Like many other cellars, the one in the house I grew up in was dark, dank, and damp, which also happen to be my three favorite words that start with the letter “d” describing a creepy basement. Rain, snow, and being located in New England contributed to its stale atmosphere.
I first noticed Cellar Demon one day as I was loading the washing machine.
The Cellar Demon was a large water stain on the wall that confirmed my bizarre imaginings of what an evil dis-incarnate entity might possibly look like: a distorted, sinister, sneering face, right above the red recycling bin next to the cobwebby workbench. You could even see him from at the top of the cellar stairs. I really wish I still had a picture of it. Somehow I managed to lose it years ago.
I know where I’d at least partially gotten an idea of how to recognize a demon, because I’d read about the Smurl family who were supposedly attacked by all kinds of demons, including pig ones.
The Smurls got lots of hands-on experience with evil spirits. I had a week of sleepless nights after reading their book, The Haunted. They made a movie too of the same name which I didn’t like as much.
The case was investigated by famous demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, whom you may or may not think are complete bullshit artists. The Warrens certainly corned the market on all those demonic possessions and hauntings the flourished back in the 70’s and 80’s.
Anyways, Cellar Demon was a phenomena known as simulacra.
Simulacra (singular simulacrum) has a few meanings, but the one I’m talking about today is an image that can be seen in an otherwise unrelated object, such as a cloud that looks like a bunny, or a potato chip that looks like George Washington’s head.
I read somewhere that we are genetically programmed from birth to search for faces, even in mundane objects, such as patterns in wood grain. This is partly responsible for what we think we are seeing…at least the faces, anyway. So we see faces everywhere we look, sometimes in bizarre places.
Humans also look for recognizable patterns, and try to ascribe something significant, meaningful or symbolic from strange or unlikely things all the time. Just look at any grilled cheese sandwich that appears to have Jesus’ face on it.
But getting back to Cellar Demon. He’d gotten to be a mainstay of mom and dad’s basement. Each wet season there was moisture leaching into the concrete walls, he would subtly darken, his fiendish features becoming more nuanced. He would also get bigger.
When I went downstairs to do laundry, there he was, watching me separate the lights and the darks. He had become a familiar, ghoulish presence. As long as he didn’t start talking, he was OK with me.
Eventually, I moved out, and I nearly forgot about Cellar Demon.
One day, I was visiting my parents. I was throwing something in the trash at the top of the cellar stairs. I stood there a moment, and peered down into the dimness.
Cellar Demon was GONE!
My dad, gripped by the boredom-inducing syndrome known as retirement, had painted over the entire basement.
Have you seen any simulacra lately?