take a good look,” father said. “If you find a body, I’ll eat my hat.”
There was none.
When I was nineteen I returned from college for the summer. My parents were now traveling. I had my friend Tina staying with me that night. That evening as we were watching an old episode of Fawlty Towers on channel twelve, there was a tremendous sound that resonated through the floorboards. Tina jumped from the couch, “What the hell was that?”
“Sounded like something fell over in the basement.” I looked at Tina and she was truly scared. “Don’t worry. My parents store a ton of junk down there, and every once in a while, it topples,” I said. “Come on and we’ll check it out.” I went into the kitchen and got the flashlight from the pantry. As my hand touched the lock on the basement door a cold chill ran up my spine. I suddenly felt like I was thirteen again. Tina saw it in my face, and I saw a streak of panic in hers. “Don’t worry, there’s two of us,” I stated.
Flipping the lock, I opened the door. A waft of cigarette smoke hit my nose along with a strange scent of cheap aftershave, and the odor of some chemical. I turned on the light and we descended the stairs. As we rounded the stair wall, I thought I heard a voice say, take care of it, then the bulb flashed out. Tina and I froze. I switched on the flashlight and the beam was shaking, then I realized I was shaking. A cold sweat came over me and it took all my energy to force my steps downward. At the bottom, I angled the flashlight toward the washer… then down at the floor. It was there, the body. Tina screamed; I dropped the light, and we both nearly killed each other trying to be first to the top of the stairs. Once I got into the kitchen, I slammed the door shut and locked it. Tina was on the phone to the police.
Ten nerve racking minutes passed until the first of two police cruisers arrived. Sargent Haywood took our statements and two others went into the basement. They returned shortly after and shrugged their shoulders. “Nothing down there but a lot of junk,” one said.
The Sargent smiled and nodded at his officer, “You sure you checked every inch?”
“Honest Sarg, we checked everyplace. There’s nothing down there that’s alive or dead.” The young officer tipped his hat to me. “Sorry mam, we didn’t see anything.”
Tina’s face was stern, “We saw a body down there. Don’t you tell me you didn’t find anything.”
“Perhaps you psyched yourselves out,” the Sargent stated. “It happens. We get two or three calls a month regarding people seeing things that just aren’t there. Were you watching anything scary, or suggestive?”
“No,” I said.
“Okay, keep the basement door locked, and if you hear anything else down there, call me and I’ll come by,” he handed his card to me. “I’ll be on duty until nine in the morning.” He tipped his hat and went out onto the porch.
“Could you leave a car here for a while,” Tina nearly begged.
“Sure; for a while,” the Sargent said.
We watched them go. Outside the Sargent spoke to one of his other officers and the fellow went to his car and sat inside. Tina and I checked throughout the night, and the officer never left the driveway. In the morning, Tina brought him a cup of coffee. He drank it and left. When she returned to the house she packed up her things and called a cab. “You should come with me,” she said.
“I can’t. I promised my folks I’d watch the place while they’re gone.”
“You’re crazy to stay here after last night,” Tina stated.
“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
“There’s no way I’m staying in that house again.” Tina’s jaw showed the stress she was feeling.
After she left I prepared my resolve and went back down into the basement. I replaced the bulb and stood there looking around. There was nothing to indicate a body, or old clothes, or even justify the loud bang we’d heard the night before. I shrugged my shoulders and went back up stairs. For the next five days, I heard no further disturbances.
Six years later, I was working in Los Angeles, California. I was at work when I got a call from my mother. She was upset, but not frantic. “The house burnt down last night,” she said.
“Oh my God, what happened?” I stated. “Are you and dad okay?”
“We’re fine dear. The firemen are going to do an investigation, but he said it looked like an electrical fire that started in the basement.”
“The basement?” I was shocked to hear her mention it.
“Your father and I were scheduled to travel to France in two days. Is there any way we could impose on you to come out here and help us find a contractor to rebuild the house?”
“You have got to be kidding?” The request was a surprise. Why me? Couldn’t it wait?
