Not much has changed here – the layout and fonts are all. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But really it wasn’t.
Under the basement…down in the dark…
Elly always gets stuck with entertaining her relatives while their parents talk to her mom. Blah, blah, blah. It goes on for hours. But this time, she worked and worked to make a special surprise for her visiting cousins…a haunted house in the basement! With a super-duper, extra-gross surprise in the spooky cellar.
It should be the most fun that they’ve had in forever…until things start to go mysteriously wrong…
The Secret of the Cellar
When the cousins came over to Elly’s tiny yellow house in Michigan, which was shoved in between two other houses so they almost touched and had barely any yard in the front or the back and no parks to go to, her mom would say, “Elly! Take your cousins downstairs and entertain them while we talk,” and she would. Sometimes they would play “stay off the lava” by jumping between the old, stinky, ripped up couches, and sometimes they would play “planet destroyer” by using the white pool ball to knock all the other balls off the pool table, which usually ended up with someone having pinched fingers and them all getting in trouble for making too much noise, and sometimes they would play “hide and seek.” One time Elly followed her cousin Jackson to the downstairs closet under the stairs and locked the door so he couldn’t get out. Then she found all the other cousins and they went upstairs and played tea with snickerdoodles and dolls until it was time for them to go. Jackson was so proud of not being found that he never noticed that he got locked in, because she unlocked the door before she yelled for him to go home.
This time it wasn’t Jackson but the M cousins from Iowa. There were four girl cousins, and their names all started with M: Missy, Mandy, Mary, and Maureen, which Elly thought must be kind of embarrassing at school.
“Just let us know if you need anything, girls!” said Aunt Jane.
“Okay!” Elly said. She led them away from the living room with all the adults to the door to the basement. She had her lucky purple dinosaur shirt on, and her lucky red sneakers, and her jeans with butterflies on the back pocket, for good luck.
“Can we play pretend?” asked Mandy. “I want to be Esmeralda the Elf Queen again.”
“No,” said Elly. They were always wanting to play the same game over and over again, and she wasn’t going to let them. “Today we are going into the basement.”
“We always go into the basement,” said Maureen. She was the smallest. And the whiniest.
Elly had a very small red metal flashlight in her pants pocket, attached to a keychain holder. Now she turned it on by turning the cap in a circle and held it under her face. “Yeah, but then we are going into the cellar.”
Missy said, “I don’t want to go into the cellar.” She was the oldest. And the bossiest.
“Then don’t,” said Elly.
Missy opened her mouth. Missy had just turned thirteen and was getting about as annoying as the adults.
Elly had been practicing really hard to find out if she could control people’s minds, like an evil telepathic genius or something. She stared at Missy’s mouth, trying to make her say, “Okay…I’ll go hang out with the adults then…”
But of course Missy didn’t do what Elly wanted her to do.
“No,” said Missy. “I’m going. You’re going to do something crazy that goes completely and ridiculously wrong. I can tell.”
Elly rolled her eyes.
She could roll her eyes all the way up into her head. She had to be careful about it, because it made her dizzy. She held the flashlight out a little, and Maureen went urrreeeeeee! which was a stupid sound but made Elly happy that she’d freaked Maureen out anyway.
Elly said, “Follow me if you dare,” then laughed dramatically.
“Whatever,” Missy said, and jerked the door open.
All the lights were off.
Elly shone the light down the stairs. The metal treads at the ends of each stair shone dully back at them. The door at the bottom of the stairs was wide open, and the tilted mirror at the other end of the downstairs guest bedroom reflected Elly’s floating face back at them.
Maureen made another gulping, squeaking sound.
“You aren’t too chicken, are you?” Elly asked.
“No,” Missy said. “But if you keep messing around I’m going to tell on you.”
Elly laughed again. She wasn’t trying laugh dramatically, but it sounded pretty nasty anyway. She wondered if she could learn how to make that laugh on purpose, but now wasn’t the time to practice. “You’re a teenager now. If you tell your mom will just say, ‘Now, Missy. You know that you’re the eldest, and you’re supposed to be in charge.’”
Missy said, “I don’t care. I will anyway.”
