Tales from the Basement
Inspired by working in a basement sorting and archiving files.
who kindly maintained a remarkable equanimity while working with a somewhat nervy colleague.
Shadows Page 7
Cold Memories Page 10
Ghost Writer Page 12
The Web Page 14
Archived Page 16
Who cares? Page 18
The Archive Team had been given a new project; namely to sort out the many decades of documents that had been ‘put in a safe place’ by various departments of the organisation. None of them were looking forward to the venue as it was in the old damp basement of the building. One could imagine it being used for all sorts of unsavoury activities in former times when the building was a country residence of a rich gentleman. One could imagine it being used in more recent times as a shelter from the threat of nuclear war. One could imagine…but there was no time for daydreaming as the team had plenty to do before the deadline.
The group gathered around the entrance to the basement before going off separately to their own tasks. Some of the rooms were so stuffed with files only one person could be in there at a time. There was a general background mustiness and layers of dust rose as they moved around.
“Let’s all have a coffee in an hour’s time and review progress”, suggested Bob.
It was a daunting task but the team were keen to be out of the basement so set to work immediately and with enthusiasm. The quicker they worked, the sooner they would finish.
A glimpse of brown caught Kate’s eye as she busied herself with the filing. Or rather the removal of files into a big sack ready to be confidentially wasted. She had heard rumours of someone being buried alive but she was sure that wasn’t true. The place hadn’t been used for years until the company took it over. Sometimes she jumped at the distant sound of a door banging somewhere. Sometimes she thought one of her colleagues was nearby but when she looked out of the room, there was no sight of anyone.
Tom tapped her gently on her shoulder; Kate shrieked and jumped up from her chair.
“Sorry, Kate, I could see you were busy but…well…I just wondered whether you would like to come out tomorrow evening to see that latest horror movie that’s on?”
“Why on Earth did you creep up on me like that?”
“Well, as I said, you were busy…and I was a bit nervous of asking you…I couldn’t do it when the others were around could I?”
“So…what about that film?”
“Horror you say? No thanks! It is scary enough down here without spending the evening being scared. We could go out for a drink though.”
“That’ll be great – we can arrange the time later, I’d better get back to my room. I’m in that room where all the files are in plastic packets all jammed tightly onto the shelves. There’s thousands of them!”
Kate shivered. The chill was seeping through her veins. She had better hurry up. Who was that brown-clad figure she kept catching glimpses of? She had thought her group was the only one down there at the moment.
Everyone was busy with their own particular aspect of the project. Tom was wondering if he would ever come to the end of this archiving he was tasked with. There were thousands of thin plastic packets awaiting his attention. The shelves were high and wide and packed tightly with the files. Each one needed to be taken out, recorded and put back until it was time to sort them.
An hour passed and they all duly assembled in the staff room each cradling a steaming mug of coffee as if to reassure themselves. Bob spoke first.
“It’s going to take longer than we first thought if the room I’m in is anything to go by.”
“There’s thousands of files…”, added Tom, slightly gleefully as there was nothing more he liked better than a meaty project.
Kate asked whether any others were down there. She would like to know who that shadowy figure was and why they were so unfriendly.
“No, just our team,” answered Bob. He couldn’t understand why Kate was edgy. He noticed her carefully sipping her coffee as if in a bid to assuage a great shock. Never mind, once the files started to be boxed up they would soon be gone from down there.
“Better get on,” he said, “there’s a lot to do.”
Reluctantly the group returned to their respective rooms and tasks. Bob was right, work quickly and get the tasks over with.
Kate busied herself with checking the files before putting them in the special sacks. She was making the most of this task as her next one involved sitting at a desk in a gloomy area of the basement cataloguing files from another room. That would be a chilly and tiresome task. She was relieved not to catch a glimpse of the brown-clothed person for the rest of the morning
However, she was shocked when Bob, not a fanciful person, said he hadn’t realised there were others down there. He remarked he had also seen a figure dressed in brown and would find out who else was down there. They didn’t want to be doing the same thing twice.
After lunch though, he reported that they were indeed the only group assigned to the basement tasks. They all paled slightly and Kate shivered. Tom frowned. What had he heard about this place?
Jack removed the last of the shelving units in Room 5. To his surprise there was a door. He had thought all the rooms in this corridor just had one entrance. Where did this door lead to, he wondered? In the 1950s the whole place had been kitted out with survival areas complete with radio contact and ventilation shafts. Nuclear war was a real possibility back then. He wasn’t sure how long anyone would have survived but at least they would have tried.
There was a rusty handle on the door which seemed to be in the ‘open’ position. He tried to open it but there was something preventing him from pushing the door open. Holding the handle down, he pushed with his whole body until the door opened. Looking into the dark recess he could not make anything out. Feeling the wall he found the light switch and turned it on. There were boxes piled up ready for moving but evidently had been forgotten. They were all labelled for a storage unit. Some things never change, he chuckled.
