The Stairs, The Chokey, And The Goobie Hole

Like many other children, I grew up afraid of our basement. It was dark and creepy, and I saw a mouse down there more than once; but those reasons were the least of it. The details were much worse.

The metal stairs had spaces between them (no backs to the individual stairs), and I always imagined that all manner of unsettling things would reach through and grab my feet at any moment. Every time nothing did, and every time I imagined that it was only because I moved on the staircase a hair faster than they were reaching out. I don’t remember thinking it would be spiders or snakes or anything specific. Just anything that you might see scuttling from one shadowy hiding place to another out of the corner of your eye, only to find nothing when you turn to really look. It didn’t help that the light switch for the basement was at the bottom of the stairs, which meant you were always going up or down mostly in the dark.

Fig. 1. Visual approximation of my basement. You first.

At the bottom of the stairs was a small closet with a very narrow door that was made of the same wood paneling as the basement walls. You nearly had to edge sideways to fit through, and the walls had jagged nails sticking out here and there. You may think I’m exaggerating, but my family nicknamed this closet “the Chokey” for a reason. If you’ve seen Matilda the movie or read the book, you know why that is terrifying.

Fig. 2. This is the movie version. OR IS IT MY HOUSE? You decide.

The only person who really had any reason to go in the Chokey often was my father, who kept his tools in there. It also housed the breaker box. The Chokey creeped the hell out of me anyway, and I carefully avoided ever being the person to flip the switches when the power was out.

Towards the back of the basement, you could turn a corner into a room where the water heater lived. On the ground a few feet away from the big tank was a hole in the floor, maybe about 6-8 inches across. I was very into an old DOS/PC game called Treasure Cove when I was 7 years old, and the creatures called “goobies” come out of “goobie holes” while you swim around. You couldn’t convince me that goobies weren’t going to come out of this hole in the basement. For the uninitiated, behold…a goobie hole:

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Fig. 3. Goobie Hole.

You can laugh if you want, but I was too afraid to investigate by shining a flashlight into this hole for the 22 years my family lived there. All I knew was that you couldn’t see the bottom, lights on in the room or not. Maybe it was a portal to hell, or a gateway to a universe where everyone has eight legs or teeth like sharks. At the very least, it was a deeply unpleasant pipe that was almost certainly damp. And damp, dark places in basements never attract anything nice.

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