Elly ignored her and started walking down the stairs. Ignoring Missy was about the only way to deal with her anyway. As they went down the stairs, Elly said, “Once upon a time there was a little kid who went to a haunted house. Her name was—”
“Her name was Missy,” Mary said.
Elly frowned, because she knew that when she smiled her voice didn’t sound as spooky. She knew that because her mom was always making her laugh when she was trying to be spooky. But that was okay, Mom was good practice. Because if you could spook out Mom, you could spook out anybody, and Mom said she was getting pretty close.
“Okay, her name was Missy and she was almost a teenager,” Elly said.
“I am a teenager,” Miss said.
“This story isn’t about you, it’s about someone else named Missy.”
It was really, really dark. It was already night outside and plus Elly had closed all the basement curtains, which were short and tan with red yarn stitching for decoration and had plastic on the backs to keep out the sun, so it was really dark.
“Who else do you know that’s named Missy?”
“Lots of people,” Elly said, annoyed, “except they’re all dead.”
“They are not. You don’t know any dead people.”
Elly really wished she could just put a piece of silver tape over Missy’s mouth. Because Missy was going to spoil everything. “She had gone visiting at her cousin’s house, and the cousin’s mom told her about a—”
“Her aunt,” Missy said. “Your cousin’s mom is called your aunt. Are you stupid?”
Elly stopped at the bottom of the stairs and held the flashlight under her chin. She about felt ready to cry or scream or throw a tantrum. This was not going the way it was supposed to be going.
“If you don’t shut up, then I’m not going to tell the story.”
Missy breathed in, and Elly quickly interrupted: “I mean, if you don’t want to hear the story, then go away.”
Nobody said anything for a minute, and then Maureen said in a teeny tiny voice with really fast words that kind of ran together, “Um I want to hear the story but you shouldn’t say shut up.”
Elly snorted. “I can say shut up if I want to.”
“But you might hurt someone’s feelings.”
“Missy already hurt my feelings. So I don’t really care if I hurt hers back.”
Elly stared at Missy and Missy stared back.
Mary said, “Something smells bad down here.”
Elly took a deep breath. She pretended to smell whatever Mary smelled, but she was really just trying to keep from crying. But anyway she couldn’t smell anything.
“Fine,” Missy said.
Elly turned toward the big room, which was the room with all the stinky, broken couches and the pool table and the ancient, torn dress-up clothes that felt like sticky sandpaper because they hadn’t been washed for so long and the door to the cellar.
“Her cousin’s mom told her a story about a ghost, and it creeped her out so much that she couldn’t sleep all night. The next day, Missy went to a haunted house with her friends from school. They were going through the haunted house together when suddenly they realized that they were being followed by a ghost.”
She dragged her shoe on the gray yarn she’d left on the floor, in exactly the right spot. It was her secret trigger.
On the other side of the room something went clickaclickaclicka.
It was just an old red metal windup clown car and she had to practiced about twenty times to get it all to go right, but her cousins didn’t need to know that.
Maureen went urrrr—and then there was a slap as Mary put her hand over Maureen’s mouth, and then Maureen screamed into Mary’s hand.
Elly kept walking. Now she was in her spookiest mood. “Everybody screamed and ran, and the next thing that Missy knew, she was lost…in the middle of a room full of spider webs.”
A tiny thread brushed her face. She gave it a soft pull.
The ripped-up sheets didn’t come down and brush on everyone’s faces like they were supposed to. So she pulled harder.
The thread broke.
She said a bad word, and she said it just a little too loud.
“You shouldn’t say that,” Maureen said. “It might hurt—”
Elly said the word again, but quieter. “Never mind. Let me finish the story.”
Missy sighed loudly.
Quickly, Elly started telling the story again before Missy could start talking. “And then she went into a room where the ghost appeared in front of her and said, ‘You can’t go into this room…there are gushy, yucky, squishy things in this room. My body is in this room.’ It was the ghost of a little kid…who looked just…like…Missy.”
She stopped at the right spot on the floor, trying not to move her foot too much or she’d give the whole thing away, and pushed the power button on the remote with the toe of her shoe.