He looked behind the door to see what had prevented him from opening it; there was a pile of clothes there. He carefully lifted them, revealing the bones of a long-forgotten soul who must have been trying to get out. Somehow the door must have jammed and no one remembered the boxes… Some of the boxes had fallen off the pile, or been knocked over by the poor man in his desperation.
Shouting to the others, he carefully moved the clothes and bones away from the door. There was what had once been a smart brown jacket together with brown corduroy trousers. A pair of brown leather lace up shoes lay nearby, having dropped off the feet as Jack pushed the door. It was horrid to think of that poor man clawing at the door in a last futile bid to escape the claustrophobic and airtight room. The ventilation shaft was of course there but never activated. At least such a fate would not befall any of his colleagues; they were all too careful…
Kate shuddered, looking down in silence at the pile of brown clothes; was this the man she had caught glimpses of? Had he been trying to draw attention to his pile of bones?
“Let’s get this lot moved upstairs,” said Jack, “and call the police. Someone must know who he is and give him a burial.”
“I need a drink!” stated Bob.
The others murmured in agreement. Together they carefully gathered the sorry pile of bones and clothes and placed them in a box to carry them safely out of the basement. Once outside they breathed a collective sigh of relief. They would all be glad when this particular aspect of the job was complete and they could leave the basement permanently.
“I’ll pop the kettle on,” said Bob, “while Jack sorts out the police.”
Her fingers flew over the keyboard as she concentrated on entering the details from the seemingly endless amount of files in the store room.
“How are you doing?” called out Sarah from the next room.
Kate smiled, “Getting there slowly, what about you?”
“Oh, nearly finished. I’ve just had to bin a load of mouldy files though. No one can have been down here for yonks.”
The basement was not the most salubrious of work environments but some stored files needed to be catalogued before archiving. It was a long overdue task and someone had to do it! Kate didn’t mind; it was cool and quiet and, once she started on a batch of files, she soon became absorbed in the task and the time passed swiftly. It required enough concentration to stop day to day worries from taking hold while allowing her imagination to surface. In-between batches of files, she allowed herself the luxury of dreaming up all sorts of stories to be written up in her notebook. Indeed, the place leant itself to ghost stories as the building was old with eerie sounds emanating from deep within other subterranean corridors where, unseen by her, other people were busy clearing out long forgotten rooms and nooks and crannies.
Her thoughts drifted towards holidays; she would be able to afford a few days’ break soon. Maybe a trip to the Lake District which she had long promised herself.
Picking out another batch of files she sighed, best to concentrate and get the work done, not spend the money before she had earned it! It was all extremely quiet; the others must have finished their clearing out and were back in the main office drinking coffee no doubt. She’d better hurry up.
Fingers flying once more, Kate again became absorbed in the work. It was slightly mesmerising; the files seemed to be never ending.
“Where did Kate go after the office was demolished?”
Bill and Yvonne were strolling by the imposing new hotel which had replaced the rambling old building they had worked in all those years ago.
“I don’t know,” pondered Bill, “no-one saw her again. Although I do wonder, did anyone ever check the basement? The local paper sometimes reports odd sounds heard by people staying in one of the ground floor bedrooms. I put it down to Halloween Madness, but I wonder…?”
“Perhaps we should do something?”
“Well, won’t it look bad if we’ve only just missed a member of staff?”
In the event, Kate was not to be discovered for another few years. The owners knew there was a disused basement which they thought could be converted into an elegant showpiece wine cellar. However, the builder was to have quite a shock when he removed a pile of rubble from a fallen wall and found himself face to face with an ancient cobweb-covered laptop and a skeleton whose fingers rested lightly on the keys.
“Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “the demolition work must have upset the foundations.”
The sticky substance irritated Bob as he tried to brush it away from his face. However, the more he tried to remove it the more it seemed to wrap itself around him like a veil. He swore under his breath and turned sharply round trying to shake it off. Stepping back out of the small room, he was free of the substance. He looked back in trying to make out what was the cause. He could see nothing.
Shrugging he went back upstairs out of the basement to his office where the sunlight was streaming in through the open window. Sitting down and sipping his coffee, he pushed the incident to the back of his mind and got on with his work. This archive project was huge and it was important he gave the correct guidance to Tom, the graduate who was assisting with it. He finished the document and pressed print. Tom was a bright lad and just needed a bit of guidance with the complexity of the various sorts of files. Now he would have this sheet of notes to help him when he was on his own in that room.
Bob drank up the rest of his coffee before hurrying down to see Tom. He liked to encourage his staff and lend a hand now and again, while trying to get on with his own part of the process. He entered the basement and could hear one or two of the others as they called out to each other. It was a good team. He went into the corridor where Tom was a in a side room. Together they went through the process sheet and agreed it was quite a big chunk of the workload that Tom was responsible for. However, Bob was confident that Tom was the right person for the job and could be left alone to do the work correctly. He was happy to leave him to it while he returned to his own part of the work.
As he left the room, something long wrapped itself around Bob’s neck but Bob was strong and he snapped it off briskly. He rushed off, calling out to Tom as he did so, “Don’t be too long, Tom”. He continued down the corridor to the room he was based in. To his annoyance he was again enveloped in a sticky substance. His clothes would be ruined down here, he thought.
He brushed what appeared to be a thin leg off the pile of files. A thin leg?!? What the…? He muttered under his breath and looked again at the odd object. Must be that large spider Kate said lurked in the basement! Her and her imagination must be getting to him. Ridiculous he thought and went back to processing the files for archiving. It was satisfying to retrieve some which were still in use and put them where they could be found more easily. He moved around the room and a loud crack made him jump. He looked down and saw that he had stepped on a long dark twig. Or was it the remains of a very large spider?
Gathering up the final pile of files for storage, he took one last look around. The light was flickering and it was difficult to make out what the shapes were lurking in the corners. He needed to get a grip! He flicked the switch and let the door slam shut. A coffee to celebrate completion of the work he thought.
He lay inert on the floor, suffocating under the weight of the multitude of plastic sealed documents. Tom had thought this part time job was a gift. Having recently completed his history master’s degree, he was on the lookout for an interesting archivist post, maybe in a large city museum. In the meantime, this job would give him the much needed experience of managing an archive project for a major company. It was interesting reading the old documents but there were so many of them it was taking him much longer than anticipated by anyone.
Armed with copious amounts of tea, Tom worked steadily through the documents, cataloguing them as he went along. The shelves lined the walls of a small room at the end of a corridor in the basement. He didn’t mind lone working as the work was absorbing with the time passing quickly and pleasantly. He did miss the social side of coming to work although he hadn’t been here long enough to get to know anyone yet. And besides, he was just so busy. There were a lot of documents to catalogue and safely store in the archive boxes before the company moved out. The files were slippery in their plastic wallets which made them difficult to handle; it was like filing eels.
He tried to call out but felt it would be in vain as no one would miss him for hours, if not days. His family were away on holiday and he lived alone now until the new term began with fresh housemates. His friends too knew he was busy at work.
This was not how he envisaged this project would end. His arm hurt; he must have broken it when the shelving fell away from the wall, knocking him to the ground.
The new owners of the building wanted to modernise it and make it safe for its new use as a residential care home. There was no need for the basement with its rabbit warren of old storage rooms and corridors and centuries of dust and unwanted items. It would just need to be closed off. There was a mass of files in one of the rooms but as the previous owners had left it, it couldn’t be of much value.
“No one here now” shouted the foreman, “let’s get this old access bricked up.”
Tom lay inert on the floor, suffocated by the weight of the multitude of plastic sealed documents. He was well and truly archived.
Jenny tutted. The old man in the corner was muttering away again about a missing file. If he mentioned it once, he mentioned it a hundred times. In one hour. He was driving her crazy and if she wasn’t careful she would end up in the home herself. Thinking about missing things, led her mind to wonder (when was it not wondering?) about her daughter. Kate had left home at 15 years of age in a rage over an argument about an unsuitable boyfriend. Jenny assumed she would return one day but that day had not come and it was now 20 years since her daughter had left. Missing files! They were nothing compared to the loss she felt over her missing daughter.
In his mind, Jack was back in that room. The last one to be cleared of files. The file had to be in there. He would keep looking until it turned up. Some weird things had happened while they were working. He re-ran the events in his mind, the day he found a body behind one of the doors. It was horrid. He wondered who the man was. And then there was the story Bob laughed about down the pub in later years. Bob reckoned there had been a giant spider down there. The place had seeped into their minds as well as the cold seeping into their bones. Oh well…that file will turn up he thought as he returned to the basement once more in his mind to rummage through the sacks and scour the near-empty shelves. He would just have to keep searching.
Jenny tidied up the newspapers. It was a thankless task. No one knew what year it was yet alone what was happening today. Or yesterday. The Manager insisted on there being a daily selection of newspapers in her optimistic hope that perhaps one day one person would recall the present. She liked Jack but, my word, he drove her crazy with his constant mutterings about files and spiders and bodies. She had been told he was a retired civil servant. How sad to see him now!
Jack watched her. It was good to have some help in searching for that file. He smiled at her, wishing to convey his appreciation, but she was too busy to see the slight upturn of his mouth. A mouth that wasn’t capable of moving much these days. He wished he could remember what was important about the file; did it contain information about the dead man? He couldn’t recall. He couldn’t remember why it was important, it just was.
Jack continued to ramble on, muttering to himself that he never did find that file. And Jenny was never to see or hear from her daughter again or find out what had happened to her. Both events were so long ago now.
The tales in this little book were all inspired by the slightly spooky environment of the Basement in an old building which was gradually being emptied of all stored documents.
All around were chilling reminders of the Cold War with evidence of communication stations, ventilation shafts and operational areas.
Odd noises emanating from goodness-knows-where added to the heightened atmosphere of a very quiet location.
Karen hopes the memory of these little tales will not linger for too long in your minds…
Copyright Karen Hedges 2018 (www.karenhedges.co.uk)