“We’re worried that while we’re gone someone might fall into the basement. If you could just come out and make sure the contractor puts up a fence or something…” her voice cracked and I could hear she was on the verge of tears. “This is so upsetting!”
“I know mom. I’ll get some time off and come out. You and dad, don’t worry about anything.”
“Thank you my darling. You’re so sweet to do this for us.”
“That’s because I love you two. I’ll get a flight and be there on Tuesday. In the meantime, where are you and dad going to be staying?”
“The Partmore Hotel. Dad got the room this morning. We’re in room four-fifty-four.”
“Okay, I got it. See you guys on Tuesday.”
I made the arrangements and took two weeks off work. Once I landed, I got a rental car and drove first to the burnt wreckage of our old home. There was nothing left of the structure. It looked as if a contractor had begun to remove the twisted pipes and metal work from the basement. Indeed, it looked like a burnt hole in the ground. Even though I was shocked to see the ruins, I chuckled out loud at the thought of the body in the basement. I remembered how scared I was when I saw it, and how foolish I felt when I couldn’t find it again.
After checking into my room at the Partmore I found my parents and we had dinner. We reminisced, and even talked about the body in the basement. I suggested that they sell the lot, but they insisted on rebuilding. I asked about the contractor and was surprised to learn that it was Glen Hobart; a friend of mine from when I attended high school. After dinner we retired to our rooms and I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. When the alarm went off, I was a bit disoriented.
I showered, dressed, and drove over to the house. I was filled with bitter-sweet nostalgia. As I arrived, I could see men pulling wreckage out of the basement and piling it up to the side of the foundation.
“Glen!” I shouted. He looked different, older, and a bit plumper.
“Sheila?” He looked at me as if he was seeing a ghost, “What brings you here from L.A.?”
I looked at him and gestured toward the basement, “My parent’s house burnt down,” I said.
He laughed, “Ya, I guess it was a dumb question. I’m glad to see you,” he added.
“I’m glad to see you too. So, any idea what caused the fire?”
“The place was a fire hazard. Junk in the basement pressed against some shorting electrical wires; at least that’s what the Fire Marshal is suggesting.”
“Hey Glen, come have a look at this!” shouted one of his workers.
We both went over to the edge and looked down. Around the charred concrete and rubble, there was a clean area. “What is that,” I asked.
“Looks like another floor,” Glean stated as he climbed down into the hole. “Bring a couple of picks and a shovel,” he said.
They began clearing away the burnt debris and after a few minutes it was quite clear that there was clean cement under the burnt cement. “It looks like someone poured a second layer of cement over the original floor,” Glen called up to me.
“Holy shit!” a young blond haired man with a shovel stated. “Look at that.” He was pointing at some blue cloth.
Clearing away the rest of the cement it became clear there was a body there. The blue cloth turned out to be a suit, and as they scraped away the debris, a skull and hand bones of a corpse became visible. “Call the police,” Glen said. “You’d better stay back Sheila for now.”
I called my parents, but there was no answer. I left a message on their voicemail. The police arrived as did a crime scene truck. They taped off the area and descended into the basement. I climbed up on my rented car and could just barely see into the hole. A man was pulling the suit jacket back. He reached into the pocket and pulled out a leather wallet. Opening it he gasped and stepped back. “Lieutenant, get over here!” he shouted. “You’re not going to believe this!”
Three other officers came over, and they too looked surprised. “My God, who would have thought,” the Lieutenant said. He climbed from the hole and approached me. “How long did your parents own this house?”
“Forty years maybe,” I said.
“Your parents must have bought it after the body was buried,” he stated.
“That body down there,” he looked as if he was about to bust open, “is the crime scene of the century.”
“What are you talking about?” I was in little mood for foolishness at this point.
“The name on the license… it says James Riddle Hoffa!”
To this day my thoughts drift back to the body lying there, and the police standing around. What did my parents say about this whole affair? They had little to say on the matter. And, as it turned out, my parents didn’t travel to France, they actually went to Bolivia. They have a nice house there, and aren’t planning on coming back.
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