It was a dark and dreary night
Around the campfire bright
The captain said Antonio
Tell us your most fearful story
And Antonio, he began.
I don’t remember how I caught on to the fact that some mysterious and yes, even frightening occurrences had been witnessed by members of my nuclear and extended family. Perhaps it was one of the many conversations that I used to have with my Dad when one of those dreary and rainy
New England afternoons descended upon us.
My father had a workshop in the basement where he used to sharpen saws, lawnmower blades, knives, and other such things; this, as a sideline to his regular day job. He spent many long hours there at night and on weekends. I could always tell what he was doing, even if I wasn’t with him; each of his machines had its own sound and personality.
The basement itself—no cellar, because that’s the word New Englanders use in describing such lower chambers, was a marvel to behold—at least for a child. A flick of a light switch from the kitchen illuminated the steps and their immediate surroundings, where stood two washing machines and a sink to the right. So much for the mundane, I guess. On the left stood an old coal furnace, which had been converted to oil-burning capacity. Behind it, and a bit closer to the workshop, stood a similar burner. It belonged to my aunt and uncle, who lived on the second floor.
The rest of the cellar maintained an ambiance that was unlike any other in my experience. The rooms contained within it held mysteries of their own—relics from years gone by. An old hand-cranked adding machine that once belonged to my grandfather sat in the shadows. I would sometimes play with that machine, but it stood in the darkness—that off to the side part of the basement where even the light dared not go.
The closer to my Dad’s shop you got the more interesting, yet ominous, the cellar became. On the left, just in front of the workshop, was a narrow room that contained shelving, upon which lay carpentry tools and supplies. At some time in the distant past it served as a dark room—a place where my father practiced his photography. At the far end of this over-sized closet was a collection of old-time sheet music.
The dark room was a peculiar setting. When the light was on it could be an intriguing place. When the light was off or the door shut however, it evoked a feeling of foreboding and dread--as if some unidentifiable, yet unspeakable horror lurked just beyond its wooden gate. In the dreams that would later come to me, it did.
There were other frightening corners in that cellar as well, but I lay no blame upon it for the things that transpired down there. No, it wasn’t the cellar; it was the knowledge. Once I knew—once I had knowledge as to the events and occurrences that had taken place…well, it opened a portal to another world—a world of frightening and almost unimaginable terror, whose spirit entities visited the darker regions of the cellar from time to time. AND THEN, THERE WAS THE CELLAR OF MY MIND!
I still remember the dreary afternoon upon which I relentlessly pressed my father to reveal the secrets—to speak to me of the unexplainable occurrences of which I had inkling. “If I tell you it will frighten you,” he would say.
“No! No it won’t scare me. I’m not afraid of that stuff.”
“It was a dark and dreary night…around the campfire bright…” he responded.
This process kept repeating itself; my frustration with it growing.
“It was a dark and dreary night…”
Why does he keep repeating that poem? I thought to myself, it doesn’t go anywhere!
“It was a dark and dreary night…around the campfire bright…”
“Why do you keep repeating that poem Dad? Can’t you just tell me?”
I listened to the stories as, one after the other, they spoke of things more horrible than I had ever imagined. Perhaps they were horrible because they were real. How could they not be? Had I not been relentless in pressing my dad to tell them? Had he not been reluctant to speak of them?
Where do I even begin to describe the horrors—the otherworldly phantoms that assaulted me from some dark and forbidden place? How do I relate the feeling one gets knowing that something kept walking up Aunt Elsie’s stairwell—that kept attempting to open her door—ALL NIGHT LONG!
Then there was the priest with a horse’s hoof instead of a foot—a priest that was standing in a closet when someone tried to open the door!
As my father continued on with his telling of these tales, I remained transfixed. I learned of the clock that no longer worked, yet chimed just at midnight one Christmas Eve. “Someone is going to die within the next year,” it was proclaimed, and someone did. The following Christmas Eve the non functional clock, as if arising from its own death, struck twelve once again. That was when my great grandfather, who had once lived in the same cellar that I was now sitting in—that’s when he departed from this world.
Most hideous and unnerving of all however, was the alarm clock. Oh yes, the alarm clock. It wasn’t my alarm clock—the one that woke me for school most mornings. No, it was the one of which my father spoke—the one that rang without being asked to—the one that also didn’t function!
I didn’t know who that hellish clock belonged to or where it was physically located, but I understood its power—ITS POWER TO TERRIFY! It haunted me in my dreams—ringing and spinning—ringing and spinning on some unknown ledge as it hurled its spine-tingling waves of terror at my very soul. Still, even that repellent clock, with all the evil it could cast, was not the worst of it.
Once I learned the secrets my world changed. My nights alone—those nights when my folks would go out--they became fearsome things. On those nights I would hear objects moving around in the darkness of the cellar. Something would slide; there would be a crash. I intuited that the sounds came from the wooden flats, upon which mason jars filled with nails, screws and washers stood. These would slide and crash—slide and crash. Yet, whenever my father next returned to his shop NOTHING WOULD BE OUT OF PLACE—NOTHING!
At times I told my parents about the sounds in the basement, but they didn’t believe me. How could they? After all, nothing was out of place Still, I knew, and just about every time they would allow me to stay home alone for part of an evening, I would hear the sounds.
