Thing in the Cellar

The Thing in the Cellar is a scary tale of horror by David H Keller. It was first published in 1932 in the magazine Weird Tales. When it appeared in The Pan Book of Horror #2, it terrified a generation of children and caused more than a few sleepless nights. It’s a long story, but it is definitely worth reading.

The story is about a young boy who suffers from irrational fears. For some reason, he has the sneaking suspicion that there is a monster lurking in the basement of his house. When the boy’s parents take him to a psychiatrist, he tells them that the best solution to the problem is to make their son face his irrational fears.

The Thing in the Cellar

The Thing in the Cellar

It was a large cellar, entirely out of proportion to the house above it. The owner admitted that it was probably built for a distinctly different kind of structure from the one which rose above it. Probably the first house had been burned, and poverty had caused a diminution of the dwelling erected to take its place.

A winding stone stairway connected the cellar with the kitchen. Around the base of this series of steps successive owners of the house had placed their firewood, winter vegetables and junk. The junk had gradually been pushed back till it rose, head high, in a barricade of uselessness. What was back of that barricade no one knew and no one cared. For some hundreds of years no one had crossed it to penetrate to the black reaches of the cellar behind it.

At the top of the steps, separating the kitchen from the cellar, was a stout oaken door. This door was, in a way, as peculiar and out of relation to the rest of the house as the cellar. It was a strange kind of door to find in a modern house, and certainly a most unusual door to find in the inside of the house—thick, stoutly built, dexterously rabbeted together with huge wrought-iron hinges, and a lock that looked as though it came from Castle Despair. Separating a house from the outside world, such a door would be excusable; swinging between kitchen and cellar it seemed peculiarly inappropriate.

From the earliest months of his life Tommy Tucker seemed unhappy in the kitchen. In the front parlor, in the formal dining-room, and especially on the second floor of the house he acted like a normal, healthy child; but carry him to the kitchen, he at once began to cry. His parents, being plain people, ate in the kitchen except when they had company. Being poor, Mrs. Tucker did most of her work, though occasionally she had a charwoman in to do the extra Saturday cleaning, and thus much of her time was spent in the kitchen. And Tommy stayed with her, at least as long as he was unable to walk. Much of the time he was decidedly unhappy.

When Tommy learned to crawl, he lost no time in leaving the kitchen. No sooner was his mother’s back turned than the little fellow crawled as fast as he could for the doorway opening into the front of the house, the dining-room and the front parlor. Once away from the kitchen, he seemed happy; at least, he ceased to cry. On being returned to the kitchen his howls so thoroughly convinced the neighbors that he had a cold that more than one bowl of catnip and sage tea was brought to his assistance.

It was not until the boy learned to talk that the Tuckers had any idea as to what made the boy cry so hard when he was in the kitchen. In other words, the baby had to suffer for many months till he obtained at least a little relief, and even when he told his parents what was the matter, they were absolutely unable to comprehend. This is not to be wondered at because they were both hard-working, rather simple-minded persons.

What they finally learned from their little son was this: that if the cellar door was shut and securely fastened with the heavy iron Tommy could at least eat a meal in peace; if the door was simply closed and not locked, he shivered with fear, but kept quiet; but if the door was open, if even the slightest streak of black showed that it was not tightly shut, then the little three-year-old would scream himself to the point of exhaustion, especially if his tired father would refuse him permission to leave the kitchen.

Playing in the kitchen, the child developed two interesting habits. Rags, scraps of paper and splinters of wood were continually being shoved under the thick oak door to fill the space between the door and the sill. Whenever Mrs. Tucker opened the door there was always some trash there, placed by her son. It annoyed her, and more than once the little fellow was thrashed for this conduct, but punishment acted in no way as a deterrent. The other habit was as singular. Once the door was closed and locked, he would rather boldly walk over to it and caress the old lock. Even when he was so small that he had to stand on tiptoe to touch it with the tips of his fingers he would touch it with slow caressing strokes; later on, as he grew, he used to kiss it.

His father, who only saw the boy at the end of the day, decided that there was no sense in such conduct, and in his masculine way tried to break the lad of his foolishness. There was, of necessity, no effort on the part of the hard-working man to understand the psychology back of his son’s conduct. All that the man knew was that his little son was acting in a way that was decidedly queer.

