Stairs leading into darkness
Home sweet home! Photo by Erik Witsoe (

Don’t Go Downstairs!

Author’s Note
This is episode one of a new series titled “Tall Tales from Timberlane”; these are embellished renditions of true stories from my childhood.

My sister and I stood trembling in our pajamas, barefoot, peering into darkness. The darkness seemed alive somehow. Was it hungry for children? We felt helpless, trapped on an island of ugly brown carpet at the base of the stairwell. Why oh why had we gone downstairs? We should have known better! Any kid will tell you not to go downstairs. The downstairs is haunted!

I didn’t believe in that, of course. Not officially. Instead of capitulating to fear, I resigned myself to take inventory of our surroundings. Before us and behind us lay two hallways. The lights were switched off, so we couldn’t see anything. If we could locate the light switch, the downstairs would be safe to navigate. Right?

Then, from the darkness, a witch cackled softly. My sister and I would have jumped out of our pajamas had our toes not been bolted to the carpet. Our blood ran cold. Our hearts skipped—and hopscotched—a beat! The witch’s laughter was spiteful and sly. She knew that we were defenseless. She also knew that we hadn’t brought a flashlight. She could see us clear as day, but we couldn’t see beyond our noses.

My brain struggled to understand our predicament. Witches weren’t real! And if they were, they certainly didn’t live downstairs in the laundry room or the recreation room. A moment passed before my sister and I found our courage. Glancing at each other, we reached the same conclusion. Dad must have been playing a trick on us.

In our split-level home, the air vents could sometimes carry voices from one room to another. Here’s a side note: when I was older, I would learn to cover the vent to muffle our noisy dial-up modem while connecting to the Internet after-hours. I would also learn to change the computer’s internal clock to sidestep Net Nanny’s automated curfew.

OK, back to the story! Ever the trickster, my dad was likely having fun at our expense. No doubt he was upstairs leaning over a vent, using a silly voice to scare us senseless. We began to breathe a little more easily. Our toes tentatively released their iron grip on the carpet. We pivoted toward the stairs and took a step. Then the witch cackled again, and we lost our marbles.

Hollering, we scrambled like eggs in a pan and shot up the stairs. The first set of stairs terminated at the front door where we nearly tripped over each other. Our feet clapped against the entryway’s hard ceramic tiles—a cold reminder of our vulnerability. Half-naked and scared witless, we clamored up the remaining stairs and bawled like babies to our parents. In retrospect, those stairs weren’t nearly so steep when we slid down them in cardboard boxes.

As we crested the stairs, I spied my mom in the kitchen; in the adjoining room, my dad sat reading a book in a recliner. He looked comfortable and contemplative. Anyone else would have thought he’d been reading for hours. Clearly it was a ruse! In all likelihood, he had rushed to the chair only seconds ago and flipped the book to a random page. My sister and I bounded toward him and leveled our accusations. Hah-hah, dad! Nice one!

Then my dad gave us a real scare. Although he enjoyed teasing us daily, he never once lied to us. My dad was not a liar. This we knew for fact. After poking and prodding him to admit that he was responsible for the witch’s voice, he flat told us no. He didn’t make the voice. He didn’t even know what we were talking about. Neither did my mom. We didn’t bother asking her because practical jokes weren’t her style.

My sister and I were disturbed. Had we both imagined the whole thing? Was the downstairs truly haunted? Why did we even venture downstairs in the first place? We didn’t know then, and we still don’t know now. All we do know is that someone—or something—scared the Dickens out of us.

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