The TV turned on and the movie started playing.
It was a movie of Elly, dressed up as a ghost.
The movie Elly said, “Dooon’t gooo in the cellerrr.” Mom had helped her edit the movie so it really did look like Elly was a ghost. She was see-through and wavy, and she was surrounded by mist.
Mary burst out laughing. “This is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
But her voice was kind of high and squeaky, and really fast.
Maureen, however, was so scared she couldn’t even go urreeeep.
The movie turned into black and white specs of static, which Mom thought would be creepy. Elly didn’t but whatever, it made Mom happy.
Elly was about to start on the final trick, which was behind the cellar door, when Missy said, “Really? Come on, Elly, really? How stupid can you get?”
Elly pushed her teeth together over her lips and smooshed them back and forth. Her chest hurt so bad. She felt like Missy had just beat her up. Didn’t she know how hard she worked on this? Didn’t she know how bad that she wished someone would make a haunted house for her?
And nobody ever, ever would.
“Don’t say stupid,” Maureen peeped. “That word hurts people’s feelings.”
Elly couldn’t breathe right. It felt like she was all smashed up, like a fancy china doll that had been thrown against the wall and jumped on and smashed up into little pieces.
“Fine!” she shouted.
And she walked over to the cellar door and yanked on the door.
But it wouldn’t move.
She dropped the flashlight on the floor, and took both hands, and pulled on the door.
It still wouldn’t move.
“Help me,” she said. A horrible, loud sound was ringing in her ears. It was a sound coming from the inside of her own head, the sound that she always heard in her head before she started crying with a broken heart.
Mary stood next to her and put her hands over Elly’s hands and helped pull.
And then Maureen grabbed the back of Mary’s jeans and helped pull.
But the door still wouldn’t come open.
“Please, Missy,” Elly said. Her voice sounded far, far away, and the sound in her head sounded closer and closer. She didn’t have long before she had to throw herself on one of the stinky couches and cry until she fell asleep or everyone went away. “Please help us.”
“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease,” said Maureen, saying it for a long time until she ran out of breath, and then she breathed in loud and said it some more. She could do that for a very long time.
“If you don’t I’ll tell Brady about your dolls,” Mary said.
Missy grabbed onto Mary’s arms and yanked hard, just to be mean.
But the door opened with a loud grawaaaaaaaahonk! as it scraped over the basement floor.
They all let go of the door at the same time and skipped backwards, all bonking into each other and trying not to fall, Elly especially because she would have squashed Maureen.
“Ugh,” said Mary.
Maureen said, “That smells bad.”
Missy said, “Wow. Just…wow, Elly. What did you do, put a bucket full of dog poop down there?”
Whatever they were smelling, Elly couldn’t smell it.
She and her mom had put a bucket of squishy guts made out of noodles and jello and peeled grapes and hamburger, for the end of the ghost story.
“Make sure you hold everyone’s hands as they go down the steps,” Mom had said. “Those are some pretty steep, sharp, hard cement steps. Only one person at a time and hold the railing.”
Missy said, “I’m not going down there.”
Mary said, “I’m going to puke. Elly, I have to go into the bathroom and puke so turn on the light right now.”
Maureen started crying, a sad cry that made Elly’s angry, disappointed tears stop, because she sounded so sad.
The story was over, the haunted house was done.
“Okay, okay,” she said. She reached over to the switch beside the cellar door and turned it on.
The cellar lit up.
There were wood shelves with glass jars full of applesauce and tomato sauce and cut-up cooked chicken in parts.
And a hole in the floor with a black pump to take water out of the cellar when it flooded.
And a bucket with gushy fake guts in it, for the haunted house.
And sharp, sharp, tiny cement stairs.
And a girl with blonde hair and a pale, pale face and a purple dinosaur t-shirt and butterfly jeans and lucky red sneakers and a lot of blood missing, well, not missing, because you could see it right there, running down the stairs, across the floor, and into the square black hole for the pump, and her head smashed open so you could see all the brains inside.
It was Elly’s own body.
Three voices screamed.
Elly stared at her hands…they were disappearing. And she couldn’t make any sound at all.