Short Stories by Stan
Stan Swanson has written several short
stories. They range from kid's stories to mainstream fiction and
even a couple of science fiction stories.
The following story was written by
Stan several years ago and addresses an issue many of us have faced
earlier in our lives -- taking that lonely trek to that cold, dark
by Stan Swanson
“Are you listening?”
I placed my hands over my
ears so I couldn’t hear another word.
I pushed my hands even
harder against the side of my head and started humming.
I could still hear her.
“…to the basement…”
I heard every single word
she said. Of course, there wasn’t anything to keep me from
pretending I hadn’t. I plopped down in front of the television. It
wasn’t on, but I watched the blank screen anyway. I didn’t move an
inch. I mean, you could have mistaken me for a statue. If I didn’t
move, she wouldn’t know I was there. That’s how it works, doesn’t
it? Don’t move. Don’t… even… breathe…
“I know you’re in there,
young man,” Mom shouted from the kitchen. Her voice had risen
another octave. That wasn’t a good sign.
“Uh… I can’t hear you,” I
shouted back. “The TV’s too loud!”
“Then turn it down!”
I glanced at the TV that
wasn’t even on.
This presented quite a
dilemma. Should I pretend to turn it down or should I actually turn
it on and then turn it down? I was still pondering the problem when
she yelled again.
“I’ll only say this one
more time, young man. Go down to the basement and bring up a jar of
“Uh… pickles? I don’t
think there’s any down there, Mom.”
She appeared almost
magically in the living room, hands firmly on hips. If moms were
cowboys, this would be the moment in the big showdown right before
our six-guns were drawn.
“I bought three jars last
week,” she said. “I distinctly remember because they were on sale.
Three jars for the price of two. Now please do as I ask! I’m trying
to make dinner.”
I could swear I saw her
blow smoke from the barrel of her six-shooters as she returned to
the kitchen. I didn’t even get the chance to draw…
And why did she keep
pickles in the basement anyway? Shouldn’t they be upstairs in one of
the kitchen cabinets?
Go to the basement.
She made it sound so
I mean, why didn’t she
just say ‘please go down into the cold, dark basement where monsters
are lurking in every corner and see if you can run fast enough not
to be skinned alive’? Moms simply don’t understand these things. But
how can you tell your mother you might be afraid of something?
That’s like pretending there’s really nothing lurking under the bed
at night or something peering out of the darkness of your closet.
We’d only moved into the
house a few short weeks ago and I’d been lucky enough to avoid it.
It hadn’t been easy, but I’d done it. That’s why I’m still alive, of
course. After all, everyone knows vampires, werewolves and all sorts
other of monsters make their homes in cold, dark basements. My older
brother, Brian, was the first to let me in on this secret and I’ve
never forgotten. I’m not certain I really believe it, but why take
I glanced across the
My little brother lounged
on the couch reading one of those Goosebumps books. How
appropriate, I thought.
“Hey, Bobby…” I said in a
He didn’t even look up
from his book.
“Would you run downstairs
and get Mom some pickles?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“I’ll give you a nickel,”
He shook his head.
He looked up from his
“No way,” he said. “Brian
told me about the vampires and werewolves living down there.
Besides, I heard Mom tell you to do it.”
I took a deep breath and
resigned myself to my fate.
“Fine,” I said. “I’m not
a scaredy-cat like you! I’ll go.”
The scaredy-cat part
would surely get to him.
“See ya,” he said as he
turned another page in the book. I could see by the cover it was
something about ghosts and goblins. The last chapter is probably
about a family member disappearing after an innocent trip to the
I walked through the
kitchen and paused at the basement door.
I opened it slowly. Very
It was dark.
I mean real dark! The
kind of dark where you can barely see your hand in front of your
face. I hesitated. After all, this could be the door to the basement
or it might very well be the doorway that went straight down to…
well, you know…
This is ridiculous, I
thought. There are no such things as vampires or werewolves or
witches! Just mean older brothers. And isn’t that bad enough?
Brian’s just a big, fat jerk! And even if there really are such
things as monsters, they probably wouldn’t choose to live in our
I continued to stare down
into the darkness. I figured the longer I stood there are the top of
the stairs, the longer I lived. It was a simple theory, but I liked
‘Come on feet or mom’s
gonna be the one to skin us alive!’
I started slowly down the
stairs. It seemed to get darker with each step. (I’m sure this is a
rule straight out of some monster manual.)
“Hello?” I called out.
No one answered.