Tommy loved his mother and was willing to do anything he could to help her in the household chores, but one thing he would not do, and never did do, and that was to fetch and carry something between the house and the cellar. If his mother opened the door, he would run screaming from the room, and he never returned voluntarily till he was assured that the door was closed.

He never explained just why he acted as he did. In fact, he refused to talk about it, at least to his parents, and that was just as well, because had he done so, they would simply have been more positive than ever that there was something wrong with their only child. They tried, in their own ways, to break the child of his unusual habits; failing to change him at all, they decided to ignore his peculiarities.

That is, they ignored them till he became six years old and the time came for him to go to school. He was a sturdy little chap by that time, and more intelligent than the usual boys beginning in the primer class. Mr. Tucker was, at times, proud of him; the child’s attitude toward the cellar door was the one thing most disturbing to the father’s pride. Finally nothing would do but that the Tucker family call on the neighborhood physician. It was an important event in the life of the Tuckers, so important that it demanded the wearing of Sunday clothes, and all that sort of thing.

“The matter is just this, Doctor Hawthorn,” said Mr. Tucker, in a somewhat embarrassed manner. “Our little Tommy is old enough to start to school, but he behaves childish in regard to our cellar, and the missus and I thought you could tell us what to do about it. It must be his nerves.”

Ever since he was a baby,” continued Mrs. Tucker, taking up the thread of conversation where her husband had paused, “Tommy has had a great fear of the cellar. Even now, big boy that he is, he does not love me enough to fetch and carry something for me through that door and down those steps. It is not natural for a child to act like he does, and what with chinking the cracks with rags and kissing the lock, he drives me to the point where I fear he may become daft-like as he grows older.”

The doctor, eager to satisfy new customers, and dimly remembering some lectures on the nervous system received when he was a medical student, asked some general questions, listened to the boy’s heart, examined his lungs and looked at his eyes and fingernails. At last he commented:

“Looks like a fine, healthy boy to me.”

“Yes, all except the cellar door,” replied the father.

“Has he ever been sick?”

“Not but once or twice when he cried himself blue in the face,” answered the mother.

“Frightened?”

“Perhaps. It was always in the kitchen.”

“Suppose you go out and let me talk to Tommy by myself?”

And there sat the doctor very much at his ease and the little six-year-old boy very uneasy.

“Tommy, what is there in the cellar you are afraid of?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you ever seen it?”

“No, sir.”

“Ever heard it? smelt it?”

“No, sir.”

“Then how do you know there is something there?”

“Because.”

“Because what?”

“Because there is.”

That was as far as Tommy would go, and at last his seeming obstinacy annoyed the physician even as it had for several years annoyed Mr. Tucker. He went to the door and called the parents into the office.

“He thinks there is something down in the cellar,” he stated.

The Tuckers simply looked at each other.

“That’s foolish,” commented Mr. Tucker.

” ‘Tis just a plain cellar with junk and firewood and cider barrels in it,” added Mrs. Tucker. “Since we moved into that house, I have not missed a day without going down those stone steps and I know there is nothing there. But the lad has always screamed when the door was open. I recall now that since he was a child in arms he has always screamed when the door was open.”

“He thinks there is something there,” said the doctor.

“That is why we brought him to you,” replied the father. “It’s the child’s nerves. Perhaps foetida, or something, will calm him.”

“I tell you what to do,” advised the doctor. “He thinks there is something there. Just as soon as he finds that he is wrong and that there is nothing there, he will forget about it. He has been humored too much. What you want to do is to open that cellar door and make him stay by himself in the kitchen. Nail the door open so he can not close it. Leave him alone there for an hour and then go and laugh at him and show him how silly it was for him to be afraid of an empty cellar. I will give you some nerve and blood tonic and that will help, but the big thing is to show him that there is nothing to be afraid of.”

