The Monster in the Basement
“Do you understand, Isaac?” Mommy’s fingers dug into his shoulder.“If you ever say their names again, the monster in the basement will eat you. Got it?”
He nodded. She studied his face, looking for evidence of new “lie lines.” She always told him that she could tell when he fibbed because his lies turned into little white lines that striped his face. Even though he tried to always to tell the truth, he must’ve accidentally lied to Mommy. He had several long scars on his cheeks and forehead. Sometimes, Mommy called him zebra boy.
“Eat your oatmeal.” She released Isaac’s shoulder and then patted him on the head. “When you’re done with breakfast, go to your room and study. Your test is tomorrow.”
Dutifully, Isaac lifted a spoonful of the lumpy, tasteless oatmeal and put it in his mouth. His mother smiled, pleased with his obedience. He ate every gross bite. He didn’t like oatmeal, but he knew if he didn’t eat all of it, Mommy wouldn’t feed him the rest of the day.
After Isaac put his bowl in the kitchen sink, he went upstairs to his room. Two walls were painted pink. Two walls were painted blue. On shelves too tall for him to reach were toys. Dolls. Transformers. Plastic tea sets. Nerf guns. He had to earn the privilege of playing with the toys. If he was good, he got to choose one toy to play with for one hour.
It was really, really hard to be good. Mommy wasn’t easy to please.
He sat down at the desk and opened the little book with its handwritten stapled-together pages.
Isaac used to have a different room. It had a race car bed and shelves full of Legos and Army men and games. The dinosaurs were his favorite. He could move their arms and legs and yell “Rawr!” while pretending they chased the Army men. His name hadn’t been Isaac then.
He didn’t remember how he got to this Mommy’s house. He remembered his other Mommy and Daddy. They’d gone to the mall to buy school clothes. He was excited about going to kindergarten. The other Mommy said he’d make lots of friends and learn amazing things. He could already count to 100 and knew all his ABCs.
But then he woke up in this room with new Mommy. She told him he’d only dreamed about the other Mommy and Daddy. That he belonged to her and he could never, ever talk about his dream parents.
Isaac didn’t think it had been a dream. That’s why he’d asked if dream people had names. Because he remembered the names of his other Mommy and his Daddy. Marie and Charlie.
Saying those names had upset Mommy a lot. He should’ve never asked that question. He was lucky she hadn’t decided to punish him. He didn’t like being locked in the closet. It was small and dark and scary.
Tomorrow was his birthday. He would be six-years-old. He wished he didn’t have to take a stupid test. He wanted a party with cake and presents and his friends. Like when he turned five and dream Mommy and Daddy put a bouncy house in the front yard. But … but that hadn’t been real.
“If you pass the test, you get live with me forever.”
He turned in his little wooden chair and looked at Mommy standing in the doorway. She wasn’t smiling. Her arms were crossed and she stared at him like he’d done something bad. He was scared all the time. He felt like he was dragging a bag of bricks behind him and it made his back hurt and his knees hurt and his heart … his heart hurt the most.
“Do you know what happens if you fail, Isaac?”
He swallowed the knot clogging his throat. “The monster will eat me.”
“That’s right.” She shook her head sadly. “I don’t want to feed you to the monster, Isaac. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” The words were automatic. He’d learned right away that he was supposed to say the words no matter what. His dream Mommy had told him that lying was wrong. So the first time, he’d told his new Mommy that he did not love her.
That’s when he got the first stripe on his face. He didn’t remember how it got there. Only that he’d gone to sleep and when he woke up, his cheek had a long, deep line. It hurt a lot, but Mommy put medicine on it and a bandage. That’s when he learned about the “lie lines.”
“Study hard, Isaac.”
Isaac studied all day. He wanted to pass the test. Even though he didn’t really want to live with Mommy forever. He didn’t like her. She wore old dresses with scratchy lace that smelled weird. And she never bathed, either. Whenever she hugged him, he held his breath, so he wouldn’t choke on the awful smell of her unwashed body. But he also didn’t want to be the monster’s meal. He knew that if the monster ate him, he’d be gone forever.
Mommy surprised him with a Happy Meal from McDonald’s for dinner. He even got to keep the little toy that came with it. She kissed him on the head, smiled at him with her black, rotten teeth, and said, “I know you’ll pass the test. You’re the smartest child I’ve ever had, Isaac. Now, go to bed.”
