My heart is pounding, yet I turn the knob to open the door. Against my will, I descend the steep stairs struggling, with little success, to avoid the sticky, stringy cobwebs, trying so hard to ignore the hollow spaces between the creaking wooden steps. Someone or something might be lurking behind them!
I creep lower and lower into the abyss. The dim doorway light retreats, causing the smothering darkness to converge upon me like a bad dream. Groping for the switch I flip on the light. The dull glare of the dust-covered bulb adds to the grotesqueness of the room. The ductwork casts long eerie shadows like groping tentacles transforming the musty basement momentarily into the belly of a monster.
I tense, dealing with too much uncertainty at once. My eyes are too slow adjusting to the dim light. I stumble off the last step forgetting about the final cement half-step leading to the part concrete-part earthen floor at the bottom.
I’ve scraped my arm against the cold, scratchy concrete-block wall. I imagine blood oozing from an open wound. Frantic, trying to regain my balance, I grope…my hand squishes against the mesh window screens propped against the north wall. Panicky, I catch my breath, inhaling rank air–so strong it seems I can taste the odor of the old gas furnace and the staleness of the windowless basement.
My imagination wanders–have I, in fact, just entered a Pharaoh’s tomb? In the center of the back wall, there it is, the black, endless, empty hole leading to the crawl space. The pipes begin to clank one after another, echoing all around me.
Someone upstairs has senselessly turned on the hot water. The repeated drip, drip, drip of the old mechanical pump bringing water in from the well makes the dismal basement sound like a cavern. The water heater pilot light ignites with a ‘hisssss’ like snakes slithering in the night!
Bumping against the sickly puke-green farm boots hanging from the floor joists makes me shudder from the slimy feel of the rubber against my cheek. I swallow a scream when my mind erupts with thoughts of spiders, bugs, thousand-leggers or whatever else might be living in the depths of their coldness.
The old, moaning furnace turns on with a shudder, doing nothing to dispel the creeping dampness and seeping chill.
“Hurry, hurry,” My thoughts swirl in my mind! “Complete the task you came for! Escape this dreadful, dingy, dungeon!”
In the dimness, I grope and grab and by sheer determination I yank the faded-blue bib-overalls from the basket, frantic to shake them out, one after the other; the bed sheets; the bath towels. Jabbing clothespins onto the corners right and left again and again I hang them all, as fast as I can, then I bolt for the stairs.
There is just no way around it. Winter-time laundry has to be hung up to dry downstairs. Braving the bowels of the basement is a matter of necessity.