One of my writing obsessions is thin places. Well before Stephen King described them as part of his Dark Tower series (“thinnies”), well before I knew that other people had descriptions of such things in their tales and beliefs (caol ait), I thought I could perceive a “thinning” of the world that would allow me to cross time and space between realms that didn’t follow ordinary rules. I must have been five or six when I first started to strongly believe in such things, independent of any stories or books that I can recall encountering up to that point.
I used to sit in the basement of our house at the time, a place filled with both comfort and fear. Comfort, because all of my toys were stored there and, during the winter, I was allowed to turn on the fixed gas space heater sitting on an elevated part of concrete and make the place toasty warm while I played with my toys (all of which were unintentionally imagination-focused play). Fear, because parts of the basement felt “darker” that others to me as a kid — a feeling that persisted well into my teen years. The understairs was particularly unnerving, possibly because that’s where the spiders liked to make webs the most, but it always felt “off”. Another area was where my father kept up his packrat habits and stored all kinds of stripped down things that might be useful at some point. But the space heater at the bottom of the stairs was a “safe” zone for me and I spent many hours there — avoiding the path past the laundry machines leading to the understairs and, when I did have to venture into that space, I always ran like hell after shutting off the bare overhead light operating by a string and chain.
My fear of understairs probably informed my reoccurring nightmares about such things, dreams where there is always a forgotten passage to a subbasement carved under the house in my dreams where something lurks, smells like rot and wants to corrupt my heart, ravaging me with insanity and grief. It doesn’t sound like much when I try to describe those dreams in writing, but I assure you that I loath when they decide to visit, as I am physically ill upon waking those nights. The details change, but the spirit does not, nor does the smell and overwhelming fear. And I dream nightmares most nights, so I am pretty immune to most things that would drive folks screaming from their bed.
On what was the east wall of the basement, however, I was absolutely convinced there was a painted cinderblock portion of the wall that was the thin place connected to my bedroom two floors overhead. I just could never see to find the right block, or find the right way of opening the passage. And, I wasn’t stupid — I knew I couldn’t actually find passage in those nominal four inches between the walls — not normally. But I somehow became convinced that I would “thin up” or that the space would in some way modify itself to accommodate me so I could take the hidden passage to my room. But it never did, no matter the number of times I asked the face in my bedroom door at night — he knew the how of it, but was closed-mouthed about the matter and wasn’t going to give up any secrets.
Yeah, I had a face in my door. I wouldn’t say there was malice in that face, though the old man looked to be in incredible pain or horror, like the painting of “The Scream”. It was the woodgrain, but I’ve never seen anything quite so realistic since. I’ll bet the people who bought that house eventually replaced that door — my own parents thought it was more imagination than anything when I complained and, after a while I got used to the screaming old man with the long beard.
But, he was not about to give away those house secrets, although he seemed bemused by my regular questions about the thin places and the understairs. Oh, and he looked stern when I asked about the ghosts.
Maybe most of this was the fantasy of a kid with an overactive mind. But, all these years later and I still wonder just what saw and experienced in that house. I tend to trust my experiences and some, I think, go beyond fact or fantasy. Even if fantasy, I trust something (maybe just my intuitive mind) if I have had an experience about it. I figure there was a reason for that experience, whether or not it is based in the collective “reality”.
Which is why, all these years later, I still obsess about thin places, the veil between worlds, the underworld, the liminal place between this world and something else. I saw or felt or heard or tasted something in those days that convinced me that all I have to do is unlock the door and walk on through to the other side, to that place beyond the threshold.