Thin Places

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.

13 thoughts on “Thin Places

  1. When I was a little girl I lived in a haunted house. I was fortunate that the ghosts made themselves known to the rest of the family, otherwise I might’ve thought it was my imagination, or worse, that I was going mad. One of the ghosts was an evil, hateful old woman who liked to pinch me and my brother when we slept. The other was an old man who would sometimes appear in one corner of the long hallway that led to my bedroom. He would just stand there sobbing. We all assumed he was the wicked old woman’s tormented husband.

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    • My family was content in letting me think I was “strange” when I told them of some of the things I saw. House on land before our house had a deadly fire on it. I think I saw some remnant of that a few times.

      I legit had a major fear of vampires. Hung garlic bulbs and slept with a cross. Then said, “Screw it,” and joined the dark side early teens and started looking for vampires to hang with.

      Where did you grow up (feel free to ignore if you feel it is TMI)? I’m curious about the types of possible interactions you might have had.

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          • You must be psychic. I’ve been to Salem, Mass. three times for Haunted Happenings. Hopefully when and if this pandemic is brought under control I’ll get to go again. I’d actually like to move there permanently if I can ever afford to.

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            • Loved Salem the week I spent there back in 91. I’m sure it’s changed since then, but I had a blast hitting all the old graveyards and walking all over the place. I had a pen pal who’s family had an old house on the coast in the north end of the town and it would have made an awesome B&B, which is what she thought she’d do to it if her parents gave it to her.
              Mixed it up with Ms Cabot (the “Official Witch”) because… Well… She was kind of a snot to me and I was a snot back.
              Even so, it was a blast.

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            • She started quizzing me in her shop and disapproved of my hanging out with druids back home. I was proportionally rude back. She was, at least at the time, pretty full of herself. She may have mellowed since, so my assessment of her 30 years ago shouldn’t be seen as judgement of who she is now.

              She’s wasn’t the first or last to treat me in such a manner when it came to pagan things. She was just the most famous. Too many know-it-alls in the community who have little tolerance for someone who practices in a manner different from their own practices.

              I don’t hold it against people who are that way. I do feel sorry for them, however.

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