On the way back to the Tucker home Tommy broke away from his parents. They caught him after an exciting chase and kept him between them the rest of the way home. Once in the house he disappeared and was found in the guest room under the bed. The afternoon being already spoiled for Mr. Tucker, he determined to keep the child under observation for the rest of the day. Tommy ate no supper, in spite of the urgings of the unhappy mother. The dishes were washed, the evening paper read, the evening pipe smoked; and then, and only then, did Mr. Tucker take down his tool box and get out a hammer and some long nails.

“And I am going to nail the door open, Tommy, so you can not close it, as that was what the doctor said. Tommy, and you are to be a man and stay here in the kitchen alone for an hour, and we will leave the lamp a-burning, and then when you find there is nothing to be afraid of, you will be well and a real man and not something for a man to be ashamed of being the father of.”

But at the last Mrs. Tucker kissed Tommy and cried and whispered to her husband not to do it, and to wait till the boy was larger; but nothing was to do except to nail the thick door open so it could not be shut and leave the boy there alone with the lamp burning and the dark open space of the doorway to look at with eyes that grew as hot and burning as the flame of the lamp.

That same day Doctor Hawthorn took supper with a classmate of his, a man who specialized in psychiatry and who was particularly interested in children. Hawthorn told Johnson about his newest case, the little Tucker boy, and asked him for his opinion, lohnson frowned.

“Children are odd, Hawthorn. Perhaps they are like dogs. It may be their nervous system is more acute than in the adult. We know that our eyesight is limited, also our hearing and smell. I firmly believe that there are forms of life which exist in such a form that we can neither see, hear nor smell them. Fondly we delude ourselves into the fallacy of believing that they do not exist because we can not prove their existence. This Tucker lad may have a nervous system that is peculiarly acute. He may dimly appreciate the existence of something in the cellar which is unappreciable to his parents. Evidently there is some basis to this fear of his. Now, I am not saying that there is anything in the cellar. In fact, I suppose that it is just an ordinary cellar, but this boy, since he was a baby, has thought that there was something there, and that is just as bad as though there actually were. What I would like to know is what makes him think so. Give me the address, and I will call tomorrow and have a talk with the little fellow.”

“What do you think of my advice?”

“Sorry, old man, but I think it was perfectly rotten. If I were you, I would stop around there on my way home and prevent them from following it. The little fellow may be badly frightened. You see, he evidently thinks there is something there.”

“But there isn’t.”

“Perhaps not. No doubt, he is wrong, but he thinks so.”

It all worried Doctor Hawthorn so much that he decided to take his friend’s advice. It was a cold night, a foggy night, and the physician felt cold as he tramped along the London streets. At last he came to the Tucker house. He remembered now that he had been there once before, long ago, when little Tommy Tucker came Into the world. There was a light in the front window, and in no time at all Mr. Tucker came to the door.

“I have come to see Tommy,” said the doctor.

“He is back in the kitchen,” replied the father.

“He gave one cry, but since then he has been quiet,” sobbed the wife.

“If I had let her have her way, she would have opened the door, but I said to her, ‘Mother, now is the time to make a man out of our Tommy.’ And I guess he knows by now that there was nothing to be afraid of. Well, the hour is up. Suppose we go and get him and put him to bed?”

“It has been a hard time for the little child,” whispered the wife.

Carrying the candle, the man walked ahead of the woman and the doctor, and at last opened the kitchen door. The room was dark.

“Lamp has gone out,” said the man. “Wait till I light it.”

“Tommy! Tommy!” called Mrs. Tucker.

But the doctor ran to where a white form was stretched on the floor. Sharply he called for more light. Trembling, he examined all that was left of little Tommy. Twitching, he looked into the open space down into the cellar. At last he looked at Tucker and Tucker’s wife.

“Tommy… Tommy has been hurt… I guess he is dead!” he stammered.

The mother threw herself on the floor and picked up the torn, mutilated thing that had been, only a little while ago, her little Tommy.

The man took his hammer and drew out the nails and closed the door and locked it and then drove in a long spike to reinforce the lock. Then he took hold of the doctor’s shoulders and shook him.

“What killed him, Doctor? What killed him?” he shouted into Hawthorn’s ear.

The doctor looked at him bravely in spite of the fear in his throat.