In bed, Isaac thought a long time about the dream Mommy and Daddy. He wished those parents were real and would find him and take him away from the yucky house with its creaky floors and broken furniture and moldy corners. He hadn’t cried in a long time--mostly because it made Mommy angry. But tonight, the tears fell and fell and fell until he went to sleep.
They sat in the kitchen. Mommy didn’t feed him breakfast because the test was more important. Mommy wore a big plastic apron over her ugly black dress and her greasy hair was tucked under a plastic hat. She saw him staring and smiled. “Don’t worry, Isaac. You’ll pass the test. I just know it. But I’m always prepared to be disappointed. You understand?”
He nodded. He knew that Mommy wearing plastic things meant she was going to feed the monster. His gaze landed on the nine pairs of shoes lined against the wall near the basement door. He remembered the first time Mommy had dressed in plastic and showed him the shoes. Even though the basement door was closed, he could hear the monster’s roars. He knew the monster was huge, because his awful growls shook the whole house.
Mommy had pointed to the shoes. “The monster ate these children because they were bad.” She plucked the plastic apron and showed him the brownish red stains. “I only wear this to feed the ugly, mean creature in the basement.” She grabbed him by the arms and leaned into his face, her narrowed icy blue eyes staring holes into him. “Don’t make me feed you to the monster, too. Promise you’ll be good.”
Isaac had promised. He didn’t want to be eaten. He was afraid. So afraid. But he knew Mommy would be mad if he showed fear. The ropes tying his wrists and ankles to the chair chafed his bare skin. Mommy had warned him not to move even a centimeter while she bound him. But the rope looped over his left wrist was looser than the others. He couldn’t stop wiggling his wrist, though he was careful not to draw Mommy’s attention. His belly hurt so bad. Not just from skipping breakfast, but from the agonizing fear that filled up his tummy. He thought he might throw up.
Mommy wouldn’t like that.
“Let’s begin.” She lifted the small book filled with all the right answers and rules she’d made for him. One of the first things Mommy did was teach him to read. But only the little book. It helped that there were pictures to help him figure out the sentences on each page. And Mommy often studied with him, to make sure he understood everything in the book she’d made.
“What’s your name?”
“Isaac Theodore Harris.”
“That’s an unusual name.”
“Isaac is from the Bible,” he said dutifully. “And Theodore was my grandfather. He died of cancer a long time ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Mommy. “Where do you live?”
“I’m not allowed to tell strangers where I live,” he said.
“Very good,” said Mommy. “Now, pretend I’m a social worker, Isaac. What are you supposed to say?”
“I live at 412 Branch Street with my mom, Elizabeth.”
“What does your mother do?”
“She takes care of me.”
“Good. Mommies are supposed to take care of their children. Isaac, do you know what she does for a job?”
“She works on computers. She’s very smart.”
“That must be where you get your brains,” she said, her smile widening. “What about your dad?”
Isaac looked down, as though he was sad. “He died when I was a baby.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry.” She laid the book on the table and clasped her hands over it. “Does your Mommy feed you good food?”
This one was harder than the previous questions. It’d be easier if he didn’t have to remember all the different foods. Mommy made him eat bland oatmeal in the morning, and dinner was almost always a grilled cheese sandwich with a glass of water. But he wasn’t supposed to say that.
He heard the warning in Mommy’s voice. He swallowed hard. Then he pulled his lips into a trembling smile. “Mommy makes pancakes and bacon in the mornings. And I get all the orange juice I want. We have sandwiches for lunch--with soup. Tomato is my favorite.”
“What about dinner?”
“Mommy is a good cook,” said Isaac, his mouth dry as he tried to remember all the different meals. “She makes roast beef with vegetables and fried chicken with mashed potatoes. And… and corn. And green beans. Sometimes, she makes hamburgers.”
“Nope,” added Isaac. “Salads. I get to choose my own dressing, too. I like ranch.”
“What kind of snacks do you eat?”
“Mostly fruit,” he said. “Red Delicious apples are the best.”
“Do you have your own room, Isaac?”
“Yes. With lots of toys and books. Mommy reads to me every night.”
“What about school?”
“I’m not old enough to go to school yet,” said Isaac. Everything he said was a fib. All these things Mommy insisted he learn and repeat to other adults were not true. He worried about more lie lines appearing on his face. He didn’t like to be called zebra boy. He didn’t like waking up with his face hurt and bleeding.
Mommy leaned back, her expression filled with approval. “Very good, Isaac! I knew you could do it.” She folded her arms over her chest. “You gotten farther in the test than all my other children. I’m so proud.” She pursed her lips. “Are you ready to continue?”
