By Claire Duke
When I was growing up, we had a Christmas celebration at my great-grandmother’s house every year. They built the house in the late sixties, and even as a child I could tell it was outdated. Still, it felt warm and welcoming, and it was filled with generations of love and happy memories. Everyone mostly stayed on the first floor for the festivities, with the children running around the living room while the older generations chatted in the “no-no” room, named for what the children were told if they tried to wander into the sitting room of beautiful, oh-so breakable trinkets. Every year, before we opened presents, while the adults were setting up the stockings, the children were locked out of the living room, to chant and bang on the door by a stair landing. I had never been down those stairs, so I feared the darkness they led to. We weren’t allowed into the basement on our own, but, one year, some of the adults (namely, the cool uncles) accompanied us down the creaky wooden stairs into the darkness.
It was pretty standard for a basement – a couple of bedrooms and a utility closet – but something about it was still unnerving. Apparently, the bedrooms had bedbugs at one point, which were, and still are, one of my greatest fears, ever since I saw my parents watching a documentary about extreme infestations. That wasn’t what scared me about the basement, though. No, my true fear was in the utility closet, home to a water heater, washer, and dryer. Nondescript to my eyes, but one of my uncles exposed a piece of history that had me running back up the stairs.
In the past, the utility closet housed a small chinchilla farm, where my great-grandparents would harvest fur from the rodents. That meant killing the cute creatures, and, after learning what a chinchilla was, I was devastated. This was already enough to scar me, but my uncles went further and told us that the ghosts of the chinchillas were still around, and they were angry. Ghosts aren’t real, we insisted. Even though we were young, we weren’t going to let them fool us. Still, they relented, even pointing to corners where the ghosts resided. We were shown exactly where the cages were, where the chinchilla ghosts supposedly still were. I don’t know what exactly I thought they’d do to us, but I knew ghosts weren’t nice, and I was terrified. Despite our visible fear (or, more likely, because of it), my uncles never faltered, fully convincing us of the presence of ghosts.
Once they had thoroughly scared us, we went back upstairs and told the story to anyone who would listen. Some of them would play along, with a knowing glint in their eye, but others shot it down immediately, attempting to comfort us and banish our fear. It was no use, though; we had already been convinced, and no one was going to sway us. The chinchilla ghosts were real, and they were angry.
I haven’t been to that house since my great-grandmother passed, but I still remember the dark basement and the chinchilla ghosts that called it home.
Dare: Explore that basement you’re scared to enter, all the little rooms and dark corners. And say hi to the chinchillas for me. They’ve been through a lot.