“How do I know, Tucker?” he replied. “How do I know? Didn’t you tell me that there was nothing there? Nothing down there? In the cellar?”

Comments

  1. pauliej says

    I think this story is perfect. It’s better that they don’t tell you what happened to him because it leaves you to wonder and that’s what’s so scary about it.

  2. happenstance says

    2paradise and scarymaste whatever truce i really dont want to fight and@ scarymaster was pretty funny and did sfk stop working for anyone else for a while it wouldnt let me log on?

  3. krissylovesscary says

    You see what your doing to these people SFK?? they are so story deprived that the only thing try can do now is argue. Its like war of the worlds in here’ SFK, im not trying to be mean, im really not but, people come here for scary stories and movies and videos. I used to check this site everyday knowing that i would see fresh new stories that would give me a scare. But now its been about 3 weeks and im tired of waiting. So please post a new story or i’m going to have to go.
    P.S: if you havent been posting due to internet problems then forget everything i just said.

  4. happenstance says

    ok so about the story its cool but not SCARY and why are there funny stories and stupid stories and sad stories and love stories if its SCARY for kids also why the heck does everything say coming soon reply if you agree

  5. MerrBearBallet says

    @happenstance yeah, what happened to that guy? he was funny :)
    @ impatient people sfk is a person and doesnt get paid to do this site he/she does it for us. sfk has a life outside the internet so please stop whining.

  6. NoScareGirl says

    My story

    I crept downstairs, hoping my parents wouldn’t hear me sneaking out the front door to go to my friends house, even though I was grounded. They were asleep, but weren’t very deep sleepers, and their room was the one closest to the front door. It was likely they would hear me. I took off my shoes and held my breath. I snuck over to the key rack, took my mom’s house key, and tiptoed over to the door, shoes in hand. I opened it slowly, hoping they wouldn’t hear it open. They didn’t. I stood there with the door open for a minute, so that if they did come out of their room I could tell them I thought I had heard someone at the door, and just came to check. After about thirty seconds, i stepped out side onto the porch. I braced myself to feel the cold concrete, but instead of concrete, I felt snow. It went inbetween my toes and all the way up the sides of my feet. Surprised, I accidentally let go of the door. The heavy door swung closed quickly, but I grabbed the handle before it could hit the door frame, waking up my parents, and getting me double grounded and my phone, computer, and Ipod taken away. Thank God I caught that door. I shut it slowly the rest of the way, locking it on the inside before doing so. Once I was outside, I quickly put my shoes on, wishing I had worn socks and sneakers instead of flats, and began the quarter mile walk to my friend Melony’s house. We had texted earlier that night talking about what time I was to meet her. We were to meet at her house at 2:00 AM. and watch the new scary movie neither of our parents would allow us to watch, since it was rated R, and neither of use were seventeen yet. On the way there, I would pick the movie up from the Red Box at McDonalds, which is right next to her house. Then, she would drive us to our other friend, Kiera’s, house (since Melony is the only one who can drive), and watch the movie there so we wouldn’t be heard. Her parents were out of town, so there was no risk. Then Melody would drive us to McDonalds to return the movie early and get a snack. I would walk home, and she would drive Kiera home since her house was farther away from Kiera’s than mine is. All of it would go with out a hitch. Unnoticed. Right? When I arrived at the McDonalds, I picked up the movie. I payed one dollar for a one day rental. I then finished the walk. Melony was waiting out front for me. We got in her car and drove to Kiera’s house. When we got there, we knocked on the door. No answer. We rang the doorbell three times. No answer. We decided to turn the knob and just go in and find Kiera. We figured she was probably just in the bathroom or on the phone, but we wanted to make sure. We turned the knob. It was unlocked. We walked inside, calling for Kiera, saying, “Kiera? It’s Melony and Tiff. We knocked and rang the doorbell but you didn’t answer so we decided to come in. Kiera???”. Still, we didn’t get an answer. We began to worry, but figured she was just trying to scare us. We went to all the rooms looking for her. The last room we looked in was the office. There, on the floor, lay Kiera. Her face bloody, her mouth cut into a twisted smile. Her eyes were blood red, and her hair was white at the roots. We screamed, rushing to Kiera’s side. We could feel her breathing, about once every twenty seconds. She was barely breathing but she was alive. Melody stayed with her, while I got up to go in the kitchen, where her parents phone number was stuck on the fridge with a magnet. I dialed the number. No answer. Of course theywouldn’t answer. It was 2:30 in the morning. I went up to tell Melody. When I got in the office again, Melody was laying next to Kiera, with the same twisted smile, red eyes, and white roots in ther hair. I tried to scream, but no noise came out. Whoever did this was still in the house. I ran down the stairs and outfront. I ran all the way home, looking behind me every twenty seconds to make sure no one was following me. When i got home, I pulled out the key, and, making no effort what so ever to be quiet, flung the door open. I stopped to take a breath for half a second. I slammed the door shut, and ran to lock all the doors and windows. When I got done, I went into the kitchen, where the house phone was, to call the police. My mom came out of her room, finally, and asked what I was doing. Before dialing 911, I told her the whole story, not caring whether I got in trouble for sneaking out or not. She didn’t believe me, but i called the police anyway. They came to our house and asked me to tell them exactly what had happened and where. I told them, crying the whole time, and them gave them Kiera’s address. The next morning, my mother informed me that they were not in the house when the police investigated. Apparently, the police had gotten another call that night about two teenage girls with huge bloody smiles and red eyes coming into their house and killing their son. The police finally found Kiera and Melody laying on the road where they had been hit by a car. They were dead. The police, later that night, got another call that a man with a bloody smile and red eyes was in their house. The police arrived and found the guy who had done this to Kiera and Melody. They tracked down his mother. She was old, about eighty-five. She said that when her son was young, he had been abused by his father. She later abandoned this man. Her ex husband had cut a giant smile into his son’s face and also cut the colored parts of his eyes. This is why Kiera and Melody’s eyes were red. Her son had also been cut on the chest, arms, and legs. He died at the hospital, but the next day, he was no longer there. Ever since then, he’s been making people look the same way he does. As soon as they die, they begin to breath slowly, just like Kiera did. They then go to other peoples houses killing them. They had never gotten caught before, because they would kill everyone in the household. if we hadn’t caught him, and if I hadn’t survived, he could have turned everyone in the world into these demonic killing machines. The police are now tracking them all down. But just a word to the wise, if you ever see someone with a huge smile and red eyes, call the police. And make sure to lock your door whenever you’re home, especially at night.
    Sincerely, an eyewitness, Tiff Bradsheild