I wasn’t sure if that was
a good sign or a bad one. If someone had answered, I probably would
have died from a heart attack right then and there. No answer only
meant the monsters didn’t want to reveal themselves. Quite logical
under the circumstances. They wouldn’t want to frighten off their
It happened the moment I
reached the bottom step. The door at the top of the stairs slammed
shut with a bang! I jumped, of course. If I were any taller I would
have cracked my head on the ceiling.
I laughed nervously.
Was Brian or Bobby
playing tricks on me? (If so, I swore I’d get even!) Had it just
been the wind? Maybe it was an evil wizard with the power to close
doors from a distance. Or a band of werewolves who were now upstairs
devouring other family members. (Hopefully, Brian and Bobby were the
main course on the menu.) Of course, if there were werewolves or
monsters up there, they’d simply keep me locked in down here until
it was time for their midnight snack.
This is ridiculous, I
told myself. Just do what you came down her for! Grab the jar of
pickles. (And then run like crazy of course!)
The concrete floor was
freezing beneath my bare feet. Should have worn shoes, I thought.
And not simply because the floor was cold. It’s a proven fact bare
toes are appealing to your basic monster types. Sort of like little
snack bars. Just the right size for monsters of all kinds to nibble
The sun had already set,
so the small basement windows provided little light from the
outside. I knew a single light bulb hung in the middle of the
basement. I remember Dad mentioning it was one of those you had to
turn on by pulling on a string hanging down from the ceiling. The
dilemma was how could I turn it on if I couldn’t find it? Sounded
like a poor design to me, but I’m sure some grownup somewhere has
some logical explanation.
It was dark. That’s all
there was to it. It was the kind of dark monsters of all kinds love.
Why hadn’t I brought a flashlight? I took another step forward and
I heard something. It was
the sound of someone (or something) breathing! It would have scared
me out of my shoes if I’d been wearing any. I gulped loudly and held
my breath. That’s when I realized I was the one making the strange
breathing sound. (It was a good thing no one was around to witness
this. I was even tempted to call myself a scaredy-cat!)
“Is anyone there?” I
I felt even more foolish
this time. The sound of my voice against those cold walls sounded
dead and detached. I tried to whistle. I’ve heard that’s a good
thing to do when you’re scared. I also discovered it’s impossible to
whistle with a dry mouth. And I felt as if I’d just eaten a hundred
and twenty-three crackers.
I glanced around. I knew
the jars and canned goods were stored on some shelves behind the
stairs. (Back where it was even darker, of course.) I took a deep
breath and stepped forward. There was a sudden clinking sound behind
me! I spun around. Nothing was there. Must be the furnace, I told
myself. Or the water pipes. Or maybe…
This is stupid!
I forced my feet to
shuffle forward. (They weren’t being very cooperative.) This time
something brushed my cheek and I jumped again. I was getting more
exercise than gym class! I flapped my hands wildly through the air,
trying to protect myself from the attack! Something touched one of
my hands and I yelped. It wasn’t until I’d imagined giant demon bats
that I realized it was the string hanging down from the light
I shook my head and
laughed. I pulled the string and the light bulb flickered to life.
And suddenly, I felt a whole lot better. My imagination was getting
the best of me.
I walked quickly to the
shelves and started reading labels. That’s when I heard the rattle.
It started. It stopped.
I held my breath.
It started. It stopped.
I wanted to turn and
look, but didn’t dare. If you look, you’re a goner for sure.
(Monster Rule #12, I think…) I grabbed the jar and raced for the
stairs! From the corner of my eye I saw one of the window shutters
moving in the wind. It rattled. It stopped. At that precise moment,
the light bulb flickered brightly and died. As they say – that was
the last straw.
I probably resembled some
cartoon character with my legs flying around in circles as I raced
up the stairs. Of course, I didn’t care how funny I might look. I
was running for my life! I half stumbled, half crawled up the steps
and slammed the door behind me. I took a moment to catch my breath
and finally realized what I had done. I smiled.
I had escaped demons and
devils and who knows what else. I had escaped death by inches and
lived to tell about it! No one would believe me, of course, but I
knew the truth.
I had triumphed over
monsters. I was, well… I was a hero!
I strolled into the
kitchen like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Mom looked at me
“What took you so long?”
she asked. “Did you get the pickles?”
“I sure did!” I said and
proudly handed her the jar.
She looked at the label.
She signed and shook her head.
“These aren’t pickles.
These are olives!”
She handed me the jar.
I glanced back at the
basement door and shuddered.
Copyright 2007 Stan Swanson