Isaac wished the test was over. He put his fingers against his cheek. His heart pounded in his chest as he looked up at Mommy. “Will I get more lie lines?” he asked.
Mommy frowned. “Why would you?”
“Because I’m telling lies,” he said.
For a long time, Mommy stared at him. Then she sighed. “I really did think you were the one, Isaac.”
“The one what?”
“The child I could keep.” She rose from her chair and crossed the kitchen. On the counter were big, black gloves. Mommy pulled them on with jerky motions, obviously upset with him.
Isaac felt like a huge hole had opened up in his chest and someone was pouring lava inside him. “Mommy?”
“One chance.” She turned, her expression twisted with rage. “That’s all you get. You would think given all the children in the world there would be one, just one, who could pass the test. I deserve a child. Don’t you think so, Isaac?”
“I try and I try and I try.” Tears leaked out of her eyes. “God hates me.” She turned her mean gaze onto him. “He hates you, too.”
“I can pass the t-test, M-mommy,” said Isaac.
“You’ve already failed,” she said in the coldest voice he’d ever heard. “You’re not good enough to be my son. You think about what a terrible little boy you are while the monster eats you!”
“No!” cried Isaac.
Mommy slapped him so hard, he bit his cheek. Blood filled his mouth. “Shut up. Don’t speak to me. Don’t speak to me ever again.”
Mommy stomped across the kitchen and flung open the door that led down into the basement. She pulled on the chain that turned on the light and then he watched as she scrambled down the stairs. Clanking sounds echoed into the kitchen. And then he heard the terrible mechanical growl that always happened when Mommy woke up the monster.
Isaac worked his wrist free of the rope and while Mommy screamed bad words at the monster, he managed to free his ankles and then his other wrist from the chair. He jumped out of the chair and ran down the hall, into the living room, and right to the front door. He pulled and pulled on the knob, but it wouldn’t turn. He looked up and saw all the locks. The locks way above his head. He couldn’t reach them.
Heart pounding in his chest, tears filling his eyes, he ran to the nearest window.
“You ungrateful little brat!” yelled Mommy as she flew into the living room. He tried to run from her, but she grabbed him by the hair.
He screeched in pain as she dragged him close to her stinking body. She clamped a hand around his bruised wrist, dragging him back into the kitchen. Toward the basement door. He saw his Mickey Mouse sneakers placed next to the pink sandals. “No!” he cried. But she pulled him hard. Down the creaky stairs. Into the lair of the monster who growled and groaned.
The monster was big and yellow. It had spinning metal teeth. Dark red stained the monster and the floor and the walls. He saw heaps of clothes everywhere, as dirty as his, and stained with the blood of the monster’s other meals.
The other children who’d disappointed Mommy.
“No, Mommy! No!” screamed Isaac, trying to escape the ugly woman’s iron grasp. He clawed at her hands as she yanked off his shirt.
“You brought this on yourself!” She tossed the shirt onto the floor and reached for his shorts.
Isaac kicked her as hard as he could, landing a blow between her legs. Mommy let him go, rearing backward. Toward the monster’s roaring mouth. Her skirts twisted under her feet as she scrambled to stop her momentum.
But then the monster’s spinning teeth chomped her hand and blood splattered everywhere. Even on him. It felt like warm raindrops sprinkling his bare torso and face.
Mommy screamed and screamed as she struggled to free herself.
The monster kept eating her.
Isaac turned and ran up the basement stairs. He slammed the door shut behind him, but he could still hear Mommy’s terrified wails. He grabbed a kitchen chair and dragged it to the front door. His hands were slippery from blood, but he managed to open all the locks.
Then he jumped off the chair and twisted the knob.
The door opened.
He ran outside, down the stone path that split the front yard, and then out of the white picket fence’s gate. The sun shone brightly, and its light seared his eyes, but he kept running down the sidewalk.
“Oh, my God,” cried a woman’s voice. “What happened to you?”
Isaac saw the pretty woman watering plants in her yard. She wore a pink shirt and white shorts and had hair the color of milk chocolate. She stared at him with wide eyes as she dropped the watering can.
Isaac headed right for her, and rammed into her, wrapping his arms around her waist, holding on to her tightly as he sobbed. She smelled good.
Want more creepy short stories? Use Michele’s Amazon affiliate link to buy Jeff Strand’s Freaky Briefs. Or you can read Freaky Briefs for free with Kindle Unlimited.