Many things have bothered me in the past, like “haunted houses” and “creepy” dolls, but when you’re a child it’s easier to forgive (and forget). There was a particular time when I realized that the things chasing me and reaching out for me in the night would never give it up.
I must have been twelve or thirteen. School was out and it was the hottest summer the city had seen in decades. Some of my friends were jumping rope in the plaza, trying to crank open a fire hydrant or something. Back then the streets were safer and I was allowed to wander about within the constraints of my neighborhood, wearing a nice summer dress and sandals. I was a cute kid.
Do you remember Alex? He left our grade somewhere between middle and high school, he wasn’t a very stand-out kid. I remember the others teased him because he was poor and apparently his parents had to borrow money from extended family to pay for his tuition or whatever. His father actually ran a clinic out of his house, you know. The first story was the clinic and the second story was their home, it was this little apartment complex they owned. On this particular summer day I went to visit that particular boy, because we had established a previous appointment to do so.
Alex had something to show me. I always told him my stories, the ones about big dogs that roam about in the nighttime and about Monic, and about the ghosts I see shuffling about my home while I’m trying to sleep. I was making a conscious effort to creep him out, because at that age that was my favorite pastime with boys, but he was remarkably interested. He said that similar things happened in his house. Apparently I had found a kindred spirit.
So I walked some eight blocks over to his place, the run-down little clinic where a tired secretary fanned herself behind a counter, and sure enough he soon came skipping down the stairs to greet me at the entrance. He was wearing an old Thundercats t-shirt, I think, with worn-out jeans and white sneakers. I offered him a chocolate I had stolen from my mom’s jar. He invited me in.
As I have it understood Alex’s family was in deeper financial troubles than any of us knew or cared to assume, and his grandparents lived with him. They came from the countryside and were appropriately superstitious; one of his grandma’s favorite pastimes was interpreting dreams (apparently they were always ill omens), and on one occasion she told me a thing or two about mine, but that’s a story of its own.
Alex took me to the basement of the two-story complex, which was really a cramped hallway. Apparently it was leftover space originally used for insulation or perhaps as part of a larger design; according to my dad that building was part of a larger complex or something along those lines. It was accessible via a rotting wooden door about the height of a cupboard in the back room which also doubled as the storage for various medical supplies. We had to sneak around his dad and the disgruntled secretary, as the adults didn’t like him going in there.
Had I been even mildly claustrophobic I don’t think I would’ve made it. Even for a kid my age I had to wiggle along on all fours, groping around a damp, winding concrete path with the rickety sounds of the house over my head. I feared that everything would come down collapsing on us. Alex had stolen a lighter from his father before entering, but he was in front of me and the meek light it produced did little to reassure me. After insecurely moving along the path for a minute or so, we arrived at a dead end, at which point he said that we could stand up. He was right; we now had to shimmy along a far wall, I assumed we were right on the edge of the house, between the outer and inner walls. I could hear the sound of a television somewhere, although it was playing something that sounded really old.
Finally, Alex said, “Look.” He pointed the lighter at some point in space in front of him. I had to squint to look, and even then I didn’t really see anything in the dense darkness, so I swiped the lighter from him and used it myself. That’s when I managed to make it out.
It was… well, sort of a hole in the wall, I guess. Opposite to where we were standing was this big indentation in the far wall, roughly egg-shaped, with cut-off wiring and steel frames sticking out of the edges, as if a little meteorite had crashed in there. I could only make out the vaguest contours in the dark, but I could see markings on the inside, which were murky brown in color, amorphous in shape.
Alex told me that, according to his neighbor, the man who owned this house in the distant past left his son to die in that hole when he discovered that he was the product of his wife’s affair. The baby eventually starved and nobody ever found out. He related this tale with mild fascination, with the same tone as a tour guide describes a slaughter that took place hundreds of years ago so it no longer carries emotional weight.
I kind of nodded and stood there for a while. Eventually we crawled back out, played some cards for a while and then I left (his mom offered me lemonade, she was very nice, but looked very tired). I remember telling A. and B. about the adventure and they said that Alex had probably made the story up on the spot just to impress me. Then there was the requisite teasing and taunting about how the two of us would get married and have babies but Alex would be too poor to support them. I swear that year when my teacher said that girls mature faster than boys I felt like life in its entirety had been explained to me.
In all honesty I think that Alex just wanted to be friends with me, because his family, his clothes and his country bumpkin appearance repelled most of the kids at our school. I only went back to his house once, like a week later. It was an equally hot day and I walked there once again. I remember back then there was the whole scare about the Dog Killer and how children were advised to stay at home, but I didn’t pay it much mind. This time Alex came running down the stairs to tell me, with bated breath, that I REALLY had to see something.
We went back in that crawl space. A minute of groping around blind, some thirty seconds of sidling along some insulation, and we were there. This time Alex said, “Look,” with an almost diabolical expression, and took out a flashlight, which was quite an improvement over a measly lighter.
Now I could see things more clearly. The hole looked about what I imagined it did on my first visit, but now I could make out those smudges inside. They were amorphous brown stains that could have very well been made with feces or something equally unpleasant. Together they created some vague shape. Alex told me to take a step back. He said that the figure looked like a baby—he started pointing out the facial features and body as he saw them—but I didn’t really see anything. Just a bunch of smudges and marks. I rolled my eyes and said that we should get back out.
And as soon as I said that there was this sound, like all the air was being sucked out of the house, it was kind of like the sound a river would have made if it were flowing under our feet. The sound intensified, began to shake the planks and loosen bits of paint and dust from the roof. And suddenly we heard this crash, like a refrigerator had been dropped from the top story, and we thought the whole thing was coming down on us, collapsing, so we screamed and ran blindly back where we came from, back into the crawl space, frantically wiggling out towards freedom.
When we got out we found Alex’s mother standing there, arms akimbo, looking at us disapprovingly. We were coated in white paint flakes and dust. She had probably heard us screaming like idiots, and was particularly mad at Alex, who she had warned not to enter that place again. She said she would have the entrance boarded up by tomorrow.
I didn’t get the chance to go back to Alex’s house after that. He was grounded for the rest of the summer, apparently, and once school started it became evident that we weren’t in the same crowds and quickly drifted apart. As I said, he moved to some other part of town a few years later. I’m pretty sure the guys remember that. Oh, and according to his mom the big crashing sound we had heard had been a garbage truck outside, though at the time I didn’t buy it.
What is really weird and makes this entry deserving of being in the notebooks is that, well, I’ve passed that apartment complex where Alex lived several times while coming back from university. His father closed down the clinic when they moved and now it’s a private residence; it’s been remodeled substantially. But I have passed that place and I have looked at it from every conceivable angle, and I have gone over the memories in my head with great care, but it still doesn’t fit. The crawl space, I mean. There is no place in that house—no space—for that passage, and the wall with the insulation space, and the hole. It simply doesn’t make sense. And I’ve asked a friend in Architecture what purpose would a structure like that serve and she said that it would be completely out of place in a building like that, and for that matter it would probably be out of place in any building.
Has anyone gotten in touch with Alex?
Not much to say, honestly. I think it's fairly clear that this was written by T., but this Alex person is a mystery to me. I asked my parents if there were any clinics around T.'s neighborhood in past years, but they couldn't answer.