  7. grimreaper55 says

    @deathblasted the second i finished ur story my sister fell out of bed and the room shook! it scared the hell out of me…

  8. grimreaper55 says

    @lacole luv99 amazing story i thought it was nicoles ghost killing everyone but your ending was better

  9. grimreaper55 says

    wow amazing story SFK.hi guys ive read stories 4 about a year and have only just made an account. BTW deathbolt u r awesome

  10. B-Lovely says

    I’m disappointed that you didn’t post a story on Halloween :(
    But oh, well. I hope to see more soon!

  11. happenstance says

    @deathblasted i like your story little short and there was a typo(i sorry) but pretty good PS SKF BETTER POST ON HALLOWEEN im mean come on and thank deathblasted i put it in capital letters so people would look LOL

  12. lacole luv99 says

    @deathblasted I like your story.@brony4life,@deathblasted,@krissylovescary,@htfnutty4575 thank you for sticking up for me =)

  13. DeathBlasted says

    The Unknown

    Well I know that you might have clicked on here waiting for a scary story. A mash up of horror from the edges of nightmares. Monsters witches goblins and darkness. Well then you might as well go away now. This is a true story, I’m warning you, right I guess your still here. Well no turning back now. I’m going to tell you a story that will inject fear into even those who have never heard of it.

