Bear in the Basement (Part 9)

Mom and Father were surprised when they found the pull down door to the attic in the closet of the Bogey Room. They had no plans for what to do with an attic, so they, all three, went up to explore the possibilities. Maddy went up to look around between her parents in the middle of a bright, sunny day.

The attic was a big, open space, with a peaked ceiling, covering the whole of the house. Even though it only had one window on each side of the house, (each one beside one of the four chimneys) and the sun cast no beams across the floor as it hunger overhead, the room seemed bright, and surprisingly undusty. Still, Maddy could still feel something of the watching darkness in that empty room, and was more than happy to go back down the folding ladder, and listen to first the trap door, then the closet door close firmly behind her.

Then Father and Maddy went down to explore the basement, while Mum called around trying to find out what restaurants were open enough that she could go pick up food that did not come out of the nearly exhausted ice chest. Without the refrigerator, and most of the pots, pans, dishes, and utensils of a functioning kitchen, their meal preparation and food storage options were limited. Mom also hoped to get advice on what grocery stores there were in the area, and what was still open. The rules about what constituted an ‘essential business’ were different in the new place.

With functioning internet, two laptops, and a tablet, Father pointed out that they could get all the information online, probably faster, but Mom preferred to talk to people. Mom might be a writer these days, but she could not naturally adapt to the enforced seclusion. She enjoyed people, even sales people and recalcitrant cable persons, though they did not always completely enjoy her.

Moose on Paper

Stacy gripped her mechanical pencil tight. If she failed this Algebra test, her mother would be so very upset with her. Stacy already had a low C in the class, but if she failed this test, it would mean her grade would slide to a D. there was a very good chance she might fail the whole class. And that would mean having to repeat the class in summer school. To her teenage mind, the embarrassment of failing in front of her friends and disappointing her parents felt like the end of the world.

Still, this test felt agonizing. Stacy was stuck on problem three out of twelve and almost half her testing time was passed. The other problems past three looked even harder. She had studied and been tutored, but the material seemed to disappear from her mind when it came to testing times.

While stacy had been staring at her half done work for problem three, almost on its own, her hand doodled in the margin of her test paper. The doodle took the form of a small moose.

As stacy stared at the algebra problem bedeviling her, she became perplexed at her doodle from minutes ago. She could swear she had drawn the little moose on four feet, but now it stood on two in profile as if also looking at her work.

Stacy dropped her pencil in startlement when the doodle moved right before her eyes! It was still a two dimensional line drawing, but it walked across her paper to get a better look. It bent to examine her work for problem three and a whisper in her ear said, “You need to use the completing the square method to finish this one.”

Stacy was so desperate that she would try anything, even if it was taking advice from an hallucination. By applying the drawn moose’s advice she quickly found the answers that had eluded her.

“See, wasn’t that easy?” asked the whisper in her right ear. “Hold on. Let me get a bit more free of these constraints and we can see about finishing the rest of this test!”

The small line art moose seemed to shrug and then pull himself up off the paper. Stacy could see him standing on the surface, complete with shadow. He stood there on her test, a now three inch tall collection of lines in a three dimensional figure of the ordinary seeming doodle from minutes earlier.

Stacy put her pencil down and glanced up at the clock. She finished the test with five minutes to spare. With the aid of her new math tutor she was able to complete the problems with confidence. The little moose had not given her the answers, merely prompted her at critical points when her mind seized up with doubt.

Now she was most definitely in doubt, but of a different sort. If she turned in her test, the strange moose might go with the paper she drew him on and she was just experiencing hope again in math class. As she might have expected, the little moose noticed her hesitation. “Don’t worry. I am not going away.” With those words the three dimensional moose jumped off her paper, gaining color and detail to stand with a stocky body and strong legs on her desk. The moose had grown again to a sturdy eight inches high and he studied her with a tilt to his head. Stacy quickly looked around to see if anyone else noticed, but no one else seemed to see the strange sight.

“You can call me Marius. I’ll just climb in your backpack. Go on up and turn your test in, Stacy. I’ll be helping you with your math from now on.”

The Bear in the Basement (Part 8)

The first few pages of this story were first penned well before anyone ever heard of Covid-19, so naturally, none of the complications of a global pandemic were taken into account, but with the way things are, and the way this story is going, we have decided that it could quite easily be tweaked into a more relevant setting. The first few pages were written to be in the spring, but when we took this up again, we wanted to cut out the complications involved in going to a new school, as they would have very little to do with the plot, so we slid into summer. Now we shift back to Spring in a world where school is held on the computer and wearing a mask to the store is normal.

In spite of all the shut downs, quarantining, and ‘social distancing’, power and the joys of the internet reached the ‘new’ old house the next morning, if not quite right on schedule. Maddy stayed upstairs and missed the complicated three way song and dance that took place when the cable person showed up to set up the cable modem before the power company had finished their part. She and Father both heard over lunch how the cable person wanted to leave and reschedule sometime next week, but Mom was stern. She and Father both needed the internet for work things and Maddy needed to Zoom her classes Monday. It was no fault of Mom, Father, or Maddy. That the cable person showed up three hours before the appointment, and Mom was quite willing to climb right over the cable person and up the chain of command until she got the service they were paying for, or the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and a host of other places where people go to check out companies before doing business with them, would hear all about it.

Father and Maddy knew quite well that Mum only had to point out that we still had an appointment for that afternoon whether or not the cable person showed up in the morning, and start to ask to speak to a manager, and most of the rant only happened in her head.

Mum knew they knew, so it was just a funny story to share over lunch. They had back up plans for if things did not work out, anyway.

What did not go anywhere close to on schedule, however, was the arrival of the moving van with all their furniture, and the rest of the boxes. For some reason, the ever shifting rules that tried to prevent the spread of disease wrapped the truck up in red tape somewhere along the way, and until the knots were all cut or untied, Maddy and her parents had to make do without.

By comparison, the single day delay in delivery and installation of the new refrigerator, washer, and dryer ( the old ones had belonged to the apartment and had to be left behind), and finding out that the room they had did not match the actual rooms, so that Mom’s office plans would have to be redone, seemed to be minor inconveniences.

Actually, for some reason, Mom and Father expected Maddy to choose the Bogey room, so the plans would have to be adjusted in any case. Then Mom had a new idea as to adapting the closet with a window into a cosy work space where she could get to everything easily, and she got rather excited as the boxes the brought played musical rooms, until they remembered people would eventually have to get through with furniture, and all the boxes not to be opened yet moved into one corner of the big room, convenient, yet out of the way. Around her school work, done at the kitchen table on the end set aside for Maddy (as opposed to the middle where Mom and Father worked across from one another, and the other end near the sink where they ate), they spent a lot of time exploring and making plans for the two main floors, including new shelves and lighting for the walk in pantry behind one of the door off the kitchen.

The Bear in the Basement (Part 7)

Maddy sat on the window set in the fading sunshine of afternoon. She could hear her parents moving boxes from the van, and bringing some upstairs. Outside the glass, the wind swayed the trees gently as she watched until she drifted off into slumber.

The world outside Maddy’s window was very dark when she woke as Father picked her up. A hint of a glow shown through or above the trees here and there under a sky filled with more stars than she had ever seen before. All those lights together were nothing compared to the combination of street lights, stop lights, and building lights that glowed outside her old window.

“Come on, little one. We have something to eat downstairs,” said Father, as Maddy turned her groggy head against his shoulder away from the window and back into the house.

A glow of light flowed out from the well of the stairs, where someone had put an electric lantern in one corner of the landing. Another lantern drew the eye to the foyer end of the big room, where it lit the short hallway, towards the kitchen with the only table and chairs available in the house. Even by lantern light, the kitchen still felt cozy.

“Don’t worry about the power. We have been firmly assured that it will be on and fully functional by morning,” Father said as he settled Maddy in one of the chairs.

“And, even without power, we still have hot water for your bath, so you can go to sleep warm and clean,” Mum added. Regular bathing was very important to her. She stood at the counter by one of the lanterns assembling sandwiches from the provisions they brought along in the van.

“Which would you prefer? Peanut butter and jelly, or turkey?” Father asked, picking  up a paper towel wrapped example of each from Mum’s completed creations. Bottles of water and juice lurked in the ice chest beside Mum on the floor, where she had also gotten the jelly and turkey, and some other things for breakfast in the morning.

The Bear in the Basement (Part 6)

I wonder why they made this a bedroom, and the bigger room in the corner into the bathroom. After a little thought, still standing in the doorway of the closet room, Maddy concluded. Perhaps it had something to do with the water pipes. The bathroom up here is right over the bathroom and sink downstairs. Though, of course, Maddy knew little to nothing about plumbing, except that sometimes it leaked. Sometimes, it got clogged. It only made sense that shorter distances to cross with the pipes would be easier to put in, and easier to fix when something went wrong. Still, Maddy did not want to sleep in the closet with a window, so she turned to explore the next room.

It turned out to be quite a big one, especially after looking at the closet room. Even bigger than Maddy’s parents’ old bedroom, though not quite so big as the two empty rooms downstairs. It felt like someone had deliberately stolen all the missing space from next door to add to this one.

Even though there were uncovered windows on two walls, that late in the day, the room was still quite dark. Instead of sliding doors, the closet in this room had a door in the far, right corner, with hinges and a knob, implying a space big enough to walk into. Like most of the doors in the house, it hung ajar, if only slightly. Through that crack, Maddy could see only a darkness that seemed so much darker than mere shadow. As she stood just inside the room watching, the feeling grew upon her, that something in that darkness watched her back, and was the closet door swinging wider, if ever so slowly?

Maddy did not wait to find out. She closed that bedroom door firmly behind her, and went to investigate the last bedroom hoping, I hope that this will be like in Goldilocks; the first room is too small, the second room is too scary, and the third one is Just Right, even if Goldilocks was pretty naughty to just walk into that house, steal their food, break their furniture, and then settle in for a nap in someone else’s bed. Of course, Momma says that hospitality means different things in different places and times like those people who thought smiling was bad, or eating people was ok, so it might have been ok and expected behavior from a guest where she grew up. Fairy tales are weird.

 The last bedroom took up the fourth corner of the house on that floor. While it was smaller than ‘bogey room’ as she mentally dubbed the last room, it stretched a far greater distance between wall and wall than the closet with a window, maybe even bigger than her parents’ old room. An ordinary closet with doors folded back stood in the wall between the last room and the bogey room, and the last tenant must have been someone small. The bar for hanging clothes ran across the middle of the space, rather than up nearer the top, like most closets, at a height easy for Maddy to reach, with two rows of square shelves above it, and one long shelf above that. Near floor level, another long, shallow shelf ran, that must be for shoes, and tucked in one corner, in a slot obviously made for it, a sturdy set of folding steps sat. It looked light enough for her to move about herself, and tall enough to reach even the very top shelf.

Even without looking at the other rooms, however, Maddy would have chosen that room for her own. That last bedroom had the window seat. It filled the corner of the bedroom in that corner of the house with an arc of windows over a bright green padded seat that just called out to be sat upon. For the first time, Maddy took more than a couple steps into one of the rooms.

She curled up on the seat and leaned one shoulder against the glass. Looking out from her perch, Maddy thought, The trees are not so scary from up here, on the other side of the glass.

The Bear in the Basement (Part 5)

For a moment or two, the cozy feeling of the room encouraged Maddy to linger, but after running her hand across the back of one of the chairs, for the first time something like hope, or at least interest stirred in Maddy’s breast. The feeling may have been faint, but it was resilient. Even the darkness in the hallway beyond the far arch could not dampen it.

Just beyond the arch, the hallway took an abrupt right turn. A wooden door stood ajar in the middle of the short stretch of wall on the left. Maddy glanced in to see a water closet, with the facilities themselves tucked into a smaller room with a door and another window on the far side. Warm wood and cream colored fixtures filled the room, with pale yellow accents, matching the kitchen curtains.

At the end of the hallway, Maddy could see the front door standing open. Father hovered half in and half out of the van as he pulled boxes out of an awkward corner, while Mum worked at the back. Their voices came only dimly into the hall, so that Maddy made it halfway through the shadows before she recognised the show tune they were singing. She scurried back into the living room to the base of the stairs without being seen, smothering a giggle. Mum and Father had switched parts, so that he sang the girls’ part as deep as he could, while Mum did the boys’ part in a controlled soprano as they encouraged each other to, “Hurry up! Can’t waste time!” The tune chased Maddy up the staircase.

Rather than coming out through a door into a hallway, the stairs rose up through the floor, surrounded on three sides with a carved wooden railing, with a gate of similar make at the end, so no one could stumble into the gap by accident, but still leaving an open place, maybe even an extra room in the middle of the five open doors, one set diagonally in each corner of the open space, with the fifth behind anyone walking up the stairs.

Maddy barely glanced into the first door on her left, since Mum already claimed that one already. She got the impression of what she would have called a big, empty place before she saw the living room downstairs, with another fireplace in one wall, and more shuttered windows.

The next door opened into a bathroom, nearly as big as Maddy’s old bedroom, with a half open closet full of shelves, another little cubby for the toilet, double sinks, a shower stall, and a claw-footed bathtub that looked almost big enough for swimming in.

Compared to most of the other rooms in the house, Maddy would have called the third room a storage closet, if it didn’t have a window in the wall across from the door, and a clothes closet in one of the longer walls. No, definitely not, Maddy decided after almost no thought at all. My desk and bed might fit in this room, but if they did, there would be no room left over for my chair.

The Bear in the Basement (Part 4.2)

Minion did not think she had done the house justice, so she spent some time working out the floor plans, and then she just had to redo the house descriptions, so here’s the first part of this one again, but better.

Just inside the front door, Maddy found a short but wide hall, lined on both sides with dull, metal coat hooks, a little over her head. The sound of approaching footsteps sent Maddy skittering out of the foyer. Directly ahead lay a narrower stretch of hallway, filled almost to overflowing with shadows that bounced Maddy to her left into a huge, dusty room, striped here and there with thin bars of bright gold that leaked past closed shutters, plus a broad swath of light from the one bow window of three in the long stretch of wall to her left that the shutters did not cover. 

A second uncovered window was set almost directly ahead. At the far end of the dim room, it seemed more like a bright painting of a forest scene hung to one side of the wide fireplace. Part way down the right wall, nearer Maddy, a generously spaced staircase led up to the second floor.

I wonder what we are going to do with all this space, Maddy wondered as she listened to her footsteps echo down the approximate acre and a half of dusty wooden flooring. We could probably have fit half of our old apartment in this room alone.

Like the hallway across from the foyer, the staircase had no windows to light the way, so Maddy bounced past the risers, and on through the tall arch set in the wall beyond into another echoingly empty room. 

Only about half the size of the first room, it still seemed to take an age to cross. Another picture window opened in the side wall. The trees danced gently in the late afternoon sunshine, though Maddy gave them only a glance. 

A door without a knob in the right hand wall drew Maddy’s wandering path. A worn brass plate drew her curious hand. With only a slight pressure, the door swung open. Just inside, Maddy stopped for the first time in her explorations to examine the big old kitchen.

There were several immediate differences. While the first two, empty rooms felt cold and remote, an air of warmth and welcome and warmth filled the kitchen, and not entirely because it had all the windows uncovered, and for some reason the previous owners left it mostly still furnished. That late in the day, little sunshine hit the windows or the wide stretch of lawn beyond.

The room was not exactly a rectangle, with one corner bitten out just to her right, where in the first room Maddy found the staircase. Two closed doors led into this mysterious section. Probably a basement and pantry, or a small bathroom, Maddy thought, though she had no inclination at that moment to explore either.

In the corner opposite these, to Maddy’s left, a discolored patch of floor and wall showed where a double width refrigerator and freezer had stood. Beyond this, a white painted door with a smallish, square window led outside. Pale yellow curtains framed that window, when all the others, so far, stood bare on the inside, though shuttered without. 

Another fireplace stood next to the door, narrower than the first, and with an odd array of hooks and bars inside, and a heavy, black, metal door set in the stones to one side. Beyond this array of old methods for cooking stood a surprisingly modern, gas stove and oven that seemed far more out of place, though not unwelcome in that shadowy, old house. Pale wooden cabinets and counters lined the remaining walls, except for another door leading out the far side of the kitchen, and two windows, left of the door, and right of the stove.

What dominated the room, however, was a vast expanse of high table in the middle of the room. The heavy wooden top matched the counters and cabinets. It had obviously seen a lot of use, but equally, it had seen a lot of care, too. The top rose almost as high as Maddy’s shoulder, a good height for an adult to work at standing up, but it also had six tall, comfortable looking chairs with backs, seats, and arms lined in the same pale yellow as the curtains arranged along the two long sides.

Bear in the Basement (Part 4)

Maddy walked through the front door into a short hall. There were hooks all along both sides of the wall at about shoulder height for an adult. Those must be for coats and things. She quickly departed the foyer as her parents brought in the first load of boxes beyond the entrance lay a big living room. It was huge. There was a large fireplace in the far end of the room. She wandered through the living room. 

There were three, large bay windows on the same side of the room as the front door. There was a staircase off to one side. And on the side of the room from the windows was a large arch going into a dining room.

Maddy wandered out through the dining room. With no furniture, these two big rooms were like vast caverns. The kitchen was just beyond the dining room. While the front two rooms felt cold and remote, the kitchen felt warm and welcoming. There was a back door, a basement door, a pantry door, and a large, gas cooking stove. Also the kitchen had a small fireplace that looked very old.

Right in the center of the room was an old, battered wood table. The table was large and heavy, made out of a light wood. It had six chairs around it. Maddy wandered down a small hall from the kitchen, past a small bathroom, to the front door. And that was the first floor.

She sighed and began to drag herself to the staircase and upstairs. She got to the top of the stairs to see there was no real hallway. Instead, the stairs opened into a wide space. Around that space were five doors standing open. The one to the left was the big bedroom that would be her parents room. The next door was the upstairs bathroom. That left three other rooms for her to look at and pick one.

The first room was a small room with one window. Maddy did not like that one very much. It was small and very cramped feeling, even for her small, nine-year-old frame.

The next room was a big one. It had windows on two walls. This room let in lots of sunlight. Maddy, though, did not like the look of the closet door. She opened it to see a huge closet. It had a sinister feeling. This was the type of closet that boogey men crept out of in the wee hours of the night to spook children. No, she would not pick this room.

She sighed, that left only one room. She hoped it was a good one. Crossing the open space, she saw her parents had already brought up a dozen boxes. That last room was right beside the bathroom.

The Bear in the Basement (Part 3)

The house was large, but not nearly as large as the wall, gate, and long drive might suggest. The two and a half stories under the high peaked roof had once been painted a light green, but much of the paint had peeled away, exposing grey, weather stained wood. Broad windows were generously spread around that side of the building, as if the builders meant the house to have bright, sunny rooms inside, but dark green shutters hid most of the windows dark, leaving the building looking cold and forbidding.

Four chimneys stood proud of the sharply peaked roof, like sheep heavy with wool scattered around the metal rooster weather vane, shifting back and forth slightly in the light breeze that set the trees whispering without quite coming down to Maddy’s level.

There were four chimneys standing above the sharply peaked roof. On top of the roof at the front of the house, was an old weather vane. It had a metal rooster on it, shifting slightly back and forth in a light breeze that did not reach the ground.

“Go on in and look around while we start unloading the van. The last door on the front of the house is our room, but there are three others for you to pick from,” Maddy’s mother said, already reaching for her first box while Maddy’s father unlocked the front door.

“Don’t worry, kiddo. The sleeping bags and other camping gear should only be for tonight. The rest of our furniture and boxes should be here in the morning,” he said, pausing to muss Maddy’s hair on his way past.

Dragging her feet on the way up the front steps provided time for a good look around outside before facing what fate had in store. Other than the detached garage, which  looked like it started life as a bar, Maddy could not see another building in any direction. Who knew what might be hiding in all those trees? Maddy opened the door quickly before trying to answer that question.

Rather than going upstairs to pick her new bedroom, Maddy set out to explore the ground floor first.

The Bear in the Basement (Part 2)

Maddy stared out the window in the sudden silence accented rather than dispelled by the chattering violins. The trees had pulled away from the car, but they still stood like a wall just beyond the edge of a wide swath of grass grown just a little shaggy, not quite in need of mowing. Then someone in the front opened a door, and even the stringy voices went quiet.

Even after spending more than enough time in the car, Maddy made no move to unfasten her seat belt. When, she wondered to herself, and why did I become scared of trees. They were fine in the parks, for shading picnics and running around. In their little squares of dirt in the sidewalk, they were nice to stand under on hot sunny days. I wonder if it is the way they outnumber the people and buildings here.

Maddy knew quite well that it was silly to be afraid of trees. The worst they could do is fall on her, and even that would take some outside factor rather than a deliberate treeish attack. It made more sense to be afraid of what might be hiding under, behind, or in the trees, but sitting there, Maddy knew that was not it. She was afraid of the trees themselves. She could feel them watching her.

Suddenly, a face and shoulders blotted out most of the view, and Maddy had to blink once or thrice before she brought her thoughts out of the shadows and back into the van, and she recognized her Mum. With the carefully judged heave it took to open the minivan’s door without having it bounce back shut, Mum released the silence to go run among the shadows, while strange bird noises and a soft, but pervasive whispering rustle investigated the inside of the van.

“Come on, sweety. Let’s go explore our new surroundings,” Mum said, smiling. When Maddy sat blinking a moment longer, Mum’s smile turned commiserating, and she unbuckled the seat belt and lifted the girl to the ground. In spite of everything else, Maddy had to smile back. She was proud of the fact that none of her friends’ mums would, or maybe even could still comfortably carry them. Mum was not particularly big, at least not compared to Maddy’s uncles or father, but she stayed active, and if need be (even if just to amuse her audience) Mum could carry Father on her back, or over her shoulder, if he did not struggle too much. She said more of it was knowing how than strength.

Maddy tucked her hand in Mum’s. Together they rounded the van, and Maddy got her first glimpse of the new house.