Strictly speaking, it wasn’t actually a dog. That’s just the closest we got to a descriptor of it. None of us ever really saw it(not for long, anyway) except dad, who shook us awake one night and told us something had got in the basement.
I remember he was oddly excited about it, like he had been waiting for it for a while. Jimmy just rolled over and went back to sleep. Eileen said ‘yes, yes’ in that sleepy way mom used to. I just looked at him. I didn’t know why he was telling me this.
The next day the basement door was barricaded.
Dad had been busy during the night. Cinderblocks, 2×4’s, even mom’s old pickling cabinet had been pushed over. While we ate our breakfast dad laid down the rules. No one was to go anywhere near the basement but him. We were to help prepare food for it, but only dad could take it down there. He was still really excited, full of energy despite the fact that he must not’ve gotten any sleep that night. He kept rubbing his hands together and laughing to himself, like he had this private little joke.
Home life was kind of gritty from then on. Dad couldn’t be relied on for day-to-day matters, anytime we “bothered” him with our petty concerns he’d go into a yelling fit.
We actually drew closer together as a family, funnily enough. We would all eat breakfast the same, walk to the bus together, and at night we’d eat our TV dinners huddled in a circle on the kitchenette floor.
We started to hear grunts and squeals from beneath the house.
It almost got out several times. Dad would show us places where it partially chewed through the baseboard or when it tried to wiggle through the dryer vent. Looking back on it I realize that those weren’t escape attempts. It was testing the fences.
We didn’t see much of dad anymore. He stopped shaving, started to smell pretty rank, but we couldn’t tell whether it was just from not bathing or from the basement itself. I don’t know how the door managed to keep it out, but anytime it was opened, you’d get the most ungodly piss-and-shit stink hurled straight at your nose. He was always cheerful, lugging pails of meat down there. A good portion of his unemployment check went towards offal and butcher scraps.
The kids from the neighborhood stopped coming over to our house. Someone’s mom called CPS and the health department, but nothing came of it.
I still don’t know how we got through those days with some unknown creature rooting beneath our feet, but we did. We even slept at night, at first in our own beds, and eventually all in a heap on the platform we’d made by stacking our beds together. No one liked to be close to the floor. The stench got worse when summer rolled around.
Every man needs a hobby, I guess. Dad’s was that thing in the basement. He seemed pretty glum whenever he had nothing to do in there, just sat around sharpening sticks all day long. The thing was actually pretty quiet when he wasn’t down there.
For a long time, we suspected that there was no thing, that dad was just…well, dad. We were never really able to prove it one way or the other, either.
I think Jimmy was the only one to get a good look at it. We were just tossing a ball around the yard, not really playing anything, and he missed a catch. It hit his shoulder and rolled off to the side of the house. He bent over to pick it up and then something made him look up.
He was nose-to-nose with the basement window. That thing was on the other side.
He said it had a pig’s face, only kind of folded in on itself. That’s about all he could make out because the next second he sprawled out on the grass, trying to crab-crawl away because getting back up would take too long. By the time I got over it wasn’t there anymore. Jimmy had pissed himself.
It’s kind of funny we never told dad to leave, even though it would turn out to be unnecessary, but we just kind of took everything in stride. Who were we going to cry to?
But it had to end. Things like this never last long.
We heard it go on, in our pile. A long, drawn-out screech, a yell that could’ve been dad’s but pitched too low, metallic tearing noises. In the morning dad was gone, and there were bloody handprints all over the house. The police wrote it off as a psychotic break, and shuffled us off to relatives. I never saw our old house again.
I think on this today, not out of a sudden attack of nostalgia, but because the other day I saw my father. Just for a minute, in a crowd. He hadn’t aged much, walked with a little funny, shuffling gait. I almost called out to him before I thought the better of it.
Wouldn’t want to catch the attention of the thing wearing my father’s skin.