Yes, the cellar was a dark, mysterious and frightening place. Still, when it entered my dreams, it was even worse—much worse! On those nights I slowly walked the cellar’s ominous dreamscape. At times it was well lighted and it was on the first of these nights that I discovered the circle—a red circle. Within its perimeter was the head of a bull; its horns were prominent and I knew they signified something sinister. The bull’s head was a passage way to the lower levels. Yes, below the cellar with which I was familiar there were lower levels—subterranean chambers that contained the dark secrets ordinarily masked by the one above. These deeper recesses were places I dared not explore; after all, I had enough to contend with.
There were times when I was compelled to traverse that loathsome place while knowing full well what awaited me. On these nights, there was only the dim light emanating from the bulb by the stairs. I would see no bull’s head, for the darkness would increase with every step—STEPS TOWARD THE DARK ROOM—careful steps taken so as to not alert my presence to that which lurked just beyond its door.
Alas, my efforts of nonchalance were never of any avail, for each time I attempted to pass by that frightening space its door would fly open without warning—unleashing a blood-curdling scream so hideous as to strike debilitating fear into the very demons of hell; this while THE STIFF BODY OF MY DECEASED GREAT GRANDMOTHER—HANDS BY HER SIDE, WOULD FALL IN MY DIRECTION!
At those moments—those nanoseconds of sheer terror, I would suddenly escape from that nightmarish landscape and safely land in the everyday world—a world however, in which the cellar, which caused in me so much discomposure, lay only a few feet below my bed!
Every time I disclosed the re-occurrence of this horrific dream to my father, he would simply chuckle and repeat his observation that my great grandma would never hurt me. Although I really didn’t remember her, in my conscious mind at least, I had no reason to disbelieve his claim. Still, at those times when her stiff body fell out of the dark-room door; this, accompanied by that god-awful blood curdling scream…at those moments it was difficult to recall his words.
As I grew into my teenage years the cellar remained a constant; yet, its effect upon me lessened as I spent less time at home and instead, assumed the independence that was my birthright—that is every young person’s birthright. Still, upon the figurative eve of my departure from the old homestead the cellar offered me one last glimpse at the phantoms that resided within it—one last glimpse into the horror that it could inflict upon a vulnerable soul.
I married early. In order to help us get a better start, my parents came up with an idea. My father would fix up the large unused room in the basement that my mom once used for her hairdressing business. It was the room close to the stairs and washing machines. I thought about the possible horrors that I might face residing down there; oh yes, I thought about them! Still, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I felt that the subterranean chambers’ influence on me had diminished. I agreed to take the risk, and my partner, having never felt the horrors that the cellar could inflict, went along with the scheme.
One summer night, she and I retired to the room and climbed into bed. We were engaged in conversation when suddenly we both heard it. It was a sound that, to the best of my knowledge, had never been heard within the confines of the family residence. It was the ticking of a clock—A GRANDFATHER CLOCK!
TIC…TOC…TIC…TOC. Slowly, steadily and methodically it sounded. TICK…TOC…TIC…TOC…She grabbed on to me as if holding on for dear life on some roller coaster; a roller coaster of horrors perhaps! The drone of the clock’s ticking came from just the other side of our door.
MY GOD! IT’S JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR!
As quickly as that grandfather clock from hell began the ticking it stopped—momentarily at least, but only for a moment of reprieve; then, it renewed its assault upon us. Thoughts of the ticking clock that foretold my great grandfather’s death ran through my terrified mind. Did this mean that someone else would soon pass from this world? Was my great grandfather, who passed away before my birth trying to communicate with me?
Finally, the hideous sound ceased. For a few moments, I remained in the room—not wanting to face that which may lie just beyond the door. Feeling the need to put on an act of bravery I finally opened the door and looked around. All is as it should be, I thought to myself, just as I suspected there is no clock here.
There never was a grandfather clock—at least not in the physical realm--not during my time on this Earth. Such relics from the past were neither in the cellar nor anywhere else in the house; yet, I heard its terrifying voice as did my young bride. My parents believed neither my sisters nor myself about the ghosts that existed in our basement, but now there was another person who experienced—who now believed.
That was the last horror inflicted upon me by the cellar. Soon we moved out and I started upon life’s adventure with all of its twists and turns—with all of its sorrow, pain and yes, happiness—all of its victories and defeats.
Of course, there were the occasional visits to the old house; after all, my parents still lived there. At times, my mother asked me to get something for her from the basement. Jokingly, I would remind her of the presence I believed still haunted that place. Never was there a time during which I didn’t feel it upon descending those stairs and casting my eyes into the darkness.
Eventually, my parents sold the house and moved to the southern end of the state. Still, I wonder. I wonder what experiences the new owners may have had with that dreadful cellar and its phantoms. Could our family ghosts be the reason why the first buyers eventually re-sold the house, or were the nightmares and crashes in the night only for us—a part of our shared history—something not intended for anyone else? There are those who believe that certain spiritual entities follow families, tribes and cultures from one place to another; particularly, when the people who believe in their existence. Perhaps it is the belief of their existence that inspires them to continue on.
As for the cellar, all I am left with are memories and speculation—memories of pure horror and speculation as to how that subterranean place of horrors got its power. While I may never know the answers to my questions, I do know what I believe, and I am convinced that by telling me those family secrets—those tales of the so-called supernatural, my father unwittingly set a series of events in motion. A portal between the worlds opened on that dreary afternoon, and it was through that doorway that the phantoms of the past traveled in order to take residence in the cellar.
Copyright © 2010 Al Vick: All rights reserved
The above photo entitled Kellerloch is the property of Johannes A. Frostfeuer and is published here with permission. Visit his gallery at: