Hey, Kindertrauma! This is my first Traumafession and it’s a little spontaneous. I just caught a glimpse of the cover to STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT and it took me back, way back. I don’t know if I even read this book, because the story I’d made up about its contents has only a few points in common with the actual storyline, or maybe seen the TV adaptation — the neighbor girl from across the street used to lock me in her basement with the lights off and the TV playing the television series, which beats getting abandoned at the park by older siblings for sheer sadism toward skittish younger children. I couldn’t even reverse-Image Search the book’s cover to double-check the title without covering my eyes with one hand. I was afraid of a lot of things as a kid (asphyxiation, JOEL GREY as the Emcee in CABARET, and everybody’s favorite Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark) but none of them seemed as present and real as the fear reserved for the Goosebumps stories.
The cover image for STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT is pretty distinctive, not as iconic as Slappy the Dummy but still viscerally memorable — a slimy, wizened green hand, gripping the edge of an ordinary-looking white door. In my memory until just now, it wasn’t just slimy but dripping green blood. Six-year-old me didn’t get that it was supposed to be some kind of human-plant hybrid, I mistook the gnarly buds and branches for some kind of horrible sores.
The actual plot of STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT does involve dripping green blood at one point but the actual specifics are completely different than what I’d pictured. The dad in the story is some kind of botanist, experimenting on plants down there after getting laid off at work, but my own dad had a woodworking shop in our own basement and so I assumed that’s what Dr. Brewer was up to. To me the dripping green blood wasn’t because he was some kind of human/plant hybrid but because of some kind of horror movie plague — dad cuts his hand on a saw or a rusty nail, starts acting weird and pretty soon he’s a pustule-covered monster who bleeds green and admonishes you to, “Stay out of the basement!” so you don’t get snagged on a rusty nail too.
I’d been told about tetanus, the specter of infection or lockjaw was very real to six-year-old hypochondriac me. The thought that something like that could happen to my dad was much scarier than the thought that the resulting monster might try to infect me too or go on a rampage whereupon I’d be forced to discern my real father from the human/plant clone.
Hell, I’m still terrified of tetanus and lockjaw. Now I can be afraid of MRSA, too. And the really terrible thing is, I still can’t go near our basement door without fearing that oozing green hand. And my dad’s still hard at work in his shop down there.