    I was driving, late at night, there wasn’t one car on the road. When suddenly my head lights turned off. This had never happened to me before and the car wouldn’t start. Just as I began to suspect the battery being drained, I heard static on the radio, just a continuous buzz. This was strange as I was a 101% sure that the battery had drained. I wanted to call for help but something glued me to my seat. Something about the static. The more I concentrated the more the darkness descended around me until it was only me and the static of the radio. All of a sudden I started to notice a mutter in the static. I listened closely…

    It said…

    Help me it s nearly here. I sorry to whoevers listening. It’s already rocked the house twice, one more time and it will come in. I don’t have time , I have to tell someone about it, only then will it leave me. Oh no the third rattle, it’s coming , my friend told me to rid himself and now I tell you. It is a being that wants revenge on the world, whoever knows about it, it comes to seek and kill.

    I froze. Just then the car rattled I couldn’t see anything.

    The second rattle just came. I’m writing this and sending it out on the remaining battery on my phone. Only 1% left. All I can say now is…

    The the Unknown is coming for you…

  14. I call myself demented says

    If anything Juliet should have committed suicide and made it look like she was murdered by the other students

  15. bloodrose130902 says

    Wow great story but I don’t get the ending. And you should’ve like described Tommy’s body when he was dead then it would’ve been more scarier.

  16. Dont take me seriously says

    @lacole luv99 Hmm… Not a bad story but there is nothing really scary in it. Luckily for me, our school doesnt have lockers. But we do have bathrooms. They have the same function tho :(

  17. lacole luv99 says

    Here is a story I would like to share.
    Revenge:
    There once was a girl named Nicole.Nicole had only one friend,her name was Juliet.Nicole was bullies viciously,there was no mercy when it came to her life.The only person who ever cared about her was Juliet.Her parents disliked her,well actually hated her,deeper than that really.Her parents despised her to their inner cores.They didnt drink and they didnt smoke or do drugs or anything,they were just people of a hatrid nature.Nicole cut herself and Juliet knew it,she begged Nicole to stop harming herself but she never listned.Here is how it went.In Juliet’s mind Nicole was a sweet innocent girl just being broken down by others by pure hatrid.In Nicole’s mind she saw herself as a disgrace,a failure,a lost cause,not even a person just a waste of space,because that is what everybody has set her out to be….nobody.She used to be happy and her little world was full of cupcakes,rainbows,smiles,and pure happiness…until she went in to middle school.The others immediatly targeted her to be the tortured soul.She had no idea why everybody hated her..until she did too.It started out as just minor bullying,you know name calling,teasing,rumors,etc nothing Major.Then it got aggresivilly worse.here is how her week would go down:
    MONDAY:teased and get books thrown on the floor and get jumped after school (she walked home,her parents didnt think she was worth the gas money) and she came home with a bloody nose almost everyday,her chlothes ripped up.Her parents wouldnt waste their money on chlothes just so her “idiocy” would get them ripped up.
    TUESDAY:Get shoved in her OWN locker and came home with a new shiny black eye.
    And honesly the rest of the week is actually worse (wich sounds impossible) and details to horrifying for ALL ages.One day she was pushed to far and had enough of the bullying….enough of everything.When she went home she went in to her room.Her parents were not home “perfect timing” she thought.she blared her speakers to “Nobody’s Home” by Avril Lavigne.She retrieved her razor a.k.a her “misery eraser.”and she left her torurious thing of a life…Her parents found the body.Nicole was the gossip of the entire school.Everybody talked about her all through school.Juliet was devastated…her best friend…her only friend…gone forever.All the kids that bullied Nicole went missing one by one.Nicole’s parent’s did too.Juliet went missing one day and everybody knew what had happened.Juliet killed them all for her Nicole.For beautiful revenge.

  18. MerrBearBallet says

    for those who dont understand: they nailed the door open and left tommy in there so that h could sort of get exposure therapy to the basement. the parents thought there wasnt anything there. so they left him locked in there and when they come back, something has killed him.

  19. I call myself demented says

    @Xx_layla_xX12 I don’t get the ending either. @Sfk, what’s the point of the ending?

  20. Terrorteller says

    Augh! I wish they’d written a sequel, including an exploration of the hidden part of the cellar!

  21. Xx_layla_xX12 says

    Oh it is sooooo long!!! How am i supposed to read all of thins? Im doing school work at the same time :(
    Ill read it later

  22. Blood Rose says

    WOW!!!
    thats a long read but its worth it! keep it up sfk! I’ll be waiting for halloween…

Leave a Reply