The plants in the basement never stopped trying to come up. They looked like bamboo shoots, but they were covered with warts. They grew without light and they didn’t seem to need water. They pushed up through the concrete until the surface cracked into gravel.
Pa pumped a ton of poison down there. We had to stay out for a week. It made them go away, but only for a while. They came back bigger. They started moving. Pa came upstairs, holding his shoulder from where one had whipped him. They would thrash around if you brushed against one. Hard enough to break bones. Pa said it was just whatsit. Automatic response. My brother said he watched the thing aim for Pa’s back.
Soon they were moving all the time. They would band together if you came at one to cut it down. Pa got a chainsaw and lit into them, and we thought that would be that.
They grew back with thorns this time, and skin tougher than wood. Pa forbid us from the basement until he could figure out a way past them.
I looked the plants up in every book I could. They didn’t look like anything else on earth. My brother said they were probably mutant plants from the mole people. Pa called us a bunch of busybodies as he poured gas down the basement steps. The plants whistled and popped as they burned. I thought it sounded like screaming. Pa told me to cut it out.
When the plants grew back, they were different. More warts, and thicker. They’d lost the thorns so Pa said to leave them be. We started storing things in the basement again. One night while I was picking out a jar of preserves, I thought I saw ma’s silhouette. It kept beckoning me closer, giving me the cold horrors. Ma was in the kitchen when I ran upstairs. Pa brushed it off until a few days later. He came in the livingroom, all panting and sweaty. He had a root in his hands, looked like a head of something. It was all ragged at the bottom like he’d hacked it away. Pa was shaking.
He made us go to a hotel for a few days while he took care of it. When we came back, he wasn’t the same man. He’d tell us to hush down every so often and crane his head like he was listening to something. We never heard anything.
When the plants grew back, my Pa cried. He went in with a golf club, hitting everything in sight until ma could get him upstairs. When he came back down, he was calmer. He’d had an idea. He would dig up the floor, find out where the plants were coming from. He took a lantern, a shovel, and my brother. Every morning at dawn they’d both go down there, and every night after my bedtime they’d come back up. Pa was cheerful, saying they’d find it any day now, any day. After a month ma demanded he stop before the house collapsed.
Pa died of a heart attack one day, while lifting a bucket of soil to my brother. He stayed down in the basement. My brother told ma that he’d slumped to the dirt, and the roots were on him before his eyes closed. Ma threw her apron over her head and cried.
It was only us two left, so ma wouldn’t let us down there for very long. Something knocked on the basement door one night. My brother went down there with an axe and came up white and trembling. The knocking stopped.
Since Pa was dead, it fell to the two of us to take care of the basement. Ma sat on the stairs while we hauled tools down homemade ladders to the pit Pa had dug. We had to take care of the shoots everyday or they’d get too much of a foothold. They grew faster the more we cut them down. I swear some of them grabbed my clothes as I cut them. I know they untied the lowest ladder, it was the only way it could have fell. I was on the last rung, made it to solid ground in time. My brother was behind me.
Ma wouldn’t let me go after him. We stayed on the steps and called and called until dark. Finally something struggled out of the pit.
My brother was covered in dirt and walked with a limp. Thick-tongued, he told us he needed help upstairs. And we were ready to, right up until he grabbed the banister with a hand that had too many fingers.
Ma went after him with the shovel, sobbing as she swung. I got his knees with the axe. He kept screaming that we were killing him, we had made a big mistake and stop and think, but he had no bones and his blood was white sap.
Ma went upstairs without saying a thing. I heard the gunshot, got up there just in time to see her stop twitching.
I cremated her myself. No way I was letting the basement get her.
I poured gas down the stairs and lit it up. As it died down to embers, it properly looked like hell.
The plants grew back. They got smart. I woke up to some cops saying they had an anonymous tip about some bodies in the house, I had to come with them. Almost had me, until I noticed their guns were a solid piece, the barrel had no holes. I took a knife to one of their sleeves and it bled. After I hacked them up, I got a new bar for the basement door.
I never married or had kids, I never had time after taking care of the plants. They would scream at the door that I was keeping them imprisoned. One day the bottom of the door flooded with sap that ate away at the wood. I bought a metal one to replace it. They called out to me with my dead family’s voices, pleading to be let out. I caulked the crack s around the door. All the time, I’ve kept the door shut as they grew in the darkness.
Then, the other day they tried something new. They knocked on the door and asked politely if I would open it, please. They had something they wanted to show me.
What I saw through the crack in the door were two of them, looking like well-dressed young gentlemen. The pit was gone. Instead they’d made a pretty good go at a street with houses and everything. Thick stems like streetlamps lit the way. It went a long way back.
They said they had made it for me. They said we could switch places, I could come in and live there, and they could come out and live. Just a simple switch, and they would never bother me again, they said.
Would I, they asked. Would I?
There’s no one to guard the door after me. I’m getting old. I’m getting slow. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.
Maybe they give me a nice neighborhood with streetlamps and houses and lawns with no more door to guard.
Maybe they wrap me with roots and stuff my mouth with dirt like the rest of my family.
Would I? Would I?